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Month: July 2017

The doctrine of objective coolness

The doctrine of objective coolness

How do we know what is “cool?”

I was having a discussion along these lines with someone the other day. He was saying more or less that if you think something is cool, it’s cool for you. This was part of his point that he doesn’t hate on what anyone else thinks is cool. Whether anything truly “is” cool is nothing but a matter of taste.

I was not entirely comfortable with this. Anyone who has read C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man will understand why. The claim my friend made about coolness could be rephrased like this:

When the man said This [waterfall] is cool, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall…Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Cool”, or shortly, I have cool feelings.

This might sound like common sense, or it might sound ridiculous, depending mostly on how you have been raised. But in any case, this is what my friend and many other people seem to think about coolness. When we call something “cool,” we really just mean that we like it and find it, personally, interesting. But this is a worse idea than it sounds.

As Lewis goes on to show in The Abolition of Man, there is no reason to stop at any one kind of value judgment. If the words “cool” and, to use his own example, “sublime” are just about our personal feelings, do any words about something’s value or worth mean something real, or are they all just personal opinion? Is anything objective, or is everything limited to our individual hearts? For example, if “cool” is just an opinion, then why not “worthy,” “just,” “fair,” “noble,” “true,” or “good”? Or what about “evil” and “wrong”? Obviously this is a deadly and treacherous path to take. We must be able to say that some things are really true, good, and beautiful. (If at this point my argument seems cut short, my answer would simply be this: read The Abolition of Man.)

So my point is that coolness is real, and coolness is objective. We do not make things cool by thinking they are cool. Things are not cool strictly within the confines of our hearts. Things are cool in themselves, and we respond to that coolness. So we call them “cool.”

But if I am right, how do we know what is objectively cool?

Easy: everything is cool.

God made everything, and He made everything cool. Everything in the universe from the lightest quark to the greatest of the supermassive black holes was designed with skill and intent by the omnipotent God. He crafted each and every part, and He knows and upholds all of it by His own pleasure.

This makes everything cool. Everything which exists right now exists because God chooses to keep it in existence. Everything is a carefully wrought gift of God, full of more parts, aspects, and dimensions than we will ever comprehend. So everything is cool. The reason we don’t find everything cool is that we are too small. We are limited by nature, habit, experience, and sin. We can’t take in all of the coolness that the universe contains, so we specialize on this or that thing which has a kind of coolness we can most easily see. But that doesn’t make other things not cool, nor does it mean things are only cool to us personally. For objective coolness is nothing other than the doctrine of Genesis 1:31. In the end, G. K. Chesterton was right:

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.

When it comes to Christianity, listen to the experts (and they’re not who you think)

When it comes to Christianity, listen to the experts (and they’re not who you think)

In most things, if you want to succeed, it is very helpful to have expert advice. This, I think, applies to the Christian life as much as anything. This might sound a bit off at first, especially if by “experts” you think I mean Bible scholars and famous pastors. Can’t you thrive in Christ without that kind of help?

But those aren’t who I’m talking about. Experts are generally people who have had lots of practice and have learned successfully from that practice. They’ve spent thousands of hours learning and training. Expertise is the result of a long, slow, devoted process.

What we often forget about Christianity is that, with this kind of qualification being the most important to define an expert, we have loads of them in almost every church. And they are unfortunately the people we tend to listen to the least. A lot of times we even treat them dismissively and condescendingly.

I call this group “experts,” and the Bible sometimes calls them “elders.” But too many people call them just “old people.”

Yes, it is of the senior adult Sunday school class that I speak. These experienced Christians often have behind them decades of service to Christ and tens of thousands of hours of “practice” at Christian living. But for some reason, at least from what I’ve seen, younger people make very little use of their wisdom.

Of course, we have our excuses. I mean, some of our elders voted for Trump. Some of them say rock and rap music are of the Devil. Some of them are KJV-only. A lot of them don’t seem to understand our super-serious theological debates like Calvinism v. Arminianism. And instead of serious doctrine, a bunch of them seem to have nothing to say but “pray more” and “it’s all about loving Jesus.” Aren’t these all proof that the seniors don’t have what it takes to lead us in our Christian walk?

The responses to this kind of nonsense seem obvious to me. All generations have their flaws, and one flaw doesn’t poison everything else a person believes. If Brother Tom voted for Trump, that doesn’t mean he can’t give you sound advice on how to flee temptation, how to spend effective time with God in prayer and Bible reading, and how to share your faith with others. Maybe Mrs. Edith won’t use anything but the KJV, but she has been in so many ways transformed by the renewing of her mind.

There is also wisdom in the way many older people do seem to care less about theology and more about Christian living. For ultimately, it is the living which counts the most. The most ignorant Christian who has lived a consistent life of faith, hope, and love will be greater in the kingdom of heaven than the most theologically astute Christian whose sanctification never made it past infancy. As Paul said, knowledge without love is worthless, but love is enough to fulfill the whole law, with or without knowledge. Many people come to realize this more and more as they grow older, and we would do better to pay more heed for that reason alone. Mrs. Edith might not have anything to say except, “It’s all about loving Jesus, and don’t forget to pray,” but in 10 years when you’re spiritually burned out from life’s troubles, that may be the most nourishing thing you could possibly hear, and it will seem infinitely more important and memorable than how Peter Leithart exegeted that one text in 1 Kings.

So, in the end, I’m just saying that we (young people, Millennials, etc.) need to listen to the experts more. We don’t do a good job heeding our elders, whether because of pride or culture or whatever else. Of this we must repent. They know what they’re talking about.