Evangelicalism’s Race Up the Tower of Babel’s Stairs

by John Ellis

Kierkegaard believed that marriage is the “deepest form of revelation.” While not factual, the truth embedded in Kierkegaard’s belief makes forgiving his error well-worth it. The deepest form of revelation is Jesus Christ, and if you want to include the Word, so be it, I will happily concur. In Ephesians 5, though, Paul’s words “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (5:32)” validate the truth in Kierkegaard’s longing. In fact, Kierkegaard’s later life’s romanticized view of an institution he regretted spurning speaks to the purported father of existentialism’s understanding of the evils indelibly stamped on the philosophies and theologies of his day, and, to what should be our dismay, the philosophies and theologies of our day.

We are not dismayed, though. As a whole, separated by the myth of autonomy, white evangelicals are individually running pell-mell up the Tower of Babel’s stairs, tripping over each other’s feet, fighting to win the race. You see, a detrimental misstep of the natural law theorists (Grotius, Locke, Pufendorf, et al.) resides in their assertion that the law would exist even if God didn’t – that’s our Tower of Babel. Make no mistake, contingency is rebellion; either/or does not exist. Chasing one master while claiming to serve the other Master is the fanciful dream of created beings who have a self-shaped cosmology. No man can serve two masters because two masters do not exist. There is one Master, and we all serve Him, bound by His law. The question facing all of us, a question that will echo throughout all eternity, is to what end? His glory, or our glory?

A favorite book of mine, Either/Or is puzzled over in grad classes, mused about in cafes, and dog-eared by loners and misfits who have more in common with the Underground Man, Joseph K., and Zarathustra than the individualistic heroes and conquerors of modernism. Yet, having been schooled in the basement of the Enlightenment’s Tower of Babel, even those readers of Kierkegaard most often fail to even see the door he was attempting to unlock. And if they can’t see it, how can the disciples of Locke, Jefferson, Jung, Ronald Reagan, and Ronald McDonald see it? What’s to be seen, what’s missed, is that the aesthetic and the ethical cannot be separated because they are not ours to separate. A door built from the fragments of a tree where mercy and justice once kissed.

There is no law apart from God. There is no knowledge apart from God. There is no being apart from God. Truths that many evangelicals have deluded themselves into believing they believe. Those truths, though – that Truth – will not be found at the top of the stairs laid brick by brick by those who believe that a human flourishing of our own definition is within our ability to control. Claiming to be able to reach God without knowing God is our great sin. The great sin of all those in Adam who’ve ever lived. Unlike our Adamic brothers and sisters of ages past, we have the luxuries of the printing press, college philosophy classes, the insights of psychology and sociology, social media, pop culture, white-washed houses of self-worship, etc. by which to widely distribute the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to each other and with which to cheer on and encourage our never-ending panting after autonomous individualism.

No matter how much we like to think that we are in control, to believe that we are autonomous individuals first (and last, if we were honest), the truth is that we are related to God. We are in a relationship that has demands that we are not given a say in. Our Creator doesn’t allow the broaching of democracy in His cosmology. While binding us, the paradox is that we are called to choose, but a choice that can never sever ultimately. No matter our choice, we are bound by God for God. Autonomy is the great absurd contradiction that damns. But we take the bite; we climb the stairs. Like a Pirandello play or a M.C. Escher painting, the stairs lead us where we want to go but not to where we think we’re going. Our end, while glorifying God, is still an ending. The question remains, is faux independence worth the sacrifice of your eternal beginning?

Soli Deo Gloria

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