Well, I’m back.
Sorry for the long absence. I was pretty busy, first preparing to deliver a talk at a conference sponsored by Touchstone Magazine back in October. And then by a book I just finished writing that is based on that talk.
I’m happy to announce that Canon Press will publish the book in April. It is entitled, Piety and the War for the Cosmos.
More about that another time. On to the subject of the day–language, creation, and scripture. They’re a package deal.
Another project that has occupied my of late is an institute I am helping to start along with a couple of friends. We’re calling it The Logos Center. (Oddly, “logos”, the Greek for “word” and “reason,” is both overused and under-utilized. We tried to think of something else to call it, but as you’ll see in this post and others that follow, it is the best word for it.)
What follows is a statement of need–a justification for yet another institution of higher learning. Here goes:
The Logos Center
Promoting the best in Christian thought for the practice of ministry
Statement of Need
The practice of pastoral ministry is growing more difficult due to shifts in both academic and popular thought. Changes in our assumptions concerning the natures of the sexes, the conduct of family life, the meaning of justice, and the relationship between public and private realms have produced a crisis of confidence for many pastors.
Because the public standards that had been formed by a Christian civilization were considered sacrosanct, even common sense, almost no work has been done to effectively strengthen or defend them theologically. When it comes to pastoral ministry evangelicals have generally focused on producing “decisions for Christ”. The meaning of the faith is now assumed to fit within a small package known as “a personal relationship with Christ”; the question of how that can be promoted has supplanted every other matter for most pastors. This has led to the restructuring of churches around “felt needs” and market demand. Rather than proclaim the truth about reality, many churches let the market define what is really important for them to say—or, as it is often put, what is “relevant.”
Because of their growing dependence on the market, and because of their highly leveraged ministries kept afloat by debt and public demand, as well as the power of social media to ruin someone’s reputation almost instantly, many mega-church pastors are susceptible to compromising orthodoxy. For example, the Marcionism of Andy Stanley may have as much to do with his need to distance himself from unpopular Old Testament passages as it has to do with his lack of theological acumen.
While this has been going on the enemies of reason and the Christian faith have continued their long war of attrition against public standards. And they have been largely successful in casting them as impediments to personal happiness.
Because many churches have based their message on an experienced sense of personal meaning rather than the truth, even ostensibly conservative ones have difficulty maintaining their own standards. And in some cases, instead of recovering the rationale for those standards, church leaders are actually using the very tools that have undermined standards in society at large to undermine them in the church. We now see a new and aggressive relativism that will not even entertain the idea that these standards may have served a legitimate purpose at one time. Instead it is more common to hear that they were always invidious and without any basis.
To meet these challenges two Christian doctrines should be revitalized: the doctrines of creation and transcendence.
Returning to creation will give us a place to stand. This might sound like the wrong place to begin. For many people the word “creation” brings the interminable debate surrounding Darwin to mind. But that debate is usually focused on only one aspect of the doctrine of creation; and for the most part the strongest advocates for what has become derisively known as “creationism” are indifferent to the features of the doctrine that do not concern the first cause understood in a purely efficient sense. These people want God to get the credit, but they think that the doctrine of creation ends there. It does not. But another reason it may sound odd is due to the juxtaposition of revelation over against creation in some circles. In this view revelation is so alien to the created order it may as well be addressing a formless void, or a world so corrupted by evil so as to have been made meaningless.
But these ways of thinking are self-defeating. Just consider the matter of language. You can’t have a Bible without it. So, at least in this sense, the words were there before the Word. But what is the origin story of human language? And why should we believe it is able to communicate truths that transcend it?
Let’s begin with trees. Could we talk about sin or salvation without them? (Perhaps in a different creation—but we have been placed in this one, and the trees God planted here serve as points of reference.) Consider these trees: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Trees say something about knowledge and about life. Due to their size, their life spans, their usefulness, their beauty, and especially their fruitfulness, they speak. Contrast trees with grass; what grass seems to say is quite different, and we see that in the Bible. It is because the world speaks to us that we have a basis for human language. This is even the case with the humble preposition. Could we string together our sentences without them? They help us organize our thoughts, and make them possible to communicate. They perform this trick by conceptually positioning our ideas spatially and chronologically—in, on, with, through, after, before, etc. And as Einstein taught us (and Augustine before him), time and space are as much created things as trees and grass.
What we are witnessing today is a war upon the meaning of the world. And we’re seeing it being fought right at the level of language. It is being waged in the sciences with the war on the meaning of the word human, and in the humanities with the hostility towards the words maleand female. (It is not without irony that the two cultures C. P. Snow spoke of are now waging a culture war of their own.) But the implications for scripture are fatal. If the world does not speak, then neither does the Bible.
Christians increasingly have exercised the gnostic option and turned inward for meaning. But you can’t dignify this my calling it mysticism. It is simple emotivism. It is nothing but swampy—often mawkish—subjectivism. And getting out of that muck calls for help from above. What we need is transcendence.
(More about that in my next post.)
One of the things that we’re doing to promote The Logos Center is a podcast. We’re calling it The Theology Pugcast because we record it at a local watering hole called, The Corner Pug.
We got our first installment recorded, and when it is up and ready to listen to, I’ll be sure to let you know.
In the meantime, here’s something else to listen to. I was recently interviewed by the fine fellows over at According the Christ. Here’s a link to that interview. I hope you enjoy it. By the way they have a number of other fine interviews there. You should make a point of subscribing.
Until next time, ciao!