Sunday, April 01, 2012

A Reformation of Christian Education, Pt. 2: The Broadcasting Church

Why is ‘reformation’ such a great word for describing how church communities are changing in the ways they learn and relate with one another? One reason is that the era of church communication (and in fact communication in general) we’re leaving, the “Broadcasting Church,” shares its roots with the Protestant Reformation. As many have argued, without the quick dissemination of written material that Gutenberg’s printing press provided, the very public theological arguments and rapid spread of ideas that led to the reformation could never have happened. As Elizabeth Drescher points out in Tweet If You <3 Jesus however:

…while printing did open the book of knowledge, as it were, to many people who would not previously have had access to the world of religious and academic ideas, it also closed the book on certain modes of relational communication that were a central mechanism not only for the sharing of knowledge in the ancient and medieval world, but for the nurturing of relationships within and across social categories (Drescher 62).
Before the printing press when books, scrolls and the like were rare and handmade, reading was a social rather than individual event, and readers contributed to books by writing in the margins or adding pages. In churches without pews, congregants would shuffle around and socialize during formal church services as well. Through this process, a type of “communal meaning-making” took place over time.

Once one fast-forwards to the popularization of radio and television in the twentieth century, the era of broadcasting communication dramatically picks up pace. Communication became a largely one-directional, one-to-many process, where creators of media sent out information to be received by largely passive consumers (Drescher 71). Sure, there were some exceptions… you might make a comment to your pastor after an either really good or really bad sermon, or you might phone-in a “shout-out” to Total Request Live as a young middle-schooler in the late nineties (note my bias), but as a whole, communication was a top-down affair, and many relationships, including those in many mainline denominations, began to suffer. The peak of the broadcasting era seemed to take place in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, a time when twenty-four hour coverage of cable news channels began to saturate the airwaves and mainline denominations that traditionally emphasized a communal sharing of authority were in stark decline...

God's peace,

Dustin is a Masters of Divinity candidate in his second year of study at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin really likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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