A photo from the “Code for the Kingdom” hackathon in London, 2016
In two weekends’ time, a PrayerMate team will be participating in a Christian “hackathon” weekend in London (at the same time as similar events in cities all around the world) to build some exciting new functionality to help small groups support one another in prayer.
We’ve done this twice before, but I’m continually surprised at the level of opposition to the very concept of a “Christian hackathon” or calls for “Christian developers / designers / tech entrepreneurs” to join us. It seems to really wind some people up that we would want to combine our Christian faith with our tech skills. Responses ranged from the thoughtful (“would I still be welcome if I was a muslim software developer?” — answer: YES!) to the extreme (one commenter on Facebook said “I don’t think church should have any say in anything let alone technology”).
I think some of this surely stems from an understandable concern that we are trying to build walls up in exactly the places that the rest of the tech industry is seeking to tear them down, in their commendable desire to promote diversity in tech (something that we are passionate about as well!). Yet it is also evident that in a lot of people’s minds, faith simply has no place in the world of software development.
What should we say to this?
1. Our faith touches every area of our lives — including our work
1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” — whatever you do, it can be done to God’s glory. Christian faith isn’t just one compartmentalised add-on to an otherwise ordinary life — Christian faith completely transforms the whole of your life. Following Jesus means that the entire orientation of your existence has now changed, so that he is at the very centre of all that you do, the foundation of a completely new identity.
As such, our faith touches our work as well. It doesn’t mean that we think Christians write better code, or that being a Christian somehow makes you “superior” in any sense — but it surely will affect our motivation in how and why we write code. Christians are to work “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:22–24)
Note that this is true whatever kind of code we’re writing — it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a bank or an online shopping website, or whether it’s for an explicitly “Christian” app. But occasionally our faith will also deeply impact the kind of software we want to develop. Our conscience might cause us to shy away from certain employers or uses of technology, but equally our faith might inspire us to build things that we simply wouldn’t be building if we weren’t followers of Jesus.
At the upcoming hackathon, for example, participants will be tackling challenges set by Christians Against Poverty and Home For Good — looking at how we can use technology to help the church offer hope to those struggling with debt and support people who are wanting to adopt or foster. Our faith will be integral to the kinds of solutions that we come up with, because we have a different conception of where true hope is to be found.
2. God often works through technology
One Facebook commenter said “I don’t think Jesus would have sat on his backside at a computer screen”. It did make me stop and think. We’re tackling a challenge around helping those in need, and yet we’re going about it by spending 48 hours in a co-working space with our laptops open. It does seem a bit counterintuitive — and I think that if we were spending every weekend like this, it would be right to start asking questions.
But it’s worth noting that in the Bible, God himself often works through technology. Noah, his family and the animals were saved through the technology of an ark. The 10 commandments were preserved through the highly advanced technology of writing (it’s easy to forget that somebody had to actually invent the alphabet and spelling and so on!). Even the cross of Christ was arguably one of the most technological means of execution available — and that was God’s chosen method of offering salvation to the world.
God often works through technology — and whilst building apps and websites certainly isn’t the primary means of serving the poor, it has the potential to be a tremendous tool in the hands of people like CAP and Home For Good as they encourage the church to get out there and get alongside people in desperate need of hope.
3. Technological advances have often led to gospel advances
It’s often been said that Jesus arrived on earth at exactly the right point in history, when technological advances made it possible for the gospel to spread at a phenomenal rate around the world. The combination of widespread adoption of the Greek language, with Roman roads offering efficient means of travel, meant that a message that started amongst a tiny sect in Jerusalem had soon spread right across the entire known world.
When the printing press was first invented, Christians were quick to put it to use distributing Bibles and Christian literature, and arguably the reformation could never have happened without it.
Technological advances have often led to gospel advances — and today there are many Christian organisations doing amazing things with the internet and other modern digital technologies to help the gospel to advance in to places where it has never reached before. Back at our Kingdom Code meetup in May, for example, we had a fascinating evening hearing of some of the many ways that Wycliffe Bible Translators use all kinds of technologies to enable the work of Bible translation — in many ways they are a software development organisation every bit as much as they are a missionary organisation!
The PrayerMate app was born out of the conviction that technology and digital tools can be a means of God’s common grace to help us in our walk with him — and so it’s no surprise that I would think it’s a good thing for Christian techies to get together for one weekend in a year to put their skills to work for the gospel. But I hope that I’ve persuaded you that there really is no contradiction in this.
I hope you will consider coming along to the hackathon yourself, 20–22 October— book your ticket today!