How Technology Is Changing, or Should Change, the Way the Gospel Is SharedBy Dion Forster
June / July 2010
The German theologian Helmut Thielicke once commented, “The Gospel must be constantly forwarded to a new address because its recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence.”1 This is a very challenging yet true observation about the nature of mission and evangelism.
One of the most significant Christian books of our era is Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.2 Jenkins quotes Philip Yancey, who notes that:
As I travel, I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God “moving” geographically from the Middle East to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where he’s wanted.3
There is no doubt that the geographical movement of Christianity throughout history has radically changed the manner in which the gospel is shared—from its birth in Israel among disenfranchised Jewish peasants; to a state-sanctioned religion under the emperor Constantine; through Europe and the Reformation; taking a detour via the dominance of media and mega-church-driven North American Christianity of our recent history; to where Christianity seems to be finding its place among African, Asian, and South American believers. Each new context presents challenges and opportunities for the gospel and the faith.
The Next Shift in Global Christianity
But what if the next shift in Christendom is not merely a geographical shift, but in fact a shift into cyberspace—a movement of a completely different kind?
Let me qualify what I am suggesting. Yancey and Jenkins have suggested that Christianity is dominant where the Christian population is most present (numerically) and most influential. This shift can be traced throughout history as different people in different places (geographical locations) have gathered in communities of influence to develop the theology and strategy for sharing the gospel.
However, what if the next major gathering of believers is not bound to a single geographical location, but rather is characterized as some form of scattered “gathering”—a means of drawing together across geographical boundaries with a common mind and purpose? Up to fairly recently, such a shift was not possible.
The limits of effective communication in order to share ideas, create community, and develop influence were simply not possible via single direction broadcast mediums (written letters, messengers, even faxes and telegraphs). However, with the advent of fast, reliable, and pervasive communication technologies, the possibilities for communication and connection are changing. The globe is smaller!
Consider this amazing little fact—at the time of writing this article, the Internet social media website Facebook had just passed the 400 million user mark. If one were to compare the users of Facebook to the populations of countries across the world, you may be surprised to discover that Facebook has the third largest population in the world (bigger than the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil).4 If Facebook continues to grow at its current rate, it will soon be one of the most populace communities in the world.
Dr. Dion Angus Forster is a minister and academic. He is the former dean of John Wesley College, the seminary of the Methodist Church of southern Africa, and a research associate and lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Stellenbosch (BUVTON). Forster serves as a chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer and the Power Group of companies in Cape Town, South Africa. His most recent book on ministry in the workplace is entitled Transform Your Work Life: Turn Your Ordinary Day into an Extraordinary Calling (Struik Christian Books, 2010).