"SERAPHS OR SNAKES?"
A terrible wind is blowing the new direction of
time. It is difficult enough to prepare for events that happen once
in a lifetime. It is dreadful to face forces that have never
occurred in recorded history.
Yet, wait! Are these "dreadful forces" or have
church leaders simply mistaken "snakes for seraphs"? Have we wrongly
held sinister deaths for saving deaths? Have we hung stubbornly to
where God has been at the expense of where God is going?
For more, read on:
Trends and Rumors
Someone is hurting us! Something unknown is
waging an undeclared war! Who is it? What is it? Surely it’s our
We feel the pain between the "then" and the "not
yet." We sense the suffering between the end of one thing and the
beginning of another. Because the "now" is gone . . . the moment is
disorienting! And our myopic eyes can’t see the future. In this
end-time . . . this post-modern period, even scholars disagree on
what "postmodern" means. So the world of trends and rumors becomes
our "real" world . . . our only world.
Rumor or not, a terrible wind is blowing the new
direction of time. It is antimodern! It denies our reality . . . our
language . . . even the way we think. It demands the death of the
world in which we’ve lived.
We could call this intrusion a "paradigm shift"1—a
required change of vision that comes ever so often. But this shift
is bigger . . . mightily bigger! It’s not a mere change in the way
we see the world, it’s an upheaval in our very knowing.2
It is the biggest overthrow in the history of Christianity. And it
ends 6,000 years of "civilization" as we have known it.
No one will escape. This intruder is transforming
our work, our play, our reality, our language—everything. It is
difficult enough to prepare for events that happen once in a
lifetime. It is dreadful to face forces that have never occurred in
"The Ghosts of Technologies to Come"
Fiction is no longer fiction. Truth is no longer
Strange frontiers—as capacious as outer
space—expand beyond the reach of our reason. Weird times—from
nanoseconds to millennia . . . unknown realms—from the subatomic to
the galactic . . . and bizarre realities—from quantum physics to
biotechnology extend beyond the scale of our understanding.
Physics, in short, has become metaphysics . . .
but it’s not a mere philosophy.
Computuer guru Ray Kurzweil predicts that by
2019, a $1,000 computer (in today’s dollars) will perform 20 million
billion calculations per second—roughly equal to our brain. It will
"think" the way we think and will evolve its own base of knowledge.
Still more scandalous, it will enjoy the gifts of personality,
humor, beauty, joy, sadness. . . . And it will desire a human body.
We will wonder, "Who is virtual and who is real?"
Technologies, like these, are more than trends.
They are "the driving force of the overall economy."3 And
they are creating "the fastest growing social organization in all of
human history."4 We buy a new computer, for example,
every two seconds, and the Internet doubles every 100 days.5
Yet, what we see today are only "the ghosts of technologies to
The "brains" in computers are not only changing.
Human minds are also changing. A different knowing and a different
language are gate-crashing our world. We are shifting from mind to
spirit . . . from logical knowledge to revelation knowledge . . .
and from propositional beliefs to intuitive beliefs.
As a result, a new "proof" for Truth struggles to
emerge. A new "because" for faith fights to surface. History, after
all, has outrun our theology . . . our ethics. Today’s question, for
example, is not between beliefs. It’s whether we should believe
anything at all!
Truly, dark forces are at hand.
Seraph or Snake?
Yet, wait! How many times have we felt hurt only
to discover later, it was not real harm? How often have we felt
offended only to realize afterward, it was not true offense? How
endlessly have we confused seraph and snake only to see finally, it
was something else?
So, are we mistaken? Again? Is this intruder
really the enemy? Does a different future demand a sinister death? .
. . or a saving death?
The psalmist compares the past to old garments
that wear out. Then, like clothing, God changes them.6
After all, the Lord of History is not only "Who was and Who is." He
is also "Who is to come."7 Endlessly He commands,
"Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not
perceive and know it, and will you not give heed to it?"8
At moments like this, should we simply comfort
each other with "Don’t worry, God is sovereign"? Should we just
console each other with "Never fear, He’ll pull the fat out of the
No! The Apocrypha warns, "Of forgiveness be not
overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, ‘Great is his mercy; my
many sins he will forgive.’ For mercy and anger alike are with him."9
When the Lord of History moves, harm comes when
we don’t move with Him.
"Do not call conspiracy everything that these
people call conspiracy" Isaiah 8:12-13 (NIV)
The Chinese have an old saying about tradition,
"It’s like carrying a raft on your back after you have crossed the
river."10 Are we carrying a modern vessel into the
postmodern world? Are we on the wrong side of history? Are we in a
state of denial?
Carl Jung claimed, "Every period has its bias,
its particular prejudice, and its psychic ailment."11
Voltaire called it, "The lie commonly agreed upon."12 Our
religious illusions make us feel good, for example, "because they
are in harmony with (our) opinions, prejudices, and unconscious
assumptions about the nature of reality."13
In other words, our "way of life" is not
necessarily His "way of life." After all, culture is not the same as
Spirit. Never was, never will be.
Our "way of life"—our illusory truth began
harmlessly about 300 years ago. We believed science, reason, and
logic could "save" us from superstition, irrationality, and false
beliefs. And, no doubt, there were plenty of false beliefs.
When left to our own, though, things always go
wrong. So rational minds turned to an irrational belief in the
rational. Reason reduced God to the reasonable. And science "proved"
a "reliable" source for nonscience. As a result, faith formed from
rigid, linear ideas—soulless and insensate . . .
. . . a perfection of empty precision that
history now refuses. This artificial, arbitrary reality of the past
has slammed into the reality of the future. Yet, the church
continues to answer questions that postmoderns are not even asking.
After all, pure logic never converted anyone.
Even the wrongheadedness of our know-it-all heads
wouldn’t hurt if it weren’t for a more dangerous enemy: Pride! God
created man in His image, and man has been returning the favor ever
since! Lethal and immaculate in our vanity, even self-reform—our
reform—cannot move the hand of God . . . no matter how hard we try.
Yet, we continue using Scripture to prop up the
very illusions that the early church fathers promised would rob our
faith. We keep on believing we can outlive a time that has already
passed us by. And, we go on preserving where God’s been at the
expense of where God’s going.
...a closed system maintains itself
through fear, imposed secrecy and silence, deifying the past
to maintain the status quo, "in order to prevent the
emergence of disturbing new ideas."14
A Changing Language
Wake up! A new language is emerging out of the
ashes of modernism . . . not a new language itself, but a new
"language" of language—a whole new way of seeing and sharing. It is
our gift for survival in the new century.
History has witnessed similar revolutions. At
first, the sages spoke their stories. Then, they embalmed them in
text. Today, we broadcast them with pictures. And now, we’re telling
stories in forms totally unknown by earlier norms.
The language of the future will move past the
surface meanings of words. It will steer clear of rigid rules. It
will avoid objective "distance" or the mere exchange of data. That’s
because we will speak the language of art—not the art of today, but
a new art that transcends art . . . an art that lives outside
cultural "schools" . . . an art that supersedes old apologetics and
brings a new proof of Truth.
Of course, we’re not talking about the
superfluous, decorative arts of the past—the ones we could do with
or without. We’re talking about a new way of meaning what we mean—a
dynamic, intuitive, open-ended, mosaic technology of talk . . . a
"technology" that finds its origin in the word tekhne, which means
"art," and logia, which means "the study of."
And, like all arts, rituals, and symbols, this
new tekhne—this new art—will represent something "not there,"
something beyond itself, something unseen. In the hands of the
Church, it will "call those things that be not as though they were."
And it will have the power—through God’s grace—to transform us, to
recreate us, even to heal us.
Certainly, this new language will retain a degree
of reason . . . a quantity of common sense. Thank God! But the
"feelings" within this new art will gain more power over reason. We
are discovering, after all, that life is bigger than logic . . .
that awareness requires personal encounters . . . that reality must
be experienced—including the experience of emotion and feeling. So
John Naisbitt correctly observed that we have moved from an
industrial economy, then to a service economy, and now to an
"Legal tender" is growing increasingly "tender."
And the driving force is technology itself.
Already, terms like "virtual" reality, "cyber" space, "real" time,
"artificial" life, and "endo-" and "nanotechnologies" blend the
scientific with the sensuous, technology with touch, and the
Internet with intimacy. Indeed, we are becoming "cyborgs"—blending
cyb(ernetics) with our org(anism).
In this sensory, emotional multimedia—more real
than reality itself—life will become a virtual hall of emotional
mirrors . . . a kaleidoscope of sensory images . . . a meditation of
multiple metaphors. In short, virtual reality is the language of the
future, art is the power in virtual reality, and emotion is the
power in art.
These emotions are not the knee-jerk,
garden-variety emotions that so often overpower us. They are not old
feelings warmed over again . . . they are not mere emotions in
postmodern dress . . . and they are not pie-in-the-sky passions
Instead, they are "knowing emotions" . . . "felt
meanings" . . . "intuitive revelations" that precede logic and stir
us to decisions. They are "empowered passions" that will determine
future reality and totally shape relationships in the twenty-first
Yet, we are not discovering a new truth. We are
rediscovering a forgotten truth. For the language of the postmodern
future returns us to the passionate oral tradition of the ancient
Hebrews. Unlike our modern words—known mostly by the brain—Hebrew
"words" emerged first from the body . . . from visceral feelings . .
. rather than the logical mind. To them, the "Word" was a living,
aesthetic experience. That’s the reason they even talked of
"dancing" with it.
The oral tradition "is still the most powerful
code . . . and will remain the principal one for the foreseeable
future." It is "something that is profoundly deep and mysterious."16
Still, technology, art, and emotion—by
themselves—simply mean better video games and more money for the
movie industry. Merely more fun! So something else begs to speak
Truth to the Postmodern world. Something deeply powerful and
transcendent—a godsend for this moment in time.
Suddenly, "metaphor" walks on stage. Suddenly
"metaphor" becomes central to all studies of meaning (from
linguistics to philosophy). And, like a dangerous intruder, it
hurries the collapse of modern thinking. It destroys the rules of
ordinary language. It denies the pride of mere ideas. And, it
dismisses the comfort of narrow ideology.
Yet, in its rebellion, the strange becomes
familiar . . . differences become friends. And when truly
inspired—when prophetic—metaphor calls forth elusive beauty and
transcendent meaning. For it is incarnational language . . . it
makes infinity imaginable . . . it is the ultimate communion. It is
even trans-religious, for it speaks of reality, not culture.
Again, this metaphor mirrors exactly the
prophetic metaphor of the ancient past. Inspired prophets were
creators of comparison and contrast . . . artists of analogy and
affinity . . . virtuosos of similarity and similitude.
They spoke the language of prophetic metaphor.
Then and now, metaphors involve a "spiritual
level." And—at that level—they become "active forces in the world."
Carl Hausman claims they have the power to bring "something into
being."17 And Paul Ricoeur insists: They have "the power
not only to generate meaning but ultimately to change the world."18
Murray Krieger even promises that they invoke "the miraculous."19
The multimedia, multi-sensory world of the
digital age will prove a perfect haven for powerful prophetic
metaphors. And the intense, innovative interaction of this new
environment will promise a perfect platform for empowered prophetic
The metaphor is probably the most fertile power
possessed by man. (José Ortega y
Perils Among the Possibilities
Before we can "change the world," though, we must
know the world we’re changing . . . for many perils endanger the
Let’s be honest. The West has said farewell to a
Christian culture. Christianity no longer enjoys its protected role.
In fact, Christians are now a "subculture."20 The
rejection of our own government and the rise of alternative
spiritualities bear cold and silent witness. Adding trauma to
tragedy, postmodern leaders gleefully reject any universal Truth and
boldly flirt with moral anarchy.
It’s a sinister gladness.
Other more sanctified hearts remain hopelessly
trapped in the grip of the modern church, pathologically immune to
past, present, and future. Some leaders are passive, vulnerable,
childlike . . . consenting to any and everything. Some are angry,
aggressive, hyper-modern . . . harboring a negative image of an
Still, others—caught up in the novelty of a
philosophical fad—salivate for a sweeping remake of Christianity.
Yet, their proposals amount to little more than lobbing a bucket of
paint on Leonardo da Vinci’s "Last Supper."
And those spiritual adventurers who have long
left the church for secular salvations now consume experience rather
than live experience . . . now whore after the numinous rather than
revere the numinous. As a result, pop spirituality blurs the
boundaries between cult and culture. And "alternative" religions
seek the seductions between half-truths and half-lies.
. . . never knowing that the wrong metaphor can
A New Frankenstein
And if that won’t do it, something else will. The
Frankenstein of the future has arrived. The world of technology
threatens to turn us into an endangered species. And, like ideas
that can’t be put back in the box, once they’re out, they’re out.
In this technological invasion, we encounter the
excess powers of both human and machine . . . we run the risk of
mistaking machines for humans . . . and we discover the dark forces
of perpetual online links. As in Shelley’s book, Frankenstein,
we confront the perils of endowing inanimate matter with
intelligence—never trusting in a future espionage whom they will
"It is most of all the power of destructive
self-replication in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR)
that should give us pause."21 Further, "The commingling
of human and machine in the life of the libido is inevitable, and
So we die either in the modern world or in the
postmodern world. We either get pulled into the grave when the
modern world perishes, or we self-destruct when machines finally
take over. We’ve known these destructions before:
In 587 BC God dismantled the known world
in Israel. The temple was destroyed, the people displaced
into exile and all public life ended. This was a massive
‘phase change’ for them: everything their faith had relied
on was destroyed. God’s actions were not immediately
We are on a collision course with the Holy
Spirit. And we are rightfully warned of a great shaking.
A New Vision
At this crossroad between opportunity and danger,
hope begins by confessing vulnerability. We are, after all, a
religious remnant. And, like the prophet Ezekiel—who discovered
God’s presence during the Exile and in a strange land—we, too, must
find our Source during this Exile and in this strange land.
We can’t simply rehearse old visions of a lagging
church. We can’t even ride the wave of a "healthy" modern church.
Why? Because we can’t get there from here. We can’t drag the modern
world into a postmodern age. In other words, we can’t solve future
problems by merely "improving" ourselves.
The new church is not a warmed-over reformation.
It’s a new birth. It’s a new creation.
To get there from here, we must envision a new
vision. We must see with other eyes . . . hear with other ears. We
must think afresh the most basic assumptions. We must discover an
even deeper Truth . . . a more profound prophetic voice . . . a more
After all, our God is the Great Creator—not the
"Great Imitator." And He created us in His image. So we were created
to create . . . and then, re-created to re-create. While modern
world "problem solvers" solve problems, inspired creators create new
The pioneers of the past risked the unknown with
ships and guns. But the pioneers of the future will call forth a new
unknown simply with the power of metaphor.
. . . all in the name of a new language. A
different language. Mainstreamed, prophetic images will move past
the facts and worldly meanings of modern language to connect with a
certain, manifest Truth. The philosopher Wittgenstein wrote
prophetically, "To imagine a language is to imagine a way of life."
So we must imagine this language . . . this new
way of life. Our credibility will depend on the ability to proclaim
passionate metaphors—or vital virtual realities—in the coming age.
Like a universal musical instrument, we must learn to play it in
time with a future time.
An Alignment of Forces
This moment brings "a rare and momentous
alignment of forces."24 This Spirit-birthed age is
birthing spirit. The very dynamics that define the digital age also
define the first century Church: a new community . . . a new
communication . . . a new reconciliation . . . a new creativity . .
. and a new power.
We are "in the midst of the most significant
spiritual search our country has every known," according to William
Van Dusen Wishard, president of World Trends Research. And
technology is moving this search at warp speed. Over the epic
endlessness of the World Wide Web, cyberculture is "seeing through"
space and time.25
And our minds are following.
Esther Dyson, author of Release 2.0: A Design for
Living in the Digital Age, says that nonprofit
institutions—especially the church—will grow from all this. It’s no
surprise, then, when the Vatican revealed the names of their three
giant computers: Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael—God’s messengers to
man according to Catholic tradition.26
Out of the ashes of the past will emerge a new
knowing, a new language, and the greatest opportunity in the history
of the Church.
"Your time is now." (John 7:6)
The Incarnation of Power
And we have a role.
Scripture doesn’t claim "what is." It demands our
part in "what is coming to be." Jesus even built His church on this
inspired vision.27 And Scripture further affirms that
this vision is more real than the world in which we now live, which
is already passing away!28 The "actual" universe, in
other words, is the universe as it one day will be.
So faith is pregnant with the future . . . with
the not-yet inside the already. We anticipate the time to come in
the midst of the here-and-now. We claim the culmination of our
promises within God’s promises. And our hearts grow restless . . .
set on fire for creation’s renewal.
Not since the first century have we been so
empowered. For, again, we are returning to the awesome mystery of an
oral culture—or more precisely, an electronic oral culture. In a
truly oral culture, "words"—or prophetic visions—have power . . .
they "do things." And in this century, a new language will determine
a new reality.
"Religious" or not, we will explore the implied
power of Pentecost—the many ways in which the human spirit flows
from the Holy Spirit. We already see it in the mainstreaming of
creativity. Explosive innovations are anticipating the yet-to-be.
They are looking "to things that are unseen" and "perceiving" the
things for which we hope. Then they are giving "substance" to our
These dynamics, of course, are the very dynamics
The coming age will also recapture the potent
mixture of power and passion of the early Hebrews. For the creative
future and our prophetic passions will walk hand in hand. A new,
unfettered boldness will cry out in-your-face-and-in-His-grace.30
For intuitive visions and inspired feelings deeply require each
other. The excitement of discovery and the curiosity of creativity
This power and passion are not ours though. We
can’t claim the future through self-assertion, wishful thinking, or
human potential. We can’t call forth the Divine through the
"progress of humankind," illusory utopias, or even the fleshly
prowess of our faith.
Our boldness comes not from creaturely destinies,
but from the One who destines . . . not from the goal of our
existence, but from the goal of His existence.
Then—in His goal—something happens. What we
envision becomes real. Our inspiration becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy. It derives its meaning from the evidence we proclaim, even
as we proclaim it. It creates a new reality from the new world we
announce, even as we announce it.
Power incarnates power.
A vividly shared imagination is not
simply a shared consensual delusion, but a collective form
of incarnation; it is more like a civilization than a
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. From Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions (1962).
2. William Irwin Thompson, The Time Falling
Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of
Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981) p. 3.
3. PC Magazine August 2000.
4. In a speech by President Clinton, 10/17/97,
5. George Will in Newsweek.
6. Psalms 102:25-27, AMP.
7. Revelation 4:8, AMP.
8. Isaiah 43:19, AMP.
9. Sirach 5:5-7, The Apocrypha..
10. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim
in New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1999)
11. Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process
(New York: Mentor Books, 1955) p. 218-219.
12. Thompson, p. 136.
13. Thompson, p. 92.
14. Mary Dunn, "The Church’s Shadow Side," in
The Tablet, 27 July 1996, pp. 980-1.
15. John Naisbitt, "Beyond the Service Economy,"
John Naisbitt’s Trend Letter (15 Dec 1996): 1-4.
16. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 193.
17. Carl Hausman, Metaphor and Art:
Interactionism and Reference in the Verbal and Nonverbal Arts
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989) pp. 5, 111, 198.
18. Morny Joy, "Images: Images and Imagination,"
The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987 ed., VII, l08.
19. Hausman, p. 5.
20. Mark Driscoll in: Sarah Means, "Postmodern
church targets Generation X in Seattle," THE WASHINGTON TIMES,
21. Bill Joy, "Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us."
Wired 8.04-April 2000.
22. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New
Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New
York: Basic Books, 1997) p 187.
23. Mark Riddell, Mark Pierson, Cathy
Kirkpatrick, The Prodigal Project: Journey Into the Emerging
Church (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000)
24. Johnson, p 10.
25. de Kerckhove, p. 138.
26. Daniel J. Wakin, Associated Press Writer,
"Papal reach grows with new computer network"
27. A careful reading of the original Greek in
Matthew 16:15-18 reveals Jesus founded His church on spiritual
revelation, or inspired vision.
28. 1 Corinthians 7:31.
29. Hebrews 11:1.
30. Brad Sargent, "Enemies in the Post-Postmodern
Era . . . Unless . . . ," Strategies For Today’s Leader,
First Quarter, 2001, Volume 38, Number 1, p. 24.
31. William Irwin Thompson, Coming Into Being
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996) p. 153.