Friday, August 31, 2007

Salvo on the Media

The third issue of Salvo magazine, the theme of which is "Under the Influence - The Media and Their Messages," is en route to subscribers. You can take a peek at its contents here.

Art Link Letter

Philosopher Roger Scruton reflects on Art, Beauty,and Judgment:
Art is being privatized, with each of us striving to remain faithful to visions of beauty that we are no longer confident of sharing outside the circle of our friends. One cause of this is the democratic culture, which is hostile to judgment in any form, and in particular to the judgment of taste. The prevailing attitude is that you are entitled to your tastes, but not entitled to inflict them on me.
Tom Gilson thinks Scruton is helpful in explaining why bad art gets good treatment.

Andy at Think Christian
points to a Touchstone Magazine article about why evangelical authors aren't writing books of lasting literary value and what they can learn from Flannery O'Connor.

Joseph Torres at Kingdomview highlights the intro to an article by Dawn Xiana Moon:
We have become irrelevant.  Many contemporary Christians tend to make one of three errors when dealing with art: One, we declare anything that doesn’t explicitly proselytize, anything that depicts brokenness without redemption to be depraved or unworthy of Christian notice. Or two, we decide that the secular world really does have better art, so we copy it, boldly and without apology or thought into our own creativity. Or three, we try so hard to be relevant that we adopt the attitude and worldview of the culture that surrounds us—instead of being the proverbial salt and light, we end up as dust with nothing to offer in the way of hope, because there is only a perfunctory difference between those of us who claim to follow Christ and those who don’t.
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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Calling and Challenges of Christian Higher Ed.

David Dockery, president of Union University and author of the forthcoming Renewing Minds, discusses key challenges of Christian higher education with Christianity Today:
Our calling is for faculty and students in these programs also to learn to think Christianly about business, healthcare, education, social structures, public policy, recreation, and yes, about homes and churches as well. For to love God with our minds means that we think differently about the way we live and love, the way we worship and serve, the way we learn and teach, and the way we work to earn our livelihood.
Earlier this month Justin Taylor read a pre-publication volume of Dr. Dockery's book and gave it an enthusiastic review.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Megachurches, Misery, and Music

I admire Gene Veith. From the years that I've read him I haven't known him to be one to exaggerate or thoughtlessly commend things for others' consideration. He also seems to be the kind of guy who uses all caps with reservation. So, when he told readers "You simply MUST read this article" by Sally Morgenthaler, author of Worship Evangelism, I took heed and advise you to do likewise. In it, Morgenthaler explores how effective churches focusing on a worship-driven model of evangelism (one in which the worship service is considered the best means of witnessing) are at actually attracting lost people. She also looks at the simultaneity of an increase in the number of megachurches in the U.S. and a net loss of church attenders nationwide.

One of the things Morgenthaler emphasizes is the need for Christians to be willing to give ear to the attitudes and perceptions of the unchurched (I really don't like that term because there are plenty of unsaved though "churched" individuals) about us. As an illustration of those perceptions she includes the following excerpt from an article written by a non-Christian journalist after attending what Morgenthaler calls "one of the largest, worship-driven churches in the country":

The [worship team] was young and pretty, dressed in the kind of quality-cotton-punk clothing one buys at the Gap. 'Lift up your hands, open the door,' crooned the lead singer, an inoffensive tenor. Male singers at [this] and other megachurches are almost always tenors, their voices clean and indistinguishable, R&B-inflected one moment, New Country the next, with a little bit of early '90s grunge at the beginning and the end.

They sound like they're singing in beer commercials, and perhaps this is not coincidental. The worship style is a kind of musical correlate to (their pastor's) free market theology: designed for total accessibility, with the illusion of choice between strikingly similar brands. (He prefers the term flavors, and often uses Baskin-Robbins as a metaphor when explaining his views.) The drummers all stick to soft cymbals and beats anyone can handle; the guitarists deploy effects like artillery but condense them, so the highs and lows never stretch too wide. Lyrics tend to be rhythmic and pronunciation perfect, the better to sing along with when the words are projected onto movie screens. Breathy or wailing, vocalists drench their lines with emotion, but only within strict confines. There are no sad songs in a megachurch, and there are no angry songs. There are songs about desperation, but none about despair; songs convey longing only if it has already been fulfilled.
Morgenthaler calls the kind of worship the journalist described "Worship for the perfect. The already arrived. The good-looking, inoffensive, and nice" and adds "No wonder the unchurched aren't interested."

Ironically, the desire to make worship attractive by insisting that we only sing positive, upbeat songs, leads to a revulsion because unbelievers know that life isn't like that. Much of our contemporary hymnody (using that term loosely, of course), in its zeal to get to the joys of redemption, frequently skips over the misery, disappointment, and corruption characteristic of a world under the curse on account of humanity's sin.

The inescapable fact that many don't seem to want to consider is that when style dictates, there are simply some dimensions of our human experience (not to mention a biblical perspective on life) that will go unacknowledged or glossed over. That's why the thought of deciding what style of music will be dominant in a local church based on a poll of the musical tastes of its "target audience" is problematic. No one musical genre is capable of adequately conveying the broad range of human emotions with respect to God or, for that matter, the spectrum of God's attributes. Contrition and lament, for example, are biblical themes that probably don't get much air time in churches committed to an easy listening, pop style. Cries of repentance don't fit well with major keys and beats you can tap your toe to (try, for example, to retain the feeling of Psalm 51 using the tune of "Zippity-do-da.") Likewise, schmaltz is woefully inadequate for communicating the Lord's holiness, wrath, and majesty. Despite the frequent and voluminous cries that style is neutral, it seems clear to me that when style drives, theological considerations have to ride shotgun. Insisting that we sing things a certain way means there are some things we will not sing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Surprising Source of Our Religious Malaise

While there are numerous factors contributing to rampant biblical illiteracy in the West, Ben Witherington claims that the lion's share of responsibility belongs to an unlikely suspect:
Reading the book of Acts together with reading the budget reports of most churches today is an exercise bound to cause depression. The "me" culture of the West, bent on radical individualism has been endorsed, even co-opted and taken over and baptized by the church. Rather than countering the narcissism of the culture, we cater to it, with all sorts of 'needs' based preaching and teaching that is long on 'how to's' and very thin on Biblical substance. But frankly 'how to' doesn't help if you don't first know 'what for' or even 'why bother'.
What's wrong with needs based preaching? First of all in a culture immersed in constant advertisements and sales pitches, most people in the West have no idea what their real needs are. They can identify their wants, and they mistake them for actual needs. All the while that most profound of all needs, the need for God and for actual knowledge of God leading to relationship with God goes begging.

In other words, I am laying a large share of the blame for religious illiteracy in the West on the Church which has failed in the prime mandate of making disciples of all nations, failed in the mandate to train up sufficient Spirit-filled, Biblically adept proclaimers of God's Word who will win some by being winsome, leading outsiders into a life long pilgrimage of learning in the school of Christ. We need look no further than in the mirror to find one of the sources of our religious malaise.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ken Myers on the Church's Cultural Carelessness

I've been a satisfied subscriber to Mars Hill Audio Journal for many years. When the cassette-carrying envelope arrives in the mail every other month (I know, I'm a dinosaur opting for cassettes instead of mp3's or CD's) my day is made. If I had any complaints, it would only be that I wish it were issued monthly rather than bi-monthly but that's just because I enjoy it so and hate having to wait for the next volume. I suppose the exercise in patience is good for me. Actually, when I consider that the quality of the journal would most likely suffer from shortening the span between volumes, the wait is worth it. Through his conversations with guests from diverse areas of expertise as well as his thoughtful commentary, Ken Myers provokes me to consider implications of the faith I profess in ways that I had not previously.In a recent letter to subscribers, Ken restated the convictions that motivate his work and made some noteworthy yet disturbing observations about the state of the Church. Here's an excerpt posted with permission:
For fifteen years, I have guided the work of MARS HILL AUDIO with the belief that the shape of cultural life really does matter; that faithlessness can take cultural as well as personal forms; and that, because cultural life matters, the Church must often strive to be counter-cultural. I have learned a lot in those years, and I have changed my mind about a number of things. But there are two conclusions with which I started this project (based on previous study and observation) which have been remarkably reinforced. The first is that what is called "modernity" is essentially incompatible with Christian faithfulness, that what makes modern culture distinctively "modern" involves a rejection of important Christian beliefs and practices. The second is that one of the greatest temptations faced by the Church and her leaders is the desire to be approved by the world, that the evangelistic motive can produce a dangerous preoccupation with "getting along," with being "winsome." When the Church gives in to this temptation, the result is a form of cultural captivity in which the Church is simply a chaplain to some cultural status quo, reducing the consequences of faith to personal, "spiritual" matters, but incapable of encouraging a truly counter-cultural stance except at the margins.

As I have read the books written by my guests, talked with them, and with pastors and lay-people around the country, I have come to a deeper conviction of the truth of the first point above. And as I have looked at the books that sell really well among Christians, as I have watched the churches and parachurch groups with large and growing constituencies (some of them, admittedly, short-lived), and as I have talked with younger Christians whose experience and assumptions have been shaped only by "culture-affirming" institutions, I sense a growing level of uncritical identification with contemporary culture. While there are a number of wonderfully insightful books by Christian authors who see the underlying dynamic of many cultural conventions (books about technology or commodification or narcissism or our addiction to entertainment or the state of modern marriage), the insights of such prophetic thinkers seem to be ignored by celebrated Christian leaders, and hence by most Christians. It is easier to keep a big church program running if you don't introduce too much cognitive dissonance between what you say on Sunday and what advertisers and entertainers and professors and miscellaneous experts say the rest of the week.

Of course many good things happen even in churches that are culturally assimilated, just as many good things happen in churches that are culturally disengaged. But bad things in people's lives that are culturally induced and sustained are much harder to deal with when believers aren't ready to recognize that the Church's ways need not be the world's ways. Churches that are culturally careless will not be likely to nurture disciples capable of recognizing cultural disorder outside the church. So, for example, a congregation that adopts contemporary media techniques without reflection is unlikely to produce people alert to the limitations and liabilities of mass media. The church with a food court is unlikely to foster thoughtfulness about the deep cultural losses sustained by modern eating habits. The pastor committed to "entertainment evangelism" will never be able to convey the wisdom in Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and other similarly prophetic books.
I, too, frequently lament most of the items situated on the bestseller shelves of Christian bookstores. Money and time spent on these would be so much better invested in resources like the Journal. It won't give you more "how to's" or steps to spiritual victory or building a successful church. What it will give you is rich food for thought about what fidelity to Jesus Christ (both individually and corporately) should look like in our cultural setting. A subscription would make a wonderful gift to a pastor or any believer interested in thinking and living in a more thoroughly Christian manner. You can learn about receiving and/or giving a demonstration issue here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Athens in Cyberland

[More pressing responsibilities require that I give less attention to blogging so I'm recycling an article originally posted on 5/27/05. Readers suffering from the condition therein described may not appreciate it due to its age.]

Before recounting Paul's address to the Areopagus, Luke offers the following parenthetical description of the Athenian climate: "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (Acts 17:21). This once great city was a draw for people who trafficked in ideas -especially those hot off the mental press. New philosophies were to Athens what fashion is to Manhattan's Seventh Avenue. This reputation for being a city populated by people with a craving for novelty was long-standing. Richard Longenecker, in his commentary on Acts, cites Cleon, a fifth-century BC politician and general, as telling his fellow Athenians: "You are the best people at being deceived by something new that is said."

There is nothing new under the sun, including our ravenous desire for what is novel. Aren't we frequently driven by the lust (and I don't think that's too strong a word) for something new? I think about the time I've wasted glued to some cable news channel fearful that I might miss a breaking story or further developments of a major story already out. In an attempt to keep the viewing audience tuned in, it's not uncommon for the hosts of one news program to talk with the host of the following program. Hannity & Colmes, for instance, after saying about everything that could possibly be said about the major story of the day will ask Greta Van Susteren what's coming up on her show. "Well, Sean, we'll be covering the latest breaking news on the story you've been talking about," she says. Translation: "I'll be taking a few more swings at the horse you and Alan just beat to death." Still, I watch just in case there really is something new.

The hunger for newness is also quite apparent in the church. How many times have you heard someone, after hearing a sermon, say with disappointment, "He didn't say anything I didn't already know" or "I didn't learn anything new"? Those of us charged with the task of preaching and teaching are equally afflicted by the quest for the uncommon. We may, at times, be embarrassed to declare familiar truths to God's people, forgetting that informing is only one goal of biblical proclamation. Reminding believers of what they already know is of equal value. Understanding this is what led Peter to write:

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder (2 Peter 1:13, ESV, emphasis mine)
The Athenians would love the blogosphere. Some items on others' blogs made me consider how blogging appeals to the Athenian spirit and may even nurture it. Last month Justin Taylor, with tongue in cheek, began a post commenting on a year-old article with these words:

I know blogging is supposed to be cutting edge, commenting on the latest article to appear and what not. I’m also aware that my blogging credentials might be revoked for highlighting an ancient article (from 2004). But I’m willing to take that risk.
In an insightful piece called Recovering Wisdom in the Blogosphere Joe Carter wrote:
Almost every blog has an archive listed by date and category but the average blog reader will never take advantage of this resource. Why? Because we assume that anything that was written in the past (i.e., last month) will be of little relevance today. We accept the absurd notion that the latest news is more necessary for understanding our times than the past. But, to paraphrase the historian Arnold Toynbee, the blogger trying to understand the present is like the man with his nose pressed against the mirror trying to see his whole body.
In addition to making us intolerant of what is old and known, our craving for the current can train us to readily dismiss anything that requires sustained attention. I speak from experience. The confession of an anonymous commenter in response to one of my previous posts could easily be mine:

The scary thing for this "cognitive tourist" is that I find myself scanning for and reading the shortest blog entries and articles most of the time. Even if a blog entry title is something that peaks my interest I will most likely skip it if it looks too lengthy! I almost skipped over [your post] due to it's length... sad, I know. With so many great blogs out there and great links one is left with the sense that there is just no time to stop and think too long. You just have to keep going and going so you don't miss anything, but in the end you end up digesting very little.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Love the People, Destroy the Errors": The Imperative to Discern

We must be absolutely clear and unequivocal with this distinction between the person and the teaching. We must respect unconditionally the people whose views we critically analyze and respect their achievements on a human level. At the same time, we must oppose the mistaken theological view they have championed, in the hope that we may come to future agreement. In his dealings with schismatic bishops, St. Augustine followed this rule: Honor the person, fight the error. He laid down the polemical principle that we must content objectively with reasons and with proofs from Holy Scripture, and with the desire to win a person back, as he succeeded in doing in at least one instance. His motto was: Diligite homines, interficite errores; Love the people, and destroy the errors.

...the Christian community certainly has the privilege and task to evaluate what is being taught. Again, we may find both good and bad in someone's teaching. But we cannot play off one against the other; we cannot ignore the bad because of the good. It would be the same as excusing a pharmaceutical firm for a dangerous medicine because of the excellent penicillin preparations it has produced for years. It may go on producing excellent medicine, but production of the dangerous substance must be censured and stopped as well as restitution made. - Klaus Bockmuehl,
The Unreal God of Modern Theology (Helmers & Howard, 1988), pp. 5,6

Free MP3 Messages from Sovereign Grace Ministries

Sovereign Grace Ministries is giving an invaluable gift to the body of Christ by making their store's entire collection of MP3 messages available for free download. Audios are sorted by topic, event, and speaker. Thanks to Adrian Warnock for pointing to this great find as well as for listing the links by speaker:

Randy Alcorn Mark Altrogge Christine Bass Ken Boer Robin Boisvert Gary Bowers Mike Bradshaw Mike Bullmore John Butler Craig Cabaniss Solomon Campbell Kristin Chesemore Nancy Chouinard Mickey Connolly Steve Cook Vikki Cook Brent Detwiler Jenny DetwilerMark Dever Ligon Duncan Bob Donohue Jim Donohue Andy Farmer Rick Gamache Pete Greasley Wayne Grudem Joshua Harris Dave Harvey Kimm Harvey Eric Hughes Danny Jones Bob Kauflin Bill Kittrell Grant Layman John Loftness Marty Machowski Carolyn Mahaney C. J. Mahaney Janelle Mahaney/Bradshaw John MacArthur Kenneth Maresco Carolyn McCulley Mark Mitchell Albert Mohler Mark Mullery Aron Osborne Jon Payne John Piper David Powlison Mark Prater Jeff Purswell Michael Ramsden Charlotte Richardson Trey Richardson Ken Sande Phil Sasser Pat Sczebel Janis Shank Steve Shank Chris Silard Eric Simmons R.C. Sproul Carl Taylor Justin Taylor Stuart Townend Eric Turbedsky Todd Twining Terry Virgo Bruce Ware Darryl Wenger Nicole Whitacre Dave Wilcox

Monday, August 13, 2007

Southern Baptist Scholars on Biblical Counseling

Here's an item related to the previous post: an interview (PDF) with Daniel Akin (president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) Russell Moore (dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's School of Theology), Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Theological Seminary) and Sam Williams (professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Theological Seminary) about Southern Baptists' move toward biblical counseling.

The interview, originally published two years ago in the newsletter of
Crossroads Counseling, consists of responses to the following questions:

1. How do you define the difference between biblical counseling and other models of Christian counseling (a.k.a. integration)?

2. Which approach to counseling, biblical counseling or integration, do you prefer? What aspects of doctrine and personal experience are most influential in your decision?

3. What do you believe the role of the Bible, the gospel, and the church ought to have in a distinctively biblical counseling model? What role does secular psychology have?

4. How does your school teach that biblical counseling should interact with the ministries of the church?

5. What questions would you ask a counselor you were considering referring to in order to
assess whether their practice was distinctively biblical? What “red flags” are you screening for as you ask these questions?

6. Do you see any potential dangers with a church referring to integrationist counselors or
using discipleship materials in their church that are from an integrationist perspective?

7. What authors and organizations do you believe are doing the best work in presenting a
biblical model of counseling?

8. Why do you think secular psychology has become such an attractive alternative for many church leaders and members? Why are Southern Baptists embracing biblical counseling at this time in their history?

9. How would you envision an ideal relationship between local churches and a parachurch ministry devoted to a biblical model of counseling?

10. What final words of advice would you give to pastors as they consider matters of

Friday, August 10, 2007

Powlison & Tripp Join SBTS Faculty

Towers Online reports:
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary continues to bolster its biblical counseling program with the addition of several renowned authors and scholars as visiting faculty.

Paul David Tripp, president of Paul Tripp Ministries and a counselor for 25 years, and David Powlison, faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF), have both been added to Southern’s faculty as visiting professors.
I join David Powlison in praying “...that Christian colleges, universities and seminaries would get a vision toward orienting counseling around the Gospel.” Unfortunately, it's necessary to add "churches" to that list as well.

Read the rest. (HT: Alex Chediak)

Assorted Links

Total Truth author Nancy Pearcey recently accepted a university position. Guess where.

Another author, Rick Phillips, recently mused about last month's Christian Bookseller's Association Convention:
My main overall impression of the convention is that the focus in on marketing, not ministry. That is no surprise, and I was not shocked. In fact, I was shocked by little that I saw there, having been forewarned years ago by Mike Horton and his guys. But what surprised me was the blatantness of it all. There was not the slightest attempt to hide or nuance the reality that this is all about marking goods to the Christian consumer market. I would expect at least some disingenuous attempts to convey the idea that this is service done unto Christ. But nope, it was pretty much all about money. This may be why a raw majority of the displays were selling trinkets and other Christian junk, instead of books. (Caveat: Of course, this is in part due to the fact that Christian bookstore owners have to feed their kids. I am sympathetic to this reality. But still, it was astonishing to me to see how the convention as a whole was targeting so overwhelmingly to marketing. I kept wondering what Tertullian wouldsay. A publisher would complain, "But I have to eat!" Tertullian's famous reply: "Do you?"
Sam at the Coffee Bible Club explains why church history isn't boring and, beyond that, is good for us. (If you participated in the recent History of Christianity class at our church, please read this!) (HT: Think Christian)

I've long been in search of the secret to becoming a better writer. Little did I know that the answer was as simple as assuming the proper position. (HT: Andrew Jackson)

If you haven't already seen them, someone has come up with an artistic response to Team Pyro's "emergent-see" motivational posters (HT: Brett Kunkle)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Greg Koukl Interviews Frank Beckwith

Greg Koukl spent yesterday's Stand to Reason broadcast talking with former Evangelical Theological Society president Francis Beckwith about his return to Roman Catholicism. Listen here. (HT: (welcome back!) Justin Taylor)

Honey, Honey: On Moderating Information Intake

Over the weekend I didn't check my RSS reader once. I thought about it a few times but the thought of how many unread blog posts awaited me led to my putting it off until this morning. "I really have to excise some subscriptions," I thought to myself as I deleted posts in mass. Proverbial counsel came to mind as I labored to get the number of unread posts under 100+. " If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it" (Proverbs 25:16). This is the flip-side of counsel offered in the previous chapter: "My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste" (Proverbs 24:13). The lesson is that moderation in the consumption of even good things is a mark of wisdom.

I frequently think about the application of this truth to technology and the vast amounts of valuable information it allows us to access. I fear that Christians are prone to assess our use of information technologies solely on the basis of what kind of information is being conveyed with little thought given to how uncritical and excessive use of information technologies may have undesirable effects even when we are using them to communicate good things. Macht at Prosthesis recently shared a proposal for a book that I hope he will someday write. Here's what he said:

If I were to write a book about a Christian approach to technology, I would begin by surveying a number of different views of technology. Then I would argue that most people take an instrumental view of technology. Then I would point out how this view causes them to see the good and bad in technology based on how it is used. For example, somebody might say that computers are good when they allow us to keep in touch with friends who live far away, but they are bad when they help people to such things as this. Then I would argue that this instrumental view is insufficient for characterizing technology. Not only are we affected by how we use technology, but we are affected when we use technology (regardless of the ends for which we use it). Our everyday use of technologies instills in us a certain way of living - it teaches us, it disciplines us, it forms us. Then I would look at various technologies that we all use every day and compare how they discipline us. Finally, I would compare these with various spiritual disciplines and then attempt to offer suggestions about what to do if and when any conflict arises.
What Macht points out is the necessity of giving serious thought to how we help each other live faithfully to Christ in our decisions about whether and how we make use of cell phones, email, blogs, etc. Judging from the results of America Online's third annual Email Addiction survey (12% of those surveyed admitted to checking email in church), there's just cause for believers to consider and converse about whether we are using technology in ways that affirm our professed convictions about God, creation, the unity of truth and the dignity of human being. Where in the life of the church, I wonder, does such instruction take place. We relegate such discussion to the realms of academia to our own detriment.

Quentin Schultze has long been one of the too few voices calling Christ-followers to theologically reflect on our technological practices. In Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age, he issues the following caution about how the failure to exercise self-control in information consumption can lead to a fragmentary and shallow existence:

Information technologies are biased against the discovery of coherent moral wisdom and in favor of the spread of fragmented information. The dissemination of information can become an incessant noise that repeatedly diverts our attention from greater matters. Like slot machine players in a casino, we lose track of the rhythms of the natural world. Unless we learn moderation, our lives will be a mishmash of messages and information that is ever more tenuously connected to concrete obligations, cultures, and traditions. More and more people have the power to exchange messages and access databases, but fewer people seem to know what life means or how to live it well. Coping with the pace of messaging is enough trouble for the day. In the information age, who has time and energy to cobble together a moral vision? (p. 48)