Again, from one of my favorite writers–Clay Shirky.
In his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, Shirky tells the story of Johannes Trithemius, the Abbot of Sponheim. Shirky notes: In 1492, almost a half century after Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type appeared, Trithemius launched a passionate campaign in defense of the scribal tradition–De Laude Scriptorum (in praise of scribes). In his work, he laid out the values and virtues of the scribal tradition: “The devout monk enjoys four particular benefits from writing: the time that is precious is profitably spent; his understanding is enlightened as he writes; his heart is kindled to devotion; and after this life he is rewarded with a unique prize.”
Shirky notes that the abbot’s position would have simply been a reactionary burst (we must preserve the old order at any cost), except for one detail–In 1492 if you want to get your message out most widely, what would you do? You would have your opinion printed–which is exactly what Trithemius did. De Laude Scriptorum was not copied by scribes, rather it was set in moveable type so that copies could be made cheaply and quickly. Shirky writes: The content of the Abb0t’s book praised the scribes, while its printed form damned them; the medium undermined the message” (p. 68).
I reflect, with Shirky’s help, upon the worlds I live in–the church world, and the theological academic world. We as professionals–clergy, academics–become gatekeepers. As gatekeepers, we sometimes hold onto old structures or forms because we are part of that guild. We say, only the pastor as the guild, or the denomination, or the congregation defines the role, can serve out certain functions. We say, only the way we have done theological education in the past, is the way we must do it into the future.
We get trapped in structures, enamored by structures, comfortable in structures. We are part of the guild–and we work hard to perpetuate our guild, when we should be reflective and critical and ask: what is the best way forward, today?
We must never make changes just for the sake of novelty and different-ness. Nor should we stay the same just because this is the way we have always done it. To be revolutionary, we must ask the hard questions, be willing to die to our old ways and pursue the very best path forward.
It isn’t easy–but the mission calls us forward.