Archive for the ‘Machines’ Category

Technology ≠ Solace

“Black hole resorts” in exotic locales charge high rates to provide un-wired rooms. “Internet rescue camps” in South Korea and China reach out to kids addicted to the screen. “Freedom software” enables computer users to disable their internet connections for up to eight hours. The average office worker today enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.

Americans’ use of technology is staggering. The average American spends at least 8 1/2 hours a day in front of the screen.  But that creates big problems for modern souls.

Thomas Merton said “man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest.”  French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century that all of humanity’s problems come from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. If that was true in the 1600s…how much more is it true today?  Christians and churches today need to find new ways to tend to the empty, damaged souls of our technology-addled generation.  This will require the full attention and inspired ideas of pastors,  missionaries, and followers of Christ who wish to be great neighbors.  While this may be an age-old issue, the difference in degree is dramatic and potentially disastrous.


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For many years, one of the Christian preachers whom I’ve heard referenced consistently has been John Piper.  Piper is known for his disciplined and clear articulation of Biblical orthodoxy.  He is also a devotee of Twitter.  He said he views Twitter as a “rigorous, yet creative chance to pursue mastery of written expression, and concise-yet-complete theology.”   “Tweeting,” he wrote, “is to preaching what the book of Proverbs is to the book of Romans.”

As a Twitter fan, I know that it’s much easier to tweet about superficial, passing topics like sports, news, celebrities, or daily events — than deeply grounded theology.  My hat is off to Dr. Piper.

I was doubly intrigued, then, when I read Dr. Piper’s tweeted answer to popular singer/songwriter John Mayer. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/how-do-i-think-about-tweeting-a-response-to-john-mayer.  The Berklee-trained Mayer is a guitar savant, and also a free-living guy with graphic opinions and a large following.  He’s also been leading tweeter…until he stopped because tweeting had become an addiction and obsession which undermined his songwriting ability.

In The Meeting of the Waters, I suggested that technology is one of the seven global currents to which the global church must adapt.  Piper knows the importance of social media in today’s world, suggesting that Mayer and others shouldn’t dismiss it, but should reclaim it as one more tool for proclaiming truth.  He calls Twitter “ a fruitfully demanding form,” saying ,”I love words. I rarely think of them as efficient, but as precious. God made them to carry the freight of truth and beauty. Nothing is more valuable than God’s truth and beauty.”

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Your kid is an addict.  Those are hard words to hear, but Christian parents need to hear the truth.  Proof lies in a recent study of 1,000 university students in 10 countries, which interviewed 17-23-year old students on the effect of technology in their lives.

The students’ responses are chilling.  They reported that they experienced mental and physical distress, anxiety attacks, depression, and confusion when forced to unplug from technology for an entire day.  They found that they were unable to voluntarily avoid their gadgets for a full day.  They all, regardless of nationality, admitted to being addicted to mobile phones, laptops, television, and social networking.

The students used virtually the same words to describe their reactions: fretful, irritable, insecure, nervous, restless, crazy, panicked, jealous, lonely, jittery and paranoid. Note, though, that they were not cut off from all contact: while they were required to give up mobile devices, they were permitted to use landline telephones and read books.

In all, only 21% of them said they experienced any benefits from being unplugged.  Those reported that they got into conversations which were different in terms of quality and depth.

Jesus said that He came for us to have life and to have it abundantly.  Humans were designed to be in relation with one another, just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in fellowship with each other. When anything –like mobile devices — get in the way of full and deep relationships, Christians should be there to build bridges and create relational fabric.  This is the task of fostering “shalom” where we live — praying for and promoting our communities’ and friends’ wellbeing.

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In The Meeting of the Waters, I write about 151 interviews which I conducted with Christian leaders in 19 nations.  From the leaders’ feedback, I identified 7 massive global trends which are clearly at play in the global church today. What wasn’t so clear, though, was the many ways those trends will be play out, in the US and around the world.

So I was like a kid on Christmas morning, yesterday, when I learned about a good friend’s current project at Campus Crusade.  It neatly illustrates a creative and strategic way that technology can be used for global evangelization and discipleship. My friend heads up Crusade’s “virtually led movements” initiative, which fosters “networks of like-hearted disciples to win, build and send toward fulfillment of the Great Commission by using simple digital tools and strategies.” Their results got my attention: Ken told me that, in the first two months of 2011, the 33-language www.everystudent.com had 1.065 million unique visitors, with 16,293 indicating they prayed and began following Jesus.   It’s my job to drill down into such statistics, and I learned that 40% of those who indicated they had received Christ also enrolled in a 7-week email followup series.  Ken said he was especially pleased with that aspect, because it’s a response rate similar to most face-to-face or direct ministry outreach efforts.

I confess that I don’t like the name “virtually-led movements.” It makes me think of Dr. Spock, robots, and Minority Report, and I have a hard time believing that disembodied, virtual discipleship is as effective as face-to-face. But my friend Ken set me straight by putting it all in Scriptural context. “More and more people are influencing others through social networks, not face-to-face,” he said.  “Paul & Barnabas would have loved to have these tools. In their day, they also used proxies like letters or emissaries, which allowed them to spread the gospel without being physically present.” Point taken.

I was even more convinced about the power and scope of technology, after I tweeted about virtually led movements yesterday. Last night I got a response from St. Petersburg, Russia: “@fritzkling excuse me – i’m from virtually-led movement in Russia – can you tell the name of the website? thanks.”

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As I researched The Meeting of the Waters, the 151 global  Christian leaders I interviewed pointed to “Machines” as a massive global trend, unavoidably altering how people handle faith issues.  Some times technology’s effect on faith is positive, for example, when my wife receives a John Stott commentary via email every morning.  Other times it can be troubling, as discussed by my friend DJ in this short video clip.

And now, I’ve just learned about a smart phone app to facilitate confession.  The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, hardly a defender of the faith, writes that “in a letter last May, Pope Benedict XVI urged priests to help people see the face of Christ on the Web, through blogs, Web sites and videos; priests could give the Web a “soul,” he said, by preaching theology through new technology.”  She goes on to make light of the app.

Machines and the other 7 Global Currents are here to stay — for good or bad.  My constant question, though, is what we, as followers of Christ, are to make of these changes.

So, what do you think of “Confession:  A Roman Catholic App?”


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Steve Saint has a unique and deeply personal missions philosophy: “know, go, show, and blow.” It’s a philosophy borne in his life as the son of a missionary martyr, and now it’s embedded into his company, ITEC.

ITEC is both an entrepreneurial technology startup as well as a missionary enterprise. True to Saint’s philosophy, it enables Christian missionaries to swoop in to unreached peoples, train up indigenous church leaders, and then depart before relational dependency begins.

ITEC’s hottest project  is a flying car, called the Maverick.  The Maverick is a lightweight vehicle that is rugged enough to be driven on all terrains, and also can be flown with the aid of a powered parachute.

Acclaim for the Maverick has come from varied sources, including  Popular Mechanics “Best Innovation” award in 2009.  The Maverick may prove to be both a whiz-bang mechanical marvel and also an important tool for missionaries to spread the gospel to isolated people throughout the world.

To read Christianity Today’s article on Saint, ITEC, and the Maverick, click here:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/30.54.html?start=1

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Last week word got out that a concerted cyber-attack from China shut down the internet at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, a weeklong conference in Cape Town, South Africa attended by 5000 people from 200 countries. In addition to the Chinese government summarily turning back the 300 Chinese delegates who had been previously approved to fly to Cape Town, more than 70,000 China-based hacks shut down Lausanne’s internet system for several days.

China’s efforts to cripple the Lausanne conference by taking down its technology is one more verification of the central role of Machines in the global church.

Read more about the incident here

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