Technology and the Gospel
In her new book, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, Becky Garrison compiles interviews with a range of leaders who are involved in alternative worship in mainline and emergent churches. Below are some of the responses she elicited with the question, "How do you see technology (blogs, podcasts) as tools to advance the gospel?"
Nadia Bolz-Weber: (e-mail): I wonder if there should be a Hippocratic Oath for Christians. "At first, do the gospel no harm." Technology is neutral. The intentionality around its use is what makes it work for good or evil. Here's my opinion: A room full of worshipers who stare for an hour at a huge video screen (not unlike the rest of their lives) with Tom Cruise film clips and vapid "Jesus is my boyfriend" lyrics: evil. A room full of worshipers who are focused on the central symbols of the faith, perhaps some of which are occasionally on a screen: good. I cannot stress enough that this is an example of my own sinful, narrow opinions and should not in any way be taken as authoritative in the least (although don't get me wrong, I'm totally right about this).
I'm a big fan of blogs. When I started Sarcastic Lutheran: The Cranky Spirituality of a Postmodern Gal-Emerging Church ala Luther, I seriously thought that perhaps up to half a dozen of my friends would read it and mostly out of loyalty. I'm shocked to report that thousands of people from all over the world read the thing, many of whom e-mail me with messages like "Thank you so much, I thought I was the only one who thought like this." Now I see my blog as a ministry, a little piece of the Internet for the lunatic fringe of the church. Being part of the emerging-church blogosphere has led me to develop amazing friendships with folks in the U.K., Australia, and all over the states, most of whom I've now met. I pray daily for nine churches, three of which are in England. I'm connected to them through both low and high-tech means: prayer and the Web the prayer part is just as central as the checking their blogs part.
Ian Mobsby says (IM chat): Okay postmodernism can be interpreted as a return to the narrative and metaphor so that the stories of Christ and metaphors such as the parables have a new place in engagement with the culture therefore a relational approach, where blogs and websites enable communication through dispersed relationships then the gospel can be communicated in relational, narrative, and metaphorical form
This relates to my comments about new forms of mysticism coming out of contemporary culture so it enables new forms of relating so not new forms of cold evangelism but more gentile forms of engagement with Christian spirituality.
Phyllis Tickle: (in person): We've got to recognize that more and more people are doing their private worship using the Internet in one way or another. And let us not forget that we can also get rid of a lot of organizational hoopla using the Internet. There is such a thing as a virtual community. No small part of its appeal, by the way, is that the Internet invites a kind of intimacy that maybe many of us don't even get face to face.
Brian McLaren: (in person): Because there is so much explosion of new technology, it's a good time for us to go back to the writings of Marshall McLuhan, the philosopher of technology. Shane Hipps recently wrote a book that tries to make McLuhan's thought accessible to church leaders. McLuhan said that every innovation is an amputation. For example, when you invent the wheel, your legs become weaker. When you invent the television, your ability to become present becomes weaker. When you invent the amplifier, your voice becomes weaker. We need to reflect on this powerful insight and ask, In what ways is technology subtracting or amputating just at the moment we think it's adding and empowering? We should always use it with care, remembering that Jesus modeled personal incarnation, not projection and amplification.
I don't know exactly what impact the Internet will have on the local church, for example, but it will have an impact in many areas, including education. Internet-based people know that information is ubiquitous, and they feel empowered to seek it out. They don't need you to spoon-feed them information in lectures like the used to; they can Google it way faster. They need you to do other things to help them sift through the information, integrate it, incarnate it, reflect on it, model it.
In view of technology, the question remains: What is it that the gathered church can do that nobody else can do? I think there are exciting answers to that question and those answers can help clarify our role in ministry in the years to come.