Saturday 2 August 2014

What would convince modern people of the divinity of Christ? What would answer their major fears?


Divine Accommodation: "God's revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend." - Rodney Stark, Discovering God - 2008, p6.

Stark's idea is that Christ's incarnation was a divine revelation that had the features necessary to convince people of his divinity, in the Jewish and Pagan context of that era. This is why Christ was presented as primarily a sacrifice and a propitiation, because of the then-current focus on sacrifice and propitiation - especially among Pagans, but also Jews. That was why there was a focus on the fulfilment of Jewish prophecy (to convince the Jews), and on miracles of healing (to convince pagans). People understood that death was not the end, but were terrified about what might happen after death.


I found this idea pregnant when I revisited it recently, I mean the idea that God works in the context of the time; when I considered how relatively ineffective this focus would be (and is?) in the modern context of 2000 years later - because modern culture is not concerned with sacrifice and propitiation, disbelieves or is indifferent to prophecy, and regards healing as a medical-scientific (or perhaps 'psychosomatic') affair.

If Christ had been incarnated into the modern world and needed to prove his divinity (silly idea, I know), or if a modern prophet wanted to proclaim the message of Christ, then it would simply be ineffective to focus on sacrifice, prophecy and healing. People would not be interested - most importantly, people would not be convinced - because these are not modern concerns.


So, what would be the equivalent focus? What are the concerns of modern people? If Romans around 30 AD were afraid of God/ the gods, then what are we afraid of? 

Well, my understanding of 'the modern predicament' is that it is related to three main deficiencies which are, at root, not so much beliefs as fears: and they relate to purpose, meaning and relationship.

1. Purpose: Moderns have come to fear that life and the world are going nowhere, that there is no destiny or direction.

2. Meaning: Moderns have come to fear that nothing means anything, it is all just cause-and-effect. Stuff happens!

3. Relationship: Moderns fear that each is ultimately alone, that there is nothing real that is binding humans, there is no genuine communication, and that the rest of the world is dead.

So, divine revelations for modernity would tend to accommodate to these current fears and concerns - to explain (presumably in a single and interlinked package) the direction of human life, and to emphasize that each person is not alone in the world - but actually and always embedded in a network of relationships and communications.


Perhaps this modern predicament or primary concern can all be summarized by the dominance of each person's fear of the insignificance and isolation of his own, specific life.

The message of Christ to modern people would perhaps need to be addressed to this - to accommodate to this; such that every individual could appreciate it as an explanation of the unique necessity and meaning and purpose of my own particular life in relationship to other people's lives, and the world as a whole.



Anonymous said...

I wonder if the average person is really concerned with the existential questions of modernity, or if this is simply a problem for those of us gifted/cursed with a higher IQ and the resulting introspection.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't write it off so easily. Average people are capable of staggering narcissism. Everybody is the star of their own movies, and their resentments run deep.

Does this not suggest that most are desperate to feel important? And desperation is not born of ignorance or insensibility, whatever else we might say.

Are you not overstating the credibility of Christ's claims in the ancient world? Charges of blasphemy and impiety brought Him to the Cross. The only sense in which most found His work intellligible was as a mockery of what was actually sacred and divine. These days, that it is so widely UNintelligible just as the vehicle of our theosis makes it more a mockery of us than it was of them.

We do hold something sacred, something by which Christ mocks us in His assurance we need it from Him (and under conditions so absurd): that we can be as Gods. It is just a measure of our debasement that this truest and holiest of desires cashes out in celebrity, tycoonery and caddery instead of something more nobly Miltonic (for apart from Christ, Miltonic it would be).

So it seems to me the gravity of just what He does do runs against history and shames the wisdom of the world. God and Satan promise the same thing: what we want. Satan just finds a readier ear.

I should also note at this, if it needs noting, that your list of things modern people fear is all dry tinder for Antichrist. Thinking about what people would want or understand in their gods - what seed would sprout most readily in the bed of history - is the perennial guide for the unscrupulous spirit. It's just what he's done, so we're warned.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Bill - I think you may be missing the point of this argument. Insofar as Christ's claims *were* persuasive, this (maybe) was the kind of way they were persuasive.

Of course, Christianity does make incredible claims (in both meanings: beyond credibility, to unbelievers; and astonishingly wonderful, to believers) - it could never be seen as an overwhelmingly probable interpretation.

And the point is not to mock or critique peoples fears and desires, but to see that they were different then and now.

Donald said...

A major problem of modernity is the radical loss of the sense of sin - it has almost zero purchase. Everyone is a pelagian.

I agree 100% these ideas have purchase.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Donald - Yes, and it is a strange experience to hear evangelists first trying to convince people that they are sinners; and only then able to offer the answer (Christ's atonement) to a problem that the person did not previous realize they suffered from!

Donald said...

I can't say that I too haven't found some corrosive effects.

One problem is that I essentially agree with you that people choose post mortem NOT to receive salvation - this seems intuitive, just, loving, etc.

But it is somewhat hard to square with historic teaching and what Jesus says in the gospels.

Of course historic teaching is not a problem for you - but I don't buy Mormonism or your line of thought - even if I am glad you give me good food for thought/insights.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Donald - "But it is somewhat hard to square with historic teaching and what Jesus says in the gospels."

I don't think so - I think it is the obvious interpretation of Christ's words - if you take the message overall and at the common sense level, and do not focus on it as if each detached Biblical verse was supposed to stand alone as a perfect encapsulation.

As for historic teaching, that is *extremely* varied - as would be expected. The problem for *any* Christian is how to discern the truth from among the arguments - there is nowhere (no denomination) that the arguments can be escaped and Christianity made uncontroversial.