In Season 1 Episode 10 of The Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould will talk about how disenchantment, the dominant way of perceiving, has infected and influences the church.
How is disenchantment not just a problem “out there” in culture, but also a problem for the Church?
One of the chief characteristics of disenchantment is the “felt absence of God.” It is possible to live our entire life without an appeal to the divine – and this possibility includes Christians. All too often, we go to church with empty hearts and little expectation that we’ll meet God there, and then we leave, and get on with our lives without much thought of God.
How has disenchantment and this pervasive “felt absence of God” negatively affected the church?
Three problems that have resulted: (1) Anti-Intellectualism, (2)Fragmentation, and (3)The Unbaptized Imaginations.
Earlier this fall, Ligonier Ministriessurveyed 3,000 Americans to “take the temperature of America’s theological health.” And what they found, according to Ligonier founder and chairman, R.C. Sproul is this: “What comes screaming through this survey is the pervasive influence of humanism.”
Here are some examples from their findings to give you an idea of the pervasive anti-intellectualism, especially when it comes to theology and knowledge of the Bible:
- 64% of Americans and 58% of evangelicals think the Holy Spirit is a life force, not a person
- 19% of Americans and 17% of evangelicals believe Jesus is the first creature created by God
When it comes to the Bible, some Americans like the Bible while others are skeptical:
- About half of Americans (48 percent) believe the Bible is the Word of God. Four in 10 (43 percent) say the Bible is 100 percent accurate, while a similar share of Americans (41 percent) say it’s helpful but not literally true.
Or when it comes to the doctrine of sin:
- 67% of Americans think everyone sins, but people are mostly good, and 51% or evangelicals agree
- 48% of Americans think sex outside of marriage is wrong, and 76% of evangelicals agree
“This study demonstrates the stunning gap in theological awareness throughout our nation, in our neighborhoods, and even in the seat next to us at church.” – Stephen Nichols, Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries
When we fail to organize our lives around the good that is God and fail to narrate our lives by locating our story in the gospel story, we become fragmented people.
The issue is one of trajectory.Are our lives characterized by ever-increasing holiness or ever-increasing wickedness? Do we seek daily to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus or do we assert our own interests and our own agendas as we use and abuse others?
The problem, given disenchantment, is that society is fractured and all too often, the same can be said of Christians. The same problems we find in culture are found in the church: pornography, anger, rage, filthy language, hatred, the politicization of everything, infidelity, idolatry, consumerism, hedonism, and more. We are called by God to be set apart, to be holy—yet so often, we don’t look, act or think much different than those within culture.
The result is two-fold:
- First, we’ve lost our ability to speak into the darkness with moral authority; so, we’ve lost our prophetic voice
- Second, the Christian story—and the traditional teachings—especially on sex, marriage, gender—are no longer seen as plausible or desirable—and so we’re confused, and everyone suffers. Or, in other words, we are not able to live out our calling to be agents of shalom, because we aren’t experiencing shalom, or flourishing, as God intended for us—so we are not able to be a blessing to others.
The Unbaptized Imagination
Five hundred years ago, in an age of enchantment, there were significant barriers to unbelief. The medieval vision of reality included the following three beliefs that informed the collective imagination of European culture:
- The natural world functioned as a signpost, pointing beyond itself to God.
- Society was grounded in a heavenly reality; earthly kingdoms reflected the kingdom of God.
- People lived in an enchanted
Thus, people by and large held to a sacramental view of reality. All was sacred. All was connected. All was gift. The Christian story shaped medieval man’s identity and informed his way of living and moving in the world.
Disenchantment, however, changed everything. The individualism, reductionism, and hedonism that characterize this disenchanted age make unbelief possible and belief difficult. It has also, unfortunately, reshaped the Christian imagination.
The problem is that Christians today no longer hold a sacramental view of reality. Instead, Christians tend to view the world in the same way as everyone else: as ordinary or mundane. The things that fill our heart with wonder are largely the same things that fill the non-believer’s heart with wonder: romantic comedies, political scandals, dystopian thrillers, ball games, visits to the mall, a day at the amusement park, a trip to the beach. No wonder Christianity is no longer viewed as reasonable or desirable. Thus, in order to help unbelievers, see Christianity as true and satisfying, Christians must once again embrace a sacramental view of the world. In short, we must re-baptize the Christian imagination.
How can we take steps to join with the Holy Spirit and others to re-enchant Christianity?
When it comes to anti-intellectualism, we must begin to see Jesus as intellectually virtuous, and then, as we follow in his steps, become people who cultivate the intellectual virtues too—study the things of God and study the works of God, making connections between the things we study and the God who created it all.
When it comes to fragmentation and re-baptizing the imagination, we must organize our lives around the good that is God. We flourish and become whole when our core identity is found within the gospel story. This means that we intentionally pursue God and others each day as we enact in our daily habits, the gospel story.
We must locate our lives in God’s story and live for another moment by moment, picking up our crosses and following Jesus as we find our rhythm in the sacred order of the cosmos.
- Ligonier Ministries, “The State of Theology” – https://thestateoftheology.com
- Smith, James K. A. Awaiting the King. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017.
- Desiring the Kingdom.Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.
- Imagining the Kingdom. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.
- Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.