Takeaway: God is with us, whether we are in the virtual world or the physical world.
Billed as one of the first Episcopal priests of the Millennial generation (a bit too often). I believe this is the first book on technology and Christianity that was written by a digital native. While I appreciate some of the thoughts of Shane Hipps and Tim Challies and others, the reality is that we are still too early in the process to fully see how the digital revolution is going to affect our society and more importantly Christianity.
Adam Thomas is much more positive about God being with us as we are in digital space. He adapts the Psalms 139 “if we are in the valley you are there, if we are in the heights you are there” idea to include “if we are on a quest in World of Warcraft you are there”. This is the overriding message of this short book.
I picked up the book during a free promotion for kindle when it first came out, but did not start reading it until Books and Culture magazine discussed it during a podcast. B&C was very positive, so over the past couple days I read the equivelent of 125 pages on my new kindle.
Thomas places the internet as a creation of humans, fundamentally like other communications tools. While it is a tool much like others tools, he wants the reader to know more about where it can detract from our relationship with God and where it can add.
Primarily where it can add, is in our ability to connect to others. Thomas quotes CS Lewis:
The impulse to gather derives from the knowledge that each of us has in the deep places of our hearts, which Lewis puts into words: we are all connected one to another. Religion is first and foremost about connecting with the God who makes all other connections possible. When we recognize that all connections happen through the binding and weaving presence of God, we set our feet on the path of the religious life. Followers of Jesus Christ make connections with God and one another by walking together along the path set by Jesus of Nazareth and expressed by his apostles.
Thomas does not directly address internet church, but that was a running question in my mind as I read the book. He clearly sees Christianity as social. So when we are social we are the church.
During my World of Warcraft days, I often found myself in conversations about God and faith with the real people behind the avatars. We’d be fighting off bands of wolves or perhaps gathering keys off ogres, and God would enter our conversation. To paraphrase the Gospel According to Matthew, whenever two or three avatars gather, Christ is there.
Thomas is not all positive. He is concerned about the lack of sensual activity. Even at its best, the internet only engages two of the five senses, and even those two are not fully engaged. He is also concerned about our hyper-busyness and the way that the internet can suck all of our time. He is concerned that we have less than full relationships because we present only part of ourselves (but much less concerned than Challies is in The Next Story).
Unlike Challies, Thomas sees these weaknesses as a call to spiritual disciplines. So the end of the book discusses prayer (primarily the prayer of examen and breath prayers), bible reading (primarily lecio divina) and Sabbath. In addition to these I would add fixed hour prayer as a good discipline to help break the power of the internet and focus ourselves back on God regularly and daily..
Overall, this is a much more positive book on technology and Christianity than any others I have read. I do think that it is because Thomas is a native and much less “the old man complaining about those kids”. This would be a very useful book to read as part of a small group study, especially a small group that had a range of ages. There is a useful study guide in the back of the book, the chapters are short, he is a good, funny writer (I even read all of the endnotes) and the book is accessible to a wide variety of people.