“The Technological Church”

A very interesting series of brief essays by Jessica Huntrods, who specializes in media ecology as part of the Moody Media Lab, liberally sprinkled with interaction with McLuhan and Ellul. I don’t know that all of Jessica’s answers are right, or that all the directions she goes are good. But she does make some excellent points and lays out many thought-provoking juxtapositions of media ecology and the church. Some excerpts:

The faster our technologies develop, the clearer it becomes that humans are deeply changed by the environments created by our technologies, and by extension, these technologies also change the theologies we construct. Our technologies hold great influence over how we perceive God.

…most of what we have created has served not to bring us further into wholeness but to fragment us spiritually and relationally. Our technology encourages isolation and distance instead of presence, and it creates worlds of unreality instead of drawing us further into our true reality in Jesus. We have mediated ourselves so that we reflect not the incarnation of Christ but the opposite. Much of our technology is at work creating a discarnate world.

Ellul and McLuhan uncovered what is hidden to the technological idiot: technologies are not neutral. All technology has an agenda that it carries out regardless of human intentions. All technology creates winners and losers, and all technology creates unintended consequences that are larger than the original good it was intended to perform. There is always a cost.

A simple way to understand media ecology is to picture a remote island with a stable ecosystem. Then imagine a new invasive species is introduced to the island. The ecosystem doesn’t just add in another animal to the food chain and continue on as normal; the entire ecosystem drastically changes. Other species may respond with a population boom or with total extinction. No species is unaffected, and every relationship changes. Now imagine a specific human society in a specific time and place as an ecosystem in equilibrium. Every new technology introduced is an invasive species that radically changes every relationship between humans and other humans, technology, and society. The introduction of a new technology changes everything, and nobody is left unaffected.

In The Medium and the Light, McLuhan devotes an entire essay to the changes the microphone brought to the Roman Catholic liturgy. He argues that the introduction of the microphone to mass forced the church to change from Latin to the vernacular, it turned around the priests so they now face the congregation, and it necessitated speakers that made acoustic-minded architecture obsolete. It also makes it difficult for personal meditation during mass because the amplified sound comes from all directions instead of one source. It even changes the tone of the message: “…the microphone, which makes it so easy for a speaker to be heard by many, also forbids him to exhort or be vehement.”

Without smart phones (or even printed Bibles, to some extent), the preaching of the gospel is listened to and received corporately. With Bible apps on smart phones, the unified body of Christ acts more as a loosely associated collection of individuals who become sermon critics instead of receivers of the word. . . . each technology takes away possibilities for some things as it creates possibilities for other things. The Bible app is the Trojan horse that distracts us from the true message of the smart phone in worship, which is individualism.

And a fascinating quote from McLuhan:

…the serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.

And another, which tightly connects to C. S. Lewis’s notion of the “clean sea breeze of the centuries”:

Today when we want to get our bearings in our own culture, and have need to stand aside from the bias and pressure exerted by any technical form of human expression, we have only to visit a society where that particular form has not been felt, or a historical period in which it was unknown.

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How Present Technology Changes Our View of Past Technology

Now, this is thought-provoking, and probably has connections with the discussion of hymnals vs. projection that pops up now and again.

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Greg Stiekes, How to Desecrate a Religion

Well said.

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A Mighty Fortress in translation

More a bookmark for me here than anything else: An excellent parsing exercise at Desiring God compares the original German text of “A Mighty Fortress” to the common English translation and finds the translation lacking at several points. John Piper provides a helpful “woodenly literal” translation of the hymn.

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On Not Singing All the Stanzas

As I grew up singing in church, it was common for me to hear various songleaders say things like, “Third stanza as the last,” or “We’ll sing verses one, three, and four.” In my own songleading, I used to do that sort of thing as well with relative frequency. Initially, it was as much imitation of the songleaders I knew, as anything else. As time went on, other reasons came to the fore. I might skip a stanza in order to conserve time. Or I might skip a stanza that I thought was doctrinally deficient or questionable. And sometimes I skipped a stanza on the fly because on a given occasion the song was simply too long (or high) for my voice to last through it , or it was clear the congregation was not doing well with the song.

Over time, though, I’ve become less likely to skip stanzas. In fact, at one point, it became a matter of internal pride that simply don’t do that sort of thing: the song had those stanzas in it for a reason, and we’re going to sing them all!

However, the pendulum, thankfully, has swung back a bit. I still do not generally skip stanzas. In fact, sometimes I add stanzas: there are very often some excellent stanzas of hymns that are original to the hymn but not included in a given hymnal. But I am willing to omit stanzas thoughtfully in conjunction with these points:

(1) Most (I daresay) older hymns have fewer stanzas in the hymnal than they originally had. Longer hymns generally have certain stanzas that are superior in their wording and sentiment, and naturally those are the ones that are included when a hymnal editor has to whittle a (say) twenty-stanza hymn down to the three or four stanzas that can be included on a typical page. So, if I omit a stanza, I’m simply doing (at one level) more of what the hymnal editor has already done.

(2) That said, stanzas must be omitted thoughtfully. I still remember being at a gathering where people were encouraged to choose a hymn they’d like everyone to sing, and we’d sing the first stanza. Eventually, someone chose “A Mighty Fortress”, and we sang only the first stanza. I wasn’t leading the songs on that occasion, but I couldn’t help myself; I had to speak up and ask that we sing another stanza. Ending our singing of that song by describing our ancient foe and not bringing Jesus into the picture was simply too much for me! Many times, a stanza can be omitted from a given hymn without doing violence to its flow of thought; equally, however, such an omission is inadvisable when it leaves a gaping hole in the song as a whole. One must be sensitive to the sort of hymn in view. If a hymn is exploring different dimensions of a given subject (e.g., “Jesus Shall Reign”), as opposed to setting forth a progression of thought (e.g., “A Mighty Fortress”) a stanza typically can be safely omitted.

When stanzas are omitted, however, I find it best to note this just before — not while — the song is sung. If a stanza is omitted for a theological reason, it may be a good idea to make a quick note as to that reason as the song is introduced.

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He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions

I was thinking about the text of Thomas Chisholm’s “He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions,” a hymn grounded in Isaiah 53. As so often is the case, a light bulb finally clicked on tonight even though I’ve sung this song many times over the years.

Chisholm in the third stanza says:

“Who can number His generation? Who shall declare all the triumphs of His cross?
Millions dead now live again, Myriads follow in His train!
Victorious Lord, Victorious Lord, Victorious Lord and coming King!”

Isaiah 53:8 says (in the KJV, which Chisholm [1866-1960] is clearly using):

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

Chisholm takes Isaiah’s question “who shall declare his generation?” and apparently understands it to be a sort of rhetorical question signifying that those who are “generated” from Christ—those who are born again (cf. John 3:3)—are so many as to be practically innumerable. So, he asks, “Who can number His generation?” His answer, such as it is, to this rhetorical question follows: “Millions dead now live again, myriads follow in his train.” I’ve sung that line many times, and never connected it with Chisholm’s rhetorical question a line earlier.

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Kwasniewski, Is There a Proper Role for “Contemporary” Music at Church?


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