The Light of Other Days (2)

The increasing consumption of information leads to insulation in our personal lives while giving an ostensible broadness in our interactions with the wider world. This was the conclusion from my last post. As more information is imbibed, we have less time for that which should be most important and immediate to us. But the exchange of information in increasing manner has another implication.

If you use the internet, your life is archived someplace. Regardless of how careful you are, your personal information resides someplace. Between cookies, IP logs, memorized form fields, and the increasing tendency for social networking to record everything… well, you get the point. My contention: to be a consumer, you must also be a contributor. And that puts us into a quandary as information exchange continues to multiply with each successive generation.

To be a part of the system, I must contribute. And, quite simply, the machine doesn’t allow us the luxary of saying “no” to ever increasing amounts of participation in distributing information about ourselves.

It reminds me of the plot in a science fiction novel I read near the end of high school. The Light of Other Days posits that there will come such a time as mankind can limitlessly view the past through technology. It’s not a book I would recommend per se – part of their observation of the past includes the discovery that Jesus was not virgin born – but the ideas contained therein seem to be prophetic when we look at all that is taking place around us.

In the book there are two contrasting responses: the rejection of such technology by people whose spend their entire lives wrapped in sheets to avoid the public eye, and the wholesale acceptance of it by the masses. Do these responses find a parallel today? It would seem to be so… take Facebook, for example. Facebook’s EULA (End User License Agreement) has increasingly taken the ease and/or option of privacy away from the user. You can opt out for a time, ‘suspending’ your account while all your content remains in limbo. But to truly opt out means all of your content, interactions, etc. are all deleted.

For the average user, this neverending documentary of your life is an acceptable sacrifice. It’s what Facebook is designed to do, after all. But it’s also predicated on the idea that we should be allowed to control the privacy settings on our account, something that appears to be less and less likely to endure. The fact that Facebook records my every move on its site (and Google, and Amazon, etc.) will eventually result in the access of and potential dissemination of that information by means legal or illegal.

Is this something we should be willing to accept? Upon deep reflection, I greatly doubt it. But is there a compromise between wholeheartedly embracing the medium in such a way that it changes our very perceptions of public and private, and figuratively wrapping ourselves in a sheet for our entire lives? I’m not sure, but I want to think through it, and especially how this encroaching horizon should effect ministry. That’ll be the next post.

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The Light of Other Days (1)

Having seen all that went down at the Elephant Room last month, and all the ensuing discussion, some of the varied conclusions could be: 1) TD Jakes is still a heretic, and Mark Driscoll and James McDonald are heretics, 2) TD Jakes is still a heretic, and Mark Driscoll and James McDonald need to be careful, 3) Jakes is fuzzy and hard to nail down, and Driscoll/McDonald are at least unhelpful, or 4) Jakes is orthodox, and Driscoll/McDonald are heroes for having helped prove that evangelicalism is a centered set rather than bounded set. This is the standard way of talking about the event.

The purpose of the blog isn’t to discern which of the above actually took place, but rather to speak towards audience expectations behind events like the Elephant Room, and to a lesser degree the Gospel Coalition National Conference and the upcoming Together for the Gospel Conference. In short, private worlds are being invaded, and we’re opening the gates to others and demanding that others open their gates wider. Two observations along these lines:

1) The transaction of information has increased exponentially. The flood of technology in our lives means that we can observe vast amounts of information is short amounts of time and we are, in fact, creating this state of affairs by our own hands. The culture, attuned to the new means of procuring information through new technology, invites more and more information. The purveyors of information (for our purposes men like McDonald and Driscoll, etc.) appropriate the new technology to get their message out.

This is, of course, the normal state of affairs and there’s nothing in principle wrong with this. What intrigues me is less so that these men use available means to get their message out, but instead that the audience demands increasing amounts of information to consume. Another BCS student and I were discussing how amazing it is that John Piper’s entire life is practically recorded by Desiring God. Whether there’s a documentary that’s filmed in his home, or every sermon or he preaches, no matter the venue, it seems to be recorded. This is, again, not wrong. But it shapes the desires and demands of the audience that follows him.

There’s a deeper assumption, and the more concerning one:

2) The type of information being exchanged is increasingly private.  Consider Hollywood: internationally known figures are followed and their private lives photographed for all to see. The wider culture pines over comments about private lives. We need to know about Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s baby, for instance.

But consider the phenomenon of evangelical celebrity: not only are their lives tracked, but their personal thoughts are queried at a much deeper level by the wider world. We want to know all about the inner workings or ministry, family, life, etc.

And the kicker is: they put it out there. The Elephant Room is a bigger example of this than the other conferences, but there’s still an application: the increasing exchange of information means naturally that more and more private information must be exchanged as public information is exhausted. The audience is both demanding such information and being shaped by the release of such information. 

Just think about the gossip machine that is Christian blogging. Or perhaps, better stated, commentators on said blogs. For instance, there were demands to know what was taking place behind the scenes leading up to the Elephant Room. The fact that more calls for discernment and information came after the Elephant Room certainly says something about the event, but doesn’t it say something about our being accustomed to desire and demand such information? The evangelical world mirrors the culture: many want private knowledge about the ins and outs of public figures and public events to be fully known.

In of itself, this could be a fine thing within reason. But the corollary is the most shocking thing: in being enamored with the private information of public figures, are we in fact ignoring what is most important: our own lives and the lives of those we influence? 

So, for public figures… I wonder if their lives so open and so directed towards the larger world that they cannot be helpful for those who know them personally. That’s just me thinking out loud. But for those of us who are observing… are our lives so geared towards information consumption in the wider world that we fail at knowing family, friends, and strangers? Loving and respecting our spouses? Our families? Our friends? Our churches? Our communities?

I feel like I’m looking back on a season of my life, especially when I was single and still in college, where I was overly consumed with things outside my immediate sphere of influence. Life moves on, and these things are less keenly felt now. But there’s another point I want to talk about tomorrow, one that strikes even closer to home for me.

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Was Bonhoeffer Orthodox?

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer orthodox? Specifically, did he believe in the literal birth, death, and resurrection of Christ? Was he evangelical: did he believe that Christ was the good news of salvation for all who believe by faith? I read selections from Bonhoeffer in college that, on the face of it, appeared to show a German liberal with neo-orthodox leanings. But reading The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics seemed to show another side. He didn’t buy into liberal theology. He defended the Bible against those who would assault it.

Then, in 2009, I read portions of Letters from Prison. My tentative conclusion: what Bonhoeffer wrote later in life was substantially different from what he wrote as a younger man. Perhaps the prison and concentration camps threatened his faith in God, or maybe even shipwrecked it?

So without pouring over a bunch of Bonhoeffer’s writings, what’s your take? Those of you that have read more than I have from Bonhoeffer: is the above formulation potentially valid? How would you explain the debate that’s arisen since Eric Metaxas’ biography was published?


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Seminary: Food Prep Before the Feast

Image During the break my wife and I stopped to reflect on different going-ons. With the birth of our son over the summer, a whole new dynamic entered the household: what do I, as father and husband, decide to drop? Quite simply, too much went on last semester. I’m making a conscientious attempt to be more balanced this semester, including saying “no” when possible.

This is the thought I had: as last semester came to a close, I had inordinate amounts of stress piling up on me. We pulled through, I didn’t fail anything, but the effect on our home life was less than commendable. Just wading through all the assignments in addition to two jobs and family life was overwhelming.

But what’s been sweet on the backend is apparent: increased time in the Word on my own, increased vitality in my love for God, real prayer taking place personally, and many other things.

This is what I said about it to Natalie: all semester long I’ve been in food prep class. Getting to taste the things I’m preparing, but not hovering over a meal to enjoy it. Now, having prepared the banquet during the semester, the time for feasting has arrived. I’m hoping to integrate the preparation with the feasting a bit better this semester. One thing is for certain: this semester has more margin built into it arbitrarily. Trusting that God will continue to show Himself in truth to us as we pursue Him in His Word… in seminary and apart from it.

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Surpassingly Fair Lord Jesus

HT: Challies. Get this as a wallpaper in 1280×8001280×10241600×12001680×10501900×12002560×1440.

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Why Christian Fiction?

Full disclosure: Christian fiction fascinates me. Not because I’ve read very much of it, but because of the place that it occupies in the conservative Christian subculture. I find most of it uninteresting, and occasionally find it disgusting. Some books masquerade as “Christian,” getting wide exposure and acclaim in the Christian community while doing little more than promoting sentimentality and titilating the senses.

My prejudices aside, this is how the thought was sparked: while at Barnes and Noble today, I was struck by the size of the Christian fiction section compared to the non-fiction section. Noting this phenomenon, I curiously perused through the other religious sections (as I often do), particularly looking for traces of fiction. No Bhuddist fiction, no Muslim fiction, no Hindu fiction. Just Christian fiction. “Perhaps merely an American phenomenon,” I thought. A quick perusal of British fiction bestsellers over the last few years added evidence; no “Christian” fiction on British bestseller lists.

The more I thought about it, the more it fascinated me, especially as I looked at religious fiction around the world. I spent about 45 minutes looking at big news sites and various versions of Not a lot of religious fiction around the world.

Granted that a large swath of the population in the U.S. is at least ostensibly “Christian”, and granted that fiction is more popular than non-fiction. Beyond those reasons, why is there so much Christian fiction, especially in the United States?

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The Object and Action: Both or Nothing

 It seemed to me self-evident that one essential property of love, hate, fear, hope, or desire was attention to their object. To cease thinking about or attending to the woman is, so far, to cease loving; to cease thinking about or attending to the dreaded thing is, so far, to cease being afraid. But to attend to your own love or fear is to cease attending to the loved or dreaded object. In other words the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope’s object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself. Of course the two activities can and do alternate with great rapidity; but they are distinct and incompatible. 

- C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Jason Meyer has used this quote in class recently as it relates to our worship, and especially our worship as we herald God’s Word. I’ve been pondering it over in my mind as it relates to personal worship in morning devotions… do I focus on the action of reading, my worship… or the Object Who lies behind the reading and Whom the worship is towards? There’s a gap. I want to see it continually closed, by grace.

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