Mars Hill Audio Journal
P.O. Box 7826, Charlottesville, Virginia 22906-7826, U.S.A.
Email: Annual subscription $36
reviewed by Ian Pape

To quote their own introduction, "The MARS HILL tapes are an ‘audio magazine’. Each ninety-minute, bi-monthly cassette features eight or nine interviews with thoughtful guests who offer incisive commentary on ideas that shape contemporary culture."

The aim of the tapes, in their own words: "MARS HILL audio is dedicated to producing materials that will enable Christian people to live with greater deliberation. We believe that the mandate to love God and neighbor requires that we care about the state of the neighborhood, including the institutions of civilisation and society, and participate in those institutions in ways that glorify God and edify one another." And further, "Our tapes don’t really teach the outlines of a Christian worldview. Rather, they are produced from within a Christian worldview, asking specific questions [that] we believe Christians should be asking."

The producer of the tapes, Ken Myers, formerly served as the arts and humanities editor of the US National Public Radio, producing segments for Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He has also worked in print journalism, as editor of Eternity magazine and of This World, a quarterly journal.

The tapes are a blend of interviews interspersed with short excerpts from films, TV, or radio, and I have appreciated most of the material that I have heard. It is quite profound, and it is easy to miss some detail at first listening, but this does mean that one can glean a lot from listening to them again and again. One of the most interesting items for me was an interview with the author of a book that gave an account of how the Irish saved western culture from oblivion after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Having been newly converted from paganism in the early fifth century, and taught the art of reading and writing, their monks took to copying classical and biblical manuscripts with gusto, just at the time the barbarians were sacking Rome. Later in the sixth and seventh centuries the monks took the learning with them as they evangelised Europe, even as far as Italy, thus completing the circle.

In one volume of the Mars Hill Tapes, volume 31, there are items on how a New Jersey court has defined the ‘true nature’ of the Boy Scouts, and compelled them to admit homosexuals. It also contains items on how American culture has eliminated shame from our experience, how advertisers have linked their products with the ideal of self-fulfilment, how post-modernism has killed history, and the self-denying aspect of the gospel in C. S. Lewis.

In the first item on the tape, David Orgon Coolidge comments on a case where a homosexual Boy Scout leader was removed from his position by the Scouts, after he appeared in the press as a prominent member of a homosexual student society. The scout authorities regarded his behaviour as incompatible with the Scout oath, which among other things requires a scout to be ‘morally straight’. He then went on to sue the Boy Scouts; the New Jersey court gave as its opinion earlier this year that the Scouts were required to re-admit him. The opinion of the court was interesting in that they sought to define the ‘real’ intent of the Scout movement. They considered that a commitment to honesty was the paramount virtue above any other, which is all the more odd since the Scout oath does not mention honesty. The court’s reasoning was that homosexuals should not have to lie about their nature in order to be admitted to the Scouts. The discussion ranged over how courts had taken upon themselves to apply anti-discrimination legislation as widely as possible.

This item then led on to the next, on the lack of shame in contemporary culture, when Ken Myers pointed out that honesty of itself, without repentance, was no virtue. This is typified by the Jerry Springer Show (which I am sad to report is on LWT here in the UK). This show, in Ken Myers’ words, is ‘the most voyeuristic, violent and obscenity-laden show on broadcast TV’. The guests on this show are frequently honest, but never shameful. They have, to quote the tape, ‘exchanged the income of notoriety for loss of self-esteem’. This show is sadly the fastest-growing show ever, which only goes to show how shame is being eliminated from society.

The interview with Keith Windschuttle on the ‘Killing of History’ was startling to me, when it was pointed out that most of the media, in the English speaking world at least, are putting forth the idea of there being now no distinction between fact and fiction. This idea arose in Parisian intellectual circles in the early 1980s when Marxism became untenable, and the former Marxists adopted some of Nietzche’s ideas, especially his idea of there being no means of establishing historical truth. This mixture of Marxism & Nietzchian philosophy is often called post-modernism, and is directly contradictory to Christianity (we assert that man can know with a measure of certainty and reliability the facts of history, such as the resurrection). According to Windschuttle, these post-modern views now rule in the academy, to the exclusion of more traditional historians. This is all very difficult for Christians who want to get research published in academic journals. More alarming are the implications for witnessing; if we are in a culture that cannot even accept that there is such a thing as objective truth, it is all the more difficult to press the claims of Christ as being the fount of all truth.

What does this do for us as Christians, seeking to bring our children up in the ways of the LORD? Well, with the insights from the tapes’ contributors, we can see the trends of culture in a clearer light, and then critically evaluate them from biblical standpoint. Once we have worked out a biblical response, we can then attempt to defeat the invasion of these cultural defects into our thinking and our children’s thinking. It does seem all too easy to follow common culture, at least in its less obviously evil aspects, in an uncritical way.

In short, I would commend the well produced and thoughtful tapes, to all that seek to understand the direction of this present evil age, as a resource for the busy, praying that they may lead us to reformation of culture.