Technelogia, the Virtualization of Culture, and the Theology of Artificial Intelligence (Videos)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of delivering a series of lectures on technology for Dallas Theological Seminary‘s Arts Week. Arts week is one of my favorite times at DTS because there are art installations on campus, evening events with artists and theologians, and a series of talks on the arts. Normally, there is a fantastic outside speaker, but this year they took a risk on having me to it and trying to pull together theology, the arts, and technology.

Why Pastors and Theologians Need Artists and Coders

For the opening talk, I connected technology and the arts through the Greek term technē, which forms the root of our English word technology, but covered both the mechanical arts and the fine arts. I also introduced the basic concept of Social Shaping of Technology as a model for understanding the mutual shaping process between culture and technology/arts as well as the social meanings we assign to the things around us.

The Virtualization of Culture and the Need for Embodied Places and Practices

For the second talk, I drew a connection between the sense of placelessness that people often feel in modernity and in technological culture and the placelessness of Isreal when they wandered through the desert. To give Isreal a sense of place, God gave them an entire set of physical, visual, and linguistic cultural elements to ground them in the world and form them into the people of God. In our own placeless cultural moment, I think one of the greatest gifts the church has to offer to the world are our physical, embodied practices especially communion which evangelicals have tended to avoid.

Theological Reflections on Artificial Intelligence

For the third talk, I abandon the suit and tie to explain the emergence of Artifical Intelligence (AI) and lay out some of the opportunities it brings along with the unintended consequences, ethical issues, and theological issues that it will surface. I wish I could have gone deeper into each one, but I was grateful to be able to introduce these ideas in a setting like a seminary chapel. (Kevin Kelly recently gave a great talk on AI at Q Conference and there are some wonderful similarities in our approaches).

What Your Chapel Architecture Says About Your Theology

To end the week and reconnect theology, technology, and the arts, I discussed DTS’s coming project to build a new chapel space on campus with our VP of Campus Operations. We were able to briefly introduce the history of Christian worship spaces, some of DTS’s guiding values in past projects, and the kinds of considerations one needs to think through in building a worship space. Although we weren’t able to go in depth on these topics, I hope it introduced our students to the kinds of questions they may one day be asking in a ministry about how to embody their faith in the world alongside artists and technologists.

Without the Printing Press, Would Inerrancy Be A Question?

Valentin - Paul Writing

A Bit of Background

Depending on your background, the term “inerrancy” might be a vaguely familiar idea that means something like “authority” or “trustworthiness” or, conversely, it might refer to an idea invented by fundamentalists that is at best unhelpful.

But whatever your background with the idea, you’ll likely be hearing more about it soon on the heals of Zondervan’s new book Five Views on Inerrancy and events surrounding its publication such as the Evangelical Theological Society’s recent debate (live blog) by the authors of the book.

We’ll touch on the meaning of inerrancy below, but first the point of this post is to propose that the development of the idea of inerrancy came about in part because of the printing press and the attitudes and expectations created by printed books.

What is Inerrancy?

For scholars, the term “inerrancy” comes with many technical definitions. Wayne Grudem defined inerrancy saying, “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Systematic Theology, 91) and more recently Al Mohler writes, “The Bible is ‘free from all falsehood or mistake’.” (c.f. The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy).

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult concept, but as Mohler says the devil is in the details. When a perfect God works through a fallen person, what exactly would it mean for Scripture to have a “mistake” or something that is “contrary to fact”?

For example, today we use the term “four corners of the earth” as an expression, but when the author of Revelation used the phrase (Rev. 7:1) did he think there really were four corners of the earth? If so, is that “mistake”? Or is it God working through the language and customs of the time? Or something else?

What about the ages of men in Genesis (any over 900 years)? Are those to be taken as scientifically accurate dates that are either chronologically right or wrong? Or was the author doing what many people did in the Ancient Near East which was to use “age” not as an index of time, but as an index of importance? If so, again, is this “contrary to fact” or  God working through the language and expectations of the original culture of readers? Or is the Bible just wrong on many factual matters but still correct when it comes to spiritual issues?

The examples could go on and on, but it is worth pointing out that in the last major “Battle for the Bible” which took place in the 1970s and ‘80s, some evangelical theologians took the position that they could still affirm biblical authority and infallibility, but not the technical idea of inerrancy. As Marsden tells the story in Reforming Fundamentalism many theologians essentially had the same basic view of Scripture, but struggled with the term “inerrancy” itself and all that it connotes. Today the debate is bubbling up again because of new concerns about what exactly constitutes an “error” and what can be considered the conventions of the literary genre.

While this is very interesting and will likely continue to be an important issue among evangelicals, its important to note that underneath the issue of “error” is an idea about “error” that can be traced, in part, from the move from hand-written texts to printed texts.

Gutenberg, Luther, and Erasmus

Gutenberg’s first printing press came online in 1450. When we talk about the printing press and Christianity, we often point out that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door in 1517 and then later used the printing press to great effect when distributing his German translation of the Bible.

But what we don’t normally mention is that Erasmus published the first critical edition of the Greek New Testament the year before in 1516. (A critical text is one that compares several hand-written copies of the Bible and notes where there are differences. For example, the ending of Mark is not in many early manuscripts, and Erasmus’ critical text noted all such known variations.)

An interesting question is: why was Erasmus’ generation the first to think of creating such comparative editions of the Bible?

The Value System of Print

Before the age of print, a book was something decidedly human. Each copy and every letter therein could be traced to living, breathing, fallible human being. Books were written by humans, copied by humans, ready aloud by humans, and listened to by humans.

But in the print age, a book was a product manufactured by a machine capable of precision and perfection. Every letter was an exact replica of the one before it and every page in one book matched the same page in the same edition of the same text.

Erasmus was part of the first generation raised with this new technology and its value system founded on the idea that texts should not vary from copy to copy. So when Erasmus encountered differences among hand-copied Bibles, he looked at them differently than previous generations of Christians who never expected books to be perfect replicas of one another. That’s not to say previous generations of Christians were unaware of such changes – Origen, Augustine, Aquinas and others commented on textual variations – but Erasmus and the generations that followed him devoted much more attention to textual criticism, and this study was both influenced and supported by the printing press.

Doubts Arise

Most of the changes he and others found were minor, but they were enough to create an entire field of study (biblical criticism) that didn’t exist before. More importantly, these differences among copies of the Bible started causing some people to doubt the trustworthiness of the Scriptures themselves.

As the story goes, seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment thinkers began to question the historicity of certain parts of the Bible, especially anything miraculous. Modern, scientific man need not and could not believe in things like parting the Red Sea and resurrection from the dead. And though many of these critiques were over the content of the Bible, it was also subtly about biblical media – silly, hand-copied legends could never compete with rigorous scientific data hot off the printing press.

Up to this point, all Christians had affirmed the authority, trustworthiness, and truthfulness of the Bible. The scribes who copied it did their best to copy every letter and every word with precision and care. And yet minor mistakes and human variations in copying were just a part of their reality and part of what made a Bible beautiful.

It seems clear that the reason people like Erasmus started taking more note of the differences is that using the technology of print inculcated the expectation of perfect texts. This is important because the inerrancy debate is primarily concerned with the perfection of the biblical texts. The Scriptures teach us that God himself is perfect, but it is the technology of print that teach us us to expect a kind of perfection from our texts.

Fighting Fire with Fire

It was in this context of biblical criticism that inerrancy emerged as a new way of re-establishing biblical authority in scientific and technological terms. Conservative theologians felt they couldn’t simply restate the historical view that the Bible is authoritative – they needed to do so through the lenses new media (print) provided.

Notice how Grudem’s definition is specifically concerned not merely with the content itself but with content respect to media. Instead of just saying that the Bible has no factual errors, his definition qualifies the lack of errors by saying there were none “in the original manuscripts.”

Grudem is arguing that some of the “errors” people find the Bible are really just mistakes in copying and if we had the original manuscripts, it would clear up what appears to be contradictions.

But notice that at its core this statement contrasts two forms of media: handwritten copies of the Bible and printed replicas of the Bible. What this means is that to understand, debate, affirm, or deny the concept of “inerrancy,” one must be familiar with print and its value system.

Put another way, inerrancy is a post-print doctrinal orientation.

Affirm, Deny, or Ignore?

Those who reject inerrancy often claim that it is a 19th century invention foreign to the early church. Conversely, inerrantists often claim inerrancy is the historical position of the church. I hope to have argued that neither position is truly accurate.

I am neither criticizing nor defending inerrancy (disclosure: inerrancy is one the seven doctrines students must affirm at the institution where I work), but pointing out that whether you affirm inerrancy, reject it, or simply find it unhelpful or unnecessary, these are postures only those familiar with printed books and the value system of the Print Age can take.

Again, this is evident in the way many definitions of inerrancy hinge upon the new realities created by print media and the kinds of things people today consider to be “mistakes” or “errors.”

The development of the concept of inerrancy doesn’t make it true or false, it simply means that answering the question of authority in this way was not required of pre-print Christians. And yet, whether we like it or not, it is a question we must to wrestle with today.

For those of us deeply concerned with fully affirming that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful …” (2 Tim 3:16), we must articulate what that means within our own cultural setting, even as that setting is again shifting media: this time from print to digital.

Pedro at 40: How a Television Show Changed the Way a Generation Viewed LGBTQ Persons

Credit: wikipedia
Real World Cast (Pedro second from right) Credit: wikimedia

Vote for Pedro

My generation might best be defined as those who remember watching Pedro Zamora die of AIDS in our living rooms.

If you’re not familiar with Pedro, he was an openly gay, HIV-positive castmember in the third season of MTV’s the Real World which aired in 1994. Those who watched Pedro’s life play out on the tiny 4:3 screens of the time were presented with a high definition portrait of kind young man who didn’t fit any of the caricatures of homosexuality that one might see in the movies or hear about from the pulpit.

He was warm, funny, and extremely thoughtful, always facing his illness and his antagonistic, homophobic roommate “Puck” with a kind of conflicted dignity that captivated viewers.

But just as the Real World: San Francisco started airing that summer, Pedro’s health began deteriorating rapidly, and he was soon diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Although MTV offered to pay for his medical expenses, Pedro’s health continued to worsen and, hours after the season finale aired, Pedro died, surrounded by his friends and the family members Bill Clinton had flown in from Cuba.

Not surprising, the gay community mourned the untimely loss of this bright, energetic educator and activist. But what was surprising was that many people who wouldn’t think of themselves as “pro gay” at the time were also deeply affected. Anyone could see that Pedro was a good person who cared about others, and just about anyone would choose him as a friend over some of his heterosexual castmates. No matter what one thought about homosexuality, his death was clearly a great injustice.

Credit: Wikipedia:
Pedro in the hospital (Credit: wikimedia)

The Enfleshing of the Other

Before The Real World began airing that summer, one could afford to conceive of homosexuality an abstract concept, an idea about those people over there whom football players made fun of and preachers condemned. But by the time school was under way in the fall, one began to sense that something more than the colors of the leaves was changing. Macho guys couldn’t fire off a “That’s so gay” attack without feeling at least a tiny twinge of guilt, and church youth group kids (who weren’t supposed to be watching MTV anyway) began to wonder if things were as black and white as they used to be.

Now, make careful note: I’m not referring to people who heard or read about Pedro’s death after the fact (like we’re doing now). In the 1980s and 1990s, there were plenty of stories about people dying of AIDS. And here in 2010s, “reality TV” is just a cheap way to get famous, and gay characters are common on every channel in every genre (Modern FamilyMad MenCaprica, etc.).

But in the early 1990s, The Real World was just an experiment. It was new and novel, the evolution of a network that no longer played music videos, but still shaped how young people viewed themselves and the world. Watching the The Real World back then actually created sense of getting to know a genuine “real” person.

The result was that long before many of our friends or family members had come out of the closet, Pedro stepped in our living rooms and inoculated us against seeing homosexuality as wholly “other.” It was no longer possible to think about homosexuality without picturing at least one homosexual. We might not want to fully “embrace the other” in a Volfian sense, but we couldn’t easily exclude them either.

Pedro’s Influence Today

Last February, Pedro would have turned 40.

And it turns out that 40 is just about the age where one can see a clear ideological fault line on opinions about gay marriage. A poll by Christianity Today shows those 35 and under tend to support same-sex marriage, while those over 35 tend not to, and this division is present among both those that call themselves “born again” and those who don’t.

Normally, one might be able to chalk this up to the old saying, “If you’re not liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart; and if you’re not conservative when you’re old, you don’t have a brain.” After all, a recent Lifeway poll showed that young people are also more likely to see same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue than their older counterparts. But other data suggest something more complex is going on than youthful naivety or elderly curmudgeony. Another poll by Lifeway Research says that among “born agains” of all ages, over 80% believe that “homosexual behavior is a sin,” but at the same time, those same young people seem to be supportive of gay marriage (or don’t think it should be fought against).

So why do the young at times to agree with the old on the morality of sexual activity, but differ with them when it comes to same-sex marriage? I think the answer is that stories like Pedro’s – so innovative and provocative at such a key time – humanized homosexuality, pulling it out of the abstract and concretizing it in a way that almost forces people who experienced it to separate their ideas about homosexuality from how they feel about homosexuals. After all, it’s much easier to condemn a thing than it is to condemn a person.

This seems to explain the angst many young Christians feel about “the issue” – i.e. they don’t want “it” to be an “issue” at all, because for them homosexuality is just one important aspect of the complex, multi-faceted people they know (or at least watched on TV). They know what the Bible says about sexual activity, and many seem to believe it, but their souls are torn because they can’t easily resolve the tension between what they believe in their minds about an idea and what they feel in their hearts toward their friends. It’s easy to tell a faceless crowd what to do, but it’s much more challenging to look into the eyes of an enfleshed being and do the same.

Where We Go From Here

As one with degrees in genetics and theology and an abounding interest in culture, it might seem natural for me to connect all this to the recent Supreme Court decisions (e.g. Bill Clinton passed the recently struck down DOMA just two years after he helped Pedro’s family get to the US) and the “culture wars” more generally. But instead I’ll keep my “media critic” hat on and direct you back to my central point which is that a single human story, particularly one told via new media, has the power to bend the trajectory of public opinion and throw the feelings and beliefs of a generation into conflict.

The enduring significance of Pedro’s story was that it normalized a way of life that at the time was easy to caricature. Back then, most TV shows portrayed gays as cultural deviants with strange hair and high voices, but Pedro broke every stereotype and served as the archetype of what 12-18 year olds in the 90s thought of men and women who would later be called LGBTQ.

Now, two decades later, following Jesus has in many ways become the new “way of life that is easy to caricature.” The popular media representation of a Christian is often as a cultural outsider with big hair and a loud mouth. Sound familiar?

So I’d like to suggest that Christians today might learn from Pedro’s life and even emulate it in a certain sense. I want to be cautious about misusing the life of a man who died so tragically, but perhaps we too through character and conviction can consciously use the story of our lives (that we are constantly telling and retelling on social media) toward making certain religious stereotypes impossible to believe.

Could you, like Pedro, hold counter-cultural beliefs, and yet be so kind and so courageous that people had trouble dismissing you and your God? When you look back 20 years from now, what will your media footprint say about your God?


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

Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: A Redefinition of the Book

The release of the iPad earlier this year kickstarted a new wave of discussions about the death of print and how magazines and book publishing will work in the digital era. But there were signs that the print world was changing long before the iPad, and these shifts have made their way into the world of Christian publishing.

An example of this was the demise of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series a few years ago. If you’re not familiar with biblical commentaries, there have been dozens of commentary sets published over the years each each with a slightly different focus and each building on the previous generation of scholarship. I built a website that tracks commentary rankings from other scholars and the summary data indicates that some of the most highly regarded series have been Word, NICOT/NICNT, and Baker. Originally, the EEC was supposed to be the next great series, but after the project was underway the publisher decided that there wasn’t a market for another expensive commentary series, and so they were forced to let it die.

Then in 2009 Logos, the company that makes one of the dominant Bible software packages, resurrected the project and decided to make it 100% digital with print as a byproduct (they will offer paperback editions, but only in an abridged format). In the past few decades, Logos has been doing the reverse taking print titles into the digital age, but this time everything will be digital from start to finish.

That means the EEC will be the double rainbow of biblical commentaries!

What does it MEAN?!

I think this project be very interesting (and not just because 7 of the 45 or so authors are from my employer, Dallas Theological Seminary) because to my knowledge it’s one of the first major academic research projects to be 100% digital. Logos already does a fantastic job linking up all the references to the Bible and other books, but since they are starting with a fully digital format, several old print metaphors can go out the window:

  • Table of Contents: These are less important in commentaries since you can already tell the context based on the verse numbers, but I wonder if the EEC will even include a classic table of contents since it can use other menu structures to do this.
  • Footnotes/Endnotes: these were invented to separate references from the main text, but in a digital format this is totally unnecessary. I’m interested to see if they try to maintain this metaphor or put all of this in hyperlink format.
  • Excursus/Appendix: In many commentaries, an author will put extended discussions in an excursus (often with smaller text – I’m looking at you Karl Barth) or an appendix at the end (such as a longer discussion of marriage in Ephesians). Both the excursus and appendix are designed to physically separate the main discussion from extra points. But in a digital format, physical separation isn’t necessary.
  • Index: Obviously, this is completely unnecessary in a digital publication and Logos promises to add metadata to enhance searches.From their website: “It contains accurate metadata and extensive tagging done by real humans, who understand that when you search for sacrament, results for Lord’s Supper and Communion and Eucharist should appear, too.”
  • Quotations: There are two main functions for quotations. Above, I used a quote to highlight an important section of something you can read yourself. But other times, an author will over a more lengthy quotation of something because it is hard to find or expensive to access. In a digital format, is it necessary to include text in a quote or is a hyperlink sufficient.

And here are some additional issues that we’ll have to work through:

  • Citations: On the other end of the spectrum from quotations is how other authors will cite the EEC. There are defined ways to cite digital works, but I always found it a bit harder to do than print editions. Perhaps Logos will drive for a better standard in digital citations.
  • Versioning: Logos often pushes out updates to digital books you’ve purchased. Presumably these are corrections to the digital edition that bring it more inline with the print version. But in a 100% digital publication, changes are changes to the canonical version. These change also might impact the citation issue because you’ll need to include the version number that you referenced. Also the print edition will be different, surfacing additional differences and citation issues.
  • Platform lock-in – My guess is that Logos won’t offer the EEC on other platforms which means that you’ll have to have Logos to access the authoritative version of the commentaries. It’s interesting that in order to gain the benefits of digital publishing, one has to add an additional layer of complexity and access.
  • Borrowing/Lending – As with all digital formats, the ease of borrowing and lending books with a friend or through a library isn’t very easy. Again, for all that you gain in the new format, there are some drawbacks. But Logos might come through with something new here, who knows?

So I’m definitely interested in, “the latest critical biblical scholarship … written from a distinctly evangelical perspective,” but I’m also really curious to see how Logos pushes the boundaries of the definition of a “book” in the digital world and how they answer the questions of citations, versioning, and platforms.

The 10 Commandments: Where the Medium Was the Message

In my seminary Hebrew courses, we had to read the laws of several ancient near eastern societies and compare them to the 10 commandments of the Bible. Interestingly, most of them contain laws about not killing, stealing, or taking another man’s wife.

However, the the 10 commandments do have 2 commands which are unique among all other ethical systems. The first is the rejection of the pantheon of Canaanite, Egyptian, and Sumerian gods in religions and the demand for exclusive monotheistic devotion to Yahweh which we find in the first commandment:

1. You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

The second commandment is also profoundly different than anything found in ancient documents when it forbids the creation of any graven images.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image … You shall not bow down to them or serve them… (Exodus 20:4-5)

Technology scholar Niel Postman (who was himself of Jewish origin) wrote,

“It is a strange injunction to include as part of any ethical system [instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience] unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 9. Emphasis in the original.)

The Israelites might have argued that the technological means they used to approach God didn’t matter as long as they were devoted to him and him alone. But God begged to differ, because he knew that the instruments we use for worship always reinforce certain beliefs.

In the case of Israel, if they had used images to represent Yahweh then it might have appeared that he was like every other God. Instead, by forbidding images of himself, God was reinforcing his identity as wholly other. He is not an idol among idols or an image among images – He is the one, true God.

This means that the second commandment is a technological reinforcement of the first. The medium – or lack thereof in this case – was the message.

The Technology with which He Worked Was the Technology on which He Died

Nail in a block of wood

There are several parts of the biblical story where technology plays an important role, but perhaps none is more fascinating than its place in the life of Jesus.

Jesus the Technologist

In the Gospels, Jesus (Mark 6:3) and his father (Matt 13:55) are referred to with by their job title, tekton (τέκτων) which in Greek means “artisan or skilled worker” and serves as the root of our English word technology. Tradition has it that the kind of skilled work that Joseph and Jesus did was carpentry, so tekton is always translated as “carpenter.”

Jesus could have done any number of jobs from farming to shepherding any of which might have had rich symbolism for his role as the Son of God. But it is interesting that in God’s infinite wisdom and sovereignty that Jesus’s job was that of a creator and that things he created were used against him in his death.

Why Crucifixion?

Studies on crucifixion focus typically focus on two important factors. First, crucifixion finds its roots in the Pagan world in contrast to other forms of execution like stoning which would have been more easily associated with the Jews. The fact that Jesus was crucified by Romans instead of stoned by Jews situates his work in the context of all humanity. Second, crucifixion itself causes terrible suffering over a long period of time and this has been a rich source of Christian reflection on the sufferings of Christ and his love for us.

But I’d like to suggest a third reason why the cross is important. Jesus could have been killed using more natural means like drowning, stoning, or being cast from a cliff. He could have been thrown to the lions or strangled to death.

Instead, he was killed on a tool of human creation.

The Cross as a Symbol of the Creation

Jesus, the eternal Son of God, through whom all things were made was rejected by his highest creation, humanity. The Gospel of John says, “He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).

At the same time, Jesus, the Incarnate Son of Man, through whom all men are saved, was killed using the very tools with which he worked, wood and nails. He was made to literally carry the burden of what he created through the streets of the city until his body could bear it no more. All the while he was bearing the transgressions of his creation that he might offer them atonement for their sins and adoption into his family.

Of course, the cross itself is not magical. Neither is the tomb from which Jesus emerged, triumphant and glorified for it is through Christ and Christ’s work alone that we are saved.

But the cross is a reminder of the important role that the tools we create play in the story of God and his people. The things we use on a daily basis are deeply integrated into what it means to be human and what it means for God to redeem his creation.

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’?

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.