Friday, February 5
The Low Ceiling of Suffocated Christianity
Losing Our Supernatural Vocabulary?
Go into the average church today and mention the term providence as in the "Providence of God," and you'll likely receive a blank look. And once you explain that "Providence" refers generally to God's sovereign right over all of His creation so that He controls all things and people for His own purpose and to His glory--I say--once you've said this, you'll receive all kinds of objections, as if this were a new teaching. "What about sin?" "Does God control that?" "And if God controls sin, how is it that He is not Himself a sinner?" Or, "I thought the devil made bad things happen and God only does good things." And more . . . All this is the subject matter of that area of study termed "Theodicy." Yes, so pervasive is this issue that it has it's own title!
Now, these are good questions to be sure. But are they coming from the conviction that God is Almighty, or is He on the "hot seat" of man's speculation? Man may pose questions from ignorance or arrogance. The difference is vital. Which leads to how modern man is suffocating himself and much of the religious world as well.
How Did Christianity Start Suffocating?
So, how does this "suffocate" today's form of Christianity? In his recent book, Unfashionable, Tullian Tchividjian exposes one foundational weakness of the church, their desire (it seems) to be relevant and respected. How does the church gain such respect from an opposing world? Well, they must be decipherable [my word]. If they can figure us out, or God out, then we are more acceptable to them. We're on terms they accept. Of course, as he goes on to explain in his book, this is not the purpose of the church . . . to be understood.
But what about suffocating? When you consider the 21st century, you'd expect us to be more enlightened, capable of the most expanded vistas ever. But the opposite is true. He quotes Peter Berger, saying that people in the twenty-first century world are living in a "world without windows." In other words, they have no ability to see outside of themselves. "Most cultures," says Tchividjian, "generally accepted a larger purpose beyond the immediate, and they recognized the higher power of something supernatural." Os Guinness says, "The deepest experiences of all were held to be 'religious,' 'sacred,' 'other,'or 'transcendent,' however these terms were defined." Instead, all of life is "rationalized." "Everything becomes a matter of human classification, calculation, and control." "What counts in a rationalized world," says Guinness, "is efficiency, predictability, quantifiability, productivity, the substitution of technology for the human, and--from first to last--control over uncertainty." Everything's produced, managed, and solved this side of the ceiling, which explains why so many people are restless and yearning . . ." This has in turn led the TV industry to produce such out-of-the-world shows like Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural, and Heroes" and (I add) Lost. "Our generation is crying out for something different, something higher, something beyond this world. They long for elements that a world without windows disallows--mystery, transcendence, and a deep sense of wonder, awe, and spirituality." He quotes Guinness, "Eternal questions and yearnings are thrusting their way up between the cracks in the sterile world of secular disenchantment."
The answer is much larger than I could write here, but its basic tenants are simple. Don't be afraid of the truth of who God is and of telling that to the world. We celebrate God's immanence in His coming to earth in the form of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ of Bethlehem. Truly, His name was called "Immanuel," or, "God with us." But let us not believe this to the exclusion of God's transcendence. There is a mystery about God which no one can explain. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29). And from Job, "Can a man by searching find out God?" (11:7). Oh, the tendency today is to make God relevant to everyone, which of course, He already IS by virtue of His very personage as Creator/Sustainer. Indeed, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God warns us in so many words that "Familiarity breeds contempt." If we try to bring God down to an understandable level, we will distort His very being, thus destroying His Person. He ceases to be God. Of course, God will not, yea, cannot do that! Instead, we ought to fear God! "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). Therefore, anyone who boasts in his intelligence must have already concluded this, that God is to be feared--since it is "First-Grade" information! "To whom then, will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?" (Isaiah 40:18).
Here's the point. God is overwhelmingly beyond all conception, transcending the most elevated thoughts of Him. However we proclaim the Gospel to the world, that will not change. It cannot. We preach Jesus Christ, God in flesh. But God still "dwells in light unapproachable" (1 Timothy 6:16). "To Him be honor and eternal dominion." We do well to remember that in the Church, and not be ashamed about it, but glorify our Lord in it!