In Stephen Garner and Heidi Campbell’s fascinating book, Network Theology: Negotiating Faith in a Digital Culture, the authors brilliantly discuss how Christians need to reflect on technological advances and consume these advances with a theological framework. In five concise and structured chapters, the authors aim to influence readers in the development of a theology of “new media.”
As stated in the introduction, “Network Theology thus highlights and analyzes how religion is practiced both online and offline in our information-based society and shows the digital practices and innovations in religion online often point toward larger cultural shifts in how faith is perceived and shaped offline (p.14).”
As an undergirding principle, technology exists for the “attainment of specific goals (p.21).” The authors do understand that these are not the only goals for technology, but they are primary. For instance, a computer can be used to make life easier, more efficient and more organized. The authors point out that the printing press of the 16th century was used to spread knowledge. Technology always advances because it is helping humans reach a practical need whether it is work or pleasure.
While reading this book, I found myself writing on almost every page one simple question that I think should shape our theology when it comes to technology. It is not a question of “could we.” Man has proven quite capable to achieve the unthinkable in so many ways. No, the question for the theologian is “should we.”
Let me break it down simpler. When the arrival of video church campuses roared to the forefront of Christendom, many adopted the process. As a matter of fact, I worked at a church that adopted the video campus model. While we looked at the technology to make it work, and we worked on systems to streamline the process, we never met to discuss whether we should do this from a theological perspective. Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying the issue is wrong or right. I am simply saying that in my context, we never asked the question. We never asked and wrestled with the implications it had on discipleship. We never researched if it would ruin community. We never contemplated whether we were conditioning our people to be attached to a screen rather than a body. All of these are “should questions.” They have real implications, and we this must be a theologians starting point as it contemplates technological shifts.
While Google and other entities explore the realms of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and use new virtual technologies, they often times are not exploring the “should,” but rather they are focusing on the “could.” They are companies that push the technological limits without always understanding the ethical implications. It is the role of the church, pastors, and theologians to have a voice in this arena asking the ethical question of “should we.” As Garner and Campbell would say, “A networked theology requires that Christians think deeply about technology and media, and not just as tools to be used or put aside. We are, rather, to think about the values, inherent character, and environments created by technology and media as wider socio-technological systems. Networked theology confronts us with the question of what it means to love God and love neighbor in such a world (p. 147).” In other words, our responsibility as Christians is to think more about the “should we” questions.