Chapter five is instructive, less so on a personal level but more on a universal one. In this chapter Welch examines trends over history that have given way to “modern assumptions” in the world and the church. These assumptions are powerful influences in our pursuit of man’s approval.
Assumptions about God
Prior to the 1700s, an understanding of God-ordained structure governed most people’s thoughts. In most cases, Providence determined your family, your class, and your trade. With the rise of the middle class in the French Revolution, people had more chances to think about their individual choices and identities. A sense that one might determine one’s own destiny became a reality absent of any submission to a divine authority.
An influential personality during this time was Rousseau. He believed in “god,” but it was a god found in nature, and he moved the trend from an objective source of truth (the Bible) to a subjective one (feelings). This of course is a familiar refrain in today’s society, but is perhaps best summed up by Emerson’s cry that “the soul always believes in itself.” You have your God and I have mine, and, as Welch so aptly puts it, “the only immoral act in such a culture is to say that your version of God is superior to anyone else’s.”
Such thought has heavily influenced the church, and we now have clergy who encourage people to “forgive God.” The Biblical framework has been lost. “Anything that erodes the fear of God will intensify the fear of man.”
Assumptions about ourselves
We are morally good. The heart of the “love yourself” movement says that we are ultimately good, and evil exists apart from us. Abuse of the Scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself” is rampant, as it is the “proof-text” for this line of thought. Welch correctly states, “…in reality the passage doesn’t even suggest such an interpretation. Jesus spoke these words to a rich young man who clearly loved himself and his possessions too much. There is only one command in the passage, and it is ‘love your neighbor.’ “
Emotions are the way to truth. This frequently takes the form of people ascribing their feelings to God’s speaking to them. But it subtly influences us in other ways, too:
There was a time in my own life when I would ‘practice the presence of God’; then, when I felt his presence, I would pray. All went well until the day I didn’t feel his presence. I waited for hours, filled with tears, but I never felt The Presence…. The Presence finally came the next day when I was asking for counsel from a good friend. His comment was simply this: ‘Why didn’t you just pray by faith?’ He taught me one of the most important lessons of prayer: that prayer depended on God and his promises, not my own quixotic emotions.
All people are spiritual. This point goes hand-in-hand with the “feelings” trend, as spirituality becomes divorced from doctrine and substance and leans heavily in the direction of feelings-based experiences.
What does it mean that all these thousands call themselves Christians as a matter of course? These many, many men of whom the greater part, so far as one can judge, live in categories quite foreign to Christianity! …People upon whom it has never dawned that they might have any obligation to God…At the bottom of this there must be a tremendous confusion, a frightful illusion, there surely can be no doubt. (Kierkegaard)
I am continuing to chew on this chapter. It’s an interesting perspective on the world around me. The commercials on TV, the “news” which is really commentary, the publications in every bookstore all reflect these assumptions about ourselves and God. Can you think of any examples you’ve seen? Please leave a comment if you have.