We're Sinking!

The Allegory

Another scream echoed from the stern. Justin twisted his head sharply to see who had gone overboard, but was unable. The storm was worse than any before and the old ways were failing. The collapsing railing that scream evinced was proof enough for Justin.

As he firmed his grip on the wheel, trying to fight the storm, Justin looked down at the rope holding him to the steering column and prayed, again, that it would hold. 

Every time there was a storm the captain did the same thing. He rushed around the deck and the hold attempting to tie as many of the crew to the ship as he could. All functions ceased except the two stations that could be manned effectively by someone who was tied in: steering and pumping. 

Sometime in the distant past the captain had noted that with every storm, men were lost. He tried to save them, but he quickly learned that the grip of the sea was merciless. Not only were men rarely recovered, often some trying to rescue them were lost as well. And so came the fateful day when the captain announced his new plan, his new vision: there would be no more fighting the storm, instead we would fasten ourselves to the ship and ride it out. 

For a time, this worked. As long as the storms were small. When the storms were big, nothing went well. Not all of the men could be tied down in time and, inevitably, some were lost. More importantly, no ship can function without its crew.

It was thus that Justin found himself attempting to steer a ship with quickly loosening rigging and sails always at odds to his purpose. It was thus that the waves, crashing into the wrong part of the ship, had not only taken all those not tied down, but had torn loose one of the stern railings. Slowly, surely, all the men fastened to that railing were going under. 

As each wave seemed to be hitting the ship higher and higher Justin wondered if anything had happened to those manning the pumps. If so, they were finished. It did feel as if this time they might sink but Justin could do nothing but continue to hold fast to the wheel and pray. That rope would do him no good if the ship went down...

The Instance

Last week a friend and I went to hear Josh McDowell as a precursor to the "Truth Matters" Campaign, featuring his son, which is coming soon for young adults near you. After a delicious lunch, McDowell got up to speak. He offered an interesting vision of a human being as an iceberg, with the tip that we see being behavior and that underneath it, in descending order, values, worldview, and relationships. He then proceeded to tell an incredibly skewed story of history from renaissance, to enlightenment, to industrial revolution, to darwinism, and, finally, to the internet. Each of these instances was displayed as merely a way of lowering God and elevating Humanity until finally, with the internet, God is no longer in the picture at all. We learned that the internet is the greatest threat to faith the church has ever faced! (Such a storm has been brewing, are you tied fast?) And do you know why it is such a threat? Because Atheists (those dogs!) and people of other faiths (those heathens!) have equal access to your children for the first time in history.

This was followed by a rallying of the statistics. One by one they marched across the screen: this many young people losing faith, that many old people behaving badly, and, the culmination, if we don't convert someone by the age of 12 they have only a 4% chance of becoming Christian!

The solution? Build strong families (not that this had anything whatsoever to do with McDowell's presentation; has this become an a priori amidst Evangelicals?), get them young (though no stats were given, presumably there is more than a 4% chance of someone converting when they are young?), and strengthen their worldview (tie them in!). 

Indeed. We are facing difficulties in this ship we call church. A storm like never before. Time to tie yourselves in boys. 

The Problem
McDowell's entire performance was fear-mongering. The extremely flawed history lesson, the deeply slanted statistics, and the dubiously suggested solutions, were each designed to overwhelm and awe away any questioning or contrary thought. 

The history lesson, portrayed as a loss of the transcendence of God from our perspective, had little to do with reality. One cannot tell a true story by starting in the wrong place. More importantly, one cannot tell a true story by distorting the facts. Darwinism, which if anything served to lower humanity, is a perfect case in point. Whatever the effects of the current horrendously misguiding science/faith debate, the theory of evolution is not about God at all. The conclusion? The threat of the internet. But stop and think, for a moment, about that posited threat. The implicit statement in McDowell's estimate of this threat is that Christians used to be more secure because they were ignorant. With no atheists and very few other religions to contend with, people just never realized they had options and, therefore, blindly continued on in their Christian faith. Is that the kind of faith we want to promote? I suppose if you accept the definition of faith offered by Dorothy Sayers (as a caricature), that it is 'resolutely shutting your eyes to scientific fact,' then it is. But I disagree, strongly.

The statistics, offered only to help us whip up the despair we ought to be experiencing at the current state of things, had little to do with God. There is no possible way to measure the chance of some individual becoming Christian, after the age of 12 or at any other time in life. All we can do is note how many people are actually converted within certain parameters. The climactic statistic, that there is only a 4% chance of someone converting after the age of 12, if accurate, would rightly be stated as follows: 4% of individuals who are not Christian at the age of 12 convert at some point in their lifetime. This is indeed a damning statistic, but it precisely does not call for us to 'get them while their young.' Which brings me to the solutions. 

I actually found the pyramid McDowell started with to be quite insightful. I found out later it was a simplified version of the one you see above. Attitudes and thoughts have been collapsed into values, beliefs converted to worldview, and environment replaced with relationship. Fair enough. I have no problems with those changes. 

If the bottom level is relationship/environment, then it makes sense that McDowell is urging us to build strong families. He never talked about it, but still. The problem is assumption of family. We do not live in a world with solid families; the church has been in this place many times before. The solution is to build strong Christian relationships. When those occur within a family, we have before us a blessing from the Lord. His second suggestion was to strengthen and make fast our worldview. However, it was very clear, based on the rest of his presentation, that this meant standing rigidly against the world and rejecting all of its influences. We do indeed need a strong Christian view of beliefs, values, thoughts, and attitude, but this comes through interaction with our world. It is not a strengthening if you cannot turn around and say to us that the internet is not threat at all because, despite 'equal access' to 'dangerous ideas', we can take what we find there. Finally, he suggested that we get them young. This is nothing less than a denial of the power of God. What, we must succumb to misused statistics? There is only a 4% chance of getting them after age 12, so just focus on getting them before? But when we hear that statistic as it should be said (again, if accurate) then it is not a call to 'get them younger' but to preach the gospel and rely upon the power of the Lord. 

So it is that I heartily urge you to ignore the upcoming 'truth matters' campaign, ignore the advice to tie everyone on the ship down, and start doing what we are supposed to do in a storm: learn how to run the ship well. 


Pte. Ryan said...

Great post Andrew. My favourite line?
"The implicit statement in McDowell's estimate of this threat is that Christians used to be more secure because they were ignorant."

Andrew said...

Glad you enjoyed it, and thank you :)