Defining the Word “Technology” … Four Times

Technology, like “art,” is not a terribly easy word to define. It turns out that some philosophers have already done a decent job of parceling out categories, and I think they are helpful enough to list them out here. These definitions come from Stephen J. Kline’s 1985 article “What is Technology” found in the Bulletin of Science, Technology, & Society.

1. Technology as Hardware – this is the basic level that most of us mean when we use the word “technology.” As a piece of hardware (or an “artifact” for the anthropologist or “cultural good” for the sociologist), “technology” could be a clock, a shovel, a laptop, a belt, a thermometer, a can of root beer, a canteen, a tank, or a fake duck decoy. These are basically things do not occur “naturally” – which, for theists, are things God himself did not make. [As commenter Eric pointed out, this is a very broad definition which overlaps with things we would normally call art. I would also point out that this definition encompasses things that animals might make like bees’ hives and beavers’ dams.]

2. Technology as Manufacturing – taking a step back from the devices in our pockets and on our desks (and the desk itself) are the things that are used to make all these other things. Technology as manufacturing includes not just about the vat holding the molten steel for our next car or the robot putting together our next computer, but also the entire process (or “sociotechnical system,” as the philosophers say) from the people running the machines to the electrical grid powering the plant to the legislation passed that regulates the industry. This conception of technology was largely non-existent before the Industrial Revolution.

Continue reading Defining the Word “Technology” … Four Times

Merry Christmas: Please Choose a Free Book

commentary library

I love books. I love them so much that I even created a site ( to help people find good resources for Biblical studies. A cool part of that site is that affiliate links bring in some gift certificate money from To celebrate God’s gift of his one and only Son to us all, I’d like to use some of that gift certificate money to say “Merry Christmas” and “Thanks for stopping by.” So if you’re in need of a book, here’s what to do:

  1. Go to, browse around and find a book you like.
  2. Come back here and leave a comment with the book title, a link to the book, and the reason you want/need the book.
  3. Vote on who you think should get a free book (hopefully this makes it less random). The comments with the most “likes” as of Saturday, 12/19, will get the book of their choice.

I think I have enough to get 2-3 books, so comment and vote away. Oh and tell your friends.

Update: And the winners are:

Is Online Ministry ‘Incarnational’?

WheatfieldI feel like the luckiest guy in the world that something I really like to doing – coding websites – can be an important ministry. But it’s not all fun and games. Last month, the online education program I oversee lost two students in East Asia due to government crackdown. This means what I do isn’t a game, it’s a real world struggle and it leads me to take my job – internet ministry – very seriously.

As we near Christmas, the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God as the God-man, Jesus Christ, I want to reflect for a moment on a term – “incarnational” – that I would like to use to describe Internet ministry. If you’re not familiar with the term, “incarnational ministry” has come to describe ministries that go where people live their lives and take on a set of cultural values and practices in order to minister within it.

In online ministry, we digitally go where people are and minster to them in their native environment, so it seems like “incarnation” would be a natural descriptor. But, as much as I would like to use this term, I have some reservations about it for the online world. Continue reading Is Online Ministry ‘Incarnational’?

Shane Hipps is Coming to My Conference: The Electronic Gospel

The Electronic GospelJust kidding. It’s the other way around.

Dallas Theological Seminary‘s Center for Christian Leadership is hosting Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels (my review), for a one day conference in Dallas called The Electronic Gospel: How Technology Shapes Our Faith on February 8th, 2010. Here’s the official description:

A conference about engaging technology with discernment, creativity, and purpose as you articulate the gospel in a digital age … Whether you’re leading a ministry, volunteering in church, or parenting children, this conference will help you navigate the digital age. You’ll be equipped to evaluate technology, discern its effects, and utilize it to communicate the gospel.

In addition to Hipps’s two keynote session, there will be three breakout sessions. I’ll lead one on controlling technology in our daily lives, Scott McClellan of Collide Magazine will lead a session on social media, and Bill Buchanan of Irving Bible Church will lead one on technology in the worship service. Hopefully, it’ll be a fun time to talk about not just how to use technology, but also how it shapes us and its significance to our faith and lives.

Hope to see you there!

NT Wright on Blogging & Social Media

From Bill Kinnon:

This is NT Wright’s response to my question on his opinion of blogging during Imbi Medri-Kinnon’s interview shoot with the Bishop of Durham in 2007. Portions of this interview appear in her documentary, Mind the Gap – where she looks at the challenge for church leadership in the 21st Century.

I appreciated that Wright balances the value of online interaction with a set of possible negatives (such as feeding the Gnostic dream, loss of depth without physical presence, etc.) and then determines his own actions based on a set of personal convictions. He has decided not to engage in online discussion of his ideas not necessarily due to the aforementioned negatives, but because those interactions – for all their benefits – are not as valuable a use of his time as face-to-face interactions. N.T. Wright is astoundingly prolific, pumping out books and articles, touring and teaching, and still finding time to be the bishop of Durham. It seems that his time is well spent.

I would hope that we can all follow Wright’s example of having a set of personal convictions about the Lord’s calling in our life and then follow those convictions.

(HT: Out of Ur)

Every Reference to Technology in the Scriptures

Matthew Clarke (site | blog) contacted me to let me know that he’s been reading through the Bible to compile every reference which mentions some kind of technology. He lists every real tool used by a person (or by God himself) as well as instances where a tool is used as a metaphor.

He’s put them all on WikiChristian for anyone who wants to check it out or make changes and additions.

Go help Matthew out – there are lots of cool references in Revelation he hasn’t gotten a chance to add yet.

Four Questions for Technology from the Biblical Story

A few months ago, in a post called From the Garden to the City, I briefly mentioned four aspects of technology that show up in the redemptive narrative of Scripture, and I’ve presented it at a few conferences. Drew Goodmanson recently asked if anyone had something like it, so I’m pulling a section from my book manuscript and putting it together as blog post.


McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media

After Marshall McLuhan died, his son Eric published Laws of Media: the New Science which contains what is now called the Tetrad of Media or the Four Laws of Media. McLuhan believed that when a new medium is introduced into an environment, it has four simultaneous effects: Enhancement, Obsolescence, Retrieval, and Reversal. We’ll use the mobile phone as an example:

  • EnhancementWhat natural function or older medium does the new medium amplify or intensify?
    The mobile phone amplifies the human voice and our ability to communicate. It also extends the range of older land lines.
  • Obsolescence: What natural function or older medium does the new medium drive out of prominence?The mobile phone makes land lines less important, but also other less instantaneous forms of communication like letter writing.
  • Retrieval: What the older medium or practices are recovered by the new medium?
    The mobile phone restores oral communication for those separated by physical distances who used to only be able to communicate via letters.
  • Reversal: What happens when the medium is overused or pushed to its limits?
    When overused, the mobile phone disconnects and isolates people. Users can also annoy those around them and no be truly present with those in their midst.

For more examples, see these previous posts: McLuhan’s Four Laws on Twitter and Crouch’s Five Questions on Twitter.

[Dyer’s] Tetrad of Technology in the Biblical Story

I would like to suggest a similar tetrad that addresses spiritual considerations with technology. It conveniently maps to the overarching biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Like a good DTS graduate, I’ve turned them into four ‘R’s. Continue reading Four Questions for Technology from the Biblical Story

A Meaningful Distraction: The Beeper that Wouldn’t Stop

In the course of studying the nature of technology, I am often faced with the negative side of our tools. So, for this blog’s first birthday (happy birthday, blog!), I thought I’d share a story of someone using a technology in novel way to deeply and redemptively enter the lives of those around him.

The Way Life Sometimes Goes

My pastor, Andy McQuitty, has cancer. At first, it seemed like just a minor scare. The doctors thought they had caught it early and everything would be fine. But later Andy found out that the cancer had spread and his condition is much more serious. This summer he was formally diagnosed with stage 3C cancer.

Watching our pastor and his family suffer has deeply affected our church body, but we’ve also been greatly encouraged by his faith, his candor, and his ever present humor.

A Constant Connection

A Beeper

As a way of offering him constant encouragement, someone had the brilliant idea of giving Andy a beeper and giving everyone in the church its number. Whenever we pray for him, we call the number, and the beeper vibrates letting him know that we are petitioning God on his behalf. He has preached a few times since receiving the beeper, and he often speaks of how meaningful it was to have the beeper going off all throughout the day and night. He even puts it on the podium so we can watch it dance around while he preaches.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all have something like that letting us know that people cared enough to pray for us?

Taking It a Step Further

Of course Andy thought about that and after he had the beeper for a few weeks he asked the entire congregation to do something a little different when they prayed for him. Since he spends a lot of time at the hospital undergoing treatment, he asked us to make sure that when we pray for him, that we also pray for the people he will no doubt be surrounded by at any given moment.

Now, whenever Andy is in a hospital waiting room where patients are gathered, he quietly places his beeper on a nearby table. Normally, putting a phone or page our in plain view is a social faux pas, but the patients politely ignore it and continue talking. As they alternate between talking, laughing, and crying about their various conditions, the beeper constantly buzzes across the table.

Eventaully, someone will speak up and ask Andy, “What’s the deal with the beeper?”

He then explains, “People in my church call this beeper whenever they pray for me. But not only that, they also to pray for anyone around me too. That buzzing means you just got prayed for.”

Powerful, huh?

If you want to hear how the patients and those around them react, check out the audio clip below. I don’t think the story needs much commentary, other than to say that it only takes a little creativity to use technology in a way that doesn’t pull people apart but actually brings them closer to each other and maybe even God himself.

Andy McQuitty’s Personal Pager

SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World by Douglas Estes (Review)

As an aside, I’ve just added a Books & Resources section that has a brief bibliography of books that address technology and faith.

SimChurch by Douglas Estes

Recently, Douglas Estes posted on CT’s Out of Ur, Cynthia Ware’s Digital Sanctuary, and a few other blogs, giving a preview of the issues he covers in his new book SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. However, his arguments in those posts weren’t very well developed, and many commenters pounced.

I’m happy to say that the book is quite a bit deeper in its explanation and arguments, and Estes has produced a fairly thorough account of what is happening, where it appears to be headed, and the myriad issues that need to be sorted out.  His book  interacts with much of the recent literature in the areas of online religion and online identity, and argues that the church as a whole needs to do more to reach those who live much of their live online.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion about it, the online church model appears to be here to stay just as the mega-church and multi-site video campus models before it. Whether we believe online church is “real” or not, it is a real issue that needs real engagement (especially when the NYTimes covers it). My goal here is to point out the areas of the book where I felt Estes answered some of the tough questions and which areas will still need further biblical and theological engagement to help the church as a whole understand it.

Continue reading SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World by Douglas Estes (Review)

The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community (Review)

Church of Facebook by Jesse RiceJesse Rice is a former worship arts director from California, and he’s just released one of the first books that directly addresses Christian community and identity in the social networking age.

Rice is a great story teller, and he uses his skill to make several scientific, psychological, and architectural experiments into fun-to-read vignettes that he eventually uses to illustrate important concepts about how humans connect and think about themselves. In fact, the book never directly addresses “church” or “doing church” on Facebook. Instead the book is primarily about what more basic human concepts like identity, authenticity, connection, intentionality, and feeling at home, and how those are impacted and reinterpreted online.

Continue reading The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community (Review)