In the mid nineties two students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, sat in their dorm room at Stanford University and pledged themselves, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The result was Google, the most powerful and widely used search engine in the world. The word Google is a term coined by Milton Sirotta for the number one followed by 100 zeros. It was used by Page and Brin to symbolize the vast amount of information in the world. Google has become an integral part of our daily lives. In light of this, I saw a funny cartoon a few days ago. A pastor was standing in front of a confirmation class and was saying to his class, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and after that Google pretty much took over!” The cartoon seems to be making the point that even our basic Christian doctrines and teachings cannot ignore the larger context of the world we live in. We live in a world which is awash with almost universal access to information. Our period of history has been called the “information age” or the “digital revolution.” What implications does this have for Asbury Theological Seminary?
Asbury was the leading pioneer in North America in extending the accessibility of an accredited theological degree through what we called Extended Learning (ExL) and the “virtual campus.” Today our virtual campus is the second largest campus of the seminary with nearly five hundred students taking courses over the internet. We have the capability of delivering a class to any location in the world. Asbury even has its own IPhone app called Asbury Moblie allowing us to reach pepole wherever they may be! Today you can listen to one of our chapel messages, read my Presidential blog called Global Talk, or watch the video of Bob Muholland’s lectures on the Book of Revelation while you commute to work on a train. Many of our faculty’s books are now available on Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s new IPad. Like many of our students, I twitter almost every day. Twitter is a brief message which cannot exceed 140 characters which is instantly sent out to hundreds who “follow” your twitter. This is now the world we inhabit. Asbury must continue to understand how information is accessed, how it is passed on, and how we can utilize this for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our used of the internet “super highway” is similar to Paul’s own used of the Roman road system in his mission strategy in the first century.
However, like all cultural shifts these new realities do not come without real and serious dangers. The gospel has never been about merely delivering information; it is about spiritual formation. The gospel is more about transformation than information. Information is, of course, an important part of our proclamation of the gospel. But we must never forget that we utilize the explosion of information in order to call people into communities of faith and lives of transformation. For, indeed, after God created the world, something infinitely more important happened before Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google. God became man in Jesus Christ. God did not just send us an e-mail. He became incarnate, i.e. he became flesh. He walked among us in relationship and declared, “I will build my church.” Information only has value in so far as the church of Jesus Christ is built and strengthened to embody all of the glorious realities of the New Creation in the present age. This is ultimately what drives Asbury Theological Seminary. This is what wakes me up every morning. We will use delivery tool we can to do this work. However, in the end, we will be judged not on how widely we disseminated information, but how deeply we strengthened and equipped the church of Jesus Christ.