—By Michael Schuermann
iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nexus, MacBook Pro, Surface, Windows 8, Accordance, Logos 5, printers, SSDs, Apple TV, Roku, flat-panel TVs, Blu-Ray, and 3D. Consumerism has gone high tech, and neither laity or clergy are immune. There’s a good chance that something above is on your wishlist this Christmas, and for many pastors some of those gifts may very well be desired to help in our pastoral duties of preaching and teaching. Did you get it? How will you use it?
At this time, our culture in the United States is based on entertainment. Technology is first and foremost marketed to fulfill our never ending need to be entertained. Yet technology, whether modern and high tech or old fashioned and Luddite, is at its most basic a tool. From the first time man figured out how to use a rock as a hammer, to Tubal-Cain the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron; from Noah building the ark and waterproofing it, to Jesus fashioning cords together into a tool with which to drive out the money changers from the temple, technology as tool is present throughout the Scriptures.
In the history of the church, technology remains a constant driving force, both positively and negatively. The invention and refinement of the organ contributed to a blossoming of congregational singing, which we still benefit from today. The invention of the printing press arguably factored into the success of the Reformation. Amplification of the voice and musical instruments, and electrification of those same instruments, has led to significant change in church architecture, worship practice, and preaching style.
The pastor’s life and study has been invaded too. In my pastoral work, I find my iPhone practically invaluable. In ones and zeros, both in its local storage and transmitted into the cloud to sync with my computer, reside my calendar, the contact information of parishioners and prospects, emails and text messages from the same, various notes and ideas for articles and sermons, and reminders about who I need to visit or check on. There is even an app version of the LSB Pastoral Care Companion on my iPhone!
With any technology there come great temptations. After all, the good gifts of God which we receive—and certainly technology and the tools enabled by it are good gifts—always find themselves prone to abuse. Great snares lie in wait in the technology that we use. There are the obvious ones—pornography is rampant, slander and the spreading of misinformation is simple, wiling away one’s day on the web is as easy as shutting the study door. All these temptations exist. All these temptations and their resulting sins of commission have received much press and lip service both in the church and the world. But there is another temptation which I rarely see discussed.
Many pastors now rely on software to assist in their exegetical study and sermon preparation. These technological tools serve a specific purpose: “Explore the Bible, understand the original languages, craft sermons, and more” ((Logos Bible Software website, http://www.logos.com/features)) is how Logos pitches version 5 of their software. BibleWorks, Accordance, and the other software companies market in a similar fashion. The implication is this: “You’re busy, time is short, our tools will help you accomplish more exegetical study more efficiently and more effectively!” Who doesn’t want that? And the results are generally inarguable. These tools work, and work well. It’s as simple as hovering over a word to parse it or double-clicking that word to pull it up in BDAG or BDB or whatever resource you’ve selected as your preferred lexicon.
But we are not talking about ways to crank out widgets in a more efficient manner. This is not about the most effective way to memorize a list of facts for a history final. A pastor is not called to craft an ever more efficient assembly line for his study of the text. He is called to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it,” wrestling with the words sentence by sentence, listening to them and letting the word work on him so that he can take the living voice of God found in the Scripture and proclaim it forth to his hearers in the assembly.
Do these tools and their promise of efficiency place a temptation in front of the pastor? Is the toiling and striving that is found in the pastoral office something that we should aim to make easier? Can these tools serve a pastor who must struggle with God’s word via Luther’s oratio, meditatio, and tentatio, or will they instead cause him to embrace an ever more pragmatic and simplistic approach to studying the text?
There’s no simple answer to these questions—I certainly don’t know it. After all, these tools are essentially neutral. I make use of them. But I wonder if forcing myself to use a more difficult approach (as in, forcing myself to use only physical books) would yield better results (like a non-theological writing discovery that I read the other day). These tools do enable a pastor to accomplish more in the same amount of time than before, when he had to cover his desk with concordances and lexicons and the Scriptures themselves in his study. Yet, therein lies the temptation that each of us must fight against, prayerfully asking the Lord to rescue us from our lazy bellies and instead rightly use his good gift of technology to do the work of listening to the word in faith, slowly and with much effort.
The Rev. Michael Schuermann serves Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sherman, Illinois.