“Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you today, even to you. Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge, to make you know what is right and true, that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?”
In this passage the Lord admonishes us to “know what is right and true,” and to do the mental work to keep his truth within us, make his truth “ready on our lips,” so that we might engage people in our circle of influence and “give a true answer.” In a culture of radical relativism where people reject the notion of objective truth, the people of God need to stand strong for what is right and true.
The great concern, however, is that the people of God have not done the serious work of theological study, and therefore are not equipped to give a true answer to the issues confronting post-modern America.
Yesterday I referred to No Place for Truth, the 1993 book by David Wells. In that book Dr. Wells offers an explanation of the cultural factors that have diminished the place and importance of theology in the church. He demonstrates that in many ways the church has compromised its theological integrity by absorbing the values of late-modern (and now post-modern) western culture.
This has led to a situation in which the truth of God has become marginalized not only in the culture, but in the church, as well. Dr. Wells wrote a follow-up book entitled God in the Wasteland, which is a must-read for every Christian. In that book he writes, “The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.”
With narcissism as a guiding philosophy, the modern world deals with competing beliefs by establishing pluralism as the dominant worldview. You can believe whatever you want about God, the supernatural, and moral absolutes, as long as you keep your beliefs private. Societal beliefs are non- sectarian and non-partisan. The consequence is that our sense of identity within the community is destroyed, because any community requires a shared belief system to function effectively.
But in contemporary America, the only shared belief is narcissism: it’s all about me, getting what I want, going my own way, and doing my own thing. Character becomes exclusively self-oriented (how we think of ourselves), rather than alignment with timeless, objective standards. It’s ironic that in such a society, all the proud, self-centered individualists then lament their sense of isolation, even though it has been self-imposed. They have sold their souls for the lie that they can have it their way, that they are the center of the universe, even as they are marginalized and corrupted by a culture that has rejected truth.
In the midst of the cultural chaos and psychological angst, the people of God should shine as lights in the darkness. But that only happens if we know and live the truth of God. It will only happen if we trust God and do the work to “know what is right and true,” and we are prepared to “give an answer” to those in our sphere of influence.
I close with this quote from God in the Wasteland, where Dr. Wells provides his assessment of the condition of the contemporary church:
“Church life is orchestrated and regimented by pastoral entrepreneurs who pursue spiritual careers that could as easily be carried on in the most secular corporations in America. Entertainment and worship are often indistinguishable. And in the end, Evangelicalism has made itself culturally acceptable by emptying itself of serious thought, serious theology, serious worship, and serious practice in the larger culture.”
Too harsh? Maybe … but maybe not.