Digital Theology for Your Teens

by David Murray

Articles on the challenges of technology used to start with a long list of statistics proving the seriousness of the moral, spiritual, relational, and cognitive problems resulting from the digital revolution. I hardly need to waste ink or space on such matters now. Everyone knows by personal experience and observation how many and how massive the problems are. And the vast majority of Christians are concerned enough to want to do something about it. But what can we do?

 

No Technology

There are probably a few people left who are still trying the “no technology” approach. They say: “The dangers are too great; the consequences are too awful. Therefore, we’ll keep separate from the world by rejecting technology. We won’t buy it, and we will ban our children from using it, too.”

This approach is admirable and understandable, but impossible. Digital technology is so pervasive that trying to avoid it is like trying to avoid breathing. And even if we succeed in avoiding contamination, our children certainly won’t. They will find it, or it will find them. They will then be using it without our knowledge and without any training and teaching—probably the worst of all worlds.

More Technology

Other people try the “more technology” strategy. That’s what I used to focus on most, the idea being that we use good technology to defeat bad technology. So, we use blockers on cable TV channels, we set up passwords and time limits on home computers, we add tracking apps to our children’s cell phones, we install accountability software on our laptops, and so on. All of these things are good and can certainly be helpful parts of an overall package of caring for ourselves and our children.

There are some problems, though, if we are relying on the “more technology” approach alone. The first is that we can never get enough good technology to beat bad technology. Teens are especially adept at circumventing controls and finding loopholes in the most secure systems. Sure, we can slow them down, we can make it more difficult by putting some obstacles in the way, but if they are determined enough, they are going to beat us. They can always find more technology to beat our “more technology” battle plan.

Also, even if we succeed in securing their devices, as soon as they walk out the door, they can access anything they want on friends’ devices. Or, they can simply get another device and hide it from us. This approach also tends toward legalism and undermines relationships by creating a sort of “cat and mouse” scenario, resulting in suspicion on the one side and hiding on the other. We need more than “more technology.”

More Theology

The longer I’ve wrestled with this problem in my own family, the more convinced I’ve become that the ultimate answer is not “no technology” or “more technology” but “more theology.” If we want a deep, lasting, and spiritual solution, we need to learn and teach deep, lasting, and spiritual truths. Sound digital theology is the answer to digital technology; the oldest truths are the best rebuttal to the newest challenges. More Trinity is more effective than more technology.

God Is Three-In-One

Seriously, the Trinity is the solution to technology? Partly, yes. The three persons of the Godhead enjoy perfect relationship with one another and seek to share that relationship with us, inviting us into that sacred community.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s relationships with one another are characterized by love, trust, openness, and communication. Isn’t that the model for our relationships with our children, especially when it comes to technology? Isn’t that what we want to cultivate and emulate? The healthier the relationships we have with our children, the healthier relationships they will have with technology. Deeper relationships are more effective than more detailed rules.

Additionally, this three-in-oneness is not just a relationship to copy, but a relationship to be enjoyed. We are invited to enter into that communion, to live in that holy family. The more we do that, the more the Trinity will replace technology, or, at least, the more our communion with the Trinity will regulate technology so that our relationship to it is more balanced and beneficial.

God Is Good

Sometimes we can view technology with such terror that we give the impression that it’s all “of the devil.” No, technology is a wonderful gift from God. We are blessed to live in such times and benefit so much from the role of technology in our daily lives. How many lives have been saved by cell phones? How many separated families have been kept together by Skype and FaceTime? How many sermons and lectures have been spread around the world by Christian ministries such as Ligonier? The devil didn’t create and invent technology. God did, as the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Sure, the devil abuses the gift. Sure, we pervert it into sinful uses. But none of that changes the fact that God created the materials, the forces, and the brains that have produced so much beneficial technology. The more we recognize that technology is a gift from God, the more we will abhor taking His gift and using it against Him, the more we will take this gift and use it as He intends.

God Is All-Knowing

Our parents or spouses can’t see everything or be everywhere. Accountability software can be circumvented and our accountability partners duped. But we can’t escape, circumvent, or dupe the all-seeing eye of God. He sees everything: every place, every second, every screen, every click, every tap. He has a daily report of all the sites we visit, all the messages we send, all the Instagram accounts we follow. If we really knew that He knows, what a difference that would make. The more we can remind ourselves of God’s omnipresence and omniscience, the more we will seek to use technology in ways that give Him pleasure, not in ways that provoke His wrath. Yes, our technology use can please God. He delights to see truth instead of falsehood on Facebook, to hear truth streaming across the world, and to witness our online witness to unbelievers.

God Is Judge

God’s knowledge of us is not being filed away in some dusty cabinet or distant server that will one day be lost or wiped. No, as Judge He will one day call us to account not just for every idle word but for every idle and idol click, for every second spent in pointless time-wasting. We may silence our internal judge, our conscience; we may outsmart our earthly judges, our parents, and our accountability partners; but we will never escape the judgment of God. Certainly, God’s grace in Christ covers every sin; no true believer in Jesus will ever fall away from Him, and His righteousness imputed to us secures heaven for us. Nevertheless, we know that on that final day, God will weigh the works of Christians. We will stand before the great Judge, who we will face not as our Condemner but as our Evaluator who will judge what we have done and will grant His people lesser and greater rewards according to their obedience. Let His discerning judgment help you make discerning judgments in your use of technology.

God Is Savior

Sometimes guilt stops sin; our consciences pain us and warn us to change our ways. More often, guilt multiplies sin; it leaves us hopeless and despairing. We’ve sinned yet again with our cell phone, failed once more on our iPad. We feel so condemned, what’s the point in trying anymore? We’ve sinned so much, so what harm will another sin do?

Guilt also multiplies sin by creating distance between us and God. It alienates us and separates us from God, making sin that much easier. That’s why we need to hear about salvation, grace, and forgiveness all over again.

Nothing deters sin like the forgiveness of sin because it not only removes guilt, it also multiplies love for the Forgiver. The more we can embrace divine forgiveness, the more we embrace the Forgiver, the more love for Christ we will enjoy.

God Is Powerful

Sometimes we can feel like giving up the battle against the dangers of technology. We look at the forces ranged against us and our children and ask, “What’s the point when I am against so much?”

You’re right; the forces are too many and too mighty. However, greater is He who is with us than he who is with them. With God, all things are possible, and He loves to demonstrate His possibility—especially in our impossibility. His power is made especially manifest in our weakness. When we feel and confess our helplessness, that’s when He moves in with His almighty power. He can keep us and our children safe. He is able and mighty to save. He can also give us and all our children the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and to do what is right and good. His Spirit is far more influential than the spirit of the age.

God Is Wise

Sometimes we might be tempted to think God did not foresee this massive moral and spiritual challenge, that He did not anticipate it, and, therefore, He has provided nothing in His Word to help us. After all, the Bible was written thousands of years ago. What can the papyrus age say to the digital age? Thankfully, God did foresee, He did anticipate, and He has put suficient truth in the Bible to guide us through this mine field. Many New Testament verses on Christian ethics can be applied to technology, but I’ve found the book of Proverbs especially helpful as a source of divine wisdom for the digital age. Why not read through it while asking God for light on how to apply these ancient wisdom principles to modern times? God is wiser than the wisest tech moguls and has anticipated every development in technology until the end of time. We will never reach a day when we say, “Well, the Bible has run out of truth.”

I’ve only scratched the surface, but I hope you’re convinced that the ultimate answer to digital technology is digital theology.

Dr. David Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, and author of Christians Get Depressed Too. From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. Reprinted with permission from Ligonier Ministries. Article also available here.

So What? studies are designed to help your students know and love God deeply. How are you showing them that “the Trinity is the solution to technology”? What challenges do you face?

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