RESOURCES for Media and Technology: Review of ‘From the Garden to the City’ (@Byers_Andy)

images-14In a previous post I issued a call for our reader’s recommendations on helpful resources for the church in the digital age. Here, I am providing one of my own. I am recommending a book released in 2011: John Dyer’s From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology.

I am not sure how Dyer (@johndyer) shoulders all the technological and theological responsibilities assigned to him. Here is how the bio reads from his website:

I’m a former youth pastor turned web developer, building tools for companies like Apple and Microsoft, Harley-Davidson, Anheuser Busch, and the Department of Defense. I currently serve as the director of web development for Dallas Theological Seminary, building out their online education tools in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic, and I teach at Irving Bible Church.

My lovely, brilliant wife has given me two amazing, hilarious children, and we live near Dallas, TX. Recently, I started writing on issues of technology and faith, and my hope is that both the code I write and words I write will be helpful for the Church.

I have a lot of respect for someone writing on technology who also writes technology, literally (as his website demonstrates).

His book is an exercise in big picture presentations. I like that. Dyer offers a broad, aerial view of technology by evaluating it in light of a broad, aerial view of Scripture. He takes the plotline of the Bible from Creation to Re-Creation and considers how fallen human nature and God’s redeeming intentions impact technology.

There is somewhat of a spectrum when it comes to Christian writers on technology. On one extreme end are those media enthusiasts for whom the Internet has ushered in a utopian age of splendor. They lament that Jesus’ Incarnation was pre-digital age because surely he could have done much better work had he a Twitter handle and a WordPress account. On the other end are the media curmudgeons decrying “techpocalypse” and bemoaning the end of the pristine days of books and handwritten letters.

(Okay, so virtually no one writes on these extreme ends—but sketching a spectrum is helpful, I think).

I like where Dyer is located on this spectrum: right in the middle.  He finds this to be the most responsible perspective in light of theological realities. On one hand, he does not believe that technology wields such an all-encompassing power over our lives that we are fated to become automatons under the authority of our gadgets and the tyrannical philosophies encoded within them. On the other hand, he is very honest about how technologies do indeed shape us as we use them. Here is the rub: “Technology should not dictate our values or our methods.” That does not mean that we should eschew any use of technology: “Rather, we must use technology out of our convictions and values.”

Dyer is responsibly alert to the pervasive power of technology to tweak and adjust our lives. He writes to make his readers just as alert. Yet he understands God’s placement of the first humans within a garden with the charge to keep and cultivate it as necessitating technology. God has called us to create culture and to build societies, endeavors requiring certain degrees of technological means and methods.

But our souls, minds, bodies, and world are now infiltrated by sin. A great deal of our technological production and use may have at its source a desire to overcome the Fall. In other words, we subtly (and sometimes overtly) turn to technology to save us. Dyer reminds us, however, that “our technology never truly solves the deeper problem of sin.”

Even so, technology is involved in God’s redemptive work.

Dyer points out that Jesus himself would have been a technology user as a craftsman in the ancient world. Ironically, “the technology with which Jesus worked—wood and nails—was the technology on which he died….” But now that the cross has become a symbol of transformation and divine salvation, we can see that technology’s darkest moment can not only be redeemed; it can also become the means of redemption. The climactic, final scene of Scripture is the eschatological descent of a city, the New Jerusalem of New Creation. By virtue of being a city, technology is indivisible from its streets, walls, and buildings. So from the garden to the city, technology endures corruption yet also enjoys redemption.

Here are the two primary reasons I like Dyer’s book: 1) it is solidly grounded in the Bible and 2) it is also very accessible to general readers. I will end with Dyer’s own words which I think provide a nice summation of his practical points.

“Christians who live God-honoring lives in the digital world are those who can discern the tendencies built into all technology and and then decide when those tendencies are in line with godly values, and when those tendencies are damaging to the soul.”

[Be on the lookout: A two-part interview with John Dyer is coming up soon!]

About AndyByers

I serve as the Chaplain for St Mary's College at Durham University while working on a PhD in the Department of Theology. CODEC has also taken me on to work as a theological consultant of sorts for the BigBible blog. My first book is about cynicism toward the church and disillusionment with God—'Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint' (IVP Likewise, 2011). My latest is ‘TheoMedia: The Media of God in the Digital Age’ (Cascade Books, 2013).