Epistemology is "the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion".
And the predisposition behind my project is a reluctant admission that we are losing the messaging war.
“Worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness see strange” G.K. Beale
And we are ALL subject to this issue- yes, that includes ME as well.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)
My early interest in this began by reading the writings of Os Guinness, especially ‘The Last Christian on Earth” and "The Call"
This is no shock....we live in a culture of growing secularism- and it is a slow sleep of death..... and I see it not only in my life (especially this post-Covid, isolation) but also in the worldview of students and young adults.
Guinness calls this, “The Sandman Effect” or putting the church to sleep through worldliness. ‘The Sandman Effect’ is presented as an enemy tactic versus the church.
In this tactic, the church digs its own grave because a lot of Christians are sleep walking.
The major premise of the Sandman Effect is to infiltrate the church by use of worldliness- which exposes the defensive vulnerability of the church. Instead of the church becoming more aware of the damaging effects of popular culture, she falls into a deeper and deeper sleep.
The first experiment with this tactic is confusing the nature of belief. The impact of the enlightenment produced unexpected and unintended results. We live in a world that lives by a false notion… “Christians live by faith and secularists live by reason”.
The pomp and pressure of those who present themselves as the intellectual elite offer much promise, but have only produced exclusive caste systems and cynicism. The ultimate fruit of intellectual oppression is a quest for power and the greatest use of that power is cynical, dream killing, skepticism. Our kids are not being captured by vision and our more mature Christ followers are not dreaming of faithfully building God's kingdom as we eagerly yearn for His return.
I love how Guinness describes this: “Yes, there was brilliance (among the elites), but its darker side was the empty rhetoric, the hypocritical poses, the shabby compromises. the betrayal of friends and causes, with some people fellow-traveling with the communists, and others more or less sleeping with fanaticism…The legacy of this kind of general mood became a more effective inoculation against faith that a hundred (Voltaires)”.
Along the way, a desire for truth has gone out of fashion….. which opens doors for post-modernism anxiety, which is not a clear philosophy… it is more like a mood.
And here is where we (Christians, especially in the south) go wrong- we fail to see what has happened among those who are not the traditionalists. Traditionalists have a strong sense of right and wrong- they have a foundation of TRUTH. But our response is not the best... instead of longing for "the good ole days" (which were never that good), we need to find a way forward that honors the Word of God and presents it in a more productive way.
We are increasingly living among those (especially the young- media savvy- who tend to think by sight and act by impulse) who judge truth NOT by objectivity, but degrees of plausibility.
In Guinness’s words- “we have created a climate in which a thing’s seeming to be true is often mistaken for its being true.”
And what is the means of this change? By changing the definition and standards of ‘belief’.
We allow and even applaud people who believe or disbelieve on non-rational or psychological grounds.
YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID AND YOUR ACTIONS ARE JUSTIFIED BECAUSE THEY ARE PLAUSIBLE, EVEN IF THEY DO NOT CONNECT TO REALITY OR TRUTH.
I love Guinness’s analogy here: "we accept a person who is an atheist- not because they have weighed truth and fallacy- but simply because their father was a religious hypocrite who alienated the family from God as much as himself."
Unfortunately, we fall into this trap when we begin to elevate Ted-talk smooziness or Disneyfication logos and themes over Scripture. This causes us to only accept interpretation and application of Scripture as it fits the latest 'cool factor' marketing schemes..
See how subtle it is? We agree with truth if the delivery system is sleek. But if that delivery system is cheesy, it automatically becomes harder to believe.
“Coach it with care and and plausibility will upstage credibility”– this statement scares the fire out of me!
Unfortunately, the visible church currently has a heart suffering from fibrillation – the rapid, irregular, and unsynchronized contraction of muscle fibers- and the result is infighting. We waste a lot of time shooting at ourselves over things that in the end do not matter.
One spasmodic side of this disunity is the Christian philosophers- who expound the theoretical- and the other side of the dysfunction is the ‘just give me Jesus’ anti-intellectual crowd who throw out doctrine.
The result is mission drift.... and just like the end of Judges-"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)"
Guinness shows how the Apostle Paul provides a framework for the fight. He knows that the church is the pillar and bulwark of truth… not theory. “Paul would have believed his faith was objectively true if he had been the last one convinced of it.”
And though the truth of Christianity is NOT dependent on perfect followers, a church without unity hides TRUTH because it seems less credible, and a less credible church is a less plausible church.
A Two-Legged Stool
Guinness outlines a problem when he shows how apologists only use 2 of three tools of analysis in unveiling this issue.
Leg 1- The history of ideas
Leg 2- The climate of culture and custom
and the missing…Leg 3- the justification of knowledge (epistemology... get it now?)
This missing leg is what we have to find if the next generation is going to compete in this crazy world of endless opining and shallow, snarky tweets, and loveless emails.
In the post modern world- cultural pluralism and relativism offers confusion in leg 2 and the rapid flow and dynamics of information makes Leg 1 seemingly archaic and irrelevant (and BORING). But if we pressed more into Leg 3 and make the post-modern man justify his knowledge beyond the perspective of personal experience and evaluate truth claims in a more logical framework- we would see some progress and usefulness of the other 2 legs.
A huge roadblock in this mess is the frenzied pace of communication technology and global mobility.
I love the quote about the Kenyan saying “All westerners have watches… but Africans have time.”
I love the quote about the Kenyan saying “All westerners have watches… but Africans have time.”
“A culture of mobility plus convenience leads quite naturally not only to (drive-in food) and banks but also drive-in churches”
See how it works? Overlay upon overlay- the effect of molding lives through culture has all the advantages of a revolution and none of the disadvantages of intellectual sweat.
As our children see belief as a feeling of plausibility and relevance- as they are spun dizzy by infinite activity- as they are enticed by the promise of convenience- as they are distracted by new cool tools of transport of information tsunamis- they cannot understand that TRUTH is TRUE even if no one ascribes to it. ‘When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?’ He won’t, if we have lost what ‘faith’ means. What will He say when we respond “It just didn’t ‘seem’ right… It didn’t feel true”?
If we succumb to worldliness.. it not only keeps us from being effective for the Lord, it also hinders our calling in life..
Ask any invading army and they would agree: ‘Subtle compromise is always better than sudden captivity’.
SO HOW DO WE FIND THIS AND TEACH IT?
A church without distinction is a church that has lost its ability to be ‘salt and light’. But Jesus states very clearly in Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
What can help us ‘stay awake’ in a culture where the church is ‘sleeping in the watchtower’ while the enemies ravage the gates?
Here is a random start:
- Find the balance of being “in the world’ but not ‘of the world’.
If the Bible teaches us to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world”- how do we manage that? Sadly, we miss this delicate balance and find either we are in the world and OF the world or we become so isolated that we are ‘out of the world’.
Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 5:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”(1 Corinthians 5:19-10 and 12-13 ESV)
Think about how far removed we are from this Biblical concept. We rail against outside sin and ‘wink’ at inside sin. We strike at those on the outside who know no better and we shrink away from those on the inside who do know better. OR we say we want strong church discipline but wail when it happens.
- Diligently keep God’s Word as the ‘true north’ of our moral compass and mission
As the Word has dwindled in our midst, the clear and reasonable boundaries have become cloudy and confused. Without the Bible, a believer has NO HOPE of staying in between the ditches on both sides of the road.
But as reading has dwindled, so has strong Bible study fallen away. Most of our Bible knowledge comes from listening to others, But even listening to a popular preacher without personal Bible reading has huge pitfalls. We tend to only remember what fits our presuppositions. Even ‘devotionals’ are no substitute of the NEED of deep, solid Bible study.
- Gospel Integrity must be authenticated with lives committed to personal holiness and discipline.
When I say 'holiness' most people associate it with clean living check lists... I'm good and the world is a bunch of sinners. Not only should we not be railing against outside sin (though we do lovingly and patiently warn about the penalty of sin and follow up with gospel truth)- we should be railing against our own personal sin. It does no good to wallow is a pity party over how sinful our culture is. It can be addressed in simple questions... Do I love my wife? Am I encouraging others? Do I demand my way? Am I willing to give others a second chance? Do I pray for my enemies?
Remember how Jesus addressed it in Matthew 7?
 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
- LOVE toward sinners must be visible in word and deed.
Staying alert and awake is helped when we initiate activity. Our society is confused.. calling good “evil’ and evil “good”. A way to help is patiently and lovingly learning how to ‘hate sin’ but ‘love sinners’. Christians who serve and pray for people who throw insults or mistreat us is the greatest authentic statement of gospel truth in the world today.
Now here is the tough one- we must love them enough to not be ‘co-dependents on their behavior’. Christian love is quickly running to provide a ride for a friend who has had too much to drink.. but it is NOT being the designated driver every weekend.
- Humble, but firm stances on God’s moral law.
My advice is to ‘keep it business like’. We don’t cover our eyes and ears and scream in shock when we find sin. We point to God’s moral law and say, “This is what the truth is”. We cannot compromise when those areas of clear sin come up. I love how Tim Keller speaks. He says to ‘non-traditionalists’- “I hope you will empathize with us Christians. We have to support what the Bible says. If the Bible says, “Jesus is the only way” then we have to stand by that.” And he says it in as a ‘disarming’ way as possible.
- Bold Confrontation to those IN the church regarding false teachers.
As gentle as we are in all things.. we cannot and MUST NOT allow those who profess to be Christians get away with false teaching. Any wide reading of the New Testament epistles will show that urgent warning to oppose any alteration or perversion of the gospel.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV)
- A love for evangelism and corporate worship.
Again, corporate activity is a vigorous, godly exercise program that keeps us awake and in shape. It is hard to fall prey to the ‘Sandman Effect’ if we are actively taking opportunities to share the good news of Christ and making effort to passionately participate in worship. These two distinctives keep us in the stream of adventure where we HAVE to rely on God’s Spirit.
So I will seek to dive into this a little deeper in the context of Christian education over the next few (several?) posts.
Maybe it will inspire parents and educators along the way.
Finally, you won't find answers in nightly cable news...no matter the political agenda. All the news does is push another crisis to increase ratings. I'm hoping to investigate winning strategies.
Turn off the screen and open up your Bibles... and celebrate the grace and presence of God. He is still there on the throne. He is still the only One who will always be there... even in the darkest moments of despair.
The meek will still inherit the earth!