DMINLGP

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

Maximum Theology with Digital Minimalism?

Written by: on March 15, 2019

Today’s world is known as the internet age.  Children at an increasingly young age navigate electronic devices with ease. Soon we will have a generation that will not know what it is like to live without electronic devices to communicate. This use of electronic devices to communicate has created what is known as a “network society”. In the book, Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture, by Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner, “The term “network society” was coined by Dutch media sociologist Jan van Dijk to describe the new form of society he saw developing” (Campbell and Garner 2016, 8). In the network society, it is believed that people function more as connected individuals and less as embedded group members (Campbell and Garner 2016, 9). Some in Christian circles believe that digital media is a neutral tool which can be used for the sake of the Gospel to reach the world. These technological optimists see the positive ways that technology can be used in missions and evangelism as well as church worship (Campbell and Garner 2016, 30). However, other Christians take a more pessimistic view of technology believing that it produces a variety of negative effects including the suppression of individuality and creativity, as well as dehumanizing people and relationships through impersonal communication structures (Campbell and Garner 2016, 31).

The book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport takes a more pessimistic view of technology believing that digital media is anything but neutral.  Newport believes the apps that users of digital media subscribe to are actually designed by tech companies to encourage behavioral addictions through intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval (Newport 2019, 17). He states, “The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them…was all about: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” (Newport 2019, 19).  Newport teaches that the user must develop a “philosophy of technology” in which the focus of online time is on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value and then happily miss out on everything else (Newport 2019, 28). Newport then describes three core principles of this philosophy: number one is Clutter is costly, number two is Optimization is important, and number three is Intentionality is satisfying (Newport 2019, 35-36).

It would appear that there are legitimate concerns with the use of digital media in our networked society; however, it is impossible to metaphorically put the genie back in the bottle and ignore the digital world. The question is, can we have maximum theology, using technology or digital media in a way that is useful to the church while at the same time practice digital minimalism? I believe we can. Campbell and Garner suggest a core belief which says our religious community values should inform our media values (Campbell and Garner 2016, 106). This belief encourages us to consider the community we wish to reach with our digital media and examine the effect our media will have on the community. As Christians, I think this means that we are mastering technology and not letting technology master us. The Gospel message should not be cluttered with clever gimmicks to excite the user, but truly minister to those we wish to reach. It requires optimization and intentionality as well as staying true to our Christian values of loving others.

References

Campbell, Heidi, A., and Stephen Garner. Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. New York: Penguin Random House, 2019.

About the Author

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Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

7 responses to “Maximum Theology with Digital Minimalism?”

  1. Hi Mary. Thanks for this. I kind of detected some pessimism from Newport in how he views and uses technology. And at times he does demonstrates balance on the same subject. So which way does he come down on technology? I’m convinced he is fair and balanced in his assessment. Basically he’ll say if a certain technology helps you fulfill a value and it’s the best way to achieve or attain that value, then by all means engage in it.

    We can’t forget the enormous impact the printing press had on the Reformation. The internet is doing for us what the printing press did for them during that time. Unfortunately today there’s just way too much garbage to sort through before we get to the gems.

    I’m still not there though when it comes to Bible reading on an app on a Sunday morning. 🙂

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Love your idea of mastering technology and not letting technology master us. Thank you for your insight Mary!

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great post, Mary. Our tradition has a doctrinal statement on moderation and I kept thinking about that while reading your post. Paul’s statements on freedom say nothing should have mastery over us. This seems to be a place the Church can show “another way”…moderation.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Thank you for this, Mary. I am interested in the idea of Networked Theology. I also needed the reminder that although I am can easily identify with Newport, it is partly because I lean more pessimistic in my approach to tech and because I didn’t grow up with it. But what of iGen? Could they even comprehend what he is saying? How do we teach them about technology when our childhood was so different? I appreciate your wrestling with this and heart for those coming after us.

  5. Thank you Mary for highlighting the possibility of maximizing theology while practicing digital minimalism. You’ve helped me to this possibility in a new way. Just as Paul Advocates flexibility for the sake of reaching everyone with the Gospel, I believe we should be creatively flexible to make good of every opportunity to share the Gospel.

  6. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you Mary for your insights on this complexities of the world called technology. I agree with Mary that we are living in the error of techlogy. Everything is done through technology. Even now farming is done using techlogy and people no longer visit their farms but are using drones controled in one room and getting pictures and how the crop is doing. Smartphones are used to control several things and many Apps are coming up day and night making life easier and people becoming more lazy and everyone to himeself but God for us all. It is interesting that, when I was growing up, we used to listen to many stories when traveling by public transport. Today nobody talks to another, all are busy with their smartphone chatting and mouth shurt. shopping is done through the App on the smartphone. How can we run away from this as Newton is proposing. but some of these proposals are valid is looked at keenly and observed with due deligent.

  7. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Mary. I also found the author’s take on the digital world to lean towards the negative. I think, because of that, I always look for ways to counter the perspective as delivered by the author. I like that you acknowledged that there would appear to be legitimate concerns with the use of digital media in our networked society. Yet, you then noted ‘it is impossible to metaphorically put the genie back in the bottle and ignore the digital world.’ So true! The question then is…can we have maximum theology, using technology or digital media in a way that is useful to the church while at the same time practice digital minimalism? And you noted that you believe we can. I agree! The tech world now has its place in society. We just need to continue to find ways to use it effectively. Thanks for sharing, Mary.

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