Saturday, December 03, 2011

My Original Version of an Article Published in Christianity Today

Social Media and the Church

Many American assimilate and advance new communication technologies without a second (or perhaps first) thought. To invoke Marshall McLuhan, they “sleep walk through history.” Those who Jesus called “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) should rather wake up and assess the nature, strengths and weaknesses of the plethora of technologies that assail us daily and hourly.

What place does social media have in the fellowship and evangelism of the local church? Is Facebook a good home for your church? Should your pastor tweet or not? To answer these pertinent questions, we need to attend to two issues: First, what is social media? Second, what is a biblical model of fellowship (or koinonia)?

Social Media

Social media are computer-mediated methods for communication. They enhance human accessibility and the speed of communication between people and groups. I can check Facebook or Twitter to learn how a friend in India (or across the street) is doing. (That is, assuming I can verify their identity—no small problem for much of social media.) However, social media both give and take away, as do all media. They extend the reach of text and images far beyond what the un-electrified, un-mediated individual may do. However, social media also restrict the human presence by subtracting the reality of “being there” and “being with.”

Social media also clutter our field of concentration, rendering our attention to any one thing at one time with any depth nearly impossible. Thus, multi-tasking becomes the norm (even though our God-given brains are not designed for it). We become scattered, flighty, not fully engaged in anything.

Biblical Fellowship

The Bible prizes the personal and face-to-face dimension of human association which is absent, but simulated, through social media. John writes at the end of his short epistle, I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12; see also 3 John 13-14). Although God had sent prophets and inspired holy Scripture for centuries, all was not complete until “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The mission of God is to make himself known and worshipped as the one true God in all the nations. To that end, Christians have ardently preached and defended the Gospel. The have copied and translated the Bible into as many languages as possible. Christ-followers have also labored to out the message through radio, television, and now the Internet, because “how can they hear [the gospel] without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). We can try to evangelize through social media and develop forums of association within the church.

Nevertheless, we should remember the shortcomings of social media. They remove the personal presence and fracture awareness. One should not receive communion while glancing at a text message. One cannot be baptized on line. As Paul said, “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary is the author of Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity, 2011) and The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997).

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