For the last ten to fifteen years a great fallacy has clouded debate around the future of the Church in the West. The fallacy goes something like this. At some stage (depending on who you talk to), but most likely in the nineteen nineties the post modern era began. All of a sudden everything changed and a line was drawn in history. On one side were the postmodernists and on the other the modernists. The modernists were enslaved to a highly cerebral, hegemonic view of the world. They were obsessed with progress and holding the world at a cold calculated distance. They were beholden to technology, and if they were religious were either dogmatic fundamentalists or materialist liberals. They hated anything non-Western or from the past, and lived in Le Corbusier designed buildings where they almost suffocated on their own sense of hubris.
Then there was the postmodernists and apparently they were coming so we had to be ready, or had to become postmodern ourselves. The young were postmodern and the future was postmodern. The postmodernists were everything that the modernists were not, they loved spirituality instead of religion, were embracing of the non-West, the past, and anything experiential. They had piercings and hated objective truth. The implications were clear, soon Western culture would morph into a giant rave where we would find ourselves dancing to tribal techno with an dreadlocked Austrian backpacker/Yoga practitioner named Helga.
The New Media landscape offers us unparalleled access to information. This can be great for research, at our finger tips are now all kinds of fantastic resources with which aid our faith development. There is however a danger in simply finding information which simply affirms what we want to believe.
Currently I am co-writting an article on Lady Gaga with Doug Groothius. So I am not going to write too much here, but the above picture seems to be one of those photos which struck me as emblematic. It is like the baton being passed from one era of Western Culture to another. The Queen who represents the proceeding centuries of convention and tradition in which it was determined that a handful of people deserved privilege.
I recently read Nick Spencer’s book Darwin and God, which is not so much about evolutionary theory, but uses Darwin as an example of the way so many prominent Brits lost their faiths during the Nineteenth century. Despite Darwin living so long ago, and in such a different culture, there are some strong parallels between Darwin’s eventual loss of faith and the phenomenon of young adults leaving faith today.
Most of us are aware that our cultures ethics are in flux. Sure we know this about the red flag issues of the day around sexuality, genetics and technology. But we are probably less aware of the way that contemporary culture is reshaping our everyday ethics, the tiny little beliefs that we pick up, that end up having a tremendous effect upon our behaviour; catchphrases and mantras that seem benign but which speak of a radical shift in our worldviews.
A classic example is the statement, ‘I am not a bad person I just do bad/stupid things’. I hear this all the time, both as a pastor, and in the media. As a culture we are building a division between our actions and what they say about us as people. Throughout most of history our action have been an indicator of our character, but today we wish to maintain a pristine character, whilst doing what the heck we want. Such a belief, is deeply linked to the idea of self esteem, the belief that we are all inherently good no matter what we do, that what is important is not moral integrity, but the health of our self esteem.
Such a viewpoint is radically at odds with scripture, which states that Human are inherently broken, that we make wrong, and sometime evil decisions, which in turn lead to terrible actions. We cannot disconnect our actions from who we are, they speak volumes of our character. The attitudes of the heart spill out into real time, with real consequences.
The book of Proverbs does not so much distinguish between those who are evil or who do wrong, and those who do good, but rather those who do wrong and those who are wise. To be wise, to ensure that both our actions and character align, we must start in a place of humility accepting our brokenness, our habit to chose wrong over right. Then we are in a position to move into relationship with him who is truly good, whose actions speak of his goodness, his justice and his love. Thus the bad news for contemporary culture is that we are our actions, but the good news is that Christ whose actions spoke of his goodness, offers us his grace and his transforming love.
Last Sunday I continued our series exploring the great ‘Acts’ of the story of scripture, focussing on the Fall. Here is the summary of my sermon.
For the last few centuries the story of the fall has always stuck in the throat of Western culture. It is an affront to our narcissism, and a stumbling block to our desire for complete individual autonomy and mastery of our world. Adam and Eve’s choice to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life, sets in motion a devastating break in creation. A fracture between humans and God, between human and human, and between human and creation. This break spirals throughout history and into our day. Thus the story of Adam and Eve speaks deeply into our current situation and contemporary day failings.
Gen 2:15 tells us that God has given humans a commission, that is to be guardians or stewards of his creation. When I hear Steward I think of a guy in a flourescent vest keeping people off sports fields. The Hebrew word is Shomer, a term which carries with it a deeper meaning. In Rabbinical law, a Shomer is someone given charge with guarding something for another, it is a vow, a promise to safeguard an item in your care. Someone who keeps the Sabbath is a Shomer Shabbos. Human’s role in the earth is to cultivate and guard God’s creation, the home he has created for us to live in with him. But by the end of this story, the role of Shomer will be swapped for the quest to be like gods.
Into this story enters a strange creature, a serpent, but nothing like the serpents that we are familiar with. This serpent stands upright like humans, like God he speaks. Why is he there? We do not know? Did he feel aggrieved being passed over as a companion for Adam (Gen 2:20)? Again we do not know. The cherubim that Guard the garden of Eden, also guard us from the answers to these questions. But if you think about it a snake is indicative. Snakes are cold, their eyes glassy, their demeanor speaks of detachment. A snake standing the way a cobra does, looks something like a question mark.
And so the snake begins the crack in creation with a question. God speaks, the serpent who the new testament writers will link to Satan, questions. His questions are not honest inquiries for knowledge but rather undermining traps. Leon Kass observes that by intimating that Adam and Eve will be like God, that it is the serpent who first raises the possibility of polytheism and paganism, by suggesting that anyone apart from God may be gods.