Message 23, Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (Youth Seminar):

Tim Challies addresses how Christians should think about the value and danger of living in the digital age.

Message Transcript

And it falls to me to speak about life and faith after the digital explosion, which means I get to speak about life in this new digital world that we live in. And I want to begin with a question, kind of an odd question, I’ll grant to you, but here it is. Can you think of anything, anything at all that can move faster than a horse?

If you want to send somebody a letter and you want that letter to get there as quickly as possible, if you really put your mind to it could you think of a way of getting it to that other person faster than a horse can gallop? Well, of course you can, right? If you wanted to send it across the air, you could put it an airplane. If you wanted to send it by land, you could put it in a car or on a motorcycle. If you wanted to send it by water or by snow, it doesn’t matter. You can get it faster than a horse can run.

But here’s something to consider. For almost all of human history, almost the entire scope of human history, if we had asked that very same question, people would have said, “No, I cannot think of a single way of getting it there faster than a horse can run.” Because for almost all of human history, the horse is the fastest thing there was, at least for transporting things.

So, let’s just think about Adam and Eve and we’ll just stretch our imaginations here and say that they were the first people to domesticate a horse. If they wanted to send a letter from one side of the Garden of Eden to the other side of the Garden of Eden, there’s no faster way of doing it than to put it on a horse and to run it across.

You move to Abraham and he wanted to send a letter back to Ur of the Chaldeans. He could have put that letter on a horse. Moses wanted to write to Jethro, his father-in-law. He could send a letter by horse. That was the fastest way to get there. You think about David. You think about Jesus. You think about the apostles, we’re spanning hundreds, thousands of years here and still, still when the apostles began to go out and carry out the Great Commission going into the world, they never went faster than the speed of a galloping horse.

You go to St. Patrick in the 5th century, Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, Martin Luther in the 16th century, Jonathan Edwards in the 18th century, still…still the horse. From the time human beings were created, all the way until the early 1800s, for thousands and thousands of years, there was nothing faster than the horse.

Until that moment, nothing in human history, no information, no person had ever traveled faster. But then at last, about 200 years ago this new thing was invented, the train. And they called it, you know what they called it? They called it “the iron horse” because finally at last there was something stronger and something faster than the horse. They compared it to the thing they knew that was fastest, to say at last, “Here is an iron.

Here is an advanced version.” Then shortly after, the car was invented, and then the motorcycle, and then the airplane, and then the rocket until we could spend the rest of the day. We could just yell out things that move faster than a horse, and I don’t think we would ever run out of options.

Now you’re wondering “Why on earth is this guy up here talking about horses?” Well, because I think horses stand as a really good illustration of how quickly the world has changed. If you were to put all of human history on a great big timeline, you would see that the vast, vast majority of the changes have come right at the very end, in this tiny little sliver of history at the end of that timeline. If you were born, say eight hundred or a thousand years ago, you might be born and die and never see any technological change in your life.

There would never be Steve Jobs getting up on stage and rolling out the great new shovel, or something like that. The things you were born with, the things you lived with, the things you died with, there was really no innovation. There was really no change. It’s only in the past couple of centuries, really the past few decades that things have increased and really just in the last few years, the pace has really picked up until we’re at where we are today. And today, that pace of change is almost out of control.

Every year, we expect there will be a new version of whatever it is. We never stop being amazed at all the great things that are being introduced to us. We want these new things. We demand these new things.

This is an amazing, amazing time to live. And this is an amazing, amazing time to be a Christian. And that’s because every new technology brings us a great new opportunity. Every new technology that comes along brings a new opportunity to bring glory to God by carrying out God’s will here on earth.

And as Christians, we are responsible before God to take these new technologies and to put them to use for God’s purposes. That’s our privilege, and that’s our responsibility. It’s our privilege and responsibility as humans made in the image of God. It’s our privilege and responsibility as Christians recreated, remade in the image of Jesus Christ.

And in the few minutes we have today, I want to challenge you. And I want to speak to especially to the young people here. I want to challenge you especially to always be thinking about how you can use these new technologies in ways that bring glory to God. Because you are living in this world where you have amazing capabilities. There are things you can do today that your grandparents, even your parents would never have dreamed would be possible. It sounded like science fiction. It sounded like just ridiculous.

But you can do these things. And you can do them for the glory of God. You can do them to carry out the work of God. But hang on just a minute. We need to be careful because if the history of technology has taught us anything at all, it’s taught us that every technology can also be used for evil. Every new technology brings some great opportunity, but it also brings a risk.

And we need to be very, very careful that we pray, think, consider how we can use these new technologies only in the best ways and for the best purposes. So let me show you that God calls you to use technology for His purposes, for His glory, and then we’ll talk about just a few of the dangers you need to consider as you do that.

If you go all the way back to the beginning of our timeline, all the way back to the creation of humanity, you find just two people living in a garden. God has created them, and He’s set them there in this garden. Adam and Eve, they are humanity, and God gives them their marching orders. He creates them, and He gives them their purpose. He says, “Be fruitful and multiply.

Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” So He speaks to these two people. They’re alone there in the garden, and he tells them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Two people, it’s a big command. “You two, fill the earth.”

And then He says, “Exercise dominion.” He wants these two people to become two thousand people, to become two million, two billion people. So they spread out and fill the entire globe. He wants the whole earth to be filled with people made in His image and doing His will. He wants them to build cities. He wants them to build civilizations, to form governments.

And when they spread over the earth, He wants them to have dominion, to exercise dominion. He wants them to find and to exploit, to use all the natural resources He’s put here on this earth. To build farms and gardens, domesticate animals, just enjoy all the bounties of the earth.

But you remember, He said that to two little people. That giant command went to two people who are alone and naked in a garden. Just think about what God was telling them to do there. The only way they were ever going to carry out God’s command was to invent things. The only way they could honor God was to create new technologies.

If they were going to build homes, they would need to cut down trees, and if they were going to cut down trees they would need to find a way, invent a way of cutting it down. To cross the rivers, to spread over the earth, they need to learn how to build bridges. To get to the other side of the oceans, they would need to learn to invent boats.

Do you see it? They could only be faithful to God if they created new technologies, which tells us that technology is good. God means for us to invent things. God means for us to create new things so that we can carry out His will for us. That becomes even more clear as we fast forward a few thousand years until Jesus has lived, and Jesus has died, and Jesus has been raised again.

And right before He goes back to His Father, He gathers His disciples and He says this, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

In just a few minutes, our friend Tim Keesee will come and talk about this more, but I just want to think about this. God’s people could only carry out God’s commission if they took advantage of technology. Alright, God told them to take the gospel to the entire earth, which means they had to find ways of getting to the entire earth.

They had to find ways of getting this message to the entire earth. So again God expected that His people, these Christians, would use new technology, maybe even invent new technologies. He wanted them to look, to consider that Great Commission and then to ask, “Okay, what do we need to use in order to carry this out? What do we need to invent in order to carry this out even better?”

You know what’s amazing? If you look back through human history, you look back through the history of technology, just look what Christians have done. Whenever a great new technology has come along, Christians have taken advantage. You go back to the day when the apostles lived. The Romans were in power, and you know they created this vast road system.

This was amazing technology in their day. And these roads were meant to carry their soldiers, to carry on trade, but especially to carry the army. That way they could get out to the far frontiers. They could go and crush rebellion wherever it rose up. What happened? Christians used those roads. Christians used those roads to carry the gospel. They were meant to carry soldiers; they carried missionaries.

In the 1500s, Gutenberg invented the printing press. What happened? The Reformation happened, right? The Bible was printed. Books were printed. The Christian faith was printed and sent out all around the world. In the 1900s, radio came along. Soon Christians were broadcasting all across the world, broadcasting God’s Word. The TV came along, and Christians were using that to broadcast God’s Word. A few years ago they invented the tablet, the mobile phone.

What happened? Bible apps are some of the most downloaded, some of the most used apps. Today, many people have migrated. They now use this tablet, use this phone in order to do their reading, in order to read God’s Word. Do you see how it works? Time and time again, a new technology comes along and Christians immediately seize hold of it, and they use it to spread the gospel, to carry the Word of God. It’s amazing.

So here’s the challenge again, especially for young people. You need to learn how to do the very best thing with these new technologies. You need to learn to use what already exists, and you need to learn to evaluate what will soon exist so these two can be used to carry the good news of the gospel.

Maybe you’ll even be involved in inventing new things, in creating new technologies specifically for this purpose of carrying out what God has called us to do. A lot of people are looking at innovation, thinking about technology and asking, “How can I enrich myself with this? How can I make myself a lot of money with this?” But as Christians, we should be looking and saying, “How can I carry out God’s purposes? What can I invent that would help do the work God has called me to do?”

Maybe you saw that the Great Commission is really made up of three parts. You are to go, and you are to preach, and then you are to teach and train the people who’ve received the gospel. Well, some new technologies are used to go. We need technologies that can take people to preach the gospel just like the Roman roads. The roads did not preach the gospel, but the roads carried the people who did preach the gospel.

Some technologies are used to actually do the work of proclamation, so the printing press carried the Word of God. It was printed, and the Word of God went out. And then some new technologies are used primarily to teach and train people to obey Jesus. They’ve accepted Jesus. They’ve turned to Him in repentance and faith, and now these new technologies are used to equip them, to train them. A program like — a radio program, like “Renewing your Mind.”

How many of us have been taught and trained, had our Christian faith bolstered by what we’ve heard there? So here’s this huge challenge that Christian — Christian young person you need to face, accept, embrace this challenge. There’s a world of technology out there just waiting for you, for us to harness it for God’s purposes.

So, we’ve seen that God calls you to create new technologies, to use these to carry out His will. We need these to carry out the creation mandate. We need these to carry out the Great Commission. We need to take the gospel to the entire world. We need everyone to hear that gospel so God can draw in all of His people.

But all the while, we’ve got to be careful. We need to be very, very careful. Technology is a good gift of God, but it’s a gift that exists on this side of Genesis chapter 3, and we can’t ever, ever forget that. Right in Genesis 1 and 2 we read about God’s perfect creation. God created perfect people in a perfect world, gave them a mandate, told them what to do. Everything was beautiful. Everything’s perfect. Adam and Eve just need to obey, to start multiplying, start exercising dominion.

But then we get to Genesis 3. We read about them falling into sin. They’ve sinned against God. Their sin is now extended to every single person. It has extended to everything within creation. We read later in the Bible that all of creation is groaning under the weight of sin and evil. Everything has been badly messed up. Everything has been affected by sin.

And that includes technology. Technology did not escape the fall, and so it’s not perfect. Technology can be used to do very, very good things. And technology can be used to do very, very evil things. So even while technology is a good gift through which we can carry out God’s will, it’s also a very, very dangerous thing.

With our technologies, we can honor God and we can dishonor God. We can glorify God, or we can heap contempt on His name. We can do such good to other people, and we can do them such harm. We can bring such good news, and we can bring such bad news.

And these choices are before us every day. Every time we use anything that’s technological, we’ve got this choice, “Will I use it well?” or “Will I use it poorly?” What we need to consider is if we don’t commit to using our technologies well, we will use them badly.

So, as you look at technology, as you look at the human relationship to technology, you always see that technology brings us opportunity, but it also brings us risk. Every new technology brings us something good. That’s why we invented it, right? We only invent things that will make us happier or wealthier or more comfortable or more secure; something. That’s why we invent them. We don’t invent things that would only ever harm us. That would be ridiculous.

And we create these technologies to make us safer, healthier, wealthier but along the way, we inevitably learn that they’re also bringing some negative things into our lives. In some way, they’re harming us as well.

You see, you might invent a gun to protect yourself but then maybe it’s used to harm other people, to attack other people. Well, the printing press that was used to print the Bible also prints the Book of Mormon. Really, Gutenberg’s press printed Bibles and it printed papal indulgences. It printed both. The radio that broadcasts the good news two hours later might be broadcasting heresy. But it’s even more complicated than that. The iPhone, I buy an iPhone to stay in touch with my friends and family. But then someday maybe I find I’m addicted to that thing. I can’t stop looking at it.

I become compulsively attached to it. How many people have bought a computer to study the Word of God but eventually they found that they’re drawn to pornography, that they’re badly misusing this amazing piece of technology? So sometimes we just use these devices and as we use these things, we find that even though we want to use them for good purposes, purposes that carry out God’s will, sooner or later we are using them for evil purposes. We’re using them in ways that hinder God’s work. And so our relationship as human beings to technology, it’s a very complicated relationship.

Well, my friend, God calls us — God calls us to use technologies to carry out His will. He also calls us to be wise. He calls us to be careful. He calls us to be discerning, and we’re wise to acknowledge that our sinful human hearts will at times want to use good gifts in bad ways, want to take God’s things, good things and use them for evil purposes.

And that’s true of technology. We’ll want to use very good devices in very bad ways. So this means we need to be very careful in examining our technologies to understand how we may want to use them for evil. And we need to examine our hearts. We need to look within to see why I might want to use this for evil.

None of this is meant to scare you away from technology, not at all. It’s just meant to help you use it wisely, with maturity, with discernment. Our work is too important. It’s far too urgent to get distracted from this work that God has called us to do. One of my great concerns, as I look at Christians and the way we use our technologies and especially digital technologies, is how distracted we become by them.

Millions of young Christians are spending way, way too much time using really good technologies for really wasteful purposes. There’s nothing wrong with text messaging. There’s nothing wrong with chatting or playing games. There’s just something wrong with it when it becomes dominant — all things in moderation.

I think for some people it’s like only ever reading the map at back of your Bible, right? You open the Bible and all you ever read is the map. You want to say you’re wasting your time. You’re missing the most important, powerful part of the Bible. It’s not that the maps are bad, you’re just not getting the main point. You need to make sure you’re using these incredible technologies for the best purposes. You need to be a faithful steward of these technologies.

Another concern is that millions of young people and older people are spending way too much time using technologies for things that are just plain evil, things like looking at pornography or things like gossiping about one another and tearing down one another through these great devices. That’s a terrible misuse of a good gift that can do so much good. These things are God’s gifts given to us so that we can carry out the will of God.

Is that how you see it? Is that how you use your phone? This is a gift of God so I can carry out His will. How will I then use it? So now you know the challenge that faces you, your temptation to use good things in bad ways. Well, we’ve got an urgent task before us, and we have a very good task before us. God has been so good to allow us to be involved in the salvation of souls, to use us, to allow us to be involved in His work. He doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need us, but He chooses to use us. God allows us to be part of the most important work in the entire world.

The question is will you join Him in this work? How will you join Him in this work? How will you use the good gift of human ingenuity, the good gift of creativity, the good gift of technology? How will you use all of this to carry out the great task that God has given you?