How to Prepare for the Metaverse
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
By Ian Harber and Patrick Miller
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the TGC article “How to Prepare for the Metaverse”. The term, metaverse, has become a buzzword after Mark Zuckerberg announced on October 28 that Facebook would rebrand itself with a new name, Meta, that focuses on the metaverse. According to The Straits Times, the metaverse is seen as the next stage of the development of the Internet, where it will “create new online spaces in which people's interactions can be more multi-dimensional, where users are able to immerse themselves in digital content rather than simply viewing it”.
What does the metaverse mean for the church and for Christians?
When Facebook debuted in 2004 and the iPhone released in 2007, we didn’t know what the future held. Fourteen years later, we know. And the church is just now catching up. We can’t catch up a decade after the metaverse reshapes culture. We must prepare disciples now, knowing the metaverse will only exacerbate the current problems created by a (believe it or not) less invasive internet.
Thankfully, the metaverse is still five to 10 years away. We can anticipate coming changes and prepare disciples of Jesus to live as faithful witnesses in that future world. Here are three themes we should start emphasizing today, so we can form resilient disciples of tomorrow.
1. Givenness of Identity in a Customized World
If you think society is struggling with questions of identity now, get ready. Individuals will be able to express themselves however they want through fully customizable avatars in the metaverse. For example, in Mark Zuckerberg’s presentation, a friend appeared as a robot in a space room.
What happens when we identify more with a virtual version of ourselves than with our real selves? People may begin to conflate their God-given identity with the self-made identity they crafted in the metaverse. The transhumanism debate is on our doorstep. The imago Dei is about to encounter the imago meta.
In a world where every aspect of our identity will be completely customizable, celebrating a received identity—given by God to be his human image-bearers, made with flesh and bone, male and female, for the cultivation of the world—will be radically countercultural. But it will also be lifegiving. The anxiety of self-creation is already crippling Gen Z and Millennials.
The church may be the last place that accepts you as you’re made, not as you’re projected.
2. Goodness of Creation in a Disembodied World
We will begin to live more of our lives disembodied, either as avatars in VR spaces or holograms using AR technology. The separation we feel—between our physical bodies and surroundings, and our virtually expanded consciousness—will grow. It will be easy to begin to see the infinite possibilities of our virtual world and bodies as better and more real than the physical world.
Secularism disenchanted the world, and stripped it of transcendent, sacramental meaning. The metaverse offers a transcendence knockoff when it fulfills, as one podcaster put it, “the very long-term human aspiration to be able to enter a completely imaginary world.” As disciples of Jesus, we insist upon the goodness of our physical world and bodies. Adam’s first, most fundamental job was to cultivate a garden. Jesus calls his followers to care for the sick, visit the lonely, lift up the downtrodden, and steward the environment. We know a virtual world created by publicly traded companies will never be more real or important than the world God created and called “very good.”
Followers of Jesus must resist constant digital connection, forming communities where people intentionally disconnect from virtual reality to be present with others: look them in the eye, give them a hug, and simply be with them. This will be countercultural in the best way.
3. Limits as Grace in a Limitless World
The metaverse will present us with the opportunity to experience glimpses of power only God has. The readiness of information will give us a glimpse of being omniscient. The ability to create worlds and identities will give us a glimpse of being omnipotent. The conquering of geographic boundaries will allow us to be wherever we want to be at any given time, approximating omnipresence. The breaking down of the space-time barriers as we’re able to travel back in time through VR experiences will give us a glimpse of eternity. Our futuristic tower of Babel is luring us in with promises of limitlessness.
Disciples of Jesus will need to resist by embracing God-given limits. We can be a presence in our local communities, focus on the slow incremental growth of systems and structures that lead to people’s flourishing (both physical and virtual), and embrace the increasingly unfashionable phrase “I don’t know.” Our lives can manifest the truth that we can’t be everywhere, and we can’t be everything, and that’s a gift from the God who is.
Faithfulness on a New Frontier
While we can’t predict all the ways the metaverse will change us, we know that Christian witness is always countercultural. The metaverse may promise godlike power and knowledge, but like all idols, it will take more than it gives. Despite its allure, the metaverse will ultimately point beyond itself to the transcendent King whose words made nonvirtual reality a reality.
Like every technological innovation, the metaverse will bring both opportunities and threats. But if we begin the hard work of discipleship today, we might find resilient disciples of Jesus faithfully leading on the edge of a new frontier, working for the flourishing of everyone—physically and virtually—with confident humility in the face of monumental change.
Ian Harber is the communication director of a local nonprofit in Denton, Texas. He writes about digital discipleship, faith and work, marketing, fatherhood, and reconstructing faith. He is also a contributor to Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021). You can follow him on Twitter.
Patrick Miller (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is a pastor at The Crossing, where he oversees digital ministries. He podcasts cultural commentary and interviews with Christian thinkers on Truth Over Tribe, and devotions on Ten Minute Bible Talks. He is married to Emily and they have two kids. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article excerpt taken from The Gospel Coalition (U.S. Edition). Read the full resource here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prepare-metaverse/