Whenever world-changing episodes in history unfold, new technologies are often in the background. Jesus arrived in history “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4:4), and it was exactly the right time for his good news to catch fire. The new “technology” of Roman roadways made possible the rapid spread of Christianity in the Mediterranean. So did the communication technologies of the scroll and, starting in the second century, the codex. Centuries later it was a communication technology—the printing press—that helped ignite the Protestant Reformation.
Five centuries later, a new technology represents what could be a new Reformation. For communicating the gospel, the internet is a technology as game-changing as the printing press. It’s a medium with its fair share of challenges, to be sure, but also powerful new opportunities. God in his sovereignty has placed us in this specific era, with this unprecedented tool, for a reason. What we do now could ripple through history and affect generations.
Will we seize or squander the opportunity?
Christians have often been quick to adopt new technologies. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century, Bibles were some of the first books printed—thus helping to ignite the Reformation. When movies were invented in the early 20th century, Christians were quick to see the power and potential of the form (for good and for ill). Some of the earliest silent films were biblical epics or explored Christian themes. Soon after radio-broadcast technology debuted in the 1920s, Christians like Paul Radar, Bob Jones Sr., Charles Fuller, and Aimee Semple McPherson were using this powerful form to reach audiences in the millions. When television broadcasting followed, evangelicals were quick to seize its potential. Billy Graham became a household name in part by using television. And of course, a neologism soon entered the lexicon: “televangelism,” with TV preachers like Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson gaining massive audiences.
Though the evangelical impulse to quickly leverage new communication technologies is understandable and admirable—evangelistic zeal is good!—often this zeal has not been accompanied by caution regarding unintended side effects. The printing press was a huge win for getting God’s Word into the hands of common people for the first time. But it also contributed to our…