Twenty years ago last Tuesday, 95 million TV viewers (a third of America's population) watched O. J. Simpson flee police in a white Ford Bronco. The 16-month-long media event that followed transformed news coverage forever. In those days, CNN was the only 24/7 cable news channel, but Fox News and MSNBC soon followed, as did "reality" television. A media professor notes that the chase was a "harbinger of an entirely different media landscape. . . . Fifty years ago, what you would've turned away from as outrageous, you turn to as kind of normal and interesting. And then you can't do without it."
Meanwhile, Actor Harrison Ford reportedly broke his ankle while filming the next Star Wars film. He rose to global stardom in 1977 as Han Solo in the first movie in the franchise. Apparently a door from his spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, collapsed and fell on top of him.
And a group of nuns in the Chicago area is suing a strip club located behind their convent. The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo complains that Club Allure across their back fence is the source of excessive noise, glaring neon lights, fist fights, and heaps of litter. The nuns' lawyer says, "The Sisters have every right to pray and work peacefully without disruption from a strip club in their backyard."
Need more proof that the world has changed since O. J.'s car chase? In 1994, Amazon was born. Yesterday they announced their version of the smart phone, a device that did not exist 20 years ago. In 1994, HP unveiled the first laser printer with color; now 3D printers can make parts for antique cars and manufacture prosthetics for $5. 1994 saw the first mass-market color digital camera for under $1,000. Now, since people are using their smart phones to take pictures, Nikon is shifting to the medical-device business.
How are we to relate our faith to a culture that is changing so rapidly?
Consider the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He utilized the educational and literary resources of his day, earning a Ph.D. at the age of 21 and embracing the different cultures he encountered when he came to the United States for further study. Eric Metaxas's 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness tells what happened next: when Hitler began his rise to power, Bonhoeffer called the German people to resist his authority and formed the Confessing Church "to be a voice for the voiceless." On April 9, 1945, just three weeks before the end of the war, he was hanged on the direct orders of Hitler.
Today, the "Führer Principle" and Third Reich are despised relics of the past while Dietrich Bonhoeffer's influence continues to grow. He would call us to change our methods with the times, but only so we can spread our unchanging message more effectively. In 1927 Bonhoeffer warned that "the sort of friendliness between Church and society that we have cultivated in the past, especially in Germany, is actually the cause of the Church's increasing irrelevance." What would he say of Christianity in our culture?
In every church I pastored, I had these words fixed on the pulpit where I could see them each Sunday: "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).
Publication date: June 19, 2014