Depixelating God: Theology Online?: An Interview with @Byers_Andy for #CNMAC12

Over the next couple of weeks, in the runup to #CNMAC12, we’ve asked a number of speakers to respond to the following questions, and here we hear from Andy Byers. Andy is speaking at 12.10pm in the ‘Theology’ Session:

Is it possible to do Christian Theology online? Broadcasting, blogging, microblogging, interactive. What are the highpoints and the pitfalls?

Who are you, what do you do, and how do you come to be speaking at #CNMAC12? What’s your personal ‘story’?

My wife and I have been married for almost 15 years and we have 4 little kids.  We moved to Durham from the US in 2011 for me to begin a PhD program in New Testament.  I served in pastoral ministry for ten years prior to our move, and it is out of that experience that I entered into writing—both book projects I have undertaken have developed out of a handful of sermons preached during my time as a minister to university students. The first book is on cynicism within the church and disillusionment with God.

The book project now underway is on media theology.  Observing the powerful influence of media and media technology on the lives of the students under my pastoral care, I decided that the issue had to be tackled theologically and homiletically.  I kept wondering and praying, Surely there is a theology of media, right Lord…?  After working through that sermon series, I was gripped by a vision for framing the church’s use and understanding of media within the biblical story and within the vision of the Gospel.

CODEC has been gracious enough to take me on staff to write for BigBible while I plod away at my doctoral thesis and this media book.  I suppose those involvements explains why I will be sharing at CNMAC12.

Can you give us a ‘sneak peak’ into the story of your session at #CNMAC12?

My assignment is to speak about the practice of theology online (under the heading “Depixelating God”).  First, I want to communicate that theology is not solely the domain of academic professionals.  Theology is a universal discipline/practice for Christians.  If we cannot “do theology” unless we are in a library or a classroom (or a media conference!), then the reality of God may have little reach into the workaday world or into the daily grind of our lives.

Secondly, I want to consider the benefits and the hazards of conducting our discourse about God online.  Biblical scholars talk a great deal about “genre”—understanding what we read depends on understanding the nature of the material and how it is designed to function for the reader/hearer.  The Internet has given us a range of new genres for doing theology (blog, microblog, status update, etc.).  These “genres” can be extremely effective in wresting theology out of ivory towers and bringing it into the global online village, or perhaps allowing the very fine work taking place in those towers to get a broader hearing with the benefit of interactivity.

There are of course limitations to doing theology online—overstatement, understatement, and oversimplification, to mention a few.  Overall, though, I am really enthusiastic about the prospects of theology in the digital age and eager for the theological discourse at CNMAC12.

What is the best ‘good news story’ to come out of your journey as a disciple? What keeps you going when times are hard?

An inexhaustible question!  To be succinct, I will just say that my journey has been marked by an increasing awareness of the vision of the Gospel, this proclamation that a God split open the sky to come to our rescue, that His Son would die affixed to a grainy beam, that their Spirit would make a home in our shifty lives.  I am not getting tired of that.  New glimpses of this complex reality come year by year, even in the face of disillusioning hardship.  In spite of the sharp frustrations, I am painfully enamoured and joyfully trapped within the Gospel.

We’re working on the @bigbible project. How do you think the (stories in the) Bible can inform what we do online, in whatever sense?

Well, I am writing an entire book on that.  I will just say here that the Bible is itself a narrative theology of media and media-related issues.  Is that a good “teaser”?  

Outside of your own session, what are you most looking forward to at #CNMAC12?

I think I am most excited about being face to face with a community of folks who are thinking biblically and theologically about the 21st century mediasphere.  That sounds like a blast.

See full conference agenda.

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About AndyByers

I serve as the Chaplain for St Mary's College at Durham University while working on a PhD in the Department of Theology. CODEC has also taken me on to work as a theological consultant of sorts for the BigBible blog. My first book is about cynicism toward the church and disillusionment with God—'Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint' (IVP Likewise, 2011). My latest is ‘TheoMedia: The Media of God in the Digital Age’ (Cascade Books, 2013).