Mr. Rosenberg, I disagree.

I have been reading Joel Rosenberg's blog, and it concerns me. For the most part, I agree with Rosenberg about the state of the US (and the West in general) ... it's a mess and it's no secret.

The Age of Amorality

According to biblical scholars such as Tim Keller, we live in an amoral age (rather than an immoral age). This is characterized by a society that widely holds a worldview which disregards morality; people are given full right to decide for themselves what is right and wrong in matters of private and religious life. This has created huge problems, to say the least. As people tend to experience life differently, using an amoral framework, a person who grows up thinking that rape is a normal part of life should theoretically be allowed to continue with this belief. As one can imagine, without parameters its quite easy for chaos to ensue.

I think most people have a nagging sense that there are certain things wrong with the word (i.e. otherwise, why have an "Occupy wall street" movement?). People's specific definitions of what is wrong may differ widely, but at least we can hopefully agree that there are big problems out there which need big solutions.

One of these problems, I will argue, lies in our misuse and misunderstanding of the ways in which technology shapes our understanding of the world. Within this, a second problem I see is that our use of media technology to relate and discuss important ideas is wholly ineffective  Specifically, short video blogs (and blogging in general) is eroding (and may have already eroded) our ability to meaningfully dialogue about important issues.

Why? Because we have accidentally focused on the efficient nature of blogs, and the conversational efficiency of video feeds rather than on research and logic as the foundation for our use of these media for public discourse. The comments section is most specifically a devil's playground for misunderstanding, misrepresentation and erosion of values.

So while I agree with Rosenberg's basic idea that the West faces a gigantic mountain of problems that have no easy solutions, I completely disagree with his approach to the issue. The way he frames both the problem and the solution is right backwards, but it's not really his fault.

Economics, Politics and Worldview

Although Rosenberg is using otherwise well documented economic statistics to advance his ideas of the end-times and although he is calling the US back to repentance, he is also highly politically motivated. I'm not going to say that being politically motivated is wrong or bad, but it will absolutely colour just about everything one says. If we aren't aware of this, and specifically about how conservative and/or liberal American ideals colour our own worldview, we are more apt to simply follow along with anything that sounds 'pretty good' to us. This goes back to our amoral way of thinking, which basically leads us to believe, "if it sounds right, it must be right."

This is a function of the West's transition from a linear, logical, abstract thinking culture of books and print media to a culture of intuitive, emotional, concrete thinking characterized by the omnipresence of symbolism and picture. in a sense, our culture is regressing. But in another sense, if we can re-capture our use of logic and reason within the bigger picture of an increasingly concrete culture, we stand a chance to see some truly amazing things happen. Never before has a culture been so immersed in both print and visual media as our own. This presents both incredible opportunity and incredible danger. For further reading, pick up a copy of Marshll McLuhan's "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man".

Say it, don't Spray it

Rosenberg tends to say a lot of important sounding stuff without actually saying anything meaningful. I don't believe he is doing this on purpose, but rather his misunderstanding of media is causing the problem. I listened to a 10 minute video of him talking about America's 'implosion' on CBN. The talk basically went from one metaphor to another, and one analogy to another, without really digging at the real problem. It was, however, very persuasive. Then he spoke about the moral state of America, with the same results.

One persuasion trick he used was to relay some statistics and then make analogies about the statistics, relating them back to certain portions of scripture. This persuasion trick was necessary because of the time-sensitive medium he was using to communicate his message. The end result was that I could easily agree with him on a purely emotional/intuitive level.

a) What he said scared me, and
b) he seemed to have biblical backing for it.

But after thinking about everything he said in detail, I realized he didn't actually say much of anything at all. Each of his biblical proofs were loose at best, and relied on a slew of interpretive tools which I have found to be questionable (more on that below). So digging around the background of what he was saying revealed a completely different picture than the polished, persuasive presentation he gave on CBN.

Poor Aspects of Good Theology

Rosenberg uses dispensationalism to anchor his theology of end-times. One of the hallmarks of this theology is a literal interpretation of all old and new testament prophecies. A major problem with this is that in trying to interpret the bible as literally as possible, dispensationalism has accidentally completely ignored the fact that symbolism and words change meaning over time. So in order to truly interpret the bible literally, we need to know a number of things like a) category of literature b) ancient meaning of symbols and words, and c) cultural influences of the Ancient world. We need to  furthermore strive to understand these things on their own terms; not ours.

Dispensational theology has simply used modern interpretations of Hebrew and Greco-roman symbolism to find meaning, without much regard for what those symbols may have meant to the original hearers. I doubt this is on purpose ... it's just what happened. The result is nevertheless a type of biblical teaching that is not very biblical.

Blogging to the End 

I read 10 his most recent blog posts. He talks a lot about Israel and getting back to the bible a lot ... but for some reason he completely ignores Jesus' atoning work on the cross. In hyper-focusing on all the bad people and bad things they are doing, Rosenberg is accidentally advocating for an Old testament style of Christianity; specifically a Pharisaical style that values behaviour modification over grace.

Rosenberg uses prophecies about Jesus and the coming of the spiritual kingdom of God (ie prophecies given while the Israelites were being held in Babylon) to advance teachings about the physical kingdom, borders and politics of present day Israel. As we should well know from Jesus' conversations with his disciples, "His kingdom is not of this world" ... this means, as it has always meant, that the kingdom of God is not about borders and politics, or talk and geography. The kingdom of god is about power - specifically the power of the cross, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, of God the father to renew and restore; to bring to life what was dead, and to bring people back to Him.


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