Technology is all around us. This review is being written as I sit in front of my computer with a cell phone in one pocket and an iPod in the other. By the time you read this, it was sent by email to the website, where it was formatted and spell-checked and converted and about seventeen other events of computer wizardry most likely involving numbers, acronyms, and something from World of Warcraft. Technology is the framework that holds up all aspects of our everyday life.
But what sort of effect does this mass hybridization of life and technology have on our culture? What sort of effect does it have on us and our churches? What does it do to our faith? These are the sorts of questions that Shane Hipps provides timely and compelling answers to in his book The Hidden Power Of Electronic Culture.
The book begins with the evangelical mantra about achieving relevancy through technology where â€œthe medium changes, but the message stays the same.â€ For the rest of the book, Hipps does his best, and convincingly so, to prove that such a statement is not the case. For him, the medium is the message.
To prove his point, Hipps waltzes his way through four different inventions of communication, those he sees as the base which all modern technology either modifies or integrates. Through the printing press, the telegraph, the radio, and the photograph, Hipps speaks of the rise of individualism, the decentralization of authority, the creation of a global culture, and the Graphic Revolution. Those are all seen as subconscious communications and direct results of the technologies which preceded them.
True to the intent of voicing an unheard position on these issues, a very negative view of these modern technologies is expressed. The positive sides have been extolled by everyone from Wired magazine to the wayward Amish. The other side is seldom heard of, or even known to exist. As side effect upon negative side effect is uncovered, technology seems to be worse and worse. But at that point just short of a neo-Luddite rage, the place where you expect to turn the page and see the next sentence scrawled in lambsâ€™ blood across a slate tablet, Hipps turns back and speaks of great positives. He extols the great recoveries the church has made in these times of postmodernity and technology, but fears the unknown cost the church is currently paying to get them.
In the most compelling section of this book, Hipps goes on to speak of ways to bring about the parts of Christianity which modernity buried without becoming trapped under a postmodern ethic instead. The church is the body of Christ, the way Jesus chose to continue to show himself to the world. And if the medium is indeed the message, the church does not have a mission. It is a mission. We are the change that needs to be seen.
The book closes with a hodge-podge of random and underdeveloped yet still heartbreakingly crucial ideas. None are given the sort of lengthy treatment that such weighty concepts deserve. It is then fitting to speak of such a thing as an early appendix or leaked book ideas and that the real ending is much more critical.
Hipps misplaced ending is a metaphor that keeps with his electronic theme. He tells the story of the inadequacy of MS-DOS in early PCs and how Macâ€™s OS remedied much. If you didnâ€™t understand any of that, ask the kid in your hall that gets excited every time Steve Jobs holds a press conference. Heâ€™ll explain it to you. Anyway, Microsoft sought to copy the success of Mac, so it built an OS that looked like Macâ€™s, but was still centered on the same program it has always used. Hipps sees this as what in happening in churches now. Either they address their felt needs because of the genuine concern and motivation which flows from their beliefs and theology, like Mac did, or they play the Microsoft and simply copy what people want while remaining the same inside. It is a damning critique that touches us all.
Hippsâ€™ warnings are not of what will come to pass, but of what is already passing at the moment and taking us along as well. His advice could hardly come at a more timely juncture. Hipps shakes us from our slumber as the poisoned pill of relevancy is already half swallowed. This is the sort of book that makes you afraid, not of what is necessarily going to happen, but of what could have happened if you had not thought these things over. It is an academic page-turner of the first rate where every new line brings with it ideas you had never before even considered thinking.
Hipps shines the light of his critique on a dark corner of Christianityâ€™s quest in the postmodern Great Commission where few have looked before. It is a dark corner where we all must look or we risk far too easily losing our Christ in the shadows of a false light.