Video Ur: Shane Hipps at NPC
Virtual community and a pixelated gospel.

We create media, and then media re-creates us. That's the message Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels (Zondervan, 2009) wanted pastors at NPC to hear in his interview on the main stage last night and in his seminars this morning. Shane's latest book is a journey into the hidden power of media–and a challenge to the standard line that the message stays the same even when the medium changes.

Skye and I sat down with Shane today to ask him a couple of questions that are of particular interest on the blogosphere: how is Internet-based community different from flesh-and-blood Christian community? And what happens to the gospel when it's translated into a digital medium such as Second Life?

You can look forward to a review of Shane's book, Flickering Pixels, in the next issue of Leadership.

February 12, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 12 comments

Wilfried Ansome

March 23, 2009  4:59am

I've posted a reply to Shane Hipps's view that shared history is not possible in "virtual community." I think that in particular it is possible in Second Life, with our own Bible study community as an example. See Anglican Ecumenical Bible study in Second Life as response to Hipps for more info.

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Benjamin Nockels

March 13, 2009  10:55am

Would love to see, hear or read a conversation take place between Shane & Craig G. of They seem to represent the far extremes.

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Bob Bliss

February 27, 2009  12:12pm

I loved Shane's first book and agree that we have to be careful in evaluating our current situation in light of the "full-bodied" gospel. I agree with Adam S. that Shane's definition of community leaves something lacking. I served a church in North Jersey for 17 years (churches of Christ). We had 300 people during that 17 years move in and then move out. We also lost the people we converted. This has become typical of our fellowship and I'm sure it is true of other fellowships as well. There is no shared history or permanence because of America's mobility. Focusing on the fact that God became flesh and dwelt among us would be a better avenue for defining fellowship. Our society through its mobility has already changed the definition of community and now the Internet is seeking to change it even more. Perhaps we should liken the Internet to the marketplace where Paul often went to meet people and share the gospel. After the gospel is received then community can begin with real flesh and blood contact.

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February 16, 2009  11:42am

Strikes me as astonishingly idealistic. An irony given the subject. Its not difficult to agree that shared history (memory) is important, but the kind of history we share is critical. So, I can attend the weekly meals and prayer meetings at the local church, but if 90% of attendees are nearly illiterate theologically, the kind of shared memory we have is only rooted in experience. But the shared memory Scripture describes as identity forming is memory of God's mighty acts. It is this shared memory that forms a people who live together into a larger story. Where this is accompanied by specific covenant practices it moves deeper. Yet all of this has little connection to proximity. I can pray the office with Brad in San Diego. Using SKYPE and a camera we might even share the elements. If we share practices, memory and imagination we might have a better chance at permanence in our relationship than in many local relationships (esp given the mobility of people these days).

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Adam S

February 16, 2009  11:25am

My issue with his four criteria is that would eliminate all kinds of other groups that we also think of as communities. College campuses would no longer be considered community because they are not permanent(he doesn't give a time for this so I don't know how long it takes to be permanent). Five of us guys from college have taken a yearly trip for almost 15 years now. But we live in four countries. So we are not proximate, even though we communicate regularly. My old church churned through about 25 percent of its population a year because the community it was located in was a college town. By his definitions, there was no shared history because there was always new people, even though the building and a few of the people had been there throughout. I think I understand his purpose, but his criteria just don't seem to be all that meaningful to me.

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Sam Andress

February 16, 2009  11:09am

The problem Scot is that a serious number of "Christians" find their core fellowship in these disembodied forms that Shane speaks of in this clip. Countless people "go" to churches where they are fully anonymous and will never be challenged to be otherwise. So they float from virtual community to virtual community, never really having to put flesh on their faith with others. The other thing is that media and virtual narratives within real "flesh and blood" church communities tends to hyper-sensationalize everything to make it "bigger than life" which leaaves a numbing effect on a community. One in which they can worship their media saavy and their presentations without actually doing anything together.

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Paul Sheneman

February 15, 2009  4:49pm

Hipps' four criteria of community is being drawn from sociology and Christian history which give it a validity for the evaluation of "virtual communities". I find that his fundamental critique based on this criteria is solid. Particularly, humans need physical proximity with other humans to have a fully embodied experience of the other. This will forever be the divide that the virtual will not be able to bridge and will always make it insufficient as a substitute for or extension of community.

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John La Grou

February 15, 2009  10:04am

I read Shane's first book and will certainly try to read his new book. I'll admit up front that I find some of his positions to be straw men arguments. And I perceive in Shane's writing an underlying techno-phobia – a fear that technology is going to harm us more than help us. He may be right. But I don't think technology is the issue – rather, it's our use/misuse of technology that will ultimately enhance or impede human civilization. Shane is good at creating dualism – painting in blacks and whites. But today's virtual communities are landscapes of color and nuance. Shane attempts to draw bold lines in the sand, but the sand is continually shifting. He says "virtual community ain't community." I would suggest that virtual community is one aspect of authentic community. And I find it wonderfully ironic that Shane is using virtual media to convey his message. I've continued these thoughts in a blog post (linked on my name, below).

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February 14, 2009  6:20pm

I enjoy virtual community through blogging. Many of us have found a shared history, as having been through the same or similar experiences, Nothing is permanent these days , as far as proximity I got a phone call from a brother on the blog as he was worried about me, nobody from the church called. Hmmmm. ? That covers history, permanence and proximity. At my age I find Second Life somewhere between sickening and scary!

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February 14, 2009  11:00am

Online community makes a great extension of physical community (I enjoy email, Facebook, blog commenting, etc. with people I've actually met). But I'm not sure it's a good alternative to physical contact. I mean, if the extent of my relationship with you is just pixels, that's not real relationship. It's more like reading an author you've never met–it's a sorta relationship. It can be influencial mentally, but the necessary give-and-take-and-living-sacrifice of incarnate friendship is sorely lacking. Thanks for the mental clarity, Shane. Now, to get back to my fam and physical friends ...

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