Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“A Thread Between A Social History of The Media”

Written by: on November 8, 2012

 A Social History of the Media by Briggs and Burk is a detailed historical account of the many changes in communication media. It provides an account of modern forms of communication covering its massive sweeps and every significant wave of change from the print revolution to the Internet. The chapter on Media history may be the most important chapter for our time to grasp.

I found that I was sometimes frustrated in reading this book by the authors’ lack of explanations and failure to connect the dots. Perhaps this was intentional on behalf of the writers and they assume that their readers already possess certain knowledge. In any case, what I did find useful were the treating of the monumental inventions that for the time were game-changers.

In addition, while the authors’ don’t see the history in social media as being linear, I do notice a very important historical thread that precedes and comes alongside some of these inventions.

The Guttenberg Printing Press

While Briggs and Burke are correct to view the invention of the Printing Press as revolutionary, I want to briefly examine exactly why it meant so much to the people of that time. Prior to the invention of the Printing Press by Guttenberg in 15th century, the masses of people were illiterate. In fact, they were very dependent on the Catholic Church and its Priest as dispensers of knowledge and especially the gospel. This situation is quite interesting for two reasons.

 First, we have to recognize that the Printing Press was not the 1st major shift in communication. Rather, the 1st shift in communication occurred with Rhetoric and Academy, (which was strictly for the elite) replacing the Early Church learning model. This model called for the communication of both the Kerygma and the Didache. The Kerygma was the preaching of the good news about Jesus Christ, while the Didache or doctrine was the teaching about how this Christian community should live in the world. This is a very important point of delineation to recognize because education was for all. More importantly, the gospel was in the hands of the people and they spread it through their oral tradition.

Secondly, during the reign of Constantine and specifically after his conversion, we can contribute the 1st major shift in communication to the rise of the Catholic Church. But not only that, with the rise of Monasticism the church’s outward focus to make disciples by baptizing and teaching seems to have come to a halt. This is another important point to delineate because now the Church is focused inward, which means it began to value was knowledge, virtues and individualism or a personal relationship. But what it abandoned was the pursuit of practical wisdom.

Now, in my opinion, the invention of the Printing Press was not only monumental it was divinely providential as well. For it resulted in the gospel being rescued from the hands of the few and gave it back to the masses. This of course led to the Reformation and the Protestant Church and another explosion of the gospel.


As the writers point out, “Denunciations of new media follow a similar pattern, whether the object of these denunciations is television or the internet.” The early denunciation of television is well known. In North America especially, television in the 1950’s was viewed by many Christians as ‘demonic.’ However, those feelings began to change when the “Billy Graham Crusades” became a regular occurrence on the air waves. But Christian television came of age during the mid-late 1970’s and absolutely exploded in the 1980’s through media such as PTL, and  not much later the proliferation of televangelists flooding the air waves the gospel went around the world!

It’s interesting to note that although the vast majority of the population in North America has achieved literacy, this is not the case for many 3rd world countries such as India, Africa, Vietnam to name a few. But illiteracy also plagued places like rural China as well. The importance of television can never be under estimated. Through this medium even the remote places are in communication with rest of the world and most importantly, have the gospel.

The Internet

The Internet burst onto the scene in the mid 1990’s. Of course fear and skepticsm ordered the day. However, shortly after the turn of the century, the information super highway had arrived. I didn’t see the usefulness of the internet immediately. Nor did I recognize it as transformational tool of the gospel either. However, the internet has made it even easier for the masses to receive the gospel. Today, no matter where one lives in the world or even whether one is literate or not she can merely download her favorite television pastor’s latest sermon or sermon series. Once again, the gospel is in the hands of the masses.

For all of the praise that one can give the invention of the internet, there are many issues of great concern that confront an individual. For one thing the internet makes it easy for one to become the victim of a faceless crime. An example of a faceless crime might be identity theft or hacking into one’s computer and gaining access to personal data to name a few.

To be sure, this was not my favorite book. Nonetheless, it was an informative book. I am indebted to Briggs and Burk for they accomplished the goal of communicating with an unwilling participant.


Briggs, Asa, and Peter Burke. A social history of the media: From Gutenburg to the Internet.. 2002. Reprint. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2010. Print.

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