America’s Hermeneutical Crisis

IMG_0691.JPGIs it proper to say that Western Culture is in the midst of a hermeneutical crisis? Allow me to enumerate the several symptoms that I observe in order then to determine whether the list constitutes what I have prematurely labeled it.

The chief struggle in the current cultural difficulty is best described as an inability to find common ground of agreement in order to move forward with what is best for the American people as a whole rather than its partisan interest groups. That inability is anchored in an unwillingness to compromise on any level for the sake of finding such common ground. That unwillingness is defended through the exercise of intellectual dishonesty in many cases, while in other cases, there seems to be a genuine inability to distinguish truth from falsehood, good from bad.

An example of *unwillingness* working in tandem with *inability* can be seen in the current crisis having to do with what might be called gender confusion or gender fluidity. Here we observe souls (at least some of which are sincere) who are genuinely confused about their gender (i.e., a woman identifying internally as man, etc). Helping these sincere souls along are those people (many of whom I am convinced have no genuine sympathy) not plagued with such gender trauma and yet, because of the pressure (or the prizing) of political correctness, are willing to placate the gender confused by agreeing to call them Bill instead of Betty, or vice versa.

The hermeneutical crisis I am imagining manifests itself in people who are unable to discern or interpret their own lives within the context of normalcy and therefore create new categories for themselves, while on the other hand, are enablers who are willing to rewrite the cultural “text,” if you will, to include the gender-confused because by doing so they feel they can further their own cultural cause, get some extra votes (if they are politicians), vindicate a family member, or perhaps even garner the acceptance for their own sins in some way.

To put the matter in cruder terms, more and more, people are deciding to interpret cultural/political/social events in a way that supports their agenda rather than to interpret them factually, based on a commitment to truth, regardless of how it affects their agenda.

So, in the same way that some scholars are willing to twist a text in order to make it support their beliefs, people in Western Culture are proving that they have little to no commitment to rightly discerning the daily events and circumstances which make up the average American life.

It’s not my intent to discuss the problem of gender confusion though some will not be able to get past that example. My purpose instead is to examine the hermeneutical approach to the events of daily life taken by the average person in Western culture, particularly the average American.

The word *hermeneutics* is of course a terribly uninteresting word to the uninitiated, but expounding it and explaining how it applies to the average person is the best way forward.

In a counseling appointment with a man who is unruly in the church I observed again how distinctly from the norm some people arrive at truth. Such a distinct approach is almost impenetrable. The difficulty is bound up in the discussion of authority. One of the heritages from the enlightenment, as harmful as it may be at times, is the admonition to appeal to your own reason to arrive at truth and not depend on a book, an organization, etc.

So, yes  America—the West—has chosen to “rewrite” the cultural text so that it says what they want to to say. That’s a hermeneutical crisis.

 

Waiting for the Utterance…

75c698b093fbe8504d666901de0a33f5I speak in tongues. I am so thankful to be a Pentecostal believer. I would not want to be without that special experience and the ongoing strength that it brings.

I know that there are many (usually charismatic believers) who have the conviction that one can pray in tongues at will, any time. I am content to leave each to their own convictions and I believe one has to work out, with God, their own approach to spirituality. I rejoice that they speak in tongues! But I for one find great confirmation in waiting on the utterance.

The Language of Utterance

The language of utterance comes from Acts 2:4. Here it is in context:

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

They began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. The KJV actually says, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The idea being, of course, that they did not speak in tongues at their own volition but, rather, that the Holy Spirit made them able to, prompted them, etc. So, the view of classical Pentecostals is that the same principle applies going forward: the Holy Spirit at specific times, with whatever frequency, enables the Pentecostal believer to speak in tongues.

Scriptural Evidence

I once asked someone who believes that one can speak in tongues at will where he found Scriptural evidence to do so. He was unable to answer the question. That’s OK. I offered him an answer for the next time someone asks. I told him that I could see how one might see the giving of utterance as a one time act, good from now on. (I don’t think that interpretation can hold up grammatically. The text implies that they only spoke in tongues as he gave them utterance. The utterance given would seem to have a beginning an an end just as their speaking in tongues did on that occasion. Logically, if the Holy Spirit is always giving utterance wouldn’t we be grieving Him if we are not at all times speaking in tongues?)

At any rate, I know there are those who see it that way. But, here is how I find encouragement and confirmation in waiting for the Holy Spirit to give the utterance. When I am praying, there comes a moment when I recognize the Spirit’s urging to pray in tongues. I don’t pray in tongues because I think it is time to, nor do I pray in tongues because I think it will be more efficient (wouldn’t we need to pray exclusively in tongues if that were the case?). I also don’t pray in tongues because I arrive at the conclusion that I don’t know what to pray for. I pray in tongues when I sense the freedom from the Holy Spirit to do so. In a distinct, unmistakable moment in time I go from not even thinking about praying in tongues to being certain that the Holy Spirit is praying through me. In that moment I know that He, the Holy Spirit, is praying according to the will of God and that “he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:27).”

The Variety of Language

I believe there is an added benefit to waiting for the utterance and that is that I very often experience and utter a unique language. That is, it is not the same phrases every time, but rather news words that come forth.

Have you ever noticed that some people, when they speak in tongues, always seem to be saying the same thing? Now, I can certainly allow that there would be some things that the Holy Spirit would pray consistently in a person’s life. But, if we are indeed speaking a language, it would seem that there would be fresh words and tongues coming forth as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and for the world relevant to the times we are in.

Renewed Faith

Over the years, the enemy has tried to convince me to doubt my faith in God and even my belief in God. That’s his job. But one of the things that he simply cannot refute or take away from me is the reality that I have experienced what the New Testament calls the “baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).” Every time the Spirit gives me the utterance, He confirms Scripture, the reality of the existence of God, and the veracity of the Bible all over again.

The Modern “Turn to the Subject”: An Ongoing Study

scottythinks

This article represents an ongoing study for me and will be updated from time to time.

Western culture is yet awash in a detrimental subjectivism which stems from the impact of the modern turn to the subject. Before defining that phrase and more, it is important to confess my presuppositions. 

Enlightenment Still?

kant1 Immanuel Kant

As mentioned above, Western culture yet lies awash in Enlightenment philosophy and, indeed, is still in the Enlightenment period (though many subsequent and intervening eras have been spawned in response). While, indeed, Western culture may have been in a postmodern trance for a time in response to the Enlightenment era and the subsequent eras it spawned, postmodernism failed to convincingly “occupy a standpoint (‘the view from nowhere’) from which it [might] survey all possible standpoints and find them all ‘relative,’ while at the same time [claiming] that there is no such standpoint.”[1] That…

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“Jumping the Broom,”  “Joyful Noise,” and “Unconditional”—Three more attempts at answering Niebuhr’s “enduring problem” of human culture

This article was written a couple of years ago, but was never placed on the blog. It is being submitted now as support to another article concerning T. D. Jakes.

Jumping the Broom Joyful Noise UnconditionalSomething goes wrong when we give eternal weight to temporal human triumph.  The problem is that we have such proclivity to search out and enjoy a story for the sake of entertainment or inspiration that we immerse ourselves in the story and we fail to consider the compromises or the message of the story teller.

Is the T.D. Jakes movie, Jumping the Broom, going to be entertaining? It looks like it. Is it going to be suggestive sexually? The trailer took care of that. But the question I am asking is how much compromise are we willing to engage in for the outside hope that someone in the world might possibly think about considering Christian faith?

When we tell a story that shows such grace and love and understanding for things like premarital sex, adultery, manipulation, deception, all in the name of a God who only loves, the audience leaves thinking that God does not require anything of them; that they are “OK” in their present state. The message isn’t that God is calling and wants to transform your life, it is that God has already come and He is with you right now in the life you are currently living. No need to change. Just give a shout out to the “man upstairs.”

 

Joyful Noise, once again sexually compromising and suggestive, wants us to place at the pinnacle of our hopes, our goals, and our aspirations, the triumph of the human spirit—the value of humans inspiring humans—as though this is man’s chief purpose. It casts a vision for a better humanity with the inclusion of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and various other pop songs all mixed in with occasional songs that almost pass for Christian.

In a review of the movie written by Ari Karpel, Dolly Parton expresses her feeling that God used Todd Graff, the openly gay 52 year old writer and director of the movie. From the review:

Ms. Parton attested: “He has been! [a vessel, presumably of God] God worked through him, that’s what I told him. I would joke, ‘What is this, Jews for Jesus?’ ”

Ms. Parton’s statement implies that some work of God has been done through this film and begs the question, “What did Dolly feel that God was trying to accomplish in this movie?” Somehow, Christians think that any mention of Jesus or any depiction of faith, no matter how convoluted or unscriptural, will somehow lead magically to someone getting saved and thus warrants any amount of compromise necessary, particularly if it means Jesus gets to go to the “Silver Screen,” which belies our underlying desire for fame and fortune.

Perhaps Dolly felt that Mr. Graff might consider Christian faith if he worked on a movie that loosely depicted some version of Christian faith, not thinking that if he did consider faith, he would be considering, not a faith based on the Bible, but one based on a compromised, bottom-up vision of spirituality with Saint Michael Jackson headlining from the loft of heaven, singing about a man in the mirror. A brand of self-improvement style, look-the-other-way spirituality with the name of Jesus tacked on for good measure, but it’s OK because evangelical Christians are just so tickled to be noticed because we so badly want to be in the movies and to be in the White House so that we can reveal to the world just how much we are willing to compromise just to be liked! We are Sally Field at the 1985 Oscars, gushing, “We’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect!”

 

Michael Ealy, star of the USA Network television show Common Law, is also the star of a new movie Unconditional, put together by Harbinger Media Partners and designed to inspire movie goers to “pursue God and serve others.” So here is another opportunity to examine a typical answer to Niebuhr’s question about what to do with Christ and Culture. This movie, however noble an attempt it may be at drawing people to God (not hard to do when roughly 88% of the world’s population believe in God. Drawing them to Jesus? Now that’s another thing altogether…), has chosen as one of its stars a man who’s role on the USA series Common Law was that of an over-sexed, self-serving cop. But, because perhaps he has some name recognition and has endeared himself to his audiences with some notable roles, the “church” decides it would be good to make him a headliner in one of its movies as it attempts one more time to provide what is presumably a movie with Christian values in “theaters everywhere.”

I have to ask, “What are we really after here?” Is it simply that we feel like we should have good clean movies in our theaters so that Christians can go to wholesome movies instead of worldly ones (because we are going to the movies either way”)? Is it that we really think that if we remind the culture of some good moral values and tag on some mentions of God, or show someone going to church, etc., that there will somehow be a massive return to what we as a nation have forgotten and become a Christian nation again? Has this worked in the past (if the movies Joyful Noise and Jump the Broom are any indicators I think we know the answer)? Sure, the movies by Alex Kendrick and Sherwood Pictures have been inspiring, true to Christian values, and widely received by the evangelical church, but they are obviously Christian and not headliners for those doubling as sex maniacs—thus not the best acting but still worth watching. Are we trying to prove to Hollywood and the world that we can do it too?

Deeper still is the question of why we wink at Hollywood’s sin in those rare moments when they are willing to throw the church a bone? This movie endorses Hollywood’s behavior—or at least shows that we are willing to look the other way under the guise of grace—not in its content but because it features an actor who is obviously still willing to do whatever Hollywood wants him to do in order to be a star and get a part. Is it so important that we get another tepid message about “God” into the theaters that we are willing to say to the world “Yes, we think Michael Ealy is good in that T.V. show too and we know that God forgives human sexual weakness so we’re going to compromise ourselves in real life so that we can attempt to depict grace on the big shiny silver screen which we are so desperate to succeed at.

It is a real Christ intersecting-with-culture situation in which the “church” is again trying to solve the issue of what to do about human culture. Do we separate ourselves entirely and enter into Niebuhr’s “Christ against Culture” scenario, or do we simply get in there with the world and label everything as good because it came  from humans and humans were created by God so therefore what they do must have some redemptive value—besides there is no hell anyway right Mr. Bell?

So the movie trailer looks interesting enough and will probably be inspirational. There is nothing wrong with that. If this were a movie produced by Hollywood there would be reason to cheer. However, it seems to be an effort by some well-meaning men who want to bring help to those who are suffering and want to create some movies with good moral values. Again, nothing wrong with that.  My concern is that when people take it on themselves the duty of pointing people to God, and all they can muster are general images and references to God and His grace but never go the full distance to pointing them to Christ, we only strengthen the “I’m ok, you’re ok” mentality that says everyone is fine. God would never judge someone who has been through so much pain or who is obviously weak and unable to keep from falling.