Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Theology After Google Wrapup or Where's the Praise? #tag10

Sorry for the delayed wrap-up. I finally scheduled my first licensing exam, so the next two weeks will be extra focused on studying. But no more highly anticipated waiting for my final thoughts on the Theology After Google conference. :)

First of all, the third day was by far the best. It was less focused on convincing everyone to use technology and social media and more of showing people various ways of actually utilizing it. I also appreciated that there was less focus on technology as the end-point in contrast to it being a means to an end.

There were a few points that particularly stood out:

In his presentation, Doug Pagitt (whose writings I very much admire and who I was very excited to meet at the conference) discussed different "Ages" that America has passed through that have affected how the church operates. He noted that we have been in the "Age of Information," which has created a church that is all about teaching. I have discussed before the question of the emphasis on teaching in church, but this really helped pinpoint it, describe it, and put it into perspective, particularly that church (even the organization on Sunday mornings) can and should be much more than teaching.

He also describe a phenomenon that I've noted before about the differences between mainline/progressives and evangelicals. While I have described it as a cognitive/affective split, he named it as open minded and challenging one's own assumptions and theology versus challenging one's aesthetics and mode of presentation. I think we're hitting on the same idea: Mainline/progressives are willing to change their thoughts, but not their mode. Evangelicals are willing to change their modes, but not their thoughts. While there's exceptions to these rules, I find them largely true. The problem is, I still have not found a satisfying answer as to why this is the case.

Further, I'm really sick of this divide. My friend and I both noticed that there was evidence of a very strong divide between evangelical thought and mainline/progressive thought. The conference was sponsored by and dominated by the latter, and there were various comments and such that showed a disdain for evangelicalism. I still want something in between. As I shared in a breakout group, I'm currently going to an evangelical church. I can do the cognitive challenging stuff on my own (I do it anyway). I need the group for the praise element. For some reason, I find that that is something that I cannot do satisfactorily on my own.

In response, Doug Pagitt mentioned how he is out of the mindset of "the God of the gaps," referring to God is only present with what man cannot do. I completely agree with him, as readers of this blog should know. God works incarnationally. However, there is something important about occasionally being explicit and praising God. An analogy I thought of is marriage. I should show my wife how much I love her and live that out. However, I also need to say it out loud. And frequently. I think it's the same with God, for God's sake AND for mine. Probably more for my sake, as I'll forget why I'm doing something.

That's one of my biggest criticisms and complaints from the conference. There was a noticeable lack of praise. I called it "devotion and worship" before, but I realized "praise" is probably a better descriptor. I think that may be an artifact of the mainline/progressive tradition. This is what makes me feel more evangelical than I thought I was. Now interacting with many of the top movers of Emergent Village, I understand why some people, like Dan Kimball have separated and started their own organizations. I don't know or remember the reasons why, but if I were deeply involved, I would consider that on the basis of wanting more explicit praise. Yes, I find it that important.

What do you think? What is the role and importance of praise? What does praise look like to you?


  1. For me, the “Theology After Google” experience was significant and transformative. I loved the chance to think about the mission and future of the church in such a creative, thoughtful, and open environment. I’m ever so glad I was there and feel that my life has definitely been enriched by the experience. I’m glad we could share it together!

    The conference also got me thinking about the fact that the lack of cool technology is not the major reason why mainline churches struggle. I’d like to identify two factors that I thought about both at the conference and after it was over.

    I really like Philip Clayton’s book “Transforming Christian Theology” which provided the philosophical underpinnings for the conference. It seems to me (and the book makes this case as well) that compelling communities say something with passion and conviction. It doesn’t need to be all about traditional dogma, closed systems of belief, polarizing exclusivism, or an anti-scientific worldview. But it should give meaningful definition and shape to faith.

    I think this was the basis for a group exercise at the end of the conference—an attempt to find a meaningful way to be confessional. It was a tough one—an exercise that seemed more effective at highlighting the difficulty of doing so in that context rather than offering the shape of a compelling confessional vision. Technology is a medium but this challenge facing “mainline” can’t be solved by technology.

    Second, there is power in being experiential and transcendent. It’s hard to be too critical of the conference in this regard—the focus was more on technology than on worship and spiritual formation. And I agree that all of life, even the most mundane activities, can be a prayer. There is no dichotomy between the sacred and the rest of life.

    But I too really did miss prayer and what you refer to as praise. I did find myself wondering if this dimension might also be a struggle in the “mainline.” Some of my concern comes from my neuroscience background rather than from some dogma about how religion “ought” to be. The brain runs on what can be called emotional/affective energy. Without emotions organizing the thoughts they simply spin like a frozen computer and it’s impossible to get motivated, make decisions, or take action. Prayer and, dare I say it, “praise” are not just about “being religious.” Intentionally seeking a “numinous” dimension is also about creating the kind of brain integration that leads to personal transformation and constructive mission. I’d add to that my basic conviction that good theology is also doxology. And technology can’t transform theology into doxology.

    The conference was a terrific experience for me. And it has prompted reflection on some factors that give shape to faith and help energize spiritual communities. It seems to me that the challenges facing the mainline church are about more than technology and mode of presentation.


  2. Thanks for the post. I agree that progressives need some more praise. Even though i planned the event I can't tell where I feel more at home when it comes to theological circles, so really resonate with the feeling.

    ohhh thanks for the response Cal.

  3. Thanks for both your comments. And thanks, Tripp, for organizing. You did a great job!! And I hope my comments are not demotivating at all. I want to provide honest feedback to make the next thing even better. I definitely enjoyed being there!



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