“Where did you come up with that Ben? I thought I taught you better than this,” Fred says to his son being disturbed by the new way of thinking that he has never encouraged. “You need to quit reading all those books. They are not good for your faith.” Ben’s behavior as of late has caused Fred to be greatly discouraged, but he has always taken heart knowing that his son has been taught THE truth from a very early age. But with this conversation, there arises a thought in the mind of this well intentioned father. Today it is a fleeting thought, tomorrow it will be more secure. In a year, it will be reality. The thought is this: Maybe Ben does not believe what I taught him anymore. This can’t be. I remember when he was a kid and as sure as me that our truth was THE truth.
“But dad,” Ben continued, “Haven’t you ever asked that question? Haven’t you ever wondered? How can you be so sure?” “No Ben, I have not,” Fred responded, hoping that his own naked confidence would serve as a stepping stone for his son’s faith, “Never. I know the truth and that is why I can spot a lie. And, as sure as I live, what you are talking about is a lie from the pit of hell.” Ben quiets down as his dad suddenly sinks into an abyss of irrelevancy in the marketplace of ideas.
Things are different today. I know we all know this and we talk about it quite a bit. Technology, information, relationships, Facebook, and the break-neck speed of society is taking its toll on everything. There are good effects and bad effects. Information is a good thing. We all need it. We want to be informed about what is really happening. We want to know what actually is. We don’t want to be naive.
In times past, we were very sheltered. Our limited communities determined so much of who we are. Our morals, practices, and beliefs were all shaped in a sanctioned and sacred environment of tradition. This was positive and negative. It was positive because it gave us more confidence and stability, less doubt and depression, and no conflict and disillusionment. There was no intercom from other societies. There was no megaphone being heard from those who think differently. We had less fear and fewer problems to shoulder. Most importantly, for the purposes here, we had less information that would conflict with what we “knew” to be the truth. The “New Atheists” could only disturb those with whom they had immediate contact. YouTube videos of people denouncing our beliefs were not available. There were no distant heroes that let us down as they fell into sin or walked away from the faith. If those people did exist, it was much easier to write them off without even the slightest consideration.
But now we live in a time of consideration. We can hear the pulpits from other societies and communities just as easily as we can ours. And they are just as loud as Dad’s voice. We are no longer sheltered. Unless we are willing to become Amish we cannot avoid the challenge that is out there. It is a challenge that is ready, willing and more than able (in our current condition) to bring into serious question everything we hold dear.
This does not mean that the challenge is a legitimate contender for our minds. Some are, some are not. The problem is that most have no idea how to face and process these challenges. Often, because of the well-intentioned sheltering from the outside, the smallest most feeble contender scores a KO in round one.
You would not believe the amount of correspondence I get from people who are falling apart. You really would not. More specifically, everything that they believe is falling apart. All those things that they took for granted for so many years during their sheltered upbringing is no longer intellectually sustainable in this new world. The conflict of information is driving them into both despair and depression. They think that in order to retain the faith they hold dear there are only two options at their door: 1) Turn off the TV, turn down the radio, filter the internet, and close the books or 2) resort to a purely emotional based faith that is present regardless of what seems to be conflicting information.
Option one is called “Obscurantism.” The idea is that we obscure, filter, and sensor all “bad” information. “Bad” information is defined at this point by that which conflicts with already established beliefs. The problem is that it is virtually impossible to be an obscurantist any longer. It is certainly not feasible to think our kids will carry this legacy. Most importantly, it is not godly. Who is to say that your obscured world possesses THE truth? Obscurantists don’t really know.
Option two is not any better. While it is more comforting for a time, this process will eventually break. While emotions are very strong, so is the mind. Propping up your faith on the shoulders of your emotions inevitably leads to a battle with your mind. Cognitive dissonance is the formal technical term for this way of thinking. This describes a life lived where you are committed in practice and emotion to some way of thinking that you are not really intellectually convinced of.
The father above started with number one. Once he realized that the real world today would not allow it any longer, he resorted to number two. The problem is that with people who are unprepared, too much information can destroy a very vital part of their faith.
In Evangelicalism today we are going through a crisis. The pews are filled with people who are in the middle of this battle. They are fighting for their beliefs and many of them are losing. Some leave the church believing it is naive and archaically denying reality. Some are in a mind/spirit/emotion battle, not knowing how to sort out the conflict. Others are doing their best to live on the high of their emotions. All the while the church itself is falling way behind and losing its relevance and voice.
As the information increases, the questions increase. As the questions increase the possibility for doubt increases. As doubt increases, faith comes to a crisis point. There is simply nothing we can do to stop the increase of information. As well, we should not want to. Even if we could, we should not seek to shelter people from information or convince people that the mind does not matter. We need to respond in kind. We need to be ready to give an answer for our faith. And Christianity does have answers. I don’t believe that too much information can destroy the Christian faith. On the contrary, I believe that it will sustain it. I am not saying that everything gets wrapped up in a nice little bow and we move along without any more struggles. I am not saying that we have a perfect understanding of all the issues. What I am saying is that Christianity does not need to fear the rise of information, but to learn with it, integrate it, and to teach people how to process their faith when it is bombarded by contenders, both legitimate and illegitimate. We even need to teach people that it is okay to adjust and nuance our faith along with it. This is not unbiblical. After all, all truth is God’s truth. Biblical truth is God’s truth and we need never fear contention, but we must be ready for it and we must disciple our people and our children in such a way that they are not so shaken.
Sadly, the church today has responded to this information overload by increasing the availability for people to numb their minds with experience and emotional charges and manipulation, believing that the faith produced from this is enough since they believe God is in charge. Most churches are ignoring the mind. Rarely do you find a pastor on staff of a church that is committed to learning, studying, and helping people work through the real challenges they face. Check it out yourself. Pastors today are taught to deal with the felt needs of their people through countless programs that bring in big numbers. But they fail to nurture the real need: people need to believe, not be entertained.
I met with a guy recently at my home who shared a story not unlike that mentioned above. His child is questioning many things for the first time. The father was falling apart because of this, wondering what he did wrong. More than this, after some time now, his son’s battle is becoming his own and he does not know how to process the same questions.
Sometimes the emotions will pull the intellect into submission. Sometimes it will be your spirit. For the Christian, we don’t necessarily need to say this is a bad thing. But we have to realize the power of the intellect. It often pulls both our spirit and our emotions. And this is not bad either. Jesus tells us that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul (spirit), and mind. To neglect the latter is simply self-defeating for the Christian. We are to be wholistic in our approach to faith.