This post is part of a series about sharing the gospel and new media. Check out other posts in this series, along with other blog series from the past, here.
By Nick Buck
In all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20) Jesus is recorded asking his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Their answer is overflowing with meaning, stretching back into their ethnic, religious, and historical identity and forward into their eschatological hopes. If indeed the Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the stakes in this question could not be higher.
Perhaps the foremost question of the theological task is precisely this question of Gospel, which is itself a way of getting at the core issue around which all else is organized. Therefore before one can appropriately answer the question of how the Gospel is to be shared it must be determined what exactly the Gospel is.
It is not my interest in this post to even suggest an answer for the question; rather I aim to stress this question’s importance for new media. In the context of new media a critical part of this question is about the form
the Gospel takes. While it seems many forms could be conceived, at least four broad forms come to mind: a message to be communicated, a relationship to be developed, a virtuous life to be encouraged, or a specific vision of the world to be realized. While not an exhaustive list, these are examples of significantly different forms of the Gospel, and the answer(s) to this question rests on the basis of a fundamental theological claim.
For example, some may see the Gospel as the story of God’s love for the world and the gratuitous offering of salvation to the repentant sinner. Others may see it as the transformative power of loving relationships with God and others. Some may see it as the cultivation of a morally excellent life. And still others might see it as the project of building a more just world. Each of these, or some combination of them, should result in a very different use of new media.
In the first case, the broadcasting of the Gospel message is probably seen as the most important action for the church. In the second case, it would seem the actual development of a loving community is to be prioritized. In the third case, perhaps resources for and encouragement toward personal growth would be the primary focus. In the last case, the provision of opportunities to provoke inspiration and involvement in justice concerns would most likely be the focus.
It seems too much use of new media takes the shape of a one-way medium, a digital billboard or broadcast. While this may be an appropriate approach for some, its use should be determined by whether or not it aligns with the form of the Gospel, not because it is the default mode of new media engagement. New media is more dynamic than that.
This dynamism is the result of a shift from the internet being primarily comprised of static pages to it becoming a place for dynamic presence
(this transition has been called, by some, the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0). The web is no longer simply a place to visit. It is rather a domain wherein people and institutions have presence, relationships and interaction, and I mean that in a rather thick way.
Use of and engagement with New Media is therefore a deeply theological
concern. How we engage New Media need be in line with our understanding of the form the Gospel takes if we’re going to be authentic to our convictions. But that sort of consideration means New Media is calling us to look ever more intentionally at our theology, at what we believe and why, so that we might become ever more faithful to it. Nick Buck is the associate director of the New Media Project.
The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact email@example.com.