Wineskins Archive

February 5, 2014

Communicating Christ: Head and Heart (Jan-Apr 2000)

Filed under: — @ 7:15 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
January – April 2000

We live at an interesting juncture in human history. No, make that “fortunate” or “propitious.” And we must be wise enough to respond appropriately.

For fully 250 years, we have perpetuated a Post-Enlightenment culture. The intellectual hallmark of this period has been rationalism. The target of communication was the mind, and the goal was persuasion through argument. Facts, syllogisms, testimony – the sorts of things that lawyers present at trials had primacy.

The church adopted and affirmed this cultural model. We prepared and presented carefully structured arguments for the existence of God, the authenticity of Scripture as revelation, and the deity of Jesus. Study of the biblical text was crucial, and the original languages of Scripture (i.e., Hebrew and Greek) were important to know. A hermeneutical method to display our study tools was produced that generated reassuring outcomes consistent with the consensus tenets we had already embraced.

It wasn’t such a bad model. God created us with rational powers, and he intends for us to use them. Doing so has produced scholarship and serious Bible study. We are theologically literate. We acknowledge the primacy of the Word of God as his vehicle for teaching us his will, and we encourage people to read and study it with seriousness. We employed a cultural paradigm with profit.

In the final decade or so of the 20th century, the cultural paradigm finally shifted. Science, logic and erudition hadn’t solved our problems – as we were confident it would at the start of the century. Wars and crime escalated. Disease and poverty continued to abound. So it became popular again to speak of art and mystery. Out of an anti-intellectual bent came talk of intuition, feeling, and omen. Even the words “miracle” and “God” came back into vogue.

We have entered a Post-Modern culture. Its intellectual trademark is experiential learning, and the target of communication is the heart. The goal is not always persuasion but is often understanding and respect. Feelings, emotion, sensitivity – these now have priority over polemics.

Stories are more powerful than argument in the new culture. Music carries and imprints beliefs more effectively than prose creeds. It is a visual and oral culture, not a written one. Community is prized over rugged individualism. Arrogance, prejudice, and racism are hateful vices to be shunned.

Some will insist on preaching the gospel and doing church in the mode of the Post-Enlightenment paradigm and will denounce the new once. But each is a cultural model, nothing more and nothing less. The new is far more like the first-century culture into which Christianity was originally born.

We can communicate Christ most faithfully by realizing where we are. At this turning point in history, mind and heart must meet. Facts are carried best in narrative. Truth is best authenticated by being modeled in healthy, respectful relationships. Doctrine must be allowed to live alongside mystery and in humility.

Reason and encounter, conviction and meekness, analytical and spiritual, written word and Living Spirit – the very “tensions” we meet in Scripture are with us. What a challenge. And what an opportunity, if we are wise rather than frightened.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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