Introduction: A Few Preliminary Thoughts

technology stressI have three face-to-face study groups, all of which begin in October, so I am going to mark some time before starting the next online series. Because I plan to use the book my son and I recently published in all four groups, coordinating the lessons will make my life far more manageable.

With that in mind, I’d like to use the next two weeks to prompt some preparatory thinking about the effects of technology on religion and society as a whole. Just about every social commentary out there observes modern technology presents major problems that should be examined. Yet hardly any go any further. One of Franz’ and my major intentions in writing the book was to incite deeper thought about the issue. We can get started by pondering two experiences.

The first is a conversation way back in the early years of my ministry. I got a lot of pleasure and insight conversing with the pastor of an independent Baptist congregation, especially when we compared our differing approaches to ministry. I can remember vividly when he observed we Lutherans did not know the three secrets of a successful church: air conditioning, good lighting, and an excellent speaking system. When I suggested proclaiming the Gospel has a place, he responded, “Oh yeah, but nobody is going to listen unless you have my three.”

My immediate reaction was the realization that my worship space did not have air conditioning, good lighting, or a decent speaking system at the time. However, over the years I continued to ponder the deeper implications of his understanding.

The second experience was a somewhat similar conversation with a communications engineer in the last year. His company had earned fame by designing a system that enabled NFL coaches to communicate with their quarterbacks. A lot of their present business was with mega- churches who wanted to pipe the sermons of their celebrity preachers to satellite congregations. He reported a conversation with one of those celebrity preachers who observed he could have a successful church without the Gospel, because he knew the techniques that satisfied his audience.

Again my immediate response was to compare the success of these kinds of Evangelical communities with my mainline church. However, further reflection revealed there is something far deeper going on than using tools to enhance ministry. The use of the tools in our modern setting affects the proclamation itself in very significant ways.

My hope is the book, Faith, Hope, and Love in the Technological Society will provoke your deeper thinking on what is happening. You can buy it for $25 from Amazon or for $20 from the publisher, Wipf and Stock, at 541-344-1528 or I think my son’s insights will be very helpful. He teaches in the Science, Technology, and Society department at Rochester Institute of Technology. That discipline maintains that, when we are honest, we admit technology drives science rather than the other way around. Technology is about solving problems and uses science to obtain its goals. This is apparent when science has become fundable research in our technological society. Many of his colleagues are Christians who feel responsibility for helping the church understand how technology is also affecting religion in our time. I have also solicited Paul Wildman’s help. Paul is one of the few people I know who regularly speaks of how poorly prepared the church is for ministering to the technological society forming around us, sometimes on this site. Franz and I primarily concentrate on what is happening right now; Paul gives more thought to what will be necessary in the future. I hope he will share some of his work with us as we go along.

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  1. Kerry says:

    This promises to be a fascinating and important series. I’m betting I’m not the only pastor out there who’s ambivalent about the relationship between ministry and technology. So I’m looking forward to reading the book and learning from the online discussion.

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