DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Baptize Me Through Your Computer Screen

Written by: on January 26, 2017

Introduction

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?

 

Summary

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’”.[1]  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?[2]

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.”[3]  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.”[4]  This became a reality check that turned my thoughts more to the need of a book like theirs.

Analysis

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.”[5]  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.

 

[1] Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner, Network Theology:  Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016)., 10.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 28.

[4] Ibid., 123.

[5] Ibid., 5.

About the Author

mm

Phil Goldsberry

13 responses to “Baptize Me Through Your Computer Screen”

  1. I agree that technology brings up the question of boundaries. If only Cloud and Townshend would update their famous book given the reality of new media! What role will technology and boundaries play in leadership transitions of the future?

    • Phil says:

      Aaron:
      Technology is/will allow an in depth look at a potential candidate. It will allow for interaction for a candidate to connect with a congregation before he/she ever arrives. Voting is/will definitely impact the outcome of larger congregations.

      Technology will allow the incumbent to stay connected no matter age or distance. It could be a useful tool for transitions.

      Phil

  2. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Phil,
    The title of your blog spoke volume to overemphasize what could happen with video-based satellite churches. When we launched our first campus, we were surprised that the number of people who attended the live and video services were almost identical and at times, more people showed up for the recorded sermon. This tells me that they are just as comfortable in church as home. The challenge is that they miss the relational piece of Christianity. While we have an opportunity reach more people because of technology, we are challenged to find a balance consistent with real discipleship.

    Since we’ve adopted satellite campuses that are also video based and even live stream where people can experience a full worship service…do you believe someone will try a water baptism alternative?

    Sic: We’ve now shifted to a hybrid model at all our church campuses.

    Garfield

    • Phil says:

      Garfield:

      No doubt someone will try an alternative to “applied” baptism by allowing the participant to baptize themself. Question is that ok? In some ways I would say yes if there is a “second space” environment surrounding the sacrament. Is it first choice? I would definitely say no- will it work? I am not sure we have Bible to argue against it. Personal choice, the sacraments need to be in a corporate expression.
      Phil

  3. Phil,

    Yes please baptize me in this new way!! I thought the authors did a great job synthesising all of the elements that you discussed. Has there ever been a spot where technology was more of a hinderance than something that enhanced your own personal ministry. I believe my first computer was a Radio Shack computer. ( interesting that they didn’t go from good to great even though they were THE tech store). When have you invested in some technology for ministry that did not give you a return back?

    Kevin

    • Phil says:

      Kevin
      $30k on Streambox to relay service to our other campus. Due to bandwidth it didn’t work. It was “people” response it was “technologies” response.

      Hindrance? My concern is people connecting in a corporate environment when technology allows you to be an island and never engage.

      Phil

  4. Aaron Cole says:

    Phil,

    You are really showing your age with the Commadore comment! 🙂 I agree with your thoughts and apporach to the book. As I was reading, I was processing “Incarnational Presence” that Dr. Mathew spoke so ferverently about. My question to you is can technology be a conduit for incarnational presence?

    • Phil says:

      Aaron “Grasshopper”:
      You ask hard question, Grasshopper. I have experienced great moves of God watching online. Question, is it the same? That may seem trite but there truly is something to a corporate expression and engagement.

      Incarnational presence- I believe is limited by the lack of true touch.

      Phil

  5. Claire Appiah says:

    Phil,
    Thanks for a well-critiqued examination of Campbell and Garner’s book. Campbell and Garner present the relationship between God and technology in bold relief, as you mentioned, “by infusing God into the dialogue and how He must be present in our digital environments.” I think the way the authors synthesize Micah 6:8 with the goals of networked theology says it all.

    Christians must continually be re-evaluating and re-negotiating their use of technologies as they emerge and transition. Campbell and Garner inform us that, “Christian spirituality must include an awareness of technology and media and their effects upon our faith communities and our world. That awareness enables us to engage critically with them and to integrate them into our lives in a way that aligns with an understanding of the call to follow Christ and to seek God’s kingdom here on earth.” (p.120)

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Claire:
      Thank you! I embrace technology, but I also believe there are boundaries that need to be in place. Someone once said the way to examine the purpose and motivation is one word, “motive”.

      Phil

  6. Jason Kennedy says:

    Phil,

    I think me and Aaron C and I have been pondering the same question. How can we be a faithful presence in our communities when so many have access to distractions through technology? What are your thoughts?
    Jason

  7. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Jason:

    The message can go forth face to face, digitally, technology, etc. But when the “message” takes second place to the technology, then we have missed the heart of the reality of the Gospel.

    Distractions, even when we do everything we can in our churches, the distractions seem to be mounting with alarming rate. With that, easy accessibility to watching online, makes the consistency to the local church continue to wain.

    I am all for progress, as long as the Gospel is not diluted. But at what point does the personal touch of community get tainted? That’s my concern.

    Phil

  8. Pablo Morales says:

    Phil,
    I agree with you about the neutrality of technology. I like your comparison to money and the key quotes you shared. It is interesting how we can easily forget that a printed book, like the Bibles we hold on our hands, are the result of technology.

    I struggle with the idea of only using technology that is “ecologically sound and socially just.” I see both as positive goals to keep in mind, but to some degree they seem unattainable. Any electronic technology brings with it collateral damage that we are just beginning to understand. The impact in the ecosystem and in social inequality seems just too complex and far reaching.

    Thank you for a good blog.

    Pablo

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