Why We Need This Blog!

In their recent book, Good Work, Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon write that the solutions to ethical and professional dilemmas have traditionally found answers in religious texts and traditions. Times have changed and many find answers (or no answers) elsewhere. However, they also make the following claim: "even when... the relevant texts have been studied, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know just how to draw inspiration from models [like Christianity] in vastly changing circumstances." In other words, say our authors, it is not merely a lack of knowledge, but a lack of relationship between knowledge and life.

Although our authors go on to propose an alternative set of strategies for ethical dilemmas than those proposed in scripture, their observation is astute. Christians have long been noticing that what they teach on Sunday can be far removed from what is lived on Monday. And they are noticing that the disconnect is getting, well, more disconnected.

It is not for lack of effort. There have been a number of proposed solutions to the problem. Perhaps, thought some, it is a matter of relevance. If we could just make the gospel resonate with a culture then the culture might somehow be transformed by the gospel. The problem with relevance is that we often mean compromise. How relevant is the doctrine of total depravity? Well if you believe it to be the case that all human beings inherit a sin nature that condemns them to hell for eternity and that only an act of God can save them, then very relevant. But that is not what most people mean by relevant. Rather, they mean culturally relevant. But if what is said on Sunday is determined by the culture in which the congregation lives on Monday, then relevance will often mean compromise, a dimming of the harsh light of truth.

Others have simply gone the other direction. Their strategy is to ignore Monday entirely. For what has Sunday got to do with Monday? If we simply teach the truth then there is no need to go on about the mess of life as people know it. The trouble with this is that, unless you are a very mature Christian, application is a mystery. Just how to relate an exegetical study of Matthew's gospel to life is hard to know unless someone--the preacher perhaps--shows you how. The other difficulty is that this approach ignores the fact that the writers of scripture wrote to people in the context of life as it is lived "on Monday." This is especially true of the writers of the epistles (probably the most popular books to preach from). So, even the truth that is expounded is designed to be preached to a context.

Perhaps a middle way might be forged if the counsel of scripture is proposed as a solution to the problems presented by real life. This would certainly attract a crowd. Scripture might be seen as a good way to get through life. Having trouble on Monday? Try Sunday. I am sure at least some attempts to promote church are based on this idea. Sermons, from this perspective, are solutions to life's problems. Of course, there is some truth to this. If one is struggling in life then going to church is a good idea and, yes, the Bible does have the answers to your questions. The problem is that Sunday is seen as a means to an end, the end being something like personal fulfilment or happiness. And if that's the case then Sunday is only as good as the result gained on Monday. But if the result on Monday is not to one's liking then there is nothing stopping one from trying a different solution. Perhaps one might have better luck someplace else.

So, what does Ben think? Well this question has plagued me for a substantial part of my Christian life. And it is much of the impulse behind this blog. In fact, this blog serves as a singular sustained proposal. My claim is that only the Bible makes any sense of any part of life (this is what I mean by "making sense of... everything"). It is an argument that to take the Bible on its own terms is to admit that everything (all that is real, exists, thought of, felt, experienced, reasoned about, observed) only makes sense if what the Bible says about it is true.

This is firstly a claim of uniqueness. The Bible claims to interpret life correctly and there is no alternative to the Biblical interpretation. The fact that people offer an alternative is not a sign that there are any alternatives. In fact, I think that all alternatives presented to the Biblical interpretation of life necessarily assume the truth of the Biblical interpretation even though the people who propound them might deny the truth of scripture or may never have read the Bible! Sometimes this means when I write about an objection to Christian belief I will write about what would have to be the case for the objection to be raised in the first place. And what would have to be the case, I will say, is what the Bible describes to be the case.

Secondly, my claim is a comprehensive claim. When I say everything I mean all reality. What I don't mean is that human beings are capable of understanding all things since I believe our intellects to be finite (and I believe that because that is how human beings are described in the Bible). But what I do mean is that, in principle, the Bible explains all reality whilst not telling us about every part of reality. For example, the Bible, being the word of God, reveals who God is. Does this mean I can comprehend God? Not necessarily, but it does mean I can know God, that God has made himself known to me. The Bible also explains history. This does not necessitate knowing every event in history, but understanding human nature and God's providence in history. And since I believe the Bible to be the only way to make sense of anything I think the Bible is the only way to make sense of all history (read this post for this argument).

Thirdly, my claim is that the truth of the Bible is the necessary condition for all making of any sense. This might be poor grammar, but it is good sense. I basically assume that for anything to make any sense to anyone the Bible must be true. This might sound strange since it sounds like I am saying that all people, even those who have never even seen a Bible, are able to make sense of life only because the Bible is true. Well, yes, that is what I am saying and I think it follows from what I have just said in the previous couple of paragraphs. If the Bible is true in all that it asserts then to make sense of anything is only possible because the Bible is true. This is because the Bible's claims are comprehensive. For example, the Bible tells us that God created all that is (apart from himself) out of nothing. In other words nothing (apart from God) would exist if it were not created. That includes all stuff (matter) and everything we can know about that stuff. Every "fact" therefore is a created fact, as Van Til used to say. If that is true (at least if it follows from the doctrine of creation), then there is nothing that one could think about the world that could be thought unless God created the thinker of the thought, the thing the thought is about and the tools by which the thought is thought (logic, observation, memory, intuition etc).

Fourthly, my claim is existential. It has to do with the mess on Monday morning as we experience it. Sunday makes sense of Monday; it makes sense of mess itself. This is because the Bible is the only way to make satisfactory sense out of life's mess. For a start, the Bible describes reality in such a way as to make mess understood as messy. When we talk about mess we usually mean life that contains problems, worries, crises, greif. So, I claim that we would only know that what we call life is messy if what the Bible says about it is true. How else could we know that something is wrong unless we had some standard by which to measure it? We know good because we were made in the image of the one from whom all goodness comes. We only know that what we see on Monday is in the least bit messy because we know God. If we know God via creation, which includes knowing our self (read here for more on self-knowledge), then even the mess itself reveals God to us. It is for this reason that I don't think I am speaking to anyone (not even if you are an atheist) who does not already know the God I am talking about. So, when a person has been through a rough week and turns up to church, he already knows the God who will speak to him in scripture even if he has been ignoring God all week. And if the person hears the words of God and lets God penetrate his life with the word as God illuminates his heart to the truth of the word, the person will know such nourishment that he cannot find anywhere else. In that sense of "sense" I mean also satisfying,  deeply and uniquely satisfying as only truth can be.

This is why I blog. And why I think we need this blog. 


Mark Jackson said...

Excellent post here Ben. Hope you are settling in well in your new position.
I think there is a fifth reason your blog, and others like it are invaluable is the increasing number of people for whom all this fails. What do I mean? Having seen a common issue facing everyone in my church I have at times preached and taught endlessly on how the Bible has the answer, what it is, how to apply it to your life. Indeed, as you say, the entire problem is only given any hope of making sense in the light of the gospel. However the result has been week after week of being thanked for a 'nice sermon', which has gone in one ear and out the other, accompanied by requests for teaching on the self same issue.
Paul often writes (to paraphrase), 'you know what you should be doing, now go do it!'. This is not a new problem therefore. For centuries people have been more concerned with keeping the comfort of their sandboxed lives and have had little interest in changing, even with the issues causing them endless pain and suffering. Indeed, if the person hears the words of God and lets God penetrate his life with the word it will be revolutionary, however the walls people build around themselves to stop that happening will only fall by the power of God through prayer.
Keep blogging, but also keep praying for those walls to fall that God's word may enter in and have effect.