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“We Evangelicals Are Relevant. Got That, Dude?”

Christianity Today Inc., the Evangelical mega-publisher, has a hot new publication on glossy paper called Christianity Online. In the July-August 1999 issue the Managing Editor writes, “The primary mission of Christianity Online magazine is to help Christians use the Internet and software in a way that enriches their life and faith. So be enriched. Come along for the ride.” What a stirring invitation! Reading through the magazine one does begin to feel, sort of, “wired” for Christianity. The ads (and 60 percent of the magazine is ads) are brimming with promise. Inserting a disc into your CD-ROM drive will let you “browse your way to biblical literacy.” Loads of schools offer “distance learning” (Finish Your Bachelor’s Degree Online! Earn a Master’s Degree at Home!). There is software to handle everything from church music to church money to church bulletins to church membership. Of course, ads promote products. But, objectively speaking, does the computer really help in the daily labor of enriching Christian life and faith? The answer is a definite Yes. An article entitled “How ‘Pastor Joe’ Uses His Computer” reports that 90 percent of pastors have a personal computer and that the typical pastor spends 15 hours a week using a computer and nearly seven hours a week online. Cool.

How has the computer made them better ministers? “I haven’t cracked a concordance in five years,” says one pastor. Instead, “he and other computer-savvy pastors cut and paste Bible verses and commentary” into sermons. Another pastor who posts his sermons on the Web notes modestly that he has become a valuable resource for colleagues: “People e-mail me when they need a sermon in a hurry and don’t have time to write one.” A third pastor, however, says that he doesn’t use Websites that offer ready-made sermons; instead, he “surfs news and sports stories and turns them into fresh sermon illustrations.” “I would rather illustrate by talking about Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, or Michael Jordan. I want people to make connections with people they are familiar with, instead of dead guys they’ve never heard of.”

That’s pretty darned enriching. At the article’s end, another pastor sums up — with an impressive mixture of metaphors — the computer’s essential role in evangelism. “I want the church to be leading the cutting edge, not playing catch-up with technology.” Why? “Because…if the church is behind the times technologically, people will think its message is outdated and irrelevant. Taking advantage of technology helps people say, ‘The church is relevant.'”

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