This is a follow up to my post from Thursday about an article in Christianity Today. It’s a very long article about a phenomenon within the Church which Professor Bergler calls “juvenilization”. I am making the case that this is actually true of our entire culture, secular and sacred.
The more I think about the notion that an entire culture has succumbed to the allure of youth, and trapped itself in immaturity, the more troubled I become. Once upon a time, I thought the cult of youth was just the worship of the body beautiful–lithe, smooth-skinned young flesh–and a corresponding fear of aging and death. But I fear the truth is far more frightening and insidious. The more we become a “visual” culture, the more easily we fall into this trap of juvenilization…the hypnotic draw of TV, video, computer, and ‘Droid have sucked us in. We read less, we react more. We ponder less, we play more. We don’t reflect, we just “like” reflexively.
We blame it all on being busy…we don’t have time to read something substantial. Give me the news briefs, please. Give me the short sentences, the pithy paragraphs, the headlines. Read a book? Well…maybe on Kindle, where I can keep pausing to play Angry Birds. But our appetite for sound bites seems to leave us empty of deep thought while forever hungry for more hot air.
This vicious cycle–where did it start? Bergler claims that within the Church community it was a result of trying to “market” Christianity to youth. I could spend a lot of time researching and reporting to you what I think is at the root of this cultural phenomenon.
But it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that we work to regain a society of mature people who aren’t afraid of careful reading carefully and reasoning logically, who don’t flinch away from ideas that are unsettling or demanding. So I want to talk about solutions.
This morning my pastor put a book in my hands. It was a ‘thank you’ for a very minor job I volunteered to do awhile back. I’ll tell you the title in a minute. But in the introduction, these words are quoted: “As a man thinketh, so is he.” This is from Proverbs 23:7, and in context simply means that you can’t judge what someone thinks of you by their words–they may be outwardly polite and inwardly cursing you. The author, Robert P. Morgan, wants to make a case for this verse meaning that what we think defines who we are. This has led him to write a book about what we put into our minds, in this specific case, verses of Scripture.
Although I think the verse in Proverbs is weak as a foundation, I have no problem with his premise: “garbage in/garbage out” is a truism. And there are other Scriptures which say much the same thing, my favorite being from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, chapter 4, verse 8:
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.
So DO we want to be commendable, morally excellent, truthful, honorable, pure? …Then I suggest that reading, watching, absorbing a steady diet of tripe, gossip, pornography, violence and lies is probably not an effective strategy. I don’t personally think the majority of Americans want to be trivial, gossipy, thrill-seeking, simplistic and vulgar. But somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten the idea that we can give lip service to an ideal, then go and do whatever we want, whatever is easy, comfortable, fun, relaxing, low key and unchallenging.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer indicted the Church for doing this to faith. He called it “cheap grace”…the notion that one can say a prayer of commitment to Jesus, and show up in church on Sundays when convenient, and–no worries, never have to really work at a faithful life, never need to change a habit, strive to do better, seek truth ever again.
Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.
I think this is a real problem within the Church, because we’ve absorbed the attitude of our culture, to do everything the easiest way possible. Movements like the “Rebelution” Do Hard Things youth conferences were excitingly counter-culture,and I pray that they have ignited a spark of fire in our youth. Meanwhile, I fear that most of us in this country enjoy “cheap patriotism”: the sense that we’re entitled, as Americans, to all the rights and privileges that pertain thereto, but owe nothing in return…not so much as the duty to be well informed before we enter a voting booth.
Of course young people want to do what’s quick and easy…it’s human nature. That doesn’t make it right, wise or best. That’s why God gave them parents…to model for them that doing what takes more time, energy and thought is not only better in the long run, it brings even short-term satisfaction, and builds character in ways that no short cut ever can.
That book title? 100 Bible Verses everyone should know by heart. In the interest of countering creeping juvenility, I’m going to start here and now, with this book. My hope is that the more I fill my mind with God’s truth, the more that Truth will come out in my conversations with those in my circle of influence, including unsaved friends and neighbors…and a precious granddaughter. That is certainly incentive to avoid cheap grace and cheap patriotism, too.
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