I led a workshop over the weekend at the Christian New Media and Awards Conference in London. My topic was “Online Theology”: can we “do theology” online? What are the advantages of doing theology via blogging and microblogging? What are the limitations? I also asked this: what sort of disciplines and skills should we embrace for doing online theology well?
The issue strikes me as massively important because theology is massively important and because digital media is becoming more and more integrated into our daily (hourly!) lives.
Normally I do my writing on media-theology at www.BigBible.org.uk, but since some of those readers attended the conference, I thought I would open the conversation up here at Hopeful Realism.
First, I have learned from Jason Byassee that we just need to be careful about making broad, sweeping conclusions about the Church and the Digital Age. The reason is because it is simply too early to assess—see Byassee’s essay for The New Media Project. His subtitle includes the word “underdetermined” to express a humble approach at making assessments. Historians will one day look back on the church’s embrace/rejection/conflicted use of new media from the luxurious vantage point of retrospection. More definitive conclusions could be made at that point. For those of us in the midst of these technological and cultural shifts, however, we have to be cautious and observant. Byassee cites this from a Methodist minister writing in 1850 about the telegraph:
This noble invention is to be the means of extending civilization, republicanism, and Christianity over the earth. It must and will be extended to nations half-civilized, and thence to those now savage and barbarous. Our government will be the grand center of this mighty influence…. The beneficial and harmonious operation of our institutions will be seen, and similar ones adopted. Christianity must speedily follow them, and we shall behold the grand spectacle of a whole world, civilized, republican, and Christian…. Wars will cease from the earth. Men “shall beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks’ … then shall come to pass the millennium.
[From Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford, 2009), 3.]
The “traditional academic form [of doing theology] does not breed conversation, but promotes monologue; it does not foster cross-fertilization of ideas, but reinforces one particular perspective on an issue; it is not open to other voices, but is designed precisely to close them off; and, finally any such discourse is not welcoming to all voices, but privileges a select group who have been properly vetted by the Western academy.”[Milton Bradley Penner and Hunter Barnes, A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging toward a Postmodern Faith (Milton Keynes, UK; Paternoster, 2006), 1.]