Here’s the third and last extension of the interview with Andy Crouch from the March 22 issue of WORLD magazine. Crouch for a decade was an InterVarsity campus pastor at Harvard University, a haven for many destructive tendencies but occasional constructive ones, such as cheering for a baseball team just across the Charles River. He thinks sometimes about bunts and sometimes about cultural grand slams
How did mainline Protestants engage American culture in the 20th century? Three things, I think, distorted American Protestantism in its engagement with the wider culture, in no particular order: fear, envy, and grief. The mainline Protestant mistake was envy: “There’s such good stuff that’s happening out there, we need to be more like that and wish we had the power and access that they have.”
What about fundamentalists and evangelicals? The fundamentalist or post-fundamentalist reaction was grief: “We used to run this, we used to control this thing, now we don’t anymore.” Both put you in spiritual danger. Better to have a joyful confidence: “We may or may not win this battle, but it’s still good news, and we’re going to keep going.”
I grew up a Boston Red Sox fan, and until 2004 the team had 86 years of misery. Now, it’s three world championships in the last 10 years. Have evangelicals been like pre-2004 Red Sox fans? Or Cubs fans today. I will say, though, I have the scorecard from Game 6 of the 2004 division series against the Yankees, the Red Sox victory that showed there is a God after all.
Well, I have on the wall of my WORLD office in Asheville photos of Dave Roberts stealing second in the ninth inning of the fourth game of that series—the turning point of world history. But let’s turn to other turning points. Given technological changes, what’s the future of journalism? We are entering the third great age of humanity. Orality was the first, literacy the second, and now we’re entering the age of visualcy. That’s the kind of sweeping statements for which journalists don’t hope to be known.
Now that you’ve said it, you need to explain how those ages are different. In an oral culture, if you want to say something deeply meaningful, you speak it. So, the epic poems were spoken aloud by bards. The Psalms were all originally spoken and secondarily written down. In a literate culture, if you want to say something really meaningful, you write it down. People still talk in a literate culture, but if they really have something important to convey, they put it into writing or print. In a visual age, if you have something really important to say, you will create an image—ideally a moving image, a film or something like film.
We still talk and write … But one of the things I say about American life now is that you’re not real in American life until you’ve appeared on a screen—and the more screens you’ve appeared on, the more real you are, which is why if people really love their friends, they try to get them on screens. That’s a paradox, because a screen is a very unreal thing.
How does this change the way we do journalism? It’s going to complicate it, because visual images are immediately gripping in a way that words are not. However, images are not self-interpreting. Even the most carefully assembled sequences of images, like filmmakers attempt to make, are mute. You have to have words to interpret them. The problem is our audience is letting this visual world wash over them, produce very deep feelings in them, probably deeper than words would, but without interpretation. It’s like what Paul says about speaking in tongues without interpretation. The next generation of great journalists will make very compelling images tied to deep interpretation in the form of language.