pinball panic

The statement has come across my desk again today. Gee - it winds me up!

"Today's generation hears with their eyes and thinks with their emotions."

Then the argument usually goes on to speak of the need for far more visual content in our communication (because people hear with their eyes) and far more story content (because people think with their emotions). Yes. Yes. I understand. I accept the reality in this.

But this analysis still makes me so uncomfortable! Basically it is affirming that sociological trends should drive what we do. "If this is the way this generation is going then we need to adapt to it or else we'll get left behind." And so off we go with that pin-ball panic, grabbing every programme available to stop us becoming irrelevant.

I just do not think that this is the full answer. If this is the way the world is going, then one of our responses must be to teach people to hear with their ears and think with their minds. I do not accept that sociological trends should be running the show. If we keep bending to these trends, one day we will find that we have fallen in. Is that the relevance we want? That's not relevance. That is accommodation. It is irrelevance!

Instead of just bending all the time we need a little backbone. We need to strengthen that backbone with theological truth. Let the truths push the trends around a bit more. I just shudder at the thought of how God and his Jesus might respond to a discipleship that prioritises the eyes over the ears and the emotions over the mind.

nice chatting



Richard said…
"Instead of just bending all the time we need a little backbone. We need to strengthen that backbone with theological truth"

i can't see why we can't engage the emotions by telling a story, present things more visually and yet also present theological truth and that allows us to engage the mind, and our ears. Again back to your post on disjunctive thinking...splitting up ideas and making them appear in opposition.
The danger of attempting to be too relevant is only too obvious. I also think that basic christian cliche responses about "post modernism"( that its all about emotions and images and not about truth or the mind) is a vast generalisation. Among my friends at university i certainly don't see that, i see a much broader and diverse picture. christianity is seen as laughable precisely because it has given up on engaging the mind, in combination with its percieved abuse of power and supposed irrelevance.

however, simply reading and stressing traditional systematic theology, or dry abstract thinking disconnected from the actual bible story and emotion is not necessarily a great way to provide the back bone either. the eyes and emotions need to work more with the ears and mind, and the ears and mind more intune with the emotions.
Paul Windsor said…
Good stuff! I like the integration you are searching for here, Richard. Reflecting on your university context is helpful too. I'd separate myself from that ugliness in your final paragraph as well.

Do you think my 'first this, then that' comment from the earlier post applies? First the 'mind and the ears' and then on from that base see the 'eyes and the emotion' impacted?

I would still - very gently and graciously! - argue that the ones in danger of disjunction are the proponents of this quotation. In its context I do fear that the 'ears' and the 'mind' are being left behind. I also have some difficulty with associating emotion only with story which I think is also inferred.

Andrew Butcher said…
Two quotes spring to mind. The first from A fellow called William Inge (at least I think his first name was William), once- Dean at St Paul's Cathedral in London: "those who marry the spirit of the age today will be widowed tomorrow".

The second quote is ever older than that "love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind and your soul"

I speak here as a sociologist, but nevertheless agree with you. My own view is that sociology is a powerful driving force in the emerging church movement. Your post made me consider whether it also is in the evangelical church movement. And I think it is.

We need to be aware how different people learn - Jesus himself of course taught in the temple alongside telling parables alongside holding conversations alongside preaching from mountains. But even if his style were different, his message was the same and it didn't just affect the emotions; it did more than that.

I'm starting to think about writing a paper on questions asked of Jesus and questions Jesus asked others - each of these, without fail, engaged the heart as well as the mind, the emotions as well as the eyes. To me the most powerful question he asked was of his disciple Peter "who do you say that I am?" - if that question doesn't make us wholly think then we really do have an unbearable lightness of being disjunctive!!
Andrew said…
I find myself often reminding myself and our church that we (by God's power and grace) are not trying to change people's emotions but their wills! We're trying to change who their Lord is.
Richard said…
"Do you think my 'first this, then that' comment from the earlier post applies? First the 'mind and the ears' and then on from that base see the 'eyes and the emotion' impacted"

i would definitely say that would be a better way of approaching the issue. in both traditions where is see more of a stress on emotion and eyes (ironically the supposedly opposed emerging and pentecostal/charismatic traditions) i've defintely seen a lack of a thought out biblical foundation, which is pretty unfortunate as it almost invalidates much of what both groups have to offer the church and the outside world. In fact it seems a pretty obvious problem with the church in general as you've no doubt noted...and in that respect saying we need to focus on visual/emotional presentations of faith is a little ridiculous.

I've certainly found the narrative approach to theology, stressing the story first and then looking at doctrine within such a picture helpfull in its intergration of head knoweldge/truth with emotion.

However, i'd also agree with the problems of only relating emotion to story...what then do we do with the psalms, much of the wisdom literitature, and most of the episitles? is Doctrine important at all? the kind of approach the author is taking in the quotation would appear to ignore this

again, the reason i've found a more narrative approach focussed on telling/living the story usefull from teachers like Mark Strom, and within TSCF is that it has contextualised and emphasised biblical doctrine and theological truth, the mind and ears first, emotions second, rather than the other way around.
Steven Christoforidis said…
In the Bible it is the heart, mind and Spirit that can be described as thinking and feeling. Matt 9:14 - think evil in your hearts. Heb 4:12 - dividing the intentions of the heart. Heart is connected with the mind. 1 Cor 2:11 - the Spirit can think and not just feel. Eph 2:3 - we are going to be judged for our whole life...what you think and feel.
Therefore, God requires a whole person response to Himself. We each exist as one person - both head and heart belong together. For both are either in rebellion against God or in submission to God in Christ. The division that the Bible talksw about is between the old man and the new man.
So if you are a new man in Christ then you are exhorted to put on the new self - a new heart and mind.
ana said…
I'm joining in the discussion a bit late... I was particularly interested in your post in terms of evangelism in the "west".

Awhile ago I read an article by Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi. From a marketing perspective he identified a number of elements he believed would move consumers in the future. Three of those are the things that you have discussed - 'Emotion at the heart of the future', 'Story Tellers - the New Heroes', and that sisomo (sight, sound and motion) will be the three most powerful elements of communication.

I am weary of the church adapting to suit consumer culture by tailoring the way that we do things to match these trends, as if all we have to offer is a substitute product to compete with everything else in the marketplace. Conversely, I am concerned for the non-christians who will not be taught to listen with their ears. How do we engage with them?

If we believe that what we have is the most authentic and powerful story in the history of mankind, then perhaps that is a way to engage with non-believers. Our greatest 'tool' may be learning to share the story of the gospel effectively - relevance without compromising truth?

I think acknowledging societal trends and determining the extent to which we can be relevant (without compromise) is of great importance if we want to be effective ambassadors for Christ.
Paul Windsor said…
All kinds of fascinating stuff here - makes blogging worthwhile doesn't it?
While they can occupy opposite places on the church spectrum, I think 'megachurch' and 'emerging church' have one thing in common. They can both tend to give greater prominence to sociological stuff than is wise. Bottom line? I am not sure whether I could enter into worship/community in those settings because I find this issue glares at me too much!
Narrative stuff is enchanting. Seeing the Bible as a single story with one plot - but spread over multiple genre and characters and millenia - is one of the things that makes the Bible so compelling. Mark Strom opens this stuff up as well as anyone.
As for Kevin Roberts and 'sisomo' - I have the book. It will appear in my preaching courses next time around. I just love engaging with that kind of stuff, probing for any continuities and discontinuities with the truth of the gospel
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