Digital theology: what’s next? (@tim_hutchings)

This summer, if all goes according to plan, a group of researchers will get together in London and start thinking about the theology of social media. But what should we be talking about?

So far, I think, digital theology has focused on a pretty limited range of issues. The main topics over the last 20 years have looked something like this:

Community: what happens when people build relationships online? Can we talk about “real community” online, and is that healthy?

Leadership and authority: how will the internet affect who we listen to, and who gets to speak?

Discipleship (one of CODEC’s big themes): does the internet affect how we learn and teach?

Worship: if Christains set up churches online (which they do!), what kinds of liturgies and worship practices should they explore?

The future of the Church: will the internet help Christians to share their message through evangelism, or tempt believers away from local churches? Lots of theologians and church leaders have worried that the internet is competing for attention on Sunday mornings.

Technology, society and humanity: how do the tools we use change the way we think and behave?

Research methods: quite a few Christian writers have tried to remind us that if you’re going to talk sensibly about digital things, you need to get online and experience what you’re talking about. Don’t be lazy!

I think that’s about it. Those are the main topics that “digital theologians” have thought about, so far.

So, first question: what have I missed? I’m a sociologist, more than a theologian, so there must be discussions I haven’t spotted yet. What are the big topics that I haven’t included in my list?

And, second question: what’s next? If this is what theologians have talked about so far, what should the discussions of the future focus on?

Personally, I’d love to see some more theologians looking carefully at all the research being done by sociologists, anthropologists and computer scientists. To make digital theology more interesting and more profound, theologians need to get hold of better data and more up-to-date concepts. If I see another Christian book relying on old media studies books from the 1960s (looking at you, McLuhan!), I will be very cross.

But that’s just my opinion. What do you think?

About Tim Hutchings

Tim works at CODEC, a research initiative for the study of Christian communication in the digital age at St John's College, Durham. He studies online churches, online evangelism and other online things, and can usually be found somewhere near the coffee machine. He likes cake, old science fiction book covers and kitschy religious knick-knacks.