Twenty years ago when I began my journey from Atheism to faith in Christ, nearly all conversations about God included debate or at least a discussion of evidences for the rational foundation for faith. American cultural postmodernism has altered the way most younger people view the role of debate and discussion. While Christians need to be “bi-lingual,” speaking both the new language of postmodernity while still able to defend the faith with traditional dialogical processes, when it comes to postmodern witness, a new emphasis on wonder is needed.
In the past such words as “mystery, wonder, the unknown, and awe” immediately raised red flags for hearers. Such concepts were seen as holes or limits on one’s ability to demonstrate the rationality of propositional claims. Subjective experiences that express mystery and wonder today are not only welcome elements of Christian witness but are now often seen as evidence for the personal relevancy of faith to our hearers.
True wonder, or the state in which a person is filled with a sense of awe, comes from experiences with the Divine, albeit an inescapably subjective experience. In fact, it is this articulation of wonder and its associated outward expressions (e.g. fear, immobilization, spontaneous worship, brokenness, demonstrative repentance…) that mark the unique experiences of women and men throughout the Scripture when confronted with the Divine. Two great examples of this come from Mark 5 in the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter.
Our experience of God may not always be as acute as our mountain top or defining encounters with God but true Christians should be marked as people of wonder for we relate to God in an on-going fashion. Our relationship with God should go beyond rituals such as prayer, Bible study, and fasting and should include actual encounters with the Divine. This is the one universal thread that draws the Biblical narrative together across characters from Genesis to Revelation. This should come as no surprise since God is in the business of encountering His creation. Such encounters are inherently “alien” and produce the kind of reactions we see in the Biblical narrative (again, fear, flight, spontaneous worship…). While it is true that we are God’s offspring, He is our Father, there is something so terrifying about the Divine presence that we are left with few voluntary, rational responses in the immediate moment.
When it comes to relating our understanding of and encounters with God to others, there is great value in our transparency in this area. In fact, the current cultural milieu is so desperate to mystically connect with the Divine, the hunger to hear such encounters amongst crowds and individuals is palpable. While this opens the door to all kinds of deceptions and potential manipulations, authentic wonder and delight in mystery within the Christian faith is an asset, not a liability. Seeking to root our experiences and the interpretation of such experiences in Scripture cannot be overstated but such authentic, transformative encounters with God are not confined to Scripture reading. We cannot manufacture such experiences but hope and wait for God to ‘condescend’ and connect with our hungering hearts.
Whether through film, television, music, or on-line and platform gaming, pop culture is riddled with illustrations of a desperate generation trying to manufacture encounters with the Divine. Such attempts to connect with God through the mundane and even through debauched behavior illustrates just how hungry this ’mystic generation’ really is. Christians ought to have much to say in this area. We have authentic, transformative encounters with a God who is intimate with us and longs to love us. We have the means (community, prayer, fasting, Bible study, worship…) to make ourselves available to God and thus encounter the Divine.
Whether through re-telling and applying testimonial encounters to others or inviting others into Christian disciplines and practices where encountering God is likely, evangelism today needs to include much more emphasis on wonder. Apologetically, when it comes to sharing Jesus relevantly with postmoderns, we need not run from or hide the fact that our faith, while an historic faith first, is also a faith of mystery. Unlike the pagan mystical religions of Jesus’ day, our faith is a faith in an historic person, which makes authentic mystery possible! We leave room for and appreciate wonder and mystery simply because of God, while familiar, is also the awful God of dread, alien, and full of wonder.
The culture at large appreciates wonder and mystery as can be seen in the hit television show, “Lost” or the console game, “God of War.” Within the often avoided grotesqueries and debauched expressions of American culture is a deep soul cry for the transcendent and we connect with such a cry through the story of the cross, the resurrection and with our on-going story. In the past, classical composers, expressionist painters, and gritty philosophers expressed this soul cry but today it is the film maker, the poet/singer, the manipulator of pixels and sprites, and those who clamor to consume such shadowy expressions of another world. While such value is not universal and may be unique to the N. American cultural context, it is nonetheless real and represents a real open door for the brave new world of evangelism.