Friday, June 24, 2011

The message and the medium

Read Mercer Schuchardt, a professor of "media ecology" at Wheaton, on "Taming the Image":
The band is rockin', arms are swayin', and you're about to come on screen in high definition with such stunning visual clarity that even people in the nosebleed seats can see your perfect smile.

Is this a rock concert? A beer commercial? Or just a typical Sunday morning?

These days, it could be any of the above.

Whether you're a questioning congregant, a concerned pastor, or a perplexed professor studying the effects of media on religious practice (like me), the use of technology in the worship setting is worth considering.

Media are not neutral. Like ideas, they have consequences, especially in the church. And some of these consequences should give us pause. In Technopoly media theorist Neil Postman writes, "A preacher who confines himself to considering how a medium can increase his audience will miss the significant question: In what sense do new media alter what is meant by religion, by church, even by God?" ....
After noting quite a few ways that the medium affects the message, Schuchardt concludes:
While our culture is dominated by Image, historically the church has always been dominated by Word. Image has an undeniable immediacy, but it tends to reveal only the surface of things. The Word is better able to cultivate deep reflection and precise, critical thought. Trading the Word for the Image is no incidental move. It changes what we say, as well as how we say it. Yet given the culture's wholehearted adoption of the Image, does the church have any choice but to follow suit? Must we accommodate the culture by imageizing our churches? Or do we defy the spirit of this age and do something truly countercultural—reinvest in the Word at a time when it is becoming less and less popular? [emphasis added] .... [more]
There have always been images in the Church, of course — statues, stained glass, paintings — and for the illiterate those may have had more immediacy than the words they heard, especially when the words were in languages they didn't understand. But Protestantism was critical of that and re-emphasized the the importance of the Word, in some cases by eliminating images altogether.

Taming the Image | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders