by Steve Byrnes
What does Steve Jobs have to do with Lutheran Theology? Very little. But that won’t stop me from trying to make a connection.
The only immediate connection I saw was that he was raised in a Lutheran church as a boy, but left very early. At the end of his life, he was quoted as saying happily, ‘Oh Wow!’ Those were his last words and I place my hope in his baptism.
Recently, I read Steve Jobs’ biography by Isaacson. It’s a fantastic read if you go in for those things. And even if you don’t, Apple’s founder has had such a profound influence on the world, I still recommend it.
The big argument weaving through the book is whether integrated or open design is a better paradigm for complex items like computers.
The difference between the two paradigms is expressed in the rocky relationship between two of the most influential men from our day, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and the companies they created, Apple and Microsoft.
Steve Jobs went for an end-to-end solution, where software and hardware were designed together in an almost seamless fashion, concentrating on the user’s experience (from the way components were made down to the advertising, packaging, the sales person and store) and working toward simplification with no extra parts.
Steve was an artist, a controller who wanted every aspect of his vision realized and used computer parts, designers and programmers as his medium. He lived at the intersection of technological challenge and the humanities, refusing to compromise until he felt that the compromise was an improvement.
Any addition or subtraction by a third party (including the user) was trouble and was to be avoided or heavily controlled, if possible, in order to present his art unblemished.
He wanted people to do things and make things without the distraction of the inner workings of the tools and enforced his philosophy at Apple with vigor.
Bill Gates is a business person. He focused on software and built Microsoft. Everybody knows about the ubiquity of Windows and Office and, if it was simply a war for market penetration in the PC world, Gates won hands down. Microsoft products work (more or less) on just about any modern hardware. They dominated with their operating system and then let vendors handle computer manufacture, sales of products and whatnot, also encouraging third party developers to partner with Microsoft on applications.
Which is better? If you want freedom to mess with your computer, Apple is probably not your brand. If you want the freedom to have a great experience doing what you do best (while Apple does what it does best) Apple may be a great choice.
Getting To The Point
So, I started to think about Christianity and how these two approaches, one a design philosophy and one a business strategy affect my overall understanding of what we are doing at NRP.
I’m influenced by both men. I’m convinced that Americans, to a man, for better or for worse, are inveterate pragmatists. Some of Gates’ approach appeals to this side of me. EESH!
Death by Analogy
I guess God agrees with Bill Gates too; He just started with the hardware instead of the software. Or maybe he went ‘Bill Gates’ after the fall. You be the judge.
God created the universe. His fingerprints are all over what He has made, and on top of that He gave us a book about Himself and what He has made and became one of us. The whole created order, which includes revealing Himself in the Bible and even becoming a man in the person of Jesus is the hardware part of the analogy.
The design is open because we then, as the users, get to create all kinds of software and even whole operating systems in the form of different philosophies and theologies and political structures, to work with the hardware and, like products from Microsoft, they work (more or less) because, ever since the garden and what happened there, our software/hardware design integrity has been a bit out of whack.
Before we wrecked it, you have God letting Adam name the animals, Eve, etc. ‘and whatever he called it, that was its name…’ Perfect integration!
So there are a lot of conflicting philosophies, probably as many as there are people, but they all are aimed at working on the same hardware we all share.
Even among Christians, who look to the Bible and Jesus as the focal point of the hardware (maybe that could be the processor, or is that too much?), there are significant disagreements and uses of texts. All Christians agree for the most part on the ‘Kernel’ of Christian theology which would be the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian). Even those Christians who say they don’t believe in creeds or are suspicious of them tend to agree with the individual propositions when they are presented.
Here’s the Apostles’ creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Pretty basic. If your operating system doesn’t build from these basic propositions found in Scripture, I would venture to say you are working with a different software entirely.
McChurch History (with Apologies to Silicon Valley)
Early on in the history of the Christian church, Rome was Microsoft and filled the land with its operating system.
The East got sick of the updates which caused some things to crash for them, so they split into another company based out of Constantinople in the middle of the 11th century. They’re still going today and they are big, but that’s a different story.
Going back over to the west and sticking with this analogy, Martin Luther and the German reformers of the 16th century would be software developers…
But they are more like Steve Jobs.
For these guys, getting back to the original design of the hardware when it came to Scripture involved working with ancient documents in the original languages (at that time recently available) and understanding what the Bible was saying (and how it disagreed with the abuses of Microsoft, er Rome).
The kernel of the creeds was left intact for the new system; the creeds represented battles hard won and, being Scriptural, were not a point of contention.
Once the Lutherans had their hands on the best version of the hardware scholarship could provide, they started reexamining how God had revealed Himself and the purpose of the revelation; they found the focus was Jesus and His good message: forgiveness of sins in His blood and liberty as sons for all who trust Him.
These German Christians then developed an operating system (now published as the Book of Concord) that integrated extremely well with the hardware of Scripture. It was so well designed, in fact, that from its inception, there have been very few updates or patches.
Way more like Apple.
There have been many competing theological operating systems since the 16th century Lutherans (including Trent) and those other systems tend to have more traction in the market than the Lutheran OS. This is another example, kind of like Apple and Microsoft, where the better product doesn’t win in the market for whatever reason.
And before you get upset with me, remember, we here are Lutherans.
But even with the software and hardware beautifully integrated in Lutheran Orthodoxy, and contrary to what most Lutherans seem to believe, Lutheranism is an open design. We would love individuals everywhere to check out the benefits of this OS and consider adopting it. It is open source (kind of like Linux) and available for download here at NRP. It has stood the test of time and the only thing we respectfully request is that you follow the principles of open source licensing and own any changes you make to it for the sake of avoiding confusion.
Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.
By Ted R