God, Technology, and the Christian Life

Reinke, Tony. God, Technology, and the Christian Life.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022. Paper. $21.

What of Wendell Berry? The agrarian prophet has many devoted fans who have joined him in adopting a rural, largely low-tech lifestyle. Others wish they could.  Perhaps we could call it the “almost Amish” lifestyle.  Then we have Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option which espouses something of a withdrawal from larger urban areas to create Christian enclaves.  While Dreher doesn’t explicitly advocate a rural minimalist life, one can easily see affinities with Berry.  Both writers seem to evoke either glowing admiration or disdain.

On the other end of spectrum is the Tim Keller tribe of urban zealots.  Move to the city!  The urban life is where Christians need to be.  The city personifies all the technical advances and self-glorification of mankind’s prowess to tame the world.  While Keller would not have said so, some of his zealous devotees would almost look with disdain on Christians who prefer some degree of Berry’s vision for life.

These are oversimplifications of course.  But they show a divide among believers over rural vs. urban life, between relatively low tech lives vs. embracing all technological innovations uncritically.  Is there a distinctly Christian view of technology?  Even someone living in rural Idaho likely has a cell phone, computer, and other tech gadgets. If they have a farm, they probably use a diesel-powered tractor rather than a team of mules.  The urban dweller may vacation by camping in a national park to escape the stress which is often imposed through our technology.

Tony Reinke[1] steps into this divide to show not so much a mediating path as to try to get at a Biblical foundation for interpreting and using technology.  He is far from the first.  Jacques Ellul (Techological Society), Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death; Technopoly), and a host of others have written on the subject.  With recent unveilings of AI tools online and corresponding fears of an AI Pandora’s box, how we handle technology is a pressing question.  So where does Reinke’s book fit into this conversation?

This is not Reinke’s first foray into this topic (12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You and other titles).  But this particular book is more comprehensive in its approach.  At about 300 pages, it is a thorough treatment of the foundational issues. Readers looking for evaluations of specific tech tools won’t find it here (unlike his previous book).  But given how rapidly tech gadgets come and go, it is more valuable to be equipped with a framework by which we can evaluate current and future developments.

Reinke chose to limit the sources he uses for input.  He chiefly utilizes John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Jacques Ellul, Wendell Berry, Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired), Elon Musk, and Yuval Harari.  Some of these serve more as foils than sources.

He then explores a limited number of biblical passages, including the fall of Babel (unsurprisingly).  He also has an interesting discussion of technology and the preservation by God of the lineage of Cain.  Some may differ with his exegetical conclusions, but it’s a thought-provoking section.

Reinke aims to dispel a dozen myths about technology he identifies in the church.  It is doubtful that all twelve of these are truly prevalent in the minds of the average Christian.  But most are valid as misconceptions in discussing Christian responses to technology, so they serve a purpose.  He wants to foster a discussion which does not come down to polar opposite stances, stating his goal “for a more positive view of human innovation and innovators” (30).

He asks an interesting question to frame his discussion: “What is God’s relationship to human technology?” (33).  Most discussions begin at our relationship as Christians with technology, so this is a refreshing call to a more foundational debate.  If we believe in a sovereign God, a God who is in providential control of all things, then we begin at a place of affirming that no technological developments in humanity surprise God.  He pushes back against ideas like Open Theism.

Reinke urges us to see that God actively ordains and allows technology as a part of His plan for the world.  He sets up as an ongoing framework for discussion the idea that God creates the innovators and is therefore actively sovereign in the process of innovation. He states, “Technology is a gift for us to push back the effects of the fall” (133).   God is not anti-technology.  “Scripture protects us from the myth that God is trying his best to stifle and subdue the unwieldiness of human technology” (65).

Reinke reminds readers that no technology is morally neutral.  “No technology is ambivalent: each one comes with certain biases and tendencies” (70). This is a common error among Christians (more so than the twelve “myths” he identifies).

The third chapter discussion of “Where do our technologies come from” weighs down the book. A more concise treatment of that content would have been more effective.  Reinke argues that all innovation is organic in that it springs from “patterns in creation” (cf. 111ff).  He also posits that “…the ultimate point of technology (in any age) is to point us back to the glory and the generosity and the majesty and self-sufficiency of the Creator himself. And the ultimate goal of technology is to usher us deeper into the creative genius of God, to direct our hearts to God, to adore him and to thank him for our daily bread. God’s glory is the end of creation and the aim of all our innovations” (119).  Those who affirm the WSC Q.1 can heartily agree.

Reinke rightly warns Christians of the idolatry of technology.  “We are not called to find our comfort in controlling this world. Life isn’t about embracing every comfort and controlling every variable” (146).  He labels the “Gospel of Technology” as the competing worldview that it is.  The contrasts he paints between that false gospel and the Christian Gospel are very helpful.

One interesting application Reinke makes is the importance of Sabbath rest for fostering a healthy perspective of ourselves in relation to technology, among other things.  In an age where we speak of ourselves as machines (“I need to recharge”), remembering our creaturely limitations as flesh created by God is perhaps more needed than we realize.

Chapter 5 looks at the book of Revelation for the ultimate end of technology.  Babel/Babylon the Great is contrasted with the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.  Reinke says the end goal of godless technology is a transhumanism. He strives a little too hard to make an apology for cities from a Christian perspective.

The final chapter seeks to equip believers with wisdom in dealing with technology.  We should not abhor all technology.  Neither does Reinke call us to accept it uncritically.  While the world largely rushes to embrace new technology, Christians should be the ones offering constructive criticism.   He states, “Wisdom begins in fear and is expressed in gratitude.  Can I – in good conscience – thank God for an innovation? The ethics of what is permissible or forbidden is rooted in gratitude” (291).

If you count yourself on the Luddite end of the tech spectrum, you may struggle with Reinke’s openness to technology. But he is not trying to force all believers to align in the same degree of tech adoption.  He adds plenty of Biblical cautions and criteria for interacting with our tech.

It is dangerous for Christians, of all people, to adopt technologies uncritically, to fail to explore the way each instance of technology reshapes our minds and priorities.  We must bring all things into subjection to Christ, every thought, every tool captive to Him (2 Cor. 10:3ff).  We must avoid the subtle and not so subtle temptations of idolatry. Reinke’s book is very helpful and thought provoking for just such an endeavor.

[1] Reinke works in part for Desiring God Ministries.  See www.tonyreinke.com.

Kenneth J. McMullen
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte