Churchthink PodcastThe Church

Episode 9: Exercising Discernment When Choosing Christian Resources/Content

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Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, observed in his book The Revolt of the Masses that a new age is dawning in which everybody believes he or she has the right to an opinion about anything. The book, published in the 1930s, maintained that in previous generations, people seemed to reserve comment about a topic unless he or she was an expert in it or had studied it. However, with the rise of mass communication, people now feel entitled—even obligated—to an opinion about everything, regardless of whether they’ve studied the topic. The result: people talk about things and have little or no idea what they’re talking about.

Gasset, I assume, wouldn’t be surprised by the proliferation of blogs and podcasts in recent years. I have mixed feelings about blogs, podcasts, and our crazy cacophony of constant communication. On the one hand, it’s good that anybody can establish a platform for his or her ideas. The publishing industry is restrictive: only a very select few can have a platform through it. It’s good we have more voices, more ideas in the open to wrestle with, more opportunity to engage in civil dialogue. But the upside is also the downside. Anybody can use it, meaning the previously-hidden slop of un-researched, illogical opinions come barging in.

This has happened in the Christian sphere just as much as the secular sphere. People who have little knowledge of the Bible are interpreting it and disseminating their interpretation throughout the internet. Some of them gain followings. Some of them gain large followings.

The Bible is hard work. That’s not to say that no one can understand it or master it. But some people churn out Christian content without putting in the necessary work. And just because they churn out content and they gain a following, people start to assume they know what they’re talking about. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

Here’s the deal: I’m not going to tell anyone who they should and shouldn’t listen to. If someone is doing that, he or she is a control freak (what Dietrich Bonhoeffer might call a “mis-leader”). A leader’s job isn’t to tell people what and what not to think. A leader’s job is to help people think for themselves.

I believe this publishing that shirks research, reflection, and logic (whether on a blog, self-published book, podcast, or even traditionally published book) is hurting Christianity—not just in America, but worldwide. Good people are being deceived by ignorant and sometimes arrogant Christian content producers. The way to combat this is by individual Christians and Christian communities deciding that they are going to get to know their Bible inside and out; by Christians weighing ideas by merit, not by who they come from (I call this theology by association); by Christians refusing to fall into the lazy mindset of “this is hard work, so just tell me what to think.”

In short, Christian communities should be more self-sustaining in terms of learning the Bible—they shouldn’t fall into the trap of exalting celebrities, because that leads to a path of dependency and top-down leadership, of Christian “mis-leaders” who have become so convinced of their Bible interpretation that they attack those outside their straight and narrow road. Might these Bible teachers be so irate because they sense they’re losing control? Isn’t that the behavior of someone who tells others what to think?

So please…be careful who you listen to. Not all Christian content is good Christian content. There’s plenty of excellent Christian content—find that. Be wary of resources that seem poorly researched or poorly-thought-through. And definitely be suspicious if a Bible teacher adamantly claims his is the only way of interpreting and denigrates his opponents.

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