My concern with some of the talk among Christian GenXers is the obvious paranoia of definition and conclusion that might point the finger at another person and say, “You’re wrong.”
To disagree with the consensus of culture is blasphemous unless, of course, it is conspicuously evil and undeniably forbidden in the Scripture. No one will argue with what is actually written in black and white, but everything else is off limits. Thus, under the pretense of exalting the supreme authority of the Written Word, we have liberated ourselves from its authority by not subordinating our reasoning to its statements. Or worse, by disallowing reason altogether. Thus, young Christians begin to sound like the culture of our day that is so well defined by Jim Leffel: Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as “social constructs.” We do not exist or think independently of the community with which we identify. So we can’t have independent or autonomous access to reality. All of our thinking is contextual. Rather than conceiving the mind as a mirror of nature, postmodernists argue that we view reality through the lens of culture.
It frankly concerns me that every conversation on worldliness invariably turns to culture as if it is a trustworthy guide to help us navigate through the complexities of what is really a doctrinal/spiritual simplicity. This obsessive focus on culture by Christian GenXers corresponds with Leffel’s description of the Postmodern. Reality itself turns out to be a “social construct” or paradigm. In the place of objective truth and what postmodernists call “metanarratives” (comprehensive world views), we find “local narratives,” or stories about reality that “work” for particular communities–but have no validity beyond that community.
In the discussion on grunge, I suggested a “metanarrative”. The reaction (not just blogged, but off the web) was disappointment that I would be so openly close-minded. But I agree with David Wells when he said, “The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself.”
Some of the reasoning I have seen has been typically postmodern. One young lady who is obviously a lover of God and truth (and I know that she or some of her friends might read this, so please be sure that I respect her) suggested that we need to define worldliness by what the world defines as bad. She smiles at Christians who get upset at CCM concerts. If they only knew what the world’s concerts were like they would discover that the CCM concerts were a breath of fresh air. The logic is as bad as the theology. Just because Exhibit A is worse than Exhibit B, doesn’t mean that Exhibit B is good. It only means that Exhibit B is not as bad. But the theology is what concerns me. The objective Word of God says that we are to be “wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). Are we supposed to be experts on what is the worst of society in order to speak authoritatively on what is good? Are we to withhold criticisms of what is bad because we are inexperienced in what is worse?
Instead of dreading the possibility that we are self-deceiving ourselves, all the bedazzled occupants of Vanity Fair, we boldly counter-challenge the challenger with cultural descriptions. Yet it is the opposite reaction that should be first in the Christian heart. Culture should be suspect. Even the seemingly most harmless aspects of it. Does it not stand to reason that the culture of totally depraved men (a Biblical doctrine) could be totally depraved? Or that our hearts could be deceived (a Biblical possibility) by the culture?
Read Anne’s thoughts on worldliness (comment #22 under “Jesus and Clothes”). Her thought process is very good, and I think I agree with her conclusions. But there is a danger that lurks even here. She said, “We can’t judge what a person is worshipping from these subjective elements of dress, music, etc; therefore, we cannot judge the spirituality of another believer based on shallow observations.” I agree. But allow me to be nit-picky. While it is true that we can’t judge, it is not true that we can’t discern. And herein lie four problems I notice when GenXers talk about any issue. The first three are borrowed from John D. Hannah in The Coming Evangelical Crisis.
1. The “penchant to systematize and organize information which on the surface appears commendable. The problem is this: It often leads to distortions of the complexity of the problem through both simplicity and naïveté.
2. Cultural pluralism which pressures us to be “tolerant, nonconfrontive, and concessive.”
3. Privatization. This reduces the reality of truth to the private sphere and suggests that “individual well-being and pleasure are the key elements in spiritual maturity.” Thus, statements like, “I don’t want to worry about what I wear when I go to church,” though impressive to the GenXer may be (notice I said may) spiritual immaturity rather than maturity.
4. Subjectivism. Our subjectivity is never reliable until we are grounded in objective truth. I am often involved in conversations –and more recently blogged – about issues with young adults. I have noticed that when I interject a verse or Biblical axiom, it is either ignored or I am regarded as hopelessly “fundamentalist.” One very interesting conversation (here I go again!) contained a “vision” for the future of Christians and MTV, dreaming of the day when Christians would penetrate/permeate the MTV culture. No Bible verses, just a dream. I had a whole bunch of things I wanted to say about that, but I simply put up one comment quoting the King as saying, “Woe are you if all men speak well of you”. A Bible verse. Now, I am fully aware of the fact that my interpretation of the verse can be challenged and that there might be other verses to support the vision of my unknown friend, but my point is simply this: If we are to have an impact on society we have got to start reasoning biblically. Even when we are just theorizing and philosophizing.
Now just a few comments on subjectivity. Obviously, we cannot eliminate subjectivity from our decision making process about what is right or wrong. So we need to understand it a little bit. Subjectivity is inextricably bound up in affections. Affections are dependant upon knowledge.(You cannot really love a person if you do not know him). It follows that if the more you know, the more you love. The more you love, the more subjectivity loses its individuality and becomes like the object of its affections. When we were buried with Christ we died to the necessity of binding rules. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col.2:20-21)? But that is only half the story!
In Christ there is never death without resurrection. So follows Col. 3:1. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above….Set your mind (KJV affections) on things above, not on earthly things.” Clearly, the miracle of salvation means a radical change of affections/mind that is rooted in the knowledge of Christ (Jn. 17:3). Consequently, the more one loves God, the more he/she feels like an alien in this world, the more his/her subjectivity conforms to Christ, and the more he/she suspects human culture.
“Come now, let us reason together.”