Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Church and the Internet: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore (Section 3)

In the last couple of days I’ve been reflecting on the impact of the Internet on the church, especially with respect to the calling of a new pastor in a church. I want to finish up (for now) with some general reflections.
1. We can’t go back to Kansas. 
If Kansas represents a world of secure, local communications, a world where the confidentiality of things like pastor-calling efforts can be protected, then we can’t go back to Kansas. There are no Ruby slippers for the church. What the Internet, cell phones, and related technologies have started cannot be stopped. Oh, I expect some churches will manage to hold back the tide for a while. And, just you watch, soon we’ll be seeing younger generations rejecting electronic church and going unplugged. This kind of reaction is almost guaranteed. But, for the most part, we will not be able to unflatten the world. (By the way, the metaphor of the Internet-related flatness of the world comes from Thomas L. Friedman’s watershed book, The World is Flat. Photo: My daughter and her friend dressing up as ruby slippers for Halloween.)
2. Just because the technology is available, that does not mean we should use it.
Though I think the Internet and related technologies are here to stay, and though I think the church needs to use them in a thoughtful and faithful way, I do not assume that just because a technology is available that it should, therefore, be used. My family and I, for example, still live in the dinosaur age of TV antennas. We do have a television at home, but we do not have cable, or sattelite, or whatever else is available. The only TV we get comes in for free from the small antenna attached to our chimney. We have made this unusual choice, not only to save money, but also because we just don’t need more TV in our home.
3. Christians and churches need to learn to think strategically, creatively, and, most of all, theologically about technology. 
In my experience, we’re pretty good at the first, thinking strategically about technology. We can evaluate its impact on our lives and ministries, though sometimes we do not consider unintended consequences of technology.
I have not sensed an abundance of creativity among Christians and churches when it comes to technology. Mostly we do what the world does. Or we copy the megachurches. Or at least we try (usually, without much success). I include myself in this observation, by the way.
But I am most concerned about the lack of theological reflection on technology among Christians of all stripes (conservative, liberal, pro-tech, anti-tech, etc. etc.).
4. Technology is part of this world, which means it necessarily includes both good and evil, as well as relatively neutral “stuff.”
There’s a bit of theological reflection.  If we take seriously the fundamental goodness of creation and its fallenness, then we should expect all technologies to be a mix of good and evil, right and wrong. Moreover, they will be used by us fallen people, who, even if we have been redeemed, are not yet fully renewed. In my opinion, the example of Rich Kannwischer and St. Andrew’s exemplifies the moral mixed-up-ness of technology.
5. Those of us who have the resources to entertain ourselves with technological wonders, even in church, need to think long and hard about how our choices impact (or do not impact) Christians and churches who don’t have such resources.
I sometimes wonder if our lavish technological expenditures make sense in a world where so many Christians and churches have so little.
6. I have no idea how much technology there will be in the new creation, but a part of me hopes it’s rather more like a garden than a Wi-Fi hotspot. 
I won’t be all that sad if there are cell phones and even the Web in the new heaven and new earth. But I do hope there’s something like an iPod for listening to music. Angelic choirs are fine, but I would prefer a little variety.

  • Nathan W. Bingham

    This is a very helpful summary. I appreciate you noting that technology has aspects of both good and evil. Too often we are quick to place something like technology into either one basket or the other, without having any serious reflection and consideration.
    Up until recently I had been very “anti” social-networking. Thought the whole thing was silly and a waste of time, etc. However, through my blog I was convinced to join Twitter to keep in contact with my readership and over the past months, despite some negative things, I have received some real benefits. After asking other Twitter users, and compiling my own thoughts, I wrote 8 Ways Twitter Can Benefit The Christian earlier this week. My thoughts may provide insightful as a more ‘personal’ (not corporate) Christian perspective on Twitter specifically.

  • Stefan Gelfgren

    Thanks for your reflections around Church and Internet. Interesting to read. However, this issue (church and information technology) isn’t new. The Church and its representatives have used various forms of technologies to spread the gospel. Think for example about Luther and the printing technique, or 19th century revivalism and the process of industrialisation. But, as history show, technology can/will transform religious faith and practices in different ways. Therefore I appreciate your reflections.

  • Thomas Buck

    Re: #2. A. I guess we czn’t “fire” people in church, but if we violate a trust at my job, we get the opportunity to look for new work.
    #2. B. Did you already have the TV necessary for digital broadcasts, or did you have to buy something to get them?
    Re: #6. Yeah, I’m with you there! I think God’s already planned something even better for us in heaven.

  • Bill Goff

    Does your little antenna on your roof receive digital TV? I’ve been out of the USA since June 13th, but I thought analog TV had ceased to exist. If you can get digital TV from your roof antenna, you might consider marketing it.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Bill: The antenna does receive digital TV. It’s nothing special at all. But we did have to get a couple of analog/digital units so our antiquated televisions could read the signal. These small boxes of electronics were fairly inexpensive.

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