<The HTML of Cruciform Love>

Toward a Theology of the Internet

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Editor(s): 
John Frederick, Eric Lewellen
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , March
     2019.
     208 pages.
     $26.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532609367.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The HTML of Cruciform Love: Toward a Theology of the Internet, edited by John Frederick and Eric Lewellen, consists of a series of independent essays that have been commissioned to address the relatively new topic of the “intersection of technology and theology” (back cover). The book consists of a collection of independent essays commissioned by the editors, which were brought together in one volume focusing on “a variety of themes revolving around a theology of the Internet” (xiii).

As promised, the selected works discuss different aspects of the overarching topic of internet and theology. Two that stand out in particular are “Interface is Reality” by Kutter Callaway and “The Bible is Not a Database” by T.C. Moore. These two essays in particular are well-written works with enough depth to interest the more experienced reader without becoming bland theological jargon. However, both—Callaway in particular—pose some questions that are difficult to answer in one book, let alone a single essay. There are, however, some essays that are not as easy to engage with because of thinly veiled criticism toward the internet (and perhaps technology as a whole).

Take, for example Mark D. Baker, who writes the following in an essay about churches and electronic media: “Electronic media often separates us from those we are with even as it connects us with those who are distant” (158). Here, in the conclusion of the essay, Baker expresses a sentiment which is oversimplified at best and outdated at worst. This is not to say that the essay as a whole is bad, uninformative, or lacks nuance—but it does raise the larger question of the contemporary applicability of some of these selected works. A similar sentiment can be found in “The Internet Gaze,” where Eric Stoddart raises some interesting points about commodification, but constantly reduces the use of the internet to passive consumption without so much as a passing mention of alternate possibilities.

While keeping this in mind, I do want to highlight the notable exception to this issue: “Crafting or Bearing the Present: Reflections on the Character of Christian Community.” In this essay, Clark Elliston addresses the subject of digital community using online multiplayer videogames as an illustration of online community and communication. Elliston makes some great points about the Church as a “digital community,” by comparing viewpoints and discussing the very real limitations without being judgmental and keeping a light tone throughout. This is exactly the kind of work I was hoping to encounter when I first picked up this book. I am not sure whether I should be appreciative of the fact that it made for a good final essay or disappointed that there wasn’t more to follow.

I want to emphasize that the negativity expressed by some of the authors regarding the intersection of theology and technology is not a bad thing in itself; a lot of criticism from the authors is valid and should be included in the discourse. However, there are instances where some of the authors seem to be somewhat “out of touch,” which is why I have some doubts about the extent to which some of these essays contribute to the “cohesive conversation” (xi) the editors had in mind.

As the editors have stated, the subject of internet and theology is new and vastly underrepresented, which means compiling a book of informative, thought-provoking works about this subject is quite the challenge. To say that the editors and authors missed the mark would be unfair—nearly all of the essays are interesting and compelling works on their own. And they do, as quoted earlier, cover “a variety of themes revolving around a theology of the Internet” and encourage the reader to continue thinking about the topics at hand—which, in my opinion, is the best possible outcome for reading any book.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Maartje Gortworst earned a graduate degree from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University.

Date of Review: 
July 21, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John Frederick is Lecturer in New Testament at Trinity College Queensland.

Eric Lewellen is Account Manager at Vercross, LLC. 

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