Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Progress?

Progress?                                                                                8/26/16

Matthew 7:24-27, Philippians 3:7-14

We’ve been traveling through the story of Western Civilization, a world reaching system of values that has at times, lifted up biblical values. We are asking the question:  How did we get here?  How did the Church arrive at its current station in this world? We’ve learned that the human story is more than survival, that wisdom is to be pursued together, that we are to seek that which endures, that God’s announcement of good news shapes our message, that we are created for community, beholding beauty, receiving correction, and any authority that we have bows to the Lord’s authority.  Today, we look at the word Progress. 

We stop in the 1700’s when the idea of rationalism was shaping every conversation and aspect of society in a movement called the Enlightenment.  Rationalism is the idea that reason or knowledge, not belief or experience is the best order for life.  In the 1700’s, once Europeans figured that being rational was helpful for anything, then it should be helpful for everything.  Every area of life and learning was being reformed.  For example, Galileo challenged scientific principles that hadn’t been challenged since Aristotle, 1900 years before him. If Rationalism was applied, well, rationally, then the world would get better.   The application of rationale principles in society was considered ‘progress’. 

A quick side note:  the word progress continues to function as a powerful word.  We like progress.  Many people continue to lift up progress as the most important human work.  The world is changing, more knowledge has led to more confusion, and the pendulum is moving back toward experience as at least equally important as knowledge, but we still hold very tightly to the value progress.

After all, it is a tight rope to walk.  It is important to make progress, to have a goal, to work toward a better life even if two steps forward happen alongside one step back.  But progress isn’t the end goal for the Christian.  Christ is.  

Looking back, this era is fascinating precisely because of its mixed results.

Simply put, if humanity could simply apply rationalistic thought to every realm of society, good humans would choose goodness, and society would progress towards highest human expression.

*Science attempted to explain the world apart from religion and greek philosophy.

*Economic and political theories attempted to explain the world.

*Mathematics was becoming the universal language.

*Diderot and fellow French philosophers attempt to classify all human knowledge in the form of encyclopedia.  If we all could access human knowledge and past data, humans will apply it to their current context and the world will become better.  It sounds similar to internet access today, that if we just have it, we’ll all go home and increase our knowledge.

*Even God had rational principles thrust upon him in order to explain.  God was now a clockmaker, winding up history and then letting it play itself out.  Scripture doesn’t point to this as true.

But not everything or everyone made progress. The philosophical development was born out of prosperity, and assumed that people were good, or would choose good, given a choice.  But this movement ignored that Europe simply moved its wars out of sight, to foreign soils while taking the natural resources of other peoples.  It really wasn’t that people were better, or were making progress, though they did improve at exporting their problems.

The Enlightenment incorrectly taught that history was linear, a line that moved upward as time marched on.  It is good for self-assurance if you are higher on the line than someone else.  But is it true?  Yet history is neither cyclical:  History doesn’t really repeat itself, not literally.  Perhaps history is a cylinder or cone that both relearns lessons and revisits lessons from the past while continuing on.

The counter movement to rationalism was romanticism.  It attempted to keep mystery and beauty as part of the explanation of  the world, not simply mechanical principles of rationalism.  Perhaps life was more a story than an instruction manual. 

The philosopher who attempted to weave enlightenment and romanticism was Immanuel Kant. He attempted to separate truth and goodness as separate human endeavors.  Truth came through knowledge and goodness was experienced.  

Scripture is the ultimate answer to weaving together truth and goodness, order and beauty.


To hear the words of Jesus Christ, and to put them into practice.  This phrase lifts up the connection of truth and goodness, knowledge and experience.

Those that hear and practice, build upon a foundation that endures the difficulties of existence.

Those that do not foolishly choose an uncertain foundation that will ultimately experience a great crash.

Let’s take a step back and consider this word ‘progress’.  Webster’s includes several definitions for the word:

1.     to move toward a goal

2.     gradual betterment

3.     steady societal improvement

4.     a ceremonial journey by a sovereign through his realm

5.     advance towards higher or better stage

 While the Enlightenment fell short in its attempt to make progress the most important human word, there is still value in the word progress.  What does the Bible say about this? 

Philippians:   What is the goal?

Paul teaches and models this for us.  Ultimately, our goal from Scripture’s perspective has very little to do with us, and all about God.

1.     To gain Christ and be found in him  (vs 9)

2.     To know Christ:  through his resurrection, sufferings, death and our resurrection (10)

3.     To take hold of that for which God has taken hold of me (12)

4.     to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ (14)

Historically, Revolution was the result of Enlightenment.  Some were good and others went horribly wrong:  but revolutions popped up in The United States, Haiti, France and Russia.  I wonder if there is a spiritual revolution awaiting your response to Jesus Christ:   Whoever hears his words and puts them into practice is like a house built on the rock.  The rains and winds and storms of life cannot undo that solid foundation.  Perhaps we have fallen for the myth of progress instead of using faith as our template.

Let’s return to one of the cultural definitions of progress:  a ceremonial journey by a sovereign throughout his or her realm.           

To consider ourselves in the audience of the Sovereign, who is involved in a ceremonial journey throughout his realm.  Imagine yourself hearing that the king is coming.  You drop what you are doing in order to go out and wait alongside others for a glimpse of the King.  We are part of gathered celebration to sing the King’s praise, there are people all around us, to shout his arrival, to bow with reverence, to sing and dance with joy, to listen to the king’s words, and to obey his will for his realm.  Doing so brings life, righteousness and peace into the king’s realm.  Now that’s progress!


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