Meeting the Postmodern Challenge
Nathan Betts is an apologist with RZIM Canada. He speaks frequently across Canada and the USA, particularly in university, high school and church settings. He has a special interest in cross-generational outreach, having begun his career working extensively with youth and young adults.
One of the sad realities we face in the world today is the overwhelming mood of disappointment. It is real problem for many, yet one that often goes unnoticed. I feel that if Christians are going to respond well to this conundrum, we need to ask two questions. First, what does this disappointment look like? And second, how can Christians meaningfully respond to a world full of disappointment?
We need to understand from the outset that when we have any discussion about the world or culture, we are not discussing something ‘out there’. Christians should stand out and be a light, of course, but we cannot escape the simple fact that we are indeed part of the overall culture. This means that when I mention disappointment as being one of the challenges in the world, it is a challenge that we all face, Christians and unbelievers alike.
Disappointment can strike us at different levels. Many are disappointed in friendships. Others have been let down by family. Perhaps institutions, churches, or leaders have disappointed you. Surprising to some will be the fact that even technology has disappointed us. So, what causes disappointment? The problem often funnels down to the issue of misplaced trust. In many cases, we feel that we have put our trust in leaders, organizations, friends and perhaps different streams of technology and at some point, they have let us down.
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine that experienced manipulation and abuse by various religious groups. Now, many years after the experience, she does not want to be associated with any type of religion. After listening to her tell me of a heated exchange she had had with a religious leader, I said to her, “I understand why you do not trust any religious person. But let me ask you this: whom do you trust?” She responded, “I trust myself. Who else can I trust?” And she asked me, “Whom do you trust?” I expressed to her that I cannot trust myself. I make too many mistakes and there are too many challenges and temptations in the world. The only one I can trust is God.
Many reading this will not be surprised by my friend’s sentiment. Most, if not all of us have been let down by a person or group of people at some point in our life. Mildly surprising is the fact that technology is emerging as the latest cultural let-down. Irish journalist Mary Kenny noted earlier this year that while we long for connectivity, the harsh reality seems to be that the more connected we are online, the more detached we feel from reality and actual friendship. 1See “We’re More Connected Today, but More Lonely and Atomised Too,” Independent.ie, accessed August 25, 2014, http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/mary-kenny/were-more-connected-today-but-more-lonely-and-atomised-too-30044810.html. In other words, we might be more connected, but we feel more alone than ever. The result in many cases is bitter disappointment.
The question is, how do we as Christians restore trust to our friends, family members and colleagues who have lost all confidence in people? What does the gospel have to say to this situation? I think a starting point for Christians on this matter is simply to live a life that displays the beauty and attractiveness of Christ. If we take a few moments to explore how we came to put our trust in God, we will see that “faith has a lot to do with the simple fact that there are trustworthy lives to be seen, that we can see in some believing people a world we’d like to live in.” 2Rowan Williams, Tokens Of Trust, Reprint edition (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 21–22. This gets at the heart of what Christian apologetics is all about. Before we get to the ‘reasoned defense’ bit of 1 Peter 3:15, we need to make sure that our friends first see the ‘set apart the Lord God as holy’ bit. If they see that there is something different, something that is indeed appealing, they will ask us questions.
So, living a life that reflects the character of Christ is an important way of responding to the problem of disappointment. And there are specific ways in which we can demonstrate Christ’s character. For example, we might begin by practicing patience. The virtue of patience is one we need to recover, particularly in how we relate to one another. We are not a very patient group of people. Everything seems urgent. Emails, voicemails, news, food, meetings. “I need you to get back to me asap!” “Can you return my call immediately?” Patience could be one signpost to Christ in an everything-urgent world.
Another way in which we can point to Christ is by listening. Really listening. An unfortunate characteristic we apologetics-types often possess is to be thinking about what we are going to say while our conversation partner is talking to us. That is not listening! Our world is asking deep questions and the only way we will be able to respond well to the needs around us is by actually listening, and this means giving people our full attention and trying to understand their point of view.
These are just a few of my thoughts on a problem that is rife in our world. The Gospel speaks to disappointment and one of the most powerful ways in which it speaks may be by listening, not necessarily acting; practicing patience as opposed to moving on to something more entertaining.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||See “We’re More Connected Today, but More Lonely and Atomised Too,” Independent.ie, accessed August 25, 2014, http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/mary-kenny/were-more-connected-today-but-more-lonely-and-atomised-too-30044810.html.|
|2.||↑||Rowan Williams, Tokens Of Trust, Reprint edition (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 21–22.|