Theological Reflection on Blockchain Revolution | How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World

Bitcoin has recently garnered a tremendous amount of attention, despite it having been around for nearly a decade. Momentous highlights include purchasing pizza with bitcoin as the first transaction completed to the Silk Road scandal where numerous illegal drugs were being sold.[1] However, bitcoin attracted the most attention once its market value surpassed $10000 skyrocketing to nearly $20000 in December 2017. More recently, the price has settled down close to $7000, as of the writing of this paper.[2] Despite the negative attention and skewed portrayal of bitcoin by the media, the underlying technology has largely been overlooked—i.e., the blockchain. In the recent book, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World, authors Don and Alex Tapscott explore the bigger implications behind bitcoin and blockchain technology.[3] In this paper, I will provide a critical review of the thesis discussed in Blockchain Revolution and offer additional reflections from a theological point-of-view.

Critical Book Review

Similar to bitcoin, the term blockchain has become overhyped that companies with no track record of any means to utilize or adopt the technology is adding blockchain to their names, triggering huge spikes in their stocks.[4] It is important to understand not only the difference in terminology but of function in order to fully grasp the opportunities and challenges this technology presents. The original intent of blockchain was to introduce a peer-to-peer electronic cash system utilizing digital coins, or bitcoin.[5] This new protocol was first outlined by a pseudonymous author, Satoshi Nakamoto. This protocol allows individuals to send payments to one another without having to go through a third party, such as a financial institution, utilizing encryption or cryptography. The distributed, public ledger upholds the integrity of all transactions and relies on the consensus of the majority, rather than a select few. The blockchain forms as transactions in a block are verified by a node in the network, which is then immutable, linking to the following block, forming a chain. While this is a grotesquely oversimplified version of the technology, its premise is simple: “[blockchains] enable us to send money directly and safely from me to you, without going through a bank, a credit card company, or PayPal.”[6]

The implication of this technology is massive and undated, a protocol that “enables mere mortals to manufacture trust through clever code.”[7] The public perception and trust in centralized institutions is quickly fading beginning with the 2008 financial crash to the recent massive data breaches. This ‘Trust Protocol,’ as Don and Alex Tapscott phrase it, is the culmination of technologic development over the recent decades, from the inception of the World Wide Web to the current Internet of Things (IoT). “We believe the truth can set us free and distributed trust will profoundly affect people in all walks of life.”[8]

The most prominent and widely discussed application of this technology is with the financial sector. Much of the news is focused on how much bitcoin and cryptocurrency is being traded for, however this only scratches the surface. Because of the disruptive nature of the technology, those who hold the majority of the wealth are concerned and are seeking ways to safeguard the $100 trillion global economy by creating private or permissioned blockchains.[9] The blockchain will challenge the financial industry because of improved attestation, cost, speed, risk management, value innovation, and open source.[10] Financial intermediaries are no longer the gatekeepers to verify one’s identity or establish trust and there are substantially reduced costs and greatly improved speeds to execute transactions. Financial institutions are already adopting this technology internally and “could eventually use it to replace traditional exchanges and centralized markets, upending how we define and trade value.”[11] Influential stakeholders are attempting to keep their walls up, however,

“[whereas] the old world was hierarchical, slow-moving, reluctant to change, closed and opaque, and controlled by powerful intermediaries, the new order will be flatter, offering a peer-to-peer solution; more private and secure; transparent, inclusive, and innovative.”[12]

An example of this new order is Consensus Systems (ConsenSys), founded by Joseph Lubin in 2014. ConsenSys is a company that runs on the Ethereum platform[13] and functions like a holacracy, “a collaborative rather than hierarchical process for defining and aligning work to be done.”[14] The platform allows for members to own a stake in projects, incentivizing collaborative behavior. The eventual goal is to build a “decentralized autonomous organization owned and controlled by its nonhuman value creators, governed through smart contracts rather than human agency.” When asked about the risk of removing human agency in decision making, Lubin comments that his concern is not for machine intelligence as humans will evolve alongside it, or even if it surpasses humans, it will operate in a different ecological niche.[15] The blockchain allows firms to shift from vertical hierarchies to horizontal networks, connecting those on a global scale. The vision Lubin describes is that, “Global human society can now agree on the truth and make decisions in ten minutes, or ten seconds. This surely creates an opportunity to have a more enfranchised society… The greater the engagement, the greater the prosperity.”[16]

Don and Alex Tapscott also explore the wider applications of blockchain technology from the development of decentralized applications in forming new business models to the Ledger of Things connecting the IoT. While we are currently beginning to scrape the surface of smart objects such as home thermostats and wearable technology, the near future will unfold to all these objects being able to communicate and transact with one another through the blockchain. Carlos Moreria, CEO of WISeKey, states “We are moving into another world where the trust is delegated at the object level. An object that is not trusted will be rejected by the other objects automatically without having to check with a central authority… This is a huge paradigm shift that has tremendous consequences in the way that processes will be conducted in the years to come.”[17]

Another major impact of blockchain is the disruption of the prosperity paradox—while the global economy is growing, the scales of inequality are as well. The Global South has typically favored being anonymous to their corrupt government officials, however, new digital identities and inclusion into the vast economic network will allow for a more balanced opportunity for those in developing countries.[18] Remittances account for a large flow of capital for developing countries, however, the industry has been plagued by high fees, slow transactions, and corruption to name a few of the challenges. New companies such as Abra or Stellar are focusing on banking the unbanked and overcoming these hurdles through the blockchain.[19] The benefits and opportunities are not limited to the economic sphere but can radically change governments to form new models of democracies as well as the arts, giving power back to content creators rather than the centralized intermediaries.

While the opportunities and possibilities of blockchain technology seem limitless, there are inherent risks and challenges as well. Some of the more apparent ones we are facing already are large consumptions of energy, government restrictions, and criminal use. There are technical hurdles impeding greater mass adoption, the fear of job loss, and a lack of a strong enough incentive to collaborate. The possibility of a Skynet where machines become fully autonomous is no longer that of science-fiction, but much more of a possible reality.[20]

The Tapscotts acknowledge that “[the] debate over technological innovation and progress is an ancient one: Is the tool good or bad? Does it advance the human condition or degrade it?”[21] They conclude that “[technology] does not have agency. It does not want for anything or have an inclination one way or the other.” Rather, the harmful use of any technology “speaks more to the lack of strong governance, regulation, advocacy, and education than to its underlying virtues.”[22] Therefore, Don and Alex Tapscott are calling forth leaders from all industries—governments, venture capitalists, developers, academics, nongovernment organizations—to form what they call global solution networks (GSNs).[23] These GSNs are not controlled by states or state-based institutions, but involve a plurality of stakeholders, working together on and with blockchain, “pushing us inexorably into a new era, predicated on openness, merit, decentralization, and global participation.”[24]

A Theological Reflection

Blockchain Revolution contains bold implications and bright promises for the future. It is undeniable how revolutionary the technology is and while the authors do introduce some precautions to take, there may be even greater unintended consequences society ought to embrace for. It is apparent that in the call for global stakeholders to participate in the formation of the new world order, there is no mention for religious leaders or philosophers to contribute, which is not surprising at all. While there have been cases made that scientific experimentation and technological innovation birth from a Judeo-Christian principle and accelerated even more so from the Protestant Reformation, it is clear that society has moved on well passed these older premises. Regarding technological innovation, Professor of History and Economics, David Landes states, “Success bred imitation and emulation; also a sense of power that would in the long run raise men almost to the level of gods.”[25] Lewis Mumford corroborates this point in saying, “Mechanics became the new religion, and it gave to the world a new Messiah: the machine.”[26] What motivated the development of new technologies in the past and continues to do so today is the close link with economic profit.[27] The early conversations of bitcoin and blockchain revolved around tech geeks or the dark web; however, once Wall Street developed a universally positive opinion of blockchain and its role in finance in 2015, did the rest of the world begin to take interest.[28]

Why this is concerning is not because there is a need to refer back to a metaphysical or religious explanation, but because of the tremendous insight previous philosophers and religious thinkers provided in the direction of technology.[29] While Don and Alex Tapscott do make a point about technology’s lack of agency in regards to the negative use of it by humans, they are making a critical flaw in treating blockchain as a neutral agent. Twentieth-century philosopher, Martin Heidegger argues, “we are delivered over to [technology] in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.”[30] Joe Lubin’s perspective on the evolution of machine intelligence and his claim that it would “occupy a different ecological niche” is limited when considered against Neil Postman’s argument that “[technological change] is ecological… One significant change generates total change… Therefore, when an old technology is assaulted by a new one, institutions are threatened. When institutions are threatened, a culture finds itself in crisis.”[31] While there have been technological innovations that disrupted societies throughout the centuries, there has been none to the scale of blockchain technology. Adding further complication to this matter is the effect technology has on one’s consciousness, as discussed by sociologist and theologian, Peter Berger. Technological production is not just limited to those who are directly involved in the industry, but it has formed the consciousness of modern society affecting the way we view the world, one another, and even ourselves.[32]

The conundrum of blockchain technology and the new age it is ushering in is that it has been long awaited for by the technological wave unleashed centuries before. It is the capstone of all innovations prior, “utilizing the machine to make the world more perfect: the machine was the substitute for… the Christian ideals of grace and redemption.”[33] All the inventions of the past along with the cultural transformations that took place surrounding it “had at last formed a complex social and ideological network, capable of supporting the vast weight of the machine and extending its operations still further.”[34] This is seen with the possibility of connecting the IoT through the distributed network, allowing for autonomous agents to communicate and transact with one another, greatly improving efficiency, speed, and costs. The blockchain is also the epitome of the network described by Francis Fukuyama in his 1998 work, The Great Disruption.[35] Fukuyama was already aware twenty years prior that “there has been substantial pressure to decentralize, federalize, privatize, and delegate authority.”[36] He writes, “If we understand a network not as a type of formal organization, but as social capital, we will have much better insight into what a network’s economic function really is. By this view, a network is a moral relationship of trust.”[37] Fukuyama understood that “it is hard to turn ideas into wealth in the absence of social connectedness, which in the age of the Internet still requires something more than bandwidth and high-speed connectivity.”[38] The decentralized, privatized, delegated authority that functions based on social capital eliminating the need for trust, fulfilling what the Internet age has lacked, this very something is the blockchain.

The blockchain revolution in this sense has even bigger implications than what Don and Alex Tapscott propose. It is not just a new technological invention to allow peer-to-peer transactions, but with its disruption of institutions, it will disrupt cultures and consciousness on a global scale as never seen before. The possibilities of new technologies forming with and through the blockchain is no longer science-fiction. Amidst this revolution, is ironically the fate of Christian religion, which debatably gave birth to this behemoth. While it is tempting to retreat to some form of romanticism and recover the past, 20th century German Catholic priest, Romano Guardini would suggest one ought to fully understand, acknowledge, and accept this new world.[39] French philosopher and lay theologian, Jacques Ellul, takes this concept even further claiming that “[Christians] must not weaken the opposition that exists between the Christian faith, the claims of revelation, and life in the world and its demands, its faults, and its compromises.”[40] He calls for the critical position of the laymen, essential to both the church and the world, who “ought to place himself at the point of contact between two currents: the will of the Lord, and the will of the world.”[41] “Thus it is not for us to construct the City of God, to build up an ‘order of God’ within this world, without taking any notice of its suicidal tendencies. Our concern should be to place ourselves at the very point where this suicidal desire is most active, in the actual form it adopts, and to see how God’s will of preservation can act in this given situation.”[42]

While the Christian claims that it is only through Jesus we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free,[43] there is a direct contender to this truth, the Trust Protocol. It would be foolish to dismiss blockchain technology despite its suicidal tendencies, even from a Christian perspective. The possibilities of connecting the Global South and reaching diasporas is unprecedented with blockchain technology, a relevant concern for missiology and the church. The benefits of distributing wealth and economic inclusion for the billions of people in extreme poverty as well as uplifting those in corrupt governments should be celebrated by Christians. It is a critical opportunity to be in the middle of this disruption to not only provide social and economic relief, but to provide a transcendent meaning as well. Perhaps the attitude is not to be overtly against this new era, despite its many alarming signs, but to be God’s salt, light, and sheep amongst wolves where it seems most needed.[44] It seems the world will continue along its path without inviting religious leaders and thinkers a seat at the table and perhaps rightfully so because their discourse is becoming more irrelevant. However, this may be a call for the lay leaders to walk outside the comforting walls of churches and old traditions and engage with the wolves of this world. “Of course [a Christian] can always immerse himself in good works and pour out his energy in religious or social activities, but all this will have no meaning unless he is fulfilling the only mission with which he has been charged by Jesus Christ, which is first of all to be a sign.”[45]

Debates about the value of bitcoin have been longstanding and ongoing, with predictions of its monetary value increasing well over $20000 in 2018. What is less debatable is the inherent value and the simultaneous disruption of value itself blockchain will have in the near future. The impact this technology will make will affect all verticals, all industries, including the church. Heidegger describes the essence of technology as enframing, a challenging forth, a revealing,[46] which blockchain will do first and foremost in the financial sector, along with governments and nongovernmental organizations, music artists and videographers, developers and coders, networks and individual consciousness, and the local and global church. “Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it. But human reflection can ponder the fact that an all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it.”[47]

This is the time when a collective effort is needed to reflect on the implications the blockchain revolution will have on the world. While there is a call for global leaders to collaborate, how will the global church respond to such a massive paradigm shift? Will the church continue to operate as siloed, centralized institutions amidst a changing landscape? Will global Christians be able to find consensus and be on the frontiers of great disruption? Or will Christians become largely irrelevant as the religion of the machine reigns?

The blockchain revolution has only begun.

[1] Marco Santori, “Silk Road Goes Dark: Bitcoin Survives Its Biggest Market’s Demise,” accessed April 9, 2018.

[2] Based on

[3] Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World (New York: Portfolio, 2016).

[4] Fitz Tepper, “SEC warns against public companies adding blockchain to their name,” accessed April 9, 2018.

[5] Satoshi Nakamoto, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” accessed April 9, 2018.

[6] Tapscott, 6.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Ibid., 7.

[9] Ibid., 55, 67.

[10] Tapscott, 58–60.

[11] Ibid., 60.

[12] Ibid., 86.

[13] Ethereum is a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third-party interference. See

[14] Tapscott, 88.

[15] Ibid., 91.

[16] Tapscott, 89.

[17] Ibid., 154.

[18] Ibid., 174.

[19] See and

[20] Tapscott, 253–76.

[21] Ibid., 277.

[22] Ibid., 276.

[23] Ibid., 283–300.

[24] Ibid., 310.

[25] David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), 59.

[26] Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934), 45.

[27] Ibid., 26.

[28] Tapscott, 66.

[29] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).

[30] Heidegger, 4.

[31] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, (New York: Vintage, 1993), 18.

[32] Peter L. Berger, The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (New York: Vintage, 1974).

[33] Mumford, 58.

[34] Mumford, 59.

[35] Francis Fukuyama, The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order (New York: Free Press, 2000).

[36] Ibid., 195.

[37] Ibid., 199.

[38] Ibid., 211.

[39] Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human Race, trans Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994).

[40] Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (New York: Seabury Press, 1967), 16.

[41] Ellul, 20, 27.

[42] Ibid., 28.

[43] John 8:32 [ESV]

[44] Ellul, 9.

[45] Ibid., 12.

[46] Heidegger, 12, 14, 20.

[47] Ibid., 33–34.