Assuming the Center

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There is a phrase that I have used and referred to for quite a number of years now, and I believe that this would be a good time to return to an explanation of it again. That phrase is assuming the center. This is something which, if done, can only be done by faith. It is a function of vision; and it is an exercise of authority. It is an act of sanctified imagination.

When someone has authority already, and he exercises it, he is not assuming a new authority. He already has the authority, and so he wields it. When someone assumes authority, but nothing happens, he was getting out over the front of his skis. He was assuming something, but it wasn’t authority. It wasn’t the center. Rather it was just untethered wishing—an unsanctified imagination.

Sometimes the one assuming the center is having to do this over against an existing center. If that existing center is living and robust, the result is a clash or a collision. If that center has been in the process of degrading, which is usually the case when someone else shows up to assume the center, the result is an apparent clash, but it is not long before the old center gives way.

My argument has been that Christians have needed—for several centuries have needed—to assume the center again. There have been notable periods in history when the Christians have done just that, and the results have usually been pretty exciting. But there have also been times, like our own, when Christians have been content to assume their “assigned” place on the periphery.

There is a world of difference between being on the periphery and assuming the center, on the one hand, and being on the periphery and assuming the periphery. When John Knox was rowing as a galley slave, and saw the spires of St. Andrews, and said that he would one day preach there, he was certainly on the periphery, chained to an oar, but still assuming the center.

This, to be distinguished from a modern Christian, ensconced in his recliner chair, watching the news on his 80 inch flat screen, and the news is once again dismaying and redolent of the last days. He silently prays as he watches—”How long, O Lord, must we endure?” Then he gets up to go get another cold drink from the fridge. He is in peril, but not the way he thinks. Knox was being persecuted while our modern guy is simply being digested.

We are privileged to be on the threshold of a new era. We are alive during a time in which the Christian church is faced with a striking dilemma. We must either assume the center, or we will die. But because we know from the prophets that we will not die, it follows that we will once again assume the center.

And right now would be a most excellent time for it.

The old secular order is currently collapsing under the weight of information. Not only is the glut of information washing away the old establishment, it is also burying the would-be brokers of the new information. The old order had a good run, and managed to keep control for a good long stretch. They had a life span like unto the tortoise, which can go up to 150 years. The new power brokers of information, the tech giants, are much more dazzling, but they have the life span of a dragonfly, which is several months.

Let me explain both of these in turn.

The Old Information Establishment

When I was a lad, there were three television networks, and usually one local station or so. Not only was this the case, but it was thought to be sleek and techno-modern, a riotous flow of information. Something could happen in Washington, D.C., say, and the word would get all across the country that very same day. The content of a story could do this even in the days of telegraph and radio, but television made it seem almost like science fiction or something. And so if you got your news from CBS, the trusted voice at that network was that of Walter Cronkite. It was a half hour of news, the kind that couldn’t have been more curated, and then he would say, in that avuncular way of his, “And that’s the way it is.”

But if you think about it for a minute, all sorts of epistemological questions arise. That’s the way it is, huh?

The brokers of information back then actually felt up to the task. They had a certain amount of information, along with lots of hubris, and they the experts decided what to pass on to us. And we trusted them—more or less—to do so. The fact that they were the gatekeepers of what did and did not get to us meant that they were authorities. We knew that they were authorities. We acquiesced in that authority. We granted it.

The information tsunami that has hit all of us has virtually destroyed that authority, and it makes perfect sense that it would do so. Use this image.

Back in the days of information drought, we would all go down to ABC or NBC or CBS in order to get our family’s daily apportionment of water, which was a gallon. We needed that water, they had it, and they would give it to us. They were the water authorities. But then one day it started to rain and didn’t stop, and then the dam broke, and then the tsunami hit the beach, and all of us have far more water than we know what to do with. This creates new problems, of course, about which more in a minute, hold your horses, but one of the things it most certainly has done is turns the old water peddlers into a spent force.

Now the old media authorities, however, were not really separable from the old political authorities, the old education authorities, and the old religious authorities. They were distinguishable, but not separable. They were, taken all together, the establishment. And when the public found itself awash in all this information, what this has resulted in has been the disintegration of that old authority.

Digital Dinosaurs

One of the battles of our time is revolving around the attempts of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other miscreants to reprise the roles of ABC, NBC, and CBS. Walter Cronkite was confident and authoritarian, but for most of the day, all but half an hour, he would pretty much leave you alone. But the aspirational deities of Big Tech want to be totalitarian Cronkites. They want to ride around all day in your pocket, controlling what comes into and what goes out of your pocket, every minute of every day.

But they—of all people—should know that that age is plumb clean gone. What they are attempting to do is something that—in this new era—cannot actually be done. If you reflect for a moment on the implications of blockchain, you should see that it applies to far more than just currency. We are talking about information that the authorities cannot track, or trace, or call in, or seize. I wonder what other applications there might be.

Their lame attempts at censorship are as though a far-sighted tyrannical king heard about Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type, immediately saw what a threat that would be to his power, and sent his troops to smash it, and burn down the shop. But he had a courtier, who was even more far-sighted than he, and who muttered under his breath, “You have solved nothing. You have seen nothing. You understand nothing.”

One of the catch phrases that describes the rise of the information age is the statement that “information wants to be free.” Not only so, but given the realities currently in play, it is going to be free. And that has ramifications.

Internal Logic

The logic of the industrial revolution (the previous great transition in our history) was a centralizing logic. People would move to the big city, so they could live near the factory, where they would go with countless others, in order to work in the same place, and on the same thing. Because of industrialization, people would cluster.

The logic of the digital revolution has been the reverse of this. It is a decentralizing force. People can still live in urban areas if they want to, until the insanity of the people they vote for makes the place unlivable, and then they leave.

Another observation in passing. Prior to the industrial revolution, the household was an economic unit, and the centralizing macro forces had a decentralizing impact on the household. The father would go off to work in the factory, while wife and family stayed behind. So the big picture was centralizing and the household level was decentralizing (and destabilizing). But the digital revolution has reversed both of these trends also. There is now the possibility of moving away from urban areas (while still keeping your job), and it is possible for you to do this while your wife went part time, and brought her job home too.

Some might say that the decentralization is only a surface thing, an optical illusion. I mean, look at the size of Google’s server farms. But the issue here is whether that is the harbinger of the era to come, or if it is the last remnant of the previous era. I am arguing the latter. To borrow an illustration from the mythology of our adversaries, Big Tech is not the advance guard of the next species in our evolutionary climb upward. Rather, they are the last of the dinosaurs, ten minutes before the asteroid shower hit, the one that killed them all off.

Who Owns the Internet?

Now there will be authorities. It is not possible for large numbers of people to live in any kind of organized way without someone finding himself with authority. There will be authority, and there will be authorities. But my point here is two-fold. They won’t be the same authorities that we have had, and it won’t be the same kind of authority.

So here is the question. What kind of authority does Christ wield on this earth through His people?

“Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”

1 Corinthians 3:21–23 (KJV)

We really need to take passages like this to heart. When Paul wrote those words, he was not limiting the application of them to things like aqueducts and chariots. That would be “things present.” Things to come. Things to come. Things to come.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38–39 (KJV)

The things to come cannot pry us loose from the love of God for us which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have nothing to worry about. They have something to worry about.

“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”

2 Corinthians 10:4–5 (KJV)

There is true faith in these words. There is confidence without hubris. It is time for Christians today to think, and speak, and write as though this Pauline confidence was well-grounded.

We need to speak with authority, and not like the scribes. Now someone is going to object that those words were written about Jesus (Matt. 7:29), and we are not Jesus. No, we are not Jesus. We are His followers who want to be like Jesus.

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

Acts 4:13 (KJV)

But another objection follows hard after the “you’re not Jesus” objection, which is, “you’re not Peter and John either.” Right, that is correct, but we really need to stop making excuses. I am at least unlearned and ignorant, but I can read, and I do have a Bible.

So who owns the Internet? More than that, who owns the buzzing and sparking Information Hub that will be the great-grandson of the Internet? For the answer to that question, see the quote from 1 Cor. 3 above. All things are yours. Or perhaps reflect on this passage below.

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church

Ephesians 1:22 (KJV)

All things are under Christ, and He wields that authority on behalf of the church. What the aspiring totalitechians want and what they will get are two entirely different things. They want the singularity and they are going to get Jesus.

Now it would be a grand mistake for Christians to think that what this means is a return to a previous iteration of ecclesial authority, as though what we wanted was for our bishops to be made Lords Spiritual and given seats in Parliament’s House of Lords. That is the same kind of mistake being made by Big Tech when they want to be the same kind of gatekeeper that Walter Cronkite was. You can’t. Can’t you see all the water?

So what I am talking about is all of Christ for all of life. Our task is to preach the gospel, and to use every means at our disposal for doing so. As we preach the gospel, we keep in mind the universal authority of the Lord Jesus. That is not going anywhere. Of the increase of His government there will be no end (Is. 9:7). And after He was seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7: ), we can be fairly confident of a few things.

The invention of the printing press did not catch Him off guard. He was not thrown by the development of fiber optics. When we figured out how to put libraries on microchips, this did not blindside Him.

A lot is going to be happening with the information explosion in the years to come. The one thing I am confident of is that all of it is going to be happening in the palm of Christ’s hand.