Book Review: The Church and the New Media

How could you not like this guy?

I got an early e-copy of Brandon Vogt’s new book, The Church and the New Media, and I’m happy to say it is an incredibly helpful and interesting work!

I’ll give some introductory thoughts on the book as a whole, then dive into each chapter to provide a synopsis, ending with who I think would benefit from the book.

Overall

The book’s numerous contributors provide different perspectives on how the Church is using (and could use) the new media for evangelization. From diocesan-level efforts, to parish-based ministries, to pro-life non-profits, each of the authors offers unique insights into how the new media can be effectively used to reach people.

Chapter-by-chapter

The foreword (by Cardinal O’Malley) and Brandon’s introduction set the stage for the book, outlining the Church’s use of media throughout its history and the major shifts (e.g. the printing press) that have occurred, including the current one.

In chapter one, Fr. Barron hits the nail on the head in describing the erroneous thinking he sees from commenters on his YouTube videos–scientism for example–and the general lack of understanding of philosophy that we see nowadays. I found this helpful because people make the same kinds of comments on my YouTube videos–especially those about atheism–so seeing him dismantle the errors was great. Barrons’ videos are wonderful, showing how powerful YouTube can be for reaching people, including those who are far from God.

Jen Fulwiler relates her conversion story in chapter two. I didn’t expect to learn much here because I have read her blog for many years (back when it was “et-tu, Jen” even), and since we are friends (who even attended the same parish together). But I was amazed! I didn’t realize how key a role the blogs played in her conversion, which was direct from atheism to Catholicism. That was really powerful to read about and reinforces the value of blogging.

Marcel LeJeune reveals the story behind the explosive success of Texas A&M’s Catholic student center (St. Mary’s). St. Mary’s is a model for all other college campus ministries, drawing thousands of students closer to Christ and the Church through engaging activities, the liturgy, sacraments, and so on. Many have wondered how they have accomplished it, and while the grace of God is certainly the main ingredient, the human effort involved has also been necessary. The new media has been an indispensable part of this success.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Mark Shea, who writes chapter four. His book By What Authority was an important part of my conversion to Catholicism, and it is still one of the books I most recommend to people today. His chapter focuses on the dynamics of Catholic blogging, something near and dear to my heart. I love his self-deprecating style in this chapter, showing fellow bloggers like me that humility is crucial to being a faithful witness to Christ in the blogosphere. I actually appreciate his writing in books more than on his blog, since I think the longer format allows his gifts to shine through more. That said, few bloggers write as prolifically as Shea does, and I have read his blog for a long time.

In chapter five, Taylor Marshall shares his thoughts on using quotes and passages from the Church Fathers to answer questions and challenges to the Faith. Most people will not ever go to a library and ready a dusty old tome by Augustine, but they will download it to their Kindle, or read passages from him quoted on blogs. That was a neat insight that I had not thought of before.

Fr. Longenecker presents the need for apologetics to be situated in the broader picture of Catholic life, realizing that people are not won over by arguments alone. Communicate clearly, make the concepts accessible, write for the reader–all good tips. He explains the genesis of “web logs” (blogs) and how people from all over the world have been impacted by him. (This chapter also includes a sidebar about me!)

Chapter seven: Scot Landry describes what the Boston archdiocese has done to use the new media to reach out–very impressive and comprehensive. A great model that other dioceses should follow. He emphasizes that their diocesan efforts help parishes to get on board, which is the crucial link, since the parishes are closest to the Catholics in the pews.

Fellow Aggie Catholic Matthew Warner also talks about how parishes can use new media, as well as the problem that many parishes are still stuck in Web 1.0 with outdated websites and old-style ways of connecting with parishioners (which fails to connect with young Catholics). He’s got lots of good recommendations, including practical ones like recruiting some media savvy parishioners to help avoid overpaying for digital services.

Lisa Hendey recounts how she got started with new media, which began slowly, but each year she learned more and more and her Catholic Mom hub became popular. Now she makes use of group blogging, podcasting, tweeting, all to form a community of Catholic moms. She’s done a great job. The phrase “mommy blogger” is now a well known phenomenon.

In chapter ten, Thomas Peters of AmericanPapist fame focuses on how he has used social media to help get our Catholic voices heard. I can attest that this has worked, as I have taken part in CatholicVote’s calls to action. Peters isn’t afraid to say that numbers are important to let people know we are a force that cannot be ignored.

Chapter eleven is close to my heart. Shawn Carney, a fellow Aggie pro-lifer, chronicles the phenomenal grass-roots success of 40 days for life, which was built on prayer and making use of the new media. Interactive webcasts were key for them, enabling them to connect with people and get their email contact info for easy communication. I can speak from experience that 40 days for life “closes the loop” better than any Catholic group I’ve seen. They let you know–via email, webcast, even text messages–that babies and mothers are being saved from abortion during the campaigns.

Brandon Vogt returns for the conclusion. He considers the challenges that the new media brings, including issues like information overload and shallow friendships. But new opportunities have arisen as well–ones that the Church can use to bring about the new springtime of evangelization. The Church must wade into these new waters and put out into the deep to catch the many young people who are adrift.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan gives the afterword. The Church has been calling for people to use new media for a long time, which can be used to bypass the mainstream media and get the Church’s true message out. But, he exhorts us, he can’t do it alone: he calls for priests and the laity to join him in evangelization via new media.

Conclusion

The Church and the New Media is a book that is both timely and just plain fun. It doesn’t have pretensions, just wants to communicate how Catholics like you and me are using the new media to evangelize. It’s not a cookbook or how-to manual; rather, it’s purpose is to inspire and encourage, and it does that fantastically.

The book keeps things lively with its numerous sidebars–some in every chapter–that provide smaller vignettes of Catholics using new media. I was especially pleased to see several apologetics efforts in them, including Called to Communion.

I would recommend the book for every Catholic interested in learning more about how to use social media to share their faith. I hope that catechists, DREs, parishes, and dioceses especially take notice and embrace this digital revolution. Brandon Vogt and all the contributors have delivered an important book, one that couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Church crosses the threshold into the digital age.

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