Thy Kingdom Connected

February 8, 2010

books / church / culture / theology

Thanks to TheOOZE Viral Bloggers, I recently got to read Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks by Dwight Friesen. He is a professor at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle. As a person who has a passion for web and user experience design, and for the church and its mission in the world, I love it when I find people, or books, or other things that speak into both worlds, and this is one of those things.

The book seeks to link together a number of thoughts and disciplines – ecclesiology, science, network theory, missiology, and spirituality, among others – to indicate the incredible interconnectedness in which we can live, and how that affects the way we think about leadership, theology, ministry, and the mission of God and the church in the world.

The subtitle is a little misleading, first of all. I don’t recall more than one or two mentions of Facebook, specifically, in the entire book. This is a wonderful thing, as far as I’m concerned, because Facebook is just one part, albeit a very large and influential part, of much broader things that are going on in culture. It is also just one manifestation of the larger discussion that Dwight brings to us of scale-free networks, of hubs and links and nodes of various sizes and connectedness, connecting everyone to everything.

A related observation: the book does not spend time telling us how to use Facebook, or Twitter, or any other specific networks. I think he assumes we can get this information elsewhere, or that we are already doing these things. This is one of the great strengths of the book, as most books that try to tell people how to use social networks are out of date by the time the print has dried. Thinking about networks theologically and thinking about the church through network theory is, in my opinion, far more valuable and can help us understand the implications of these core parts of culture.

This is the image that he gives us of the people of God – nodes of people connected through real relationships and encounters to other people. He also gives us this image of a connected, linking God, and reminds us of the perichoresis. God is not a lighthouse, standing afar off from us, but even in God’s essence there is linking, connecting, and relating in the Great Dance between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and we are invited into that Dance.

There are beautiful thoughts on leadership in the days of Google, which for me fit really well with the conversations that are happening around Theology After Google. The ideas being presented in the book remind us that people don’t come to us, as the church or as ministers or as individuals, giving us authority or asking us to give them information.

They come to us, and we can give away our authority by creating genuine connections. Connections with God and the reconciling work of Jesus in the world, and connections with others. This kind of image of the kingdom of God, then, is relational and always moving, and is thus chaotically unpredictable.

These images lead into specific practices, and specific ways of creating space for people to engage God and others. There are beautiful ideas on how leaders can creatively seek to create this kind of space in their networks, and how each network has to be in relation to other networks in order to thrive. This leads into discussions of missiology, and how we understand our encounters with people who are fully Other from us; whether or not we allow ourselves to be shaped by these encounters.

All of the images in the book move back to the mission of God in the world – creatively reconciling people to God and to each other, and understanding that mission in light of things we know about the world through computer networks, ecological systems, tapestries, and other intricately connected things. I’d highly recommend this one.