Simulation as Inoculation
April 2, 2024

Every advent of new media creates the justifiable reaction from some that the necessarily accompanied amputation may not be worth the extension made possible by the new tools. This is not unique to the Digital Age. Lamoignon Malesherbes, the French politician who was counsel for the defense of Louis XVI, is famous for thundering against the new trend of getting one’s world news from the printed page. He insisted that it socially isolated readers and took away from the edifying practice of getting news from the pulpit. Malesherbes concern is warranted in this way: the more accustomed we are to communicating through mediation, the more the work of personal interaction presents as being antiquated.1 The Christian’s right use of tools must be accompanied by a suspicion of how the newly acquired ease will change us. When it comes to communication, the more we simulate face-to-face speech, the more inclined we will be to avoid it, which, according to Scripture, takes us further from a Biblical anthropology. Let’s hear from the Apostle Paul. 

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to  yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to  the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord  Jesus Christ . . .

Ephesians 5:18-20 (KJV) 

Think for a moment about simulation being an inoculation of sorts. There is a mountain of sociological evidence testifying to the fact that people who grow dependent on mediated communication become increasingly inept at one-to-another communication. The primary difference between the two kinds of events is the accountability that exists in face-to-face speech.2 The face is uniquely a kind of horizon of accountability. It’s for this reason that the great preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, never actually wrote a book. All of his published works were adaptations of his sermons fashioned to book form by the editors. Early in his career as a preacher, he wrote an article for a journal, but apart from that and his final essays on preaching (which were delivered to a live audience), everything he did was preaching to a live congregation. He presciently saw that there was something dangerous to the preacher in his speaking to anonymous listeners. Even Scripture’s intended audience was public assemblies with named individuals. Preaching, Lloyd-Jones would argue, was an authoritative event that required the preacher facing a live body of hearers. That’s not to disparage essays or journalism (this is an article after all); simply, it’s to issue a warning that anonymous  communication lacks accountability in a way that is starkly contrasted with the Biblical requirement to be people who communicate face-to-face.

Joanne Jung is the author of a book called Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan Practice of Conference. In it, she notes that, while the Puritans are known for their eloquent prayers, rich devotional theology, and unnecessarily long titles, what is not so well-known is the acknowledged need of many of the Puritan parishioners to be taught how to communicate naturally with one another about the things of the Lord. What resulted was a body of Puritan teaching on how to do what Ephesians 5 sets up as the prerequisite for being filled with the Holy Spirit. If being filled with the Spirit is the what . . . speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God is the how. But if all those forms of communication are the what . . . then the how still needs to be taught. 

Learning face-to-face communication is done best in the context of our specific space/time restraints, thereby truly limiting us to practicing them in a one-another fashion. What digital tools gift us with is the freedom from being bound by our space/time restraints. This is a blessing and a curse. Christians are often inclined to try communicating about the things of the Lord online more often than in person because the great distance between ourselves and our audiences lends itself to a feeling of safety. Telecommunication assures us that the distance (tele) situates us beyond the reach of opponents and critics. But an anonymous audience, especially one that is online, is a kind of no-body, literally, and the Scriptures require us to practice primary, reality based forms of communication with somebody. 

Jung notes that some of the examples of real-time communication that should be fostered amongst God’s people would include: discussing the last sermon that was heard with some kind of regularity; taking note of things one has learned or questions that a Biblical text has incited and discussing them with co-workers and family; learning to speak up about instances of God’s providence; and creating spoken rhythms of gratefulness. 

The digitally-saturated believer should consider discussing in person the edifying things he or she has recently gleaned from a book . . . before or even instead of posting anything online. The recovery of a Biblical anthropology, in light of Christian society, requires us to prioritize our involvement in the local Body as the actual basecamp of our participation, remembering that, often, the overextension of global reach is accompanied by an amputation of local reach. 

Another example of face-to-face communication endorsed by Scripture comes to us from the Apostle Paul. Timothy is encouraged by Paul to not forsake the public reading of Scriptures. 

Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.

1 Timothy 4:13  (HCSB) 

This can take any number of shapes. One need not think merely of street-preaching. The use of homemade liturgies, use of the Book of Common Prayer for significant events, and learning to speak the memorized word of God appropriately into any given situation are all ways in which this admonition is kept. Prayerfully considering what kind of Scripture is appropriate for each and every occasion is an art that brings the beauty of God’s voice into the vernacular. 

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an  ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. As the cold of snow in the time  of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his  masters.

Proverbs 25:11-13 (KJV) 

The people of God have been given powerful instruction from the Lord as to how to cultivate life in the Spirit. In our recovery of a Biblical anthropology, we should prioritize the art of speaking face to face as an endangered treasure of the church.

Simulation is a kind of inoculation. When we use our energy in analogous endeavors, things that are liken unto another thing, our strength for use in actual endeavors dissipates. To attempt faithfulness in an abstract sense rather than in the small confines of the literal sense is an inversion of what God has called us to do. God has not called us to love the world in a way that skips over our neighbors. Our neighbors will be our best and possibly only chance at loving the world. The same is true in the Body of Christ. The local congregation is situated on either side of us in order that we might practice the way of God, the way of the new humanity, under the headship of the New Adam. 

Garrett Soucy lives in Maine with his wife and nine children where he is the pastor of Christ the King Church. He is also a writer and musician.

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