Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Relevance and Capitulation?

This wonderful article by Mark Bauerlein in the Chronicle of Higher Education, A Very Long Disengagement, articulates well the current lifestyle consequences of the modern student and challenges universities to not bow to cultural forms which perpetuate the various character vices he exposes.  Fundamentally, the article lists several academic arenas in which college students are failing miserably, and connects them with the kind of activities students engage in which separate them from a thoughtful and meaningful interaction with the world around them.

Instead of engaging academically, they spend more time on TV, on email, in on-line chatting, and text-messaging.  Instead of learning the actual ins and outs of current civil issues, they get their news from Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show.  Bauerlein notes:

“A January 2004 study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart "are now mentioned almost as frequently as newspapers and evening network news programs as regular sources for election news." A story on the report in The Hollywood Reporter began, ‘To a young generation of Americans, Jon Stewart may as well be Walter Cronkite.’”

Clearly most 20-somethings have no grasp on the difference between humor and reality.  (Which is another fascinating post waiting to be written.)

But what grabbed my attention as much as anything was Bauerlein’s final plea with the university system.  Instead of bowing to these powerful cultural trends, he implores:

“Or one can accept the political philosopher Leo Strauss's formula that ‘liberal education is the counter-poison to mass culture,’ and stand forthrightly against the tide. TV shows, blogs, hand-helds, wireless ... they emit a blooming, buzzing confusion of adolescent stimuli. All too eagerly, colleges augment the trend, handing out iPods and dignifying video games like Grand Theft Auto as worthy of study.

That is not a benign appeal for relevance. It is cooperation in the prolonged immaturity of our students, and if it continues, the alienation of student from teacher will only get worse.”

I want to know if the evangelical church’s lust for relevance has done the same thing.  Could that last sentence be retooled as: “It is cooperation in the prolonged immaturity of our congregants, and if it continues, the alienation of believer from God will only get worse.”

In trying so hard to be relevant, have we ended up in capitulation?  Os Guinness quotes James Davidson Hunter (I think) as noting that if you dine with the devil, you had better use a long spoon.

In other words, if you want to use the tools of modern or postmodern culture to grow the Church of God, which have been refined in a workshop not friendly to Christian sensibilities, you need to stay pretty far away from the source.

If an emerging pastor wants to distance herself from truth, she has used a short spoon and swallowed far too much of the devil’s soup.  If a postmodern pastor wants a community to form faith instead of the Faith forming the community, they are probably already stuffed and can eat little more.

Instead of making disciples, have we perpetuated a non-committal form of radical individualism and consumerism?  Being relevant is one thing, being relevant with cultural forms that inherently separate people from the truth of the Gospel is another thing altogether.

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