"High-Tech Worship? Using Presentational Technologies Wisely" by Quentin J. Schultze

T. David Gordon
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Sep/Oct 2004

The question mark in the title of Schultze's book is not to be overlooked. Despite undoubtedly genuine efforts at fair-mindedness and overt statements directed against technophobes, this volume seriously questions the widespread use of presentation technologies in Christian worship today. Schultze rightly warns that technology tends to develop a life of its own, unrestrained by wisdom or stewardship (chapters four through six), theology of worship (chapter two), patience (chapter four), or proper ecclesiastical authority or tradition (chapter seven). Indeed, his initial chapter addresses "Our Confusion," not our achievement.

The amount of wisdom-per-page in this slender volume is unusual, and many readers will perceive Schultze's well-nurtured intellectual roots even when they are not explicitly or pedantically paraded. When Schultze says that "Our technological practices shape how we perceive the world," we hear the echo of Marshall McLuhan; when he describes our culture as image-saturated but not image-savvy, we discern the imprint of Daniel Boorstin and Sven Birkerts; when he warns that authentic Christian worship is no place for market-driven consumerism or entertainment, we cannot but recall the wry warnings of Neil Postman; and when he refers to "the rhetoric of technological progress," "technological cocaine," or says that "Fools with tools are still fools," we wonder if Jacques Ellul might have been the co-author.

Yet Schultze is no technophobe. In the introduction, he candidly refers to his experience of "some wonderful, inspiring, and appropriate worship presentations." His stated thesis is that "liturgical wisdom should direct how we employ presentational technologies" (emphasis mine), and he defends the "adaptation" of presentation technologies, not their abandonment. Personally, I believe he concedes too much value to the so-called presentation technologies: "Presentation technologies can appropriately highlight sermon points and focus attention on particular liturgical practices. They can boost singing, provide worthy liturgical art, and offer many other benefits."

A good book always raises a few good questions that may not be answered therein, and this book satisfies this criterion. Here are a few that interest me, in no particular order:

First, I would like to see Schultze conduct a theological discussion of "presentation technologies." What is presented, anyway, in a service of Christian worship, if not us to God, and God himself to us? Is not what we call "worship" in fact a meeting between God and his people? And does not God mediate/offer/present his very Self to us in Word and Sacrament? If he does so by these media that he has selected, can we seriously think that Word and Sacrament rightly administered need the supplement of some new technology? Is God merely a commodity that can be "presented" in any medium?

Second, I wish Schultze (or someone) would distinguish "multi-sensory" from "multimedia," and not confuse the two. The loaf, for instance, in the Lord's Supper, is multi-sensory: we see it with our eyes, we feel it in our hands, we smell it and taste it. But this multi-sensory reality is not multimedia. It is one medium, a simple loaf of bread. But Schultze follows others in suggesting a kind of equivalence between multi-sensory and multimedia, in the (possibly unintended) effort to suggest that there is some inherent virtue in multimedia beyond the two instituted by God.

And finally, I would like to see a distinction made between the presentation technologies and their common content, so we could truly evaluate the technologies themselves. For instance, when Schultze avers that lyrics projected on a wall "can boost singing," I think he may be mistaken. What "boosts" the singing-in those places where it actually does-is usually the contemporaneity of the music whose lyrics are typically thereon displayed. In a culture that has almost entirely lost any sensibility for art forms that antedate the Second World War, many people will always sing more heartily if they have a peppy, contemporary-sounding melody, even if the lyrics are inconsequential, maudlin, or even heterodox. But find a congregation whose sensibilities are not so limited, and they sing "Of the Father's Love Begotten" (fourth-century lyrics, twelfth century tune) or "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" (early twelfth century lyrics, early-seventeenth century melody) just as heartily as others sing "Shine, Jesus, Shine"-whatever that means.

Schultze has performed a profound service, in urging the users of presentational technologies to do so wisely: Informed by Scripture, a sound theology of worship, and the several branches of the general Christian tradition; modulated by wisdom, patience, and prudence. Those who have not already moved beyond the reach of these six influences will find much insight in this small book.

In contrast, John P. Jewell's book intends to cover a broader range of both ministerial concern and technology than does that of Schultze. While Schultze restricts his conversation primarily to the relation between presentation technologies and worship, Jewell addresses all of the newer electronic technologies and their relation not only to worship, but to evangelism, discipleship, and-perhaps especially-Christian community. Like Schultze, Jewell says so many helpful things, and says them so well, that the reviewer can only urge that both books be read, because no review can do adequate justice to either volume.

Like Schultze, Jewell is aware of the overstated promises of technology and the church. Indeed, the first four chapters address the pitfalls of technology, and Jewell repeatedly warns that these tools can be used for good or evil, creating chaos or community. Jewell expends substantial effort creating a vision both for what electronic technologies can and cannot accomplish: "There is power in the Internet that can be applied in our Christian mission-it is just not messianic power" (emphases his). Jewell's theological grounding prevents him from ever suggesting that these technologies can replace prayer, the Word of God, or the Sacraments: "The pervasiveness of the Internet does not even come close to the power of a faithful pulpit."

Jewell persistently warns that technology is regressive when it is either intrusive or messianic: "Frankly, the majority of declining churches would do well to forget the Internet and technology and focus their efforts on building community, doing evangelism, and encouraging Bible study." Jewell also recognizes and declares what our culture rarely observes: that information is neither understanding nor wisdom. Technologies that deliver information should not be expected to cultivate either understanding or wisdom, which must come from other sources, that is, "Information technology is not wisdom technology." Jewell's resistance to those who rush headlong into the technological maelstrom is both informed and wry: "Two final items of caution as you develop a plan for implementation: (a) there is no rush, and (b) there is no rush."

Such comments are all the more credible in a book that contains nine chapters on how to use electronic technologies in the church (chapters five through eight, "Develop Knowledge of the Promise," and chapters nine through thirteen, "Study the Practice"), written by the director of instructional technology of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Indeed, readers who are tentatively inclined to employ the best of these technologies in the best manner for the best ends will find a mine of useful instruction in Jewell's book.

I do have one concern, though it hardly mars the value of the book. In Jewell's discussion of images and imagination, I respectfully think he misunderstands both historic Protestantism and the relation of images to imagination. I think Jewell may confuse contemporary Protestantism (especially with its American distinctives) with historic Protestantism (that, for instance, of Luther and Calvin) when he claims that "Protestants have failed to understand the power of images and metaphors in worship." A triple confusion is here manifest.

First, I think Jewell fails to appreciate how central the Lord's Supper was to the liturgical thinking of both Luther and Calvin, who said, "No assembly of the Church should be held without the word being preached, prayers being offered, the Lord's supper administered, and alms given" (Institutes IV, xvii, 44). Calvin also said, "It would be desirable that the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ be in use at least once every Sunday when the congregation is assembled, in view of the great comfort which the faithful receive from it as well as the fruit of all sorts which it produces" (Articles presented to the Geneva Council in 1537, cited in Howard Hageman, Pulpit and Table, p. 25). Calvin's ardent sacramentalism (albeit not sacerdotalism) displays a profound belief in the power of images; but his writings throughout argue that images without the accompanying/interpreting Word of God are mute and uncertain, not unlike Paul's clanging cymbal.

Second, Jewell says that the "traditional Protestant" approach "breeds an underestimation of the power of images." It was precisely Calvin's and Knox's appreciation for the "power of images" that caused them to exclude them. Neither Calvin nor Knox underestimated the "power of images"; if anything, they overestimated them, and considered them to do a kind of irreparable harm in the minds of those who viewed them, especially if the images had anything to do with the Godhead or the Incarnate Son. A mother who pulls her daughter's hand away from a hot stove does not underestimate its power, she estimates its power quite rightly. And the early Protestant ("traditional Protestant"?) objection to images was due precisely to their power to cultivate what was considered to be superstition.

Third, Jewell confounds "image" with "metaphor," when he lumps them together as things that Protestants "have failed to understand." In point of fact, the first is visual and the second is, technically, linguistic. Shelley's Defense of Poetry, for instance, argues throughout that metaphor (linguistic image) is much more powerful, and stimulates the imagination much more deeply, than does visual image. When the hearer or reader transforms words into mental images, quite literally, he must employ "imagination," which is not necessary in the simple observation of a visual image. Thus, if Shelley (or William Hazlitt, or Charles Lamb, or C. S. Lewis, or Harold Bloom) has understood the matter rightly, the imagination is much more stimulated by verbal "images" than by visual images. One can thus believe profoundly and zealously, as Shelley, in the power of linguistic metaphors, without having the same appreciation for visual images. I would suggest that the true difference in the history of dogma is between Rome's iconography and Protestantism's iconoclastic insistence on scriptura sola.

However I might disagree with Jewell's thoughts on image, metaphor, and imagination, the disagreement in no way diminishes my appreciation for, or commendation of, the volume as a whole. Jewell's book might be best for ministers and churches to read to begin their assessment of what technology can (and cannot) do for them, precisely because it raises such a broad range of ministerial and practical questions from the perspective of one who genuinely understands the technology.

Photo of T. David Gordon
T. David Gordon
T. David Gordon (PhD) is a retired professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College. He has contributed to a number of books and study Bibles, published scholarly reviews and articles in various journals and periodicals, and his books include Promise, Law, Faith: Covenant-Historical Reasoning in Galatians (Hendrickson, 2019).
Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

J. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church