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REVIEW: Idol, tool or mission field? New books explore role of technology in Christian lives

For the first time in history, it is possible to share one’s faith with more than 2 billion people at once.
Such is the power and potential of the Internet age. Exploiting that potential is the subject of two recent books that review how we can use this technology to preach the Gospel to all nations and how this same technology affects our thinking.

In “@Sticky Jesus: How to Live out Your Faith Online,” Toni Birdsong, partner in Birdsong Creative, and Tami Heim, president and CEO of the Christian Leadership Alliance, provide a primer for online ministry and issue a call to use social media to share our faith.
The title refers to one of the most sought-after website qualities: stickiness — the ability to draw visitors back repeatedly because of the value of its content or the comfort level people experience using the site. The search engine Google is a prime example of this sticky quality, with over a billion visitors returning to use its services each day.
Heims and Birdsong apply this 21st century concept to Jesus, arguing that his Gospel is the stickiest of messages, captivating people for 2,000 years, even today, with attention spans perhaps shorter than ever.
“Jesus proved that the stickier your message, the more followers you will have,” they write. The Christian social media user, therefore, should create interest about Jesus and his Word on the web through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
As marketing professionals, these writers have leveraged new media to sell products. Here they share their personal experience using the same approach to encourage, teach and minister to friends and followers online.
They accomplish this by employing a conversational style of writing that describes the sharing of one’s faith online as doable and rewarding.
“In thinking of ministering online,” they write, “recognize that communities will be the virtual places where God will use you to teach, touch, pray for and empower others. Sometimes, you may be speaking to nonbelievers; other times, to believers in dire need of God’s truth.”
The book is useful for full-time ministers and individuals who want to effectively share their faith online. The authors provide a variety of helpful resources that include a glossary of web terminology for novices and a very helpful etiquette guide for online missionaries who want to avoid unintended offenses in the digital world.
The book also includes testimonials from Christians who are experiencing success with this form of ministry. In the manner of a true guidebook, the authors provide step-by-step instructions on how to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Both authors come from an evangelical background and espouse a pluralistic view of Christianity that is in marked contrast to the beliefs and practices in Churches of Christ. This being said, “@StickyJesus” remains a very helpful resource on Internet ministry as well as a timely call to bring Christ to the fastest growing and most densely populated place in the world — the Internet.
In as much as “@Sticky Jesus” provides an optimistic view of the possibilities of the Internet, the more sobering “From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology” describes how the Internet can take advantage of us.
Author John Dyer, a web developer with a background in theology, weaves the role and meaning of technology into the Bible narrative from Genesis (the Garden) to Revelation (the City).
The main idea of the book is that technology is not neutral. It has an effect on us aside from the reason or result for which we use it.
An example of this is seen in Dyer’s view of the rapidly increasing use of texting, which he says is useful to stay in touch without the need to call and speak but rewires our brains to be more adept at processing large volumes of short messages, but less able to stay focused on a single idea for a sustained period.
“Technology has the power to transform the world into the one we imagine,” he writes, “but it also has the power to transform our bodies, our mental capabilities and our relational worlds.”
This challenging book would be an easier read if the summarizing material in the final chapters were placed at the beginning. Despite this difficulty, the author has succeeded in sounding the alarm against this present generation’s temptation to make the technology it has created into its “iGod.”

MIKE MAZZALONGO is education/media minister for the Church of Christ in Choctaw, Okla. His teaching website, BibleTalk.TV, is ranked No. 1 on Google for free Bible media.

Filed under: Reviews

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