Apr 3, 2013

Gutenberg's Revenge and Other Thoughts

I suppose after that last post, the next logical step would be to muse a little about the revenge effects of the various technologies we've introduced to church ministry itself. When the Gutenberg Press took the Bible out of the hands of the priesthood and put it firmly into the hands of every believer-- with the laudable intention of building biblically literate, thus better, Christian communities-- I don't suppose anyone could have guessed that it might also be putting deep cracks in the foundations of Christian community, by pushing the individual's "interpretation" of the Good Book to the centre of Christian experience and pushing the community to the edge. Did Gutenberg get its revenge (mused the blogger) by filling the pews with a hundred personal popes piously practicing their private versions of the Faith, ready and able to leave when the interpretive going got tough? Is the embarrassing fragmentation of the church today part of the Gutenberg legacy?

Not that I would want to go back to the gloom of the pre-Gutenberg era, mind you... any more than I would want to go back to my pre-HTC Dream life... but perhaps if we can name the unintended effects of our technology, we can make more informed choices about when, why and how to use it.

So, off the top of my head, here are a few possible "revenge effects" of technology in the Church:

In an effort to make our preaching more effective, we've introduced a variety of presentation technologies behind the pulpit. Has this had the unintended effect of shackling our sermons to ideas that fit neatly on to PowerPoint slides and shackling our preachers to what's written on the screen?
In an effort to make our music more engaging, we've replaced hymnals with screens. Has this had the unintended effect of alienating people from the songs they're singing because they no longer have the music in front of them?

In an effort to make worship more dynamic, we've amplified everything. Has this had the unintended effect of deafening us to the voice of God and the voices of each other in our gathered times?

In an effort to make our faith more "relevant" we've introduced a wide variety of media to our worship, from video montage, to film clips, to Christianesque imagery moving behind the song lyrics on the PowerPoint slide. Has this had the unintended effect of making us less able to recognize the deeply relevant but counter-cultural aspects of life with God (things like stillness, Sabbath, quiet, simplicity)?

These are real questions, not just rhetorical points. And even if the answer is "yes" to any of them, that doesn't mean the technology itself must go (*just wait, I'm getting a call on my phone*). But if we can see the "revenge effects" of our own cleverness like this, we will also begin to see, I think, the limitations of our cleverness. And to see our own limitations is to take a humble step towards deeper dependence on God.

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