Culture Friday: Questions from WJI students

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Well, today is the first day of June, 2018, and you’re listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Today as I’ve been the past two weeks in Sioux Center, Iowa, on the campus of Dordt College. We’re here for the 20th World Journalism Institute course, working with aspiring young Christian journalists.

And for today’s Culture Friday, several students wanted to ask the questions, and so that’s what we’ll do. We had so many, we had to cull them back to eight, and we’ll go with four today and four next week.

First, let’s welcome John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick.

All right John, students’ questions ready to go, OK?

STONESTREET: I am up for it, looking forward to it, actually.

ANNA BAILEY, STUDENT: I’m Anna Bailey and I go to Redeemer University College in Hamilton, Ontario. Most people agree that the #MeToo movement has done a lot of good work calling out and holding accountable people in power, especially in Hollywood. But, so far, I haven’t really seen anyone commenting on the way women are portrayed and objectified in movies themselves. So I was wondering if you think there is any broader criticism or connection that needs to be made.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Anna, that’s a great question. I think absolutely there’s a broader criticism that needs to be made across the board. 

But it’s reflective of something, I think, deeper, which is the in-depth, inconsistency, in fact, in many ways the sexual revolution is inconsistent. Whereas it proposes to be about human dignity and leaves out entire portions of the population where we throw a guy like Harvey Weinstein under the bus just two weeks after celebrating somebody who objectified far more women and did it systematically in a guy like Hugh Hefner. And that’s what we’re seeing here in the #MeToo movement as well.

So, an expression of feminine power is to be nude or something, or to be sexual, but then a reaction to that is widely condemned, as it should be. So this is one of the– what we’re seeing here is, I think, the uncovering of things that have long needed to be uncovered. But you’re going to see a lot of inconsistency along the way as well.

EICHER: Here’s our next student.

ISAIAH JOHNSON, STUDENT: Hi, my name is Isaiah Johnson and I’m from Nyack College. My question is: Do you think the institution of marriage is broken and, if so, why? And how can we fix it?

STONESTREET: Thanks, Isaiah. I mean, of course, I guess, is my answer to that. The institution of marriage is broken and, well, let me just say this: It depends on what you mean by “is the institution broken?” Is there something wrong with the institution of marriage as an institution? A couple years ago, there was a Pew Research Study that said 53 percent of Americans believe that marriage is obsolete. If that’s the nature of your question, then the answer is, of course, no.

Is the way that we’re living into marriage broken? Yes. Does that mean marriage itself needs to be reinvented or reformed or replaced with something else? No.

My take is—in fact, I speak on this quite often during the summers, especially to high school and college students—that the institution of marriage is like gravity. It’s not just something that we invented. It’s actually part of the world itself.

And this is a thing like most social institutions that are non-governmental, which is most institutions, by the way. In other words, it’s kind of up to us, and that’s how I would answer is, “How do we fix the institution of marriage?” We fix it. We’re good husbands, we’re good wives, we’re good parents, we’re good members of the community, we take responsibility for our own lives. That’s why I think, in so many ways, you see the systemic nature of brokenness and you see the systemic nature of flourishing.

And so the answers to a culture of brokenness are hardly ever top down. Most of the time it’s from the middle out. It’s living out of our everyday lives not only as individuals, but as part of a larger society.

EICHER: Time for two more, John. Next student, here we go.

ASPEN DANIELS, STUDENT: Hi, Mr. Stonestreet. I’m Aspen Daniels from the University of Dallas, and my question is: How can Catholics and Protestants—as Christians—how can we work together to affect culture and do you think we’re already doing this or should we be doing this more? What’s your thought on that?

STONESTREET: Aspen, that’s a great question, and I think there are some great examples of how Protestants and Catholics have worked well together.

The most obvious one is — certainly has to do with the issue of life. The pro-life movement is something that the Catholics bequeathed to not just Protestants but specifically evangelicals.

I think we also have seen some, I think, some really impressive collaboration on issues of religious freedom. Of course that was tied to the same-sex marriage issue as well. It’s pretty fascinating, honestly, to see this history, and it’s not something that predates us by very much.

I really look at — I look back at it as somebody who now runs an organization founded by Chuck Colson, and I can — I really think that he had a lot to do with this. Chuck Colson and Father Richard John Neuhaus, who was the Lutheran liberal pastor who became conservative and then eventually went to Rome and began the First Things journal, which is out of New York City. He and Chuck were close, and together they founded an organization that continues to this day called Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Something for which Chuck and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade, and some others were widely criticized for being apart of. And the idea was, well, you’re compromising on doctrine and there were some, I think, unfortunate moments where clarity lacked in clarifying doctrinal distinctions. But I’ve been a part of that group now for a little over three or four years and it’s been amazing to watch people who have been a part of this conversation, Catholics and evangelicals, who sit around a table and basically fight it out for a day, three days out of the year. It’s really enjoyable, actually.

But, it’s interesting, Timothy George kind of framed this phrase: “The eccumenism of the trenches.” In other words, when you’re in a foxhole, you look to your left and you look to your right and that’s your ally because you’re both getting shot at by the same people. And I’ve learned, and I saw it with Chuck, and I saw him actually do it in person where you can agree and disagree at the same time. This is one of the hardest things that people have to do. You can actually say, “Yes, I believe in the dignity of every human life and, no, I don’t, for example, believe in a place like purgatory or I don’t believe in that view of the Lord’s Supper.” And you can have these kind of robust debates, stick by your guns, and realize that at the end of the day, Jesus said, essentially, if they’re not against us, they’re for us. Which is different than if you’re not for us, you’re against us, which is an interesting thing to wrestle through as well.

EICHER: Last student for today, John.

ALYSSA JACKSON, STUDENT: Hi, my name is Alyssa Jackson. I’m from Grove City College, and I had a question about the trend in history of moving from words more towards images in how we communicate. And I was just wondering your thoughts on if that is a detriment to society and especially with the rise of aliteracy and people who can read but choose not to, maybe just looking at pictures instead and kind of how that’s affecting our society as a whole.

STONESTREET: Alyssa, that’s a great question as well. These have been really terrific questions.

Images aren’t bad and words aren’t good alone. We need words and images. The problem is not that images exist or that images have flourished in our society. The problem is that images have been disconnected from objective reality. And so living in a postmodern culture, we have a situation in which images have been disconnected from word.

Now, there’s a natural order to these things. And by a natural order, I mean a created order. In the beginning was the word and we were made in His image. So word comes first, image comes second. We live in a culture in which word and image have been completely separated from each other. And, in the process, separating image from reality.

So, I’m not necessarily one who thinks we need less images, although that may be the case, or less pictures. I think what we need is more words. I think a great example of this, by the way, is the New York artist Mako Fujimura. And Mako, who has been one of the kind of most impressive artists who are Christian in our culture, he has a great explanation of this.

But the other thing that defines Mako’s work is that he so believes that the goal of art is not self-expression, it’s communication that he’ll express himself and then communicate what it is that he’s trying to communicate in words. And so he connects word and image in everything that he does.

I think that’s what the Lord does. I think that’s the way the Scriptures are given to us. Not only do we have clear doctrinal words, clear, definitive statements of reality about who God is and what’s right and wrong and who we are and so on. But we’re given these images, these stories, these parables, these historical narratives through which we can imagine and enter into the story of the world as the Bible explains it.

So, the problem here is the worldview. The postmodern mood and impulse by which we’re now engaging the world around us. Don’t separate word and image. Hold them together.

EICHER: Great questions from our World Journalism Institute students. We’re in Sioux Center, Iowa, on the campus of Dordt College.

John, thanks for fielding those. John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks!

STONESTREET: You bet, Nick. It was a pleasure.

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