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The Gospel & Technology

What do Roman roads, the printing press and the internet all have in common? The answer to the question is actually not too difficult to fathom. Each one of these new technologies provided the Gospel with tremendous opportunities for advancement at key moments in the history of the Church.

The timing of the Incarnation “just happened” to be at a moment in world history when travel and communication had never been so easy. For the two hundred years from 27BC to 180AD the Roman Empire enjoyed a peace and prosperity that was unparalleled in the ancient world. At just this time koine Greek, which had arisen as a dialect in the armies of Alexander the Great, was spoken across the Empire rather as English is spoken across the world today, and this was to continue for another three centuries after the life of Jesus. It was in this context of pax Romana and linguistic unity that the Romans added a third factor which massively increased the possibility of the propagation of the Gospel in the first century – the building of roads. Up until 150 years ago the Romans were the greatest road builders the world had known and, at its height, the system they built spanned more than 400,000km. . It is no wonder that Paul writes in Galatians 4:4

“When the fullness of time had come God sent forth His Son.”

God had orchestrated events so that the apostle Paul and other early Christian missionaries were able to disseminate the Gospel quickly across an extremely large geographic area.

Fifteen hundred years later Europe was much more linguistically and culturally divided than it had been in in the Roman era but again God in His sovereignty provided a new technology that coincided with and massively assisted Gospel advance. In 1517 Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church doors in Wittenberg and the Reformation was birthed. The following decades saw a revolution in the doctrine and practice of the Church in Europe. The authority of Scripture was reasserted, justification by faith alone was rediscovered as were other fundamental doctrines such as the priesthood of all believers and Christian freedom. Luther and his fellow reformers also fundamentally shifted ground back to a more Biblical position on the sacraments of breaking bread and baptism. Some of these doctrines had been anticipated a century earlier by the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus, but Hus had been burnt at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415.
So why was the Church able to snuff out Hus but not able to contain Luther? Much of the answer to this question lies in a new technology that was discovered by Johannes Gutenberg in about 1439 – the printing press. Luther called the printing press “God’s highest and extremest act of grace whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward!” The printing press thrust Luther from theological obscurity onto the national and even the international stage. It was almost unheard of in the sixteenth century for a print run to exceed 2,000 copies. However, the first edition of Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation published in 1520 was 4,000. In the period between 1517 and 1520 Luther’s ideas expressed in the 95 theses, initially intended only for academic debate, had been translated from Latin into German and published many times in cities all over Germany.
Today, as the Holy Spirit is moving all over the world, the internet is also revolutionizing our lives. For me, the greatest challenge that Mark Driscoll has brought us as a family of Churches in recent years has been his exceptional use of the very latest technology. Today, at the click of a button any member of our Churches can access the very best (and of course some of the very worst) preaching in the world. You only have to listen to Driscoll for a few minutes or to visit www.marshillchurch.orgto realize that he is at the very cutting edge of the use of technology for Gospel purposes. When Jesus said

“From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48),

I wonder if he had the internet in mind?

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