SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World by Douglas Estes (Review)

As an aside, I’ve just added a Books & Resources section that has a brief bibliography of books that address technology and faith.

SimChurch by Douglas Estes

Recently, Douglas Estes posted on CT’s Out of Ur, Cynthia Ware’s Digital Sanctuary, and a few other blogs, giving a preview of the issues he covers in his new book SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. However, his arguments in those posts weren’t very well developed, and many commenters pounced.

I’m happy to say that the book is quite a bit deeper in its explanation and arguments, and Estes has produced a fairly thorough account of what is happening, where it appears to be headed, and the myriad issues that need to be sorted out.  His book  interacts with much of the recent literature in the areas of online religion and online identity, and argues that the church as a whole needs to do more to reach those who live much of their live online.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion about it, the online church model appears to be here to stay just as the mega-church and multi-site video campus models before it. Whether we believe online church is “real” or not, it is a real issue that needs real engagement (especially when the NYTimes covers it). My goal here is to point out the areas of the book where I felt Estes answered some of the tough questions and which areas will still need further biblical and theological engagement to help the church as a whole understand it.

Continue reading SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World by Douglas Estes (Review)

The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community (Review)

Church of Facebook by Jesse RiceJesse Rice is a former worship arts director from California, and he’s just released one of the first books that directly addresses Christian community and identity in the social networking age.

Rice is a great story teller, and he uses his skill to make several scientific, psychological, and architectural experiments into fun-to-read vignettes that he eventually uses to illustrate important concepts about how humans connect and think about themselves. In fact, the book never directly addresses “church” or “doing church” on Facebook. Instead the book is primarily about what more basic human concepts like identity, authenticity, connection, intentionality, and feeling at home, and how those are impacted and reinterpreted online.

Continue reading The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community (Review)

Why We Can’t Stop Posting, Linking, and @Replying

Benjamin at the Table

My Son, the Social Genius

My 8 months old son Benjamin is becoming quite a hilarious little character. Lately, when friends are visiting and we get into a good discussion, Benjamin has started to notice that he’s not the center of attention. Since he doesn’t really know how to just hang out and he doesn’t know how to join the conversation, he does the only thing he knows how to do – shout, wave his arms, and bang stuff.

He’s not angry or sad, he just wants people to know he’s there.

Those Who Post Are Those Who Exist

The Web 2.0 social networking universe is sometimes like that dinner scene. In the early days of the Internet, we didn’t have easy-to-use sites where we could quickly post, tweet, comment, and so on, so we just “browsed” the web. But today, even the most technically illiterate person can write or post all the time. While this is a lot of fun, some people are not saying they feel the need to be be online all the time and can’t stop checking and posting, checking and posting.

So why is this? Are we all just lonely narcissists? Are we addicted to the Internet? Continue reading Why We Can’t Stop Posting, Linking, and @Replying

Learning about Reality and Information from a Coldplay Concert

What Is Information?

My (awesome) brother recently took me to a Coldplay concert, and we had a blast together. But before we get to Coldplay (and Snow Patrol), let’s introduce some ideas that can help us understand the nature of information and its relationship to reality. In his book

Holding on to Reality - BorgmanHolding on to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium, technology philosopher Albert Borgmann examines this relationship, and he indentifies three major categories of information:

  1. Information about reality – The first and simplest kind of information is that which describes the real world. Borgman includes in this category when Abraham builds an stone altar to memorialize where Yahweh had acted (Gen. 21:33). Abraham used physical objects to organize and inform him about the significance of a phsyical space. Other things included in this category would be things like a map or the periodic table of the elements which describe the physical world.
  2. Information for reality – There is also a class of information that advises on what to do with reality. For example, a recipe that records how to make the famous Thai dish Pad Kee Mow or a proverb of Solomon that tells us how to handle money would be information that helps us best live in reality. Humans have used these first two categories for as long as their has been language.
  3. Information as reality – Borgman argues that a third category is unique to the digital era.  In the case of the Coldplay concert, information about reality would be details like the place of the concert and the list of songs played. Information for reality would be the sheet music and lyrics that describe how to replay the music. But information as reality is a digital recording of the music stored in bits of information which a device can turn back into a replication of reality.

So what does all this have to do with a Coldplay concert? Continue reading Learning about Reality and Information from a Coldplay Concert

Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

1984 vs. Brave New World

In the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasts the worries about future technology by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Though much has been made about the totalitarian government depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Postman highlights how Orwell and Huxley’s contrasting worries play out in information and importance. While Orwell worried that good information would be hidden by a scary government, Huxley worried good information would be hidden in a pile of insignificance.

Postman’s words were recently amazingly illustrated by Stuart McMillen. Here is one of the panels


Huxley Informatino

Continue reading Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

Language Shapes Our Worldview

A psychology professor at Stanford University found that in languages with gender, the gender assigned to an objects tends to shape the way a speaker views that’s object. For example, in Spanish, “bridge” is masculine so Spanish speakers describe bridges as “strong” and “dangerous,” while German speakers for whom bridge is feminine tend to describe bridges as “fragile” and “beautiful.”

Perhaps our own understanding of words like redemption, wrath, and adoption are also shaped by unseen factors.

BibleTech:2009 – Technology is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith

The fine folks at Logos have posted the audio and slides of the BibleTech:2009 conference talks. Here is my presentation slides synced with the audio using (note: the title is a nod to Shane Hipps’ book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith)

Technology is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith

Continue reading BibleTech:2009 – Technology is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Review)

Why Johnny Can't Preach by T. David GordonThe Question

T. David Gordon believes that the majority of preaching today is rather poor, not so much in its content, but in its form as preaching. As a practitioner of preaching for decades and now as a professor of media ecology, Dr. Gordon is uniquely qualified to ask this question:

How has the movement from language-based media to image-based media and electronic media altered our sensibilities and how, in turn, has this change in sensibility shaped today’s preachers? (p.16)

Continue reading Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Review)

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Better Off by Eric BrendeBetter Off (2005, Harper Perennial) is probably the most clever title of any technology book I’ve read.

The book is Eric Brende’s retelling of his 18 months living with a lo-tech Mennonite-like community as part of his graduate work in MIT’s STS Program which studies the influence of technology on society. What makes the book so fun is that its not an abstract work full of theories and technical terms, but instead tells a fascinating true story of a family’s attempt to draw closer together by turning off our super connected world. Continue reading Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Book Review: Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps

41yEyZdvAjL._SL500_AA240_ Bottom Line

Shane Hipps’ Flickering Pixels is a well-written, thought-provoking look at how technology can shape us and our faith. If you are at all interested in technology and ministry, this book is a must read. It goes down easy, but packs a punch!

About the Author and the Book

Shane Hipps is a pastor of a Mennonite church in Arizona, but he began his professional career in the advertising world, working for high profile clients such as Porsche. He spent years studying  how to use media and technology to convince them the needed to buy certain products to be fulfilled or significant. This experience along with studying Marshall McLuhan’s media theory gives him unique insight into the ways media influences people and their faith.

Hipps’ first book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture covered much the same material but was address to church leaders. With Flickering Pixels, Hipps has reworked and added to that material, purposing it for a more general audience. The chapters are fun and easy to read, longer than a blog post without being heavy or academic.

The Message of the Book

The main aim of Flickering Pixels is to dispel the commonly held myth that “the methods change, but the message is the same.” Instead, Hipps uses McLuhan’s idea that “The medium is the message” to show how various mediums have shaped what the Church believes and values. He walks through the progression of culture from oral to print to visual to digital and shows how each new technology shifted our beliefs. For example, the medium of print lends itself toward rational, logical, and linear thinking which leads to an understanding of the gospel in the categories of systematic theology and “Four Laws.” The recent shift toward a more visual culture brought on by photographs and televisions has seen a renewed emphasis on the gospel as story and a devaluing of systematic thinking.

In the later part of the book, Hipps discusses God’s usage of various media to communicate to his people, using the burning bush to communicate holiness, an ass to show Balaam his asinine actions, and ultimately his Son, Jesus Christ to communicate his deep love for humanity. Hipps then argues that the Body of Christ, the Church is God’s current medium and that how we communicate and act is as important as what we communicate. Rather than exist as individualistic flickering pixels, Hipps wants us to deeply connect to one another in faith communities, forming a beaming “city on a hill” that clearly communicates the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Moving Forward

Hipps’ aim in the book is not to classify technology as good or bad, but to give the Church tools to understand it. He says, “we are only puppets of our technology if we remain asleep; Flickering Pixels will wake us up” and help ensure that we use technology instead of technology using us.

The main critique I would offer is that I wish Hipps would have spent more time on the Internet and the technologies it has spawned. He mentions email, facebook, and mobile phones briefly, but does not delve as deeply into their significance as I might have hoped. Perhaps this is because the Internet is too young for anyone to fully understand, but it may also betray that Hipps himself has not delved very far into Internet usage and that McLuhan’s insights only go so far. Hopefully, then, this book will enable the next generation to more thoroughly evaluate the Internet as a medium in order to know how the Church can best use it without being used by it.

So now, go, buy Flickering Pixels, and discuss it with your kids, your friends, and your small group. (You need this book!)