Future of Evangelicalism
Tangible Faith in an Age of Distraction
In video games, knowledge is cumulative. Players must master one area before they can move on to another. A code or passkey is needed to unlock the next door, to face the next challenge. Perhaps we can rethink the Bible as a series of challenges to master. Rather than making the story easy to digest, perhaps we need to reawaken complexity. After a century of packaging and compressing the Christian message into a bite-sized Gospel, maybe we need to expand Bible history, revel in the scope and scale of the narrative. The Word of God can be thought of as sixty-six interlocking stories.
Perhaps we need to grasp the Jewish canon before we leap to the New Testament. The prophets remain a riveting precursor to the Gospels. Obscure names like Habakkuk, Nahum, and Obadiah could acquire the same mystical ring as Neo, Trinity, or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Technology might become the Bible teacher's greatest friend. We need graphic designers and Bible scholars to demonstrate how things are connected in a robust "Hyperlinked Bible."
Virtual worlds are arising even faster than video games. So much of our daily business and relationships are played out via avatars. Email and text messaging are digital stand-ins -- mediated voices. Perhaps the biggest challenge to church attendance is the rise of online communities. We are increasingly comfortable interacting with friends and family through Facebook, texting, and video chats. We actually feel safer sharing online. It has a level of anonymity. We turn to the virtual world for substantive conversation about music, politics, and God. We may hide behind projected selves in MySpace or Second Life. Yet the same projection could also take place at a Sunday morning church service. Where are we most honest, most forthright, most ourselves? The church must encourage caring community wherever it may be found.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock, 1934
To religious leaders, the democratization of information can be threatening. Those accustomed to being set apart as experts have been usurped by Google searches. The crying need in a post-information age is for wisdom and discernment. How do we develop eyes to see and ears to hear? I advocate counterprogramming. Lasting impact will not arise from bigger, louder, faster worship services, but from slower, quieter, and deeper experiences with God. The challenge is to make space for God amidst an avalanche of information.
Thankfully, we have ancient resources with which to navigate the age of distraction. Practices like lectio divina slow us down long enough to separate the eternal from the mundane. We can combine enduring Christian virtues with cutting-edge technology to forge a faith for the future. We must encourage people's interest in seeking answers, sparking conversations, and getting theological education online. I am eager to see what the iPastor of the future looks like. And I'm intrigued and challenged by questions raised by Dougles Estes in SimChurch. How will the tangible elements of bread and wine be translated into a virtual era? Will the water of baptism be a bracing tonic in age of mediated experiences?
Perhaps the sacraments set apart as physical reminders of spiritual truths will bring us roaring back to reality.
Craig Detweiler directs the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. He edited the new collection, Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God, for Westminster John Knox Press.