By nature, I am a techy! I was mesmerized the first time I saw a computer (I think it was a Commodore or a TRS-80). But I remember asking, “What does it do?” The only project that the guy knew was to run paper through a dot-matrix printer and make banners with it. Boring, but it was cool to think you could personalize your “Happy Birthday” banner with someone’s name. The fonts were yellow in color and it felt like you had violated something to just sit down and touch the keyboard.
Little did I ever dream that my life would be so deeply engaged with technology and baptized into the digital age years later. Being an Apple enthusiast, that first computer is eons away from my Apple TV, MacBook, IPhone 7, and IPad Pro. I write this sitting on a plane with all of them with me, except the Apple TV. There are very few times that I don’t have least one of them in my possession.
The digital world has opened a cornucopia of activity from “second space” churches to online porn. Having a connected technological device can divorce you from the “need” to be in community, physically, in a local church. As much as I love technology and being connected, there are some things that will never be replaced with any device.
As much as I embrace tech and the power of connectivity of the internet, it has some challenges theologically and in implementation of the sacraments. How do you do communion online? How do you have the “laying on of hands”? How do you baptize through the screen?
Campbell and Garner, in their work, Network Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture, do an excellent job navigating through the malaise of the digital world and its multiple implications. Intentionally they map the history of the digital world and how it has networked and progressed to a world-wide influence that must be assessed and dealt with theologically.
The challenge point is combining “theology” with “network”. “The term ‘theology’, derived from the Greek words theos (god) and logos (word, or teaching or studying), literally means ‘words about god’ or ‘the teaching about or study of god’”. Campbell and Garner infuse God into the dialogue and how He must be present in our digital environments.
Theologian and bioethicist, Ronald Cole-Turner asks the same question, “Can theology – that communal process by which the church’s faith seeks to understand-…can theology aim at understanding theology? Can we put the words God and technology together in any kind of meaningful sentence? Can theology guess what God is doing in today’s technology? Or by our silence do we leave it utterly godless? Can we have a theology of technology that comprehends, gives meaning to, dares to influence the direction and set limits to this explosion of new powers?
Historically, we have inventions that have brought enormous change to the way we live. The railroad allowed for cross continent travel. The car allowed our horizons to become reality, not just a dream. Air conditioning in Arizona was the catalyst to the expansive growth. Air travel allows us to touch the world. Each of these had an impact, but none us as much as the ability to print and the ensuing digital age and technology.
In comparison “Printing not only changed the way information and ideas spread but also elevated text so that it became the dominant medium of communication both formally and socially.” The digital and technological has surpassed the impact of the printed page. The idea of the “world-wide-web” is a reality with epic impact. China and India, two of the largest countries in the world, are the purveyors of much of technology that is in the world today.
Campbell and Garner use Micah 6:8 as a starting point to help develop an appropriate relationship with technology and media. “Our response to technology should not only be economically productive, ecologically sound, socially just, and personally fulfilling. It should also include a call to act justly, be authentic and wholesome in our relationships, and walk in line with God in our technological world.” This became a reality check that turned my thoughts more to the need of a book like theirs.
Can we truly engage through a digital footprint and path? Is technology the panacea for everything in life? The way we must be strapped to our devices, I sometimes wonder if we have drunk the Kool-Aid. Where are the boundaries? What are the true benefits?
Even the tech wizard, Bill Gates, had mixed emotions. In his book, The Road Ahead, written in the mid-1990’s, said, “The network will draw us together, if that’s what we choose, or let us scatter ourselves into a million mediated communities.” Technology is like money, both are neutral. The power of money and technology is in the user.
My first reaction prior to reading Network Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture, was one of skepticism. Were Campbell and Garner going to attempt to moralize technology? Were they going to propagate an online theological expression? What I found was a holistic approach to navigating this digital age that has transformed our culture, including the church.
 Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner, Network Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016)., 10.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 123.
 Ibid., 5.