On March 15, 2012, Peter Leithart tweeted “Playing off form against content is like scraping the ink from the page to get at the meaning beneath the words.” Exactly so, yet this error seems characteristic of contemporary evangelicalism.
Here is one recent example. In the March 2012 issue of Credo magazine, hip-hop artist Shai Linne was asked, “In the past you have been criticized for redeeming such a ‘depraved genre’ as hip-hop. What is your response to this criticism?” Linne’s answer showed confusion on a number of levels, but for our purposes I want to point out that Linne invoked the belief that form and content have no necessary or meaningful connection. This is his answer in full:
To those who say, “How can you take that thing that is used for evil and glorify God with it?” My two word answer is “The Cross.”
But my response to that particular criticism is usually to simply re-phrase the objection. I would say something like, “Are you saying that you have a problem with me taking a medium that has been used to blaspheme God and using it instead as a medium to praise and exalt God’s holy name, proclaim His glorious gospel, speak biblical truth and magnify the infinite worth of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Arguments against “depraved genres” are ultimately arguments against redemption itself, because depraved genres are the products of depraved human beings, who need redemption. (In fact, “depraved genre” is a misnomer because it’s ascribing moral value to a medium, which by definition is morally neutral until informed by content.) Once God has redeemed a person, it’s fitting for the Christian to take the “genres” or vehicles (such as books, cameras, canvasses, the internet, language, musical forms, etc.) that he or she once used for evil and now use them to promote the glory of God. Those who make the objection (especially as they use the internet to do so) are often unaware that they themselves use “depraved genres” all the time.
I contend that it is this kind of reasoning which has landed us squarely in the relativist bog. Meaning cannot be known apart from form, and the form is part of the meaning.
Many are the evangelicals today who profess their admiration for C. S. Lewis. I hope that many of them consider seriously his thoughts in The Abolition of Man.