Let me start by saying The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ is not a practical, how-to book. For the purposes of my project, I was hoping for another book discussing how churches could use “new media” for outreach, both through social media and on their own websites. This is not that book. While there are a couple chapters that attempt to be practical, like “Beginner’s Toolbox: Blogging” (by Joe Carter) and “Beginner’s Toolbox: New Media-Podcasting, Video Podcasting, and More” (Terence Armentano and Matthew Eppinette), most of this book consists of more philosophical discussions of areas where both churches and Christians at large may be currently using new media or where new media may be used in the future. Since the topics in this book mostly turned out to not be relevant to my specific project, I skimmed most of the chapters in this book, rather than reading them thoroughly.
That said, several of the essays in this book – for that’s really what the book is, a collection of essays by different authors on different topics – were fascinating and insightful to read. In addition, although the book was published several years ago in 2008, nearly all of the philosophical discussions are still quite relevant today, even though some of the specific technologies may have changed. For instance, a book written today probably would not have a chapter called “Navigating the Evolving World of Youth Ministry in the Facebook-MySpace Generation” (Rhett Smith), but rather one about today’s world of the Facebook-Twitter-Pinterest generation (who actually uses MySpace for anything besides music anymore?). Nevertheless, Smith’s discussion of why a youth ministry should have an online presence and be actively engaging with students and the world online is compelling.
With the wide variety of topics discussed, yet again, it’s unclear exactly who should be reading this book. Much of it seems targeted at pastors, with chapters like “Theological Blogging” and “Pastors and the New Media” (by David Wayne and Mark D. Roberts respectively). Chapters like the previously mentioned youth ministry essay and “Evangelism and Apologetics in the New Media” (by Roger Overton) also apply to pastors and church leaders. However, then there are also chapters like “Politics and Journalism” (Scott Ott) and “Professors with a New Public: Academics and New Media” (Fred Sanders) which, while interesting in their own right (as a recent college graduate, I was fascinated by the “Professors with a New Public” chapter), have little if any relevance to the ministry of most pastors.
Overall, most of the essays in this book have a tone of skeptically advocating the use of “new media,” where by “new media,” they mean anything done on the internet, including blogging, social networking, and perhaps even websites. It’s an interesting perspective for me to read, since I’ve mostly grown up with the internet. I like to think I’m aware of many of the traps of using the internet as a Christian, but I certainly am convinced that Christians, like everyone else in our modern society, ought to be using the internet and that it can be used for good. I don’t need to be convinced that God can work using the internet. Perhaps for me, the most relevant chapter is “Three Cautions Among the Cheers: The Dangers of Uncritically Embracing New Media” (Matthew Lee Anderson). Anderson challenges my assumption that technology is merely a tool. He argues “we do not control how technology shapes our lives as much as we might think. The notion that technology is neutral is not quite accurate.” (Pg. 56) Using technology is fine, but as Christians, we should be paying attention to the costs of our technology usage. An element of real-world, in person communication is certainly lost as we communicate more and more online. Those of us who use technology do risk the shortening of our attention spans, and becoming desensitized to most of the information we encounter. And yet, even with its risks, Anderson concludes that as Christians, we are to use all the tools available to us to further the kingdom of God.
If you’re looking for a book on creating effective church websites (which is probably the reason you’re on this website in the first place), this is not the book for you. However, if you’re more interested in the philosophical implications of Christians using technology and in ways that technology is affecting the world, The New Media Frontier may be a good starting place for you.