Andrew’s post about virtuality and the possibility of online church–or is it ‘church’?–is definitely a ‘must read’ for anyone who interested in the burgeoning conversation. While I will have a more substantive response in the next few days, my initial reactions–and that is all I can claim for them–are twofold.
First, the question of online church is difficult for precisely the reasons that Andrew’s post highlights: the conceptual vocabulary of theology is being challenged by the technological developments. The contribution (I think) of Protestantism to ecclesiology at the Reformation was its distinction between the visible and invisible churches. How the Reformers worked out the relationship is, I think, instructive for this new domain. But the categories of ‘virtual’ and ‘actual’ are relatively new, which makes it difficult to map them on to the pre-existing ecclesiological terrain.
Second, I suspect Andrew and I will largely agree on everything, except this: to what extent is the Church visible as an institution, even if its essence lies in its invisibility? The Church has, as John Webster calls it, a ‘spiritual visibility’ that demarcates it from any other type of society, and so the central question is what form–if any–this visibility should take.
More soon, but for now read and digest Andrew’s post. And while you’re at it, sign up for the Christian Web Conference. As someone who has been involved with it in the past, I am more excited for this year’s conference than any before. It is the best and most diverse collection of speakers I have seen, and promises to be a fantastic time.
Also, if you want to go, I have a limited number of half-off discounts. Email me if you’re interested.