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The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ Paperback – August 21, 2008
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"This wonderful book explains how a new technology of communication is revolutionizing our culture, and how Christians can and must use the new media properly to spread the good news."
—Phillip E. Johnson, Author, Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance
"The New Media Frontier is a much needed book that looks at the historical, philosophical, and biblical why's behind the rising communication forms of blogging, vlogging, and podcasting. These are powerful opinion expressions and tools that can be used for good, bad, and ugly purposes. So we'd better be prayerfully and intelligently thinking about the words we type or say. All persons with a computer, whether living in a major city or in an unpopulated rural area, now all have the same instant ability and potential to build, encourage, challenge, or tear down others to an unlimited audience on the Internet. You will not look at blogging, vlogging, or podcasting the same way again after reading this book."
—Dan Kimball, Pastor, Vintage Faith Church; author, They Like Jesus but Not the Church
"The New Media Frontier provides us with expert insight into the new media revolution transforming our lives and today's culture and how it can be used as an effective communication tool for advancing the love and truth of God's Kingdom."
—Andrew Jackson, Blogger, SmartChristian.com; Author of Mormonism Explained: What Latter-day Saints Teach and Practice
"Can't tell a URL from and MP3? Here's a place to start."
—Marvin Olasky, Editor in Chief, World Magazine
About the Author
John Mark Reynolds (PhD, University of Rochester) is the founder and former director of the Torrey Honors Institute and associate professor of philosophy at Biola University. He has also taught philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College, Whitworth College, and Saint John Fisher College. He lectures frequently on ancient philosophy and cultural trends. Reynolds and his wife, Hope, have four children.
Roger Overton (MA, Talbot School of Theology) is a PhD candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary studying systematic theology. Roger and his wife, Jennifer, live in Long Beach, California.
Joe Carter (MBA, Marymount University) is an editor for the Gospel Coalition, a senior editor at the Acton Institute, a communications specialist for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with his wife, Misty.
Fred Sanders (PhD, Graduate Theological Union) is professor of theology at the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Sanders is the author of The Deep Things of God and blogs at ScriptoriumDaily.com.
Mark D. Roberts (PhD, Harvard University) is a pastor, author, retreat leader, speaker, and blogger. He is the senior director and scholar in residence for Laity Lodge, a multifaceted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. He was previously the senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California. Mark also serves on the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine, where he publishes articles and reviews, including his regular column Lyrical Poetry. Mark and his wife, Linda, have two children.
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That is the question many pastors and laypeople are asking themselves as online media platforms continue to proliferate and rise in prominence. Along with blogging, there are many other ways to communicate across the web. Due to the nature of digital media and the rate of innovation, the online landscape is ever expanding and constantly in flux. As editors of The New Media Frontier, John Mark Reynolds and Roger Overton aim to equip believers with "a process of critical assessment" so they might use new media "in a manner consistent with the character and quality of Christ" (p. 17). The volume is an outgrowth of the annual GodBlogCon meetings at Biola University and consists of essays addressing various elements of "the new media frontier."
The book is divided into two main parts. Part one introduces the concept of new media and explains their basic components. Part two consists of a series of essays geared toward individuals in a variety of fields. Each essay includes a brief introduction to the field and actual examples of what utilizing new media in this area would look like.
The philosophical and theological framework that is provided for believers interacting with new media is a primary strength of this volume. The writers are well aware of the paradox of writing about new media by means of "old media" (a book) and address this phenomenon directly. They undertook this project not for the media savvy, but rather for those who have misunderstood the medium or are simply unaware of how it works. Accordingly, the editors set a tone of urgency that is maintained throughout the book (p. 42).
They emphasize that the window of opportunity for Christians to make an impact in this area will not last indefinitely. Even so, their analysis is neither alarmist nor naively optimistic. Rather, the contributors urge that believers use and engage new media "wisely" (e.g., p. 125, 136, 159). There is a sustained interest in the "habits of the mind" and the "identity shaping" of individuals using these new technologies. This holistic approach strengthens the project and will prolong its influence.
The contributors also provide the vocabulary necessary to articulate a discerning interaction with new media. This feature is especially helpful for those unfamiliar with the newer technologies. Reynolds defines "new media" as "any material presented to a person in digital format that can be cheaply and easily accessed, distributed, stored in a variety of ways, manipulated, and consumed by an average person" (p. 24).
In the first part of the book, basic concepts like blog, podcast, vlog, and video sharing are explained, and the hardware, software, and other tools needed both to create and consume these new communication mediums are addressed. The chapters devoted to these basic mechanical procedures bridge the conceptual framework of part one and the practical applications of part two.
One appropriate feature of the book is the engaging nature of the articles. All of the writers are active participants in the new media culture and have made their web addresses available before each essay. The reader is thus encouraged to visit a contributor's website or blog after reading his chapter. This opportunity extends the scope of interaction with the book and narrows the gap between the old and new media formats.
Another key issue relates to the idea of "community." Any discussion involving new media must address the nature of the community that the online world is capable of producing. Can an online network of individuals provide true Christian "koinonia," or is the very notion of a virtual fellowship simply a result of the individualistic impulses of the prevailing culture? Though they vary in their responses to this issue, the contributors agree overall that new media function best as a complement to rather than a replacement of genuine Christian fellowship (e.g., pp. 115-16). Still, in this volume, the "community" is often spoken of in "universal" rather than "local" terms. An emphasis on local churches might add a needed dimension to this discussion.
Noting these strengths, there are inherent limitations of this project. Any publication treating a "new" phenomenon runs the risk of swiftly becoming obsolete with technological advance. For instance, inevitably some of the links provided in the footnotes and text will at some point no longer work, and the technology discussed in the practical sections will swiftly progress beyond the scope discussed in the essays. However, because the authors speak not only to the specifics of the new media themselves but also to the heart and mind of the user, the overall framework they delineate here will endure long after technological development dates their discussion of particulars. For, as Reynolds asserts, "while technology changes, the essence of men does not" (p. 24).
In sum, this volume makes a sustained argument throughout: The new media have revolutionized the way people communicate and are here to stay. Thus, believers must think critically about these changes and utilize the best of them for the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom. Through its timely analysis and stable framework, this book will help believers execute this task as they navigate through the "new media frontier" and beyond.
The book is broken into two sections, and from there into a total of 15 chapters written by several different authors. The first section is called The Landscape of the New Media. It outlines the current state of new media, forecasts about its future, warns of the potential dangers of embracing it uncritically, and then offers some beginners some tips on entering the world(s) of blogging and podcasting.
I began reading this book expecting it to be one big commercial for new media, but was pleasantly surprised by how balanced it was. Several chapters emphasized the importance of embracing the new media world discerningly (particularly Matthew Lee Anderson's chapter on the dangers of uncritically embracing new media), and the overall message of the book seemed to be that Christians must engage the new media world, but that they must do so with caution.
Chapters 4 and 5 of the book basically provide everything that a new media greenhorn needs to gain a basic understanding of blogging and podcasting. Despite the massive popularity of both blogs and podcasts, they remain a mystery to many (especially many in the church world). These chapters did an excellent job of showing how to get started blogging and podcasting. In addition to showing how to set up blogs and podcasts, the chapters also provided some tips on producing high quality content. The authors of these chapters also effectively made the point that Christians should be engaged in blogging and podcasting.
The second section of the book is called Engaging New Media and deals with several different potential implications and applications of new media. The chapter of theological blogging shows how the existence of blogs has provided a new forum for discussing and debating theology. This can have both positive and negative implications for theological discourse, and thus must be used with care. Tod Bolsinger's chapter Blogging as Microwave Community discusses the various ways that blogging can aid Christian community. Bolsinger does a good job of showing how blogs can facilitate Christian community without being a replacement for it.
The two most helpful chapters for pastors were Mark D. Roberts' chapter Pastors and the New Media, and Rhett Smith's chapter Navigating the Evolving World of Youth Ministry in the Facebook-MySpace Generation. Both Roberts and Smith write from their experience with new media and do a good job of showing the pastoral usefulness. Roberts writes from a senior pastor's perspective while Smith writes from a stutdent ministry perspective. If you're a pastor or ministry leader and you've only got time to read a few chapters out of this book, make sure you read these ones. The reality is that as new media becomes more and more mainstream people will be spending more and more of their lives online, thus it will be increasingly important for churches to have a sophisticated online presence that they can utilize to effectively communicate online.
The rest of the book discusses the effect that new media will have on everything from apologetics to politics to bioethics to social justice to academia. Several of these fields are substantially different now than they were five years ago thanks to new media, and the transformation is far from over. New media has and will continue to effect the way we get our news, the way we get our education, and even the way we advocate for causes we believe in. It is fascinating to consider the access to power that exists for ordinary individuals thanks to new media. While big media stalwarts still wield significant influence, ordinary people are more free to express their opinions, question authority, and otherwise assert themselves online than ever before.
As I said, The New Media Frontier is a great primer on new media. While I found some chapters to be more practically helpful than others, I believe this entire book is worth reading because new media is not going away any time soon. The better the church understands new media the better it can use the tools of new mediia for effective proclamation of the gospel. Whether you are a church pastor looking to utilize new media in your ministry or a lay person who is simply interesting on better understanding the state of online communication, I highly recommend giving this book a read.
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