Innovation and Christianity

SONY DSCDuring my time at SxSW, a common theme throughout the conference was the need for two things – innovation and good design. Innovation is needed to create unique solutions to longstanding, complicated problems. Good design (be it for web sites, products, or software) is essential for the user adoption of any new tool. People generally are hesitant to adopt things that are hard to use. When we do use products that are onerous, the result is generally a high number of complaints and a low amount of productivity. Indeed – the ability for us to solve of many of the problems we face in the future is dependent on innovative minds and good design. With that in mind, it occurred to me that there is one group who should be particularly well-equipped to come up with innovative solutions that are expressed with well-thought out design – Christians. Now I know most people don’t associate a religion that goes back more than two millennia with cutting edge solutions. This is especially true with fact that many believe that to be a Christian requires a person to be anti-science or anti-technology. Let me explain…

New innovations, like a work of art, reflect the mindset of the person (or people) who created it. To be innovative and to produce well-designed products, it is necessary for the creator to have a certain perspective of the world around him. A certain mindset is required. In order to be a person who is innovative, one must be able to see unique connections between disparate things. One must also be able to understand how different things work, not so much on a technical level, but moreso in the sense of cause and effect. While a technical solution may not be transferable from one problem to another, the cause and effect relationship between things is frequently transferable from across many types of problems, regardless of the technology. While these skills are critical to innovation, I would propose that there is a perspective that is more important than both of these skills to having an innovative mindset. That perspective is optimism. Without optimism, I would argue that it is impossible to be innovative. One has to believe that the problems they are facing are solvable. In addition, they have to believe that THEY are capable of solving these problems. One must have an optimistic (not unrealistic) outlook towards mankind and the future. Without this, few concepts would every get off the drawing board. The Christian faith is hardwired for an optimistic outlook towards the future. It is key to the Christian outlook that we live in a fallen world, separated from God, and that mankind is incapable of rescuing himself from his condition. It is also fundamental to the Christian understanding that through Christ’s death on the cross, we are not bound by sin and salvation is available. In addition to salvation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit means that God is actively building His kingdom on earth today. This is a cause for great optimism that should shape the world-view of every Christian.

Just as an optimistic mind is necessary for innovation, empathy is necessary for good design. A good design can be generally described as the successful solution to a problem face by an end user or group. In order to come up with a solution for someone, a designer needs to understand the problem. This is what the area of design research is all about. Taking the time find out as much as possible about the all factors associated with problem you design is trying to solve. In addition, design research should also focus on the end user. It should identify the problems, concerns, and priorities of the people who will be using the product or service being designed. While a solid understanding of both the design problem at hand and the end user are critical to good design, I would argue that empathy is the most important factor. Hours upon hours of field research mean little if the designer does not care about the end-users’ plight. There must be a genuine concern for the end-user, born out of an effort to see the world from their point of view. This kind of compassion for others is fundamental to the tenants of Christianity. This is clear in Scripture from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapter 5 (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”) to the many examples of Jesus healing people, such as his encounter with the possessed man in Mark, Chapter 5 (“Jesus did not let him, but sad, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you’” – Mark 5:19).

So why isn’t the Church a hotbed of innovation?  Or are there key examples of innovation within the Christian community? Share your thoughts in the comments…

4 thoughts on “Innovation and Christianity

  1. “So why isn’t the Church a hotbed of innovation? ”

    Simple, because many Christians, cannot embrace/reconcile science and their religious beliefs.

    • No doubt, dealing with the sometimes conflicting perspectives of modern science and Christianity can be daunting, especially for maturing Christians.
      That issue aside, is innovation directly tied to science?
      Put differently, is the ability to create something unique, original, and world-changing always tied to the prescribed application of science?

      • In early Christian history, science and religion were two sides of the same coin. Scientist and men of the cloth embraced both pholosophies as methods to reach a common goal: understanding the world we live in. I hate the battle that exists today. They both seek to disprove one another. I believe they compliment each other like in the past. Scientific method certainly provides a better platform to nurture innovation. That isn’t a knock against the contemporary church. Science is based on what you can prove. Faith is based on belief in something you can’t prove.

  2. Being an innovator and growing up in the church, I have had my struggles with being a Christian and using my gift as an innovator. Before I continue, I must say that God was not the problem. God is very “smart” – he created all things and set it all in motion as if it were one ginormous machine. .
    People are amazing too, however we are all limited in both capacity and perspective. For example… It was in church I was taught “I can do all things through Christ”, but at the same time inventing something or choosing a technical profession was seen “by some people” as trying to out do what God created. In my professional circle, I’ve seen technical progress slowed because a few self proclaimed scientific experts did not except the new idea because they didn’t think of it first -or- there was no prior scientific understanding to prove such a thing was possible. These examples, which I’ve seen repeated numerous times and places, all point to limitations placed by people and not God, the church, or science.
    These days, I talk to God for myself, read and study the Bible and continue to learn about the latest in science. From the perspective of an innovator – Doing this free’s my mind from the limitations placed by myself and “people”. Knowing Christ for myself is like the “limit-breaker” on what I believe is possible. Once I have the vision of what to invent the science catches up to “fill in” the details. Or it happens the other way around – a scientific principle is understood first and then a new device is envisioned based on that principle. Usually, a team is involved and everyone holds a different piece of the puzzle.

    This next paragraph is addressed to TO THE CHRISTIAN READERS===
    The Lord has been stern with me lately in regards to developing the innovations that He brings to my mind. I have dared asked or thought “what does this innovation have to do with building the kingdom?” and “I know this will work, but I’m not smart enough or I don’t know enough about this field”.
    His reply:
    – Silence
    – “I told you to do it, don’t ask me why”
    – “I’m not limited by YOUR limitations”
    – “I want you to build this because there is something I want you to see”

    There have been other replies but in short I realize that I’m not subject to man in innovating new ideas. I have to answer to the Lord on what I do or don’t do with the gifts He gives me. You may never know the impact you make by being obedient.

    Final comment: “So why isn’t the Church a hotbed of innovation? ”
    – I believe the Church will be a hotbed of innovation, that time is coming soon.

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