A Reader’s Response

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Here is a thoughtful response to some of the issues being raised in my Christian Renewal column, “Tech-lines.”  Next week I will post my response, but please feel free to share your own thoughts, ideas, or concerns in the comment section.

Dave Sikkema’s recently begun Tech Lines  will provide a timely and much needed series.  Engaging, informative and incisive, his three articles thus far have been read with interest and profit by this reader, and I’m sure, by others. His articles provide keen analyses of the blessings and opportunities as well as the challenges and problems associated with technology.  So many of us, especially those of us who are older, find ourselves troubled, uncertain, and often confused in this area, particularly by the bewildering explosion of  computer-related technology in the last few decades.  In making us aware of the issues, Mr. Sikkema provides a valuable service.

I find, however, an area of  weakness.  Thus far Mr. Sikkema offers only a little in what is so much needed – more of a vision of the place of technology in our lives,  and much more in the way of practical means of promoting responsible use and solutions to some of the inherent problems.

Dr. Schuurman of Redeemer recently spoke at a Heritage Christian School parent evening on a like subject, his topic Being Faithful in a Computer Age.  It was an excellent presentation.  I left this speech, deeply thankful for its substantive content and valuable perspective and insights, but troubled by Dr. Schuurman’s similarly scant treatment of the responsible use of technology.

Why is there this hesitance to give guidance?  In his beginning article Mr. Sikkema stated emphatically that we must not be prescriptive,  “as techno-Pharisees hammering out a list of digital do’s and don’ts.”  Dr. Schuurman spoke likewise, saying that we could do little more than humbly “muddle through” these challenging and uncharted areas  (computer and internet use, digital communication devices) with our children.

No, we do not wish to be overly prescriptive.  Yes, here as in all else we must address the heart .  But it can and may not stop there. Christians are not antinomians. The Bible is often prescriptive and proscriptive, both in the old covenant and in the new.  And these prohibitions and principles are as wide as life itself–“Flee fornication,” “do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit,”“let him who steals steal no longer,” “there must be no filthiness or silly talk,” “obey those who have the rule over you.”  You cannot truly come with the authority of God’s Word and with the application of Biblical principles to all of the Christian life,  you cannot genuinely be prophetic, without speaking of rules, guidelines, and boundaries.

And in this area pressing questions abound, from all sides – what suggested guidelines are there for placement and use of computers in our home? Does an early use of computer affect the learning of children? Should I let them use the internet? Is it wise to let my children be on Facebook, and if so, at what age?  How old should they be before they are allowed to own a Smartphone?  Is it necessary or good for my children to have every new piece of technology , or would a family do well to consider purposely doing without some of the new gadgetry in order to have a simpler, less cluttered life, more opportunity for real communication, and less inundation by ungodly influence? What boundaries should I place on time used on the computer?  What do you think of X box?  What are some principles I can help my children to develop in order to prepare them for the greater responsibilities accorded them as young people? What responsibility structures are available for grownups and young people (all of us) in their internet use?  How do we make ourselves and our young people and children aware of and counter the way in which the internet tailors its ads to target and pander to our individual tastes and needs?  Should students be allowed to use the internet solely in their research, with no studying of books?  Is it wise for high schools to get rid of their libraries? To get rid of all books altogether and go to online texts? – And so many, many more questions …

Yes, these questions cannot be addressed in the way of universal strictures.  However, they can be in the way of broad principles and suggested guidelines and boundaries, from which parents and individuals and the Church of Christ can more specifically shape and apply their own.  – And of course, anyone who attempts to answer these questions will need extensively to search out and use the insights of the others who are prophetically wrestling with these new issues.

As Dr. Schuurman so aptly stated, if we do not consciously shape our use of technology, it often will be shaping us.   And how much more is this not true when technology comes upon us at such a dizzying and ever-increasing pace, as it has with digital communication and all the other aspects of the computer revolution in technology? Shaping this generation and shaping life it is,  profoundly and pervasively.  This is true not only for the more obvious areas of communication, advertising, education, and relationships,  but it is equally true for so many other areas.  And in the middle of it all, individuals, parents and families,  schoolboards and others have an urgent need of vision and foresight, of guidelines and practices, of ways and means to use and model and teach this amazing technology in a responsible and God-glorifying way.

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