Yesterday the Brehm Center for theology, worship and the arts hosted the annual Brehm Lectures. I enjoyed the conversation exposing many in the Fuller community for the first time to Marshall McLuhan. Barry Taylor stirred the pot and kept things moving while deftly deflecting the ever-present first-quarter-Fuller-student question "Are you saying there is no such thing as absolute truth?"
Perhaps most remarkable was Hipps apparent confession that he has built both his advertising and ministry/speaking circuit/writing careers mainly by appropriating McLuhan for audiences that hadn't yet encountered him. This isn't a jab. Translators and bridge people are important. Still it was humorous to watch my theology friends trying to make sense the opaque, zen-riddle like aphorisms. Don't worry, he made them opaque and poly-valent on purpose.
A final anecdote from a Cameroonian student relating how her attempts at ministry here in the states to a troubled student were frustrated by the student's confession that she couldn't really talk face to face but could only communicate by text with any level of self-disclosure or intimacy. This made Hipps point (one echoed by Sherry Turkle) about the losses implicit in the unconscious use of these technologies but also prompted an eerily colonial generalization in response from Taylor regarding tribal cultures in Africa and the positive social function of "masks" and "rituals." This felt like an imprecise caricature, and to me, missed the point of the question: namely that the young woman had lost or never learned to speak face to face. Nonetheless, it was a rich and lively conversation. I would have liked to hear more riffing from Hipps and Taylor.
As Fuller moves toward moving more and more of its content and education into mediated forms, we would do well to balance the opportunities with the dangers of "over-extended" senses. I agree with the panel that the global church is at a cross-roads analogous to that faced by the European church in the reformation as we struggle and fail and re-imagine our way into faithfulness in a social world mediated by our technology.
Several people on twitter have wanted to do things with the sketches I did while they were speaking so I'm posting up some higher resolution scans. I'm using a creative commons license for free sharing with attribution. This means anyone can share and make fun things out of them, just link back here if you share them elsewhere and attach my name.