This month’s book is called Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education by Stephen and Mary Lowe. Both authors are involved in furthering online education at Liberty University. The main focus of this book is how the study of ecology can help us to understand spiritual growth, and that this means growth does not only happen within the four walls of an institution. Their goal is not to justify online or residential education as the better alternative, but rather to combat the idea of “students cannot receive the same spiritual development online that they can receive at [our] institution” that seems to be prevalent in many Christian institutions.
This book is clearly written for educated people. The style of writing is not something that appears in the “Christian Living” section of a local bookstore, but rather inside of educational institutions. This is not a problem, however, because the intended audience of this book is towards educators and pastors. The authors use a lot of word studies of the Greek language to illustrate their point. The later chapters are heavily involved with the study of syn compound words and the pronoun allēlōn.
No living creature can exist apart from its connection with other living creatures.
The point of the Lowes’ argument is that we need to have a better understanding of what the Bible says about spiritual growth. They claim that most people approach their spiritual development incredibly individualistically, yet the Bible makes the case that it is imperative that Christians connect with one another in order to encourage and edify. They argue that these connections can be made virtually. They provide many case study examples of how students in their online courses have much more in-depth and meaningful contact with fellow students and the instructor than they do in in-person classes. This same principle is also easily translated to the ministry setting, in order for members of a church to connect with each other outside of weekly worship times.
“Christians maintained open networks.” That is Christians passed on their faith through “direct and intimate interpersonal attachments” with those outside the faith.
— Rodney Stark, Rise of Christianity
If you are an educator at a Christians institution or in a leadership role at your church, I would recommend this book. The world is constantly changing and evolving, if we [the Chruch] do not evolve to engage with it, we miss out on a tremendous evangelistic opportunity. Studies show that people are more likely to reach out to the internet first, before reaching out to friends or family. This does not mean that all your church has to do is start up a website or Facebook page and all your problems will be solved. It takes intentionality to be able to reach people through time and space. What you are providing must meet someone’s need. This is not Field of Dreams where if you build it, they will come. There are far too many churches and schools with lackluster online engagement. If the goal is to reach people for Jesus Christ, it cannot be good enough to just say “we believe it Jesus.” It must be shown online in the same manner that we are called to share in face-to-face interactions.