May 25, 2008 Commentary:
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the WHI. Our topic today is Radical Informality. One of the things that I picked up on from my time of living in England was just how informal we Americans are by comparison, in ways that I did not even know that I was informal. Even in news reporting, an appropriate prefix: Mister, Doctor, Misses, was always employed in the U.K. while in America the president is called "Bush." Maybe it's the radical egalitarianism, you know, the philosophy that not only are all people created equal before God and the Law, but in every other aspect of life. Students are just as competent as teachers, pastors often see themselves as competent to address matters about which some of their parishioners know a whole lot more, while parishioners return the favor by treating Pastor Bob as if he is one of the boys no more qualified than they are to expound and apply the Scriptures.
This radical leveling means that conversation in almost every realm today looks more like an Oprah Show than anything else. Just as every person has an equal vote, everyone and every idea is equal as well. If anything, the internet has probably pushed this informality and egalitarianism to its limits. Whereas before writers had peers in their professions reviewing their work, judging its merits, demanding high standards of research and argument; now anybody can share his or her thoughts about the world and send it unedited to anyone in the world. Increasingly even classical music, the academy, and literature now conform to the generic tastes of mass popular consumer culture. Well now, not all of this is bad of course. The Gospel can thrive in any culture, but that doesn't mean that all cultures are equally good, or that they are neutral on the effects on the church.
May 18, 2008 Commentary:
"When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." A new Time magazine article appeared that shows that we're a nation of religious consumers. We consume everything including God apparently. In the popular movie Risky Business, years ago, there is a scene in which Joel (played by Tom Cruise) and some of his friends are eating at the corner hamburger stand. Joel, feeling the pressures of materialism all around him, asks, "Is all everybody wants to do is make money?" His friends, stunned by what they perceive as a stupid question, say, in chorus, "Yes." "What about you, Joel?" There is a pause in which one is left wondering how Joel will answer, and then he responds, "I want to serve my fellow man." Immediately aware of how out of step his answer is, Joel grins, betraying the seriousness of his answer, and everyone laughs, at ease having gotten the "joke."
Later in the movie, Joel meets a prostitute to whom he is attracted. He is becoming more in step with things and realizes the "virtues" he sees in the prostitute: "No guilt, no doubts, no fear. Just the shameless pursuit of immediate material gratification-what a capitalist!" By the end of the movie, Joel has built an empire of ill repute, only to have it topple. Joel shows us how he handled the pressure: "My name is Joel Goodson. I deal in human fulfillment. I grossed over eight thousand dollars in one night. Time of your life, huh kid?"
Seems like everything is for sale in America, everything seems to be dealing in "human fulfillment," selling identities, selling lives that we'd like to have.
Historian Jackson Lears reports that "to thrive and spread, a consumer culture required more than a national apparatus of marketing and distribution; it also needed a favorable moral climate" (From Salvation to Self-Realization). It seems that evangelicalism not only failed to discourage the exploitation of God and man, but actually advanced it, exchanging the Creator-creature relationship for that of Producer-consumer relationship.
The late-nineteenth-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody was a shoe salesman prior to his conversion-and a good one. He was to take his sales approach to his evangelistic enterprise, insisting that he was still a salesman as an evangelist; he had just switched products he said. In fact, according to William McLaughlin, a historian, Charles Finney made revivalism a profession, but D.L. Moody made it big business. Later, after the turn of the century, Billy Sunday would turn the platform into a stage and boast that he was "the most efficient evangelist and guaranteed results at two dollars per soul."
Everything it seems can be measured and even measured in monetary terms, when God becomes a producer and we become consumers. On this edition of the White Horse Inn we are talking about God for Sale: Consumerism in the church.
May 11, 2008 Commentary:
The Case for Theology & Apologetics (Part 2)
We're continuing to make a case for theology and apologetics in this program picking up from where we left off last week. In that program we talked about the importance of making a case for the Christian faith, spending most of that time talking about doctrine, and we were listening to interviews that our producer picked up very recently at a National Pastors Conference.
May 4, 2008 Commentary:
The Case for Theology & Apologetics
The Apostle John said, "We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the Word of Life so that you also may have fellowship with us and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." After surveying students at Evangelical colleges and seminaries sociologist James Davidson Hunter concluded, "There is a shift from a concern today with what the Bible says to what the Bible is telling me from an objective study of Scripture to a subjective experience." Furthermore he writes, "As respondents themselves put it, even if the Bible stories do contradict themselves or defy historical fact, the integrity of Scripture is not really undermined."
You see, is it enough that something happened within us? Is the hymn-writer correct when he says, and it is often sung on Easter Sunday, something happened and now I know he touched me and made me whole? Is the experience of Jesus, which is claimed by cultists from every corner of the world, enough to justify its claims? Is the experience of Jesus in my heart the whole defense that we bring to a modern world who wants to know why we insist "he lives?" Our shift from a reasonable, objective, extraverted faith to an anti-rational, subjective, introverted spirituality is not a sign of great faith in the face of unbelief, but it is the default setting of our modern world.
Many of the architects of what we call "theological modernism" or "Liberalism" had a pietistic background. They were tired of barren doctrinal formulas which had no connection to their personal experience. The warm, exciting truths recovered in the Reformation had been rationalized until they were little more than intellectual exercises and dry propositions to which one gave ascent, and that provided the foil for pietists to suggest that what happens in us is more important than what happened outside of us. It's not surprising that many, if not most, of the leaders of what we now call Protestant Liberalism grew up in these pietistic backgrounds. But the message that we get from the Apostles is very different. The Apostle Peter says that we must be prepared to give an answer to anyone that asks the reason for the hope that we have. Can you imagine Perry Mason pacing before his jury urging them to accept his case on the basis of a hunch or an intuition or a feeling, the word that Peter uses here is apologia, which was the term that lawyers used to refer to their defense. In 1 John the announcement of Christianity is not that something happened inside of me, "You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart." Rather the announcement, the wonderful announcement, the public, objectively accessible announcement is "this is what happened in history, we have seen it, we testified to it, we have heard it, and now this we proclaim to you." In this edition of the White Horse Inn we are going to make a case for thinking about theology and apologetics, "knowing what you believe and why you believe it" has been a tagline of this organization for many years and in this program we are going to talk about why this is necessary and why Christianity, whatever other religions require, why Christianity cannot possible survive except as it is intellectually explained and defended.