A Shifting Paradigm: The Emerging Media Culture in the Christian Church

A classic treatment of the relationship between Christians and the world is Augustine’s massive, The City of God, written against the backdrop of the fall of the Roman Empire at the hand of the barbarians.  Augustine distinguished between the eternal City of God and the temporal City of Man – two rival cities shaped by opposing loves and working toward different ends.  Nevertheless, the dual divine command to love God and to love neighbor requires that we work for the common good of the City of Man, even as we are citizens of the City of God who proclaim the gospel to our neighbors that they might become our brothers.

Twenty-five years ago Francis Schaeffer published his short but illuminating book entitled A Christian Manifesto.  The basic problem he saw with the evangelical view of culture and government is that it viewed things “in bits and pieces”—pornography, breakdown of the family, abortion, etc—“instead of totals.”  Schaeffer labored to help us understand that it is a massive worldview change that has happened, and he sought to re-lay the foundation for truth, morality, freedom, and civic engagement.  As Schaeffer once said: “Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality—and the intellectual holding of that total Truth and then living in the light of that Truth.”[1]

In our current era we are in the middle of a profound paradigm shift, brought about by the emergence and now dominance of electronic forms of social communication and their supporting ideological and economic structures.  What does this shifting paradigm mean, not only for the individual Christian, but for the Church corporately?  How does the Church corporately respond or interact with this shifting paradigm of media culture?

It is interesting to note that the emergence of Reformed theology concurred with the emergence of mass print in Europe.  The printing press gave Martin Luther an alternative base of power and influence against the organizational power of the Roman Catholic church.  Luther’s theology was a re-appropriation of the earlier manuscript theology of Augustine – one could speculate it was a practical appropriation of manuscript theology into the new paradigm of print.[2]  Reformed theology has been a strongly literate-based, clerical theology, most of it developing and being disseminated within academies/seminaries, the centers of book-learning.  One of the practical theological tensions within reformed churches has been between the literate-based academic theology of the clergy and the largely oral practical theology of the people.

As it seems, the Church has come to another fork in the road – a new doorway of which it must make the choice to walk through.  Will the Church maintain its literary base – or will it adapt to emerging audio/visual technologies.  One thing’s for sure, if we as Christians are to remain “in the world but not of it,” we must have in the forefront of our minds the inherent desire to navigate responsibly with a God-honoring, Christ exalting motivation for the glory of God in today’s media culture.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer : A Christian Worldview. (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996), 423.

[2] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).