Book Review: Braving The Future, Christian Faith in a World of Limitless Tech by Douglas Estes
Is VR church a bad thing? What about having a microchip brain implant as a Christian? As Christians, should we endorse gene editing in order to help eradicate disease? What about to give our children the eye color we prefer?
“When you start editing the code of life, where do you stop? Are we soon going to create designer babies, with predetermined eye color, intelligence and physical traits? Should we alter the genome of mosquitoes in Africa so that they no longer carry the malaria virus?” (Forbes, 3 Reasons To Believe The Singularity Is Near)
Where do we draw the lines as Christians with questions like these that are pressing in on us, whether we want them to or not? Whether we are ready to answer them or not. Technological advancement is developing at a rate that the average Christian’s theology can’t keep up. We simply don’t know how to think about such things from a biblical worldview.
Because of this, Dr. Douglas Estes, associate professor of New Testament and practical theology at South University and regular contributor for Christianity Today, has written an incredibly accessible, and highly valuable work in his book Braving The Future, Christian Faith in a World of Limitless Tech.
“Technology is changing around us at a blistering pace. We are entering an era in which human bodies merge with devices, corporations know everything about us, and artificial intelligence develops human and even godlike potential” (from back cover).
Braving the Future is written to help inform and equip the average Christian on how to think and best navigate the technological sea that we all swim in while remaining faithful to Jesus’ call to be set apart and make disciples of all nations.
Estes’s book is a popular work written to address the “transhumanism” movement from a Christian perspective. (For academic volumes on the subject, see Transhumanism and the Image of God by Shatzer, and Modern Technology and the Human Future by Gay). And don’t worry if you have never heard of transhumanism (sometimes referred to as H+ or techohumanism). You aren’t alone; even my word processor doesn’t recognize the word yet.
The book is structured well, with each of the eight chapters focusing on a particular type of technology paired with a modern sci-fi movie which highlights that particular piece of tech. The book starts with the nearest technology such as virtual reality (something that is already here), ending with tech that is furthest away such as cybernetics (something that will likely still be far off in the distant human future).
“Maybe you have never heard of any of these terms, but our culture has already exposed you to the ideas behind them, and you have surely felt the effects. Transhumanism is one of the main ingredients baked into the cake of Hollywood movies from X-men to Transcendence. It is a philosophy designed to help make sense of all the rapid tech change. Some thinkers anticipate it will be the biggest philosophical and cultural force in the twenty-first century” (p. 25).
And although you may have never heard of this worldview by name, its effects are indeed far reaching.
“From Tylenol to dermal regenerators, from virtual reality to salt water pools, each new invention in our lives is an excuse for culture to whisper in our hearts, ‘You’ve got everything you need.’ Culture will also promote transhumanist ideas—those which bring with them a spirit of aseity. The idea behind transhumanism is more than simply for us to advance in our abilities to shape the world; the goal is to redefine what it means to be human. Transhumanism suggests that we are all that matters in our universe, and that we must evolve to the next phase of human existence so that we can be truly self-reliant” (p. 47).
This effect of transhumanism—that we ultimately have no need for God and can be completely self-reliant—is in my opinion the greatest contribution of the book. Estes does a great job unpacking the humanistic and anti-God worldviews of much of what lies behind our understanding, and use, of technology. He urges us as Christians to be thoughtful in our uses, and rejections, of technology in our daily lives. He encourages us to be thoughtfully engaged and critical in our consumption and absorption of technology.
Another vital contribution from Estes’s book is his call for Christians to remain (or become) “people of the book.” For the Christian to be able to brave a new world of limitless tech, it is going to demand of them unlike any generations before that they be better versed and equipped in understanding, interpreting, and applying the Scriptures.
“In ages past, a casual reading of Scripture seemed enough to handle many situations. This is no longer the case. Instead the faster the world evolves, the harder it becomes to extrapolate biblical truths into daily situations. Therefore, in a world of limitless tech, the more precise our interpretation of the Bible must become and the more diligently we need to study its pages and its history. For all the work the church has done, it must work harder if it will have any ability to speak into a future world” (p. 132).
One area in which I think the book could have done a better job is perhaps connecting the dots a bit more clearly for folks that are not “tech savvy,” as I believe it might be all too easy for some demographics to write off this important book on such a critical topic as some unrealistic science-fiction type of doomsday book, which of course it is not.
From the young parents looking how to wisely raise their children in a technological environment, to the savvy Christian millennial and Gen-Z’er who will work in the industry of science and technology, to the retiree who is making disciples of Jesus in relevant ways in a rapidly evolving technological culture, Dr. Estes’s book is a must read!
From Jon Sherwood’s blog on fueling faith in the 21st century at www.jonsherwood.com. Used with permission.