Made To Do What? Part 1

There has been much rethinking about the Christian message going on in recent years. It is likely to continue into the foreseeable future (which, of course, is itself an ever-shortening period). Questions concerning the nature of the Bible, its purpose, its origins, its interpretation, its authority are all very important; questions about the nature of justification have been rekindled recently; the status of unevangelized and even of evangelized and unconverted people have come up again in recent discussions; the meaning Genesis is under scrutiny as more and more Christians find traditional interpretations difficult to square with what seems to be indisputable evidence from science pointing in a different direction. And all that and more comes from within the evangelical tent.

It can be very tempting to say “just give me Jesus,” and let the questions go without further thought. On one hand, that simple formula might be taken as our call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God; it’s Jesus’ way of doing life. On the other hand, any version of Jesus we wish to be given is undeniably filtered through a way of using the word about him, the people who speak it to us, the culture in which we hear of him, and a host of other factors both personal and sociological. Even in the interpretation of Jesus, we seem at times to be choosing between interpreting Jesus in light of our way of looking at life or pretending that there are no factors of time and culture between the Jesus of the New Testament and our 21st century lives.

All of which ought to make us a great deal more humble about our assertions than is often the case. We encounter everything from a particular perspective and learn best when we hear from other starting points. Contrary to some people’s opinions, however, we are not entirely bound by our starting points; we can engage those from other cultures and learn from them, especially from within the Christian framework, but also from outside on the biblical assumption of a common humanity. But humility in our conclusions is not the same as disinterest in our thinking. We do have minds, we have been given both natural and special revelation, and we do share an interest in finding our way toward the truth about things. We can’t be otherwise. Even those who have given up the search for truth due to the many barriers that guard our way to it cannot help but make assumptions about the way things are. We are made to think, and we will do it, although it may be done very poorly and inadequately. Yet think we must.

What do we think about? Our needs, survival, protection—to be sure, a significant portion of the human race is occupied with these matters for most of their lives. But we also think about our future, about our origins, and about such things as purpose and meaning, legacy and posterity. We think about what we make, what we want to make and what we have made that we wish we had not. And we think much about what has gone wrong, or at least about what prevents us from having the kinds of lives that we intuitively expect to have. Why are things not different? And when we think in this way we seldom ask the opposite—why are things not worse than they are? What’s up with that?

Christian theology/philosophy (should there be a distinction?) must provide some sort of stable-yet-tentative answers toward these questions. We cannot sum up human existence by suggesting that the only thing we need to know about human beings is that we are sinners worthy of judgment who saved by grace in Jesus. This begs too many questions to even begin, yet it seems to be all that is on offer in all too many simplistic versions of “the gospel.” For starters, why were we made in the first place? You might offer an answer to that one, or take the safer route and say, “this is what I’ve heard.”

Tis is the first post in a series that asks who we are, what kind of beings God said were made in His image and likeness. The first answer suggested here is that we are thinking beings. We should not wish to be otherwise.

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9 thoughts on “Made To Do What? Part 1

  1. Made to know.

    How do we take the first few chapters of Genesis metaphorically? What is the attraction to a tree and to be like God?

    I am sad when I hear people say that they have everything they need to know in the Bible. How does that work? Did Moses lack enough, or David?

    When I was being taught thermodynamics and fluid mechanics one had to know Boyle’s Gas Law, invented by a Christian Physicist who would only experiment on Sunday, for to him, the discovery of the mystery of creation (at least) was a holy vocation for a holy day.

    The wanton ignorance and dismissal of hard science that I constantly see and hear in the Christian community is of recent ilk, and much to its detriment.

  2. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on reaching 18-35 year-olds for my Evangelism & Discipleship Engaged Learning Project. It’s rather depressing reading about their impression of Christians. For one thing, they bemoan our seeming arrogance. They also perceive Christians as highly judgmental and negative. Although it may be easier to blame them for misperceptions, the reality is that we probably ARE these things too much of the time.

    We definitely need to be thinking Christians, but we also need to think about how we are coming across to a Postmodern culture.

    • Hello Jen,

      We never met. I’m a graduate of Evangelical’s M.Div. program (1999). Your post stirred me up (in a good way), and I want to reply.

      I don’t know how old you are (please don’t tell me), but I’m 56. The reports about perceptions of the18-35 demographic are nothing new. I heard the same thing over 20 years ago. We were encouraged to implement evangelism programs (re: seeker-sensitive) based upon niche marketing techniques that would overcome negative sterotypes. Apparently the vaunted programs didn’t work. I also fear that implementing programs based upon opinion polls makes us defensive.

      I agree Christians must be gentle and respectful as ambassadors of Christ. We must examine our motives and methods. Are some confessing Christians rude and unpleasant? Yes. Talk to any pastor, like me, with several years experience. Christians should lead the way in civil discourse.

      But I think it’s time for Christians to challenge postmodern 18-35 year olds to think about their hypocrisy. For example, they accuse us of being arrogant and judgmental while arrogantly judging us! They accuse us of being negative, yet they have a negative view of Christ and his people.

      I’m not the brighest crayon in the box. Dr. Miller will confirm that. But i think Evangelical should require every student to take a course in logic. Then we will be better equipped to reach 18-35 year old postmoderns.

      I appreciate this opportunity to engage in conversation with you, Jen. Please understand my comments are not meant to be confrontational or harshly critical of you. I commend you for wanting to be a thinking Christian. I’m still learning, and I look forward to any replies.

      • I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments on this post; keep the conversation going. A special welcome to Becky; thanks for your thoughts and please don’t hesitate. If you’d like to promote your own blog here, feel free. But I’ll leave that to you.

        Also like Thom’s reminders, portions of which are in tune with Part 2 of the series. Schoff’s comments point in the same direction. Not sure how long this will continue, but I’ve got a sense that this discussion could help in forming, at least a small part, that vision of the public good Christians need to be conscious of–and known for. As Rich and Jen note, we need to know not only what people are thinking, but how we might help them to think better, without at the same time shouting that they must think exactly as we do about everything. And that, Becky, might at least begin the conversation concerning spiritual abuse. Thanks for the suggestion; it might be worth future posts on its own. I do think much of it has to do with that biblicism mentioned in recent entries.

      • Hi Richard,

        I didn’t read your comment as critical at all. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I want to correct the idea that I am advocating what you learned as a “seeker-sensitive” service, although I do think we need to have a firm understanding of our culture. We basically have to be missionaries within our own country. My research isn’t complete yet, and I am certainly no expert, but what I am proposing is not watered-down theology. Rather, I would suggest more participatory worship that includes dialogue and experiential aspects. This group craves the mystery and transcendence of God, so that would be another area that I would want to include in worship.

        Also, they do not really have a negative opinion of Jesus. Most young people very much respect Jesus and His ideas–though they probably have a skewed image of him. It is Christians and organized religion that they have a problem with.

        The fact is that for the most part the 18-35-year-olds are not in our churches. We are to go for Jesus and reach out to everyone, including young adults. Frankly, they are not going to listen to what we say if we begin the conversation by telling them that they are hypocrites, although I completely understand your point. These wonderful people need us to listen to them, talk in two-way conversation with them, and befriend them before we can talk about sin and the need for a Savior. Trust that is gained through relationship needs to come first.

    • Jen,
      Thank you very much for your reply. Good comments! Your evangelistic zeal and thoughtfulness bring joy to my heart. I agree name calling won’t get us anywhere. Personal attacks don’t belong in civil discourse. I wouldn’t call a postmodern person a hypocrite. But I would strive to help the person see his/her own contradictions. Your worship insights are helpful. Above all I think we need to engage people’s minds, not only their emotions. It seems you agree.

  3. We need to think, but not too highly of ourselves! I loved your emphasis on humility. It seems that self glorification is growing in the various theological camps along with arrogance over “new” knowledge. I see it constantly- this arguing over theology.
    When our thoughts differ from one another, how do we determine who is right? Is it the one who can debate the best? The one who seems to be the most intelligent? The one who has the most authority (when authority is often given by man)? I tend to think it is the one who is the most humble!
    Would you consider sharing your take on spiritual abuse?
    This may be the first time that I have commented, but I enjoy reading your posts and hearing your perspective. Thank you!

  4. why were we made in the first place?
    To enjoy life, for God to enjoy us as we enjoy life.
    I enjoy looking at stars, snow covered mountains, Gold Finches, Bald Eagles, rain, snow. It makes me happy, it makes me wonder, it makes me think of God.
    I like the feeling of helping someone, of making a sad person laugh. I enjoy hearing good stories. Why do I feel these things if God did not intend it to be?
    I imagine God smiles as He watches his creatures use the gifts He gave them, the brains he gave them, to invent, to create, to build, to teach, to learn etc. Imagine Him watching in excitement as that first musical instrument was crafted and then He listened to the new sounds of music being played by one of His creatures. Did He sing along?
    Of course, we messed it up by wanting more and corrupted the innocence and purity of it all, so enjoyment is interrupted by trash floating on the lake and loud rap “music” being played two blocks away.

    • amen, I agree. there is a list of things, and this is one. when I was in the Alps, I couldn’t imagine those meadows without some desire of the Creator for them to be enjoyed. 4 wheeling in the desert of Moab Utah, the same, sunrise in a boat bobbing in Tahoe, on and on

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