Also by this author: Friendship: The Heart of Being Human, Disability: Living Into the Diversity of Christ's Body
Series: Pastoring for Life: Theological Wisdom for Ministering Well #6
Published by Baker Academic on August 10, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Theology
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"[An] insightful exploration of Christian discipleship in the digital age."--
This book offers theological perspectives on the challenges of discipleship in a digital age, showing how new technologies and the rise of social media affect the way we interact with each other, ourselves, and the world. Written by a Gen X digital immigrant and a Millennial digital native, the book explores a faithful response to today's technology as we celebrate our embodied roles as followers of Christ in a disembodied time.
This thought-provoking book tackles the subject of technology in a unique way through its dual authorship. Jason Byassee and Andria Irwin write from their respective experiences as a digital immigrant and a digital native, and they take into account lots of different questions, ethical dilemmas, and issues that pastors face as they make decisions about how to engage in technology as individuals and church leaders. However, even though the authors primarily target this book to fellow pastors, I found it fascinating from a layperson’s perspective, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a balanced, well-argued book about how Christians can engage with their embodied faith while also reaching people online.
The authors originally planned to write this book prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then adjusted their focus to address the sudden reality of everyone doing church online, when the concept of online church had been a controversial, boundary-pushing subject in the past. Both authors share interesting perspectives about the pandemic, and the book includes illustrative stories from how different pastors dealt with the crisis, trying to minister virtually to church members while also training older congregation members in how to use Zoom and dealing with the temptation to compare their services and metrics to what other churches were doing online. Following: Embodied Discipleship in a Digital Age engages well with conceptual theory and practical realities, and the history major in me got excited over how interesting it would be to revisit this book in many years as a primary source reference for how churches pivoted during the pandemic.
The authors also reflect on common issues that pastors deal with related to social media, as they try to strike the right balance between being themselves and representing the church to their online followers. The book also engages with how technology influences relationships with family members and friends, and Byassee and Irwin are realistic about all of these different issues, pushing back against ideas that would celebrate technology in eschatological terms or dismiss it as inherently wrong and dangerous. They engage graciously with many different views of technology, and as they write with deep nuance and understanding, they also take into account how Christians with different denominational backgrounds experience and think about things differently. This was particularly interesting in the chapter that addressed communion and outlined various views about whether or not it is acceptable to engage in the Eucharist in a virtual gathering.
However, I wish that Andria Irwin had cast a wider net when collecting stories about pastors and their work. She was the primary one sharing detailed narratives, but almost all of these stories were from pastors in very liberal, progressive churches. I am not sure if this was deliberate bias, or if she just relied too much on existing social networks with like-minded people, but the stories that she told were from pastors who shared the same political and social views, regardless of their denominational differences or variances in church practice. Someone might argue that this focus is only natural, since conservative churches are less likely to engage online or have innovative ideas for online ministry, but that is a frequently untrue stereotype that Irwin does nothing to debunk. This book would have been much stronger if she had shared stories from across lines of political and social difference.
Following: Embodied Discipleship in a Digital Age is a fascinating book. The coauthors write in unison about some issues, while having markedly different perspectives on others, and their voices together make this book particularly helpful and interesting. Overall, the book argues that because the Internet is “(kind of) a place,” with people we should reach with the gospel and Christian discipleship, we cannot write off online activity as something nonessential to the faith. Although the authors repeatedly note that it is right for some people to choose a more monastic or anti-technological lifestyle, Christians overall need to learn how to engage in ministry online, since it is a part of the human experience that is here for the long-term. I found this book very interesting and helpful, and would recommend it to pastors, Christian organization leaders, and laypeople like me who are interested in issues related to technology.