Prior to the three most recent posts (which came from my interview with Randal Rauser), I was unpacking the second aspect of A Recipe for Disaster, the preparation phase. I began by pointing out there are three ways in which we unintentionally prepare believers for a crisis of faith. The first method of problematic preparation was believers being over prepared, which I defined as having to affirm a doctrinally bloated, fragile and inflexible set of beliefs in order to be a “biblical” Christian.
In this post I will briefly touch on the second way parents and churches can set up believers for a crisis of faith at the preparation stage, and that is by underpreparing them to live in, and relate to, a culture that is very different from that of the Bible.
How do we do that? We do that by not helping them bridge the gap between their increasingly secular world of bewildering scientific discovery and technological mastery and the ancient world of the Bible. Although overall the world is getting more religious rather than less, in the West it is becoming more secular. To be more accurate it is becoming more secular at the institutional level. The higher levels of the education system, political arena, media of mass communication, Silicon Valley, and the legal system are decidedly secular in their outlook. More importantly it is these folks who control the “official” cultural narrative. That narrative is that religion because of its inferior and suspect intellectual status should be banished from the public square.
Imagine what it is like for a young believer growing up in our culture. On the one hand our socio-cultural setting is that of practical atheism (God plays no role in our society, religion is privatized). On the other hand, it is a culture where the intellectual elite and culture shapers view belief in religion as naïve at best and dangerous at worst. Perfectly okay for primitive people who knew no better, but something that enlightened moderns should have outgrown the need for.
In order to maintain belief in such an environment, believers need more than Sunday School articulations of the faith. They need to be able to appreciate the depth and richness of the biblical text in ways that go beyond shallow bible teaching. They need to have a bibliology that is more than just surface level, flannel graph representations of the Bible’s content.
The Bible comes to us from the distant past, from a world that was culturally, socially, scientifically and technologically, radically different than ours. The biblical world is an enchanted one where spiritual powers were taken for granted, the miraculous undoubted and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was an unthought reality in the background of everyone’s daily experience. Such is not the case today.
We live in a post-enlightenment age resulting in a disenchanted world. No angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, souls or miracles are included in “our” understanding of the world. And, unless you can offer really compelling evidence, no God either. Science and technology have provided mechanistic explanations of the world that our ancient relatives once appealed to God for. Whereas the knowledge possessed by our biblical predecessors reached its zenith in building the pyramids, we have landed on the moon, sent a rover to Mars, eradicated diseases, cloned sheep, mapped the human genome, peered back into the distant past of the universe and into the subatomic level of reality. We have created artificial intelligence and the Internet just to name a few of the more recent human accomplishments.
Meanwhile, our ancient biblical ancestors thought the sky was a solid dome with lights lodged in it. They believed the dome separated us from a storehouse of water and when the windows were opened, the rain fell through. They also believed that the earth itself was a flat disk surrounded by water and resting on four pillars.
How, then, it might be asked, can an educated, culturally savvy, modern living in the West with all its technology and scientific insight affirm they believe the Bible? The answer is, not very easily. Imagine standing up at UCLA or the University of Toronto, in an upper level psychology class and admitting that you believe the stories in the Old Testament are actually true.
Stories such as:
A talking snake tricking Adam and Eve.
Samson killing 1,000 men with the jawbone of an ass.
Methuselah living 969 years.
Elijah ascending to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
Jesus raising from the dead.
I’m not mocking these stories. I believe them. But I had to understand them in deeper ways than the surface level flannel graph way I once did. This does not mean that I now view them as metaphors or allegories rather than historical events. It just means that in order to maintain my intellectual integrity and my belief in the Bible I had to find ways to connect the miraculous and supernatural stories in the Bible that are so foreign to my experience, to the world I live in.
Unfortunately, I was underprepared to do so from my socialization into the faith. Good, Jesus loving, well-intentioned folks in my life failed to bridge the gap for me. I don’t blame any of them for that. I suspect many in my community of faith were not equipped to do so. When I was growing up in northern Ontario in the 70s and 80s the challenge of an increasingly secularized and skeptical culture was not what it is today. I came from a good home and a good church environment that did many things well. I will always be grateful for that. But today we need to do more in order to help believers maintain faith. We need to bridge the gap between the world they live in and the one they find in the Bible. In future posts I will suggest how to do so.