Andrew Byers, in his new book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint, claims “cyncism is a sickness” and defines it as being contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives.
Many of us have either been there, or gotten very close, or are on the verge of camping among the cynics. Contemptuously distrustful and snarling at church signs and optimistic claims about the potency of the gospel and the church, some of us have just given up and turned inward and bitter. Byers examines the elements at work that are creating cynicism in our world, and anyone with a pastoral heart for others knows what the cynic looks like and wonders if there’s a good description of it — and this book might just be it.
Where do you see too much idealism in the church? among Christians?
Does idealism wrecked lead to cynicism?
What are we to do to respond to idealism?
One of the elements at work in creating cynicism among today’s Christians is idealism. Idealism, oddly enough, when examined theologically, is a premature kingdom, a belief that the future is not onliy now but the full future is completely available now. Is that a biblical eschatology? No. “Idealism jump-starts the mysterious, divine chronology by answering the eschatological when with now.” Cynicism’s response to that same question is Never. Idealism often precedes the cynical disposition, so Byers examines idealism.
Byers breaks idealism into three modes:
1. Idealized anthropology: “You can do anything you put your mind to!”
2. Idealized cosmology: Living the “victorious Christian life.” A biblical cosmology: created by God but groaning for redemption; a modern cosmology: progress, progress, progress.
3. Idealized theology: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” But always?
Byers: “Once we embrace an idealized anthropology that assumes good things happen to good people who work hard to succeed, and once we adopt an idealized cosmology that leaves little room for pain and suffering, then we begin making assumptions about the God who has supposedly secured all these cheery arrangements” (40).
Byers opts out of cynicism and out of idealism for a hopeful realism. I add that it is important to be hopeful and hope-filled, but not given to idealism (which is unrealistic). How would you distinguish idealism from biblical hope?
Ah, the Mr. Rogers God. Not the God of Abraham, or Joseph, or Moses, or David, or Job, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or the Exile or the persecuted church … or the One who permits, somehow, the death of young children and tragedies … an idealized God needs to be junked.