Television and an Idiot Culture

I recently read Os Guinness’ book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What To Do About It. It is a very brief, yet thought-provoking study on the history of evangelicalism and Christianity and culture. In it, he argues how the majority of American evangelicals have come to reject intellectual, theological, doctrinal, and knowledgeable Christianity. One argument he makes is that Christianity is being heavily influenced by secular American culture, particularly through television.

He makes a very convincing argument as to how television is encouraging a culture of entertainment and especially a non-thinking, idiot culture. I thought I would share part of what he says in this post:

“First, television discourse has a bias against understanding. With its rapid images, its simplistic thought, and its intense emotions, television is devoid of the context needed for true understanding. Its superficiality amounts to a form of disinformation. ‘Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.’

“Second, television discourse has a bias against responsibility. The same rapidity, variety, and intensity of images that provides the viewer no context for true understanding also prevents the viewer from engaging with the consequences of what is experienced. The abrupt – sometimes absurd – discontinuities between programming and advertising particularly makes this so. ‘There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political burden so costly . . . that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, ‘Now . . . this.'”

“Third, television discourage has a bias against memory and history. Its very pace and style creates a nonstop preoccupation with the present. Incoherent perhaps, irresponsible certainly, the ceaseless, breathless flow of the Now renders viewers incapable of remembering. As television superjournalist Bill Moyers laments, ‘We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the past sixty centuries or the last sixty years.’

“Fourth, television discourse has a bias against rationality. With rare exceptions, television so disdains ‘talking heads’ that the very act of thinking becomes unthinkable on television. A thinker questioned might pause to reflect, ‘Now let me see . . . What do you mean?’ But on television, such thinking is too slow, too uncertain, too boring. As any aficionado of such shows as ‘The McLaughlin Group’ knows, television answering is performing, not pondering. It is theatre rather than thinking, entertaining drama rather than edifying debate. To criticize such shows as if they were anything else is to miss the fun, they would say.

“Fifth, television discourse has a bias against truth and accuracy. Credibility was once linked to veracity – someone or something was believable because of being true or not true. Today, however, credibility serves as a synonym for plausibility – whether someone or something seems to be true. Credibility in the television age has little to do with principle and all to do with plausibility and performance. ‘Is it true?’ is overshadowed by ‘Was it compelling/sincere/entertaining/charismatics?’ The smile and the assured answer now carry the day.”



Thomas Brooks on Assurance, Arminians, and Roman Catholics

I’m currently reading through Thomas Brooks book Heaven on Earth as discussed in my last post on the PRC: “PRC (7); Puritans, Assurance, and Preaching” and came across this pertinent quote on the issue of Arminians and assurance. Can the Puritan doctrine of assurance be likened to Arminianism? This quote would imply a definite no!

“By these ten arguments it doth evidently appear, that believers may in this life attain unto a well-grounded assurance of their everlasting happiness and blessedness. I shall apply this a little, and then close up this chapter.

“Use. This precious truth thus proved, looks sourly and wishly [with eager desire] upon all those that affirm that believers cannot in this life attain unto a certain well-grounded assurance of their everlasting happiness and blessedness, – as papists and Arminians: all know that know their writings and teachings, that they are in arms against this Christ-exalting, and soul-cheering doctrine of assurance. ‘I know no such thing as assurance of heaven in this life,’ saith Grevinchovius the Arminian. Assurance is a pearl that they trample under feet; it is a beam of heaven that hath so much light, brightness, and shining glory in it, that their blear-eyes cannot behold it. Assurance is glory in the bud, it is the suburbs of paradise, it is a cluster of the land of promise, it is a spark of God, it is the joy and crown of a Christian; the greater is their impiety and folly that deny assurance, that cry down assurance under any names or notions whatsoever. They are rather tormentors than comforters that say, poor souls may know that there is a crown of righteousness, but they must not presume to know that they shall have the honour to wear that crown; and that makes God like King Xerxes, who crowned his steersman in the morning, and beheaded him in the evening of the same day.

“Arminians are not ashamed to say, that God may crown a man one hour, and uncrown him in the next; they blush not to say that a man may be happy and miserable, under love and under wrath, an heir of heaven and firebrand of hell, a child of light and a child of darkness, and all in an hour. Oh what miserable comforters are these? What is this but to torment the weary soul? to dispirit the wounded spirit, and to make them most sad whom God would have most glad? Ah! how sad it is for men to affirm, that wounded spirits may know ‘that the Sun of righteousness hath healing in his wings,’ Mal. iv. 2; but they cannot be assured that they shall be healed. The hungry soul may know that there is bread enough in his Father’s house, but cannot know that he shall taste of that bread, Luke xv. 17. The naked soul may know that Christ hath robes of righteousness to cover all spots, sores, defects, and deformities of it, but may not presume to know that Christ will put these royal robes upon it, Rev. iii. 18. The impoverished soul may know that there be unsearchable riches in Christ, but cannot be assured that ever it shall partake of those riches, Eph. iii. 8. All that these men allow poor souls, is guesses and conjectures that it may be well with them. They will not allow souls to say with Thomas, ‘My Lord, and my God,’ John xx. 18; nor with Job to say, ‘My Redeemer lives,’ Job xix. 25; nor with the church, ‘I am my beloved’s, and his desire is towards me,’ Cant. vii. 10. And so they leave souls in a cloudy, questioning, doubting, hovering conditions, hanging, like Mahoment’s tomb at Mecca, between two loadstones; or like Erasmus, as the papists paint him, hanging betwixt heaven and hell. They make the poor soul a Magor-missabib, a terror to itself.

“What more comfortable doctrine than this? What more soul-disquieting, and soul-unsettling doctrine than this? Thou art this moment in a state of life, thou mayest the next moment be in a state of death; thou are now gracious, thou mayest the next hour be graceless; thou art now in the promised land, yet thou mayest die in the wilderness; thou art to-day a habitation for God, thou may to-morrow be a synagogue of Satan; thou hast to-day received the white stone of absolution, thou mayest to-morrow receive the black stone of condemnation; thou art now in thy Saviour’s arms, thou mayest to-morrow be in Satan’s paws; thou art now Christ’s freeman, thou mayest to-morrow be Satan’s bondman; thou art now a vessel of honour, thou mayest suddenly become a vessel of wrath; thou art now greatly beloved, thou mayest soon be as greatly loathed; this day thy name is fairly written in the book of life, to-morrow the book may be crossed, and thy name blotted out for ever. This is the Arminians’ doctrine, and if this be not to keep souls in a doubting and trembling, and shivering conditions, what is it? Well, Christians, remember this is your happiness and blessedness, that ‘none can pluck you out of your Father’s hand,’ John x. 29; that you are ‘kept,’ as in a garrison, or as with a guard, ‘by the power of God through faith unto salvation,’ I Peter i. 5. ‘That the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but the kindness of the Lord shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on you,’ Isa. liv. 10. ‘That Christ ever lives to make intercession for you,’ Heb. iii. 25; and that men and devils are as able, and shall as soon, make a world, dethrone God, pluck the sun out of the firmament, and Christ out of the bosom of the Father, as they shall pluck a believer out of the everlasting arms of Christ, or rob him of one of his precious jewels, Deut. xxxiii. 26, 27. I shall close up this chapter with an excellent saying of Luther: ‘The whole Scripture,’ saith he, ‘doth principally aim at this thing, that we should not doubt, but that we should hope, that we should trust, that we should believe, that God is a merciful, a bountiful, a gracious, and a patient God to his people.’

Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, in the Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. II, 328 – 330


The Need for Prayer in Preaching

“Rather than lower the standard for preaching, we should lower ourselves to our knees before the Father. The Puritans saturated all their preaching in prayer. They were great preachers only because they were also great petitioners who wrestled with God for divine blessing on their preaching. Richard Baxter said, ‘Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent.’ Robert Traill wrote, ‘Some ministers of meaner [fewer] gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, so much as because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.’ And John Owen said, ‘He that is more frequent in his pulpit to his people than he is in his closet for his people is but a sorry watchman.’ Let us therefore bring ourselves and our preaching into the presence of God, and find grace in the time of our need (Heb. 4:16).” – Joel Beeke, A Puritan Theology. 

Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy is not Optional

“It is that ‘the Lord made it holy’. He who is King over all the earth has, by his sovereign right, made the day holy. He devoted one day in each seven to his worship and service. He does not advise or request but he decrees that it is so. He who is eternal divided our time and legislated that we give him a day of worship each week.

It is advisable that every creature take note of this reminder that the Almighty has personally set aside one day in seven for himself. All who must one day stand before him to have their everlasting destines announced have need to hear the standard he devised to judge them. How many excuses of ignorance, of being too busy to pray, of not having time to read Scripture, to become acquainted with the saints, to bring one’s family to worship will die on the lips of the guilty before this commandment? When in his awesome majesty the Lord says, ‘I made the day holy’, who will plead exemption from Sabbath practice?

It is the Lord who declared the day holy. Who will deny it? It is the Lord who decided that Sabbath-keeping would be one of the ten pillars of human righteousness. Who wishes to argue with him? It is the Lord who kept the first Sabbath, showing such use of time to be of the essence of divine moral character. Who will lead others to fall short of the glory of God? Who would not imitate his righteousness? Or not obey his law? He has said the commandment is holy. It is an essential ingredient of righteousness.”

Walter Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight.

Jesus Christ’s Glorification in Dismissing Judas

“Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” John 13:31

“With the dismissal of Judas the die was cast. Not as if there had ever been any uncertainty with respect to the divine plan that Jesus was to die for his people. God’s eternal decree is absolutely unchangeable and is sure to be realized. But now, with the dismissal of Judas, the realization of this plan in history has reached another decisive stage. When Jesus dismissed Judas with the words, “What you are doing, do it faster,” he thereby again decisively manifested his willingness to enter the deep waters and the dark night of eternal death for his own. The Lord knew that it was with a purpose in mind that Judas had left the room, namely, to reveal to the rulers the whereabouts of Jesus and to show them how they might seize him. In the full knowledge of this fact, the Master had just now told this hardened sinner to go ahead and to do more quickly what he was in the process of doing. This shows that the Son desired to be obedient to the will of the Father, and that he desired to make manifest his glorious love to the elect by suffering and dying for them.

By means of this obedience and love Jesus, as the Son of man . . . was glorified. He was glorified just now, in speaking these words to the traitor, and the glory was still upon him. He had seen the coming of the storm but instead of avoiding it he walked right into it. Like a hen which, being in the act of spreading its wings protectingly over its chicks, thereby permitting the rain to come down upon its own back in torrents, while its brood is perfectly safe, elicits expression of admiration from the lips of those who have been watching, so also, and far more so, the Lord, in the act of dismissing Judas, reflects glory on himself; for in doing this he allows the storm, not of rain but of wrath, to descend upon himself, while he shelters his own. This was his glory.”William Hendrickson, John 

Christ – The Power of the Pulpit

“Yet is this the truth which gives the pulpit all its power. Its facts, its doctrines, its duties, its scrutiny, its rebukes, its invitations, its threatening, its promises, its consolations, its motives, its worship, its ordinances, and more than all, its ATONING SAVIOUR, himself the beginning and the end, the first and the last – this is the truth which constitutes the power of the pulpit. ‘I have determined to know nothing among you’, says the great Apostle of the Gentiles, ‘save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’. The pulpit is powerless where the cross of Christ is not magnified. Christ must be the theme, the scope, the life, the soul of the pulpit. It may have literature, and the enticing words which man’s ‘wisdom teacheth’; but it has no powerful attraction of God’s truth, where Christ is wanting. The preacher may not hope to see the strong cords of earth broken, the fetters of gold dissolved, or any of the fascinations of sin disturbed by which the spell-bound mind is held in bondage, until he throws around it the stronger attractions of redeeming love. There is a wondrous power in the pulpit where the cross is lifted up, and where, instead of attracting men to himself, the minister of God would fain attract them to his and their Saviour. What savours not of the cross of Christ, belongs not to the work of a Christian minister. A sinner, saved by grace, who is a preacher of glad tidings to his fellow-men, will keep as near the cross as he can. He may sometimes make a larger circuit around it that at other times because it unfolds ‘the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God’; but his favourite themes are drawn from it, and the arrows he makes the most use of are dipped in its blood. ‘Christ is my armoury’, says the lovely preacher, McCheyne, ‘I go to him for the whole armour of God – the armour of light. My sword and my buckler, my sling and my stone are all laid up in Jesus’. In no other way can the dark depraved, obdurate mind be brought under the enlightening , convincing, converting, sustaining, purifying influence of God’s truth.”

The Power of the Pulpit by Gardiner Spring