Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From the Garden to the City by John Dyer

We live in a rapidly developing technological age. Tools are being developed faster than we can evaluate their impact. How should Christians understand this era and the influence technology has upon them?
Dyer loves God...and technology. He combined seminary studies with computer programming. When a seminary professor stated that one of the most dangerous things to believe was that technology was neutral, it set Dyer thinking. He had been building websites for churches. How could technology not be “neutral”?
His investigations revealed little about how technology fits into the redemptive story. As he read McLuhan and Postman he began to find some troubling ideas that made him wonder if technology was what it seemed. He started a blog which eventually resulted in this book.
The title refers to the Garden of Eden and the Jim Jones cult of the 1970s. In both cases people consumed something they didn't fully understand. Is the same thing happening today?
Dyer notes that prior to the printing press, people heard the Word of God. It has only been the last 500 years that the printed text has been the dominant form of communication. We are returning to a culture of spoken words. What does this change mean?
There are two ways to understand technology and life, Dyer writes. Either God has a purpose and plan and technology is a part of it, or, there is no God and technology is the answer for the future.
Dyer examines familiar biblical stories to find clues as to how Christians should approach technology. From Genesis 2, “God designed the world in such a way to be cultivated and shaped by humanity, and when we create we are operating as God's image-bearers.” (54) From the Fall, “...we must be careful not to believe the lie that the right tools will enable us to live independent from our Creator...” (73)
As an example of how technology changes culture, Dyer looks at music. Once it was live musicians, many people producing and many people sharing in the listening. With the advent of the battery operated Walkman in 1979, music became an individual experience available anywhere.
The views regarding technology can be stated in two extremes: technology is a tool, neither good nor evil (often the view expressed about guns), or, technology is a driving force in our culture, irrespective of human use (“The Internet has made my life...”). Dyer takes a middle ground. “People are culpable for their choices, but technology still plays a role in influencing the decisions they make.” (86)
Where we worship has been influenced by the invention of automobiles. How we worship has been influenced by the invention of sound systems, allowing large congregations.
From Babel: “Technology does not make people do anything, but it does alter the choices people have in front of them.” (107)
From the ten commandment tablets: God used cutting edge technology of the day. He does not have a “wait-and-see policy.” “...[I]nstead God is always working through the tools of the day as he accomplishes his redemptive program.” (112)
He notes that, “...every good technology comes with a trade-off of some kind.” (133)
From creation, our ability to make technology is a reflection of our Creator. From the fall we learn that every technology can be used for sin and rebellion. We also learn that technology can be used for redemptive purposes. In the end God will restore all things, including technology.
We have the opportunity to worship God whenever we use tools and they work well. We can thank God for the creativity He has given man. But we must also realize the redemptive capacities for technology are limited. At the same time we see great evil conducted through technology
There are those who think all our problems, now and in the future, will be solved by technology. Some argue this has become a kind of unspoken religion.
We have information access, all kinds of knowledge at our fingertips. But there is a downside: porn is now abundantly available, we have information overload, almost anyone can publish almost anything, we scan instead of read, and we are constantly interrupted. Much of the Christian life “requires the ability to concentrate and focus on ideas over long periods of time.” (165) We have to work against the distractions, the chaos, the complications technology has brought us.
We are living in the time between the Garden of Eden and the City of God. We could try to avoid technology or we could use technology as much and as often as we can. Either extreme, Dyer says, is failing to live faithfully with what we have been given. (176)
To faithfully use technology, Dyer suggests five steps: valuation, experimentation, limitation, togetherness, and cultivation. (176-179)

Dyer's style of writing here is that of textbook quality. He spends much time on the philosophical implications of technology the layman may find distracting. The parent who wants an easy answer to their child and the internet will not find it here. This book is better for the church leader who wants to understand the theological implications of technology.
I appreciated Dyer's conclusions. I write this blog on my laptop while listening to music on an MP3 player and I'll post this on the Internet. I trust all of it is to the glory of God.

Kregel Publications, 182 pages.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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