Thursday, March 11, 2010
Jesus the Answer
For western Christianity the question for which Jesus is the answer was guilt. A much deserved hell was a clear and present danger for the general population and the church offered forgiveness and release from that threat. Money poured into the church through the sale of indulgences. Luther transformed the church when he discovered that our release had already been purchased. The audience glued to Jonathan Edward’s sermons saw themselves as that spider dangling above the pit of hell suspended only by God’s grace-filled self-restraining effort to not react to its rebellious loathsome appearance. Much has changed.It is a great point and it is one that argues for the so-called "culture wars" more than any other. It is truly dangerous to shift the "gospel message" to match the changing motivations because without sufficient humility there really is no gospel message. Vander Klay follows up this post with one on the most modern sin:
This change has become a challenge for conservative Christians. The 20th century staples of evangelical evangelism no longer grip. No one imagines God would ask anyone to justify why He should let them into his heaven. “Just as I am” is a birthright, no plea is needed.
Protestants used to claim that Roman Catholics were idolaters because they had statues in their buildings. A couple of years ago an elder from a conservative Protestant denomination explained to me how Vietnamese people more easily came to Roman Catholicism from Buddhism because both religions worshiped idols. A new wave of literature is no longer so facile on this, understanding sin as idolatry is something deeper than carvings of wood and stone. Idolatry is making a publishing comeback. Tim Keller’s latest book “Counterfeit Gods” puts in book form many of the themes his sermons have had for years. G.K. Beale, a New Testament scholar recently authored “We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry” where traces these themes through the Bible. Jewish scholars Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit have their own book from Harvard University Press on the subject.You see, if we succumb to this modern curse, we place ourselves in front of Christ.
For most today self-definition and determination is seen as a foundational birthright of our existence. Not only does nobody put baby in a corner, but unless baby is defining herself and keeping herself out of a corner, she is failing to live up to her existential mandate. Most self-help remedies for a variety of identity ills prescribe self-definition through self-assertion. I must take control of my life by constructing a preferred identity, living that out maximizing individuality and authenticity.
Such desperation drives us to turn good things into ultimate things.
This analysis goes a long way to explain the problems that Evangelicalism finds itself in. It is built on the formulaic foundation of "Sinner turn to Jesus," and when that does not "work" anymore they don't have much.
So, are the culture wars what is necessary to turn this thing around? Kind of, but not entirely. There is one cultural front that I think we have to address.
Parents need to learn to let their kids fail.
Kids fail, they are going to learn in a hurry about their sinful nature. Way too many parents hover and fix and cajole. Ask any teacher or school administrator about how hard a parent will fight to raise a kids grade. When I was in school if I brought a bad grade home my parents response was not punishment, but it was to remind me "I'd earned it" and ask me what I was going to do the raise it next period. It's a huge lesson in the limitation of being yourself to actually fail.
And such over-parenting is a symptom of the self-identity idolatry Vander Klay herein defines.
Which brings me to the bottom line on all this. We need to learn humility. WE need to practice humility. We need to stand naked in front of Jesus and come to understand just how ugly we are - for only then, when we look at His face and see the love He still has for us will we come to understand the true gospel.
And we we do that, really, honestly do that - the world will follow, because the light that Jesus puts in us will show them their naked ugliness as His light showed us, regardless of the culture we live in.