The book: Networked Theology, Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture by Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner is a fresh look at the ever changing intersection of faith and technology. This book is about cultural engagement of the church and religion through digital technology and media. As clergy views digital technological and media in a more favorable manner, so does its’ use increase in the church. The authors begin with the journey of technology and media in its digital form from yesterday’s science fiction to today’s networked social media world that’s built on “smart” platforms for instant access. The emergence of such advancements have not only introduced new realities (email, internet, social media, online anything), but have also tested the definitions and realities of old ideas and customs (community, neighbor, religious practice, communication, etc.). Since Christian theology is all about the study of God through the person of Jesus, Campbell and Garner investigate how Christian theology and today’s digital technology work together through the concept of contextual theology (how the message of the Bible works in the context or setting of our world today). “Thus, our networked theology seeks to understand the gospel in light of the world in which we live and to faithfully communicate that understanding in both word and deed in this networked world.” (Campbell and Garner, 12). This relationship is expressed throughout the book in three ways: new metaphors and meanings, new perspective to timeless truth, new avenues of engagement in our present world.
Today’s reality is as it was in the days of Jesus, the means of sharing the gospel may change but the message of the gospel remains the same. I am one that believes that the method of sharing the gospel is not sacred, only the message. Networked Theology by Campbell and Garner prove such a point. Technology as defined by David Hopper is the invention of: “ tools, machines, and mechanism to manipulate and exploit the natural world.” (Campbell and Garner, 20). This activity of technology is “carried out within the context provided by God for human beings to exercise their creativity and agency.” (Campbell and Garner, 21). From the scrolls, to books, to digital platforms the gospel has not changed only the method in which it is contained and delivered. The authors point out that the degree of “technological optimism” is directly related to technologies use in their life or context. The key is to understand both the theology (message) and the network (methodology). The greater the understanding, the greater the use and optimism. The lesser the understanding, the lesser the use and optimism.
Therefore the restraint of the use of network theology in the church is not the laity but rather the clergy. As with most technological advancements the clergy serve as the lid and hold back its use or power. The issues of clergy restraint are not new. They are issues of control (of the people and information), empowerment (of the laity), loss of cultural change (drift towards individualization and decentralization). This fear or lack of knowledge drives the divide between technology and theology. The issue today is that digital technologies (social media, online church services, and programming) are not debated among the world, only the church. I believe we will see this change and accepted by the church because it is already accepted by the people. I also agree with the authors, “God’s involvement with human being is not limited to the purely physical, everyday world but is also active in the digital locations we create and inhabit.” (Campbell and Garner, 96). The book’s last chapter ends illustrating that only the message is sacred and not the methods with its use and explanation of Micah 6:8.
In my networked theological world I am immersed in technology. My church has an online campus that reaches more people on a given weekend than the average Protestant church does in a physical setting. I also leverage technology to raise and account for the fundraising of the entire church with the use of online, automatic payment, and text to give platforms. I personally use the web to do sermon research and development. As well, most of my graduate ministerial training has occurred through the use of technology. In missions, we have used kindles to serve as the entire library for an undergraduate degree in theology, because a communist government would not allow the importing of biblical text books nor the copying of such materials. So far 611 students have graduated with their degrees and another 2364 are enrolled today, and all because of a network theology.