Five hundred years ago, Isaac Newton really upset the Church’s applecart with his little formula; F=ma.
His formula symbolized a radical update of our basic understanding of the nature of things. “Force is equal to Mass times Acceleration” has a profound implication. It means that “Force is NOT equal to Twice Mass times Acceleration.” We began to live in a universe where things are one way, and they are not another. The world became unequivocal, it is one way, not another, understandable and figure-out-able.
Newton and his Enlightenment cohort made ours a very precise universe; one that followed set rules and obeyed predictable, mechanical laws. The mystery-universe of the Middle Ages gave way and a new, Enlightenment world was upon us.
And with this update, we no longer need advocates and champions as we had (last post). It didn’t make as much sense to have one God-appointed guy figure out governance for us – we could all figure this stuff out. So we updated our political systems for the new world. We gave everybody a say (called it democracy). Trusting that people could figure out the laws of politics, we updated. We did the same for economics. We no longer needed a divinely-appointed manor lord to help us navigate economic mysteries. We assumed that economic laws were predictable and discernible. So we updated to capitalism, a system that gives everybody a hand in figuring things out.
We called this new way of seeing things “The Enlightenment Era.” We were enlightened! We could have called it the “We-Can-Figure-Stuff-Out” era.
So, of course, we applied these same instincts to church life. If Copernicus can figure out the orbits of the planets and Galileo the circulatory system; if “the people” can figure out governance and economics… it just stands to reason that we could figure this God thing out as well.
And that’s just what we did.
We updated Church.
We updated Christianity.
We called it the Reformation.
We humans don’t like change (especially religious change), so some of us killed each other during the update. But we did it!
And after we did, it went swimmingly for about 500 years.
- we elevated the Bible so we had a place to go and figure out all things relating to God and spirituality
- we reinvented God, making him a precise, predictable deity; ruling over an ordered spiritual universe, subject to and subjecting us to certain divine “laws” (biblical principles, we called them)
- we reinvented the spiritual life, focusing on learning, reading, and following these divine principles
It went really well for a really long time… and then it didn’t.
If you’ve been following these posts, you see where this is going…
- you and I are living through one of those “update-our-physics” generations in history
- society is catching up to the update and so we’re in the throes of a social update to match
- and Christianity is no exception. We’re in for an update as well…
(no less seismic than the update we did 500 years ago)
And some Christians are hard at work on the update.
Most, however, are fighting it like crazy.
And so, our young people are leaving us.
And our churches are getting older and smaller.