The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World
or David Wells Gets Bittersweetness
I'm taking a break from my midterm cram session (3 exams tomorrow) to finally start riffing on what I heard over the weekend at John Piper's 2006 Desiring God Conference. I'm picking up David Wells' talk first because, well, it happened to me first. We'd all probably agree that the best talks always happen to you, not near you or in front of you. (Audio: "The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World," David Wells)
Until Christ comes back, all of life will remain "two-sided."
David Wells laid out a big-picture context for the conference, noting that present reality and ultimate reality are temporarily at odds, and that experience is therefore "ambiguous." He drew his diagnosis from the book of Hebrews, which states that while "everything is in subjection to Christ," we don't yet "see all things under his feet." Christians therefore live in an atmosphere of "already-but-not-yet", because while Christ has established his invincibility, and will restore fallen creation (including us), heaven hasn't yet arrived. Until Christ comes back, all of life will remain "two-sided."
We find ourselves in a waiting room, of sorts, but there is far more to do than wait.
This point really resonated with me since it fuels a lot of my writing and thinking. I aligned Wells' comments with what I call bittersweetness, the matrix of our confusing experience. Life's existential texture is ultimately perplexing until Christ arrives: We're haunted by a strange mingling of joy and pain, and we do not have the world under control, much less ourselves - but Jesus comes to control (and thus liberate) both. Where does that leave us? In an interim where present experience and ultimate reality are in tension, in a "waiting room" of sorts. But there is far more to do than wait. Well done, Wells!
Wells used this framework as a jumping-off point for three conclusions. Here they are, with editorial comments (of course) included.
- Christianity is only about the biblical, divine, victorious, returning "kind of Christ." Some people want another type of Jesus, but we have nothing else to give them. Christ is inevitably unique, indispensable, central and supreme - or he is not Christ. There is no postmodern, market-driven Jesus available (despite merchandising to the contrary).
- We live in a period of already-but-not-yet. The present pales in comparison to the final glory, so we taunt death with Paul ("O death, where is your sting?"), who got his trash-talking jones from Jesus ("It is finished"). We adjust our expectations and feelings accordingly. In my language: Life is bittersweet, but the sweet wins out.
- We expect the finale. Creation, which was so painfully derailed from its original design, will be righted, placed back on the tracks. We are, as G.K. Chesterton put it, "the survivors of a wreck, the wreck of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world." But that golden ship will be made sea-worthy again. I can only wonder where we will sail, once Christ is permanently at the wheel.
This already-but-not-yet vibe is one we should all be moving to.