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Sober Thinking for the Real World and the Real Gospel



By David Kowalski

I think the best translation of 1 Peter 4:7 is the one found in the Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament, which reads as follows:

The end of all things is at hand, so use sound judgment and be sober-minded for the sake of prayer.

The terms "sound judgement" and "sober-minded" used together roughly equate to  "a sane mind, rooted in reality, that is well reasoned and free from influences that lesson clarity of thought." Though nepho, the Greek word for sobriety, is used to denote freedom from intoxicating substances, it also had a figurative use that speaks of freedom from anything that creates fuzzy thinking. This figurative use is the one that seems primarily in view in New Testament usage such as 1 Peter 4:7. We are not to allow any factor or  philosophy to cloud our judgement or thought processes.

I contend that postmodern philosophy in our theology and practice is the kind of thing Peter was warning against. Some observers have called postmodern thinking a form of willful insanity. Taken literally, it says there  is no real meaning or values apart from those arbitrarily agreed on by certain groups (though how intra-group agreement occurs in postmodern thought is not sufficiently well defined).

Still, many theologians have indulged in the intoxicating influence of postmodern philosophy. The practical outworking of this -- the drunk stumbling down the sidewalk -- would be the emerging church movement. Postmodern theologians and emerging Christians are apparently not bothered by the absurdity of their theology and practice -- something about which I was recently thinking after surgery.

I had been referred to a podiatrist about a problem with a toe and I thought the matter was trivial. The doctor subsequently showed me the x-rays, and politely but authoritatively informed me that I would need a fairly radical procedure. The knuckle of the toe would have to be removed and if I neglected to have this done I would risk losing the toe altogether.

Shortly thereafter, this doctor performed the surgery and met with me in several follow-up visits. During these post-surgery visits, he told me precisely how I should care for affected area. He was polite but sure of his knowledge as he instructed me. The procedure worked and my toe is now fine.

I’m glad I did not go to a doctor whose goal was to be relevant to his patients in this postmodern era. Of course the doctor's office would have to be non-traditional. No more intimidating, medical paraphernalia that would not be adequately contextualized to my daily life. The doctor’s white, lab coat (a symbol of dominance and power) would be gone, along with the stethoscope around the neck which would only serve to make me feel marginalized since I did not have one.

Instead of acting as though there were any kind of doctor-patient hierarchy, the doctor would enter into conversation with me. As we shared our toe narratives, he would seek to be enriched by my experiences. He would make no effort to discuss the procedure I needed during that visit, as a doctor cannot talk about such things outside of a relational context. We would need to meet a few more times before that subject could be broached.

When the appropriate time would come for the doctor to discuss my toe problem, he would not arrogantly presume that he had The answer for me. He would humbly listen to me and make me feel a part of the diagnostic process. As I spoke of my ideas regarding a possible appendectomy or heart transplant, he would listen respectfully, never suggesting that one procedure was more valid for me than another.

Though he would share his own story about procedures he had found life-changing, we would together find the one most authentic for me. Not wanting to impose his truth on me or rush me into a decision, we would meet many more times, rarely even discussing the toe. This cool doctor would make me feel so good until one day grim reality would set in. It would be too late. I would have to go to a “modern” doctor to have the toe amputated.

One wonders how an emergent believer would react if his dentist asked him what tooth he felt like having drilled that day? After all, the dentist would not want to act as though there were just one particular tooth that should be worked on.

How would any postmodern feel, after boarding a plane scheduled to go to Chicago the pilot would come out and discuss with the passenger community how the schedule should be interpreted since, after all, the schedule’s meaning was not limited to the author’s intent. The text should be deconstructed to uncover the inherent homophobia behind it.

These thoughts are amusing because postmodern/emergent thinking obviously has no place in important, real matters. Postmodern history affects nothing outside of the mind. One can deconstruct a novel with no practical, life consequences.

One can play emergent and feel good about it. But when it comes to serious, real-life matters, any sane person knows better than to use a philosophy or methodology which is just an avant garde toy that is fun to play with only in the unreal world of mere abstractions.

Peter tells us, though, that sound judgement and sober-mindedness is called for because "the end of all things is at hand." The stakes are too high and the consequences too dire for us to waste time playing. When believers are serious about the message found in Scripture they show it by putting their hands to the plow of making disciples.

Sober-minded Christians are not so much concerned about how well they are liked as they are about rescuing the lost. They boldly tell people they have found the way to salvation. They call unbelievers to faith and sinners to repentance. That’s how people act when they take the message in Scripture seriously.

The end of all things is at hand.

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:11-12 NASB)

I find that very sobering.

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

Written by David Kowalski

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This post was last updated: Jan. 26, 2013