Imagine, if you will, a cyberworld where every Christian is sharing his or her faith, where pornographers are in the poor house, and where junk e-mail is a thing of the past.

Is this a hopelessly unattainable goal? Maybe so, but if you spend a little time reading through the Church of England's manifesto for Christians on the Web, unfortunately titled Cybernauts Awake!, you may at least find yourself motivated to sanctify your little bit of the e-world.

The report, a brainchild of the Science, Medicine and Technology Committee of the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England, faces head on the ethical and spiritual implications of cyberspace. The authors of Cybernauts Awake! don't pretend to have all the answers, but they do have a good starting premise: "Cyberspace is a strong force for social change, and Christians should be using it to work for social justice and evangelization."

All Christians should go online and do their level best to bring salt and light to the Web rather than leave it to ne'er-do-wells like the pornographers, says the report. The authors know that computers and the Web are transforming the way we live, work, and relate to each other. Therefore, they ask, " ... how do computers affect us, as individuals, and in our relationships with others, and in our relationship with God?"

The short answer, of course, is "in almost every way imaginable." And that's the problem. Computers, and especially the Internet, can open up global business opportunities and facilitate the spread of the gospel, but they also threaten our privacy and flood our e-mail inboxes with reams of pornography and help spread messages of hate. "In short," says the report, "one of the most daunting things about computers is that they are so terribly good and so terribly bad at the same time. Neutral they are not."

As the authors of Cybernauts Awake! realize, the trick is to take maximize the positive potential of the Web while minimizing the negative aspects. So rather than focusing on the darkness, the authors of the report urge Christians to overcome it with light.

Through its seven chapters and 90 pages, the report gives readers a concise and always accessible overview of the increasingly pervasive roles played by computers and the Internet. As a Gen Xer, however, I've lived my whole life squarely in the middle of the computer and Internet revolution, and thus I'm not as liable to be struck dumb by these technological innovations as those of previous generations. But what I did take away from the report is the fact that computer technology is a tool that is being used and misused by sinful human beings, but must and indeed can be redeemed by Christians for the glory of God.

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How is this to be done? The most interesting aspect of Cybernauts Awake! is the concluding section in which the authors offer practical suggestions on how Christians can begin to sanctify cyberspace.

First, Christians should share their faith online and even use analogies from cyberspace as bridges to communicating the gospel. As the report suggests, "Christians may find some encouragement in the development of cyberspace and cyber-concepts. People who once scorned the notion of 'spiritual reality', and who rejected Christianity accordingly, might find their ideas transformed by experience in cyberspace ... Cyberspace may offer us a rich new store of analogies and parables - 'intelligent agents' in cyberspace may seem a bit like angels."

Second, being salt and light in cyberspace is the duty of every Christian who uses the Web, not just those big parachurch organizations. As the report puts it, "If every Christian with an account at an ISP puts up some material with explicitly Christian content and links in to other beneficial sites, cyberspace becomes increasingly populated with helpful content." In other words, Christians should chase away the darkness on the Web with more and more light.

Third, Christians should use the Web to foster social and economic change. "Cyberspace is a strong force for social change," the authors of the report argue, "and Christians should be using it to work for social justice and evangelization. To give just one example, could your church promote socially responsible economic causes through its web site?"

Fourth, we should pray "for and in cyberspace." The report says it well: "There are a number of ways in which cyberspace can be relevant to our praying ... form a prayer which, in our own context, applies to cyberspace relationships too. As we pray for healing of damaged and broken relationships, we may do well to extend our concerns towards events and relationships in cyberspace."

Fifth, and finally, Christians need to realize that the Web makes the church more important. As people become more involved with the Web, says the report, their need for the human interaction and sense of connectedness that the church can provide becomes that much greater. "There is a risk that workers in cyberspace become increasingly remote ... gathering people together in real communities becomes an increasing human necessity. For twenty centuries the Church has been serving in this way, and it will go on until the end of time."

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To that I can only add a hearty "amen."

Matt Donnelly is the assistant editor of Christianity Online magazine.

Related Elsewhere

Cybernauts Awake has the full seven chapters of the report, as well as links to related online evangelism communities and an addenda section.

The November/December issue of Christianity Online magazine,titled "E-vangelism," covers much of the same ground, including "Finding Faith in Cyberspace," the do's and don'ts of witnessing on the web, five signs of a seeker-friendly site, and what big ministries are doing on the Internet.

Matt Donnelly's previous article, "Apologetics' Missing Links: Why Christian apologetics sites on the Web have a postmodern-sized blind spot," appeared last week on Christianity