In C.S. Lewis’ 1942 classic The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape advises his young disciple Wormwood on how to promote consumerism in the church:
If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches. The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil (pp. 72-73).
By the looks of things, I’d say it’s working.
Charlie looked at the bewildered victims of the crash on the beach and spoke for all when he said, “Guys, where are we?”
If you want to know how we got here (telegraph–television–blogs–Facebook–Twitter) I would highly recommend Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The fact that a majority of blog readers will know the setting, time of day, and characters of the theatrical reference in the opening quote of this post tells us that Postman was on to something. The average consumer receives philosophical, theological, and cultural challenges through entertainment not through sustained conversation, study, or thinking. In fact what is usually passed off as “conversation” in today’s culture, and more to the point–today’s church, is anything but. If nothing else, read Postman’s eighth chapter “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem” which surveys the televangelist scene of 1985. The players have changed but the issues are all still there. Here are a few choice quotes:
- “The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment.”
- “If the delivery is not the same, then the message, quite likely, is not the same. And if the context in which the message is experienced is altogether different from what it was in Jesus’ time, we may assume that its social and psychological meaning is different, as well.”
- “Though their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings, or rather, because their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings.”
- “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”
- “I think it both and fair and obvious to say that on television, God is a vague and subordinate character. Though His name is invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the preacher carries the clear message that it is he, not He, who must be worshipped.”
Philosophers have long marveled at the world. But that’s not exactly accurate. Some philosophers have marveled. Most have responded to the overwhelming weight of reality with pontification and soft-boiled verbiage. The rest have just whined about what a terrible, hard, godless world it is. The world hurts their feelings, and so they fire back dissertations full of insults– calling it an accident, pointless, a derivative of chaos, occasionally even going so far as to deny its existence. But the world doesn’t care. It has thick skin, and all the most important thinkers have become part of it.
[N. D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, 11]
Michael Bird recently delivered a paper at a conference on New Perspectives on Paul and the Jews in Leuven. In his report he made an excellent point:
We have to remember that Paul’s message of the cross was a stumbling block to Jews (1 Cor. 1.18-19) and Paul got himself flogged by synagogue officials he says five times (2 Cor. 11.24). If in our quest to find a Paul congenial to promoting good Jewish-Christian relations we end up with a Paul who is neither offensive nor whippable, then that is proof that we have made Paul in our own image.
For expositors, this is an important reminder that we get the text right. Meaning still matters. Don’t put words in the Apostle’s mouth, don’t take liberties with God’s Word, and make sure that Paul, Peter, and the rest would actually recognize your message. The message is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others but we keep preaching Christ.
Within days of Spurgeon and MacArthur celebrating the same birthday (see previous post), the current, long-time pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s church) has come out swinging at just about every American who dares call himself “reformed” in any shape of the word. Unlike some folks, if the world stopped employing the word “reformed” or “calvinist” I would somehow manage to move on with my life.
It seems that Peter Masters wants to define the word backward to such an extent that the next thing he will have to do is sell his automobile because after all the Puritans didn’t drive cars. Such logic may seemed strained but that is exactly the kind of logical skill one finds in this “review” of Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. What Masters fails to realize is that there is no one leading figure, central publishing arm, seminary, or conference that makes up this broad thing some are calling a movement. Yet that doesn’t keep him from painting with the broadest brush he can find in his quiver. The problem with movements, especially those of a political or theological nature, is that viewed too broadly there is something for everyone to hate. So Master’s looks at everything that gets near the word “reformed” and seeks to, well, hate it. You can read the review for yourself but here is one sampling that is so wrong it doesn’t want to be right:
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)
The following posts provide a provocative and much needed discussion on the current trend of “sex” sermons. I am posting the links here in an effort to help those in my own ministry think through these issues. As you will see, the issue is a nexus of theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, and pastoral counseling.
From Tim Challies:
From Erik Raymond:
Another blogger throws in the towel and manages to make a few parting comments that all need to hear:
Furthermore it [i.e., blogging] has contributed to an increased democratization of the Church, where pastors called and gifted by God are “verbally chastised” by folks who have neither the experience nor theological knowledge to really know what they are talking about and who have never been recognised or called by any local church, and indeed on occasion could never and would never be permitted into a pulpit. It is especially the manner of communication I am thinking of and the harm this is causing in church structures and organisation. Things are written on blogs and especially in comments threads that would never, ever, ever, be said face to face. There is serious disrespect in much blogging. To that extent blogging is contributing to the evident disrespectful society that we live in. That’s not pulling rank, pastors are accountable, but they are accountable to Christ and to their own people primarily, and this pastor has decided that that is more than enough. The forum for intelligent conversation, discussion and correction is within the local church, and when it goes outside that I believe it tends to weaken the Church. I am committed to the biblical authority structures of the local church and cannot with a good conscience continue to be part of something I fear is seriously damaging that structure.
See full post here.
Now for something completely different. I believe the whole Emergent/emerging church thing is one big train wreck not waiting to happen but has already happened. Some folks marginally associated with it in the past are still looking at the damage from the wreck saying, “see that wasn’t so bad.” I remember a number of us were discussing this here about four years ago and not a few of us said the whole thing sounds like warmed-over liberation theology mixed with a little java and jazz. I distinctly remember one fellow pastor looking at me like I was from Mars when I suggested that any ministry looking to expand the role of government for the sake of “social justice” would actually weaken the church.
Now economist William L. Anderson (Frostburg State University) is weighing-in on the emerging church saying what many theologians have observed for a number of years. “If one wishes to get at the core of the ‘Emergent Church’ theology, as loose as it might be, one finds that state action, and especially the government-led welfare state, is the earthly theological manifestation of Christianity. In other words, Christianity is not complete without the welfare state, as the welfare state is the essence of Christianity.”
Anderson goes on, “As one reads not only the Sojourners literature, but the works of Brian McLaren, Wallis, and others who are influential in this whole movement, one realizes that this is a theology (if one can call it that) which is grounded in the state engaging in welfare and distribution. If they are united in anything, it is not in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised again, but both in hatred of capitalism and the ascendancy of Barack Obama and the re-making of U.S. society.”
See the entire article here.
If you follow the SCI-FI show LOST, the island philosopher/shaman John Locke asked a question in the season opening that was really interesting. After seemingly jumping time again he said, “when am I?” Not “where am I?” but “when.” So in the spirit of LOST I offer a question for your consideration. Since many believe it is a forgone conclusion that we should reach the culture, when has this ever been done and how do we know when we have reached a particular culture? For extra credit, what is a “culture”?
Maybe someone can point this out for me but I have not found anyone grapple with this in some of the “reach the culture” books (various takes on this: Calvin, Kuyper, Dabney, H. Van Til, C. Van Til, Niebuhr, Mohler, Driscoll, Carson, et al.) and conferences that I have listened to.
Feel free to discuss in the comments below.