More Cultural Oblivion
September 5, 2005
The article “High-Tech Circuit Riders” reveals a distressing cultural captivity among evangelicals. Leaders appeal to McDonald’s and other marketing models in defense of “satellite churches” that depend on absent preachers whose images are beamed onto huge video screens to large audiences. We should unmask the controlling presupposition at work here—functional rationalism. The idea is to create products that can be efficiently reproduced according to a standard model in multiple locations. This works well for mass-market behemoths such as McDonald's, but should we then embrace McChurch, McPastor, or (heaven help us) McGod? McDonald's is efficient, but what of the quality of its product? (Ministry is not a product, anyway.) Moreover, these electronically mediated services must be calibrated to the minute if not the second. Hence, the obeisance to the idol of Chronos. What of the serendipitous work of the Holy Spirit wrought through the personal encounter of a pastor with his or her flock? Yes, the giant screens are drawing crowds. This is no surprise since our culture is already addicted to video screens. But how many believers are going to be edified according to the face-to-face pattern of Jesus and his disciples? The claim that these electronically mediated McChurches are analogous to congregations set up by Methodist circuit riders is specious in the extreme. Those industrious men started churches in the flesh and returned to them in the flesh. The mesmerizing absent-presence of the video screen preacher—and its sundry unintended consequences—lay far in the future.