Not long ago I became aware of Shane Hipps, a former advertising executive who became the pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Arizona. Hipps is the author of Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, an interesting book that presents a new perspective on media. Rather than being just another book about how churches can use media, Hipps presents an analysis of how visual media is shaping our faith itself.
Hipps is quite enamored of Marshall McLuhan, who he claims is "the greatest thinker you haven't heard of" - or more precisely, the greatest thinker we don't know much about, since almost all of us have heard of one thing - McLuhan's famous statement that "the medium is the message." Hipps unpacks what that means for faith - if the medium is the message, how does the medium become the gospel? How does the medium change the way we do theology?
What struck me as being very useful is his insight into how words work versus images. Hipps says that words unleash the imagination. For example, if you mention "an old man" - everyone reading those words forms a different image. But he then tells us that images hijack the imagination. If someone shows you a picture of an old man, now everyone has the same image in mind.
Is this good or bad? Neither, says Hipps. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to unleash imaginations, use words. If you want to create a shared experience, use images. (BTW, he points out this is why the book is always better than the movie. The movie can't live up to the different ways millions of readers imagined the book.) Hipps challenges us to understand the inherent power in our media choices.
Hipps concludes that the very way we do theology is shifting as we move from a word-driven to an image-driven culture. Media "repatterns our brains" according to Hipps. It's an interesting premise and one worth reading about whether or not you use media in your churches, because the media of the culture is still changing the way your parishioners think about theology.
BTW, Shane Hipps has recently announced that he is leaving Trinity Mennonite Church to become "teaching pastor" at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids. Apparently Rob Bell will be cutting back on his preaching load. More on Shane Hipps is forthcoming...