This morning I’ve been drawn into a conversation I shouldn’t be having. Really. I shouldn’t be conversing with friends about internet campuses, sacrament, the wave of the future. I should be writing my thesis. But I’m not. (I soon will be once I get this out of my system.)
This morning I visited the Collide blog and was linked to this article by John Dyer at Don’t Eat the Fruit. I sent the article along to my friends Clif Guy and Andrew Conard. Dyer addresses communion as an element that is being discussed in those constructing online “campuses” or “communities.” Clif and Andrew are friends, and I respect their thoughts and opinions. I think they will have more import on conversations regarding internet communities than I ever will, so their task is important. They are given charge to think theologically about how such communities can be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Clif replied to my email by sending me a blog post by Steve Knight at Knightopia. Knight engages Shane Hipps, who I will soon read. Hipps appears to be a kindred spirit. I read the post, watched the video of Hipps, and shot a response to Clif. I thought the response was important enough to reproduce here:
Hadn’t seen that. Now I have. I’m waiting to read Hipps’ Flixering Pixels. He seems to be a kindred spirit.
I think some of the thoughts found here in Steve Knight’s account only evidence my convictions that technology is incredibly seductive. This, of course, is not my idea. Something can have numerous appearances of good, but fundamentally undercut things we esteem without our being aware. With technology there are winners and losers, but those who champion technological progress want to sell us the myth that “everybody wins.” It would do Steve Knight good to consider the question, “When people experience a feeling of significance through technologically enabled “communities,” and thus make a virtual forum their spiritual/religious “home,” does anyone lose?” Could the experience of a significant good bring about an unconscious loss for the individual, for flesh and blood relationships, for the world, or for the church? You have my answer. There are some gains, but on the whole everybody loses, especially when we fully enable persons to remove themselves from physical communities. We do this when we tell people they are not “voyeurs” but “full participants,” thus giving them the illusion they are part of the common life of the church. We do this when we attempt to find ways these persons can receive and celebrate baptism and communion apart from local gatherings that incarnate the gospel (not to mention requiring the submission of their lives to a common discipline under the supervision of a community). I find initiatives that focus on church planting much more substantive. The word choice is deliberate.
I found this paragraph fascinating:
“My struggle with this is the same as when I hear arguments against homosexuality based on “God’s original design” for male-female relationships as laid out in Genesis chapter one. My reaction is basically this: That’s a great ideal to have, but we’re living thousands of years after the Garden of Eden (or, in this case, the Incarnation of Christ), so I’d prefer to deal with reality and not theory. In this case, the reality is that millions of people are finding significant connection with other people and even finding spiritual/religious “community” through Internet-mediated experiences. The ideal might be to always have face-to-face, skin-to-skin contact, but the reality is we are moving faster and faster in the opposite direction.”
By Knight’s logic, because the ideals have failed, and in fact we are moving “faster and faster in the opposite direction,” the solution is not to hold forth norms or ideals and call for a return, rather it is to pursue new developments to their extreme conclusions and do the best we can. The forces of history has moved us away from “ideals” toward something he calls “reality.” Inadvertently, Knight has made an idol of (human) progress. I will also add that the gospel becomes nonsensical based on this logic.
I have no doubt that internet communities will be the next stage for our most innovative churches. People will do it. My plea is that people will slow down long enough to consider their rhetoric and the full implications such actions have for our theology and our constitution as the body of Christ. This is asking a lot, but faithfulness to the gospel demands no less. Some will consider my call to “slow down” counter-intuitive, as technology demands that we “speed up,” and tangible markers of success (personal testimonies, affiliation with the Christian gospel) will seem to say that we should move as quickly as possible. But there is a great deal at stake. If we do not carefully consider potential implications this technology holds for the character of our communities, we may be quite disturbed by what emerges from the Pandora’s box that is technology.