Book Review: From the Garden to the City by John Dyer

(NOTE: I received this book as part of a blog tour. The tour was scheduled to run from September 26 to 30, and I wrote this on the 28th. Unfortunately, the post vanished into the ether, so I am re-creating it here.)

I read a lot of blogs about technology and the Church, and more recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to exactly how our technology and our faith collide – how one impacts the other. So I was excited to find out about the blog tour for From the Garden to the City — it sounded like just the book I was looking for.

And Dyer does not disappoint. I like the way he sets out his purpose at the very beginning of the book when he writes, “John makes a calculated choice to us a disembodied form of communication in service of the embodied life of the church, and in doing so he honors our Lord and builds up His Body.

“My hope is that in the coming chapters we can learn to do the same with our technology.”

Our ultimate purpose in technology has to be to honor God and build up the Church. Dyer is referring to 3 John 12-13, where John mentions that he had a lot more to write, but that those things could wait until he saw the recipients of that letter in person. In 2 John, the apostle mentions that he often wanted to write, but that there were things that had to be discussed in person. Two sides of the same coin, and two different uses of technology.

Dyer points out that technology has two different “stories” — how we use technology to shape our world, and how that technology shapes us. Too often, we look at one of those stories and ignore the other — we either become pragmatists who use every new technology without thought as to whether it’s the best solution to our problem, or we become complete Luddites who shun any new technology. Both are equally dangerous.

Interestingly, Dyer starts out with the Fall — this would be the “From the Garden” part of the book. He shows how God created us to be creative ourselves, to use technology to improve things. Adam is commanded to till the soil and cultivate the garden (Genesis 2:15). This fits with the overall pattern of the book, in which Dyer brings up four different categories that we need to think about in our use of technology:

Reflection: Since we are created in God’s image, how does the technology changes the way we reflect that image to the world?
Rebellion: Given that mankind is fallen, given our sin nature, how can this technology be perverted? How does our sin nature make us susceptible to temptation and sin?
Redemption: What are the evangelistic uses of this technology? How can we use this to take the Gospel to the world? SHOULD we use this technology to take the Gospel to the world?
Restoration: How does technology fit into God’s plan to ultimately restore the earth?

We need to remember that technology is a tool; what we do with it is what is important. We are creative people, and we need to use that aspect of the image of God to do great things in His name.

Long story short — this book has given me a lot to think about. Taken with several other books I’ve been reading and re-reading recently (Hamlet’s Blackberry, Devices of the Soul especially), I think there may be a need for me to re-evaluate how I sometimes use technology, and how often it becomes just a crutch for me.

John Dyer has written a book that may be uncomfortable for many Christians, but should be read by us all. There’s the germ of a sermon series in here, or maybe an evening Bible study to help Christians of all ages deal with the technology that has become so all-encompassing and overwhelming.

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