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

Can We, Could We, Should We?

Written by: on January 26, 2017

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.”

REFLECTION

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

About the Author

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Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

10 responses to “Can We, Could We, Should We?”

  1. You bring up a great point and question. As leaders we are responsible to be the thinkers first and ask the hard questions like, what is the theology behind video churches. Great Jason!
    It is interesting to me that when we do things like your story, our values give us away. It sounds like the staff was more concerned with “streamlining” than with theology. Correct? What is the value behind that? What is the message? I agree with your closing statement about thinking, but I also “think” that Campbell/Garner’s point about neighborliness and doing the work of justice, mercy, and humility is even a better place to start. You?

  2. Jason Kennedy says:

    AP,

    Great comments. I think you are right. Our values show up in the most peculiar of circumstances. I think in my situation, the idea of video campuses was because that was the latest trend. For instance, we had one campus at our “Outreach Center.” While I thought that was a good entry point for people, we had know plan to bring those at that center (addicts, impoverished, and the like) into the overall church body. Without this thought, all we were saying we value was the number of “butts in the seats.”
    Again, I am not saying that video campuses are bad…some of them are quite good, but I think we must ask the deeper theological questions behind the technological trends.
    I do agree with Garner…justice, mercy, and humility is the starting point.
    Jason

    • Thanks Jason. I agree. I think one of the struggles with technology is the rate of change and improvement. It takes a confident and strong leader to say, “slow down” and let’s think about this theologically first. I think many of us have a fear deep down inside sometimes to not want to miss out on the next thing.

  3. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Jason,
    Great perspective on the ethical piece and the “should” of technology. One of the challenges is that while we are governed by scriptures, we allow technology to tell us how to behave. For example, the word ‘sin’ and ‘righteousness’ on Google has definitions that have no religious value. It simply talks about moral values. This is important because when we’re unsure of something, we quickly turn to google.com. It’s one of those tensions to manage in finding the balance. Should we? Absolutely, but I think the next question is “how should we” before we even engage technology and theology.

    Garfield

  4. So should we do this? That is a great question to pose. Sometimes within the church world, there is a competition that goes on to see who can push the envelope as much as they can. I remember when technology came inside the building. The use of an overhead projector was a major step. The first video projection unit in Oklahoma within a church, I helped to install. We knew that it would push people’s buttons but the ability to advance was necessary. At least it felt that way.

    Is there something that you feel that we shouldn’t do? Is there one of the things that you have faced or come across that arrested you from moving forward?

    We use right now media as a church resource. My only issue with this resource is there is no way to observe or even edit what can be used by our teachers. Some theology is simply all over the place and it can be within the same 15 minute video. This is one of the should we just use this as open source or should we do something to put guardrails on it. Thanks for your post.

    Kevin

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Kevin,

      I think the church needs to think long and hard about the new upcoming VR (virtual reality) trend. It does not just has to be inside the church, but how are we discipling our people as well. We need to teach our people how to view technology from a theological perspective. We need to train them on asking should we questions.
      As far as “right now media,” we use it. The access though is limited. Every class must be approved before it can be shown.
      I think just asking the question and wondering about the theo and doctrine is important and the right start. Jason

  5. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Jason:

    Sobering thought on the “should we”. You never said “NO”, you just asked the question of alignment with His purpose and the people being ministered to.

    I’m assuming that video venues and online campuses would be ok, if the question was asked “should we”? What is the criteria to ask that question? Culture? Educational abilities? Technological abilities?

    In your last church, did you see it as an asset or liability? Why?

    Phil

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Phil,

      Thanks. Again, I am not anti-video or campuses. There are churches that do it quite well because I think they have thought through the “should-we” questions. Probably, the churches that worry me the most are those that adopt technology out of trend. This was the church I was referring to.
      Here were the questions we never asked:
      – How are the people that come to this video venue discipled?
      – Will there be a campus pastor that is trained as a pastor and not just a manager?
      – What are the budget implications if we spend 10k to get the campus up and running, 1k (minimum) monthly to maintain the building Sunday to Sunday, staffing, etc.? (By the way, this church was running annually in the red).
      – How will this video venue engage in the community? Are we making a difference week in and week out in our zip code? If not, why?
      – How do future generations embrace this new mode of ministry? What about other demographics?

      I could go on and on, but the church I was at could not answer these questions. They just liked saying that they had three campuses in my opinion. Sometimes Pastors disguise their egos in the “reaching people” excuse. This was this church. Now, I know not every video church was like this….some truly are assets. This one was not…it was a liability.

  6. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Jason,

    Technology advances…. ease of life, knowledge, medicine…

    What would you point to as the greatest advance (furthering of life) due to technology in your lifetime?

    What would be the greatest detriment due to technology in your lifetime?

    “Should we?” A significant question. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

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