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Following: Embodied discipleship in a digital age by Jason Byassee and Andria Irwin

by
04 February 2022

Andrew Graystone on perspectives meeting

ANDRIA IRWIN is a young Canadian pastor whose bruising experience of church life led to her drop out of “physical” church to join and subsequently lead an online Christian community. Jason Byassee is 20 years her senior, and has had a more conventional career as a pastor and now as Professor of Homiletics at the Vancouver School of Theology.

They approach digital culture from opposite directions: she with enthusiasm and he with caution. Byassee laments our “continuous state of partial attention”, and casts digital consumers as “slaves, bringing our own straw to the kiln in the form of information about, even pictures of, our children, our spouses, ourselves, our travels, our likes”. Irwin celebrates “The internet, with all its residents [as] a mission field. It’s time we go there and make a few disciples.”

Both authors acknowledge that digital culture is disrupting almost everything that we know, within and beyond the life of the Church. Both recognise that it is here to stay. So, with differing levels of enthusiasm but a shared missional intent, they set about writing this volume in an attempt to overcome readers’ anxieties about doing ministry online.

Then the pandemic struck, and the two writers’ differing hopes and fears about ministry in a digital culture were thrown into sharp focus by issues such as online worship and virtual communion. They pause to notice many of the significant changes for good or ill which were forced on the Church by the lockdown: the benefits of online access and anonymity versus the enforced passivity of people who had been taught that volunteering was the primary way of demonstrating faithfulness.

Dual-author books may take the form of a collaboration in which both writers invest in a combined narrative; or they may take the form of a conversation in which the two writers contribute chapters or sections of chapters that spark off each other. This book falls somewhat confusingly between the two. Much of the time, the only way to be clear who is speaking is when the individual authors’ prejudices start showing.

Anglican readers may be distracted by alien models of church life and ministry, and rather broad-brush theology. Nevertheless, Following: Embodied discipleship in a digital age could hardly be more timely. There is compassion and wisdom here, with pastoral strategies for those who are already digitally fluent, and practical encouragement for those who are wary.


Andrew Graystone is a theologian and writer. He is the author of
Too Much Information? Essential questions for digital Christians (Canterbury Press, 2019).

 

Following: Embodied discipleship in a digital age
Jason Byassee and Andria Irwin
Baker Academic £15.99
(978-1-540-96227-0)
Church Times Bookshop £14.39

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