Sermon audio (11-2-08): Simple and Stubborn On Sunday evenings at our church, I lead a Q & A session about the morning's sermon. Last Sunday, with Barack Obama haunting the auditorium, we discussed the man born blind in John 9, and the challenge of bearing witness to Christ now. A key point in the sermon (audio above) had been that the beggar was a great model: when under pressure, just repeat what you have directly seen Christ do in your life.
One question responded to that point, and got close to the heart of why I did this series on individuality in Christ.
Bob the logger noted his charismatic upbringing, from which he learned not to take people's testimonies about Jesus seriously. He said that, because of the sensationalism he saw among pentecostals, he has not talked much about his personal relationship with Christ, using objective arguments that apply beyond subjective experiences instead.
Was I saying that he should reverse course? Should he talk about his personal experiences without worrying about universals, logic, or principles? Isn't that a surrender to postmodern thinking? (Our loggers are well-read, in case you're wondering.)
1. The death of reason has been greatly exaggerated. Reasoning has merely changed focus.
Many fear that the postmodern person uses experience as a substitute for logic, that the only thing she respects is emotion. I haven't found this to be the case. Rather, I find that the postmodern person is rightly suspicious of extravagant claims, having once believed too many scientific studies that were biased, too many news reports that served an agenda, and too many experts who were paid to bluff the uninitiated.
Postmodern people will listen carefully to any argument that splices together from many points of view a picture in 3-D. They know that reality is complex, and that we are too easily faked out by our narrow perceptions. And they are right to raise the bar on claims to objectivity.
2. Younger Christians' apologetical shift from propositional arguments to personal experience reflects postmodern suspicion. But their reflection is inarticulate and potentially dangerous.
It's one thing to accept the postmodern challenge to show the truth of Christ from many points of view. This acceptance deals with our culture as it actually is, without compromising the Bible's radical claims. But it's quite another thing to abandon the truth of Christ, saying instead that all points of view are equally valid. While this approach certainly deals with our culture as it is, the approach does so only through capitulation.
I believe Christians can shift the focus of their reasoning without compromise, but only with careful thought about what they are doing and why. To wit . . .
3. In John's Gospel, the argument for the truth of Christ is not being made by believers but by the Lord.
The logic of the Gospel of John is founded on the testimony of individual witnesses, and the book is written with the density of a legal narrative. Each witness gives distinct and specific testimony, establishing distinct and specific facts. No single witness proves the entire case, but all of them taken together do prove it. The person who deploys all the witnesses to make his argument is Christ himself.
For example, John the Baptist comes as a witness to the light (1.6-8). His testimony is that he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism, just as God had told him (1.31-34). "And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." Jesus later cites John the Baptist's testimony (5.31-35). "You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth." John the Baptist was part of Jesus' larger argument. John delivered one authentic point of view.
The beggar in chapter 9 is another example. Jesus says (9.3) that the man was born blind "that the works of God might be displayed in him." The healing of the man's sight was only the warm-up for that display; the main event consisted of the beggar telling the same story about Jesus repeatedly, and insisting (9.25), "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." From his unique point of view, the beggar was able to conclude, "If this man [Jesus] were not from God, he could do nothing."
With the ascendancy of Obama and the diverse, postmodern culture he represents, many Christians will look more frantically for killer arguments. They will want to prove the morality of the Bible and the claims of Christ within the terms of philosophy, science, and especially social science. But they will fail to find these arguments -- fail in the sense that they will not persuade the unbeliever, no matter how incisive their arguments may be.
What you can do now is just what Bob the logger suggested with his question. Reverse course. Instead of using a lingo of proof that rightly arouses people's suspicions, you can speak from within your own point of view, describing what Christ has done for you. You can put your testimony in the context of what God says in the Bible. And you can do this without fear of compromising the truth.
God will make his own case, deploying your testimony just as he deployed the beggar's. We are God's witnesses, giving testimony under pressure, as the Holy Spirit persuades the world of the Gospel (15.26-16.11).
In other words, in the culture we now face, it has never been more important for you to reflect the light of Jesus Christ as an individual.