Gray Hair Wisdom / John Henry Newman / what ails us?

Excerpt From -“John Henry Newman: A Saint for Today”, by Jim Tonkowich

Portrait of John Henry Newman by John Everett Millais, 1881

Delivering a lecture in 1879, Newman described liberalism:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another…. It teaches that all religions are to be tolerated, for all are a matter of opinion. Revealed religion [biblical Christianity] is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste, not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.

Sound familiar? It should. Christianity—including evangelical Christianity—is mired in the same relativistic mud 130 years after Newman spoke those words.

For example, Notre Dame sociologist Dr. Christian Smith discovered in his study of adults 19-24 years-old, “They seem to presuppose that they are simply imprisoned in their own subjective selves, limited to their biased interpretations of their own sense perceptions, unable to know the real truth of anything beyond themselves.” This, Smith is quick to note, includes many who attend evangelical churches.

The individual self, Smith found, is the final arbiter of truth for most in this age group. He also makes it clear that this generation learned this way of understanding the world, truth, and morality. Rather than rebelling against parents they are simply repeating what their parents taught them. Our cultural bias toward subjectivity and radical individualism runs very deep.

But Christian orthodoxy is not a free-for-all. In fact, orthodoxy, as Newman well knew, cannot be maintained in a world where everyone gets to pick and choose from the religious buffet table. If this kind of subjectivism is in our evangelical churches—and it is—then we need to act or the future is bleak indeed.

And while our era is different and the philosophical forces shaping the mid-nineteenth century did not include the kind of postmodernism and radical individualism we live with, the age-old tendency to want to decide for ourselves (see the story of the Serpent and Eve in Genesis 3:1-6) was Newman’s life-long enemy.

As Pope Benedict said in his sermon the evening before Newman was canonized, “At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against a growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion.”

read the rest via John Henry Newman: A Saint for Today,.


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