Angela Williams Gorrell's book entitled 'Always On', vividly encapsulates the life of many people living in a postmodern society, as we spend much of our time in the realms of social media. Whether we are on our phones, tablets, or computers many of us spend countless time continuously checking for emails, or the latest postings on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Gorrell who serves as a professor of practical theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, takes us on a journey as to how the New media spaces and devices can be sites and instruments of God's unconditional love towards humanity. Gorrell further notes that this is particularly evident when Christian communities discern, articulate, and live Christian visions of the good life for this new landscape.
The book progresses through six chapters. Beginning in Chapter 1, "Interested Conversation". Here, the author provides questions that encourage the readers to reflectively assess their own communities in imaginative, theological, and Spirit-guided ways. The conversations are interested in what God is up to in the new media landscape and reflect upon why new media has glorious possibilities and profound brokenness.
Chapter 2, "Traversing the New Media Terrain," provides insights into why new media is connected to the Christian faith and is meaningful to people and Christian communities. Chapter 3, "Shaping Stories," explores the cultural narratives which shape the social contexts that designers and developers of new media live within. Moreover, the author proposes that the new media not only deepens the cultural narratives but also contributes to them. Chapter 4, "Online Jesus," discusses how Luke 4 and 7 can help us to imagine Jesus's life and ministry as a methodology for articulating Christian visions of the true life. Moreover, we learn how a person formed in the image of God, which is Jesus Christ, would act and feel using the new media. The next chapter, "The Convergence," shares several methods for practicing discernment about the new media. Chapter 6, "Glorious Possibilities," bring the book to a conclusion by describing numerous ways to develop hybrid Christian practices in addition to presenting an outline for designing a rule for life in a new media landscape.
My general impression of the book is that it presents excellent insight and useful material for Christian ministries to deliver the gospel message of Christ in an evangelistic form to a wide spectrum of humanity. Likewise, the new media landscape tools can be used to assist in the spiritual transformation and discipleship development of Christian believers. The new media landscape presents opportunities for the gospel message to be presented in a modern media form, congruent with current communication methods. This is vitally important because in my view some segments of the Christian church have lagged behind when it comes to their communication of the gospel message and discipleship training. There are a number of reasons for some of these church's lagging behind, with a principal proponent being the mindset of unwavering loyalty to tradition.
The one area of concern I would have with the new media landscape is that there is a segment of the community that does not have access to the various new media communication tools and platforms. This can be as a result of individuals residing in the poverty spectrum who simply don't have the financial means to attain the devices that will allow them to participate in the new media realm. Likewise, there are individuals who for various reasons whether it be generational, cultural, or lack of technological acumen simply cannot engage in the new media landscape. Therefore, it is important that hybrid concepts are developed to allow for these individuals to be engaged when new media concepts are being employed and utilized.
In my local ministerial context, the 2020 Global Corona Virus Pandemic played a pivotal role in my very traditionally based church utilizing tools from the new media landscape. Therefore, because of social distance protocols, in-person worship gatherings were replaced with virtual services using internet-based platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. Likewise, important notices and information which were once relayed in person and in letter format were not being sent via electronic mail and social applications such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The anticipation is that many of the new media adaptations used during the Pandemic will remain in place. Additionally, efforts continue to be made to develop formulas to engage individuals without access to new media interactive devices. One of the powerful tools of the new media landscape for use in the Christian church is the ability to practice advocacy and to participate in transforming political secular structures and practices so that they may become more in alignment with the ministry of Christ. Those efforts are being led by the pastoral team. Therefore, this would be a good time to briefly address the concept of the pastor as a teacher.
It is the expressed view of this author that the pastor should be seen as the vessel through which the wisdom, guidance, and revelation of God should be passed on to others. William H. Willimon (2016) suggests that the pastor is the primary Christian educator of his flock, and therefore has the responsibility of modeling what it means for Christians to constantly be growing in faith. Moreover, Willimon advocates that the pastor has the primary responsibility for worrying about the theological content of his adherent's life, while also measuring how well their current practices of faith such as biblical fidelity, prayer, and praise match the faith of the Christian saints who went on before (pp. 206-207).
The ramifications of such a responsibility for the pastor as a teacher tasked through the grace of God to assists in the spiritual transformation, growth, and development of their members and adherents brings forth a sobering reminder of the great responsibility that God has called forth in their life. Consequently, with this thought in mind, it sends forth a personal reminder of why it is critically important for me to intentionally and continuously engage in the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines, so that I may be holistically prepared from both an individualistic, and societal perspective, to be of service to both God, and my community.
Gorrell, Angela. Always on : Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, A Division Of Baker Publishing Group, 2019.
Willimon, William H. Pastor : The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016.
Person Holding Iphone Showing Social Networks Folder. October 8, 2017. https://www.pexels.com/photo/apple-applications-apps-cell-phone-607812/.