Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Noble argues that we live in a distracted age. Secularism bombards us with a paralyzing amount of “options” in terms of what to think about ultimate matters of meaning and existence. And the technological forms and habits of our current existence keep us sufficiently preoccupied such that the tide of modern life pushes us towards diminishing space for deep reflection. Both of these factors work to make modern humanity a deeply distracted, shallowly reflective bunch. The views we hold are “thin,” often inconsistent, and performative (cue social media)–perceived not so much as actual truth claims about the core of reality, but expressions of self-identity, and thus on par with personal preferences. In part 1 Noble unpacks this situation, drawing on observations from folks like Charles Taylor; and then in part 2 he offers practical counter-measures for how we can bear a sort of witness that disrupts the distracted, anesthetized age in which we live.
Relating this book to other literature: I felt like Noble’s work here was like a particular practical application of a slice of Carl Trueman’s recent work, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (cf. expressive individualism). In addition, I sensed a lot of overlap in philosophical-cultural analysis with Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option (cf. we live in a now “unenchanted” world). Noble also expressly draws on the work of James K.A. Smith’s “cultural liturgies” and the church’s counter-formative liturgy. And then finally, there’s Charles Taylor of course.
Very thoughtful. Very insightful. Very good.
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The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout May 2019.
Week 1 – Examining Cultural (Deformative) Liturgies
ASSIGNMENT: Read chapter 2, “You Might Not Love What You Think” in You Are What You Love (or alternatively listen to James’ video of a talk by Smith on this subject).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Think about your last trip to the mall. What did you do there? What did you buy? How were people around you spending their time or money?
SCRIPTURE TO CONSIDER:
- Prov 4:23.
- Mt 12:33-35.
- Rom 12:1-2.
- Eph 4:17-25.
- 1 John 2:15-17.
- James 1:27; 4:4.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
- What is the basic premise Smith is arguing?
- Why do we do what we do? // How do we change why we do what we do (sanctification)?
- Augustine famously said, “God, you have made us for yourself. And our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee?” // Do you agree? // If so, how does this shape our understanding of the human experience (human nature)?
- Are there any critiques, concerns, or cautions you might have with Smith’s material and arguments?
- We might say, somewhat in contrast to Smith, R.C. Sroul says this:
The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed. … The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice. … True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world.
What’s true in what each is saying? What are the potential pitfalls of each?
- Smith argues that we need to come to view our culture’s practices as “liturgies.” What does he mean by this? Is this helpful?
- What our some of the “liturgies” (or “places of liturgy”) of our secular cultural? And in what specific ways do they form their participants?
- How might you look anew in this way at things like the mall, stadium-sporting events, the university, the cinema/TV/streaming service, political campaigns or media, the smartphone, social media, patriotic holidays and rituals, the business world, etc.? What “gospel” (particular vision of the good) do these “liturgies” form and direct our hearts toward?
- What does it mean to be counter-culturally Christ-like in the midst of these deformative cultural “liturgies”? In other words, how do we then live?
- How does the church, the communion of the saints, help us (help each other) to have our hearts increasingly formed in this way into “maturing followers of Jesus by the power of the gospel”?
CLOSING APPLICATION: Studies show that some brands can inspire worship-like devotion (see box on p. 52). When does brand loyalty turn into worship? What brands do you have religious devotion to in your life? How should you reconsider your relation to these things? Continue reading
Yes, in the past the Church has reformed and has had reform movements, even leading to significant changes in once-held beliefs and practices.
But note: those reforms came by a return to the scriptures and were scripture-initiated movements, not changes that (not so coincidentally) happen to occur on the heels of cultural revolutions, following their beck and call.
Can aspects of culture progress? Absolutely. And can we as Christian’s learn from the surrounding culture? Certainly.
But don’t appeal to the former (reforming) when in reality what you’re doing is the latter (conforming). They’re not the same. Not all change is created equal.
Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Helpful in unpacking the complexities of the issues. Less satisfying when it comes to a constructive project of setting forth a positive way forward (besides generalities, i.e., Biblical theology)
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The topics of today’s “The Briefing” podcast (9.8.2014) by Albert Mohler were particularly interesting and insightful. They largely pertained to our culture’s current redefining of tolerance with the result of the intolerance of true (old definition) tolerance.