Theology in a Wikipedia World

Last year, I attended a benefit dinner for World Vision’s End Malaria campaign, put on by a student org on campus at Cedarville. The event was packed, probably at the offer of homemade soup and bread from several faculty and staff families. If you want to get a big turnout of college students, offer homemade food.

As the ladles were scraping the bottom of the crockpots in the back of the room, several members of the org stepped up to the microphone to share about the End Malaria campaign and to make an appeal for our awareness and support of this important issue. I happened to be sitting at a table with several friends of mine who are communication arts majors, which was quite a fascinating experience as the keynote speaker stood up and gave her presentation. A minute into her presentation, a large, highly detailed diagram of the path the malaria virus makes from a mosquito’s body into the bloodsteam and into the human system was projected across the screen, and we all squinted to see the details as she all too quickly walked us through the process. After that, we were audience to another highly detailed diagram of the scientific process by which pharmaceutical drugs are able to combat the spread of the malaria virus. It was all quite a dizzying and eye-straining experience, one which my com arts friends couldn’t wait to finish.

I came away from that experience with this one thought: we don’t need more information, we need meaning. We had all come to the benefit dinner because we wanted to make a difference, not because we wanted to know the exact anatomy of a mosquito, but because we saw suffering and wanted to take action. We didn’t need a diagram; any of us could have found those diagrams in a simple web search. We came because we needed a direction in which to point our passions and sacrifice.

We live in an age where we have more information than we know what to do with. Ten years ago, when I would be doing a research project, I’d have to go to the library, check out some books, read journal articles. Today, I can find all the information I need to make an informed decision in three clicks: Click google, type word, click Wikipedia.

What difference does this make to how we approach education, ministry, teaching? How are we to go about teaching students about the essence of the Christian life when they can Google the names of every theologian and theological position in the time it takes us to explain why its important?

What our students need from us is not lengthy discussions and explanations of theological systems, or Venn diagrams on the differences and similarities between Peter and Paul. Surrounded by a whirlwind of information and messages, our students need someone to come alongside them and provide meaning, context, and motivation to action. Our students will find the information on their own, probably on their phones while you’re making your opening announcements or your final plea to sign up for the upcoming missions trip. Students have all the information they need at their fingers. We can best serve them and point them to the life-change Jesus offers by teaching them how to think, where to move, how to sacrifice. Information is everywhere. Our students don’t need us to lecture to them. What they need is someone to help them process, someone to teach them how to think and how to ask penetrating questions that point to deeper meaning behind the latest statistic or argument or cultural movement.

How do you incorporate teaching theology into your ministry to students? What kind of theological questions are your students asking?

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