Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Curmudgeon's Dream (or Nightmare): Christianity Today's Faux Cover

The latest issue of Christianity Today (June 2007) features an advertisement for a cover. This category-bending reality took some time to find a place in my wife and my cognitive grid, but it is now there, sadly. It is a faux cover; the real cover isn't much better: it's a puff piece on Mr. Glib, Donald Miller. (Loyal Constructive Curmudgeon readers--I have no "fans"--may remember an apocalyptic battle over Blue Like Jazz a year or so ago. Miller's most egregious quote--on how "smart guys" can both prove and disprove God's existence, and that he doesn't really care--is approvingly cited to illustrate his "informal style." It illustrates more than that: intellectual irresponsibility and apologetic oblivion.)

The faux cover reads, "Evan Help Us: How a Movie--and a Movement--Are Partnering With the Church to Change the World." Really. Partner should not be made into a verb. Read Elements of Style (again if necessary). You see, the magazine features a story on this new movie about Noah's ark. So, the brilliant promoters of the movie bought the cover of Christianity Today. But how is a movie going to "change the world" (for the better)? Why must everything on magazine covers--even on the once intellectually serious Christianity Today, founded by Dr. Carl F. H. Henry--be breathless and pointless hyperbole? It wears terribly thin after awhile.

What will "change the world" is the rediscovery of the Triune God of the Bible: God's holiness, sovereignty, grace, gospel (justification by faith alone), all God's biblically-revealed and uncomfortable and countercultural truths that hurt and heal, break and build. That means: Get serious about what matters most. Of course, this requires discerning what matters most--something far from the minds of most North American Christians, addled as they are by popular culture, endless mediation, overwhelming entertainment, and chronic business. No one knows how to theologize with a hammer.

"Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Who had the nerve to say that?


jcubsdad said...

I was equally appaled by the cover, and then the letter from the editor David Neff said "the advertisement you see wrapped around this cover is a bold symbol of the new cooperative spirit. Yet the relationship is cautious and tentative."

This is a relationship that needs to be severed. I have lately gotten tired of seeing so much advertising in CT. I know every seminary name (including yours) from here to Vancouver because of all the advertising.

I say enough. I recently was asked to join the CT advisory panel and I am writing my concerns today. I am glad someone else shares them as well.

Yossman said...

Maybe marketing can do for the church what radical commitment couldn't...

You're rather strong opinioned and often go against the tide. And this is what the church really needs: wounds inflicted by a friend.

Tim Berglund said...

The Miller hagiography (which I have not yet had the patience to read in its entirety) echoes an interesting claim of his: that the proper locus of truth is story, not proposition. That got me thinking: could I, say, spray paint this sentence on a brick wall and still expect it to be meaningful? The article puts the claim in the context of a speech Miller is giving, so it is in one sense embedded in a kind of story. But my thought experiment seems to suggest that you could remove the claim--the propositional claim--from any narrative context and still understand it completely.

I didn't react quite as negatively to Blue Like Jazz as you did, but I still didn't find it to be all that insightful or worthy of the attention it got. And this kind of thing--asserting propositions like "truth is not propositional"--is just tiring. It is mystifying to me that it gets you on the [inner, non-ad-based] cover of CT.

hobie said...

I am in sympathy with much of the Blue bashing that has surfaced on this blog. I am also at peace with the assertions that CT has crossed the line (although I find the novelty of these assertions interesting, since in my estimation CT crossed the line years ago in its apparent alignment with worldviews that have found that there are church growth models that are suitable substitutes for biblical revival). I would, however, offer one point in behalf of the truth-as-narrative motif, although not as Donald Miller has stated it.

If you poll apologetics savants as to their favorite book of Scripture, chances are good that Ecclesiastes will emerge as a top-three choice. Ecclesiastes is a wonderfully contemporary discussion of the place of God by considering His omission from our world and worldview. I think it is perhaps valuable to note that the structure of the book is not philosophical, at least as we understand that concept. Ecclesiastes is part poem, part memoir (putting aside entertaining questions about the book’s authorship). The structure itself feels like (I’m feeling the need for courage in order to state this in this forum) a postmodern personal essay. I think it is valuable to consider Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son in this comparison; the author, a philosophical giant among Christians, expressed his faith in trial not in terms of cumulative case, but as a narrative reflection. There seems to be a place for the proof of Christianity to be stated in personal terms.

A key difference, of course, between Ecclesiastes and Blue Like Jazz is the content of the conclusion drawn by the Professor: Fear God, and keep His commands. This is not simply my story, he says; “this applies to everyone,” because God will objectively judge every action, whether open or secret. In an age that insists that every story is equally valid on its face, we continue to bear personal witness to the God Who is there for every man.

Daniel said...

Hmm, Blue Like Jazz, didn't care for that so much either.

Donald Miller should write a follow up book entitled "Church: the First Two Millenia are Irrelovent"

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I'm sure Miller or his editor could spell better than that.

Rick said...

How is a faux cover any different from a deception? It is not fitting for a magazine that stands for the truth.

I also wonder how the church can applaud a film that drags that which is sacred down to spoof. Whatever happened to the reverence and fear of God?

We really need to be more discerning when it comes to Hollywood. The church has naively embraced anything that hints of being 'faith friendly'. It wants so badly to be entertained, but all this entertainment can actually dull the spiritual senses.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I haven't looked into the nature of the film yet. I'm sure it is terrible, though, given Hollywood.