Rocked My World

I have just finished reading an assignment that has rocked my world a bit.

The reading was from a couple of sections of Alister McGrath’s book, “A Passion For Truth.” Specifically, the Introduction and chapter 4 (“Evangelicalism and Postmodernism”). In the Introduction, McGrath states that Evangelicalism – especially in North America - has steered a course away from “Academic Theology” (a theology whose agenda is dictated by the values and goals of the academy). For those evangelicals that have tasted of Academic Theology, the response is probably: “Duh – of course!” McGrath says it is because of a fundamentalist heritage, a pragmatic orientation, the secularism of the academy (which has lost touch with theology’s prophetic role), and the elitism of academic theology (it has lost touch with its pastoral role).

McGrath’s observations and conclusions are very helpful – and not surprising to any evangelical who has dipped a bit into the murky waters of “academic theology.” However, the interesting bit (for me) came in chapter four where McGrath challenges evangelicals to re-consider their unspoken (and unconscious) assumptions in the face of a new societal hermeneutic – the infamous “postmodernism.” Oh, yes! Postmodernism clearly has a meta-narrative.

The Enlightenment and Modernity (consider those terms synonymous) are based on the notion that reason was able to accomplish anything. What is troubling is that, generally, evangelicals have uncritically bought into that notion for three hundred years. As modernity has influenced great theologians of evangelicals, it has influenced – for the worse – evangelicals understanding of several key areas:

* The nature of scripture – ignoring the clearly emotive and narrative nature of most of scripture, evangelicals have been sucked into looking only for propositional truth
* Spirituality – having ignored the emotive characteristic of scripture, evangelicals have tended to purge emotions from their culture
* Apologetics – evangelicals have assumed there is a universal rationality and ignored the observable facts that Christianity is not purely rational and that not everyone interacts with their world in the same manner
* Evangelism – a misunderstanding of Biblical truth; “Truth” has been assumed to be propositional in nature and all truths of scripture are “logically consistent” with each other; yet this is not itself consistent with the evidence (N.B. the irony). Biblical “Truth” is more related to “trustworthiness” and is very personal: Jesus *is* truth

This is not to deny that there are rational and cognitive elements within the Christian faith, it is merely to note that we can appreciate postmodernism for its help in freeing the faith from a foreign worldview.

As a thoroughly indoctrinated modernist, much of postmodernism is disrupting to me, of course. However, in facing my own mental filters, it is this transition into a postmodern world which facilitates my better understanding – and greater commitment to – a Biblical Christianity.

I note that in a postmodern world, Christianity is clearly relevant. It is relevant to our fundamental questions: Why do we and the world exist? Why are things this way and not another? The question for a postmodern looking at Christianity is not just is Christianity true for the writer of this blog; but is it true also for the reader?

Evangelicals don't need to adopt postmodernism - there is plenty in that framework that is hostile to Biblical thought - but postmodernism can help Evangelicals to strip off the incompatible accoutrements of the Enlightenment.


An Atheist's Rage

Man, I was annoyed. Friday night my daughter Irene came into the room in tears because of an email she’d just received. Now Irene is a pretty tough gal and so it takes a lot to get her rattled. So what was the email about? Some catty girls dissing on her, some terrible news tragedy? No, it was one of her school ‘friends’ decided to rant on Christians. Hmmm. The previous version said that the guy was angry because his parents were fighting and needed to ‘rant.’ The revised blog can be found here.

Now my first reaction was that “this punk is gonna feel some PAIN: he made my girl cry, he’s gonna pay!” That feeling, BTW, was still floating around and was inevitably expressed here. The next reaction was to read the email for content and ignore all the flaming language. Once analyzed, I could coach my daughter into refuting the arguments presented with objective facts and conclusions. That would make me feel better because it would confirm that I’m smart and this punk (there I go again) is really rather stupid, uninformed, or both. But that would be rather infantile of me. The third reaction is to note a teenager in great pain: he feels alone (copy that), alienated, and his parents (the two most important people in his life) are in conflict. It was a long time ago, but I remember how I felt when my folks were fighting – it was not a “happy place.”

First, let’s dispense with the Father’s Rage part: if you’ll notice, Irene has shown herself to be a ‘contagious Christian’ in that this guy admits that she’s one of the few self-reporting Christians who seems to actually be Jesus-like. As a father, I’m rather proud of my little girl for that.

Second, let’s dispense with the arguments that young Mr. Punk has advanced. There are plenty of atheists on MySpace and the general blogsphere. Even more to the point, there are plenty of Christian-haters out here. But why are all the Christians proclaiming from the rooftops: “I’m a Christian and I’m not afraid to show it?” Well, there’s the implied fear from showing oneself as being a Christian. Why? Because emails and blogs like young Mr. Punk’s come out and trash on them! People say that Christians are intolerant – well intolerance is sure not limited to Christians. It’s a pretty natural reaction to get defensive in the face of an attack. Why are Christians “afraid?” Why, it’s because of people like you, young Mr. Punk: you rant on them, and intimidate them, and attack them.

But why are Christians so big on telling people that they’re Jesus-people? Well, in spite of the attacks they receive, Christians really believe that they have – from Jesus himself – The Message that will transform your life like it has theirs. They’ve experienced something … wonderful! … that defies what we usually see in our world. They are trying to get that news out. They are so excited about the overwhelmingly positive consequences of this information that they’re willing to go out on a blogspace limb and say: “Lookit, lookit! See what I’ve found!!”

In my opinion, it takes more courage to stand in the blogsphere and declare: “I have a message that you won’t agree with or want to hear. But it’s so important that I’m willing to get the inevitable flaming emails (like this) that will result.” On the other hand, there’s no courage in going with the flow: “smoking, drinking, and f***ing,” as Mr. Punk says his friends are doing.

The other thing to remember, young Mr. Punk, is that Jesus himself was pretty clear that not everyone who self-reports to be a “Christian” really is one. For you Bible-people out there, I remind you of Matthew 25:31-46. In fact, Christians are told they must examine themselves (though never told to examine others) to see if they are really born-again fully-devoted followers of Jesus (check out the little book of 1 John).

As to young Mr. Punk’s conclusion that our fear of the unknown after death compels us to do good; I think Mr. Punk is right. That God has arranged life so that death is an unknown is a powerful motivator for people to search and grope for him. Looking at death, we see some powerful truths: “I am not ready. Not only that, I’m sure I’ll never be ready. After death, there’s God waiting and it’s clear from what I see in this world that God is holy and has standards that I’ve not met.”

I need help. As Mr. Punk has rightly pointed out; I need a crutch. What The Message says is that Jesus died as a substitute for the spiritual consequences of my inability to meet the standards. Jesus then brought himself back to life to confirm his claims. If I rely on Jesus to pay for those lapses, then God will say (since he set it up in the first place), “Good, you’re seeing things from my perspective now. Come with me and let’s get started on some other good things.” God doesn’t promise prosperity, popularity, or that those dearest to you will get along – though that often happens. He does offer you new life in a community of fellow travelers. But let me repeat this very clearly for you, Mr. Punk: I definitely need a crutch. And that crutch’s name is Jesus.

Mr. Punk, God has arranged the world along a fine balance. There’s just enough information to compel a good mind to see and accept God and there are seemingly good reasons to reject that God is there. It is so finely balanced that God has left it up to your choice. And God will give you your desires. If you desire to be with him, he will receive you with open, welcoming arms. He will put you into a ‘forever family’ of people who really will be able to say, “Amen!” You’ll have no need to fear death because your position with God is secure because of what Jesus did for us.

But if you choose to reject God, then God will give you your desires: If you don’t want to have anything to do with God, then after you die you will have nothing to do with God. Do you remember what we call a place where there is no God? Sure you do. This is what we call that place: “Hell.” That’s the other thing: God doesn’t put people in hell, people choose to go there.

Finally, I am so sorry that your parents were fighting. I’m getting a bit misty-eyed even as I’m writing this. I wish I could give you assurance that everything will be OK. In reality, I can’t; because I don’t have the power to change your parents. But this is what I read in your pain-filled email: “I’m hurt and there are people out there who tell me that there’s an answer, a treatment, a way that will be better. But most of them are really messed up, just like me. How can I trust them?” I find it significant that in your pain, you turn your anger on Christians. I wonder … are you angry at Christians because they are somehow responsible for your pain? Or are you angry at Christians because you’re a lot closer to them: in our agony we frequently strike out at the ones who are closest to us.

What if God, who desperately loves you and has been trying to get through to you, is banging on the door of your life to get your attention? Is it possible that God might have used your parents’ argument to compel you to come a little closer to the people with The Message that you need to hear? I’m not suggesting that God caused the argument, but just that he is nudging on your heart because of that event. There are people in your life – you’ve already identified them – who want to help you make a good choice.

God does not want you to chose to reject him. The results are catastrophic.

Choose well.