[Note: This reflection on the new book @StickyJesus was written for the Patheos Book Club’s roundtable conversation. I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher.]
@StickyJesus begins with an important thought: The printing press contributed to “the Reformation and… the spread of Christianity”. Without it, the Bible’s wide readership would not have been possible. (pgs. 7-8) The authors astutely note that a dramatic shift in any society’s access to information can mean monumental things for its subcultures. They explain, in so many words, that Christianity (arguably America’s largest subculture) is no exception, and should leverage social media to increase its reach.
I believe the authors have a great point. Most of us are completely unaware that we are living in an age of profound history for the Church. However, I am not sure that the information era will be notable in Christian history for the reasons suggested in @StickyJesus. Here’s why…
The authors write that Christians should approach social media with a commitment to preserving and spreading a traditional message. On page 18, they argue that “adapting to technology does not mean you change the message to fit the culture.” I understand their appeal for preservation, but it’s important to remember that Martin Luther’s message was the most radical “heresy” Christians had heard in hundreds of years. We herald the “changed message” that was born in the Reformation as a great thing now, but it was an abominable movement in its day.
21st Century Christianity’s message will not change because the Internet was invented… however it will change because of the context that will be added to Christianity by the information we gather. The Information Superhighway will continue to make the world a smaller place and the “other” our neighbor. We now have access to information that was once preserved for the ministerial elite. With this much information and context at our fingertips, a change in collective perspective and consciousness is certainly inevitable.
As our perspectives change, we will probably also change our understanding of what it means to “assemble ourselves” for worship. For instance, as a blogger with a growing social media presence, I’ve had the privilege of participating in a number of gatherings with “Emergent” Christians. Known as theological outsiders and liturgical rabble-rousers, Emergent-types have used social media tools that were as complex as streaming video media or as simple as Twitter hashtags to organize themselves in ways that have had a significant impact on religious discourse in America. Similarly, Skype has made it possible to “fellowship” with like-minded people without leaving home. Christians are abandoning the top-down Sunday-sermon model for impromptu egalitarian Bible studies—and they’re organizing them on Facebook. These are important things to consider when speaking of the use of social media in Christianity.
I think it’s vitally important for Christianity to embrace social media, but I think it’s unfortunate and possibly even shortsighted to view change as an impending curse. It’s a blessing. We see through a glass dimly, but with technology, the light is getting brighter. (Now go get the book for someone who needs to get plugged in! It was a fun read!)