It’s been one of those years – the kind of year that was meant by the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in Interesting Times.”
Here’s a couple of things I find interesting about these Interesting Times. The first is that, through following up on Tweets and stuff, I learned that in America three of the top five best-selling non-fiction Christian books of 2016 were adult colouring-in books. After what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I don’t know what to say. I understand that some people find them helpful, but really? Three out of five?
I also learnt, through following links on my friend Terry’s blog, that Chris Tomlinson’s song ‘Good, Good Father’ won the GMA Dove Song of the year at the Dove Awards. The author of the piece that I read offers a substantial critical assessment of the song. The most intriguing point that he makes is that there’s nothing exclusively Christian about the song other than the use of the name ‘Father’ to refer to God. I find it interesting that the ‘Christian Song of the Year’ doesn’t mention Jesus, or anything explicitly Christian at all. Again, I’ve commented before on worship, but I find this…interesting.
So, what do these two things mean, if anything? Is it just coincidental noise, or do they hint at something about Western Christianity? Are they a symptom of the dreaded ‘dumbing down’ that so many people fear? Maybe it’s just that Christians, like everyone else, are finding 21st century living harder and harder, so demand from their music and books these days less content and more feel-good?
Perhaps it’s just the logical destination in a journey that started with my generation’s post-modern suspicion of authority and ‘facts’? What’s more, our new breed of atheists have made such a song and dance about how rational they are, and how religion is ‘The Enemy of Reason’, that maybe some Christians have just given up fighting on intellectual grounds and accepted their opponent’s description of themselves?
Maybe it’s none or all of the above. Who knows?
What I do know is that as life goes on, I find that Christianity is robust both rationally and experientially. As my knowledge of God has grown, so has my very direct experience of Him. I could tell you some stories. Atheism may have explanations as to how the world began and why we behave the way we do, but it cannot explain my life.
Having a rational, coherent and consistent faith is not an optional extra. We can’t give up on it just because it’s ‘too hard’. We’ve probably all met Christians who check their brain in on a Sunday and pick it up again in time for work on Monday morning.
But equally, we’ve probably all met Christians who live in their heads, for whom their faith is primarily an intellectual exercise and makes little, if any, difference in day-to-day life. Remember – It’s not like modernity was so great in the first place, with it’s intellectual snobbery and belittling of experience.
God makes sense, and without Him, my experiences don’t.
Perhaps if we valued the rational foundations of our faith more, we might be more interested in books and songs that stimulate our intellect. But equally, perhaps if we expected more of God, and hungered to genuinely experience Him, we might have more than songs and colouring-in books to help us cope with stress and fear?
2017 is coming. Ask yourself which aspect of your relationship with God is lacking – reason or experience? – and think about what steps you can actually take, what prayer you can actually persistently pray, to strengthen that part of your faith.