Cultural change leads to God’s word and truth being expanded in new ways. Perhaps no greater example is found in the Reformation. While Luther and Calvin certainly played their parts in the Reformation, there was another key player that is particularly relevant to our series: the printing press! New technologies made the spread of ideas through books and pamphlets much more accessible. This change did not happen over night – the first use of the printing press was about 100 years before Calvin started writing any of his major works.
As we look at the different cultural changes happening due to technological advancements – the internet, social media, smart phones, and more. We can only wonder: what new ways is God going to show up? This is an exciting time where we are participants in history. We do not see how God is going to use his people to speak powerfully in the midst of this cultural change – but we are assured that God is with us in this time – and if history is any indication for the future – we are in the midst of a season of new missional opportunities.
THE DANGER OF BOOKS
Afraid of the changes that come with upcoming technologies? Remember that this is nothing new. Fear of change as we are acquiring wisdom in how to respond to new technologies was present at the advent of the printing press. With the cost of printing decreasing by 300 times – books that used to cost about 20,000 dollars were available for 70 dollars. This change in cost meant that it was not only the extremely wealthy who could afford books. Literacy rates dramatically increased and information was made available to more people. Not everybody was happy about this. As with any season of change, there were voices who were very concerned about the negative impact of books:
What will this do to education? No longer will education be mediated through rigorous discussion and people using their minds. It will simply lead to people going to a book for the information. Furthermore, education will not be mediated by a teacher who guides people through challenging content – but people are free to be misled by whatever arguments they come across in their books.
People were also fearful that something beautiful will be lost in the writing and copying of scripture.
It turns out that over time people have had a pretty positive outlook on the printing press and its benefits. Literacy rates increased, leading to an explosion in scientific discovery and cultural expression – as modeled in Florence during the renaissance. Remember, there will always be people fearful of change, and some of these fears are warranted. But the way forward was not a rejection of the printing press but the cultivation of wisdom in how to use books well.