Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture, and Computer Technology

Written by Derek C. Schuurman Reviewed By Peter M. Anderson

Since the works of Ellul, Postman, and McLuhan have experienced renewed interest in our digital age, examining the role of technology in contemporary culture requires insight from a variety of disciplines. Such a landscape demands an insightful response from the Christian community, and Derek C. Schuurman positions his book, Shaping a Digital World (hereafter Shaping), well. Shaping engages this discussion with a particular interest in computer technology. As an associate professor of computer science at McMaster University, Schuurman possesses a unique authority to provide perspective in a realm recognized for its foothold in our contemporary human experience.

Schuurman’s work is accessible and coherent in the overall argument. Shaping seeks to tease out how the Christian uses modern technologies, specifically computer technology, for the glory of God. Beginning with a careful analysis of technology and computing in chapter 1, the discussion quickly transitions to the morality of technology. Tracing the four themes of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation supplies the structure from chapters 2 through 5, respectively. Schuurman brings the entire discussion to a very practical conclusion in chapter 6, challenging the reader with the weight of this dialogue, a dialogue engaging what it means to be human and how technology shapes human experience. As well, several pages of discussion questions give this book a strong appeal to any wanting to enter the discussion of technology and the Christian faith.

Several specific points should be emphasized from this work. First, Schuurman’s second chapter covering norms and modal aspects in technology is superb and might be the most helpful section of the entire work. This section is helpful because the great challenges in discussing modern technology and the Christian faith lie in one’s ability to connect the two worlds. Schuurman’s work successfully lays a foundation for framing the entire discussion based on the interconnectedness of various laws of created order with a variety of norms in human existence. As a result, a theology of technology arises from Schuurman’s use of the cultural mandate, the image of God, and Sabbath rest (pp. 32–39).

Second, Schuurman possesses a unique ability to establish terminology for understanding fallen man’s misappropriation of technology. While consumerism is a familiar term, technicism and informationism provide the two essential categories in sinful misappropriation of technology (pp. 60–63). Because of the strong connection between theology and technology outlined in the first two chapters of Shaping, Schuurman’s assessment of sin and technology in chapter 3 complements the balanced perspective sought throughout the work.

While the majority of Schuurman’s content, theology, and application can be readily affirmed, one note of caution should be identified. Shaping tends to suffer from some confusion of terms as Schuurman constantly swaps between computer technology, technology, and media. As an example, Shuurman provides a helpful and quite specific definition of a computer as an electronic device that receives input, processes and stores data according to a program, and produces output (p. 22). By this definition, Shaping would seem to have a specific focus, yet this is not the case. That is, this work is less about computer technology specifically, and more about the general topic of technology. Right after stating very specific boundaries for his discussion, Schuurman analyzes responses to technology in general rather than computer technology in particular (pp. 24–26). Such a shift happens several times throughout, mainly when Schuurman seeks practical application, and tends to be confusing to the general flow of thought.

It should be noted that Schuurman’s difficulty in definitions is a prevailing problem within the entire discussion of modern technology and Christian morality. That is, establishing a foundation of specific terms, conditions, and boundaries presents considerable challenge. Further, because Schuurman places a rather small number of specific references to computer technology in his work, Shaping is best seen as an introduction to a larger discussion of technology and the Christian rather than a work focusing narrowly on computer technology and the Christian.

In the end, Shaping a Digital World provides a useful introduction to how the technology of a digital age relates to Christian morality. Schuurman provides a helpful outline for framing this discussion through the grand redemptive-historical themes of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. However, there are times where more clarity on the use of technology, computer technology, and media would aid the reader. All in all, Shaping a Digital World makes strides in understanding how technology, as one part of God’s good creation, can be leveraged to the praise and glory of God.

Peter M. Anderson

Peter M. Anderson
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina, USA

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