Thursday, May 25, 2006

Vision #11

The Da Vinci Code is more than a book. It’s a trumpeter. And it is blasting out alarming news. There has been a coup and Christianity no longer is the prevailing ideology of Western Civilization. Indeed, it is no longer the prevailing ideology of many Christian Churches.

The revolutionary forces against Western Christianity had been steadily graining strength for several centuries. However, it was in the years between 1900- 1915, in the city of Vienna, where an intellectual earthquake took place that dislocated the ideological foundations of Western Christianity. It has taken a century for the aftershocks of that quake to reach many of the churches of North America.

In the opening years of the twentieth century, psychologists and physicists made starling new claims about the nature of reality. The theory of relativity told us that the only thing constant in the universe was the speed of light. Everything else – size, weight, color, distance and even time – were all relative measurements that depended upon the “eye of the beholder.” Quantum mechanics told us that the same “principle of uncertainty” was the operating parameters for the world of subatomic particles – the pieces of matter that make up atoms. Above us and beneath us there was only void. Meanwhile, the psychologists taught that our motives, actions and behaviors derived from parts of ourselves that we do not know and over which we have little control. Not only do we not know the universe, we do not know even our selves.
Soon, artists, who in those days still read books, began manifesting their anxieties over the loss of confidence in the created order that the new information implied. Twisted forms and symbolic splashes of color, sound and music erupted across Europe. The artistic overthrow of convention delighted some. It horrified others. Among those horrified was a want-to-be artist living in Vienna. He decided to rise up and set the world right. He spoke with such passion and power about restoring moral order and sanity to Europe that many fearful people decided to give him a chance. His name was Adolf.

And so the century continued its bloody path of revolution and reaction. Finally, Europe was dying from its self- inflicted wounds. While Western Civilization fought for its survival, few seemed to notice that the Christian faith in Europe was reeling. Some believers took one side of the cultural war and some the other. However, most Christians on both sides were fighting symptoms. Few were willing or able to deal with the roots of the war. Few seemed to understand that the foundations of reality itself had been thrown into question. Few seemed to realize that Christianity’s sacred text, its belief in a spiritual world; its belief in sin, repentance and salvation; and its ways of bringing the human soul into a sacred encounter with God, had all been seriously undermined. The older generations of believers would die in peace, most of them completely unaware of how the ground had shifted under their feet as they went on with their lives. With each succeeding generation though, more and more European believers had to face the impossibility of ignoring the erosion of faith within their culture and modern church life.

Slowly, the aftershocks of the Vienna earthquake made their way across the Atlantic. Some American seminaries brazenly declared that centuries of Christian thought were now dead. Others, just as boldly shouted that they would defend the honor of their faith by turning a deaf ear to science, art, philosophy and literature. The liberals would reject their own faith; the fundamentalist would reject all aspects of culture that seemed to challenge their faith. One would expand the definition of faith until it defined nothing; the other would shrink the definition of faith until it became mostly about defending cultural and political traditionalism.

Evangelical Christianity in North American thus has two major problems: we have not valued our scholars and have thus lost much content and, we have largely lost our ability to encounter the presence of God in worship. We have been busy fighting “liberalism” by achieving financial and numerical growth and by becoming politically active. This strategy has won many battles. Unfortunately, we have been losing the larger war for the soul of Western Civilization. We have paid far too much of attention to technique and appearance and not enough to spiritual substance. Furthermore, many of us who have cared about “spirituality” have not believed that the intellect has much to do with one’s spiritual growth and development. In fact, many came to view the intellect as the enemy of God and faith. Thus, we have disarmed ourselves. But our enemy has not.

The Da Vinci Code is a delightful book. It is not only full of action and adventure, it teaches about art, history, religion, philosophy and values. Many of the conclusions it draws about these subjects are not factual and it sometimes plays with the underlying “facts” themselves. Of course, the author tells us, ‘lighten up; it’s a novel. Just enjoy the book.” We Christians cannot lighten up because we know that there is something behind the book that is frightening and hostile. And since we are disarmed and unprepared, we hardly know what to do. Our enemies, the secularists and Gnostics who now govern Western Civilization, are smart. They know more about our faith than most believers. They are rewriting our religion so that even if our grandchildren consider themselves believers, their faith will not be the sort that contains troublesome things like scripture, sacrament, commandments and sacred meetings with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

A few years ago Phillip Jenkins, in his book, The Next Christendom, told us that the faith as we had known it has moved to Africa, Asia and Latin America. He was writing for Oxford Press. So he was hard to ignore. But we somehow managed – liberals and conservatives alike.

Revival is still possible. However, it will require us to recover worship that moves our souls to awe, to recover our intellect by studying the Holy Scriptures and our own history and to recover genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit, without which no church has ever prevailed against darkness. Being thus rearmed and humbled by grace, we can learn to view life and all it contains through eyes of faith, serve humanity through acts of service in the name of Christ and face the real rulers of the new Western World – the same enemies we have been facing for two thousand years -- the world, the flesh and the devil.

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