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5: Issues & Discipleship

   

"Moving from sinful chaos to godly shalom through Christ"

 

 
 

Introduction

A Call to Prophetic Intellectual and Cultural Leadership

Richard Dawkins, an Oxford University Professor and populariser of evolutionary biology, has publicly asserted that those who reject evolutionary materialism do so because they are “ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked . . .)”

Such “shut up” rhetoric reveals the underlying spirit of contempt that many of the educated elites across the world hold for the Christian Faith -- which demands a well thought-through response that can robustly explain and defend the reason for the hope we have. [Cf. 1 Peter 3: 15.]

To this task, we now turn.

The gaps in Secularist thinking

First, Dawkins' indulgence in "village atheism"-style rhetoric unintentionally brings into focus several underlying gaps in secularist thinking: Evolutionary materialism attempts to assert that we know beyond reasonable doubt that we got here through random and deterministic natural processes without recourse to a Creator/ Intelligent Designer, a.k.a. God.

This implicit atheism fails to frankly face the provisional nature of scientific knowledge, and the vastly wider sphere of our ignorance. What if what is needed to know God simply lies outside the tiny circle of what such secularists think they know, just now?

Going further, some have attempted to redefine Science as the best current naturalistic explanation of the world, from hydrogen to humans – i.e. “methodological naturalism.” This tries to rule God out ahead of time by definition, rather than inviting open-minded, critically aware inquiry. What if it turns out that in fact God is our Creator – would labeling such a discovery “unscientific” make any difference to its truth?

Moreover, evolutionary materialism is self referential and thus at least potentially self-refuting. For, if all phenomena from hydrogen to humans are shaped by blind chance, this must include our thinking and valuing. So then, our thoughts, arguments and conclusions can in principle be explained away as the byproduct of electrochemical events in our brains, shaped and determined by random processes and selection pressures over the eons of biological and social evolution.

But, as Darwin suggested in a moment of doubt, why then should we take the speculations of such an overgrown “monkey brain” seriously?

Finally, ignoring "insane" as simply beyond the pale, “wicked” is a term of moral rebuke. But, if we are simply random bits of rubbish thrown up by a purposeless chaos, then we have no objective basis for such indignation. For, if “values” are a matter of taste and opinion shaped by and relative to our genetic and social circumstances, how can we be responsible enough to be “wicked”?

We could go on. But enough has been said to highlight the intellectual presumptions and moral destructiveness inherent in much of current educated thought. Enough, too, to see the danger in the lack of intellectual sophistication that is so common among Christians in the Caribbean.

For, too often, we have no answer for the reason for the hope we have [cf. 1 Peter 3:15], lending an unwarranted credibility to those who would dismiss the gospel, and substitute evolutionary materialism, or new age/ neo-pagan speculations, or Islamist claims about the historical roots of the Caribbean.

This cripples our ability to develop our minds, thus damaging our capacity and credibility to provide the prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership that are vital if the Caribbean is to turn away from its present headlong dash to disaster. [Cf. Deut. 8:17 – 20, Rom. 1:17 – 32, & Eph. 4:17 – 24.]

The Mars Hill Alternative: Prophetic Intellectual Leadership

Paul’s strategy in dealing with the Athenian elites on Mars Hill was very, very different.

The Apostle had come to Athens five hundred years after its glory days — the days of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pericles, to take a brief respite from his stressful Macedonian adventures. However, he found the all-pervasive idolatry too disturbing to keep silent. [Acts 17:16.]

So as a lion, with terrible resolve, turns and vexes those who have unwisely persisted in harrying him, Paul — as Socrates had been wont to do — went to the Agora (the marketplace), and started to dialogue with passersby. Soon, a group of pagan Philosophers paused, argued with him, conferred among themselves, and, parodying the fate of Socrates, took the Apostle to a meeting of the Areopagus [Mars Hill] Council.

There, the Athenian leaders got more than they bargained for. For, Paul made straight for the rotten intellectual foundation of Pagan thought and culture. Pointing to its beautiful temples and monuments, he picked the altar that exposed the critical instability: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.

That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the fountainhead and proud guardians of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument!

Paul then pointedly stated the decisive prophetic issue: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

That is, the true key to the field of Knowledge is Revelation (rather than merely human speculation, argument or experiment), starting from our God-given intuition that an orderly universe without and a rational mind and ever-probing conscience within jointly testify to a Rational, Orderly, Moral Creator. [Cf. Romans 1:18 – 32.] The substance of Paul’s prophetic proclamation to the Athenians (and thus to Western Culture and the wider world) is therefore pregnant with beneficial implications for community order, national life, cultural transformation, and blessing leading to truly sustainable development:

  • The Creator-Redeemer God does not live in temples we can make with our hands. Nor does he depend on our religious leaders and institutions, rituals, gifts or offerings.
  • Instead, it is he who made us and gave us everything we have. We are therefore his stewards in — and of — his world, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.”
  • From one man, God created the nations, setting their times & seasons [kairous], and their places, “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.”
  • That is, the diverse fraternity of nations [ethnoi, people groups] was created to foster opportunities to demonstrate godly, harmonious social order -- not least, by restraining the possibilities for the rise of a corrupt, globally dominant regime.
  • (Further to this, when nations choose instead to forget God and His ways, making false loyalties, power, prestige, pleasure and prosperity their chief values, they walk down a road to ruin; cf. Deut. 8:17 – 20.

Paul therefore concluded: “In the past, God overlooked [our] ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead”: The time for ignorant pursuit of false loyalties and foolish agendas is over; God has intervened globally, decisively and publicly by Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection: “he has made this same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:36, cf. 26:24 - 26.]

Thus, God commands that we repent, undergoing a comprehensive change of mind and heart driven by recognition of the truth and godly sorrow over sin; leading to a transformed way of life [1 Cor. 6:9 – 11].

In particular, we are to receive as Lord and Saviour him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and walk in those good works that God has laid out in advance for us to do. [John 14:6, Acts 4:12 & Eph. 2:8 - 10.]

This command to repent is universal, but does not demand blind obedience: God offers public proof to us by raising Jesus from the dead. In evidence of this, we have over five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when the record was made, and the continued manifestation of resurrection power — in manifold ways — in the church to this day. [1 Cor. 15:1- 8, Eph. 1:17 – 23.]

Flowing from this, human culture is not autonomous or absolute: there is a set day for judgement of the world, a comprehensive audit carried out with perfect justice.

Thus, we see that:

  1. Communities and their citizens are servants of God, accountable before their Creator for truth, right, justice and the proper stewardship of resources in their care, starting with their land. This opens the door for prophetic commentary on public morality, policy and issues linked to development and sustainability. [Cf. Rom. 1:18 – 32 & 13:1 – 10.]
  2. Moreover, since we are created from one ancestor, there can be no justification for nationally-, or racially-, or class-, or otherwise- motivated oppression, aggression, exploitation or prejudice.
  3. Community therefore extends to the fraternity of all peoples, and so God refuses to answer the foolish question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Paul’s audience mostly reacted with an ill-advised, illogical sneer: in effect, never mind the evidence and our acknowledged ignorance on the subject — God can’t be like that!

However, some were willing to listen further, and a few openly turned to Christ.

Scanty immediate results. But the truth had been proclaimed and backed up with adequate evidence. And, Paul, too, had made a decisive turn, seizing the intellectual and cultural initiative. From Athens, the Apostle would go on to Corinth and Ephesus, building bases from which the Christian Faith would ultimately triumph in Greek culture.

Intellectually, he would go on to expand his Mars Hill thesis, through penning the Epistle to the Romans, which articulated in greater detail the case that would at length prevail over classical paganism.

So, two thousand years later, we know who had the better case that fateful day. For, Paganism’s hollow intellectual and moral core now stood exposed for those with eyes to observe, and ears to listen. The future therefore belonged to the Apostle, not to the Philosophers and Politicians.

Thus, from small beginnings, the churches planted in Athens and other Greek cities grew strong and prevailed.

The Mars Hill Strategy Today

In our time, similarly, God is sending us, as his spokesmen into the Caribbean, with the call to repentance, renewal and reformation, opening the door “so that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles [ethne] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.” [Gal 3:14] So, God is now sending the gospel of blessing to the nations of the Caribbean in our time of kairos, thus calling out, creating, building and equipping his body, the church “the fulness of him who fills everything in every way” as the means of blessing for our region.

Consequently, as we live, love, think, argue, evangelise, disciple, serve, and provide high integrity, prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership, Christ’s reforming and transforming redemptive fulness spreads through "all things" across the Caribbean Basin and beyond.

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