Four More Presuppositions that Challenge the Modern Evangelist

081814It is critical for us who would preach the Gospel to ponder what sorts of presuppositions our listeners bring to the conversation. Today, sadly, there are many trends that have poisoned the culture and make our task much more difficult.

Yesterday we explored six problem areas. Today four more. It helps to describe modern mindsets not to despair of them, but rather to look at them with some insight rather than being only vaguely aware of them. If we are more clear on the presuppositions that people bring to the table, we can better direct our message to them and ask them to consider if these notions are helpful or right. For indeed, most bring their preconceptions to the conversation subconsciously. Bringing their premises to light can act as a kind of medicine or solvent that will assist us in clearing the thorns so that the seeds of truth can be sown.

So, here are four more problematic presuppositions.

I. Reductionism – This is a philosophical position which holds that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of its individual constituents. Most commonly today reductionism is found  in the explanation of complex human phenomena in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry.

Reductionism tends, therefore, to reduce the human person to the merely biological. Thus every thought, emotion, passion, desire, memory, or wish is just a bunch of chemicals in the brain, the firing of synapses, etc. Even clearly metaphysical concepts such as justice, mercy, beauty, infinity, and so forth must somehow be explained in terms of brain cells and physical processes. The human person is thus reduced to a sort of brain on a stick or a collection of chemicals and atoms.

Yet from the standpoint of causation (in particular formal and final causality), it is hard to say how something merely physical can generate that which is metaphysical. The term metaphysical means, literally, “that which is beyond the physical.” Hence things such as beauty, goodness, justice, moral uprightness, the infinite, etc. are not “physical” things that can be weighed on a scale or spotted out for a walk together. One does not expect to walk into a restaurant and see justice sitting down to dinner with morality. These things are real, in fact so real that many of them have inspired marriages and launched wars. But they are not physical. But since nothing can give what it does not have, one may reasonably wonder how a merely physical entity such as the brain can “produce” metaphysical concepts. How can we, who (physically) only know closed and limited time, “imagine” infinity?

Some say these are merely emanations of the physical mind, conceptualizations of the bicameral intellect, or abstractions of the brain. But pardon me for pointing out that “conceptualizations” and “abstractions” are metaphysical concepts, and you’re not allowed to use metaphysics to say that there is no such thing as metaphysics.

Never mind,” say the reductionists, “science will ONE DAY be able to explain it.” But again I object that such an answer is a kind of “God of the gaps” argument and I would like an answer today, please, since you are rejecting metaphysics today.

The traditional answer still makes the most sense: the human capacity to grasp the metaphysical—the spiritual, if you will—points to a metaphysical or spiritual dimension to the human person. Our spiritual capacity points to a spiritual cause that can give what it has: a spiritual sense, an openness to things beyond the physical. Clearly the brain is an essential way in which the soul exercises many of its faculties, but we are not simply to be reduced to a brain.

But reductionism is a common view today and produces a culture that is hostile to those of us who point to the to importance of the soul. While faith surely regards our body, it most surely also summons us to attend to our soul. But in a reductionist world, concerns for the soul are set aside as irrelevant. The local gym is full; the Church is empty. Obsessions about physical health abound, but there is little concern for the soul. Stop smoking; it could kill you. But there is little similar concern for sinning, which could permanently land you in a “smoky” place.

Thus one form of reductionism reduces me to my body. But in a strange twist, many reductionists also play the other side of the fence simultaneously. And thus many also see their body as a mere appendage. My body is merely something I have, a kind of tool if you will. In this reductionism the “I” seems to be some soulful agent who can use his body without reference or effect on himself. And thus absurd statements can be made by some reductionists such as that “I” am really a female, but trapped in a male body. The self in this case is thus reduced to the “soul” and the body is a mere suit of sorts, a machine, or something akin to that.

“Well this is crazy,” you might say. “Which is it going to be? Am I reduced to my body or to my soul?” Well, your first mistake is to seek consistency in these dark days. But, to answer your question more directly, the form of reductionism you choose is whatever form benefits you in the moment to justify whatever you want to do. And don’t worry about maintaining consistency because too many people are just too dazed to do all the math anyway; you’ll likely get away with almost any crazy inconsistency you want to hold.

And while we’re on the reductionist kick, why don’t we reduce marriage—a lifelong loving union of a man and a woman bearing the sweet fruit of love in their children—to just two (or more) adults being happy together for as long as they please? Yes, let’s just take the one thing and lose the rest. And how about sex? Let’s reduce it from being about love, pleasure, and procreation, to just being about pleasure. Yeah, let’s lose that necessary connection to procreation and pretend that the sperm and ovum aren’t ever there, or kill them and thwart their purpose. Who invited them anyway? And let’s also play the other side of the fence and reduce having children to a technology in a petri dish and lose all that messy, unpredictable, marital embrace stuff, which is so unfair to “gay” people and to people who want children but can’t find a spouse or don’t want one.

Yeah, that’s it. Let’s just reduce everything down to its parts, take what we like, and leave the rest.

Well pardon me, dear reader, for my tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the increasingly dark world of reductionism. But as evangelizers we need to know some of the twists and turns of the reductionism that dominates our age. The Catholic and biblical world strives to speak to the rich tapestry and beauty of what God has done and the connections He has intended. Increasingly, we are living in a world that separates what God has joined, and we are going to have to work long and hard to get people beyond the consumerist thinking that wants (some of) the parts without the whole.  We must work hard to show that a reductionist approach is ultimately foolhardy and has many very bad consequences.

I will strive to be briefer with the next three presuppositions.

II. Scientism – This is itself a form of reductionism. Scientism is the position that emphatically states “The physical sciences explain all reality.” The only problem is that the statement itself is not a scientific statement; it is a (flawed) metaphysical statement. There is no way that the claim can be verified scientifically. Thus while  defending (boastfully) the physical sciences as being the only necessary explanation for everything, the boaster must step outside of science—set aside science, in fact—in order to make the claim. It’s usually not a good idea to break the very rule you are announcing in the very act of announcing it.

Clearly the physical sciences are a great boon to our modern age. But the physical sciences can only attend to the physical world. The physical sciences are good at addressing material and efficient causality but are not able to speak to formal and final causality. The physical sciences are good at explaining how things physically come about but are not equipped to answer the deeper questions related to “Why?” Why does anything exist at all? And what is the final purpose to which all things tend? These are not questions science is equipped to answer.

But clearly we live in times in which many practically idolize the physical sciences and are dismissive of anything that cannot be weighed on a scale or seen under a microscope. Evangelization is now much more difficult. We must spend a lot of time showing how many very real things (justice, loyalty, etc.), things that effect very real changes, are not physical but are nevertheless real. We must re-invite many to discover the necessity and the beauty of the metaphysical realities of art, ethics, philosophy, and theology.

III. Heresy and “Designer” Religion – Even within the realm of believers are legions of Catholics and Protestants who feel utterly entitled to design their own religion and their own God. We used to call this heresy and idolatry.

In the past the heretics and idolaters at least had the decency to commit formal schism and go off and found their own religion. But in lazy times like these, many prefer to stay within their religion—one they reject at fundamental levels—and live off the money, off the resources, and in the buildings of the very faith they disrespect so boldly. It’s just so much trouble to have to go and build your own buildings and find your own followers, you know. So the lazy, modern form of this is to say, “I am a faithful Catholic, but … ” And then out comes the list of things picked and chosen from Catholicism or Christianity.

The word heresy comes from a Greek word meaning “choose.” It is true that many of the truths of our faith are held in some tension. Are we free or is God sovereign? Orthodoxy says, “Both,” and holds that the tension is acceptable because there are mysteries and limits to our knowledge that prevent us from simply resolving every tension. But heresy will not abide the tension and thus chooses one and discards the other. Is God loving and merciful? Yes! But then why is there judgment and Hell? Both must be held, says orthodoxy, and while there are mysteries, clearly God will not compel our “Yes.” To this, heresy says, “No way!” and so rids itself of the tension by redesigning God or by discarding the clear revelation of judgment and Hell.

Many today feel utterly free to call themselves Christians, to call themselves Catholics, and then go on to pick and choose what they like. They see this as a kind of God-given right and are supported in this by new-age spirituality and the “God-within” movements of Oprah and company. Yes, “I gotta be me. I gotta be true to myself.” So the real Jesus has to go.

And because most of these moderns cannot abide the Jesus of Scripture, so they rework Him and tame Him. They take some qualities they like—His love and His ministry of healing—and discard His less than pleasant warnings about judgment, or His summons to carry the cross, or His demand for a chastity so thorough that it even prohibits lustful thoughts.

And never mind quoting scripture to them. They are essentially “post-scriptural” and cannot be bothered with the details of the actual revelation. God has spoken to them personally. God is love and would never do or say anything that might upset anyone. One line trumps every other word and line of scripture: God is love.

This is heresy: picking one thing discard the rest. This is a “designer” Jesus, one who coincidentally agrees with everything the dissenters wish to do or think. And don’t even think of quoting St. Paul.

Here, too, we who would evangelize are going to have to keep chipping away at this. But have confidence! There are many who have come out of this fog; we need to keep working.

IV. Arrested Development – A final factor I would like to cover is not so much a presupposition or mindset as it is a simple lack of maturity. We live in a culture here in the West that I would argue is best described as developmentally fixated on teenage issues. Collectively, we behave like the classic teenager: hating authority, demanding all the rights yet rejecting any responsibilities, titillated by and imprudent about sex, obsessed with “fairness” (but only in an egocentric way), constantly pushing boundaries just to assert ourselves, insisting we  know a few things and being  resistant to being taught (“too cool for school”), behaving recklessly (dismissing any consequences), obsessed with trends and fitting in, always asserting our independence but insisting others pay our way. I could go on, but you get the point. I have written more on this problem here: Stuck on Teenage.

But as evangelizers we must be sober and aware of our need to summon many people  to maturity and to get there ourselves. Someone has to be the adult in the room. And we must be very careful not to try to appeal to the world around us by asking “Mother Church” to don jeans and adopt teenage foolishness. The Church must be kind, but clear, in insisting that everyone come to full maturity in Christ.

What is Captain Kirk doing up there at the top of the post? He is engaging a destructive robot name “Nomad.” Nomad has flawed programing and needs to be engaged in his error by Captain Kirk. And while Kirk ultimately  causes Nomad’s destruction, we who love God’s people seek their salvation.

4 Replies to “Four More Presuppositions that Challenge the Modern Evangelist”

  1. The path had been laid to those who will persevere and persist in the Faith. Yes, all these stumbling blocks have been laid along the road to Salvation. We must try to win souls for HIM as much as we can not by our power but by the Grace of the Holy Spirit who will teach and guide us in the ways of the Light and Truth against the ways of the world and darkness. Thanks to you, Monsignor, you who is of The Holy Church, who shows us and equips us against the wiles of the enemy and encourages us to fight the good fight. GOD Bless you.

  2. As for “designer religion”, I am very pleased that Vatican II updated the issues surrounding the EF and prior and created the Novus Ordo Missae (NO) and that the NO was recently adjusted to be more in line with the Latin.

    There should be something said, however, about the recalcitrance and disobedience of some inside the Church who refuse to accept the work of the ecumenical Vatican II council (and the good wishes of Popes Paul VI, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II ) and desire to back-pedal toward a state where the “common priesthood of the faithful” are no longer welcomed nor actively participating much (at least not actively) as partners of the ministerial priesthood in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Most of the people who I have heard express why they are drawn to the EF have stated that it is because of some mysteriousness (I.e., don’t know or hear well what’s going on, but it seems really neat), and that they like the sound of a language they do not understand or the beauty of the music (which does not depend upon the EF, but depends upon there not being a contemporary guitar band) or the style of dress which is traditional to the EF (which people can wear in the NO if they so choose), all of which is on the surface – not in the words and understanding of the heart (which is no longer expressly required since the faithful may not actually pray in the EF what they pray in the NO). I’m not trying to type-cast everyone who goes to the EF in this way; but I am saying that it is yet another “cafeteria option” and, in light of the Spirit-guided reforms of Vatican II, a stepping back into a remedial position whereby responsibilities are being dropped by the “common priesthood of the faithful” and more division and confusion as to roles being fostered internally.


    Years ago . . . while living in California . . . the world renown evangelist . . . the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham . . . held a vast evangelistic crusade in a great arena in our area . . . and the majority of area churches . . . all denominations including Catholic . . . supported his coming . . .

    I was working as our church’s secretary at the time . . . and prayerfully participated as a member of one of the preparatory team’s extensive wide array of prayer groups . . . and then as one of the helpers assisting with the crusade each night . . . as did a considerable number of nuns, priests and Catholic parishioners from our area. The wonderful harvest of thousands upon thousands of souls who wonderfully responded positively to our LORD at these crusades . . . were referred to appropriate churches of various denominations in the area for follow-up . . . counseling . . . baptism . . . teaching/catechising . . . etc.

    During our training an extraordinary holy truth was shared with us . . . Dr. Graham had discovered the very . . . simple . . . profound reality . . . that . . . INVARIABLY . . . the more portions of SACRED SCRIPTURE . . . GOD’S WORD . . . (the “thoughts of God” as Mother Angelica would term it) . . . he shared during his sermons . . . the GREATER was the harvest of souls . . . (not just proclamation of the . . . “ideas therein” . . . or a . . . “dynamic equivalent” . . . but the . . . actual . . . translated . . . word for word . . . sharings of the GOD’s Holy Word, the Sacred Scriptures, themselves) . . . under the banner . . .

    +“JESUS saith unto him, I AM the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” John 14:6+

    Mother Angelica’s beginning . . . multitudes . . . of her Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) television shows with her delightfully . . . lyrical . . . winsome . . . sharing . . . “We’re going to talk about JESUS!” . . . and her faithfulness to this sweet deep calling/gift-of-the-Holy-Spirit entrusted into her care . . . and reason for her mission and ministry . . . as one who has become the most famous Catholic evangelist of . . . perhaps . . . all time . . . is . . . at least to my very simple soul in the LORD . . . a true revelation to all of us of what real authentic “evangelism” really is . . . and what the calling/gift of an . . . “evangelist” . . . is . . . which is a specific office/calling . . . As spoken of in the little portion of Holy Writ below . . .

    EPHESIANS 4:8, 11-14 RSVCE
    8 Therefore it is said, “When He (Jesus) ascended on high he led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” …
    11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some EVANGELISTS, some pastors and teachers,
    12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
    13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
    14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

    (Quote from Author Raymond Arroyo’s “Mother Angelica, The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles”)

    “For Mother Mary Angelica, it all began with the WORD. And the WORD was made flesh . . .

    Everything the Poor Clare nun is known for—her television network that now reaches 140 million households around the globe, her teachings that continue to touch people throughout the world, her thriving religious orders—has its root here: in Mother Angelica’s love of GOD’S WORD and the zealous, practical way she unpacked it for the common man.

    Her love affair with the SCRIPTURES began in a dramatic and unorthodox fashion. Though she had been a religious for twenty-six years, absorbing a daily diet of SCRIPTURE at Mass and through the reading of spiritual classics, she had never studied the BIBLE with any serious attention. Then in 1971, after repeated requests, Mother agreed to allow Father Robert DeGrandis, a charismatic Birmingham priest, to pray over her. He prayed that she would receive the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” … she told me in an interview for my biography . . . . . .

    ‘I got INITIATED into the NEW TESTAMENT through this little experience . . . I think the LORD used it to REORIENT my soul, and the Sisters toward the SCRIPTURES, so that we talked about them, we read them, and we discussed them. IT WAS REALLY THE BEGINNING.’ ”

    +”So shall my word be
    that goeth forth out of my mouth:
    it shall NOT return unto me void,
    but it SHALL accomplish that which I please,
    and it SHALL prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
    Isaiah 55:11+

    . . . all for Jesus+

  4. +Oops . . . correction . . . the little “internal” quote in the above text . . . Is directly from Mother Angelica . . . “Mother Angelica, The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles” . . . the rest of the material comes from the Introduction in Raymond Arroyo’s book on Mother’s teachings entitled . . . “Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures” . . .

    I’m constantly amazed Monsignor . . . how profoundly your sharings cause me to ponder and reflect . . . in depth . . . on Scriptural truths of GOD . . . in particular . . . yesterday and today . . . your above sharings which touch the Biblical unchanging predestinated gifts of the Holy Spirit in the passage re the holy gifts/callings/offices related in the passage . . . “And his gifts were that some should be . . . Apostles . . . some . . . Prophets . . . some . . . EVANGELISTS . . . some . . . pastors and teachers …” (Ephesians 4:11) . . . I love the exposition of this portion of Sacred Scripture likening it unto a naval ship’s officers . . .

    The “Apostles” being like unto the Admirals . . . who have GOD given authoritative rule over their fleets . . . who’s staff consists of “priests” who are like unto the “Commanding Officers (CO‘s) . . . who on board ship always hold the rank of Captain and who are ultimately responsible for the entire individual ship and the accomplishment of its assigned mission . . . and their assisting Executive Officers (XO’s) . . .

    The “Prophets” being like unto the Communication/Radio Officers to whom our LORD and our GOD speaks directly . . . the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . the Holy Mother of God . . . Queen of Heaven . . . Spouse of the Holy Spirit . . . being the highest order of this calling . . . Examples: Our Lady at Knock . . . Our Lady at Lourdes . . . Our Lady at Fatima . . . Our Lady at La Salette . . . Our Lady at Medjugorje . . . just to mention a few of many of her holy communicative appearances mission/ministry for our LORD . . .

    The “Evangelists” being like unto the Navigators. . . who first job is . . . ALWAYS . . . confined and ordered . . . to plotting the course to the . . . ONLY . . . goal/destination of the Church of our GOD . . . which goal is . . . JESUS . . . the Blessed Christ . . . GOD Incarnate . . . our Wonderful LORD . . . our Blessed Redeemer/Saviour . . . (all else coming secondary to the first order) . . .

    “For the gifts and calling of GOD are without repentance.” – Romans11:29

    (Bishop Richard Challoner’s interpretation: “’are without repentance’: His repenting Himself of them; for the promises of GOD are UNCHANGEABLE, nor can He repent of conferring His gifts.)

    “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which GOD hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

    GOD bless . . . to GOD be the glory!

    . . . all for Jesus+

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