The Church and Technology

Something to think about:

"They lost the next generation of customers. They lost their destinies because they wanted to save their pasts. Protection is not a strategy for the future." - Jeff Jarvis in What Would Google Do?   He was talking about companies like TV Guide that refused to change. I thought of the church.

Technology is not something new. It could be argued that through most of the Christian era society has been engaged in the challenge of adjusting to or responding to technology. However, for my purposes I am referring to the rapid growth of practical technology that has radically impacted the daily life of every resident of Canada in the last 110 years and gives no indication of becoming less of a factor in life or slowing its pace of change in the coming decades.

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How has the church responded? Although I am sure that there are those who would disagree with me, I would have to say that in my personal experience of the church in Canada, that the church has been primarily a spectator to all that has happened. Though the technological impact upon life in Canada has been immense it has made only a minimal impact on the way the church functions and carries out her mandate in the world.

Seventy years ago only a few congregations had parking lots and today a few, mostly newer congregations, do. We have traded in our Gestetner machines for photocopiers. A few congregations are experimenting with the use of digital projection equipment within worship services and faltering and inadequate audio amplification systems are to be found in churches everywhere. But most of this sort of thing is superficial and not very transforming of how the church carries out her mandate. Is this bad or good?

You see, there is a part of me that is concerned lest the church adopt that pattern of thought which simply idolizes technology indiscriminately. Certainly not all of the changes brought about by technology have been beneficial. Even positive technological advances have co-lateral consequences that demand careful analysis. On the one hand, because the church has often ignored technological change it is not well positioned to lead a critical evaluation of the impact that this change may be having on the lives of individuals. In the popular mind the church is often perceived to be the enemy of technology and its evaluation of technology is therefore suspect. At the same time, it seems that within the church there would be considerable hesitation to doing this because there is the fear that if the church voiced any reservations about technology it would only further diminish the prospect for the church's acceptance in what is undeniably a very technological age.

Ironically, it would appear that technology has had a much greater impact on the church's past history then it may be having on her present life. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th. Century was a great benefactor of the technological advances that introduced moveable type into the world of printing. The rapid distribution of both the Biblical text and the understanding with which it was received in Reformation thought were both direct consequences of a specific technological advance. Aside from these technological factors it is difficult to imagine how the Reformer's perspective could have become so widely dispersed in the world so rapidly. The Christian Church was one of the early adaptors to the technology of Gutenberg with conspicuous consequences. Is it unreasonable to ask why the church has not been a conspicuous benefactor from the technological developments of the 20th. Century?

It seems as though the 20th. Century world had a right to expect of the Christian church two responses to technology which have simply not materialized. Surely our society had reason to hope that the Christian Church in Canada would be at the forefront in identifying both the positive and the potentially negative consequences of the flood of technological advancement that the 20th. Century Canadian world was experiencing. Surely it also had reason to expect that the church would model some of the best applications of technology in such a way that the church and the world would be blessed. It does not appear to me as though the church came even close to meeting either of those two expectations.

Where to we go from here?

Ought we simply to pretend that none of this happened and that no one noticed these failures? If we cannot go back and live the last century over again what can we in the Christian church in Canada do right now that might begin to compensate for some of our past omissions? Or shall we just retreat behind our walls and try to wait it out?