All The Truthy Feels

Tara Isabella Burton’s book, Sacred Rites: New Religions for a Godless World is an incredible rollercoaster ride through the emerging religious landscape in the American culture. Throughout, not only does Burton catalogue new religions and religious practices, she insightfully analyzes the theology. She labels these religious practitioners the “Remixed”. They are part of the infamous “rise of the nones” – the growing number of Americans who check “none” for religious affiliation. They are not atheists, by in large, they are mostly spiritual but not religious.

Her work is important for Christians and pastors in understanding what is going on both around our churches and within our pews. It has always been important for Christians to know how to exegete both their Bibles and their cultures.

Early in the book, Burton notes the relationship between the Remixed and truth. The idea of truth as correspondence to reality is by-in-large gone. Even the sense that this kind of truth is important has faded well into the background. She writes:

“Today’s Remixed religions valorize different forms of emotional experience – a person’s perceived energy as a clue to their bad character, a modern witch’s sense of divine presence during a spell-casting session, a feminist’s lived experience as an authoritative account of the world – as the key to interpreting both meaning and purpose.”

pg. 33

Then:

“They’re suspicious of moral truth or truth-claims that don’t root themselves in subjective experience. Three-quarters of millennials…now say they agree with the statement “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know…”

pg. 33

And before you think this creates a significant difference between those “outside the church” and those inside, the rest of that sentence reads:

“…compared with just 39 percent of the elderly, and 47 percent of practicing Christians of all ages.”

pg. 33

We are dealing, more and more, with a cultural landscape that has decided against truth. Truth has not been argued with and shown wanting, it has been labeled “oppressive” or “patriarchal” or a tool of “white privilege”. It has been out-emoted. More and more we have people making significant life decisions – about what Burton calls “meaning and purpose” – based on how the options make them feel, free to assemble any combination that suites them. People are making decisions without arguments.

People are making decisions without arguments.

How do we work with people who have made decisions without arguments? First of all, we can’t fall into the trap the church falls into over and over – we need to appeal to people in the same ways the culture (or other religions) appeals to them. We cannot reduce the meaning and purpose of Christianity to a better set of the feels than any other options. That is always a losing strategy in the mid-to-long run.

Secondly, we need to shore up our own congregations. How often are the people in our churches confronted with the truth of the Gospel? Or to paraphrase Francis Schaefer, do they know the gospel is True truth? Do our services, small groups, and lives reflect this? Do we have ways of helping the people in our churches to be different from the culture around them?

And then, it may be that shoring up the spiritual and lifestyle health of the church will become the best witness possible over time. We never give up evangelism or apologetics. We never give up being salt and light in our jobs, schools, and halls of cultural influence and power. But a local body of believers whose tap root is deep and strong may produce the kind of fruit hungry people will want to eat.

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