David Wells and Starbuck Pulpits
Here is an interview with David Wells entitled Sartanism, Starbucks, and Other Gospel Challenges where he is asked about how today’s church compromises the Gospel. Here is an excerpt from the compelling question and answer:9M: Many churches and ministries today boast of using new methods, while proclaiming the same message. Is this the right way to go about it, or not? Isn’t there at least some truth in the phrase “the medium is the message”? DW: I think there is a lot of truth in that phrase [“the medium is the message”]. This argument that the message is preserved while the means of delivery is changed is a misleading proposition, because the message being delivered almost invariably is stripped of its theological content. That is the whole point about it. In many of these churches, they disguise their identity. You see it visually because they don’t want to be thought of as a church. So religious symbols go. Pews go. The pulpit is replaced by a Plexiglas stand. And then the Plexiglas stand disappears and you have people on barstools. Now you could say that perhaps nothing has changed—and I certainly wouldn’t die on a hill for a pulpit. But subtle messages are being sent by all of this. In an earlier generation, the pulpit was at the center of the church. It was visually central. You saw it. Oftentimes it was elevated. And this was a way of saying to the congregation, “The Word of God that we are about to hear is above normal human discussions. We’ve got to pay attention to it, because it is authoritative.” Now we have replaced the pulpit not even by a barstool, but by a cup of Starbucks coffee, which speaks of “human connecting.” And human connecting has become more important to us than our hearing from God. Now when we make these kinds of changes to our method, we are really making changes in the message that is delivered.
My question is (1) do these religious symbols (pews and puplits) have the same significance today as they once did? and (2) does their disappearence have those kind of implications if they do not have the same significance? I tend to probably agree with Wells in his assessment, but his assessment does bring up some further questions for me.