Does the medium matter?

Andy Rau

Does the medium through which we share the Gospel matter? More specifically, is the internet a "neutral" means of communication, or does it subtly affect the messages communicated through it? Shane Hipps at the Out of Ur blog shares some thoughts on communication and media:

[We tend to assume that] if we pipe pornography through the Internet it’s bad, but if we post the Four Spiritual Laws there the Internet is good. We assume that any medium is simply a neutral conduit for information, like the plumbing in our house. The tubes are of little consequence unless they spring a leak. So as long as we are communicating the unchanging message of the gospel, every technology or method can be good. This tends to be our most nuanced conclusion.

Unfortunately, it fails to account for what our media and methods truly have the capacity to do and undo.

We obviously can't eliminate the possibility that a message will be altered by its medium. But Hipps suggests that just as the printing press and related communication technologies of the Age of Reason reinforced a certain "rationalist" approach to the Gospel message, so the image-heavy internet and related media today encourage a more visual, mystery-oriented understanding of the Gospel.

It's something to bear in mind as we think about ways to share our faith online. Certainly, the idea that most forms of media are "neutral channels" that can be used equally well for good or evil is a popular one. Christians talk about "tailoring" the Gospel message to work well through particular media--TV, the radio, internet. And while it's certainly good common sense to make sure your message makes use of a medium's particular advantages, such an adaptation can a have hard-to-predict influence on the way the message is interpreted.

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Evangelism