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The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church Paperback – February 5, 2006
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From the Back Cover
Doing Church in a Media-Drenched Culture
It has been said, the future is now. From cell phones to mp3 players to the Internet, no previous age has seen such profound change manifested so quickly. But these thrilling, dizzying transformations are forcing the church to decide where it fits in all this progress. Shane Hipps presents the promise and peril of the emerging culture and its relationship to the emerging church. Looking beyond the details of what's happening in communities of faith, Hipps analyzes the broader impact of technology and media on the church while engaging readers with questions such as:
â¢ Is media/technology value-neutral?
â¢ How has technology changed the way we think about Scripture, community, and worship?
â¢ What cultural opportunities has the church missed?
â¢ How should the church position itself to take advantage of coming cultural trends?
Providing both history and prophecy, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture invites us to engage new cultural realities while staying connected to our spiritual heritage.
About the Author
Shane Hipps, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, is a dynamic communicator and sought-after speaker. His previous career in advertising helped him gain expertise in understanding media and culture. Shane lives with his family in Grand Rapids, MI. For more information, visit www.shanehipps.com.
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Using the powerfully prescient McLuhan as his touchstone, Hipps proceeds to remind us of the truth that the "medium is the message" and the subsequent analysis provided by McLuhan to help us understand the impact of any technology. Hipps moves fluidly from oral to written culture to projected sermons in video venue church services. As such, I think Hipps does a good job of reminding us of some very important reflection - the kind of reflection we so rarely do as evangelicals. At times Hipps is insightful, at times he is appropriately biting in his critique, but most of all the first half of the book provides analysis that needs to be heard. We live in a technologically saturated culture, and hence we tend to lose our ability to "step out" for a moment and think through whether it is any good for us or the message of the Gospel.
Where the book begins to lose its impact is the second half - the application to church culture. Several problems become fairly obvious as the book progresses. I was personally disappointed to discover that Hipps is squarely in the emergent theological fold. I know his book is endorsed by leaders in the emergent movement, but that didn't necessitate the theological problems with Hipps' analysis. As is becoming almost stereotypical of emergent writing, Hipps' history, philosophy and theology are rife with straw men, hyperbole, and unkind generalizations.
For example, Hipps simply assumes that epistemological foundationalism is dead. It isn't. The result from Hipps' point of view is that church life needs to look more at a "web of belief" way of presenting the Gospel, but that is not free from its own serious problems. If the foundation of your argument is a broad generalization, your conclusion is bound to suffer.
Hipps argues against the cultural captivity of seeker sensitive style churches and the prevalence of modernism in too many evangelical circles. Though this is true in some places, the emergent point of view has painted with a very broad brush and pigeonholed every church that doesn't look at things the way they do. Ironically, at this point Hipps falls into the same trap as so many emergent authors - while accusing the modern church of cultural captivity they have willingly become captives to a postmodern culture.
And then there are the ad hominem attacks. Hipps is not above mocking the "30 minute lecture" style of preaching or stating that top-down leadership models "inevitably" lead to corruption and abuse. I'm growing tired of hearing these kinds of obviously false and unkind generalizations from emergent authors.
Hipps' personal narrative is compelling and his work in McLuhan's theory is a great reminder for us, but the book would have been a lot more persuasive with better application to church life.
On page 88 Hipps writes: "Because the medium is the message, our media revolutions - from the printing press to the Internet - have led to unintended changes in our message. Among them is a shift from a modern, individualistic, and highly rational concept of the gospel to a postmodern, communal, holistic, and experiential one." Hipps highlights the positive aspects of this:
"The emerging gospel of the electronic age is moving beyond cognitive propositions and linear formulas to embrace the power and truth of story. It revives the importance of following Jesus holistically rather than simply knowing Jesus cognitively. It has reintroduced us to a corporate understanding of faith that has powerful implications for this life, not just the next. It recovers the importance of ancient imagery, rites, and rituals in celebrating the mystery of the kingdom of God." (90)
Moreover, if the internet truly reflects a diffusion of information, and therefore of power, then this shift offers "a helpful corrective to the long history of centralized, top-down authority in the church. Electronic media allow us to retrieve the more participatory and egalitarian forms of worship where authority is dynamic and based on relationships rather than on fixed job descriptions." (130)
The author draws heavily on the thoughts on Marshall McLuhan, and offers valuable insights into the role of communication technology in culture. However, after reading this book one wonders if the author puts too much explanatory weight on media technology regarding social organization and related issues. It must be noted that there are other factors which can help explain our systems of thought and social organizing.
One book that helps to bring perspective on these issues is A Social History of Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet by Asa Briggs & Peter Burke.
As a result, I've been thinking a lot about what is the gospel message and how does the Church (i.e. me) embody it in in a disembodied world of cell phones, internet, television, written word, etc. Also, I'm paying attention to how electronic media have shaped me and our culture and the gospel. Interesting stuff. For me the biggest "Aha Moment" has been observing what my life has been like without my cell phone. It's like I'm in a separate room at a party. On one hand, there's this feeling of missing out on all the action, and on the other hand there's this sense of stillness that is quite calming. The question I find myself asking is, in which room would Jesus prefer I be?
Before this book, I didn't even pay attention to this stuff nor have a way to evaluate it.
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