by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 7/11/15.
A student once asked this very important question: “Do you think that technological and leadership resources really serve to articulate, unite, and fulfill (God’s mission)? How does that question and its response line up with the greatest missionary movement in history – that of the early church in Acts? At that time, the gospel reached the “known” world without the use of laptops, airlines, email, and much dinero. I really struggle with this, for it seems that as technology and prosperity have increased, so has apathy.”
I replied that when I look at the radical way Jesus and His disciples taught in the Apostolic period, I notice that they broke significantly with ineffectual traditional ways of teaching and learning that the Pharisees had codified. Jesus used parables, open-air sermons, power evangelism (demonstrable works of the Holy Spirit, such as healing, etc.), personal encounters, as well as object lessons with prostitutes, tax-gathers, Gentiles, Romans, etc. All this is to say that Jesus was not bound by the traditional methodology, but yet was consistent with traditional theology. Thus, today with the advent of laptops, the internet, movies, TV, satellite radio, podcasts, etc. etc. I think Jesus and His disciples would not eschew these methodologies, but crucially embrace them. This is what a good missionary does. He or she “sifts” a culture to discover which parts confirm Biblical teachings, which parts are morally neutral, and which run counter to the claims of Christ. It is the first and second categories that can provide conduits for the Good News.
The challenge is significant, but this is why missiological training is necessary. Yet, a seemingly easier route is to simply ban all modern technologies, linking them to rising apathy. However, the parallel rise in apathy and technology may not be causally linked. To think so without empirical evidence is what philosophers call the Fallacy of the False Cause. Thus, I suggest that we be wary of what I label the fallacy of technological seduction (modifying this term from ideas put forth by Edgar H. Schein in Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2004). By this mean that technology can subjugate us in two ways: to not utilize it when valid, and to utilize it uncritically.
I want to get leaders thinking like missiologists. I want them to expend their energy and brain-power to critically engage a culture and win it to Christ. And, I hope these thoughts have been one small part of that process.
PS I’ve noticed that Christians are often early adopters of technology. When I shared this with muy colleague, Professor Russ Gunsalus who is earning his Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University in W. Lafayette, Indiana, he said this has historically been true (a point I was trying to make above). Professor Gunsalus said that because Christianity is based upon effectively sharing knowledge that is why Christians have also historically been early adopters of technology that enhances communication, such as the printing press, etc. Good food for thought 🙂