SimChurch and Incarnation: Why I think Church in Cyberspace Might be a Good Thing

I just finished reading SimChurch by Douglas Estes and was pleasently surprised.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of virtual church, you should watch the following video to get some background before reading on:

I started the book with some hesitation, assuming I wasn’t going to like it because the core of Christian theology is based on the idea of incarnation. The idea of God becoming human to show us God’s love is the essential element of the Christian faith. This foundational theological belief made me assume that when people become disembodied avatars that this must somehow fight against the grain of the Christian message. Yet, by the time I finished SimChurch I was fully won over. Estes is theologically trained and has a Ph. D., and he skillfully knocked down every one of my theological objections, especially my incarnational one.

Estes caught me off-gaurd when he quoted William Gibson, the science-fiction author of Neuromancer and the coiner of the word cyberspace, who calls our virtual avatars “data made flesh.” This line struck me as paradoxically delicious. Perhaps I was thinking about all of this backwards. Is it possible that with the advent of cyberspace, people are able to imitate our Saviour’s incarnation in a very real way.

When Christ came to earth, he was coming to a very dark world that had mostly rejected its creator. This is important because the Internet is considered the least evangelized place on planet earth; Simon Jenkins (one of the founders of a virtual church called Church of Fools) remarks that  “it’s like someone has created a new town and no one has thought to build a church there. It’s almost scandalous.” Of course, the incarnation was scandalous  too.

If we are afraid of the strangeness of virtual church in itself, this should serve as a good reminder that the Christian faith is wildly scandalous. It actually won’t surprise me if Estes is seen in a few decades as a prophetic voice, pointing the church in a missional direction which fits well with the message of Christ.

Why don’t you try and visit one of the churches listed below and then leave a comment about your experience. The best one for most people to try is probably St. Pixel’s.

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One response to “SimChurch and Incarnation: Why I think Church in Cyberspace Might be a Good Thing

  • Helene Milena

    I’m glad to read that you are now convinced about church in virtual spaces, Josh. It would indeed be scandalous if those spaces didn’t have churches in them. Christians are needed as salt and light there as much as (or perhaps more than) anywhere. You might find it helpful to read the digidisciples posts where many are exploring what it means to be Christian in a digital environment.

    The disadvantage we have in Second Life is the steep learning curve some face in order to cope there, but once that’s overcome there is a chance for real community and an encounter with God. Perhaps we’ll see you at the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island sometime.

    Helene Milena (Lay Pastor of Anglicans of SL)

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