Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Theology of Technology

There is a story in yesterday’s Boston Globe on mainline Protestant’s (i.e., liberal Protestants) use of technology in the church. Fearing that they are falling behind evangelicals, they are training their future leaders in “high-tech evangelization.” The story can be found in its entirety here:

The motivation seems to be the fear that more conservative groups are getting ahead because they know how to use a computer:

Saying evangelicals have gotten too far ahead of mainline Protestants in the use of technology to reach out to the unchurched, a liberal Protestant seminary here is launching a new program to train future clergy in high-tech evangelization.

"The conservative evangelical community has been way ahead, and the progressive community has been lagging behind," said the Rev. Nick Carter, president of Andover Newton. "Initially there was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of mainline and progressive churches - 'That's what they do' - but now there's more of a sense that maybe they've got something there."

Carter said that the slow pace of adopting technology in some mainline churches reflects a lack of outreach. He cited as an example how difficult it is on many church websites to find the time of a worship service, because the sites are aimed at insiders.

Their response has been not just to renovate their websites but to change the structure of their worship services as well:

Andover Newton has just completed construction of a chapel that is fully wired for video and audio projection and recording. In the sacristy, next to the chalices and candelabras, is a NetLinx integrated controller that operates the sanctuary systems. Brass plates on the sanctuary floor cover data and electrical outlets. And everything that takes place in the chapel is fed into a lower-level room that this summer will become the Massachusetts Bible Society media center, with a recording studio and mixing station.

Yet, the new technology is just being used to promote the same, tired spin:

The Bible Society has adopted a new slogan, "one book, many voices," to reflect its view that there are multiple possible interpretations of the Bible, and has launched, a website that allows readers to ask a professor a question about the Bible. Robertson said the Bible Society is hoping to use the Andover Newton media enter to record and broadcast lectures and other programs.
And the last several paragraphs struck me as particularly interesting:

A study this year by the Barna Group, a Christian research firm, found that 65 percent of Protestant congregations have large-screen projection systems in the
church, but that usage varies by theology: 68 percent of conservative churches
use video projection, compared with only 43 percent of liberal churches.

"In certain corners of the Christian community, using screens and digital imagery and amplified music are very common and familiar and accepted without question, while in other parts there's still a lot of even theological questions about whether it's appropriate," said Mary E. Hess, a specialist in the use of technology in theological education and an associate professor of educational leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

"Within churches that are particularly interested in reaching out . . . you see more use of screens, film clips, recorded music, and a whole host of kinds of innovation," she said. However, technology is used less in churches with deep liturgical traditions, such as Catholic and Lutheran churches and in congregations where there is concern that technology "is disembodying, that somehow these technologies separate

The story interested me for two reasons.

First, it is interesting because of what it reveals about mainline, liberal Protestants (or, as they like to call themselves, “progressives”). They embrace those of other faiths…but evangelicals are their competition. In other words, they might participate in multi-faith services in a mosque, but evangelicals are dangerous and progressives need to work to reach as many people as the crazies (my words, not theirs). It also reveals they believe it is their method and not their message that is ineffective.

The second thing that interested me about this is just the subject of technology in the church. As we have been preparing for the church plant, I’ve been thinking through the proper place of technology and media as we seek to fulfill our mandate to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. For example, as we’ve worked on the website, I’ve been excited as we have thought through how this technology can be used to introduce people to our church before our church even exists. Or, as another example, for awhile I’ve been wondering how to utilize media in the worship service without it becoming distracting.

I think what the church needs is a theology of technology. Here are two of my initial contributions.

First, technology should promote the message and not the method. As in all areas of church life, it should be a means to reveal truth found in Scripture that teaches people about God. Too often, technology becomes a distraction. It can distract in a positive sense in that people are blown away by the “coolness” factor. Or it can distract in a negative way as people are put off by technology being utilized poorly (the speakers squeaking, the PowerPoint freezing up, etc.).

Second, and related, technology should be used so that people’s hearts are responding to truth and not a medium. That is, even if people aren’t distracted consciously by the technology, it can be utilized in such a way that it manipulates a response of the heart. This is one reason why I am personally uncomfortable with projecting images of nature or Jesus on screens while a congregation sings. It is possible that people are responding emotionally to an image instead of to the truths about God as revealed in His word. What is interesting to me is that the use of images in worship is an issue that has been incredibly important in the history of the church, especially in the Protestant tradition, and yet most evangelicals don’t even think about it today.

I have more thoughts on this, but running out of time for today....


Grammy said...

I find this article extremely interesting and thought-provoking. When we built the latest addition to our church, we installed a large screen for projection in our sanctuary. It has been used for projecting a view of our pastor baptising new converts, so that we can see more clearly (he and baptizee are standing in baptistry below the screen). It is also used in projecting words of songs (even though songs are in songbooks) so that congregation will not have to hold the songbook in order to sing. It has also been used to project images during a musical presentation to the congregation (dramas, that is). My feelings are somewhat mixed on the matter.
No real conclusions have been drawn.
Love you,

josh said...


This is my thought on the "screen".
Even having just the words of a hymn / worship song up on the screen can be distracting to me. We're so programmed to rely on it every time when singing. We subconsiously stare at it and wait for the next slide (and the next) in order to see words we already know. For me, I think that can be just as bad at staring at the other images you were referring to. I'm not saying projection units are evil and I know that Satan tempts us with all sorts of images 24/7, nut this is just my thought on the matter. I just don't think heaven will be a bunch of people staring at a screen, book, while praising God