I’ve made reference to this passage from Sire’s book in a previous post because I think that it captures something very important and is almost a litmus test of how postmodern the emergent church really is and how postmodern and self-oriented the patriocentric belief system proves to be. Individuals in both groups become intensely personally offended if not threatened when their ideas and beliefs are criticized. I have not found this to be true of most modernists. It is not a personal offense to them if you reject their truth. They may call you a bigot or a fool, but it’s been my experience that your rejection of their ideas does not really become a personal thing for them. They don’t find their personal integrity to be at risk if someone rejects their beliefs. Such is not true with patriocentrists or emergents, because it is my impression that most of those in each group perceive a challenge as quite personal.
I advance this thesis: That when a Christian’s beliefs are not truly rooted and grounded in the Word of God and when their beliefs are not resting in faith in God’s integrity and truth, defending faith becomes a personal matter. I believe that when beliefs are built on shifting sands of man’s ideas apart from God, only drawing some elements from the Word of God, challenging those beliefs that are believed as a matter of personal preference only apart from some external evidence, postmodernists perceive criticism and challenge as a deeply personal offense. The postmodernist perceives rejection of their beliefs that are validated only by their preference as tantamount to saying "You're stupid for believing such a thing." The more personal the nature of the idea (such as sexuality), the more personal and offensive is the challenge, something perceived as a denial of that individual's personhood. This is certainly not the only cause for FEELING threatened or personally rejected when beliefs are challenged, but for some fringe groups within in patriarchy and the emergent churc, I believe this postmodern response is the primary motivator of their aggression.
If my faith is in God Almighty and that faith is challenged, what do I have to fear? But even if I believe that my faith is in God but it is really in my esteem for Doug Phillips as one of his followers, when the beliefs that I adopted based upon my esteem for Phillips get challenged, it becomes much more personally intense for me. It's like suggesting that I'm stupid and offensive for believing Phillips.
I believe on a spiritual level, the Holy Spirit brings conviction to those who have faith in men rather than implicit faith in God as their beliefs are challenged. Someone who is dedicated to become more and more conformed to the truth about God and the Word of God will feel uncomfortable, but a desire for truth will override any feelings of embarrassment or personal disappointment because they have faith that they will come closer to the knowledge of the truth. If you challenge the authority of the Bible, on a personal level, your real contention is with JudeoChristian belief, not really with me. The challenge actually works to build their faith, because challenges also push us to realize greater truths.
Selected Excerpts from James Sire’s “The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog,” page 128:
In 1835 when Kierkegaard was faced with deciding what should be his life’s work, he wrote,
What I really need is to become clear in my own mind what I must do, not what I must know – except in so far as a knowing must precede every action. The important thing is to understand what I am destined for, to perceive what the Deity wants me to do; the point is to find the truth for me, to find that idea for which I am ready to live and die. What good would it do me to discover a so-called objective truth, though I were to work my way through the systems of the philosophers and were able, if need be, to pass them in review?(from a letter quoted by Walter Lowrie in“A Short Life of Kierkegaard,”Princeton Univ Press, 1942, pg 82)
Some readers of Kierkegaard have understood him to abandon the concept of objective truth altogether. Certainly some existentialists have done precisely that, disjoining the objective and the subjective so completely that one has no relation to the other. This has been especially true of atheistic existentialists like John Platt. It is not that the facts have no value but that they must be facts for someone, facts for me. And that changes their character and inextricably binds them to the knowledge of the knower. Truth in its personal dimension is subjectivity; it is truth digested and lived out on the never endings of a human life.
When knowledge becomes so closely related to the knower, it has an edge of passion, of sympathy, and it tends to be hard to divide logically from the knower himself. Buber describes the situation of a person standing before God: “Man’s religious situation, hi being there in the Presence is characterized by its essential and indissoluble antinomy.” What is one’s relation to God as it regards freedom or necessity? Kant, says, Buber, resolved the problem by assigning necessity to the realm of appearances and freedom to the realm of being.
And I would like to quote the note that my husband wrote in the margin of this page:
Since people create their own truth – truth for them – when you refute their truth, they see that as a personal refutation of themselves which is quite unacceptable. So they cling even more tenaciously to their truth and ignore the facts to preserve themselves. You can’t logically argue with these people because everything is too personal. Attacks on their arguments are attack on them.
Excerpts taken from James Sire's
InterVarsity Press, 1976 first ed,
quotes appearing here from the 1988 edition