Bytes and Belief

shaping a digital worldSHAPING A DIGITAL WORLD: FAITH, CULTURE AND COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY
DEREK C. SCHUURMAN
IVP ACADEMIC, 2013.
$18.00. 138 PAGES.

Derek Schuurman asks a question very similar to one asked by many of my computer science students: “What does my faith have to do with my work as an electrical engineer?” Of course, this question is relevant not only for Christians involved in working directly with computer technology but for people in all stations of life. Along with me, many students wrestle with the integration of faith and learning, especially when it comes to a discipline such as computer science. We wonder how we can heed God’s calling on our lives while also acknowledging and using our gifts in computer science in order to further God’s kingdom. To address this question, Schuurman begins by adapting Tertullian’s famous question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” to one dealing with computer technology: “What do bytes have to do with Christian beliefs?”

Working from a Reformed Christian perspective, Schuurman develops an approach to the “ongoing dialogue about faith and computer technology,” hoping to foster more work in this area. He forms a helpful definition of computer technology, weaving together ideas from many people—including cultural critic Neil Postman as well as philosophers Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Ellul—establishing that computer technology is not neutral but value-laden. Schuurman adds that technology is not autonomous, so we Christians have both freedom and responsibility when making use of computer technology.

Faith Permeating Technology

In framing a responsible Christian approach to computer technology Schuurman makes use of four primary biblical themes: creation, fall, redemption and restoration. In the creation section, Schuurman notes that human creativity in computer technology is part of our reflection of the creator. For Schuurman this means that we can and should “use computer technology to show love to our neighbor and in service of all kinds of life.”

Schuurman then reminds us that, due to our sinful nature, humanity misdirects computer technology in many ways, noting that the “human heart still fashions golden calves, and technology is one of the idols of our times.” He not only acknowledges the power of technology but also warns of its dangers, reminding us that computer technology is not a remedy for all of the world’s troubles and will “not rescue or restore us completely.”

While recognizing humanity’s negative use of technology, Schuurman offers his vision of how faith permeates technology with greater purpose. He reminds us that Jesus Christ’s reconciliatory work on the cross has consequences for all areas of life, including technology. So we can in good faith embrace technology and its developments as we remain faithful to the reconciling work that God has called us to do in this world. As norms for responsible use of technology, Schuurman offers eight guidelines for proper stewardship when creating, experiencing and developing technology as we seek to honor God and do good works in God’s name.

Schuurman’s book will prove useful not only for those who work in any field of computer technology but also for anyone who uses computer technology. I believe it to be a valuable resource for any person studying or working in a technical field, fostering helpful discussion about faith and computer technology in our technological society.