I've spent the week on campus at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary co-mentoring (with Duffy Robbins and Adonis Vidu) a Doctor of Ministry cohort in Ministry to Emerging Generations. Our task during this residency has been to grapple with the subject of culture and cultural exegesis/analysis and the implications for our ministries with children, teens, and young adults. With culture changing at breakneck speed, we haven't been at a loss for things to talk about.
The other afternoon we watched Holy Rollers, a film about a group of young pastors (many of them youth workers and church planters) who create a successful blackjack team. Getting into their heads regarding the thinking behind their motivation, justification, and practice was a daunting task that we unpacked yesterday by pondering the ethical questions and our response. We landed on seeking and nurturing biblically-shaped wisdom as the great tasks precipitated by Holy Rollers and most all of the other confusing and complicated issues of the day.
Since that discussion, we've been attending an on-campus conference , "From the Garden to the Sanctuary: The Promise and Challenge of Technology," that's taken our discussions of culture and wisdom into another present-day reality. We hit the jackpot as a result of Gordon-Conwell scheduling this conference smack dab in the middle of our two weeks on campus. For me personally, this has been a nice reminder of the importance and necessity of our Digital Kids Initiative at CPYU. For our students, it's been a reminder of things we've studied together to this point, along with their need to continue to seek wisdom as they consciously nurture themselves and their charges into embracing and using technology in ways that bring honor and glory to God.
Yesterday afternoon we had the privilege of hearing Arthur Boers, author of Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions, talk about opening the wells of grace and salvation. Boers reminded us that in the Bible, wells are places of dramatic encounters, deep conversations, and desperate conflicts. Wells were a technology of the times. If you look at the technology of the well, it had the potential to draw people together towards divine priorities. Boers contends that the church is "one of the few remaining wells in our culture, regularly and radically gathering people of all ages, classes, and nationalities to worship God and serve others and always employing technology to do so." Boers went on to talk about our need to wisely use technology well so that God's grace and salvation can be mediated today. Sounds a bit heady. . . but it makes total sense and is pressingly timely for the church and for people doing youth ministry today.
I've been thinking about what Arthur Boers said yesterday. I find it interesting that in our current American culture, debates are raging over the need for and implementation of gun control. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of the gun control issue, you have to admit that guns have extreme and obvious dangerous potential. . . thus the debate. I'm not sure that we've even come close to realizing the extreme and obvious dangerous potential of digital technology. . . or more specifically those smartphones that almost 100 percent of us (and our kids) "holster," wield, and palm almost 24/7. Arthur Boers reminded us of something Thomas Merton said that should prompt good thinking, good discussion, and the implementation of healthy self-control when it comes to smartphones and digital technology: "The dominant cultural question (has unfortunately) become, 'will this work?' instead of. . . 'is it right?'"
With that in mind, here's a helpful little rundown of some things Arthur Boers said yesterday that are important for us all to consider as we ponder this issue. . .
First, technology is not neutral. In fact, for many it is very dangerous. Of course, Boers never advocates that we trash all technology. Instead, he calls for wise and thoughtful use. That wise and thoughtful use requires us to consider how technology is dangerous. He offered these thoughts:
- Technology is compellingly and persuasively attractive. It's even seductive. And much of what is attractively seductive is "junk food for the brain, soul, and relationships."
- Technology forms us and some might even say that technology is subtly designed to be addictive.
- Most of us have little choice or say about technological devices. In other words, we are only able to choose from a limited amount of options. In essence, corporations have already made those choices for us because of what they've chosen to develop and market.
Second, the best response for Christians is to embrace wisdom and reject idolatry. This is our primary task for all of life. Boers offers these suggestions on how to make this happen in the realm of technology:
- Make wise and discerning choices.
- Don't admire something too much and don't fear something too much. Both of those postures are idolatry. Both are postures that usurp God's rightful place in our lives and in His world.
- Adopt a redemptive attitude toward technology as a gift from God. See both the great potential of technology and the sinful dynamics of technology.
- Move beyond all-or-nothing choices. It's not "all good" or "all bad." Taking those postures is not a Christian practice.
- Realize that the "idolatry of adulation" present in our culture AND in our church culture is a more prominent challenge. (Wow!)
- Realize that we have choices, power, and agency. . . and exercise those things.
These are difficult and complex but very necessary questions. How are you addressing them in your life and in your ministry?