Give me soundbites, not discourse!

I am attending a conference in Wheaton, Evangelicals and the Early Church, and Christopher Hall gave an especially insightful paper this morning (the best of the day). Hall explored causes behind, or reasons for, what he termed “evangelical inattentiveness” to early Christian voices.

According to Hall, and I thought this was brilliant, evangelicals have low attention spans; they want immediate answers that don’t require patient reading of difficult texts. As he put it, “Give me soundbites, not discourse!” Hall contends, however, that ancient texts require a patient mind and heart. They demand “theological empathy”, not rejecting out of hand difficult or foreign ideas.

Required of us is not the impatience that characterizes much of contemporary evangelical thought but “slow-paced” reading with the dispositions, community, and “habit patterns” of our forebears.  Evangelicals, if they are going to retrieve the sources of the early church, must also retrieve the habit patterns of the patristic writers such as patience, repetition, wisdom, and discernment.

Do you resonate with Hall’s point concerning evangelical impatience?

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6 thoughts on “Give me soundbites, not discourse!

  1. Kent, look for me tomorrow and I’ll keep my eye out for you. I’m at this conference also. I also follow this blog closely and it would be great to meet you. See you tomorrow…

  2. I have a hard time believing that Evangelicals, as a group, have a different sort of attention span than other Christian groups. After all, it takes a lot of patience to sit through 35 minute sermons every Sunday. Of course, it would be foolish to think modern culture does not have an effect on the way we read Scripture, etc., but I don’t think that affects evangelicals alone.

    Better explanations, I think, focus on the way evangelicals view Scripture. For example, if you think the “facts” of Scripture are self-evident, what would be the value of reading the church fathers? Don’t give me the opinions of men, give me the Word of God!

    • Hall highlighted your point as well. It leads (I have seen this over and over) to the idea that an interpretive virtue is the conviction that I read the Bible as if no one else has ever read it before.

  3. Unfortunately, I think Hall’s right. A lack of patience might even have been behind the early dismissal of Barth amongst evangelicals.

    If that’s the case, Bloesch might have been right in calling him a 20th Century church father!

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