By Garry Genser
Now we are talking about visual aids, what is their purpose? To illustrate the spoken word. Charts, diagrams, the once high-tech overhead projectors, they all can help explain and teach the written word.
However, with today’s PowerPoint, are we only trying to facilitate the understanding of God’s word? Not enough for me! I was raised by a television set, initially a black and white one. Should my parents have hired such a cheap and unresponsive baby sitter? No, but they are no longer around to be held accountable so this discussion belongs in a different forum.
The point is I broke my first tooth on a television set. Well, literally I was hiding inside the cavernous cabinet and chipped it on the large speaker when my brothers startled me by sneaking up on my hiding place. I started non-linear video editing by purchasing the very first fire-wire enabled camcorder before the legal dispute over copyright issues was resolved, making me wait for the release of the first computer with a built in fire wire card (anyone remember the Macintosh 8500?). So by culture and by temperament I am not inclined to use technology to merely illustrate the Word of God. And here’s where the philosophical considerations enter in!
If technology is used for more than this what is it being used for? If it is used to help focus the listener’s attention then it is still in the arena of illustrating the Word of God. If it is used to demonstrate the cleverness of the artistic skill of the presenter then isn’t it subject to the same principles of homiletics about drawing attention to the speaker instead of the Word of God?
How then do we know if we are subtly showing off? It doesn’t really require the hiring of a psychoanalyst! If the device clarifies, illustrates, highlights, the Word of God in such a way as to further the impact of the message then it is useful. If it is a real stretch to explain how the technology does this we might be near the edge. If the only explanation is that we are showing how cool something is, we have gone over the edge.
Another important ethical aspect is the time ratio of preparing the medium to the message. If we spend three hours playing around with transitions, and one hour in serious consideration of what God intends for His people to experience, perhaps we need to reconsider our priorities. I wouldn’t bring this up if I hadn’t experienced these dilemmas from time to time.
I knew a preacher whose sermons were very much enjoyed. Upon inquiring why, it was because he used such interesting illustrations. An example was offered in which the speaker was said to have brought a cake to the pulpit and during the sermon he plunged his fist into it and ate from his hand. It really did sound like an interesting and memorable illustration. I asked what it illustrated and the question only brought a puzzled look as if the question wasn’t understood.
Once, upon the purchase of a still newer computer, I brought my own cake to the pulpit. With the advance of technology I was so excited to demonstrate the power of my new video chip, coupled with Apple’s new Quartz video processing, that I placed one movie of a beautiful lake, rippling softly in the breeze. Over that, I placed another movie of a drop of water falling on a pond. I lowered the opaqueness of the second movie to a pleasant degree. I placed text over both movies and watched with glee as it was all rendered in real time inside of a PowerPoint presentation! 30 frames per second, full screen, millions of colors, stereo sound, all rendering and playing without hesitation from within PowerPoint. I was SO impressed.
My congregation, like myself, is almost certainly unable to remember what the point was. The medium had overshadowed the message.
You’ve seen speakers do it. Telling an illustration and all of a sudden you realize that the real point was how wonderful the speaker thought something he did was. And it probably was that wonderful. The only problem with that kind of thing is that we are rarely uplifted in a lasting way by something wonderful a speaker did. How much less uplifted are we by how wonderful his technology is?
On the other hand, I have sometimes made complex things comprehensible, dry things glisten and shine, and have kept God’s people following the point by using PowerPoint appropriately. There’s even times when my movies and animations liven things up and add to the whole experience.
My premise is that technology is only valuable when it is used to highlight the Word of God. Attention drawn unnecessarily to oneself and we’d all do just as well with a chisel and a rock as far as eternal accomplishments are concerned.
Garry Genser pastors in the Columbia Union Conference