Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

How Culturally Literate Are You?

I’ve seldom met a church leader who didn’t think themselves up on culture. This despite the plethora of culturally outdated approaches to ministry littering the landscape like discarded 8 track tape players.

So how about you?

Would you pass a cultural literacy test?

Let’s find out, courtesy of the latest edition of Wired magazine. Eight questions, four choices per question, answers at the end (but no peeking).

1.       What is Synbio?

A.  Where you put the really naughty stuff in your Facebook profile
B.  Tricking yeast into belching out stuff like morphine
C.  A new mobile game where you control ribosomes and Golgi apparatuses
D.  The name of Kanye and Kim’s forthcoming second child

2.       Who is Christopher Soghoian?

A.  The ACLU’s tech guru
B.  The left-hand fern on Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns
C.  The target of an FBI investigation
D.  The birth name of Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy

3.       What is Cli-Fi?

A.  Syfy’s new spinoff network that features nothing but clip art
B.  “Click financing,” in which new-media employees get loans based on site traffic
C.  A nickname for Clint Fisticuffs, Andreessen Horowitz’s new bulldog mascot
D.  Climate-disaster fiction, a new genre that’s showing us our terrible future

4.       What or who is Thundercat?

A.  A new strain of ultra-powerful weed that’s testing the limits of legalization laws
B.  One of a team of alien cat-people from the planet Thunderchunk
C.  The genius who helped make Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album a masterpiece
D.  The right-hand fern on Zach Galifiankis’ Between Two Ferns

5.       What is an Oculus Rift?

A.  The ultimate stripper move in next year’s Magic Mike 3: Sniffin’ the Rift
B.  Rapper Riff Raff’s new lazy-eyed sidekick
C.  A gap between dark matter particles with the potential to swallow the universe
D.  The VR headset that is creating an entirely new lexicon of storytelling

6.       How will you drive your next BMW?

A.  Feed $20 bills directly into the steering column and bark at it like a valet
B.  Send brain waves via bespoke herringbone electrodes
C.  Wave and point wildly like a drunk air-traffic controller
D.  Just tell the driver where you want to go

7.       What is a blockchain?

A.  That hot new boy band with the hit song “Anonymously Yours”
B.  A superstrong alloy that enables lightning-fast construction of skyscrapers
C.  A crypto-authentication system that may be key to preventing digital fraud
D.  A secret cell of assassins on next season’s Game of Thrones

8.       What uses 13 tera-electronvolts?

A.  The Apple Watch
B.  The Ecto-1 from Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot
C.  The revamped Large Hadron Collider
D.  Elon Musk’s soon-to-be-unveiled Tesla Zamboni

 Answers

1. B     2. A & C     3. D     4. C     5. D     6. C     7. C     8. C

Now, be honest.

How up on culture are you … really?

James Emery White

 

Sources

Robert Capps, “The Wired Quiz: How Culturally Literate Are You?,” Wired, September 2015, p. 108.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

After This, The Deluge

After France lost the battle of Rossbach in 1757, the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour, attempted to comfort the King by saying, “Après nous, le deluge.”

“After us, the deluge.”

[Or, if Louis XV said it himself, as some contend, it would be “Après moi, le deluge.”] 

The idea was that it mattered little what had happened. After all, it could flood tomorrow and all will be gone. So eat, drink and be merry. An alternate reading of the phrase is even more telling. “After this, the flood will come.”

Either reading would make the observation prescient.

Louis XV is widely credited for the severe weakening – internally and externally – of France. And then, fifteen years after his death, the devastation of the French Revolution broke out.

Like many, I have been stunned by the rapidly changing moral landscape; the floodgates that have opened through our culture’s recent moral freefall from earlier understandings of right and wrong, particularly of a sexual nature. And not even of right and wrong, but the obliteration of even the most basic of sexual constraints.

This is more than the legalization of gay marriage or the onslaught of “call me Cait.” Consider those symptoms of a much larger, and more deeply rooted, disease.

Consider the influential statements by outspoken celebrities such as Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevingne. For example, Stewart, when asked about her sexuality in an interview said:

“I think in three or four years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s like, just do your thing.”

And from Miley Cyrus:

“[I don’t] relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”

And they are not alone.

For example, a recent U.K. study revealed that nearly half of all young people don’t think they are exclusively heterosexual. The YouGov survey revealed that 49% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 identified as something other than 100% heterosexual. This despite the repeated findings that only about 4% of the entire adult population are actually homosexual.

What is being revealed is an increasing “sexual fluidity” that refuses either the homosexual or heterosexual label. The idea is that both labels are repressive. Sexuality should be set free of any and all restrictions and allowed to follow its desire, moment by moment.

This isn’t a slippery slope. It’s something more substantive, more …

… frightening.

I cannot help but think of the telling phrase cited not once, not twice, but three times in Paul’s opening manifesto to the church at Rome. In speaking of, and to, the depravity of humanity, Paul’s prophetic words thundered:

“Therefore God gave them over” (Romans 1:24, NIV).

“Because of this, God gave them over” (Romans 1:26, NIV).

“… since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over …” (Romans 1:28, NIV).

Three times the idea was reiterated: God gave them over.

And to what did God give them over to?

It was the same in each instance:

“… [to] the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:24, NIV).

“… to shameful lusts” (Romans 1:26, NIV).

“… to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28, NIV).

In other words, God turned them over to their sin, letting their choice for sin run its natural course as an act of judgment.

Many look at the cultural landscape of the West and either call for, or fear, God’s judgment. But what would the nature of such judgment be? Perhaps it will be nothing more, but nothing less, than being given over to our own choices.

As C.S. Lewis once observed, in the end, there will only be two verdicts: Men and women who said to God, “Thy will be done.” Or men and women hearing from that same God, “Thy will be done.”

“Après nous, le deluge.”

Perhaps that is the greatest judgment of all.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Nearly half of young people don’t think they are heterosexual,” by Helena Horton, The Telegraph, August 17, 2015, read online.

“Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus and the Rise of Sexual Fluidity,” by Eric Sasson, The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2015, read online.

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Annual Mindset List (2015)

It’s that time of year again. Students returning to colleges across the nation, including a new freshman class. Which means the annual college freshman mindset list from Beloit College; always a cultural cornucopia full of illumination.

I’ve picked a few of my favorites from their fifty-point list.

**********

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997. 

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:

Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.

Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.” 

They have never licked a postage stamp.

Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.

Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.

Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.

They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement. 

The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.

Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.

If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”

They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.

Attempts at human cloning have never been federally funded but do require FDA approval.

The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.

Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online. 

The Lion King has always been on Broadway.

At least Mom and Dad had their new Nintendo 64 to help them get through long nights sitting up with the baby.

First Responders have always been heroes.

Splenda has always been a sweet option in the U.S.

The Atlanta Braves have always played at Turner Field.

The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

They had no idea how fortunate they were to enjoy the final four years of Federal budget surpluses.

**********

James Emery White

 

Sources

Click here to read the Beloit College Mindset List for 2019.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Coddling of the American Mind

In 1987, Allan Bloom dropped a cultural bomb on to U.S. intellectual soil with his surprise bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Bloom (now) famously opened his diatribe against cultural permissiveness and political correctness with the following words:

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

Fast forward to 2015.

In a cover article in The Atlantic titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explore how in the name of “emotional well-being” college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like, and seeking punishment of those who give even accidental offense.

In other words, things aren't just “relative” anymore. “A movement is arising… to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.”

And, of course, the idea of what causes discomfort or gives offense is highly… relative.

Two terms loom large on today’s campuses: first, “microaggressions.” These are small actions or word choices that “seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.”

The second term is “trigger warnings.” This is what a professor is expected to issue “if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.”

Sound good on the surface?

Keep in mind the “relative” aspect.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

As Lukainoff and Haidt note, this is beyond political correctness. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where “young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable… [and] this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim.” 

Ready for another term? Try “vindictive protectiveness.”

In essence, in the name of emotional well-being, students can eliminate anything they do not want to think about, read about, or be challenged about. And penalize those who would expose them to it.

How?

In the name of “offense.”

“Emotional reasoning dominates many campus debates and discussions,” write Lukianoff and Haidt. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness. It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong.”

For example, a student at Indiana University-Purdue read a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan, a book which honored student opposition to the Ku Klux Klan when it marched on Notre Dame in 1924. The cover of the book featured a picture of a Klan rally. Despite the book’s actual content, the student was found guilty of racial harassment by the university’s Affirmative Action Office.

Why?

Someone was “offended.”

Or consider “Hump Day” at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Inspired by Wednesday being known as “hump” day in the workweek, students would be allowed to see and pet a camel. 

But a group of students created a Facebook group protesting the event for animal cruelty, for being a waste of money, and for being insensitive to people from the Middle East (despite the event being devoid of any reference to Middle Eastern peoples).

The event was canceled because the “program [was] dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possible unsafe environment.”

All to say, the “thin argument ‘I’m offended’ becomes an unbeatable trump card.”

This is breeding a generation to “focus on small or accidental slights.” Even more, to then “relabel the people who have made such remarks as aggressors.”

Lukianoff and Haidt rightly opine, “What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin in the years just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection and enter the workforce? Would they not be better prepared to flourish if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt? ... If students graduate believing that they can learn nothing from people they dislike or from those with whom they disagree, we will have done them a great intellectual disservice.”

They are right.

And it is a closing of the mind that goes beyond anything Bloom would have ever dreamed.

Except in a nightmare.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” The Atlantic, September 2015, pp. 42-52, read online.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (Simon & Schuster, 1987)

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

  • Editors' Picks

    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • Is it Biblical for Christians to Get Tattoos?
    Is it Biblical for Christians to Get Tattoos?
  • Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
;