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Thursday, December 26, 2013

"The Social Church" (Justin Wise)

TITLE: The Social Church
AUTHOR: Justin Wise
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (192 pages).

Social media is in fashion nowadays. Threatening to usurp email as the kingpin of electronic communications, social media has become the mainstream of news, personal connections, and cultural influence of our times. Yet, as far as the Church is concerned, how are we to think about the impact of social media? What can we do? Where do we go from here? These questions and many more are covered in this book about thinking theologically about social media. Rather than to adopt a "if you cannot beat them, join them" mentality, Wise urges us to ask ourselves what we would do with the modern technology at hand? Just like Martin Luther at the time of the printing press, many breakthroughs are the results of people stepping forth in faith to venture into an area where no one has ever ventured before. Such people are sometimes labeled as "heretics," just like Luther when he was arguing against indulgences back in 1517.  For Wise, "heretics" are change agents who will risk conventional wisdom to embark upon revolutionary approaches to bring forth the gospel. This calls for a "calculated rule-breaking" that is essential for breaking new ground in reaching modern people. Believing that technology is amoral, Wise's conviction is that "how we use it" is the key issue. As long as social media technology is used to facilitate connections and relationships among real people, its use is legitimate and validated for the Church.

In trying to understand the underlying values of social media, Wise makes four observations.

  1. New media is responsive and interactive
  2. Personalization is key
  3. Lines are Fading between online and offline worlds
  4. Church is less of a knowledge base but a communal hub. 

One of the most intriguing things in the book is the rise of "online services" which apparently challenges the age-old practice of physically going to Church. Wise argues for the increase and adoption of such resources as it paves a "new way to be the Church." He even justifies this by saying Paul himself is doing a kind of a thing in his letters, which states he is present with the church, even though not physically.

I am not convinced about that. The context of that is different for it is not about an online vs offline choice that Paul was talking about. In the case of Romans 1, Paul was physically "prevented" from going to the Church community. He desires to go. In the case mentioned by Wise, it is not the preventing element but the "selecting" mentality that is the problem. Wise also comments about the usefulness of brevity in the use of Twitter. Saying that it is not necessarily a bad thing, being brief is also about being intentional. I will argue that not being brief is not necessarily unintentional. Another problem I have with the book is the use of the images from Pope Benedict's installation in 2005 and another photo from 2013 which shows a sharp increase of individual cellphone users snapping photos. This photoshot which went viral was actually based on two different occasions and has been called "misleading." Thus, the very example used by Wise is already problematic. While Wise's intent is to highlight the power of social media, it unwittingly highlights the ease in which wrong information and contexts can be transmitted.

That said, the strongest part of the book is how the author stresses the big idea that every Church must have. He asserts that social media strategy must be based on this big idea, and not let social media drive Church strategy. I agree wholeheartedly. Overall, I feel that the book has placed way too much faith on a phenomena that is still in its early stages. There are some good things about social media, but there are also some rather worrying things. For example, there is a recent report about how social media is making us narcissistic. For all the enthusiasm and potential of social media, I feel that more critical thinking is needed in order to harness the good and at the same time, be aware of the bad. This book presents more of the good side, but needs another point of view to give readers a fuller picture of social media. Sherry Turkle to the rescue?

Rating: 3.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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