Reformation > Disruption

by | Jun 27, 2016 | Theology and Technology

This article was written by Wil Ranney and was originally published on

Disruption: when a new technology significantly changes the way people live or do business, often challenging the status quo.

It was in 1996 when then Vice President of Intel, Steven McGeady, claimed that the new tech boom was akin to the Reformation. He called it The Digital Reformation. His argument was not theological in nature; instead he compared the common person’s level of access to technology in the modern era — to the mass access to religious freedom during the Reformation. In each case, the new paradigm led to rapid–indeed, “disruptive”–levels of cultural, political, and social-economic change. He noted that the difference between a reformation and a revolution is that reformations change everything, not just a single target.

Among the modern technorati, disruption often becomes the goal and not the effect, either for attention or strategic advantage. Meaning is derived from a piece of technology’s ability to upend the status quo. Bitcoin, for example, had the promise to rewrite the very fabric of financial markets. Its ability to disrupt, however, overshadowed the shady foundation on which Bitcoin was built. So-called “Daily Fantasy Leagues” like Draft Kings disguised gambling as fandom and managed to create disruption by circumventing gambling lawsLaw makers are catching up, but even short-term bouts of disruption can destroy lives.

On the other hand, technologies with the most staying power tend to provide agency to the masses. Both facebook and twitter give your average person a louder, wider-reaching voice than ever before. This democratizing effect is referred to as social capital. It is often disruptive, but that’s not an end unto itself.

There’s a lesson here. When Steve McGeady was describing The Digital Reformation, he could have used theological terms. A Jesus-centered church–one focused on clothing, healing, honoring, and saving the poor and marginalized–knows the difference between disruption and reformation. The problem is that we’re too focused on yesterday’s cultural realities to know that this is our opportunity to once again bring God to the masses. Our Gutenberg Bibles have merely transformed from books into bytes. But in order to seize this opportunity the church must engage in digital technology–creating our own tech and investing in the platforms that are reformation ready, while admonishing the ones that aren’t.

I believe this is our chance to redefine the church for the next 500 years, but are we ready for The Digital Reformation?

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