Throughout modernity, the church has presumed that its mission was directed to persons who already understood themselves as inhabitants of a narratable world. Moreover, since the God of a narratable world is the God of Scripture, the church was also able to presume that the narrative sense people had antecedently tried to make of their lives had somehow to cohere with the particular story, “the gospel,” that the church had to communicate. Somebody who could read Rex Stout or the morning paper with pleasure and increase of self-understanding was for that very reason taken as already situated to grasp the church’s message (which did not of course mean that he or she would necessarily believe it). In effect, the church could say to her hearers: “You know that story you think you must be living out in the real world? We are here to tell you about its turning point and outcome.”
But this is precisely what the postmodern church cannot presume. What then? The obvious answer is that if the church does not find her hearers antecedently inhabiting a narratable world, then the church must herself be that world.
Mars Hill Audio calls Robert Jenson, who taught at at Luther College, Mansfield College (Oxford), Lutheran Seminary, and St. Olaf College, one of our “greatest living theologians.” He passed away early this month. The above quotation is from his essay “How the World Lost Its Story,” which Ken Myers reads in this recording.
The [current] debate over religious freedom has generally assumed that the primary contest is over defining freedom, not religion. We assume that we more or less know what we are talking about when we say ‘religion’ . . . [I want to] question the assumption that Christianity is a religion to begin with, and examine both the advantages and the problems with claiming religious freedom for the church.
On the face of it, the question I’m raising seems ridiculous. Of course Christianity is a religion. A deeper look at the recent government arguments about the free exercise of religion, however, makes clear that what does and what does not count as religion is at the heart of the matter.
William Cavanaugh, quoted on the site for Mars Hill Audio Journal, from his book Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World.
Andrew Ferguson talks with Mars Hill Audio Journal Host Ken Myers for The Weekly Standard:
“I’ve always thought that beautiful art was a great apologetic resource,” Myers says. Beauty is the chief attribute of God, said Jonathan (not Bob) Edwards. “Beauty points to a Creator.” Yet the church, Myers says, “capitulates more and more to the culture of entertainment.”
“It’s a way of keeping market share. But they’re digging their own grave. There’s a short-term benefit, but in the long term the kinds of cultural resources they need to be faithful to the Gospel won’t be there.”
This recalls the MHA Journal (#114) interview with Gerald McDermott who said Jonathan Edwards has been marginalized by Modernists (if I remember correctly) who successfully made the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards’ signature work. By doing so, they hid their students from the beauty and glory of God which Edwards often discussed.
Daniel Siedell, a Christian art critic and curator, writes, “While finishing my doctoral dissertation and teaching modern art at a state university in the mid-1990s, I read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and H.R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, and I was shocked. Their conclusions about modern art bore no resemblance to the work I had devoted years of my life to understanding from within the history and development of modern art.”
He finds a path toward a theology of art with from Martin Luther and writes about it in his book God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Cultural Exegesis). This reminds me a Mars Hill Audio interview this year, which I’m too lazy at the moment to look up and link for you. Do I have to do all the work around here? (via Cranach)
I wish I could link you to the great interview Ken Myers recorded with Elvin Lim, author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, because it’s worth the time to listen to Lim’s essential argument. Presidential rhetoric has been leaning strongly toward emotional appeals to common sense and away from what may be called intelligent reasons.
“[S]uch appeals rest on reductive and oversimplified reasonings that are often false in significant ways. Persuasion based on such emotional appeals is necessarily shallow and often does not do justice to the issues at stake,” states the brief summary of the interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal site.
Presidents have become too powerful, Lim states, due to their appeal to extra-constitutional authorities, particularly the perceived electoral mandate from the most recent election. The White House should instead discuss policy with Congress like adults, something many on both sides claim to want, but fewer actually support.
Tim Challies asks, “Do you own technology, or does it own you?”
I heard an interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal a few weeks ago during which Nicholas Carr observed how many books exist on Christianity and politics or culture but very few on Christianity and technology or how technology has or could shape the way we think of ourselves and the world. Tim Challies’ book on the subject should be worthy reading.
Ken Myers has interviewed J. Mark Bertrand on worldview, reading, and other fun topics. That should be a great interview. You can subscribe to the MP3 version of the MHA Journal for $30/year. It’s always very interesting.
In fact, you can listen to several recordings in their CD Bonus section. Note these two: “Vol. 66 – Leon Kass, on how new technologies have changed the assumptions many people have about their children” and “Vol. 53 – Dana Gioia talks about the life and work of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and reads a poem inspired by the death of his wife, ‘The Cross of Snow.'”
I guess I missed the announcement this summer, because I just learned about Mars Hill Audio’s podcast, Audition. Ken Myers’ most recent recording is dedicated to P.D. James’s ideas on fiction and mystery and her sci-fi novel, The Children of Men. I believe I have heard most of this recording in early editions of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, and here you can listen to it for free.
The previous podcast has many literary subjects too. Taking from the description post, this recording discusses:
- “how W. H. Auden’s conversion to Christianity affected his poetry”
- “J. R. R. Tolkien’s view of language, and the dangers of a society that debases language”
- “how Flannery O’Connor’s fiction reveals her incarnational view of life”
- “how myth differs from the modern novel, and what is lost when the gods disappear from our stories”
- “how C. S. Lewis was more open-minded than his Victorian atheistic teachers, and how that open-mindedness left room for Lewis to become a Christian”