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Set Forth Your Case – Paper #3

Part 3 of a 16 part series…

Here’s the spiel – 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 3: The Radical Unmasking

Pinnock takes a bit of a detour in chapter 3 of his book off of the strictly theological road to venture down the side streets of secular culture, not to change direction for the reader but rather to simply further his argument from another angle.  He has already shown us that the optimistic belief in the supremacy of humanity has been dying a slow death since the early 1900’s; he subsequently discussed how the new emerging philosophies have crept into our churches and theological premises and assumptions, resulting in a new age of “believers” that are more comfortable dealing with Christ as a role model rather than what He is – the son of God who is responsible for the creation, condemnation and salvation of the world.

What is so interesting in this chapter is that Pinnock decides to quote from popular figures in secular culture (historians, authors, philosophers, painters, etc.) to show that a significant slice of society is coming to the realization that life on many levels is ultimately meaningless and that we should quit trying to fool ourselves that it is otherwise.  I think the quote that best sums up this position comes from H. J. Blackham, director of the British Humanist Association, who said, “…the most drastic objection to humanism is that it is too bad to be true.”  Such a statement makes one wonder why Mr. Blackham doesn’t decide to try out for a different team!

One section I found particularly interesting was Pinnock’s discussion of the playwrights who pioneered the “theatre of the absurd” movement (e.g. Samuel Beckett).  It seems their chief goal was to expose the hollowness of life, and a primary tool for doing this was to employ an almost made-up, nonsensical language for their characters.  Beckett revealed his personal position thusly, “How am I, an a-temporal being imprisoned in time and space, to escape from my imprisonment, when I know that outside space and time lies Nothing, and that I, in the ultimate depths of my reality, am Nothing also?”  What a depressing position indeed!

As Pinnock states, “These testimonies are not the opinions of pathological pessimists.  These spokesmen are intellectual leaders of our culture.”  He also suggests two points that explain how such a negative outlook could spring naturally from a humanist worldview:

1)      The fundamental logic of the humanist position states that man is the illegitimate progeny of random chaos and chance.  How then does one take that glass and see it half full?  Pinnock suggests that, “The further man moves toward epistemological self-consciousness as a non-Christian, the closer he will come to nihilism and despair.”

2)      Man’s inhumanity to man is an undeniable fact.  Jeremiah tells us that the heart is desperately wicked, but even non-Christians must accept that there is plenty of proof to validate this point.[1]

So where does this lead us?  It is here where Pinnock begins to relate this to his overall theme, using a Victor Hugo quote to bolster his argument, “There is nothing so powerful in all the world as an idea whose time has come.”  In this vastness of cultural despair, could there be a more qualified option so willing and able to fill it with hope than the hope of the Christian faith?  Certainly not!  Pinnock suggests that the fruit is ripe for the picking.  The world is ready to hear our message!  However – and I love this – Pinnock suggests in order to tackle this opportunity we need evangelicals that are not culturally desolate and ignorant.  We are to be IN the world, not OF it, but that still implies that you have a finger on the pulse of society…that you have your ear to the ground.  As Pinnock so wonderfully puts it, “Cultural and spiritual growth are related” (his emphasis).  We need to be Christians who are both filled with the Holy Spirit and filled with a deeper knowledge of the world around us, for it is battlefield on which we fight.  Our contemporary American “churchianity” (Pinnock’s word) will not be sufficient to break through the defenses of our jaded culture today.  We must be willing to engage the skeptics on a deeper, richer level.

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Ruth


[1] At this point, Pinnock states, “Whereas it was once ridiculed, the doctrine of original sin is again respected as an essential insight into human nature.”  I fear it is a sad commentary on culture today that it seems the pendulum has once again shifted, and the dominate belief is that man is essentially good.  People with that belief are choosing to be blind to the truth of our natures.

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