I want to pause before continuing with my stated goal of assessing and responding to Mr. Zacharias’s Christian apologetics, and particularly his understanding of Postmodernism, in order to frame my eventual response within a fuller presentation of my own view of how Christians should interact with others, both other Christians and non-Christians.
In other words, I believe that beginning with my own understandings on the matter is the best way to make a potentially contentious discussion productive.
Further, in a context where suspicion reigns for so many people—particularly suspicion about grand, all-encompassing narratives where good things can “really happen” to those that believe and bad things can be overcome—Christians can only engage by first accepting the full truth of this suspicion (and thus being those whose life and practice stands up to its scrutiny) rather than being those whose logic and rhetoric simply try to refute it.1
As such, I believe that Christians will show their Christianity to be credible and relevant by first showing themselves to be real human beings: those who understand “the real world” because they act and suffer within it rather than seeking to escape, ignore, or denigrate reality by virtue of Christian belief.
So what are my expectations of myself and of others, and what are my goals in interacting with them?
First, I want to understand who this other person is and be understood by him or her. This begins by realizing that the other is similar to me yet different, and so honouring that person’s uniqueness begins by listening so as to understand the other on his or her own terms. In other words, this individual is not first a “sinner” or even someone “made in God’s image” but is a person with his/her own views and self-understanding. So while one’s views may not be definitive (i.e., they may not offer the best understanding / fullest identity of that person) nevertheless they are crucial, because one’s self-understanding is one’s starting point.
This type of listening is predicated upon believing that others are just as important as I am, and that her/his beliefs and views have as much innate value as my own. The goal here is respect, which is a form of “loving my neighbour.”2
Second, my intention is not first to teach others but to learn whatever I can from them, while realizing that I also have things of value to offer to others. This perspective is predicated on several understandings. One is that all truth is God’s truth, and so I can expect to find it in many places (and so I need not be afraid of it, wherever I find it). Another understanding is that I know some things without knowing everything, and that non-Christians may have important things to teach me about being human and even about Christianity.3
The goal here is truth-seeking, which is a form of self-love, and is aided by not only living with the tension between confidence and humility but embracing it and other tensions as a productive and necessary reality of being human (that is, being finite, if not also fallen).4
Third, my starting place is not the Bible but is my humanity. In other words, the starting place for all human beings is their existence (being born, growing up in a family, living in the world with other human beings, etc). So while my engagement with the Bible has had a radically transformative impact on my humanity, yet my created humanness is the context for this transformative engagement and remains my undeniable starting point (because no one is born a Christian), and thus the best point at which to connect with everyone.
By implication, I want to understand myself as a human being and be aware of what it takes to live life rightly / best / most fully. The goal here is to live out my understanding that creation frames salvation, salvation transforms creation.5 As such I both begin the process of mutual understanding (#1) where it is most likely to meet with success and situate truth-seeking (#2) within its proper framework: in both cases, beginning with the human and creational.
Fourth, being a Christian means being rightly and fully human, and while this requires dependence upon / trusting God it is not a passive orientation. Thus engagement with others is at least secondary6 to being in right relationship with God, not simply believing certain things about God.
In turn, best relating with God requires orienting oneself toward Christian belief and practice according to the most appropriate characterization of Christianity. To my mind, this is both as a “research project” (a quest for truth born out of wonder, dissatisfaction and / or suffering, requiring both dedication and rigor) and a “dramatic production” (a response to love, voicing joy and leading to inspiration: both my own and that of others).
The goal here is best to engage with Christian belief and practice for myself, in order to embrace the truth and love / love and truth that are both necessary to human flourishing and the result of best connecting and relating with the Christian God.
Fifth, I want to understand my humanity and develop critical self-awareness in order to love myself rightly. The content here is this: I am dependent upon being in right relationship with God for better self-understandings, and by embracing these self-understandings I increasingly come to love who I am becoming by being loved by God (and loving God in return).
In this way, even as rightly relating with God proceeds engagement with others (#4), so too I can only engage with (and love) others in the context of rightly knowing and loving myself. The goal here is to know and relate to myself truly and, in so doing, jubilate in the outcomes of becoming my “best self,” through right relationship with God.
These five stages amount to wanting to live out who I am and promote what I deeply believe about myself, God, and the world. I do this primarily by integrating the new understandings and new experiences that I have derived from being in right relationship with God such that I not only exhibit a willingness but an eagerness to consider subjects that would seem to challenge Christian understandings and Christian faith itself (such as evolution, human sexuality, the existence of hell, etc.).
In this way I live a fulfilled and meaningful life, and, by offering sufficient evidence through my own authenticity to overcome the rampant and immediate suspicion that precedes discussions about Christianity and / or its orientations, I am legitimately able to share the sources of that fulfillment and meaning with others.
- It will be important later to clarify that such “grand narratives” contain the additional, essential component that these grand narratives are used by those that promote, whether overtly or covertly, to justify and rewarding those people, to the detriment of others. It is questionable in the extreme whether Christianity as it is presented functions in such a manner, and I will devote sufficient space in future posts to examine this notion more closely. ↩
- Now clearly, context makes plays an enormous role, in conjunction with the reality of being a finite creature. So various contexts lend themselves to one form of engagement (such as small talk) but not another (in-depth discussion). Similarly, as a finite being I have only enough time for in-depth engagement with a certain number of people, and with others it will have to be more partial. But this does not change my understanding of what is best or optimal, and so I remain oriented toward this type of engagement even when I cannot fully commit to it. ↩
- The notion that non-Christians have much to teach Christians about Christianity was a principal argument that I went on to prove in graduate thesis. ↩
- To this we can add numerous other tensions, such as that between the Holy Spirit’s effective aid and the detracting effects of sin, between objectivity and subjectivity, etc. ↩
- So often Christians omit the first part of this relationship and jump immediately to the second, to the detriment of non-Christians, themselves, and the creator God that they seek to present and serve. ↩
- It’s actually tertiary: see my comments in #5, below. ↩