Peter Horsfield. From Jesus to the Internet: A History of Christianity and Media. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.322 pp. $34.95, ISBN 9781118447383.
Communication Professor Peter Horsfield pens a trenchant, alternative history of Christianity by focusing on the media employed by church leaders across the centuries. The title, From Jesus to the Internet, summarizes the range of his study, while the subtitle, History of Christianity and Media, describes the substance. Horsfield connects key turning points in ecclesial history with the major communication shifts of each era, from oral to written, from print through digital. While church histories may focus on the dogma being debated, Horsfield suggests that those who marshaled media most effectively usually won the ideological war. This highly readable text has implications and applications to classes in religion, theology, history, and communication.
Horsfield offers a clear and succinct overview of his methodology in the introduction. He adopts a broad definition of both religion and media, approaching Christianity as "a complex and expanding mediated phenomenon, a constant creative reproduction and rhetorical reworking of Jesus to match the conditions of an ever-expanding set of constantly changing circumstances" (3). As a professor of Communication, Horsfield draws upon Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong; he draws also upon his divinity studies. He is fully conversant with the work of Martin Marty, Stewart Hoover, and Lynn Clark, yet emerges with a wholly original synthesis of religious history and communication theory.
Horsfield's notion of media moves beyond technological instruments to the cultural contexts in which these technologies emerge. He studies oral and written communication, signage, statues, decorations, prayer beads, bread and wine, buildings, chanting, and bell ringing, as well as print-, television-, radio-, telephone-, and computer-based communication. Horsfield finds his interdisciplinary approach to "studying Christianity through the lens of cultural practices of media opens up a number of avenues for rethinking Christianity" (7).
His central thesis suggests that while the theological skirmishes across church history may have been about beliefs and practices, the outcomes of those debates were remarkably dependent up on the means employed. Those Christians who mastered the media of their era flourished. Those who...
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