You'll have to forgive my Luddite attempt at a C++ joke in the title. It was a swing of an axe too heavy for me to lift. One that is often thrust into the hands of coal miners and truckers, as their jobs are deleted via ideological progress. The ever inflammatory, "learn to code" is simply not going to just happen. But then again, neither seems to be this technological reformation we've developed a whole set of terms for.
Terms like Gutenberg Revolution.
This phrase has been applied to a lot of things since the actual Gutenberg revolution in information technologies. The actual Gutenberg did what wasn't being done to the detriment of the lack of it being done. The church had itself in a bind and was being run by perverse and heretical people. So alongside theological heavy lifters, Gutenberg took what he had made and paired it with the truth in a meaningful way. But what he didn't do was use his technology because of the technology's inherent value. Or perhaps better put. The Gutenberg press did not make the reformation happen it joined with it. That was the revolutionary act. Not the man-centred and initiated action but a technological and faithful response to the gospel already actioning.
The same people who printed Bibles would have hand wrote them if it was needed. But used the printing press because they were as available to them as they were to it.
This is very different than the myriad of false Gutenberg revolutions the church has suggested we have been in and are in the middle of. Because unlike the first one, we don't have the will and means to revolution. We have the will and account-based access to the means. Gutenberg had total control over the mundane magic of being able to use his printing press to print Bibles. In a similar way that his hands would have done the writing if it was needed.
We don't have that kind of control over our social media. Or A.I. Or any VR space or whatever comes at us next technologically. What we do have is truth. But what we don't have is control over what we do with that truth. Posting what the bible actually says about any number of socially controversial topics patently shows this. Because those posts will be made to not show that, by the hands at the actual helm. Yet, our jean jacket and airpod festooned pastorate will state on these platforms and about these technologies, that we are definitely in control of this ship. Despite the evidence and icebergs to the contrary.
None of these bright, and shiny, and rainbow clad in June technologies and services is the next printing press. But they are doing a great job of convincing everyone that they are the next printing press. What we need to be doing is a good job of using the technology we have control of as we bring the truth of the gospel. Because what we are doing isn't working the way we claim it will when we claim the title and terminology of Gutenberg Revolution.
There isn't a statistically relevant person with a smartphone and the internet that doesn't know who Joe Rogan is. But there are a number of people in a relevant statistic that don't know who Jesus is as their personal Lord and Saviour, on any given Social media and through the internet. That could be because bro-science talks on elk meat and DMT, alongside political centrism and talk of ancient Egyptian aliens, may be a different kind of truth than the gospel. But it at the very least begs the validity of our use of actual transformative technologies to label what we play video games on and how we scroll. Another great example of this misalignment, is that there isn't a person out there using the internet, in most forms, that doesn't also know that the internet is where porn is found.
But for the moment let's assume that this era we live in is home to the next big thing, and we do need to reconfigure our churches and strategies to benefit the most from the technology of the age. It's a big enough assumption to go without criticism so I'll limit my criticism to stuff I've already mentioned before. If social media is the next big thing for evangelism or discipleship, then why are we only going where we are already? Finding Christians who also like to watch TikTok's isn't the same kind of thing as writing Bibles that used to only be made by hand by the catholic church. But if we claim it is of equal or comparative value to do such, Then why are we preaching our social media gospel where there are already Christians? Paul didn't.
"by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
Romans 15:19-21 English Standard Version
There's a social media site out there that knows you don't think of it like you do Instagram and Facebook. One that is in desperate need of the gospel for its unbelievers and reformation for the backslidden believers who keep showing up as well. One that is as unapproachable as the temple prostitutes of Corinth were to Paul, where he wrote the letter to the Romans, and one where anyone can make an account and use the technology of the day to do their worshiping. You know which one I'm talking about without being on it because of the same kinds of comparison used to call TikTok akin to the printing press. I'm not saying this kind of thing doesn't work. I'm saying what we're doing isn't lining up with what would work.
St. Boniface found himself in a similar position but with fewer distracting apps on his phone. Tasked with bringing the gospel to an 8th-century German audience. But a particular tree stood in his way as the place where everyone actually gathered because they had no online spaces to conflate. Boniface could have taken the approach we are fond of, one with social media, and began planting Christ Trees to sway the Germans to a more and better fruit from the Spirit. He instead took an axe and exercised his dominion over the plants, given to humanity for their bodily food and turned it into a pulpit from which food for the soul would come.
Maybe, just maybe we need to apply what we argue for, on behalf of our social media churches, and take an axe to another social "Hub" where there is more than enough sin and sinners to warrant the presence of the Saviour's gospel. But what that will require is a Boniface Resolve, in lieu of a Gutenberg Revolution.
If anyone needs me. I'll be sharpening my axe for the Germans.
Take it away there, Johnny.
"And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Matthew 3:9-11 English Standard Version