Nov 7, 2011

Review - SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World (Part 2 of 2)

I suggest you start with Part 1.

I should make clear that I have mixed feelings about SimChurch. I think a biblical case can be made that it is not possible to have an online/virtual church, and perhaps I or someone else will do a rigorous job on that someday.  If he's right that these things are growing, it will become more necessary. I'd like to think I made a start by pointing out how it is impossible (or at least very problematic) to meet certain scriptural marks of a particular church, particularly the sacraments.

His optimism about virtual church is very clear. More than once there are disparaging remarks directed to those that don't think virtual church is possible. Another thing that I kept writing in the margin is "SWBDIWF2000Y" which was my abbreviation for "So We've Been Doing It Wrong For 2000 Years?" Estes notes on occasion that certain things could possibly be done better online than in the real world.  Once can conclude, therefore, is that the means God has given the real world church are insufficient or wrong, and have been so for 2000 years? Until the Internet and Second Life finally showed up? I suppose his optimism got the better of him at times.

As I said I have mixed feelings, and while I could probably go on, I've bashed the book long enough. I disagree with his premise of virtual church being possible, so it is not surprising I would have lots of complaints about the particulars. Still, I learned from some of what he said. One thing is to see that there is a certain type of "reality" to virtual worlds. They are at least sub-created places where people spend a fair amount of time. Whether that's good or not doesn't change the fact that they are there. That includes the players and gold farmers who may not have access to a church.

Another thing is to think about the needs of people who would have significant difficulty attending church. I'm of the opinion that if you are a Christian, you need to attend a church if at all possible. Even if you have some issue like Tourette's that can be socially awkward, I hope that a church would love you as a member of the body and accept who you are. However, the church must also show mercy, as did Christ. A church can certainly consider ways to disciple someone with a socially awkward situation or condition. Not long ago I listened to some lectures from RTS about ministering to people with disabilities. According to this, about 95% of people with disabilities do not attend church. We as the Church need to do better in this area.

One final thought - if Estes had replaced the term "virtual church" with "virtual ministry," I could have agreed with much more of what he said. I was highly impacted by RUF, a campus ministry that went to a place (a university campus) to evangelize and disciple students and draw them to the church. L'Abri is another example of a ministry (not a church) that reaches out to people with honest questions. Works like this seem very legitimate in a virtual setting and could learn from some of what Estes says about ministering in a virtual context.

While I can't really recommend the book, it was thought provoking. He may well be right that this form will increase (whether biblically legitimate or not), and so the Church will need to think through what it means for a virtual world to exist and how ministry work might be done there.

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