The Message vs. The Medium


Tucked into a relatively interesting email by The Gospel Coalition on the “death of postmodernism” was a piece promoting a New England church planting effort.  No big deal I thought, but then I read on:

Amusing Our Church to Death

The church-growth movement has bought into the entertainment paradigm with catastrophic results. The unfathomable riches of God’s wisdom in Christ just cannot be plumbed by video clips and sermons on loneliness. The Christian message—salvation for hell-deserving sinners through Christ’s death and resurrection by faith alone—has been subjugated to the entertainment paradigm and predictably distorted, truncated, and even lost altogether. As a result, the church has become increasingly ignorant of its faith and, not surprisingly, increasingly confused about its mission.

This gospel distortion has spread with mind-numbing speed, resulting in a near wholesale return to the liberal church mission of the early nineteenth century. Rob Bell now wants to “save Christians” from a heavenly fixation by having them focus on the here and now.

And many have done just that. Churches have allowed the medium to dilute the message to the detriment of the mission.

The Medium for the Message

Christianity is all about proclaiming the message of the gospel. So what is a fitting medium? The message actually contains the medium God has endorsed—the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and in these last times, God has spoken to us by that Word, his Son.

The Bible is the inscripturation of that Word. These 66 canonical books are the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This we proclaim, as it was given and in its entirety. The message is the Word of the gospel, and that Word is the medium.

I see some problems with these arguments – glaring ones.  First off, I would agree that the church growth movement has some big warts at times.  Perpetually grinning pastors who by stadiums to serve as the sanctuary (no names please) can make the gospel seem too warm and fluffy.  However, I think that the Coalition is once again painting with too broad a brush, or simply is failing to see things as they are.  Though postmodernism has petered out apparently, the society still questions and is suspicious of truth, especially truth from those who claim to own it with a capital T.  This does not make the Truth less truthy, but in a world of constant claims of validity and authority the truth has become a commodity.  I think that’s 75% of the reason Americans are fed up with politics.  All sides claim truth but that truth is always spun and sold, so Joe Average views the preacher with the same jaded eye.

I also think that the Coalition’s argument that modern/pomo churches have “dumbed down” the gospel might point to a fact that they aren’t willing to embrace: maybe the gospel needs to be dumbed down in our society, because it has become biblically illiterate and spiritually immature compared to the “glory days” of… whenever that was.  Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe society is starved for deeper Truth and open to more traditional messages of sin and salvation than I think.  However I don’t see this at play with the people I meet on a regular basis.

Finally, I don’t understand the argument that “the message is the medium”, which I read as the bible doesn’t need any mediation.  Ok – I get that churches have gotten way to interested in fancy lights and effects at times.  We should embrace the fact that the bible itself is the focus of our attention – sola scriptura, not sola scriptura et al. However I don’t see the medium of multimedia or other entertainment-bred methods of presenting the gospel as necessarily wrong.  Media can bring scripture to life in dramatic ways.  And we can’t consider the response to the gospel to be only an intellectual one, or even an intelletual and spiritual one, it is also an emotional one and a creative one.  To divorce the latter two from faith is to miss part of our selves in the process.  And if Jesus’s death involves the reconciliation of all things to God, at least in process, then it involves our creative and emotional sides as well.

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