Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Medium is the Message - Part Two

So if the way we communicate messages has a bearing on the meaning of those messages, what does that say about how we communicate the gospel? Many have taken the view that since people in America are entrenched in sports, television, and movies that we must use those languages to communicate the gospel of Christ. But ultimately, what does it do to the message? If McLuhan was right, it changes the gospel into entertainment. . . it changes it into mere fun. . . it distorts the seriousness of it. And, in recent years, the gospel has become an obligatory tack-on to entertainment. And because attention spans are short, people are apologized to when gospel presenters say, "This will only take a few minutes."

And what does it say about the message we have to communicate? By trying to smash it in to a context that would appeal to depraved minds, we are stating that there is a lack of power in what we have to say, and it has to be modified in order to be effective. I recently heard John MacArthur say something profound about our gospel. It is a transcendent message. It is a singular message. The message of the church transcends all languages, all nations, all cultures, all societal norms, all contexts, all levels of education, and all notions about status. The early church had the same message everywhere it went in a day when cultural boundaries were harder and more fixed than we see today. Acts 1:8 - "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Did Christ say witnesses to Me by the power of your cunning in crafting the message? No. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit.

All that is needed for the power of God to be released in a situation, such as in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, is that the Truth of God be proclaimed. Three thousand souls were added that day BY GOD, not by the context of the message. Why would you change the message when the Word says that the natural man understands not the things of God? Contextualization of the message is a curse. As MacArthur says, "We have people fussing around trying to figure out if they need holes in their Levis and a skull and crossbones on their t-shirts, as if that is a means for drawing in God's elect. The message never descends to clothing or musical styles. Can your message go to any person? Anyone in your town, state, country, and around the world?"

Let me tell you about the practicality of this. In sharing the gospel with people, I have used the same message with every age group, every race, and each gender. And they all understand! Do they all receive it? No. But the Word says that the message is veiled to those who are perishing. And if it is veiled and cannot be understood by the human mind without the power of God, then how am I going to try and trump that by making it "cool." I recently saw an evangelist present the gospel message to a group of teens. The message was the same as what he would have told a man who was 90 years old. And the message was effective! God brought a certain amount of conviction upon those kids. Why do we feel that we must spend thousands of dollars, generate a great deal of research, and distort the message when all they need is the gospel!

I may sound out of touch with society, but I am in good company. Look at the prophets. Look at John the Baptist (who was probably more out of touch with society than anyone) and the Apostle Paul. For that matter, look at Jesus. He did not fit in with his society, nor did he use their depraved desires to pull them in. We must not use people's desires for the things of the world to draw them to the gospel. These things are innate to their falleness.

The true Gospel is alien to us. Men are naturally prideful. The Gospel smashes that pride. Men proclaim their goodness. The Gospel smashes their idea of what good is. And the Gospel is the power to save. It is not of man, but of God. We therefore, do not need to take what is of God and make if man.

I will end with what is probably the scariest part of all of this. If the medium taints the message, then in all reality, it changes the message. Parts of it may sound the same, but the message is changed. In Galatians 1:9, Paul says, "As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed." Let us not be in that position. Preach the Word! Be prepared in season and out of season!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Medium is the Message - Part One

In the early 1960's, Marshall McLuhan postulated his now famous theory of media, that the medium is the message. This means, in its most simplified form, that messages we convey to each other as human beings are tainted and shaped by the medium by which we choose to communicate them. For example, a news event that is reported on television, the newspaper, and an Internet blog will all be somewhat different. Television is a medium where brevity is key, so the message is shaped accordingly. Newspapers have limited space, but they are a little more free to expound on facts than television. An Internet blog is virtually limitless in space and storage, thus much more information can be contained. In this, the medium of communication helps to shape the message delivered. We can perceive some messages as being more important than others, or more facts or less facts give us an impression of what is truly going on. This is where we get terms such as "soundbite culture." Let me give you one visual example. Look at the following ways of conveying a message through different fonts:

As you can see, if I were conveying a message about a person named Jenny, I could give you different ideas about who Jenny is simply by my medium choice. The message is exactly the same (J-E-N-N-Y), but the medium shapes the way you perceive the message.

In more recent times, television and the Internet are shaping our way of thinking simply because they are the predominant media of our day. One result of television viewing is shortened attention spans. For example, a typical television show will change the image you see every three seconds, on average. You are moved from one shot to the next in rapid succession in order to keep your attention. Watch a television show from the medium's early days. Better yet, place a child in front of an old TV show, and watch the temptation of boredom set in. You will notice things move at a much slower pace, and the shots and images are not changed as often.

So, in the end, messages can be enhanced, obscured, or obsolesced simply by the form of communication we use to transmit that message.

So, what does this mean on a Christian blog? You will have to tune in to part two to find out! But until then, think about how the Christian community transmits the Gospel of Christ. We hold good news! And that good news must be communicated with others. How do we do that? How is that done in America now?

. . . to be continued.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Upcoming article about the RTM conference

Paducah Parenting Magazine will graciously run an article regarding the conference in their September issue. Below is the article as it has been submitted to them:

Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography, “In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.” His words could not be more apropos than now.

In a time when many are embracing post-modernist philosophies (what is true for you and what is true for me may be complete opposites, yet they are both valid), the questioning of beliefs passed down from generation to generation are coming under close scrutiny. And perhaps none is more closely eyed than those pertaining to religion. Yet if what Mark Twain writes is true, should we not question the ideals and beliefs passed on to us? Are the beliefs and traditions we grew up with accurate? Such is the subject of the Real Truth Matters conference coming to Paducah on October 11th at the Robert Cherry Civic Center.

The Real Truth Matters conference will take an in depth look at the crux of Christian belief. . . the Gospel. Without it, there would be no Christianity. But the question has arrived: Is what we are doing today in Churches across the United States in line with the Bible, or are we just passing on traditions that in the end, mean nothing? “The question has been raised quite well by those in the emergent church,” says conference speaker Michael Durham. “But in the end, their post-modern ideas do not lead them to a logical solution. On the other end, we have Christians who claim to stand on Biblical truth in their doctrine, but they will do anything and everything to get someone into Christianity, even if it means compromising the Gospel. Others agree that many of the traditions of our forefathers are not good, but they set out to create new, equally dangerous traditions. One of the purposes of this conference is to start a dialog among Christians in our area. In an age where Christians are increasingly under attack for the faith, and persecution is on the rise, we have to make sure we get the Gospel right. It is the bedrock of our faith, and we have to keep it true.”

And the fight is not a new one. Even before the last word was penned on the book of Revelation, deceivers had already crept into the early church. “False prophets existed in the Old Testament,” says Michael. “There always seems to be a work of deception working along side any work of God. That is exactly the problem we find in the Garden of Eden. Jesus warned about them from the sermon on the mount to his discourse just before his death. Paul encountered false teachings as well as Peter and John. The book of Jude is a direct warning against such. Jude encourages believers “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” because deceivers had crept in unnoticed. The key word is 'unnoticed.' We often think that deception will be easy to spot. But that is the very essence of deception. It is, by nature, not always easy to spot. It will often take on many forms of truth. . . dress itself up in God's word and be nearly accurate. But any errancy in the gospel renders it useless. It's like putting a drop of extremely toxic poison in a gallon of water. Not many would take the chance on drinking that water once they know what is in there.”

And even though deception is often masked under the cloak of truth, the results of it are unmistakable. In 1991, the first year of the decade of harvest, a major denomination in the U.S. was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. That is, in one year, this major denomination of 11,500 churches was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. Unfortunately, they could only find 14,000 in fellowship, which means they couldn’t account for 280,000 of their decisions. This is normal, modern evangelical results. And one of the greatest complaints against the Christian community is the fact that many who claim to be Christian are no different than those who do not claim any faith. Yet the scriptures describe a believer as “a new creation.” There is an obvious disconnect between our reality and that described in scripture.

“These are the topics we are going to tackle at the Real Truth Matters conference,” adds Michael. “We are going to look at where we have gotten it wrong, the essential elements of the gospel, and what true conversion really is. It will be a time for Christians to come together and learn the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once that power is realized, we have no more need of man-made traditions to entice or lure people into the kingdom of God.”

The Real Truth Matters conference will be held at the Robert Cherry Civic Center on Saturday, October 11 at 10am. More information and registration can be found at