Jobs for Jesus? What Would a Christian Steve Jobs Look Like?

When I heard that Steve Jobs had passed away, the first person I asked for thoughts was Andy Crouch.  Jobs was clearly a “culture maker” in multiple senses, and Andy (author of Culture Making) has established himself as one of America’s preeminent commentators on Christian faith and the shaping, consumption, and especially the production of culture.  Presumably Andy was already putting his thoughts together, as he responded with this link and permission to reprint from his own site:

Steve Jobs was a supreme example of a culture maker.

He made cultural goods, in every sense of that word. “Real artists ship,” he famously told his engineers. Culture is only changed when you make more of it, and, boy, did Steve Jobs make more of it.

He pursued excellence, and in particular he pursued beauty. In every market Apple entered, it did things more cleanly, elegantly, and beautifully than its competitors. It’s not too much to credit Steve Jobs with the return of beauty to the center of our culture’s aspirations.

He built teams. Yes, by all accounts he could be an abrasive manager, to say the least (though one hears fewer stories of that from the last ten years, when Apple had been rescued from disaster and, perhaps, illness had chastened him in some ways). But he pulled together teams of 3, 12, and 120 that demonstrated tenacious loyalty and disciplined creativity in the otherwise fickle world of Silicon Valley. He was a celebrity, but he was not a rock star—he was a leader. That makes all the difference in the world.

But all this, and so much more, is fairly obvious. I think something less obvious will be Steve Jobs’s greatest legacy.

The most fundamental question of our technological age is this: Will technology make us more, or less, fully human?

Steve Jobs just may have decisively shifted the answer to that question. He embodied the hope that the answer is more.

The Mac was launched with this brilliant promise: “1984 won’t be like 1984.” Apple’s products respected human beings—their embodiment, their quest for beauty and meaning and even joy—in a way that their competitors’ did not. And Steve himself, who exuded calm and confidence and vision even while he stirred consumers to frenzies of desire and competitors to distraction, envy, and imitation, represented our vision of ourselves as we hope we can be: not slaves to technology, but free and creative users of it.

In this broken, beautiful world, there are no pure icons—but neither are there any completely empty idols. Apple’s bitten apple is not an icon—like all idols, the more fervent the worship the more it will disappoint. And yet, it is, and Steve Jobs was, a sign of something true and worth seeking: a fully human life. For all of us who seek that life, the only proper response to Steve Jobs’s extraordinary culture making is: thank you.

Excellent thoughts.  Jobs was a producer of cultural artifacts that have, in significant measure, defined a generation.  Some would argue that the products he created were works of art themselves — minimalistic, elegant, purist — but they also changed the ways in which we interact with art.  How we listen to music.  How we watch movies.  How we take and view photographs.  They changed, too, the ways in which we interact with one another.  Jobs was a visionary and a leader into a better version of the technological age.

Caption Contest in the Comments

I’ve often wondered: What would a Christian Steve Jobs look like?  If there is a young woman out there who yearns to be the next Steve Jobs, and yet to apply her creativity and passion to the service of the kingdom, what would her life and vocation look like?

One one level, it might not look that much different.  When we create products that people enjoy, products that enable people to enjoy one another and to work and to appreciate music in new ways, we’re participating in the redemption of creation.  A Christian Steve Jobs could reflect her faith simply in the excellence of her work and in her intent to make the world, one product at a time, a better place.  As Gregory Alan Thornbury writes, Jobs’ life is a kind of parable in the power of dreams, and we can all benefit from that parable.

But it could look different.  A young Christian woman with the creativity and drive of Steve Jobs could devote herself to developing technologies that provide clean drinking water for millions of people around the world — as my friend Steve Yencho has done at Water of Life.  Or she could produce an affordable car that gets 200 miles to the gallon.  Or she could produce a series of electronic goods that enable us to deepen our relationships with one another, to sustain those relationships over time, and to share the things that matter most to us — much like Steve Jobs did — all while modeling biblical forms of business leadership, providing meaningful employment for hundreds of thousands of people, using her platform to speak to the grace of God, and devoting her wealth (as Jobs also did) to worthy of causes.

We are the image-bearers of an endlessly creative God, a God who loves to make something out of nothing, order out of chaos, a garden out of a wilderness.  We are the image-bearers of a redeeming God, a God who works through the creativity of his creatures to make the world better and more beautiful and more abundant for his children.  When we create, we participate in the imago Dei, and we carry out our calling to tend the garden.  We can exercise our faith in countless ways, but there’s no question in my mind that some of what Steve Jobs did was redemptive.  And I’d love to see young men and women inspired by his example rising up today to direct the streams of their passions and ingenuity into serving the kingdom.


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  • Twolfgcd

    I don’t disagree with any of this. Jobs was all that you say. All I’d add is that he may have been involved in the redemption of creation, but I can only hope and pray he personally was involved with the redemption of the soul. The only real question that matters now is whether or not he knew Christ as his Savior and Lord. He may have left a technological legacy, but none of that ultimately matters in the end.

    • DougH

      That’s not quite the only real question, there’s also how did he demonstrate his knowledge of the Savior in the life that he lived. As Jesus says, it is those that do the will of the Father that enter the kingdom of heaven. I certainly don’t know Jobs well enough to know if his life exemplified that of a true Christian, but I’m (thankfully) not the Judge.

  • Something that seems to be ignored in all the adulation of Steve Jobs is that virtually all his products are manufactured in Chinese sweatshop compounds…

    Using your example, would it not have been wonderful if he had dedicated his genius to remaking US manufacturing?

  • Tim, I think you’re trying to be gracious and you sound like a genuine fellow but I think you’re asking the wrong questions.
    Look back on your blog and re-read it; look at all those personal pronouns: we, us, me, I, theirs. The first letter of Steve Jobs products is ‘i’ for a reason. What you’re writing has so many egocentric connotations. The culture Steve Jobs epitomised was a self-centred one about ‘my’ stuff, ‘my’ tunes, ‘my’ lists, me me me! Can’t you hear it in what you’re writing? You talk about the “streams of THEIR passions”. Surely it is about His passion, surely we died with Christ and we no longer live for ourselves. It’s not about me anymore. Tim, ask yourself: “where is the centre of my spirituality?” If it’s about my wishes and my desires and my creativity then it will always be bankrupt. I hate to speak so bluntly Tim when I don’t know you.
    I must admit, to me technology is ultimately dehumanising and tends to isolate people, destroy relationships and create warped communities. There is nothing redemptive about technology, save a very large hammer, three massive nails and 30 foot of rough timber.
    I question whether Steve Jobs should be a role model for someone who follows Jesus, or anyone for that matter. Steve Jobs did nothing redemptive. He could save no one and he could do nothing to save himself. It’s a heart-wrenching fact and I take no pleasure in it, but there it is. Why we would want to mimic a business leader is beyond me. There is only one imitation and that must be of Christ.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      If I were holding up Steve Jobs as a model, then I wouldn’t be asking what a Christian Steve Jobs would look like. I would just be lauding Steve Jobs.

      I believe that God gives us talents and passions and creativity that are to be used for his service, and technology can be an instrument in making the world hospitable to God’s creatures. There is something redemptive — not salvific, but redemptive — in the polio vaccine, for instance. I do believe that the ultimate good is a salvific relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lesser goods worth talking about.

      “There is only one imitation,” you write. Well, Paul encouraged his audience to imitate him as he imitated Christ. We need people who give flesh and blood to the Christian life for us. Steve Jobs was not that guy. But he did shape the culture in profound ways, and I hope that young believers can turn their creativity toward the goals of the kingdom.

      -Tim

  • Darren Sargent

    Tim,

    aren’t we just being jealous of Steve Jobs here? We want influence, we want sway with the world (which is not the same as a witness); we want another christian hero to boast about to the world. Well, Wilberforces don’t come along too often and when they do they are forged by God – not out of their own creativity.

    I suspect to ask, “What does a christian Steve Jobs look like?” is simply slapping a christian label on something that is simply worldly. And underneath that question is another one: how do we get that power and influence with the world? How can we be like the world and still be ‘christian’ and do ‘good’ things? The only result down that path is a humanitarian dominionist gospel with varying levels of goodness and redemption which will eventually debase the redemption of Christ and goodness of the Father, who is the only one who is good. We are not here to make the world a better place (though that may happen from time to time) or to shape culture or transform the world, we are here to reveal the mystery of God in Christ while the world in its present form is ‘going to hell in a cocked hat’.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      We’re just coming at this from fundamentally different theological positions, Darren. I do believe that we are called to shape the culture in redemptive ways, both as a part of our witness to the world and as participants in God’s restoration of all things. I believe we are here to give witness to the love of God primarily through the profession of the gospel and always also through works of love and service.

      I’m not looking for another Christian hero to boast about. But I *am* looking to encourage and equip young believers who can impact the world and advance the kingdom in positive ways. A Wilberforce is forged by God, but a Wilberforce can be nurtured and cultivated by the church. There’s nothing dominionist about wanting to make the world a better place.

      -Tim