Andrew Byers’ “TheoMedia: The Media of God in a Digital Age”: A Review

theomedia final

Andrew Byers, TheoMedia: The Media of God in a Digital Age, Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013, 252 pages, $25.20.

Andrew Byers serves as the Chaplain at St. Mary’s College, Durham University, England. As a Theological Consultant for Codec Institute at St. John’s College, Durham University, he has explored many of the issues addressed in TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age (Cascade Books, 2013).

TheoMedia constructs a theological framework for understanding and using media in the digital age. In doing so, Byers navigates through both and Old and New Testaments to show the reader how the God of the Bible is a “multimedia” Divine. Byers would have us think “hermeneutically” about adopting both old and new media forms.

Byers’ believes the Christian should get his cues from God on how to appropriate media. As the Word made flesh, Christ is the ultimate “TheoMedium.” Byers leads to eight assertions summarizing his exploration:

  1. The fundamental calling as human beings is the media vocation of divine image bearing.
  2. Media are messy due to our sinful nature; therefore, image bearing implies that what we create can either be helpful (bright) or harmful (dark).
  3. The Multimedia God of the Bible sometimes reveals Himself through unexpected means (e.g. the plagues of Egypt).
  4. Verbal TheoMedia (spoken and written communication), while primary, do not diminish other forms of communication found in human sensory perception.
  5. In the ecclesiological long run, we will end up with equilibrium of the senses.
  6. God reserves the right to break through our media-saturated life with his Divine Revelation.
  7. God’s various ways of communicating are Trinitarian.
  8. The Church is the primary media domain of God, therefore, as his people we should be judicious in our use of media.

Byers builds a Christ-centered grid to emphasize how these principles apply to our use of media:

theomedia the media of god chart

TheoMedia would be more succinct if the principles and the grid came first with the rest of the book being an elaboration. Byers admits part of the material for the book came from his blogging and sermonizing. Therefore, the exposition is sometimes disjointed and myopic and this writing style constitutes the major weakness of the book. The early sections are often tenuous as when he ends paragraphs with questions like these: “So is preaching via satellite wrong? Is a large Twitter following evidence of a Christian leader’s compromising bow to our media culture?”

Another stylistic flaw is a misappropriation of language—a tendency to use contrived media jargon to maintain a tone of relevance. The prose suffers from Media Myopia:

“We worship a multimedia God.”

“No reconfiguring upgrade is required for the content of Christian scripture.”

“The sort of mass communication activities of prophets and apostles often resembled the stratagems of ancient world celebrities.”

“So Paul employed social media not to get out of sticky situations, but to preserve the sort of face-to-face fellowship he hoped to continue enjoying.”

After reading a dozen or more sentences like these you wonder if God is a television set and maybe the Apostles were tweeting each other.

Another weakness is that at times Byers contradicts himself, as when he passes off lectures and sermons. “[W]hen some authoritative figure speaks a whole lot of words with little room for interruption,” he says, it is “just downright boring at best.” Upon reading this one thinks he is adverse to print-oriented-bastards like Postman (McLuhan’s term), but then he turns around and gives precedence to the preached and the written word.

He sees the Israelites and first century church as primarily an oral cultural, which they were, but fails to weigh the evidence of recent epigraphic discoveries in Israel, the nature of the synagogue school, and Peter’s ability write an epistle as proofs of Hebrew social literacy. (Peter could preach a pretty good sermon too.)

Byers might also have addressed the Iconoclastic Controversy in his discussion of sensory balance, but very little is given in this area. Johannes Eck’s On Not Removing Images of Christ and the Saints or Luther’s discourses on images in the church would have proved relevant to his topic.

Despite these flaws, Byers manages to strike a good balance between old and new media forms. He wants to preserve modes of communication found in the Church throughout the centuries as expressed in Word and sacrament. He also heralds the importance of embodied presence and face-to-face relationships. These kinds of stances make him a cultural conservative with regard to new media used in the sanctuary.

Byers runs his ideas through the biblical rubric of Creation, Fall, and Redemption to a good effect. His descriptions of Old Testament biblical events are often compelling, especially his sections on idolatry and the Exile. His segments on the downsides of blogging, the limits of online relationships, and social media ethics are also well written and worldly-wise.


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About the Contributor

Arthur Hunt

Arthur W. Hunt III
Arthur W. Hunt III is professor of communications at The University of Tennessee at Martin and author of Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Manmade Environments (Pickwick, 2013). 

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