Re-reading Yoder in Order to Conscientiously Engage Technology through the Practices of the Church
Author(s)Heidebrecht, Paul C.
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AbstractThis dissertation builds on the work of one of the most prominent Mennonite theologians of the twentieth century, John Howard Yoder (1927-1997), in order to argue that the practices of the church make it possible for Christians to conscientiously engage technology. It lays the groundwork for this argument by first demonstrating the theological significance of technology, and then demonstrating the relevance of Yoder's thought for this topic. Technological artifacts, systems, and ways of thinking merit theological consideration because they are not morally neutral—particular technologies do not simply meet human needs and desires, but come to shape our needs and desires, and thus our vision of what is good. Yoder's thought is helpful because, far from reflecting a sectarian preoccupation with ethics, it pushes the church toward deeper theological engagement with social issues. In addition, Yoder's discussion of the biblical concept of principalities and powers is especially relevant for grappling with technology. Picking up on Yoder's preference for particularity, the rest of this dissertation is structured around a study of three examples of technology: the automobile, genetically modified food, and the Internet. This study demonstrates that the conscientious engagement of technology happens when the church, as the body of Christ, resists the seduction of the power of particular technologies by re-describing them within the narrative of God's salvation of the world. More specifically, the church is able to testify to the reality that Christ has defeated and disarmed the powers, including the power of technology. This testimony is most clearly evident in the practices of the church, practices that make visible the distinctive marks of the church—viewed in the light of these marks, technological ideals are put in their proper place and are no longer granted the status of moral imperatives. What Yoder failed to appreciate was the extent to which these practices not only bear witness to the marks of the church, but contribute to the formation of these marks. Furthermore, there are a whole host of tactics related to our everyday encounters with particular technologies that can also contribute to this crucial work of moral formation.