Book Review

Why we need to retain the countercultural nature of the church

"Analog Church" and the need for real community

June 22, 2020

A book’s publication date is often set as an author signs the contract, and it usually feels far away and distant. But sometimes you read a book that reminds you that God is sovereignly orchestrating the entire universe, including book launches, because one is so perfectly timed that not even a publisher could have planned for the moment. That is true with Jay Kim’s new book, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age. Neither Kim or his publisher could have predicted the COVID-19 outbreak and the disruption to the normal analog patterns of our churches. In a season of upheaval, Kim’s book is a refreshing reminder of how the church was designed by God and how its rhythms speak to a grander story of hope and witness to a world decidedly digital in our daily life.

Kim serves as pastor of teaching and leadership at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, outside of Silicon Valley. He is able to see firsthand the influence that technology has on the church. Analog Church is written for ministry and lay leaders alike, calling readers to be purposeful about how we adopt and rely upon technology in our everyday practices and calls us to reexamine how dependent the people of God have become on digital tools that often function as a shallow substitute for real community. Kim helps dissect the motives behind our digital adoption and provides a compelling path forward in the digital age.

A needed corrective

The book begins with Kim’s overarching paradigm of how “digital informs but analog transforms,” along with the call for the church to retain its countercultural invitation to be analog in the midst of a digital society (12, 60). Kim breaks up the book into three sections: worship, community, and Scripture. Each focuses on various topics of interest to church and ministry leaders such as the nature of corporate and family worship, how to build deep real life relationships, and the weightiness of the grand narrative of Scripture. He also addresses the richness of communion within the body of Christ, even though many push for digital versions of this ordinance, especially in this pandemic.

He carefully addresses many of the digital fads and innovations of the day that often push the church to be more in line with consumeristic models rather than the scriptural model of the local church as a haven for the weary from a digital first world (94–96). This perceptive course correction is needed in today’s local church context that often seeks to commodify the church gathering instead of leaning on the distinctives and strengths of the body of Christ.

In a season of upheaval, Jay Kim’s book is a refreshing reminder of how the church was designed by God and how its rhythms speak to a grander story of hope and witness to a world decidedly digital in our daily life.

Kim aptly states, “the church was never meant to be a derivative of the cultural moment but, rather, a disruption of it. Amid today’s onslaught of digital distractions, the analog church is exactly the sort of disruption we need to be most effective in our cultural moment” (25, emphasis original). Kim ends this analog treatise with a reflection and reminder of the unique call upon the church to be a light of the world and a city upon a hill that cannot be hidden, even as we experience massive cultural shifts in terms of digital connectivity and community (Matt 5:14).

Defining the role of technology

One of the greatest strengths of Kim’s work is pushing back against many of the narratives that the church must become increasingly digital in order to be effective in today’s culture. Most readers will see that Kim is specifically writing so that readers will be more thoughtful in how they approach these tools, especially in the body of Christ. He rightly points out that “when tools go unchecked and are used for things they were never intended for, they can cause great damage” (50). This common thread of using technology with wisdom is a main thread in the book. Kim intentionally seeks to avoid the rejection of the good gifts of technology used in their proper role rather than possibly becoming a Luddite—one that rejects all technological innovations on principle.

This is one area that I wish Kim had more space to expand upon and focus on in this work. Because of the nature of the book and space constraints, he is unable to flesh out the proper role and benefits of technology in society. He often writes about how technology is “tremendously beneficial when harnessed and leveraged wisely and responsibly” but focuses primarily on the shortcomings and dangers of technology (182). At times, it feels that Kim leans more toward a negative or overly cautious view of technology, which is understandable given the cultural push for the digitization of everything. His caution is wise, though it may leave readers wanting to have this balance drawn out more clearly. It is helpful to be reminded that Kim is specifically writing to people who are more prone to adopt and use technologies without adequate ethical reflection on how these tools are changing us.

There is much to chew on in this book. It is a needed corrective to many of the excesses of and overreliances on technology as a stand-in for real flesh-and-blood community. Kim rightly shows that in our digital age “people are hungry for analog experiences” and that “one of the most counter cultural things we can do is invite people to slow down, settle in, and engage the whole unified story” of the Bible” (163). It would serve church and ministry leaders well to grab a copy of this helpful work and to use it as a magnifying glass to expose where each of us are overly connected, exhausted, and in need of real life community with other broken and sin-torn people—especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has disrupted our normal rhythms of life.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as chair of research in technology ethics and creative director at ERLC. In his role as creative director, he oversees the communications team, including all creative design projects.  His new book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, releases March 2020 with Zondervan. He is a … Read More