Notable and Quotable (II)

Posted by Kendall Harmon

…Sustained discussion of the human propensity towards self-deception has all but disappeared from twentieth-century analyses of the spiritual life. There are, of course, still specialists in philosophy and psychology working out the details. But, for most of us, self-deception simply doesn’t jump immediately to mind as an explanation of our experience. We rarely think of it. Lots of people I talk to have never so much as considered the possibility that they’ve fallen prey to it in any significant way. One is reminded here of the haunting suggestion in Bishop Butler’s tenth sermon that "those who have never had any suspicion of, who have never made allowances for this weakness in themselves, who have never (if I may be allowed such a manner of speaking) caught themselves in it, may almost take it for granted that they have been very much misled by it."

-- Gregg A. Ten Elshof, I Told Me So: The Role of Self-deception in Christian Living (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), p, 7

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life* TheologyAnthropologyPastoral Theology

Posted June 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Timothy Fountain wrote:

This is a big point and it doesn’t seem to get across to those who denigrate “orthodoxy” while asserting that they “just follow the example of Jesus.”

June 28, 8:10 am | [comment link]
2. John Wilkins wrote:

Tim - I can’t speak for most reappraisers, but understanding “self-deception” is how I enter into a conversation about “original sin.” 

Following the example of Jesus has everything to do with understanding self-deception, of which the cross is a consequence. 

And it is one thing to denigrate orthodoxy; it is another to challenge biblical literalism, and question the scientific worldview of those who lived 2000 years ago.  When we argue that the trinity does not explain that God has a life, then call us heretics.

June 28, 11:49 am | [comment link]
3. Katherine wrote:

John Wilkins #2, I don’t understand anything that you said.

June 28, 12:14 pm | [comment link]
4. John Wilkins wrote:

Katherine, cross was an event that exposed to all parties the lies we tell ourselves about who we are.  Most religion mystifies religion; it gives people a little prison to justify themselves.  The cross exposes our defense mechanisms as idol making - and finally violent.  Any person who thinks they can’t deceive themselves is vain, and participates in the crucifixion.  Jesus broke the cycle when he came to us and forgave us for being so deluded. 

Orthodoxy isn’t the same as biblical literalism.  Orthodoxy is, finally, about the recognition that the trinity is true, an accurate description of God’s life and spirit here.

June 28, 1:59 pm | [comment link]
5. Katherine wrote:

JW, thank you for your response.  I can’t imagine how the Scriptures and writings of the Church Fathers got you to paragraph one.

I can agree with you that the Trinity is true.

June 28, 2:12 pm | [comment link]
6. Timothy Fountain wrote:

Thanks, John and Katharine, I was pretty vague in #1.  When I speak of orthodoxy, I mean statements about God that have a communal reception.  This involves some testing that lifts them above the individual opinion and its propensity for self-deception.

But even the 39 Articles admit that Councils err, so nothing is perfect - but with councils there can be a church effort to make correction which, again, expands the discernment and formulation of “right statement” beyond that of any individual.

The “example of Jesus” requires some “right saying” about Jesus to have any coherence.  Without this, the individual will largely project him/herself onto Jesus, using “fundamentalist” proof texting, as John points out, or a “hermeneutic” (“justice”, “inclusion”, etc.) that predefines Jesus with the acceptance of some and exclusion of other Biblical passages.

I don’t want to denigrate that language of “following Jesus’ example”, after all, he says “Take up your cross and follow me.”  But the work of orthodoxy gives us some sense of why we should bother to follow such a command from this particular figure, where he’s headed and other aspects of the Biblical witness that will be dropped if we, as individuals, decide for ourselves to make him an exemplar of whatever we already like.

Orthodoxy is also the ground of humility, IMO, because it posits mysteries that can’t be probed except by, well, the effort to follow the example of Jesus!  The two really go together, of course, and I sound like I’m splitting them - my apologies.

June 28, 2:14 pm | [comment link]
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