Ken Myers reflects on three decades of Mars Hill Audio

mars Hill

It has happened three times. A producer from Mars Hill Audio e-mails and asks me if I want to talk with Ken Myers about the subject of my latest book. The producer schedules me at a studio in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania–a place where local rock bands go to record. I drive up into the hills outside of town, maneuver my vehicle up a winding dirt road, and say hello to a guy who turned his garage into a studio. He has set up a chair, a microphone, and a bottle of water on the concrete floor. We exchange pleasantries (he remembers me from the last time) and then he goes into the next room, behind a glass wall, and pipes the voice of Ken Myers into my headphones. I talk with Ken for about an hour.

Months later someone tells me that they listened to my interview—cut to about 15 minutes or so—on Mars Hill Audio. A few weeks after that I get a complimentary compact disc of the episode in the mail. I put into a shoe box alongside my Mars Hill cassette tapes from the 1990s.

Evangelicals interested in books and serious Christian thinking know Ken Myers. He was podcasting before podcasts. Over at Front Porch Republic, Matt Stewart interviews the founder, producer, and host of Mars Hill Audio Journal.

Here is a taste:

Stewart: You started Mars Hill Audio just before Mark Noll published his Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994. While it should be noted that Mars Hill has consciously sought to be rooted in the broader Christian tradition, it is still identifiable as one attempt to address Noll’s criticism. What are some of the most promising trends you have observed over the last three decades in your conversations and debates with those Christians who have constituted the evangelical mind? Which trends seem most destructive?

Myers: I think that there is a growing number of evangelicals who are willing to look beyond the evangelical tradition for wisdom about the challenges we face. Some are looking to pre-Reformation sources, some to resources in Orthodoxy, some in the work of post-Reformation Roman Catholic thinkers. But in doing so, many have found it inadequate to self-identify as evangelicals, or at least as mere evangelicals. So perhaps the most encouraging thing I’ve seen is the willingness of people from evangelical backgrounds to recognize that you don’t have to be evangelical to be a serious Christian.

For decades, I have been uneasy with the designation. I read Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enoughwhen it first came out in 1984, and have continued to deepen my conviction that too many doctrines and practices are made optional in the way the term is typically used.

Someone once commented that the word “evangelical” and the word “parachurch” are virtually synonymous, suggesting that one of the characteristics of evangelicalism is too low a view of the Church. I have come to appreciate—through the work of thinkers as various as Lesslie Newbigin, Stanley Hauerwas, Peter Leithart, Oliver O’Donovan, and David L. Schindler—how the secularizing tendencies of modernity are not just a matter of marginalizing religion, but of privatizing the work and effect of redemption and rendering the Church into an agency for the support of individual Christians.

Not long ago, I went back and re-read Noll’s book, and was disappointed with the extent to which he focused on the question of scholarship. While I am deeply interested in the vitality of Christian scholarship of all stripes, I am even more concerned about the state of the minds of non-scholars. The work of scholars should serve Christians—evangelicals and others—who are in business, education, journalism, law, politics, or other vocations. Those people are the ones Harry Blamires was writing about in The Christian Mind.

I think that it is more likely than it was 50 years ago for evangelical laypeople to take an interest in cultural issues because they think their faith encourages them to. But I don’t think that it is any more likely that they will think theologically about such matters. I think that for many, personal faith is a source of motivation, but the Faith is not a source of relevant knowledge. Thinking about cultural matters because we’re commanded to love our neighbors—that’s easy. But thinking about cultural matters in light of the Trinity or Pentecost or the Ascension or the Eucharist—that’s not very common. So the dualism that separates faith and reason may have been overcome by many evangelical scholars. But I think very few laypeople are striving to think about culture in a theological way. And the result is a kind of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when it comes to cultural matters.

For example, how many evangelicals take kindly to the claims that Joel Salatin makes—which are ultimately theological claims—about how we should raise our food? My hunch is that while there may be many evangelical scholars who are sympathetic to the mission of Polyface Farms, most laypeople would be suspicious. Their suspicion may be theologically grounded, but I don’t think they are armed with enough theology; I think their arsenal may be limited by the limits imposed by evangelicalism’s origins as a modern movement.

Read the entire interview here.

"Pop Goes the Culture": The "Weekly Standard" on Mars Hill’s Ken Myers

Some of my readers know the work of Ken Myers. He is the voice and creative genius behind Mars Hill Audio Journal, an every-other-month audio journal of interviews with authors who write books about culture.  (Some of you may recall that Myers interviewed me on Mars Hill Audio Journal last year for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.)

Andrew Ferguson, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, has a nice piece on Myers in the January 14, 2013 issue.  Here is a taste:

The Journal celebrates its twentieth birthday this year. It’s become indispensable to an audience of the kind that Cousins sought and encouraged and that often goes ignored nowadays. The Journal isn’t identical to Saturday Review, of course. It arrives every two months, not every week, and it arrives not on paper but on a pair of handsomely packaged CDs​—​nearly two hours of essays and interviews to be listened to at leisure. (MP3 downloads are available too.) Another difference is that Myers is an orthodox Christian, and it shows.
The Journal demonstrates how closely the interests and worries of a conservative Christian intellectual overlap those of any curious traditionalist or cultural conservative, believing or non. Myers’s own curiosity is inexhaustible. On the website’s topic index​—​choosing a letter at random​—​you’ll find under “M” segments on Mondrian (Piet) and Moore (Michael), memory and money, Mendelssohn and Marsalis, masculinity and materialism. I popped in Issue 102 the other day and heard Myers’s pleasant tenor saying, by way of preface: “Is creation meaningful, and if it is, is its meaning perceptible?” This rousing intro opened a series of ruminations and interviews with a variety of scholars and writers. A brief explanation of the split between nominalism and realism in the Middle Ages led to a discussion of Jacques Maritain’s relationship with avant garde painters and musicians in 1920s Paris, then moved through the Fibonacci sequence and the mathematical value of Bach fugues as examples of inherent order, topped off with a tribute to the paintings of Makoto Fujimura by the philosopher Thomas Hibbs. The pace is unhurried, the discussions pretty easily comprehensible. Imagine NPR if NPR were as intelligent as NPR programmers think it is.
Or better: Imagine NPR as it once was, from its founding in the early seventies into the early eighties, when the fateful decision was made to transform an eclectic and discursive ragbag of cultural programming into the fabulously wealthy, grimly professional all-news-almost-all-the-time media colossus we know today. Myers worked at NPR off and on for nearly a decade, spending several years as arts editor for Morning Edition before layoffs from the new regime gutted arts coverage in 1983.

Ken Myers on the State of the Christian Church in America

This is a very rich interview with Ken Myers. It appeared at the “Christian Post” last May. (Thanks to Karl Johnson of the Chesterton House for bringing it to my attention).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, Myers was a former NPR reporter who founded Mars Hill Audio, an audio magazine to “assist Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement.”  Mars Hill Audio is must listening for thoughtful Christians. (I recently appeared on the journal to discuss Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).

Myers argues that the church’s problem is not American culture, but “the culture of the church.” You really need to read the entire interview, but let me tantalize you with a few snippets:

CP: Practically speaking, how has the church been too influenced by the broader culture?

Myers: Here’s a small list:

  • The way in which the dominant role of technology in our lives promotes the deep assumption that we can fix anything;
  • The way in which proliferating mechanisms of convenience erodes the virtues of patience and longsuffering;
  • The way in which the elimination of standards of public propriety and manners undermines assumptions about the legitimacy of authority and deference to the communal needs; and
  • The way in which the high prestige accorded to entertainers creates the conviction that every valuable experience should be entertaining.

And this is just scratching the surface.

CP: What is greatest opportunity for the church today to truly impact the larger culture – or should we even be concerned about that?

Myers: Not long ago I interviewed a poet who suggested that he just couldn’t imagine early Church leaders sitting around trying to come up with clever ideas about how they might influence Roman culture.

Robert Wilken made a very similar comment in an interview given in 1998 in which he reflected on the early Church’s posture toward its cultural surroundings. Wilken pointed out that the principal way in which the early Church leaders sustained cultural influence was by discipling its members, by conveying to them that the call of the Gospel was a call to embrace a new way of life. The Church was less interested in transforming the disorders of the Roman Empire than in building “its own sense of community, and it let these communities be the leaven that would gradually transform culture.”

Christians can best serve the health of American culture by striving to be deliberate about and faithful to a way of life that Church historian Robert Wilken has called the “culture of the city of God.”

If congregations in America were deeply and creatively committed to nurturing the culture of the city of God in their life together, I think it would have an inexorable effect on the lives of our neighbors. But I fear that too many churches are shaping people to be what Kenda Creasy Dean calls being “Christianish” – or not deeply Christian at all. The more faithful we are in living out the ramifications of a Christian understanding of all things, the more out-of-synch we will be in American culture. But why should we wish for anything else? What can we offer the world if we are just like the world?