Saturday, October 24, 2009

Internet Christianity

I am a member of a number of email "chat" groups. They are all related to the faith. As I participate, and observe the nature of the discourse, I have begun to formulate an assessment.

Internet Christianity is not confessional, nor does it advance confessional thinking, generally. What it advances is personal kind of faith, a highly idiosyncratic theology. People start by asking questions, which is good, but soon the discourse turns to a discussion which floats heavily in the direction of "I think so-and-so," of "I feel thus and so about this or that."

Confessional theology is grounded in truth, an objective, outside-of-me truth. The Lutheran Confessions provide just such a framework on the topics that they address. Internet Christianity becomes very individual and not shaped so much by an external truth but by an internal monologue.

Faith has always been personal and internal, but it needs to be grounded in reality which is not open to personal modification. Scriptures provide that, to some extent, although most people are comfortable doing what they refer to as "interpretation". By that they generally mean that they dismiss what they are uncomfortable with and redefine terms in parts so that what it means to them is often contrary to the literal sense of the text.

Theology which is highly personal and, as I defined it above, idiosyncratic, is not a strength for the church. It may start innocently enough, but it can lead quite easily to the sort of denial and redefinition that one might observe in the Emerging Church Movement.

Aside from the "I believe what I like" sort of excess encouraged in Internet Christianity, we find it possesses an atomizing effect. The Church is a unity, a common confession of truth, and a body of shared experience. The individual sitting alone behind their computer screen determining for themselves what seems right and feels right and does not offend their sense of religion provides only half of the experience of the church. Everyone has always made those sorts of assessments in the privacy of their own thoughts, but historically in the church, people were forced to do this in the context of the constant presence of the body of the believers around them for worship, for the teaching ministry of the church, and for the fellowship of the saints. They were simultaneously being homogenized with the confession of the church around them and wandering freely in their own judgments. Either half of this process without the other is unhealthy.

There is no un-ringing of this bell. The contents of this 'pandora's box' cannot be forced back into the container. Internet Christianity is here to stay. This is just a caution for those who engage in it. Do not allow this process to become a fractionalizing experience in the church. It will not serve the Church, her mission, or you personally, well.

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