Saturday, November 29, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I know it’s been a while since I updated my David Wells lecture notes. Sorry to those of you who were interested. Here is part two:
The culture has woven a false view of reality so heavily forced upon us that it becomes a global network of fabricated understanding – a “Matrix” of sorts. It belongs to everyone and therefore no one. It invades life as we are distracted by its inanity from the infinitely crucial and cuts us off from a morality-centered life.
The Postmodern culture has spread its influence to the Western church, as well. Why is it that Christianity cannot be sustained in the West today – though it is here that the church finds its greatest protection?
- Triviality: The church at large has simply become preoccupied with the negligible. When the church is desired only for the benefits of faith without faith itself, whatever faith exists becomes meaningless. To illustrate, a recent statistic shows that while 45% of the American population claim to be “born again,” only about 7-9% maintain even a minimal understanding of basic Biblical doctrine. Once the popular church loses substance with faith, the people of the church lose their identity as the people of God – and the church has officially given itself over to the trivial. Along with the trivial rides the culture. With the culture comes the exultation of self. The church now serves only to channel to the congregation the illusion of substance that the culture brings. Church is now about me. Good and evil lose status. God becomes weightless.
- Uncertainty, or lack of conviction: Our conviction is tied to our sense of God’s righteousness and the knowledge that He demands righteousness from us. But there can no longer be righteousness when “right” ceases to be a valid quality. Lose this standard of absolute morality and you lose conviction. Lose conviction and the church loses the boldness that comes from certainty in absolutes. Doctrine becomes irrelevant, sin a simple weakness, and belief mere opinion.
- Complacency: Those within the church remain hesitant to grasp firmly onto anything, for in a world without truth nothing can be capable of supporting belief. The ultimate faces only indifference. What is good is no longer to be desired above what is evil. This is the church of the most prominent division of Christianity in the West today – the “Apatheists” – which has abandoned truth, righteousness, justice, and faith in the absolute. In short, these millions of “Christians” have rejected the God of the Bible altogether.
This is the American Paradox: never have we had so much outside ourselves, yet within there is so little. Therefore, many turn to God as compensation for what is not found in ourselves. But in the empty churches of today, so few are satisfied.
Wisdom is the knowledge of God shaping our perception of everything else. However, the majority today desires for the knowledge of God to be reduced to what is therapeutic. Here we find some poignant examples: one bestselling book by “America’s Pastor” calls for Christians to develop a “God-informed self-image, discover their innate strengths and abilities; and advance down the road toward health, abundance, significance, and success.” Another by the same author uses “quotations from spiritual and secular sources” to “help you press forward, develop good relationships, form better habits, embrace yourself, develop your inner life, and stay passionate.” Or what about the “updated bestseller” that “gives you a proven strategy for breaking free of Satan’s stronghold?” Want to “tap into the power of fasting?” There’s a book for that, as well!
Do you see what is happening? God, if recognized at all, has become a tool to build our way to… What? Certainly not the greater glory of God through His image in us. No, instead He is a means for us to advance the only thing that truly matters – Self and its promotion. Here is no brokenness before holiness. Here is no longing to know God for who He is. Here is no thought to what He might require of us.
The preacher sees the church as the product and the congregation as consumers as he attempts to sell Christianity. However, the analogy is deeply flawed. No other “product” asks lifelong commitment. Christianity requires the devotion of a life. Without devotion, the church offers nothing that the world does not. This is why we see the disillusioned multitudes leaving empty churches in their wake.
The predicament needs to be reversed on the preacher. The only flourishing churches are those that speak Christianity from God’s own words. Our attention must be centered back on the Triune God of all existence. Problems must be framed in light of eternity. Reality must be seen as it is, not as it is presented to us. We must be content with understanding God not from our own level, but from what He has revealed to us. Every church should strive to be the outcropping of a countercultural reality – the only ultimate reality. If the world looks at the church and sees only the reflection of its own values the church bears no witness. Only light can be seen in the dark.
Modern thought may be at a turning point, but one thing is certain: man continues, and will continue, to forsake God in favor of self.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I recently attended a lecture by David Wells entitled: "How Then Should We Pray to (Postmodern) Persons?" I found it extremely interesting and thought that I would post my notes here. Since I had quite a few pages of notes, I will post them over the course of a week or two.
Part 1: The Postmodern Man
The intellectual culture is at a turning point. This change is one not dissimilar to the “Enlightenment” that provided the foundation of modern culture – until now.
In the Enlightenment, God’s grace was supplanted by our own self-sufficiency. Omniscience was made to bow to the “machine” of human reason. The beginning of this new humanist thought marked off the end middle ages and became the foundation of the modern world.
In the mid-20th century, these foundations were shaken. Now, with the philosophy of centuries crumbling, humanity seeks a new concept of man in which to place confidence – and is finding it in the rising era of postmodern thought.
Postmoderns, we’ll call them, have rejected the concepts of both progress and reason. There can be no true progress, they say, because every step that humanity advances in one aspect of civilization enables us to take many more steps back. For example: technology. The same technology that gives us our computers and antibiotics and spacecraft gives us our weapons of mass destruction. Progress is an illusion.
The human mind enthroned in recent centuries has been usurped – and rightly so – by the truth of man’s corrupted reason. The mind is nothing but a nesting place for private agendas.
Without the two great pillars of society, progress and reason, man cannot look forward, nor can he look inward. So in his quest for meaning he looks outward in search of community with which to identify himself. But true community, it seems, has all but disappeared. Man is left isolated.
The masses consume a delusion of personal and intimate relationships through the mainstream culture. In the world of business and media we buy and sell lies about the roles of men and women in respect to each other, the family, and the world . In place of beauty we have advertising as the art form of the 21st century. The role of society has become to feed our hungry minds – but the emptiness that is thrown at us is incapable of satisfying.
There are threads of continuity that bind the last century together. Chief among them is man’s understanding of self. In the 1970s Christopher Lasch wrote on this very topic in his works Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. To those whose connections with anything outside themselves have been broken – the psychologically homeless – there is nothing apart from the individual that trumps self-awareness. All that remains is self. This is the modern man – the narcissist.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I just wanted to thank many of you for your faithful commenting. It is extremely encouraging to me to know that I have readers who care about what I have to say. Please keep reading and commenting.
For those of you who read this regularly and do not comment (and I know that there are many of you, I meet more of you all the time) please, please let me know what you think. Give your own insight, fill in anything that I may have missed, give suggestions (harsh criticism is totally acceptable), ask for future topics, correct me if you disagree - just feel completely free to voice your opinion about what I write. I want to hear from you.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose; trampled on the ground
You took the fall, and thought of me
As much as I love the song Above All, that last line has long been disturbing to me as evidence of sinful human egotism. Let me clarify by rewriting the end of this popular song:
You took the fall, and thought of God
Don’t get me wrong. Christ did die for a lost humanity. Let us never forsake this beautiful truth. But did He do so primarily for our sake? No. The end goal of God’s redemption of mankind is not merely our happiness.
Our supreme happiness, though, is a key element of the fulfillment of God’s purpose in redemption. On the cross, Christ freed us that we may delight not in self-centered sin, but that we may delight only in the Lord. And herein rests the answer. God’s ultimate display of love in the cross was that we might be led to the only lasting joy: namely, that we are free to delight in, and participate in, the eternal glorification of God.
God’s glory is the greatest good. Period. This being the case, for God to do anything for any other reason would mean for Him to place created thing over Himself. He would be guilty of idolatry, and therefore cease to be God. This is what is meant by the jealousy of God. He cannot be perfect and not seek His own glory above all. He values Himself over all else and is infinitely right in doing so.
John Piper puts it this way: “God’s love is penultimate; God’s glory is ultimate.” God’s love is the platform by which He is glorified. It only follows, then, that the greatest love He could show us is by allowing us to enjoy His glory the way He does. If Christ had died for any other reason God’s love would have been shown to be far too small. Ephesians 1:4-6 says this:
“…In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given in the One He loves.”
I am reminded of the old question of the catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer, simply stated, is this: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Or again as John Piper has rewritten it in his book Desiring God, “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”
Christ did not redeem us to give us grounds for reveling in a sense of self-worth. Christ redeemed us that we might find the supreme satisfaction in valuing God the way He values Himself. And this, my friends, truly is fullness of joy.
“In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”