PARADOX LOST: THE GREAT LOSS TENSION BETWEEN

CYNICISM AND CELEBRATION

 

(See especially Mark Ellingsen’s book, Blessed Are The Cynical: How Can Concern for Sin Make America A Better Place (Brazos Press) and David Neff, editor of Christianity Today (March 2003) “Sin As Self-centered Pride - Whatever Happened to Altruism?”

 

Surely American (entire Western civilization) has all but lost its sense of sin! While a Biblical foundation holds in tension two opposing conceptual frameworks: (1) An option about the possibility of a virtuous citizenship via Locke, and The Enlightenment Philosophy; (2) Pessimism about the condition of the human race derived from the scripture (and the Reformation Theology of Augustine, e.g. Destruction of the Imago Dei in the fall).

 

(Duke University projects movies will run from all countries of the “evil axis” and will be promoted to point out their view of the West/Bush, et.al.--different projectives completely at variance with the Western world.(Muslim Film Festival)

 

The biblical data concerning sin declares that human beings always act out of an act of self-interest (e.g. The self-centered self) even when acts appear altruistic. Here the vulnerable self-deception and manipulation enter the arena of daily existence. In response to the theological crisis created by the British monk, Pelegius, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, synthesized the Biblical instruction concerning our “sinful” human nature. Augustine’s concern was to assert the primacy of God’s action and forgiving love, not only to decry the power of sin (e.g. Luther’s Theology of The Cross)

 

None of the great theologians, e.g. Augustine, Luther, et.al., denied that sinful man can do good things! But we do good things for the wrong reason, i.e., affirming the desire of the “ego.”

 

Note the author’s of The Declaration of Independence maintained the political implications of Augustine’s theology. “Every good form of government must be complex. . .so that the principle may check the other. . . It is folly to expect that a state should be upheld to be balanced what when one draws to his own interest there may be an over emphasis upon the whole.” (E.g. Majority over minority - notice the postmodern emphasis on the rights of minorities. Majority no longer necessarily wins, even extreme minorities have “civil rights” (e.g. Courts, etc., education, entitlement) “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 

Reinhold Niebuhr’s view is Augustinian in that “it takes the doctrine of original sin to help us recognize that the leaders in society are exercising leadership primarily to help themselves and that the political and ethical commitments we hold dear primarily serve our own self interest.” (See his Gifford Lecture, The Nature and Destiny of Man) (See Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, editors H.R. Davis and R.C. Good (NY: Scribners, 1960)

 

These intense words ring for many Americans blinded by their own motives by the culture of Narcissism (see Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations (NY: Norton, 1978); and his Haven In A Heartless World: The Family Besieged; my study on “Sin and Salvation.”) The different themes through the centuries were:

17th century - True Truth; the 18th century - Nature; the 19th century - History; the 20th century - Language; the 21st century - Multicultural Pluralism, Tolerance and Diversity. See the classic work of G. Zilbourg, et.al., Mind, Medicine, and Man (NJ: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1943); Karl Menninger, Whatever Happened to Sin? (NY: Hawthorn Books, 1973). (The radical redefinition of the nature of sin after Hegel, Darwin, Mead, Freud, Kinsey. Only socio/economic psychical factors interpreted alienation and the source of recovery as education, science and technology (see my essays, “Alienation in Marx” and “Alienation in Hegel”)

 

Because we believe in our own innocence and victimhood, we are sitting ducks for corporations and politicians who tell us what is best for us. Our postmodern culture is a culture of victimization. Only the recovering of the biblical data regarding its vision of reality and sin can address subtle or ever present tyrannies that oppress us. (Cf. Satan came as an angel of light)

 

One such tyranny is a celebrity-oriented political culture, which “has no loyalty” and “little power.” Politics has become “a method of manipulating images and developing an admiring group of supporters.”

 

Ellingsen is also critical of the way the “welfare bureaucracy” unwittingly created “a culture of dependence” and to hand off the responsibility to local governments and charities perhaps derived from too much Enlightenment optimism (see my Chart on Enlightenment, “Themes of the Brave New World” in the LCC/S Library).

 

He also legitimately criticizes the oppressive nature of much “capitalism’s bounty, Effect of Feminism, emphasis on Teams in the work place. These factors encourage the “ethos of insincerity” and create an environment in which approval outweighs accomplishments.

 

He also correctly emphasizes the impact of Enlightenment radical individualism and solitary individuals are vulnerable “to the power of the establishment.” This influence also enters postmodern areas of sex, marriage, family, politics. Postmodern sexual and marital ethics affirm individual desire (e.g. Margaret Mead’s attack on Americanism, the family, sex, morality, etc.) Without remembering the displacement of the biblical data regarding sin. The biblical doctrine of sin declares that we are curved in on ourselves. :Love makes us “feel good;” America’s notion of marriage too often focuses on self.

 

The Church of 2003 too often allows American to create customized spiritualities of the American Church, much evangelism, has assimilated the Enlightenment optimism of “self understanding.” The appeal to felt needs is only acceptable if we understand what we really need. Our felt needs may be the very things we don’t need.

 

This emphasis focuses on the psychotherapeutic orientation of postmodern pastoral ministry and the importance of business models into The Church! (E.g. Postmodern Mega Church - marketing procedures applied to evangelism and Jesus Christ).

 

How are we to affirm human sinfulness and at the same time, the saving grace of God in Christ? Until we know our real condition, we cannot perceive the nature of the “cost of grace” in our salvation from sin and death. (See a more extended review of Ellingsen’s work at www.ChristianityToday.com/go bookshelf).

 

The author, a Lutheran preacher, utilizes the Augustinian model of analyzing the human condition. Perhaps no single theologian developed “The Tulip” (from Augustine to the Council of Worms) but historically its influence is undeniable. (1) Total depravity of man; (2) Unconditional election; (3) Limited atonement (particularism/exclusivism); (4) Irresistible grace (efficacious call of the Holy Spirit); (5) Perseverance of the saints (eternal security in little of the New Openness Theology, e.g., misunderstanding between Augustinianism and Armenianism

 

The tension between The Tulip and Paradox Lost in the Enlightenment--Resultant Modernism:

 

1. Inherent Goodness of Man in the 19th century (autonomous man; see essays “Autonomous Man in the West between the 15th to the 19th Centuries” “Influence of Darwin on American Pragmatism.

 

2. Total Animality of Man - Darwin’s influence on American Pragmatism.

 

3. Perfectibility of Man - via Science, Technology and Education

 

4. Inevitability of Progress - Utopian optimism, i.e., Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Economics - Alienation of Man via socio economic psycho anthropological factors - from Hegel to Marx, Demise of Sin.

 

                            Postmodernism: Rejection of True Truth and Objectivity

 

1. Demise of the Universe (Death of God - Nietzsche)

2. Demise of Truth

3. Demise of History

4. Demise of Language

5. Demise of Science

6. Demise of the Person - neurobiological revolution mind-brain= computer analogue) (Tolerant/Diversity in Multiculturalism)

 

In Christ’s saving grace we see how we can and must cross the transcendence between Cynicism and Celebration!

 

 

Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus

Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL