I usually groan when I hear the words ‘Christian’ and ‘culture’ used in the same sentence. But in the mind of Ken Myers it actually makes sense, and makes sense biblically, because he rejects the churches attempts at popular contextualization. Mark Dever interviews the fascinating Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio. There was so much information packed into this interview that I’ve had to listen to it twice, and it was such a joy the second time around.
Ken talks about his education, his work at NPR, and how Mars Hill Audio came to be, and what it’s focus is.
Ken begins by saying that the difficulty in talking about culture is that we don’t know where to start; we don’t have a good framework to know how to tackle it. There are many who have attempted to adapt to the culture by introducing media, entertainment and appealing to a consumer culture, such as the Church Growth Movement, but they have not understood the dangers that they present. And from a historical perspective now, those dangers have taken hold of those churches. Most would agree that contemporary society is confused overall, and it’s irresponsible to look to the world for models that we would structure the church around.
In fact, we have become Christian “choosers”, or “consumers” today, rather than becoming Christian disciples. We treat church like a commodity, and we treat people like consumers, and our culture has conditioned us to fill those shoes.
In the church, Ken sees a problem developing in the intellectual life of the church. Pastors are taking cues from the dumbed-down pop Christian culture, while Christians are reading at a far lower caliber books than they did 30 years ago. Today the demand for discernment is greater than it ever has been, and we are generally very ill-equipped for any kind of useful discernment.
Ken also talks about how Christianity has become more American than Christian, which is something that’s been happening for a long time. There has been the temptation for the Christian church to be the “chaplaincy” for the American project. Secular people have defined what the American project is, and the church is there to bless it. Yet, in the other direction, Ken is disappointed in the efforts of the Right Wing to engineer a Christian culture into society via a political machine that has consumed billions of dollars. He observes that there is only so much we can do that society will allow.
Given our media hungry culture, Ken says we as Christians must be skilled in the use of language. God has revealed himself to our age through words and language. And we ought to be conversant in poetry, prose and language arts.
Ken talks about things that define how our culture operates and thinks, from “optionalities” (having the freedom of unlimited options) to the danger of informality. We have also lost formal rhetorical speech, and we are one of the only cultures that have lost this formal register of speech, because we have developed a suspicion of authority. And this has application to churches who seek to contextualize themselves and their message to this culture. Can we contextualize to a cultural that prizes informality because it rejects authority? Are our church values of informality encouarging further rejection of authority? These are serious questions that we need to be thinking about.
Here’s a Bibliography of books and articles mentioned in the interview:
Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly Article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
Books by Mortimer Adler, John Stott, Carl F. H. Henry
Knowing God, by J. I. Packer
Mediated, by Thomas De Zengotita
Mark Edmundsons article from Harper’s Magazine, “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”
Why Read?, by Mark Edmundson
All Gods Children and Blue Suede Shoes, by Ken Myers
The Democratization of American Christianity, by Nathan Hatch
Foolishness to the Greeks, by Lesli Newbigin
Doing Our Own Thing, by John McWhorter
The Gravedigger Files, by Os Guinness
The Death of Character, by James Davison Hunter
Anything by David Wells
Technopoly, by Neil Postman
Culture Making, by Andy Crouch
This is a fabulous interview filled and will raise your level of Christian awareness.