I am a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. I loved “Sports Night.” Aside from the politics, “The West Wing” was a great show, until John Wells got his hands on it and it jumped the shark just like his other productions. So I was excited to see a new Sorkin show on network television. The latest offering is “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” I missed the first episodes, but caught the last one this past Monday. You can still catch the full episode on nbc.com, which is great for folks like me who don’t like TV schedules but don’t have tivo.
Point is, it was a fantastic episode. The network is struggling. They’re in negotiations with the creator of a new show. He’s king of risque reality programming. If they snatch this program up, they’re guaranteed to make money hand over fist. They’ll own the ratings. They’ll be the only show on everyone’s mind and lips. They’ll ruin lives for the sake of entertainment, and it’ll be a raging success. The woman whose call it is to make passes on the show. She doesn’t want it. Why? In her own words,
This show is toxic. It’s bad crack in the school yard….It’s patently disgusting. It appeals to the very worst in our nature and whoever airs it will play a measurable role in subverting our national culture. It doesn’t belong on anyone’s air, certainly not ours at a time when we’re trying to rebrand the network as a place for high end viewers. I swear to God, sir, the better our shows are, the more money we’re going to make.
That’s simply impressive. Sorkin has a gift for dialog and thoughtful subject matter, and this is just one huge example.
There’s a point, gentle reader. It seems that every once in a while someone out there in the business world gets it: let’s be better, and when it comes to be understood that we’re not going to stoop to the level of the rest the world will recognize that there’s something different and better to be had with us.
Anyone want to connect the dots? I sat through a conference of Lutheran pastors the last few days. It turned into a moaning session about what these megachurches are doing and how it’s bringing them all kinds of success. “How did they grow from 127 to 2500 in only 5 years?” “What is it they do to draw people in?” “What principles can we take from them to have success ourselves?” These questions and questions like them are being asked across the LCMS. We’ve got pastors wanting to copy the “programming” of other churches so that we can achieve the same “ratings” and “viewership,” if I may borrow from my original illustration. They tend to bemoan their lot as Lutherans and look out there for what everyone else is doing and copy it out of envy for the results they see them getting. “Why can’t we just be like them?”
This is followed by a tendency to apologize for all things distinctively Lutheran and the subsequent disparaging and disuse of those things in favor of what we see others doing. Of course, those things do not fit with our theology, so to iron out the wrinkles the theology must adapt.
The problem is that much that they would meld with Lutheran theology is toxic. It’s bad crack in the school yard. It’s blatant me-ism. It’s anthropology and adjectives and adverbs. It’s talk about “authentic” and “spirit-led/-filled” (code for emotive) worship (ed: Recall also Ap. IV. 310 (Tappert): “Thus the service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God, while the worship of the law is to offer and present our goods to God. We cannot offer anything to God unless we have first been reconciled and reborn. The greatest possible comfort comes from this doctrine that the highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness.”). It appeals to the very worst consumerism in all of us. It doesn’t belong in any congregation, especially Lutheran churches, which don’t need to pander to the next greatest trend or fad or retrograde evolution in society, but have the mandate to proclaim the fullness of God’s Law and Gospel. If we focus upon the theological wealth (including a radical view of life, both coram deo and coram hominibus) that the Lutheran church possesses and proclaim it instead of apologizing for it or ignoring it, we will see life-changing ministry taking place in our congregations. We might stop using mammonic yardsticks to measure success and humbly serve God in His kingdom, which is radically different from the kingdoms of this age.