iCampus – What about the incarnation?

This is a series of responses to questions about an internet campus from a previous series of posts. Do you have any other questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will try to respond to each one. Thanks!

Matt Judkins offered this comment at Internet Campus – Not (3 of 8) about a month ago:

Interesting. I think this begs a question about the nature of community within an online/virtual Church campus. We all know that community can form online. The question is this: what kind of community is it? Is it partial community that never materializes? If we follow a God who chose to self-reveal by incarnation, “in the flesh,” what are we to think about a virtual community that never incarnates?

What would be the nature of community for an internet campus? These are great questions and ones that give me the most hesitation when thinking about an internet campus. The best case scenario that I have in response to the first question is that persons would gather with others to worship together as a part of the internet campus. If a group of 6 to 12 or more met regularly with an internet connection and worshiped together there would be a physical community of which they were all a part. This would be preferable to individuals worshiping as a part of the internet campus on their own. However, even individuals in a room with a computer by themselves would be entering into a community of which they would not otherwise be a part. I think that community can exist online and as Clif reminds me – the potential to connect with others in this way has never before been possible in history.

What about the reality of God’s revelation through the incarnation? This question touches on an understanding of God and on an understanding of what it means to be the church. I would not want someone’s experience of church for their entire journey of faith to be as a physically alone individual as a part of an internet campus (see the previous question and also the question from a previous post – What about the sacraments?). I do believe that the people of the church should gather physically, but not necessarily all the time. God came to us physically once in history in the person of Jesus Christ and continues to be with us in the non-physical presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Holy Spirit would be at work connecting those worshiping as a part of an internet campus.

I know that I need to keep thinking about these questions and I have The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel and Church waiting for me at The Well Bookstore when I get back to church tomorrow. I also have on my list to read Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Do you have any other resources – online, books or otherwise – that might be helpful in considering these questions?

What do you think about my responses? How would you respond to this question?

3 replies on “iCampus – What about the incarnation?”

You might read Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. I’m starting to wonder how much an internet campus would be strongly individualistic in what it communicates. Remember Marshall McLuhan’s saying, “The Medium is the message?” What does this medium communicate? Could it be communicating that church is something that can happen alone? Maybe not – maybe this is simply another form of community that the world hasn’t experienced before, and as such, doesn’t constitute radical individualism.

Also, you wrote, “God came to us physically once in history in the person of Jesus Christ and continues to be with us in the non-physical presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Holy Spirit would be at work connecting those worshiping as a part of an internet campus.” I wonder how the “non-physical” presence of the Spirit relates to the very physical “body of Christ,” we know as the Church. If we are truly Trinitarian, then we can’t have one member disconnected from another.

Anyway, Just a few more thoughts. I don’t want to sound too awfully negative, because I think this can be a powerful appropriation of new technology in service of the gospel. I just want to wrestle along with you!! 🙂

Thanks for working hard on this.

Matt – Thanks for your comment. You are helping to sharpen my thoughts on this issue and like I said, this is one of the questions that gives me the most hesitation when thinking about an internet campus. I think that you are right that the medium of the internet may communicate individualism. However, I wonder if that is beginning to change or change in some ways… For example a social media site like Facebook is not much good as an individual, it is only good in community.

I think that you are right on here with the critique of separating the persons of the Trinity. I was off the mark in making that separation. The inter-penetrative nature of the Trinity does make it impossible to separate, yet sometimes easier for me to understand in a more separate way. Still need to struggle / think on this…

Don’t worry about sounding negative. First, you don’t. Second, dialogue and conversation is perhaps the best way to learn.

You’re right, Facebook et al are having a significant impact on the way we view social connections and community. In fact, I agree that these kinds of online communities may be a reaction against isolation and individualism to some extent. However, they are also lifting up individualism in the way that everyone is a minor-celebrity.

I think it’s going to be key for virtual churches to be capable of “embodied incarnation” at particular times and places (I say embodied, because I’m not so sure that virtual is the opposite of incarnation, but it is necessarily different than embodied). What if you tied embodied events with the liturgical year? For instance, you could have a very pre-modern year if you’re reaching non-Christians. Lent could be a catechetical time online and culminate in an embodied eucharistic baptismal service on Easter. You might also gather on traditional holy days for more embodied eucharistic sharing. I think there is great potential here, but as with any new venture, it is going to be important to wrestle with new issues! After all, Jesus didn’t tell us how to do virtual church. Paul, however, did seem to use virutal means of being present with extended congregations. After all, what was the letter in the 1st century if it wasn’t a virtual form of communication?

Thanks for the conversation. I’m thinking of working on online community building of some sort for my D.Min. project, so this is a great forum for discussing some of the issues I’m wrestling with as well. It won’t be a virtual church, but some kind of online discipleship forum or something (maybe adult confirmation after some of the thoughts I’ve had here). I’m not sure what it looks like just yet.

Do you mind if I repost this comment section on my blog? I think it would be helpful for others to read.

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