In a celebrity culture, the church should be a ‘haven of integrity,’ noted author says in SBTS panel discussion

Communications Staff — March 8, 2007

Amid a culture that worships celebrity and gauges every activity by the amount of fun involved, the church must stand out by pointing people to the need for conversion and a changed lifestyle, noted author Ken Myers said Feb. 28 during a Carl F.H. Henry Institute panel discussion at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Myers, executive producer and host of Mars Hill Audio and author of “All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes,” said the church should be clearly distinguishable from the worldly culture.

“My desire would be for such people to see the church as an institution that is a haven of integrity and order in the midst of a culture of disorder,” he said. “The church always needs to ask, ‘how can we make a point of contact with people who are disenchanted with the world?’ not ‘how can we make a contact with people who are enchanted with the world?’”

The panel discussion was part of the C. Edwin Gheens Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Institute for Christian Worship at Southern. Panel participants included Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Russell D. Moore, senior vice president of academic administration and dean of the School of Theology; and Mark Coppenger, distinguished professor of Christian apologetics.

Moore, executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, moderated the discussion. Moore asked Myers if the “celebrity culture” spoken of in Myers’ book has changed since its publication in 1989. Myers said the worship of celebrity status really began in the early 20th century with the rise of the motion picture and continues to intensify.

“The fact that movies were called ‘screen idols’ [when they were created] is no accident,” Myers said. “Movies allowed for the development of a projection of a persona apart from an actual person, particularly from a person’s character.

“What has changed in the last 20 to 40 years is that institutions that once served as mechanisms of restraint to this development have decided, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ The church historically, has been one of those restraining institutions, teaching people to not get caught up in ‘celebrity-ism.’ It is a kind of idolatry and you ought to not get caught up in it. And yet, a lot of church leaders today mimic celebrities in order to gain a greater following.”

Another cultural trend the church must buck is the infatuation with having fun, Myers said. Daniel Bell’s book “Cultural Contradictions and Capitalism” identifies the cultural transition in the early 20th century from a morality centered on goodness to a morality focused on fun, Myers said.

“Bell notes that goodness morality was about interfering with impulses, [while fun morality is guided by impulses],” Myers said. “Not having fun becomes an occasion for self-examination: ‘what’s wrong with me, I‘m not having fun?’ That is a new question for people to ask.

“(Sigmund) Freud’s prescription for the loss of confidence in objective goodness was desires becoming the anchoring point for character. Instead of desires being seen as something that needs to be trained and often repudiated, desires become natural law. ‘Are we having fun yet?’ becomes the ultimate moral question.”

To counteract this approach to morality and to enable the church to be a moral change agent, Mohler said pastors must train their congregations to live with eternity in mind.

“We are the people who are supposed to believe that we don’t have total satisfaction in this world,” he said. “We have an eschatological faith. We stay married, we raise children, we do without, and I think we are often forgetting that and are buying into the cultural argument that we must be satisfied now.

“The apostle Paul gives us a good model in that he understood who he was, who the people group he was trying to reach was and how the culture was he was trying to reach. We are too much in love with the world, that is the bottom line.”

Myers said pastors must prioritize teaching on the nature of conversion.

“Pastors must impart to their congregations that conversion is a big thing. That conversion is not just adding a set of propositions about soteriology to your life, but challenging a lot of the assumptions and cultural forms that have been a part of your life,” he said. “The church does not present a hearty image of what conversion is. A lot of it is conveying that your whole life has to be changed and that means the things that have been sustaining the infrastructure of your old life are open to question.”

Mars Hill Audio is a nonprofit organization devoted to helping Christians think wisely about modern culture through a variety of audio resources, according to its website.

Myers previously served as executive editor of “Eternity,” a monthly evangelical magazine, and for eight years was a producer and editor for National Public Radio, working for much of that time as arts and humanities editor for the two news programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

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