Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Five Christmas Movies to Watch

This particular blog will be short and sweet.

At Christmas time you are going to watch Christmas movies, so be sure to watch the right ones. Meaning, ones that honor Christmas and talk about Jesus in the way He deserves.

So while Elf is great… as are Miracle on 34th Street, Frosty the Snowman, and my personal favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard,

... there’s no Jesus anywhere in them.

Well, the word “Jesus” comes up a lot in Die Hard, just not in the way I need my grandchildren to hear.

So here are five great movies to watch that, if you are not already aware of, will mean this blog has served its purpose:

It’s A Wonderful Life
This movie really does capture the Christian Christmas spirit and includes many spiritual and biblical references.

A Christmas Carol
And specifically the one starring George C. Scott. I feel this version is best because it is authentic to the Dickens original, which is deeply Christian.

Jesus of Nazareth
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and released in 1977, this film has a wonderful and biblical representation of the Christmas story. While you can see this in the first 30-40 minutes of it, I recommend watching till the end.

The Homecoming
This film is what started the Waltons series, which I didn’t particularly follow, but the tele-movie was classic and very deep in its Christian background story.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Surprisingly, this is the most blatantly Christian Christmas special ever.

Enjoy.

James Emery White

 

About the Author

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, where he also served as their fourth president. His forthcoming book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian Culture, is available for pre-order 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

Peering into 2017

One of the more interesting cultural research groups is Sparks & Honey. They recently released their A-Z Cultural Glossary 2017, subtitled “The trends you need to know to be relevant.”

The glossary contains 100 “must-know terms and concepts” to serve as “cultural crib sheet” to carry students of culture into the coming year. Arranged in five categories – aesthetics, media, tech and science, humanity, and ideology – there were nine words/terms that stood out to me to prepare for the cultural zeitgeist to come:

“Agendered Iconography”
The shift away from using the shape of a physical body as signage and symbols. To remove any gender stereotyping, restrooms may begin to shift away from the familiar symbols of a man and a woman figure on doors to designate which restroom is which.

“AI Morality”
Reflects the moral and ethical compass that stems from programming AI to make our decisions. When self-driving cars recognize a life-and-death situation, who lives and who dies? A recent article by NPR, which I posted to the “Daily Headline News” on ChurchAndCulture.org, was titled “Scholars Delve Deeper into the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.” A law firm recently allocated $10 million to Carnegie Mellon University to explore the ethics of artificial intelligence. One of the biggest questions they raised was, “What happens when you make robots that are smart, independent thinkers – and then try to limit their autonomy?” Good question.

“Broadcast Social Media”
2017 will see a merging of TV and social media, as more formats are adapted to mobile streaming. Long gone are the days of rushing home to catch your favorite sitcom on NBC, starting at exactly 8 p.m., for fear that you’ll miss the opening moments. From Facebook Live to the NFL broadcasting the 2016 NFL season on Twitter, more and more the world of television is realizing that to keep people engaged they are going to have to adapt to all forms of social media.

“Campus Rage”
Controversy around political correctness is fueling free speech debates on campuses, mostly around racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic language. While on the list for 2017, we’ve certainly already seen evidence of this following our recent election cycle. Last year, I wrote a blog about what I believe has led to this cultural trend borrowing the title from the article in The Atlantic that prompted the blog. Titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the authors explored 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 accidental offense. This has led to increased tensions in colleges and universities across the country.

“Empathy Tech”
Technologies such as VR (virtual reality) evoke both visceral emotional responses and allow us to see the world from a different perspective. From helping people to empathize with the refugee crisis to treating those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the possibilities that the growth of VR technology will lead to are endless. I recently read an article in Christianity Today titled “The Surprising Theological Possibilities of Virtual Reality” that challenged Christians on how to react to this new medium. As the author writes, “With VR, we have the opportunity to give up our own power and agency and embody the experiences of another person, to suffer with them… and under the right circumstances, [these experiences] can help us become more Christlike.”

“Millennial Fatigue”
Constant speculation about millennial quirks and follies will begin to wane as mass media exhausts its ability to cover the generation. But beyond this, culture will begin to take notice of the rise of Generation Z who currently constitute more than 25% of the entire U.S. population, surpassing Millennials, Gen X and even the Baby Boomers. And the methods of how we communicate with them are going to need to change dramatically. Shameless plug: my latest book, to be released in January 2017, is titled Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World and is now available for preorder on Amazon. Because the truth about Gen Z is that this generation is poised to challenge every church to rethink its role in a radically changing culture.

“Polyamory”
Society is only beginning to understand the spectrum of sexuality and gender, and we’re also spotlighting alternative forms of connection whether based on romance, sex-only, or community and friendship. This should come as no surprise given the slippery slope we’ve been on for… well, quite some time. The challenge the church will face in light of this growing cultural trend will be to hold to its beliefs about things as foundational as sexual morality, marriage and family. And hold to them we must.

“Technosexuals”
Technosexuals have love and erotic affairs with fictional digital characters on Loverwatch, the most popular dating sims. Like I said, a slippery slope. In fact, I wrote a blog earlier this year titled “The Slippery Slope to Incest” to examine cultural decisions that are being made that will continue to carry with them sweeping ramifications. Who knows how long it will be until someone is advocating for the right to marry Amazon’s Alexa. You can read that blog here.

“Untruths as Facts”
Searching for facts, stories or opinions that confirm your own beliefs is known as confirmation bias. We explore only information supporting our perspective, which potentially omits a plethora of untruths at the core of a new reality. We witnessed this cultural trend during the recent presidential election as well with those on both sides of the political debate finding stories to cement their views firmly in place. Much of this led to Oxford’s 2016 Word of the Year – Post-Truth – which I wrote about last week in a blog titled “A Post-Truth World.”

Be sure to take a moment to view the entire slate of entries.

After all, 2017 is right around the corner.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“A-Z Culture Glossary 2017: The trends you need to know to be relevant,” Sparks & Honey, November 27, 2016, view online.

“Scholars Delve Deeper into the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence,” NPR, November 21, 2016, read online.

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

C.T. Casberg, “The Surprising Theological Possibilities of Virtual Reality,” Christianity Today, November 11, 2016, read online.


About the Author

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, where 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

Theology Matters

On the church and culture front, it’s an old story: Mainline churches in the U.S. and Canada are in decline, evangelical and charismatic churches are on the rise.

On face value, it would be easy to the see the demarcation along stylistic lines. Mainline churches tend to be more traditional in style; evangelical and charismatic churches more contemporary. Yet there are enough exceptions to this rule to prevent it from being the sole – if not leading – factor.

The deeper truth lies in… well, truth. In 1972 Dean M. Kelley released the results of a sociological study of religion titled Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.

The conclusion? 

Conservative churches were growing because they were conservative.

A new study now confirms this thesis. Researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada, have concluded that the reason some churches decline while others grow is largely based on their theological beliefs. If the members of a church and its clergy embrace conservative theological beliefs, they tend to be growing. If they don’t, they tend to be in decline.

“The riddle of mainline death has been solved,” said David M. Haskell of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Of equal interest is how the declining churches self-identify the cause of their decline. Members and clergy of declining churches blame changes in society leading to dropped interest in religion.

The reality is that growing churches hold more firmly to traditional Christian beliefs and are more diligent in such things as prayer and Bible reading. They tend to take the Bible at face value as truth, and believe that God is alive and active in the world.

How foundational is this divide?

Consider this:

93 percent of pastors in growing churches said they agree with the statement: “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body, leaving behind an empty tomb.”

In declining churches?

Only 56 percent.

Many would say: “My goodness! If you don’t believe that, what kind of Christianity are you espousing?”

Certainly not something that is arresting the attention of the world.

And that is the point. If we water down our faith in order to have it match the world’s values and ideals, then we end up having nothing to offer the world that it does not already have.

What is most compelling in a post-Christian world is not a playback of its already existing perspectives. No, the voice that will arrest the attention of the world will be convictional in nature, clear in its message, substantive in its content and bold in its challenge.

In other words, Christianity as presented by Christ Himself.

So let’s make sure this isn’t missed.

Mainline churches are in decline, and have been for many decades.

Conservative churches are growing.

“The strength of our study is we actually now can explain it,” Haskell concludes,

… “because theology matters.” 

James Emery White

 

Sources

Emily McFarlan Miller, “Study finds churches with conservative theology still growing,” Religion News Service, November 21, 2016, read online.

The results of the five-year research project will be published in the December issue of the Review of Religious Research.

About the Author

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, where 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

A Post-Truth World

I always find Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year provocative and, often, highly enlightening.

Take the Word of the Year for 2015. 

It wasn’t even a word.

It was, as I highlighted in last week’s blog, an emoji. Specifically, this emoji:

You can read that earlier blog for a glimpse of the significance I put into that selection.

Oxford’s 2016 Word of the Year has just been announced, and it is equally reflective of our day:

“Post-Truth.”

It is defined as an adjective relating to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.”

Yes, it was born out of the recent political season that led to the U.K.’s “Brexit” vote and the U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump. But it’s actually been long in the making.

A few years back we called it “truthiness,” as inserted into our lexicon through the Comedy Central television network, and specifically through the premiere of The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert:

And that brings us to tonight’s word: truthiness. Now I’m sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster’s, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word.” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, not heart.

The idea behind “truthiness” is that actual facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel, for you - as an individual - are the final arbiter of truth. “Truthiness” is the bald assertion that we are not only to discern truth for ourselves from the facts at hand, but create truth for ourselves despite the facts at hand.

If evangelical Christians have been about anything throughout history, it has been truth. Through the heresy-addressing gatherings of the great councils during the patristic era, the ad fontes (“back to the sources”) cry of the Reformation, the bold proclamation of the gospel during the great awakenings, or the gauntlet of revelation thrown down before modernism, truth has been our bulwark.

There have been three major conceptualizations of truth throughout the history of Western thought. The first, and most dominant, has been the correspondence theory of truth. The idea is simple: If I say, “It is raining,” then either it is raining, or it is not. You simply walk outside your door and discover whether my statement corresponds with reality. This is by far the most common understanding of the nature of truth and has left the strongest mark on evangelical theology. Of course its weakness is that not everything can be verified by walking out your door. I might say, “There is a God.” If you walk out your door, will my statement be proven?

However, the greater dynamic of the correspondence theory is regardless of whether you can validate something, what is true is that which does indeed correspond with reality – regardless of one’s current ability to actually make that correspondence. So while a triune God may not be discernible through the empirical method of science, the “correspondence idea” is that the triune God is true because there is, indeed, a triune God who exists in reality. 

A second theory regarding the nature of truth is often called the coherence theory, which is the idea that truth is marked by coherence – meaning a set of ideas that do not contradict each other. The coherence theory of truth is much like a Sudoku puzzle: The numbers must align, there can’t be a violation of the internal rules, and the completed puzzle must fill in all of its own squares. Imagine a system of thought consisting of a tightly bound set of ideas that, when introduced, complement one another and hold no internal contradictions. Perhaps you might think of the ideas as a set of colors that do not clash when put side by side. 

The coherence theory of truth not only holds that truth is that which is coherent, but that truth is ultimately marked by a system of thought which “hangs together” in a way that is superior to the way other systems of thought hang together. So democracy might be considered by one political theorist as “truer” than Marxism in terms of its internal consistency.

The dilemma is that such a view divorces itself from what may, in fact, be true. Think of the testimony of a witness during a trial: The story may make sense and hold up under cross-examination, but that doesn’t make it true. The argument simply presents itself as a plausible narrative without internal contradiction. Granted, this is far better than if it did contradict itself, but it is still not sufficient. 

Further, the Bible goes out of its way to suggest that a coherence view of truth can, and will, prove grossly inadequate when it comes to the things of God. For example, it records God saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8), and contends that the gospel itself can seem “foolish” to the human mind (I Corinthians 1:18-25). Thus a human perspective will always find aspects of God’s truth incoherent although it remains profoundly true.

A third major contender for the idea of truth is the pragmatic theory of truth. When someone is being “pragmatic” they are pursuing a course of action because it achieves an end result. So a pragmatic theory of truth maintains that what is true is that which “works.” This is an appealing view, particularly when we consider Jesus’ words that we are to judge things by their “fruit.” However, determining what is truly fruit of the Holy Spirit, and what is done in the flesh – or even what is, in the end, evil – is tricky business. 

One needs only to think of the “final solution” of Nazi Germany. Hitler believed that the principal woes of Germany were found in the existence of the Jewish people. They constituted an “erosion of capital” and a “waste of space.” From this, the removal of “lebensunwertes Leben” (“life unworthy of life”) was elevated to the highest duty of medicine. “Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life,” maintained one Nazi doctor. “Out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.” As a result, the “final solution” was their extermination. There can be little doubt of the workmanlike efficiency evidenced by the smoke that billowed from the furnaces of Auschwitz, yet there have been few enterprises more uniformly condemned as untrue – as well as rank evil.

So among the three candidates competing for our best understanding of truth, it would seem that the correspondence theory deserves its place of prominence in Christian and, more broadly, Western thought. 

But this is precisely what we seem to be losing, and at risk is our sense of revelation itself.

This is, to be sure, the heart of the matter. It’s the idea that truth exists, and that it stands above human experience. It judges human experience. Truth is, by its very nature, transcendent. It exists independent of our acknowledgment of it, much less our obedience to it. To deny this is to live in not simply a “truthy” world, but a “post-truth” world.

But it’s not simply that “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.” It’s that we deny the existence of objective truth itself, and make emotion our authority.

Yet even a skeptic as hardened as Sigmund Freud had to maintain that if “it were really a matter of indifference what we believed, then we might just as well build our bridges of cardboard as of stone, or inject a tenth of a gramme of morphia into a patient instead of a hundredth, or take tear-gas as a narcotic instead of ether.” 

Oxford Dictionaries’ Casper Grathwohl said “post-truth” could become “one of the defining words of our time.”

Yes,

…but because it’s a word that defines our time.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“‘Post-truth’ declared word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries,” BBC News, November 16, 2016, read online.

Stephen Colbert, “The Word – Truthiness”, The Colbert Report on Comedy Central Network, October 17, 2005, watch online.

“Colbert’s ‘truthiness’ strikes a chord,” USA Today, Monday, August 28, 2006, p. 1D.

Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: A New History (New York: Public Affairs, 2005), p. 37.

The comment by Freud was cited in the article “Truth” in The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Mortimer J. Adler, Editor in Chief.


About the Author

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, where 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

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