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Part 2 of series: The Challenge and Opportunity of Virtual Church
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Yesterday I began a blog series focusing on the challenge and opportunity of virtual church. This series will be, in part, a conversation with the book SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World by Douglas Estes. Virtual church, as I mentioned yesterday, is not the same as what I’ve called online church: livestreaming worship services, chat room small groups, podcasting sermons, etc. Rather, virtual church purports to offer a full church experience that is not dependent on a physical church, but is meant to provide a stand-alone, genuine church experience in a virtual reality world of the Internet.
This post could quickly get lost in a hopelessly complicated conversation about the nature of reality. I don’t want to do this. I’ll leave ontology for another time. But I do want to make a couple of related observations.
First, if you define reality in terms of physical presence in space, then, of course, virtual church isn’t real. But this definition of reality seems too narrow. Do my thoughts and feelings exist in space? No, but they are real. Does love exist in space? No, at least not the feelings of love. It’s difficult to say that thoughts and feelings exist in space unless you’re a die hard materialist, seeing everything in terms of configurations of brain molecules. Moreover, if you’re a Christian, then you surely acknowledge the reality of the Holy Spirit, a non-physical person of the Trinity. For a Christian, reality is clearly more than physical. We acknowledge and, indeed, celebrate the genuineness of non-physical, spiritual reality.
If you’ve read philosophical or psychological discussions of reality, you know that what I’m saying here is very simplistic (if not confused). But my point, simply, is that there are degrees and qualities of reality. Virtual church will never be real in the same way that St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Boerne, Texas (my home church) is real. But virtual church may be real in significant ways.
Thus, to deny the reality of virtual church is too simplistic. And to argue for the reality only of in-the-flesh church is also too simplistic. Part of what makes church real is the non-physical presence of the Holy Spirit. So I’m disinclined to get caught up in the argument about whether virtual church is real or not, as if there’s a singular nature of reality. Rather, I think we’d be well served to consider ways in which virtual church is real and ways in which it is not.
If what I’m saying here doesn’t make sense, I’ll provide several illustrations in my next post in this series.