I'll get to the bottom line first: Brandon Vogt has edited one of the most important books on Catholics in the online world -- not so much because of its ruminations on the Church's understanding of social communications; not because it shows how to set up a blog or Facebook page (it would quickly be out of date if it tried to to that); but because The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet will inspire a whole new wave of Catholic innovation, experimentation, and expansion in the digital continent.
Vogt is convinced that the Church will need to embrace new media just as she came to embrace print, radio, and television. He opens the book by posing these questions:
"The world is waiting and listening in the virtual sphere. Will the Church remain silent, or will her voice be proclaimed fromthe rooftops (and the laptops)? Will she plunge the message of Christ into Facebook feeds, blog posts, podcasts, and text messages, or will she be digitally impotent?"
Vogt's leaves the answers to his contributors, a veritable Who's Who of the Catholic online world including Fr. Robert Barron, Mark Shea, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Lisa Hendey, and Thomas Peters, among others. Each contributor offers a reflection on some aspect of the online apostolate, from dialoguing on blogs to reaching specific audiences; creating communities to using new media in the parish.
Fr. Longenecker's chapter on the new apologetics is especially good. Fr. Longenecker outlines his general approach to blogging on online discourse, which could be described as generous, demonstrative, and welcoming. I was really taken with this passage:
"...I am not convinced that many souls are won by argument. It is famously said about apologetics that you can win an argument and lose a soul. The apologetics on my blog are woven into a much bigger picture of Catholicism. I want the reader to glimpse the power and the glory of the Catholic Church, but I also want them to glimpse the humanity and humor of being Catholic. In other words, I want them to glimpse the art of being Catholic -- not just the argument for being Catholic."
If I could, I would copy this passage and have every Catholic blogger keep it taped to their computer screen.
In fact, this is a recurring theme in the book: it's not enough to set up a blog and start explaining why the Church is correct and everyone else is going to hell. Blogs, Facebook, Google+, Twitter -- they're all about community and relationship, and nurturing those two things is a vital component to apologetics, evangelization, and catechesis.
I'm grateful that Vogt has chosen to highlight the work of other Catholics in sidebars scattered throughout the book -- and not just because I'm one of them! These sidebars serve to expand on and illustrate the concepts and stories presented in the chapters and offer another avenue for Catholics to discover the richness and possibilities for living the faith on the digital continent.
Vogt has also set up a great website at [...]. In addition to the usual promotional materials and blog, the site also includes a great list of resources -- including how-tos and videos -- for anyone who may be interested in dipping their toes into the online media world.
The Church and New Media is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation about how the Church utilizes these new technologies to continue its work in the world. I look forward to seeing what the "next generation" of online Catholic leaders, inspired by the book's contributors, brings to the table.