Saturday, April 24, 2010

Musings on Outreach using Technology I (Problems)

Technology has become the new distribution champion. According to an article in 'Ministry Today,' a web and print magazine based in Florida, there is a quote from Walt Wilson about reaching the 'entire world' through technology.
"We are the first generation in all of human history to hold within our hands the technology to reach every man, woman and child on the earth by 2020. Our generation has within its grasp everything that is required to fulfill the Great Commission." (Walt Wilson, founder of Global Media Outreach)
Using evidence such as the extent of WiFi in the world, and the way people can talk to one another on the Internet, the mood is upbeat and 'charismatic.' After all, this is not much of a surprise as the magazine is openly claiming it is Spirit-led. Now, I do not want to argue about charismatic. I have many friends who attend charismatic churches, and I sure thank them for helping non-charismatics to be more aware of the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead. I suppose while I do not dispute the promises of technology, let me offer some food for thought about the problems that threaten to derail the promises of technology.

1) Problem #1: Uncritical Use of Technology
This is like saying, 'just because everybody is using it, it must be good.' I remember that this is how fads like the Sudoku puzzles, the Tamaguchi, robotic pets, and even 'William Hung' of American Idol fame become. Technology is something that is most associated with the 'greatest-and-the-latest' label. Walking into any electronics store, we can hear salespeople readily telling us the latest release of the cell-phones, the latest notebook computer, or the newest digital TV, camera or MP3 player, depending on what we are interested in. It is amazing how fast any 'latest-and-greatest' becomes obsolete. An executive from Intel has famously quipped what is now known as Moore's Law, something like, technology improving 2x every 2 years, or any variation that says one gets more 'oomph' for less buck in the future. In this manner, my question is, using technology as an outreach: Is it a mere fad phenomena, especially when the technology becomes the message, rather than the gospel itself? This will reduce the gospel to merely keeping up with fads, that are mostly short-term.

2) Problem #2: Digitizing the Gospel
The underlying assumption of outreach is essentially being able to transmit the Word of God (the Bible) in digital or electronic form. What does it mean to reach the world? If it means simply to send a Wifi signal to a distant people group and then consider it job done, I suppose the best organizations to reach the world are the telecommunications companies. Get a Christian foundation, set up or buy over a major satellite company, and beam the gospel down anywhere. Even the polar bears in the Arctic and the penguins in the Antarctic cannot avoid such WiFi signals. This will reduce the gospel to a digitized format, distributed easily via a Wifi transmit and receive mechanism.

3) Problem #3: Technology Replacing Personal Touch?
We have long known that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. No doubt, technology has aided the renewal of old ties. Social networking medium has been extremely helpful in connecting people up. However, nothing beats meeting each other face to face. It is one thing to highlight the benefits of technology. It is yet another to REPLACE a personal touch with a technological connection. I am not arguing against using technology. I am cautioning anyone from assuming that technology is 'THE' way to reach people. If people think that it is the 'only' way, I think we are in trouble. What happens is our Wifi is down? Does that mean people cannot share the gospel anymore? Does simply clicking a 'send' or a 'share' constitutes an evangelistic job well done? That will reduce sharing the gospel to a series of 'pick-send-and-click' keystrokes. In a hit-and-miss scenario, chances are there will be more 'miss' than 'hits.' This is especially when the Internet is flooded with information, misinformation and disinformation.

4) Problem #4: Lopsided Toward Mind
The gospel of John begins dramatically, that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus become man, come into the world and dwell among us. In Jesus' times, Jesus lived out the gospel, for He is the gospel. It is the LIVED Word. In the early Church, the Word becomes shared by word of mouth. It is the SPOKEN Word.  By the Reformation in the 15th Century, with the invention of the printing press, the Word turns into the PRINTED word. By the 20th Century, the Word has become the DIGITIZED Word. With the Internet, the Word has become the DISPATCHED word. Looking at it carefully reveals the changing philosophy behind each medium of distribution. The original version has Jesus walking throughout Palestine, praying, learning, teaching, sharing and living the gospel. Jesus lived out the Word in head, heart and hands. In our modern world, technology helps in disseminating intellectual information more than anything else. That is one reason why digitized information are classified as 'Intellectual Property,' more than any other legal notation. Technology has that insidious ability to reduce the gospel to a intellectual device. The question is: Are we sharing the whole gospel (ie head, heart and hands) with technology? Chances are, such a distribution mode tends toward a lopsided mind approach. Are we moving back to a Rene Decartes' era of 'I think, therefore I am?'

5) Problem #5: Projecting Our Assumptions
I remember the saying, that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others. It is an idiom that reminds people to be aware of their own vulnerabilities. At the same time, we need to learn to recognize that those with first-world luxuries, cannot assume that other worlds have easy access to first-world technologies. That will be ivory-tower thinking. Even though the Internet has become ubiquitous in many parts of the world, we cannot assume all people will be comfortable with them. We cannot assume all people use English. We cannot assume that the material we read in English, is automatically available in other languages. We cannot assume that people will be able to handle newer technologies thrown at them. In the movie 'The Gods Must Be Crazy," viewers were treated to a humourous film about an African native with a Coke bottle. It is a classic display of technology being used differently by different cultures. Assuming that the Coke bottle is from a deity above, it was initially very fascinating to the native African tribe. However, the very possession of that bottle soon ushers the tribal population to experience greed, hatred, anger and even violence. My point is, we cannot assume that without training and proper guidance, people in other lands will appreciate the gospel through technology, in the same way we do.

I will write another article on the redemption of technology, and how we can use technology wisely. Comments are welcome.

conrade

2 comments:

noize said...

good comments, can find no fault there (not that I should be fault finding!) but you make a good arguement - we should be careful not to exclude the traditional methods of evangelism. Technology is just another tool to use :-)

YAPdates said...

@noize,
Thank you for your comments. Technology while is a tool, needs to be under the guidance of wisdom. Blessings.

conrade

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