Friday, March 4, 2011

Tell the Truth, but Tell it Slant

Sunday, February 13, 2011
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9

Emily Dickinson writes,
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant—
Success in circuit lies.
Too bright to our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise.

St. Paul, in writing to Christians in the city of Corinth, puts it this way,
…brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rater as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with mil, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.

The Christians in the city of Corinth were making a claim to a spiritual pedigree. This claim of having a spiritual pedigree leads them to believe themselves to be more mature than reality. These claims to spiritual maturity created jealousy among the people of the Corinthian church. This jealousy leads to resentment of one another, brings about division among the people, and taints the witness of the church. Paul reminds them that are not spiritually mature, but are being spoon food the truth.

Point One: The church’s witness becomes tainted by resentment.
The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, explicates a concept called Re-Sentiment. Re-sentiment is “a re-ordering of the sentiments. We adjust our affections, sentiments, and value judgments in order to avoid server disappointment (Ten Elshof, page 64)

Mark Twain illustrates this concept in the account of Tom Sawyer. Another boy at school has become the center of his mates attention due to a cut finger, but Tom shows up with a new claim to fame. Twain writes, But all trials bring their compensation. As Tom wended to school after breakfast, he was the envy of every boy he met because the gap in his upper row of teeth enable him to expectorate in a new and admirable way. He gather quite a following of lads interested in the exhibition; and one that had cut his finger and had been a centre of fascination and homage up to this time, now found himself suddenly without an adherent, and shore of his glory. His heart was heavy, and he said with a disdain which he did not feel that it wasn’t anything to spit like Tom Sawyer; but another boy said, “Sour grapes!” and he wandered away a dismantled here. (Ten Elshof, Pages 62-63)

The church engages, as well in this re-sentiment process. We too, as Christians, have our sour grapes. Ten Elshof goes on to say, Nietzsche famously attributes the Christian praise of humility and prizing of suffering to the ressentiment of the persecuted church. Since they could expect no better than humiliation and suffering, he said, the Christians re-ordered their sentiments in such a way as to praise humility and prize affliction. (pages 64-65).

The modern church still engages in the practice of re-sentiment. James Dawson writes, Resentiment is grounded in a narrative of injury, or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds…In the end, these benefits have been withheld or taken away or there is a perceived threat that they will be taken away by those now in positions of power. The sense of injury is the key….Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action…In this logic, it is only natural that wrongs need to be righted. And so it is, then, that the injury—real or perceived—leads to the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see responsible…Resentiment, then, is expressed as a discourse of negation; the condemnation and denigration of enemies in the effort to subjugate and dominate those who are culpable. (pages 117-119)

Through the process of resentiment, the Christian witness has been reduced to speaking against something. The result for us, is to claim a spiritual maturity/a spiritual high ground. Ten Elshof concludes by speaking of sour grapes in two forms, In the first, a generally recognized good is made an object of outright scorn for its unavailability. In the second, a seemingly unavailable goo is pushed to the edges of consciousness by super valuing something else. We see both kinds of resentiment in the various forms of Christian anti-intellectualism. (page 70)

Point Two: The Rejection of Reason for Authenticity as an Act of Sour Grapes
Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans writes in a column entitled, “Is Faith in God Rational” in the Lancaster paper on Saturday, February 12, 2011, a review by a soon to be published book by Pastor John Wilkinson, of LCBC. The book will be titled, No Argument for God.
Pastor Wilkinson seeks to move beyond the critiques of men like Richard Dawkins and other who challenge Christian faith on scientific and rational grounds. He concedes that they have won the argument. For Wilkinson, reason is a gift from God, but shows limitations. In speaking to young people who appear to be asking, not if Christianity is reasonable, but is Christianity true and life changing, Pastor Wilkinson sets forth this argument:

1. Set aside the debate of whether faith in God is reasonable.
2. Admit Christian belief is absurd to the conventions of science and logic.
3. Only then, when limits of rationalism are acknowledged, can one make a decision to believe the Christian message in its “bizarre glory.”

Faith, then, is the measure of Christianity. But what measures faith? The criteria used to measure faith is authenticity. Is one’s faith an authentic faith. A claim to authentic faith has become the new spiritual pedigree. This claim to authentic faith—a claim to a new spiritual pedigree—is source of division in the church.

This Christian movement to an authentic faith is rooted in the disillusionment of the culture of the capacity of the human mind to reason what is good. It is a reaction to the Enlightenment, which was marked with extreme optimism for what human reason could accomplish. Baruch Spinoza, in his treatise “On the Improvement of the Understanding” writes his capacity for observation and thought enable him to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness. Yet, we have seen the failure of science, the inadequacy of medicine, and the incapacity of humans to think through problems. To live in a postmodern culture is to be alive to the failure of reason and knowledge to live up to their Enlightenment expectations…it is the postmodern disappointment with reason that positions it so favorably to give preeminence to matters of feeling and affection…in its more subtle manifestations, anti-intellectualism discredits the life of the mind under the guise of super-valuing something else—usually something legitimately valuable like faith, relationship, or “the heart,” as if these could flourish without the development of the mind. (Ten Elshof, pages 66-70)


Point Three: A Cruciform Faith
The Christian witness, as Paul highlights in Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, is a cruciform faith. This is not a superstitious faith that wards off evil and bad events in our lives. This is not a faith of intimacy, as some would claim, pointing solely to God’s solidarity with Jesus, people, and creation. This is a faith of creation and mission. As a faith of creation, our faith seeks the transformation of physical form into a resurrection body. The perishable puts on the imperishable. The corruptible puts on the incorruptible. This faith is very much rooted in the realities of all we can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. This faith hopes for the fulfillment of all that is natural, which is not emotionally pleasing in the immediate moment. This faith experiences a breakdown of the intimacy, a disruption of the intimacy. This is crucifixion faith. Out of crucifixion, comes new life for all of creation.

Emily Dickison writes,
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant—
Success in circuit lies.
Too bright to our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise.

As lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind.
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.


Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. 2010. Oxford University Press.
Ten Elshof, Gregg A. i told me so: self-deception and the christian life. 2009. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.

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