There is an emerging worldview in the West which is gaining popularity even to the point of good thinking Christians imbibing its values. My previous two posts (here and here) have attempted, however brief, to pithily summarize aspects to this worldview and then bring biblical reflections to bear on it. Before I offer one last installment, I'll summarize the ground we’ve covered so far.
One attribute of this worldview is the elevating of “lived experience” to the level of unchallengeable insight. The thought is something like: “Because I’m part of this group, I have access to truth those not in my group don’t have.” While we all should be aware every culture has blindspots, the bare fact of one’s gender or skin color does not give a person an advantage when it comes to accessing truth. However valuable lived experience may be, it still must be placed under the microscope of Scripture. God’s Word has the final say, not experience.
A second facet to this worldview is the notion that a person’s individual identity is defined by the group they’re a part of. The best example of this I can think of is the profiling of Muslims in this country in the wake of 9/11. The thought is something like: “The 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, therefore what’s true of them is true of all Muslims.” You can probably think of numerous other examples where we see some act committed by an individual or small group and automatically conclude: “Yep, that’s what those people are like” and we charge the whole group with the sin only the few or one committed. But consider what this worldview would entail for Jesus’ sinlessness. Since he was part of many groups (males, Jews, Galileans, etc.), would we want to claim that he was guilty of the group’s sin even though he was individually sinless? This is where we could use a healthy dose of individualism. Not the lone-ranger, maverick, “I did it my way” kind, but the kind that can allow a fellow image-bearer to stand before us as an individual before she is defined or deemed representative of some broader group.
So today, we’re going to add one final thought to this collage: authority. Increasingly, we are seeing an interesting bifurcation when it comes to culture’s approach to power. On the one hand, there appears to be a rabid passion for it. In fact, if you spend a few minutes thinking about the above facets to this emerging worldview, you’ll quickly realize it possesses an innate ability to back individuals into a corner with no option but to bend the knee to those claiming the high ground (C.S. Lewis called this line or argumentation “Bulverism”). On the other hand, there appears to be a flat out rejection of authority structures as they exist which, by extension, may simply be an attempt at seizing power. Any way you slice it, power has become the ultimate good. But who should have it and how do we know they should have it?
This would be a good time for Christians to remember something: the Scriptures affirm the goodness of authority and the virtue of submission.
Let’s start with the tripersonal God. Did you know the Son submits to the Father (1 Cor. 15:27-28; John 3:16-17; 6:38; 8:42; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:5-11)? This submission did not make Jesus any less God because of it. It doesn’t mean Jesus has an inferior status. It clearly didn’t impact his perfection. If the authority/submission paradigm is built into the Godhead, why would we think authority and submission are something to be rejected or redefined? In fact, since human beings are made to image God, the rejection of authority and submission is simultaneously a rejection of our mission to image God. To put it bluntly, the more we reject God’s ordination of authority and submission, the less human we become. (Nota bene: this blog won’t take up the nearly limitless “what if’s” that can arise when discussing this topic (i.e. Acts 4:1-22)).
When we start with the fact that the goodness of authority and virtue of submission are incarnated within the tripersonal God, it makes sense of all the other places where this type of relationship is to be manifested. In fact, we need to go no further than God’s Word to see where God has told us where the dance of authority and submission is to be conducted:
The biblical references and discussions are so replete one walks away with the unmistakable impression that authority is good and submission is to be a common Christian response. So in our cultural milieu, the Church has an opportunity to demonstrate an order, beauty, and paradigm God thinks is for our good and will, upon the final analysis, contribute to our flourishing.
In my previous post, I highlighted the reality that all cultures have blindspots. One of the best ways Christians can approach that is through the ministry of listening (James 1:19). Find out what life has been like for someone who isn’t part of your culture. You’ll discover more than you ever thought possible.
Having said that, believers do need to be aware of an emerging worldview which elevates lived experienced to the level of unchallengeable insight. We need to remember our experiences and the insights they provide us ought to be placed under the microscope of Scripture. God’s Word is the final arbiter of truth not lived experience.
In addition to this, one can sense in the cultural air we breathe a shift in how we think about identity. An illustration may help.
Most of you are old enough to remember September 11, 2001. Islamic extremists attacked and killed nearly 3000 Americans in a single day. While the acts of flying planes into highly populated buildings were pure evil, there was a subtle evil that wormed its way into daily life. I even noticed this on the college campus I was attending at the time. We came to label it as “profiling.” Because the terrorists were Muslims, suspicion in this country grew over the Muslim people as a whole. I suppose the line of thought, albeit irrational, was “The 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, therefore what’s true of them is true of the whole group.”
I’m a pastor in a worldwide denomination. I have friends who are missionaries. Many of them to Muslim people and they would say, “Just because the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, doesn’t mean all Muslims are." It is unfair, uncharitable, and even sinful to treat a whole group of people as though they are guilty of the sins a small number within their group have committed.
Even the Scriptures would defend them. When we have not individually and personally committed the sin of our fathers or those with whom we share the same group space, God has determined that we do not bear the guilt of those people (Ez. 18:24; Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30). (Reflections on "corporate guilt" and "corporate repentance" will be a future blog, but here's a hint: DO NOT equate Israel with the United States).
As an example, consider what a denial of this claim would entail for Jesus’ sinlessness since he was part of many groups (males, Jews, Galileans, etc). Would we want to claim that he was guilty of the group’s sin even though he was individually sinless?
This is where we could use a healthy dose of individualism. Not the lone-ranger, maverick, “I did it my way” kind, but the kind that can allow a fellow image-bearer to stand before us as an individual before she is defined or deemed representative of some broader group.
“...no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so." - James 3:8-10