Friday, March 02, 2007

New Media and Rob Bell in the 00s.

I know its two weeks ago, but I want to write a point of clarification re the Bell v Packer post .

My aim was not to compare a previous generation (that had 'higher reading') to the current generation (that has 'dumbed down'). Not at all. Anyone who knows me knows that I have never been a particularly great reader, nor am I a thinker, and I'm certainly no academic. I had to marry one to feel better about that deficiency in my development. :)

And I also know plenty of students here in the US and in Australia who are profoundly careful and wise about who they learn from and who they read, as the comments pointed out.

I am asking, though, if there have been any significant shift in the last 20 years.

I guess I just wondered how and why it is that we place a good man like Rob Bell in center stage on academic issues. Why are we now turning to Mark Driscoll for 'Christology'? And Rob Bell for 'Jesus in his Jewish Context'? And Brian McLaren to tell us about 'Major Cultural Shifting'? I'm sure they all have good thoughts, and good popular ways of teaching those thoughts. But have we put these guys in over their own heads? I hope not. That would be no fun for them.

Maybe nothing has changed. But if it has, what has changed? I think that the answer is, in part, New Media.

Sam R wrote asks some questions about New Media HERE.

(I'm not out to criticize New Media. If anything, we need to get the guys who still use typewriters to start using their 'puters.)

I guess my point is not that we ought to be reading 'higher' (which could be simply elitism), but it is this: That local regular pastors are now being treated as though they are ground-breaking global scholars. And we are looking to these guys to 'repaint the faith' (to use Bell's terms), or to give us a 'new kind of Christianity' (to use McLaren's term). Of course, I have no problem with Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll et al doing what they do as a pastor in their local communities. They ought to pastor their churches by speaking the truth in love. And their communities can debate and speak personally with them about any new and fresh thoughts.

That’s how community works.

But with the iPod, its global. Anyone and everyone can 'choose' Bell while joggin' or catchin' the train. Heck, you can listen to Bell on your way to and from church on the same text that your own pastor just bumbled his way through! :)

But then do we leave behind the books and reflections of the people who, over decades of work, debate and study, have been proven and tested to 'know their stuff'?

Does that still sound elitist? I sincerely hope not, and I apologize in advance if it does...



Tom B said...

IMO, it's not a question of knowledge but of communication skills. The history of the church in the last couple of hundred years is full of people who were not considered scholars or experts in exegesis, but were outstanding at touching people where they live, explaining the gospel clearly, and bringing people to Christ. Wesley, Spurgeon, Graham, it wouldn't take long to come up with a long list. More recently (but still around for more than 20 years) Chuck Swindoll, Phillip Yancey, Josh McDowell. None of these men were uneducated, but at each time there would have been other people with a greater claim to scholarly understanding.

The real anomaly is someone who is both a recognized scholar and a great communicator, which is what makes CS Lewis such a standout.

So I don't think it's a recent phenomenon. Nor do I think it is bad. My guess is that most people listening to or reading Rob Bell would not be reading him instead of a more scholarly book like, say, Exegetical Fallacies of the late 19th Century, or Essays on Subsitutionary Atonement.

You, Justin, are more scholarly than you give yourself credit for, and have the ability to digest the more scholarly works where many younger or less mature Christians like me (not younger than you, but definitely a less mature Christian) struggle with those. You also have a great gift of communicating those ideas to less learned people like me.

I've not read any Rob Bell, but as long as he is sticking to the gospel, the more people he can reach the better, whether it's by blog, podcast or scratched in clay.

BTW, really enjoyed your posts on Luke 16.

Justin said...

Tom -- thanks for your observations. And you are very kind to me. But here is the difference:

I am not touring the country ‘repainting the faith’, or offering a ‘new kind of Christianity’. I’m not, to use Driscoll’s words, seeking ‘national attention’.

I wouldn't be able to, and nor would I presume to.

There was a point in Ben Witherington's post where he pointed out that Rob Bell, if he was at Fuller Seminary (which he was), should have heard 'x', 'y' and 'z', and been able to incorporate this into his presentation. He made a point that Bell probably hadn't read certain basic commentaries.

And people posted saying – ‘why should he have read those commentaries?’ And the answer is: because he’s in that bus. He is touring the world. He is the academic expert that the world is flocking to hear (now via new media).

Now -- I haven't read those commentaries either…But I'm not touring as an expert. That is my point.

I am an exegete of the Scriptures in my local community. And that community keeps me honest. Sometimes I address slightly larger gatherings. And I have a few talks on the net (50% of which I'd delete right now if I had that option). But I’m not breaking new ground.

Billy Graham and Yancey and McDowell et al weren't really ‘repainting the faith’. They were just communicating and defending the ‘old story’ in popular and helpful ways. They weren’t trying to be academically fresh.

So my question: Does New Media place regular dudes as kind of pop-star re-inventors of the faith? That is what I’m asking.

steve said...

Hey- I was thinking about your Luke 16 post when I read this article in the NY times. In line with your sermon. It's about unemployment in cairo:
'Muhammad Hassan, fisherman- "If you know someone, you get 20 jobs. If not, you get nothing."'

Regarding the emerging dudes- it sucks that none of my friends seem to care about those octogenarian orthodox dudes.

I think you're right about the "new media" elevating these guys. And i think New media is about quick-access entertainment- tailored, micro-marketing. New media pushes up guys like Osteen, and I think it gives us the fake Jesus we'd like to have, not the Jesus of the bible.

SUDS said...

Hang on a second, Is there more than one issue here?

Type of media & what's being communicated...

J-Man, with your flock in NYC, you are not particularlly using the 'new media' that's avaliable. You get up on a Sunday Morning/Night and preach from God's word to them.

Not only is it not 'new media', just plain old preaching (not that preaching should ever be plain or old) but you aren't "repainting the faith" or offering "a new kind of Christianity". Why would a 'regular dude' be repainting the faith? Maybe because of the broad reach they have because of 'new media' they have now decided to offer a new kind of Christianity?

Regardless of the type of media, old or new, surely it is what's communicated that's significant?

Scott said...

Is it also a feature that the new media is making us lazy? Which is not to say 'dumber' (as you clarified in your post J-man). I pods are cool, you feel cool and look cool if you're listening to one. You can do it while your doing something else (on the train etc).

But to read a book for many of us feels like just plain hard work. I demands all of your attention. Even a good book can be hard work (in fact maybe a good book should be hard work!) And is definately not as trendy.

But many of the books that are required reading aren't there in an i pod incarnation. So they get overlooked.

Are we too trendy for our own good?

Scott Tubman

Michael Krahn said...

Tom b said:
"I've not read any Rob Bell, but as long as he is sticking to the gospel..."

Hi Tom,

Try reading "Velvet Elvis". There is a discrepancy between what Bell teaches in most of his podcasts and Nooma dvd's and what he writes in his book.

What impresses me about Driscoll is his firm commitment to both orthodoxy and cultural relevance. Bell appears to me to want to take or leave orthodox positions at his leisure.

I'm about to launch a series of posts on Bell and 'Velvet Elvis' on my own blog shortly and I'll let you know when that happens. I'd love some feedback from all of you .

Craig Tubman said...

Hey J.

Hearing you loud and clear! And no, you're not being elitist.

Can I drop another idea in here?

A couple of years back there was a conference in Scotland (I'm pretty clueless about the details - maybe someone can fill me in here) where it was concluded that in western culture 'the famous' has overtaken 'the hero' (used in classical terms) for what we look to and marvel at.

Perhaps behind the scenes, some of our number are desiring (perhaps not consciously) fame. After all it is the holy grail of the modern world.....and we as church goer's (perhaps not consciously) want them to be famous!?


Tom B said...

OK, I think I get it now. And not sure if it is the last 20 years or the last 100, but there seems to be a real appetite for things that redefine Christianity, give us the 'real' this or the 'true' that. And the new media gives that to us in a more unfiltered way.

Actually, the appetite is probably not new. Attempts at repainting the faith would certainly go back to the early church (gnostics, the circumcision party, etc).

But we now can get it unedited, in our ears, 24/7. And I think one aspect of the new media is that the 'experts' are the ones with the most links. Wikitheology.

Justin said...



Tom -- I think that you've just coined a new term?

What time is it in Sydney, Tom? 4:30am? Are you sleeping OK?

Tom B said...

Some nights are like that.

One thing you can look forward to about middle age is that you need less sleep.

Thanks for giving me something worthwhile to do in the middle of the night.

Luke Collings said...

In "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" Hunter S. Thompson is made aware of an offer where for $0.99 anybody can have their face apear on a giant TV screen overlooking the Vegas Strip. For an extra $0.99 the customer can supply an audio message of their choice. Thompson wonders about the health of a society where for the princely sum of $1.98 anybody could appear in giant Technicolour above a crowded city street and say whatever comes into their head.

Well, here we are 35 years later and Thompson's nightmare has become reality. We all have a voice (if you have a computer) and we're all speaking for the world to hear. New Media is here and there's no use shutting the stable door.

But I don't think that this has necessarily lowered our inbuilt quality-control. If anything I think that it has raised the bar and made everyone more critical. Those of us who have Come Of Age over the last 15 years have had to deal with an onslaught of information on all conceivable topics and have, for the most part, been left to make what we can of the cacophony. We have been made to judge for ourselves, discarding the rubbish and retaining that which we can use.

But I don't think that this has made us flippant in dealing with issues of Truth. If one thing can be said about the whole LonelyGirl15 saga last year it was that many people (New Media users) felt genuinely ripped off that what they were viewing wasn't true. They'd been sucked into a supposedly "honest" video diary that turned out to be the work of a Hollywood production company. Interesting response, really. Even with New Media people are still seeking something that is genuine and reliable.

People are looking for the truth, but they are still capable of being deceived by the razzle-dazzle. Rob Bell, etc, who use New Media to communicate may not be the best people for the job of communicating complex historical and theological truths, but in the absence of any alternative voices challenging their teaching on their terms they will continue to stand on top of the heap. The challenge for the future is figuring out how to counteract fast-spreading, easily-digestible opinions without descending into theological trench-warfare. "Your old road is rapidly fadin'..."

Uncle Josh said...

I wonder if the earlier Church had similar concerns with Peter the Fisherman writing letters which became canonical? In fact, when Peter was arrested (with Paul), they perceived he was 'an idiot' (ok, so that should probably be translated 'uneducated'.)

Justin said...

To my dear uncle:

I don't know the extent to which the early church had a problem with Peter. That would be a really interesting question to explore. I wonder if Ben Witherington or Tom Wright or John Stott have explored this. I might go spend some time looking that up.


Perhaps I might see if there is a Nooma DVD that answers the question. Is it in 'Dust'?


JoshyD said...

Hey Justin,

I think you are asking some great questions, and i wonder if there has been a shift in our reading (i must say i try to read widely but sometimes it is easier to read the Driscoll or Bell or Mclaren or Stott becasue they are really easy to read)

I wonder if the shift in what we read is following the shift of our society.

In the 70s-80s we wanted people who had the answers, we would look to the academics for what they would have to say.
with the 90s and 00s we want people who are proven and who have had practical experience (even check the work force most you workers can't find work becasue they lack the experience)

Wright, Carson, Multmann are all great theologians, they are great thinkers but have not been known as pastors or church planters, and that was fine for people 20-30 years ago when we went academia for answers.

I am wondering if there has been a shift in society where we no longer just want those who have the head knowledge, but we want people who have had real life expereince or runs on the board as you might say(to tell you the truth that is one of the things that i struggled with at college, that a lot of lecturers had spent 3-4 years in parish and then had been in lecturers for 15 years) I would say the reason why people are flocking to hear people like Bell, McLaren and Driscoll is becasue they have those runs on the board, they are real live people that you might see every day that can give you the application of the passages (not that academics aren't real people but a lot of people just think academics are locked up in their studies and just read books and have no contact with real life)

Just my 2 cents worth

JoshyD, NOT UncleJosh :)mzzewg