Christians Go Back to Kindergarten (164)

This is the third of the three-episode series where Gregg offers his views on the Whitehorse Inn podcast, “Do all paths lead to God?”  Specifically, Gregg is replying to the claim that this podcast is an example of how Christians “engage well” with outsiders—how they engage thoughtfully, on point, and respectfully with non-Christians and interact with non-Christian views from the perspective of (and on the terms of) non-Christians.

In this episode Gregg bring together a number of arguments that respond point-for-point to the Whitehorse Inn podcasters main perspectives.  Gregg summarizes his views by explaining that he perceives at least three basic flaws in the approach taken by the Whitehorse podcasters, and that these flaws are “fatal” because they undermine the Christian message that the podcasters desire to communicate and disenfranchise non-Christians, the audience to whom the podcasters seek to communicate this message.

The first flaw is that their presentation of the Christian message overvalues the Bible (and the importance of biblical truth) and both undervalues experience (and the importance of love), and further overemphasizes its uniqueness while de-emphasizing its shared nature.  The second flaw is that the podcasters unjustifiably detach truth claims from their corresponding truth values, to the point that they appear to view Christian truth claims as comprising their own truth values, as if such a thing were possible.  The third flaw is that the podcasters take an unnecessarily polarized view of human capacities resulting in an overly limited view of typical human capability (particularly of human sense perception, imagination, emotion, memory, interpretation, etc.), believing that typical human perspectives are purely subjective (and therefore of no or low value) while those of biblical authors and persons are fully objective (and so of full or high value).

Gregg believes these three flaws to be related by the fact that they all represent overstating (or prioritizing) certain notions to the detriment of others, when in fact both are not only interrelated but necessary (and so require proper integration and equal “weight”).  All of the above are also informed by a philosophical perspective that overly simplifies how we know things and is overly optimistic about how fully we can access the things that we try to know.

Concerning how the podcasters under-emphasize and devalue experience, Gregg explains that Christians need to understand not only how others view the world but why they view it as they do.  Specifically, Gregg argues that , in a post-holocaust, post-Rwanda, post-modern world we cannot proceed like, for instance, Paul did on Mars Hill (in Acts 17).  Paul was communicating with a population who were almost entirely ignorant of Jesus and the message of Christianity.  Further, he was communicating to a culture that was far more open than ours and one that was fundamentally different.  And the main difference is that Paul was dealing with a culture of belief were scepticism was present but not overwhelming, whereas we are now dealing with a nearly overwhelming culture of suspicion (and even apathy) where belief is rare.

The point is that Paul needed to communicate content first—he needed to communicate basic facts to introduce Christianity to those who had never heard of it before.  In the twenty-first century, however, everyone already knows everything about Christianity.  Now Christians will immediately object: many non-Christians think they have the whole picture when in fact they have a partial picture, or they believe that they know what Christianity is about but they are missing key information.

The issue Gregg notes here is that the reigning suspicion toward Christianity will never be overcome but more or better information.  This is because suspicion, as an interpretive grid, is a way of seeing that is aimed not at a belief’s content but at its practitioners’ actions.  This has two implications.

The first implication is that because suspicion is aimed at uncovering self-deceit, the very thing that the Bible so keenly details and continually denounces, Christians should respond to suspicion by accepting its criticism and examining where and how it is true in order, to use the Whitehorse Inn podcasters’s words, to “0submit] ourselves to reality.”  The second implication of the Christian’s actions being under fire, and not his or her beliefs per se, is that Christians need to earn the right to speak by showing outsiders that they are “real human beings.”  So where part of the accusation lodged against Christians is that they are “disconnected from real life” (demonstrated in part by the fact that they continually misunderstand non-Christians will claiming the relate with them well) Gregg argues that Christians must begin a conversation with outsiders not by talking about God and Christianity but by demonstrating how their faith plays out in real life.

So in a “culture of suspicion” Christians cannot proceed by telling things about Christianity first, and only showing how what we said can be validated in “real life” second.  This worked for Paul on Mars Hill but is not the approach that can address today’s widespread suspicion.

Instead, today Christians need to . . . go back to Kindergarten!

In other words, we need to show Christianity (and ourselves as Christians) to be valid and real, and only then can we earn a hearing—only then can we tell non-Christians about Christianity in a way that addresses how non-Christians may be either mis– or under-informed about Christian truth claims or biblical information.

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