God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make a choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
The church has always possessed a strained relationship with advancements of modern technology. You get used to one thing and it works well, you convey the message and impact lives, and then the field of play shifts or the rules change and something new must be mastered.
The printing press and then the radio, moving toward movies and television and the world wide web, the march of progress is relentless. Streaming services and on-demand podcasts have shaped and influenced the church’s understanding of itself and its role in the world. Does it maintain a certain isolation from it all, a luddite retreat from the new?Or does it charge forward, perhaps even try to lead the way, offering and guiding light to the steady diet of garbage consumed by its own members?
Every new iteration comes with its own team of specialists needed to navigate the waters and inform the spiritual leaders as to the best path forward. All the while, a distance is constantly placed between the preacher of the Word and the hearer: the shepherd now communicates to his flock who aren’t in the same building or city or even state. If communication on a Sunday morning ever seemed one way this is now magnified to seducing levels that keep the preacher preaching to a people he no longer knows. Sure, they may offer a few insights in the comments section of his post, but they have become strangers and are easily ignored.
It’s ok, or so we’re told. After all, “faith comes by hearing” and they can certainly hear through the live stream event. As long as you are saying it and someone is hearing, why then it is a success. And so, we buckle down and offer a whole host of new products. Podcasts and YouTube videos, Zoom calls and prerecorded messages make sure that they are still hearing. We pat ourselves on the back as we adopt one more tool, one more wonder of modern society, to cast the gospel into the far reaches of a world consumed by darkness.
Preachers will hold conferences and offer workshops on how they have successfully navigated unprecedented technologies in an unprecedented time. Yet with each move, each acceptance of the new norm they are eating away at themselves. What they thought were benign tools free to use, were in fact laced with something toxic. They are slowly erasing themselves from the narrative. Faith comes by hearing, but what is heard can be prerecorded and played back at the push of a button. Or even better, the Word can simply be generated by an algorithm designed to apply Law and Gospel to the need of the one using the chosen interface. It becomes more precise the less it depends upon the one who is sent to do the preaching.
The brave new church emerging understands that the problems of any given congregation are problems of social engineering. And at last it seems we might be ready to fix the root of the problem. When we conquer the necessity to gather, the necessity of a preacher and a hearer, then we conquer all that plagues the church. We will have stability in our distance and happiness in our algorithm driven Gospel.
Our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel—and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get.Aldous Huxley, Brave New World