This post is a guest post by my friend Jacob Goff. Jacob and I make sure to hang out whenever I’m in St. Louis. He rambles about theology occasionally on SimulBlog and also is a co-host for the Theology After Dark podcast.
The rise of Luther's revolutionary influence coincided with the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg.
Why was this revolutionary? How does dispersing better information more efficiently to a greater number of people have such a huge impact on the thrust of Church history?
Before the printing press, it was way easier to hide knowledge.
If your business model is built on hiding knowledge from people, then you would have been really frustrated by this new threat which democratizes knowledge.
The Catholic Church realized that people were a lot more compliant when they were less certain that God loved them. The bible was rarely translated into a language that people spoke, and most of the academics were in on the ruse, so the clarity of the gospel was displaced by myths of Saints and the sale of indulgences. And business was booming.
What happened is that information about who Jesus truly was (the messiah who saves sinners) got (metaphorically) carried up the mountain and locked in the vault. Lies were more profitiable; a forgiven conscience is much more difficult to manipulate than a self-justifying and terrified one.
People didn't believe in God's free grace, because nobody told them. Why did nobody tell them? Because knowledge about what the bible actually says was kept from the people. The clergy purged that knowledge just short of actually tearing books out of the bible. The clergy spoke and wrote in a language that the common peasant didn't understand.
And the only systems through which knowledge traveled was controlled by the manipulators. So the truth never really flowed freely. Lies were told at the top, and they trickled all the way to the bottom.
But the invention of the printing press blew this apart. The invention of a piece of technology that makes the transmission of ideas way easier and way faster and, most importantly, way cheaper. Because it was cheap, a lowly seminary professor's crazy ideas could be recorded and distributed across Western civilization. Luther exposed the lies and told the truth, and the printing press made it all possible.
Liberating the Gospel Message
Donald Glover, under his rap moniker 'Childish Gambino,' released an album called . . . Because the Internet. I watched an interview with him where he explained that this phrase, because the internet, will become common as we understand the gravity of mankind's newest little trinket. The way we communicate and connect with each other has been fundamentally altered. We will refer to the time before this massive cultural communication overhaul as the "Pre-Internet Age."
We aren't close to the edge of another communication revolution similar to the invention of the printing press; we have gone off the edge and the way we share ideas will never be the same. In fact, the scope and reach of the internet is exponentially greater than the printing press. To run a printing press required some skills as a type-setter and a black smith, but anybody can start a blog. Through these blogs, we are collectively discovering a gospel that is undiluted by the faith-crushing and fear-mongering occurring in many churches today.
Some modern Luther has scaled the mountain, cracked the vault code, and found that the message of Christ crucified for weary sinners is as potent as ever. And now they tweet about it. And blog about it. And podcast about it.
They are sharing it. Like a virus.
I don't even tell people to share it anymore. Once you give them a message of grace that actually resonates with an admitted loser, you really can't get them to shut up about it. Something snaps in people. I've seen them snap right in front of me. It's weird and scary and exhilirating when people first feel the soothing balm of Christ's peace on their conscience. I can see why Jesus told so many people to keep their mouths shut. Or why the people thought Paul and Barnabas were Zues and Hermes.
The gospel is an existential hydrogen bomb. And the insurgents have been released onto the social battlefield that is the internet. We have found the public square of our time, our modern Areopagus, and people just won't shut up about this unconditional grace.
God's Two Words
When people get their first taste of "God's two shots" (law and gospel), it's a bit overwhelming. The buzz is new, and we just aren't sure. Is this a joke? Is this all a gimmick? Is this just a bunch of zealous activist-type Christians getting jazzed about a particular theological view? I don't think that is what's going on. I think it is bigger.
It's important to understand that sometimes knowledge gets bottlenecked. And sometimes a few hundred years go by where the truth barely trickles through. I think we all need to come to grips with the fact that most of the modern evangelical church has gotten caught up in a lie, but because the internet, the truth is flowing freer than ever.
And obviously, Luther kept preaching in his church. That's where the frontlines of this message always are. I am not a pastor. I'm a sometimes writer and frequent provacteur. But lots of people reading this are pastors, and my plea to them is this: Do your job, and let the internet link you in to the flow of truth - the flow of the explosive good news of Jesus Christ. Feed heavy-laden sinners communion every week, and baptize people whose eyes light up when they hear God's Word spoken over them. The internet is a tool for you to stay tapped into to the uninhibited flow of no-strings-attached gospel knowledge.
Your seminary has lectures on the internet. You have access to books you never could have gotten your hands on. Thousands of brilliant biblical scholars are just recklessly spilling ideas onto a Twitter account. You can link in with folks who have been through terrible suffering and yet clung tightly to the message of the gospel. This is encouraging. And Enlightening. And just generally exhilirating stuff. And it's all at your very fingertips.
500 years ago, for the first time in history, a thousand common people in Venice could be exposed to the recorded intuition of a monk in Eastern Germany named Martin Luther, just a few weeks after Luther himself penned the words. All because of the printing press. And the moment that person in Venice read Luther's pamphlet, "two or more were gathered." Ideas are pieces of our identity, and as we share our ideas and convictions and passion we are sharing ourselves with the church.
The internet is a tool: when liberating ideas are liberated, then people are liberated.
The acceleration of the transmission of ideas has the potential to expose systemic legalism in the church. This fact alone will reform the church possibly to the same degree that Luther observed, possibly to a greater degree. Because the internet.
This is the part where I don't tell you to keep sharing your ideas with other people.
Because you probably just tweeted something. Or Facebooked. Or YouTubed. Or blogged. Or podcasted. Or AOL Instant Messaged. Myspace. Etc.