Hot vs. Cool Communication

I am continually dazzled by the intellectual and rhetorical brilliance of God’s word. I’ll never forget the day my jaw dropped open when I finally realized the perfect correlation between the events of . . . (1) the first Passover, followed weeks later by God’s thundering forth His law on Sinai; and (2) the crucifixion of Christ just before the High Sabbath, followed weeks later by God’s Holy Spirit poured out with power upon the believers. Not only are the dates precisely matched in the Jewish calender, but the typology is beyond striking.

Or how about the amazing typologies exhibited in the life of Joseph (son of Jacob) which connect to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or the connections between Elijah and John the Baptist, and Elisha and the Lord Jesus? And have you ever really noticed how varied and poignant are the metaphors throughout the Psalms which describe God’s character and lovingkindness toward His children?

Years ago when we launched a house church in our living room, we began a study through the books of John, Acts, and Revelation. Eventually, we followed with a study through Genesis and Exodus. By the time we got through Revelation I was convinced that if any reasonably open-minded skeptic had joined us week by week, there was no way he could have avoided capitulation, admitting that Jesus Christ is Lord and the Bible is God’s revelation to man. Ay, there’s the rub. It’s hard to get a skeptic to sit still for so long.

(By the way, you’ll miss out on much of the rhetorical majesty of the Bible if you’ve cast aside your KJV in favor of any modern, insipidly watered down and occasionally flat-out erroneous pseudo-translation. Sad, but it’s your loss.)

A question for you . . . Did God deliver His words through the prophets and apostles in verbal form because the technology was limited? Would the Lord have been able to communicate more effectively if the ancients could have employed visual and aural media? Or, if verbal and written forms were “best” back then, is it possible that they are also “best” right now?

As a youth I was impressed by the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster, The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston portrayed a heroic Moses and the special effects were quite good for the 1950s. The movie’s plot was essentially faithful to the overall record in Exodus, but . . . would you like to be in the shoes of director Cecil B. DeMille when he stands before the Lord to give an account? You see, you simply cannot do a movie on Biblical events without adding substantial dialogue and making innumerable and inventive choices regarding an actor’s facial expression, tone of voice, modes of interaction with other characters, and background / props / terrain that cannot possibly match the historical reality.

Even worse are film portrayals of the life of the Lord Jesus when He walked this Earth. For one thing, He didn’t stand out by being the only guy with long hair . . . a historical sign of rebellion for males (Absalom, for example, not to mention most rock stars). You’ll note that all of the other male actors in such movies sport short haircuts, as was the style in 1st century Jewish culture and the Roman Empire. The nice-looking actors portraying Jesus with long hair are much more likely to resemble Lucifer. But we’ll find out one day, won’t we?

But getting the details wrong, while offensive and dangerous enough (see Revelation 22:18-19), isn’t the only issue. I just listened to an old cassette tape sent to me by a friend. The tape contained a speech given by Francis Schaeffer in 1971 to a conference of the Missouri Synod Lutherans. Schaeffer, an evangelical Presbyterian, was warning the Lutherans to avoid the tragedy which befell Presbyterians in the 1930s, when modernism – skepticism / unbelief – infiltrated and corrupted the denominations.

Francis Schaeffer

One of the key points that Schaeffer made was to apply the concept of “hot vs. cool media” to evangelicalism. He cited Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980), a secular philosopher and communication (media) theorist who also coined the phrases, “the medium is the message,” and “global village.” McLuhan anticipated the world wide web and its implications a good thirty years before it existed.

In short, “cool communication” is rich in verbal or written content, engaging the mind. “Hot communication” is visually and / or aurally rich, grabbing the emotions and bypassing the mind. The distinction is vital. McLuhan’s applications focused on secular media, politics, and advertising, among other obvious fields. Schaeffer applied the concept to what has been happening in evangelicalism for a very long time.

I’d like to discuss the concept in light of what I sketched in Blog #25 in my 2014 archive. Briefly, “The Board” is a good Biblical model of a human being. Big decisions are weighed, as if in a Board meeting, by Mr. Mind, Mr. Emotion, Mr. Conscience, Mr. Memory, Mr. Will, and Mr. Heart. As an example, an unbeliever hears the Gospel, which engages Mr. Mind who brings the matter to the Board. Conversion will occur if and only if the Board votes unanimously in favor. False conversions are often characterized by a “mind” that responds reasonably to the truth of the Gospel, but “heart” and “will” never go along. Mr. Mind may agree with the facts of the Gospel from that point on, but Mr. Heart remains unconvinced and Mr. Will continues to execute an unconverted lifestyle.

L'Abri Fellowship, Switzerland: Founded by Schaeffer as a retreat / conference center especially for college students

Schaeffer summarized the history of Christendom this way . . . “Gutenberg came and the Reformation followed. Electronics came and ecumenism followed.” His point was that putting God’s word in the hands of the masses opened up minds and hearts and conversions followed, undermining the oppressive and mystical hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church. The RCC . . . to this day . . . promotes mysticism and thoughtless ritual, along with considerable doctrinal inventions in contradiction to the word of God . . . all the while claiming their supposed devotion to the Bible.

“Electronics” is equivalent to “media” which, of course, is utterly more pervasive today than it was in 1971. Just walk down a city sidewalk or, especially, a college campus and observe how everyone is wired up and wireless-ed in, texting, twittering, youtubing, chatting, facebooking, etc. All of this “hot communication” serves to distract from thought – particularly deep thought about big issues. When I do 121 evangelism on campus I lead off with a question about the big issues of life and death, Heaven and Hell, and the purpose of life itself. I ask whether he or she thinks about such things. The usual answer is, “All the time.” When I probe, however, that means that thoughts of mortality and purpose intrude frequently, but are quickly banished. Hey, that’s uncomfortable! I’d rather check some rock star’s latest tweet!

The more you immerse yourself in hot media, the less practice and the less inclination you have to think deeply, carefully, analytically.

Schaeffer’s particular point was that hot media promotes ecumenism and heresy. Modern “Christians,” whether genuinely born again or merely professing, are becoming existentialists, lost in the moment and devoted to the experience. Doctrinal content requiring serious study in the Scriptures is abhorred. In fact, doctrine divides if taken seriously so just forget about it. Let’s all get together and sing kumbaya. As long as we can all profess to love Jesus, we’re all God’s children and can work together to create our own kingdom on Earth. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s the Mormon’s Jesus who is Lucifer’s brother, or the JW’s Jesus who is not God at all, or the Roman Catholic Jesus who is subservient to His “co-redemptrix” mother and is transformed into a wafer thousands of times every day, or the “Ascended Master” Jesus of the Hindus and New Agers, or even the “prophet” Jesus of the Muslims who never did die on any cross.

It’s easy to see hot media feeding the existential instincts of modern evangelicals. Darkened and misted auditoriums, thumping rock and roll, gyrating worship teams, light shows, and comedian preacher-buddies define the “worship experience” of most evangelicals. But fundies (independent fundamental Baptists) are almost as guilty. The culture of experience is somewhat different, but does feature emotional altar calls and fearmongering sermons that work directly on the emotions. Many respond to altar calls, whether already saved and needing “re-commitment,” or lost and needing salvation. But the mind is bypassed, the Board meeting is led by Mr. Emotion, and whatever “decisions” are made are soon vacated . . . usually the next morning in the cold light of day.

My son and his wife recently visited a small group meeting attached to a megachurch in their area. One of the key discussion questions was, “How do you feel when you start growing away from the Lord?” Yep, it’s all about feelings. If I had been there, I’d like to think I would have caused a bit of ruckus by saying something like this: “Well, when I start to get cold I lose interest in sharing the Gospel with lost people, telling them they need to repent and trust Christ because they are one heartbeat away from Hell. And the number of tracts I get out during the week actually falls off because I simply don’t care enough. Can you imagine that? How can a Christian actually dare to get so cold that he can go a whole week without trying to help some lost soul escape Hell and become a child of God? Disgusting! I’m so ashamed! What do you guys think? Anyone ever get that cold?”

After a while, I’m told, the small group broke into two subgroups – men and women. The male leader, who had just finished a Master’s degree in theology from a major evangelical seminary, shared some challenging sin problems in his own life, hoping to encourage the other guys to do the same. This is quite consistent with my own experience in visiting modern small groups. Let’s all “share” and wallow in our misery. Pitiful. Hey, if you’ve got a sin problem . . . repent! And fill your life up with some good works this week! Share the Gospel, read your Bible, pray for others, love your wife, raise your children. Don’t emulate some TV psychobabble show!

It’s gotten worse in evangelicalism than what the world used to teach. It used to be, “I’m ok. You’re ok.” Now, apparently, it’s, “I’m not ok and you’re not ok, either, so let’s be gloomy together, have a little catharsis, and then get back to important things like football and Facebook.”

Schaeffer made a very interesting point that I think I agree with. He said that a Christian’s responsibility is to simultaneously show the love of God and the holiness of God. Either one can be expressed or taught in the flesh, but both can be expressed / taught / shown simultaneously only through the genuine working of the Holy Spirit.

He cited churches that seem to focus on the love of God, but because they neglect holiness, their concept of love is diminished and even perverted. Love becomes licentiousness and salvation becomes unconditional and universal, not demanding repentance and deliberate faith.

Other churches – although I think they are rare today – may emphasize holiness and neglect love. This can get ugly and produce a works-oriented perversion of the Gospel. I note the rarity of such an approach in the Western world today. American churches are built on happy musical, visual, and ear-tickling experiences. Holiness is ridiculously old-fashioned.

Schaeffer’s primary emphasis was to exalt God’s word and implore Christians to think! Spiritual victories can occur and be sustained only when the believer is in agreement with the Holy Spirit . . . not just the mind, but the entire Board. But the mind first!

In that regard I’d like to comment that Schaeffer missed something significant. I’ve read his collected works and I really respect the guy. He got a lot right, although he missed some things, especially a compromised position on Genesis – not a small matter.

Most interesting, though, is that he missed the big problem with regard to the denominational wars between liberals (unbelieving professing Christian leaders) and conservatives in the early 20th century. The reason that denominations then (and now) and that individual churches then (and now) fall so easily is that the structure is corrupt. As I’ve written at length on this web site, the clear New Testament pattern for the church is that of a local church network – citywide, as in Ephesus, Antioch, Smyrna, etc. – in which believers are brothers and sisters in the Lord with NO distinction between clergy and laity. “Elders” are the mature believers who have Scriptural responsibility to teach God’s word to the newbies and live their lives as godly examples. But Biblical discipleship necessitates shared training and shared responsibilities, a far cry from the modern pulpit-driven, facility-mortgaged, clergy-salaried counterfeits that purport to be churches today.

The historic battles focused on whether conservatives or liberals would be in non-Biblical positions like denominational president, seminary chancellor, theology professor, etc., and what the “statements of faith” would look like. If your war depends on having the “right man” in the “right position,” you’ve missed the point. God’s plan has no denominations, no seminaries, and no “Christian leaders.” God save us from “Christian leaders!” In a hierarchy if you corrupt the leader, the institution falls. In a city-wide house church network, in which everyone is committed to evangelism and discipleship, including a continual devotion to studying the word of God, if an elder goes bonkers, there are twenty other elders to straighten him out . . . or bring him before the church and discipline him appropriately. If discipline results in exclusion, there is no other church to go to just down the road. God’s plan has a soundly cohesive strength – modern novelties are doomed to fail.

So what’s the take-away from all this? Several points . . .

1. Consider how susceptible you are to hot and cool communication. Don’t call a Board meeting on a topic unless it has been introduced coolly via Mr. Mind.
2. When you study God’s word, take a moment to marvel at how brilliant the Author is. If you don’t see the brilliance, you need to dig deeper.
3. If you’re too wireless-ed in, disconnect occasionally and think.
4. Work to make sure that what you believe and what you practice is actually Biblical. Francis Schaeffer was ten times smarter than I’ll ever be, but he got some things wrong, because he missed the brilliant simplicity of God’s words on some key subjects.


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