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.

on Technological Communication

In the third chapter of The Presence of the Kingdom, Jacque Ellul analyzes the problem of communication. The problem, simply state, is that true human communication is absent. There is, in modern culture, two elements that prevent modern man from human communication: a lack of awareness of culture, and an enslavement of the intelligence to technical methods. These two problems create the condition for a lack of communication. 

One of the main reasons for the lack of communication in modern man is the intellectual method of expression of the day: techniques. Ellul claims that the fact that “the intelligence is obliged to use the technical channel breaks personal relations, because there is no possibility of contact between two human beings along this line” (114). True communication cannot take place in a technical context, it can only take place in a context in which two human beings are fully engaged in a real conversation. Real conversations are both avoided and prevented by technological means. 

In usual Ellulian fashion, his perspective seems bleak, hopeless and maybe even hysterical.  But today, 70 years later, we may find value in his reproach on technology and communication. 

Ellul’s work, written in 1948, was a prophetic disapproval. Ellul did not live in the computer age as we know it. He did not experience, or could likely not have even conceptualized the social networking apparatuses we consume on a daily and recurrent basis. And yet, his reflection on the paralytic consequences of technology upon human relationships is precisely the epidemic we are experiencing today.  It is not enough for the average person to have one “social networking” engagement but many people participate in two or even three. All of these networks give the user the ability to “define himself” in such a way that is flexible to the point of flawlessness.  Human conversation is unpredictable and unalterable, and thus requires vulnerability. Social networks then provide refuge from the vulnerability of being perceived naturally and imperfectly. Yet in all this, human relationships become impoverished. The task becomes one of personal promotion, image and status, an untarnished wholeness that is inhuman, all at the expense of true human connection and conversation. The irony that one who may have “1000 friends” is now lonelier than ever. 

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.

Jesus; the Sum, the Center

“Jesus is both the sum and center of our Christian faith. In a conversation I was privileged to have with noted theologian Dr. David Wells, he made mention of a very insightful fact. Unlike most religions, Christianity has no place, language, race, or culture that serves as a center to hold it together. Christians share no worldwide headquarters, no common language, no common race or ethnic heritage, and no common framework. The only thing that holds all of Christianity together is the risen Lord Jesus Christ who is alive today.”

Mark Driscoll
Vintage Jesus pg 200 –

Postmodernism and the like

Book: Postmodern Youth Ministry
Author: Tony Jones

This book nothing more of a tool that helps many youth workers understand today’s culture, based on the ever present era known as “postmodernism.”

Among the many definitions, in my opinion postmodernism cannot have an absolute definition because times, lifestyles, subcultures and mindsets are constantly changing (which if you already know something about postmodernism you know that this statement is quite ironic).

There is so much we can say about postmodernism but let me stick to the basics and attempt to define it.

Firstly, we need to understand that postmodernism is a cultural shift that evolved from the era of modern thinking (hence the name POSTmodern).
Here is a list of important “postmodern credos” that will help us with communicating in the world of postmodern cultural patterns and thought processes:

1>Deconstruction: in basic terms, is a movement that questions everything, which includes traditional beliefs and assumptions on certainty, identity and truth. So nothing escapes questioning. As the author states: “skepticism and cynicism rule the day.”

2> objectivity is out, subjectivity is in: No one can have an objective viewpoint because everyone has one point of view.
The author gives a good tip here for youth workers: always preface your opinion with a description of you: “i’m a 21 y/o christian Euro white male living in North America at the turn of the 21st century”

3>There is no absolute truth! Everything is relative. What might be truth to me might not be truth to you, unless of course my truth is an exclusive one, that’s when it’s not true.

4> Tell stories. According to the author, stories are the best way to carry meaning when communication. One author calls this “abductive reasoning” because your abducting listeners from their world into your world.

This being the incomplete list of credos for postmodern thinkers, here are some practical values that will help shed light on the affects of postmodernism:

1. Experiential: Instead of just hearing of things, people want to experience them. Interactive video games is a huge industry today for highschoolers. And high adventure vacations are a huge hit with the post-college crowd.

2. Spiritual: Spirituality is in. Ever hear of yoga? Of course you have. Religious themes “permeate our culture.”

3. pluralism: you can be spiritual without believing in God.

4. Relativism: as mentioned earlier. Students find Christianity’s claim of exclusivity the most difficult to swallow.

5. Community: The postmodern interest in community is evident due to all the wonderful reality tv shows such as: the real world, road rules, survivor, big brother and many more.

6.Creativity: the arts: “beauty for beauty’s sake” is regarded as valuable.

7. Environmental: Global warming is a huge issue. The world is concerned about the planet and its future. College campuses are giving “earth day” an official holiday.

8. Global: Students are now considering themselves citizens of the world. The start of this was when we landed on the moon. The internet strengthens this standpoint.

9. Holistic: Every part of your life is interconnected. This is why integrity is so important. If your a christian in the church, be a christian in the home and the work place.

10. Authenticity: People want the real meaning. The entire meaning. The whole Bible must be preached. This is why expository preaching is so important in today’s world. People want to know what it’s really saying! No more surface sermons on topics we’ve all heard before!!!

I know there is much more that I can add to this definition. But let me conclude.

In my opinion, much can be found in the Bible. For example, among the many skeptics in the Bible, one most notably we should consider is the one and only doctor and gospel writer: Luke. His opening words in his account of the Gospel is:

“Though many had already written a narrative about what happened, and even eyewitnesses were involved, it seemed good to me to follow things closely for some time so that I can also write an account of what happened so that you(Theopholus) can have an accurate account of what needs to be taught.” Luke 1:1-4 (My version).

Is this postmodern movement bad news for Christianity? Maybe. But maybe not. In agreement with the author, we must be aware of these cultural shifts but not necessarily blindly adopt each characteristic. Lets be learners of this culture, just as Paul, Peter, John and Jesus were so that we can be affective communicators, writers, preachers, and leaders wherever we are.

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