Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Second fiddle

This weekend as we drove out of town to see Dad, I tried to explain to Claire my ambivalence toward so-called popular Christian music. My arguments summarized amounted to this: "Don't take your theology from an entertainer."

Now, the Apostle Paul says, "All things are lawful," so Christian entertainers are free to entertain. They certainly don't need my permission. However, Paul follows his first thought by saying that "not all things are expedient." That is to say, not all things edify or build up. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Tonight, on Facebook, Lisa posted a link to a viral YouTube video from Rend Collective Experiment The video shows kids accompanying their singing using iPhones as musical instruments. As such, the video is novel and mildly entertaining. The fact that they chose a popular Christian worship song is somewhat confusing, however.

What are they promoting?

  1. The iPhone
  2. God
  3. Themselves
  4. All of the above

Pop culture expert Marshal McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message." Accordingly, the novelty of performing as an iPhone ensemble overwhelms the content of the performance. Without the iPhone, would the video go virile? Not a chance. Does that justify the performance? Do the words of the song sanctify the iPhones, or do the iPhones rather profane the meaning of the song?

Herein dwells the conundrum of the Christian entertainer: Who is glorified by the performance? To whom is the audience' attention drawn? Why does it matter? Or, does it matter?

Perhaps it should matter. God speaking through the prophet Isaiah, says,

I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols.

Isaiah 42:8 (NIV)

Does God need to play second fiddle to an iPhone?

Does God really need any gimmick? Or do we need a gimmick to talk about God?

What does this say about us?


  1. AnonymousMay 08, 2010 feel free to follow my Christian blog!!

  2. AnonymousMay 13, 2010

    Having stumbled across your blog, I have some comments about this entry. It seems to me an interesting flow of logic that the only reason this video is "viral" is because of the novel use of the iphone. While this is certainly contributory, I don't see convincing evidence that the message itself is necessarily swallowed in the medium.

    Additionally, I wonder about the relevance of the arguments as they relate to any use of new technology for the furtherance of the Gospel. For example, does an internet blog exist to exalt:
    A.) The Lord
    B.) The author
    C.) The particular technology
    D.) All of the above

    I agree that God "doesn't need to play second fiddle" to anything and certainly does not need a gimmick. However, taking a hard legalistic stance against things that may seem "gimmicky" can quickly end up staunching the flow of new technology as God would use it to further the Gospel. I wonder if the first Christian to hear a hymn accompanied by a piano was disturbed by this new gimmick and I wonder how many of our brothers and sisters would regard internet commentary as illegitimate ministry.

    Therefore, I respect the nature of your post and its reverence for God above any distraction from His glory. Yet, I am simultaneously concerned about using techno-phobia to prevent us from joining Paul in becoming "all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." (1 Cor 9:22, NASB)

  3. First, Anonymous, let me say that I'm breaking my own rule by publishing a comment from one who does not identify himself. (So much for my being legalistic.) Thank you for your rebuttal, nonetheless. I welcome the discussion.

    I'm likewise amused to be counted among the techno-phobic; you also received a chuckle from my wife. Technology, you see, is layer upon layer of abstraction; it clouds both the intent and the perception. How you perceive me via this layer of abstraction called a blog, runs counter to how my wife perceives me from across the room. Thank you, I like to hear her laugh.

    At the same time, your words reveal nothing of yourself. In absence of known facts, I shall speculate: You own an HP Mini 110 that you purchased from Best Buy for 99 cents with a 2-year broadband contract from Sprint. Am I right? So what? Even if my best guess is true, it doesn't mean that I know anything about you. Technology abstracts relationships. While it facilitates this discussion, it also obfuscates reality.

    You know my name because I choose to share my name. Having my real name, you might even learn other facts about me. Some recruiters have even obtained my office phone number via prodigious Google searches. But even if you learned all that the Internet could reveal about me, you wouldn't know me. If you worked for me, you would get to know me. If you ate a meal at my table and watched how my children conduct themselves, you might learn something about me. If you knew me, you might understand what I mean when I say, “God doesn’t use technology. God uses people.”

    I am concerned with the use of media as it relates to the expression of Christian faith. I think it has severe limitations. I am particularly concerned with modern Christianity's affinity to the entertainer (2 Tim 4:3-4). I particularly find the term “Christian entertainment” to be disingenuous, but entertainment aside, technology presents an abstraction or even an illusion. If we are “shrewd as serpents” we understand this. If we are also as “innocent as doves,” then we are cautious how we employ it.

    When we abstract our faith into TCP/IP packets, we need to consider how it will be perceived. The mantra of popular culture is, “The medium is the message.” We cannot ignore this. The medium of the blogosphere, for instance, is cacophony. You cannot escape this message associated with a medium where everyone has a voice. The Internet is the modern-day Areopagus. It’s hostile territory.

    Blogging about faith certainly isn't a ministry in any traditional sense. Blogging is a rebellion against the well-ordered conventions of professional religion. I raise my voice, not to agree with church tradition, but to speak out where it remains silent. Indeed, to speak out because it would prefer than laymen remain silent.

    Knowing my own motivations, I ask myself frequently, what am I promoting? What do I stand to gain? Who or what is preeminent in my writing?

    While Paul moved easily among all manner of men, he did not present God as being all things to all men. Paul declared, “The God who made the world and everything in it [who] is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands . . .” Paul declared a God who “commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17)

    When we use technology to share our faith, we need to avoid the trivial and disingenuous. We need to speak of God with clarity and reverence.