John Dyer is the director of web development at my alma mater Dallas Theological Seminary, as well as a graduate from there with his Th.M. He blogs regularly at Don’t Eat the Fruit.
In the introduction to the book, Dyer lays out the single statement from one of his professors that seemed to be what got the ball rolling on the contents of this book. It was in a class on theology and society, and the professor warned the students that “One of the most dangerous things you can believe in this world is that technology is neutral” (p. 15).
Interestingly, I know the particular professor he is referring to, and I was actually enrolled in that class but switched my schedule before classes started. Part of me wondered for a moment about how my thinking might be different had I stayed in that class. The rest of me though realized I should probably keep reading because I myself am all too often tempted to think technology is neutral.
Dyer’s book argues what our professor said was true, even though he was initially opposed to it. In writing, Dyer weaves chapters on the biblical story in between chapters digging into some philosophy of technology. Because of this, it allows the reader to see how technology interfaces with the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, restoration, and how God has worked through technology to accomplish his purposes.
Referring to the biblical story, Dyer says:
At one end of this story is a pristine garden prepared by God for humankind to develop and transform. At the other end is a glorious, heavenly city full of human creations, art, and technology. At the center is our Savior Jesus Christ crucified on a cross, the most horrific of all technological distortions, built by transforming a tree from the natural world into a tool of death. Yet in his resurrection, Christ redeemed even that tool, transforming it into the symbol of our faith that eventually portrays his power over death and sin (p. 29).
Given just this sampling of how technology and redemption interact, Dyer then explains his goal in writing:
In the time between the garden and the city, between Christ’s first and second coming (when he will complete his work of redemption and restoration), we must work diligently to understand how to live faithfully in this technology-saturated world. To help us better understand our world, we will combine what we find in the Scriptures with insights from some of the best thinkers on technology, theology, and culture (ibid).
Dyer then turns to chapter two where he introduces three stories. The first is about “how humans shape the world using tools.” The second is how about how tools then return the favor. The third story concerns how all that shaping finds its way into our souls. Throughout the books, Dyer returns to each of these stories, drawing out implications and thinking about technology at a level that most people rarely do.
After introducing the framing stories, Dyer has a chapter on how we are programmed (or created), which is the first one on the biblical story. The next chapter defines technology, which after tracing a brief history of the word and its usage, is nailed down as “the human activity of using tools to transform God’s creation for practical purposes” (p. 65). Looking at technology this way, the horizon is broadened beyond just gadgets like iPhones and Kindles to anything that is a tool used by humans. This, as you might image, has implications for both what you think about technology and what you counts as technology.
Having laid a solid foundation, Dyer returns to the biblical story and explores the effects of the fall. The following chapter gets into philosophy of technology and media ecology proper, before returning to the biblical story with a chapter on redemption. In the next chapter, Dyer turns to mediums (not the spiritual kind) in order to understand how the medium shapes the message.
While the book has practical implications sprinkled throughout, I though the chapter on mediums (appropriately titled Mediums) was very helpful for me personally. Sometimes I can find myself thinking that all communication is equal and as long as the message gets out there everything is cool. I need to be reminded that a phone call and an email are not identical, even if I think the content might be the same. Similarly, you read this book review in a different way than you would get similar information by asking me what I think about the book (which a friend just did as I came into Panera to write). For me, my thoughts are more ordered after I’ve had time to write them out, so my in person review before is much less descriptive than after.
The final chapters cover the biblical story about restoration and look into technicism and then closes with a chapter on virtualization. It here where Dyer both introduces his technology tetrad as well as offers more extended meditations on where we find ourselves today when it comes to technology. As Dyer says:
But even those of us who strive to put our treasure in the things of heaven are subject to one more subtle influence of modern technology. Not only do modern tools help reinforce technicism an perpetuate consumerism, the instant availability of today’s technologies bring with it a fundamental change to human life, which most of us never even notice (p. 154).
If there is one really good reason to read this book, I think that about sums it up. If the unexamined life isn’t worth living, then the unexamined technological life for the Christian is not just not worth living, it may represent a failure on our part to let the ramifications of Christ’s lordship to enter into our use of technology. We do well to think deeply about how technology is shaping us before running to grab every new gadget that comes out (including the new Kindle which was announced today).
Overall, I would highly recommend you pick up Dyer’s book and give it a read. He writes well and with clarity, yet he thinks deeply about technology and how it impacts our lives as Christians. If you’re looking for an opportunity to reflect more on how technology comes into play in your own life, and want to do so biblically, then this book is for you.
- Paperback: 192 pgs
- Publisher: Kregel (June 24, 2011)
Thanks to Kregel for providing me this review copy!