In the last chapter of his book, The Myth of Certainty, Daniel Taylor acknowledges a sad truth with which I believe many who would call themselves “emerging Christians” would agree: we live in a nearly constant state of tension between the Christian subculture and the secular subculture. It is not always an uncomfortable place to be but it is an interesting place to be.
It is also a place of great temptation. Certainly there are the temptations pulling from both sides. Anytime you’re in the middle of opposing camps there are those who would woe you or shame you into making a choice, even if the choice is based on a false dichotomy. But more than that, there is the temptation to not choose. That is, I think, the greater danger because it freezes us in place, afraid to commit to anything. This non-choice is not what God calls us to.
So what is it that we are called to? The prophet Micah offers us one of those rare experiences of simple clarity in an oft-quoted verse:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
Humility is the central idea of the last chapter. The starting place for humility is the acknowledgement that for all our truth-seeking, the truth we perceive might actually be simply illusion. But we need not fear that our seeking will lead us away from God. If we are honest in seeking truth we can have faith that our journey will lead us to Him, although the road might take some twists and turns. After all, if we are seeking truth we should find Jesus. Did he not tell us, “I am the way the truth and the light?” If truth is a person and we seek truth we should find that person.
Humility also calls us to understand the nature of truth. Because of our finitude, we can only “see through the glass darkly.” We can only find truth in place and time and in human relationships. Taylor advises us to exercise our greatest judgment upon ourselves and our own beliefs and behaviors, essentially working on the plank in our own eye before reaching for the speck in someone else’s.
In this frame of mind, we are more likely to avoid the trap of confusing defense of the truth with defense of self. Humility also helps us recognize that the errors of one’s “enemies” do not ensure us of our own correctness or righteousness.
But humility is not the same thing as passivity or indecisiveness. Acting with less than perfect knowledge is the risk we take in being human.
Ironically, healthy skepticism might be one of our best tools for seeking truth. Taylor advises us to continually examine as new ideas are swept on and off the stage of human thought. It seems to me that the same applies to the trends and waves of ideas that seem to capture the attention of the church in our country for a season at a time.
Finally, Taylor advises some practical guidelines for living in the middle of the two subcultures, advice that the emerging church might want to take to heart. The first principle is conservation of energy. We need not enter every argument nor take on every battle. We should also avoid being trapped into positions defined by what we are against rather than what we stand for.
Best of all, Taylor advises us to develop and exercise a sense of humor. He writes that “God gave us laughter to relieve the strain of living in a fallen world.” This reminds me of what Hobbes (the tiger, not the seventeenth century philosopher) once said:
“If we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense we couldn’t react to a lot of life.”
Seek truth, laugh at the absurdity of such an impossible mission and yet seek it nonetheless. And in that journey, find the One who Is truth.