A Conversation With Rex Miller (Sep-Dec 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Fred Peatross
September – December, 2006

It excites me to know that I am about to introduce many of you to a friend who will make a significant contribution to the church of the future. Write it down! The name Rex Miller will increasingly become an important name to the followers of Jesus.

I like to tell others that Rex has been my cultural mentor. I’ve sat at his feet, we’ve corresponded, he’s sent pre-published articles, and I continue to peruse the best book of 2005, The Millennium Matrix. Most recently Rex honored me by recommending that I review Shane Hipps’s newest book, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture.

When I say Rex knows! believe me, Rex knows. More than anyone else, Rex has opened my eyes to the unseen, the often denied, and the influences of culture.

Rex has integrated his academic, spiritual and business disciplines to assist secular and religious organizations in times of transition. He has worked for Fortune 500 companies in sales, marketing and management. He has been part of two church plants and is a frequent speaker at churches and conferences related to issues addressed in the Millennial Matrix.

This is not just another book about postmodernism. The Millennium Matrix is instead an innovative look at human technology and how it influences culture, psychology, and ultimately faith. By exploring the major worldview shifts of the last two thousand years, Rex Miller looks ahead to the future of Christianity and twenty-first century culture. Written in an engaging and simple style, The Millennium Matrix is an enlightening read.

–Eric Hurtgen, Relevant Magazine

Fred and Rex Miller in Conversation

Fred: Rex, can you talk about the four major ages of communication and their implications for the church?

Rex Miller: The four major communication eras include oral culture which we identify with an ancient worldview; print culture with our modern worldview; broadcast with postmodernism and the emerging interactive/digital culture with a new era I’ll labeled as convergent.

Fred: You mention worldview twice. Talk about that important concept.

Rex Miller: Our view of the world is rapidly changing, driven by the powerful medium of interactive digital communication. The Reformation provided a context of similar change. The institutional church had grown inflexible, corrupt and irrelevant. Martin Luther articulated a revolutionary vision of a liberated church. God used technology as the catalyst for spiritual change: the Guttenberg printing press led to literacy, affordable Bibles and BANG! the Protestant revolution that changed Western civilization.

Broadcast technology enabled the personal dynamic of the gospel to reach millions just at the moment in history when the church was becoming “inflexible, ‘liberal,’ and irrelevant” hidden behind seminary walls and fancy cathedral doors. The Broadcast celebration church impacted the culture early in the technological curve. Now that everyone is into a broadcast and celebration structure, the church is just one part of an over-hyped, self-absorbed, and consumer driven society. I’ll be curious to see if my generation of the Jesus movement will hear this, or will we be trapped inside our broadcast studios and “main event” worship centers the same way that previous moves of God were trapped in seminaries and cathedrals?

Fred: You talk in your book about systems of change. Can you help put these shifts in perspective for us?

Rex Miller: In each case communication technology provided the catalyst and shaped the new culture and expressions of faith. We could focus on the winds of change and catalogue the many debates, issues, personalities, books, broadcasts or websites that have left their mark. That would, however, miss the larger cause— the storm system of change itself.

This storm system works as follows. When our means of storing and distributing information change our perceptions change. Changed perceptions create changed understandings and even changed psychology. Changed identity affects relationships. Changed relationships affect the traditions and institutions that support those relationships. At some point along the transition, these changes reach a cultural critical mass igniting a battle between old and new worldviews. Communications is the medium for relationships, community, and culture, so a more efficient or powerful tool of communications results in their restructuring. The chart in the middle of the article makes this separation clearer and demonstrates how shifts in communication affect other aspects of life.

Within Oral cultures, the church focus was the community of Christ and the mystical union of believers. Print cultures shifted toward the individual believer and the irresistible and unerring written Word of God. Broadcast cultures tapped into the power of collective praise and worship and the tangible presence of God.

The Convergence church of digital culture will combine several of these characteristics, extending the mystical union of believers globally. It will provide opportunity for theological grounding to every believer. It will provide access to alternate modes of worship for anyone, anywhere at anytime. Most importantly, however, the Church will have the opportunity to once again reconnect as a vital community to express Christ through ministry to one another and to our neighbors.

Right now, in the United States, we have for the first time in history three generations raised under the influence of three different dominant communication tools. I see this nowhere more clearly than in my own home, and I suspect you do too.

As a Baby Boomer, my first “language” is Broadcast. My parents, born and raised closer to the beginning of the twentieth century, see the world through Print eyes used to reading books. My children, born on the cusp of a new millennium, are completely at home with Digital tools of communication. Each of us sees and experiences the world in such different ways that it’s a miracle we can communicate at all!

Fred: That’s interesting. Tell me more about these generational differences.

Rex Miller: Digital interactive technology has distinct capabilities from print and broadcast. Individuals and organizations will gradually adapt to use and take advantage of these new capabilities. Those who persist in following the protocols of print or broadcast will be left behind (think of Sanford and Sons). Those who understand not only the protocols but the mindsets and metaphors that lay beneath digital technology will emerge as the leaders and premier organizations. Which generation are we? Sanford? or, Son? Answer: we should be Sanford’s grandson, who would be creating new applications from the junk pile around him.

The protocols of digital communications are easy to learn but what are the mindsets and metaphors. I’ve developed seven keys that every individual and organization will need to come to grips with and master.

Fred: In your book you write about seven new realities. Can you capsule those for us?

Rex Miller: Seven new realities, inherent within the digital medium, explain the nature of the new worldview. Every leader and church will have to ask how well they are prepared to navigate in a cultural sea that is more like the North Atlantic than it is the Caribbean. Life in a digital world is ever accelerating, reaching real time, becoming more intangible, converging, interconnected, complex, and unpredictable.

Seven New Realities

Acceleration
Change accelerates with each new technology and concept. These changes have a compounding effect within a complex and interconnected system, an exponential ripple effect that drives additional change and accelerates the pace of life. We all get caught up in this acceleration. Many already feel that accelerating change has taken on a life of its own.

Real Time
The time interval to absorb and adjust to digitally paced activities continues to shorten. As time between question and answer, request and fulfillment shortens we are confronted with immediate demanding responses similar to combat fighter pilots. How do we function in an environment where real time reality “changes ceaselessly, unfolding ‘in an irregular, disorderly, unpredictable manner,’ despite our vain attempts to ensure the contrary?”

Intangibility
We’re moving away from a tangible world we can touch and hold to a world that operates on intangibles like information, potential and reputation.

Convergence
Convergence is an inherent property of our digital communication environment. Print, graphics, sound, and data can all reside in a single medium reproduced through a common digital language of bits and bytes, 0s and 1s. The digital environment is thoroughly integrated. That means we will no longer process these experiences separately. It also means that the past boundaries of knowledge and organizations will blur, crumble—and, eventually, integrate.

Interconnectedness
Interconnectednessmeans that our problems and opportunities are intimately tied together. Instead of living in a “domino world” with its tangible causal links the expanding shift to network reality is creating a “chain reaction world” of exponential outcomes.

Complexity
Systems are complex and behave as a whole. When you cut down a forest or divide a family there is an invisible ripple effect set in motion. Linear logic and deductive analysis of the past is like a bulldozer attempting to cultivate a garden of orchids. Simulation and systems analysis, aided by digital tools, provides a means for understanding complex, delicate and volatile environments.

Unpredictable
Complex and highly interactive systems are unpredictable. In our old physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Each element or option in an interconnected system creates more complexity adding an exponential factor of possibilities and therefore an almost incomprehensible level of unpredictability.

Fred: Rex can you explain the relationship or difference between relational truth and propositional truth? And help us understand how truth can differ within a particular culture?

Rex Miller: In oral culture truth was not an abstract concept that existed on its own; evaluated within some rational or external validation system. Content and context were interwoven. The message and messenger were interwoven.

Jesus said that “I am the way, truth and life” not “this is the way.”

We’ve all heard the phrase, “don’t kill the messenger.” In ancient culture if you brought bad news, you were bad news. I know this sounds weird and antiquated but only because our minds are conditioned by a modern paradigm that separates the message from the messenger. In a highly integrated and what some scholars would call mythological world the credibility of the message ties directly to the credibility of the messenger. That is one reason the experts in the law, the Pharisees, commented that Jesus spoke with a degree of authority that mystified them. He was the full embodiment of truth, the message and messenger were fully integrated.

We see the same integration and potency when we read about the ancient practice of blessings and curses. Paul was not discussing a symbolic concern when he said that those who come to the communion table with wrong motives end up sick and some even died. However, modern print culture has taken the message and traded a higher degree of certainty and permanence for a more fluid living reality. As print emerged to dominate western culture our theology shifted from the wisdom of great church fathers and masters to a more homogenized, predictable and universal discourse built on the systematic nature of print.

For the past five hundred years truth in the Western Christian church has centered on propositions which birthed our great doctrines. The United States is built on the proposition that all men/women are equal and born with certain unalienable rights. The Church is built on the proposition that we are all sinners and that Christ’s life and death provide the reconciliation for our separation from God. We may frame our argument or proposition in terms of having a “relationship” with Christ but the nature of that so-called relationship would be foreign to the ancient believer or to those who live in a predominately oral culture. Broadcast culture shifted our orientation away from “the proposition” as a foundation for faith to personal experience(s). Before we’ve been able to absorb this transition and integrate into our culture we’re already being challenged by digital cultures highly iterative and contextual approach to truth (the Wikipedia offers one very good example).

Fred: Can you talk about faith? Particularly the linear progression of faith so dominant in the modern era.

Rex Miller: Abraham and Paul offer examples of the distinct qualities between faith experienced in ancient culture compared to modern culture. Theirs was a highly personal encounter, what we might call dialogic. Their encounters were mere starting points (void of formulas or “truth statements”) but their life course and destinies were revealed. Even their names were changed.

Today we might have some emotionally meaningful experience but there was certainly something more profound that these men experienced that I think we intuitively recognize but don’t know how to put a finger on. To make up for this lack of profound identity changing encounter we’ve created supplements by trying to find our purpose, creating mission statements, seeking transformational events or attempting to find some additional source of meaning. When was the last time you or I said or felt “to live is Christ, to die is gain?”

Fred: Your thoughts on our dualism dogma (the sacred and secular).

Rex Miller: That divide is a modern concept. There was no separation for the ancient mindset. You see it in the sacred art, in chant, in the architecture. The rabbinical order felt that their role was to translate heaven’s pattern and replicate it on earth. We criticize them for how fixed they were to follow thousands of obscure rules but we would look at them today the same way we might look at doctors attempting to find the cure for cancer by
following complex protocols and experiments.

The Lord’s Prayer provides an insight into this unified mindset. When Jesus said, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” every rabbi would have understood his prayer in the context of their attempts to discover the heavenly pattern and replicate it on earth.

When Jesus said, “I am the way” he hit a raw nerve because the Hebrew word for law (hallakah) and “way” are essentially the same. Jesus said, “I am already that hallakah on earth.” So you have the contrast of the Pharisees straining and striving to discover and live out God’s heavenly pattern and you then Jesus says, I’ve not only discovered the pattern but I am the pattern.

Fred: In your book you forecast twenty-five church trends into the digital age. What are the top ten?

Ten trends:

1. This new generation approaches the world of knowledge in a unique way. They naturally challenge common assumptions, conventional boundaries, and accepted authorities

2. This new generation is cynical toward celebrity and hyped events. It wants to interact and be an influencing factor with group encounters

3. It is less loyal to organizations and more oriented to connecting with those of common interest

4. People are hungry for real life stories not the manufactured life stories. We’ve recently seen the rise of documentaries, docudramas, mockumentaries, and “reality” television. But the television ethos has taken over and the boundaries between real and contrived have blurred – even in the church! The emerging Digital culture increases our awareness of this vapid pursuit, while at the same time creating a new sense of authentic connection and expression through interaction

5. The emerging Digital culture is just the opposite of the anesthetized Broadcast mindset. For example, today’s music is extremely personal, graphic, and pointed. For better or worse, our kids are becoming more engaged, more alive

6. This new generation relies for information on relationships, not on institutions or authority

7. Events and decisions are happening on a continuous real time pace—no longer segmented into phases and cycles

8. Large and rigid organizations; like denominations and overgrown congregations, break down in an environment of speed and complexity

9. Walls and barriers between neighboring churches will dissolve as the ease of interaction leads to collaboration. This will eventually lead to an “open source” mindset of sharing, a mindset that is embodied in the Linux software movement and finds its Christian roots in the book of Acts

10. Many churches will refocus efforts to re-inhabit their neighborhoods. Many churches will turn to more connected grassroots strategies to reach a growing population who feel that smaller scale gatherings are more “authentic”

Fred: Thanks Rex for giving so much time to these questions. One more before we close. Is there a new book in the works?

Rex Miller: I’m a tentmaker and so I get to work on my writing and speaking in between my life in the office furniture world and as a consultant. I have the opportunity to speak about twice a month and my book sales parallel with my speaking. I’ve been surprised at how much of an impact the book has had with leaders even though it is not part of the popular Christian circuit. I think that is a positive because I wrote this book for those really looking for fundamental change. I’m not trying to provide an easy how-to manual or a main event topical seminar format.

I have several books in the works. At the top of the list is a secular book proposal to explore how digital technology will restructure the delivery of commercial real estate, architecture, construction and the work environment. Pray for that proposal. If I can secure this it will provide a full year to research and write which will allow me to work on some of the other books.

I am working on developing a Millennium Matrix study guide complete with Podcasts that should be ready by the third quarter of 2006. I am also working on a book to discuss the whole professional/laity divide. Every week I meet highly successful business people who are mature Christians, have a valid calling and cannot find an outlet within the current church structure. I believe this is the hidden untapped potential in most churches. However, the current structure provides no way for them to exercise their calling. Pastors, for the most part, are clueless on how to nurture these world-changing individuals. Highly successful people feel like Ferrari’s in a garage when asked to sit in on the finance committee or teach a class. Worse is fifteen seconds of fame they receive whenever their church needs money. So, they are going outside the church to effect change or rotting in the pews. This disconnect and opportunity ties into the changing leadership model from commander and chief (print) or rallying motivator (broadcast) to facilitating catalysts (digital).New Wineskins

Fred PeatrossFred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.

Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei - In the Crisis of ChristianityMissio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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