I want to see if I can tie some disparate threads together. But first, a bracing dose of Chesterton.
“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy)
So let us begin by noting that postmodern thought and postmodern rot are phrases that rhyme. This is not a coincidence, and is pregnant with meaning. In most institutions today, we are at the point where we are not dealing with the truth over here and error over there, but rather a scorbutic malaise that has gotten into everything.
Now of course, truth and error do not mix, just as truth and a general cultural malaise do not mix. But when the pomo-rot is well-advanced, you find it creeping into places that are generally thought to be still trying to hold the line against error proper. And it can look like orthodoxy for a bit, but more than a little neo is creeping into it.
Gradually, slowly, inexorably, the lines fall back, and it is yet another dismaying instance of a retreat to commitment. The fortresses that our fleeing soldiers are heading for may have different names — our tribe, our faith community, the text itself, our interpretive tradition, whatever. And after the rout is over, there we are, peering over the wall of our faith tradition, watching Rabshekah ride back and forth on his horse, listening to his interpretation of recent events.
We don’t get there all at once. If some Christian is on television and is asked the baiting question as to whether homosexual practice is a sin, he will reply (if he is trying to hold the line in any fashion) that “yes, it is a sin, but all of us are sinners, and God makes no distinction between sins, and I myself am a sinner, and have sinned just this week in ways that are every bit as bad. And it’s only Monday.” What he ought to say is “yes, it is a sin. A very bad one. Kind of gross, if you think about it.”
Now if he goes the former route, what is he trying to avoid? It is not the identification of homosexual sin as “sin.” He does that. What he is trying to avoid is his own sin, the “sin” of certainty, the sin of confidence, the sin of dogmatic pronouncement. The sin of acting as though God has spoken.
It shows up in other places as well. If we can all play “yea, hath God said” when it comes to various interpretations, then this leaves room for us and our individual choices. We doubt what God has said — but we never doubt what we want to do. We don’t doubt our lusts. We doubt what God says about them.
This is why liturgical dress among evangelical Protestants so frequently resembles the look you might get with a homeschool basketball team. To each his own! A cassock here, a surplice there, and of course, the
willy nilly stole. The real issue here is easy to miss — this is no debate between Hooper and Ridley over vestments. Both those worthy men followed the truth, and disagreed over what that truth required at a particular point. No, this is the result of the removal of confidence (because of postmodern rot) in a sure word from God, with the consequence that we are somehow free to choose according to our current whims. And that is what this generation loves to serve — it loves to serve suiting itself. And make no mistake, when men start suiting themselves, cross-dressing is not far off. The world is a smorgasbord, and you walk down the line pushing your cafeteria tray, picking up those things that appeal, and passing entirely over those things, like the healthful green beans, that do not.
But the spirit of idolatry begins long before the wood and stone shows up. “ . . . remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring” (Num. 15:39). Whenever God speaks a sure word, it never leaves our own hearts and our own eyes with the scope that they prefer to have.
It may look like I am lurching, changing the subject yet again, but I am not, really. When Phil Johnson was here in Moscow a few years ago, he mentioned his surprise at the different reactions he had gotten from young earth creationists and those who held otherwise. He had deliberately stayed out of that issue in his writing on Darwin, and was expecting the young earthers to assault him with shouts of wild alarm, and to be treated to the standard big tentery that passes for charity among the forces of moderation. But, he said, it went exactly the other direction. The forces of moderation were hostile, and the young earthers were all welcoming and stuff. Now why was this?
I believe that it has to do with the issues revolving around confidence and certainty. The ID movement — despite some claims to the contrary — have provided us with some slam dunk certainties. And make no mistake — certainty is the real enemy.
This is why I appreciate Lewis and Chesterton so much. Despite some strong disagreements about particular doctrines or practices, we stand shoulder to shoulder on the crucial importance of protecting the foundation of our ability to disagree. In order to have a real debate, a real discussion, we must become what Lewis called “old Western men,” and we must loathe the poison of subjectivism.