We live in the age of new media and the kingdom of pop culture, and a new crop of books looks at how those spheres intersect with religion. These titles allow readers to step back from the broader culture and gain perspective on what it means to be both digitally and spiritually connected.
We’ve seen more and more titles dealing with digital media,” says Rodney Clapp, an editor with Wipf and Stock. In November, its Cascade imprint will publish TheoMedia: The Media of God in the Digital Age. Clapp says it is one of the first books of its kind to look at God’s media—like the burning bush of the Old Testament—in comparison to the blogs and other digital media of today. Author Andrew Byers writes on his blog, Hopeful Realism, “Many of us are stumbling along amidst the tweets, status updates, podcasts, and blog posts, wondering if we have ventured into a realm beyond the scope of biblical wisdom.”
In an age of media saturation, Clapp says looking at the proliferation of digital media in a theological context is significant. “Even though technology is such a driving force in our culture, people haven’t wanted to think too hard about it,” he says. “But it is such a part of everyday life that hopefully people will take time to consider how digital media affect our religious lives.”
Books like Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology by Derek Schuurman and Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media and Entertainment by Steve Turner, both published in June by InterVarsity Press, and iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives by Craig Detweiler (Brazos, Nov.; reviewed in this issue) offer religious scholarship that looks at the faith implications of our collective cultural shifts.
Detweiler’s iGods “engages with the titans of our technological age and social media companies,” says Bryan Dyer, marketing manager for Baker Academic and Brazos Press, while Popcultured offers a Christian framework for analyzing shifts in comedy, film, music, and more. “Are we equipped to deal with all the media we’re surrounded by, or do we just succumb to the spirit of the age?” Turner asked in an interview with PW. His book examines the blurred boundary between what used to be known as high culture and mass culture and how Christians have responded historically. “The danger is that popular culture is so accessible, there’s the temptation to use film clips in sermons or for Christians to get obsessed with culture,” Turner says. “But it’s equally dangerous if they don’t tackle it at all.”
Publishers like Patheos Press, an imprint of Bondfire Books, have used the advantages of e-book publishing—which allows for shorter publication lengths and faster turnaround—to engage readers in technological and popular culture topics, says Bondfire Books executive editor Patton Dodd. Dodd is also the author of The Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Football’s Most Polarizing Player (2011), the first e-book published by Patheos Press. “We wanted to say something at length about a popular culture phenomenon that was being written about in a superficial way or didn’t pay sufficient attention to the religious aspect of the phenomenon” in magazine or newspaper articles, Dodd says. “I thought it warranted 10,000 to 15,000 words of treatment, and e-books make that possible.”
The Tebow Mystique was published shortly after Tebow was named a starter for the Denver Broncos. The timing garnered media coverage daily for a couple of weeks, a feat that wouldn’t have been possible with just a few op-eds, Dodd says. Patheos Press has also addressed popular culture in titles like The Hunger Games and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses and the Kingdom of God (2012) and Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing Pop Culture for the Better (May). Bondfire published scholar Kelly Baker’s recent title, The Zombies Are Coming! The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture (June). “E-books allow authors to express their ideas at their natural length,” Dodd says. “Being timely, but also being thoughtful and comprehensive, is something unique to the e-book landscape.”
Carey Newman, director of Baylor University Press, which published Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs (Aug.) by Brett Robinson (profiled in this issue) says that the press is nimble in responding to cultural shifts while also being a champion of enduring scholarship. “I don’t sit out with my surfboard, only looking for the next big wave,” Newman says. “We try to look for enduring scholarship in an age of the disposable and the nearly free and the instant. Great books are the marriage between great ideas and relevant ideas are and a lasting investment,” Newman says.