"Transhumanism and the Image of God" by Jacob Shatzer. A Book Review

Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today's Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship
Jacob Shatzer
IVP Academic
InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515
ISBN: 978-0-8308-5250-5; April 2019; $22.00
5 Stars of 5

With the growing matrix of social media, artificial intelligence, robotics, and prosthetic enhancements, people should be asking all types of questions. And they are, just not always the right ones. Some are asking “What more can be done?” while others are inquiring “What should be done?” Jacob Shatzer, assistant professor and associate dean in the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, ordained Southern Baptist minister and author, addresses more of the “What is going on, why, and how are we to rightly engage?” queries in his new 192 page softback: “Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today's Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship.” Shatzer focuses on technological advances, the thinking going on among transhumanists and posthumanists, and searches out ways for Christians to decrypt the ought from the is. He writes for a broad spectrum of interested people, and those who should be interested.

The main concept running through “Transhumanism and the Image of God” is that we humans make tools, and then tools make us. We construct technological tackling and it in turn molds our perceptions and directions. Which means that technologies are “shaping us. And shaping people, after all, is just another way of talking about discipleship” (8). Therefore, “part of responsible, wise, faithful use of tools is analyzing the ways that certain tools shape us to see the world in certain ways, and then to ask whether those ways are consistent with the life of a disciple of Christ” (7). Thus, the author argues “that Christians must engage today’s technology creatively and critically in order to counter the ways technologies tend toward a transhuman future…Human making is happening, and technology is a powerful part of that making, sneaking its values into us at almost every turn” (11).

The first half of the book pointedly examines the issue. In these first five chapters the author explains what transhumanism is and how it undergirds a posthumanist aim. He unpacks the various pedigrees and personalities that formed transhumanism and where they are (from Google to Facebook and beyond). He looks into several of their tenets, where they are beneficial and how they are problematic. Shatzer also attends to the transhumanist notion of morphological freedom, which “means the ability to take advantage of whatever technology a person wants to in order to change their body in any way they desire” (56). This momentum continues, progressing to the place where the human and machine merge bringing humans to augmented reality as well as to potential mind clones.

The author perceives that many of these aspects are already in their early stages, and we are unthoughtfully employing them from our smartphones to our newest cutting-edge gadgets. Therefore, Shatzer helpfully works through each item, and after explaining them and their advantageous uses, thoughtfully works around how we should think about these advances and changes, and where we should go; “If we want technology to serve the community, then, it must be useful to move people toward the ultimate good not defined by technology itself” (35). He further moves, in the last five chapter, to guiding the reader to a more critical position by asking important questions, such as what is real, where is real, who is real, and am I real? I appreciated how the author exposes the clearly gnostic underpinnings that flow through our technological advances – the desire to transcend the body because it is expendable – and he grounds our rightful concerns and corrections in the incarnation: “The doctrine of the incarnation shows us why full, embodied humanity is the goal, and the importance of this doctrine warns us of danger in embracing a version of humanity that rejects “in the body.” Jesus’ physical presence is foundational” (122). The book, and especially the concluding chapter, offers multiple suggestions on ways to manage technological uses in a reader’s life.

“Transhumanism and the Image of God” is neither shrill nor panic-stricken. The author helps the readers to keep their heads about them while seriously engaging technology, transhumanists and posthumanism. Clear and comprehensible, Shatzer makes a solid case, and gives sound counsel. This volume is ideal for Christians involved with IT (which is almost everyone I know!). If you have a smartphone, iphone, android, ipad, laptop, tablet, etc. you should pick up a copy and make it a reading priority. I highly recommend this book.

My thanks to IVP Academic for sending, at my request, a copy of the book used for this review. They asked nothing in exchange other than my honest opinion. And so all of the thoughts and remarks are mine, freely given and freely bestowed.

A copy of the book can be purchased at: https://www.ivpress.com/transhumanism-and-the-image-of-god


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