This is the second of my current series of book reviews related to the research I am currently undertaking on online mission. TheoMedia is by Andy Byers, our resident theologian and bible scholar at The BigBible Project. I have genuinely been looking forward to reading this book having experienced Andy’s teaching at Cranmer Hall and knowing what an engaging figure he is.
TheoMedia is a refreshing theological take on how Christians should approach the world of digital media. So many books on Christianity and social media are shallow theologically or just practical guides on how to set up facebook pages for churches and suchlike – TheoMedia is important as a publication in this field because, as Andy writes:
“we cannot just plod haphazardly into the digital age with the hope that the historians will one day figure out what the church did well and not so well when new media dawned on the scene.” (p.18)
Andy takes on the difficult task of understanding what is happening theologically to us in our media saturated world and of offering a potential guide as to how we navigate this new world sensitively and biblically. This means that the book is by no means an easy read – it is challenging intellectually but stimulating and Andy has a particularly good way with words making the book eminently quotable!
The main argument of the book is that God reveals himself through media – literally from the word ‘go’ – and that, in the ancient Hebrew prayer of the Shema from Deuteronomy, championed by Jesus as the most important command, we are called to be saturated in the media of God – what Andy terms TheoMedia. This, argues Andy, is the way in which we can interpret all other media that we are bombarded with by the minute online – by ensuring that we are saturated in the media of God.
As the book progresses, Andy works through salvation history as we see it worked through the Bible – beginning at Genesis and ending in Revelation and providing a commentary on the media of God in action through scripture. On occasion these chapters tip over into reading like sermons – but Andy is a pastor and preacher so this is to be expected – and it’s always compelling.
Byers is at his best when discussing the Incarnation and its application to the digital world – I found this section of the book thrilling and inspiring:
“The Incarnation is about God reaching to the furthest extent possible by the most unsuspecting means to establish and sustain relationships. This surely means that the church should infiltrate the sphere of the Internet.” (p. 170)
Then, of course, Byers discusses that we ourselves are made in the image of God:
“If we ourselves are TheoMedia, means by which God communicates and reveals himself through his Spirit, then our blog posts, status updates, tweets, artistic images, and online comments should be products of a life transformed by Christ and indwelled by his Spirit. As restored image bearers, our online presence and activity should image the Triune God.” (p.196)
No theological stone is left unturned in this book. As I was reading I occasionally started to say ‘yes, but…’ and then Byers covered the objection I had to the point he’d been making! The fact that the book both covers huge theological themes such as Christology and gives a focused look at the biblical record of ‘TheoMedia’ amazes me – the book is ambitious in scope and actually achieves its goal in just 200 pages.
At intervals the book has sections called ‘TheoMedia notes’ – these are like blog posts on particular themes related to the chapters. These can be read as standalone pieces, sort of mini-essays, and because of this I found the structure of the book a little confusing at times. Having said this, I found it very refreshing that Andy acknowledges the messiness of understanding our lives rather than trying to tidy everything up with an overarching theory:
“Media are messy. The Corinthian Christians were hard-pressed in the first century to find any meat that had not been sacrificed to some idol…Negotiating new media in a media saturated culture is just one of our most recent messy tasks in a long line of others.” (p.38)
This is probably the best book I have read yet on digital media and Christian faith and I commend it to you. It both lays out a theological framework for understanding new media and provides a challenge to each of us to be equipped and saturated by the media of God: TheoMedia. I will end this review with Andy’s own final words in the book:
“nothing would be more irrelevant to the world than a relevant church that is competent with digital media but inept with the media of God.” (p.232)
Now where did I put my bible?