I have this great little church that lets me minister to all kinds of people, including the masses who do not go to worship in any congregation. Consequently, I spend a lot of time listening to people tell me how whatever they want to do is OK, as long as it works for them. To “work for them” means it fulfills a need, makes them feel good at the moment, is practiced sincerely and does not sufficiently impact others in such a negative force as to be considered “bad.”
This is Immanuel Kant, out for one of his walks each day. A dandified, priggish little man, he is accorded Super-Hero status in most philosophical schools (of the Western variety) because he continued Hume’s groundbreaking philosophical work to remove God from the primary place in the hierarchy of Western thought procedure.
My philosophy professor friend Roark will now cut in to correct my profuse simplification of Kant’s Cant. Of course, if I said it is day outside, Roark would find a place to it is night and give me 3,000 words on darkness; words so achingly beautiful in their arrangement and precise in their reasoning you would accept his language about night the way Juliet speaks of her Romeo.
But, then, I get to decide who posts here and I am writing about evangelism today, so there.
Why is church attendance dropping in most places? In a recent conversation with a leading denominational executive, I was told, “Wherever you go, the evidence clearly shows the tide going out on mainstream, orthodox Christianity. We are fighting an obvious trend.”
And, broadly, with some pockets of resistance, he is right.
But why? Are the arms of God shortened that He cannot save?
And is the Church no longer trying?
Or is it this?
We are quoting the words of Jesus Christ, while our society is practicing the teachings of Immanuel Kant.
Jesus points to the Father, sacrifices Himself and calls all persons to the congregation. Kant allows pure individualism and personal isolationalism, beginning with “whatever works for you as a person.”
In Christ, there is no East or West, in Him no North or South. In Kant, there is no real direction, either, but in an (almost) entirely empathy free thinking. And, yes, I chose the word empathy directly, for there is no room for God as more than a cosmic accident with Kant and Hume, and, without God, there is ultimately no ground for moral persuasion.
Which, of course, brings me back to my point. You knew I would finally get back to it, did you not?
Consider this. Jesus asks us to live within the congregation, sacrificing our own desires, and to work for the common good, with a special emphasis on the disenfranchised. Kant urges us to reason our way through life, accepting only that which works out for us and out of us. Is it not possible our Entitlement Culture comes out of the amoral Kantian reasoning, where, in our thinking and living, we are to think and do what “works for us.”
Ergo, there is no ground for moral persuasion as concerns sacrifice or change. This may be a misreading of Kant and Hume, but it is our misreading and we hold tightly to it.
And, so it goes. In what I think is real and meaningful evangelism, we must first ask people to unlearn what a consumer oriented, entitlement culture teaches, before we can teach Christ. Think of it this way. A polytheist may accept Jesus as Something or Other, but actually only add Jesus to his pantheon of gods. He need not, he thinks, worship Jesus exclusively, but only as one of many; not the One, but one more. A Kantian Individualist (or Relativist) may accept Jesus in theory, but only as someone who meets his emotional need of the moment, more as guide than Savior; not the One but just one.
If each fellow is the be-all, end-all, what is the natural end of such thinking, except entitlement?
So, our evangelism must change its forms. We must not merely teach a business model of transaction, ending with “Is there any reason you should not pray this prayer of salvation with me?’ Instead, we might better do the cost counting taught by Jesus (remember Him) and change our proposition to potential converts to this, instead.
“Do you understand what it would cost you personally to pursue Christian salvation?”
So, I Kant stand it anymore. For all his (great, deep, reflective) thinking, I kind of wish Kant had taken a longer walk each afternoon prior to tea. A long, long walk.