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The Tyranny of Suspicion

There is a mood of suspicion in the west at this time. It is demonstrated by our mistrust of politicians with their hidden motives and big-business backers. It is also reflected in the way in which we reject opinions due to the cultural context from which they appear, rather than the content of the idea being proposed.

In part, our reason for suspicion is due to an obsession with the social context from which a particular opinion emerges. We are far more likely to ask ourselves what cultural and economic conditions led to such an idea than about the merits of the idea itself. I am often told that the reason I believe the things I do is because I was conditioned to by an evangelical Christian context. These conditions have become our guide for the verdict as to whether or not a claim is true or valuable.

This perspective is problematic for Christians who espouse the story of the son of God who died on a cross to pay the price for our sin. For some, the person of Christ is the symbol of an ideology of a particular group or culture. They reject the claims of the person of Christ because of the suspicion that the story is used to justify a certain set of ideologies.

The evangelical church in North America, for example, is now widely considered to be little more than a voting block. They are known as the “Christian right” and struggle to present their message without appearing to have a hidden agenda. As Kevin Schilbrack, head of the philosophy and religion department at Western Carolina University intimates, “Myths have typically served to legitimate a particular social order.”

However, if we are so busy analyzing the context of a given story, we will give no time to its content. If the decision to reject an idea is based, not upon the idea itself, but upon its beholdents, we have surrendered our opinion to tyranny. The tyranny of suspicion.

In the face of such suspicion I must stress three things. Firstly, that the power of the gospel is not due to the power or greatness of man. No culture, no matter how much influence it holds, can cause the gospel to be powerful. As Paul writes, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Secondly, the wisdom of the gospel did not emerge from a particular culture, but from God himself. The message of Christ, I believe, was not created by the church to justify a political or social agenda, but it came from God himself, “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).

Thirdly, we come to know the gospel not because a cultural myth has been effectively taught, but because God himself reveals it to us, “However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" - but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:9-13).

The truth claims of the gospel originate not in any culture we can create, but in the culture of the triune God who reaches out to us with a message that should not be judged primarily as a cultural phenomenon, but as an eternal message unbound by fad or theory and always efficacious to those who believe in it.