Book Review: Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps

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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!)