Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 24

Technique in the Modern World (Part 1)

In this lesson, you will gain a deep understanding of the concept of "technique" in the modern world, its characteristics, and the ways in which it shapes society. As you explore the historical development of technique, you will learn how its emphasis on efficiency, predictability, control and quantification has led to conformity, erosion of personal freedom, loss of human connection, and environmental impact. Furthermore, you will discover the spiritual implications of technique, such as the suppression of transcendence, the rise of relativism and secularism, and its impact on faith and religious practice.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 24
Watching Now
Technique in the Modern World (Part 1)

TH730-24: Technique in the Modern World Part 1

I. Introduction to Technique in the Modern World

A. Defining Technique

B. Historical Overview

II. Characteristics of Technique

A. Efficiency

B. Predictability

C. Control

D. Quantification

III. Effects of Technique on Society

A. Conformity

B. Erosion of Personal Freedom

C. Loss of Human Connection

D. Environmental Impact

IV. Spiritual Implications of Technique

A. Suppression of Transcendence

B. Relativism and Secularism

C. Impact on Faith and Religious Practice

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

Dr. James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Technique in the Modern World (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript


I’ve just been asked a question. And the question is very provocative. How do we judge efficiency when we’re speaking in this kind of language of Ellul and Lewis? I wonder how Jesus would have answered that question about efficiency.

I’m sure there were many times when his own disciples were driven crazy by the fact that Jesus wasn’t being very efficient because he constantly is waylaid by somebody in the crowd. But my goodness. when you think of what it was when Jesus was waylaid like the woman with the issue of blood. She had sought to have the efficiency of being dealt with by many doctors and none of them could give her any cure. And so perhaps we can see that doctoring as the attitude of being efficient, about doing something well. But it didn’t work. What was so amazing was that in place of efficiency there was empathy. There was a quality of relationality that he’s able to look right into her heart and to say who touched me. And the disciples, being very efficient said but Lord, we’re being practical people. You’re being surrounded by people who are crowding in upon you, but you’re recognising something that we don’t understand. And of course, it was his recognition of her inner needs that really transformed her life.

And one of the things that most helps others when we are mentoring them is that we’re able to enter into their situation and almost to intuit what their need is and act accordingly. So yes, we keep protesting we have to be practical. We have to be sensible. We have to recognise that time matters. But there’s a sense in which sometimes time does not matter. What matters most of all is have we broken off an opportunity for a relationship that we should have had. So thank you for that very important question that we’ve raised.

Well, to return to the great classic of Jacques Ellul, it was The Technological Society, which he wrote in 1947, just after the war. In French, it’s called La Technique. For he was talking not so much about the society that was technicalised, but the technique that was doing it. And of course, he puts a lot of weight on this word technique or [techne 00:03:21]. He’s going to draw out from it much more than simply the innocence of saying well, what is a technique? It’s a method. It’s an instrument. But what he means by technique is the totality of methods that are rationally arrived at and that have absolute efficiency in a given stage of development in every field of human activity. As I may repeat that: the totality of methods [rationally arrived at 00:03:58] and having absolute sufficiency in a given stage of development.


He’s telling us five things. He’s telling us that it’s total. It comprises the whole of our consciousness. It’s universal. It’s what’s led to globalisation as we’re now seeing it today. It’s activity in the broadest sense of the word. It’s rationally arrived at. It’s the product of the human mind and it claims absolute efficiency. So you were right to ask the question at this moment. Let’s look at all these in turn.

First, techne is totality. So the first sentence of his book is, ‘No social, human or spiritual fact is so important as the fact of technique in the modern world.’ And so he sees that the totality is that it has burst upon human history like a kind of star of Bethlehem. It’s created a whole new world for us. It’s a kind of pseudo-incarnation. History has changed course because of it. And so what’s the evidence for this? Well, look at the difference between the landscape of Aquitaine, or indeed of Holland in the 12th century and you’re beginning to see a few evidences. You’re seeing windmills. You’re beginning to see hydraulic pumps. It’s the beginning of a landscape change. So as you move into the 14th century, you’re seeing that now there are windmills scattered over the skyline of Holland much more than ever before. Or you think of the clock. You think of the chronometer and so on you go. And you realise how even navigation was transformed when we started using chronometric time for navigation. Yes, there have been very powerful changes in the past, but overwhelmingly so today we can’t move a step without using something that’s techne.

Secondly, Ellul speaks of its universality. It’s in the language we use. It’s in the mindset that we have. We’re brainwashed by it. And the most important question that was ask is how do we do it? This is the most important word that we use in our vocabulary: how? That was different yesterday. Yesterday, it was much more who? Who was important? Who was influential? Who were we related to? Yesterday, mystery was much more apparent, but when you turn on the electric light, there are no longer any pools of darkness. There’s not the spluttering candle that once only gave illumination for one small part of the room. The whole of reality is now artificially lit up with neon lighting. You might say it’s neon lighting that suffuses the whole of the firmament of our consciousness. Our minds have changed. We have no more space for mystery.


The irony is however that to be effective, to be efficient, is to be a steward of time. And of course, there was a time when this was a good stewardship as it was in the Reformation and especially in the Calvinist heritage of John Calvin himself. And so we remember how it was Weber who spoke about the founding of capitalism as a Protestant ethic, a Protestant work ethic, that when Calvin was seeking for a plain meaning of scripture, he was also being efficient and effective in how we communicate language. Now we have exactitude. But now exactitude is a god. It’s taken the place of the glory of God. So that when you get George Herbert saying that he who sweeps this room as for Thy sake doth it and the action clean, he’s not talking about having a vacuum cleaner come and do it. He’s talking about his own motive for doing it. But the vacuum cleaner is not interested in the glory of God. Doing it like a dear servant is a very, very different attitude.

And so I had the commendation given to me by my son as a teenager when I was going through a period of imprisonment within Regent. And he said dad, if they make you the lavatory cleaner in the lavatories, you’ll still stay at Regent. And I said yes, I will. Because God had given me that freedom to know that having a heavenly vision meant that you could do whatever you did on Earth and it really didn’t matter what it was. If it was for His glory, that’s what [would 00:10:37] count.