Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Agenda? Who, me?

This past Christmas included a theme-based gift from various members of my family: my own mini-library of C.S. Lewis books!

My daughter Jordan found the little wooden box in the picture, and in a labour of love and artistic wizardry, turned it into the Lewis-inspired work of art that you see. And everyone else pitched in to add titles written by Clive Staples. (I've got a great family!)

And since the beginning of 2014 I've been re-reading some Lewis classics (Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters), and discovering gems in books that I hadn't read previously. A treasure trove, to be sure.

I am often struck by how current Lewis' writings are today, sixty-plus years after he wrote them. I found this remarkable insight in The Abolition of Man:
"Their skepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough. A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional or (as they would say) 'sentimental' values, have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that the 'real' or 'basic' values may emerge."
This tendency is one I've seen play out in numerous kinds of settings, whether political, social, or spiritual. Maybe especially among the spiritual. Those who want to introduce new, speculative, and possibly unbiblical teachings first invest a great deal of energy in "debunking" anyone who might stand in their way. I've often seen the tools weapons of mockery, name-calling, and other bullying methods used to caricature, belittle, and humiliate their perceived opponents.

Here's the scary part:
They are convinced that everyone else has an agenda, but not them. They have risen above such things. They are here to educate the dullards (that's a kind of oldskewl British word that Lewis might have used -- see how influence works?), and to liberate those oppressed by the rigid gatekeepers of orthodoxy.
It's a good reminder to everyone that humility is a trait that we all need to pursueIf God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6) -- and we could all use more grace in our lives -- then let's take that seriously and seek God for greater humility in our hearts, minds, words, and attitudes. "Coming in the opposite spirit", as some have said.

It's also a sobering warning: anyone who seems bent on 'debunking' orthodox theology does not do so in a pristine intellectual vacuum. There is always an agenda.

Agendas are not always and necessarily bad. You could call the Great Commission an 'agenda': "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). In humility, we all need to recognize that we all have agendas. That's not a bad thing to admit. It's more dangerous to not recognize or admit it. We need to approach the Scriptures and theology with humility.

But as the above quote from C.S. Lewis reminds us, don't be fooled into thinking that those who are attempting to "debunk" orthodox Christianity in the 21st century don't have an agenda of their own.

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