Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 8

The eighth chapter of Flickering Pixels, "The Dimmer Switch," raises a provocative question: What 'if Thomas had died just seconds before his finger touched the wound' in Jesus' side (pg. 86)? Was Thomas accepted into heaven because his belief was empirical? Did grace save him or evidence (that demands a verdict)?

Theologians call this topic soteriology, and it has three basic phases. Justification is the starting point. In Sunday School we learned this is a legal term meaning God treats me "just as if I had never sinned." The ditty glosses over a blood-stained martyr on the cross. Glorification is the final state of the Christians, where we shine with heavenly light (see 1 Corinthians 15). Unshackled by sin and flesh, we can finally dance (and fly, hopefully).

Sanctification is what Hipps labels the 'dim' stage of Christianity. Bouts with sin and shame. Moments of virtue and praise. Times when certainty feels liquid and faith matures.

Most of our work with the unbelieving world is peddling glorification based upon justification. The dim promises of sanctification don't sell as well. So we profess an 'on/off understanding of conversion' because we are limited by 'the medium' of text. "Printing breeds a strong preference for categories" (pg. 88).

Due to the advances in visual media, metaphors are gaining more strength than categories (pg. 90). The industrial revolution birthed the specialist. The Internet is resurrecting the generalist. Yesterday's pastor was an exegete; today's pastor is an environmentalist. Don't ask me what it means, but I've seen the metaphor abounding.

The best example of this trend is the popularity of Rob Bell's Nooma videos. Not only does he produce compelling audio-visual media, but most titles are limited to single word. Tied to each title is a picture. Thus the metaphor is reinforced. He is not alone in this preaching tactic, I remember a Galilean pointing to the dirt and talking about fertile soils.

Hipps concludes the chapter by returning to Thomas and the metaphor of the dimmer switch. We readily apply the saved/unsaved categories, but 'conversion can also feel like the gradual brightening of a long darkness' (pg. 92). I would argue for both/and.

As a critique, this chapter was one of my least favorite. Its brevity failed to handle a controversial topic with the depth--as earlier argued--expected of a book. I agree that our evangelistic efforts are often too incomplete, but I think time, care, and relationships will change this more than a few metaphors.

Integrity Check
Hipps: 39
Total: 422
Percentage: 10%


jay said...

I've read Flickering Pixels and enjoyed it. I found your comment on ch 8 very informative.

However, I have yet to be convinced that the message has changed. I am rereading for clarification in my mind.

Justification, salvation, love, sacrifice and worship are still the messages to be found in all the medias. Though of course not all of the above have the same emphasis put upon them in the varying medias.
But the message stays the same? Have I missed the point?

Sprained Ankle said...

These terms are present in the various media and uttered by most popular preachers (from Bell to Warren to MacArthur to Piper to N.T. Wright), but the range of definition is what strikes me. Case and point, the ongoing debate about Paul's meaning of Justification places the term in either legal or relational (covenant) categories. Christianity Today (June 2009) recently covered this debate.

What CT's primer points out is the fact that stressing different aspects of a concept (e.g. justification) feeds into the intensity, shame, or license characteristic of a Christian's life.

I probably haven't addressed your question.

Having re-read some of chapter 8, I would say one of Hipps flaws is failure to appreciate the dualism of the early Christian writers. Beloved John certainly thought categorically (light/dark; truth/lie; son of God/son of devil).