|Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” So said the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:22). No doubt the Apostle principally had personal relationships in view when he penned these words. He was, after all, the apostle to the Gentiles, a heterogeneous and multicultural bunch if ever there were one. Yet Paul’s use of the phrase by all possible means is compelling. While it may seem odd at first, if we are to accept these words at face value, that phrase must certainly include the use of all available technology.
Throughout its history, the Christian church has generally been a motivated and early adopter of new technology, using every available means to further the Gospel of Christ. In its earliest days, it would be hard to describe its approach as high-tech. In fact, you might argue that it did not involve technology at all. But at the risk of sounding like a late-twentieth century politician, it depends on what the meaning of the word technology is.
If you view technology in purely mechanistic terms, there was little observable use of technology in evangelism or discipleship before the sixteenth century. But if you view technology from a methodological point of view – systematically employing every available resource to advance the kingdom of God – we see the consistent and creative use of every available tool throughout the history of the church.
For example, in Acts chapter eight, we read that Christians went house to house in Jerusalem sharing the Gospel. While this seems rather commonplace today (although increasingly less so) and decidedly low-tech, it was absolutely radical in those days. That kind of “shoe leather” evangelism is still the principal means of communicating the Gospel in much of the world today.
Twenty years ago, I heard of a young woman in the Philippines who adapted that approach to the workplace with the goal of witnessing to everyone who worked in her high-rise office building. One by one, she invited her office mates to lunch and winsomely shared her testimony of faith in Christ. To date, this devoted witness to Christ has led scores of her co-workers to Christ. That relational element in sharing the Gospel remains powerful because our lives bear witness to the truths we proclaim.
The church, however, did not rely solely on personal evangelism. One of the hallmarks of its growth has been using innovative methods to reach others for Christ. Among the many ways biblical truth has been communicated are: storytelling, music, drama, art and architecture. None of these are very high tech by our standards, but they are examples of efforts to use every means available to proclaim Christ and Him crucified for us.
Of course when Johann Guttenberg’s printing press became widely available, the methodology of the church became unambiguously high-tech, as the church seized the new technology for Christ. For the first time Bibles, books, printed sermons, and tracts became widely available to a mass audience. For the first time people were able to read the Scriptures in their own language.
In succeeding centuries, advancements in technology have become nothing less than revolutionary. In our day, the breadth and scope of those advancements has been breathtaking, even astonishing. Nowhere has this been more true than in electronic communications. And throughout the sixty-five year history of NRB, the church has been consistent and purposeful in its adoption of all available communications technology for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.
Yet technology also has a dark side. Like many good things it can be applied to evil ends. While that is not generally a problem in the church, technology involves other risks. At the same time that technology can improve our efficiency and our effectiveness, it also can be a great time-waster. We can end up pursuing technology for its own sake. To paraphrase the mountain climber, we pursue it because it is there. We sometimes seek it without a clear understanding of how it will further our mission.
In reflecting on the Apostle’s exhortation, particularly the words by all possible means, we clearly see that technology is a God-given means of extending the kingdom of our Lord and Savior. But we must not lose sight of the end that Paul had in view: that he might win some to Christ.
We are often too easily impressed with technological innovation. Witness the legions of gadget hounds among us (Guilty, your Honor!). Yet the employment of technology (much like personal faith) must have an object, a purpose. For some the object is profit or efficiency, for others it is power or influence, for still others the prestige of being on the cutting edge is motivating.
For us it must be about the kingdom of God. It must be about the Lamb of God. It must be about rescuing those who are rushing off to a Christ-less eternity. At the end of the day, the salient question for evaluating technology must be: will it help me reach others with the Gospel of Christ? Let us pray for the grace to choose carefully as we evaluate new technology, and let us always keep the end in view. By the grace God gives, let us seize hold of every available technology for the glory of God, so that by all possible means we too might win some to Christ. Make it so, Lord Jesus.