The Authenticity Demand
In my previous post I outlined Tim Keller’s diagnosis of the emerging common culture firmware.
- No moral authority other or higher than the self. My personal happiness is the highest good.
- In the end the good of the individual always trumps the good of the community.
- If God does exist he does for our benefit to make this a good world to live in (MTD)
- Whatever meaning or happiness there is must be found within this material world
Functionally what this creates in people is what I call an implicit “authenticity demand”. Their great duty is “to thyself be true”.
This “self”, however, is experienced as a constantly evolving consumer, always looking for the best “deal” which will offer happiness, fulfilment, and even deification.
The Prison of the Now
Skepticism, like may of the beliefs we imagine to be “high minded” is often embraced for practical reasons. I believe a lot of the skepticism of our culture is motivated by our consumeristic mindset. We want to keep our options open. This is fueled I think by the implicit myth of progress that permeates our culture. We imagine that because scientific discovery and technological improvement are always improving our knowing and doing (an assumption in ironic disagreement with skepticism) the wise person holds back from committing their self too firmly or publically to present ideas, paradigms or relationships.
We keep our options open politically (the rise of the independents), religiously and relationally with respect to institutions and persons.
In a post by Rod Dreher on MTD in our present culture a writer rightly makes this observation
Religion is not only a system of beliefs and values, but also a means for human beings to relate to the past. My chief problem with atheism is not that it leads to amorality, but rather that it leaves the individual stranded in the present, bereft of the intellectual and spiritual means to relate to history and to the lives of those who preceded him or her. The loss of religion leaves people unable to connect their own time to history, and so they lose sight of what is possible and what is not possible in the present. They also become unable to understand how precarious their freedoms and enjoyments are
I think this is exactly right. We fear a prison of relationships, duties to other selves and the perception of other selves upon us but what this exchange binds us to is the now and sets us adrift from our past selves, community and its story or narrative thread.
Lew Smedes on Commitment
I remember in Seminary reading a little pamphlet by Lew Smedes that came out of some lectures he gave on commitment. A lot of those ideas wound up in his book Caring and Commitment.
I had always been hesitant as a young man to commit in all sorts of ways. I understood that choosing limited my future options and probably out of fear I wanted to keep as many options open as possible. Smedes’ pamphlet convinced me that what was at stake was actually becoming a godly person.
God is the kind of person who makes and keeps commitments. That capacity and behavior defines the person and defines the future. A commitment keeping person actually has a more powerful future because commitment keeping authors personhood and community in fundamental ways. The incessant consumer is a prisoner to future change. They are always responding to market forces and to other communities that are keeping a narrative. The person who makes and keeps commitments authors the future, creates and defines community and reduces the skepticism that keeps the community from accomplishing anything. Commitment and personhood go together.
The young lover who asks their beloved “why do you love me” sets a trap. The naïve beloved will begin listing consumeristic reasons, “because you’re hot”, “because you’re smart”, “because you’re moral”.
The lover, who’s question likely emerges from insecurity looking for reassurance, may respond “but will you love me when I lose my looks, or when you meet someone who is smarter than I am? Will you still love me if I fail you or disappoint you?”
The lover understands that the identified consumer basis for the relationship is unstable and insufficient for a person to rest securely.
The wise beloved will respond “I love you because I chose you. I will always love you and I will never leave you though your looks fade, though smarter people come along, though you fail the relationship and cause me hurt. I’m committed to love YOU, the you beyond your attributes or anything else you have to offer me.”
This is of course deep within the story of Yhwh and Israel. Israel is not the strongest nation, not the most beautiful. Israel will do a host of stupid things and worse, unfaithful things. It is Yhwh’s commitment that defines Yhwh and his commitment is based on nothing beyond his choosing. Commitment creates Yhwh for his people in the context of the relationship and that commitment creates the future.
Confessions and the Unconfessed Other
One of the responses from my confessional pieces has been “I’m more ecumenical. I see confessions as limiting or shutting me off from others.”
I think just the opposite. Confessions and the commitments they imply help create solid selves who are capable of stable relationships. Relationships are difficult for a person whose commitments are always changing. If both parties in the relationship are always changing the relationship will likely be unsustainable. At least one party needs to be a solid self reaching out towards the other with a firm commitment to love based on something beyond a hungry or greedy consumerist self.
The good parent who chooses to love their child with an unwavering love usually produces a more secure child who will in turn be capable of sustaining their own adult relationships.
A confessional church reaching out in love to a consumeristic world creates space for the consumer to grow out of their consumerism and become the kind of loving, committed partner mirroring the stable, committed wooing lover that the confessional church is.
This mirrors the invitational perfection of the father as asserted in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:42–48 (NIV)
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What is foundational to this effort is how solid and capable the loving self is. The content of the confession is similarly vital.
We have too often embodied the Reformed confessional self as defensive and fearful while the kind of self-defined solid self imagined in a document like the Canons of Dort actually invites us to have a missional self that is capable of the invitational cruciform love identified by Jesus here as the perfection of the Father. It is the stable, enduring defining love of the Father to the Son, and the Son through the Spirit to the church that invites and enables the church to express this missional love to the world.
We will have to continue to refine how this works in our present culture, but I think it is this chain of love, commitment, and solidly defined self that is the heart of mission and the foundation for transformation of self through love.