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.