There is a saying that Renaissance humanism laid the egg that the Reformation hatched. In plain sense, this means that when the sixteenth-century humanists turned back to original sources’reflecting carefully on the meaning of words in context, paying attention to details, and demonstrating both agility and humility of mind’they became a major catalyst for the reform of the church. The fact is that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the rest stood on the shoulders of humanist educational reforms: they themselves turned back to the Bible in its original languages; they cleared up generations of fuzzy, confused thinking about the gospel; and they promoted the instruction of the laity by writing new catechisms and confessions. In hindsight, one wonders if in the ordinary way of things there could have been a Reformation without a preceding Renaissance movement.
This leads to a nagging series of related questions that have arisen in light of an important national conversation about technology and intellectual life: Can there be a modern Reformation of our churches without a contemporary version of Renaissance humanism upon which to build? Do we have an egg of cultural learning and ability to think critically that might hatch a reform movement for the church in our day? What will it mean for the church and Christian discipleship if we are on the verge of a new "Dark Age"?
The authors in this issue take up these questions and more. We begin with an interview with author Maggie Jackson about her book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Our ability to pay attention is our "most important human faculty," she argues, and we are risking a Dark Age when we allow that ability to be undermined by certain uses of technology. White Horse Inn radio producer Shane Rosenthal laments the loss of deep-thinking Christian reflection, and Lutheran minister John Bombaro explores the difference between holding a real book versus merely skimming an electronic text. Michael Horton then reflects on what it means to be a deep-sea Christian diver in a Jet Ski age of intellectual superficiality.
In a special reviews section, we consider Neil Postman's classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, from two different perspectives, one critical and one more appreciative. We also offer another installment of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" by Presbyterian minister Zach Keele, as well as an intriguing article by Ethan Richardson, writer for Mockingbird's blog, about analogies of law and gospel on Facebook.
This issue of Modern Reformation is more a first word than a last. A recurring theme throughout is that we have to think carefully, not only about how we use technology but about how technologies are changing us. We are created to be a people shaped by deep reflection upon the Word of God. It's time to recover (in the Renaissance sense) the habits of mind that will enable us to grow in grace and receive from God his good gifts through the Word and by his Spirit.