Friday, March 19, 2010

A good book that suffers from an emergent point of view

Shane Hipps’ desire with this book is essentially two-fold. First, he wants to take a serious look at the effects of media technology in the lives of believers. Secondly, he works to take that analysis and apply it to the life of the church.

Using the powerfully prescient McLuhan as his touchstone, Hipps proceeds to remind us of the truth that the “medium is the message” and the subsequent analysis provided by McLuhan to help us understand the impact of any technology. Hipps moves fluidly from oral to written culture to projected sermons in video venue church services. As such, I think Hipps does a good job of reminding us of some very important reflection – the kind of reflection we so rarely do as evangelicals. At times Hipps is insightful, at times he is appropriately biting in his critique, but most of all the first half of the book provides analysis that needs to be heard. We live in a technologically saturated culture, and hence we tend to lose our ability to “step out” for a moment and think through whether it is any good for us or the message of the Gospel.

Where the book begins to lose its impact is the second half – the application to church culture. Several problems become fairly obvious as the book progresses. I was personally disappointed to discover that Hipps is squarely in the emergent theological fold. I know his book is endorsed by leaders in the emergent movement, but that didn’t necessitate the theological problems with Hipps’ analysis. As is becoming almost stereotypical of emergent writing, Hipps’ history, philosophy and theology are rife with straw men, hyperbole, and unkind generalizations.

For example, Hipps simply assumes that epistemological foundationalism is dead. It isn’t. The result from Hipps’ point of view is that church life needs to look more at a “web of belief” way of presenting the Gospel, but that is not free from its own serious problems. If the foundation of your argument is a broad generalization, your conclusion is bound to suffer.

Hipps argues against the cultural captivity of seeker sensitive style churches and the prevalence of modernism in too many evangelical circles. Though this is true in some places, the emergent point of view has painted with a very broad brush and pigeonholed every church that doesn’t look at things the way they do. Ironically, at this point Hipps falls into the same trap as so many emergent authors – while accusing the modern church of cultural captivity they have willingly become captives to a postmodern culture.

And then there are the ad hominem attacks. Hipps is not above mocking the “30 minute lecture” style of preaching or stating that top-down leadership models “inevitably” lead to corruption and abuse. I’m growing tired of hearing these kinds of obviously false and unkind generalizations from emergent authors.

Hipps’ personal narrative is compelling and his work in McLuhan’s theory is a great reminder for us, but the book would have been a lot more persuasive with better application to church life.

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