The premise of the book can be reduced to one central concept: “Whenever methods or media change, the message automatically changes along with them.” It was Marshall McLuhan who first developed this idea, and Hipps draws on his work and his own background in the advertising industry.
The first portion of the book develops McLuhan’s premise and then is presented by Hipps within the context of how the church has changed over the last few centuries because of the media that is in use. He explains how the rise of print culture led to the rise of the individual. As we are in the midst of so much development of media and the church’s use of it, Hipps suggests that we need to think carefully through how to best use that media. His point is not that the advances in technology need to neither embraced nor avoided by the church, but his most important point is that we understand that the use of this technology is not neutral. Once the technology is put into use, the message is affected. In other words, it is wrong to say that the methods may change, but the method stays the same.
While the first portion of the book laid an excellent foundation, it was the latter half of the book that makes it so valuable as Hipps explores some of the practical sides of what he has to say. He has important things to say in the chapters on community and worship that need to be digested by anyone who is involved in shaping a church community. It was his chapter on leadership, however, that especially stood out to me. As information becomes more and more accessible to the masses, models of leadership that rely on information control and dispensing are becoming less valid. It is out of this that he suggests some new ways forward.
This book is touted as an emerging church book, and certainly most of the concepts in it will be favorable to those in the emerging church. However, I hope that label does not keep others from reading it, as the book would be a benefit to anyone who is helping to shape a church community, regardless of how they might label themselves.