The Angel of the iPhone: Part 3, It's a Small World

If we are going to "discern the spirits" in association with iPhones and Web 2.0 generally we need to start with the good stuff. iPhones and Facebook are awesome!

Again, as I said in Part 1, these aren't going to be Luddite posts. I love my iPhone, and while I'm not on Facebook or Twitter I am, obviously, a huge fan of blogging--a signature of Web 2.0.

Here's my little Web 2.0 testimonial. In 2006 I was feeling kind of lonely. I had a lot of good friends, but I was struggling, socially, to find outlets for all the stuff that was rumbling around in my head. And to find someone who thrilled to the ideas I was kicking around and would join in. I think people are generally unprepared for the sheer volume of stuff I think about. If you ask me, in a passing social encounter, what I've been thinking about you are asking for a two hour conversation. If you are a regular reader of this blog I expect you know what I'm talking about. But given that I have a modicum of social skills, I don't inflict two hour discussions on people. So while my friends were interested in what I was thinking about I had too much to say, too much to communicate. I needed another outlet.

Plus, there were times when I would share thoughts with my friends and would be dismissed as odd or unserious. I keenly remember sending an email to many of my friends on campus, around 2005, telling them that universalism was going to be an important conversation for this next generation of students. One of my friends, who worked in the College of Biblical Studies, dismissed this as borderline crackpot.

Given how things have developed since 2005, I feel pretty much vindicated on that score. Before and definitely since Rob Bell's Love Wins, universalism has become a very hot topic. But in 2005 I couldn't get a whole lot of traction among my ACU colleagues about this topic. Not that I expected to. ACU is a pretty conservative place, theologically speaking. As are the Churches of Christ. So I was used to being in the minority. Still, it was lonely. Theologically and intellectually lonely.

But then I started this blog. And here I could pour out every crazy idea I had. I could write and write and write. Even about universalism. And the most amazing thing happened. People came here and talked to me. Suddenly, I had all of you. And I didn't feel so lonely anymore.

My day developed two tracks, intellectually speaking. My ACU track, where I talked very little about the stuff on my blog, was pretty boring. I mean, who wants to hear me go on for two hours about the theology of serpents in the snake handling churches of Appalachia? Or about how Type 1 and Type 2 errors make for a really cool metaphor for soteriology? Or how monsters are transgressive hybrids? Or how the Eucharist might be like a "strange loop"? Or about the theological implications of Calvinball? Or how Game Theory can be used to talk about the Sermon on the Mount? Or about the figure of Judas in art history? Or about reverse perspective in Greek Orthodox icons? Or about the problems of free will in Openness Theology?

See the problem if you're my friend? Where was I going to dump this stuff on campus? How does any of this stuff come up in a normal conversation, particularly if you have a modicum of social skills?

So I'd hardly ever talk about this stuff on campus. That was my ACU life, Track One. But I now had a second intellectual outlet, Track Two. The conversation here. On Tack One I was a normal person having normal conversations. But throughout the day I was also living on a second track, participating with you in the conversation I'd started here. It was awesome. I didn't have to burden friends with some odd idea I was kicking around ("Hey, do you want to hear the difference between weak and strong volitionalism and their relationship to moral luck?). But I could kick these ideas around on Web 2.0. That world was so big there were always a few people who, for any given post, would say "Cool. I like this. Have you thought about..."

In short, I've never been happier, intellectually speaking, than since I started this blog. So thank you and thank you Web 2.0.

And while we are talking about all this, let me say that I think Web 2.0 is the reason why universalism recently hit its tipping point. There were always people who believed in universal reconciliation, in every denomination. Catholic. Baptist. Pentecostal. Evangelical. Church of Christ. We were in every church. But we were always in the minority. Quiet and closeted. Feeling alone and strange.

But then Web 2.0 hit. And guess what? We found each other. Suddenly we realized we were not alone. Web 2.0 allowed us to "come out" and feel confident we weren't crazy.

Web 2.0 was the tipping point for universalism. It allowed the minorities within each church to connect with each other and start up a more public conversation.

To conclude, my story is just one of millions, if not billions. You are the grandmother who uses Facebook or texting to keep up with your grandkids in another state. You're the missionary overseas who uses the Internet to stay in touch with home. You're the lonely person who found companionship via the Web. Or the best friends who celebrate everyday together on Facebook, even if you live hundreds of miles apart. The stories go on and on.

Connection is a wonderful thing.

In short, any assessment of the spirituality of Web 2.0 and social mobile computing has to start with its enormous good. To miss that is to miss why we are so drawn to it all and how our lives can become impoverished, in real human ways, without it.

(Picture above is the world map drawn by Paul Butler using Facebook connections.)

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17 thoughts on “The Angel of the iPhone: Part 3, It's a Small World”

  1. Yer dang skippy. And thank you, Dr. Beck, for your voice in the conversation.

    As a former third-culture-kid, child of missionaries to Peru, raised abroad, educated in Canada and now living in North Carolina, I sometimes tell people that I have a whole bunch of great friends and soul mates, but that they unfortunately live all over the globe.

    The web has enabled me to keep contact with them - to be nourished and encouraged and loved by them. It has also allowed me to write for a willing, interested public. And as my readership has grown, this has forced me to be more rigorous, compassionate, and humble in my thinking. I, too, love the conversation we're all engaged in. And I love, as you have pointed out, that I can "come out" theologically and not feel so alone... or so heretical.

    Again, thanks.

  2. I think that feeling of connection is huge for the theological minorities in every church and place.

    And here's the thing I keep discovering. I used to think my beliefs were highly idiosyncratic. It felt like a cobbled-together scrapbook of stuff. So I just assumed, as a teenager, that I had to be one of a kind. But I'm not. Like you noted in your recent comment, too many of us are walking very, even spookily, similar paths. What I thought was highly unique and individual is, I'm finding, just one example of a much larger and general pattern. Too many of us are making such highly similar theological moves that it's not a coincidence.

  3. And isn't it sooooo tempting to think, "Eureka! An obvious sign that we're absolutely right, and God is on our side, and everyone else ought to just listen to us and things would be all right"?

    At least, I find this to be a particularly dangerous temptation. Nonetheless, I do believe (at the risk of sounding like something I am not) that there is a spirit moving... a spirit that in a postmodern age has been able to dismantle a lot of really ugly power structures. A lot of babies are getting thrown out with the bathwater, but I think with enough silence and humility, it's worth it.

  4. I can identify. Here's what helps me: I tend to agree with my friends: I am kind of a crackpot. And if you know that about yourself you tend to take yourself with a grain of salt.

    I tell my students that I don't preach positive self-regard but ironic self-regard. A holy fool if you will. Well, an aspiring holy fool. I got the fool part down pretty well. Working on the holy part...

  5. Interesting post. This week I attended an inaugaral International meeting for bloggers at the Vatican and some of these same issues were aired. I made a two part report on the day - if you want to have a look my blog is called Blue Eyed Ennis at


  6. Blogging (well) takes a lot of time, so as qb worked his way through Brueggemann's _Theology of the Old Testament_, he opted to post little bits of provocative distillate on Facebook. So qb would read two or three pages over a lunch salad at United, and post a condensed thought from those pages...suffice to say that Facebook's not the best place to get a conversation going, especially when the focal piont of the first post is already on the very outermost periphery (!) of evangelical orthodoxy.

  7. Wondered if you'd seen/heard this Being show recently. It's on the same topic.

  8. Hi Emma,

    No, I had not seen/heard this. Thanks!

    I'm finding with this series that there is so much already out there on this topic that the links from everyone in the comments are better than my posts!

  9. Question: Does the concept of universalism redefine our current existence as life in the "Matrix"?

  10. how does it go rich god is a comedian with an audience that has forgotten

    how to laugh,,,,????

    thanks for all the insanity ...or sanity ....bro ....the older we get the more of a " compared to what " everything becomes, and i aint the the judge any more
    ,GOD give me mercy....thanks and blessing you.

  11. This is off-topic(ish), but I just gave you and your book a shout-out on my latest blog post, which is partially inspired/informed by "Unclean." Thought you might want to know:

  12. The scope and quality of information about religion made available by the digital age, means we have come out of another "dark ages" giving rise to spirituality.

  13. Hi Josh,

    It's always humbling to get a shout out. Thanks.

    But more to the point, your post was fascinating. The deconstructing of the NAPE subculture through a DC Talk song was brilliant.

  14. It is a nice post. Web 2.0 was the tipping point for universalism.There were always people who believed in universal reconciliation, in every denomination.

  15. Interesting thoughts. I had been wondering about and asking myself recently why universalism (and other expressions of Christian unity) have been getting so much traction at this point in history. Your thesis certainly seems to have a lot of explanatory power.

    I heard a sermon recently that likened the emerging church movement to the charismatic renewal in the 60's and the seeker-sensitive movement in the 80's. Every twenty years or so these fresh movements challenge and renew the church. Some of the aspects of these movements get incorporated into the church and others fall by the wayside. But the important thing is that they challenged people to think and to re-evaluate their belief and praxis and hence grow in their faith. Even if universalism and other challenges from the emergent church do not bring universal change, they will have fulfilled a useful role in getting "orthodox" Christianity to sharpen its theology and adapt itself better to the current post-modern generations of followers and potential followers.

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