Virtual Community as Real Community: A respone to Shane Hipps by Douglas Estes
Last month on the Out of Ur blog, Shane Hipps shared in an impromptu interview at NPC what he believes to be severe problems with labeling online connections as “virtual community” (view post). Scot McKnight raised some questions (view comments); Anne Jackson mostly defended (view comments). Not to mention Shane’s clarifications. As much as I tremendously respect Shane, I feel I cannot let his fundamentally flawed assertions (and assumptions) about virtual community go unchallenged.
First, let me tell you what meaning virtual community has for me: on the one hand, I seldom participate in any type of virtual community. I’ve attended a number of virtual churches, but for the sake of my marriage I’ve stayed away from World of Warcraft, and I don’t blog, Twitter, or yet do much else online as far as community goes; on the other hand, I’ve spent the last year asking some hard questions about virtual community for my forthcoming book, SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World (Zondervan, 2009). Hard questions that started not by what I felt community to be, but hard questions that came out of my readings of the Fathers, church history, theology, and philosophy as they relate to community.
Let me start with a pointed critique of Shane’s criticisms of virtual community. He lists four necessary ingredients at the beginning of the interview, the first three of which he argues are lacking or absent in virtual community: