My friend Dave says “we live in the future.” He should know. He helps create it. And I’m most proud of his wise reflection about it.
I believe Dave.
I did an entire Ph.D. in Psychology virtually. If I needed a book, it was in my snail mailbox the next day, or in my email within minutes as an e-book. I had access to every journal and article I needed via the John Hopkins University database. I didn’t step foot in a library once. And I completed the degree in 3 years all because I didn’t need to go anywhere. It all came to me.
A professor in seminary back in the mid-90’s told us that there would be a day very soon when we, the pastors, would no longer be the experts. He told us that people would sit in our congregations armed with information never before available. This new phenomenon called the internet, he argued, would land in the hands of ordinary people (much like the Bible landed in the hands of ordinary people courtesy of Martin Luther)…and it would be in their hands even as they sat in the pews. They’d look up those big Greek and Hebrew words we were using, and perhaps even question our use of them because of their instant access to online dictionaries, lexicons, and more.
It made no sense at the time. But the future is now, Dave says.
Christians living in the past will likely react how many reacted when Luther galvanized the use of the printing press for the Gospel. Change never comes without a fight. But, the reality is that traditional ways of learning and living are dying. The newspapers cannot give us information fast enough. Seminaries cannot train pastors quick enough. And phones…well, who wants a phone that merely allows you to hear another person when you can see them. Intimacy, after all, is conveyed powerfully through eye contact.
But what technology cannot bestow to us is wisdom. Wise practice is what changes people and civilizations. And even wise practice is elusive. Luther didn’t know that putting the Bible in the hands of the people might create deep division and biblical malpractice unlike anything the church had seen previously. Wisdom, it seems, is not something instantly delivered.
The church, if it chooses, can live in the future. Here’s a question for you and me to answer: What will distinguish wise practice from malpractice? Maybe I’ll see if Dave has some ideas…