Charles M. Wingard
The Christian and Technology, by John V. Fesko. Durham, UK: EP Books, 2020, xx + 104 pages, $8.99, paper.
Winston Churchill observed, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” The same is true of technology. In six crisp chapters John Fesko explains how six technological advancements have shaped Christian thinking and behavior, for better and for worse:
The theme throughout this book is this: You must learn to use technology, or technology will use you.
The invention of home computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones presents special problems for Christians. Not only do they bring what Fesko describes as “unfettered access to evil” into our homes and offices (a fact that should be obvious to every Christian), but they also produce unwanted and often overlooked effects: alteration to the brain’s wiring—and with it, distraction, reduced attention spans, and the loss of “deep reading” ability.
Social media generates profits by bombarding us with ads and links based on our “likes.” Without realizing it, the author wisely warns, we become immersed in a virtual realm shaped by our likes and dislikes, creating an idolatrous world made in our own image.
To believe that we can (if we had the power) or should turn back the tidal wave of technological tools is a fool’s dream. They are here to stay and will certainly grow in number and influence, molding our society in ways we cannot foresee. Whether we should use computers and virtual technology is no longer a debatable question. With the exception of groups like the Amish, who attempt to separate from the modern world, this is not an option. Fesko challenges his reader by asking the Christian how he is using this technology.
The chapter on the automobile is an example of the author’s careful reflection of the benefits and costs of technology, and what they mean to the church. Many of us can remember life without computers and smartphones. None of us can remember life without the automobile. How has the automobile shaped church life? Before the automobile congregational life centered on a parish church within walking distance for most. It was the church into which you were born, baptized, married, and buried—a vital part of its community’s life. On Sundays and throughout the week, members remained close to their pastor and to one another.
With the automobile came an autonomous mobility. For the first time Christians could travel to churches outside their communities. On the positive side, rural believers could easily find their way to church assemblies, and doctrinally-sound believers could leave a theologically liberal church and find an orthodox one. On the negative side closeness of community was forfeited and, where still practiced, church discipline became less weighty—just leave and go to a church that will accept you. Finding a church home became a matter of taste and just another consumer choice; the practice of biblical church discipline waned.
Although church vows and wedding vows are not identical, Fesko urges readers to treat the former more like the latter. Sacrifice for the church; labor and pray for its members; submit to its leaders. “Your car may give you the ability to run away,” he writes, “but you might be running from the very thing that you so desperately need” (40).
One of the most attractive features of this book is its strong devotional character. Chapters begin with the advantages that each technological advancement brings, followed by a careful delineation of their potential threats and actual harms, and it concludes with a summons to satisfaction in Christ, watchful obedience, and the diligent use of the ordinary means of grace.
The spiritual tone is set in the book’s introduction:
When Christ fills our vision, we will be able to use technology aright—we will not allow it to lead us into temptation and will be savvy to the tendencies toward idolatry and spiritual sloth that accompany it. When we feed upon Christ, the manna from heaven, all else pales in comparison. We find satisfaction in the Lord and seek no other table at which to feed our hungry souls: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt. 5:6). (xix)
The book’s brevity makes each chapter suitable for devotional use and group study (high school age and older). The bibliography shows the breadth of the author’s research in media ecology and points readers to resources for additional studies.
As a pastor and professor, I will be sharing this book with both parishioners and students.
Charles Malcolm Wingard is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi (PCA), and associate professor of pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Ordained Servant Online, June 2020.