Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age

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Christianity Today Book Award Winner

Selfies are ubiquitous. They can be silly or serious, casual or curated. Within moments, smart phone users can capture their image and post it across multiple social media platforms to a global audience. But do we truly understand the power of image in our image-saturated age? How can we seek God and care for each other in digital spaces?

Craig Detweiler, a nationally known writer and speaker and an avid social media user, examines the selfie phenomenon, placing selfies within the long history of self-portraits in art, literature, and photography. He shows how self-portraits change our perspective of ourselves and each other in family dynamics, education, and discipleship. Challenging us to push past unhealthy obsessions with beauty, wealth, and fame, Detweiler helps us to develop a thoughtful, biblical perspective on selfies and social media and to put ourselves in proper relation to God and each other. He also explains the implications of social media for an emerging generation, making this book a useful conversation starter in homes, churches, and classrooms. Each chapter ends with discussion questions and a photo assignment for creating a selfie in response to the chapter.

1. Introduction: How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Selfie?
2. Reflected Beauty: The Ancient Self
3. Mastering the Mirror: A Renaissance of the Self
4. Reframing Memories: The Literary Self
5. Seizing the Light: Photographing Ourselves
6. Behind the Mask: The Psychological Self
7. Instapressure: The Selfie Today
8. Augmented and Transfigured: The Selfie Tomorrow


"Craig Detweiler's Selfies helps us journey beyond our narcissistic culture, giving us language to move away from an ego-filled self-expression to our true identities hidden in Christ. Reflecting Detweiler's impressive grasp of art history and deep wisdom attained in media ecology, Selfies is both an invaluable guide for understanding our techno world with all its trappings and a book full of delightful observations."

Makoto Fujimura, artist and director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts, Fuller Theological Seminary

"I don't know anyone who can connect the dots between centuries of church history and twenty-first-century selfies like Craig Detweiler. This book has changed the way I think about the images I see and share as well as the image of God in all of us."

Kara Powell, executive director, Fuller Youth Institute; coauthor of Growing Young

"Craig Detweiler takes us on a fabulous journey through history in search of the first selfie. Stories of Narcissus, Rembrandt, Bayard, and Kim Kardashian provide a fascinating backdrop for understanding why it feels so good to get the perfect shot of me."

Peggy Kendall, professor of communication studies, Bethel University; author of Reboot: Refreshing Your Faith in a High-Tech World

"Detweiler's book is a Rosetta stone for people of faith bewildered by the seeming narcissism of the ubiquitous selfie. He taps the collective wisdom found in Greek mythology, art history, psychoanalysis, and media criticism to help translate biblical principles to this troubling use of technology. Selfies encourages readers to view the images of others and ourselves with compassion and curiosity and to see past the image to the collective longing to be known. It is a dare to forego the rush to judgment and instead to linger and learn."

Lisa Swain, associate professor of cinema and media arts, Biola University

"Craig Detweiler has done it again. Selfies is a pragmatic sociotheological examination of social media use among many young adults and youth. Detweiler presents us with a critically informed view of current media consumption that asks all of us, How do we consume and do we realize what we consume? This brilliant book does not simply bash media but critically explores it while presenting the good, the bad, and the very ugly. A must-read for anyone who spends even a minute on the internet or near any media outlet."

Daniel White Hodge, associate professor of intercultural communication, North Park University; author of Homeland Insecurity: A Hip-Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context

The Author

  1. Craig Detweiler

    Craig Detweiler

    Craig Detweiler (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is an author, award-winning filmmaker, and cultural commentator who has been featured in the New York Times and on CNN, NPR, Fox News, and ABC's Nightline. He formerly served...

    Continue reading about Craig Detweiler


Christianity Today 2019 Book Award Winner

"Detweiler helps readers think theologically about one of our culture's most ubiquitous products, our smartphone 'selfies.' Although he recognizes that smartphones have often contributed to an unreflective self-centeredness, he also suggests that they can be used to explore our self-worth, teach others, expand our empathy, and participate in prophetic witness. Detweiler's dialogue partners are breathtakingly broad--artists, social scientists, psychologists, media critics, theologians, biblical scholars, cultural commentators, and ancient church fathers and mothers."

Robert K. Johnston,

Christianity Today

"Detweiler makes a compelling case for viewing self-photography as more than an exercise in vanity. For Detweiler, an expert on faith and technology who was recently named president of the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, selfies can be pregnant with spiritual meaning and yearning."

Matt Reynolds,

Christianity Today

"In this accessible book, Detweiler . . . skillfully navigates the complications of living a spiritual life in the age of social media. . . . Although he is wary of the corrosive effects of distorting one's self-image to conform to external standards, he proposes stripping the veneer from self-portraiture in order to foster connection. . . . Detweiler's work also includes self-portrait photographs and artworks from the past in order to consider 'modes of communication' across generations. Christian readers will appreciate Detweiler's detailed book on how individuals might best traverse social media with character and confidence."

Publishers Weekly

"I love the writing and work of Craig Detweiler who has been one of the leading voices offering a thoughtful evangelical voice in the studies of popular culture, the modern zeitgeist, and faithful ways to navigate the world of entertainment, digital culture, video games, movies, and such. . . . This is fabulous stuff, brilliant, I'd say, with an extraordinarily rich set of footnotes and citations--wow. Detweiler is bringing a wonderfully learned, historical approach but also, it seems, a sweet sensibility, looking for the good, despite the 'culture of narcissism,' helping us even delight in some of what is happening these recent days. . . . Selfies is a book rich in church history, in art history, in the contours of the rise of psychology and technology and draws on great insights from interdisciplinary cultural studies. And it yet is readable--it even has discussion questions, hinting that it could be used for book clubs or Sunday school classes. We highly recommended it to thoughtful readers."

Byron Borger,

Hearts and Minds Books blog

"Detweiler creates a lively bricolage of history, mythology, portraiture, photography, autobiography, psychology, and the ancient church. . . . I find his impulse to redeem rather than berate an admirable one, and it opens up a range of interdisciplinary intrigue. Yet connecting disparate items can exact a cost. While it's intellectually intriguing to consider what Parmigianino's 1524 painting Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror has in common with, say, my young friend's selfie from a cruise ship, claiming commonalities risks erasing critical elements of both. . . . Yet while I muttered a steady string of complaints throughout the pages of Selfie, I found it a provocative and animated read, full of invitations--some more convincing than others--to reconsider my own wariness of the form. For selfie-taking and selfie-viewing pastors, teachers, and counselors, his approach is more practical and helpful than a screed against them could ever be."

Valerie Weaver-Zercher,

Christian Century

"Rather than see selfies as a problem, Detweiler advocates seeing them as the 'start of a solution.' If they seem extravagant, misguided, or perverse, then perhaps that is only because of the misguided ways in which people have always searched for God. I think that there is something in this advice. It is part of a positive case for the selfie, and the Church could learn from it. Rather than react against the perceived 'individualism' of the selfie, it could be a moment to become less uneasy with the ways in which individuals today seek the divine outside of church circles. . . . The selfie may be a sign of yearning. It might yet be regarded as part of a long tradition that, discerned aright, reveals the stirrings of the Spirit."

Mark Vernon,

Church Times

"[This book] reflects on the meanings, the conflicts, the pluses and minuses of this cultural phenomenon. . . . Detweiler helps us ask questions to distill this phenomenon into some fundamental self identity and our endless search for meaning, and more importantly for God. . . . The author masterfully weaves the past with the present, and with biblical principles as guide, shows us the redemptive side of things."

Conrade Yap,

Panorama of a Book Saint blog