In Flickering Pixels pastor Shane Hipps has provided a much-needed glimpse into the power of media and technology in shaping the Christian faith. Hipps writes with a pastor’s sensitivities, and has succeeded in providing a readable and insightful book.
At the outset of the book Hipps speaks of media and technology (such as TV and online networks and media) as extensions of ourselves, rather than things we serve (35). This is a call for thoughtful reflection on the role of media in our lives, a project worth considering during holy seasons such as Lent or Advent. In addition, when media and technology are pushed to their extremes, they can have the reverse effect—his examples being cars that speed us up, but also cause traffic jams and the internet giving us more information, but also a glut of information and sometimes incorrect information (37).
Many Christians will benefit greatly to read the evaluation Hipps provides of the effects print media has had on the way society thinks (moving to more linear, logical thinking) and hence the ramifications for the way we present the Gospel (a linear equation that is accepted rationally without emotions clouded reason) and how Christianity in general has become fixated on studying the Bible to the exclusion of other aspects of the faith (48-52). This shift led to the elevation of Paul in Biblical study—really, if I had a nickel for every study of Roman out there right now… For those who have never considered the possibility of Christianity flourishing in a generally illiterate society, Hipps is crucial reading. Rather than demoting the Bible, he provides a broad sweep of history and enables readers to appreciate the way media has influenced our worship over the years.
Much like Pastor Tim Keel, Hipps points to the importance of preserving imagination today as we have shifted from a print culture into an image culture that relies of images and for information, advertising, and entertainment. In other words, Hipps isn’t critical of one form of media. He wants his readers to be cognizant that the barrage of images on television made our minds passive and lethargic, even if the up side is a greater appreciation for the Gospel stories about Jesus (80-81).
Hipps provides a warning to those who prefer relating online as opposed to finding community in person, as such virtual settings are no substitute for physical gatherings with believers (114-115). While Hipps is not opposed to the use of online networks, he cautions us from believing they are value neutral and have no influence on us simply by their very existence. In other words, just as print media changed the way we relate to God and the Bible, so took will online media change the way we relate to one another and God.
These warnings are helpful reminders for us today as we leap from one form of media and network to another, seeking to harness the power of each new thing. Even if Hipps can sometimes sound a bit too critical of online tools, his alarm is justified by the lack of critical reflection at large. When I see evangelicals uncritically embracing business practices and running their churches like small corporations, I can believe that we’ll probably embrace a lot of the muck from the online world and drop it right into our congregations without critically evaluating how these tools in and of themselves will change our communities.
As I finished the book I felt a bit disappointed that Hipps didn’t offer more suggestions about the positive and negative uses of online media today. I felt he did a good job of describing some of the benefits and dangers in the broader picture, but when he criticizes online communities, I think he misses an opportunity to provide some balance. For example, he talks about the ways online networks such as facebook have watered down the intimacy of certain friendships, however I have also used facebook to keep in touch with friends I would otherwise have lost track of and have even had opportunities to be reconciled with people I once offended. There are redemptive uses for these technologies which he doesn’t touch on, and as such I had a hard time taking all of his warnings seriously because I felt he needed to present a more nuanced picture of these media forms.
On another point, while Hipps does an excellent job of pulling back the curtain on the ways media has shaped society over time, he could have tossed in a few more sentences here or there to place his media discussions in the wider context of their times. For example, it almost sounds like Hipps says postmodernism happened because of media changes, but there were other factors such as, oh I don’t know, two world wars and the collapse of colonial powers. In fact, his insinuation that Nietzsche started postmodernism is a solid 50-100 years off—a mistake I can’t believe he made. Perhaps this is a matter of imprecision in his wording—since Nietzsche certainly played a role in the demise of modernism, which eventually paved the way for postmodern thought. Overall though, Hipps steps back from the battles over philosophy and media to simply present readers with a good sketch of how all of these forces shape who were are today.
In the final analysis, I recommend reading Flickering Pixels. I wish I could write with the clarity and ease of Hipps. The pages flew by and his content for the most part is solid and thought-provoking. As Christians seek to minister in the digital age, Shane Hipps is a helpful guide.
The rest of the blogs on the tour:
A Peek at My Bookshelf
AKA Theodore Lewis
Blog Tour Spot
Bound to His Heart
Christian Bookworm Reviews
Good Word Editing
it wasn’t me
Just Thinking . . .
life outside my window
Man of Depravity
Monday Morning Insight
My Life Message
Pilgrimage of the Heart
Real Women Scrap
Refresh My Soul
Scraps and Snippets
This, That, and the Other Thing