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

“Why Should I Live?”

Written by: on February 21, 2020

 

“Why should I live?” This was the question posed by a student to Steven Pinker, cognitive psychologist and Harvard professor. He then took an evangelistic posture to share his worldview with the young woman. He explained that though this was not in his “usual job description as a professor of cognitive science,” he was “channeling a body of beliefs and values that had taken shape more than two centuries before and that are now more relevant than ever: the ideals of the Enlightenment.”[1]

This singular section in Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress sent this reader into deep contemplation. What is the message of the Church regarding our values and beliefs? How do we answer, “Why should I live?” According to Pinker it is believing in gods that has brought on immaturity and stunted progress in bettering humanity until the Enlightenment came to the fore. He argues the dystopian narrative of the last decade has been propagated by political candidates such as the current U.S. President, whom a large percentage of Evangelicals supported. Theological beliefs about the fall of man and state of depravity as a result, the atonement theories that get misconstrued, the era of preaching of hell and damnation, holiness without grace, and bloody religious wars throughout history have resulted in a sullied reputation regarding the Church’s gospel.

I’ll be honest, this book has caused a deep disruption in me. Have we misrepresented the gospel and the Kingdom of God that is righteousness, peace and joy? And, is it evident that Kingdom is brought to the earth as it is in Heaven through the Spirit-empowered church? I am going to quote Pinker’s response to the student and then I will write what I think Jesus’ gospel would say to her in response…

Pinker’s Version:

 In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live!

 As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world. As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy – the ability to like, love, respect, help, and show kindness – and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.

 And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself. You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress. [2]

The Gospel Version:

            In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your life, your purpose. The Life-giver will use your mind, your story, the spirit within you, and the people around you, to speak life and help you discover why you were born. And there are so many reasons to live!

            As a spiritual, sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating but most important, you can mature in your whole being by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You can seek explanations of the natural world God made through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities coupled with observation and prayer. You can make the most of your capacity for God-given pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world as God gives us all things to enjoy. As the heir to unknown years of life perpetuated by the Life-giver, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy and compassion, like your Creator – the ability to like, love, respect, help, and show kindness – and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues and even benevolence to your enemies, even when it is not mutual, as you love your neighbor as yourself.

            And because the Spirit speaks to your mind and heart telling you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility and joy to provide to others what has been given to you so freely. You can foster the welfare of other human beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our God-given ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth as it is in Heaven.

My intention for writing this is to evaluate the heart and tone of the message I live and share. Am I living and speaking good news? Do I believe in practice that the purpose of the Body of Christ on the earth today is to continue the mission he inaugurated? What is his disposition toward humanity and the natural world he created?

I know I’m not situating this author or his work necessarily. I’m not writing critically or giving insight from reviews. What I can tell you is this week’s reading has left one question ruminating in my heart: Are we “channeling a body of beliefs and values” that have taken shape for more than two millennia before us, and are we convinced they “are now more relevant than ever?” The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (London: Penguin Books, 2018), 3-4.

[2] Ibid.

 

 

About the Author

mm

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

11 responses to ““Why Should I Live?””

  1. Mario Hood says:

    This might be the best post I’ve read of yours in 6 years :). I would argue that re-writing the Gospel version is critical thinking! This could easily be the manifesto for the future church!!

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thank you, Mario. In full confession I wrote it in a moment of adrenaline and emotion on a flight as I had been called home to my mom who had taken a significant downturn. I’m finding my thinking a bit different these days.

  2. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Tammy this is such a brilliant response to Pinker and to the question. This was such a telling question and one that I think sits just under the surface for most people and pops to the surface along the way. I remember asking the question from a place of deep desperation when I was younger and I felt your answer speaking life to my younger (and current) self. The question that it leaves lingering for me is that question of what heaven is like. I think so often I offer this as a direction, but there is so much we don’t know about what that looks like. How much emphasis should we put on painting a picture of heaven so that we know what we are trying to establish on earth? How do we offer enough accurate detail in our narrative story to motivate appropriate action? Thank you again for a post that speaks to my heart even more than my mind.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      I’m glad, Jenn. The reality of the here and now and the eternal reality of Heaven are both important as we live in the already/not yet tension. I just find that a lot of Evangelicals tend to only (or mainly) focus on eternity rather than the Kingdom of God come to earth. Both are important to keep perspective.

      • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

        Also, I find studying all of Jesus’ descriptions and parables regarding the Kingdom of God helpful in understanding heaven and its reality on earth.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy,
    I am so sorry for the state of being where you are dealing with the decline of your mom and how this affects all of your family. But perhaps this compels you to be more contemplative and thoughtful about the power of the Gospel for today. Your words are beautiful and powerful, you are a wonder and a blessing to all that know you. You are a splendid combination of practitioner, scholar, mystic, and Pentecostal leader. Thank you for always teaching me more.

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      True, Harry. I am quite contemplative these days. In our worship this morning I was so grateful for the church’s provision of space for reflection through the songs. Thank you for your kind words, very encouraging.

      • Andrea Lathrop says:

        Your post was just beautiful. This story really disrupted me as well and I’m grateful you stayed with it and responded this way. I kept thinking when I read Pinker’s response to her that it was close to “ours” but with a different author/originator and a different center…

        Also, I am jumping in on your response about contemplative space to reflect because in my research on activism and contemplativism I keep wondering if Pentecostals are closer than we think – with our worship style and legacy of the altar time of lingeringb- to contemplative practices. I have many thoughts on this given my recent experience of weekend worship, some spiritual manipulation, and other tangents – but I no longer believe that pentecostalism and contemplatives are polar opposites. I am still searching and thinking on this but your example and a convo with you in HK has given me courage to keep searching. Love you. Praying for your family.

  4. mm Mary Mims says:

    Thank you, Tammy, as always, for putting things in perspective. Given all that is going on in the world, I find I have to find meaning from what centers me, the Gospel message. How we respond to the question of why should we live will depend on why we are living today. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame But wholly lean on Jesus name
    On Christ the solid rock I stand
    All other ground is sinking sand
    All other ground is sinking sand

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Mary. One of the most valuable things I have learned through the years is the power of staying centered. Its safe to study the fringe and open to new things as long as that anchor is secure in Christ.

  5. mm Sean Dean says:

    Tammy, this is one of the driving factors for me pursuing hospitality. Somewhere along the line we lost sight that we have be commissioned to be life givers and started pursuing power instead. Welcoming people and loving them rather than seeing them as numbers, being the kingdom rather than simply talking about it. Thank you for your post. Being a little disquieted is a good thing sometimes.

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