Following Jesus in Post-Literate Contexts

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When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Without denying the importance of verbal and textual communication, it’s instructive to observe that Jesus never limited himself to scrolls or speaches. When questioned by John the Baptist, on whether he’s the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth refuses to answer the question! Instead he says, in effect, “Let my actions speak for themselves! Can’t you see the significance of these signs?”

Even in the oral culture of first century Palastine, Jesus did not rely exclusively on oral communication. Now, as we find ourselves moving into an increasingly post-literate, multimedia context, shouldn’t we begin exploring complementary forms of communication more seriously?

However, in asking this I am not suggesting we should do so uncritically. I shake my head at the many, many Christian multimedia FAILs I see circulating through social networks. Multimedia communication means much more than bolting something shiny onto whatever you’d do normally. That is attractional thinking, not missional thinking.

If we’re to communicate more like Jesus we need to learn how to discern counter-Christian narratives in movies, music, games and other forms of entertainment. Likewise, we need to learn to discern counter-Christian themes in the actions of self-identified Christians and consider how we should respond in Christ-like ways to that. What we face here is a different kind of illiteracy. We’re textually literate but non-textually blind. We need to recognize that we live in a low context culture where, even as we’re saturated in symbols, we can’t take symbolic literacy for granted. Most importantly, I think we need to recover the sence in which we, the church, are the medium of our message.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Matt,
    Glad to have found your blog.
    We lived one spectacular year
    in Melbourne in 1997, and loved every
    minute. Hey, I would like to invite you to
    check out the Visual Story Network. Join the artist
    group;we can use your input! Happy 2012!

    Like

  2. Speaking of contexts and communication through story and art, Sydney and Brisbane people have some very high quality events happening in the next few days. There are options in which they can participate or alternatively there are others which only require their attending superb public performances. Visiting artists from Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne join talented locals in presenting inspiring workshops and other events!
    http://www.cdfa.org.au/events.html
    If you come to Friday night, let me know so we can catch up for a coffee and a chat after the evening’s presentations 🙂
    Sadly, you won’t see me dancing that night, but it’s quite possible there will be a dancework presented based on inspiration from my Master’s essay on Caroline Chisholm, the great female Australian historic immigration activist of the mid-19th century. Many of the issues she pioneered solutions for are applicable today. We just have a post-modern context for “boat-people problems” to deal with now!

    Like

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