Top 7 Posts of 2010

Here are the posts Google Analytics said were most popular this year. Hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did writing them.

1. NIV 2011: Every Last Change – Surprisingly the most popular post of the year was my programmatic assessment of changes between the NIV(1984), tNIV(2005), and NIV(2011).

2. Why You Need a Technology Basket At Home – A lot of people liked the idea of having a place for everyone in the family to put their computers and phone when they get home, opening up space to be present together.

3. NIV 2011: The Little Changes – Again, a big surprise that may overview of some interesting (non gender related) changes to the NIV garnered a lot of attention.

4. ChatRoulette.com: Anonymous Intimacy and Why We Say Stupid Things Online –  ChatRoulette was a big topic in the early part of 2010, and I used it a jumping off point for discussion about anonymity.

5. Are Chapter and Verse Numbers Making Us Stupid – We don’t normally think of verse numbers as “technology,” but they weren’t always there.

6. Corporate Sin: We Wanted BP To Cut Corners – Nearly everything we do and consume is somehow connected to a company or individual doing evil.

7. How Roasting Coffee Helped Me Understand Technology and Theology – A personal favorite of mine (and the most tweeted post) in which I used coffee roasting to talk about Albert Borgmann’s device paradigm.

Is 30 The Breaking Point for Technology?

Computer scientist Alan Kay (the guy who invented the stackable-windows computer interface we all use today) once defined technology as “anything invented after you were born” to make the point that people usually don’t consider “old” things like automobiles or chairs to be technology. For my parents, 8-track tapes were technology, but they aren’t for me. But  MP3s are technology to me, while my kids won’t think of them that way.

Way back in 1999 Douglas Adams extended Kay’s definition and outlined three classifications that people use (often unknowingly) when they think about “technology.” (his words are in quotes, I’ve added the bold titles to clarify it)

  1. Before Me = Not Technology: “everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal”
  2. Me + 30 = Awesome Technology: “anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;”
  3. Me + 30 + 1 = Evil Technology: “anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

So what do you think? Have you seen this play our in your church or job? Do you ever personally think this way? I’m 31 and now that I have 2 small kids, I sometimes find myself more wary of newer technology compared to things I grew up with. How about you?

Nativity Scenes: A Broken Commandment or a Medium of Theology?

A few weeks before Christmas, my teacher gave me and everyone in my fifth grade class just enough dough to make a single Christmas ornament. Sneaky kid that I was, I went around to each of my classmates’ desks and snatched a little chunk of their dough, eventually amassing enough to make the complete nativity scene you see above.

Was My Baby Jesus a Sin?

You’d be right to accuse me of stealing from my classmates, but believe it or not there are also some who accuse me of a far worse sin: making a graven image of God. The second commandment forbade the Israelites from being like all the other nations who made idols of their gods, this lack of a physical representation of God functioned as a reinforcement of the first commandment to have no other gods.

So the question is, does the second commandment extend to “graven images” of Jesus? Are ornaments, mangers, and crucifixes – however well intentioned – sinful?

All This Has Happened Before

It turns out this question was asked long, long ago, and answered with force and eloquence in a period of church history know as the Iconoclast Controversy . During that time (from around A.D. 500-700), several church councils were held and several creeds written about whether or not it was acceptable for Christians to make images of Jesus. Continue reading Nativity Scenes: A Broken Commandment or a Medium of Theology?

Balancing The Natural and the Unnatural in a Technological World

When I reflect on technology and modern life, I find myself continually returning to these ancient words from God to Adam:

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Gen 2:15)

Augmented Reality

The word that usually gets all the attention in this passage is “cultivate” (it even has its own conference!), and it forms the basis of what theologians call the “creation mandate” or “culture mandate” in which God urges humanity to create things from what he has made. Just as Adam might have pulled weeds, planted vegetables in neat rows, and added a border around it, we continue to rearrange God’s creation (i.e. cultivate the Garden) into useful and meaningful things.

But while we normally think of a garden as being “natural,” especially when compared to a modern gadget like a cell phone, in another sense a garden is very much “unnatural” in the sense that gardens don’t just happen their own; they only exist with human intervention. A garden is composed of naturally occurring things in an unnatural order corresponding to human needs and desires, a mixture of what God has made and what we have remade.

Moving beyond the garden, every object and thing around exists somewhere along the spectrum from natural to unnatural: the plant in the corner is quite natural, while the desk made of wood is only mostly natural. The shirt we wear tells us it’s 50% cotton / 50% rayon, our computers are even less natural with their plastics and exotic metals, and the website on which you’re reading this is perhaps the least natural of all.

Yet each of these things – however “natural” or “unnatural” – is a reflection of the creativity of God embedded in his image bearers, and each honors the command to “cultivate the garden.”

Gardening Tips

Because the idea of “cultivating” is so interesting, we often miss the fact that God gave Adam a second command. He was not only to “cultivate” the Garden, but also to “keep” it. In the context, “keep” probably just means something like “care for and maintain” in reference to the Garden. Continue reading Balancing The Natural and the Unnatural in a Technological World

I Marginalize My Father Through Technology

I have not sent an email to my dad in more than 6 years.

We’re not facebook friends, he doesn’t follow me on twitter, and he doesn’t get updates about our kids.

This is not because I don’t love him or because I never see him or because never talk to him. No, the reason is as simple as it is tragic – my dad is not legally allowed to use the Internet (for reasons I will not discuss here).

Practically, this meant that when our children were born, I could not immediately share a photo of them with him. Just hours after they were born, our friends saw photos of our kids through facebook and email. But it wasn’t until several weeks later when the craziness slowed down, that I took the time to print the photos, put them in an envelope, take them to the post office, and put them in the mail drop.

It took forever.

Likewise, when I write articles that I’m proud of, I have to make physical copies of the pages, … put them in an envelope, … take them to the post office … and so on.

Sometimes I never get around to it.

As I said, we talk on the phone, and he comes to visit every now and again, but sadly my dad is disconnected from the daily events of my life that I share online with so many others so easily. I am a citizen of the Internet, and that is where and how I share much of my thoughts, ideas, and work. But my father – the one whom I am commanded to honor – cannot enter into that world and is not permitted to speak its language.

What Would You Do?

Imagine for a moment about what it would be like to have one of your most important relationships severed technologically. How would you relate to a person that cannot use the mediums with which you are most familiar? How do you love someone that cannot communicate in your language?

Would it be worth the effort to reach back in technological time to connect with them?

While the technological “disconnect” most people experience is probably not as literal as what has happened between my dad and me, I think it’s also possible to create a gradual separation just by using mediums that those close to us do not. My guess is that over time many of our relationships become severed not by design or intention, but simply because of “medium drift.” Even my own wife, a vastly more intelligent and lovely person than myself, sometimes resorts to checking my various social media outlets to see what I’ve been up to and find out things I have neglected to share in person.

In such cases, I’ve let my fascination with new technological mediums determine the order of my loves. When I run to the latest tools and pour too much of myself into them, I leave others behind. Instead of actively and intentionally deciding which of my relationships matter the most, and then acting out of that priority, I allow my tools to dictate who knows what about me.

So my recommendation would be to take a few moments and make a list of the relationships that are most important to you. Then consider how you communicate and spend time with those people and see if that is out of sync with how much time you spend communicating online to people you barely know through mediums you personally enjoy.

Speaking of which, I’ve just spent 20 minutes writing this post to a lot of people I don’t know personally which reminds me – I need to go call my dad.

From Blog to Book in Two Years: What I Learned

The lawn mower cake I made for my son's 2nd birthday

Happy Birthday, this November marks the 2 year anniversary of Don’t Eat the Fruit!

In November 2008, I decided to start this blog as a fun way to catalog what I was reading and learning about how technology relates to theology and culture. Since then it’s been a rather interesting ride, and I thought I’d share what’s happened and offer some thoughts about it.

What Happened in Two Years?

  1. Kids – Since November 2008, by far the greatest change in my life came from having two wonderful children, Benjamin and Rebecca with my wonderful bride, Amber. She’s my best friend, and now she’s my closest ally in one of the greatest works either of us will ever do.
  2. Speaking – During this same time period, I’ve been doing a little bit of conference speaking start with BibleTech 2009 where I presented on the technology of the Bible and showed some Bible web tools I’ve been working on. I’ve also been have a blast doing seminars for parents on technology culture with Rhett Smith.
  3. Coding – In the summer of 2009, I went up to Wheaton, IL and did some consulting work for Crossway’s new ESV website. The awesome David Eyk and his team took the prototypes that I built and made a fantastic Bible study tool that’s available at: http://www.esvonline.org/. This year, I’ve been having fun with HTML5 video and other little goodies.
  4. Writing – While this blog was getting about 1,000 RSS subscribers, the presentation I did for BibleTech showed up on Justin Taylor’s blog (if you don’t know him, he’s like the king of Reformed blogging news and one of the nicest guy you’ll ever meet). That caught the attention of Kregel Publishing who then offered me a book contract. A month ago, I turned in a first draft and now we’re editing it for a July 2011 release with a tentative title of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology. I’ve also started writing a bit for magazines like Collide and Christianity Today.

What I’ve Learned about Blogging As Illustrated by Guns

Lots of people start blogs every day, so what made this one turn into a book?

I’d suggest that it was two main things. Instead of starting a “John’s opinions about random stuff” blog, I picked a narrow topic that very few people wrote about, and I only wrote about that. Secondly, I only posted 3-4 a month.

The reason for this was that in my experience, blogs that post more than weekly usually fall into one of three categories:

  1. Gatling guns: news blogs with a team that post all day long.
  2. Prolific snipers: the very rare blog that goes deep and does it often.
  3. Shallow shotgunners: an individual who posts their relatively shallow thoughts about all kinds of things.

News blogs can post daily or even hourly (gatling guns) because there’s always something happening (Justin Taylor on Reformed theology news, John Saddington’s 8bit Network). But if you’re not writing about current events or tech trends, then you’re usually posting about your thoughts. In rare cases, talented individuals like Tim Challies or Seth Godin, who are themselves almost full time writers, can keep this up (prolific snipers), but the rest of us don’t usually have that much good stuff to say.

Bloggers sometimes feel pressure to write daily, but when they do it’s often at a fairly shallow level shifting from topic to topic (shallow shotgunners). If instead you limit yourself blogging about a narrow topic like I did, then you’ll probably find that after 5-10 focused posts, you don’t have anything more to say about the subject.

A that point you have two options: change topics or stop and take time to dip your bucket into deeper wells (which are usually books without nice covers and magazines that aren’t at Barnes and Noble). By doing the later, you’ll be forced to post less often, but you’ll also tend to write more substantive posts. For example, some of the most heavily trafficed posts here were summaries books or journal articles I read (Four philosophies applied to twitterdefinitions of technologyBorgmann’s Device Paradigm and Roasting Coffee), and I think these were the kinds of posts that attracted a publisher. Perhaps this kind of blogging could be called:

  1. Occasional cannoneer: only a few long, form posts per month

A good example of this are Rhett Smith who writes longer posts often with hard-to-find quotes. I haven’t written as much in the past few months as I put together the book manuscript, but now that it’s finished, I’m hoping to return to more substantive cannon-like writing that’s born out of the material I’m reading. Up next: A review of Kevin Kelly‘s What Technology Wants.

Thanks for making the last two years a fun ride.

NIV 2011: Every Last Change

After posting about the NIV 2010/2011 on Monday, I decided to put together a change list. At the same time, another coder Robert Slowley left a comment saying that he also prepared a website with a detailed change set.

Here are the two links:

UPDATE: Here are some Wordle.net images showing what’s changed. The bigger the word, the more times it was added or removed.

Words removed from NIV1984

Words Removed from NIV1984Words added to NIV2011

Words added to NIV2011Although there are a lot of important small changes (“desert” to “wilderness”), these images shows that the vast majority of changes are “him,” “he,” and “his” being replaced with “they,” “their,” and “people.” The word “the” shows up so often because of changes such as “the man who” becoming “anyone who.”

NIV1984, tNIV, and NIV2011 Relationships

Version breakdown

This is based on the percentage of verses that are exact matches between versions. The percentage of word matches is closer to 91% between all three versions.

NIV 2011: The Little Changes

UPDATE

  1. This post doesn’t deal with the gender issues of the new NIV – it only looks at other mostly overlooked changes.
  2. I’ve also done an analysis of every single change change from NIV-tNIV-NIV2011 here: NIV2011 Changes

The Bible is my favorite use of the technology of writing, so I’m glad to see that the NIV 2010/2011 is now posted on BibleGateway.com. You can compare the versions directly (thanks to commenter Stanley J. Groothof),  and after a few clicks you can find a PDF with an overview of the changes.

The changes that get the most attention are usually the ones related to “gender neutral” issues, such as rendering the Greek word adelphoi, which literally means “brothers” as “brothers and sisters” when the translators thought the original text referred to the entire body of believers. These are very important and worthy of debate and discussion, but there are also a lot of other little changes that probably won’t get much press. I think these little changes are also worth bringing up such as this one about Joseph’s robe:

Joseph’s ‟richly ornamented robe” (Genesis 37:3) suggests a garment with decorations hanging from it, but drawings and descriptions of comparable clothing from antiquity now suggest that ‟ornate” is the best adjective to use. Joseph’s ‟richly ornamented robe” (Genesis 37:3) suggests a garment with decorations hanging from it, but drawings and descriptions of comparable clothing from antiquity now suggest that ‟ornate” is the best adjective to use.

This kind of research and change is really interesting, even if it means all the children’s books will need new illustrations)

When the NIV was first translated, the meaning of the rare Greek word harpagmos, rendered ‟something to be grasped,” in Philippians 2:6 was uncertain. But further study has 3 shown that the word refers to something that a person has in their possession but chooses not to use to their own advantage. The updated NIV reflects this new information, making clear that Jesus really was equal with God when he determined to become a human  for our sake: ‟[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”

Sometimes a single word like “grasped” that needs a little explanation seems better than a longer phrase like “used to his own advantage.” That said, it does seem less open to confusion, even if it leaves out subtlety.

And one shouldn’t be as easily able to misapply Philippians 4:13 now that it reads, ‟I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (i.e., to be content in all circumstances, whether in riches or in poverty), rather than ‟I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

If the verse numbers weren’t there to split 4:12 from 4:13, think of all the T-shirts and bumper stickers that would never have existed. I hope this change makes it so that 4:13 will no longer be divorced from it’s context.

1 Corinthians 11:10 now reads, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head.” The expression “a sign of” before “authority” in the 1984 NIV did not correspond to anything explicitly in the Greek and is increasingly recognized as an inadequate rendition of this verse. Whether Paul wanted the women in Corinth to wear an external head covering while praying or prophesying, or simply to have long hair, or maybe even to wear a partial face veil, the point is they should be able to control what they do or do not have on their heads.

Where they added words to Phil. 2:6, here I appreciate that they’ve taken away words that aren’t there and could lead to faulty interpretations. The PDF linked above has a full list of changes to the hot-button gender passages.

More uses of “spirit” and related forms, especially in Paul’s letters, are now capitalized. Ancient Greek did not make any distinction between upper-case and lower-case letters, so we cannot now for sure whether “spirit” (pneuma) should be capitalized or not. The sense of scholarship today is that “spirit” was not widely used in the ancient Mediterranean world for the disembodied part of a human being. The committee therefore decided to capitalize “spirit” whenever a reference to the Holy Spirit made good sense in a given context.

I think this is helpful for the average reader.

‟Forefather” has all but disappeared from the English language as a generic term, being replaced by ‟ancestor.” Even in Evangelical sermons and writings, ‟ancestor” is more than twice as common as ‟forefather.”

I wonder if this is really necessary when we refer to the “Founding Fathers” in regards to the United States.

‟Saints” often becomes ‟God’s people,” ‟the Lord’s people,” ‟the Lord’s holy people” and the like. Most people today think of a particularly good person when they hear the word ‟saint,” whereas in the Bible it translates terminology that regularly refers to all believers. Sometimes the context suggests an emphasis on God’s having declared them holy or the process of their becoming more and more holy, so a variety of similar expressions were used depending on the context.

Again, this does seem helpful for the average reader even it if misses some of the richness of the word “saint.”

Certain uses of ‟Christ” are now ‟Messiah.” This was true particularly in the Gospels and Acts, where the word seemed to retain its titular sense of the coming deliverer of the Jews rather than its more common New Testament usage, in which it seems to be virtually equivalent to a second name for Jesus.

In the previous example, they replaced a technical term “saints” with a broad description. Here it seems they are doing the reverse, using a more technical term “Messiah” in certain places.

Most occurrences of ‟sinful nature” have become ‟flesh.” Especially in Paul, sarx can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin. In an effort to capture this latter sense of the word, the original NIV often rendered sarx as ‟sinful nature.” But this expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx. The updated NIV uses ‟flesh” as the translation in many places where it is important for readers to decide for themselves from the context whether one or both of these uses of sarx is present.

I’m very happy about this one, because in college I was wrongly taught that I have two different “natures” – a redeemed nature and a “sin nature” – based on the NIV. Hopefully, this kind of error will be less frequent with a direct translation.

2 Corinthians 5:17
1984: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Updated NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
A footnote gives as an alternative, ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This time it is the Greek that is elliptical, reading simply ‟new creation.” Is it the person in Christ who is the new creation? Yes, of course. But if that’s all Paul meant, there are other more natural ways he could have said it. Given his overall theology that the coming of Christ and the new era he inaugurated began the period of the restoration of all things that would culminate in new heavens and new earth, it is likely that Paul is making a much more sweeping claim than just the salvation of the individual believer. A new universe is in the works!

This is one of those passages where I wish the NIV 1984 was right since I love what it says, but from studying Greek I know that the NIV 2011 is really the more accurate translation. I appreciate the NIV team’s willingness to sacrifice something that sounds good for something that’s more accurate.

Windows Phone Reminds You: “Be Here Now”

I haven’t used the new Windows Phone 7 so I have no idea how good it is, but I do love the concept of this ad:

The ad is pretty funny, but I especially love how they poke fun at what can happen when we have our eyes glued to a tiny screen all the time. The ad ends with a voice over saying, “We need a phone … to save us from our phones,” which is a little silly, but then the final scene is something we should all take to heart – it shows a couple sitting down for a dinner date and the words, “Be Here Now.” Great message.

Around the Web

Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted – Malcolm Gladwell (famed for Outliers, The Tipping Point, Blink, and his wild and crazy hair) contrasts histories great revolutions which involved much personal sacrifice to the easy click-thru activism style change we see online.

This Post Was Too Long To Read, So We TL;DR’d ItTLDR.it (short for “too long; didn’t read”) is a new web tool that attempts to extract the highlights from a long web article into something that fits the description of “a.d.d. appropriate news reading.” Of course, this is super useful, but it also favors “reading” as a mere information transfer rather than anything resembling mind formation and expansion. Let’s be sure not to use it on biblegateway.com, okay?

8 Photoshop Tutorials for Retouching Your Profile Pic – Mashable brings together several videos on how to retouch photos use PhotoShop to make your profile picture look better than you do real life. Graven images!

What Just Happened? – from Stuff Christians Like, Jon’s brief summary of his most recent online fundraising venture in which his readers raised $32,250  in 24 hours for people in Uganda. For all the downsides and negatives listed above, it’s wonderful to see that God is still active through the technology humanity creates.