Indie Theology

Despite a few things I will say near the beginning of this article, I assure you this is not going to be a blog about writing or the career of writing. It’s just that reading some “business of writing” blogs recently has wowed me to some things that are happening, changing in the old familiar landscape of the bookstore world, the publishing world, and so on. And I want to make a few points about how that relates to the ways people think about theology now, mostly for the good but with some cautions.

We have indie music, indie movies, indie books and authors. Why not indie theology? Actually, we have had indie theology going on for some time now and the result, actually, has been an improvement. When the medieval Church held all the cards, people thought the Bible forbade sex and commanded the slaughter of Jews. The light of Bible translation and more access to the common people was definitely a good thing.

But various church traditions still kept a level of control on theology. People felt they had to get their information through denominational publishing houses and from preachers who, more often than not then and it is still sadly true now, do not study theology or biblical interpretation! No wonder the shallow gospel of evangelicalism and revivalism had such a long spread. In case you think I am being unfair or anti-evangelical, read Scot McKnight’s One.Life.

As is the case with music, movies, and books, the internet and cable television opened many avenues for people to be exposed to a broader range of ideas. And the results are mostly good.

As for the writer blogs that inspired me to muse on this topic, look up Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, and Passive Voice. Good stuff even if you are not a writer. If you like books and bookstores and wonder what will become of Borders and Barnes & Noble or why Amazon is doing so well while others are sinking, check them out.

The basic upshot of the change in publishing is that big traditional publishing used to exert a lot of control over what people could read and what authors could publish. That control is fading rapidly.

eBooks now account for 27% of all book sales, according the David Farland (a big-list author and industry expert, also known as Dave Wolverton). And that’s what the big publishers admit to and that is despite the very obvious ways big publishers discourage eBook sales.

Amazon says Kindle books now outsell print books on their end.

It’s comparable to the revolution brought about by Cable Television. Remember when you could only catch Fred Flintstone on Saturday morning? Or when you had to watch that Star Trek episode when it came out or you might miss it forever? (Okay, I was a toddler in Star Trek days, so I am kind of old, but not that old). But Cable Television brought about the beginning of a continuing trend toward any-time availability of content.

Now, with a book, you can get it instantly on eBook. You can get it 24/7. And out of print books, many authors and publishers are listing them as eBooks. Remember that romance or sci-fi author you used to hunt down in used bookstores. You maybe able to find him or her instantly through eBooks at Amazon’s Kindle Store or Lulu or the iBookstore. **Commercial:** Right now you can get Yeshua in Context as an eBook at MountOlivePress.com or Lulu.com and any day now it will appear on Amazon’s Kindle Store.

A similar kind of revolution happened with theology through the influence of the internet. People started being able to read all kinds of things. They didn’t have to go to the Baptist Bookstore or the Catholic Bookstore or Cokesbury. Family Christian Stores became less relevant.

One happy result: the silly marketing through Christian bookstores lessened in influence. Thus, you see less people with a fish on their car or a bumper sticker that says, “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” I don’t really miss those.

Another happy result: people with non-mainstream points of view (Hebrew Roots, Jewish Roots, Messianic Judaism) gained a voice and a following. It is now commonplace for Christians to know more than their pastors about Passover or the city of Jerusalem.

The happiest result, in my opinion: people care more now about this world, about the life of Yeshua (as opposed to just his death), about healing the world (as opposed to preaching salvation to it), and deeds of lovingkindness. Revivalist theology loses out when people start reading their Bibles instead of just listening to sermons teaching salvation.

Many viewpoints and results have followed from the indie theology trend. Good and bad, the propagation of theological ideas has people thinking. I’m focusing here on the positive trends, but let me mention a few wise helps for people who are already deeply engaged in the process of learning theology by internet:

(1) Be in community, strong community, with other people of faith and discuss things. Ideas often sound great when someone writes them up on blog or website, but open discussion with people you know and trust often exposes silly presuppositions.

(2) Find reputable writers and thinkers who refer to other writers and thinkers and do not set up their own authority as paramount. The best resources point you to lots of other resources.

(3) Consider that ideas require evidence to be worth believing.

(4) Read the Bible more than you read theology and inspiration on the internet.

(5) Read commentaries on the Bible (and not the crummy public domain ones that are free on the internet and not worth the photons used to transmit them, uck). There are internet services that provide quality biblical commentary if you really hate books. Or get some commentary and theology on your Kindle or iPhone.

Indie Theology is here. The publishing houses have been waking up and need to do it all the more. Pastors need to wake up to it (and study more theology and biblical commentary — forgive me, pastor, if you already do). You need to wake up to it and be a learner. It’s not that you or I need to find all the answers, but that we need to be searching for them all the time.

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4 Responses to Indie Theology

  1. Keith says:

    Thanks for the great article. In point #5 you mention commentaries on the Bible. I don’t have, which do you recommend? Thanks.

  2. Derek Leman says:

    Keith:

    I took your question so seriously, I wrote a whole post about it today. Find it here:
    http://bit.ly/kjLbsu

    • Keith says:

      Wow, thanks so much for doing that, I really appreciate it. I’ve wanted to read Bible commentaries, but with so many choices I had no idea which to choose. Again, thanks for your time and effort.

  3. louise says:

    wow Derek, a lot of stuff here!!!! Good food for thought overall. Your #4 suggestion to ‘read the Bible more than you read theology and inspiration” is perhaps the most important thing for any of us. Until a person reads the BIBLE for him/herself trusting the Holy Spirit for guidance, the real personality, love and greatness of God will not take hold. I think it is Tyndale who longed to see the English Bible in the hands of every farm boy behind a plow so that person could meditate on God’s Word even while he worked, a daily thing….. Tyndale knew people needed the written word so they could find out for themselves what God’s truth is. Tyndale was burned as a heretic at the stake…..

    I once heard a pastor use the term ‘Designer Christianity’ where we fashion God the way we want Him, to make Him fit with the fashion of the times and with our own special tastes and vanity. As you mentioned, in the early and medieval church, authorities all too often designed Scripture for the masses according to their own motives. I think that also occurred in rabbinical judaism didn’t it?

    We are all kind of lazy about a lot of things and that can include reading that is study and that has no pictures on every page. That is the only problem with the fast pace and constant visual stimulation of our day and age, which affects people of all generations and which is becoming more pronounced as we draw away from books and quieter homes, quiet overall, and from proximity to nature.

    Regarding your advice about community to among other things authenticate legitimacy: Deeds of lovingkindness really do begin at home and only Scripture shows us what importance that has as the best community there is. That is kind of another subject but one that really needs emphasis for people who sometimes seek out community and avoid their home and neighborhood and would rather be ‘in the fold’ all the time. I know from experience how tempting it is to avoid a concern for unpleasant and unsaved neighbors that i often wish would just move away…..

    Even indie stuff has its gurus telling you what indie music, clothes etc. are offering. And people defer to those gurus the same way they have in theology as you described it over the centuries. so the bottom line has to be somewhere beyond gurus —period.

    what a pilgrimage! it is not boring….

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