DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Moral Crisis … Can Love Win?

Written by: on April 11, 2014

In the early nineteen-eighties, I bought my first computer. I walked into a Radio Shack to buy a white phone jack and observed this “machine” that looked a little bit like an all-in-one television and typewriter. I was mesmerized as the sales person showed me the wonders of the TRS-80 Model III. I went back the next day and bought it. The wonder of an electronic spreadsheet changed my life! No more all-nighters in the basement office trying to balance a payroll sheet in order to file a quarterly tax report for my contracting business. I kept up with the technology buying upgrades; in the early nineties I bought an MSDOS computer (no more TRSDOS) with a separate keyboard, tower and a color monitor. I was overwhelmed with the power and versatility of the Radio Shack model 2000. I installed it in my office (now moved up from the basement-business was good); slid back in my comfortable, armed office chair and actually said, “This is the last computer I will ever have to buy!”

Unfortunately, it was not long before I realized a very significant truth. This wonder of technology, the computer, was doing some marvelous things: filing reports, completing increasingly more complex tax returns, developing elaborate schedules, providing gaming experience, warning me that my wife’s birthday was coming up; wow! unbelievable! At least until one day, it actually dawned on me; the computer was doing things that before computerization, I never had to do. I was still in the office at two in the morning doing reports but, somehow, I perceived that life was better. I could tell a similar story on the first car-sized portable telephone that I bought. I was always on the leading edge of technology! Never understood any of it, but as I have always said, “I’m a user.”

Many or most of my Western culture generation are a product of the Protestant work-ethic. It is the application of the culture of hard work, assiduousness and a frugal life style that characterizes all aspects of life. According to Max Weber[1] the Protestant work-ethic “had a free hand to alter the social distribution of the population in accordance with its needs, and distribute its occupational structure.”[2] In other words, social life and work occupation are dominated by this “ethic.” This cultural style is the product, according to Weber, of “a long and arduous process of education”[3] and a life attitude that esteemed earning over consumption.[4]

Murray Jardine in The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society exposes the Protestant work-ethic as creating the “crisis” in western society and more specifically in the United Sates.[5] Jardine presents a significant number of reasons that provide a backdrop for the sense of crises in American culture. Perhaps it is my own summation that these crises issues, taken in context with Jardine’s and Weber’s concept of a work ethic, are the result of promoting “progress” in society as the productivity and creativity of the individual. Jardine defines progress in western modern culture as

“characterized by the belief that humans can improve their earthly existence through application of scientific and technological knowledge, which will lead  to increased material well-being and individual freedom, possibly even to the point of total human liberation.”[6]

He further states

“…the source of this crisis is our inability to make moral sense of our scientific and technological capabilities—the very capacities that most people regard as making human progress possible.”[7]

Western culture is at a crisis because of the loss of a moral reference point. This loss of moral reference is critical to Jardine. He sees it as “far more profound than most people realize; the danger of terrorism is by comparison minor and indeed is best understood as one manifestation of this [moral] crisis.”[8]  All of the aspects of the crisis, then, are based on the inability to relate moral principles to contemporary living in a technological society. Jardine suggests that western society, specifically Christianity in the context of local Christian community, has the opportunity to address the ailing technological society of the twenty-first century.[9] It is not the Christianity of the West that is caught up in a modernistic philosophy based on the Protestant work-ethic that elevates the individual; rather, it is “a transformed Christianity that recaptures the original Christian ethic of unconditional love.”

Among other ways, Jardine advocates speech based cultural expressions that create “places of faithfulness.”[10] Learning to once again engage culturally through the oral expressions of stories and heritage through the polis (space or gathering place) is the means to promote virtue and create an environment  that allows those who are gathered (the community) “to orient themselves and achieve a sense of identity.”[11] In fact, I interpret Jardine’s concluding thoughts concerning “cultures derived from non-Western religions and philosophies[12]” as presenting an evangelistic opportunity (he does not use these words) for the local Christian gathering.

I must ask the question, “Are these concepts applicable in the context where my congregation is placed/called to minister?” Jardine indicates a new social order can arise out of this space for conversation and dialogue where it is a “place of faithfulness.”[13] I take this to mean that society can be changed for the better, “the common good,” when Christian community is faithful to enter the neighborhood, loving the neighbor more than self with an unconditional love. The congregation of believing Christians at 2750 Simon Road, Boardman OH, wants to join God[14] in their neighbor. The demographics indicate that we have over 37,000 people within two miles of “our place” (congregation of less than 100) and out of 9,000 households, over 1,800 are single moms. If Jardine’s challenge that the moral and ethical dilemma is a greater threat than terrorism, there we must not falter or delay.

[1] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York, NY:1992) Chapter. 1.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid., 25.

[4] Ibid., 31.

[5] Murray Jardine, The Making Unmaking of Technological Society: How Can Save Modernity from Itself (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004)  14.

[6] Ibid., 15.

[7] Ibid., 14.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 25

[10] Ibid., 245-252

[11] Ibid., 242.

[12] Ibid., 280-281.

[13] Ibid,. 273

[14] See for an example, Alan J. Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011).

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