A few months ago, author John Dyer came to Taylor University to speak on a theology of technology. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the morning he was scheduled to speak there was a power failure in the chapel auditorium! So the chapel service was hastily relocated to the football field, where Dyer gave a compelling talk on how a Christian worldview should inform the way we view and use technology.
Early in his book, From the Garden to the City (Kregel, 2011), John Dyer writes, “When we fail to recognize the impact of…technological change, we run the risk of allowing our tools to dictate our methods. Technology should not dictate our values or our methods. Rather, we must use technology out of our convictions and values” (p. 25). This passage summarizes a major theme in the book, in which Dyer draws from the likes of Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuhan, and Neil Postman in explaining, as the book’s subtitle puts it, “the redeeming and corrupting power of technology.” As a professional web developer, Dyer is no luddite. And his theological training and sharp intuition for cultural critique uniquely equip him to treat this subject in a balanced and insightful way.
Dyer begins with biblical anthropology, noting how God made humans rational and designed us for creative work, as evident in the cultural mandate in the first chapters of Genesis. And from the very beginning of human civilization, we have been acting on that mandate, making and remaking culture and using technology to do so. Dyer observes numerous ways in which key biblical events centered on technology, from Adam and Eve’s use of fig leaves to cover their nakedness to God’s “upgrade” to animal skins for clothing to the city construction of Cain to the diverse cultural innovations of Cain’s grandchildren to the infamous technological idolatry of the Tower of Babel. It appears that human technology always reflects both what is good and what is bad about human nature.
With Marshall McLuhan, Dyer rejects the naïve but popular notion that technology is always neutral. McLuhan calls this “the numb stance of the technological idiot” (p. 83). This is because, as McLuhan notes, all technology tends to: (1) magnify or extend something that humans do naturally, (2) eliminate something we used to do, (3) retrieve something from the past, and (4) create “the possibility of reversing into a more negative behavior when its overused” (p. 88). Everything from cars to cell phones vividly illustrate all of these tendencies.
Dyer’s book ultimately frames a theology of technology in terms of the biblical story of redemption—in terms of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Specifically, he tells us that (1) human technology is born out of and reflects the Imago Dei, (2) that we are prone to misuse our technology, (3) that technology may nonetheless be used redemptively, and (4) human technology will have a role in the final restoration of humanity, as we dwell in the New Jerusalem, the eschatological city of God.
Thanks to John Dyer for this balanced, biblically grounded discussion of the positive potentials and inherent dangers of technology. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in how to think Christianly about technology or, more broadly, how to do theological analysis of culture.