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

Bebbington meets the Wireless Router

Written by: on January 17, 2019

A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to hear Dr. Monica Coleman speak.  Dr. Monica A. Coleman, a native Michigander (!), is the Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.  She’s also an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Dr. Coleman was on a panel discusing how the church needed to re-imagine the imagery in our worship spaces.  Some of our most cherished symbols are outdated and don’t bring people together, she argued.  Most notably, Dr. Coleman emphasized how churches should remove crosses and images of the crucifix from their sanctuaries and replace them with wireless internet routers . . . because that is where everyone today is finding community and connection.  That is what brings us together.  To Coleman, a wireless router was a stronger image of connection, than a cross.[i]



I still remember this talk, and the symbolism of connection.  In his seminal text on the history of Modern British Evangelicalism, David Bebbington names the four key components of Evangelicalism as, “conversionism, activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism.”[ii]  Bebbington argues that these have remained the same ‘core tenets’ from 1730 up until the 1980’s.  And through a few commentators argue that Bebbington should have included ‘assurance’ as the fifth component, I haven’t seen anyone argue that crucicentrism should be replaced.

I do not believe that Colemen was critiquing Bebbington’s scholarly work on the history of the Evangelical movement, but rather making a statement about modern liturgical imagery and atonement theory.  However, the bold statement does stand in contrast to Bebbington’s insistence that, “to make any theme other than the cross the fulcrum of a theological system was to take a step away from Evangelicalism.”[iii]  Can community and crucicentrism co-exist?

My argument is that they already do in the modern eco-theologies of many prominent voices in and throughout the green movement.  Caring for creation as a steward acknowledges that we are members of a beloved community[iv] not only of humans, but of animals, plants, minerals, single celled organisms, even down to the elements of earth, water, air, and fire.[v] The works of Pierre Thelliard de Chardin, Sally McFague, Karen Baker-Fletcher and Tom Berry, all connect humanity, (or in some cases, specific tribes or demographics) to God through the wondrous marvel and mystery of creation.  Karen Baker-Fletcher perhaps puts it most directly when she writes, ““Our survival requires realistic vision for a new order in which, with the best of creation (plant, animal, soil, air, waters), we humans (black, white, brown, gold, red, rich, middle-class, and poor) can flourish in freedom.”[vi]



Conversion, Biblicism and activism all can be lifted up as key components of the modern eco-theology movement in Christianity.  There commonly is a realization or an awakening to the main points of green theology – conversion.  There are numerous texts throughout the Bible that point to caring for the earth, these are only made more poignant through Bible study and textual criticism – Biblicism.  And if there is one thing the green movement does well it is social and community action – activism. If caring for the earth is the natural spiritual response to God’s unfailing love because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, which has drawn us all into him, with him, through him, (in the unity of the Holy Spirit) along with the all of God’s creation, then eco-theology too has – crucicentrism.



[i] Coleman, Monica A. “Theology and the Impact of New Media, a Vision for the Future.” Panel, Union Theological Seminary, September 12, 2014.

[ii] Bebbington, D. W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. New ed. n.p.: Routledge, 1989, 19.

[iii] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 38.

[iv] This, of course, being one of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite theological descriptions of creation, used and cited intentionally in honor of his birthday and National Holiday in the US. The term “beloved community” was first coined in the early days of the 20th Century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

[v] Rasmussen, Larry L.  Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics In A New Key.  Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, 22.

[vi] Baker – Fletcher, Karen.  Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: Womanist Wordings on God and Creation. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998, 56.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

8 responses to “Bebbington meets the Wireless Router”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post and integration. I heard Dr. Cheryl Bridges-Johns talk about how our Pentecost is too small at a conference last year and one of her points was that we leave out creation in the redeeming process of God. As you have rightly pointed out the earth/creation is also a part of God’s saving plan as it too was cursed from the effects of sin. Human’s can get too self-centered in thinking that it is all about us when creation is also a big part of what God is redeeming.

  2. Jacob, this is a great insight on redeaming God’s creation and the relevance of eco-theology. As Mario puts it the earth/creation as also a part of God’s saving plan. God gave gave the responsibility to name animals and things to Adam because he was responsible for taking care of His creation. We should take responsibility in redeeming God’s creation.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jacob, I appreciate your connection between creation care and Evangelicalism. It has seemed the predominant Evangelical voice has taken an opposite stand even mocking the science and need to care for the earth. Of course, much of that is driven by their eschatology. Have you engaged this group? If so, what is your approach?

    • Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      Honestly Tammy, I have not.

      If I were however, I would recommend Jonathon Merritt’s book Green Like God, which is written for an Evangelical audience. It has many conversation starters and Merritt has a unique and well respected place in the religious publishing world.

  4. Karen Rouggly says:

    Great post, Jacob! Great job bringing this into your own work as well. I appreciate the work you are doing in the creation care realm.

  5. Sean Dean says:

    Jacob, that is a serious wireless router. Are you pirating movies again?


    I had a professor in seminary who used to say, the lack of a symbol is still a symbol of something. While I understand the point being made, I wonder if the answer is in addition rather than subtraction. Meaning, we need to add routers to our engagement, but also keep the cross. Then again, maybe since the cross is a symbol of sacrifice and scorn tied to a first century understanding of those things we need to find a modern corollary – and maybe the router is exactly the right thing for that. Clearly the internet is both a place of community and comfort while also being the worst. Clearly I’m of two minds on this, which means you did a great job. Now I will be conflicted all day. Thanks for that.

  6. Hi Jacob. Thanks for this. It appears several in our cohort have read the same review about the comment that Bebbington should have added a fifth quality to Evangelicals, and that is the belief in assurance.

    I just want to register a quick observation on this. That would not have been a bad move on Bebbington had he added that. It would only make sense in light of his analysis about Evangelicalism being intimately connected with the Enlightenment’s search for certainty. That analysis, by his own admission, is hardly ever noted amongst experts, but I’m glad he asserted it in his writing. This helps us understand more why Christianity is so obsessed with knowing (belief) the right things at the cost of neglecting to do (behavior) the right things.

  7. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks for showing how this source fits into your research. Very well done and well presented. This is a somewhat new perspective for me and you have given me much to ruminate on. Thanks again.

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