Tagged: Enlightenment

Luc Ferry on Salvation

“I would like you to imagine that you own a magic wand which allows you to arrange matters so that everyone in the world today begins to observe to the letter the ideal of respect for others embodied in humanist principles. Suppose that, everywhere in the world, the rights of man were scrupulously observed, with everyone paying respect to the dignity of everyone else and the equal right of each individual to partake of those famous fundamental rights of freedom and happiness. We can hardly begin to comprehend the unprecedented revolution that such an attitude would introduce into our lives and customs. There would be no wars or massacres, no genocide or crimes against humanity. There would be an end to racism and xenophobia, to rape and theft, to domination and social exclusion, and the institutions of control or punishment – police, army, courts, prisons – would effectively disappear. So, morality counts for something, and this exercise suggests the degree to which it is essential to our common life; and, at the same time, how far we actually are from its realisation.  Yet, such a miracle would not prevent us from getting old, from looking on helplessly as wrinkles and grey hairs appear, from falling ill, from experiencing painful separations, from knowing that we are going to die and watching those we love die. In the end, nothing will save us from getting bored and finding that everyday life lacks zest. Even were we saints, immaculate apostles of the rights of man and the republican ethos, nothing would guarantee us a fulfilled emotional life.”

  • Luc Ferry, atheist

Schmemann on modern escapist spirituality

“Tired and disillusioned by the chaos and confusion he himself has brought about, crushed by his own ‘progress,’ scared by seemingly triumphant evil, disenchanted with all theories and explanations, depersonalized and enslaved by technology, man instinctively looks for an escape, for a ‘way out’ of this hopelessly wicked world, for a spiritual haven, for a ‘spirituality’ that will confirm and justify him in his disgust for the world and his fear of it, yet at the same time give him the security and the spiritual comfort he seeks. Hence the multiplication and the amazing success today of all kinds of escapist spiritualities—Christian and non-Christian alike—whose common and basic tonality is precisely negation, apocalypticism, fear and a truly Manichean ‘disgust’ for the world”
– Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit, 84.

Music and Bach: Rethinking Spirit Led Worship

hands-music-musician-piano

I’ve been wondering about the musical mechanisms we have employed in Christian Evangelical circles. I’m thinking of the two very different modes of musical worship – one which hold’s thoughtful and systematic planning in high regard, and the other which hold’s spontaneity in high regard.

I’m trying to think this through objectively, though of course, as a critical realist, I never reach strict objectivity because I, we, can’t escape our context and the biases and presuppositions that come with them. So then, for me to be “critically realistic,” I must take into account my subjectivities and interpretive lenses that have formed my thinking.

I will say that as a musician involved in leading worship and playing drums, I’ve experienced both: spontaneous and planned.
I’ve heard it said, that strictly planned worship simply does not allow the work of the Spirit; unless there is room for spontaneity. I understand the concern. My question is: what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking? Why is it that Christians in my tradition (not all of them of course, but many), have equated spontaneity with some higher work of the Spirit?

Yesterday, in Christian Though and Culture class @ Regent, we looked at The Enlightenment and its effects on Christendom. The lecture was titled: ‘Lord of Reason: The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative in the Modern Era’. What resulted from this self-explanatory title, was a fundamentalist escape from culture. The Fundamentalist movement, which Mark Noll describes as being “intellectually sterile,” had absolutely nothing valuable to say about or contribute to culture:

“As a result of following a theology that did not provide Christian guidance for the wider intellectual life, there has been, properly speaking, no fundamentalist philosophy, no fundamentalist history of science, no fundamentalist aesthetics, no fundamentalist novels or poetry, no fundamentalist jurisprudence, no fundamentalist literary criticism, and no fundamentalist sociology” (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 137).

Thankfully, prior to the rise of Fundamentalism, there were leaders within the Evangelical movement that were quite different. Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield are those often mentioned, but the one who has stuck out to me, was Johann Sebastian Bach.

I am no expert on this man (or anything really… except maybe eating), but I do believe that those who have equated spontaneous, unplanned songs of worship with a greater move of the Spirit can learn a thing or two from Bach.

He is known for many things, he is known for his incredible ability to have very “rational” and mathematical music. More importantly, he was able to fuse this rationalism with his theology. This may seem normal for us today, but back then, rationalism and mathematics were seen as causes of “the eclipse of the biblical narrative” within society. His music, what I would like to point out, was far from spontaneous. But if something is Spirit empowered music, it’s his. He teaches us that, as James Macmillan has written, “abstract complexity and spiritual joy are not mutually exclusive.” He is sometimes called the “fifth evangelist,” and that for a reason.

Surely, most readers will not understand the latin in his music, but one must ask, what have we done with music?

I’m not trying to speak against spontaneous music, since many believe that in it, there are greater forms of art (which is probably also questionable).

To get back to the question, what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking – the thinking that spontaneous music is more spiritual? Maybe we can’t answer that definitively, but we can at least re-think what really is “Spirit-led” music.

This brings up other questions: God has given us many gifts; Scripture, reason, art, experience, tradition. How are we using them? Is the idea that a spontaneous “letting go and letting God” mentality in music really a means of the Spirit of God being ‘allowed to flow’? Could that be just laziness? Could it be that with all the gifts that God has given us, and if we consider that since our fundamental calling is to be Human, and that as Human, we are called to Cultivate (essentially, to Create Culture), should we not be making the best of what we have with our God-given skills ? Would not these things bring greater glory to God? I think these are important questions that need evaluation.

Here’s one piece Called “Agnus Dei in G minor” – Paul Hofreiter sums this piece up:

“The most intense solo in the entire work is the Agnus Dei in G-minor. This angular music makes strong use of imitation between the alto voice and the violins, creating a bridge between humanity and divinity as Christ offers his body and blood for the salvation of humankind. The jagged and chromatic nature of the music in the aria demonstrates the profound reality that Christ has, indeed, participated in our humanity in all its anguish and death. There is no mistake for Bach in the understanding of the purpose and reason for Christ’s death.”

Also, for more info on this subject check out http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/tas3/musicon.html

With All Your Mind

Why is it that many Christians today separate the work of the Spirit from the work of the mind? As if any thought of the mind is a product not of the Spirit but of the flesh.

Mark Noll wrote on this subject, calling it the “Scandal” of the Evangelical mind: simply put, that there is no mind. He argues that Christians today, specifically Evangelicals, don’t think ‘Christianly’ about culture the way their Fathers did. By Fathers, I’m referring to the Fathers of Evangelicalism; John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and others.

In my thinking, the Liberal Theology in the 19th century rejected the supernatural and embraced science, humanistic endeavours, and ultimately the mind (and that definitely created a problem, but that’s not my point right now). This liberal theology welcomed the popular consensus that reason was of utmost importance. Maybe it’s a bit of an overstatement but I think in many ways the fundamentalist reaction to liberal theology in the 19th century was one that led to the rejection of the use of the mind, creating a false dichotomy between the mind and the Spirit.

Here’s how:

The wake of the 20th century saw immense supernatural activity amongst Evangelicals, resulting in the birth and growth of Pentecostalism. Being raised Pentecostal, I tread carefully on these waters, but not uncritically. Perhaps the embrace of the supernatural at the expense of the natural became catalytic in the discarding of the mind. (As a side note, this seems to fit perfectly well with a pre-millenial eschatology that longs for an escape from this ‘evil’ world, dualizing God’s “good” creation. I realize that statement opens up a whole other dialogue, let’s forget I said that for now). Don’t misunderstand me here, I believe in the supernatural and I believe that it’s something we can and should seek, but not at the expense of the natural. The supernatural work of the Spirit was never meant to be worshiped, just like the natural (creation, our bodies, etc) was never meant to be worshiped.

Let’s talk about it.

If Jesus asks us to love God with our whole being, including our minds, then thinking (about both God, culture, and the world), should not be considered an action that is mutually exclusive to the work of the Spirit. In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is not manifested ONLY when something supernatural happens, that is a false dichotomy. God is the God of the natural and the supernatural. Christian’s need to again begin thinking Christianly about culture, about God, and about how they are to engage in the world. Not escaping it, not leaving it, not disappearing from it, but showing the world what it means to be human; this involves the mind empowered by the Spirit.

What Rationalism Has To Do With Easter

Presuppositions will kill the life of God in us.

             Rationalism is the idea of intelligence at work, efficiency and quality. Getting the most for the least, high production, less work, more money, more of what is calculable. A dependance in self, in humanity and ultimately in what is within and not without. Humans are not individuals but numbers in a system that must produce and must produce efficiently. We live in societies not communities, we value technology and whatever makes life productive and efficient at the expense of community and relationship. The young and strong are prized, and the old and weak are a nuisance. It seems impossible not to think rationally, in fact to not think rationally is social suicide, it places one within the bounds of fanaticism and emotionalism, and eventually in a place of seclusion. It seems ironic that the only way one can exeperience community is through rationalism, yet its by this rationalism that leads us away from true community. We have rationalized our need for community in pseudo-communities that take place on a private level, lacking relational intimacy and truth. They take the form of what we call “social networks” – accomplishing nothing more than proving the fact of our inward longing for relationship. I recently read a tweet (ironically) saying that “people go on facebook so much because they feel liek their doing something important” – I would say people go on facebook so often because they feel like they’re part of something important. Needless to say, no man can live on facebook alone, so we move on to more “networks” – rationally thinking “the more the merrier.”
             Is rationalism the evil that has caused this present impersonal age? Welll… lets not be irrational. Even God is rational… or is he? God’s thinking is not like ours, I don’t think I need Scripture to prove that (but do check Isaiah 55). So do we throw rationalism out the window? A way of living that has transcended our thinking more than we know, it seems impossible not to rationalize. In fact I’m rationalizing rationalism this moment, mind boggling.
             The age of reason popularized as men came together to discuss their ideas, to discuss life and how it would be better if… (fill in the blank). Interestingly the rationalists I’m referring to were all originally mathematicians. They liked calculations and liked the idea of making calculable ideologies; valued based on their numerical conclusion.  It seems strange to us but before the age of reason, the norm was set and no one was to question it. These men questioned the norm, they pointed their fingers in blame for the state of humanity and encouraged new ideas. I’m very grateful for them, so in a way I’m greatful for rationalism.  Here were the seeds of modernism, the beginning of “reconstructionism” and much of it was in regards to God; their view of who God was and how he related to the world was being reconstructed.
              Its unfortunate that with rationalism came a sense of pride that took God out of the equation. A type of thinking came about called deism, God is far away, he’s the creator who has left us to rationally run the world (since we of course are smart enough).   The hopes and dreams for mankind were torn apart with the Great Wars of the 20th century. Would God really just leave humanity alone when this is how we treat one another? “Christian” nations at war with other “Christian” nations. The effects of the wars were tantamount, drastically causing many to question their previous worldview of a progressing humanity that didn’t need God. about a thousand years ago, it was agreed that all “rationalism” in the human mind is made possible by God himself (see Anselm on this, c 1000 ad). Anselm, during the 11th century meditated on Psalm 14: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘there is no God.’ ” His conclusion was that the fool was the one who was irrational, and that rationalism and logic, at its best, points to God. Times have changed.
              Here’s the point. We have opinions that have come from our ability to reason, whether we know it or not. Opinions create positions, which create suppositions, which create pre-suppositions. Opinions are good to have, we have been given a mind, and we should use it. But pre-suppositions are destructive. What I mean by presupposition is opinion combined with arrogance; it’s confidently and unteachably  asserting a position (sometimes unconsciously). We don’t realize it but we do this all the time. We do it with God. Do the words “in your own image” ring a bell? That’s what we do, we create an image of God that fits our “positions.”  We assign him a specific morality (or ethic), we ascribe to a certain language (often called Christianese), we wear our suits and put on our “preacher voice” (ever wondered why so many preachers sound exactly the same? JUST BE YOURSELF!) ETC… we essentially place God in mathematical equations: A + B = C … and anathematize people who may not agree with your equation. Don’t be mistaken, just because they don’t agree with your equation (denomination, doctrine, ministry method, blablabla) it doesn’t mean that they are rejecting the person of Christ!
               How could it be that one day, Jesus is being praised as he enters into Jerusalem, people shouting “Hosanna!” Yet just a few days later, they cried out “crucify Him!”? When Jesus didn’t fit their presuppositions, they killed him. When Jesus doesn’t fit your presuppositions and your equations, you will kill the life of God in you.  He was to be a King, not of this world. 
               So this Easter, lets remember that Christ laid down his life for us.  Your (our) silly pre-suppositions about Him will kill his life in you. You haven’t figured life out, thats okay, depend on Jesus. You don’t have all the answers, that’s okay, depend on Jesus. May we never, ever, under no circumstance, think we’ve figured it out, creating ideologies that place God in a box, and condemn those who don’t agree. But rather lets look to Christ and trust Him:
“as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” (Luke 19:41)