Scot McKnight: Self in a Castle
How modernity and postmodernity have conspired to warp the current generation.

Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish philosopher who weakened Marxism's grip on Eastern Europe, recently died. Few, I suspect, knew who he was. I consider myself fortunate to have read some of Kolakowski, one book being his scintillating sketch of the history of ideas by probing the central idea of twenty-three thinkers. That book is called Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? My own reading of it impressed me again with the connection of philosophers with their world. From Socrates to Kierkegaard, philosophers are products of their day.

So are we. Which raises the profound problem of blinders when it comes to perceiving what is influencing us, and which raises the other profound problem of needing to understand our cultural blinders in order to break through them with the light of the gospel. Kolakowski's chapters are short, and everything short when it comes to the history of ideas risks simplicities that mask nuance. I risk the same in what I am about to suggest: the current generation emerges out of a toxic combination of modernity and postmodernity.

In another context (the summer issue of Leadership Journal) I called the toxicity of the current generation a "self in a castle." Modernity's singular contribution to the history of ideas is individualism. David Bentley Hart gets this exactly right in his new rant against the flimsy ideas in new atheism when he writes:

"We live in an age whose chief value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the inviolable liberty of personal volition, the right to decide for ourselves what we shall believe, want, need, own, or serve" (Atheist Delusions, 21-22).

That is, "it is choice itself, and not what we choose, that is the first good." Personal freedom, which both Kolakowski and Hart understand far more profoundly than most, has become getting to do whatever I want, when I want, and how I want – and government's job is to make sure it happens now. That's, of course, an exaggeration, but it's the exaggeration that is causing our problem in gospel work today.

Perhaps the most important words in Hart's lines above are "by overwhelming consensus." The consensus is so overwhelming that the emerging generation – each of us – believes we can form our own religion. A religion of our own making, however, never leads to transcendence or worship of God or anything like the ancient Hebrews' "fear of God." Instead, we tinker on the edge of holiness with the notion of experiencing The Beyond.

How feeble of a god is that? When "The Beyond" evokes mystery or suggests to our minds that we are on the edge of something important, then we need to look into abyss of where we are headed.

August 28, 2009

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments

Chris (Jesdisciple)

September 04, 2009  10:34pm

From Skye's introduction in the newsletter: This poses quite a conundrum for churches unwilling or unable to adapt their ways of engaging the culture. What do you think? And what are the implications for the church going forward? The first sentence assumes that adaptation is appropriate, but gives no alternative to which anyone can adapt. Anyway, the only possible adaptation I see is to address God's authority like His existence, in order to show His less pleasant actions to be just.

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david brandts

September 04, 2009  1:30pm

"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable...holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power...(II Tim. 3:1-5 NASB) The response of our generation to Christ and the Gospel is affirmation that we are in the last times. The danger we must completely avoid is watering down the Gospel to try to win over those who hold their own independence and perspective in such high regard. We will be hated for proclaiming that man is wicked, separated from God, and headed to hell unless he repents and believes in Jesus Christ to save him, but that is the Truth and the Truth does NOT change. It is not the Christians who must change the message, rather it is sinful man who must humble himself before Jesus Christ and believe in Him as Savior and Lord. We must keep proclaiming the Truth even if no one believes, just as Noah did. We are promised, however, that some will believe (John 4:35). "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets." (Luke 6:26 NASB) We are to preach the Truth to please the Father, not men. Watering down the message may win men's approval, but it will not win God's approval. I do not believe that Scot McKnight is communicating that we should abandon the Gospel. Many people seem to observe the same phenomenon as Scot McKnight, however, and DO come to the conclusion that we need to conform the Gospel more to the culture of our day. Let's keep preaching the Truth and leave the results up to God.

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david hahn

August 29, 2009  7:34am

is the "breaking thr w the light of the gospel" our responsibility or God's? for me God as the acting agent and subject of our verbs prevails as THE gospel at work in the world. for me God is not a dependent subject waiting for me to act and then God's light shows up, but God's light shows up thr my fractured self and "the best" of what is there, that is grace. "good news" is God's and the fact that Jesus became flesh in a particular time and place is exactly part of the paradox and offense, that God's light shines even as, when and where we aren't aware of the blinders and walls that are up. this all sounds to me like another achievement i'm supposed to arrive at but for the sake of what?

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Steve Martin

August 28, 2009  1:05pm

Self in a castle? Check this out for a great picture of it:

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August 28, 2009  9:55am

Self in a castle, eh? Gives whole new meaning to Jesus' instruction to "get the moat out of your own eye."

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August 28, 2009  9:41am

Stunning analysis, Scot. That so many blend modernist rugged individualism with the postmodernist elevation of the divine choosing Self resonates with my almost daily experience of having conversations of faith with others. Thank you for writing this...much, much food for thought.

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