By Peter Anderson
I don’t know about you, but I really like my cell phone. I am in a minority position when it comes to the particular brand of phone I carry. I am part of the 4% of cellular users who own a Blackberry cellphone. I bet I know what 96% of you are thinking, “You still own a Blackberry?” Maybe you are just smirking to yourself. Either way, that is just the start. Don’t look now but I intentionally downgraded from an iPhone to a Blackberry. Why would I do something like that?
My journey into technological obscurity was slow, steady and anything but accidental. Over the last several months, there seemed to be more than a few conversations about technology and morality with cellphones repeatedly surfacing in discussion. One particular conversation stands out. The interaction was ending and I found myself emphatically praising the benefits of my iPhone when a godly professor ended the conversation with a simple statement, “Peter, I have just concluded that it is not responsible Christian stewardship for me to own an iPhone.”
I could not believe my ears! I am sure I looked dumbfounded but tried to hide it. However, I could not forget how Christian stewardship influenced this professor’s decision about a cellphone. For months, I found myself asking a very simple question each time I looked at my iPhone,“Is this good stewardship?”
Yet does it really matter? Is a cellphone really that important? Aren’t there areas of my life that are exempt from such theologically seriousness?
While reflecting on this during church, our pastor began preaching from 2 Kings 13 by asking a simple question, “Are you zealous for God?” The question startled me and continued to trouble me as we studied the passage. In this chapter, Elisha is preparing to die and has a visit from Joash, the king of Israel. As Joash panics about Elisha’s death, he is given a seemingly meaningless or trivial task: shoot an arrow out the window then strike the ground with the leftover arrows. Joash obeys as Elisha indicates the arrows symbolize victory over Syria. Yet Joash only strikes the ground three times and Elisha condemns Joash’s lack of zeal. He should have struck the ground twice as many times to insure Israel’s victory! I was suddenly struck by the nature of my questions about cellphones and stewardship. I was not struggling against the TYPE of cellphone I carry but with subjecting the seemingly mundane features of my life in a zealous commitment to Jesus Christ.
When I considered the “downgrade” and it’s relationship to zealous Christian stewardship, I could not escape several areas of personal reflection:
I am not sure about you but the financial commitment to owning a smartphone often makes me squirm. Reevaluating the importance of cellular data comes down to some difficult questions.
As in every other area of life, close consideration of financial stewardship reveals where my heart rests for peace, comfort, and fulfillment. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus reminds his disciples that the heart is connected to our treasure. Consider the power of that statement! Jesus directly connects the investment of our physical with our deepest motivations and desires. How zealous am I about my heart connections I am making with money? What do my finances say about my heart?
The realities of manhood in an internet age doesn’t need to be fully detailed here but, suffice to say, the problem of pornography on mobile devices exists and is growing. In fact, 1 in 5 mobile searches are for explicit content! As a Christian man, I had to grapple with whether I wanted such accessibility constantly around me. As a Christian husband, I wanted my wife to know I love her deeply and will cut out anything that might bring sin into our family. As a Christian father, I had to decide how to explain digital purity to my son and how my lifestyle might confirm or deny such explanations. Strangely, I realized how relaxed and comforted I was by the ability to access explicit content rather than actually viewing pornography. The notion reminded me of John Owen’s famous warning about indwelling sin:
“Do you mortify?
Do you make it your daily work?
Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
In the process of reflecting on technology and virtue, the Holy Spirit shone a spotlight on a dark crevice of my heart and I did not like what I saw. My sinful heart was content to allow a foothold for sin to remain rather than changing something as simple the cellphone I use. How comfortable are you with your ability to access explicit content? Do you make excuses for yourself and, as a result, leave yourself vulnerable to sin?
The intrusion of technology in our daily lives represents a significant challenge to building healthy relationships. Granted, technology facilitates some features of human relationships that are impossible without Skype, cellphones, and email. Yet many of these technologies can became poor substitutes to the tangible community life of a wife, children, and church. Specifically, cellphones can be immanently distracting! I was too often looking for apps or checking social media updates while missing opportunities to really connect with other human beings. How often do you look on your cellphone instead of making eye contact with a stranger and striking up a conversation? How often do you text or email that friend you should really visit personally? How often do you spend an evening on your cellphone rather than shepherding your family?
In the end, I made the switch from an iPhone to a Blackberry based upon a desire to practice zealous Christian stewardship. Fulfilling God’s purposes for me as a Christian father and husband motivated my cellphone swap yet this might not everyone’s response.
What does zealous Christian stewardship look like for you?
Find out what you should change and passionately pursue God’s plan! Reconsider how your finances reflect your heart. Guard yourself against impurity on your mobile devices. Be certain you are building lasting, meaningful relationships. Is it THAT crazy to not own the greatest smartphone, tablet, or digital device? I don’t think it is.
 John Owen, Overcoming Sin & Temptation (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 50 (emphasis mine).
Peter Anderson is a PhD student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary studying Christian ethics and technology. He lives in Wake Forest, NC with his wife and three children.
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