In 2011, I had an opportunity as a youth pastor to do something extraordinary. I could provide a complete Bible school education on an electronic device called a Kindle. I have raised money for all kinds of things, sound systems, computers, buses, a bicycle, a Land Rover (that cost a pretty penny) and all kinds of cars and trucks and buses. For thirty years, I have been a part of providing our missionaries around the world with equipment that would connect them to their own local culture and to their outside world. Our “networked theology” is that teenagers do the work of providing these essential tools for our missionaries, but this opportunity was different. For simply $149 per unit, a student in a closed country could have access to acquire a Bible school degree. It took off like crazy… I had students doing everything that they could to raise the funds. Do you remember the birth of this technological wonder: Go Fund Me? One of my students posted online (which was seriously frowned upon because of the sensitivity of the country) that he wanted people to “go fund him” to provide for students (and he named the country.) So much for being covert!! I experienced the surge of people gravitating to this project and we provided hundreds of kindles. The rest of the story is that the country has become open now!! But since that time hundreds of students have taken this little tool of technology, loaded with theology and has exploded their knowledge to let them be prepared at this pivotal transition time in their country. Their education could not have happened traditionally instead it had to happen covertly because bringing a piece of technology into the country was so much easier than bringing a Bible or a stack of textbooks.
I completely identified with Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garners book, Networked Theology. What a detailed history of the progression of technology and theology. I have lived this book in so many ways because I have stayed in youth ministry for so long. I have seen all of these trending products (bought a bunch of them) and ideas come and go that the authors have so intricately described and detailed in their book. This book is very intriguing and has drawn a detailed picture of our culture as it has developed and then they have taken the subject of theology and how it is integrated into the future and the present. There is no escaping the changes that have happened and there must be a way to continue to capture the platforms that are created and cause them to have a spiritual thrust. How they said it more clearly was ” we argue that theology can and must engage technology and new media to offer a holistic theological response to new media culture.” 11 Their purpose was to constructively explore the theme of the network considering the intersection between contemporary media culture and the Christian faith. I believe they have done a stellar job of writing a book about this very crucial topic.
The shift for the church into this new arena of platforms has not been easy or seamless but it has been accomplished. It has been challenging and it has cost time and money. It has forced the message of the gospel to go from mustard seeds, the yeast in bread, a treasure in the field, a pearl in a field and a net cast into the see to “the kingdom of God is like a smartphone with endless battery life and unlimited data or the kingdom of God is like a wireless network connecting all kinds of people.” 13 This example and illustration is what was so fresh about this book. They took the time to define technology and then looking at the path that the church has taken to interact with it. They defined the new media theory and clarified language so that anyone could understand what they were talking about. The look they took at the impact of technology on our values and behaviours in our daily lives. This has only increased as the years have progressed. How does this advancement engage and shape our areas of theology? Redefining who our neighbor is within this new “community.” How can all of this give us a framework for religious communities that exist and operate within this “new theology of new media?” There must be a strategy to do this. Their conclusion has to do with the church and the wider public. How can you develop a “robust, theologically informed appropriate technology? It is possible and their presentation of implementation is really well thought through.
As I was reading all I could think of was what kind of platform can all this new media provide for discipleship? Can it happen through pictures? Sounds? Word stories? Can I be a part once again of something revolutionary by being in tune with the world as it changes. How can it progress even further? The words the jumped off the pages to me were about the change that happens in our language and the process of the past to the future.
Concerning discipleship: “To challenge the idea that entry into the kingdom of God is only a movement across a boundary as a result of a particular event or action, such as saying the sinner’s prayer or being baptized. Instead, mission in a networked, relational environment focuses on how people reorient themselves toward God and begin a trajectory of movement toward Christ as the center of their lives. Thus, this is a paradigm shift from encouraging a single-moment event or decision to recognizing a process of alignment with Jesus through relational connections.”13 The Bible gives us the words multiple times that “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I fully believe that! I also find evidence that aligning our lives with Jesus is the content of the New Testament. So instead of theology being a one-off event or action it becomes a life lived in alignment with Jesus. It can happen through all this technology that is constantly shaping our world. What if every platform was just another way for someone to align with Jesus? The development of this new language and new way is ever changing and this book is an incredible handbook to guide the progression.
Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner, Networked Theology: Negotiating faith in digital culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016),11.