Thinking Through Technology Using Scripture
By Dr. Josh Mulvihill
I have one tech-free week with my boys every summer, and I love it. For the past two decades, I’ve been driving to Ontario, Canada, for a week of fishing and fun with my dad, brothers, friends, and sons. It’s the ultimate week of adventure. We travel to the small Canadian town of Ignace, purchase ice and bait at Vern’s bait shop, then drive down an old logging road for two hours until the road ends, and we reach a rustic boat launch. We load food, water, and needed items into the boat and travel for an hour to the island we will call home for a week. We’re three hours from the nearest town. If there’s an emergency, we’re the medic and mechanic. We see more moose, bears, and deer than people. Cell phones don’t work, and there’s no internet. It’s glorious. The week serves as a digital detox, and it’s good for my soul.
The other 358 days per year, my computer and smartphone are constant companions necessary for daily life. The technology age has transformed how we interact with one another, raise children, and live. As parents of five children, we’ve had our share of challenges with screens and worked through many questions. How much screen time should we allow? What age should a child get a device? How rigid or lenient should we be with what our children watch or listen to? How do we navigate social media, video games, and the internet?
From the perspective of discipleship, technology shapes the views and values of children in a significant way. We must be intentional about the place and purpose it has in our home.
6 Biblical Principles for Technology Decisions
Principle 1: Who We Spend Time with Shapes Who We Become
My children recently discovered the show Duck Dynasty, and one of my sons suddenly became interested in duck hunting, wants to drink from a Tupperware cup, and can be heard saying, “Happy, Happy, Happy.” It was a quick case study of the shaping influence of media.
The Bible gives us instructions about the kinds of people we should not spend time with, which applies to individuals on a screen. We’re told not to make friends with an angry person, or we will learn his ways (Prov. 22:24-25). We are not to spend time with liars (Ps. 26:4), associate with a gossip (Prov. 20:19), and we are to stay far away from adulterous women (Prov. 5:3). That means we aren’t watching The Real Housewives or tuning in to the Kardashians. It means the new LGBTQ-driven Disney shows have no place in our homes.
The overarching principle, found in 1 Corinthians 15:33, is “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” God knows how easy it is to be influenced by ungodly beliefs and behaviors. Our children can easily adopt distorted ideas and corrupt behaviors. For this reason, it is crucial for us to guard our children from the influence of bad company in media. Ask yourself, “Do I want my children to become like the person they are watching or listening to?”
Principle 2: Think about What Is True, Honorable, Pure, and Worthy of Praise
What kind of media should our children watch and listen to? The Bible is very clear: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Do our shows, songs, or video games fit these biblical criteria?
Good media is abundant, so be selective and strategic about what we allow into our children’s minds and hearts. We love Andrew Peterson’s music. We often listen as a family to Albert Mohler’s podcast, The Briefing. Introduce your family to classics like The Swiss Family Robinson, The Sound of Music, and Little House on the Prairie. We love watching movies about individuals in church history, such as Jim Elliot in The End of the Spear, Chariots of Fire, and The Torchlighters video series. There’s a rich treasury of true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy media available. Let us find this media and think about these things in our homes.
Principle 3: What We Watch and Listen to Should Encourage Godliness
One of my sons loves country music, which provides an opportunity for us to teach him how to be discerning with his music choices. He recently requested to download music by Morgan Wallen, who grew up in the church and claims to be a Christian. We preview everything our children listen to, so I found myself listening to Morgan Wallen and looking up the lyrics to his music. His songs are catchy but also contain references to being drunk, the occasional swear word, sexual immorality, and his goal in life is happiness. Sometimes, we’re tempted as parents to think, “It’s not a big deal,” and give our children the green light. The problem is that this isn’t a biblical mindset. Holiness is a big deal to God, and it should also be to us. So, I said no to my child’s request (there were numerous attempts to change my mind), and then Jen and I sat down and explained that God’s commands apply to all areas of our lives, including our music. Together, the three of us read a few verses that applied to Morgan’s music and discussed the following questions:
What is God’s directive for us with drunk people? “Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards” (Prov. 23:19-20).
What does God tell us to do with filthy language? “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Col. 3:8).
What kind of words should come out of our mouths? “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).
What is God’s instruction about sexual immorality? “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3-5).
Gordon Fee once said, “Show me a church’s songs, and I’ll show you their theology.” Similarly, show me what your children listen to, and I’ll show you what they believe. Music is powerful and shapes who our children become and what they believe. Paul tells young Timothy to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). We must help our children choose music that is pleasing to God, obeys His commands, and helps to shape them into godly persons. We need to have a backbone as parents and say no to ungodly media, as it will not bear the fruit of righteousness in our children’s lives.
Principle 4: Set a Good and Godly Example with Technology Use
Our children are watching and learning from our technology use. If you want a humbling experience, check how much time you spend on your phone on a daily basis. You can do that by opening up settings, clicking on screen time, and then clicking on see all activity. The average person looks at their phone once every ten minutes. What habits and values are you modeling for your children with your usage of technology? We should be able to say to our children with our technology use, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). What does it teach children when we check email or social media during church? What are we communicating to a child when she must compete with technology for our time or attention? Our daily technology choices and the media we consume are powerful actions that communicate our passions and priorities to our children.
Principle 5: Use Your Time Wisely in Light of Eternity
Video games have become a mainstream form of entertainment and big business, earning more money than the music and movie industries. Gaming is the most popular hobby in the world, with over 3.2 billion gamers. More than half of Americans are heavily involved in video games. A high percentage of parents play video games with children as a form of entertainment.1 The average gamer spends more than seven hours playing video games per week.
Whether playing video games, scrolling social media, or watching a show, we should consider if it’s the best use of our time. Ephesians 5:16 encourages us to “Make the most of your time, because the days are evil.” God cares how we spend our time. It’s a gift to be stewarded well for Him. We are to make the most of it, not waste it on frivolous activities that leave no lasting value. Jesus taught the disciples the importance of using their time wisely to accomplish God’s work, and we should do likewise with our children (John 9:4). Let’s aspire for our lives and time to make a lasting difference in the world for Christ.
Biblically, screen usage for entertainment purposes falls into the category of rest and re-creation. God gave us a day of rest per week for the practical purpose of resting the body and mind, but also the specific purpose of reminding us of the eternal rest that we long for in heaven through the death and resurrection of Christ (Heb. 4:9-11). Recreation activities have some value (1 Tim. 4:8), but we should place boundaries around the frequency of screen use to prioritize using our time wisely for God. Imagine the day you stand before the Creator of the Universe to give an account for the stewardship of your time. Will you be ashamed of the time spent gaming, scrolling social media, or watching TV? Would God consider that time used wisely for His glory?
Principle 6: If It Causes Sin, Remove It
Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29). We are not to take this graphic word picture literally and mutilate our body. Rather, Jesus calls us to take radical action to follow Him. Jesus had just warned His listeners about using their eyes for lustful purposes (Matt. 5:28). Jesus is magnifying the horrible nature of sin, any action or thought contrary to the character of God. This verse reminds us that God takes sin seriously, and so should we. If anything causes our children to sin habitually, we should remove it from their lives. This includes phones, tablets, televisions, computers, radios, and anything else. We must recognize that media is the playground while the heart is the battleground. What happens on a screen is an extension of what is happening in the heart, so help your children guard their hearts and minds and be wise and discerning online.
Technology isn’t new or challenging for God. He created the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24). God promised to give us wisdom when we ask for it (James 1:5). The Scriptures are sufficient for helping us navigate all of life, including how to handle technology (2 Peter 1:3). The Bible provides principles that we can apply to the digital age, such as who we spend time with (on a screen), how we use our time (video games and social media), or what we think about (even though it’s transmitted through a screen). Let us apply these timeless truths to technology use and trust that God will bless our obedience.
Dr. Josh Mulvihill is the Executive Director of Church and Family Ministry at RenewaNation. He served as a pastor for nearly 20 years and serves on the board of Awana. He holds a Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Biblical Grandparenting, Preparing Children for Marriage, Biblical Worldview, and 50 Things Every Child Needs to Know Before Leaving Home. Josh is married to Jen, and they have five children. Josh blogs at GospelShapedFamily.com.
1. Bojan Jovanovic, “Gamer Demographics: Facts and Stats About the Most Popular Hobby in the World,” DataProt, May 25, 2023, https://dataprot.net/statistics/gamer-demographics.