A Battle of Ideas
This article is part 2 of a series about the current events. Find part one here.
The Way We Talk
Neil Postman describes an event in the 1800s when Abraham Lincoln engaged in political debate with Stephen A. Douglas. After Douglas spoke for three hours, it was Lincoln’s turn. Lincoln, understanding how the audience might be hungry, proposed that they go home, have dinner, and return, since his rebuttal might take several more hours. The audience agreed, and after a meal, returned for several more hours of debate.
Postman asks: “What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?”
The answer, at least in part, is that this audience is the product of a culture dominated by language, ideas, and print. The reason the above scenario is utterly impossible in our day is because we are a culture dominated by visuals, emotions, and screens.
This is why we are living in what could be called an “outrage culture.” When the mode of national discourse is primarily in bits, snippets, tweets, memes, soundbites, and shares, what we get are people in the midst of losing their ability to engage with ideas, understand nuance, engage in argumentation in a logical, rational, fashion.
A Battle of Ideas
I start with that because God has revealed himself in words, sentences, grammar, propositional statements, rational arguments, and truth claims. Sustained thought has always been the mark of Christians who desire to love God with all their mind. The Scriptures repeatedly call us to think, meditate, ponder, reflect, observe, notice, and remember. Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees was often “Have you not read?” which implies, of course, that anyone who wants to accurately know God and obey him should be willing to engage their minds in the rigorous task of reading, which includes following arguments and drawing logical conclusions. The Scriptures are the standard by which we evaluate every truth claim.
Moreover, Scripture is clear that the enemy is a liar, the father of lies, and that he is engaged in deceiving the whole world (Rev. 12:9). His assault is always and first against the Word of God, and wants to blind the minds of his victims (2 Cor. 4:4). He is crafty, subtle, and brilliantly strategic. This is why Christians are called to be “sober-minded” (1 Pet. 1:13).
Consider Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Do you see what Paul is saying? We’re in a war. But it’s not a war against flesh. It’s not a war against people. Rather - and this is important - it’s a war against “arguments” and “lofty opinions.” It’s against “thoughts” that rise up against the true knowledge of God. It’s a battle of ideas. As one author has loosely paraphrased: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, matters in motion, but against isms, against the powers that seek to name, and control, reality.”
That’s where we are today. There are subtle isms in our society that are so pervasive they’re almost impossible to identify. They are like lenses through which we see the world, lenses we don’t know we’re wearing, and yet they’re coloring everything. These ideologies are an odorless gas, toxic and destructive, but largely ignored and unidentified.
So here’s where it gets challenging. There are real issues Christians need to think about - things we brought up in the previous article. Real sins - like racism, favoritism, fear, and insensitivity - that must be confessed and forsaken. But there are also subtle isms afoot. Worldviews. Ideologies that “rise up against the truth knowledge of God.” How do we disentangle the issues? How can we address the real issues without adopting the anti-Christian worldview that’s out there? And how can we protect the church from false ideologies while remaining humble, gentle, and sympathetic?
Think With Me
I want to ask you, church, to think with me. Over the coming weeks, I am going to putting out articles that help us process these issues biblically. We are going to have to be more like those people in the 1800s who could listen well, think clearly, and wrestle with ideas. We need to adopt the kind of posture James 1:19 describes: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We will need to humble ourselves to learn while strengthening our conviction in the truth.
The questions I want to ask are: what happens when God is diminished and man is elevated? What are the consequences of believing that self-expression is the highest virtue? Is it right to view the world through the lens of oppressed and oppressor? What should we think about “social justice”? How is the church vulnerable to current cultural trends?
My sense is that most of us know there are strange things going. Whether or not we know why, we know there have been seismic shifts in our culture over the last decade. We know they threaten not only our society but our church. In order to protect the gospel, we must engage the ideologies at play and prayerfully consider how we can respond in truth and love.