True confession time.
I wrote this newsletter last Wednesday night. I put it in the mailbox. But I never pressed send (insert SMH emoji here).
So here’s what I was thinking about last week. I hope you don’t mind week old bread!
I have no recollection of being taught anything about the French Revolution when I was in High School. I don’t remember it ever coming up in my AP American History class my junior year of High School. The fault could easily be my own – I didn’t always pay careful attention in my classes. But I suspect that most of us still today have only a vague idea of what happened in France in the last decade of the 18th century. We’ve heard of Napoleon and Marie Antoinette, Robespierre and the Marquis de Lafayette. But that’s about it.
Most of what we think we know about the French Revolution comes from having seen Les Miserables once or twice (or more). Here’s a little bit of trivia that most people don’t know – the barricade in Les Mis happened more than 30 years after the end of the French Revolution had ended.
Most of us also know very little about a completely different kind of French Revolution that took place in the halls of western academia in the mid 20th century. If the names Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault don’t ring a bell, you’re in good company. But these two French philosophers and literary critics have shaped much of western thought over the past half century.
I confess that I’m wading into water that is over my head here. My own understanding of what Derrida and Foucault taught is extremely limited. What I’m about to say is reductionistic, a gross oversimplification of what these two French philosophers sought to advance. But maybe more than anyone else, these men have effectively shaped the way most people in our world think about truth claims.
All of us would agree that worlds have meaning. This newsletter is intended to convey meaning and ideas. My goal in writing this newsletter each week is to challenge, to persuade, to encourage and to provoke you to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
And most of us, when we read a blog post or a book, would do so in an attempt to try to understand the meaning the author is seeking to convey.
Foucault and Derrida turned that way of thinking about what we read on its head. What matters, they suggested, is not the meaning the author is attempting to convey with his words, but instead, the meaning that you, as the reader, take from those words. The truth of any idea, they suggested, is not located in the ideas of the author. It resides in how the author’s words affect the reader. As the interpreter, you are the authority – not the author himself.
If you’re still with me, stop and take a breath. The bottom line of what I’m suggesting here is that the 20th century French Revolution successfully altered centuries of how we engage with ideas and with truth. If Foucault or Derrida were attending a small group Bible study today, and they heard someone say “what this verse means to me is…” they would both smile and nod their heads. What a passage means to you, they would suggest, is more meaningful than what the author was attempting to communicate anyway.
And besides, they would argue, there is no way we can ever really know what the author was saying. We’re at the mercy of the interpreters. And your interpretation is as good as any.
If you find all this intriguing, you might enjoy this article from D.A. Carson about how Derrida’s deconstructionism and Foucault’s theory of power have shaped the way so many of us think about truth in our day.
My reason for bringing any of this up in our day is this. Increasingly, those of us who come to the scriptures with the idea that God’s word is our source of ultimate truth will find ourselves dismissed for our simple or outdated way of thinking. The idea that we should commit ourselves corporately to the goal of seeking to understand what God has said and what it means for us in our day will be derided as an exercise in futility. Instead of thinking of the Bible as a “belt of truth” that we are to strap on, we are told that what matters is what’s true for you.
The irony of this new subjective approach to understanding truth is that what started as a reaction against authoritarianism and totalitarianism has come full circle. Foucault and Derrida would have argued for tolerance – the idea that no one can tell someone else that their view is wrong and another view is right. Each of us should admit that we can’t know truth, and we should respect another person’s right to his or her own viewpoint.
But instead of tolerance, the fruit of what I’m calling the second French Revolution is a new authoritarianism. We can no longer allow people to think in ways that do not conform to the new “truth.” According to the new revolutionaries, if someone tweets the wrong ideas, he might (and should) lose his job. We might not burn books in our day, but under intense pressure, major retailers are pulling titles from their shelves if the books dare to challenge the new orthodoxy. Those who were on the margins of culture, fighting for tolerance and inclusion two decades ago are now in places of power and control themselves. Tolerance is no longer a virtue.
This is just one example of what spiritual warfare looks like. In the face of a culture that is accelerating its pace in an attempt to marginalize biblical values and virtues, we are told to be strong and stand firm. We are exhorted to keep grounding our thinking in a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches, an understanding that believers have stood firm on for centuries.
Truth matters. Jesus says truth will set us free. Ultimately, He is our Truth. And even if our culture continues to become increasingly hostile toward that way of thinking, the Bible tells us to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
In his sermon on 1 Peter 4 three weeks ago, Mike Morledge referenced the Equality Act that will be passed this week by the US House of Representatives and move on to the Senate. Mike talked about some of the reasons for concern about the impact this legislation could have on the free exercise of religion in our country.
Some of you I know had not heard of this piece of legislation, and some of you had questions about it.
If you’d like to know more about why many churches and religious organizations are concerned about the Equality Act, the concerns are articulated in this article from the Baptist Press and in this one from Christianity Today.
Some of you have wondered, so here you go. As in past years, we are planning again in 2021 to gather on Good Friday, April 2, at 7:00 pm for a worship service to reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus. More info soon.
And this Sunday we’ll continue our exploration of spiritual warfare and spiritual armor by thinking together about how faith can protect us from the flaming darts the devil throws at us.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!