Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 27th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Review of “TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age”

I once came close to actually meeting Andrew “Andy” Byers in the flesh during a presentation on John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. It was at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Baltimore. Before that, we had communicated over various forms of social media — blog, Facebook, Twitter, and email — about a variety of topics. We’ve even spoken via Skype. So, I guess that while I have never “met” Andy in any traditional sense, I have come to know him via online interactions, across the new media if you will, and maybe that is better. If in nothing else, better in the sense that it gives me a unique perspective on the subject matter presented in TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age.

Andy — er, Byers — writes not to simply add to the confusion about how to accept and use the so-called new media, but to give a voice of calm, blessed, assurance than the fear and trepidation caused by the onslaught of new media is likewise very similar to the earthquakes felt by our predecessors as they grappled with the new ways of communication. Further, we aren’t the only ones using media — God used and uses all sorts of media to communication himself. At once, this is an introduction to theological communication, a theology of communication, and a reimagining of sorts that pits God’s self-disclosure in either the verbal or written form against what we think is happening today. This is not simply a series of resurrected sermons or blog posts, but a well-thought out program aimed at getting the (afraid of the) modern (-era) reader to step back and redigest the narrative of Christian tradition via “media.”

The book is divided into five parts, with part 5 serving as the conclusion to the book. Part 1 sets the philosophical and theological tone of the book, allowing Byers to present new terms (theomedia, theomedium) to the reader. He also, importantly, highlights some of the current discussions around the new social media and how it is shaping our society. He tackles a variety of issues, such as communicable mediation, sex, book v. pixel, and the theology of media.

Part 2 presents the God of Scripture as one who communicates via media. This is an often repeated refrain in this book, but one necessary. If you speak to those who matured before social media, they may not get the value of Facebook and Twitter, especially Christianity communicate via such things — and yet, we find God finding images and other media to communicate to Israel. We find the authors of Scripture finding ways to communicate about God via media. And yes, he does include St. John of Damascus and his own unique defense of theomedia. (Well, I mean before we knew what theomedia was.)

The third part examines speech acts in the Old Testament as a form of media. Rather than images and other tropes as the sole avenue of God’s expression, there is likewise the verbal — written and oral. In this series of chapters, Byers argues for the elevation of the written over the, I’d call it, abstract media. For those anxious over such things, he even speaks to you (chapter 7).

In Part 4, Byers turns to the New Testament to speak of God’s greatest communication act — the Incarnation. He speaks of the canon, the Eucharist (glad to see this word embraced by other Protestants), and baptism — all symbols of God’s communication to us. He closes in Part 5 with an admonition to linger in the theomedia so that these new ways of communicating with the world can be effectively employed to speak well of God.

I can think of no better person to have written such book. Byers presents several stories — from his time as a youth pastor; his role as father, husband, and friend — that really give color and shape to his commentary. He shows a remarkable knowledge of ancient controversies as well as concerns from our own time. Finally, he speaks not as one who has mastered every aspect of the new media, but as one who stands in the Great Tradition of using that which God gives to speak more about God than previously allowed. Yes, there are those that will remain unconvinced by Byer’s grand view, but if you really take his words to heart, the new media, and the newer media from tomorrow, will not worry you, only give you pause long enough to decide how to best use it for the Church.

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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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