Post-modern Rage

My recent blog on “I Want More Religion” provoked a degree of rage which only served to prove the point I was trying to make.

In a lengthy online discussion, one podcaster (whom I will not grace by identifying) commented that my blog made him so angry that he wanted to “kill” me.

Seriously. He said he felt like killing me because I dared say that Jesus was not all about relationship, but also obedience and holiness.

And he kept repeating it…

In a “Christian” podcast…

With his co-host laughing and joking about it.

I guess that “relationship” thing with Jesus must be working out well for him (not!).

What Happened to Holiness?

While listening to his lengthy rant, I was very glad that God commanded “thou shalt not murder,” and that our civil laws are rooted in that command, thus protecting me from the “Jesus” he thinks he knows.

I wasn’t so much concerned with his visceral reaction and desire to do me harm, but rather with the irony of his reaction.

He is so trapped in the popular post-modern hipster theology of our age, that the only thing which now matters to him is how his “relationship” with Jesus makes him feel.

The contrasting point in my blog was that we need a real relationship with the real Jesus, and not a Jesus created from our own sensibilities. Furthermore, we know that we know the real Jesus if we are going and doing as He commands.

I don’t know why this basic point is so controversial today. Even Jesus made it clear: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 & 21.

Have we become so focused on creating a Jesus in our own image that we have forgotten obedience, holiness, mission and calling? Because, folks, I don’t know about you, but there are times I don’t “feel” like obeying, but I do it anyway because the one I love commands me – in His Word and in other ways that transcend my feelings – to do so.

A Spiritual Pathology

Unfortunately, there are mature believers who feed this prevailing spiritual pathology by saying things like, “if we simply know Jesus, ______ naturally follows”. (Fill in the blank: holiness, obedience, good deeds, maturity, discipleship, etc.)

There’s enough truth in that to be tempting. But here’s what I’ve observed: You can get away with saying that if you have walked with the Lord long enough to have internalized the spiritual discipline of a mature, authentic relationship with Christ.

New believers – who often are struggling with their own subjective hurts, attitudes, desires and sensibilities – don’t, however, have that luxury. Hopefully, they are beginning to learn the Shepherd’s voice, to die to their old self, and to distinguish between the impulses of their past and the authentic life of Christ in them. But no new believer is good at those things from day one.

We need fathers and mothers in the faith who lovingly teach obedience and mentor holiness, who patiently convey the truths of Scripture to a new generation, and who’s lives gracefully model the perfect harmony between our relationship with Christ and all that He commands.

And out-of-balance platitudes don’t count, or help.

A Real Relationship with The Jesus

Yes, yes, a thousand times YES:  Obedience, holiness, mission and calling are the fruit – and not the object – of my relationship with Jesus, who now lives in me. But if Jesus in me is not being expressed through me in the ways He commands, then the Jesus I claim to know is a lie.

Let me repeat that: If the Jesus in me is not being expressed through me in the ways He commands, then the Jesus I claim to know is a lie.

Apparently, this central tenet of the New Testament, the teachings of Jesus, and the historic understanding of our faith, is now considered so offensive that it provokes murderous rage in some post-modern “brothers”.

How did we sink so low?

A False Dichotomy

When I know the authentic Jesus, there is no conflict between my relationship with Him (I’m all for that!) versus going and doing what He commands.

Scripture, as I pointed out in my blog, tells us that in Christ – the real Christ and not some Christ of our own creation – we can’t have one without the other.

The problem we face is that the prevailing post-modern mindset of our age is quick to latch onto the truth – and it is truth – that it is wrong, very wrong, to make Jesus all about obeying, going and doing.

But they miss the contrasting truth that it also is wrong, very wrong, to make Jesus all about a subjective relationship rooted in how I feel.

Why is this so hard for people to grasp these days? Are folks so trapped by the spirit of our age – which distrusts anything and everything that challenges our own feelings and sensibilities – that they can’t hear the Holy Spirit, who Jesus says will lead us into all “truth”?

Has truth, now, been finally reduced to whatever affirms my subjective feelings and sensibilities?

Sometimes I think Satan has been working overtime at reducing faith to little more than spiritual masturbation. Yes, it feels good, but it is not a real relationship – at least, not with Jesus.

An Abuse of Grace

It is ironic how many who say that simply having a “relationship” with Jesus will take care of everything else – like obedience, holiness and maturity – are the ones most often stuck (like that podcaster) in the rut of their own self-consumed sensibilities.

They want a Jesus who is little more than an affirming projection of their own hurts, feelings, attitudes, and ways of perceiving. They don’t relate to – or authentically know – Jesus as Lord of all and King of Kings.

They want His mercy, but not His rule.

They want His affirming life, but not the discipline of obedience.

They want His grace, but refuse to grow up.

Jeffery Marshall, a friend on Facebook, made this comment and it gripped my heart:

While a Christian is not under law, this does not mean – as the contemporary church so often teaches – that God requires less of a Christian under grace. A Christian is not under the law for justification; grace sets him free. But grace does not set him free to give less obedience unto God and do as he pleases (Rom. 6: 1f). Actually, it sets him free to give obedience to God and His word from the heart (Rom. 6:16-17; 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).

To this, I can only say amen.

~ Jim

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16 responses

  1. Jim, just because you have one nut case who spouts hate doesn’t mean that all the “organic” crowd, which you seem to be bent on discrediting every chance you get. Contrary to what you are saying, the “organic” is not full of post modern, careless living hedonist’s. I have been walking in the “organic” circles for years now and have yet to come across anyone who doesn’t live a lifestyle of integrity. Oh sure, you meet the occasional “odd bird” that is out in left field. I guess the question is, what is the source of the holy living and obedience? There is many a cult member (and many legalistic Christian’s) that could run rings around us in “moral” and “holy”living, but what is their source – their own flesh, which can do a very good job of looking and acting “holy”, but the source is still the Adamic nature. Jesus’ statement that if we love Him, we keep His commandments. What were those commandments – Love one another, love God, none of which can be done without that love being first poured into us by that relationship with Father. If one is in a love relationship with the Father, He is faithful to work out His holiness in them.

    I am posting a link to an article by our mutual friend, Steve Crosby, see what you think:
    http://swordofthekingdom.com/2010/12/14/no-more-sin-consciousness/

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    • Jeanne —

      I was not thinking of “organic” in this blog, although you do see some of the things I’m trying to counter in the blogs of “organic” folks like Jamal Jivanjee. But I certainly am not anti-organic! I fully advocate much of the ecclesiology of the “organic” church. Rather, I part with the Karl Barth christology of some “organic” church – and other type of church – proponents.

      There is a battle over the future of the Church – whether it be organic, emergent, missional, traditional, or whatever. Most of that battle has to do with the influence today of Barth (pronounced “Bart”).

      Barth is an interesting historical figure. As a theologian, he reacted to the liberal critics of his day by trying to affirm Christ, but at the expense of scripture. The core of his theology is that scripture is subservient to the subjective experience of Christ. His views, in various forms, are very prevalent today.

      What he missed is that God has chosen language – including the written word of scripture – as a valid vehicle to express something of His true nature. Language, or logos (propositional truth), Barth would say, is never able to capture God’s transcendence. Thus, according to him, the experience of Christ transcends language – even language from God found in His written word.

      Like many today, he expressed the view that experience and God’s propositional self-revelation through scripture are somehow in conflict. On this foundational premise, Barth is wrong. One need only look at his own life to see how far off track one can get with the theology of “experience” over scripture. He brought a much younger woman to live in his home for several decades, in a de facto three-way “marriage”, to the open humiliation of his wife. And this was going on while he was churning out the very theology that so many buy into today.

      When we go with feelings over scripture, nearly anything can be justified.

      Today, we see the same thing in the area of sexual attitudes. Even among God’s people, co-habitation is common outside marriage, and we even have many who advocate homosexual “marriage.” The justification is not based on Scripture, but on all sorts of subjective rationalizations about what some feel “Jesus would do.”

      I stand with the orthodox understanding that the true experience of Jesus, and scripture as His written word, are fully reconciled and never at odds. If my sensibilities do not conform with Scripture, then the problem is with my sensibilities and not God’s word.

      Barth was never able to explain how a finite person could know (and know that they know) transcendent and objective truth through subjective experience alone. This remains the fundamental flaw in much post-modern Christianity today. It is the root problem with much of the relationship-over-holiness stuff we see touted all around us. And although not all can trace the roots back to Barth, he is there nonetheless.

      Now, please hear me. I am not trying to minimize the subjective experience of Christ. But neither am I going to concede some dichotomy between the living word and the written word. Rather, I am saying that Barth and his devotees today got it all wrong in trying to elevate one over the other. The standardless Christianity seen in his own life, and in the lives of so many today – in minimizing morality, the Great Commission, discipleship, and the like – are evidence of his great mistake and the bitter fruit he has borne.

      On your other point, even those who hold to a Bathian belief – that a subjective Jesus trumps scripture and objective truth – can live good lives. I am not disputing that. But are they truly expressing Jesus or just their own better selves?

      BTW, that “nutcase” podcast was by a pastor who lives near you and who you know well!

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  2. the call to obedience is, if anything, more demanding as NT believers than it was under the law. Murder use to be wrong; as was adultery. Now just “thinking” about these is sin. Good post Jim

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  3. What is there about podcasts that is so frustrating? Regardless of the subject and whether or not one agrees, it is such a SLOW way to convey information. I was interested in the ‘Free Believers Network’ podcasts at first, but the informal, chatty tone coupled with a perspective that seemed to leave no room for other views on the particular topic eventually left me out. I can identify with your irritation at the sound of a second person laughing in the background. An english professor told me there are 26 types of logical falacies, and I’m sure one of them relates to using mockery to try to win an argument.

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    • Amen brother Jim, well said!!!!
      As far as the Freedom Believers Network, I can tell you to run!! I asked for the Administrators to reveal their identity, well that was the wrong thing to ask!!!

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  4. Jim, I have listened to this podcast that you reference in this post. I will try to be objective, but I do know the main person(JM) well enough that he is anything but an unloving or morally careless person. It wasn’t JM that said that remark about “killing” you. It was the other guy(Jer) who was reacting to something that really sets him off when he perceives that someone is trying to put others under the law or bondage, which what the excerpts of your blog sounded like to him. His visceral reaction was much like when one might say when someone cuts us off in traffic or something really maddening, we say something like “I could killed that guy for doing that” or “I could have strangled that guy”, it’s a figure of speech, not something to be taken seriously. Was it a stupid remark-yes, he didn’t mean it seriously and anyone listening to it would know that. The host of the Podcast-JM, was very gracious to you over and over again stating that he knows you are a good guy and that he thinks you often write good stuff, you in turn slice him to pieces and misrepresent him as almost a theological libertine. I feel you very much over-reacted and think you owe JM an apology.

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    • Jeanne, I debated whether to allow your comment and decided to do so because lies, when unchallenged, often take on a life of their own. I therefore allowed it and decided to respond, because I have no doubt you would repeat your concerns elsewhere and I might as well deal with them here, openly, where I can defend myself, openly.

      Basically, facts are inconvenient things because they cut to the heart of the truth. Here’s the truth.

      My blog does not identify the offending podcast or the two co-hosts. I also do not take on the very significant misrepresentation of my blog in their podcast, because that comes with the territory for anyone who puts their thoughts out in public. I accept that. One of the co-hosts, as I say in my comment posted with his podcast on his website, did try, by and large, to deal with his disagreements with me with dignity – even though he distorted what I said.

      Here’s what I do not accept, however. The co-host, after the first host read a portion of my blog, said this:

      “This is, this is not helping my whole having problems with religious people right now, Josh. Cause I’m like, I swear, dude, I heard the button go click in my head [and] go “Kill!, Kill!” I swear I did! Oh my God, you’re [meaning me] an idiot! You freakin’ moron… that’s crap!”

      And during the whole time this is going on, the first host (apparently named Josh – I don’t know them or if those are their real names), is repeatedly laughing and even egging him on.

      And that’s just some of the stuff said.

      Jeanne, I stand 100% behind what I wrote – both in tone and in substance. I accorded them total accuracy in what I described. That was more than just a “figure of speech.” They violated every standard of civil – let alone Christian – dialog and that seems to offend you not in the least. But calling them out (even though I did not do so by name) as anonymous object lessons about post-modern sensibilities run amuck, does.

      Jeanne, I think your “sensibilities” are what are off track here. Your mischaracterization of that podcast, in an attempt to minimize what they said, is what deserves an apology.

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  5. Hi Jim. Just discovered your blog via your extremely sensible comment on Frank’s blog (on Eldership).

    This is the first post I’ve read here. I find it, and the discussion, immensely interesting. Most of my 30 years of Christianity has been an intense struggle to integrate the “objective” and “subjective” dimensions of Christianity. I grew up Calvinist, Dutch Reformed (South African version during the Apartheid years) and then encountered Christ in a Pentecostal environment. After a decade of Pentecostalism and Charismania, during which I (incidentally) developed a deep appreciation of writers like Nee, Murray, Guyon etc., I discovered Francis Schaeffer. And so I was temporarily weaned off Barth, the “mystics”, and even became suspicious of Kierkegaard, trading them for John MacArthur, David Wells, Sproul, Piper, Os Guinness and so on. I resigned as a Pentecostal pastor, became a Baptist minister and quite Reformed in my thinking. But a major crisis in my life drew me back to a “relational” approach to Christianity and revelation (not to Pentecostalism, however), an “organic” expression of the church and the books & authors that blew my mind as a young Christian. I discovered Anders Nygren, one of the biggest influences on Barth, and was pleasantly surprised to read Os Guinness disagreeing with his long-time friend Schaeffer on Kierkegaard.

    Today I am pretty convinced that both sides of the debate miss the boat, and that the reactionary element has, as always, caused a rigidity that is akin to the tunnel vision of combat neurosis. When we design our theology around that which is under attack, we end up reducing it to a counter image of our attacker. And so I do believe that my old hero Schaeffer misunderstood Kierkegaard and even Barth (But I found your comments on Barth interesting and need to chew on them). I don’t think we can link the existentialism of Sartre and Camus to Kierkegaard. I’ve explained it as follows:

    “A young couple experiencing their first kiss gains a different type of knowledge than a monk reading about the biological processes accompanying a first kiss (Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain). This type of covenant knowing can only take place when the knower’s life is dissolved in the encountered life – when the two become one. It is a knowledge that transcends all mental processes, although the memory thereof is preserved mentally, and can be discussed mentally (The textbook is never repudiated, but extended into the realm of the spirit and soul!).This means that such a discussion is only fruitful between those who can relate to the experience. It’s like saying “So that is what your first kiss was like. Let me tell you about mine!” Cognition is not ruled out, but it is subject to an encounter that brings with it a revelation. And so Christianity is not blind mysticism, nor is it extra-Biblical. Rather, it is an experience that becomes increasingly informed through practice and discussion. Of course such information can find its way into poetry, and lend itself to analysis. But it always remains subject to a living encounter between the lover and the beloved.”

    I have never, for one moment, been tempted to think that this detracts from the call to holiness, obedience, the Lordship of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God or any one of the wonderful truths I have discovered during my Reformed years (I have lost the TULIP, however), and I don’t see why anybody else needs to (Think Romans 6:1-2 and on.)

    Sorry about the long comment. It’s not my habit, but I found the topic refreshing. It touched an old theological soft spot. Bless you. I’m looking forward to reading much more here.

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    • I love the depth of your comment. Thanks.

      The issue you address is epistemology (which you no doubt know but I mention for the benefit of others). Epistemology is trying to answer the question of what is true, and how do we know it is true?

      I think much ink has been spilled on those questions as they relate to individuals. I concede 110% that God can speak to me subjectively and that when he does so, it is authoritative in my life. Hopefully, I have the maturity – when needed – to confirm it by seeing if Scripture gives witness to it, as well as seek wise counsel from others (assuming it rises to the level of needing confirmation). But if I mis-hear God, it’s not a big deal. I bear the consequences and hopefully the screw up is not so great as to bring reproach on the Lord.

      The debate, it seems to me, between those who see truth and the knowledge of truth as purely experiential and thus subjective, and those who see it as purely transcendent and objective, is not so much over how God speaks to us individually. I know of no one who would deny the validity of the voice of God speaking in my heart, and also the voice of God speaking in scripture. Some want to emphasize one over the other, or to diminish one or the other, and that is a problem, I think. But both will always agree.

      Collectively, as a functioning ekklesia or community of believers, however, it can be much more confusing. There, the need to insure agreement between the Lord’s subjective leading and His objective word is much more critical. I always listen very carefully to what people say God has told them subjectively for the fellowship or for others – and thus beyond their own personal life. Feeling the Lord speak on matters that effect others can be perfectly valid, but it can never – I suggest – end there. It needs to be tested by an outside, common and objective standard. Otherwise, if we let a fellowship revolve around one person’s own subjective “word” from God we become a cult. Or if we let everyone do what seems right in their own eyes – as they perceive the Lord subjectively – we cease to be a community.

      As between us, there must always be an outside, transcendent standard to judge and protect each other when it comes to my “word” from the Lord or your “word” from the Lord. That standard has to be scripture – certainly as confirmed by a community of believers who are willing to submit their own feelings and subjective leadings to sound doctrine and Biblical standards as we seek God’s will together. But still, scripture must always stand over any subjective “word” – especially when that subjective “word” is directed at or may impact others.

      On this, I stand with Paul: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3:16. And by this test, Karl Barth and other dialetic and thus experiential theologians (his premises go back to the secular philosophers Kant and Hegel), who are so influential today, have diverted the Church onto a dangerous path.

      Anyway, thanks for a comment that is one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It made me think and consider this some more, and it helped me refine my own understanding – although I continue to ponder all of this.

      Here’s a PowerPoint presentation that deals with these issues, which I prepared a number of years ago for a college class I taught. You might like it.

      The Great Divide: Biblical Absolutes and Relativism, at http://crossroadjunction.com/2010/11/12/the-great-divide/.

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      • Thank you for the feedback and PowerPoint, Jim. It is much appreciated.

        I appreciate what you said about the dangers of subjective guidance in a Christian community. It makes me think of Jesus’ words to Peter: “If I want him to remain alive until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” The very nature of subjective truth is exactly this: It is intended for the one to whom it has been revealed, and so it is “nothing to me (us)”.

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  6. “As between us, there must always be an outside, transcendent standard to judge and protect each other when it comes to my “word” from the Lord or your “word” from the Lord. That standard has to be scripture”
    The challenge is pervasive interpretive pluralism… in that many well meaning and learned christians come to different conclusions when they read and attempt to apply scripture. For sure at one extreme we have those who place very little value on scripture but inbetween we have plenty of christians who are trying to be faithful to what they perceive to be the various messages from scripture. One only has to visit a few different gatherings to see that in action. And it would not be a surprise to witness each group claiming they are applying the plain teachings of scripture even if they are in direct conflict with the other group… or if not in direct conflict, at least with differing emphasis.
    Of course unfortunately some have become completely disillusioned with scripture and gone to certain extremes as seems to be who you have in mind in your recent blogs.
    Each person has their own idea of absolutes and norms such that we are all prone to missing christ at work some of the time… its good to keep that in mind. Damaging and unhealthy groups like cults or sects arent just formed around special revelation from a leader, they can also be formed around people clinging to norms, absolutes and traditions they believe have been plainly taught through their holy writings… of course with all writings originating from individual/s.
    Anyways we need each other to see how christ can be lord, friend, brother, savior and life in all manner of ways.

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