11/30/2004

Wow, finally somebody (from the NY Times, no less!) saw what we evangelicals have known (or HOPEFULLY have known) for a long time... Jerry Falwell doesn't represent most of us! In fact, the guy is representative of Christians in the same way the head of Greenpeace is representative of Democrats... which is to say, not at all! It's ok to complain about inconsistencies in the church, but please recognize that at our core, we recognize true value; especially the value of the great men (and women, in certain contexts) who truly lead us, rather than the nutcases with shrill voices.

In an interesting coincidence, Chuck Colson (author, by the way, of the book from last week's quiz; How Now Shall We Live) wrote a great article on a similar matter. Read both and be thinking about this! We Christians MUST engage in the world of the mind if we are to legitimate in today's world. We must show that Christianity works not just because we believe it, but because it is true and defensible.

Who Is John Stott?
By DAVID BROOKS

Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.

Inviting these two bozos onto "Meet the Press" to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.

This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.

It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don't blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott's name hasn't appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it's never appeared in many other important publications.

Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.

When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I've heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott.

It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott's mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus' life and sacrifice.

There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously.

Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.

Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes:

"It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ."

Politicians, especially Democrats, are now trying harder to appeal to people of faith. But people of faith are not just another interest group, like gun owners. You have to begin by understanding the faith. And you can't understand this rising global movement if you don't meet its authentic representatives.

Not Falwell, but Stott.



The Prophecy of C. S. Lewis
Chuck Colson (back to web version) | Send

November 29, 2004

C. S. Lewis was born on this date in 1898, and forty-one years after his death, one thing has become startlingly clear: This Oxford don was not only a keen apologist but also a true prophet for our postmodern age.

For example, Lewis’s 1947 book, Miracles, was penned before most Christians were aware of the emerging philosophy of naturalism. This is the belief that there is a naturalistic explanation for everything in the universe.

Naturalism undercuts any objective morality, opening the door to tyranny. In his book The Abolition of Man, Lewis warned that naturalism turns humans into objects to be controlled. It turns values into “mere natural phenomena”—which can be selected and inculcated into a passive population by powerful Conditioners. Lewis predicted a time when those who want to remold human nature “will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique.” Sounds like the biotech debate today, doesn’t it?

Why was Lewis so uncannily prophetic? At first glance he seems an unlikely candidate. He was not a theologian; he was an English professor. What was it that made him such a keen observer of cultural and intellectual trends?

The answer may be somewhat discomfiting to modern evangelicals: One reason is precisely that Lewis was not an evangelical. He was a professor in the academy, with a specialty in medieval literature, which gave him a mental framework shaped by the whole scope of intellectual history and Christian thought. As a result, he was liberated from the narrow confines of the religious views of the day—which meant he was able to analyze and critique them.

Lewis once wrote than any new book “has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages.” Because he himself was steeped in that “great body of Christian thought,” he quickly discerned trends that ran counter to it.

But how many of us are familiar with that same panorama of Christian ideas “down the ages”? How many of us know the work of more than a few contemporary writers? How, then, can we stand against the destructive intellectual trends multiplying in our own day?

The problem is not that modern evangelicals are less intelligent than Lewis. As Mark Noll explains in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the problem is that our sharpest intellects have been channeled into biblical scholarship, exegesis, and hermeneutics. While that is a vital enterprise, we rarely give the same scholarly attention to history, literature, politics, philosophy, economics, or the arts. As a result, we are less aware of the culture than we should be, less equipped to defend a biblical worldview, and less capable of being a redemptive force in our postmodern society—less aware, as well, of the threats headed our way from cultural elites.

You and I need to follow Lewis’s lead. We must liberate ourselves from the prison of our own narrow perspective and immerse ourselves in Christian ideas “down the ages.” Only then can we critique our culture and trace the trends.

The best way to celebrate Lewis’s birthday is to be at our posts, as he liked to say—with renewed spirits and with probing and informed minds.

1 comment:

amanda said...

I read the article about CS Lewis finally. It was interesting.