Pornography Is Not Just About Lust:
The Emotional Power of Images

Why?

Internet PornographyI will skip the statistics about how many pastors struggle with pornography, how early boys are exposed to their first pornographic image, and how destructive it has become to young women. Most of us are painfully aware of these stats, but it’s still hard to understand why this epidemic is happening.

Is pornography simply lust gone wild? Is it so prevalent merely because the Internet brings it into our homes in a way that was never possible before? Why do so many Christian men who would never dream of going to a strip club or soliciting a prostitute trapped in pornography?

I want to suggest that a big part of the story has to do with the power of the images as a technology.

Continue reading Pornography Is Not Just About Lust:
The Emotional Power of Images

iPhones, Health Care, and Hope

Every June, I Get Anxious

iphone-medicineLast fall I bought a second generation iPhone which was the coolest phone I had ever owned – right up until the third generation iPhone came out. Its faster processor and better camera suddenly made my iPhone seem archaic. Of course, before the newer version came out, I didn’t even know I needed wanted those features, but once I tried them at the Apple store, I couldn’t help but be disappointed every time I used my clunker. I also had this strange feeling that AT&T should upgrade me for free since I’ve been a customer for several years. I don’t actually want to pay for the new features – somehow I just think I should get them.

I think this is what Postman meant when he said, “Technology tends to become mythic” – that is, if a technology has been around long enough we start to believe we’re entitled to it. We no longer view the older tool as “technology” anymore – it is simply the way things are. Only the bleeding edge seems worthy of attention.

The Cost of Progress

My response to the advancement of the iPhone doesn’t seem to be terribly different from our society’s response to the advancement of health care. In the 1800s, we thought aspirin was magical. Then in the 30s, aspirin became pedestrian, while the X-ray amazed us. In the 70s, the X-ray was superseded by CAT scans and MRIs; in the 80s, it was first artificial heart, and so on. We didn’t even know we needed these things before they were invented (like those new iPhone features), but somehow once they are announced, we can’t seem to live without them.

Continue reading iPhones, Health Care, and Hope

From the Garden to the City: Technology in the Story of Redemption

This post is an abbreviated version of what I hope will one day become a book exploring technology and its role in the redemptive story of God and his people.

The Meaning of the City - Jaques EllulIt sometimes feels like we are left either to believe the lofty promises of technology makers who tell us next year’s device will solve all our problems or wallow in the clever observations of cultural critics who tell us technology will be the end of humanity. Thankfully, the Scriptures have not left us alone in the wilderness as they deal with the subject of technology quite extensively, so much so that technology is integrated into the circuitry of the redemptive program.

In this longer than average post, I want to explore the Biblical story, reshaping the ideas of Jaques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City, picking up insights as we go along.

Continue reading From the Garden to the City: Technology in the Story of Redemption

Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

1984 vs. Brave New World

In the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasts the worries about future technology by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Though much has been made about the totalitarian government depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Postman highlights how Orwell and Huxley’s contrasting worries play out in information and importance. While Orwell worried that good information would be hidden by a scary government, Huxley worried good information would be hidden in a pile of insignificance.

Postman’s words were recently amazingly illustrated by Stuart McMillen. Here is one of the panels

Orwell-Information

Huxley Informatino

Continue reading Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

Being Conformed into the Avatar of Christ: Social Networks & Identify Formation

The following was written as a guest post for my friend Robert Johnson who runs the wonderful site www.practicingtheology.com

My Big Confession

Flight of the Conchords: New Zealand's 4th most popular ...On my facebook profile, my favorite TV shows are A-Team and Airwolf because they are hilarious 80s references, Battlestar Galactica because it’s practically required for geek cred, and Arrested Development and Flight of the Concords because they are cool shows that cool people know about.

But I have a confession to make – I only saw like one video clip of Flight of the Concords, and I’m not sure I really got why it was so funny. Please, please don’t tell anyone!

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about why facebook is evil and dumbhow to use facebook biblically, or why I quit facebook. Instead, I’m in how engaging in social networking – whether it’s biblically, atheistically, muslimically, or whatever – shapes the way we look at ourselves and the way we see those around us. Continue reading Being Conformed into the Avatar of Christ: Social Networks & Identify Formation

Read the Bible: Greek and Hebrew Reading Experiment

Reader's Greek and HebrewFor my BibleTech:2009 presentation (“Technology Is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith“), I created an example site to demonstrate what I like to call “technological minimalism” in Bible software. In my seminary Greek and Hebrew classes, I often relied too heavily on my Bible software during translations and my ability to actually read the text suffered. What I needed was some way to turn off all the cool features and only see the help that I really needed. In my case, I was supposed to have memorized all the Greek works which were used 50 times or more, so I only needed definitions for the more rare words. Unfortunately, there is no way to limit this that I know of in Logos.

Continue reading Read the Bible: Greek and Hebrew Reading Experiment

Internet Anonymity, Like Fig Leaves and AA, Can Be a Means of Grace

There has been quite a bit of recent discussion asking how “real” Internet community is. However, for me, it’s more helpful to ask, “What kind of community is the Internet distinctly good at creating?” One answer is that the Internet is good at fostering anonymity.

Of course, we all know that anonymity can have a very negative impact on a person and their actions, but it can also be a very powerful tool for certain kinds of ministry. The following video about Tim Kimberley, a pastor in Portland, OR who runs helives.com is a great example:

Tim, who is also a dear friend of mine, says,

There are many people who feel more comfortable behind their keyboard than behind a pew. The Internet seems like such an anonymous place. It seems like such a place where people can pretend whoever they’re going to be. What we found, especially with teenagers is that online a teenagers has no reason to lie.

They’re anonymous in the identity, but they’re not anonymous in their heart. And so we had teenagers say things to us that are so raw . I would think to myself, ‘A teenager would never walk up to me in church and ask me what they just asked me.’

With helives.com, Tim has harnessed Internet anonymity and used it to create a healing environment for teens.

Continue reading Internet Anonymity, Like Fig Leaves and AA, Can Be a Means of Grace

Online Questions for Offline Churches: Is Communion Just A Cracker?

Communion: the bread and the wine Whenever new church models, technologies, and techniques come along there are some who embrace them and some who question them. For me, it has been interesting to see how some of the questions about the “new” are equally valid to ask about the “old.”

In “Online Questions for Offline Churches.” I’ll look at some of the questions raised about recent high tech church models and how they reflect back on the churches who choose not to partake in the new models.

In this post, we’ll jump right into the online communion question which was covered by Newsweek last fall. Continue reading Online Questions for Offline Churches: Is Communion Just A Cracker?

3 Stages of Biblical Technology

A few years ago, I noticed that the way I think about and interact with the Bible changed. It started when, as a youth pastor, I purchased a Pocket PC with Bible software on it so I could always search and find verses if students asked me a question.

It turns out junior highers don’t really ask seminary question, but later I found that there have been three major stages of Bible technologies, and I was swimming in the third.

1. The Oral Bible: Context

Public Reading of Scripture From the time Moses starting writing Scripture in 1500 B.C., Scripture was most often heard, not read. Every Sabbath, the Scriptures would be read aloud in the gathering of faith.

There were no chapter or verse divisions, believers simply memorized what they heard and referred to Scripture by author (e.g., Acts 2:16-17; Acts 2:25). When a short passages was quoted, the minds of the hearers would think of the surrounding context since they had heard it read many times.

Today, we have the same experience when we refer to famous speeches we’ve heard. When we say, “Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘I have a dream,’” we don’t have a chapter or verse number, but we all know the context of the words in history and their significance.

2. The Print Bible: Precision

bible-verses The advent of the printed Bible allowed much greater access to the Scriptures for individual believers. However, it also changed the way people interacted with the Bible because print enables totally new uses of language.

First, a person can have a “quiet time” of personal Bible study apart from a community, and second a reader can skip around and find passages rather than waiting for it to be read. To facilitate this skipping around, chapter and verse divisions were added so that readers could quickly and precisely find passages.

One of the results of this precision was that many believers only know and memorize individual verses instead of passages in context, occasionally missing the actual meaning of the passage. Consider Habakkuk 1:5 -  it sounds wonderful in isolation, but horrific in context. The modern equivalent of isolating verses would be if we said something like, “People have important dreams (King, Jr. 5:12)”.

3. The Digital Bible: Search

Bible Search, funny, eh?The digitized Bible now brings another new way of looking at the Bible. We can find read multiple versions in parallel, look up Greek and Hebrew definitions, cross references, and commentaries with great ease.

But again, as with print there are some downsides to this kind of “searching the Scriptures.” For example, I know that Abraham grew up in a pagan family, but I can’t seem to remember the reference for this. What I do remember is that I can search for “Abraham and father” to find that Abraham’s dad’s name was “Terah” (Gen 11:27), then search for “Terah” to find Joshua 24:2. My mind won’t seem to let me memorize it, probably because I always have a computer around, and I already know what to search for to find it.

Referring to Martin Luther King, Jr. again, we might find ourselves saying silly things like, “I wanted to find out about dreams, so I searched and found all these great quotes like King, Jr. 5:12 which says, ‘I have a dream.’”

Some Recommendations

The printed Bible and the digital Bible are amazing testaments to human ingenuity, and I am 100% glad we have them. However, we would still do well to recognize that these technologies influence us, and sometimes we need to work against their influence to be better Christians. Here are two simple suggestions:

  • Rather than always reading our printed Bible in isolation, we should read the Scripture aloud in context and in groups.
  • If we notice ourselves searching for the same passages multiple times, we should engage in the ancient discipline of memorization.

Technology and “Face to Face” in the New Testament

I recently attended Church Tech Camp: Dallas (thanks to John Saddington, Rhett Smith, and Tony Steward for putting it on) and had a blast meeting a lot of neat people.

At one point, there was an interesting discussion about the “digital pastor” which brought up several issues regarding the nature of community and the Church in the online world. During the discussion, someone mentioned Paul’s use of the technology of writing when he could not be physically present. I happened to have looked at these passages a while back, and I thought I would share what I found.

Just to be clear up front, the goal of this post isn’t to answer the question of whether there should be “online church.” My understanding of these passages is that they alone can’t answer that question, and shouldn’t be used as proof texts for or against online church.

“Presence” in the New Testament

'Saint Paul writing his Epistles' by Valentin de Boulogne ca 1600 Greek has two main words for physical presence: πρόσωπον (prosōpon) which literally means “face” and στόμα (stoma) which literally means “mouth.” Both can also used to refer to the whole person’s physical presence and is sometimes contrasted with a spiritual presence or technological representation.

Here are some (ESV) verses in which the two words appear with the meaning of physical pretense, along with two other passages expressing the desire to be physically present, but not using prosōpon or stoma.

  • I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face [prosopon] and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. (Acts 25:16)
  • For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you (Rom 1:11)
  • For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face [prosōpon] (1 Cor 13:12)
  • I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face [prosōpon] with you, but bold toward you when I am away! (2 Cor. 10:1)
  • And I was still unknown in person [prosōpon] to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. (Gal 1:22)
  • But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face [prosōpon], because he stood condemned. (Gal. 2:11)
  • For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face [prosōpon, lit. “my face in the flesh”], (Col. 2:1)
  • But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person [prosōpon] not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face [prosōpon] (1 Thess 2:17)
  • as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face [prosōpon] and supply what is lacking in your faith? (1 Thess 3:10)
  • As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy (2 Tim 1:4)
  • Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face (stoma pros stoma), so that our joy may be complete. (2 John 1:12)
  • I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face (stoma pros stoma). (3 John 1:13-14)

Some Observations

Here are a few observations from these passages

  1. Paul and John longed to be physically present whenever possible.
  2. Paul and John preferred “face to face” to technological means.
  3. Paul and John often connected physical presence with “joy” and “completeness.”
  4. Paul and John embraced technological tools when they could not be physically present.

Clearly, Paul and John (as well as our Lord) highly valued being present. One might say they valued presence over representation. However, just because they valued being present didn’t mean they shied away from using technology when they needed to. Their use the technology of writing seems to indicate that we can and should use technology for ministry today. In other words, I don’t think these passages can argue against online church without also calling into question many other uses of technology in the Church.

Some Incongruities

While these passages do seem to support the idea of using technology for ministry, there is some incongruity with comparing what they were doing to the concept of online church.

  • Paul and John probably wouldn’t have considered their writing to be the fullness of “Church,” but something supplemental to it. They were transferring words to the page, but not other elements such as the sacraments.
  • Paul and John wrote for the benefit of church communities with existing pastoral leadership, not to individuals. This seems closer to something like piping in video to a campus, but might not quite the same as piping video to an individual’s screen.
  • Paul and John’s use of technology happened when they couldn’t be physically present. This might support the idea of online services for people who can’t come to church such as people living overseas, hospital patients, and parents of new babies, but it would be harder to argue for those who can be present, but choose not to.

Again, this is not meant to argue for or against online church services, but to flesh out the discussion of “face to face” and “technology” in the New Testament. Three things seems clear. First, physical presence was very important to Christ and to the apostles. Second, the apostles were not afraid to use technology. Third, these passages alone are inadequate for answering the larger questions about online church. Much more thoughtful study on the nature of the Church, Church leadership, and the sacraments would be needed to answer these questions.

In any case, may we all long with John for the day when we will see savior, the God-man, Jesus Christ, face to face:

Then they will see his face [prosōpon], and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev 22:4-5)