Abstinence and coherence.
Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse as part of True Love Waits, a church initiative promoting premarital sexual abstinence. For seven years, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University studied 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge. In March 2004, they reported on their findings. Eighty-eight percent of those who pledged reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just twelve percent kept their promise.1
Most teenaged Christians understand the Bible’s position on pre-marital sex. But scores of surveys indicate these truths are not coherent. Given the massive deluge of free-wheeling sex they see everywhere; it just doesn’t make sense to abstain. That’s because the arts beat facts to the punch and determine whether truth is coherent. As we anticipate The Da Vinci Code hitting theaters in May, we recommend an East Wing strategy, relying less on facts and more on reframing the conversation. In this case, tell your friends that the arts are sneaky, upstream, and make truth coherent. Dan Brown gets the first two correct. But how about making truth coherent?
Facts and imagination.
Today’s teens have had their imagination warped by the contrarian messages portrayed in many films, fashion magazines, television programs, and street buzz. But it’s not just media’s fault. “I have a suspicion that one factor is the starved imagination of congregations,” writes Warren Wiersbe. “These people have studied the Bible and listened to sermons, but the truths of Scripture have never penetrated their imaginations.”2 Kids, for example, may say they agree with what the Bible teaches; but if it doesn’t sync with the arts, it’s not meaningful. Pictures make propositions coherent.3 And if truth is not coherent, it’s not compelling.
That’s why all truth, C.S. Lewis noted, “or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor.”4 This is why Dr. Peter L. Berger believes the gospel message is factually true for a great many people today, but imaginatively meaningless. It is “a truth widely held, but a truth greatly reduced. It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane.”5 We need facts and imagination, as theologian Sallie McFague suggests: “Images ‘feed’ concepts; concepts ‘discipline’ images. Images without concepts are blind; concepts without images are sterile.”6
Connecting the wings.
In the East Wing Strategy, we redefine the arts and give Dan Brown his due. But we don’t ignore facts, which – as John Adams reminded us – are stubborn things. Once we reframe the role of the arts, we can then address the factual errors in The Da Vinci Code. These can be reviewed on many websites, including www.thedavincichallenge.com and www.davincidialogue.com. Just be careful – beginning with the boo-boos is a West Wing approach. The only people who read the “Corrections” page of the newspaper are the aggrieved. How many people do we know, apart from the faith community, who are upset about Dan Brown’s factual errors? An East Wing Strategy connects the wings. And it promotes investing more resources in the arts.
Most churches invest their resources in sending missionaries to the uttermost parts of the earth – and they should. That’s their “foreign policy.” But in many cases, American media has already beaten missionaries to the punch, undermining efforts to communicate truth. How about funding missionaries and mission trips as well as sending gifted artists to the premier arts universities in America? When students visit Capitol Hill and tell Bill Wichterman they want to come to Washington and change the world, he urges them to instead consider going to Hollywood.7 Politics is downstream, the arts are upstream. What if churches underwrote arts centers around the world that would shape the moral imagination? How about funding gifted painters, writers, singers, and actors who can help us and others imagine how life (and the arts) ought to be, usually is, how it can be improved, and what it will – or might – become?
These four archetypal ideas once shaped the way we understood the arts. Additionally, these four images – ought, is, can, and will – are the 2x4s for framing a coherent view of sexuality. Next week, we’ll discuss how ought, is, can, and will can once again shape the way we understand the arts. Perhaps we’ll also help teens keep their abstinence pledge.
1 Lawrence K. Altman, “Study Finds That Teenage Virginity Pledges Are Rarely Kept,” New York Times, March 10, 2004.
2 Warren Wiersbe. Preaching and Teaching with Imagination, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), p.61
3 The term “picture” is used here as a metaphor for all the arts – print, music, film, television, etc.
4 C.S. Lewis, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” The Importance of Language. ed. Max Black (Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962), p. 50
5 Walter Brueggeman, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1997), p.1
6 Ibid. p.41
7 Bill Wichterman worked on Capitol Hill as a Republican staffer from 1987-2005. He believes “politics is not up to the task of single-handedly renewing our culture. For that, we need writers, musicians, producers, and playwrights who will tell stories that lift up the good, the true, and the beautiful. They, more so than politicians, can help us shape what we love and what we hate.”