A few years ago a rash of accidents revealed a flaw in the design of fifteen-passenger vans. A study showed how their baboon-like rear end contributed to roll-overs when drivers made the same human error: over-correcting. Let that image warn all the Christian authors who are over-correcting in matters of cultural influence.
Reaction 1: I had a bad experience
Many of them are swerving from their own controlling, moralistic environments. Someone said, scratch the paint off a Marxist and you’ll often find an alienated fundamentalist underneath. Shaming and sanctimony may feel justified when defending a set of people rather than a set of doctrines, but it’s an over-correction.
Reaction 2: I’m not one of those
In turn, when moralists are put on the defense, they too over-react. They become defined by what they are against, not for, and look like bullies in the world of identity politics. As a result, people in general have become rather tepid about their convictions for fear of being lumped in with the bigots.
Reaction 3: Let’s just fly a little higher
The fear of being associated with haters has many people jerking the wheel toward the kind of ambiguity I battled for many years. In the interest of so-called fairness, people become humble about their beliefs (pain free) rather than cultivating humility of character (painful).
Over 100 years ago, G.K. Chesterton admitted his own similar lapse:
I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.
We know far more than we live
Someone may say: “What about mystery? Why don’t you admit how little our three-pound brains can grasp about the eternal God?” Well, no argument there. But the fact that we cannot know it all shouldn’t lead us to relegate what we do know to something too general to be applied, life on life.
One school of thought (Hegel) celebrates ambiguity as the only mark of intellectual honesty. He turned the pursuit of knowledge into a mere abstraction. Reminds me of something Paul said in one of his letters: “…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Let’s take care that we don’t over-correct, generalizing beliefs so much that they can’t actually be spelled out and lived.
If you are swerving hard away from the dry valley of moralism, then benefit from what I’ve already seen in the wilderness of unmoored dialogue, looking at the same thing with unsettled priorities: “It’s duck…no, it’s a rabbit….”
Phil Meadows says
Tim, well said as usual. You truly have a gift of insight, miss you brother.
Hayne Steen says
I can appreciate much of what you’ve written here Tim. There is a temptation to become so vanilla that I do not have any real taste at all over time. Speaking only for myself, I suspect it flows from a number of mixed motivations within me. One motivation is authentic in its desire for peace. For everyone to know the love of God which surpasses understanding. For no one to perish. And further still, I know some of that desire is selfish, wanting everyone to like me or for the discomfort of disagreement to be relieved or removed. In the black and white world of fundamentalism I know one reaction in me is to embrace the “both/and” and abandon the “either/or.” As I am launching a Christian counseling practice in a new city, I have been faced with many questions about why I would keep Christian in the name. Why not just do good counseling as a Christian. Boy, it’s tempting to abandon the word because it does bring baggage, especially in the counseling space as people eimmediateky think or suspect that must mean “conversion therapy” or “neuathetic counseling.” Neither could be further from the truth but it’s a designation that I am wrestling with. I’ve even met with a couple folks who are solid believers but they can not stomach being under that label as a professionally license counselor. It’s sometimes tempting in my desire to be inclusive to abandon orthodoxy but I’ve elected to remain and do a better job listening to my resistance as opposed to simply walking away in refusal. It is more painful to remain because it feels like I am sitting in between two spaces holding that tension…which is where I think I am growing the most lately. Sitting in tension – and being able to acknowledge my discomfort and allow it to teach me. Listening and not speaking are disciplines I’ve had to learn and grow and develop…some days I feel like I am no further along and then other days I sense that core strength within me and I can celebrate what God has and is doing in and through me. Some days I see a rabbit. Other days I see a duck. And then other days I see some other third way.