Interactive Sermons?

by byamabe on May 22, 2009

I have this idea that video games can be used as a tool to spread the Gospel. I really don’t know if it’s possible. The medium of video games lends itself to choice, control, and interaction as opposed to words which convey linearity, specificity, and propositional truth. Looking at these attributes, you can see why words are the optimal medium for transmitting the Christian faith as Lutherans confess it. Choice, control, and interaction are not primary concerns when we speak of the faith, so video games may be a completely incompatible medium for proclaiming the Gospel. I’ve made several feeble attempts (here, here, and here ) but they certainly don’t convey Law and Gospel in any sense. I am not going to stop trying, I’m just not laboring under any illusions.

That being said, I will say definitively that video games don’t belong in the divine service. “Of course,” you say, “Who would ever do something like that?” Well, here’s a blog post where the author talks about his idea for using an interactive experience to reinforce the message of a sermon. The tool is in its early stages of development and is implemented as a video clip, but the author sees its future as a fully developed interactive environment. The post has a video clip for how it was used in a “worship service.” This is crazy! It utterly and completely takes our focus off of Christ and what He has done and has us concerned about our experiences. If I were a fundamentalist, I’d say this was proof that video games are tools of the devil. Used in this way, they are completely turning us from Christ. (Since, I’m not a fundamentalist, I’ll say that sinful man has turned these gifts from God against Him.)

The other thing that caught my eye was that this was done at Lutheran Church of Hope. I did some digging and they appear to be an ELCA congregation but that doesn’t excuse them from obscuring the Gospel gifts uncovered by the reformers. I wish they would drop the “Lutheran” part of their name so the casual onlooker doesn’t confuse them with confessional Lutherans. My sinful side thinks they kept the Lutheran prefix because churchofhope.org was already taken.

{ 8 comments }

Paolo May 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I think that the slippery-slope that many churches face when trying to make their sermons and services “entertaining” to draw in large crowds.

Entertainment or “amusement” is always self-focused and thus, going to church becomes a “consumed good” where people pay to feel good about themselves rather than to be “scandalized by the truth”.

You said that video games may be completely incompatible for proclaiming the Gospel. I’ve long contemplated this and even solicited to write an article on why this is so difficult. However, I think after reading a whole slew of negative articles on “Christian” games, I will have to write positive suggestions on how this may be accomplished instead.

admin May 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm

[quote comment=""]However, I think after reading a whole slew of negative articles on “Christian” games, I will have to write positive suggestions on how this may be accomplished instead.[/quote]

I, for one, would be very excited to read this article. I agree that the nay-sayers have fired plenty of shots, and I may have been offering ammo. But I certainly don’t have a closed mind about “Christian” games. My mind is only closed to games in church.

Paolo May 26, 2009 at 6:39 pm

[quote comment=""]I, for one, would be very excited to read this article. I agree that the nay-sayers have fired plenty of shots, and I may have been offering ammo. But I certainly don’t have a closed mind about “Christian” games. My mind is only closed to games in church.[/quote]

I agree with you 100%. And I’ll get on that article.

Paolo May 27, 2009 at 4:50 am

Here it is:
http://www.gamedevigner.com/2009/05/26/christianity-and-games/

Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions!

God at play June 10, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Thanks for your comments. It’s encouraging to see another game developer working on faith-based things.

To be a little more clear about my prototype, this tool does not let people in the church play it during a service.

Someone behind-the-scenes “plays” it to trigger events and visuals that parallel what is being said by the speaker. To the audience, it just seems like an animation. But because it is an interactive environment, the player has the flexibility to trigger events in the environment to match up with the timing and emphasis of the speaker.

Based on what’s in the Bible, it seems that parables are the optimal medium for transmitting the Christian faith. Parables require a lot of interaction, both in the mind and with other people. They were not specific, but instead highly symbolic. How is this any different? It is a teaching tool that tells a parable through animation, triggered in real-time.

Lastly, how would an interactive experience take the focus off of Christ? Worship is an act of offering a sacrifice. It can be done in so many ways: listening, reading, speaking, singing, dancing, touching, expressing emotion, discussion, communion, service, drawing, painting, performing music, and others. Virtual interaction is simply a tool that can allow people to worship in the ways listed above.

byamabe June 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I think the disconnect is that we have a fundamental difference in what we think worship is. Your understanding is that, “Worship is an act of offerering a sacrifice.” My understanding is that worship is where I receive the gifts of God, faith and the forgiveness of sins, in Word and sacraments and I respond with my praise and thanksgiving.

You see worship as something that people do, your list, and an interactive tool allows them to do those things you mentioned in, I’m guessing, a more powerful, expressive way.

I see worship as focused on what Christ gives us and that He gives those gifts without regard to my experience or expressiveness. An interactive experience simply takes the focus off of Christ and draws attention to my experience and what I’m doing.

Even in the parables, the focus was never on the mechanism or the symbolism, but the message of the parable which was and is always Christ for us.

Ryan Henson Creighton August 18, 2009 at 5:18 am

Heya. Can video games and Christianity be reconciled? As a professional game developer with a Christian worldview, i’ve been struggling with this question for my entire career. Here’s one of my articles on the subject:

http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2008/03/06/prince-of-persia-prince-of-peace/

My latest crazy idea is to just totally go for it, guns blazing, and develop a graphic adventure game (in the style of Monkey Island) where you play Jesus.

That’s right. i said it. i don’t know how he’d manage to carry all of those inventory items in his robe, but he’s been known to do some miraculous things. ;)

- Ryan

byamabe August 18, 2009 at 5:40 am

Ryan, enjoy your work and your blog.

I can’t wait to see it! I can see the integration of a Christian worldview, just like any other medium. Proclamation of the Gospel in the context of a game… tougher. But we won’t know unless someone tries. So go for it, let’s see if it can be done, and I’m sure you’ll get lots of “feedback.”

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