Len is an American theologian, church historian, pastor and author. He is the E. Stanley Jones Professor at Drew University, New Jersey and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at George Fox University in Portland. He’s also an advocate of contextualising Christianity into digital culture and is regularly voted one of the most influential Christian leaders in America.
His new book VIRAL is about social media and its impact on Christian spirituality. It seems like his book will be of interest to this community, so I asked Len to come hang out with us at CyberSoul and talk about the book’s themes.
Vicky: Welcome to CyberSoul!
Len: Thanks, it’s great to be here!
Vicky: So, you have a new book called Viral. I’ve started to read it – you begin the book mentioning the correlation between “Logos and Logo”. Tell us about that.
Len: We live in a world that communicates, not in words or points, but in narratives and metaphors (I combine the two words into one—narraphors).
We have come to translate the Greek word “Logos” as “Word” or “Reason,” but it can easily be translated as “Sound” or “Speech” or even “Story.”
In a world that comes with a “logo” for every brand, a “logo” for every “logos,” it is important to remember that in Jesus the “Logos” and the “logo” became one: The Message and the Messenger are the same.
The “Word” became “flesh,” the “Story” became a “Story-teller.” The Message and the Medium are one.
Here is where the rubber hits the road: every church has a mission statement. And every mission statement is words. How many “image” statements have you heard of? How many “stories” are used to communicate a church’s unique mission?
Vicky: Indeed! We do seem very ‘words focused’ in our approach to mission statements. I love the idea of using more ‘narraphors’ as you call them! Ok, tell us about your passion for digital culture – why does it matter to you?
Len: God is always “up to something.” I’m always looking for what God’s “up to.” One of the biggest things Jesus is “up to” today, it seems to me, is teaching us that each one of us is a missionary.
Missional is who we are, because it is who God is.
Not because you grew a church or traveled overseas or went on a trip. But because the first word of Jesus’ mission statement, the mission statement that he gave us, is “Go into all the world.” We are the “sent ones.” All disciples of Jesus live in a missional state of sentness.
In fact, when all of life becomes a mission trip, you are a pilgrim on life’s greatest journey. But what is the first thing that a missionary does who “goes” into “all cultures?” You learn the language of the culture that you’re in.
We need to learn the language of this TGiF culture (Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook). And this TGiF culture speaks in narraphors, not in words.
So we need to learn to speak missionally, which means narraphorically.
I’m trying to help followers of Jesus speak the language of the culture, and lift up the name of Jesus in a way that this culture can hear his name and receive his gift.
Vicky: So, your book identifies two cultures – the Gutenbergers and the Googlers. How would you sum those up?
Len: It’s my way of talking about the “modern” vs. “postmodern” divide, except I think we’re now post-postmodern. Generational distinctions have been replaced by cultural distinctions.
The main cultural divide is between those who were raised on print technology and a “book” mentality, the Gutenbergers, and those who were raised on digital technology and a TGiF mentality, the Googlers.
I was born BC (Before Cellphones, which were invented by Martin Cooper in 1973). All my kids were born AC. I don’t see one culture better than the other.
In fact, all ages are equidistant from eternity. But you live the age God gives you, even though it’s not the age I would have picked (I’m a Victorian age person at heart).
In the book I try to show the blessings and curses of Gutenberg culture and Google culture. I also try to show the challenges of what it means that God has chosen us to ride the roller-coaster of this axial cultural transition.
Vicky: Obviously this is a ridiculously broad question, but overall do you think social media is something more helpful or more harmful for our spirituality?
Len: Social media can be used for good or ill. Just like books. The first people to adopt Gutenberg technology, after the printing of the Bible, were the pornographers.
Jesus gave us a key to how we are to interact with every culture in the real “Lord’s Prayer” (John 17). We are to be “in” this Google culture, but not “of” it.
So with every use of social media, we ask ourselves “How can I be ‘in’ Twitter but not ‘of’ Twitter? How can I be ‘in’ Facebook but not ‘of’ Facebook?” Jesus asked his disciples: “What do you more than others?”
Disciples of Jesus have a distinct identity that ought to frame everything we do, every technology we use. If we live that Jesus identity, then we can use social media for the glory of God.
Vicky: Thanks Len! Really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.
Over to you:
- Any thoughts on the interview above?
- Do you like the idea of Jesus the Logos and the Logo?
- Are you a Gutenberger or a Googler? What are the pros and cons of each of those cultures?