Theology and Social Media

October 1, 2009

by — Posted in Blog, New Media, Spiritual Practices, Video

I had the opportunity to speak on theology and social media recently at the Christian Education 2.0 conference at Pfeiffer Unversity, which gave me a chance to think about three distinct challenges facing churches as they engage social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, blogs, etc.). I posted the presentation “The Theology of Twitter” on SlideShare, where it was featured several times on the homepage, and it’s now been viewed nearly 1,800 times:

View more presentations from Steve Knight.

To get the full content, be sure to view the “Notes” tabs on each slide.

In summary, the three challenges that I identified at this point in history are:

  1. Be reverse incarnational
  2. Maintain the physical in the sacramental
  3. Promote spiritual practices, such as fasting from media and devices

Just days after giving this presentation, I was intrigued to find out that the world’s first “online baptism” had occurred through the Internet campus of Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Florida, of a woman (Alyssa Eason) in Fayatteville, Georgia:

Having quoted at length from Gavin Richardson’s blog series on “Spirituality and Social Media” for my own presentation, I was intrigued to read Gavin’s comment on the “online baptism” post at ChurchCrunch: “I’ve been a part of some worship communities a few years back which actually did some baptism via the Internet within the virtual worlds there. I’m not a fan of them as I see a sacrament needing some physical proximity to it. However, from what I am told the instances I knew of, people eventually went to counseling or into a church community through the encouragement of the [Second Life] community that they were baptized in.”

I just hope that churches like Flamingo Road that are going down this path of disembodied sacraments are asking the theological questions and counting the cost.

I didn’t really delve very much in my presentation into the whole debate over “virtual community” with Shane Hipps, which I’ve written about elsewhere. And here’s another gem from N.T. Wright that I had planned to include in my talk, but unfortunately it was left on the cutting room floor:

There is a video of me giving my presentation on “The Theology of Twitter” out there somewhere that I’m hoping to get my hands on. If/when I can get that posted online, I’ll update this blog post with the video. Stay tuned …

UPDATE: Well, thanks to the Twitters, I received a DM (that’s “direct message” for all my non-Twitter readers, all two of you, hi Mom and Dad!) from Jake Johnson alerting me to the series he’s writing currently on “Ministry in a Post-Christian, Digital Society.” At first glance, I can tell there’s great food for thought and conversation fodder there. Here’s just a snippet: “I’ve been thinking that post-modernism is dying. It’s on its last legs. Taking its place is what I’ll call Digitalism. Whereas Post-Modernism (in simplified terms) was the subjection of truth to cultural context, Digitalism is the subjection of truth to personal context.” In his first post, he also shares a brutal quote from William Gibson. Check it out »

2 thoughts on “Theology and Social Media

  1. In your presentation you mention that “The Church that tweets together stays together.” I would qualify that somewhat. Technology somehow encourages people to share more honestly with each other–it is easier to be vulnerable.

    Sometimes this vulnerability leads to deeper community. We see a fuller picture of the people who paint on their happy faces each Sunday.

    Sometimes this vulnerability leads to the destruction of a community as people tweet more and more ugly details of their life and attitude.

    This is not hypothetical for me. I had to distance myself from a church as the members came online and revealed their true colors. It was a long and painful process, but one that absolutely began with Twitter and Facebook status updates.

  2. I hope folks from the North will keep this discussion in perspective, remembering the millions of people around the world that go through hunger every day and have never seen a computer and would trade a cellphone for food. Sometimes I feel that this resembles a technical persuit of a Holy Grail, for techy people, and under the cover there seems to be a big sense of satisfaction of enjoying “the digital stakes”, while celebrating and even promoting alienation from the many manifestations of oppression that go on near and far. And ‘digital exclusion’ would still be a very small part of the problem.

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