In February I read Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion. I think he is spot on with the following observation of Evangelicalism. Dr. Eric Johnson spoke towards some of these things in the 1892 Club today. He urged a more holistic view of education, what he called transdisciplinary where Evangelicals can be both conversant in theology and another “secular” field and therefore bring creational creativity and intuition to the table.
Evangelicals had entered the halls of power, but they hadn’t even begun to remake them in a Christian image.From the Ivy League to Hollywood, the Evangelicals’ presence was accepted but not necessarily welcomed, and their influence rarely extended beyond the narrow footholds they had carved out for themselves.
In part, the problem seemed to be one of talent. Either Evangelicals still weren’t sufficiently successful at nurturing intellectual and artistic gifts in their churches and communities, or else the most creative young believers tended to drift away from the fold. The roster of Evangelical theologians and Bible scholars was impressive, but the ranks of Evangelical novelists, filmmakers, poets, and public intellectuals were strikingly thin, especially compared to the Christian flowering of midcentury. There was no real Evangelical analogue to W. H. Auden or T. S. Eliot, no impressive Evangelical literary school to match the Catholic novelists of the 1940s and ’50s, no Evangelical public intellectual who enjoyed the kind of respect from non-Christians that Reinhold Niebuhr and other golden-age figures had commanded.
Douthat goes on to say:
The best attempts of Christian hipsters and Bono acolytes notwithstanding, Evangelical pop culture still felt ingenuous and tacky—the stuff of Kirk Cameron movies and Christian rock music, geared to an undemanding audience and easily dismissed by anyone outside the circle of the devout. Much of it was theologically embarrassing as well: the old mistakes of fundamentalism pervaded millennarian kitsch like the Left Behind novels, while a pseudo-Christian prosperity theology suffused the world of cable televangelism.
These cultural deficits reflected a failure of strategic vision as well as a talent deficit—an unwillingness or inability on the part of Evangelicals to build the kind of institutions necessary to a vibrant Christian culture. A certain kind of anti-institutionalism is inherent in Protestant theology, going back to Luther’s break with Rome. But the neo-evangelical project may have pushed the tendency too far, strengthening Evangelical faith in the short term but weakening its churches in the longer run.
Evangelical pop culture was due for a rebuke. I do see a turn in the music industry, not so much in movies.
Finally, Douthat gives the reason Evangelicals have had very little influence.
The main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not that they don’t believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, and have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.
I have been enjoying the debate over at Mere-O about the ethics of Christians watching Mad Men.
I appreciate well made things, so after all the buzz about Mad Men my wife and I decided to give it a spin.
Five episodes in we decided it was time to stop. Although we were both enjoying it, there was too much sexual promiscuity and glorification of sinful behavior (a personal decision).
We do watch Breaking Bad. I agree with these authors that “Breaking Bad is a horse of a different color.” Moral deterioration does not look pretty in Breaking Bad, while everyone now wants to be Don Draper.
Jake Meador questions Mad Men because of its “glossiness.”
While it is certainly good that evangelicals can recognize and appreciate good art when they see it (it was not always so), I do feel some trepidation all the same about our embrace of shows like Mad Men. Churchill famously said that first we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us. I suspect that something similar happens when we’re talking about stories.
Yet unlike Game of Thrones, The Stranger, or There Will Be Blood, Mad Men still has an incredibly visceral appeal to viewers. We watch Game of Thrones because the characters are interesting, but we watch Mad Men because we want to be the characters. That’s why the show’s marketing includes promotional gimmicks like the “Mad Men” yourself tool on the website that allows you to create a version of yourself that looks just like Don, Roger, Joan, or Peggy. And it’s why the same marketing team has been releasing a new cocktail mix every day in buildup to the show’s release. With “Mad Men” yourself you can dress yourself like one of the Mad Men and with the cocktail guide you can drink what they drink. Everything about the show is intended to draw us into a deeply seductive world marked by good booze, guilt-free smokes, and strings-free sex. The glitz and glamor of the show has the effect of making us smile upon things we ordinarily would find horrifying–like Don’s serial infidelity, Roger’s philandering, and the naked selfishness of Pete Campbell. And that is where the show loses me: Ultimately, Mad Men follows the standard narrative of our ad-addled culture, which says that if you dress something up enough, people will buy anything–even things that are morally depraved and terrifying.
Of course, there can be value in reading bleak stories shorn of any redemptive element. If there weren’t, our Bible–and especially the Old Testament history books–would be a whole lot shorter. So my decision to skip a show that I enjoyed tremendously over the first four seasons isn’t based on some lazy truism about no redemptive themes or some similar nonsense. It can be a very, very good thing for Christians to soak in a world of anti-heroes where there is no happy ending. We learn to love the light a bit more after spending a bit of time in the dark. That’s why I actually think more Christians should watch Breaking Bad. Nothing will make the Bible’s warnings against pride come alive like seeing Walter White’s life fall apart as a result of his pervasive pride. But Mad Men is a horse of a different color. It’s failure is not that it lacks any redemptive characters. In that sense, it is no different than many of the stories from Judges. Mad Men’s failure is that it doesn’t even know what “redemption” is.
Nick Olson has some push-back.
Taking his post and his comments in the comment thread into consideration, I think the word that best describes Jake’s trouble with the series is “glossy.” That is, he seems to think that the show is too enticing—too enjoyable—in such a way that lessens or even overwhelms the import of its characters’ self-destruction. I can’t help but feel that this analysis is only half true, and doesn’t quite appreciate the very nature of the show. Think first of the opening credit sequence that begins every episode: it’s filled with advertisements of sexed up women and alcohol . . . on buildings as a shadowy outline of Don Draper is falling to his death.
My essential contention has been that the nature of these characters’ madness is a slow, ignorant suicide of the self. Their singular pursuit of happiness qua self-indulgent, unrestrained freedom produces self-destruction—it’s a culture of death.
Secondarily, I would suggest that part of the issue is that even as the show presents its characters’ awful behavior, it doesn’t do so in such a way that makes us despise them. Instead, it takes a more sympathetic view of its characters that might inspire a care for them that takes the shape of sympathy, or of wishing they would be better persons. So while I wouldn’t discount an individual’s contention that the show forms him or her in bad ways, I would offer the reminder that allowing people space enough to care for or even like immoral characters isn’t tacit endorsement of who they are as people.
People who have seen the show will certainly have opinions, but both authors bring up good points.
Brandon Ambrosino writes about “coming-out” at Liberty University.
It is a riveting piece, and most will come to this article expecting certain things to happen.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that what you find here will surprise you on many levels.
I hope there are more pieces like this on homosexuality and Christians in the future.
It was the fifth time that night that my Theology and Biblical Greek professor was calling. And, like the previous times, no way was I answering the phone. I knew why he was calling. Earlier that day, I emailed all of my professors to tell them I’d made the difficult decision to withdraw from school. As my cell phone went to voice mail, I crawled into bed under my covers, dreading the next morning when the rest of my professors would get my email, when the university would call my parents, when my roommates would ask me why I wasn’t waking up for class. “Why did I come here?” I asked myself. “Out of all the colleges in the world, why did I pick this one?”
Read the rest here.
I enjoyed this little meditation on reading Scripture by Charles Halton at the Houston Baptist School of Christian Thought.
I am convinced that hardly a Christian reads the Bible. We may crack its spine every morning, study it groups, or vocalize it in services, but we never, ever, actually read it.
That’s because we use the Bible. We approach Scripture with the specific agenda of learning from it. We burn through four chapters a day to complete it in a year, distill theological principles from paragraphs, and make moral applications from the Decalogue.
Learning from the Bible is undoubtedly good, but when is the last time that you just read it? Not to prepare for a lesson or to discern a principle or to understand theology but merely to rest inside a narrative? To feel the energy between sentences, to let a poem’s emotion wash over you, to feel the horror of Judges 19 and sublimity of Psalm 23? Maybe never. But this is what reading is. It’s approaching a text with the agenda of mere enjoyment.
Many Christians approach the Bible through a rigid system — a liturgical calendar, a prescribed reading schedule, or a daily quota. This is tremendously problematic if these are the only ways in which we relate to our most sacred text. Potentially, the Bible becomes another task that we tick off our to-do-list. We need to cultivate times of unstructured reading. To borrow a phrase from Alan Jacobs, we need to read at whim. If the desire arises to read a Psalm or a Pauline letter, or, dare we say, Leviticus, and it’s not the specified passage for the day, carve out a few minutes and soak in it.
But equally problematic is the person who reads the Bible with no rhyme or reason, retweeting a random verse here and flicking open a Bible to whatever page there but never getting around to finishing an entire narrative. There’s hardly a chance that this person will enjoy the Bible’s story lines or integrate its teachings into coherent ideas. The books that make up the whole were intend to be read through. If we treat the Bible like a jumble of hypertexts and bounce around its pages we will never appreciate it in the ways its authors intended.
There is an inherent tension in our relationship to the Bible. This tension is similar to the ways in which Jewish tradition approaches prayer — certain prayers are to be recited at particular times but petitions should also flow out of the heart. Prayer demands both keva (set times of recitation) and kavanah (spontaneous intention). We could loosely translate these terms as “fixed and free.”
Like prayer, the Bible is best read fixed and free. Impromptu sessions should accompany liturgical recitations and whim should interrupt schedules. In addition, we should read the Bible for enjoyment as well as study it for understanding. To a large degree these are very different acts but embracing the Bible more fully involves holding together the tension of keva and kavanah.
Okay violating my self imposed Facebook abstinence here just one time before June 1, but I hope you will understand…
Today was that exceptional…
I have broadcast games for 17 years, 12 on radio with Paul Rogers for the University of Louisville games. Only one other time, of a much more personal nature, was I moved to tears on the air. In Albeuquerque, the same site as my brother Jim’s national championship, Louisville came from 20 points down in an Elite Eight game to go to Rick Pitino’s first Final Four with the Cards. For various reasons, including a tremendously generous gesture by then assistant coach Kevin Willard, I was so moved…but that was more personal…
Today, Kevin Ware suffered one of the most gruesome injuries you’ll see on basketball court, or anywhere. In the first half, he jumped to challenge a shot, simply landed wrong and his leg was grotesquely broken and twisted.
What followed was unlike anything I have seen at a game, coaching or broadcasting. Louisville players began crying on the court; a few vomited at the sight, as the injury was right in front of the bench. Duke players and Coach K were obviously moved as well…
Making it more surreal was how it happened. No one could see from the outer reaches of this vast arena what exactly occurred. Even our viewpoint, courtside right opposite Louisville’s bench was difficult to see, but players on the court, who could see it in detail, started dropping to the court. Paul and I thought there might have been a collision we missed. A few broadcasters in the further points actually thought someone took a shot at the players; in this day of terrorism that may be sad, but not illogical.
Three players dropped to the court. Peyton Siva dropped to a knee to pray…clearly not business as usual…
As the time stretched on, it became apparent the injury was awful. In today’s instant media,pictures were quickly transmitted. The players looked stunned, sad, bewildered…
Kevin Ware asked his teammates to gather around before going off on a stretcher and told them, “I will be fine. Now go out and win this game…” which only added to the emotional impact…
What transpired after halftime was almost overwhelming to witness. The emotion etched on the players’ faces was unlike any I had ever seen at a game. I can’t even describe it, truly…pain over their friend, effort to refocus on the game, determination to win, in many ways for Kevin Ware.
It seemed like little happened to make people forget the injury. As Louisville improbably pulled away to a 22 point win, the crowd started chanting “Ke-Vin, Ke-Vin…” The game ended without the Cards cutting the nets down, and Rick Pitino urging the crowd to honor Kevin by chanting again as he stood on the podium.
There was a play very late with the game essentially over, where Luke Hancock–who started the year so bumpily and was the subject of fans’ wrath– taking a leadership role, waving everyone away so he could create a shot for walk on Tim Henderson, who proceeded to nail a three point shot, and receive an exuberant hug from the normally stoic Hancock.
All game we saw that emotion from players who rarely show it. It is one of the times sitting courtside gives a vantage point I am not sure TV could capture…although I know many simply watching at home were moved to tears…
And so my broadcast partner was moved to tears as well…and I was unable to do much to help him…overwhelming…
It was incredible…and I thought about why? Players get hurt all the time…why was this so emotional?
Of course it was gruesome. That is undeniably a big part. But to watch the unique bond that is a team, and how much pain these kids had to play through, and how they rallied together…AND rallied to play for their fallen teammate…again, overwhelming…
I was moved at the emotion by the Duke players and coaches as well.That was a reminder again how blessed you are when the outcome of a game can be so important to you. It IS important; that’s fine, but in moments like that you realize how fleeting it all can be and how it can all go away. Even young bullet proof players at that moment can’t help but be reminded, “There but for the grace of God go I”…
It makes anyone watching feel the same about their own lives. How fragile it all can be; you must embrace the moments, pull those dear to you near, and don’t waste the time you have with them…it all can go away so fast…
Yes, all that from basketball game. So I was very moved, and know I wasn’t alone…
After the game I got a hug from Russ Smith who was devestated at the injury. I got to share a moment with Gorgei Dieng and Peyton Siva, emotional and spiritual leaders in many ways on this team. It is different, a bit subdued, but they are happy and proud, and maybe in many ways, more meaningful than just a usual post game congratulations…
I wander around for a bit, pass a closed training room and hear what sounds like a player laughing hysterically. I ask, “Is that someone laughing?”. Somber subdued voices tell me, no those sounds are from one of the players crying, wailing, the sounds now gut wrenching as I realize what the reality actually is…
I won’t mention the player’s name, as i am not interested in violating his privacy, but i am reminded again…they’re people, not X’s and O’s,and in so many meaningful ways, just kids at that.
Every once in a while the game transcends the sport, and the sport transcends itself, sending life lessons and creating human drama of the highest order.
Today was one of those days, and I was humbled to try and help Paul find the words to describe it on radio.
That’s probably impossible, when you are asked to describe some things you’ve never seen before.
But I will never forget having the opportunity today, to try…
Here is fun video from Phoenix with good old fashioned Korean love stories. Love these guys. If they ever come through your city make it point to go see them. They put on a great live show.
Great song here from Local Natives called “Wooly Mammoth.”