In anticipation of a serious dive into DeYoung and Kluck’s Why We’re not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, I snagged a copy of The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (editors John Piper and Justin Taylor). Chapter authors include: David Wells, Voddie Bucham Jr., John Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, and Mark Driscoll. The book exists as a direct result of the 2006 Desiring God National Conference (Minneapolis) held to explore the Supremacy of Christ in our postmodern and increasingly diverse contemporary world. The conference speeches have been complied to form this volume.
So far (I’m still reading it), this is one incredible book. If you are interested in parsing the often convoluted language of contemporary spirituality, which can often be tagged as new age and/or humanistic, or if you would like to critically investigate postmodern expressions of the Christian faith, then put this book in your library. You will reach for it regularly.
The first few pages of Chapter One by David Wells (Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is - by itself - worth the $14.99 I dropped for the book. Wells not only identifies the present state of postmodern spirituality, but also clearly articulates all that is actually wrong with it and how it actually conflicts with and clashes headlong into a biblical expression of Christianity.
The following excerpts from Wells’ chapter summarize the postmodern situation with precision and unction:
“When the Enlightenment mindset dominated American culture, those who said that they looked within themselves for answers were, in all likelihood, secularists and humanists of one kind or another. In the postmodern moment in which we are living, however, those who look within themselves are not necessarily divorcing themselves from the sacred On the contrary, many are actually believers in the sacred, which they are persuing within themselves. They are not seeking the God of the Christian religion, who is transcendent, who speaks to life from outside of it and entered it through the Incarnation, whose Word is absolute and enduring, and whose moral character defines the difference between Good and Evil forever. Rather, it is the god within, the god who is found within the self and in whom the self is rooted” (27).
“If they speak of transformation, as so many do, it is in terms of their own human potential, the innate sources of personal renewal that lie deep within. If they speak of their own intuitions, as they often do, it is with the sense of having onboard navigational system that enables them to find their place in reality. Or, perhaps more correctly, it allows them to find a better place in reality. And if they speak of a connectedness for which they yearn, it is in the blurry sense that somehow the human and divine are no longer disengaged from each other, but, rather, are implicated in each other. An outside God, such as we find in biblical faith, is comprehensible because he is self-defined in his revelation; the inside god is not. The inside god is merged into the psychological texture of the seeker and found spread within the vagaries of the self. The outside God stands over against those who would know him; the inside one emerges within their consciousness and is a part of them. Religions have their schools of thought and their interpreters, and always the debate is over who most truly understands the religion. Spirituality, in the contemporary sense, spawns no such debate because it makes no truth claims and seeks no universal significance. It lives out its life within the confines of private experience. ‘Truth’ is private, not public; it is for the individual, not for the universe. Here is American individualism coupled with some new assumptions about God that are being glossed off with infatuations about pop therapy, uniting to produce varieties of spirituality as numerous as those who think of themselves spiritual” (28).
We are living in an age wherein people are completely satisfied with situating all that is God and Divinity in some vague place within themselves. At the same time, they declare themselves to be bearers of some sort of truth that is seriously limited to themselves and absolutely subject to whimsical changes that find catalysts in everything from graduations, break-ups, marriages, and too much late night pizza. So, on one hand, we claim to find God within ourselves, yet, and on the other hand, we claim ourselves to be not very reliable, or at least seriously limited, epistemologically speaking. It seems like a no win situation, theologically and philosophically speaking.
Therefore, when a contemporary seeker declares, “I guess I found ‘God’ and he/she/it was in me and around me and was beautiful. The universe is powerful and it lives in me,” we can confidently respond with a “No!” They neither found God, nor did they find power. What they found was a thin understanding of themselves superimposed over vague ideas and expressions of God. It is not powerful; it is a illusive delusion. Unfortunately, today many are calling this delusion Christianity. Wells’ chapter is a call to not ignore or withdraw from culture, but to understand it and engage it in mission, with the understanding that Jesus Christ reigns above it all. It is a great read.
The introduction of the the book also contains a brief description of the chapter by Mark Driscoll. It too is a great read, and it pays for the book by itself too. Here is an excerpt from the introductory description of Driscoll’s chapter:
“With regard to the historical Christ, he suggests that liberals and Emergents have overemphasized the incarnation/humanity of Jesus at the expense of the exaltation/divinity of Jesus. Conversely, Jesus’ exaltation/divinity is overemphasized by conservatives and fundamentalists at the expense of his incarnation/humanity. Driscoll argues that both truths must be equally emphasized. Driscoll goes on to argue for a ‘two-handed approach to Christian ministry’ whereby the timeless truths of Christianity are held in a firmly closed hand, and timely ministry methods and styles are held loosely in a gracious open hand” (16).
I’m not sure how - or why - anyone could disagree with what Driscoll is saying above as regards balance in biblical ministry and service. A celebration of Jesus’ exaltation/divinity and his incarnation/humanity should be at the very forefront of our ministries, always! If these are not the point of our existence as Christians, if these truths are not leading us into our ministry/service, then something else is going on and it is not something that can be called good. Driscoll is declaring a very, very necessary truth that is as relevant and vital as anything could be in this time and day of ours. Great stuff …
Work Cited: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. Leicester, England: Crossway Books, 2007.