** This is part two of three-part review of Craig Gay's Way of the (Modern) World; or, Why It's Tempting to Live as if God Doesn't Exist.
In the first four chapters, Gay outlines and analyzes a few modern American institutions that are, in the worst sense, worldly (i.e., that push us toward a practical atheism), and offers glimpses of a “theology of personhood” (mentioned in the first part of this review) at the end of each section before focusing on it directly in the last chapter of the book (he considers this theology, based as it is on social trinitarianism, to be a major antidote to the ills he describes throughout the book). Regarding these four American institutions, we must:
- place human aspirations (protecting and preserving lives) over and against those of immanent political-social change. Over the course of the last one hundred years, countless human lives have been sacrificed on the alter of abstract ideals (like “progress,” “social justice,” and “freedom”). In light of this, Christian hope ought to be a political virtue (pp. 73ff). Why? Such hope gives us a healthy skepticism toward an earthly kingdom when it grasps at lordship; it relativizes large-scale political-social aspirations and exposes their hollowness and precariousness. Christian hope frees Christians up to act hopefully in the world. “It enables us to act humbly and patiently, tackling visible injustices in the world around us” Gay writes, “without needing to be assured that our skill and our effort will somehow rid the world of injustice altogether” (p. 77).
- with respect to technology and science, “give an account of nature that does not deny the validity of scientific inquiry, and yet does not so stress the autonomy of the created order that it tempts us to believe that science can reveal the meaning of nature and of our own lives” (p. 126). We Christians must neither wholly disdain rational and empirical inquiry, nor must we assume that science can be used in an unbiased way. The paradox of “contingency” must be affirmed and proudly maintained in the face of rational-technical determinism. Creation is both independent of (contra pantheism) and utterly dependent on God (pp. 124–129; see also pp. 272–281). God is sure; all else is subject to change.
- reject the logic of the modern economy, which reduces all things to objects of monetary value, and rediscover the Protestant work ethic of vocation as “calling.” That is, whatsoever we do, do heartily, as to the Lord and not to man (Col. 3:23). It means acting “ethically and substantively within the system no matter how impractical we may occasionally appear in doing so” (p. 175). This is, in a sense, an invitation to take seriously the vocation to suffer—theologia crucis in action.
- in combating narcissism, or the “worldly self” (p. 181), leave-off the notion of ever being fully satisfied with both consumption and therapy (or any earthly kingdom/institution for that matter), and be filled with a Christian self-consciousness in which “love for God and neighbor is progressively realized and deepened” (p. 232). The need to rediscover the self before God (coram Deo) as opposed to the self simply submerged in mass society and culture has never been greater. Therapeutic consumption, like any other drug, requires more of us every time we use it, until our ravenous gluttony results in self-satisfaction at any cost. Instead of finding our identity in the glory of the lordship of Christ (ironically, through the shame of the cross), we settle for defining the self in terms of individual rights and needs.