Dave: So let’s talk a bit about theology for a moment. In Chapter 3, you use the term “co-illumination.” What are you getting at here? How does this idea relate to the classical locus of authority for Protestant Christians — sola scriptura?
John: Co-illumination occurs when either of God’s two books (creation or the Bible) shines light onto the other; resulting in a fuller/deeper understanding of God’s truth. The underlying assumption is that we need both books, synergistically co-illumining one another, in order to fully understand what God is revealing. While the Bible uses words to describe how the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19), the Hubble Space Telescope gives us a picture of what one of the 100 billion galaxies in our known universe actually looks like. Once we’ve seen Hubble’s amazing images the psalm can never be the same. In fact it might even feel 100 billion times more powerful. Nor will looking at Jupiter while on Canada’s remote Galiano Island ever be the same. Because I know the truth of the psalm I now have more with which to see God’s face beyond the solar system’s sacred page. The revelation of God is most fully experienced as we read his words with both reading glasses and a telescope.
For me, the experience of co-illumination has been the most amazing part of this theological journey. I can read about God’s anger in the Old Testament, and I may be able to imagine what it is like. But when I feel it, at a heart trembling 120db at a raging Metallica concert, as the band gets angry about the same things God does, I’m totally blown away. I can read Psalm 34:8 and get a sense of what the psalmist is talking about, but there was something about the amazing Persian meal I shared with friends’ last night that really helped me taste and see that God is good. We are multi-sensory beings. And I believe that God means to engage all of our senses, via two books, both at the same time.
Sola Scriptura. To me, the Bible is the book that best brings Jesus close. Through written words it clearly communicates the gospel. The message of Jesus is most perspicuous here. So I strongly believe in scripture as the final authority for faith and life, and that without it (as Calvin taught) I am unable to see God’s revelation in creation. But being the final authority doesn’t make it the only authority. So what Sola Scriptura brings to the ideas that I’m living with is a measuring stick, a ruler, and a compass. On any given Sunday in our church I always preach from both books (they keep each other honest). And if a creational truth doesn’t correlate with a biblical truth, then I need to keep searching for the connection. If it’s not there, I back off. My experience though, has been that the connection is most often there. In fact, I’m convinced that every biblical truth has a creational twin (several).
Dave: Later on in the book you talk about one of those great theologian-sounding Latin terms, sensus divinitatus. What do you mean by that? How does it relate to what we might learn about God from culture?
John: Simply stated it’s the sense of the divine that God has built into each of us; a homing beacon of sorts. According to Calvin, God has implanted an inherent understanding and awareness of himself into every person. This awareness, Calvin writes, is, “engraven indelibly on our very way of human being,” meaning that we “cannot open [our] eyes without being compelled to see him.”
Often the sensus divinitatus is expressed through our yearnings and desires. God built desires into us that are meant to be ultimately met in Him. So when we yearn for a vicarious experience of glory through a World Series game, in a very real sense we’re being who God made us to be, although not fully. We still need to get the to point where we realize that our ultimate glory comes as we vicariously enter into the victory that Christ has won for us. So the intense desire we see on all those October ballpark fan faces is indeed a God given desire.
How does this help me learn to discern God’s truth through the culture? Basically you identify the particular manifestation of the sensus divinitatus (a desire for victory, community, security, love, meaning, comfort, intimacy, beauty, peace, satisfaction, joy, justice, hope, unity, respect, rest, adventure, a sense of belonging, of mattering, or of being found) and you do three things. First, you name it as a God given gift; thereby honouring both that deeply meaningful and compelling yearning and God. Second, you describe how God is the ultimate answer to all of our yearnings and desires. God is victory, community, security, intimacy, etc… Third, you help people make the move from the mere foretaste that a World Series game, a good adventure film, or great sex can bring, to the real thing that is victory, adventure and union with Christ.Dave: For me, one of the most interesting examples you give is from the world of fashion. Fashion! Whenever I’ve heard a preacher mention fashion — which is exceedingly rare! — it’s been with raised eyebrows and a reference to 1 Tim. 2:9. And I think we have to admit, the world of fashion thrives on some of the deadly sins — Lust, Greed, Envy, and Pride. How does sin factor in to your theological reading of culture?
John: Yeah, the church has been good at citing Paul and forgetting Esther (who’s Persian haute couture saved a nation!). Why does the church always have to be known for what it is against? Shouldn’t we, as people of God, also be known for what we are for? Of course there is always a balance… with hemlines probably somewhere around the knee!
Where is the sensus divinitatus at work in fashion? (I know, you didn’t ask Dave) I see three of our deepest yearnings being expressed; the desire to be seen, to be beautiful, and to be perfect. God sees us (“You are the God who sees me” – Hagar). Through Christ we are beautiful in his sight and one day we will be perfect again.
And what about sin? It’s everywhere; perverting, twisting, polluting, and distorting God’s good creation. So the key in all of this reading culture stuff is discernment. I rely a lot on community for that; both within and outside of our church. But I think it’s important not to let sin have the final word in all of this. Christ won right? Even though we’re in this now/not yet time, victory is assured. And even though sin has infected everything, it doesn’t fully destroy anything or anyone (Augustine). The bible speaks its inspired truth through a cast of sin-infected characters. I’m thinking God is doing the same thing now.
Dave: Ok, to wrap up, back to praxis. You describe some of the “pushback” you’ve received as you’ve begun to preach from the book of culture. Tell us a bit about that. What challenges might a pastor who wants to exegete culture face?
Over the past few years there has been lots of theological debate, many exit interviews and countless sleepless nights (on my part). So you need thick skin and a hard head to do this. You also need patience and grace. I’ve had prophetically judging phone messages, drive by Sunday morning shoutings, email threats and curses and quizzical looks from my mother, to name a few. To me there are three challenges; psychological (people don’t like to change), theological (so far the vetting has gone well) and practical (how do you live these ideas out?). These are still early days in terms of testing this worldview out. There are a few more books to be written on this idea.
Dave: Aside from your book, what are some resources you might recommend for folks interested in seeing how God might be working in culture (tell us, for example, about the TED talks….)?
TED talks have been a huge resource for me. World leading thinkers talking about the leading edges of what they are doing in fields of technology, entertainment and design; it’s all very stimulating and strangely very much in line with what we talk about in our church.
To be honest I’ve not found a lot of contemporary writing on this issue, nothing that pushes the ideas as far as we do anyways. Neal Plantinga’s, Engaging God’s World is wonderful, anything from Richard Mouw is great, Kuyper, Bavinck, Calvin, Augustine and Paul are also alright.