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Set Forth Your Case – Paper #2

Part 2 of a 16 part series…

To catch you up, my father, Dr. Michael Ruth (an author, family therapist, and pastor since the late 70’s) gave me an assignment to read the book Set Forth Your Case by Clark Pinnock and to write a 1-2 page response to each of the chapters.  It might be a little difficult to fully understand my responses to or summaries of the chapters without reading the book, but I wanted to share my work anyway.

Set Forth Your Case by Clark Pinnock
Chapter 2: The Big Sellout

Pinnock begins his second chapter by introducing the contemporary theological construct known as the “upper story” pattern of doctrinal interpretation.  A clearer picture of the “upper story” follows, but Pinnock first addresses the origins of this philosophy.  Two factors paved the way for the genesis of this doctrine, the first being the “death” of hope and the Romanticist philosophy; the second being an overall cultural shift toward Mysticism.

It is rather easy to understand how a Romantic worldview – prominent since the Renaissance – that touted man’s inherent goodness and his progress toward an assured utopian end could die on the vine in the 20th century.  If two World Wars, genocide and presidential assassinations could fail to open the eyes of the world to man’s inherent evil, then surely nothing could unveil the truth.  However, we know as Christians that mankind has an innate need to fill their lives with some kind of meaning – be it a deity or deities or some over-arching philosophical viewpoint.  We also know that many people would rather strap themselves to the bow of a sinking ship than sacrifice their pride to Christ and accept Him as their answer and their only hope.  To fill the void and the despair left by the death of Romanticism, our culture (in a generic sense) began to adopt a Mystical worldview.

According to Pinnock, the man of today has decided to surrender his rationalism and instead believe in a meaning of life that he creates for himself.  Outside of an adoption of the Christian faith that would no doubt answer most of man’s “big” questions, man cannot conceive of a rational answer to the question, “What meaning does this life have?”  In other words, to satisfy his desire to fill the void and squash the anxieties of a meaningless existence, he simply creates the meaning that fits him best.  According to Pinnock, this existential mood allows man the freedom of any “logical absurdity without any stigma.”

Based on my interpretation, I believe it is at this juncture that Pinnock believes Christians must take up the sword of apologetics and strike with the force of all our might.  Indeed, he says, “The greatest single tragedy in modern theology is the failure to challenge this secular shift to irrationalism at its foundations.”  It is at this point where Pinnock introduces in more detail the concept of the “upper” and “lower” stories in the field of knowledge in general and theology in particular.  The upper story represents the non-rational, non-logical, imaginative, unverifiable, and the paradoxical.  The lower story represents the exact opposite…the provable, the empirical, the testable, the logical, and so on.

So, how does this apply to us?  It seeps into our beliefs and it attacks the foundations of Christianity because, as Pinnock states, “…the subject of who has faith becomes all-important, while the object of his faith is rather inconsequential.”  Consider, as a couple of practical examples:

  • Jesus Christ – rather than engaging Him as the historical, documented figure He claimed to be, He becomes simply a symbol, and merely an example of a “good” person that had qualities we can aspire to.
  • The Bible – rather than considering it Holy Scripture capable of yielding proof of its divinity, the Bible simply becomes a text that some can have a revelatory experience with, but no different than one might have with the Koran, Shakespeare, or any other inspiring work.

In my first paper I stated that, in addition to those mentioned by Pinnock, I thought moral relativism may turn out to be the chief enemy of apologetics today.  Really, I think Pinnock was already saying the same thing.  The Church has shied away from saying, “This is the Truth” and has instead chosen to increase congregations and worldly acceptance by letting each member adopt the truth that suits them.  This is what Pinnock calls the “big sellout” and it responsible for eliminating the sovereignty of God in our theology today.  In this way the deity of Christ, the cross, etc. are all given emotional values but they hold no metaphysical significance.  Three sequential steps to a theological abyss become clear in this environment according to Pinnock: subjectivism (religion is all in how you see it), relativism (it doesn’t matter how you see it) and agnosticism (no one has the answer).  I am sure that Pinnock will have more to say down the road about how to attack this issue, for as he states, “Whatever we call it, the new theology can lead us nowhere, and we had better find a different route.”

**Incidentally, Pinnock states that this issue isn’t necessarily new, and in fact can be traced back to certain European theological ideas prevalent around the time of the Renaissance.  However, he obviously believes it has gained a stronger – if not predominant – foothold recently.  I was also surprised to read that he claims Kierkegaard is the person “most directly responsible” for the new theology.

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Ruth

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