Recently re-reading the book God is Not Great by and atheist, Christopher Hitchens, I encountered a quote that struck me stating that we will gratefully never again have to encounter such a great faith as an Aquinas or a Maimonides. Sadly, I wonder if he is right.
I understand that I am not to a good start with my first post that not only have I admitted to reading and re-reading an Atheistic proclamation against all religion but also that I agree with the point Hitchens makes here. Have we found ourselves lost in a generation that shuns reason and conversation, who proclaims deep faith yet remain in the shallow end of the pool? Depth is really only judged by perspective. If we are all in a children’s pool, then regardless of our depth compared to the one next to us, in the grander picture, we are all quite shallow.
I think of Rob Bell’s recent book Love Wins; not how Bell expounded upon a unique perspective of Hell and the afterlife, nor weather I agree or disagree with him, but how most Christians refused to engage it in discussion, without even reading it no less. Most failed to see that it wasn’t all that unique of a perspective but it was a view that resonated greatly with many in a younger generation. We were so worried that an engagement would lead to the deconstruction of our current Christian view of salvation and the afterlife that we decided there was no room for it in our discussion, in our pool. We made it the butt of clever jokes and twitter posts. We denied it had any historical value. We disregarded it all together all the while never acknowledging that, to have a discussion, we cannot talk at one another, we must talk to one another. More importantly still, if we claim such great faith, why do we cower at the instant an opposing or unique view is surfaced? Is it possible that the depth of our faith is not nearly as great as we perceive it to be? As I said, I am not siding with Bell or his opposition, just pointing out that I seldom encountered an engaging critique or discussion.
I suppose what I want to say is that I believe it is fundamental to our faith that we seek discussion. We need to strive to find our way to deeper waters. If we cannot shed the extreme individualism of our Twentieth (and Twenty-first) Century American Christian (and secular) upbringing, I fear that Hitchens will remain correct. Beginning this blog, this discussion, for me, is one of the only ways I know to seek to propel myself into deeper waters.
I don’t know that I have anything all that profound to say. Let me rephrase that, I am nearly certain I don’t have anything profound to say. I see that as a good thing though. My hope is that profundity can emerge from discussion, from the voice of the masses and not of solely myself.
One night after having just finished work at the high school ministry I am privileged to still serve, I had a conversation with my boss. He said, “I feel like I am always teaching the same thing over and over again.” I responded, “I think your right, and that is a good thing.” If after a Christian faith with a history of 2000 years and a heritage in Judaism that goes back much further still, if we find ourselves teaching new things there is certainly a problem. And yet I think we are more and more pressured to teach new things, to compel new audiences. What happened to the old thing? Since when is the truth of the Bible not compelling enough?
This conversation will not be new. What is will be however, hopefully, is a continuation of a conversation that began far before any of us sat in front of a laptop. Back through time, before Bell and Piper, before Bonheoffer, Barth, and any other German theologian whose name begins with the letter “B”, a conversation before The Enlightenment thinkers and the Reformers, before the Medieval and Patristic, before the Fathers and the Apostles. Back still before the prophets and Kings of Ancient Israel, before Joseph, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham, back to the very first word in our conversation, our story… “Let there be…” (Gen 1:3). It was He who started it and it is that continued conversation, that continued narrative, which we pursue here. We talk with all of those aforementioned groups, and more, we engage them all, but we also look back to the originator, to the one who started the conversation and who invited us into it, we look to God.
I think one of the greatest hindrances to our faith is we forget that we are living a story in which we are not the main character. We think the story began with our birth and will die with us, however it is far longer, far greater, and far bigger than just us. Although we have a great, unique, important role to play, the storyline is His. He drives the plot. I think perhaps one of the reasons we look at one Like Thomas Aquinas and commend his faith is that he understood his role in the story. True, he was a brilliant thinker, but more than that, he was deeply devoted to the story in which he was invited to live, one in which he was not the main character.
I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrase, “God just doesn’t work like that anymore!” I can’t count how many times I myself have finished reading Scripture and resonated that sentiment myself. However, I question, instead of declaring how God’s big works have long since passed, maybe we have the wrong question. Maybe we over estimate ourselves. Maybe we are quick to assume that ours is just as great a faith as those who have come before. Often we wish to reap the accolades yet seldom make the sacrifices such a great faith requires. Maybe it’s not the question of God’s work or willingness to work, but our willingness. Maybe the question should actually be, “Why don’t we let God work in us like that any more?”