Have you seen this meme before? The first picture is a boy with polio, followed by a picture of scientists working hard in a lab, and concludes with “Science cures polio”. Next, we have the same picture of the boy with polio. But this time followed by a group of people praying on their knees to God, and concludes with “Prayer cures nothing”. Christian, what do you make of that? Is science and technology robbing God’s glory?
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “God, Technology and the Christian Life” by Tony Reinke. 321 pages, published by Crossway in December 2021.
Real Life Techno Priest Endorsement
First off, I didn’t know there were pastors in tech companies. Listen to this endorsement:
“As both a pastor and an engineer, I continually find the need to interpret the marvels of the twenty-first century in light of Scripture. To that end, this book has been a great blessing. Tony Reinke has crafted an enlightening, balanced, and thoroughly engaging biblical theology of technology. This work is profoundly practical. All Christians should consider it, whether they live inside a major tech center or not.”
That was from Conley Owens, Pastor at Silicon Valley Reformed Baptist Church and Senior Engineer at Google.
There is another endorsement from Jeremy Patenaude, Pastor at Risen Hope Church Seattle and writer at Microsoft.
And another from Jose Luis Cuevas, pastor, missionary and also Director of Project Management at VMWare Latin America.
Reading the news, I get this idea that these tech companies are anti-Christian and anyone who is a Christian, much less a pastor, would not be able to live out his faith publicly in those companies. But thankfully I was wrong. You can work in tech and live out a Christian life.
Tech User + Christian = Christian Tech User
“God, Technology and the Christian Life” is the latest book from Reinke. In 2019, he published Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age and in 2017, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. The only other Reinke book I have read was Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. I mentioned in my review of Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, how Lit! helped me think biblically about reading. It’s essentially a biblical theology on reading. If you love reading, you’ve got to read Lit!. There are many books that make you a better reader, but there are not many books (I can’t think of another) that would you a better Christian reader.
Similarly, there are many many resources that make you a better technology user, but there are too few resources that would make you a better Christian tech user. If you are a tech user, and you are, you must read his latest book, “God, Technology and the Christian Life”.
You might not just be a tech user, you could be a tech junkie. Is there such a thing as a Christian tech junkie? We all know we are to glorify God in everything that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31) but can we really glorify God when we sing praises for a new gadget or invent a new time-waster? Reinke answers all these questions and more in this book.
Questions So Deep It Sounds Shallow
The book is organised around six questions.
- What is Technology?
- What is God’s Relationship to Technology?
- Where Do Our Technologies Come From?
- What Can Technology Never Accomplish?
- When Do Our Technologies End?
- How Should We Use Technology Today?
Reading those six question, you might be forgiven to think the questions are a bit lame. The first one: What is Technology? It sounds like a lame introduction by a first grader presenting his homework. But seriously. The questions look trivial but they are not. It’s like: Who am I? Why am I here? On one level, the answer is simply: “I’m Terence and I’m here to review a book for you.” But on deeper level. Who am I? Why am I here? How do we begin to answer those questions? In this book, I reckon you have never heard the question, “What is Technology?” posed and answered the way this book does.
Those six questions, let’s bring really smart people into the room to discuss them. Reinke brings twelve guys.
You know Calvin, John Calvin, but did you know that Calvin believes that the Holy Spirit inspires technological gifts of man to flourish? You know Abraham Kuyper, theological giant. Can you put his common grace theology, which is God’s blessing on non-Christians, and put his 20th century outlook next to the 21st century innovator Elon Musk? Reinke did. If you are a tech reader, you must know Wired magazine. Kevin Kelly is the co-founder, a tech minimalist and open theist. Reinke quotes Kelly here:
Technology has reached a “self-amplifying” and “self-reinforcing system of creation,” the point when “our system of tools and machines and ideas became so dense in feedback loops and complex interactions that it spawned a bit of independence.”
Now put that sci-fi high-tech futuristic prophecy next to David’s slingshot and Saul’ armour, which is what Reinke did.
Reinke gathers 12 diverse thinkers and mashes their ideas and words into a discussion from a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Biblical Theology of Technology
That itself would be ambitious enough but Reinke sets a higher goal. This book is his biblical theology of technology. He tells us right from the beginning: “Don’t skip the Bible verses. I know you skip them because I do too. But don’t skip the Bible verses.” And he is right. You must not skip them because those Bible verses are not peripheral to the chapter, they are central. In “God, Technology and the Christian Life”, we see how God sees technology, nay, we see how God creates the creator, the user and the destroyer. God is everywhere in this book. Reinke worships a big, big God.
Read David and Goliath. Goliath had the big guns right? The big sword, the big armour, the big tech advantage and David did not, right? Read it again. Reinke argues convincingly that this famous battle was not high tech vs no tech. Reinke says it’s between a godless Close Quarter Combat Warrior vs. a God-fearing Sniper.
Let’s read Isaiah 54:16-17:
Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”
Then read it the way Reinke tells it. Reinke writes:
… here, God makes three incredibly specific claims: (1) He creates the creators of weapons. (2) He creates the wielders of those weapons. (3) He governs the outcomes of those weapon- ized warriors—the ravagers.
Reinke zips from Noah’s Ark to Babel, from Tubal-Cain to Elon Musk, from the root of the tech tree to a disembodied space-faring future. He weaves the atheist Yuval Noah Harari into the conversation:
Ancient sailors, in rickety vessels and without tools of navigation, marked their perilous ocean voyages first with “propitiatory sacrifices,” then, with any divine luck, they returned home “ornamented with wreaths and gilt fillets to thank the gods” in the nearest temple. Steam ships changed all that. Steam ships “killed all gratitude in the hearts of sailors.” Safer tech offers more control, boasts greater predictability, and kills divine thankfulness.
And exhorts the Christian to thank God for all the technology, to pray:
God break me free from the idols of comfort, and fill me with God-centered awe for the gifts in this world that you have given me to use and enjoy.
He quotes Spurgeon, the 19th century preacher:
We have heard of engineers who could bridge the widest gulfs… We have seen men who could force the lightning’s flash to carry a message for them; we know that men can control the sunbeams for their photography, and electricity for their telegraphy; but where dwells the man, where even is the angel, who can convert an immortal soul?”
Do you realise how so many of us have put our faith in technology? Reinke sketches out this Gospel of Technology, a gospel we love to learn, love to share, love to worship. How I love my new phone! The unveiling of the next big thing is like a bright light revelation, a Damascus Experience for so many people.
Tell Me What I Think (Or Will Think)
And this is another reason why I love this book. He is like Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is famous for telling us what we want before we want it. In this book, Reinke has managed to tell me what I think before I thought it.
Let me explain. My favourite Billy Graham moment is the TED Talk he gave. In his TED talk, Billy Graham acknowledged everybody in the room was smart, world-changing type of people. It’s amazing what technology has done. But all the technology will not solve three problems: Evil, Suffering and Death.
It was the best TED Talk, not in it’s style or delivery, but in its offer of Christ to the TED world. That talk left a big impression on me. It moderated all the hype, the promise on AI, nanotech, space exploration, big data and all of it. None of that can solve evil, suffering and death. But as good as Billy Graham’s TED talk was, it didn’t go deep enough. And I didn’t know it until I read “God, Technology and the Christian Life”.
Consider this question: How should we use technology today? That’s the last question posed, the last chapter in the book. What is the Biblical answer to it? Wisdom. We should use tech with wisdom. It’s an easy answer, even flippant in its simplicity but oh the depth of the answer here.
Reinke doesn’t give us loose pebbles from the ground, he mines the Bible. He doesn’t give empty Christian platitudes like, “Be wise. It’s good to be wise. It’s wise to be good. Blah Blah Blah.” Instead he mines the revelation of God’s Word, finding gold in the unlikeliest of places. I am convinced that this guy really did comb through the whole Bible to develop his theology of technology because I don’t think anyone could have found the verses he did otherwise.
In this book review, I have shared many insights. So many insights that if this was another book review, I would try to cut some out in order to not give away all the best bits of the book. Don’t you hate it when movie trailers are just mash ups of the best parts of the movie?
That did not happen here. There is still a lot more to this book. After finishing this book, I re-read the early pages to prepare this review and I was struck by how well Reinke has weaved everything together: Calvin, Kuyper and Musk with Genesis, Isaiah and Revelation. Steve Jobs and the book of Job!
Makers, Users and Readers
If you are, or if you hope to be, an inventor, engineer, biotechnologist, anyone who creates technology, you must read this book. What happens when the tech you create to cure cancer is used to create a killer virus? Or tech that was designed to bring out truth is used to spread lies? Reinke offers so many lines of thoughts, so many angles to help the faithful integrate with their technological self.
But this is not just for the tech elite at Microsoft, Google or Facebook. If you are a tech user and also a Christian, then read this book to understand what it means to be a Christian tech user. You may not think about the joining of these two worlds, but you should. And if you do think about it, then this book will help you think about it, you will glorify God, you will not despair at the state or the future of the world, all the technology, all of them the bad and the good, will give you cause to see God.
Reinke is a realist. Technology heals. Technology also harms. While researching for this book review, I checked Reinke’s Twitter. Feb 12 2022, at the brink of an European War, Reinke tweets, “Today I stood under afterburners to test if I really believed God is bigger and more powerful than our war tech. He is. His sovereign orchestration reigns over every pilot and F-35. Even as war tensions rise, I believe it in my rattled bones.”
If there is any reservation that one would have reading this book, it’s how Reinke draws a line from harmful technology to the Sovereign Lord. He does deal with this big question in the book but I’m not going to elaborate it here. Questions on why bad things happen or the relationship on harmful tech and God deserve an answer with more depth than a soundbite or a meme. Just as a hint to how Reinke answers it, I’ll just say, Tony Reinke is the host of the Ask Pastor John podcast. If you know John Piper’s Big Big God, then it’s the same as Tony Reinke’s. Related to this topic, you could listen to my review of Providence by John Piper.
This book is delightful to me in a way that doesn’t happen often. I started this book review podcast because I enjoy reading books, so I read a lot of books on various topics, and I come to those books with presuppositions which gets confirmed, challenged and sometimes changed as I read the book. It’s not often that I get surprised. Reinke’s book opens up the Bible in a new light. And it’s on a topic I deal with everyday, I use it and teach it. There are moments in reading this book that I wanted to dig deeper into the Bible, even get a doctorate on what the Bible says about this aspect of technology. Biblical theology of technology is an unmined field. So many smart people develop technology, I hope there will be smart people to develop this biblical theology of technology. We must not see technology to mean electrify or put a wifi in the church, tech must edify the church.
This is a Reading and Readers Review of “God, Technology and the Christian Life
” by Tony Reinke. 321 pages, published by Crossway in December 2021. It’s USD15.99 via Amazon Kindle. I got a free review copy thanks to Crossway’s Blog Review Programme but they had no input on this review.
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“God, Technology and the Christian Life” by Tony Reinke. Amazon.