Heart 4: Adjusting Frameworks

Previous posts for this chapter, “The Priority of the Heart,” included:

Postmodern Trends 1
Postmodern Trends 2

Adjusting Frameworks
What sort of adjustments in Christian thinking are appropriate given recent postmodern challenges?  First, at the very least we must admit that the vast majority of our reasoning is based in either faith or presumption.  By faith, here, I mean ideas and frameworks of thinking that we quite intentionally adopt with significant awareness of the doubt that accompanies them.  Anyone who takes a “what you see is what you get” approach to reality does not operate with faith but on presumption.  And by presumption, here, we mean an unreflective approach to what we believe. 

One conclusion we should draw from postmodern challenges is that we are all inescapably unreflective on many things.  The difficulty with such unreflectivity is that, by definition, we do not really know at what points we are unreflective.  It takes some challenge to our existing framework to draw attention to it.  True faith is not resistance to new ideas or reflection on our assumptions.  True faith welcomes challenges because of its confidence in what it affirms.

If truth is not the basis for the vast magnitude of things we presume, then where do those ideas and frameworks come from?  It would be a coherent possibility to say they come from God, but this answer is pitifully inadequate for many reasons.  For one, we find so many different understandings of God even within conservative Christianity–over 20,000 small conservative Protestant groups.  If our unexamined presumptions mostly come from God, then we must either conclude that one of these little groups is the one God truly favors (and the vast majority of the rest of us are sunk) or that God is not overly concerned with us having our heads all sorted out.  Indeed, this conclusion seems the only reasonable one.  For so much of human history, so many people–including the people of God–have believed such different things on such fundamental issues that it seems inescapable but to conclude that God is not primarily concerned with right thinking. [1]

In the next chapter we will delve a little into the differing understandings we find even within Scripture itself, such as the fact that the Old Testament has almost no sense of a meaningful afterlife.  Yet in the progressive revelation of the New Testament, resurrection becomes a fundamental understanding.  Consider how many of God’s people from the Pentateuch to the Psalms and wisdom books lived in proper relationship to God without God bothering to correct their understanding on this issue!  And when we read the Old Testament books in context, they have little understanding of what the messiah would truly be like–certainly not that he would be the pre-existent second person of the Trinity.  This understanding was not really clarified until the fourth century after Christ.  Again, it seems impossible to affirm these things without forming a picture of God who patiently walks in relationship with his people without being primarily concerned with sorting out all their understandings, even on fundamental issues.

In the end, we can identify too many other clear sources for our presumptions to maintain that God is the ultimate basis for the vast majority of them.  Descartes-Kant-Kuhn to come…

  • Lenny Luchetti

    Ken writes:

    “Again, it seems impossible to affirm these things without forming a picture of God who patiently walks in relationship with his people without being primarily concerned with sorting out all their understandings, even on fundamental issues.”

    Well said, Ken! Unfortunately, I believe it was some of our evangelic ancestors who made right thinking about God as or more important than right relating to God. While there are many gifts we have received from our evangelical heritage, this notion of right thinking has tended to pigeon-hole the Christian movement and, worse, God at times.

    • David Drury

      Well framed, Ken, as usual.

      I resonate with your statement about our: “God who patiently walks in relationship with his people without being primarily concerned with sorting out all their understandings.”

      Perhaps it’s like this: instead of thinking of the “age of accountability” as being some pre-pubescent milestone, we instead all live in our own “Age of Accountability.” We, as believers, in each era, are to be held accountable by God (and the Church) for our doctrine in terms of the acceptable orthodox dogma of our day. What God has so far revealed in that time–or more precisely, what we have discovered to date which holds us to conscience. This trajectory thinking of course is persistent in your writings, as I read them, Ken.

      So in each age we are accountable in our faith for what we now know, so we cannot indict the Kings for having multiple wives, or the Patriarch’s for not believing in the afterlife, or for those BC for not believing in the messiah, or some in the early church who did not yet believe in the Holy Spirit… and it perhaps extends throughout history on issues of equality & finer points of doctrine, discipleship & behavior of believers. (One might find moments of transition in history, where, for example, Washington had the compunction to free his slaves upon death, and Jefferson did not, which would highlight the path of the trajectory and it’s progress, even amongst contemporaries.)

      What’s more, it would preclude someone regressing to a prior Age of Accountability and saying, for instance: “Well, Origen didn’t believe that, so I’m cool.” Of course this boomerangs back to the question of who decides what orthodoxy is. Which puts us right back in the postmodern pickle.

  • kenschenck

    Lenny-excited that you agree! I usually need to follow up these sorts of comments with a clear statement that I am not throwing out right thinking, only adjusting which number it is in priority.

    David-I love it!

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