On Spiritual Formation Done Right, Part 2

This video was found by Bobby Valentine and posted at his blog.

Again, don’t skip the link.

N. T. Wright explains that the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 had a dramatic impact on European Christianity. The prevailing attitude was that we believe in God; therefore, God will protect us. After all, the Portuguese were ruling a large part of the world. Certainly, the rest of Europe felt the same way, as the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch were near the heights of their worldwide empires.

And yet the earthquake struck on All Saints Day, a Catholic holy day, while worshippers were in church. Cathedrals collapsed, killing thousands of believers. Survivors ran outside for safety, only to see that the sea has retreated and unaware that this presaged a massive tsunami. Over 40,000 people were killed in a city of 200,000, at least half by drowning when the ocean returned with a vengeance. Shortly thereafter, a fire broke out, burning the portions of the city not destroyed by the quake and tidal wave.

The impact of this deadly event on religious thought was profound, and historians see the roots of Postmodernism in the disillusionment with God that followed. Indeed, it wasn’t long unti the French Revolution sought to rid France of Christianity altogether. Certainly, the earthquake gave momentum to skeptics and atheists.

As the Wikipedia states, “Hamacher claims that the foundational certainty of Descartes’ philosophy began to shake following the Lisbon earthquake.” In other words, doubt and pessimism began to play a larger role in Western thought.

Thus, as Wright notes, Postmodernism eventually evolved, providing a worldview that doubts the certainty of nearly everything. Truth is relative and certainty is impossible. Even communication is impossible. The Wikipedia quotes Kalle Lasn,

But what this philosophy basically says is that we’ve reached an endpoint in human history. That the modernist tradition of progress and ceaseless extension of the frontiers of innovation are now dead. Originality is dead. The avant-garde artistic tradition is dead. All religions and utopian visions are dead and resistance to the status quo is impossible because revolution too is now dead. Like it or not, we humans are stuck in a permanent crisis of meaning, a dark room from which we can never escape.

Wright concludes, “Postmodernity is preaching the Fall to arrogant modernity, but the Fall is never the end of the story.”

Now, here’s the interesting point. The reason the Lisbon earthquake undercut the foundations of Western Christianity as it did is that the 18th Century Europeans had a false understanding of Christianity. They bought the notion that bad things don’t happen to good people and that God gives Christian nations vast empires.

Nowadays, as noted in yesterday’s post, many American Christians have bought the same lie. We think that Christianity will bring worldly prosperity and that God will bless our nation if we’ll just get pornography out of the stores and media. We think God is the Great Santa Claus.  Obey his rules and we’ll be blessed with a house, a yard, and perfect children. It doesn’t work quite like that.

What should our attitude be?

(Psa 73:25-26)  Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Mat 10:37-39)  “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

(Phil 3:8)  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

What does God require?

(Micah 6:7-8)  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

God does not offer us a trade — prosperity for a weekly visit to his house. God’s offer is a bit more extreme — everything you have and are, everything you love or want, in exchange for God.

If 18th Century Europe had seen Lisbon in that light, their faith would not have been threatened. Rather, they’d have gotten busy helping the Portuguese dig out of their devastation, comforted them, and praised God. (Read the Psalms. They speak of holding on to faith and adoration of God when everything is going wrong.)

Just so today, when we in the church are confronted with a Postmodern world, rather than trying to argue them back into Modernism, we should act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. We should show the world that we love God more than life itself. Indeed, to us, God is life itself. Therefore, we turn the Postmodern questions upside down.

What is truth? Wrong question. Ask rather: who is truth? He is Jesus.

How dare I judge another? Wrong question. Ask rather: by whom will I be judged? God, and God will forgive if you come to him with faith.

How will we overcome racism, sexism, and such? Wrong question. Ask rather: how we can we participate with God in his destruction of discrimination through the resurrection? By submitting to Jesus as Lord and teaching others to do likewise. The church, after all, was designed to be like God: not a respecter of persons.

How can I live in a world without rules? Wrong question. Ask rather: how can I find freedom in Christ? Through his Spirit.

God has the answers to the big Postmodern questions. Sadly, the church often does not.

Wright points out that Postmodernism simply reminds the Moderns that the Fall has happened, the world is a mess, relationships are ruined, and we can’t fix it. They’re right. It’s just that they haven’t met Jesus. Not the real Jesus. They’ve just seen the Americanized, Pasteurized, homogenized, prosperity-gospel, Santa Claus Jesus.

I wonder what Christ’s church would be like if it preached the Jesus of the Gospels?

(Luke 14:26-27)  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

(Luke 9:57-62)  As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”


4 Responses

  1. Jay,

    This is so important. Thanks for posting it.

  2. One of the points this makes to me is that it puts the community in it’s rightful place. Christianity community is the also inevitable result of people who share a commitment to God. In itself, the churn is not the objective — and we often act as if it is.

    The goal is to rely upon God. The rest will follow from that preoccupation.

  3. Great post Bro!!…..Interesting indeed!!

  4. That little video, and the one line from NT Wright about PM and the Fall, ought to be enough to blow the doors off of the believers and writers that want to preach the gospel of Modernity rather than the gospel of Jesus, the Christ whose life and power and message transcends and transforms ages and nations and history.

    Jay, your points about “Wrong Question” are really good — It isn’t about “what are we going to do about (insert controversy here)?” It is about “How can I get in on what God is doing about it?” How does the Resurrection encourage us to act?

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