According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Theology & Church After Google 3/6

by Tripp Fuller
April 19th, 2011

Theology After Google

Progressive and moderate Christian leaders have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg: books, academic articles, sermons, and so forth. (Think of how much of a typical mainline service involves reading written texts.) We aren’t making any significant use of the new technologies, social media, and social networking. When it comes to effective communication of message, the Religious Right is running circles around us.

So what does it mean for the up-and-coming theologians and church leaders of the next generation to do “theology after Google”? At the start, it involves conversations with cultural creatives and experts in the new modes of communication. The new theologians know how to listen the “theobloggers” whose use of the new media (blogging, podcasts, YouTube posts) has already earned them large followings and high levels of influence.6

Progressive and moderate Christian leaders have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg.

“Theology after Google” isn’t just about techniques, though—however important they are. It happens only as the next generation of American theologians and church leaders begins to think together about the implications of these new modes of communication. Marshall McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message” may not have been completely on the mark; still, what we say is affected by how we say it. How are the new media changing the nature of human existence and human social connections? How are they transforming human conceptions of God, Jesus, and Christianity? And what will (and should) the church become as a result? Mastering the new communication technologies is not enough, though it’s essential; it’s also crucial to understand what it means to be religious, and Christian, in a technology-dominated age.

Some will find the results uncomfortable. It means, first of all, that we can no longer define theology only as an academic discipline. Although about Christian beliefs, modern theologies sought primary to meet the standards of the Academy. But the “trickle-down effect”—the idea that the brainy books in academic theology flow through pastors to help congregations and ordinary Christians—is no longer working (if it ever did). By and large academic theologians are not addressing the questions that lay Christians are asking; or they’re answering them so incomprehensibly that only other academic theologians understand them.

Theology after Google devotes itself to the questions that all Christians ask and the kinds of answers that ordinary people give, no matter how hesitating and uncertain. This new definition has a wonderful implication: Theology is tightly bound to whatever and wherever the church is at a given time. Theology is about what the church is and is becoming now. So “theology after Google” asks: What must the church become in a Google-shaped world?

Beta Theologies for a Beta Church

Where is the church today? We face huge challenges with numbers; budget difficulties are a byproduct. Large numbers of younger Americans are staying away. Clergy may be happy about specific successes in ministry, but most are discouraged about long-term trends. And it is hard to bring about change when you serve one or more congregations with no associates, few youth, and scant financial resources.

Protestants are experts at guilt, but it helps to recognize the truth: the reasons for the decline of Christian institutions and congregations are cultural; they do not just have to do with us. We are facing a transformation of how human society is organized that is as revolutionary in its implications as was the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg over 500 years ago—perhaps even as revolutionary as the fall of Rome.7 If that’s right, what does this mean for those who are called to be leaders and to guide the church into the 21st century?

What we have to offer—the gospel and the community of the Body of Christ – has not stopped being relevant; Jesus’ promise of comfort in a time of uncertainty is more relevant today than ever before. Stereotypes notwithstanding, most pastors are willing and motivated to try new forms of ministry. But, among all the options, they are unsure what to commit to and implement … and how to make it happen.

First, we need to move from “church 1.0” to “church 2.0.” The analogy should be clear. “Web 1.0” was a series of static pages that one would visit and (passively) read. “Web 2.0a”—the web of today—offers a deeply interactive experience, in which the users themselves help to make the places that they go (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia).8 We respond, contribute to, and play at the places we visit; we go there to do things. (If you’re unsure about this, watch a kid playing on the web. My seven-year-old twins will click on anything anywhere on any webpage to see what’ll happen and what it will do. The idea that the Internet might be about passive reading of content never occurred to them.)

Second, in a time of rapid change, there’s no alternative; you have to experiment. Perhaps here also we can learn something from software designers. When designers want to try out a new product, they issue a “beta” release. People try it out, find out what works and what doesn’t work, and let the designers know. They make some changes and then release the next version. What would it mean for us to consciously adopt “beta church” as a model for ecclesiology and for church ministries?9

One of the greatest insights of the Google-World is the freedom of Beta. A Beta is more than a product not-yet-ready-for-consumption, but a way of thinking, creating, and living. It owns being unfinished. It expects contribution, evolution, transparency. For a long time all of culture was under a spell. It believed in the myth of perfection, a closed process of creation, an established finality before completion. Before Beta, a mistake, glitch, virus, or crash was an embarrassment, a failure of the developers. Now these “bugs” are opportunities for learning and we thank people for pointing them out as they join in to improve.

What does Beta talk have to do with the church? Everything. One of the greatest insights that the emerging church movement has shared with the church is this love for the Beta. Think of it as a call for honesty, transparency, innovation, creative participation, and inspired imagination. When we look at the church we think Beta – not because we begrudge what is there, but because we know God is not done, the body of Christ is in the Beta and it is beautiful.

What do you make of this relational vision of the Beta? How far into the life of the church and its public performances does the Beta go? Is our worship in the Beta mode? How about the church structures, or our theology? What about our own life of discipleship and our community? Maybe we could go one step further and say that the entire world is in the Beta? Does Christian theology not point us in this direction?



5 Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007).

6 I recommend regularly spending some time at and similar sites.

7 Phyllis Tickle makes the first point in The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008). Brian McLaren draws the connections with Rome in A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), and I draw analogies with Augustine’s situation in Transforming Christian Theology: For Church and Society (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), 43ff.

8 “The term Web 2.0 is commonly associated with web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, … user-centered design, and collaboration.… A Web 2.0 site gives its users the free choice to interact or collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (‘prosumers’) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (‘consumers’) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them. Examples of Web 2.0 include social-networking sites, blogs, wikis, video-sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mashups…” (

9 The following three paragraphs were written by Tripp Fuller, modified by Spencer Burke, edited again by me, and widely commented on at It’s an example of beta writing, which has no single author and is constantly evolving. Imagine that seminaries would start teaching models for ministry of this sort!

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