And that's just the first page.
Despite the stated purpose of Sim Church being to counter the "fluff pieces- pretty pictures, nice ideas but little substance" that the author identifies as so far making up the discussion on virtual church, I can't help but feel like, based on the first few pages, that's exactly what I'm I'm in for.
Let's lay aside (for the moment) theological considerations of just what it is that breaks down barriers, unites people and builds the kingdom (hint: it's called the Gospel!), I think this book already suffers from the main problem of most books looking at issues of virtual church, video venues, etc, that is, begging the question. Assuming that "God is in this" and it only remains to work out the details. It IS church (the refrain throughout the opening chapter is "Today a new community of the people of God has begun"), now we just have to figure out what kind of church.
And I say, hold on. It's not that simple.
"Church" is defined by certain markers, the presence of certain elements, without which it may still be helpful, still be worthwhile, and yet not rise past the level of para-church. AA does a lot of good things, builds community, meets needs- but it's not Church. The Masons do most of the things Church does. Service? Check. Ritual? Check. Gathering together? Check. Funny hats? Double check.
But it's not Church.
I'll get more in depth into what is and what isn't Church as I interact with future chapters (particularly chpt 2 where the author, very briefly, takes up the most critical question: What is Church and does Virtual Church qualify) , but I wanted to do two things by way of intro- push back against the initial first-line-of-the-first-paragraph assumption of this book that Virtual Church is Church and say- that's the very question you need actually to wrestle with, not tip your hat to and move on.
And second, to point out this. The author makes this statement in closing chapter 1: "The Christian church is engaging far less than 1 percent of the seventy million people who are active in the virtual world. This means the virtual world is by far the largest unreached people group on Planet Earth... We have great work to do."
The obvious flaw in that reasoning is this: the (mistaken) assumption that these people are "unreached" in real life. They may have no credible Gospel witness in their lives, and virtual efforts at evangelism may be worth pursuing. But... it is seriously doubtful that, in missiological terms (and that's exactly what "unreached people group" is) these folks are online and logging in to Second Life and are "unreached." This feels like a calculated attempt to draw parallels between virtual environments and real ones and play off our emotions regarding unreached people groups who have never had even an opportunity to respond to the Gospel and to bring a sheen of missionary respectability to efforts at building virtual churches. And again, that begs the question. Not an auspicious beginning.