Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dumb Evangelicalism, Neil Postman, and Church Splits

In his ubiquitous and often beloved book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman spends the first half of the book charting the rise and fall of the "typographical culture" which perished with the rise of new media (radio, television, etc.). In the first part of the book, Postman claims that 18th and 19th century "American public discourse, being rooted in the bias of the printed word, was serious, inclined toward rational argument and presentation, and, therefore, made up of meaningful content" (p 52). According to Postman, this was because the printed word created the context of discourse. The printed word created the environment in which people thought, conversed, and preached.

As part of Postman's effort to buttress this contention, he points to the contrast between someone like Jonathan Edwards and TV preachers like Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham. Whereas Edwards delivered lengthy treatises and dissertations from the pulpit (and the people understood him!), Falwell and Graham comparatively speak/spoke in soundbites with simplistic language. Largely, Postman observes, religious, legal, and political intercourse became dominated more and more by image and personality and less by direct theological concerns.

These sorts of observations are helpful, I think, in observing evangelicalism as a whole, today. I wish to offer an anecdote. The town in which I live has a population of approximately 13,000 people. In our town there are approximately (and this is very approximate) 50 churches (none of which are Reformed, by the way - are you reading, PCA/OPC church planters?). In the last ten years, there have been at least three new churches that I can think of. All of them arose from church splits. What I want to observe is not the existence of church splits - those happen all of the time here in the midwest - but rather, the reason for those church splits. Was it doctrine? Was it theology? Was it predestination and the virulent influence of incipient, ugly, unhappy Calvinism? No. It was personalities. These are churches which split off of one another and started new fellowships (all non-denominational churches) because they felt that a leader at another church was not given their due or because this or that group felt that they connected with a certain small group leader. Churches in my community appear to be more governed by personality than by truth/doctrine. My fear is that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

This may be a merely anecdotal proof, but it is a symptom of a sickness in evangelicalism today. I am at least encouraged by doctrinally-based church splits, because it reflects a culture where God Himself is more important to worshippers than the shepherd. However, to be frank, the state of evangelicalism in my town almost causes me to deeply despair over our ever living in a day when truth and reason are again celebrated over celebrity and personality. Some time back, Doug Wilson opined that Postman and McLuhan are wrong, and that technology will not destroy the church, but rather, enrich her as a type of wealth. I cannot help but think that if I were a post-millennial I might find room agree with his friendly assessment of the situation. As it stands, however, I see nothing ahead but a further dumbing-down and a further decline in terms of the content of the things which once mattered.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New 'Five Views' Book

There is a new 'Five Views' book which came out less than a month ago. I only just found out about it, but I must say it seems like the most important of all of the 'views' books that have ever been released. I'll list the contributors, and you can try and guess the specific subject this new book is tackling.
  • Traditional Reformed (Michael S. Horton)
  • Progressive Reformed (Michael F. Bird)
  • New Perspective (James D. G. Dunn)
  • Deification, or Theosis (Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen)
  • Roman Catholic (Gerald O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty)

Friday, October 14, 2011

More Free Kindle Books (Hodge, Turretin, Calvin...)

A friend of the blog, Zack, has done something similar to me and begun creating his own Kindle books for personal use. He has given me permission to share them for the rest of you to download. You can pay Zack a visit at his blog, The Stranded Scholar, where he has lots of other more scholarly free resources. For me, the highlight is definitely being able to have Hodge's 3 Volume systematic theology tucked away and searchable in my skinny little Kindle.

Abstract of Systematic Theology by James Petigru Boyce

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Beveridge Translation) by John Calvin

The Scriptures by Francis Turretin

Systematic Theology (3 Volumes) by Charles Hodge

Monday, October 10, 2011

Free Kindle Book: Robert L. Dabney's Systematic Theology

"...he was not only a Calvinist in name, but in fact, that he knew why he was a Calvinist."

Download Dabney's Systematic Theology in Kindle format (Complete with working table of contents) by clicking here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blog Tour: A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus

I have been invited by the fine folk from Baker Academic to participate in a blog tour for one of their new titles, A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus by Bruce N. Fisk. Let me say out the outset that this is a very clever book. The presentation of the material is done in a new and fresh way.

At its core, this volume is an introduction to the Gospels and the so-called "search for the historical Jesus." The book is laid out as the journal of a recent college graduate named Norm Adams, as he makes a journal through the Holy Land. The book is full of dialogue, pictures and even email correspondence will Norm's former Bible professor, as Norm moves through the places Jesus is said to have been. Along the journey Norm interacts with many notable New Testament scholars, such as James Dunn, Scott McKnight, and John Dominic Crossan. This book deals with some of the questions college students would be dealing with as they are introduced to many of the forms of Higher Criticism. Because of that, this book would seem to be a good text book for a college introduction class on the Gospels. The format and style would seem to appeal to to most students, even those who are being forced to take your course. The way that the author interweaves details of the Holy Land makes you feel, at times, like you are there. One thing is for sure, after reading this book any Bible student wants to visit the places described in these pages. The readers of this blog would like to know that Fisk takes a more historical/critical approach to the study of the Gospels, rather than a canonical approach. If this is kept in mind, most of the material in this guide to Jesus is solid.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Free Dan Phillips Book for the Kindle

Dan Phillips, whom you may know as a regular contributor at Pyromaniacs, has a book, The World-Tilting Gospel which is currently available for free on the Kindle. You can get it by going here.
The first generation of Christians turned the world upside down. But the church today is being turned upside down by the world. Why? And why aren't we-with all our social medias and high-tech gadgets-more effectively producing Christ-centered, Gospel-liberated, biblically-instructed, world-tilting believers?
As always, I have no idea how long this book will be available for free, so grab it while you can.

NOTE: It is no longer free, of 10/9/11.