Friday, May 31, 2013

"Real needs" and actual needs

Carl Trueman has recently wrote an article offering a few reflections on Any Stanley's book Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Of particular interest here is Stanley's portrayal of Stanley's view of most Christians, which is the reigning Zeitgeist in Evangelicalism.

Quite some time back, I wrote regarding the confusion of perceived real needs and ordained actual needs. As I had written,

If indeed God is God, He is the determiner of meaning. His archetypal truth is the ground for all (ectypal) truth. We do not therefore see what our "real needs" are, and then see the Scriptures as relevant to meet those real needs. No, Scripture defines what we need. There are felt needs, there are real needs, and there are ordained/ prescribed needs. Just because something may not seem to be a "real need" does not make it any less important! The Scriptures are to govern our experience, our tastes, every aspect of our being.

While Seeker-Sensitivity is driven by meeting felt needs, New Evangelicalism (and the New Calvinism) as a whole has shifted to meeting what they deem "real needs." Thus, they are not "seeker-sensitive," but merely seeker sensible. The problem of this approach is that truth is painted in terms of meeting Man's needs. Man is at the center of the universe, while God's truths are framed to meet the perceived real needs of Man. The teachings of Scripture must be existentially shaped to meet people where they are at, after all.

Adding to the problem of anthropocentricity, Trueman has helpfully pointed out that what constitute "real needs" are shaped very much by the culture. For him, that is middle-class America, and I would certainly add the middle- and upper-middle class society of Singapore. It is extremely interesting as I recall that ancient Greece and Rome have much different societal values, and thus their "real needs" are different from the "real needs" of modern middle class society in the Western and westernized worlds.

I [Trueman] will concede that Stanley is certainly right in his basic contention: people are not on a search for truth. The Apostle Paul articulated that well in Romans 1. Stanley is also correct that truth is irrelevant to people, or at least they think it is irrelevant to them. Compared to Paul, Stanley's statement on this issue is rather bland. Paul goes much further, declaring the truth, the message of the cross, to be intellectual foolishness to some and a moral offense to others. It is not, however, Stanley's blandness which is the real problem; it is the practical conclusion which he draws from this. For Paul, the offensiveness and irrelevance of the message of the cross demonstrate the fact that those who think in such ways are perishing. The problem is with them and with their 'cultures,' not with the cross. For Stanley, by way of contrast, it is the 'culture' which is to set the agenda and to which the church must thus conform or die.

When facing the issue of "real needs," perhaps instead of trying to meet them, we should challenge them. When people claim they don't need to hear more of the Gospel but they want "practical" sermons, perhaps their "needs" are actually wrong. When people are not interested in learning about sound doctrine but are interested in "signs and wonders," perhaps their attitude actually constitutes sin. Perhaps Paul actually knew the difference between "real needs" and what people actually need.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)

No comments: