I've been really interested recently to read Tim Keller’s book on Preaching and in particular to absorb his understanding of the modern mind. This is relevant of course for all preachers in knowing how best to connect the unchanging word with a changing world’s mind-set and innate cultural norms and values.
Keller identifies 5 narratives at work in modern cultural thought. When I read them they resonated with me and Keller has done a great service in making explicit those things which we observe every day and unconsciously recognise.
1. The TECHNOLOGY Narrative – the modern world puts incredible faith in technology to solve all problems. All we need to do is throw enough money, time and effort to ensure we discover the technological solutions.
2. The HISTORY Narrative.- it is commonly assumed that history is making progress and that every era is better than the one before. This is seen every day in such phrases as “having no business in the 21st C” or “being on the wrong side of history”
3. The FREEDOM Narrative – the purpose of a social order, according to our culture is that individuals should be entirely free to live as they choose without hindrance or interference.
4. The MORALITY/JUSTICE Narrative – 21st c affirms that we make our own morals irrespective of any outside authority. A completely free choice in morals is the ultimate goal.
5. The IDENTITY Narrative – Late modernity reverses previous thinking that identity was found in our social roles and instead asserts that identity is found inside of ourselves in our own desires and dreams. In effect, we must “be ourselves” at all costs and those who do so by breaking free from social norms are applauded to the rooftops!
These axioms have become so universally accepted that anyone who dares question them is regarded as a bit prehistoric and ‘out of touch’. People are drawn to them because they instinctively ‘feel right’. Yet these very assumptions themselves provide the context for debate on many contemporary subjects such as human sexuality, abortion, marriage, origins, relationships etc. Those who accuse Christians of being biased must learn that they themselves have an inbuilt bias – it would be at least honest to admit that. No-one approaches any subject from a situation of complete neutrality. In reality there is no such thing. But every one has assumptions that they do not want to be questioned.
Yet the gospel does its work by addressing all these core issues.
TECHNOLOGY ultimately is not our hope – this idea is hopelessly naïve and a failed Utopian dream. Evil is deep and real and complex and cannot be solved by Silicon Valley technology.
It is also wrong to assume that HISTORY is progressive. The new is not always better. Christianity is both far more pessimistic about the human race and far more optimistic about a future hope than any secularist.
The modern idea of FREEDOM without boundaries is also an illusion. Christianity says that true freedom is to be set free from our sin by the Son of God Himself so that we are truly free to live in a relationship with our creator and worship him.
Likewise if MORALITY is based on how we feel then we can never say anything is right or wrong. It cannot necessarily be right to feed the hungry just because we feel it is. If someone else feels it isn’t a right thing to do how can we say they are wrong? The gospel roots morality in the universal law of God and our innate sinfulness hence needing a rescuer to lift us up and give us a new law to live by.
Finally, the gospel address the IDENTITY narrative by revealing to us who and what we really are and how in Christ we can find hope newness of life, a new name and a new and complete identity.
The modern world can be daunting for Christians. But if we really understand the gospel we will have renewed confidence and hope that every one of life’s issues find its ultimate solution in the Father’s love, the Son’s redemption and the Spirit’s empowering.