Why Secular People Are Superstitious

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Editors’ note: 

The new August 2019 issue of Themelios has 214 pages of editorials, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three formats: (1) PDF, (2) web version, and (3) Logos Bible Software.

When you believe in things

That you don’t understand,

Then you suffer,

Superstition ain’t the way. (Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”)

Well Stevie, you may sing that, but I want to tell you about a mystery I’ve been trying to unravel that leads me to conclude that, for many, superstition really is the way. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin . . .

It all started one drab overcast London afternoon, a few months back. I was in my study preparing to do some teaching based on the theological anthropology of my hero, the Reformed missiologist J. H. Bavinck. Drawing from a life’s observations on the mission field together with a profound theological insight, Bavinck developed what he called the “magnetic points.” This refers to “a sort of framework within which the religious thought of humankind must move . . . . There appear to be certain intersections around which all sorts of ideas crystallize . . . [or] magnetic points to which the religious thinking of mankind is irresistibly attracted.”

In short, although grounded in creation, these points are our perennial human idolatrous responses (our suppression of truth and replacement of created things) to God’s manifestation of his “eternal power” and “divine nature” (Rom. 1:20) which, for Bavinck, pertain to our creaturely dependence and accountability to our Creator. The magnetic points provide a morphology to the messy mix in which sinful image bearers who know God and don’t know him and who are running to and running away from him, at the same time. These points make up the religious consciousness of humankind throughout history. I’ve renamed these points as “Totality,” “Norm,” “Deliverance,” “Destiny,” and “Higher Power.”

I am of the opinion that these “points” are a tremendous analytical and heuristic tool for out times, and my task was to describe these points, give contemporary cultural examples of where we see them, and to show how in terms of our apologetics and discipleship (surprise, surprise!) Jesus Christ both subverts and fulfills them. I decided to reach out to some current Oak Hill students and alumni to source me examples of the “points” they had come across in their lives and ministry. Examples began to come in, but one in particular piqued my interest. The “magnetic point” in question was “Destiny,” which deals with the riddle human beings wrestle with concerning the interplay of fate and freedom.

Throughout the history of philosophy and the great world religions this tension has been evidenced in the most sublime and sophisticated ways. I could easily reference a Greek tragedy, discuss the concepts of qadar in Islam, or karma in Hinduism. Maybe I could impress you with a memorized quotation from Spinoza or Schiller. However, let’s get real. Let’s talk your average Brit in 2019.

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