Theological Early Adopters

Posted on July 18, 2012


An Early Adopter (a term usually used with regard to users of technology) is

…an early customer of a given company, product, or technology; in politics, fashion, art, and other fields, this person would be referred to as a trendsetter. Typically this will be a customer who, in addition to using the vendor’s product or technology, will also provide considerable and candid feedback to help the vendor refine its future product releases, as well as the associated means of distribution, service, and support.”

Early adoption does come with pitfalls: early versions of products may be buggy and/or prone to malfunction (such as the Commodore 64 or Xbox 360) or prematurely obsolete (8 track tapes, Betamax, HD DVD). Furthermore, more efficient, and sometimes less expensive, versions of the product usually appear a few months after the initial release (Apple iPhone). The trend of new technology costing more at release is colloquially referred to as the “early adopter tax”.

(taken from Wikipedia entry)

Being an early adopter has risks. Products may not have all the bugs worked out yet. It is much safer to be part of the “early majority” or the “late majority” because you get a product that is safe, reliable, tested, and already in use by a large section of the population.

I think the idea of early adopters can be applied to our understanding of Christ as well. The 12 disciples were early adopters. So too was the reformer Martin Luther, the abolitionist William Wilberforce , Dorothy Day, Martian Luther King Jr. Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and Fred Rogers.

It is easy to look back on these people who have been affirmed by history and tell ourselves that if we had been there we, like them, would have adopted their ideas. But we wouldn’t have. More than likely we would have been on the other side of things. We would have waited until the bugs were worked out. We are happy to let others do the heavy lifting and take the brunt of the push back. Many of us are perfectly happy with the way things are. The rotary telephone and the KJB is all we need. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

The trick is, knowing when to be an early adopter and when to wait. The Christian tradition to which I belong is more reactive, hesitant, and conservative in this regard. Personally, my disposition is one of theological flexibility and I am willing to try something out even before all the bugs are worked out. I don’t want to look back and be like the Christian who told civil rights leaders, “Slow down, you’re asking for too much.” Or like the people who believed the scientific studies that said that women were, by their nature, not as good at mathematics or logic.

What is the Holy Spirit doing that I might need to be an early adopter? Homosexual equality? Climate change? The death penalty? Wars around the world? The reinvention of institutional hierarchy within the church? The return of meditative Christian practices to mainstream culture? I honestly don’t know. But I know that if I wait too long to jump on board with what the Holy Spirit is doing there is only one name for me: laggard.

Photo: waywuwei

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