New media:

A savior for the digital age

By Monica A. Coleman
May 10, 2012


This essay is one of six in a collection of theological reflections on social media and new media conducted by the New Media Research Fellows at Union Theological Seminary. They are based upon the case studies conducted by the research fellows in 2011. Explore the Findings tab for more information about the rest of our work.

Study questions: Note that this essay includes questions at the end to help you go deeper into the topic, or to help others you may be leading to go deeper. Some of those questions will connect to other essays and case studies.

Introduction

Imagine this scene: you walk into a church with chairs or pews facing forwards. Near the front, there are chairs where the pastor and ministers of the church sit facing the congregation. There’s a large wooden table that functions as an altar. And hanging from the ceiling—almost hovering above and between the altar and the congregation—is a large emblem of a wireless router.

This router signifies what it means to get online without being connected to a large computer in the wall. It connotes Web 2.0 capability, instant messaging, smartphones, and chat rooms. It’s a symbol of Christ and salvation.

At first blush, this seems laughable. Even churches that are media savvy in this digital age would be loathe to call new media salvation itself. Most churches would insist that Jesus is the one who saves. The gospel message has not changed. We still look to the cross as a symbol of our faith. New media might change the way we connect to one another; it might even change how we do church. But it doesn’t change salvation.

Or does it?

In its broadest sense, a savior is one who saves us. Christian traditions use various terms to describe salvation. “Redemption” suggests an understanding that humanity must be “bought back.” It has the connotation of setting the enslaved free. “Reconciliation” implies a reunion of parties who have been alienated from each other. “Atonement” draws from language of agreement and making amends for an injury or wrong. From the root word of “salve,” a healing balm, “salvation” seems to be about that which will make us healthy and whole. Our terminology matters because it says something about what we think salvation does.

Nevertheless, all concepts of salvation must address some basic questions: Save who or what? From what are we being saved? To what? How? And who does all this?

In the study of systematic theology, we neatly separate these questions into different categories: doctrines of sin, salvation, Christology, church, and eschatology, or the end-times. We assign complex theories to the basic ideas about what’s wrong with us, what ought to happen, and how we get there. One could argue that these are central questions to life. Paul Tillich offers a method of correlation for answering these questions.[1] That is, he considers these to be existential questions that life poses to all people. Philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and many other fields of study offer answers. For Tillich, theology should provide the answers to these queries. Christianity is distinguished in part by its focus on Jesus of Nazareth as the primary answer.

So what does Jesus do? Christian theology answers this question in several ways, four of which are particularly relevant in an age of new media. This paper will examine four significant way of understanding Christ’s role in salvation—as mediator, teacher, liberator, and the content of salvation. There is evidence that new media function in communities of faith in some of the same ways as Christ. In 2011, the research fellows of The New Media Project conducted several case studies at churches and organizations around the country that are using social media in innovative ways.[2] A close look at some of these cases can help us consider whether or not new media save.

Christ as mediator

In classical Western Christianity, Jesus’ salvific role is that of mediator. In its broadest sense, the story goes something like this: God and humanity were once in idyllic close relationship with one another. Something happened. There is now a rift between God and humanity. Humans will always sin and that separates us from God. Jesus is able to repair or bridge the gap between God and humanity. Humanity now has access to a closer relationship with God.

This is atonement theory, writ large. Augustine is credited largely for his interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3, in which he sees Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, as a “fall” from humanity’s intended relationship with God. This was the beginning of “original sin,” which all people inherit at birth by virtue of being human. In many traditions, death is the punishment for sin, and Jesus keeps humanity from a life of eternal damnation for that sin. Objective theories of atonement focus on how much God reaches out to humanity to effect salvation. For example, during the Middle Ages, Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury, posited sin as an affront to God’s honor and righteousness.[3] As sinful humans, we owe God an infinite debt that we are unable to pay. Sin cannot go unpunished, but the just punishment would annihilate humanity. Only a human could repay what humanity owes. As a sinless human, Jesus’ voluntary death satisfies the debt we owe God and saves all of humanity from eternal damnation. The Reformation theologian John Calvin understood sin as the breaking of divine laws that merit punishment. In the crucifixion, Jesus takes the punishment that we deserve. Because Jesus is equally human and divine, Jesus is the perfect substitution for us. In both understandings of salvation, Jesus mediates the rift that sin creates between God and humanity. We now have access to a closer relationship with God and to eternal life in heaven.

Subjective theories of atonement focus on humanity’s response to what Jesus does for us. Peter Abelard, a contemporary of Anselm, understood sin as consent to wrongdoing. In “Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans,” Abelard indicated that the moral example of Jesus offers a demonstration of God’s love for us. Jesus’ role is an ideal example of how we should love one another.[4] The more we are able to imitate who Jesus is and how Jesus lived, the more we are transformed. We are changed by Jesus’ model of love, and we repent to God for our sins. Twentieth-century theologian Walter Rauschenbusch went one step farther in Theology of the Social Gospel. He says that it is our responsibility to learn how Jesus sacrificed for us and take up our own social and religious causes—even if it means significant sacrifice. Again Jesus mediates the gulf that sin creates between God and humanity—this time through being a moral example, through love.

New media as mediator

Many churches are clear that new media help to bridge gaps between people and between people and God. Mediators are often said to “stand in the gap.” In a Christian context, a mediator “stands in the gap” between people who would not attend church and those who do; between people who do not have a relationship with God and those who do; between those who are alone (with or without their faith) and those who find faith community. While heaven or eternal life is one goal of salvation, for many people, church community is a righteous end. Inasmuch as churches strive to embody the kin-dom of God about which Jesus preaches, becoming a part of such a community is a part of salvation. When churches use new media to create community that might not otherwise exist, they mediate salvation.

Quest Church in Seattle is clear that new media help to create community. In the case study written by Jim Rice, one member of the church mentions using new media just to find the church. The church member notes that the website and its use of search engine optimization makes the message of the church easy for people to find. He also notes that they use new media for “drawing in people who may be outside of the realm of traditional church shoppers.”[5] In this sense, new media mediate between church and the people looking for church.

Quest Church describes the small groups that meet via Facebook as communities that share prayers and concerns. I immediately think of the image of Jesus in the Farewell Discourses of the gospel of John (John 14-17). In these chapters, Jesus prays earnestly for his disciples and their future community. He is standing in the gap, praying that a Spirit will come to create community in his absence. Both Eastern and Western church traditions have understood the Holy Spirit as that aspect of divinity that blesses and animates the church. In this case, Facebook is that Holy Spirit creating community in the absence of Jesus of Nazareth—creating intimacy, making prayers, and sustaining community.

Another case study subject, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, also uses new media to create community. One example can be found in how they hold worship and dialogue services in local bars. They share the information on Meetup.com and often attract people who would not ordinarily come to a church. Likewise, the pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, notes that most of her pastoral care happens online or via text messaging. Not only is she able to reach out to people in a more time-efficient manner than if she were using traditional media, but new media also allow other people to help in the pastoral care process.[6] As a community is able to offer comfort to others who need it quickly, they mediate the love and presence of God. New media not only reduce the reliance on a single individual (the pastor) to offer care, but it also shows how God’s love can be mediated through several individuals. While this aspect of communal care is not exclusive to the use of new media, it is made possible in new and faster (and thus one might argue, more effective) ways because of new media.

Community of Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, another case study subject, also uses new media to connect people to faith community. Tony Lee tells a story of connecting with people online and through their offering of livestream video. Two examples help to illustrate this. On one occasion, he was in the hospital in the greater Washington, D.C., area and saw people who identified with Community of Hope—even though they lived in east Asia. They were visiting sick members in their family. Because this family was connected to Community of Hope online, they felt like part of the community and received pastoral care in person while they were in the hospital.[7] New media literally mediated between one family and their connection to community and pastoral care—just when they needed it.

As another example, Tony Lee often notes that he learns more about the membership of this church of over 2,200 members on Facebook than any other way. He saw a Facebook posting indicating that the relative of a church member had committed suicide. This allowed him to reach out to that person, attend the funeral, and offer pastoral care to the family.[8] Because of the stigma of suicide, this person might never have mentioned this to the pastor or another minister in the church. But new media allowed the pastor to acknowledge the reality of the family’s grief and demonstrate the love of God.

Mediating between sinful humanity and God is different from mediating between those looking for spiritual community and the church they actually find. Churches are ostensibly more flawed than God. Yet inasmuch as churches are—at their best—visible embodiments of God’s vision and God’s community (the kin-dom of God) on earth, anything that helps people connect to God and faith community becomes Christological. It spans the gap between individuals in search of meaningful community and communities striving to represent the best of who God is.

Christ as teacher

The idea that we are saved through Jesus’ role as a teacher has held more sway in Eastern Christian circles than in the Western Christian world. Many first, second, and third century Christians did not see the gap between God and humanity as one that was caused by the destruction of an ideal relationship that once existed. Rather, the first century bishop Irenaeus of Lyons asserted that humanity’s primary problem is its immaturity.[9] We are far from God because we are not mature enough, wise enough, or knowledgeable enough. Salvation does not restore a lost nature; salvation gives us more than what we lost. Kept alive largely in the concept of theosis, salvation is about how humanity might unite with or become divine.

Many early Christian thinkers in the Eastern churches describe Christ as the great teacher who guides us into this knowledge and relationship with God. In this understanding of salvation, salvation is a process; it is about gradual growth and transformation. Christ teaches us in several ways. First, Christ reveals God. Understanding Christ as the Word, or Logos of God, Christ is the revealer of the transcendent God. We are able to learn about God because we see God in Jesus Christ. As early as the second century, Justin Martyr described Christ as the universal teacher who instructs the Greeks, the barbarians, and even the patriarchs and prophets of the Hebrew Bible because Christ brings saving doctrine to humanity. For Origen, Christianity was the greatest educational power in the world, with Christ as the great teacher. Clement of Alexandria said that Christ does more than reveal God; Christ is responsible for training humanity for a virtuous life. Humanity learns how to be moral and spiritual from Christ. Gregory of Nyssa indicated that humanity learns by imitating Christ.[10] For all of these thinkers, salvation does not aim to restore a relationship between God and humanity that was lost. Salvation aims to grant humanity more than its original inheritance. Salvation offers an immature and incomplete humanity immortality, perfection, and union with God.

This is a different kind of salvation than is associated with Gnosticism. Unlike in many Gnostic traditions, in a pedagogical understanding of salvation, the knowledge that Christ offers is not secret or for a select few. Christ offers us information about who God is, while also teaching us how to live that we might become closer to and one with God. This is an education that is content-based, value-based, and spiritual.

New media as teacher

The Mobile Learning Initiative at Abilene Christian University is one example of how new media function as a teacher. The goal of Abilene Christian University, one of the New Media Project case studies, is “to educate students for Christian service and leadership throughout the world.”[11] In the Mobile Learning Initiative, all students and faculty are given mobile devices (an iPhone or iPod Touch) with a customized app that allows them to access course materials, financial information, and obligations. Through the app and the mobile device, students can respond to surveys anonymously during class, while also asking questions and responding to quiz questions during and/or after class.

The Mobile Learning Initiative does not function as Christ just because it takes place in an educational institution. It’s the way the Mobile Learning Initiative creates a constant environment of learning that reveals its Christological dimensions. A leader in the project, Scott Hamm, states that the Mobile Learning Initiative makes Abilene Christian University’s educational ethos “part of the ambient noise of everyday life.”[12]

As learning and interaction between faculty and students become more seamless parts of their lives, the Abilene Christian University community finds itself doing education in new ways. For example, the professor is no longer the purveyor of knowledge and expertise. Rather, teaching helps students to discover, interpret, and synthesize multiple streams of knowledge. One could understand this shift in teaching as doing more than imparting information, but it also helps students become more like the teachers themselves. This shift is clearly tied to the use of new media on the campus.

In many ways, this is how Christ functions as teacher. The goal in a pedagogical soteriology is not just to impart information about God, but also to help humanity become more like the Teacher. The goal of using the mobile devices and app isn’t just to make more technologically-savvy students. At Abilene Christian University, there is an explicit mission for spiritual development and the development of a stronger Christian community. New media do more than facilitate this learning; it is actually the conduit for this activity. The media itself is part of the teaching process.

Christ as liberator

Liberation theologies are best known for their understanding of sin and salvation in the context of oppression. In its various instantiations, liberation theologies assert that sin is caused by the ways that humans oppress one another. This kind of sin creates rifts among people and also between God and humanity because this is not God’s will for the world. Salvation is liberation; it is freedom from oppression. Some feminist theologians symbolize this as a large supper table where all are welcome.[13] For many black liberation theologians, it is a beloved community of justice and equality.[14] For ecological theologians, it is a world where all of creation is honored as unique and important to God.[15]

Liberation theologies often highlight Jesus as one who shows us how to live a life in solidarity with the oppressed. Early black and Latin American liberation theologians focused on biblical passages like Luke 4:16-30, where Jesus is in the synagogue and reads from the book of Isaiah. Jesus says that he is anointed to “bring good news to the poor … to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez said that is an indication that in Jesus we see that God has a preferential option for the poor. Black theologian James Cones described this as God being on the side of the oppressed. In addition, the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke show Jesus’ spending time with the outcast of his society—from tax collectors to women. This is interpreted as a model of inclusion. As Jesus spoke out against the injustices of his time, we also understand Jesus’ role as a prophet for the disenfranchised. The cross is important because it illustrates how authorized powers often slander and destroy those who are speaking out for justice, compassion, and inclusion of those whom society treats as the least important, or the most invisible.[16]

Christ is the one who sees the oppressed, cares for the oppressed, and takes the side of the oppressed. Christ is one who liberates us to the ideal community of justice. As Christians, we live out the gospel as we imitate Christ’s role of inclusion and stand in solidarity with the oppressed knowing that this is where God is.

New media as liberator

Community of Hope AME Church is a prime example of a church where new media liberate. Community of Hope also partners with a non-profit organization, Dreams Work, which helps young people to create media projects that speak out against bullying and other social ills. Community of Hope functions as a producer, as it is actively involved in drawing in individuals who would not normally be interested in church or other positive activities. In fact, Community of Hope has become well known for its ability to attract young people who might otherwise be entangled with gang activity. One way they do this is by having video games on the church website and communicating with members through text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter. They speak the language of the young people and offer them community at Community of Hope. If sin is being alone and excluded and written off, then Community of Hope’s use of new media saves people to visibility, community, and inclusion. They understand social activism as part of what it means to be Christian, and new media help in their community work. As the ministers at Community of Hope communicate with people on Facebook, Twitter, and via live-streamed worship services, they are able to help people who have felt disenfranchised and excluded from church communities to feel welcome and noticed.

Another example of how new media function to liberate people from sin can be found in the Darkwood Brew online television program run out of Countryside Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Darkwood Brew offers a combination of video news magazine, a coffeehouse Bible study, and worship to anyone who wants to watch online. The initiative is clear that its mission is to reach the spiritually homeless and to provide resources for those seeking a more expansive and progressive understanding of Christianity.

One could rephrase the initiative in this way: It is unfortunate when people don’t have a place where they feel spiritually at home. In fact, most media is centered on one fundamentalist idea of what it means to be Christian and that idea is constricting and alienating to some people. This is not just lamentable. It is sinful because it oppresses and excludes. Individuals who cannot find their identities, communities, or support in the fundamentalist mode of Christianity still need to have a relationship with God and a faith community.

Darkwood Brew is able to provide resources for those who want a “less polarized, more inclusive and more loving faith.”[17] It literally offers theological reflection and “a sense of larger connection to those individuals or whole communities who feel isolated by fundamentalist interpretations and presentations of their faith,” says Kathryn Reklis.[18] In its ability to counter alienation, create a more inclusive faith, and create community for those often outside the authoritative religious structures, Darkwood Brew liberates as Christ does.

The Young Clergy Women Project can also be seen as a liberating Christ. This project is a community of roughly 600 women who gather in various online formats to offer support to each other as women under the age of 40 in ministry settings. Here the sin is the patriarchy and ageism of many traditional church and institutional structures that cause women to be isolated from the kind of support they need to serve as effective leaders in ministry. As these women are separated from one another—and often other women in ministry—by geography, new media create a community of compassion and justice where their voices are heard and they are not considered a vast minority.

Although some members of The Young Clergy Women Project meet in person annually, the network and its relationships are constructed completely online. The new media are the network. The community does not just connect online in order to connect in person. New media are what allows the women from around the country to think together, question together, support one another, and find camaraderie and solace.[19] New media liberate young clergywomen from the isolation of their positions within larger societal structures by creating glimpses of the ideal community in their midst. On and through platforms facilitated by Web 2.0 technology, these young clergywomen imitate Christ as they are able to offer this community to one another. They are not only better equipped for the ministries to which they are called, they are also representing the presence of God for one another. They could not do this without new media.

The House for All Sinners and Saints also offers glimpses into the liberating role of new media. House for All Sinners and Saints succeeds through a combination of in-person embodied experiences and a pervasive air-like use of new media. While it is not the focus of the ministry, the church is committed to an inclusive environment, especially about LGBTQ issues. New media facilitate and mirror this kind of inclusion. One member says, “We live our life online, and lots of outsiders consume and comment on what we do.”[20] New Media Project research fellow Jason Byassee notes that for House for All Sinners and Saints, “the message that there is no in or out is not just promulgated, but demonstrated, via social media.”[21] In this sense, the message would be there without social media and file sharing. But new media do more that share the message; the church’s use of new media actually reflects and embodies that message. As new media create porous boundaries and reaches those outside of the “church community who can attend in person,” it includes by being inclusive itself. Inasmuch as inclusion (as a form of justice) is one of God’s goals for the world, and a church’s use of new media includes, it literally helps to save us.

Christ as content

For many Christians, Jesus is not just the one who brings salvation. In many Christian traditions, Jesus is the content of salvation. Salvation comes by believing that what Jesus does is found in who Jesus is. This can be seen in scriptures like Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.” Much of this hinges on the understanding that Jesus is a perfect combination of divinity and humanity. He is the union of what is familiar with what is mysterious. He is both known and unknown. Jesus’ uniqueness as fully divine and fully human is testified throughout Christian scriptures: the stories of his birth through Mary, his Sonship of God, the performance of healing miracles, his resurrection after death. These are things that no ordinary human being can do. This is affirmed throughout the Nicean and Chalcedonian creeds. Thus salvation is believing that Jesus is uniquely divine, without sin, and the path to God and eternal life.

New Media as content

Social media experts agree that successful use of new media is content-rich. That is, organizations and individuals should use social media to say more than what they had for breakfast; they should offer information that is fresh and enriching to the lives of the people with whom they interact. The phrase coined by Bill Gates in a 1996 article states this well, “Content is King.”[22]

For most churches, social media use is not the content; rather Jesus is. And the use of social media is not the goal; rather relationships with people are. When asked, most clergy will say that social media help them to evangelize. A tool, not salvation itself. The content is Jesus. Regarding Nadia Bolz-Weber’s approach to House for All Sinners and Saints, Jason Byassee says, “She’s out for your soul.”[23]

New media use is not the Word that saves. New Media are so pervasive and accessible that it lacks the uniqueness of a Jesus who saves by his divine-human status. There is nothing to believe about new media that will alleviate our sins or get us eternal life. Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church, says that technology is neutral and can be used in both positive and negative ways.[24] Most Christians would not be inclined to describe salvation as neutral. Salvation, on the other hand, is a consistent and reliably good thing.

New Media as Christ?

In her important work on metaphorical theology, Sallie McFague discusses the power of using multiple metaphors for understanding the relationship between God and humanity. She notes that metaphors are disruptive and partial. There are ways that the two things being compared are similar, and there are ways that they are dissimilar. There is, she notes, an is and an is-not-ness to all good metaphors.[25]

To give two quick examples: (1) The legs of a chair. Like most legs on animals and human beings, the wooden poles support and uphold the main seating area of the chair. Unlike most human and animal legs, the legs of a chair do not bend or walk. (2) God as parent. Like a parent, God cares for us, knows more than we do, helps to create us. Unlike a parent, God is also seen in a sunset or flowing river and does not literally sire children. These metaphors stick, however, because the truth of them helps us to understand something more clearly, or in terms that are more familiar to us. The more a metaphor resonates, the more it engages what is familiar to the individual or community engaging it, the more staying power it has.

For these reasons, it may be helpful to think of how new media are Christ. New media are a mediator, teacher, and liberator. When churches use new media to create community, connect to people, offer greater inclusion, justice and compassion, new media save us. When churches use new media to help people to strengthen their relationship with God, feel seen and heard, and to show the love and presence of God, new media save us.

There are ways that new media are not Christological. If salvation is about believing something about Jesus of Nazareth, then new media are a poor metaphor for salvation. All of the aforementioned goals are best attained through some use of new and old media. Whether it’s the embodied worship at House for All Sinners and Saints, or the way that Community of Hope mixes bake sales, church picnics, and printed flyers into their use of Bible apps on mobile devices and live-streaming ... most churches are able to embody the kin-dom of God best through strategic uses of both new and old media. Likewise, Darkwood Brew offers their embodied program to others entirely online. They gather for the purpose of recording the program that is offered to other people across the country. Darkwood Brew imagines that people are also gathering together in groups to learn from their programming, so they still expect a level of embodiment.

The Young Clergy Women’s Project is a notable example. This community functions entirely online. Through a community that rarely meets in person, they are able to serve an inclusive, supportive, and liberating function for a community often disenfranchised by larger religious structures. This feels like the kind of thing Jesus might do.

Yet perhaps like the legs of a chair or the idea of God as a parent, there are enough similarities for us to think seriously about how understanding new media as Christology can enrich our thinking about how salvation happens in a digital age.

Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.

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 newmediaproject@cts.edu.


[1] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 61.

[2] See all six case studies published by the New Media Project at http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies.

[3] Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo (Chicago, Open Court, 1903).

[4] Peter Abelard, “Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans” in Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham, trans. and ed. Eugene Fairweather (London: SCM Press, 1956).

[5] Jim Rice, “At home with new media: A profile of Seattle’s Quest Church,” New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies/quest-church/article.

[6] Jason Byassee, “Ancient liturgy for scruffy hipsters with smartphones: A profile of Nadia Bolz-Weber and House for All Sinners and Saints,” New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies/house-for-all-sinners-and-saints/article.

[7] Monica A. Coleman, “Go-go preaching: New media at Community of Hope AME Church,” New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies/community-of-hope-ame-church/article.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses (Leiden: Brill, 1977).

[10] See Werner Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1961).

[11] Lerone A. Martin, “ACU Connected: Groundbreaking initiative reshapes education at Abilene Christian University,” New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies/abilene-christian-university/article.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Letty Russell, “Ecclesiology,” Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Letty Russell and J. Shannon Clarkson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 75.

[14] See, for example, James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 2nd ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1986).

[15] See, for example, Sallie McFague, Body of God: an Ecological Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

[16] See Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Macmillan, 1922), and James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011).

[17] Kathryn Reklis, “Becoming the media: Darkwood Brew at Countryside Community Church (UCC),” New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies/countryside-community-church-ucc/article.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Verity A. Jones, “Webs of interconnectivity: Inhabiting the world of The Young Clergy Women Project,” New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, http://www.cpx.cts.edu/newmedia/findings/case-studies/the-young-clergy-women-project/article.

[20] Byassee, “Ancient liturgy.”

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bill Gates, “Content is King,” Microsoft, http://web.archive.org/web/20010126005200/http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/columns/1996essay/essay960103.asp.

[23] Byassee, “Ancient liturgy.”

[24] Rice, “At home.”

[25] Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), and Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987).

Study questions (going deep)

 

  1. Have you heard or used any of the following words in connection with the concept of salvation: redemption, reconciliation, atonement, wholeness? Which of these terms speaks the most to you/ your community? What might this say about how you/ your community understand(s) salvation?
     
  2. When new media helps connect people to faithful community, what is happening?
     
  3. How do new media do some of the same things that Christians assign to Jesus?
     
  4. Does your community use new media for connecting people? Teaching? And/or emphasizing justice and compassion? Can you name specific ways?
     
  5. Can thinking of new media as salvific expand what is included in our ideas about salvation? In what ways? Could you call this “salvation in a digital age”?
     
  6. In what ways is new media not like Christ? What is lost when we think of new media as saving us?
     

Further study questions (going really deep)

 

Research fellows for the New Media Project have written six different but interrelated theological essays, each focusing on and drawing from a distinct theological tradition and discipline. The following questions draw from the essay above and its relationship to the other New Media Project reflections.

  1. Salvation through Jesus is significant in part because of the understanding that Jesus is God incarnate, the “Word become flesh.” Kathryn Reklis’ essay on Incarnation pushes our understanding of what it means to be embodied in the flesh. How might her discussion of incarnation and embodiment with new media affect the role you think new media plays in salvation?
     
  2. This essay describes Jesus as mediator, teacher and liberator. Jim Rice’s essay describes various models of church – as institution, community and herald. Do you think that certain models of church gravitate toward different understandings of Jesus? How should the correlation between model of church and Christological function affect what kinds of new media a church adopts?
     
  3. Historically, Christianity has understood the Holy Spirit as the aspect of God that animates and vivifies the church. Verity A. Jones’ essay elaborates on the various ways that the relationality of the Trinity is active in the life today’s churches. What understandings of Jesus correspond to how Jones describes the Trinity’s role in connecting, cultivating, converting and changing the church? Are the same uses of social media relevant in these views of salvation and sanctification?
     
  4. Jason Byassee refuses to declare new media as either salvific or distracting. Rather, he believes we must ask whether or not new media furthers the mission of living out the gospel in today’s world. Which image of Jesus best does this? Which use of new media best does this?
     
  5. Many of the models of salvation reflect the cultural understanding of their time. For example, as the Greeks valued education, they discussed Jesus as teacher; as the feudal system dominated Europe, the idea of violating God’s honor took hold. Lerone A. Martin suggests that the implications of new media are not that new. Is new media as salvation the model for our time? Will it change over time as well?
     

Video Gallery

Monica A. Coleman
.. New Media Project

Monica A. Coleman talks about her essay, "New media: A savior for the digital age" (full presentation)
Watch on YouTube


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