The Medium is Not the Messsage but…

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

Scholar Marshal McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message,” meaning that “the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”  Pastor & author Shane Hipps picked up on this concept for his book Flickering Pixels (Zondervan: 2009) arguing that theology is not exempt.  Both McLuhan and Hipps overemphasize the power of any given medium but they have a point.  The medium certainly can affect the message in such a way as to distort it. 

The Gospel message is pregnant with power.  The idea of God becoming a single cell, a child in a womb, a vulnerable baby and a man who lived a perfect life and died a terrible death for those in utter rebellion against their creator is difficult to even begin to grasp.  For nearly 2000 years, the “foolishness” of the Gospel has transformed lives in drastic ways. The Gospel is heartbreaking, awe-inspiring, liberating, and cleansing.

So, if the Gospel is all of these things and the medium can distort the message, how are you presenting the Good News of Jesus Christ?

I have been in churches all across the country ranging from small solemn Catholic gatherings in downtown Dallas to upbeat megachurch services in Atlanta.   I have heard the Gospel presented in many different ways–many of them cheesy or harsh or dry.  I have begun to ask myself this whenever I hear a sermon or lesson:

-Can the stories you choose to help explain the Good News carry the theological weight of the Gospel? In other words, if you are resorting to cute, emotional little tales, that we derisively referred to as “puppy dog stories” in seminary, can they really convey the depth and power of God’s death on a cross?  If you are preaching and utilizing silly videos or songs or dramas then what will be the emotional tone that accompanies the proclamation of the lordship of Jesus?  It is possible to be too cute, too creative, too folksy to witness to the justice and mercy of the cross.

-Is your presentation too harsh? I love folks like Paul Washer and consider them modern-day prophets but too many Christians attempt to copy strong speakers and like Washer and come off as nothing but jerks.  Yes, God is a just god and we all deserve His wrath but does your testimony also display God’s love born grace? Too many “young, restless and reformed” have over reacted to the watered down, seeker-sensitive model they grew up with by adopting an angry, red-faced style that simply cannot impart the love of God who died for us while we were still sinners.  You may say the worlds “love” and “grace” but does your tone and body language witness to it or serve as evidence against it?

-Finally, is your preaching or teaching or individual evangelism too dry? One of the down sides to the popularity of preachers like Mark Driscoll is that too many preachers and podcast disciples try to speak like they are lecturing a class of seminary students.  The problem with hour-plus presentations that quote a lot of big words is that the it conveys the idea that the Gospel is nothing but an intellectual proposition to affirm rather than a radical call to transform one’s entire existence (Luke 14:25-35).

The danger in proclaiming the Gospel is not to trust it.  When we overload it by turning it into a lecture or sharpen it into a threatening knife by downplaying love & grace or adorn it with cheap, silly stories and media, we are saying that we do not trust the message of God from God to do the work. 

The medium is not the message but the medium is still vitally important.  How much time have you spent thinking about it?

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