Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Challenges of Spreading the Gospel in the Information Technology Age

In their new book The Hyperlinked Life, David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, and Jun Young, founder and CEO of ZUM Communication and former Microsoft employee, explore some of the data and trends that are producing this new iWorld. More importantly, they look at what it means for God’s people to thrive and bear witness to something greater than ourselves and the plethora of information at hand.

In the past fifteen years a revolution has taken place. You know about it because you’ve lived through it, but you may have missed its profound implications. Everyone’s heard of the digital revolution, but this is so much more. It’s the knowledge revolution.

Here is what this revolution looks like:

Not so long ago, we had to wait for information about our world to come to us. Books and other print items were among the first media that collected and distributed information in a relevant package for humans. Then came radio and television — electronic media that helped satiate human beings’ thirst for more immediate knowledge. But all the media thus far have the disadvantage of being limited to bursts of information packaged for the largest possible audience. In other words, the information we gain via television and radio and newspapers is knowledge for mass consumption.

We still have access to information produced for mass consumption. But the knowledge revolution — with information now available through interconnected digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers — is about personalized knowledge. It’s not simply information for the masses; it’s customized, personalized, on-demand information.

The knowledge revolution is the rise of the hyperlinked life: access to what we want to know when we want to know it.

Living in such a world requires a certain amount of adaptation. We had to adapt to the Industrial Age, and we will adapt to the Information Age. But we have to recognize there are both pitfalls and potential in adapting to this new world — a world in which we are all hyperlinked. (1)

Speaker and author Robert Ringer says, 'The world is saturated with intelligent, highly educated, extraordinarily skilled people who experience ongoing frustration because of their lack of success. Millions of others spend their lives working hard, long hours, only to die penniless.' What's the solution? Ringer says: 'Remember, life is nothing more than the sum total of many successful years; a successful year is nothing more than the sum total of many successful months; a successful month is nothing more than the sum total of many successful weeks; a successful week is nothing more than the sum total of many successful days. That's why practising successful habits, day in and day out, is the most certain way to win over the long term.'

The Digital Age is upon us. In the span of less than three decades, we have redefined the way humans communicate, entertain, inform, research, create, and connect – and what we know now is only a hint of what is to come. But the greatest concern of the church is not a technological imperative, but a Gospel imperative.

The digital world did not exist a generation ago, and now it is a fundamental fact of life. The world spawned by the personal computer, the Internet, social media, and the smart phone now constitutes the greatest arena of public discussion and debate the world has ever known.
Real communication is happening in the digital world, on the Web, and on the smart phone in your pocket. Real information is being shared and globally disseminated, faster than ever before. Real conversations are taking place, through voice, words and images, connecting people and conversations all over the world.

"Social media" might be only a decade or so old, but it has grown astronomically and has gained in popularity throughout the world. Social media, broadly defined, is virtual engagement and interaction with other people on various online networks, platforms, or systems; practically speaking, social media includes popular social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, weblogs ("blogs"), video websites like YouTube, customer review websites like Yelp, and online communities like Pinterest or Reddit. Through these various forms of social media people are able to maintain virtual friendships, collaborate on projects, post information, and/or discuss all sorts of subjects. We do well to consider how we can effectively promote the Gospel and glorify God through our use of social media.

Social media often brings down some barriers found "in real life," especially geographical barriers. Through social media Christians have the opportunity to associate with fellow Christians who live nearby as well as halfway around the world. Christians from different parts of the world can participate in real time Bible studies through Skype or a Google+ hangout. Spiritual material which might otherwise have received limited exposure in a certain area can now be accessed by all sorts of people around the world. Many people are exposed to the Gospel of Christ through various forms of social media who otherwise may not have heard (cf. Romans 10:11-18).
Through social media Christians can develop, maintain, and nurture connections not only with fellow Christians but also people of the world in order to encourage them in the faith or to reflect the light of Christ before them (Matthew 5:13-16, Hebrews 10:24-25). 

Remember, if the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world, and that population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking.

Owen. D. Sratchan, Professor of Boyce College emphasizes to use technology to promote the gospel and enhance personal ministry. The crucial challenge for us is not to allow technology to master us, which all of creation — trees, wind, phones, images — tries to do in a post-fall world (Gen 3:17-19). We must instead master it. Once healthy patterns are established and accountability is in place, Christians should feel free to use technology and new media to promote actively and enthusiastically the gospel. We can be tempted to be modern Luddites, but gospel concern and church history won’t let us. The Reformation that birthed the Protestant and evangelical movements was driven by the printing press, a revolution in itself. Even as Luther and Calvin and the early Baptists spread their ideas like wildfire through printing, so we spread the gospel through Facebook, Twitter and whatever else is coming down the pike.

In summary, we need to be careful in handling technology. But we should not fear the new digital engagement. Prayerfully, wisely and out of love for God and his gospel of grace, we should practice it. We may need a few jabs in the ribs as we go; technology must not master us. Provided we establish godly rhythms, we can, in fact, master it, and turn the digital world upside down for Christ. (2)


(1)  David Kinnaman and Jun Young, The Hyperlinked Life: Living with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload

(2) Owen D. Strachan is assistant professor of church history and Christian theology  at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary


Raj Kosaraju 

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