Can your church speak the language of the future?

Already tomorrow’s "words" move too fast to guarantee their meaning out of a much slower past. Already new stories emerge in forms totally unknown by earlier norms. Already digital thoughts fly terribly apace beyond known time and space.

And technology propels this new language at an exponentially quickening pace. The Internet, for example, is much more than a medium. It’s the biggest system the world has ever seen, and it grows with incredible speed. In the same way, Virtual Reality is more than virtual. It has captured the popular imagination before reaching anything close to maturity, and it will soon take over the economy as television did.1

More important, Virtual Reality will become the language of the future. Whether we surf the Net or not, everyday language will respond to the overtones of this fundamental reality. If in doubt, check out the youth. Increasingly, they are the ones who intuitively know the future and who confidently make the technology decisions in their households.

This digital divide stands between even younger and older teens. One study revealed 13-year-olds already more advanced in tech-savvy language than 16-year-olds.2

Of course, no language springs into full-blown existence. So, the gestation between "then" and "not-yet" breeds vital experiments—strange bedfellows—and open-ended change.

It’s a crazy, creative destruction.

Sometimes more destructive than creative. With the collapse of the modern world, this new language outruns our reality—outpaces our theology. If we survive, we must speak a new speech and sing a "new song."

A New "Language" of Language

The fact that we lack a name for this language proves its newness. It is not another language in the usual sense—mere sounds, sentences, and lexicons. It’s more like an emerging language within a language—or what happens when the "language" of language itself transforms.

It’s safe to say this new language will share understanding more than simply exchange information. It will create worlds more than just observe worlds. It will spring from organic sources more than it will build on mere ideas.

And, cross-cultural in style, it will appeal to the universals of relational experience and real-life emotion. In its finest form, it could be called the "language of beauty," for it will achieve an essential aesthetic presence. And, in this presence, it will become a revelational language—a metaphoric language—a spiritual language, for whatever "is born of the Spirit is spirit."3 And within the pregnant silence of this Otherness, it will also become the language of unspokenness—for "The Kingdom of God . . . is based on not talk but power."4

In short, this new language will mark a shift from logic to revelation, from mind to spirit, from proposition to the intuition, from the literate to the prophetic. . . .

A New Interface

Technology has a lot to do with this shift. The demands of interactive games, computer dialogue, and the chaos of innovation have spawned endless incompatible systems. Even cyberspace itself creates an incompatible boundary between the real world and an invisible world beyond our grasp.

Something, somehow, had to bridge the gap—had to break the boundaries—had to communicate between separate systems. That something was "interface design." It began with nothing more than a picture of a trash can on the desktop (or the main display screen) of a computer where we could throw away things just like at a real desk.

Gradually, however, this "interface" became a new art that hovered over meaningful silences between seemingly incongruous systems. And the hidden inflections, innuendos, and suggestions inherent in this new language became the "Virtual Reality"—the dialogue—the language of the future.

But we can’t understand the language of the future until we realize that the power in Virtual Reality is a metaphoric power. Whether eternal images frozen in time or living narratives moving in time, the future belongs to those who can create and communicate prophetic metaphor.

We commonly call metaphors mere "colors" in writing, "figures" in speech, "ornaments" in language. These are only "literary" metaphors, of course. Our very lives move, instead, with another metaphor—a more profound metaphor that violates logic and learning. We easily compare, for example, a sound to a smell, or a sight to a touch—crossing endless modes of expression—creating awesome similarities of the unsimilar.

And, we commonly call Virtual Reality only "virtual"—not really real. Of course, every art form, ritual, symbol, or metaphor is "virtual." And, in all of them, their hidden feelings represent something "not there"—something beyond themselves, something not seen. Yet, like faith, they give "substance" to their vision.5 More important, they have the power, through God’s grace, to transform us—to recreate us—even to heal us.

Why? Because they speak an incarnational language—a language that points out of the power to which it points. If we lose this metaphoric power, we have lost Truth Itself. That’s the reason Jesus spoke in parables. We often reject transcendent ideas when the message is too great or the gap too wide between our minds and a greater reality. But prophetic metaphor bypasses the natural mind and speaks directly to the heart.

Increasingly, fiction is no longer fiction. Virtual Reality is no longer virtual. The new interface of cyberspace and the "reality" it spawns is birthing the language of the future—a language of immediate experience and felt meanings—a language of mosaics, multiples, and metaphors—a language of amazing and pervasive art—a language of new signs and tests of ancient Truth. . . .

. . . a language of both "online" and "offline" worlds—a language of new realities and new lives!


© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt


1. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 93.

2. Forrester Research, quoted in "Techie Teens," PC Magazine, August 2001, p. 30.

3. John 3:6; The Amplified Bible.

4. I Corinthians 4:20, The Amplified Bible.

5. Hebrews 11:1.

Future Church Administrator