Modern Reformation-Archive

Rightly Dividing the Word - Sept/Oct 2010

A bi-monthly magazine dealing with theology, apologetics, and cultural issues from a Reformational perspective.

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RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD Reflecting Upon Scripture “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Text Is About You” By Shane Rosenthal I n their widely acclaimed bookTheNarcissismEpidemic, authors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell document the slow and steady growth of narcissistic attitudes, behav- iors, and assumptions in var- ious aspects of American life and culture. Reality TV both encourages and normalizes self-centered behavior. Social networking sites such as MySpace andFacebookencour- age us to post pictures and updates about our minute-by- minute activities no matter how trivial, and child-centered schools reward kidsmerely for exerting effort, even if the actual work is substandard. And in the midst of all this, mega-best-selling books regularly flatter us with words such as, “You are the most powerful magnet in the Universe!”1 Unfortunately our churches have not been immune to this cultural virus, for according to Twenge and Campbell, American religion—which used to challenge narcissistic attitudes and behaviors—is now in many respects part of the problem. In today’s religious climate where churches compete for adherents as fast-food franchises do for cus- tomers, many religious groups simply “give people what they want. Because reducing narcissism is not always 22 WWW.MODERNRE FORMAT ION.ORG pleasant, most people aren’t going to attend churches that demand humility.”2 TheNarcis- sismEpidemic also includes an interesting account of a visit by one of the authors to a Southern California mega- church featuring numerous gourmet coffee huts, a Dave Mathews-like praise band, and a motivational speaker who told “a fantastic story with a personal lifemessage.” According to Twenge and Campbell, “You could watch the service from inside the stadium, from just outside, or in a coffee shop/bookstore on a flat-screen TV.” But in the end, they conclude that the service “demanded nothing.” It was just “really entertaining.” The reason this megachurch was attractive to outsiders, they argue, was due to the fact that it had adapted to “today’s self-oriented culture.”3 It’s interesting to me how closely this parallels the world of television programming as described by Neil Postman in hiswidely acclaimed book Amusing Ourselves to Death. For in the effort to compete for an increasing num- ber of viewers, networks simplify everything and demand nothing. According to Postman, “Perplexity is a super- highway to low ratings. This means that there must be

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