Bags of Bran


Media Ecology is Helpful
July 15, 2015, 11:35 am
Filed under: Apologioi, Bible

The other day I wrote a facile little introductory review about a brain-stretching article I had read on media ecology. For those not aware of it, media ecology is a rather abstruse field of learning that examines how media shape their message.

Let’s start small and work our way up. “Media” is plural for “medium,” which, in this discussion, is kind of a technical term. It refers to the means by which a message meets a recipient. Examples really help here, so I’ll provide some.

If someone wants to tell you a story, he could do it in several ways. He could simply tell you using his voice. If he was in person, waving his arms around and making eye contact, this is a whole lot different from if he were reading it in a flat voice over a conference call. He could tell you the story using a falsetto voice and marching in place.

He could write it down. He could write it and have it published in a book with pictures, or he could scratch it in the paint of other people’s cars.

He could make a movie out of it. The movie could be animated. The movie could include seductive-looking actresses. The movie could use strange camera angles and weird lighting.

He could make every line rhyme. He could make every line have exactly ten beats. He could work in an exceptional quantity of references to cabbage slaw.

None of these differences would change the fundamental elements of the plot of the story. Each of these differences affect the medium, or the “how,” or the packaging, of the storytelling.

But they would also change the way one receives the story. Is it easier to follow or more difficult if it is told in person vs. written? Do you take it more seriously or less seriously if the speaker has funny mannerisms? Would a rhyme pattern be off-putting or helpful to a reader? Would all those references to cabbage slaw affect the overall story? What if, while telling you the story, the speaker stopped every few minutes to try to get you to buy things?

These are overly-simplified versions of the kinds of questions that media ecologists explore.

You’d perhaps (or perhaps not) be surprised to discover that most of the pioneers in media ecology are, if not born-again evangelical types, firmly committed to a Judeo-Christian way of looking at the world. If there is a God, nothing can be relative because there is a default value judgment, His, that bears on everything that man does. Everything that He created was very good: every arrangement of the original creation that we make falls somewhere on a spectrum between vicious and virtuous.

And how we tell our stories is a very important way in which we arrange created things.

Oh yes: here is the link to the facile introduction I wrote yesterday.

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Evangelicals and Bonhoeffer Together
March 31, 2015, 11:58 am
Filed under: Apologioi, Destined to get me in trouble

If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t buy the evangelical shtick. I tend to think of it as a social phenomenon more than a theological phenomenon, and that this is why they struggle so mightily to maintain any kind of meaningful distinction from the world. Definitions of evangelicalism such as Bebbington’s Quadrilateral seem much more exclusive than they really are: even “conversionism,” which seems to safeguard the work of the Holy Spirit, can only account for unhatched chickens. I think that this is exactly what the book of Hebrews addresses, incidentally, in those seemingly bewildering warning passages. In a milieu of conservative evangelicalism where people are taught (or are not un-taught) to never ever ever question the eternal veracity or objective knowability of their justification regardless of the presence or absence of “fruit in keeping with repentance,” it’s hard to take it very seriously.

Add to this the evangelical tendency to try to rehabilitate and assimilate theologically aberrant historical figures. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was neo-orthodox, friends. He came at Christianity with the same anti-supernatural presuppositions; with the same steely, modernist dome overhead cutting off the heavens; with the same doubts and denials concerning special revelation; as the earlier theological liberals. Eric Metaxas didn’t cite those parts of Bonhoeffer’s writings. True, Bonhoeffer did some brave things, there is no denying that he was brave. But those evangelical-sounding things that he wrote: what did he actually mean by them? What sorts of presuppositions were they founded upon? What doubts and denials had hollowed out the centers of his words?

I commend to you this article, written by a fellow who identifies himself as “neo-Waldensian.” I also commend to you the links he provides to other articles, especially the ones on Reformed Forum. Please read carefully, knowing that I’m not necessarily advocating their conclusions so much as their observations. But as you read, understand this: there must be some reason that evangelicals are willing to overlook and even cover for the painfully clear theological deviations in these figures, while at the same time assuring you that nothing is more important than doctrine. I don’t know exactly what it is yet.



Gold in an out-of-the-way mine
October 9, 2014, 5:05 pm
Filed under: Apologioi, Destined to get me in trouble

A few years ago a South African pastor and all-round capital chap wrote a book. It’s free on Kindle, and would be worth every penny if it cost a hundred times as much.

In all seriousness, I read it right away when it came out, but am now re-reading it for a series I am planning to teach in the church I pastor. Evidently, in my previous life as a seminary student, the following quote struck me as helpful:

So here is the irony and the misunderstanding. I hold that this conservative take on Christianity is not baroque and ornate; it is simply what is required to sustain healthy Christianity. As I look at those who disagree with me, I see a reduced, skeletal Christianity that can barely keep its own head above water, let alone seriously defend or propagate the faith in the challenging years ahead. I think it is abbreviated, inconsistent, and intentionally agnostic where it needn’t be. I see the current state of evangelicalism and fundamentalism as emaciated and spiritually anemic, scarcely holding on to life. Worse, it regards its weak pulse and labored breathing as evidence of its healthy commitment to “core essentials” and thanks God that it is not as other men are: legalists, cultural snobs, elitists, or even as this tax collector.

In my current life as a pastor of a small, lively country church, I couldn’t agree more.

I recognize that the kind of Christianity that employs cover bands and stand-up comedians is going to have far more appeal to the average pew-sitter in a church these days. But the problem is, three generations ago, the people sitting in the same pews would have been horrified by what now passes for Christian ministry. Another problem is, especially among those raised from nut and acorn in the revivalist soils of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, this all just looks like a normal extension of the spectrum.

The most vehement retaliation against a thoroughgoing conservatism comes from those to whom it ought to have the strongest appeal: however, embracing that conservatism, as those vehement retaliators perceive acutely, means kicking the Sovereign Gaithers to the curb, and that just ain’t gonna happen.

These are the death-rattles.



From my mailbox, into my recycling bin
August 13, 2014, 3:54 pm
Filed under: Apologioi, Destined to get me in trouble

Recently a rather well-known institution of higher learning sent me a piece of slickly-formatted promotional material for their _____Fest, which is evidently some sort of college recruiting wingding.

On the front, it boasts that _____Fest is “THE PREMIER EVENT FOR YOUR YOUTH GROUP THIS FALL.” Huh.

On the back, they tip their hand as to their strategy: “Bring your teens early to _______Fest and let them be part of our Fall Visitors Weekend.”
“Enjoy two days of college life at _____.”
“Experience classes, chapel, dorm life, and great activities.”

And why would this be appealing to teenagers? The noble-minded people at ______ College evidently don’t put much stock in teenagers’ ability to value what they will observe from “two days of college life at ______” nor in “classes, chapel, dorm life, and great activities.” Hence the need for _____Fest. They say as much in another text box:

“Teenagers love ______Fest. With giant inflatables, go-carts, dodgeball, and so much more, your teens will be active all day long.”

Perhaps for clarification, we could lay bare the nature of the appeal by use of an ellipsis: “Teenagers love…giant inflatables, go-carts, dodgeball, and so much more…”

And I suppose they will love ______ College for the same reasons.



Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
March 30, 2013, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Apologioi, Bible

Ghent Altarpiece adorationofthelamb



The First Fundamental
January 19, 2013, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Apologioi, Bible, Biography

I know Torrey et al. start their argument for fundamentals of the Christian faith with a defense of the Bible, but I think you can’t argue for a Bible without first arguing for a reason for a Bible. In other words, I don’t think God is hiding in the Bible, but has indeed written his glory into the tapestry of creation. We miss it. When we stare for minutes at a Bev Doolittle painting of some birch trees, we do so knowing that our labors will be rewarded with the appearance of a bear, wolf, horse, or Indian: we search in hope that those birch trees are not there simply to hold the sky off of the turf in the painting.

But we do not look at nature for the signature of God. Not on purpose. Incidentally, when a today-flavored person looks at the Bible, he or she is not necessarily looking for a god at all, but usually a reflection of himself or herself. But we are especially obtuse when we look at nature.

There have been some creative suggestions that there is a “gospel in the stars.” The constellations amounted to the stained glass windows in a celestial cathedral, telling the story of redemption to those who would stare long enough to figure it out. The problems with this theory are many, but one key problem is that it makes God the solution to a puzzle of his own making. Contrarily, God has not encoded himself into the universe: he has declared himself.

I think that is why Aquinas’ Five Ways fail to impress us today: there is nothing mystical to us about nature anymore. We know that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a giant nuclear furnace, etc. We have seen television come and go, and now have the world at our fingertips on our computers. The only problem is that we have lost the ability to parse it, but who cares? There it is! We know that there are stars and planets, as well as comets; but no Cupid. Good ole science has put a roof over our heads that makes the Five Ways seem like a real waste of mental acumen.

But for the Christian, I believe that thinking through the Five Ways is a good exercise. Recognizing where they point, and what sorts of observations lead to their conclusions: this is fruitful. It is certainly a way to appreciate God more comprehensively and philosophically. As arguments however, they certainly do not get one to the God of the Bible. Perhaps Deism, but not Christianity. Not even monotheism necessarily.

Yet, hypothetically (and setting aside Romans 3 for a moment): if one were to follow the arguments of the Five Ways (the reader is encouraged to look them up if he or she is unfamiliar with them), they would lead to an ultimate conclusion: a brick wall. Who is this Unmoved Mover? What is this Uncaused Cause? What is he like to be dependent upon absolutely nothing; and to have everything that exists be dependent upon him? Is he the perfection of the good things we experience on this side of the wall? What sort of plan does he have for this creation of his?

If we could even get that far unaided, that would be noble of us. If, hypothetically, there were one who tried to feel for God in this manner, he would encounter a brick wall. But all is not lost for that person.



Apologia 25, And Probably Final
April 30, 2012, 8:33 pm
Filed under: Apologioi

Fair enough. I was upset, but mostly that it was you saying it. I’ve been called worse. We’re all good now.

Well, the universe is big enough for both of us to poke around in and not run out of fascinations. I will enjoy probably different corners of it than you, but let’s not forget to share our discoveries with each other. I appreciate your perspective: it helps me to understand humanity a little better, and my own faults a little better as well.

One piece of evidence: The Bible talks about a quickly-created world in which things came into being mature. Adam was brought forth not as a zygote, but as a human man, ready to speak and impose order, ready to long for and love a wife, and ready to reproduce in a fairly short turn of events. From our experience, all mature trees have rings, so it’s not unreasonable to suppose that He would create the tree of life with rings. Had Adam cut it down, would he have found rings? Certainly: it had borne fruit already, too, suggesting sexual maturity. A God such as the Bible posits could create a fully-mature, lawful, dangerous, beautiful, unfathomable, largely-inhospitable-to-human-life universe, in six twenty-four hour stages, or shorter, or longer, as He saw fit, and it would be well within His prerogative. If the Bible speaks of a mature creation, the Christian is within his metaphysical right to believe that God could do so.

May God see fit to use unexpected providences to prove His great love to you. (That’s 18th century High Christianese for “I will pray as you said.”)

Speaking of common ground, here is an article by Peter Hitchens (brother of the other Hitchens) that says some things about brothers disagreeing agreeably.

chris




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