Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever
July 8, 2020
I am continuing my series of talks stemming from Tony Jones’ book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. So far, I have shared with you the first 12 out of the 20 dispatches in his book. As I have been saying, it is like Jones is going to the front line or cutting edge of Christianity and reporting back to us what he has discovered.
Before I get into a couple more dispatches this morning, let me set the stage by talking about truth. I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but in the year 2020 truth is hard to come by. It is elusive. We are now fully immersed in a “post-truth” world. Did you know that the Oxford dictionary selected the word “post-truth” as its Word of the Year in 2016? I’m sure you can remember what happened in 2016.
Seemingly more than ever before, people are skeptical of all sources of truth, including religious traditions, authority figures, the media, etc. All it took was someone who had the “bully pulpit” of the presidency to constantly decry “fake news” to make people more skeptical of all forms of media; all it took was an avalanche of Russian-produced fake news stories to squash our faith in the internet and social media. Even the so-called “fact checkers” in the news media or social media are questioned for their biases.
I suppose this was inevitable in our post-modern world. Modernity was supposed to bring us facts and certainty, but now we are left with only opinions and uncertainty. I believe it was Socrates (through the pen of Plato) who said, “Facts produce knowledge, and opinions produce ignorance.” Have you noticed that the 24-hour cable news stations showcase their opinion journalists rather than their news reporters during the coveted evening time slots?
Folks, we are addicted to opinion, and therefore we are wallowing in ignorance. I count myself in that number by the way.
This might be the “information” age, but the information comes with a caveat that is carefully hidden in the tag line of one of the most popular cable news outlets: “We report. You decide.” Did Walter Cronkite ever have to say that? No, because he was just reporting the news. People at home didn’t need to make a decision about what is factual and what isn’t.
That’s the unfortunate world we now live in. The world is spinning on its axis while the truth is manipulated by spin-masters.
With that depressing “truth” in mind, let me share with you the next dispatch in Tony Jones’ book:
- Emergents (cutting edge Christians) believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by finite human beings.
So, apply everything I just said about truth and apply it to God. Is there any way for us finite human beings to have a definitive picture of God? Cutting edge Christians (and adherents to other faiths) say, “No.”
I tend to agree with one group of scholars called “apophatic theologians.” (There’s a word you won’t hear every day in the barber shop or beauty salon.) The word “apophatic” refers to obtaining knowledge about something through negation or denial. So, an apophatic theologian believes that our knowledge of God is obtained only through negation.
That is, we can only speak of those things that cannot be said about God. We can say what God is “not,” but we can’t, with any certainty, say what God “is.” Chew on that for a while. Unfortunately, as we pastors like to say, “That won’t preach,” although it would be interesting to preach a series of sermons on what God is not.
Sometimes, truth is elusive because it is often turned upside down or inside out. I’m talking about paradoxes. A paradox is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. There’s that tricky word again: “true.”
Cutting edge or Emergent Christians are rather fond of paradoxes because it is a way to sort of shake up reality. This is reflected in Tony Jones’ next dispatch:
- Emergents embrace paradox, especially those that are core components of the Christian story.
Jesus’ teachings are full of paradoxes. The Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5 is a gold mine of paradoxical truths. The so-called Beatitudes are a good example:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let’s be honest. Outside of Jesus, no one else thinks this way. We don’t call people “blessed” when they are having a bad day or are overburdened with life’s circumstances. Our “truth,” in other words, is different than Jesus’ “truth,” and that’s why being a disciple of Jesus is interesting and challenging and not for the self-righteous. It’s for people who are humble about their version of truth.
I think Jesus loved to use paradoxes in his teaching because he knew that our truth had become “stale,” and it needed to be shaken up a bit. So, he talks about saving one’s life while losing, having nothing, yet possessing all things, being strong when one is weak, being a leader by being a servant.
Jesus was a very good spin-master because he makes the world go round!
Here’s my concluding remark: If we want to be cutting edge or Emergent Christians, then we need to learn to handle truth with care. Truth comes in a box with a “handle with care” tag on it. And in this “post-truth” world, that’s as good as its ever going to be.