One of the stories circulating the web today is the report that Answers in Genesis will soon begin its construction of a Noah’s Ark theme park. Yes, the cost is great, the first phase of which is $73 million. And, yes, it might be odd to mix a medium of entertainment (the definition of a theme park) with a message of proto-apocalyptic-judgment (that’s what The Flood was all about – widespread curse, not cute, cuddly animals). But I want to suggest what I think might be a larger issue at stake, something that few seem to be considering.
With all of the rapid advances in technology, whether through TV, the iPad, or even picture books, the eye has become the key organ through which we’ve begun to learn. Contrast this with the perspective of Martin Luther, who said that “the ear is the organ of the Christian”. After all, it was Paul that originally taught us that “faith comes by hearing.” He didn’t say “reading” or “seeing” but “hearing.” Interpersonal communication – proclamation – is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 10:14-15, cf Rom 1:15-17). Peter also instructs us that the word that brings forth the new birth is the word preached (1 Pet 1:23-25).
Whereas in the Middle Ages, the people were taught with stained-glass and pictures on church walls, “books for the unlearned,” the Churches of the Reformation (Lutheran, Reformed, & Anglican) recovered the centrality of the audible. They moved the pulpits back to the center of churches and placed the Table beneath, since the sacraments derive their efficacy from the audible word, as well. The gospel is meant to be heard. News is reported, which is illustrated in the story of the messenger that ran 26 miles to Athens to tell its inhabitants that they had defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians couldn’t see the news – they could only hear the report of a herald. The original eye-witnesses, Christ’s Apostles, reported what they saw, heard, and touched (1 Jn. 1:1-3). They proclaimed it to synagogues and planted churches. This proclamation continues today, as ministers take their canonized eye-witness testimony (Scripture) and proclaim its report to sinners like you and me.
I can’t help but think that we’re returning to the practice of the Middle Ages when I see all of these “books for the unlearned”. We are surrounded with visual means of learning, but our congregants know less about the Bible than previous generations. Our country is filled with religious movies, children’s picture books, paintings, manger scenes, and so forth, but few are able to articulate the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is “the article of the standing or falling of the Church”, or the doctrine of the Trinity, which “is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved” (Athanasian Creed).
Do we need an amusement park to visually teach our children, or are these (well-intentioned) visual mediums actually supplanting God’s word, which was intended to be proclaimed and taught? Did God tell us to paint, depict, and reconstruct, or did God commission ministers to preach and His people to testify? From a purely pragmatic perspective, the upsurge in visual instruction has not correlated with an upsurge in biblical literacy, so why not consider whether we should pour our time, money, and efforts into planting and revitalizing churches that faithfully proclaim the full counsel of God, the thing which Christ commissioned?