Shane Hipps second book Flickering Pixels is not merely insightful, it is important. Hipps succeeds in taking some very complex topics--brain function, mass communication, the history of theology--and he packages them in an accessible, truly fresh study for everyone.
It is clear to many that our world has changed in the last few decades. All ages experience conflict and movement, but ours is an age in which fundamental assumptions about knowledge, ethics, and what it means to be human are being radically deconstructed and rebuilt. A primary reason may be that "images and icons are fast displacing words as the dominant communication system of our culture."
This has immediate relevance to a conversation taking place among younger Christians, some of whom push hard for a more empirical experience of their faith--doing radical charity work, creating environments that have mystical feel, emphasizing their body in worship through a primary focus on the sacraments, prayers, worship, and communal experiences with a lessening emphasis on teaching and left brain activities. The conversation in this camp seems to be, "How can we create environments in which our friends encounter and are made aware of Jesus?"
The other camp has becoming increasingly doctrinally focused. This camp emphasizes right thinking and even dogmatic specificity. I heard one such speaker boast on how many young people were coming to his events and leaving with his favorite book of systematic theology in their hands. For this man, this was a huge win. The conversation in this camp seems to be how do we get younger people to affirm a set of beliefs, to dig really deep, and perhaps begin to be interested in and engaging the theology of a Calvin, or Spurgeon, or Augustine.
Shane's book is essential reading for both camps. For the former because such ministries are often working purely from intuition or at best some ethereal post-modern philosophy few of them actually understand. And for the latter because the human beings they think they are communicating with are ceasing to exist. That's right. People now are fundamentally different than they were 100 years ago.
Hipps argues that the media all around us is not simply changing the way we get our news, entertainment, and sports. Computers, televisions, and movie screens "repattern the neural pathways in our brain[s]", and as such, the media through which we get information is reshaping us.
When he speaks to the history of theology, Hipps observes that "[in the Reformation] linear reasoning became the primary means of understanding and propagating faith. This led to a belief that the gospel could be established and received only through reason and facts. Printing makes us prefer cognitive modes of processing while at the same time atrophying our appreciation for mysticism, intuition, and emotion." But as our culture transitions, the flickering pixels are "simply opposed to the pathways required for reading, writing, and sustained concentration." Which leaves us with a real challenge when--those of us involved in teaching--begin to ask what it looks like to communicate to younger, right-brain dominant students.
This is what Shane Hipps' book is about--and it is the beginning of a conversation the church at large must have, for it could be argued that the reason younger generations are absent from most American Christian communities is that such communities are force feeding them square peg messages for their round hole minds. As such, young people on mass are exiting churches, not because they would not devote their lives to Jesus, but because they do not speak the language, do not engage reality, do not understand what is most meaningful in the way most churches present information.
Hipps points out that the center of understanding Christianity for those conditioned by the printing press has been the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John--both theologically robust and filled with doctrine. Hipps rightly notes that for those who succeed in speaking to younger generations that center is shifting toward the synoptic gospels--Mark, Matthew, and Luke--which emphasize parables and the stories of Jesus' miracles and deeds. These gospels are more concerned with ethics and right behavior than propositions or detailed metaphysical arguments. This is a place to begin. Because for younger generations, the vital question "who are you following" is replacing that of "what do you believe." This results from their transformed brains, and the influence of the image based communication culture all around us.
Hipps work is of the epistemic shift taking place in common folks. If our culture continues down this path, right thinking, in general, will no longer be judged according to its logic, it will be judged pragmatically. The question that will be primary will no longer be "is this true" but "Does this belief produce good in our world," and if it does, then we will consider it valuable. We see this now. We are naturally drawn to the teachings of Gandhi, MLK, and the Dalai Lama--not because we know them to be brilliant, but because we know them to be good. The same of course is true of the sayings of Jesus, which continue to have power over even the most secular mind, not because of their potency but because of his example.
Whether or not this is good or arguably self-defeating is beside the point. The point is--it is happening. Arguing against it may be the worst possible step for a church already in decline.