This past week Joseph Castleberry, the President of Northwest University (the school at which I teach) released a new book entitled The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Before coming to our school, Dr. Castleberry earned degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Columbia University (EdD) and served in a variety of roles including missionary, seminary dean, and campus pastor. His most recent monograph draws on his diverse background and experiences as he helpfully reflects on “Christian networking” for a wide audience.
I must admit I was initially skeptical about the idea of networking being discussed in the same breath as theology and the work of the Church. I was concerned, like many, with the perceived threat of some kind of unholy porting of business and technocratic rhetoric into the Kingdom of God. In this book, though, Joseph Castleberry wins me over with his reflections on the way in which the Kingdom of God is a network.
Drawing on the metaphor in Matthew 13 in which Jesus says that “the Kingdom of God is like a net,” readers are reminded that the idea of a network of interconnected strands is not just about the cold technological links of the computer world but is something that predates current connotations of the word. By reforming our approach to the notion of a net-work Castleberry places it in deep dialogue with biblical metaphor. The world of fishing has special resonance with the call of Jesus to his earliest disciples and, through the parable of Matthew 13, the Kingdom of God.
By reclaiming the word network from its contemporary usage, The Kingdom Net returns us to a time when the “net-work” was more pregnant with meaning. As Castleberry describes it, the strands of a net united for a larger purpose are indicative of God’s Kingdom, making networking a truly Christian enterprise. It is a net, in other words, that both catches us and uses we who are caught to form a net for others. This connection one to another means that Christianity is not a faith of isolated strands, but one that by its very nature must reject compartmentalizaton, siloization, or excessive division over relatively minor points of doctrine.
Moreover, by imaging the Church as a net, Castleberry reminds us that we do not simply net-work together as Christians for our own sake or sense of togetherness, but because we are to be united in what God calls us to in the world. As he writes, our is not simply “a mission to redeem humanity, but also to redeem the mission of humanity.” It is a task that is ours together as united strands in the Lord’s net.
This picture of the Kingdom of God reminds us that ours is an ecumenical (whole Church) call to network together for the sake of the world, and to extend that network to the world for their sake. Networking, we learn, is missional.
As much as The Kingdom Net is a theological reflection on the Kingdom of God, it is also advice learned by Dr. Castleberry from his experiences as President here at Northwest. College presidents, after all, sink or swim based upon their ability to network. By thinking through this task carefully, Castleberry has done us a service. Though many today would see networking as only a necessary evil, The Kingdom Net suggests that it is actually a task close to the heart of God. Accordingly he not only offers biblical and theological analysis of the topic, but some deeply practical suggestions and exercises for how we might network with others. Everything from writing the thank-you note to connecting with community groups like Rotary has its place.
The presence of networking suggestions such as these, as specific as they are direct, serve to help readers understand that which Castleberry deeply holds: talk of the “net-work” need not be empty theory or metaphor, but an actual way of arranging one’s life. This, I think, is the book’s great achievement and that which will help it to be beneficial to a wider audience. Further, by buttressing these suggestions with some real (yet accessible) theological weight, Castleberry shows that this is not a “how to win at life” book, but something that readers should consider deeply in the midst of their call as Christians to live out the mission of God together. Networking, therefore, is not undertaken for purely instrumental ends (i.e. what you can “get”) even while it does have a goal beyond simple “presence” one with another. We network for a purpose. For the Kingdom. Because it is God who calls us to the net and uses us as the net. We are called, if you’ll remember, to be fishers.
The Kingdom Net is a thoughtful and accessible book that will serve to benefit Christian professionals and others as they consider their vocation in light of God’s mission. Networking need no longer be thought of (somewhat artificially) as an unholy secular task, but rather a deeply sacred enterprise to which we are called. This reclamation and renovation of the term and idea makes Castleberry’s a worthy piece of practical theology that will reap positive results for those readers seeking to engage his ideas.