It is about pressing in on the Bible’s unique vision of humanity in a way that helps us hold our devices loosely and wrestle honestly with technology, both with our mandate to innovate and the ways in which we are tempted to turn inward in self-worship.
This means that in some ways we will need to escalate our innovation and in some ways we will need to deescalate our innovation. This is especially important in the ways we choose to worship. We should not uncritically embrace what theologian Kevin Vanhoozer calls a “culture of spectacle”:
The church’s imagination is in danger of being captured by spectacular images that owe more to contemporary culture than to Christian faith. . . . I believe Scripture sets our imaginations free from the culture of spectacle so that we can see the world as it truly is: a good but fallen creation in which God’s kingdom is advancing in mysterious and often quite unspectacular ways.
This is why the ancient rhythms of church life are just what a digitally exhausted world needs. Sunday worship may be the most analog experience our people have all week. What seems like an old-fashioned relic—the embodied experience of corporate worship—offers respite and rest, and it prepares our hearts for God’s work.
The Embodied Presence of the Gathered People
Jesus told us that His presence is most pronounced “when two or three are gathered” in person, together as His body (Matt. 18:20). In an individualistic society so easily disembodied by media, we possess in the church the life-giving call of biblical community. In the church, we can work out our salvation in fear and trembling, not in isolation, but in real community, shoulder to shoulder and not over FaceTime or Skype. There, we can be known as we really are, challenged when we need it, forgiven, and spurred on to good works. There, we don’t need to put on a front or pretend. There, in place of a virtual community of performance and perfection that exhausts the soul, we find a community of grace that we can rely on and contribute to.
The church as the gathered and embodied physical presence of God’s people has something to offer a world increasingly isolated into digital tribes. This is where we celebrate a meal together, physically raising the bread and the cup to our lips in celebration of our status as God’s redeemed image bearers. It is where we kneel together, across generations, in humble prayer. It is where we gather in groups and read the Word and share our most difficult struggles. It is where we literally stand and sing, declaring that Christ is King above all others. Think, for a moment, about the stunning simplicity of it all: the cure for our digital identity crisis and dehumanizing self-worship might be to do the simple and analog act of going to church.
This ethos on Sundays can then flow into the rest of our weeks, helping us form the spiritual habits we need to inform the rest of our weeks and to give us a healthy grid through which we both employ our devices and separate from our devices.
We rediscover our dignity then, not in affirmation from avatars on a screen but in our identity as the people of God gathering in local congregations. This is where, every Sunday, we reconnect with our humanity because we worship the God who formed us in His image. It’s where the repeated rhythms of prayer, communion, sacrament, and song form us for life in the world. The local church may not appear in the news cycle, but it is where we learn to live as real people who produce, enjoy, and use technology without being dominated or shaped by it.
So, church shouldn’t resist technology that assists our worship, but it shouldn’t uncritically embrace it either. And we should ask ourselves, How we are ministering to a world increasingly dehumanized by our creations?