Book Review…Digitized: Spiritual Implications

May 25th, 2018 | Category: Book Reviews
By Ardelle Pate

by Bernard Bull
Concordia Publishing House, 2018

Are you a Berean or perhaps a Luddite when it comes to technology? Are you living under the Laodicean effect? Like the Bereans in the Book of Acts who did not blindly accept and follow Paul and his words, Dr. Bernard Bull tells us in his new book to examine and analyze what we are taught in the Scriptures (as the Bereans did) and consider the implications of modern technology on our faith and life. Do not, cautions Bull, become a modern-day Luddite (a person who is critical of modern technology) or take on the guise of an indifferent, passive Laodicean (“Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you from my mouth,” Revelations 3:16). The digital world is advancing quickly, creating a new world populated with culturally diverse people. Dr. Bull believes Christians need to be in this digital world.

In Digitized: Spiritual Implications, the author invites the reader to “grapple with the application of God’s Word to these new and ever-changing technological circumstances” (p. 8), as we, as Christians, seek wisdom in navigating the intersections of faith and life in the digital age. Bernard Bull has written a Christian-focused book that flows. It is filled with colloquialisms and personal vignettes that are applicable to a wide audience, from the teen to the seasoned adult. The book is divided into two parts: examining attributes and experiences of living in the digital world and offering suggestions on engaging with others on these digital issues.

What makes this book unique is that Digitized can be a stand-alone, thought-provoking read or a book that catapults dialogue within a small group. It offers an aspect of life that touches everyone, from those who are wired to technology and those who are not. Part I addresses cultural shifts in technology and ethical and moral concerns that have surfaced within the last few years. The first series of chapters begin by exploring aspects regarding how technology is shaping us. These chapters look at society’s current information addiction and speak to the resulting overload of information (some call it knowledge) that technology throws at us daily. Bull suggests that information overload fails to promote deep, critical thinking; instead, it creates reflex reactions that can cause an emotional shutdown and induced numbness. He interrelates contemporary issues of balancing technology usage and human interactions with biblical advice, suggesting that most people feel that technology tools augment our lives with direction and clarity. Bull suggests that technology deludes because it creates life within a hyperreality. He questions whether we have become the consumer or product of technology. Within a chapter entitled “Technology as the Messiah,” he describes how society tends to worship the technologies that improve the conditions of life, seeing technology as the beacon of light and hope for a better future. As he does in all chapters, he offers the reader moments of self-examination and reflection as to whether his assumptions regarding technology are valid.

As Dr. Bull delves into other contemporary concerns of our technological world, he grounds his words on Scripture. While our beliefs and values are shaped by the dominant narratives in the media, he affirms we need to have Christian discernment to evaluate our role as the Church in this digital age. Bull states this is especially true in terms of spiritual guidance, as we appear to place more value in hyperreality than we do in God’s truth. Specifically, he asks whether Jesus’ directive words, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19) applies to those within the digital world.

The second part of the book relates how we encourage others and apply the Ten Commandments to all aspects of our lives, including our digital lives. Dr. Bull’s suggestion in the second half of the book is simple: educate ourselves and others. We need to teach ourselves and others how to prayerfully and thoughtfully build relationships with others via our e-mails and other digital communications, including presentations and the social media. This book puts the Christian center-stage with a request that each person stand and never think one’s reach is too short (too young or too old), even when one thinks the playing field is uneven. Voicing a Christian value-centered concern for the technology movement that affects all mankind takes the strength of all Christians, but sharing the voice with others, especially through a Bible-study-centered conversation, enlists a community. Within this section, the focus lies within the author’s plea for all Christians to engage with the digital world by building relationships and becoming a Christian witness. When he asks the reader to prepare for battle in the digital world, he is firmly stating that the digital world is laden with values that are being amplified within our current society. The direct individual involvement of Christians through a church website, social media, blogs, podcasts, or online community insures that God’s Word is infused within an otherwise bleak cyberspace.

Personally, as an educational-technology professor at Concordia University Chicago, I have been moved by the straightforward challenge to directly engage in conversation concerning our ethical and moral involvement with the digital world. Because standing up for Jesus is part of our call, Christians worldwide need to have an important voice, whether that voice be in Bible studies, dinner-table conversation, tweeting, or blogging. Dr. Bull concludes the book saying people of faith need to recognize that countless value-laden issues most certainly exist in the broader digital and technical world, and if Christians are silent, they may find themselves living in a society where standing up to moral convictions places them in conflict with the law.

Bull indicates that the problem with technology is the trap of legalism—turning cultural preference or personal preference into law. We risk believing that our subjective viewpoints are aligned with the timeless and unchanging truths of God. We create commandments for ourselves that we then place on the shoulders of others as well (p. 8). Yet, this book is anything but commandments:  it is a guide for discussion. We need to teach each other about the ethical pitfalls of technology that we have socially accepted as a norm before it is too late. Digitized: Spiritual Implications is certainly a book that can help us achieve this purpose. LEJ