Like many, when I learned of Steve Jobs’ death I was shocked and saddened. From all accounts, Jobs was an innovator, marketing guru, and driven perfectionist. His zeal for Apple products was unrivaled, and many of us have benefited from his fanaticism.
Yet, in the wake of his passing and the subsequent memorial services, what have we learned about our culture and its response to death?
First, we understand that the person should be remembered. In Jobs case the memorial held on Apple’s campus and Stanford University fit the bill nicely. All the right people attended, nice things were said, memories were reminisced, and laughs were handed out accordingly.
Second, the person’s legacy must be put in proper perspective. With Jobs it is not if he is one of the greats, but how far did he out pace the many? His effect on American culture through his company’s products will solidify his place among our culture’s icons.
Finally, and most importantly, we discovered the mourning, grieving, reflecting and memorializing process can take place without the slightest hint of theological insight.
Yet, does this matter?
Some may argue that a private citizen should be able to arrange their funeral as they see fit. Whether or not it is devoid of theological insights is unequivocally up to the individual’s family. With this I unequivocally agree, but nonetheless find it disturbing (not shocking though) that something substantive regarding God has not penetrated the ensuing conversation.
In fact, the closest someone came to the truth about death and its meaning for humanity was when Jobs gave an address at Stanford nearly six years earlier. In those statements he addressed death’s reality, certainty and expediency, while throwing a jab or two at dogma writ large.
The irony of the situation is that Jobs’ promotion to icon status does more to something akin to religious zeal than anything else. The fervency with which people approached his products and the man before his death will almost certainly increase after. Thus, the veneration of him as a secular saint is a forgone conclusion. Yet, as far as theology, let alone Christian theology, is concerned, nothing substantial seems applicable. What of any substance can theology add to the conversation of this man’s life, legacy and a memory?
While Jobs’ death is a singular episode, and maybe of little importance to many, it must be taken as a sobering reminder of how far the Church has been marginalized. Even regarding the biggest issues of human existence, in an event that rippled through the country, the Gospel is missing. There is not a hint of eternity, except maybe in passing. Moreover, those who would argue against the relevance of eternity, and even more Christian doctrine and theology, only bolster the notion that America’s culture is theologically devoid.
For all of the places of worship, with all the pronunciations of, about and for God that take place on a regular basis the fact this event happens without subsequent meaningful dialogue regarding mortality, eternity and the meaning of both for humanity is disastrous for theology as a discipline and as an epistemological option. While this has been the case for some time, this event, coupled with others in the past few months, drive home the fact theology is extinct within popular culture.
Thus, how is the Church to respond?
First, formal theological education and training must be extended beyond the walls of the seminary and Bible college to an even greater degree. The Church must forfeit the idea that only clergy be formally theologically trained. Call it what one likes, but the level of understanding imparted to seminarians must begin to flow into the Church.
Some may call this a pipe dream, inappropriate, and unnecessary. They may argue the church has all the means necessary to adequately impart a biblical worldview to the body without further encroachment of such institutions. More importantly, it was the Church, not the seminary or bible colleges, God ordained to carry forth the Gospel, safeguard the faith and protect His word’s veracity.
If this is the case why is it not taking place? It seems with each generation theology is marginalized a fraction more. With all of the classes, teaching, and preaching offered at the local church, the body of Christ is woefully theologically uninformed.
Now, this is not meant to belittle, depreciate or denigrate the body, or laity, it is simply said to address the elephant we all know is in the room. There is a reason why our neighbors think reincarnation is just as valid an option as redemption. There is a reason life is not given the dignity it deserves. There is a reason why many think God is more like Santa Clause than the Creator. The reason is the average believer is not equipped to persuade them otherwise. On issues of theology and how and why it matters they are increasingly unprepared to provide a reason.
Second, the church must persuade the culture that theology is relevant. Again, the soft and squishy language about God that permeates too many water cooler conversations has to end. The conversation must relay the notion that whoever is not concerned with theology, specifically Christian theology, is lacking something. The idea humanity is not religious, and does not have a specific destiny must be refuted and exposed as the farce it is.
While these two elements do not cover everything they do provide a foothold and point of attack. The final solution is more complex.
However, the reality is simple. The Church can use these cultural signals as wake-up calls, or allow them to pass by along with its relevance. In a culture devoid of theological discourse and insight, yet engrossed in their secular saints, the church has ample opportunity to regain a hearing for our most transformative ideas.