The Church and technological progress
From Dr. Iain Torrance at Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2007 graduation:
Very many of you, our new graduates, will enter some form of service to the church. That service may be teaching, pastoral, or something beyond the church’s visible structures, but a ministry nonetheless.
Nobody knows how much the church will develop or the specific forms its obedience to God will take under the direction of the Holy Spirit. To our new graduates, I’d say, if we fill your minds with too much specification, we train you for obsolescence. For a moment, let’s think about progress. An April issue of The Economist had a special report on the coming wireless revolution. I want to quote a little. “The computing revolution was about information–digitizing documents, photographs, and records so that they could more easily be manipulated. The wireless-communications revolution is about making digital information about anything available anywhere at almost no cost.” (My emphasis.) It continues: “It is hard for anyone–politicians most of all–to picture how wireless will be used, just as it was with electric motors and microprocessors…. Wireless technology will become part of objects in the next fifty years rather as electric motors appeared in everything from eggbeaters to elevators in the first half of the 20th century and computers colonized all kinds of machinery…in the second half.”
New technology will stimulate new language and concepts. It will ahve to, and you would expect that. HEnce we have “ubiquitous computing,” “embedded networking,” and the “pervasive internet.” Progress always has hurdles to surmount. The Economist goes on to note: “As is usual in the early days of a new industry, all kinds of propriety systems abound.”
Progress, when it comes, will always be unexpected. “Wireless technology is akin to the electrical grid, which was originally intended for a particular use, the lightbulb, but whose ‘killer application’ turned out to be the power socket that allowed a multitude of new and unforeseen devices to draw energy from it. In time, the new wireless technologies will likewise reshape society in unpredictable ways.” (Author’s emphasis.)
How will the church develop and change? It is the sheer unpredictability I draw to your attention. It is not knight’s move. That’s predictable. Progress comes through recognizing innovation and serving it humbly.
Torrance, Iain R. “The Unexpected Future.” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 28.2 (2007): 119-122.