Reclusing Ourselves To Death

I want to address something that I read yesterday from Charles Colson on CT. I would have written this yesterday but i was finished the last edit of a contribution to a commentary on the Book of Acts. 3000 words on Acts 10-13. My goal was to weave historical and contextual accuracy with the relevancy of today’s situation. The Bible is ALWAYS living, relevant but I couldn’t be casual or flippant so it took longer than i expected. But that has been sent off now, so let me now get on with it.

Colson’s article in Christianity Today is called “Soothing Ourselves to Death”, an obvious revamp of Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”

Colson suggests, along with Neil Postman’s 1980’s book, that television has impaired our ability to think but i say the computer – a greater influence than TV – has made today’s screenagers smarter in a more complex way. Which is by far a greater challenge for those who seek to communicate to them – teachers, pastors, parents, etc. This is a big issue and it affects how we communicate in church.

Oh, btw – my issue is not what Colson just said about the “emerging church” so i don’t want to argue it here.

Walkingcity-1He said “Doctrine and biblical teaching are not—as some “emerging church” advocates believe—dry, dusty, abstract notions.”

My last round of responses to Colson on postmodern truth (The Skinny Response: The Official, The Cheesy and The Intuitive) yielded no fruit at all so I will not bother this time. I do . . . however . . think it quite amazing and somewhat stupifying that after having personal interaction with hundreds of emerging churches in dozens of countries, that i still could not think of even ONE emerging church leader who would say that Biblical teaching is dry and dusty. Maybe it used to be, but part of their journey into emerging church involved a rediscovery of biblical teaching and better methodology to learn and apply biblical truth.

Take me to a city, any city, and put me in a taxi.

Url“Taxi driver” I will say from the back seat with urgency and ” take me to a church where the people think doctrine and biblical teaching are dry, dusty abstract notions. Take me to . . . an EMERGING CHURCH!”

“Whaddya say?”” The taxi driver pulls the hand-brake and looks back at me as if I am an idiot. “We aint goin’ nowhere.”

“An emerging church. Where they . .

“I heard ya! Don’t you mean a LIBERAL church? A DEAD church? A hypermodern rational church where they teach from books and no longer from the Bible? There’s one around the corner”

“Ahhhh. No. Charles Colson said an ‘EMERGING CHURCH!'”

“You mean those emerging churches that graffiti Scripture all over their walls and never stop talking about Luke 10? Yeah, there’s a coffee shop 4 blocks from here where they hang out talking theology until 3 in the morning. My daughter goes there. She has an emerging church blog and she reads and writes about theology everyday. Not what i was doing when I was 19. Who knew???? No . . . I don’t think its what ya looking for. But, lets go anyway!”

Nor do I want to tackle his other statement that doesn’t sit well with me. The one where he says :

“But the gospel above all else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life.”

Now I am just hoping that Colson’s understanding of propositional truth is broad enough to include the historical, narrative, time-space event of Jesus Christ, the express image (eikon) of God who came, died and rose again. If not, I would take issue. But not here. Seth from Street Jesus answers back and so I will leave it and more on.

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Nor will I mention his singing vs teaching dichotomy, having learned much of my theology as a child from songs [“Jesus Loves Me This I Know, for the Bible tells me so”] and re-affirmed it weekly. And I have witnessed the successful removal of the stage and the accompanying celebrity element by emerging churches, many of which have avoided the entertainment appeal to consumerism by demanding a high level of participation. No! I will avoid all that and just go straight to the line that needs updating …

“When Postman published his book two decades ago, he feared television would impair our capacity to think. He was right.”

“Now here is the thing. I think Postman WAS right when he published the book but things have changed and there are other factors that must be addressed. What Colson doesn’t say is that it is no longer 1985 and the world is different.

[Update: In honor of Neil Postman (1931-2003) we should not assume that he stopped thinking in 1985. A Symposium was held a few days ago in his honor (PDF) and there is much in today’s new media world that he did see. Read his son’s eulogy to bring Neil’s thoughts to the present and the PDF- POST(MODERN)MAN to see Neil as a postmodernist with a lot to say about truth]

When Postmans book “Amusing Ourselves To Death” came out, I bought it, like all other pastors and communicators and thinkers. It was a HOOT. A superb book that sparked my interest in media and epistemology. And like them, I put it next to Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” and similar books on my shelf. Postman’s thoughts even found their way into my preaching on Sundays. This was, btw, the 1980’s when some of you were being born, but old people like myself were alive and well and thinking about these things.

And 20 years ago, Postman had a point. Television was threatening the culture of books. We were teetering on the edge of post-literacy. We would all become mindless idiots who could not hold a thought longer than . . . ahhh . . . what was I saying . . . sorry . . . just had to change the music . . . and get a coffee . . .. and change the channel on the TV . . . and respond to an IM . . . and finish the deep, intimate conversation that i am now having with my wife who is wondering why my fingers are typing on this keyboard while i am giving her my undivided attention.

OK – part of that came true. And Neil Postman is the Patron Saint of wives with geek husbands. But other parts are no longer true. Kids are smarter today. IQ rates have increased and multi-tasking abilities, pattern recognition, synoptic thinking and other POSITIVE traits have appeared. Communication is far more demanding and learning processes are more complex.

Todays blog media is modular. One thought per blog post – that makes it easy to comment on. Which is why this post, is far longer than it should be – i am honoring Neil Postman with a long continuous blog post that demands a higher level of commitment.

Other people, much smarter than I, have come to different conclusions than Postman (and Colson) and should be heard in this conversation.

– Lev Manovich argues strongly that the MTV cinematic style of short cuts, a historical echo from the age of Mannerism, is giving way to continuity and longer shots. In fact, a Russian movie came out a few years ago that was one single shot – for the entire movie.

Freeway

Douglas Rushkoff has written of the BROAD attention span of youth (Children of Chaos) and the Revolution of Writing (Open Source Democracy) that has turned a generation readers into writers – something I have mentioned in reference to Generation Text. I have used the illustration of a 5 lane freeway before to describe the importance of multiple channels in communicating to youth. A recent study found that children are able to master 5.4 channels of communication at the same time – far more than their parents and something that the marketplace of the future will demand of them

Steven Johnson, whose book on “Emergence” is a great introduction to emergent theory, has a book called “Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter” (blogged here). Steve’s research shows that today’s youth, brought up on video games, are able to track thoughts that are longer and more complex than their parents. He points to the high commitment level of tracking a series like 24 or the amount of characters in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, or the incredible ability to delay satisfaction in completing a fantasy game like Myst or Riven. In fact, I have been at Myst for nearly 10 years and am still hanging in there.

– Perhaps more than anyone, Stuart Moulthrop in “So You Want a Revolution: Hypertext and the Laws of Media” [A chapter in The New Media Reader] should be read because he confronts Neil Postman’s threat of post-literacy through the idiot box [the television] and presents a case for post-post-literacy through the impact of hypertext.

“But the idiot box – or to be precise – the boxed idiot – is precisely the intellectual problem that hypertext seems excellently suited to address . . . the development of hypertext systems implies a revival of typographic culture (albeit in a dynamic, truly paperless environment) . . Hypertext means an end to the death of literature.”

Thus, it is now appropriate, given the blogsophere [the greatest hypertext system to date] and the revolution in writing and co-authorship i have described in Generation Text, to talk about the age of POST-POST-LITERACY.

Ok ok ok ok – this post is getting really long. But ask yourself this question – who is going to leave first – the young people or the older people?

btw- The longest hymns in the Ausbund – the oldest Protestant hymnbook in continuous use (Warkentin) – have so many verses that they take about 20 minutes to sing. And sermons a few hundred years ago often lasted 2 hours or more. In fact, I have endured a 5 hour church service in Mexico without moving from the spot, except to get up and preach for an hour or more (they still thought it was too short!) and I dare anyone – young or old, emerging or traditional – to test your endurance at one of these church services.

So let me put you out of your misery and end this lengthy thought (1846 words).

If kids are bored with your lengthy sermon, it may not be their fault. It might be yours. Kids are smart. Smarter than you think. They demand more and deserve more. Jesus used questions and answers, dialogue over meals. Dialogue is not unbiblical – its even one of the words in the Bible for “preaching”.

You would be amazed how your ministry would be transformed if you went back to the Bible and ways of Jesus. Its not a dry and dusty book. And if someone finds that person masquerading as an ’emerging church leader’ who says it is, please report him to me so i can send him a sharply pointed email. The same guy must have crossed D.A. Carson’s path.

Hey – don’t bug Charles Colson – he’s doing a great job in the prisons – which is where Jesus is (Matthew 25). I have preached in lots of prisons and I respect what Colson has done to highlight ministry there. Pray for him and bless him.

Further:

We Know More Than Our Pastors (PDF) by Tim Bednar

Mark Driscoll has lunch with Chuck

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

26 Comments

  • I love the taxi driver polemic. Maybe we should all spend a bit of time driving taxis just to get a better feel for the culture(s) we live in?
    By the way, how do you suggest we communicate with the screenagers?

  • When Colson says ‘the gospel above all else is revealed propositional truth’ I suspect he ties that to his interpretation of ‘inerrancy’, so as soon as you start talking about:
    “propositional truth is broad enough to include the historical, narrative, time-space event of Jesus Christ”
    you’ve lost him and he has started to shake his head.
    There are – virtually – two Colsons, Colson the Christian and Colson the Culture-Warring Republican, and even if CT isn’t Townhall this column is more about the latter than the former.

  • good to hear your rant… now for mine: i’m sick of it being insinuated that liberal churches do not have biblical preaching, and that it’s only ‘evangelical’ churches who are part of the emerging church movement.

  • The Minds of our Youth

    Andrew Jones has a very interesting response to Chuck Colsons Soothing Ourselves to Death. Most people on the web are debating a song that we should, or should not, sing; whether hymns are better than more current song structures e…

  • I also read this article yesterday. It made me sick to read it. I wanted to get angry so I had to just stop thinking about it. It really is stupefying.
    “Pray for him and bless him” – yes you are right. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it.

  • ellie – good point – my bad for not putting the taxi driver straight as soon as he sterotypeped the liberals.
    the last liberal church i attended had long periods of straight Bible reading which i thought was great – i wish some of the fundy churches would give more attention to the public reading of the Old and New Testament readings on a regular basis.
    thanks for sharing that.

  • Part of the problem Chuck might be trying to address is the “need” for a mulit-media experience to be able to carry a message.
    In the old school, preaching (one man from behind a pulpit, information download style) is at the center of carrying the message of the gospel. Adding multi-sensory experiences, to the old guard, simply proves his point that this would be a generation in need of being entertained.
    But, like you said, when it gets right down to it, there is actually more information being received as well as processed in the multi-sesory experience.
    I wonder how my son will receive information and process it that will be different and more difficult than the ways that I do. Playing video games via brain waves? Driving a car without a steering wheel? It seems far out when you think about it, but the technology is there. How will all of this affect his view of the church and the Mission Dei?
    Thank you, Andrew, for spearheading some thoughts in this post. And, good job on not taking Chuck to task on his gripes with the lack of propositional truth and only entioning hte good work he does in with PFM.

  • An example of what Ellie is talking about is the new book “The emerging Christian Way”, which is a liberal church exploration of the emerging church. Some of it has been powerful to read. I’ve been reviewing. It is, perhaps, the first Canadian book your list, Andrew.
    Peace,
    Jamie

  • Video games are good for us? I don’t see how one can live a life that looks like Jesus while being on the computer or in front of the TV for very long. It just seems that the Emergent Church does not care how much people spend on entertainment or alternatives to face to face relationships. Yes the culture and technology changes, but the relational character of God, whom we are to reflect does not, and media consumption does not do this. even blogging, although somewhat relational, pales in comparison with real relationships. I just see a danger in the amount of media people spend time on, instead of welcoming it to the way we view understand the Christ-like way of living.

  • What bugged me most about Colson’s column, this time at least, was that he yelled out “No” when the worship leader felt that they should sing the worship song one more time. Hmmm. Sounds more reactive than proactive to me. I can understand his sentiments, wanting more theology in his worship songs and all, but to disrupt people’s worship…

  • Andrew,
    Some of what Colson says rings true to my heart. The ‘screenagers’ as you’ve called them are not leaning enough through personal relationship.
    Truth can only be revealed through relationship. Our relationships ought to be mirrors reflecting our lives, but in a culture that does not value intimate commited relationships, truth encounters are minimized, and therfore people don’t really change.
    Every encounter that I have had, that has changed my life, was when a person spoke clearly to me in the ‘moment of truth’. Sitting in front of a screen, sitting in a pew, being entertained by a band, or even sitting around a meal with emergent people, has not changed me. What has changed me is when a person speaks the truth to me when I need to hear it.
    Although, some of Colsons article is obviously being communicated through his own worldview, and what I percieve to be a bitterness arising from the cancellation of his own broadcasts. What he addresses here is the lack of congruent truth encounters with the gospel, a concern we all should have.
    Thanks for the insights and continued conversation…

  • Great post, Andrew! Brad Sargent would be proud of you for going long, and in so doing, broke your own rules for blogging! (See Tall Skinny Kiwi’s “Blogger’s Seven Deadly Sins” – 3.9.05). But, I guess you were still being singular in your response to Colson (I remembered that you wrote this and used them recently).
    Colson’s perspective is not even worth commenting on, and no one would if he were not Chuck Colson. This article actually came out a couple of months ago and we had a discussion about it amongst our elders and worship leader. We recognized it for what it was and moved on. Although, it did get us thinking, which was helpful.
    By the way, I love it when you engage with stuff like this. It really stimulates our thinking. Keep it up!

  • i don’t agree with everything chuck says, but i agree with him that it seems christian radio is all about music, when christians need and (hopefully) want more than one form of ministry. why not have people come on the air and share stories and testify to what God is doin in their lives? and clearly there is an expanding void of biblical teaching on these stations. i think all would agree that the Bible describes and the Church needs different forms of expressing truth. chuck fairly applies this principle to radio stations, which appear to have a tendency, in seeking popularity, to limit their the form and content of their ministry to music. so the radio stations are at fault for poor stewardship of a great and limited (its not like theres a lot of christian radio stations to choose from) resource. but then again, its the people who are ultimately to blame for not demanding from the stations what they need, and so it seems he wrote the article to these people.

  • Regarding the isolating effects of modern media – especially the internet.
    The majority of TIME spent on the internet might be useless, but the majority of PEOPLE on the internet are using it quite differently.
    For a lot of people it’s a way of constantly being in contact with their friends – no suprise that myspace and IM are so popular with teens. A way of compensating for the loss of public spaces and distance.
    Even gaming – a whole bunch of people seem to game together with their friends, usually using some VoIP product so that they can all keep talking to each other whilst doing so. I don’t particularly like it – and certainly the amount of time spent on it has to be controlled – but at least part of my feelings against it are personal prejudice rather than some kind of discernment.

  • “Revival of church life always brings in its train a richer understanding of the Scriptures. Behind all the slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy, necessary though they are, there arises a more detremined quest for him who is the sole object of it all, for Jesus Christ himself.” (Opening words of Bonhoeffer, ‘The Cost of Discipleship’.) x

  • I first read the Chuck Colson article “Soothing Ourselves to Death” when I first recieved that publication in the mail and found it to be a great article. I have to resonate with Chuck and say that we have lost solid biblical teaching in our churches today, from the liberal to the emergent to the evengelical. All of us have lost that and we need to regain it.
    I loved the opening paragraph where Chuck refers to the song “Draw me Close to You”. I have heard so many songs that not a shred of theology or meaning in it that I get sick just listening to a Christian radio. In a world where we are so much about the experience, we have lost the fact that experience comes through truth and truth through meaning. When a saw has no meaning it has no truth. I pulled that song up online, just the lyrics, and Chuck was right it could be played in a dance hall just like any other song and it would have no meaning. As a Christian I am to be in the world but not of it. I believe we allow the outside world to dictate who are instead of striving to be different in a positive light.
    The Emergent Movement is so gung-ho about contexualizing the Church to fit the postmodern world that it has become a part of it. But wouldnt striving to be different from the culture and instead trying to be like Christ where we worship Him, instead of through labyrnths, statues, “sensory particapatory” stuff, contemplative prayers (which by the way is Eastern mysticism all over it), “Christ” candles, and other non-biblical practices, and instead worship Him in Spirit and Truth. If you need all the other stuff, then I dare say that your theology is dry and stuffy.
    I agree with Chuck Colson’s article. We are dumbing down our congregation and watering the truth for fluff and hype and one of the biggest threats today for the mind of the young people is the Emergent Church who values ambiguity and postmodernism over the solid biblical truth. Just read McLaren or Sweet and you will understand. These two men are just a taste of what the Emergent Church can do to a church and how this movement will bring decay into the church today. Dont post and say I have never read the Emergent’s writing. I have and I have weighed it and found it wanting, and in need of reform. Let’s think Church. Let us think!
    Blessings

  • To: “A True Evangelical Believer”
    From: “A True Post-Evangelical Disciple”
    Let’s begin with this: we agree on a lot more than what we disagree. At the end of the day we both say that Jesus is Lord, and that means we have a lot in common.
    Secondly, I encourage you to read Leslie Newbigin and David Bosch. They represent the best of missiological thinking today and many emerging church folk read their stuff. If you can say you’ve read them and get what they’re saying, I’m ready to talk turkey with you about the pitfalls of contextualizing.
    Your critique focuses far more on the forms of the emerging church and not its philosophy behind them. You don’t have to like the forms, I don’t like some of them myself. But you need to understand the philosophy behind them. Why would the emerging church do this? Did the emerging church blindly sell out to something other than the Gospel? I don’t think so. Read Newbigin and Bosch and you’ll find out why.
    I should also note that the “world” also uses guitars, pianos and organs . . . but hey, who’s keeping track here? We all know that God has sanctified guitars and pianos for worshipping in Spirit and in truth and not candles, prayer labyrinths and contemplative prayer. . . Can’t we at least fairly say that using a guitar in church is “contextualizing” to a culture? I don’t see how using a prayer labyrinth to guide one into God’s presence is any different from using a guitar.

  • Ed C.
    The old arguement over the guitars in worship service is old and overdone. Many say “well, the bible doesnt say guitar, so should we not use them?”, but that arguement cannot be applied to the forms that the Emerging Church has.
    The forms the Emrging Church uses (labrynths, “Christ” candles, etc..) are indicative of the philosophy that the church is embracing. These forms are directly linked to mysticism that is inherent to many eastern cultic religions and practices. Contemplative prayer says that one must empty the mind while chanting phrases, or words, to embrace the divine (McLaren). This is exactly like the Bhuddist transcendental meditation. They empty their minds to reach higher conscience. Christ never said to empty your mind as a form of worship. The Emergent church has put a different philosophy in place and try to mask it to be acceptable in place of worhship to Christ.
    If the emergent church were truly going after the form then why are they not looking at the OT, along with the NT, which is still a valid part of the Bible, and one in which the emergent church has yet to really engage. In the OT their were no labyrnths, contemplative prayers, and the such as God had seperated His people and gave them the forms that they needed to worship. If the Israelites were to have the same philosophy that the EC has now they would have been incorporating child sacrifices, worship to Molech, divination, prostitution, and other practices into their worship, oh wait they did do that..!!! Dont write me back and say that I cannot compare the two and say the EC wouldn’t do those things, but what the Israelites did was indicative of their philosophy of incorporating things that God either did not permit or did not mention. Their forms matched their philosophy.
    The forms of the emergent church are nothing but a mask to the false philosophy behind it. I have read much on the EC and so far none of it stands in the face of logic and biblical critism. Their forms are matching their philosphy.

  • I agree to disagree with you . . .
    The Buddists are on to something.
    Let’s take their practices and claim them for Christ. What makes an idol an idol??? Is it not what you believe you can do through it? Aren’t forms and practices just forms and practices? Is Eastern practice idolatrous or the faith in the spirits behind those practices. Can I meditate and allow Christ in me, while a Buddist meditates to connect with a false spirit?
    I’m sorry that the EC offends you. Really, I really am. It’s all about the same Lord, just different practices. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. I still believe that we hold more in common than not. You’re welcome at my worship gathering any time. We’ll keep a candle lit for ya.
    🙂
    Blessings

  • Ed,
    Thank you for the invite to a service. If I am ever out in your neck of the woods I may take you up on your offer.
    There is one thing that I have to say to get off my chest about the forms and practices however. I understand that people want to try and claim certain practices from other religions and make them “christian”. But I wonder where do you draw the line? If one takes contemplative prayer one day, will that same person then take up ancestor worship the next day and say that we are claiming it for Christ by honoring those that went before us?
    My concern is that when we start grabbing things from other cultures that God never said to do we are on the slippery slopes to allowing those things to become our “god”. When those things no longer give us that spiritual conncted feeling, we will go to the next thing. For example: yoga is seen by many Christians to be harmless. First it starts off with simple meditation, then it moves on chanting, and before you know it you are trying to reach a higher plateu and you are looking to those outside the Christian realm to lead you further down that spiritual path and before you know it it has taken hold of you and you are gone. I have seen it many times to Christians not grounded in truth.
    My concern is that many Christians will replace true Biblical worship with these practices without knowing the danger behind them. I for one will not allow these things to take place in my church or home becuase of the spiritual meaning they have in Eastern religions. I wont even tempt others in my church to even think about these forms as they are not redemptive to Christianity.
    Instead of focusing on these satanic rituals in other religions, let rather focus on engaging God as He has told us to, through His word and prayer. I fear that we will replace the Word with eastern mysticism and that is a dangerous slope to on my friend.
    I choose to disagree with the Emerging Church and I will preach against it in my Church and to those around me. You may disagree with me, but thats okay. I see to much in it that sends up red flags for me to say that its okay. I wish you the best of luck in your church.
    God Bless!

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