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THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH

We live in a time of explosive change. "We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the twenty-first century, but rather, we’ll witness on the order of 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate of progress)."1 And with this explosion, we have been given the greatest opportunity in the history of the church.

Yet—in what should be an awesome awakening—it’s strange the church remains so ignorant of the future and lost in the past. In the words of "Ol’ man river":

(It) mus’ know sumpin’ . . . but don’t say nuthin’ . . . jes’ keeps rollin’ along.

Why the ignorance? The changes already underway are more profound than the Industrial Revolution, aviation, antibiotics, television, nuclear weapons, and anything else we choose to name all rolled into one. The "information age" alone—with its microchip/digital revolution—already supersedes all the other social transformations of the past. And now, joining with other sciences, it offers even more spectacular breakthroughs.

As example, the world-changing technologies already in motion include genetic engineering, molecular biology, robotics, nanotechnology, telecommunications, and alternative energy. Taken together, they promise an end to disease, indefinite life extensions, computer/mind interlinks, close-to-zero product costs, unlimited energy, and other breakthroughs too incredible to mention here.2, 3

This is not (ho hum) just more of the same—a continuing, long line of technological toys we’ve come to expect from our well-paid scientists. This is not simply science fiction—a momentary and amusing transport beyond accepted realities.

For science fiction has joined forces with fact.

This linking of fiction and fact is remaking culture. It will forever change the way we think. It will morph us into something totally different. And that remaking includes everybody—even those who seem far removed from technology:

Ten years after online technology became generally available to the American public, the Internet has thoroughly penetrated the American psyche, culture, and economy . . . (It is an) extraordinary social force . . . The impact of the Internet . . . cannot be overestimated.4

In other words, we can’t choose whether to participate. It’s a pervasive reality, like a new "skin of culture" with all the sensuous, total reality we’ve known from our own skin. In other words, we will inhabit a new epidermis.

Future historians may compare these total technologies to the early Roman roads that took over the known world. Like the Internet, for example, the Roman road system was originally designed for military purposes. Very quickly, however, it expanded to include trade, communication, the spreading of the Gospel, and the birth of a new civilization.

Twenty-first century technology—again, already underway—should, by itself, shock church leaders with its immense ethical questions and implied opportunities. Yet—as stunning as they are—these challenges remain only part of our story! The main event still escapes us:

Most observers believe we are entering a new era of science and technology. And, true enough, the new era will be the first century where most of the developed world will work with their heads, not their hands. But this amazing transformation will prove much more than that. It will not only be mental and physical, it will also be emotional and spiritual. In truth, we are moving into a world of meaning, value, transcendent purpose, and immanent presence. . . .

. . . the very foundation of the church and the "first machine worth living in"!5

The New "Cyborgs"

To begin, language is being stretched. It is groping for new ways to represent reality. At this point, we see only a glimpse of this new medium in its formative years. Yet, we are in a "communications transformation as fundamental as the introduction of writing 3,500 years ago."6

Here’s why:

Language is no longer about "words." It’s about "metaphor"—images, graphics, icons, symbols, analogy—or, using a more recent term, "virtual reality." Perhaps, this new reality began with the early telephone where people could "be" with another person thousands of miles away. But, whether we find it in fact or fiction, virtual reality is the great symbolic accomplishment of our era.

And, it is increasingly emotional and interactive. No longer are we mere observers. Instead, we "interface" a system. Words like "virtual" reality, "cyber" space, "real" time, "artificial" life, "endo-" and "nano-" technologies blend the scientific with the senses, technology with touch, and the Internet with intimacy—new forces made sensuous and caring.

In other words, we are becoming "cyborgs"—blending cyb(ernetics) with our org(anism).

Further, this new language is increasingly simultaneous and inclusive. It is a multi-sensory world, where "broadband" is capable of engaging all of our senses simultaneously. And it is a mutually inclusive world, where the "whole" of existence involves interrelated patterns and process.

In other words, the borders between art, science, life, and religion are getting blurred—all at the same time and all in similar ways.

"In-Your-Face"

These trends mean, as well, a return to an "oral culture"—or more accurately, an "electronic oral culture." In the beginning our sages spoke their stories. Then, with the invention of the printing press, we embalmed our stories. In recent years, print and billboard advertising have proven sure signs of our hunger for the power and subtlety of oral language (though in a visual form). Today, of course, oral communication finds full expression in all forms of "in-your-face" feelings.

It has become the poetry of our will.

Of course, the power of the oral "word" comes from its nonverbal markers and its demand for action. This contrasts the printed word, which—by itself—yields no nonverbal information and remains restrained to "thinking" rather than "doing."

Whether we describe the language of the future as virtual reality or oral "messages," both are intuitive systems ruled by invisible forces. Both represent something "not there," something "beyond," something "unseen." And, whether they interface with religion or technology, both are art forms!

In short, art is the power in both virtual reality and oral communication, metaphor is the power in art, and emotion is the power in metaphor.

Can we see it now?

For the church, this is incarnational language—God-shaped syntax—Spirit-born metaphor. When all events surpass their appearance, they promise a perfect platform for empowered prophetic voices. And, as we proclaim these vital virtual realities, we give powerful evidence to the will of our spirit, the volition of our imagination, the fruit of our faith.

Can we even imagine how far this new language will have traveled by the end of the century?

Postmodern Prophets

The whole sensation of the postmodern world—including its science and technology—harbors a strangely religious feeling. Surely we are seeing the coming together of mind and spirit. Today’s "reality," for example, increasingly bears a symbolic potential. And, today’s "theory" increasingly points to the "evidence" or "substance" of faith.7

To illustrate, computing is quickly becoming more "profoundly personal."8 Raw emotion is finding a digital equivalence. And, raw data is taking on a numinous life. Already, a multitude of surfers seek their spiritual experience solely through the Internet.9 And, if wisdom is a product of the Spirit, then we live in a "present eternity" where all the recorded knowledge of the past, all the living cultures of the present, and all the virtual realities of the future flood our every moment.

In the epic endlessness of the World Wide Web, infinity is made not only imaginable but real.

Technology, in other words, is demonstrating the very dynamics of faith. Explosive innovations are anticipating the "yet-to-be." Creative breakthroughs are "calling those things that be not as though they were."10 And their visionary inventors are becoming the unspoken prophets of postmodern culture.

Even the latest scientific theories sound "religious." "Chaos" and "complexity" theories, for example, take a disorderly universe and make it orderly. And the proposed "truth" of this inherent tendency operates at all levels of life.

We find similar proposals in "string theory" which seeks to unite all the laws of the universe under one theory. Physicists claim it will literally explain all things—the patterned "whole" of existence. Though they avoid naming it "God," they clearly propose godlike realities.

They are embracing, in other words, what most postmodernists have refused to embrace—a Universal Truth.

Baptized Imaginations

Yet, Universal Truth is not the most shocking thing about this theory. For even without it, the church is being handed confirmation of the most powerful tool in love’s long history: Prayer and faith are real, and they actually change things! In other words, "string" and "quantum" theories are reaffirming what the Church has always known. . . .

. . . that more matters than matter.

Today, we often speak of quantum leaps—sudden and significant changes—never fully understanding these are "leaps" between parallel worlds of unpredictable powers.11 "What else but quantum mechanics," observers ask, "explains the miraculous event of creativity."12 "Since imagination locates itself in time, it must also locate somewhere in space. Somewhere, in other words, it takes on a physical reality."13

And here’s how:

In the odd world of quantum, things exist in a multitude of states until tipped toward a definite outcome by the act of "measurement." In other words, once we look, we change what is seen. That’s the reason the imaginations—or the creative images—of scientists often foreshadow their physical findings.14, 15

So what we imagine, then, happens in parallel worlds. There is an unavoidable bond between the observer and the world observed—between our imagination and the created image—which makes observing a quantum event without changing it impossible.16

We create it, and it, in turn, creates us. When considering that creativity, prophecy, prayer, and faith are more than similar, then the postmodern world of invisible forces is more real than reality itself.

Our imagination is being baptized.

"Out-Of-Bounds"

Or is it? For no church allows its believers to think this way. No church allows God to manifest Himself in ways other than "officially acceptable" ways. Though God always chooses the forms He inhabits, neither liberals nor conservatives choose the forms God has chosen to inhabit today.

Mainline churches, for example, enjoy first-class theology—rational, logical, intellectual. . . . Though their faith may reflect the ancient Greeks more than the ancient Hebrews, at least mainline leaders believe in the integrity of the mind.

Unfortunately, their followers are called "out-of-bounds" if they embrace anything beyond purely rational rules. As a result, their rhetoric yields little nonverbal information—God’s "immanent presence" remains a mere idea—and miracles cause major embarrassment.

Still, most of them would give anything to "encounter" the supernatural if they could simply keep their mind intact.

Why does our culture ask intelligent people to join the "snake-oil" crowd before they can witness the miraculous? Why do more conservative leaders consider intelligence a hindrance, not a help? And, why do spirit-inspired prophets find it more fun to be "flaky" than clear-eyed and sober.

Indeed, why can’t we welcome the supernatural, yet "test and prove all things"?17 Why can’t we "put away childish things,"18 yet still see God?

Kinky and Crazy

The conservative church allows even less access to the Lord of History. The postmodern world is out-of-bounds for them as well, but for different reasons.

Though charismatic and evangelical churches avoid many of the failures of the modern world—though their faith is closer to the Hebrew faith (a faith of empowered feelings more than mere abstract ideas)—and though they welcome spirit-inspired meanings, manifestations, and miracles—they place little value on the educated mind.

As a result, raw emotion, show-business sensationalism, kinky thrills, and fleshly kicks too often take center stage. Also, as a result, the empirical worlds of secular science and postmodern technology seem far-removed from their first-century God.

While the Lord of History always looks forward, the leaders of this group always look backwards.

Still, the world desperately needs their faith—the power and presence of a "real" God, a "manifest" Lord, a "proactive" Spirit. Yet, tragically, they refuse to fill that need, for they remain a fringe element in our culture. Few, for example, are national leaders, few produce quality art and literature, and few are considered well-educated.

In fact, their own leaders complain about all the "flakes" in their churches, all the "crazies" among their own people.

Why can’t we sense the presence of God, yet do it with maturity? Why can’t we keep our eyes open, yet see another world?

<<<>>>

For the first time in history, we have been offered the integrity of the mind as well as the integrity of the spirit. Surely, the church should welcome this opportunity. Surely, the church should see where the Lord of History is moving. And, surely, the church should accept His divine invitation.

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. Ray Kurzweil in PC Magazine, September 4, 2001, p. 151, 153.

2. Wired Magazine, September 4, 2001, p. 142, 144, 146, 148.

3. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 2000) p 104, 105.

4. Center for the Digital Future, Annenberg School, University of Southern California http://www.digitalcenter.org/downloads/DigitalFutureReport-Year4-2004.pdf

5. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New York: Basic Books, 1997) p. 24.

6. Mitchell Stevens, "The Rise of Image and the Fall of the Word," http://www.tothesource.org/2_26_2004/2_26_2004_printer.htm

7. Hebrews 11:1.

8. Kurzweil.

9. The Barna Group, http://www.barna.org/

10. Romans 4:17, KJ.

11. Kimberly A. McCarthy, "Indeterminacy and Consciousness in the Creative Process: What Quantum Physics Has toOffer," Creativity Research Journal Volume 6 (3) 201-219 (1993).

12. John McCrone, "Quantum states of mind," New Scientist, August 20, 1994, pp. 35, 36.

13. Michael Lockwood, "Mind, Brain and the Quantum," reviewed by Stuart Sutherland in Nature, Vol 343 Feb. 1, 1990, p.424.

14. Roger Penrose: Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, quoted in The New YorkTimes, Monday, October 31, 1994, by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt [Section C, Page 20, Column 3].

15. McCrone.

16. McCarthy.

17. I Thessalonians 5:21, AMP.

18. I Corinthians 13:11, KJ.




Future Church Administrator