Celebrating the Birth of C.S. Lewis

This past Thursday marked the 120th anniversary of the birth of C.S. Lewis. 

It was worth marking.

If you’re not familiar with Lewis, you may be familiar with some of his friends, particularly J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame. They spent many, many hours together at their favorite Oxford pub, The Eagle and Child (affectionately known by locals as “The Bird and the Baby”). As a plaque on the wall reads:

C.S. Lewis, his brother, W.H. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other friends met every Tuesday morning, between the years 1939-1962 in the back room of this their favorite pub. These men, popularly known as the “Inklings,” met here to drink beer and to discuss, among other things, the books they were writing.

The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons)

The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford
(Wikimedia Commons)

If you are familiar with Lewis, it would probably be as a result of the movie of his life titled Shadowlands, his seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia (also made into movies), as well as such works as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity

Lewis went to University College, Oxford, where he achieved a rare double first in Classics, an additional first in English, and the Chancellor’s Prize for academics. He was shortly offered a teaching position at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a fellow and tutor from 1925-1954, and then later at the University of Cambridge as professor of Medieval and Renaissance English from 1954-1963. In 1931, Lewis came out of atheism into the Christian faith, aided significantly through his friendship with Tolkien. As he journeyed away from his rejection of any type of God, he flirted with several alternate worldviews before Christianity, most seriously Hinduism, but ended with Jesus. But this journey was not without resistance. On the particular day in the Trinity Term of 1929 when he “gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed,” he confessed he did so as “the most reluctant convert in all of England.”

The intellectual questions that plagued him during his spiritual journey – why God allows pain and suffering, how Christianity can be the one and only way to God, the place of miracles – became the very questions he later navigated with such skill. 

It was a series of radio addresses, given over the BBC during the Second World War but later published in three separate parts, where his conversational style, wit, intellect and rough charm revealed Christianity to millions. The first invitation was for four, 15-minute talks. The response was so overwhelming that they gave him a fifth 15-minute segment to answer listeners’ questions. A second round of talks were requested and given. The clarity of thought, his ability to gather together a wide range of information and make it plain, led one listener to remark after listening that they “were magnificent, unforgettable. Nobody, before or since, has made such an ‘impact’ in straight talks of this kind.” The BBC asked for a third round of talks, this time stretching out for eight consecutive weeks. Lewis consented, but made it clear it would be his last. His goal throughout was simple: “I was... writing to expound... ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and was what it was long before I was born.” Eventually compiled in a single work titled Mere Christianity, the work continues to make Christianity known to millions.

Addison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons)

Addison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford
(Wikimedia Commons)

There is a path on the grounds of Magdalen College where Lewis taught, just a short way from Merton College where Tolkien resided, called Addison’s Walk. The path runs beside several streams of the River Cherwell. On Saturday, September 19, 1931, Lewis invited two friends to dine with him in his rooms at Magdalen. One was a man by the name of Hugo Dyson, a lecturer in English Literature at Reading University. The other was Tolkien. 

On that fall evening, after they had dined, Lewis took his guests on a walk through the Magdalen grounds, ending with a stroll down Addison’s Walk. It was there they began to discuss the idea of metaphor and myth. Lewis had long appreciated myth. As a boy, he loved the great Norse stories of the dying god Balder; and as a man, he grew to love and appreciate the power of myth throughout the history of language and literature. But he didn’t believe in them. Beautiful and moving though they might be, they were, he concluded, ultimately untrue. As he expressed to Tolkien, myths are “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”

“No,” said Tolkien.  “They are not lies.”

Later, Lewis recalled that at the moment Tolkien uttered those words, “a rush of wind... came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath.”

Tolkien’s point was that the great myths might just reflect a splintered fragment of the true light. Within the myth, there was something of eternal truth. They talked on, and Lewis became convinced by the force of Tolkien’s argument. They returned to Lewis’s rooms on Staircase III of New Building. Once there, they turned their conversation to Christianity. In the case of Christianity, Tolkien argued, the poet who invented the story was none other than God Himself, and the images He used were real men and women and actual history. 

Lewis was floored. 

“Do you mean,” he asked, “that the death and resurrection of Christ is the old ‘dying God’ story all over again?”

Yes, Tolkien answered, except that here is a real dying God, with a precise location in history and definite historical consequences. The old myth has become fact. Such joining of faith and intellect had never occurred to Lewis.

The time approached 3 a.m. and Tolkien had to go home. Lewis and Dyson escorted him down the stairs. They crossed the quadrangle and let him out by the little postern gate on Magdalen Bridge. Lewis remembered that “Dyson and I found more to say to one another, strolling up and down the cloister of New Building, so that we did not get to bed till 4.”

Twelve days later, Lewis wrote to his close boyhood friend Arthur Greeves: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

From that long walk, Lewis continues to take many others on a similar journey through his writings.

So here’s to a happy marking of his 120th birthday.

James Emery White

 

Sources

There are many biographies available on Lewis, including Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Revised Edition (New York: Harvest, 1994); Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (New York: Harper, 2005); David C. Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002); George Sayer, Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings (New York: Ballantine, 1978); and Lewis’ own spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harvest, 1955).

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

The New Tower of Babel

“Man is the being whose project is to be God.”

This penetrating assessment, offered from the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, is incredibly accurate of modern man. And particularly, today.

It was reported this week that a Chinese scientist has claimed to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies—“twin girls whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.” This kind of gene editing, for now, is banned in the United States because “the DNA changes can pass to future generations.” In other words, it changes the human stock. Think The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Many have been quick to denounce the procedure. It’s “unconscionable… an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal. “We’re dealing with the operating instructions of a human being,” added Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. “It’s a big deal.” Even The Atlantic called it “reckless” and “needless.” But get ready for eventual acceptance courtesy of the slippery slope, evidenced by Harvard University’s George Church, who said, “I think this is justifiable.”

In reviewing the past 500 years of Western cultural life, author Jacques Barzun concluded that one of the great themes is “emancipation,” the desire for independence from all authority. Barzun concludes that for the modern era, it is perhaps the most characteristic cultural theme of all. The value of “autonomous individualism” maintains that each person is independent in terms of destiny and accountability. Ultimate moral authority is self-generated. In the end, we answer to no one but ourselves for we are truly on our own. Our choices are ours alone, determined by our personal pleasure and not by any higher moral authority. Intriguingly, Thomas Oden notes that this is the force behind the idea of heresy. The “key to ‘hairesis’ (root word for heresy) is the notion of choice—choosing for oneself, over against the apostolic tradition.”

It was this same spirit of autonomous individualism that erected the infamous tower of Babel and is leading to its rebuilding today. Only this time, we are not building with bricks and mortar but silicon chips and genetic engineering. We live in a technological age and have embraced technological advancement with abandon, creating what Neil Postman termed a “technopoly,” where technology of every kind is cheerfully granted sovereignty. Or, as Jacques Ellul has written, at least the process of technique designed to serve our ends. 

Ironically, within the word “technology” itself lies the new philosophical mooring that marks our intent. The word is built from such Greek words as “technites” (craftsman) and “techne” (art, skill, trade), which speak to the idea of either the person who shapes or molds something, or to the task of shaping and molding itself. But it is the Greek word “logos,” to which “technites” is joined, that makes our term “technology” so provocative. “Logos” is a reference within Greek thought to divine reason, or the organizing principle of the world. In John’s gospel, “logos” was used to communicate to those familiar with the Greek worldview the idea of the divinity of Jesus. Moderns have put together two words that the ancients would not have dared to combine, for the joining of the words intimates that mere humans can shape the very order of the world. Though technology itself may be neutral in its enterprise, there can be no doubt that within the word itself are the seeds for the presumption that would seek to cast God from His throne and assert humanity in His place as the conduit of divine power. 

And we have wasted little time.

On July 25, 2003, the first test-tube baby turned 25. Robert Edwards, who, along with his partner, Patrick Steptoe, pioneered the procedure, graced the occasion with a rare but candid interview with The Times of London. “It was a fantastic achievement but it was about more than infertility,” said Edwards, then 77 and emeritus professor of human reproduction at Cambridge University. “I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God Himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory.”

Smiling triumphantly at the reporter, he said, “It was us.”

While technology may be the new Tower of Babel, the deeper reality is this:

It will end just as the first.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions

“Chinese Scientist Claims to Have Created ‘World’s First “Genetically Edited Babies”’,” The Telegraph, November 26, 2018, read online.

Ed Yong, “A Reckless and Needless Use of Gene Editing on Human Embryos,” The Atlantic, November 26, 2018, read online.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present.

Thomas Oden, After Modernity... What?

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.

Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, translated from the French by John Wilkinson.

On the meaning of the words “techne” and “technites”, see the article on “Carpenter, Builder, Workman, Craftsman, Trade” by J.I. Packer in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, Colin Brown, editor.

Anjana Ahuja, “God Is Not In Charge, We Are,” T2-The Times, 24 July 2003, p. 6.

James Emery White, Serious Times (InterVarsity Press).

Additional reading:

Nathan Barczi, “In the Image of Our Choosing,” Christianity Today, February 17, 2017, read online.

Viral Verses Read Wrong

A few months ago, in light of its 25th anniversary, the online Scripture resource Bible Gateway revealed its five most searched Bible verses. The most searched, John 3:16, probably wouldn’t surprise. Nor would the other four: Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…”), Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things…”), Psalm 23:4 (“Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”) and Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good…”).

What is interesting about the most viral verses being tweeted, hashtagged, shared, favorited, bookmarked or highlighted – whether through Bible Gateway, YouVersion, or any other source – is that the reason they are going viral has little to do with the actual meaning of the verse itself.

Take Philippians 4:13 as an example: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

It’s easy to see why this would go viral. If you want a “name it and claim it” verse that you can name and claim for almost anything, this is it. It tells you that you can do anything with Christ on your side because you’ll have His strength. Which means nothing is impossible; nothing is insurmountable. You can do anything and everything through Christ who strengthens you. And the idea is that He can and will strengthen you.

You can overcome that obstacle.

You can climb to new heights.

You can embrace your destiny.

God said you can, so you can!

So do you want to: Secure that job? Find that soulmate? Make more money? Get that house? Land that deal? Get that part?

No problem. You can accomplish all things through Christ.

But is that what it’s saying?

No. 

Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi while imprisoned in chains in Rome. The section of the letter that contains its most viral verse was an interesting one. Paul was not only in prison, but he wasn’t doing well physically. The Philippians knew that he wasn't doing well physically and Paul knew they were concerned about this, so in this section, he addresses that concern:

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13, NIV)

The context is about finding contentment in Christ independent of circumstance, particularly when those circumstances include suffering. It’s not about the ability to succeed, gain accomplishment, break through a barrier, finish a race or win a game. It’s about finding strength in Christ to be content in the midst of hellish circumstances; it’s about getting through times of persecution.

So what is Philippians 4:13 really about? It’s about the opposite of what it’s often used for. Because most of the time, Philippians 4:13 is whipped out to expect or even force a change in a situation. But Paul used it to accept the situation, to find strength to endure the situation and to be content despite the situation.

A few years ago, Jonathan Merritt insightfully wrote on the misunderstandings surrounding this very popular verse, noting that Paul isn’t telling people they should dream bigger dreams. He is reminding them that they can endure the crushing feeling of defeat if and when those dreams aren’t realized. He’s not encouraging Christ followers to go out and conquer the world. He’s reminding them that they can press on when the world conquers them.

I think most of us, myself included, are much more driven by the “if onlys.” If only I had that, if only I could do this, if only I could go there, if only I could be with that person, then I could be happy. But what Paul wrote in Philippians is about living more deeply than that. 

He didn’t live a life of the “if onlys,” he lived a life of the “as only.” Meaning, “as only” someone in a relationship with Christ can.

And that is what Philippians 4:13 is about. And if that is what is kept in mind, then yes,

… it deserves to go viral.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Anugrah Kumar, “Bible Gateway Lists Top 10 Searches Among 14 Billion Views in 25 Years,” The Christian Post, August 2, 2018, read online.

Jonathan Merritt, “Philipians 4:13: How Many Christians Misuse the Iconic Verse,” Religion News Service, January 16, 2014, read online.

For more on this check out the “Viral Verses” series at ChurchAndCulture.org given by James Emery White HERE.

Thankful for the Fleas

Editor’s Note: This blog is a favorite of the Church & Culture Team, and has become a Thanksgiving tradition. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were kept in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested.

They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good.

Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas.

This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking Him even for the fleas.

Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks. 

This meant that the women were not assaulted. 

It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp.

Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.

Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks:

It was because of the fleas.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), but also thank Him for how He will use all things for good in the lives of those who trust Him (Romans 8:28). 

In this time of declining home values and rising unemployment, in a time when many are facing physical and emotional challenges, there can be little doubt that such a trusting prayer of gratitude will be challenging to consider.

But when you feel that challenge, take a moment and remember the fleas of Ravensbruck.

And thank God anyway.

James Emery White


Sources
     

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place.

Good News and Bad News on Teens and Sex

(*Warning: This post contains graphic language.)

“These should be boom times for sex.”

Thus began an article in The Atlantic titled, “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?” The idea is that, in light of current cultural conditions, they should.

“The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is ‘not wrong at all’ is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free and the morning-after pill without a prescription.

“If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase ‘If something exists, there is porn of it’ used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.

“Polyamory is a household word. Shame-laden terms like perversion have given way to cheerful-sounding ones like kink. Anal sex has gone from final taboo to ‘fifth base’—Teen Vogue (yes, Teen Vogue) even ran a guide to it. With the exception of perhaps incest and bestiality—and of course nonconsensual sex more generally—our culture has never been more tolerant of sex in just about every permutation.

 

“But despite all this,” the article baited, “American teenagers and young adults are having less sex.”

 

This, it would seem, would be the “good” news.  At least for those who feel that sex outside of marriage is not God’s plan for sexual expression, much less fulfillment.

 

The bad news?

 

After a lengthy examination, several suggestions were put forward as to why. None of them encouraging. But two were deeply disturbing.

 

First, what the writer calls “sex for one.” In short, the ubiquitous nature of porn has led to a retreat from sexual interaction with other people. In short, we’ve traded sex with others for masturbation to a digital image. As one observer put it, this is “a generation that found the imperfect or just unexpected demands of real-world relationships with women less enticing than the lure of the virtual libido.” This is not mere conjecture. Studies have shown that from 1992 to 2014, the share of American men who reported masturbating in a given week doubled, and the number of women tripled. Why? Pornography.

 

A second concerning reason was simply called “bad sex,” and it, too, was porn-related. As one leading sex researcher at Indiana University has had to counsel her students: “If you’re with somebody for the first time, don’t choke them, don’t ejaculate on their face, don’t try to have anal sex with them. These are all things that are just unlikely to go over well”—all things prominently featured in pornography. Young people today are simply more likely to engage in sexual behaviors prevalent in pornography. “All of this might be scaring some people off… and contributing to the sex decline.”

This is worth quoting at length:

“Painful sex is not new, but there’s reason to think that porn may be contributing to some particularly unpleasant early sexual experiences. Studies show that, in the absence of high-quality sex education, teen boys look to porn for help understanding sex—anal sex and other acts women can find painful are ubiquitous in mainstream porn… In my interviews with young women, I heard too many iterations to count of ‘he did something I didn’t like that I later learned is a staple in porn,’ choking being one widely cited example.

 

“If you are a young woman, and you’re having sex and somebody tries to choke you, I just don’t know if you’d want to go back for more right away.”

All to say, we’re beginning to see ever more clearly what the first generation raised on porn is having that exposure do to them.

Good news? Teen sex is down.

The bad news?

Why.

James Emery White

 

 

Sources

 

Kate Julian, “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?,” The Atlantic, December 2018, read online.

Fat in Church

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 40% of all American adults are not simply overweight, but obese. That’s more than 93 million people. And it starts young and increases with age. The CDC reports 13.8% of preschool-age children (2-5 years), 18.4% of school-age children (6-11 years), and 20.6% of adolescents (12-19 years) are obese. Most of us know that obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. But this is just obesity, defined as being 35 pounds or more overweight. When you look at the combined numbers of those who are obese or simply overweight, two out of every three people are affected. 

But then there’s what a Fox News article once called “fat in church.” Studies show Christians as a whole are heavier than the general population. This includes one-third of all pastors. As one researcher put it, “America is becoming a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for this problem.”   

Ouch.

When it comes to our bodies, we can either fixate, desecrate or consecrate.

A fixation with our bodies is tying them to our sense of self-worth, whether we are (or can be) loved and accepted by others. It’s making our body the essence of what we think will make us happy or whole. It’s when we’ve reduced our sense of security and esteem to how we look and, from that, have turned loose an insecurity that trivializes what it means to value others as well as ourselves. The words of Scripture ring clear: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (I Peter 3:3-4, NLT).

The other extreme is to desecrate our bodies. To desecrate something is to violate it, to take something that should be held sacred, held in esteem, and treat it with contempt. When we allow ourselves to get overweight, and particularly become obese, we desecrate our bodies. The Bible is very clear on this: “When you eat... always do it to honor God” (I Corinthians 10:31, CEV).

The call of God on our lives is not to fixate on our bodies or desecrate them. The call is to consecrate them. That’s not a word we use too much anymore, but it’s an important one. To consecrate something is to set it aside, to mark it as holy. When you consecrate something, you set it aside for a sacred purpose. And that is what the Bible would encourage us to do with our bodies: “… offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV). Why? Again, from the Bible: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?... therefore, honor God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV).

The Bible teaches that our body is a sacred place where God dwells through the Holy Spirit. So when it comes to our bodies, we’re on holy ground. If you are a Christ-follower, you are dealing with something that God not only made, but actually inhabits. It’s not just flesh and blood—there is a spiritual dynamic that is a part of your body. So caring for it in any and every way needed is part of the management responsibility we have before God.

If we don’t, it impacts us spiritually.

Something like obesity dulls your spiritual senses. It cheapens your life and deadens the core of your being. Which is why fasting has always been a spiritual discipline. There is a relationship between what you do with your body and your relationship with God.

I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the apostle Paul’s advice in his first letter to the Corinthians: “You know the old saying, ‘First you eat to live, and then you live to eat?’ Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food... Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!” (I Corinthians 6:13, Msg).

Yes.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Adult Obesity Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, read online.

Christopher J.L. Murray, Marie Ng and Ali Mokdad, “The Vast Majority of American Adults Are Overweight or Obese, and Weight Is a Growing Problem Among US Children,” IHME, read online.

“Overweight and Obesity Statistics,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, read online.

Justin Caba, “Clergy Members Battle Obesity: One-Third of Pastors in the US Are Obese,” Medical Daily, January 13, 2015, read online.

“Fat in Church,” Fox News, June 3, 2012, read online.

Nine Ways to Change… or Die

It was a fascinating project. 

Two Danish researchers traveled to 54 newsrooms in nine countries in search of desperately needed innovation in journalism. Their motivation was clear: “When citizens of Western societies, to a deeply disturbing extent, turn their backs on original news journalism, spend less time on news on radio or television, buy fewer newspapers, and express a growing distrust of media institutions, we need to submit the core content of the news media – journalism itself – to a critical review.”

They found that the crisis of journalism and legacy news media “is structural, and not just a matter of technological challenges or broken business models.” As a result, they found that the “news media most successful at creating and maintaining ties with their readers, users, listeners and viewers will increasingly be media that dare challenge some of the journalist dogmas of the last century.”

They walked away with nine core ideas, nine different ways (or movements) by which news media in the Western world are currently trying to “forge closer ties and stronger relations to their communities and audiences.” Here are the nine: 

  1. From neutrality to identity. Let people know exactly what you stand for, who you are and from which perspective you view the world. 

  2. From omnibus to niche. Create strong bonds with a very targeted audience. You can’t reach everyone, so don’t try.

  3. From flock to club. You aren’t after users or readers, but members who register or pay to join into a community.

  4. From ink to sweat. Quit thinking of journalism as simply a story you write or tell; create physical journalism in the form of public meetings, festivals, events and stage plays. Think “live and engaging.” 

  5. From speaking to listening. Move from a “walled-up fortress” to an open and accessible house. Personal dialogue, physical presence… have the conversation be two-way.

  6. From arm’s length to cooperation. In the name of “independence” and “neutrality,” modern journalism has kept its distance from various citizens and interest groups, not to mention public institutions and private corporations. The move now is to involve citizens directly in everything from research to delivery. Even the subsequent debate of published stories.

  7. From own to other platforms. The old idea that it weakens business opportunities and journalistic control when content is released on social media is being replaced with the idea that at least cooperation with social media has the potential to enhance and deepen engagement and strengthen journalism itself.

  8. From problem to solution. Don’t just denounce or decry, or simply reveal and relay—add a solution-oriented dynamic to the work. “They read more, they are more likely to share content, and they express more interest in knowing more about the issue when the piece has a constructive angle.”

  9. From observers to activists. Taking a campaign-oriented approach to journalism, or advocacy mindset, creates relevance. 

The researchers find no reason “to preach one particular model… for the future. All the experiments and ideas unfolding in the current media landscape… indicate that there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of different models, all of which carry a hope for the church in the future.”

The bottom line is that the church of the future will exist because of a focus on innovation and experiment. It will be founded on the courage and ambition of radical innovation. There will have to be a new understanding of the need for dramatic change and open-ended experiments. The message and intent is timeless and not to be changed, but the methods must be ruthlessly reevaluated.

Oops. Did I just write “church?” I meant “journalism.”

Or did I.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Per Westergaard & Soren Schultz Jorgensen, “54 Newsrooms, 9 Countries, and 9 Core Ideas,” Nieman Lab, July 11, 2018, read online.

When I Grow Up, I Want to be... a YouTuber

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? If you were like most children, answers would have probably included such things as being a police officer, doctor or a teacher. 

Times have changed.

What if I told you that the top aspirations of present-day children between the ages of 6 and 17 didn’t even exist when you were a child? 

A survey of more than a thousand children by the travel company First Choice found that nearly 75% now want a career in online videos. Specifically, more than a third wanted to be a YouTuber, and nearly a fifth wanted to work as a vlogger. 

It’s not about the money. The top attractions were “creativity, fame and the opportunity for self-expression.” According to Internet Matters, more than four out of 10 children are uploading videos to the web by the time they reach 15 years old.

Understandably, they want their education experience to match their career plans. The study found that they “would rather learn media studies and how to use video editing software than traditional subjects.” Instagram is ready to serve by now offering an “academy” designed to “teach teenagers how to become social media stars.” As reported by the Telegraph: “… the photo sharing app is running three days of free workshops to train would-be influencers in how to become an online success. The curriculum covers everything from camera angles to how to make your content ‘relatable.’”

It’s hard to blame the children for making this their professional desire, eclipsing becoming a pop star or famous athlete. The internet is the world in which they live and the world that lives in them. And unlike the arduous amount of work and competition for careers in such areas as medicine or law, with these aspirations there are “no barriers to entry; no exams or auditions. All it appears to take is a smartphone and bucket-loads of youthful self-confidence.” And while self-confidence may vary from child to child, we all know they at least have a smartphone.

Parents are the ones who seem unclear on how to advise their child vocationally in such matters. Not only is it a world they do not understand, it is a job they do not understand.

But offer sound counsel, they should. The sobering reality of such career dreams is revealed in the research of Mathias Bartl, a professor at Germany’s Offenburg University of Applied Sciences, who has found that “96.5% of all those trying to become YouTube vloggers won’t make enough money out of advertising to live above the poverty line.”

So while it may seem that the choice is between going to school and studying hard or putting up videos on YouTube, the latter isn’t really the viable option many young people think it is. 

Yes, as one 14-year-old put it, “Vlogging seems like the best job ever.”

Unfortunately, it’s just not one that has a very likely chance of working out.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jacob Dirnhuber, “Children Turn Backs on Traditional Careers in Favour of Internet Fame, Study Finds,” The Sun, May 22, 2017, read online.

Tanith Carey, “Can Social Media School Make Your 16-Year-Old a Star?” The Telegraph, October 25, 2018, read online.

A Bad Answer to the Biggest Question

The posthumous release of Stephen Hawking’s new book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, playing off of the title of his bestselling A Brief History of Time, reminds us of much that endeared the physicist to our hearts and minds: his sweeping intellect, gift of explanation and simplification, self-deprecating humor, refusal to let physical challenges limit his life... and, of course, his insatiable curiosity. As Kip Thorne stated in his eulogy for Hawking at the interment of his ashes at Westminster Abbey: “Newton gave us answers. Hawking gave us questions.”

But I confess much disappointment in his “brief” answer to the biggest question of all, “Is there a God?” It’s not just that we disagree in our conclusions, but that his reasons for rejecting the existence of God are so… weak.

First, he only considers the existence of God in an impersonal sense, equating God with little more than the laws of nature. Hawking reasons that as a “law of nature,” this “god” could not exist outside of time. Taken together, this “time-bound law of nature” means that he is not even grappling with God at all. Which means he is not grappling with the “big” question at all—namely, is there a personal Being who exists outside of space and time? 

This severely curtails his attempt to answer the question at its most significant level and makes his rather glib response to whether God exists intellectually irrelevant. For example, in maintaining that whatever “god” there is must exist in time, Hawking concludes that “then there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in… Time didn’t exist before the big Bang so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” Yet the very definition of God, across almost the entire intellectual spectrum, is One who exists outside of space and time. 

(One more example of why scientists make bad philosophers and even worse theologians.)

Second, he states that the three ingredients needed in our “cosmic cookbook” for a universe are matter, energy and space. Yet none of them existed before the Big Bang, which means you have to explain how “something” came from “nothing.” Where did the energy come from? Where did the matter come from? Hawking wants to make a case that “space,” at least, was enabled through a simultaneous production of negative energy. But even if one buys into this explanation, it does not answer the questions surrounding the genesis of energy and matter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the questions still remain: Where did the stuff that got “banged” come from and who “banged” it?

Third, when speaking of the laws of nature he holds to so reverently, he never bothers to ask what is arguably the most important question about those laws: How did they come into existence? This is particularly important when trying to explain how “something” could come from “nothing” through the Big Bang, which Hawking attempts to explain through the laws of physics (unconvincingly, I might add, and in a way that raises more questions than answers). As Alan Guth, one of the leading physicists of our day at M.I.T. has written, even if you could come up with a theory that would account for the creation of something from nothing through the laws of physics, you’d still have to account for the origin of the laws of physics!

In the end, Hawking admits that we now know the laws that govern what happens “in all but the most extreme conditions, like the origin of the universe, or black holes.”

Yes.

But it is precisely the questions – and mystery – surrounding those “extreme conditions” that consistently point to God. And why Hawking gives a very brief, but also very bad, answer to the biggest question of all.

And, sadly, now he knows it all too well.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions.

Alan Guth, The Inflationary Universe.

You’ve Got Mail

Confession:

One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail—the Nora Ephron written and directed, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan acted, rom-com that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

There. I said it.

Much of what I love about it is the nostalgia, and Millennials would probably feel it even more than I would. The AOL greeting when signing in, “bouquets of sharpened pencils,” an actual bookstore, The Godfather quotes… it had a little bit of everything for me. 

This made it all the more painful when some staffers at Marie Claire decided to honor the movie’s 20th anniversary by showing it to a group of their Generation Z coworkers. Painful, in that it was largely lost on them. Not the story itself, mind you, just the cultural nostalgia many of us so love.

But it’s understandable, and a good reminder of how that world no longer exists. 

The demise of small bookstores under the weight of big-box stores? Oh my. Most of the big-box stores are even gone. And the ones that are left? We’re actually rooting for them! (Hang in there, Barnes and Noble!)

Chat rooms? Really?

Rent control for $450 a month? That’s reached the point of comical.

And logging on to the internet through a dial-up connection? What does that even mean? Even the very use of AOL for email or anything else tends to mark you as over-50 (guilty!), which is why even the title of the movie is lost on younger ears. 

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Realizing how much things change. And how quickly. Even after just 20 years.

This needs to serve as a reminder to us, how the coming generations we need to reach through our churches have grown up in a very different world, and we need something different than a dial-up modem to connect with them. Why?

Because while you get “You’ve got mail,”

… they don’t.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Cady Drell and Danielle McNally, “We Showed ‘You've Got Mail’ to Our Gen-Z Coworkers and Now Feel Very Old,” Marie Claire, August 1, 2018, read online.