Tuesday, August 10, 2010

0 At Least the Rastafarians say "I and I"

I won't forget my freshman year of college, learning a little about Rastafarian culture in my Intro to Sociology class - and one of the things we talked about while listening to Bob Marley and The Wailers was the use of "I and I" among Rastafarians to take the place of "we" in conversation. The primary importance of this usage is to emphasize the oneness of their community - that they share a great deal as fellow creatures under God. I'm not endorsing any element at all of their religious beliefs - but I am lamenting, as I recall this phrase, how little we even bother in the church to say "we".

I came upon this thought after listening this morning to one of the recent White Horse Inn broadcasts entitled "The Spirituality of Emerging Adults", in which the WHI guys interviewed the author of "Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults", Dr. Christian Smith of the University of Notre Dame. Part of what struck me in that broadcast was the fact (and this is nothing new at all, but somehow the impact upon me was heavy this morning) that in the American evangelical church, the individual has been raised to terrifying heights in terms of his ability to discern for himself what is true, good and just. No longer is the language "we confess" or "we believe" admissible in much of American churchianity. What "works for you" works for you, and what "works for me" works for me - and any differences or distinctions between those are a) not to be subject of judgment or critique, and b) completely arbitrary and irrelevant when it comes to our standing before God.

Whether this phenomenon of the individual's ultimacy as judge of truth has arisen because of the Enlightenment or because of the influence of the 1960's cultural shifts is not of much importance... what is important, though, is that we recognize that this fundamentally impacts the challenge that we face when discussing the Gospel. Unfortunately because this shift has taken place, many have kowtowed to it (unwittingly) by making personal testimony and "what God has done for me" central in their discussion of their faith with others. We have lost the impetus to keep returning to the historic fact and declarative nature of the good news, and turned "gospel-telling" into a personal "show and tell". Rather than stand for the historicity of the cross and of what God has done to redeem His people in history, we stand on a lot "safer" ground - our own personal lives. It's a lot easier and less risky to share with people what "God did for me" than to stake one's reputation on the unpopular belief that God, in showing His grace toward men, and His wrath toward sin, sent His Son to atone for the sins of His People, and to redeem them to Himself. When we put forth "our testimony", we are giving people things they cannot refute and won't even try to refute... we are talking about ourselves, rather than Another. We are saying things that ultimately carry no Authority, and demand no response.... contrary to what we do when we present simply the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"We believe"... something we ought to be willing to say, yet something which grates against our natural tendency to want to stand alone and on our own merits. "We believe" says that there is something bigger than me - a truth and a community to which I am accountable. Today this is nearly anathematized - even in the church. Why do the Rastafarians get it, but garden-variety Christians seem so opposed to it?



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