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Sunday, August 16, 2009

piper, projection, and pornography

Back at the end of July, Matthew Lee Anderson posted an article on the Mere Orthodoxy blog entitled, "Perfectionism and Death of the Local Church." His article struck a chord with me and, unable to post my comment, I e-mailed him my thoughts. It turned into what I think is an unusual and fruitful reflection on some of the dynamics of "virtual preachers" and the local church. Here are some excerpts from that original post, my comments, and his reply. Please also see his complete original post HERE.

Anderson spun off an article on technology, "virtual church," and an interesting question raised by John Lagrou HERE:

The virtually-connected church now has on-line access to the finest teaching and preaching imaginable, accessible at their convenience, 7 x 24 x 365. Of what value is physically proximate information (e.g., stage-centric pastor) when the average person can now access the best sermons, preaching, teaching, and cross-referenced commentary on-line?
Anderson responds:
...Fundamentally, there is no reason why any local church should continue to listen to Pastor Bob drone on and on when they can get the video of John Piper instead. What’s more, why simply have John Piper when you can alternate with Mark Driscoll? The use of video among multi-site churches (and, full disclosure, I attend one, though not for this reason) destroys any in principle reason why such an ‘all star’ conglomeration of video sermons shouldn’t be employed.

It has been my hypothesis of late that the rapid development and adoption of new technologies is exposing our anemic ecclesiologies and misguided understanding of the role and nature of the proclomation of the Word. Until evangelicals properly articulate why the Church gathers and hear’s the Word of God, and then shapes its churches accordingly, we will continue to be co-opted by technologism.

And that is probably the strongest statement I’ve ever made publicly on the matter.

...John [Lagrou’s rejection of ‘comparatively mediocre religious talk’ is instructive. Most local churches are comparatively mediocre. But they are not ‘talk.’ They, even the least skilled among them, are charged with proclaiming the Word of God, and in no way is that comparable with a lecture or a transmission of information. It is on a different plane, for it is a plane where God speaks through His word.
All of this amounts to a defense of mediocre pastors and the recognition that even in their proclamation they are not alone. It is the duty of the congregation to seek, to listen, to ask the God who speaks to speak through His humble servant’s lips.
I wrote to Matthew:

I am one of those average, local preachers, and I love and appreciate John Piper (and his online teaching), so I definitely understand and am in the middle of what you are describing in the posting.

Here's the somewhat scandalous analogy that came to my mind (yet also seems to support your point, which I agree with): there is an aspect to online preaching replacing local (average) preaching that is almost pornographic. I'm not trying to say that Piper or Desiring God are prostituting his teaching... rather it is the idea of turning to a "perfect preacher" out there rather than submitting to God's Word proclaimed and lived out in the context of the normal, everyday local church. The beauty of marriage to a real, everyday woman is exactly that: the ins and outs of loving and living with an imperfect person. If, more and more, I turn to video preachers, I give up much in terms of community, accountability, and the back/forth of submitting to and growing with a local preacher.

The analogy surely gives out at some point because I do think there is value in listening to Piper, et al. periodically or even frequently, but not as a substitute for a local community of faith and preacher (and I can't think of how that observation parallels marriage). Nonetheless, I think the partial analogy is somewhat helpful.

I'd be interested in your thoughts.
Anderson was kind enough to respond:

...the pornography analogy is, I think, exactly right up to the limitation you point out. One thing JP Moreland has said is that men my age (27) see more images of more beautiful women in a day than a man a hundred years ago would see in a lifetime. The result of that, he points out, is the thought that I can do better. I have personally seen how that thought slowly transforms into I deserve better. As you point, a very similar principle is at work in preaching, and I think it's deeply problematic for all the reasons you mention...

There's one other wrinkle, though, that I would add. One of the things that has bothered me immensely about evangelical culture since I started thinking about it is the frequency with which pastors leave their churches. That is, to me, enormously problematic and indicates just how badly evangelicals think about the role of the pastor. My observation is that most evangelicals don't actually think of their pastors as a member of their own community. They aren't an 'arm' or a 'foot' in the body of Christ, but rather something completely separate that can be dispensed of when things start to go badly. As such, they are easily replaced for better sermon-givers.
I'd be interested in any thoughts or response you readers might have.

Also see this RELATED VIDEO clip from Ed Setzer.

Update: In early 2011, I started seeing this notice at the bottom of the Desiring God (John Piper) RSS feed - let me just note how much I appreciate this!

Please Note: While we encourage you to join us for the sermon, we encourage you even more to give primary attention to the preaching in your local church. In other words, we do not intend for John Piper’s sermon to replace the preaching of the Word from your pastor in your local church.
Link: check out a great post by Dan Phillips at pyromaniacs on this same topic.

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