Theology After Google and the (Missing) Missio Dei

Having spent the last day or so at Theology After Google (TAG; #tag10 on Twitter), the conversations and TED styled speaker offerings have generated both thought and dialogue.   The topics ranged from the “free” price of social media like Twitter, Facebook, and blogging; environmental activity within the community of Jesus; and the integration/push of social media into theology, changing it’s shape and form.  Very interesting and well read, written and articulate individuals.

However, there is something that has been quite troubling to me in this community and conversation: the lack of missiological conversation.  We have covered, quite thoroughly, Web 2.0 and it’s characteristics: how it has shaped our children, the broader culture (read: largely white, middle class culture; this is another blog post worth it’s own effort in writing), and how the church has/has not responded.  It seems, though, that the efforts of some -in my humble opinion- have not shifted in posture from the ecclesiological status quo that is the western church today.  That is, in some offerings there has been little more than merely being “relevant” or “culturally competent” in our broader culture. There has been a deafening silence on where God is actually at work in the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

Succinctly: what is the Missio Dei in the Web 2.o context and culture? How do we understand and participate in the mission of God in digital community? In my brief (and non-academic in rigor) observations of how followers of Jesus congregate in Web 2.0 – myself included – we seem to aggregate together.  That is, I follow people on Twitter I’ve looked for because they say things I want to hear or that I’m interested in.  Knowing that this is true for others, are we merely congregating ourselves online in the same inclusionary manner that we gather on Sunday mornings in church? Are we any different as a sub-culture in Web 2.0 than we are in the “real world”? Who are we tweeting to? Other followers of Jesus? (It must be noted that the irony that I’m posting this to those whom are also Jesus followers is not lost on me. I, too, participate in it.)

I think these questions are quite significant for the people of God to engage in here in the U.S. and subsequently when we think about our role in the global church. Other thoughts?

~ by Brian Shope on March 12, 2010.

7 Responses to “Theology After Google and the (Missing) Missio Dei”

  1. Good point, Brian. As a missional Christian, I am missing the missional emphasis in these discussions. Of all the speakers, I think Jeff Jarvis perhaps brought out the “missional” theme (without using that term) more than anyone else. How are we participating with God in what God is doing in the world – through technology/the Web/social media? That’s a question I care deeply about. Anyway great question. Let’s keep talking!

  2. Thanks Steve; yes let’s keep talking! If there is value in what you and I see, it will require a great many of us to discern it…

  3. You’re probably familiar with the work of danah Boyd, the Microsoft researcher who is writing about white flight online? She’s finding that the same racial and socio-economic divides that existed prior to the internet are not being overcome by it. Social networks actually tend toward homogeneity.

    Given that, how does the church use web 2.0 to push people beyond themselves and toward “the other?” It requires an awareness of the medium, doesn’t it? If the medium doesn’t want to do it, no amount of churchly motivation will force it.

  4. I’m not familiar with Danah Boyd; is there a URL or publication title I could get from you? I’d be very interested in it. It’s surprisingly un-surprising (if that makes any sense) that we continue to gravitate towards homogeneity. I heard recently that web 2.0 is actually increasing the tribal nature of our community, that we congregate together more and more, which increases the more vitriolic stereotyping of camps (think Dem.’s and Rep.’s). This fits with Boyd’s work.

    As to the church motivation re: medium and our efforts of the other, well said. If our digital medium enables and/or encourages the secularism that we live out in our “skinned” lives, we’re not really that far along in being reconciled to the other. Our missiological effort is different and yet not-so- different in the shift to social media and recognizing God’s work. I think it will take communities of Jesus to begin working together, both skinned and digital, to break through secularization. We have floundered too long in the individualized response to our need for reconciliation and mission…

  5. […] After Google and the (Missing) Missio Dei (Part 2) To follow up with Part 1 of this post, I’ve been reflecting on some struggles I’ve had with the overall […]

  6. I think this is similar to the bricks and mortar observation “the church is not the building”. The building is just a tool. In the TAG discussion, I gather that what we were doing was talking about how to “build a different kind of building”. In my responses on another blog, I haven’t focused much on missio dei in the same way that I don’t talk about where God is present when I’m giving directions to the church secretary to print the bulletins. I think the TAG discussion wasn’t so much about the purpose of the church but about how to advance that purpose in the 21st century.

    The church – 1st century, 15th century, 21st century – has to have a sense of God’s mission in order to thrive. Has to. The question in my mind is, once you have it, what do you do with it and what tools do you use to make it happen. TAG provides some interesting thought experiments for changing our practices in a way that will allow us to advance God’s mission (or to be used by God to advance God’s mission, if you prefer).

  7. Jonathon, thanks so much for hopping in! I’ve enjoyed the conversation at Rocko’s blog; glad to have another dialogue partner here as well. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found my thoughts somewhat fragmented and the forum for these conversations (here and at YoRocko), due to the depth of experience and work we’ve all had in different church contexts – and what we’re missing from knowing each others said experience -lacking to know others well enough to fill in gaps or assumptions in the dialogue. One of the limitations of the medium, offset by the fact that without it these conversations couldn’t happen at all!

    I’m responding to both of your comments in this post, for ease of conversation. This line is a good starting point:

    “I think the TAG discussion wasn’t so much about the purpose of the church but about how to advance that purpose in the 21st century.”

    I would agree with you on this; I came to this realization a bit later in the game than some of our conference co-attenders. Further, I think that the efforts and conversations that were facilitated by those at TAG are quite worthy to discuss. We need to discern our host culture and it’s topography in order to begin facilitating the body of Christ in context.

    However, what was striking to me was the lack of missiological conversation at TAG because I’m not sure missiology can be separated from theology. We must have an ongoing conversation about what we are learning, seeing, hearing, understanding, etc. and how we may be faithful to pursue Jesus in that context.

    Or, as I said in Part 2 of this post, that it was assumed that TAG was operating from a particular understanding of the Missio Dei in the U.S. If so, than the silence about how we as brothers and sisters of people in other contexts (whether knowingly following Jesus or not) and our participation in unjust systems that enslave them is troubling. It’s not very good news (to those suffering, for sure), and I would even say it’s not very good theology.

    Our ecclesiology – in both knowledge and praxis – is rooted in not just theology and culture, two aspsects which were integrated very well at TAG. However, where was the conversation around what digital culture/internet connection/computer networking has on our participation as part of the body of Christ in a global sense? At this point, largely because of social media, having a theological conversation without an inclusion of global variables and communities, repercussions, etc., maintains a very narrow gaze on our own culture, ignoring the influence (I’m using “influence” in a non-valuative manner) social media has on cultures not as connected as we are. What is the bigger picture of our more local, U.S. context in the global community, and how are we as people of Jesus going to live in both? I’m inferring some this because of the silence of the offerings at TAG (as I mentioned in Part 2), but that is a rather strong indicator to me of it’s inclusion. Even if it was assumed, I think it would have been mentioned in passing by some of the presenters. If missiology and justice (among other things) aren’t part of the conversation around theology, than perhaps we have not really left the camp of our modern forebears. We continue to secularize the wholeness of a life of faith into compartments: theology, missiology, justice, cultural/contextual awareness, etc.

    As a side note, you mention the need for churches to keep their doors open to enact social change and preach the gospel. I’m a cynic and pessimist for sure, but after 11 years of work with churches in paid ministerial positions and work alongside of other churches, even most the open-doored churches could actually be closed in the justice sense. The U.S. institutional church is missing it’s sense of community and communal participation (in local, regional, national and international contexts), and long-ago lost a sense of justice (read: from racism, sexism, sexual orientation, poverty, etc.). I speak in broad, sweeping, dare I say “straw man” terms. Again, this is my experience.

    Perhaps, in a closing thought – on a rambling response, after a very long day with my two little ones – that part of my struggle is being sure we understand the purpose of the church. Moreso, that we have held loosely our definition of the church. In both cases, they are both God’s (and you don’t need me to say that to you, for sure…). These are things that need to be held in dialogue as well, and if we’re “advancing . . . the purpose of the church” but the church hasn’t been reflected on missiologically (and in other ways) as well as theologically (as it seemed to me at TAG), than the body of Christ may be doing more to imprison people/some people of a context rather than offering the good news of freedom. (And after reading a bit about you on your blog, you are much more aware of that than I, for sure.)

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