Who are you? What’s your role in life? What’s your personal ‘story’ to date?
My earliest days were spent on a farm in the States, located about an hour and a half north of Atlanta, Georgia. Church was a regular part of life in my home, but I began taking my faith much more seriously at university. After deciding I was called into vocational ministry, I travelled overseas (on a person pilgrimage of sorts, which turned out to be not quite as glamorous a journey as I had hoped for!). Eventually, I ended up in seminary and then spent over a decade in pastoral ministry, mostly among university students. Picking up another theology degree along the way, I ended up in Durham as a PhD student. My wife (Miranda) and I have been married for almost 15 years, and we brought with us across the Atlantic four sweet little kids who are loving life in England. Along with the doctoral work, the book-writing, and the blogging, I will begin working as the chaplain at St Mary’s College in 2013.
Can you give us an overview of the main ‘thesis’ in your first book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint
Most succinctly: idealism and cynicism are illegitimate perspectives for Christians. Our lives are to be shaped by an alternative perspective that my wife and I call “hopeful realism.”
To expand on this, my book acknowledges that many Christians are becoming increasingly cynical toward church and even toward God. In some circles, it is actually vogue to be a Christian cynic. In Faith Without Illusions, I offer an extensive (but constructive, I think!) critique of “Pop-Christianity” which tends to make us cynical: bad churchy stuff like idealism, experientialism, legalism, cultural irrelevance, etc. But then I look at biblical models for how we are to engage God’s people (and God Himself) when we are disillusioned. Much of the Bible is what I call “the literature of the disillusioned”—so many prophets, sages, and sad poets were writing out of severe frustration with Israel, God and the Church.
But our disillusionment need not lead into cynicism. Cynicism is not an option.
These biblical writers had to temper their tempers, if you will, in accordance to God’s overwhelming depths of love. Many cynics are actually called to be contemporary prophets, if they could make their critiques in tears grounded in the pathos of God rather than out of unhealthy bitterness. And now that Jesus has been raised, we must acknowledge that the new age of salvation has begun to break into our midst as we joyfully hope in his eventual return. Though we are realists, we are hopeful.
We’ve had several conversations about the fact that you’re not a natural “tech-fan” – what do you think you’ve learned by being involved with The Big Bible Project?
In spite of writing a book on cynicism, I have to admit that I have been rather cynical when it comes to technology! Working with Big Bible and reading the blog has introduced me to a wider range of perspectives that has really challenged some of my thinking. I am more pragmatic and more nuanced when it comes to technology than I was when Pete Phillips sought to wrest me out of media-curmudgeonry a year or so ago. I suppose one could say I am much more balanced than I used to be, with some strong suspicions toward technology remaining, but with a willingness to think through the issues with more openness of mind. In short, I have learned from Big Bible that I have much to learn from the “tech-fans.”
What are your particular area(s) of interest that you are most likely to blog about for Big Bible? Did you talk about any of these at #CNMAC12?
I am interested in how the Bible’s vision of God and humanity gets played out in our use of media communications today. Much of my writing is full of prodding and sifting, seeking the wisdom of ancient media (Scripture and the theological traditions of the church, most of which come to us via texts) for the church’s use of new media in the digital age.
What else might we find out about you if we followed your other areas of ‘online presence’?
I am regularly writing on my own blog (www.hopefulrealism.com) about pastoral ministry, particularly when it comes to navigating the stormy but exciting waters between the academy and the church. Also sometimes to be found tweeting @Byers_Andy.
As we engage with the Bible, how do you think the (stories in the) Bible can inform what we do online, in whatever sense?
The stories in Scripture and in our own lives are all so rich, multi-layered and varied that it is really hard to discern all the ways they intersect in contemporary experience. What I am most concerned with is trying to discern overarching theological motifs and consistent biblical patterns that can provide us a framework for engaging with media today. I will know more (or maybe less…?!) when I finish my media-theology book. But the process has been really exciting.
Finally, what’s verse would you send us out with today?
I just saw this while flipping through the pages. It has quite a ring to it.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).