Archive for December, 2008
The third line of thought concerning worldliness came from a recent Wednesday night with our youth group. A friend of mine is the youth pastor at the church I attend up here, and I occasionally get to help him with teaching and whatnot. One night a few weeks back we began to discuss movies and what makes a movie good or bad. Some of the responses were typical: a movie is bad because it has bad content. Others were interesting in how they played with this idea… “movies are bad because they have bad content, and that means I can’t watch them!” This was the general consensus among the youth group.
Our point in teaching was this: does a movie convey ideas? My friend began to talk about Pirates of the Caribbean. The three movies from the franchise are (in my opinion) some of the funniest movies in recent memory; of course, the more Jonny Depp is on the screen, the more entertaining the movie is. But very few of us will actively think that Captain Jack Sparrow depends on his own version of situational ethics to win the day. Nor do we think that what he’s doing is really wrong; he does what he must, and the audience is trained to accept that. The ends justify the means in most Hollywood movies, and this idea is scattered throughout Pirates.
Think of the recent blockbuster, The Dark Knight. In just about every way the movie was excellent cinema. But did you notice what the movie had to say about truth? In the end, truth was slighted and a lie was enshrined so that the city wouldn’t succomb to anarchy. The audience is trained throughout to think that Batman is the “Dark Knight”, the hero, one who is willing to sacrifice and take the blame for atrocities committed by another. But in doing so, he must lie, and must bind others to lie with him. This is a breach of morality in some sense, and yet the viewer is compelled to think of it as a moral choice on the part of the protagonist.
Someone would say “yes, but it’s just a movie. It’s just a story.”
In many ways, this is true. But bundled up in those stories are many ideas that compose what we call a worldview: the outlook of the writer on the world. Far more often than not, those worldviews reflect the Great Stereopticon, the world system that belongs to darkness. And it is those worldviews that Christians should recognize. We should recognize where they come from. We should recognize where they’re leading those who hold them. We should recognize where they’ll lead us if we aren’t discerning. We should recognize where they are already influencing our lives.
It does not mean we cannot enjoy good entertainment, but it does mean that we should be discerning so as not to lose what Christ has given and entrusted to us… our minds and His Gospel.
The second thread of thinking concerning worldliness came from Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences. In it, he critiques the pure empiricism commonly found in modernism. In the process, he ends up critiquing most of postmodernism as well… many years before it became recognized as a philosophy. Some of his material, although intended to be primarily political and social, actually represents the Scriptural concept of “the world” quite well.
I’ve succinctly defined “the world” elsewhere as “the system Satan uses to deceive and destroy.” Here I would emphasize that this is the system that Satan has used throughout history to deceive and destroy. Though the the principles by which this system operates remain constant, the particulars of its operation change. In our age, the system has taken on particularly diabolical characteristics. What are they?
Weaver points out that the driving force behind the gradual destruction of society is what he calls “The Great Stereopticon”… essentially mass media. In his age it was the motion picture, the radio, and the news organizations. He saw in his day that these three were conspiring together to change man’s focus to empirically observe particular things, instead of pondering universal concepts. In this way a great many things are undermined, not the least of which is Christianity.
The Stereopticon has become even more of a beast in our day and age. Think about the gluttony of Hollywood, or the depths of depravity found in the internet. My generation, and the one after mine, faces an all-out assault on our senses that desensitize us to pondering the bigger things in life. The Christ along with the non-Christian begin to think of their senses as the ends instead of the means. It manifests itself in a thousand ways: the unwillingness to carry our cross. The preoccupation with material things. The destruction of our families in the name of self. The dissolution of our churches as people are overlyfocused on things and people… instead of God.
Weaver says it this way:
The unexpressed assumption of empiricism is that experience will tell us what we are experiencing. In the popular arena one can tell from certain newspaper columns and radio programs that the average man has become imbued with this notion and imagines that an industrious acquisition of particulars will render him a man of knowledge… He has been told knowledge is power, and knowledge consists of a great many small things.
When our knowledge is so narrow that all we can see is a great many small things, then we cannot respond to anything bigger than what our senses can apprehend. How can we worship God when our minds, and therefore affections, are focused on what is in this world? This is the world system does… The Great Stereopticon of every age. We must resist it. And, I believe, we must fight against it. How should we as Christians do this? I’ll explore some ideas I’ve had along those lines in my next blog post.
My thoughts have been spurred on recently concerning worldliness in its varied forms. And no, they were not stirred up due to a book by a bald evangelical preacher (whom I greatly respect). Three things have contributed to my thoughts on worldliness: two from my recent reading, and one from a recent event at church.
First, I’ve been noticing the way the Gospel of John presents the cosmos… the world, especially as Christ relates to it, and how we should relate to it by nature. We see Christ coming and declaring his witness to the world (John 3), but then He didn’t pray for those in the world to be sanctified (John 17). This is a different approach than is usually presented in our churches. Christ doesn’t say the world is something to be courted; the world is to be confronted. The world is set apart from and in opposition to the church, primarily because of its rejection of Christ. In John, the world is a seemingly forthright adversary, one that will seek to kill the Christian by outright persecution. The Christian isn’t called to war in the same way, but to be a light to the darkness… a witness as Christ was.
As I read through John, I kept thinking what many have written and spoken about: why aren’t we as Christians in America being persecuted like John describes? Two possibilites come to my mind: Christians aren’t really being the light that the world reacts against, or the world has developed more subtle means of persecuting the Christian. There’s probably an aspect of truth to both Christians falling short and the world being more subtle. Whereas the first is often a given, the second is rarely explored.
Think of it this way: in our cultural milleu, the world has ceased to try to kill the our bodies (as John presents it), and instead seeks to kill our minds (as Paul presents it in Romans 12:1-2). It’s my goal to examine some of the ways this subtle persecution takes place over the next few days.