Having been thoroughly terrified after watching the Sunset Limited based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, I thought I should try to actually do a little philosophy in order to (at least?) believe in God again. I do it here in an attempt to keep myself honest in the company of those that do believe. If this doesn’t make much sense, please keep in mind my lingering view of philosophy, and consider this an apologia and a confession.
Some thoughts to set the stage:
“I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view”. — Ludwig Wittgenstein, noted philosopher.
“But theology is the function of the Church. The church confesses God as it talks about God… But in so doing it recognizes and takes up as an active Church the further human task of criticizing and revising its speech about God” — Karl Barth, noted theologian, Church Dogmatics, 1.1, p. 3.
Sean McCraney was a Mormon who openly put his faith in an Evangelical brand of Christianity and was born-again by most Evangelical measures. Yet, lately, he sounds like Joseph Smith or Brigham Young when he talks about the extant traditional Christian church. This seems indicative of both his Mormon and Calvary Chapel roots, and his blatantly contrarian attitude.
Sean McCraney’s approach to theology seems common sense. To a modern liberal who answers to God alone, the church has clearly needed fixing over the years. It does not represent the “good guys,” just “some guys” who happened to have attracted enough credentials and attention to make policy. Common sense tells people like McCraney that if you can fix something using Biblical interpretation, can’t you fix anything, including the Trinity? Can’t you reject any doctrine of pagan origin if you can reasonably show it to be such? McCraney’s refrain is as common as his sense. If “only God can judge us” it is clear to many that “we run things things don’t run we.”
While anarchy is not necessarily an irrational response to the corruption of the world, it is clearly a practically unreasonable one. Tim’s last post pointed out the firm, yet soft-spoken response to McCraney by Pastor Jason Wallace of Christ Presbyterian Church. For the first time, perhaps, I recognized the complexities of positively explaining the historical church and its necessity for those who believe in the historical theology.
McCraney’s case might show Evangelicals something important about their brand of Christianity strikes people. It is easy for Mormons to pick up Evangelical views of salvation–and these views are also often quite spiritually effective–but it is very difficult to explain and swallow the historical Church. This is one of the seeds that sprouted into Mormonism. It’s far easier to reject the church as fundamentally corrupt or essentially irrelevant than to shoehorn its history into a neat package that can appeal to modern sensibilities. In a small way, the McCraney case shows that Evangelical Protestants have as big a problem with church history as do Mormons.
One thing that really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me are Mormons who embrace a post-modern epistimology. There are a numbers of elements of post-modernism which I think are attractive and important. But it’s view of truth is one I can not swallow and I for sure don’t think that a true believing Mormon can accept it.
In a nutshell post-modernism teaches that objective truth can not be known because of the limitations of language to express it (I’ll ignore how self-refuting that is for now). Since Truth (capital T) can’t be known all we can cling to are our own perceptions and convictions of Truth. There are some LDS who embrace this view and apply it to the individual nature of a testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Their reasoning is something along the lines of “My testimony is the truth that I have been given, it may not be evident to anyone but me, but it is the truth that God expects me to live by. What other people do with the truth they are given is up to them.”
The problem with this approach is that Mormonism preaches the opposite. Mormonism and Post-Modernism are incompatible. First off, Mormonism teaches that there is a modern prophet who hears directly from God and clarifies the truth to all men through him. Truth can be known through the LDS prophet. There’s no second guessing what is or is not true after the prophet has spoken. Second, the LDS church proclaims itself to be the one and only true church. You can’t declare other churches or faiths to be true at the same time as saying that you are the “one and only” place where truth can be found. The best you can offer is that other churches contain truth but are not True.
I understand the attraction of a Post-Modern approach for people who may encounter things that challenge the truthfulness of their testimony. It’s nice to escape critique or examination and say “it’s true for me.” It can also be convenient when comparing what President Hinckley teaches as compared to Brigham Young’s sermons. Polygamy (or the priesthood ban or Adam-God) was true then but is no longer true now. But it ultimately doesn’t fit with the LDS church, which claims to be True for everyone.