Friday, June 29, 2007

Light conversation and the Word of God

In an interview David Wells comments on the significance to worship and preaching of the physical environment:

9M: Many churches and ministries today boast of using new methods, while proclaiming the same message. Is this the right way to go about it, or not? Isn’t there at least some truth in the phrase "the medium is the message"?

DW: I think there is a lot of truth in that phrase ["the medium is the message"]. This argument that the message is preserved while the means of delivery is changed is a misleading proposition, because the message being delivered almost invariably is stripped of its theological content. That is the whole point about it. In many of these churches, they disguise their identity. You see it visually because they don’t want to be thought of as a church. So religious symbols go. Pews go. The pulpit is replaced by a Plexiglas stand. And then the Plexiglas stand disappears and you have people on barstools.

Now you could say that perhaps nothing has changed—and I certainly wouldn’t die on a hill for a pulpit. But subtle messages are being sent by all of this. In an earlier generation, the pulpit was at the center of the church. It was visually central. You saw it. Oftentimes it was elevated. And this was a way of saying to the congregation, "The Word of God that we are about to hear is above normal human discussions. We’ve got to pay attention to it, because it is authoritative."

Now we have replaced the pulpit not even by a barstool, but by a cup of Starbucks coffee, which speaks of "human connecting." And human connecting has become more important to us than our hearing from God. Now when we make these kinds of changes to our method, we are really making changes in the message that is delivered.

9M: So would you encourage pastors to put down the Starbucks cup and to stand behind a pulpit?

DW: I absolutely would. I’m not saying that the Word of God absolutely cannot be preached from a barstool or with a cup of coffee in hand. But as a former architect, I think I understand how environments—that is, architectural environments—affect people. There are ways of confirming what is being said by what you see. Now what you see is not a substitute for what is said. So some of the beautiful gothic cathedrals are lifeless and dead spiritually, and all the beauty of those cathedrals can never substitute for the truth of God. But the other side of that also plays out. If we have nothing but Starbucks and light conversation around the Word of God, we will find that the Word of God disappears.

Satanism, Starbucks, and Other Gospel Challengers - 9Marks

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