So… Contemporary Culture, Web 2.0 and the Church Walk into a Bar (Part III)

Friday I submitted my final MA writing project to Fuller Theological Seminary. (It’s essentially a thesis, but I did not have to defend my work before any faculty members. Positives and negatives to that, I suppose.) My degree is in Inter Cultural Studies, and while most of my peers had spent time in non-western cultures and with non-western peoples, my experience had been with college students. For 11 years, I worked with the Coalition for Christian Outreach doing campus ministry with an increasingly postmodern and post christian American culture.  I propose in final bid for my degree that not only are the modern and postmodern cultures/epistemologies vast different, but that navigating from one to the other is a cross cultural experience.  This is particularly true of the institutional church, a modern cultural manifestation of the body of Jesus that has a had a great deal of trouble even seeing the gap between it’s own structure/praxis/posture/etc., much less navigating the broader cultural milieu of its contemporary host.

I focused particularly on participatory culture and Web 2.0. It was a great deal of fun to work on, and I learned an immense amount of material. Integrating it was the most difficult task, one that I feel remains quite incomplete. I’ve included the abstract below, and may very well post a link on the blog soon to the whole document.

Shope, Brian.

2010    “‘What’s Happening?:’ An Introduction of Participatory Cutlure, Web 2.0 and the Missio Dei.”  Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies. MA Intercultural Studies. 91 pp.

The western church is in the midst of a cultural shift that has not seen a similar precedent in history. Web 2.0 has been both reflecting and propelling cultural formation in the west to be a great deal more dialogical and relational. People get their information from each other, and are gathering around common issues or meme’s due to a technological capacity for connection that is now available. 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  where YHWH is both expressed and at work in the missio Dei. As far back as eleven years ago the internet had reached 50 million domestic viewers, outpacing radio (40 years) and television (14 years) in only four years. (Sweet 1999: 32) This is indicative of the character of western culture, and the church has not yet begun reflecting on it. That is, relationship, conversation, and dialogue are becoming the norm of culture: dominant media, branding, and authority are much flatter than ever before. Using Cultural- and Media Studies and Missiology, the growing phenomenon of participatory culture will be analysed. Specific attention will be given to Facebook and YouTube, two social networking sites that are both reflective and contributory to the US cultural milieu. Missiological reflection will follow, offering an introduction of church participation in the missio Dei.

After 3 years of investing my life towards this degree, it feels odd to have it culminated in a mere 91 page document. There’s so much that informed it that doesn’t really get quoted and discussed in the text, both academically (Black Theology, Post-colonialism, Urban Ministry, Organizational Theory, just to name a few) and personally (the sacrifice my family made, the time spent with friends discussing it, online friends who gave feedback, conferences, etc.). My only hope is that if it’s worth anything to YHWH and the work she does towards re-connecting with her lost people, that it finds a wider reading audience than my closest friends and family, and my mentor who will grade it…

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~ by Brian Shope on December 14, 2010.

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