Executive Summary

Christian Faith and Technology

28 Jun 2024

Editor's Note

This is the executive summary of Lausanne Occasional Paper 76 authored by Jonas Kurlberg, Alexander Chow, Calida Chu, Heidi Campbell, Rei Lemuel Crizaldo, Sara Afshari, Stephen Garner, and Vo Nam. Access the full occasional paper here.

This paper explores how technology and Christian beliefs intersect. It considers how the church can use technology in a way that is faithful to its doctrine and beneficial to its Christian life and practice. It looks at the significance of contextualization, transparency, and accountability for evangelism and technology. It seeks to define technology and discuss its role as a tool. This paper evaluates how technology impacts Christian fellowship and gatherings. It also examines how AI technologies affect evangelism. Technology should serve people and draw people closer to God. This paper highlights the need for utilizing technology Christianly in a way that benefits society in general, and brings the gospel to society in particular.

Technology has allowed humans to communicate, build, explore, create, prosper, and survive. Essentially, technology has the potential to serve human flourishing. The Bible acknowledges technology, but typically in passing. The Bible does, however, feature some aspects of technology in more noticeable ways. Technology displays aspects of our shared humanity, and it awakens curiosity about the meaning and purpose of life. It also poses questions about what it means to be human.

There are a number of reasons why the church needs to take such theological deliberation seriously. For one, as a manifestation of our ultimate hopes and fears, technology poses existential questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Technology also raises important questions about human nature, about human creativity and its relation to the creator God. Technological artefacts are the products of human cultures, but their use is negotiated by individuals and communities giving rise to new cultural practices, ways of living, shaping human communications and relationships. It expands time and space, creating new environments in which humans live, play, work, fellowship, worship, and pray. This invites us to ask questions concerning discipleship, church life, and mission in cultures emerging through the technology that we create and use. Finally, the fact that technological innovations are the products of culture implies that technological artefacts are value laden, and this has socio-political implications. Technology, then, demands careful theological and ethical consideration. 

The Cape Town Commitment (CTC) calls the church to use technology creatively, but also critically, to bear witness to the truth of Christ. This paper goes beyond the tentative pronouncements of the CTC and expands the definitions of technology to understand its cultural nuances. Christians need to take seriously the role of biblical discernment and deep reflection on technology in order to make sense of our lives in light of God’s revelation. 

The primary purpose of the paper, then, is to provide suggestions for how we might frame such engagement. We look to biblical and historical precedents as well as to contemporary perspectives that might help us in this task. It should be pointed out that while digital technology will feature strongly in the paper, our aim is not to limit the discussion to any particular technological artefact. Thus, while it is important to address the implications of the use and impact of digital technology on the church today, our reflection on digitality here primarily serves as illustrative of the kinds of questions the church needs to engage.

There are different ways we can approach the concept of technology. One of the most common approaches is to see technology as a tool. This involves seeing technology in terms of it being a device or resource designed to help complete a specific task. Technology can also be approached as a process. In this way technology is seen as offering individuals a series of actions or steps that facilitate knowledge creation and discovery. This involves steps such as creation through invention, innovation through adaptation, and diffusion through the process of spreading the technology to others. Technology can further be seen as a facilitating a distinctive culture. It has become common to speak about digital culture or technoculture as spaces created when humans engage with technologies. Just as human culture is a manifestation of human actions and achievements, so too are technologically created cultures as they manifest the relational, communication, and need-based practices established by their users. It is also important to understand that there is a long tradition of equating technology with spiritual language, religious qualities, and transcendent experience. Recognizing this connection between technology and religious ideals and practices is important because it helps reveal why technology is often heavily critiqued by religious groups, as it can be seen as a competitor to faith in God. This religious connection made with technology is also grounded in the ideas that technology is a value-laden enterprise. Here technology is presented as a powerful force shaping human culture, because it is assumed that technology functions as an independent force, and so is driven by a distinctive value system that seeks to assert control over humanity. Technology possesses both the potential to serve as a tool of control or resources for liberation depending on whose hands it is in.

Technology, then, is multifaceted, embracing a status as a tool or aid which enhances natural human abilities, as a particular set of knowledges and processes for producing tools and reshaping the world around us, and as the cultural values and relationships that drive the particular creation and use of tools and processes. Through the combination of all of those things, technology becomes the very environments in which our spiritual life is planted and in which that life then flourishes or withers. The most significant obstacle facing Christian faith in an era driven by technology is the church’s challenge to traditional notions of the connection between knowledge, belief, and action. Furthermore, the relational aspect and understanding of technology is in our human experience. Therefore, Christian responses to technology and media have tended to explore this in relation to the gathered Christian community, such as regarding the nature of faith, traditions, and worship, or in relation to wider society framed by things such as evangelism, mission, social ethics, and public theology. Often Christians take a position that technology in itself is not good or bad, but rather it is the intention behind its use and the consequences of that use that convey moral value on technological agency. In this scenario technology might be thought of as value-neutral, with its use being driven by the human heart and mind. 

A better way to consider an improved relationship between technology and humans is to recognize that our technologies are value laden. That is, they exist and are used because of certain values and ways of seeing the world present in the human community that created the technology. These values shape what technologies to develop, the kinds of knowledge and processes used to make them, and the moral framework not just of their end use, but also how they shape and are shaped by the communities they are embedded in. As Christians we consider and display both how the values embedded in our Christian communities then shape the development and use of technologies, as well as those values shaping how we engage with the wider society at local and global levels. For that we turn to our understanding of God the Father as Creator, the teaching, ministry, and example of Jesus, and the influence of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we consider and display both how the values embedded in our Christian communities then shape the development and use of technologies, as well as those values shaping how we engage with the wider society at local and global levels. 

A focus on Jesus Christ locates our technology within the vision of all of creation having been created through Christ, for Christ, and all holding together in Christ (Col 1:15-17). This understanding raises our eyes from the everyday technological world to an eschatological horizon that locates our hope in Jesus Christ, his return, and a kingdom vision of what is already present and what is to come that shapes our life in the present.

As we live out this vision in the world with our technology and its use, we should also be open and aware of the power of the Holy Spirit operating in ourselves, our communities, and across the world.

Throughout its history various technologies have been used to enhance the life of the church. For the most part, they have become part of the furniture, fading into the unnoticed background of church life, and are no longer even considered to be ‘technology’. Yet, beyond the immediate usage of technological artefacts, devices, and tools with their particular affordances, technology is the environment in which the church worships, disciples, and forms its community. From the Roman empire’s road network, to the printing press, modern mass media and, more recently, the digital, technology has been deeply intertwined with the spread of the gospel from the early church onwards. We argue that the conversation, however, needs to move beyond a mere utilitarian deployment of technology for evangelism and missions to also reflect deeply and judiciously about cultural and ethical considerations. The Lausanne Movement’s The Cape Town Commitment highlighted the need to be creative and yet at the same time critical in ‘engagement with media and technology as part of making the case for the truth of Christ’ (CTC 3). Further, and as The Cape Town Commitment also affirms, Christians need to place themselves right in the thick of the landscape of contemporary media and technology to affect a positive Christian influence.

In general, evangelism must always be mindful of the relationship between evangelists and the people they reach. In considering digital outreach and evangelism, we must be even more sensitive to the people who are being engaged. There is a place for the creation of digital resources for the spread of the gospel message to mass audiences. But we are reminded that ‘God the evangelist gives his people the privilege of being his ‘fellow workers’’ and that ‘he normally chooses to witness through us’ (MM 6). In digital evangelism, there needs to be a balance between the clear, compelling, and coherent delivery of the gospel message and nurturing authentic relationships. Digital evangelism should, further, be sensitive to the power dynamics enabled by digital technology. There is no culture or practice which should be considered normative. Technology, indeed, brings opportunities for churches to spread the Word globally, but local communities are as important as global communities. 

The demand to reflect on contextual approaches to technology in local contexts needs to be supplemented with contextual reflection on the cultures of technology. In this paper we have sought to highlight the need to go beyond a utilitarian application of technology for mission and ministry towards a culture paradigm of technology. Digital mission is then not merely about activities that transpire on digital platforms through digital devices. The digital is today part of the wider matrix of culture making and transformation and this needs to be considered in our missiological reflections.

It will be good to note how a robust teleology of technology highlights a key development in the Lausanne Movement: the recognition of a holistic, or more integral approach to mission. Spreading the Good News is understood to be an integrative dynamic of proclamation and demonstration (CTC 6). That is, evangelism and social action, while distinct pursuits, are intertwined Christian duties that reinforce each other in terms of providing a well-rounded gospel witness (LC 5). This missional perspective reconfigures Christian mission beyond an ecclesiocentric orientation and clerical focus towards a more expansive paradigm that embraces the role of the whole people of God in the entirety of their lives as faithful disciples of Christ on a mission where they are. 

Technology should be used for evangelism in a way that is concurrent with the good news. We must have some guiding principles for missions and evangelism. Accountability is essential for evangelism, both in terms of the gospel content being shared and the people we are trying to reach, to protect their culture and identity from exploitation and harm. Developers and users of such technological platforms must be sensitive to the kind of information that is curated online. They need to be cautious to accurately and faithfully represent the nature and news of the gospel. 

Human beings bear the image and likeness of God, with both potential and responsibility for our technological agency located in the world, and worked out intellectually, relationally, and spiritually in the world. Evangelicals have long been at the forefront of looking at ways that technology could be used to further the kingdom of God, from the use of print technology to mass produce Bibles and tracts, to the use of radio, television, and now the internet to disseminate sermons, devotionals, and evangelistic messages. In so doing, evangelicals have tended to underscore an instrumentalist approach to technology, looking at technology as primarily a tool to achieve kingdom purposes.

Christian hope is ultimately found in a future glory through the consummation of the kingdom of God (Rom 8:18–30). This is far greater than the present sufferings in this world that is, as the Apostle Paul put it, under ‘bondage to decay.’ It is not only us, but all of creation (including, arguably, technological creation) that groans for this future reality. How does our eschatology shape our outlook of technology today? Human participation in God’s redemptive work through technology can be God-honouring, in and of itself. In so doing, Christians bring about the aroma of Christ in this world (2 Cor 2:14–16). Christians must seek out ways that technology may bring about hope.

In summary, the Christian perspective on technology acknowledges its potential for both good and evil. Christians are called to use technology in a way that aligns with the teachings of Jesus, promotes love for God and others, and contributes to the well-being of society. It is important to approach technology with wisdom, discernment, and a deep understanding of its impact on individuals, communities, and the world.