ISSUE: 2017, Volume 14, Issue 1
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The volume of the white noise simulator was slowly raised in the college library until it was at its full capacity. Nobody stirred, heads were down, and no one noticed the steady increase of background noise. Suddenly everyone’s head came up wonderingly; had the volume got just a bit too loud? No, the volume had been muted and the thing that caused the surprise was silence.
It is said that it is difficult for a fish to describe water for the very reason that it is completely immersed in it. Likewise, the difficulty of trying to critique the culture in which we live is because we will be more affected by it than we think. In this article I want to ponder some more of the things that I find a challenge to me living a Christian life. Bear in mind that I think that modern living has probably made living a Christian life more difficult than ever before. You may not struggle with the same things or to the same extent as I do, but my purpose, as with all of these articles, is to try and encourage you to look around and consider the following:
It is a simple fact that over time things change. The fact that it is gradual means that it is often harder to notice than if someone comes along and tries to convince us to make an immediate change. It is suggested that over the ‘modernization’ of the past 150-200 years there has been a steady process of secularization2 going on leading ultimately to faith becoming ‘privately engaging but socially irrelevant’. This is different from secularism in that it is a philosophy and needs to be adopted through convincing by argument. Secularization, however, has simply been happening.
In his book The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness suggests two things are behind this:
1 - The Displacement of Religion – By way of illustrating what has happened he invites us to look at the silhouette of the major city skylines of the western world back in the eighteenth century and compare them with what they look like now. Back then there was the dominance of church architecture whereas now, with great diversification in areas of authority, the churches, even with their great spires, are dwarfed by the office block skyscraper, symbolic of man’s confidence in self to manage his own affairs.
2 - The Disenchantment of Religion – with the loss of authority over so many areas the church was then hit with wide-ranging rationalization in thought, but more subtly perhaps, by its functional use in the development of technology. If you want something done then figure it out, there is no need to rely on divine intervention; if you plan it well enough then you can do it.
As man’s ability to be able to provide answers for himself increased, so the need to acknowledge a superior power became less needful; it wasn’t necessarily that God was deliberately pushed out but that He simply became irrelevant to everyday living. With this attitude, why would anyone bring their faith to their work, and so faith increasingly became privatized. Add to this the ease by which we can communicate and move about and the multitude of different ideas that get thrown into the mix in a pluralistic society leading to doubt as to how the claim to exclusive truth can be sustained, and we have a potent, anti-God, or at the least a God-not-needed, atmosphere.
The challenge to us centres, then, on the great claim of the Christian, Jesus Christ is Lord. If He is Lord then He must be Lord of all! It should not simply be a case of heading out to do that job, study or leisure activity, but heading out to do it as a Christian. Have I ever thought through what that means, to own Him as Lord over all? Not to do so demonstrates just how far the atmosphere of secularization has entered into our way of thinking and living.
This challenge is played out in another way. Consider the consequence of a society where style is just as, if not more, important than substance! Or what if plausibility is just as, or more, persuasive than credibility! If the world cannot see our submission to the Lordship of Christ in every aspect of life, it will reinforce the idea that there are some areas where He is irrelevant. Thus, it becomes just a personal choice, for my personal pleasure, whether I follow Him or not.
Functional rationalization has given rise to the attitude that if there is a problem or challenge then we can fix it. This has led to many amazing and life enhancing things. When we enter the world of biotechnology, however, we head towards difficult territory. Co-author of How to be a Christian in a Brave New World3 Nigel Cameron comments, ‘Technology is the story of our “conquest of nature.” Now we have added human nature to “nature.” The long story of our gaining ”dominion”. . . has taken a fresh turn. We are working on getting ”dominion” over ourselves’. The people in Genesis chapter 11 desired to build something to make them a name; some in our generation want to go further, to make ourselves! To have the ability to work at this level means man has the potential for creating man in the image he wants him to be, rather than allow the truth that all are created in the image of God to determine what we do. This brings into play a whole range of other ethical issues. What is our thinking on such matters?
If secularization is the white noise of society, technology can become the white noise of personal living. How much time in the day am I free from the radio, TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, etc? When was the last time I ensured that that which comes through the domain of the Prince of the power of the air did not cause interference with the still small voice of the King of Kings, or the earthly alerts asking for a response distract from the heavenly call to action? Here I ponder a couple5 of the challenges that I have felt:
Communication – the white noise factor – with billions of emails, texts and social media posts flying through cyberspace each day, it is easy to get sucked into continually responding to communications. Unlike the postal system where things were delivered once or twice a day, in keeping with today’s 24/7 living, messages arrive any time of the day or night. Add to this 24-hour media and entertainment possibilities6 and we begin to realize that, instead of things stopping for us, if we are to obey the injunction to be still7 and know that (He) is God, Ps. 46. 10, then it is going to take a deliberate effort on our part. We will also need to remember that, in the impatience that is caused by the expectations created by instantaneous communication, we have a God who asks us to ‘wait’8 on Him.
Information – Knowledge without knowing – with the world and its learning at our fingertips; with the next article just a link and a click away, it is so easy to always be reading but never knowing. Paul warns Timothy of those who would be ‘ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge9 of the truth’, 2 Tim. 3. 7. With the resources available for digging into the depth of scripture, our generation has the possibility of great potential for God. Someone has commented, however, that, the longest journey in the world is that ‘from the head to the heart’, because learning doesn’t become knowledge without time taken to sift and meditate. For the godly man of Psalm 1, his delight was to meditate10 in the law of the Lord day and night. The combined white noise of communication and simply getting knowledge needs to be turned off to allow the indwelling Divine Teacher the opportunity to whisper true knowledge to the heart.
In this series we have tried to think about some of the different pressures that might affect our thinking. Our aim was to encourage and inspire others to be aware of the subtle influences around us. The ultimate goal for the believer, no matter what generation they are in, is the same: ‘Thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created’, Rev. 4. 11. Archbishop William Temple spells out for us the whole life impact that this should have: ‘Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin’.11 May the world see in us a people transformed through the renewing of our minds proving what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God, Rom. 12. 2.
1 ‘To fashion or shape one thing like another’, W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.
2 Secularization: ‘The process through which, starting from the centre and moving outwards, successive sectors of society and culture have been freed from the decisive influence of religious ideas and institutions’, Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File, p. 51.
3 J Eareckson and Nigel M. De S. Cameron, How to be a Christian in a Brave New World, p. 33. There are further resources listed at the back of this book to explore these kinds of issues in more depth.
4 Although it may seem from what I say that I am against technology, this is not true. I am thankful that I live in an age of computers with all their potential for usefulness and good. I simply want to point out the subtle effect that these new technologies can have and the need for as great, if not greater, self-discipline in the basics of Christian living.
5 I have chosen ones that I have particularly felt the pressure of. Others could perhaps be thought about, e.g., how the quickly changing technology might affect relationships between generations, or the challenge of consistency across our ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds, remembering that we are the same person whether in cyberspace or space time!
6 The possibility of sending out accurate, useful and wholesome programming for the amount of time it was on air was questioned by seasoned media man Malcolm Muggeridge way back in 1977 in a series of lectures called ‘Christ and the Media’. When you consider the proliferation of channel availability in the digital age, we should be acutely alert to what we are taking in.
7 Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies: To be relaxed, slacken, desist, let alone.
8 Ps. 27. 14 among others. The idea is that of hoping in, trusting and being prepared to wait steadily and patiently until a thing is effected, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies.
9 Full knowledge; it has been got, tested and, as a result, has resulted in rejection if false, or submission to it if true. Summarized from the section in What the Bible Teaches, 2 Timothy 3. 7.
10 Has the idea of talking over something with oneself, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies.
11 ‘Beyond Opinion – Living the faith we defend’, Ed. Ravi Zacharias, p. 326