Poets, Prophets and Preachers Session 4

Where to begin with Shane's talk from this afternoon? Most of what he said was directly from his excellent book Flickering Pixels, and reminded me of why I like the book so much. Everything he said was inspiring and thought-provoking.

He began by reminding us that "Christianity is fundamentally a communication event." He then prompted us to consider the following statement which is oft quoted among Christians: "the methods change, but the message remains the same." Heard that one before? Shane says it's a lie! Based upon his study of Marshall Mcluhan, the most famous person we've never heard of, Hipps argues that "the medium is the message," or (the phrase that I prefer) "we become what we behold."

Hipps supports his argument by examining the way communication has changed over hundreds of years. The Middle Ages was a time of limited literacy and people learned through images. The images of stained glass, the Eucharist and the synoptic Gospels with their narrative and parabolic form were the primary means of communicating the gospel. With the advent of the printing press, Hipps says, all of the changed. The printing press and the rise of books gave us linearity, sequence, uniformity, and an affinty for John's Gospel and the Epistles of Paul and Peter (see Luther's introduction to the New Testament). This sequential ordering became apparent in everything from assembly lines to architecture (notice the linearity and uniformity of most sanctuaries) and even to faith. Hipps says that with the rise of the print culture, the means of communication shifted to the lecture or the sermon. Deep, theological sermons were preached by men like Whitefield and Edwards some lasting upwards of 4 hours (can you imagine!) and people packed the house! Because we become what we behold, print culture fashioned us into left brained, rational, abstract people. It took the invention of the photograph to change all that. Contrary to popular belief, a picture is NOT worth a thousand words, says Hipps. Pictures and words are two different mediums and cannot be compared. Pictures are concrete, holistic, intuitive and appeal to the right hemisphere of the brain. This shift in thinking also shifted the way we communicate. The letter L has no meaning in and of itself, but when italicized, encircled and placed on the back of a luxury vehicle we all know what it means. Hipps says that "our capacity for reading is greatly diminished in an image based culture," and that no matter how hard we try, "image always wins." A picture, according to Hipps can "hijack your imagination." The age of television and movies paved the way for the mega-church with it's entertainment worship, celebrity preachers and worship leaders, lights, sound, and use of the arts. And today we find oursleves in a technological age where preaching becomes more of a shared or dialogical technique in a coffee-house environment.

Hipps says that we are living in a time where preaching is harder than ever. We live in a society where print, television and technology are all acceptable. How we preach must be based upon the context that we are in. He says that if we want to release people's imaginations then we should use words, if we want to have a shared experience then we should use images.

Perhaps the best preachers make a habit of creatively utilizing both.

Mark 2:22 says: "... no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins." Notice that both the wine and the wineskins are new.

We become what we behold.

More later.


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