2. Fail to hear the hiss of serpent-like independence in the way you view people.
We live in a culture that esteems and values and assumes the independence of individuals. Parents are pressured to raise independent children. Counselors seek to get people to a state of “healthy” independence. Advertisers promise us the fulfillment of wealthy independence. We are individuals and we will fight for our independence. The language of freedom and inalienable rights sounds as solid as biblical truth itself.
In the sixth century a certain Boethius defined a person essentially as a “thinking-choosing individual” . . . all three elements may be true of us, but is this the sum of personhood? Ever since Genesis 3, it has seemed to be, but it is not the original design. What is more, the original design is still in operation, albeit broken on so many levels. Let me explain.
A. We experience life as thinker-choosers. I am presented with three options (three cookies or three jobs, whatever), and I think and I choose. Simple. But why do I think what I think? Why do I choose what I choose? Where are the values coming from that enable me to prefer chocolate chip over peanut butter . . . many people would argue that my preference for the former is irrational, but that just shows they have differing values. Where do they come from? And I do make choices, but why is it that I always choose what I want to choose? Why is it, as sales people know, that we actually seem to buy based on what we love and then rationalize and justify our preferences?
B. We experience life as individuals. I have my own private thoughts and desires and dreams. I have my own private thought processes and struggles and difficulties. I make my own choices. There is a disconnect between me and others. Yet I also experience that my life is not really truly independent. My choices make a mark on family and friends. And often in my private independence, there is a loneliness and apparent lack. A beautiful sunset does little for me if I feel genuinely alone in that moment.
C. We were created as heart-driven relational responders. Our thinking is informed by our heart values. Our choices are driven by our wants. Our inherent design is profoundly relational. We will choose what we want, but we cannot choose what it is that we want. Our wants are free to roam around the gravity centre of our heart-orientation, and in our sinful dead state, we are dead toward God as an alternative gravity centre to our self-world.
Implication for preaching? If we are treating people as thinking-choosing individuals, we may be saying Bible truth to them, but our preaching will be less than Christian. We cannot simply educate people or pressure people into social conformity and call that gospel ministry. The gospel works not from the outside-in, but from the inside-out – it brings heart change that leads to life change. Boethius didn’t get that, let’s be sure we do.