So… Contemporary Western Culture, Web 2.0, and the Church Walk Into a Bar

As a grad student at Fuller Theological Seminary, I’m writing the last bit of material for my degree: the thesis. It’s been a long haul, but a good one. I’m posting this as a sort of “heads up,” because my desire is to get feedback from folks about the content: whether it has merit, seems accurate, etc. If you’ve got something to add or a critique/corrective, I’d welcome the feedback. I’m almost done with the introduction, so I’ll be posting the intro and maybe the first section when they get done. Small batches make for easier reads, and the writing project has to be 40-50 pages.

Here’s the abstract/thesis: Web 2.0 has been propelling cultural formation in the west to be a great deal more dialogical and relational. This digital medium has both begun to form and reflect the characteristics of contemporary western culture, and increasingly global culture. The churches questions of “how to use” the internet/Web 2.0 for “outreach”, “training”, “community”, etc. are good, but miss the larger cultural shift and where YHWH is both expressed and at work in the missio Dei. It took only 4 years for the internet to attain 50 million users, where radio and TV required 50 and 14 years, respectively. This is indicative of the character of western culture, and the church has not yet begun reflecting on it.

Cultural subjects talk to each other much more than ever before, where in western “pre-modern” and “modern” era’s authorities such as monarchies, businesses, and economics held the discursive power. Although these authorities exist, they no longer are in control of their identity, or “brand”: “we” are, the cultural participants. This includes the church; agency is shifting to the cultural subjects over organizations, participating in culture formation in an unprecedented way. Folks in western culture, via Web 2.0, are having conversations and pursuing the divine, the spiritual despite and outside of the institutional church. We, as a culture, discuss products, ideas, philosophy, etc., while participating in communities, philanthropy, and activities with people we have never met, may never meet, and are likely very different from us-especially those from different cultural backgrounds altogether. Task completion is happening ever more communally and by contributory skills than as individuals and experts.

Likewise, YHWH is at work in western culture. He is about his mission, the missio Dei, whether we are aware of it or not. There are places his activity can be seen, where it’s apparent that he’s working. Likewise, she (YHWH is God, not gendered, yes?) is looking for participants, some knowingly involved (the church?) and some not (those who pursue YHWH through their cultural/religious heritage). There are movements of YHWH that can be discerned in this participatory culture and Web 2.0.

However, the church in the west is slow, if not latent, in it’s awareness of the cultural shifts around us. Books as recently as last year are being published on how to blog, and twitter is seen as a fad by some. The social networking and conversation is going around the church in her (as the bride of Christ) broader context, and yet she  remains deaf. (Caveat: not all, but most.) It’s not about how to, but what it represents and is indicative of in the movement of YHWH. The church is no longer the gateway to YHWH – never was, but it was conflated nonetheless with the church’s role – and culture has it’s own idea about the church’s “brand.”

YHWH is in mission in the intersection of participatory western culture and the people of Jesus. But if we’re not paying attention, the followers of Jesus will remain blind to where the host culture actually lives, works, plays, and incarnates itself. The church needs to be aware of its context, role, work as participant in the missio Dei, and how the host culture perceives it…

~ by Brian Shope on November 13, 2010.

4 Responses to “So… Contemporary Western Culture, Web 2.0, and the Church Walk Into a Bar”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dean Sheffield and Dan Marchante, Brian Shope. Brian Shope said: Organizng thots abt YHWH, wstrn #culture, Web 2.0 & follwrs of Jesus 4 thesis-care 2 cntribte? #emergent #outlawpreachers […]

  2. Hey Brian, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. How would you define “discursive power”? Because the further back we go in history the more our current understanding is predominantly shaped by the elites, but does that mean that average laborer and his/her community/family was aware of whatever “discourse” was being defined by the wealthy/powerful/educated elites? In other words, throughout history, how much has elite “discourse” defined social identity for the non-elites as far as the non-elites have been concerned? I’m not saying it hasn’t. I’m just asking.

    • Pat, good question. If I understand, you are asking about the reality -the self-perceived identity- of the non-elites in the midst of whatever discourse was happening in the elite class. What post-colonialism has called “defining the other”, where -in post-colonialism- the western perception of the Orient (in the case of Edward Said, a Palestinian American) was in fact a universal shaping the orient. In other words, western discourse defined the Orient, not an oriental people/s expressing that themselves. So I understand your question arightly?

      My short answer: in reality and incarnation of what people the non-elites experienced, and hence part of their identity outside of their control, a great deal. Marx and Hegels are examples of this in the philosophy of communism, socialism, and the uprise of the worker against the proletariat. The discursive power suppressed the majority & non-elite working class. In fact, the 1968 demonstration and student uprising in France (based on Marx/Hegels philosophy) failed to bring the change promised by Marx after an uprising. Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard -three of the most well-known postmodern continental philosophers- all lived through this. Their philosophies, all wrestle with power; particularly Foucault, who made the referent knowledge/power because of one cannot exist without the other: they are intertwined.

      A la Foucault, then, if we take the rise of the Mennonites in the 1520’s, the discursive power, the Anglican Church, branded them heretics. They were such to the majority of the population in Britain, with likely very few sympathizers. The elites defined them as such, and the persecution of the Menno believers is evidence.

      The rub: a la Edward Said, they were “othered”, and further perceived themselves and lived out their lives under a different discourse. Although the elite discourse defined much of their activity, expression, interactions, etc., Menno’s did not allow it to wholly render their identity.

      Likewise, Mikhail Bakhtin wrote about the nature of the carnival in the premodern 16th cent. From Latin carne: flesh, he offered the carnival was of the serfdom (flesh; everyday non-elite people) to overturn the reality of the authority of the king (divinely appointed and authorized to mete power) through games, mockery, excessive celebration, etc. Carnival hoped in, or maybe was resigned to, that a alternative possibility existed that the oppressive authority would be turned on its head. This would provide that, as in the Marxian example, although discursive power did in fact exert and “othered” identity, it was not necessarily the same identity that the non-elites saw of themselves. They expressed an other identity. As an aside, the emergence of high culture/low culture in British society during industrial revolution is another example. Folk “art” or “culture” (low culture; or what very few cultural theorists today would call pop culture) rose out of the discursive power of the industry owners over the working class. Another “both/and” in the sense of identity.

      Sooo, yes and no. Great question (if I even understood it!); complicated, not-so-easy answer. It’s difficult/complex to respond & actually articulate well, and I may have revealed more my rambling nature than any coherent response…

  3. […] topics contained within in earlier posts, but this is the beginning of the distillation process. My last post was a lengthy abstract explaining my thesis, and I decided it contained my thoughts well for the […]

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