The L’abri Conference in Rochester, Minnesota is coming up again and I thought I would put up some marginalia from notes from past conferences. The conference weekend has been an intensive time of learning and encountering new ideas – I’ve heard it equated to trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant – and the notes I take away every year are full of new ideas. These posts will be for sharing some interesting ideas and to whetting the palate for the conference. Don’t look for a theme in them, rather, they are a random collection of interesting thoughts.
I recommend the L’abri conference to you if you can make it. You can register on the website.
2006 Conference Notes…
- Worldview: What is a worldview? It is a set of examined and unexamined assumptions which act as a mental filter that determines what we see. We are all in the business of filtering what we see. It happens without our being aware of it along the channels of our worldview. There are basically 7 questions every worldview seeks to answer: 1. What is prime reality (who is God?) 2. What is the nature of external reality? 3. What is a human being? 4. What happens after death? 5. How can we know things (epistemology)? 6. How do we know right from wrong? 7. What is the meaning of human history?
- Limits of human reason: Christianity is not antagonistic to reason, but it does say that there are mysteries into which reason cannot penetrate. As thoughtful believers we must know the limits of our reason, and that is not to say that we must sit in ignorance and not walk to the end of the road of reason, but it does mean that our journey extends past the places where the paved road of reason ends. You still have to walk out over thin air, and because it is the truth you will still walk on solid ground. Because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Because our reason cannot completely grasp something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or it is nonsensical. “You can have true knowledge without having exhaustive knowledge,” -Francis Schaeffer. This is not something to fear (we walk by faith, not be sight) but it can be dangerous as a starting point and tends to produce unexamined thought.
- The Value of Art: C. S. Lewis said that pain was God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world, perhaps art is also. Why do we not simply read tracts for sermons? Because the people who hear are asleep and we can be creative and winsome and attractive. Jesus engaged the culture in parables. When he spoke to a crowd of unbelievers whose lives were intimately connected to the earth he told stories that began, “Once there was a farmer…” Christ used art as a splinter of the minds of his hearers. Paul walked among the idols of the Athenians and came to their debating forum and quoted their own poets. Paul met them where their understanding ended and showed them the way forward – he built bridges from the truth they understood to the truth they needed.
- Engagement with culture: Battles are lost by default if they are never fought. There are entire segments of our culture today that have experienced an exodus of Christian engagement and Christian thought. The consequences can be slow in showing themselves in those segments, but they will always be a drift away from the truth and a resowing of the soil with other thoughts and ideas. The people of the present live on the food that those who came before us sowed into the ground. We live in the world made by those we inherit it from. For this reason and many others Christians must engage the culture as a hope for the future. Those who affect the next generation win, so to speak. The life of the earth needs the oxygen of Christianity. As a church, we must be careful about the theology and philosophy that teaches Christians to not give that oxygen.
- Feelings: Christians should be ones that feel better, not in the sense of feeling happiness more, but in the sense of the ability to feel the right emotions to the right depths. We should be able to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It is a tragedy when the Church looks on the sufferings of the world with a stone heart. There are things that should make us weep. We should long for rightness in the world so much and have such a clear picture of what it would look like in politics, family life, relationships, business, and every area of life that it should be a sharper hurt when we see how often the reality of what we see falls short of it. We should long for rightness so much that when we see some area of life moving toward it it should make us rejoice. Christianity is not a stoic, cold religion. It is a religion of celebration and feasts and joy as well as tears and hard, hard prayers. It makes us realistic without becoming cynical. It makes us joyful without being naive.
- Total Depravity: Sin is not a popular idea. The Christian teaching of original sin is seen as oppressive and regressive, causing more evil than good. How do you talk about sin with a culture that has forgotten what the word means? It is not the individual acts of evil, but it is something deeper. It is our tendency to bend inward. It is our tendency to be selfish. This is not to say that there is nothing good in us, nor that we are “as full of sin as our skin can hold.” That is not the Biblical worldview. The truth is something closer to what Schaeffer said, “We are glorious ruins.” There is so much that is good and glorious in us because before we were sinners we were very, very good, and the remnant of that original glory cannot be eradicated. The Church so often talks about sin as though it is what we were meant for, but we were not, nor is it how the story began. But it is the condition we find ourselves in today. There is a reality of evil in the world, and the idea that we are not the way we are meant to be and cannot entirely change that is a foundation for explaining where it came from and why there is still so much good in us and how to be healed of our tendency to bend inward. Without a robust understanding of evil insisting that we are good seems naive, because it is so clear that we are not. But neither does Christianity allow for us to fall into the opposite extreme of falling into cynicism. We are glorious, but the world we see today is ruined.
- Friendship: A friend is someone who identifies those prayers that you need to hear to make you go where you must – but fear to – go, finds a way to say them, and then goes to those places with you.
- Justice: “I dethrone God in my heart if I demand that he act to satisfy my notions of justice.” – Elizabeth Eliot