Why Read (and Discuss) Steve Jobs?

Of course there are a lot of reasons a person might want to read a biography one of the greatest innovators of a generation. But why discuss a book about Steve Jobs at a church like The Crossing (which is exactly what we’re doing tonight)?

Is it because most of our staff likes Apple products? Or maybe we just want to associate ourselves with the company’s hip factor? Well, no.   

We do, however, want to engage broader cultural ideas, issues, and events, as well as the people associated with them, from a biblical, gospel-driven perspective. With that in mind, it more than makes sense to consider the life of a man like Steve Jobs, the architect of the world’s most valuable company and a major impetus behind the products that have made a deep cultural impact both here and around the world.

Because the Bible clearly teaches that God liberally dispenses his gifts to the whole of humanity and not just those inside the church, it’s always worth looking for the ways in which his “common grace” appears. This means we’ll want to be alert for what we might learn from and appreciate in those around us, even as we also consider what may need to be questioned or constructively critiqued. 

Yet another value of a book like Steve Jobs and good biographies in general is that they remind us of the foundational truth that everyone is a mixed bag. Famous and historical figures tend to be known primarily for either their positive or negative traits. But a sustained look at their lives makes the picture more complete and tempers our tendency to see people as either goats or heroes, fools or wise men, sinners or saints.

With that general framework in mind, here are at least three of the more specific themes that jumped out at me from reading the book:

1. The Arts and Sciences.

Throughout his life, Jobs was driven by the idea of integrating technology and artistic expression. Not only Apple’s products, but also its stores, headquarters, advertising, and even packaging evidenced an emphasis on design. In this, I think Jobs intuitively understood the reality that human beings are hardwired for beauty and creativity. From a biblical viewpoint, this fact is the result of being made in the image of one who not only creates, but also takes delight in what he has made. 

I won’t be the first to suggest that this emphasis on the aesthetic has been a huge reason for Apple’s success. This, in turn, raises the question of how the artistic dimension of human beings has been undervalued in other facets of life, including the ministry of the church. How might thinking aesthetically positively affect our worship, communication, architecture, evangelism, teaching, etc.?

2. “Good” simplicity is hard, but worth it.   

Jobs also had a high value on making things functionally simple and intuitive. This led to any number of user-friendly products and inventive designs—for example, the wheel on an iPod. But it wasn’t always easy to get there. It took an even greater grasp of a goal and problems associated with it to come up with the final solution. The result: products that people found attractive because they not only worked well, but also were approachable and understandable. One anecdote in the book tells of an illiterate six year old in Bogota easily grasping the basic workings of an iPad.

Once again, this raises an interesting question for the church. In what ways do we need to pursue this hard won simplicity? If memory serves, no less a theologian than John Calvin once said that he studied to be simple. This of course isn’t to be confused with being simplistic. But some situations demand even greater understanding and insight in order to communicate simply, clearly, and deeply—as anyone who has attempted to explain important theological concepts to preschoolers already knows. Or think about communicating the gospel to people with no church background or general understanding of Christian beliefs. And how might this idea have a positive effect on the experience of new people attending a church? A “studied simplicity” is often a way we can love and serve our neighbor. 

3. Reality wins in the end.

Jobs was well known for what colleagues called his “reality distortion field.” Among other things, this trait made him virtually refuse to acknowledge whatever might serve as a challenge or impediment—time constraints, design problems, or even people, etc.—to the things he wanted to take place. As a result, he often propelled others to great results, results they might have initially thought impossible. Jobs and Apple continually produced the spectacular. 

Such accomplishment, it must be said, could engender hubris in anyone. It would be easy to begin thinking that one didn’t have to play by the normal rules or meet the expectations of others. This certainly seems to have been the case with Jobs at times. But reality—God’s reality, that is—has a way of winning in the end, of reminding us of our smallness and inadequacy, and, when all is said and done, that we’re not the ultimate masters of our fate. In regard to Jobs’ life, a few of these things come through the narrative of the book, the most obvious of which was his experience with cancer. 

………

There are certainly other worthy topics and principles to be found in the book, whether they touch on business, technology, creativity, family life, or even Job’s religious views. And if nothing else, Steve Job’s life and work illustrates the fact that our world is constantly changing, offering new opportunities and new challenges to people who have placed their hope in an a beautifully unchanging gospel.

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