Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The influencers. . .

There was an age in which there were nationally known figures in our church body, a sort of informal back bench of leaders who worked either behind the scenes or up front as both loyal opposition and support for the formal leaders.  Walter A. Maier did not hold national office but was more widely known across America than were the formal leaders of our Synod who did hold office.  Perhaps it also extended to Oswald Hoffmann.  They were profound influencers over the life and thought of our church body and our church members.  

There was a time in which the local pastor was the authority over matters of faith and life.  In fact, I can recall a time in which farmers in my home church would ask their pastor when he thought it was time to plant -- even though he had never lived on a farm!  They presumed, as one of the most highly educated men in the community, that he would have words worth their consideration even in their own occupations.  Many church workers look back to the advice and counsel of their pastor in choosing to become a pastor or teacher of the church.  The local pastor was a profound influencer over their life and thought. 

Today we have fewer widely known leaders who do not have national office.  In fact, we have such a diversity of leaders and influencers in our church that there are few who have a wide following or much impact upon the life and thought of many people in our church.  That does not mean that our people are not listening to others.  In fact, that is part of the problem.  They are listening to other voices, voices from outside our theological tradition, to inform their faith and shape their lives in that faith.  However, most of those influenced do not view the voices they listen to as their leaders.  That is part of the problem.

One of those influencers is generic Christian radio.  The stations are out there all over the place.  Everything from the local Christian radio station to the networks (like Bott or Moody radio) who offer the Christian once source for a variety of teachers and teachings missing only a denominational label.  Much of it comes in the form of contemporary Christian music and the ears of our people hear Jesus and presume it is all good.  But when the hymnody of their own church becomes alien to them, this contemporary Christian music is not benign at all.  It is a force that has subtly moved people away from their church and their confession -- all while they believe they are remaining steadfast in that church and confession.  Along with CCM are the plethora of name teachers (everyone from Charles Stanley to Chuck Swindoll to John MacArthur to John Piper).  They are certainly polished and prepared for their work of presenting the faith on radio stations that presume not to have a formal theological identity or denominational tie.  But are they neutral?  Is there such a thing as generic Christian teaching that supports our Lutheran identity without drawing the hearer away from that identity?

Another of those influencers is the print and podcast media.  I lump them together only because print supports the internet outreach and the internet outreach feeds the print media.  They work together.  Nearly everyone who is on some form of media has a book to sell (or give away with the right amount of donation to support that media presence) and every book sold points you to their web address.  People are listening and they are presuming that the people they are listening to are credible, authentic, and consistent with their own theological tradition.  That is, in my mind, a bit of a stretch.  I know that it is impossible for me to speak outside the sphere of my Lutheran confession and faith and I am pretty sure that this is true for nearly every other Christian preacher or teacher.  The big names may not parade their presuppositions but they do not preach and teach outside of them.  Even such seemingly generic terms like faith are not without the nuance of their theological presuppositions -- decision theology is but one example.  Go down the road to baptism, the Lord's Supper, eschatology, the role of the law in the life of the Christian, and a host of other subjects and you will see that there is no real generic Christian view of these things.  Even without a label they are denominational and confessional.

It's all good.  At least that is how our people have judged things.  The more Christians you hear on radio (or podcasts) and the more Christian music you listen to, the better it is for you and for your faith and for your Christian walk.  It's all good.  It is not all good.  We become dulled by what we hear to presume that what we hear is just as correct as what we were taught in catechism.  The real danger today is that the influencers of our faith are not of our faith and that we don't notice it or care anymore.  We have become complacent about the doctrinal divisions that exist because there are right and wrong ways to hear God's Word and we want to get beyond those divisions and enter the illusion of a doctrinally free Christianity.  That is not simply wrong.  It is the lie that is both diluting our confession and contributing to the weak witness we have before the world.  It is not all good.  Lutherans need to know their faith well enough to know when it is not all good -- when the music that appeals to our taste may actually be drawing us away from our faith and the teachers who do a compelling job of teaching may actually be leading us away from our faith.

I wish we had more internal influencers (like Issues, Etc.) and paid attention to those whose confession mirrors our own and who can strengthen our faith and lives in this faith rather that weaken them.  I wish our people were as alert to the theological perspectives of popular preachers and teachers as they were aware of the ideological perspectives of the national news outlets.  I wish that local pastors warned our people more that listening to generic Christianity is not listening to something generic at all but all Christian music and the popular media figures have a confession, a denomination, and a perspective.  You cannot listen to it without being alert to this and once alert to that maybe you should not be listening to it at all -- if you are a Lutheran!

No comments: