Atlas Stumbled

I grew up in the church. And as a homeschooled high school drop out, my entire social life existed at church as well. So you would think that it would feel like home to me. That I would share the same partiality and affection toward it as I do with the state of New Jersey.

But it don't.

And the worst part is the assumption that I'm going through that rebellious, younger person phase, or perhaps "a crisis of faith." Name your platitude. Either way, the expectation exists that I will eventually come to my senses and accept the church as it is.

Did you catch that? There's a remarkable sense of confidence among church leaders today that the church has arrived. After centuries of fighting and bickering, we've finally weeded out all of the world's evil influence and gotten to the unadulterated core of doctrinal truth.

One problem: we are the world. As hard as that song hashtags #firstworldguilt, the phrase is true. We can't disassociate people from history, language, culture, philosophy, even theology. Life is not some aseptic study where a strong enough microscope can find all the answers. Indeed, all microscopes merely obey the wishes of the eye looking through it. And if that is true, then many of the foundations on which today's church is built are faulty. Welcome to postmodernity.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc
For the uninitiated or uninterested, postmodernity is the word used to describe the contemporary era of thought. Notice I didn't say “modern” era. That's because the previous era was known as modernity. It's confusing. Thank Derrida.

Now one of the primary tenants of postmodern thought is what many today would call its "relativizing" of truth. In other words, truth is entirely dependent on or relative to the individual's experience. It's a reductionist definition, but it's relatively true. Of course, the church naturally decried this as a subjugation of the objective truths of the Bible to the subjectivity of the person.

Thus, the "modern" church has been at war with postmodernity ever since. I say "modern" church because that's ultimately what this is about: modernity versus postmodernity--a clash of worldviews. Yet for all of its flaws, the postmodern critique of modernity is both relentless and compelling. Objectivity not only doesn't exist, it's not possible.

But the Bible is objective truth, isn't it? As Christians, we believe that it's direct revelation from God, so this must imply that what it says exists ostensibly and objectively as truth, right? That, my friends, is modernity talking. Objective truth not only assumes the immutable quality of the object, but the subject as well.

For example, if we were to hand a bag of Christmas M&M's to someone with red-green color blindness, they probably wouldn't be able to tell that there were two distinct colors. Now who's to say who's wrong? It raises the question whether objectivity can even exist if we can't all arrive at the same conclusions. Amber Riggs expresses this tension well:
A popularity arose in studying scripture through the scientific method and although truth was supposedly absolute, individuals began arriving at different conclusions based on their study of scripture. Rationally, they all should have arrived at the same absolute truths, but this is not what happened.
Certainly there were other influences at play, but isn't it curious that Christianity didn't splinter off into the current myriad of sects until the modern, post-Enlightenment era? Or do we continue to plead ignorance to the fact that cultural and "secular" thinking (another modern notion) has always influenced the church? No, modernity is no Atlas to Christianity. Nor is postmodernity the enemy. So let's not continue to hold up the church with the same fallen notions that gave us individualism, naturalism, and contextual ignorance. Rather, let's seek truth from the source.

More on the death of objectivity to come.

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