Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus 2020: The Gospel Goes Viral

If you are like me, this Sunday morning (March 15, 2020), you are sitting at home, perhaps listening to a live stream sermon or a recorded podcast (or, perhaps even, reading this blog).  The Coronavirus scare may have prompted your church to cancel live gatherings and church services out of caution, to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.  I would never suggest that God planned or even approved of this pandemic, but I am always conscious of His promise that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 CSV), so, I am looking for the silver lining for the church and the Gospel in all of this.

In the past, when bad things happened in the world, the Word of God discovered new ways to advance.  When the Jews were persecuted in the Holy Land, the Diaspora (the dispersion of Jews throughout the world) was produced; thus, disseminating God’s Word to the nations.
Whenever the Christians have been persecuted, they have formed underground churches (from the times of the Roman Empire to the Communist Regimes in the USSR, China, and other countries).  As the Church expanded during the First Christian Century, the Apostle Paul used the best communication technology available to him (written letters) to send the Gospel to the churches he had established throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  Just as the Jews had, for centuries earlier, read aloud the Torah (Old Testament Law) to Jewish believers, every week (on Sabbath), so Paul’s letters were read aloud in churches throughout the Roman Empire every week (on Sunday). 
In 1450 A.D., with the invention of Gutenberg’s press, the communication technology leapt forward with the hard copy publication of Bibles, so that every home could have a family Bible.  When radio and television were invented, Christians moved in to buy broadcast time and even broadcast stations and networks.  But we are now in the computer age.  A little thing like a pandemic cannot stop the expansion of the Gospel.

The problem with “broadcasting,” as in radio and television is that it is often TOO BROAD.  Much that is BROADcast is wasted on the audience.  Broadcast advertisers, though they attempt to locate increasingly targeted demographics in various program audiences that would correspond to their specific products, realize that much of their “reach” (the number of audience members who receive their advertisement) is “wasted reach.”  They are BROADcasting their messages to many audience members who have no interest at all in their products.  What advertisers have seen is the value of the internet in “NARROWcasting,” as opposed to “BROADcasting.”  Your movements and actions on the internet—from the data produced, when you search the web, to the personal data that you voluntarily give to social media, when you sign up in any group—allow internet advertisers to NARROWcast advertisements to you.

Let’s face it, the Church has had a problem with BROADcasting for a long, long time.  Since the message is delivered (in sermon format) typically once/week, and the audience consists of tens to hundreds to thousands of people in the pews, there is no way that the message can be adapted to the individual needs (or even the Biblical or academic knowledge level) of the tens to hundreds to thousands of people who are receiving it.  So, the sermons are typically “aimed” at the lowest common denominator in the audience.  Critics have phrased it in this way, using a river metaphor: “The message of the Mega Church is a MILE wide and an INCH deep.”  Dr. Paul Benjamin observed: “Sunday School is the only school from which no one ever graduates.”  Why?  Because, the Church often does nothing more than teach elementary school level Christianity, every week, all the time.  Even in adult study sessions, the messages are often so dumbed-down, so that novices will understand, that no college-level or graduate-level Christian education is ever offered.  There are not high enough numbers of local church audiences to justify such educational offerings.

Enter the internet—finally forced upon the Church by the Coronavirus.  Actually, a new paradigm, using the internet, may solve some of the BROADcasting dilemmas.  Having taught successful online courses, for years, at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as a Teaching Professor for one of the two Preeminent state universities in Florida, and having developed and offered an on-line minor for that university and having begun the process of developing an on-line master’s degree at that university, I believe in developing an online system of Christian Education for Faith-seeking audiences at many advanced (and some not-so-advanced) levels.  Through this blog, for the past decade, I have been supplying free college-level Christian education.

In my online university courses, I include a discussion element, encouraging (okay, requiring) my students to post their comments and questions.  This option is also available via this blog site.  Although the posts from readers is first screened to eliminate vulgar or hateful comments, legitimate questioning or disagreeing views are permitted.  Although this may be a less-satisfactory version of fellowship (KOINONIA) than can be found by interacting face-to-face with fellow believers at a local congregation, still it is a version of fellowship that can be conducted online.  At a time when citizens are instructed to maintain “social distance,” they truly sense the importance of KOINONIA. 
The first part of the word “KOIN” means “common.”  It is the same term we use when we think of our “common” monetary exchange: “the coin.”  We share our coins and bills with one another (and that may be one method by which the Coronavirus spreads).  The ending of the word “IA” means an ongoing process.  Therefore, fellowship/KOINONIA is the process of sharing with each other the things we have in common.  The key thing we have in common, as Christians, in KOINONIA is the gospel. Some churches have mistakenly identified fellowship with singing songs together in worship.  I guess we do share the words and notes of the song, but is that really KOINONIA?  Do we really share with each other our common experiences and our common faith?  Another application made by the church is to have everyone shake hands with each other and say things like “Peace upon you.”  Again, not much depth in sharing our common faith. 
It is true that people used to share aspects of their lives around the dinner table, as the Reagan family does in the TV show Bluebloods, but do church pot-luck dinners or meals shared in Small Groups even approximate the level of KOINONIA depicted in Bluebloods?  We typically conduct what Kenneth Burke calls “phatic communion,” saying nothing more than trite phrases (How are you?) and discussing benign matters (like the weather).  Never would we discuss religious (or political) issues in polite society.  Perhaps, when Jesus said,
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20 NIV), we should take him literally.  We Lindsays sometimes have “Lindsay Church.”  We get together at a home or at a restaurant, in a group of three to ten, and discuss some aspect of the Bible or some issue in our everyday lives from a Biblical perspective.  We have a sharing of common faith.  We have KOINONIA.  Admittedly, even on this blog (as in Sunday School or home-based life groups), many will be hesitant to truly have fellowship/KOINONIA.  They will be fearful (as are many of my students, by the way) of truly sharing stressful situations or questionable views.  And, that’s not necessarily bad.  People are often too open on social media sites, and the resulting embarrassment causes stress, sometimes leading even to suicide.  Therefore, we may need to revert to such old technology as the telephone.  Jesus did say “where two” are gathered.  If we need to see each other’s nonverbal messages, we can use Skype or Facetime.  The issue is not the technology.  True, during the pandemic, we may not be able to give each other a hug or a kiss, but we should be able to have Christian fellowship over Biblical issues and our own personal struggles as viewed from Biblical perspectives.  I hope that one development from the Coronavirus crisis is that the Gospel Goes Viral!

RESOURCES:  For agnostics (and believers seeking to defend their faith), I wrote the book The Logic of Christianity:  A Syllogistic Chain.  The first draft that book is available FREE on this blogsite.  To move to the first chapter of that book, simply search the internet for “Stan.Point Logic of Christianity.”  Choose a low-numbered chapter, scroll to the bottom and click on “older post.”  Keep scrolling to the bottom and clicking on “older post” for each previous post until you find Chapter One.  Then, you can proceed in reading through the book in chapter-by-chapter order by clicking on “newer post” at the bottom of each post.  Likewise, I wrote the book Disneology:  Religious Rhetoric at Walt Disney World.  The book has been a textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses.  It helps readers visualize and understand theological issues by relating them to various aspects of the Disney parks.  It sells in paperback on for $47.95 (currently, on sale for $28.42), but the first draft of that book is available FREE on this blogsite.  To move to the first chapter of that book, simply search the internet for “Stan.Point Disneology” and repeat the scrolling and “older post” steps described above.  My soon-to-be-released book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication (Logology) will be available on Amazon in a few weeks.  It is a scholarly-but-quite-readable discussion of the topic of Angels and Demons, which I began in my master’s thesis at Indiana University and have worked on for the past 40 years.  I do not know the price at which it will be offered yet, but the first draft of that book is available FREE on this blogsite.  To move to the first chapter of that book, simply search the internet for “Stan.Point Angels” and repeat the scrolling and “older post” steps described above.   You might also be interested in searching the internet for “Stan.Point Atheists.”  There are a few items in various other posts, such as the discussion of morality in “Hidden Mickeyisms.”  All of this is available FREE, of course.

So much for the FREE stuff.  If you are still hungry for my discussions of various other matters and have a couple of dollars sitting around the house, feel free to go to and search the INDEX below the ORDER FORM to see what topics interest you.  The index includes a growing list of audio clips (listed as FILE numbers) typically lasting approximately 20 minutes each.  The instruction level of these clips closely resembles the college-level lectures that I record for my online courses at the university.  

Of course, while you are searching on the internet, you will find plenty of opinions and perspectives on biblical issues.  I certainly cannot vouch for the credibility of everything you come across, but as a life-long active member of the Society of Biblical Literature and as a life-long Bible-believing Christian, I constantly work to make sure that my work is trustworthy. 

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