Book Recap and Review: “Networked Theology”

January 30th, 2017

TITLE: Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (192 pages).

Digital devices have become ubiquitous throughout the world. It has redefined how we communicate, how we interact, and how we live. For many people, technology has become so integral that one cannot live without it. An outage could easily shift people to panic mode. Its attractiveness can become an addiction in itself. In faith matters, digital media and technology has not only redefined how we practice our faith, it is taking us on a whole new direction. This means we need to learn how to engage this new environment wisely and appropriately. This new digital era has invaded and affected the way we learn, do outreach, teach Christian Education, do Church, and share faith concerns. This is why we need to take the technology seriously and to think of constructive ways to engage with it, about it, and through it.

Theology and Technology

Chapter 1 begins with a primer about the interactions between theology and technology. The authors cover the three key responses (optimism, pessimism, and instrumentalism) by listing both the advantages and the disadvantages before offering their prescription. While technology is largely positive, it can also cause concerns about how it challenges the traditional models and presuppositions in society. They acknowledge that technology has now become forever ingrained into the fabric of modern life. The next best thing we can do is to learn to live with it.

This is done through chapter 2 which gives us a deeper understanding of new media and digital influences. We learn about digital coding and how the digital media are used as building blocks. They can be interactive, programmable, and continues to progress from one generation to another. Not only that, they have also transformed the way we communicate. Media content can be readily downloaded. People are always being in contact. The individual has the power to speak above the rest. Privacy has become a major concern. With technology becoming increasingly “flexible, transitional, and transnational,” and if I may add, transactional, faith matters need to be looked at with greater discernment. Who then is our neighbor in the digital culture? Where is our neighbor? How should we treat our digital neighbors? This calls for a community response that media can be used not only for communicating and sharing interests, it can be a new way of living and believing.

Four levels of inquiry are proposed:

  1. How does our faith shape our identity and mission?
  2. How does our group define itself as a community?
  3. What is the authority structure and decision-making methodology?
  4. What is the group’s relationship with text and mass media?

Guidelines from Scripture

They also give readers some guidelines that come about when we understand the implications of how technology affects us. These guidelines are developed from passages of Scripture. We need to develop theologies that begin with the Person of God. Campbell and Garner propose a two-fold approach on developing such a public theology: 1) Be based on the revelation of God; 2) articulate this in the community we are networked in. Based on Micah 6:8, we can live

1) Be based on the revelation of God.

2) Articulate this in the community we are networked in. Based on Micah 6:8, we can live

Based on Micah 6:8, we can live neighborly via doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly in the digital world.

A Networked Society

There are many books that look at theological interaction with all things technology. The authors feel that not many have adequately dealt with “clear, systematic investigations” for faith practitioners. They intend to provide a map in which readers can theologize about digital matters. Calling it a “networked society,” they borrow ideas from science fiction, nonfiction, social networks, and rhetoric surrounding its use.

From science fiction, they imagine the use of cyberspace and the image of a wide open network everyone can get into. From social networks, despite the use of digital devices in an electronic network space, people who interact are still considered a social community.

From rhetoric, they show us how the network can become a metaphor for describing our social networks and well-being. Following this, they lay down the foundations of theology being in terms of making meaning from the eyes of faith in Jesus, and to communicate that understanding to others. A key note is that network can shape theology which is why the authors spend time explaining what “networked theology” is. They pay attention to the way technology has infiltrated and influenced the way we live and believe.

Three Thoughts about the Book

First, I appreciate how the authors take care to define the fundamentals of both technology and theology without becoming too locked into difficult terminology. This makes it palatable for the layperson to read. For those of us who are familiar with these terms, the definitions and descriptions can be a good review as well. Understanding how faith and technology interact requires us to understand what they are in the first place.

Second, apart from technology, the theological perspective is sensitive to other disciplines like sociology, mission, connectivity, culture, and others, which makes this book a fascinating read. In the same manner, they urge churches to develop their own theological convictions on how to interact with the digital culture. This must be based on their theological identity and their sense of call in the neighborhoods and networks they are in.

Third, I believe this book addresses something that is still very much in its infancy. The way the internet and social media have dominated headlines recently might only be the beginning of something more significant. What will the future networks be like? How can the Church adapt? What are the changes coming? Before churches devote too much attention to the nitty-gritty of technology and digital media, it is more important to observe how people are taking to it. The digital environment is still in flux and I believe even more changes will be coming. In the meantime, while the present digital environment must be addressed, we should be careful not to put all of our eggs into this era’s concerns and forget about preparing for the next. Do what we can with regard to the concerns in this book, but remember that ten or twenty years down the road, we may need to work on the next big thing.

Heidi Campbell is associate professor of communications at Texas A&M University and has been an advocate for all things faith related to media, online matters, and religious activities in the digital world. Stephen Garner shares that theological and technological conviction. He is head of school of theology at Laidlaw College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade-yap-headshotDr. Conrade Yap is an Associate Pastor at LORD’S PEACE CHAPEL on the south side of Vancouver. He received a Masters of Divinity from Regent College and completed his doctoral studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Yap reviews books for a variety of publishers including, Thomas-Nelson and NavPress. Find more of his work at YAPDATES.BLOGSPOT.COM and BOOKSAINT.BLOGSPOT.COM.

This post was originally published by BOOKSAINT.BLOGSPOT.COM. This book was provided to Dr. Yap courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are his unless otherwise stated or implied.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.