Technology in an Age of OutragePublished October 31, 2018
As the Roman Empire expanded more than two thousand years ago, one of the first things the military did was to build roads, bridges and milestone markers. We take such public infrastructure for granted today, but it is difficult to overstate how this innovation of well-constructed, measured and protected roads transformed Western civilization. Standard transportation drastically accelerated the places where people, trade and information could move. It also facilitated the rapid cultural blending process by which Rome exported its language, culture and religion throughout their empire.
An unintended consequence of this network was the unprecedented expansion of Christianity. Not only did roads enable missionaries to travel faster, but because the roads were guarded by troops from the Roman army, early Christians were protected from the common dangers of travel that for centuries had restricted rapid movement. Likewise, the cultural blending these roads created helped the gospel assimilate quickly from city to city and across multiple languages. Throughout his missionary journeys, Paul not only walked seamlessly between cultural regions, he also recruited traveling companions from various cultures.
First-century Christians expanded the gospel to the far reaches of the known world using the network of roads constructed for the Roman Empire. Today we use the digital highway to advance the gospel. Instant communication, previously only dreamed of in science fiction, is now commonplace. Every week, I am able to equip ministry leaders throughout my online leadership seminars, collaborate with others on writing projects and send out massive amounts of content to every corner of the globe. No longer does the extreme isolation of remote communities present an insurmountable obstacle to ministry.
At the same time, the freedom and accessibility of these digital platforms have elevated the voices within the church that have had been marginalized or ignored in previous generations. Suddenly, a Wichita pastor has the capacity, with the right retweets by other people, to gain a national platform among his peers. His voice can influence what people read, how they think and where they go.
Low-income communities can rise up and ask for help with the same voice and on the same platform the president uses. This opportunity has been used for much good and care of the voiceless and the neglected. We must not lose sight of the fact that we live in a golden age for producing and sharing ministry information.
We must not lose sight of the fact that we live in a golden age for producing and sharing ministry information.
Yet technology can just as easily be adapted to destructive purposes. The same roads that facilitated Christianity’s growth were also a powerful tool in its persecution. Rome frequently lined its roads with crucified criminals belonging to sects and ideologies that the empire perceived as threats. As Christianity grew, the roads that facilitated the expansion of the gospel became a weapon to stem its advance.
Our modern technology has a similar potential for destruction, sadly often at the hands of Christians themselves. The rise of social media has provoked a new age of outrage, a season in which collective biases and tribalism can be unleashed upon those with little regard for the fact that the faces behind the avatars are image bearers of God. The diffusion of voices has predictably led us to a crisis of authority so that the loudest and craziest voices in the evangelical movement are often perceived as its leaders.
The key point is that the technology is neither inherently good nor evil. Rather, like the Roman roads, it is a tool that God has provided and that is becoming more powerful with each generation. It can advance the work of the gospel: facilitating church plants, getting aid to the needy, encouraging the downtrodden and equipping the saints for ministry. It can also become, as the tower of Babel, a source of pride that tempts us to place our trust in human ingenuity.
This does not mean we must reject technology. We simply need to harness these tools rather than allow them to master us.
These tools are influencing our discipleship in ways we may not fully appreciate. The challenge for believers is to understand when our technology habits are leading us into greater anxiety, fear, anger and pride, and to be willing to course correct as necessary.
Let me again be clear: This does not mean we must reject technology. We simply need to harness these tools rather than allow them to master us.
Maybe one story will help to illustrate the path we will walk in this book. A friend on social media shared with me about his interactions with his brother-in-law. He explained:
I am conservative, and my brother-in-law is a very left socialist. He is quite aggressive on Facebook, so I started replying—trying to refute his arguments. Some of his Facebook friends (whom I did not know) casually said I had some points. This made him angry. He told me my next post was demeaning and he unfriended me. That is when I realized my priorities were all wrong. The next time I saw him in person, I sincerely apologized. Since then I refuse to talk politics even when he baits me. I am trying to build our friendship so our discussions of spiritual things, which are now sort of shallow, can grow into something more meaningful.
My friend saw that he might be right about some of the issues but understood that having a relationship was more important than scoring points. I learned this same lesson in my marriage—the person is more important than the point. Then as I grew as a person, I saw that was true not only in my marriage; it was true in all my relationships.
You can insist you are right all the time, or you can have friends. But you can’t do both.
It seems that many people have decided—intentionally or unintentionally—that they want only friends who agree with them. (And they are muted and unfriended by many others.)
There is a better way.
The above article was excerpted from Ed Stetzer’s brand new book 1, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst.Check out the book to learn more about Ed’s analysis on this important topic.
1Adapted from Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst by Ed Stetzer. Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. He is a prolific author, and well-known conference and seminar leader. Ed is Interim Teaching Pastor at Moody Church and Regional Director of Lausanne North America. He is former executive director for Lifeway Research and is a contributing editor for Christianity Today and a columnist for Outreach Magazine.