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The Efficacy of Networked Theology

Written by: on January 26, 2017

Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner – Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith In Digital Culture

 

Introduction

According to Heidi Campbell, a media studies scholar and Stephen Garner, a theologian, “A central goal of this book is to bring new media studies and theory into conversation with theology in a new way,” [1] utilizing the combined expertise of their respective disciplines.  They explore the dynamics of the network in relation to the intersection between contemporary media culture and the Christian faith.  They argue that “theology can and must engage technology and new media to offer a holistic theological response to new media culture and to understand how new media shapes our everyday lives.” [2] Networked theology seeks to love God and love neighbor in a way that promotes our well-being in a media culture and simultaneously shapes that culture for the sake of the gospel of Christ.

 

Summary

In the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury described theology as “faith seeking understanding.” [3] This indicates ongoing, active reflection of believers attempting to understand God and their world relative to the socio-cultural context they inhabited.  In this work Campbell and Garner’s theological reflection is focused on the internet and digital technologies, also referred to as “new media.”  They use the term, “networked theology to describe their approach to theologizing about the digital, technological, and network society in which we live.” [4] The authors relate that “a useful conceptualization of networked theology emerges by bringing theology into conversation with the idea of the network, enabling us to discuss the opportunities and challenges that digital culture presents to Christian communities” [5] This is beneficial to individual Christians and church communities as they negotiate the opportunities and challenges of network culture. Campbell and Garner believe on the occasions when media negotiation presents opportunities for technology adoption and innovation that favors faith, it should be articulated that media usage complements and enhances the life of faith. Especially for churches and religious communities, it signals to the world who we are called to be in contemporary culture.

The authors inform us that networked theology is a public and contextualized theology that engages with all aspects of our everyday world.  “It requires us to contemplate who we are, how we should live and how we might encounter and engage others constructively and lovingly in our media culture.” [6]  It explores fundamental issues and trends that influence Christian beliefs and practices in a world progressively dependent on and immersed in new media.  According to the authors, the demands placed on a networked theology include, “addressing questions relating to the relationship between the physical and digital worlds, and considering Christian ethical behavior of believers striving to live wholesome lives in a world that occupies both physical and digital spaces at the same time. The questions arise, “What does it mean to be the people of God in a technological and media-saturated world?  What does the Lord require of you in our network society?” [7] Humans are bearers of the image and likeness of God. It is true theologically that our humanity and community emanate from God, so our conduct should reflect God-likeness.

Networked theology holds to the belief that God’s presence and interaction with human beings is not limited to the physical everyday realm but is also active in the digital locations we create and inhabit. It sees our relationship with God in Christ as indicative of  how we live and treat others in a world where the physical and digital intersect.

Analysis/Reflection

I found this short book to be quite informative for its size; it is engaging and packed with thought-provoking and inspiring concepts about Christian theology intersecting with new media and technologies.  The highlight of the book for me is the argument the authors put forth   regarding how “a networked theology might be brought about through contemplating and enacting biblical and theological themes of justice, mercy, love of God and neighbor, and humility before God in connection to the media culture we find ourselves immersed in.” [8]  Campbell and Garner further indicate that this type of networked theology “supports an appropriate technology that seeks to create shalom through a Christ-centered focus on technology and media.” [9] They spell out that this kind of approach is conducive to “balancing economic productivity with social justice and environmental sustainability with personal fulfillment and is spiritually nourishing to individuals and communities.” [10] “Spiritually nourishing to individuals and communities”—I immediately thought about the Rwandan post-conflict state of affairs and how desperately that nation’s individuals and communities need that kind of Spiritual renewal.

The authors also tell us that networked theology involves soul searching that seeks to understand our responsibility in the technological and media world that we live in and to ask, “How we should live faithfully in that world as the people of God, the Body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.” [11]

According to Campbell and Garner, Christians have a duty in networked theology because it, “requires Christians to think deeply about technology and media, about the values, inherent character, and environments created by technology and media as wider socio-cultural systems.” [12]

Lastly, the authors declare that, “The end goal of networked theology is to glorify Jesus Christ in God through the Holy Spirit. To do this we seek to establish communities of shalom that reflect true neighborliness through integrity in all our relationships.” [13]

If Campbell and Garner’s assertions are correct, and I believe that they are, then these are powerful concepts for the Body of Christ to contemplate and embrace in order to usher in shalom in one’s own life and the lives of individuals and communities in our respective spheres of influence.

Notes

  1. Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner, Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 15.
  2. Ibid., 11.
  3. Ibid., 10.
  4. Ibid., 2.
  5. Ibid,. 12.
  6. Ibid., 147.
  7. Ibid., 88.
  8. Ibid., 146.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., 147.
  13. Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Claire Appiah

5 responses to “The Efficacy of Networked Theology”

  1. Great job summarizing and analyzing the book Claire.
    One of my complaints recently of technology is that people say things that they normally would not say to someone’s face. However, you brought up Rwanda. This got me thinking that maybe we, especially you, could use this idea for a positive way. For example, what if people of post genocidal Rwanda would write things that they simply could not say to someone’s face as a way of a step toward healing? Thinking out loud. What do you think?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Aaron,
      Thanks for the question, “What if people of post-genocide Rwanda would write things that they simply could not say to someone’s face as a way of a step toward healing? I’m not sure what you have in mind here, as to what types of platforms these feelings would be disseminated or who the target audiences would be?

      I would suspect that it would only be an opportunity for the claws to come out in those harboring a vitriolic spirit. I believe the general atmosphere would have to be more like the late Ogbu Kulu described in his essay in Lewis and Pierard’s Global Evangelicalism. There he explains how South Africa transitioned from colonialism to a democracy without bloodshed, “by utilizing the cardinal Christian principles of confession and forgiveness to help heal the social wounds of apartheid.” (p.159)

  2. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Claire,
    Excellent summary of the book. You stated that we need to “understand our responsibility in the technological and media world.” This to me is one of our greatest challenges because we’re forced to learn something we never even created. There’s no doubt we can make sense of it, but if we don’t evolve with technology, we’re at a disadvantage. I’ve realized that the church continues to grow theologically, but we’re always at the bottom trying to navigate through cultural changes. Rwanda has been on your heart for some time now, and I can imagine that you’ve made the necessary strides to evolve with the changes. I also synthesize with the impact the new presidential intent could cause for refugees. How will this new presidential order affect how you prepare to engage Rwandan’s and even refugees in general? Do you believe your project will evolve to a much broader scope?

    Garfield

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Garfield,
      Thanks for your questions. Unfortunately, I do not know or have I considered how the new presidential regime might affect my Rwandan project. Thanks for bringing awareness to potential challenges/ hindrances. If it becomes necessary for my project to evolve to a much broader scope, that will have to take place after I have completed this Dmin program. Right now, I have to keep things simple and on a scale that is manageable.

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Claire,

    Anselm – Theology is faith seeking understanding

    You quoted the authors saying “a useful conceptualization of networked theology emerges by bringing theology into conversation with the idea of the network, enabling us to discuss the opportunities and challenges that digital culture presents to Christian communities”

    Opportunities and challenges with new media: in your life and world, can you say if the scales tip more toward opportunity or toward challenge? Why?

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