For those interested… Brothers of John the Steadfast Conference 2012 Review & The Future of Christian Media on the Web

by Joshua McNary on February 12, 2012

Some of the The Parental Office audience probably do not care about a confessional Lutheran conference held in the dead of winter in suburban Chicago, but I know at least a few who do. Therefore, I decided to writeup a “review” of the enriching event which my lovely wife and I attended this weekend.

About

The Brothers of John the Steadfast (BJS) is an organization defending traditional Lutheran theology, teaching, the liturgy, and promoting the use of new media to support it. The conference this year was titled, “Getting the Gospel Doctrine to the Diaspora in an Electronic Age” with talks from a number of younger Pastors who are effectively promoting theology via the interwebs.

The event had about 100 attendees. We were told this was lower than last year’s event, when Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) President Matt Harrison attended/spoke, but with the exception of last year the attendee trendline has continued to rise. Attendees included a balance of clergy and laypeople of varying ages. Many family units attended (including little kids, although we left ours back; since grandma offered!) and attendees were from all over Country (Seattle was farthest I heard), with the majority from nearby midwestern States. Most folks were LCMS, with a few Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) members noted.

The location (Bethany Lutheran in Naperville, IL), food, people, and event itself was excellent. There was great fellowship (thanks for the warm welcome Rev. Rossow), wonderful liturgical worship services (Bethany’s excellent Cantor Phillip Magness and his musicians/choirs were a treat; and it was a blessing to sing/worship alongside so many other devoted Christians), plus we enjoyed the “No Pietist Allowed Parties” on Friday night.

Presentations

There were three primary presentations focused around the theme of how we as Lutheran Christians can and should use the new media to help spread the Good News. Along the way there was plenty of thoughtful predication of what the future Church will look like in light of these tools, cautions as to how the internet can be abused by even well-meaning Christian evangelists, and ideas on how clergy and laity can start to use it right now.

The first talk was Friday night by popular YouTube video host of Worldview Everlasting, Pastor Jonathan Fisk. His speech was titled, “Made a Different: What the Ecology of New Media Means for Lutheran Congregations, Synods, and the catholic Church (provided the US Government Doesn’t Make It All Illegal with SOPA – ‘Cause that Raises Countless Other Gnarly Questions)”. To be honest, that title about summarizes his talk! He basically explained the current Church media paradgram in light of the book, “Here Comes Everybody” which highlights the new age of self-published via the internet. This trend is leading to the passing of large institutional media giants, previously the only ones with the resources to publish. This is not unlike Luther’s experience with Guttenburg’s printing press and The 95 Theses (a common theme throughout the event, with various references to The Economists’ “How Luther When Viral” piece). While Fisk was encouraging the use of new media in the Church, he also cautioned us to keep in mind how important physical “Hyper-localized Participation” in your congregation, to receive the Word and Sacraments from your local Pastor, was to a Christian’s life. This was tied to discussion of the possibly of “internet Pastors” becoming almost too cherished, whereas local members better identify with them the their congregation.

The second presentation was by Table Talk Radio co-host, Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, on Saturday morning. He focused on relaying how Table Talk Radio had aimed to make theology accessible and fun via games and humor, while also remaining true to our Confession. His fun style kept us awake and engaged, just like on the audio program. He focused us on three attacks of the Devil which work against us when promoting theology via any media, including the new methods. The first is the attack that makes us think, “Theology is boring.” Wolfmueller emphasized how the “the Devil tempts us to be bored with theology” and that “one of the biggest problems is our Pastors who find the Book of Concord boring.” Second, the Devil attacks us to make us think, “Theology is too hard” to learn or teach. While theology is not easy, it does not mean we cannot “make a start” at trying to teach and learn it. If we do not, evil will always win. However, if we try and fail, we at least make headway at attacking error. The second attack then ties into the third, of which he noted the Devil is a master at diverting us from the idea that it is “O.K. to fail” and at the same time that our pride and image “are important”. When creating content or asking questions, we should not be afraid to be incorrect in our theology. If we are called out as incorrect, we should correct, address, and repent as such. We should also remember it is not our name we are trying to glorify, but Christ’s. In closing, Pastor Wolfmueller shared a number of impressive success stories about how Table Talk has taught and converted listeners to the orthodox Christian faith.

The last talk, Saturday afternoon, was by Pastor Joshua Scheer, Associate Editor of BJS, on “Spending Time on the Internet, Good idea or Bad?” Pastor Scheer’s outline was first on the Church’s misconceptions of what internet is and then on how it can actually be a very good thing for the Church, when used correctly. First he denoted how the Internet is a “1st Article tool” (a conference theme) and can both be good and bad (like us). This being said, he asked why shall we eliminate something just because it can be abused? If this was true, we should also eliminate the Lord’s Supper, because someone can abuse it just as well, etc. As Scheer noted, “God has no problem using whatever means to spread His Word,” including the internet. He also spent time drawing the comparison Fisk made echoing “How Luther Went Viral” and also adding how C. F. W. Walther used his newspaper, Der Lutheraner, as his new media tool in the 1800′s to spread the good news, just as we use the internet today. Also paralleling themes in Fisk’s talk, Scheer noted how the old media and institutions are unsure, afraid, and defensive of the the truth being told via new media because of, in large part, its decentralized power. He ended his presentation with an excellent cheatsheet, “Tips for pastors and laity on internet usage.” This handout noted any number of truths for Christians using the internet to spread the Word. He posted this online; you should go download and read it as it is very useful.

Final Thought

The Brothers of John the Steadfast 2012 Conference was a fulfilling and thought provoking session focusing on confessional Lutheran Christian new media. Both I (technologist/layperson/occasional seminarian wanna-be) and my wife (homemaker/layperson) throughly enjoyed our weekend. If the Lord so allows, we hope to attend next year and we hope you might join us!

In reviewing my notes for the write-up, perhaps Pastor Wolfmueller’s quote sums us the weekend’s conference theme the best, “Whatever tools we take up, we are fighting back against the Devil.”

In a world so void of the truth of Christ on the Cross as a sacrifice for our Sin, there is no doubt our collective digital future needs a strong confessional Lutheran theology professed. God willing, today’s endeavors will continue and that future will come to pass!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jim_claybourn February 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

Good write-up Josh. Glad to meet you and your wife. It will be hard to top this year’s presenters, but this is definitely a conference to try to attend next year.

Reply

Brian Yamabe February 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the write-up, Josh. I really liked Pr. Wolfmueller’s quote, “When creating content or asking questions, we should not be afraid to be incorrect in our theology. If we are called out as incorrect, we should correct, address, and repent as such.” I’m afraid of this and at times hesitate to create because of it. I should be bold and open to correction and repentance.

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Perry Lund February 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for the very concise and well written review of the BJS Conference. While all the presentations were awesome, I seemed to have clung to Pr. Wolfmueller’s presentation in my mind the most. Perhaps his self-deprecating nature and lack of listeners (sigh) at Table Talk radio has me sympathetic to him.

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Joshua McNary February 14, 2012 at 5:34 am

@Jim: Great to meet you. Thanks for being a loyal listener. Hope to see you next year!

@Brian: FYI- PBW did not actually “say” what you quoted, but that was the gist of what I heard him saying. =) I also had a side convo with Pastor Fisk about laypeople producing content without direct pastoral oversight, and he seemed to say that was ok (in line with PBW comments).

@Perry: Thanks for reading and it was great to meet you and your wife (go Iowa)! Yes, I think all three talks (and the sermons) worked together. Each had nuggets I gained from.

God bless all.

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Jon Enge February 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks for taking the time to write this great summary of the conference, Joshua. It was a pleasure meeting you and Marie and I hope to see you both again next year.

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