In this episode, Wes McAdams and Jason Helton discuss the impacts of technology on our lives and spirituality. They address questions like how various technologies over the past century have shaped culture and individuals, how our constant connectivity online can isolate us, and how we as Christians should think about and engage with technology in a wise and discerning way.
Throughout their conversation, McAdams and Helton look at biblical concepts related to technology and culture. They discuss how we try to be omnipresent and omniscient through technology but that we need to remember we are not God. They emphasize thinking about technology through the lens of God’s kingdom rather than just going along with culture and convenience. Overall, they encourage listeners to carefully consider how to engage technology in a way that forms them into the image of Christ.
Jason Helton is the Media Outreach Minister for the Madison Church of Christ in Madison, AL. He has been in full-time ministry since 2007. In 2017, after 10 years in Youth Ministry, he moved into his current role. He and his wife Ellen live in Harvest with their four children. Jason has a B.A. in Youth & Family Ministry from Faulkner University and an M.A. in Online Ministry from Regent University.
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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast
How Christians Use Technology with Jason Helton
WES: Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to begin, as always, with a passage of scripture. Today I want to read from Psalm 119:33‑37. The psalmist says, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”
Today we’re going to talk with Jason Helton about technology, how it’s shaping us, and how we, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, need to be wise and discerning about what technology we use and how we use it. Jason Helton is the media outreach minister for the Madison Church of Christ in Madison, Alabama. He has been in full‑time ministry since 2007. In 2017, after 10 years in youth ministry, he moved into his current role. He and his wife, Ellen, live in Harvest with their four children. Jason has a bachelor’s in youth and family ministry from Faulkner University, and a master’s in online ministry from Regent University. I know that you will enjoy this conversation that I had with Jason Helton, and I hope, as always, it helps all of us to love like Jesus.
Jason, welcome to the podcast, Brother.
JASON: Hey, thanks so much for having me, Wes.
WES: Thanks so much for being here. I’ve really enjoyed listening. You’ve sent me some of your lessons from your class that you’ve taught on the subject, and they’ve just been fantastic, and I’m really excited for us to talk about it and for people to find out more about what you’re doing because I think it’s, obviously, very needed. I thought about jokingly starting the conversation with, “Why do you hate technology?” But I know that that’s not true.
JASON: I’m too much of a millennial to be anti‑tech, but it’s definitely ‑‑
WES: No doubt.
JASON: ‑‑ definitely something that I think ‑‑ the idea of technology and spirituality, these are conversations that I haven’t really seen happen a lot in the church and didn’t really have them growing up, either. We just sort of used technology and we tried to talk about spiritual things, but they didn’t necessarily intertwine a whole lot. But I think technology is such an ingrained part of our life, it’s important for us to be able to identify where it crosses a line and maybe is not forming us into the image of Christ like we think.
WES: Yeah. This may come up later, but it’s amazing to me how we tend to be undiscerning adopters of technology, that when it comes along, we just assume, oh, this is going to make my life easier; therefore, it’s going to make my life better, and we just kind of accept ‑‑ whatever the pipeline of consumerism passes down to us, we just kind of accept whatever it is.
JASON: Yep, I think so. I think there’s ‑‑ the gospel of comfort and convenience is often what we’re in pursuit of over the gospel of Christ, and both of those don’t lead to salvation; only one does. So I definitely agree with that.
WES: Yeah, amen. Yeah, no doubt. Well, let’s kind of talk about technology in a broader sense because I think that when we think about technology, when someone says “technology” ‑‑ in fact, you and I were talking before we hit record about people that say, “I’m not good at technology” ‑‑ we tend to mean things with a screen. You know, we tend to mean things that have come along in the last 20 or 30 years. But there’s actually a whole lot of technology that has come about in the last hundred years or 200 years that has really shaped our culture and us, personally, that maybe we don’t even recognize how much different our life is from our great‑grandparents or great‑great‑grandparents because of technology. So what are some of the, you know, less recent technological advancements or technological innovations, and how have those shaped our life?
JASON: Absolutely. That’s a great question. We do often think in terms of modern technology, but when you think about it, the light bulb was technology, and we didn’t get that until the late 1800s. 1876 or so, somewhere in there, I think, is when Edison came out with his incandescent light bulb, and you think about how that changed every facet of life. A family stayed up later. In fact, I think I read somewhere that the average amount of nightly sleep for a person pre‑light bulb was around 11 hours, and now it’s somewhere around seven. I’m a father with four young kids, so seven sounds really beneficial and sort of the dream to get to.
JASON: But I do think that if you just take in those two numbers ‑‑ what if you added four hours of sleep to every day? I mean, just imagine how more rejuvenated you would be, how much of a better mood you could be in, all of those things. I think, particularly, how it impacted manufacturing and how it impacted just industry, in general, and with the invention of the light bulb brings in this industrial revolution, which brings on a host of new technologies. In that timeframe, really within the last hundred years or so, we have now the car and how that changed and made the world smaller, our country in particular. You can now go from east coast to west coast in a road trip, and now we have influencers that make an entire living off of just traveling and documenting the travels, where that wasn’t possible just a little while ago. You look at it in terms of generations; we’re talking two or three generations to where there’s a monumental advancement there.
So I think the subtle changes in life sometimes are the ones that, long‑term, end up having the greatest impact. Jean Twenge put together a book called “Generations.” We talked about that briefly. I used that a lot for my research for this and, man, I just became more and more fascinated. She has an interesting way of dividing the generations. Typically, sociologists will divide based off of a world event, like a world war or something along those lines, you know, that everyone would kind of share the experience. Well, she takes those into account, but she also adds important technology that was invented along the way because the technology that ‑‑ the world event is what makes it in the textbook, but the technology is what impacted the day‑to‑day living from one generation to the next.
And so I’m a millennial through and through. I was born in 1985, and so not technically a digital native. Things like Facebook ‑‑ of course MySpace was around for a while and Instant Messenger. You know, think of all the fun late ’90s/early 2000s/Y2K era, but Facebook became open to everyone with a .edu e‑mail address when I was a sophomore in college. Well, you think of how Facebook has impacted the world. Things have changed. So the way I respond to, the way I relate to, technology is based off of what really developed in, maybe, as Don Lemon would say, the prime of my life, a certain era, especially high school/college, in particular. That’s where you really are forming a lot of the neural networks for the rest of your life.
If you go back even before that, in the 1960s, a significant invention that often gets overlooked, and its impact, was the pill ‑‑ the birth control pill. And so that came along ‑‑ I believe it was 1960, actually, when it was introduced, and that paved the way then for the sexual revolution of the ’60s. Well, the sexual revolution of the ’60s really never ended, right? You now sort of removed a consequence, what was perceived as maybe the greatest negative consequence or undesired consequence, as far as having a child, when you wanted to partake in sex but you didn’t want the responsibility that could possibly come after. Well, now this technology has removed that consequence, so it paved the way for the sexual revolution in a big way. And it really didn’t have any kind of resistance until we got to the late ’70s and ’80s with the AIDS epidemic. When it started to grow, when people realized, oh, we’ve got to do something here, so then there was introduction of other contraceptives and protection and all.
And so each of these technological advances have impacted our culture in various ways, and Carl Trueman was another one that has charted the last 100 years’, really, social philosophy, and he and Twenge ‑‑ isolated in each other’s works, but they overlap in their content ‑‑ really painted an interesting picture that I had never seen before. This is not the way we’re taught in high school history class, but the way some of these revolutions, in particular the sexual revolution, industrial, as well as now the digital revolution ‑‑ the way they’re all sort of entwined, they’ve paved the way for the next one to pick up and go to the next level. Technology now doesn’t seem to really be developed incrementally; it’s developed exponentially at such a rapid pace.
And so those revolutions start to tie in together and you see where we are today, where sexual identity, sexual desire is ‑‑ from a worldly standpoint, that is the center of our being, of our purpose, of everything. And Trueman quoted a philosopher from the 1930s that basically combined Marx and Freud and his philosophies that basically says that ‑‑ you know, Marx says that the government is the end‑all be‑all. Freud says that sexuality is the end‑all be‑all. Well, he puts them together and says that when the government determines sex, that is the end‑all be‑all, and that’s sort of where we are now, that legislation is favoring sexual desire and sexual orientation over everything. That’s the starting point, and from there, we define all the other terms. So it’s pretty remarkable now ‑‑ that’s almost 100 years ago, but that philosophy has been around for a while in different ways, so I think the technologies that we take for granted today at one point were novel, but they’re still having an impact on us spiritually.
WES: I mean, it’s interesting to me ‑‑ and I hope that people can already start to think about this because I don’t know that most people have really contemplated these kind of things. I could spend this entire hour just talking about this first point, because even just ‑‑ you mentioned the light bulb, the internal combustion engine, the car, and the pill, and I think some people could look at the contraceptive technologies, both in the pill, but also like surgical contraception, and they could see how there would be moral ramifications to that. I don’t know that most people have thought about the depth of those moral ramifications, but when you think about things like the light bulb ‑‑ you pointed out just the effect on our health, and that has an impact on our spirituality and on our family and the way that we work and so many aspects of our life.
And I was just thinking about the car, and you mentioned traveling the country, but also the way that we now are so individualistic and we move away from our family of origin, and so we live all over ‑‑ not only all over the country, but even all over the world, and we’re able to do that because we can travel to see family, but we just see family on the holidays ‑‑ if we’re fortunate enough to see family on the holidays ‑‑ but we’re so disconnected from families. That would have been such a bizarre concept to most people prior to the last 200 years, and even sooner than that, to think, “Why would you live that far away from your children or from your parents?” Technology has allowed us to do that. I live a long way from my family, but I wouldn’t be able to, or even think about that, if it wasn’t for automobiles.
But it’s amazing how these technologies that we just kind of accept and they become commonplace in our world ‑‑ they have an impact on the way we think about ourselves, the way we think about our family, the way we think about culture, the way we think about even just the answer to the question, “Who am I?” And Carl Trueman’s book, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” that idea that we have been moving in this direction a lot longer than just the last 20 years or so.
JASON: Right. So his whole point ‑‑ there’s the rise of the modern self, and you’re 100% correct there. If you look back in the first century, my understanding is the average Jewish family ‑‑ if you walked into a home, you were most likely to see two or three generations represented under one roof. Multiple‑generation families and households were the norm.
Today it seems rare. It seems like it’s the rarity, specifically over the last, as you mentioned, 150 years or so.
In the 1950s, with the development of home appliances, the women’s movement then took root, right? And women no longer had to ‑‑ they became more efficient at home because they had more technology to automate some of those tasks that had been done traditionally, and so then they moved to the workforce. Just the simple inventions that ‑‑ if you’re like me, if you’ve grown up with something that’s always existed in your lifetime, it’s really difficult to imagine there was a time that it didn’t exist. It’s hard to imagine there was a time when it was just candlelight. But for hundreds and thousands of years, it was just candlelight that was outside of the sun, moon, and stars to illuminate the evening.
So when you put it in the context of the church, then you see the sexual revolution takes place, the ’50s and ’60s there, so you have now this women’s movement that’s also taking place in our country. You have the sexual liberation that’s taking place because of the pill. You also have wars and things that are going on, so the definition of freedom and liberty is being redefined and challenged on a regular basis on a very public, broad level. Then you also have the church and you have the church’s role. Oftentimes, we’ve struggled ‑‑ and you see this in the New Testament when Christ engages with the Pharisees over and over again. We struggle with this balance of law‑keeping, of sort of the way it’s always been, and this law‑keeping that is tied back often to previous generations versus actually understanding and listening to the words of Christ and the gospel itself, and I think the church still struggles with that today.
I think sexuality is a pretty good example of that. Growing up, what I heard was, “Don’t have sex before marriage. Sex before marriage is bad.” And, eventually, that kind of got whittled down to “Sex is bad.” Well, then when you get to your wedding day, at 8 a.m., sex is bad; but 8 p.m., now after your wedding, sex is good. Flip the switch, go and have a healthy sex life. That’s just not realistic, and a lot of couples have struggled with that. I don’t think it was just unique to the millennial generation, but I think there was sort of a crescendo that happened there for a variety of reasons, and part of that was some of the development of the technology that happened, especially coming out of AIDS. I remember the AIDS epidemic, as a young person, being talked about quite a bit still in the late ’80s/early ’90s, so then there was ‑‑ we were able to sort of conquer that to some degree.
And there’s this battle within humanity to sort of see himself as God‑like. All the things you mentioned: vehicle, now we can transcend geography, we can be anywhere we want to be in the world. We can fly. The plane became very popular during the ’50s, as well. We can drive. We can get and go where we need to. We can say, “Let there be light,” and then there will be light. So it’s ‑‑ when you look at it from that perspective, there is a tendency for us to go all gas/no brakes and just embrace everything that’s around us without seeing the context and how it got here.
So I’m skipping around a little bit. Getting back to the sexuality stuff, I think, in the church, some of the teaching was well‑meaning. I think the approach sometimes didn’t actually bring about the result that it was aiming for. So when we’ve taught a generation, “Don’t do this,” “Don’t do this action,” “God doesn’t like this action,” well, first of all, that’s just not biblical. God designed sex, the sexual relationship. It was a part of the first marriage. And I sort of use I Corinthians 5, 6, and 7. In my mind, that’s a great place to go for the framework of biblical sexuality. You’ve got 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul says ‑‑ he basically lays out the pilot episode of Jerry Springer, where he says that a man has his father’s wife sexually and how that is not the design. If you get on into chapter 7, he talks to the husband, says to the husband, “Your body is not your own.” To the wife, “Your body is not your own. They are for the other person.” There’s this relinquishing of yourself, submitting to the other person. There is this pouring yourself out in the sexual context. That’s the design. And when you look at the science behind it ‑‑ in Genesis we have said ‑‑ and quoted in the New Testament, as well ‑‑ that “two become one.” Well, the science shows us that. You’ve got vasopressin and oxytocin as the two main hormones in the brain that, when someone is involved in an intimate setting, those hormones are released in large quantities. In the woman, it’s predominantly oxytocin, and there are three main times in a woman’s life when oxytocin is at its max. It is at giving birth, it is feeding the baby, and then also at sexual orgasm. So in those three contexts, those are three very vulnerable states, and those are three very connected moments. It’s all about bonding. And in the male, vasopressin is the hormone there, and so when that’s released, the male’s olfactory senses are heightened, so smells ‑‑ they take a different neurological path in our brain, and that’s why ‑‑ that’s why, at different points in your life, you have a certain smell and it takes you back to a certain place because it’s got a path in your brain. It’s created a trail, basically. One way I heard it described one time is, basically, if you walked through the woods the first time, there’s little to no evidence you were there, but if you walk that same path every day, that path gets more defined, gets wider and wider, and that’s what happens in our brains in these moments.
And so you look at the ‑‑ on the opioid side of things, when a kid plays video games, they have 100% dopamine increase, and in sexual activity there’s 100% dopamine increase. Then when you get into ‑‑ I think it’s ‑‑ I think cocaine is like a 300/350% increase, and something like meth is like a 1200% increase. And so there’s these chemical reactions going on in our brain that affect dopamine levels and the neurological reward circuitry in our brains that all have a context of what’s going on in our bodies. And so this is a long way to get here, but having legislation that brings ‑‑ or technology that brings about the pill that now makes sex free of supposed consequence, we get addicted to these chemical processes, and then you bring in the technology, like pornography, that is just a supercharged, 24/7, always there, full of novelty ‑‑ these addictive behaviors and these addictive impacts ‑‑ excuse me, the technology that is put in front of us has now impacted us on a very physical, but also a very, very deeply spiritual level, with us, like you said, just kind of going with the flow of culture and convenience, and they’re impacting us in ways that we didn’t see coming. We weren’t prepared, necessarily. So we jumped all over there. Sorry.
WES: No, no, no, that’s good. I mean, I think that there are just so many ramifications, and I think just kind of putting all of that out there just so that we know and begin to contemplate that technology shapes us. It builds this pathway that you’re running on, driving on, and the more you go down that path, as you said, the more it shapes how we think about things. So the way we think about ourself, the way we think about family, the way we think about sex, the way we think about so many things has dramatically changed over the last hundred years because of, or at least in large part because of, the technology that we’ve adopted. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to be like the Amish and say we’re just not going to adopt it, but I think the Amish are right so far as they’re at least asking,
“Which technologies should we adopt and how should we adopt them?”
You had a quote in one of your lessons. You said, “Technology is not a relationship to invest in; it is a tool to steward.” And I thought that was so important, that we think of these technologies, whether it be an automobile or a light bulb or an alarm clock or birth control, and we ask ourselves, “Should we use this? And, if so, how should we use this?”
So that kind of brings us to the more modern technologies of things with screens, things that are digital. We have ‑‑ you and I, in our lifetime, have been kind of the ones to span the gap between the analog world and the digital world. We were born into a world that was analog. I heard you talk about some of your memories when you were a kid. I had the same experiences with the rabbit ears and the aluminum foil and having to change the channel and put it on number three, you know, in order to play the VCR, or whatever it may be. So we grew up with that analog technology, and the world has shifted so much to this digital world where these young people now are growing up in a world where they’ve never known analog; they’ve only known digital. So how have these things, the internet and social media and smartphones ‑‑ how are these shaping us and the way we think about life?
JASON: So our kids don’t know the joy or the irritation of having to take the cartridge out of the Nintendo, blow in it a magical number of times, put it back in just the right ‑‑ slam it down at just the right angle. And that analog, even that was just caught up in entertainment to a great degree, but ‑‑ and it was cutting edge at the time, but there were some of these natural stop gaps. When you were watching TV, Saturday morning cartoons, you know, you had this tiny little window to go to the bathroom, grab a snack, and get back, and your sibling was sitting in there like, “It’s back on, it’s coming on,” and you knew to hit the jets to get back there. Well, now, I mean, there’s maybe a 15‑second countdown and they go right to the next, right to the next, right to the next show. I think of something as good as “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Even Mr. Rogers would tell you it was not designed to binge‑watch. The idea of binge‑watching and being a consumer has become front and center.
Amazon has built an entire empire of taking away all of the resistance to purchase something. You know, your kid can get ahold of your phone and, within about 10 seconds, purchase 12 large mud tires to go on a truck that you don’t own and have it at your doorstep in two to five days, right, with just a touch of buttons. Not that that’s happened, necessarily, but there is a path of least resistance that all of these companies have really tried to create because their term is “engagement.” But what we’re seeing now is “engagement” is really a marketing term for addiction, and, you know, that ‑‑ I guess I would ‑‑ I would describe where we are today as being similar to where we were probably in the late ’80s/early ’90s when it comes to Big Tobacco. In 1964, I think, was the first report from a surgeon general that said that tobacco products were unhealthy, were bad, and were causing cancer. We didn’t actually hear that really loud until the ’80s and ’90s, and if you remember those commercials, even in the 2000s, where they would have someone talk and they had the little voice box and they talked about going through their day and ‑‑ you know, very moving, very powerful marketing. Well, the research had been around for decades, but Big Tobacco spent millions and millions of dollars to make sure that that was presented in a favorable light to them.
Well, social media, now we’re seeing, is kind of in the same boat. In fact, as we speak, I think Meta and ‑‑ of course, Instagram, they’re owned by Meta. They’re being sued by at least 41 states, was the last number I saw, because of the amount of research that they had showing that they were ‑‑ the addictive nature of these platforms, and yet they continued to market them towards young people, in particular. The surgeon general, just this past May, came out with a study and report and suggested that 16 be the beginning ages for people ‑‑ for young people to be exposed to social media, and this is the surgeon general. So this is ‑‑ this is big. You know, if our legislators are aware of it, then there’s no question in my mind that there’s been some spiritual ramifications that have been years in the making. And I really feel like if ‑‑ especially as parents, but just as Christians, in general, if we’re looking for legislation and for the government to be sort of the guardrails for us in our decision‑making, then we’re always going to be at least a generation behind, and that’s really what’s happened here with social media. In fact, one congressman admitted as much when Sam Altman testified before Congress this past summer. He’s the CEO of OpenAI and the company that’s running ChatGPT. The congressman was talking to him and he said, “Listen, we missed the boat when it comes to social media. We did not do what we needed to. We didn’t put the parameters in. We kind of let it do its thing.” He said, “We’re not willing to sit back and let that happen with AI,” and I thought that’s pretty significant. Sadly, it’s not every day that you hear a congressman say, “Hey, we got it wrong. We admitted we did wrong here,” but I think he’s right; the guardrails weren’t put in place.
And so it’s a nuanced conversation in our country when we start talking about regulation because that means we’re limiting some freedoms in some way, and we don’t always respond well to that. But I think it’s important for us, as Christians, to not think as citizens of our country first, but to think in terms of citizens of the kingdom first and, really, exclusively, and that’s how we paint the picture of our life. That’s the worldview through which we operate and move, and it’s very important, then, to be skeptical of technology in a spiritual way. Technology, if it brings about convenience, if it brings about efficiency, that’s great because then we have more opportunity for kingdom work. But if we’re in pursuit of comfort and convenience at the expense of being able to do hard things, or willing to do hard things at the expense of even just the spiritual resilience that comes with adversity ‑‑ the book of James is ‑‑ it opens with ‑‑ James is basically his interview with Hallmark, saying, “You don’t want me,” right? Because he’s writing to a group of people that essentially are like Ukrainian refugees today, would be the closest comparison. Folks that have had to move from their home because of poverty, because of famine, because of persecution, and he doesn’t open with “Bless your heart,” the typical Southern greeting. He opens with “Considerate it joy when you find yourself in these really, really difficult circumstances that are beyond your control.”
His point there is, you know, “You can’t be in control here, but you can find spiritual value in these moments and in these places.” He says, “If you can’t see it that way, then ask God for wisdom and he will give to you without reproach.”
And so I think it’s important for us, especially as the adults in the room, to model and then to articulate to the next generation that, number one, you can do hard things. We were designed to do hard things. God designed our bodies to heal, not to just completely avoid difficulty and harm. He also designed us spiritually to be able to overcome adversity, and that’s the whole point, is to rely on him. And when we live in this technological/digital age, a lot of times we get confused and we feel like we live in heaven on earth, and it’s sort of like a Babylonian‑type approach, or at least the Tower of Babel, where we can see we’ve done this great thing. Well, when you do that, you put your humanity above God and you put humanity on the pedestal that’s only designed for God, and so it’s really challenging, I think, for us to develop ‑‑ I love the word you used earlier ‑‑ discernment. I think wisdom and discernment are critical in this age, for us to not just embrace the technology that’s there because it’s convenient, but to look at it and to really look at it critically and to say, “What is the purpose of the convenience here? How does this make me ‑‑ how does this particular technology make me more like Christ?”
I think of St. Augustine. I have written down a quote that I wanted to remember. He said, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity,” and that’s where I feel like my kids are right now. They are in the habit of watching something basically whenever they want to, and so when they don’t get what they want, that habit makes them think that it’s necessary for them to get what they want. And we see this going back to the sexuality conversation, that my desires are what drive everything. Well, why should I not get ‑‑ I desire this, so I should. I have a right to it, and we kind of can confuse some of those terms sometimes. But God is very, very clear there, that we are to die to self, die even to our own desires and to be alive in Christ. To live by the Spirit is to be at war with the flesh, essentially.
And so I think ‑‑ another random quote for you, but Wendell Berry, he was a ‑‑ he’s written a lot of essays and published several books. He’s a farmer and just a really, really intriguing fellow in history. He’s got a phrase that says, “The cure preserves the disease,” and in the context of that particular ‑‑ that section of his book ‑‑ I think that was “The Unsettling of America” where he wrote that ‑‑ he’s talking about how we’ve moved from an agrarian society to an industrial society, and he talks about how in this industrial ‑‑ excuse me, to a technology‑driven society, and how the farmer is now reliant on massive pieces of equipment to grow these hundreds of acres of land of row cropping that are not necessarily good for the environment, not necessarily good, actually, for growing healthy food, but they’re forced into that because of the way legislation has turned agriculture into this secondary lifestyle. And it’s an agriculture ‑‑ the agriculture is gone and now it’s an agribusiness.
But I think that that phrase fits specifically in terms of social media and technology. Social media ‑‑ take a filter, for instance. I have imperfections on my face and so I have a filter that can clear up those imperfections instantly. Well, it’s not the fact that I need to change my perception; it’s the fact that, well, there’s an app for that, there’s a filter for that. And so this idea that the cure preserves the disease, I think, is a very real ‑‑ it’s a reality that Christians have to be aware of. The only cure for this life that we are able to invest in is the gospel, and yet Satan is really crafty. He is really good at putting out other options as these cures, and we fall prey to that quite a bit. And you think of Augustine hundreds of years ago, there’s this idea, that habit ‑‑ if we don’t resist it, we are prone to habit, and it takes zero effort for us to live a worldly life. If you think of it that way, it takes zero effort to go to the wide way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go that way because it’s effortless, essentially. But the way that leads to life and to eternity with Christ is difficult, it’s narrow, it’s hard. It involves making decisions that are not common, that are unpopular, and that are difficult to deal with in all different settings, both as a parent, as a child, just as a Christian adult. In all the different contexts, I think it applies there. It’s just difficult for us to kind of keep our eye on the ball sometimes if we don’t accurately identify what is spirit and what is earthly, or carnal, as Paul might be saying.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I have to apologize. My internet went out in the middle of what you were saying there. I hope that ‑‑ it sounded like, when I came back on, you were doing a fantastic job without me, so I’m not sure I’m even needed here. Everything I heard was so fantastic, and I so appreciate not only what you’re saying here today, but also everything that I got to listen to in the class. I mean, you had so many great, great quotes, and I want to read a few of them for the audience. I hope that I’m not repeating anything you said in the last part that I missed when my Internet went out. But you said, “The more connected we are online, the less connected we often are in real life,” and I think that there’s so much truth to that, that we have this feeling of connection and we feel like we’re connected to people, but it’s so very superficial, and how we need real‑life, in‑person ‑‑ we might even say incarnate, in‑the‑flesh relationships.
And I think ‑‑ you know, we went through a period of time as a culture, as a nation, where we had to ‑‑ you know, depending on who you ask, but we did church online and there were a lot of reasons we went that direction, but there were ‑‑ and I think we knew ‑‑ I think we knew that it was going to be a trade‑off, but moving to an online form of worship and fellowship had so many consequences for us because we weren’t with one another in person. I’m thankful that we had the supplement of online, and I’m thankful even today, when people are sick or traveling, that they can supplement their in‑person worship with the online, with the streaming services. I’m thankful that our shut‑ins have that. But I don’t know anybody who would say it’s a good replacement for or I don’t need to be there. I hope nobody would say that “I don’t need to be there in person because I can watch it online,” because it’s just not a substitute for these in‑person, real‑life relationships.
JASON: It’s interesting you say that. There’s a lot more voices out there than you would think on that particular subject. I was surprised. A couple weeks ago at Madison we talked about the idea of virtual‑reality church and just this idea of three‑dimensional embodiment, virtual‑embodiment online. So taking your illustration of COVID, you know, we all watched ‑‑ we watched a monitor at home, most likely. I know we did that for a couple of months, and then we sort of did an interesting path back to gathering together. We met back at the building earlier than some places in our area, but for the first few weeks, we still pre‑recorded most of the worship and then we watched it together in the auditorium. We tried to do it to where folks at home didn’t feel slighted, missing out on that in‑person element, because we felt like there was a greater value. It wasn’t the same, you know? And I don’t know that we did it right or wrong or what, but that’s the way we chose to go about it. And so that was really ‑‑ it was really interesting, because if you could take that experience, and if you were at home, and let’s say you could put on a set of goggles and then you could look to your left or your right and you see an avatar version of the people that you have a relationship with, it makes it a much more immersive experience. And who of us would not have wanted that? I think I would have been first in line.
We were very fortunate in Madison. We just had ‑‑ a little bit before COVID we had had an area‑wide singing at our congregation that we had recorded and streamed, so we actually had several auditorium‑full songs that we kind of cut those up and put them together during the COVID period. And if you were at home and you turned your volume up on your TV, it was like you were sitting in the auditorium, to a degree. So virtual reality just takes it to that next degree, that next dimension of space. When you think about it, we can pray together online. We can have Bible study together online. We’re doing that right now; we’re talking over the internet. We can even do announcements online ‑‑ and maybe should do those. We can sing together online. It’s interesting. There are people that challenge the idea that in the metaverse, which is ‑‑ for those that aren’t familiar, this is really the direction that Zuckerberg has committed his company to, is creating this online virtual space that is the internet but in 3D space. It’s hard for me not to think of like 1992 mall VR, those big giant contraptions in the middle and you watch people punch it, like these random polygon shapes and stuff, but it’s come a long way from that. More realistic, but, in essence, it’s still the same; it’s just ‑‑ it’s virtual.
So the question is, well, does a VR baptism count? That’s what some people are trying to challenge, and I would say there’s just ‑‑ no, not at all. It’s a silly question. But to the point that was made in our class the other night, there was a gentleman that’s probably in his mid to late 60s talked about how this is silly and, you know ‑‑ not silly, but he was a little bit dismissive, and I challenged him a little bit. I said I get where you’re coming from and I share that conviction, ultimately, and I share 20 or 30 years of analog living, but your grandson and his son will not share that same experience. They’re coming from school is online. They order all of their groceries online. They play all of their games online. They communicate with all of their friends online, and so this just kind of fits into that. Right now it’s novel, but in 20, 30 years, it’s going to be less novel and more the norm, which is why I think it’s really important for the church to be talking about it now.
My job is not necessarily to pinpoint every conviction my child is supposed to have when they get older. My job as a parent is to help them learn how to think biblically about this world and to think spiritually about the world that they’re going to be living in because the word of God transcends all generations, right? We believe it’s relevant. We believe that it is truly inspired. It survived the industrial revolution. Just as relevant then as it’s going to be in the digital age and whatever is the post‑digital age that’s to come. There’s got to be some ways of thinking that we identify and then we clearly articulate, and that’s one where I think sometimes we don’t always think through.
I appreciate so much your podcast and your blogs because you put such an emphasis on context, and that’s really what we’re talking about here, is the context of the technology and the age in which we live. We can trace it back generations in both directions. We’ll trace it forward and backwards. So we’ve got to figure out, what does scripture speak into our lives today and what does it instruct us in how to view the world in this digital moment? The virtual stuff, it’s more nuanced, I think, than at first glance. And I hope that ‑‑
I’ve said this each week in the class that we’ve been having at Madison, that my goal is to just challenge us to think deeper, because if we just look at it at first glance and are dismissive, then we’re actually gonna lose validity, and that’s a tool that I think Satan uses in this perceived generation gap, that old people, they don’t ‑‑ they’re just dismissive of the young people. They’re begrudging new technology. Well, at one point, they were a young person that loved the new technology that their parents and grandparents were begrudgingly tripping along with and figuring out or resisting.
So there are these patterns and cycles and ages that ‑‑ we live in our age but sometimes don’t look far enough out to see that there really are some cycles and patterns here. As Solomon said, “nothing new under the sun.” So the generation gap, to me, is a little bit more of a tool of Satan. There are some things where, certainly, it’s different, and it’s important to acknowledge those things, but, ultimately, we’re still humanity. We’re still people, and I think it’s important for us to not allow Satan to use that, for one generation to dismiss the other. But we’ve got to listen. We’ve got to become very good listeners, both to each other and to the scriptures and, I think, through the wisdom of older generations to find out the commonality. My parents didn’t really have to worry about screen time on independent devices. They had black‑and‑white TVs that were developed into color during their lifetime, their formative years. For me, it was the internet that came along during those formative years, and my parents didn’t know how to parent the Internet because their parents never taught them that because it didn’t exist. And so, today, Internet’s been around for a while now. I’ve had time without it and I’ve had a lot of time with it. I’ve seen a lot of the good. As you mentioned, we can connect ‑‑ we’re talking online now. We can worship with Christians on any place on the planet these days, which is really, really remarkable.
But to your point, it doesn’t fully replace relationship. The technology is a tool to supplement and to help cultivate relationship, but it is not the relationship itself, and I think that’s where we really get off the rails sometimes, and especially the younger generations. They are now ‑‑ at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, they’re messaging with ChatGPT, asking it anything and everything, all the deep questions of life, and they’re cultivating a relationship with that device. The illustration I used was a girl in, I guess, probably fifth or sixth grade, somewhere in there, we had Tamagotchi, the little GigaPets, which was a little digital animal on a keychain. I don’t know if you remember those or not, but you had to feed it a certain amount of time a day. You had to make sure it got sleep, and if somebody in class stole it and, you know, messed ‑‑ threw you off your rhythm, then it would die, and you were genuinely sad when your little digital pet died. Well, you formed some type of relationship with that, and that’s similar to what’s happening today but on a whole ‘nother scale.
There are these synthetic relationships that are being formed with our technology, and our kids are seeing us with that, as well. You think of Deuteronomy 6. “When you lie down and when you wake up,” what’s right beside you? It’s not always the Word of God. Usually, it’s this little rectangle, this little device, you know? And “written on your door posts,” as “frontlets on your eyes,” well, what my kids see on my eyes is ‑‑ my face is down. So if you take a device and you insert it into Deuteronomy 6, then it really becomes a very sobering reading of the passage to realize this technology is not just forming me, but in its formation of me, it’s also forming my children and the next generation. And so that’s where it can be really concerning if we go about this without any discernment and without any resistance. As Paul said, “All things are lawful but all things don’t build up,” and that was in a different context, but I do think the logic applies here, that just because you have opportunity to use every bit of technology around you doesn’t mean that it’s the best.
In my role as a media outreach minister, Madison has a presence on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. We’re not really pursuing Snapchat or TikTok. We have opportunity to be on other platforms, but we don’t feel like each platform has the same value, and that’s really where critical thinking, I think, comes in for each individual, as well as congregation.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s exactly what you’re encouraging, what I want to encourage people to do, is to be wise and be discerning and just realize that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And, really, not only choosing what platforms to be on and what devices to use, but also the time that we spend on these devices and making ‑‑ you know, I’ve read a lot of John Mark Comer here recently. I don’t know if you’ve read like “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” but it’s been helpful to me. It’s a fantastic book, and I ‑‑ it’s been helpful to me to take a digital Sabbath on Saturdays. I even heard you even refer to turning on the black‑and‑white mode on your phone, where it’s not in color and it’s in black and white. And I hate looking at it on Saturdays, but on Saturdays, I try to make sure that that comes on as an automatic focus mode for me and limit what apps I can access on Saturdays just to detox.
And like you said, we are trying to be omnipresent. We are trying to be omniscient, all‑knowing, ever‑present, all‑powerful,
and we’re not. We’re not God, and we need at least a day a week where we have this reminder that you have to live within the limits of being human. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s a good thing, and it’s something that would really be refreshing to us if we would really just accept the limitations of being human and let God be God and we be human.
JASON: Right. That’s been the struggle since the garden, right? When Satan made this lie that, “Oh, you’re not surely gonna die,” the deception that’s there is that, “Well, you’ll just be like God,” and that that’s no big deal. Well, that’s a huge deal. That is the deal, right? That is the separation between humanity and God. And so for us to be dismissive of that or to be so foolish as to not consider that ego element is not still at play ‑‑ I mean, it was Satan’s first pitch that worked, so why would he abandon that? I think he’s just tried to refine it in each age, and so I think that that is definitely something that needs to be front and center in our thinking.
Another book called “Habits of the Household,” I read it last year and it was my favorite book, I think, that I read last year. Talked about having these different rhythms in our home, different things that we celebrate, different things that we’re gonna ‑‑ times that are going to be sacred, and “sacred” in the sense of these times are deliberately just our household. We’re not gonna have the neighbors over; we’re not gonna have family over, just us. And the dinner table is going to be one of those, and it’s so important that Mommy and Daddy are going to move their phones away from that space, or whatever it is that demands our attention. Like you said, we feel like we can be in all places at once, and that’s just not a human characteristic. Fred Flintstone couldn’t do it. If he couldn’t do it, nobody can. You can’t be in two places at once. That’s a random deep‑cut reference there for all the millennial babies that grew up watching Fred trying to be, you know, at the party and work and home and doing all the things that you just can’t. It’s not possible. And we will truly ‑‑ we’ll lose relationships in our pursuit of being something that we ultimately can never be anyway.
WES: Yeah. Well, Jason, I so appreciate this conversation, but I especially appreciate you reaching out to me and letting me know about the workshop that you’re doing. I’d love for you to tell the audience about the workshop that you’re doing for churches. How can people find out more if they’re interested in listening to and finding out more about what we’re talking about?
JASON: Absolutely. You can reach me in my e‑mail at jason @ madisonchurch.org. I’m on Instagram, as well as Facebook. Instagram is JMHelton3.
The workshop is basically this class that I’ve been teaching at Madison. We’ve done a 12‑week deep dive into some of these topics and really trying to create a structure for our families and for all Christians to really think deeply about the place of technology. So the workshop is not a parenting workshop, per se ‑‑ not exclusively for parents. It’s for the whole church. I think church leadership, in particular, benefits from these conversations, but we talk about the analog consequences to digital sin. We talk about how the ‑‑ speaking of dopamine and rewards and how these new technologies ‑‑ the addictive nature of those are much like the opioid epidemic that we’ve been going through in our country and how some of the brain networking are very similar in those two. So we talk a lot about vanity, we talk about depression and all the research now that is showing us the negative side of these devices and these apps that were meant to connect us. Ultimately, they’re not accomplishing that. They’re accomplishing, in fact, just the opposite, making us more isolated.
We talk about some specific parenting ways to combat your home or to outfit your home into a way to step into preparing people. I have sort of what I call the driver’s license approach. To get your driver’s license, you’ve got to be a certain age. You have to have read a manual and you have to be tested on the material. You have to have chaperone time behind the wheel. I think there’s an incremental relinquishing of liberty there that seems like a pretty good approach to social media, as well. You can start by ‑‑ when they’re really young ‑‑ we’ve got a four‑year old that’s already asking for a tablet. First of all, sorry, Buddy, but it’s gonna be a long time and you’ll probably be one of the last ones to get it, and we’re just going ‑‑ we try to be consistent with that. But at different times along the way, when I ask him to do something and he does that, well, I need to come back and say, “Hey, man, you’re showing me responsibility; that’s really good. And so when it comes time for you to have this digital device, you’ve shown me a pattern of responsibility that I feel better about you making the right decision with this.”
It’s the same way with driving. My eight‑year‑old sits in my lap and steers home in our neighborhood from time to time. Well, it’s going to be a long time before I ever let her drive, and right now, physically, she can’t drive. She can’t reach the pedals at the same time and all that, but she can steer. So what can they do? Well, they can understand gossip; they can understand good decisions, bad decisions; they can ‑‑ they’re beginning to understand consequences. So I think it’s important for us ‑‑ and in this workshop we talk about different ways that we can introduce those conversations outside of the context of devices, and as we gradually give them more liberty and more opportunity, introduce a watch where they can just text and call, and then they move from that to a phone that maybe has just one app or two. You know, you kind of incrementally decide for your family how to give them more freedom. They’re also taking the other ‑‑ the context of all these other things. It’s sort of the Mr. Miyagi approach of, oh, well, now painting a fence makes sense when I put it in the context of blocking and striking and all that sort of thing. So I find that anytime you can work “Karate Kid” into parenting, you’re probably in the right direction, so that’s where ‑‑ at least I try anyway. We also talk about a few different apps to be leery of, to be just concerned about.
But then we also talk about the opposite, of different ways that we can leverage technology, especially in a congregational context. Few organizations put out more content every week than churches, so we’ve just got to get better at formatting those for the different opportunities, because, ultimately, the internet and technology is a way for us to proclaim louder. The Apostle Paul desired to be in multiple places at once. He couldn’t, so he put his hand, his pen to paper and he sent letters using the technology at his disposal to encourage and to hold accountable and to do all those things. So I think thinking in terms of how does this technology develop the fruit of the Spirit in my life? How does this technology make me more like Christ? How can I use this technology to glorify God and grow the kingdom? That’s sort of the structure of the whole workshop, is to answer those questions in the context of whether it’s a device or an app or what have you, and then to be able to implement that in the congregation and in our families.
WES: That’s fantastic. Well, Jason, thank you for this conversation, and, more importantly, thank you for your work in the kingdom, Brother. I so appreciate you.
JASON: Likewise, man. Thank you so much.