Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Spiritual Formation and the New Media (Part 1 of 3)

This post is excerpted from Dr. Jim Hamilton's paper, "Spiritual Formation and the New Media: Making Good Use of the Mammon of Unrighteousness," presented at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in November 2007, and is posted here with his permission. The whole article is available online from a link at this page. Dr. James M. Hamilton, Jr. is the assistant professor of biblical studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Houston Park Place Campus, and the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer in Sugar Land, Texas. He is also the author of God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments (B&H, 2006). Visit his blog at

Spiritual Formation and the New Media:
Making Good Use of the Mammon of Unrighteousness

by Dr. Jim Hamilton

Part 1 of 3

The task of spiritual formation was given neither to the internet nor to the seminary. It was given to the church. Jesus said he would build his church. He said that when believers were unrepentant even after numerous rebukes, the church was to be told. Paul said that the church is the household of God and the pillar and ground of the truth. Paul expected the churches to discern between the gospel he preached and perversions of it. The church is Christ's body, and he gave himself up for her, the church. He purchased it, the church, with his own blood. Jesus will present to himself a glorious, spotless church. Spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church. Jesus is the head of the church, and Paul prays for God to be glorified in the church and in Christ Jesus. The manifold wisdom of God is displayed to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms through the church. Jesus testifies in Revelation for the churches.

The proper questions for this essay, then, are: What do the internet and new media have to do with the mission of the church? More specifically, what can the internet and the new media contribute to the church's task of spiritual formation? In defining spiritual formation, I would point to Jesus' commissioning the church to make disciples, defining that task himself as teaching them everything he commanded (Matt 28:19–20). With this, we can point to several statements in Paul that speak of conformity to Christ (e.g., Rom 8:29; Eph 4:13). There are two aspects to this, then: (1) teaching what Jesus taught so that people (2) live like Jesus lived.

This essay will argue that spiritual formation depends neither on the internet nor the new media but on the attitude of the Christian engaging these tools. Christians must engage the internet and the new media in the service of the church for the glory of God. Approached from this mindset, the internet and the new media can be tremendous tools for spiritual growth and formation. If, however, Christians approach the internet and the new media from an un-Christian, worldly, consumeristic, self-centered, self-gratifying mindset, the internet and the new medial will be a source of filth and an inciter of every form of wickedness. Our exposition of this thesis will begin with the manifold misappropriations of the "mammon of unrighteousness" that is the world wide web, before moving to the multitude of mind-renewing means made manageable by the internet and new media.

Before considering these positive and negative possibilities presented by the net, a brief explanation of my reference to the new media as the "mammon of unrighteousness" is in order. In the parable of the unrighteous steward in Luke 16:1–9, Jesus commends the desperate steward's "shrewdness" (16:8). Faced with the prospect of having to account for his wasteful mismanagement (16:1–2), too weak to dig and ashamed to beg (16:3), the steward had leveraged what little he had both to recoup debts owed his master and benefit the debtors (16:4–7). For this, he is commended for his shrewdness by his master, and Jesus comments that the sons of this world are shrewder than the sons of light in their dealings with their own generation (16:8). Jesus then instructs his disciples to make friends for themselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness—just as the unrighteous steward had done (16:9)—leveraging what they have for their Master in heaven and the benefit of his subjects. Just as the unrighteous steward sought to be received if his master turned him out (16:4), if the disciples will make good use of the mammon of unrighteousness by recognizing the urgency of their position, shrewdly seeking honor for God and benefit for his subjects, leveraging what they have for the cause of the Kingdom, they will be received into eternal tabernacles (16:9). The point of this parable seems to be that Jesus' followers are to maximize what they have for the benefit of the Master and his subjects. Urgently. Shrewdly. Desperately.[1] The "mammon of unrighteousness," as I am using the phrase, refers to whatever new media we can use for the glory of God and the good of his people.


[1] Cf. Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 152–54; E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, NCB (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 198–200.

Look for Part 2 next week.

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