The Culture of Certainty
The Culture of Certainty

By Joe Boyd

Something has been gnawing at me for more than a year. It’s been hard to put into words, but it’s a frustration that seems ever present. I feel it when I turn on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. It’s there at work. It’s also present at church. Ever present. Everywhere.

For lack of a better way to label it, I’m going to call it the “culture of certainty.” It just seems to me there is no room in any of our political, social, or religious conversations to be unsure, let alone to be wrong.

I once heard theologian N. T. Wright begin a talk by admitting that he was sure something he was going to say during his sermon would be wrong. He just had no idea what it would be. To me, that’s the sort of self-realization we so dangerously miss at most every level of our current culture.

Ever since I heard him say those words, I’ve adopted it as my definition of maturity. A mature person, to me, is someone who knows they are wrong about something but has no idea what it is yet.

What We Have Become

Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to imagine any of our cultural icons saying such a thing. Let’s just say Kanye West’s next single isn’t likely to be called, “I’m Wrong and I Know It.”

Regardless of your political leanings, I hope you would at least admit that our current president can be a little overly-certain, especially when he is clearly uncertain.

I get it. It’s who we have become. We can never be wrong. Never be unsure. Influence seems reserved not so much for the humble questioners as for the loud ones with all the answers.

The problem is, of course, that, just like N. T. Wright, we are all wrong about something that we are very sure we are right about.

Speaking of Wright, in his book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, he says: “At the heart of Christian ethic is humility; at the heart of its parodies, pride. Different roads with different destinations, and the destinations color the character of those who travel by them.”

I believe this is true. (But then again, I’m wrong about something I believe . . . maybe this is it. But probably not.)

If humility is at the very heart of our faith—that God would humble himself to be born a peasant baby, be rejected by his own people, and be unjustly executed on a Roman cross—then perhaps our coziness with the always-certain culture is antithetical to the gospel itself. Maybe it ought to be called for what it is—our own damnable pride.

My Final Column

I’ve been honored to write this column on culture for the last few years, but this will be my last article.

I’ve spent my time here looking at what the culture can teach the church. I hope that, if you’ve followed along, you’ve been challenged to see that God can teach us things through the culture we inhabit.

I believe less than many others in a sacred/secular divide. I’ve experienced God in places where you’d never expect—movie theaters, rock concerts, casinos. I’ve also experienced real evil in the place you’d least expect it—the church. I’ve tried to show that the human spirit longs for God and points to God even in ways we’d never expect and ways too mysterious to label.

I’ve avoided, for the most part, judging the culture. I felt that others would (and should) do that. However, the culture is broken. It’s not right.

What concerns me the most is not that Christians can’t see that the culture is broken, but that we tend to overemphasize the brokenness of the culture farthest away from our own brokenness, whatever that may be.

I propose to you that perhaps our most ever-present cultural danger is not impurity, vulgarity, or secularism. Those problems may very well be the fruit of our original sin. Our greatest cultural danger may be our pride. Our unwillingness to openly discuss. Our inability to empathize. Our addiction to dehumanizing labels. Our enduring certainty in our own wisdom.

If this culture has taught me anything, it’s that we do not need one more inflexible, myopic ideologue. We need more people willing to face the reality that they may be wrong. Then we can enter into a discussion. Then, and only then, can we be humble enough to pray “thy kingdom come.”

That’s what I think. (But I could be wrong.)

Joe Boyd is the founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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1 Comment

  1. Gale Juhl
    June 2, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Mark, very good article and insight. I shared with my elders and staff. You will be missed.

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