Volume 49 - Issue 1

Swimming in a Sanctimonious Sea of Subjectivity: A Proposal for Christian Authenticity in a Made-Up World

By Robert Golding


There is a curious tendency in modern culture to simultaneously reject objective truth (e.g., “live your truth”) and to live as if it were real (e.g., “you must fight for the truth”). Objectivity has worked its way back into the subjectivity of postmodernism. This is not pure postmodernism, nor a return to the modernism that preceded it. This is a new phase, which I call metamodernism (a term coined elsewhere). This paper first explains metamodernism (sections 1–2). Then, it offers some suggestions for Christians to rebut metamodernism (section 3). Finally, it concludes with an anecdote to better explain the recommendation of the third section (section 4).

We are awash in the Western world’s tides of anger and polarization. The white caps of dissent arose decades ago, and the recourse was called postmodernism—rather than fight for the truth, let’s all believe what we want to. Live and let live. This provided floating rubble (i.e., subjective beliefs) to amass and combine as we swam in the increasing storm. Now, decades later, our rubble-dinghies have been transformed into capable ships—not just capable of keeping us afloat, but of warring against the constructions of others. The choice of young people today is not how to find the truth, but which truth (or boat, to keep the analogy) to select. Once the selection has been made, smooth sailing is not an option. A fight for truth dominance must ensue. We have sailed past the primitive age of postmodernism. We are now in the murky waters of post-post-modernism—the idea that we may select various truths according to our subjective experiences, but that those selected truths are objectively true. I and others call this metamodernism. In what follows, we will examine these ships and seek to determine the best way to interact with them from our own. In other words, how does a Christian modernist interact with a non-Christian metamodernist when both believe that “their truth” is the truth?

1. Metamodernism Milieu (The Origin of Subjectivity in the Sea)

It is not a secret that the preference for subjectivity has helped produce modern phenomena like “choosing one’s gender” or “living your truth.” The curiosity, however, is that so many argue about these relative truths as if they were objective. The subjective feeling of one’s gender, for example, is expressed in terms of scientific or even empirical certainty.1 In what follows, we will not focus on the important topic of subjective gender identity. Instead, we will focus more on the cultural milieu that has enabled us to select subjective realities, whether sexual or spiritual, that are increasingly becoming seen as objective.

Almost 30 years ago, Leith Anderson presciently wrote, “the culture and the church are entering an extended era of greater diversity, increased segmentation, polarization, division, even hostility.”2 The hostility that Anderson saw on the horizon is abundantly manifest today. If he saw the groundswell, we are swimming in the tsunami.

The conventional wisdom used to be that tolerance (read: acceptance) will bridge the cultural divides that plague us. However, traditional wisdom failed us. Modern Americans were taught to allow various groups to “be their authentic selves” and to accept them unquestioningly so that these different identity groups would all get along. Gene Veith Jr. has shown that the reverse is true: “Although designed to promote tolerance (perhaps the only absolute moral value insisted upon by postmodernism), the sorting of human beings into mutually exclusive cultures trends to produce intolerance.”3 This acceptance, argues Veith, leads to the solidification of relative groups which have gained isolated identities. While this was a cheap price for cheap peace, now the West must pay the piper. Now that these groups have been given sovereign status, we see them warring with one another. Long gone are the days when everyone in America was aboard The Great Experiment sailing to the same truth. Now, we are part of our own isolated Small Experiments that hoist up the sails of relative truths. We are a nation of independent and sovereign nations (or, to keep the metaphor, a fleet of independent ships) vying for preeminence. This seems to be the case no matter what Western society one examines, though it is perhaps preeminently so in America.4

While Veith saw this trend on the horizon thirty years ago, from a more recent and secular perspective, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe our current reality: “This is an essential part of our story. Americans now bear such animosity toward one another that it’s almost as if many are holding up signs saying, ‘Please tell me something horrible about the other side, I’ll believe anything!’”5 What has caused this trend? The authors point to many causes, but perhaps most significant is the idea that “the United States has experienced a steady increase in at least one form of polarization since the 1980s: affective (or emotional) polarization.”6 This is one of the three main “untruths” that the authors indicate as culprits for our current polarization, namely, “always trust your feelings.”7 This is a commonly recognized postmodernist sentiment—since there is no objective truth, just trust what you feel. But the ubiquitous anger that people feel is, I argue, indicative of something more than just gut-trusting. Objectivity seems to be working its way back into the Western psyche because seeing something as objectively true rather than relatively true is the only way people get enveloped in anger. Pure postmodern relativism does not produce rage. We need metamodernism for that.

Christians are very adept at recognizing the futility of postmodern pluralism. As Carl Truman notes in an article for First Things, “Conservatives often respond to claims about the death of metanarratives with the trite observation that this too is a metanarratival claim. That is true, but only in the most banal sense, and the point is polemically useless.”8 Trueman argues that this point is futile because the goal in modern progressive thought is deconstruction, not finding an objective norm (or metanarrative) to hold on to (which would be constructive). But I argue that pointing out this contradiction in popular thought is futile rather because people no longer believe that their personal truth is relative. It is not that people do not care about metanarratival claims; it is that people think their metanarratival claims (i.e., their boats) are correct (or dominant). Though, on the one hand, most people are postmodernists who reject objective truth or metanarratives, many of those same people—paradoxically—think that their understanding of reality is objectively true. However, pointing to the incongruity of that position at a philosophical level is useless because people understand and accept the fact that they are constructing their own “objective” truth. This gives new meaning to the phrase, “masters of their own domain.” In the words of Ryan Anderson, ours is an “age that promotes an alternative metaphysics.”9 Welcome to the watery world of metamodernism.10

1.1. Whence the Key Term: Metamodernism

The move beyond postmodernism has a few names: post-postmodernism, pseudo-modernism, or (the term I prefer) metamodernism.11 The concept of metamodernism generally deals with art, architecture, and literature. But these sectors offer terminology readily transferrable to common cultural parlance (as we will see below). Referring to people who imbibe the thinking of metamodernism (which he calls pseudo-modernism), Alan Kirby writes, “These are people incapable of the ‘disbelief of Grand Narratives’ which Lyotard argued typified postmodernists.” This is because “postmodernism called ‘reality’ into question, [but] pseudo-modernism defines the real implicitly as myself, now, ‘interacting’ with its texts.”12 We see here that the initial relativism of truth that once dominated our landscape is being (or has been) eclipsed by the assumption that what was once relative is now objective. Where we are and what we are doing is no longer just “right for me”; it is just “right.” It is addition by subtraction—the removal of the small words “for me” adds a world of meaning.

Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker were the first to use the term metamodern to describe the West’s current tendency to move beyond postmodernism. Metamodernist discussion is typically (as is the case with Vermeulen and van den Akker) a conversation about art and philosophy, but art, philosophy, and cultural thinking are not easily separated. Indeed, philosophy and art are often expressions of, or guiderails for, common cultural thinking.

In their article, “Notes on Metamodernism,” Vermeulen and van den Akker argue that “Ontologically, metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern.”13 One of the entailments of this oscillation is that metamodernism wants to have its cake and eat it too. That is, it lives as if objective truth is real, but it comes to that truth as if it were not. Truth is both subjectively constructed and objectively adhered to. The authors from a now-famous art gallery in Berlin cite an almost chilling explication of this concept. The Gallery Tanja Wagner introduced its then inconspicuous opening exhibition this way: “The works [on display] convey enthusiasm as well as irony. They play with hope and melancholy, oscilliate [sic] between knowledge and naivety, empathy and apathy, wholeness and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity, … looking for a truth without expecting to find it.14 Metamodernism denies the existence of the truth it seeks.

As noted above, this denial/embrace of objective truth is most prominently displayed in the current tendency of Westerners to claim that one’s sexual identity is simultaneously subjective (the agent gets to select gender based on feelings) and objective (what the agent decides is true). We confess the postmodernist creed with our lips (i.e., “there is no objective truth”) but build the modernist world with our hands (i.e., “agree with my objective truth!”). In the words of Augustine, “Man’s love of truth is such that when he loves something which is not the truth, he pretends to himself that what he loves is the truth.”15 The denial/embrace of truth is described this way by Carl Trueman, “Today’s world is not the objectively authoritative place that it was eight hundred years ago; we think of it much more as a case of raw material that we can manipulate by our own power to our own purposes.”16 Though Trueman is helpful here, I think Augustine most compellingly captures the current trend. Not only do we manipulate raw material to our purposes, we manipulate raw material and call the construction “truth.”

At this point, we may begin to think that the seeds of metamodernism were sown long ago. This intuition is correct. Vermeulen and van den Akker argue that modernism and postmodernism were built on Hegel’s “positive” idealism. But metamodernism is built on Kant’s “negative” idealism. For Kant, people live as if there is some natural goal toward which they are striving, even though it does not exist. In his 1784 essay, “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View,” Kant said, “Each … people, as if following some guiding thread, go toward a natural but to each of them unknown goal.”17 Vermeulen and van den Akker explain, “That is to say, humankind, a people, are not really going toward a natural but unknown goal, but they pretend they do so that they progress morally as well as politically. Metamodernism moves for the sake of moving, attempts in spite of its inevitable failure; it seeks forever for a truth that it never expects to find.”18 In other words, to be spiritual today is, at its core, to pretend that there is ultimate meaning, but to do one’s best to forget the fact that reality has simply been ginned up. The metamodernist society is filled with little emperors without clothes who constantly compliment one another on their attire.

The insight of Kant’s centuries-old philosophy couples with the lived experience of many people today. In his Spiritual Marketplace, Wade Clark Roof says, “If metaphysical certainty is not possible, there are provisional approximations to hold on to even if they are no more than just that.”19 These “provisional approximations” grow like budding romantic relationships. What might begin as a casual interest evolves into a life commitment. People often think of their individual creeds as “mini-metanarratives” that give them a little direction and meaning in life. But as the years go by and the provisional approximation of a metanarrative takes deeper root, the result is often an adherence rivaling that of the faithful of any major world religion. To use a well-known example from the world of religious studies, what was once Sheila Larson’s personal belief system (a subject in a 1980s religious studies experiment), eventually became “Sheilaism,” a self-contained system of personally transcendent belief.20 Robert Fuller notes the downside of this well-worn system of belief, “The danger of Sheilaism, according to these scholars, is that it fails to connect the individual with any particular community or to any particular religious practice. In the long run, Sheilaism deprives us of a language genuinely able to mediate among self, society, the natural world, and ultimate reality.”21

1.2 Metamodern Unity: Putting the Pieces Back Together

Postmodernism stalled because it terminated at the level of the individual, like Sheilaism. Metamodernism has solved this problem by reintroducing a corporate element back into subjective belief systems. If Sheilaism was the rubble that Sheila Larson was floating on, metamodernism offers her the rubble of a group of people with whom she can incorporate her own. Now, the structures that carry her seem more meaningful, though they are no less subjective than what she began with. The primary components of Sheilaism that were most appealing to her—moral autonomy, release from outdated sociological standards, sexual freedom, and an eclectic approach to religious forms—can be maintained along with a newfound experience of corporate solidarity.22 In other words, metamodernism is a combination of herd mentality and Sheilaism. The latter provides subjectivity and the former provides an impression of objectivity.

If Sheila finds that some of her rubble is incompatible with that of the craft she is incorporated, no matter. There are limitless numbers of crafts to which she may join herself, all instantly available through the interconnectedness of the internet. Not only does the internet allow Sheila to connect with exactly whom she wants to, so that her subjective beliefs remain intact, it also allows her to maintain an experience of complete autonomy. She can disconnect whenever she wants with zero commitment, she can view whatever portions she wants and block from her view whatever is unpalatable, and she can display herself or hide herself from whoever she wants on the craft. Strikingly, it is not that Sheila gets complete autonomy over a part of the craft, like a child’s autonomy over the décor in her room. Rather, Sheila experiences something analogous to being the captain of the craft. Of course, she is not in complete control, but she may forget that this is the case as she does things like make personnel selections and exercise complete autonomy over the image she presents to the others aboard. Though she does not determine who is on the ship, she does decide who she will see—and who will see her—the two actions provide a remarkably similar experience.23 The internet’s capacity for ultra-personalized connectivity has provided the sense of objectivity that postmodernism could never attain.

Though Christians (and others) have regularly ridiculed this lifestyle,24 those who live it have no problem with the contradiction in claiming their truth is both personally subjective yet corporately objective. The tension between their creed and their claim to objectivity provides the tension required to keep their sails of subjectivity taut. To engage this type of living, Christians should spend less time pointing to the tension and more time pointing to the fact that the ship will run aground. The question at hand, then, is how Christians can articulate that reality.

2. Metamodernism Moving (The Rising of the Sea of Sanctimony)

But before we get to a Christian response, we must first note the recent dramatic increase in the need for an answer to metamodernism. If the above is true, it is not hard to see how we got where we are today. If people began with the laissez-faire attitude of finding and living personal truth, it is no wonder that people begin to fight. If my truth contradicts your truth, then a disagreement will ensue. If the truths are important, fighting will take place. If they are foundational to who we are, war will result. Ironically, then, we have come full circle. If postmodernism was invented, in part, to help with our cultural animosity, its evolution into metamodernism has brought us back to square one. My subjective realities today are just as true as the objective realities of yesterday. Both are worth fighting for. To deny “my metamodern truth,” therefore, is to earn ridicule in the same way that we all shake our heads at flat-earthers or holocaust deniers. How could they deny the truth?

Therefore, the metamodernist’s relation to “his truth” is near-exactly the same as the modernist’s relation to the truth—both see the truth in view as objective and imposing its reality (or “reality”) on others. For example, the vitriolic nature of our current metamodernist political climate parallels the modernist political climate of fledgling America. When Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were running against one another, vitriol was spewed: “Jefferson’s supporters accused Adams of having a ‘hideous hermaphroditical character,’ while Adams’s camp called Jefferson ‘a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow.’”25 Insults were slung, bullets were fired, and eventually a war was waged.26 Note how similar this sounds to our modern political climate. This is not so different from today, hopefully barring civil war, though it is currently discussed.27 We find ourselves, then, clinging to subjectivity as each person embraces her or her own truth. But, as these various forms of subjectivity begin to harden and we assemble them into creations of our own making, we find ourselves in the rising waves of sanctimony—“this is my truth and you better believe it!” This is what it means to swim in the sanctimonious sea of subjectivity.

A metaphorical summation might look like this: First, we let others float around with their own subjective truths. For a brief time, we were relatively content to float along on the wreckage of our own creations. But humans compare. One looks to another and sees some improvements being made. Another sees the construction of weaponry, another defense. Years later, all those floating along find themselves in a frenzy to defend and, if necessary, attack the truth structures that, for a time, were merely yet another instantiation of modern human life. Now, we find ourselves not floating on wreckage or even newly constructed dinghies. Instead, we are in the midst of solidified vessels (worldviews) with crews (proponents) and their own weaponry (“science”).28 It is no longer sufficient to “live and let live.” Everyone must choose a side because all sides are in the war of sanctimony. Modernism upheld the fight for truth. Postmodernism was the opiate of the masses. Metamodernism has brought the fight back, yet in a sanctimoniously unwinnable way. This fight cannot be won because the interlocutors are all the owners of different “objective” truths and they see their opponents as mindless Cretans for denying their claims. In other words, there is no common ground to fight upon. They float in the sea of sanctimony, yet fight they must.

3. Metamodernism’s Match (How to Function in The Sea)

How do Christians respond? Os Guinness said that “we have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it.”29 In what follows, I will build on the premise of another article that argues for righteous Christian anger (called “meek anger”).30 Assuming that anger is a valid Christian emotion (which is the argument of that paper), I will argue here that utilizing this form of Christian anger is, at times, the best option in rebutting the sea of sanctimony.31 This is because the expression of anger today is often the primary societal mechanism for determining which ship is most seaworthy (or which “truth” is most true).

3.1. Good Anger

Before going forward, however, some careful qualifiers must be quickly put in place. First, we must ensure that the anger we allow to manifest is only righteous anger. Sinful anger will obviously harm gospel presentation (as it has so many times before).32 Second, righteous anger never allows for a sense of superiority. The Paul who instructed the Romans to “hate strongly” 33 (ἀποστυγοῦντες) what is evil (Rom 12:9), routinely used unflattering and diminutive terms to refer to himself (1 Tim 1:15–16; 1 Cor 15:9; Eph 3:8; cf. Acts 8:3).34 Superiority and righteous anger are contradictory. In the words of Christopher Watkin, “One notable feature of such prophetic invective is that the prophet does not exempt himself or herself from his condemnation.”35 Finally, and most importantly, righteous anger is not righteous when it is the only emotion ever felt. In his book on godly anger, David Powlison is quick to show that God’s anger is just one of his many attributes, most of which center around love, mercy, and patience.36 In other words, righteous anger should be allowed, I argue, to play its respective role—yet not to reign—in cultural engagement. Therefore, no Christian should be aptly referred to as “angry.”37 That should never be our sole characteristic any more than it is God’s. We should be marked by love, forgiveness, and meekness just as much as we should be angry with what God is angry with. The purpose of this section is not to produce angry Christians, but it is to stimulate overly quiet Christians who are never bothered by sin (other than their own) toward a full-orbed Christian lifestyle. As Guinness says, “Any Christian explanation or defense of the truth must have a life, a manner and a tone that are shaped decisively by the central truths of the gospel.”38 And there is no gospel without hatred for sin.

3.2. Anger as Authenticity

If we concede that anger can play a positive role—when properly regulated—then the question arises, “What positive role does it play in apologetics and cultural engagement?” The primary benefit I suggest is authenticity. A standard critique of Christians is that they are inauthentic or fake. This type of thinking is ubiquitous at the popular level. In an article for Christian Today, Jo Swinney says, “Christians are not supposed to be nice all the time. We are supposed to be the real, rounded, in-process people that we are. When we apply niceness to the surface of all our interactions like a layer of fine plaster of Paris, there are several consequences.” One of those consequences is that “niceness will not draw others to faith and it may well have a repellent effect.”39 She uses the derogatory cultural icon of American Christianity, Ned Flanders, from the top-rated T.V. show, The Simpsons, as an example of the way secular society views Christians who are overly nice. Flanders was a caricature of an irritatingly passive Christian who never got angry, yet never drew a single person toward God. If Christians were to express righteous anger, perhaps they would be seen as—at least—authentic.40

Focus on authenticity is not only the Christian’s concern. In an age of secular self-identification and the loss of static norms, choosing who one is in an authentic way is seen to be truly human. Darrel Paul, a political science professor at Williams College, said that “the therapeutic ethos [of today] holds up the authentic and liberated self as the ideal of character.” He traces this back at least as far as 1992 when former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy defended “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”41 Determining one’s authenticity and accurately portraying it is a human preoccupation. As we noted in the previous section on metamodernism, the subjective determination of who one is does nothing (as strange as it may seem) to negate the objectivity one feels in who he or she is. Indeed, the feeling of authentic identity is, in many respects, the most important element in Western life. In other words, while we have given ourselves the capacity to create our own truths, the defense of those truths often relies on a feeling of authenticity, rather than objective facts. It is not the one who has “science” on his side (whatever that may mean) but the one who champions his science in the most authentic way who wins. Authenticity is the propellant, if you will, for the “science” or “truth” we select to hurl at one another’s structures in the sea of sanctimony.42

This focus on authenticity is also found in the non-Christian academic realm of religious studies. Coining the term “fakecraft” to describe religious practices that help distinguish what is genuine to a particular religion, Paul Christopher Johnson argues that “Afro-American traditions have a developed internal fakecraft. Internal discourses of the real and the fake are part of the lifeblood of Candomblé, Umbanda, Santería, Palo Monte, Vodou, Garifuna, and other communities.”43 He argues that many world religions are very focused on determining the difference between an authentic expression of their religion and a hoax. Though this often has abhorrently destructive outcomes, there are also good manifestations of the search for authenticity.

Of course, being authentically Christian is very important from an evangelical perspective because Christians “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). It is only those who are authentically in Christ who are saved. Perhaps no one thought more about the difference between authentic and counterfeit religion than the “last of the puritans,” Jonathan Edwards, as is evident in his Religious Affections, which was dedicated to the search for authentic Christianity.44 In this way, we see a connection between Christianity, other religions, and modern non-religious thought in terms of identifying what is authentic and what is disingenuous. To search for authenticity is to be human, not just Christian. Therefore, the use of authenticity markers in emotive discourse is an invaluable tool for the Christian apologist or evangelist. At the risk of overstating the case, authentic communication is the sine qua non of modern apologetics.

3.3. All Hands on Deck

This pervasive search for the authentic should compel Christians to embrace their own need to be genuine. When a militant atheist is debating with a Christian, for example, and he uses blasphemous terms to refer to God, what else is the world to think when the Christian—who supposedly loves God more than anything—wears a “plaster smile” and dismisses the attack as “your opinion”? Should anyone be convinced that we are united with Christ when we seem oblivious to attacks upon his body? If Jesus was outraged at the abuse of his father’s house, how much more should we be when he himself is attacked? Righteous—God-honoring—anger would go a long way in convincing the world that we believe what we say we do.

This tack is especially effective because feelings are given epistemic (or even ontological) weight today. To the metamodernist, subjective feelings are objective reality. Christians would disagree with this over-emphasis on emotion but, this fondness for the subjective can be leveraged for the benefit of Christianity. Though I do not believe in Christianity because Christians can be zealously faithful, I am happy to open the door of consideration to a non-believer by demonstrating such traits. Christian persuasion rightly wears the glasses of objectivity, but it can also don the cap of subjectivity. In other words, authenticity is not proof so much as it is persuasive.

In addition, we should remember that experience is an essential element of the Christian faith. The Heidelberg Catechism, for example, begins its description of true Christian faith by saying, “True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture.” In other words, it is not enough to have the facts because “the demons also believe, and shudder” (Jas 2:19). One must also have faith. Faith—as distinct from fact-gathering—is an experience in which one finds himself (sometimes all of a sudden) giving himself over to God. This is why the Heidelberg Catechism goes on to describe this faith as “a wholehearted trust.”45 This 16th-century Reformed confession is not unique. Joel Beeke has shown that this emphasis on faith experience is the Reformed approach to Christianity. What is the primary mechanism in the Reformed tradition for bringing others into the faith of Christianity? It is preaching that “brings us face to face with the most glorious and delightful Being in the universe.”46 Metamodernists’ emphasis on subjective experience, rather than being something to be shunned, should be “subversively fulfilled.”47 That is, “our culture’s antipathy to Christianity is so thoroughly … well, Christian.”48 In other words, rather than decrying culture’s emphasis on “lived experience” and “your truth,” we should say, “Listen to my lived experience of God which is my truth.”49

Though Christians should vehemently disagree, using anger when necessary, with the constructions of metamodernists, they are fully capable of doing so with absolute humility. This is a categorical distinction between the secular combatant and the Christian. Though the metamodernist takes great pride in his construction, the Christian is not presenting “his own” anything. Whatever he offers by way of replacement or denunciation, he offers as a beggar who has been unilaterally blessed. The world compares ideologies as shipbuilders do their crafts (though all the ships are unseaworthy). But the Christian can passionately, even angrily, reject contradictory worldviews without pointing to his own accomplishments. He can be angry at error and humble with his interlocutor. He can be meek and angry by both condemning the dangerous vessels in the sea of sanctimony and refusing to take one foot off of the island of God’s truth, where his status as alien has been changed to citizen by grace alone (which perhaps wrought a providential shipwreck upon its rocky shores).50

Christians should operate in the sea of sanctimony with a resolute resolve to defend their truth. Why? Because they claim that Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6, cf. 1 John 5:20). We may not wink at falsehood any more than we can wink at blasphemy.51 There is no truth that does not belong to God. The Lord is not pleased with lies on our lips or any other (Prov 12:22). Therefore, we should not give up the fight for truth, no matter what arena it may occur in, any more than we should give up the fight for Sunday’s services and the Bible. Christians should be grieved to the point of righteous indignation when others disdain truth, slander truth, and mock truth (cf. Pss 31:6, 139:21). This, of course, is biblical, but it is also to speak the lingua franca. Using authentic anger is common parlance, and if Christians participate, they have a corner on the market since there is only one truth and one valid form of anger. Of course, not all will be convinced, but at least we have fought the good fight—we have pointed out the failure in the vessels of warfare and have invited those about to drown to climb aboard the One that will carry us all safely home. None of us are at the helm, unlike the other ships. And this is a good thing. But if we are to serve the Captain well, we ought to defend attacks upon his craft.

3.4 Gay Weddings

An application of the principle suggested in this article can be discerned in the current debate over Christians attending gay weddings. Both sides of the debate admirably want to demonstrate both truth and love. One side seeks to do this by objecting to homosexuality (truth) but by simultaneously attending the wedding (love). The other side rejects the invitation, seeking to be both truthful (rejecting a fictitious wedding) and loving (because such a rejection offers the greatest chance of eliciting repentance and salvation). However, if the thesis of this article is correct, attending a gay wedding as a Christian can be deemed inauthentic by the world itself. If the Christian really believes marriage is defined by God as that which is only between one man and one woman, what is the world to think when said Christian attends a gay wedding, sits quietly without protest, smiles, and even joins in the celebratory festivities? Surely, this might convey love, but does it also demonstrate that the Christian truly believes the Bible?52

An alternative tack might involve sadly rejecting the invitation but also replacing it with another—that of a loving summons to the Christian’s home for a sumptuous meal for both homosexual individuals. Of course, this invitation might be rejected in kind, but it seems the best option if both truth and love are the goal.

In the metamodern sea of subjective sanctimony, any wavering, or appearance of wavering on one’s beliefs is perceived as a failure to truly believe. In this watery world, if it is not truly believed, it is not true. Conveying the truth, therefore, requires conveying emotional authenticity, even if this is to be done through stern rejection. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.… Ultimately, we have no charge but to serve our brother … even when, in obedience to God, we must break off fellowship with him.”53 Our churches are filled with increasingly gaping holes in the pews each Sunday because the world refuses to countenance the teachings of Christ. This is the message they send us every Lord’s Day, loud and clear. Should not the Church send a similar message to the temple of man? We must send this message—the liturgy of sexual immorality is an abomination and it will not be countenanced by the body of Christ today, nor his person at the day of judgement.54 This is an authentic and stable sentiment which the world can readily perceive. Of course, the world will not like this message, but the point of this article has been to persuade through authenticity, not through nicety.

4. Conclusion: A Personal Anecdote

Years ago, when I was training in the US Army, I was in a course with a Muslim soldier from the Jordanian Army. We would discuss the differences between the Bible and the Quran, and my approach was generally to listen to what he said about Abraham, for example, then reply with what the Bible said. His approach, on the other hand, was to refute what I said the Bible said, and present the Quran’s version as correct and superior. He would typically make his presentation, then look away disinterestedly when I responded. One day, I decided to try a different tack. When he said that Abraham (Ibrahim) was essentially perfect, and God therefore blessed him and his progeny, I interjected sharply, “No, that is wrong. Abraham was previously an idolater, and it was God’s grace that saved him.” I can still see his eyes quickly meet mine with a look of rapt attention on his face. Immediately, he seemed to listen to what I was saying as if it were authoritative. When I allowed my speech about the Bible to align with my feelings about the Bible, my interlocutor started listening. I was not foaming at the mouth or uttering curse words, but I was genuinely upset that someone was lying about my God. I wanted this deceived man to embrace truth. Amazingly, our conversations started to become more amicable because he started to respect me as someone with a worthwhile perspective, rather than a child hopelessly clinging to fantasies.

Of course, this is purely anecdotal, and worse, Islam and metamodernism are very different. But the thing that led my Jordanian friend to listen to me is, I argue, the same thing that will incline the metamodernist to listen—they see that we believe what we say. In fact, as I said above, the metamodernist will be more inclined to listen because, for him, feeling is reality, whereas this is not true for the Muslim. The key in this methodology is to only express anger that is based on the injury of God and his reputation. We must be meek and angry. If a hostile interlocutor insults us, we should quickly turn the other cheek (meek). But when he insults God, we should vociferously and authoritatively refute the insult (angry). This best aligns with the pattern displayed by Christ and his apostles, and it is poised to reach those in our current Western context who are steeped in metamodernism. We should let the person know that what they say offends us and God, because it does. That is the authentic truth.

5. Concluding Unscientific Postscript

In his magisterial book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor does not explicitly discuss the topic of this article, but he does consider at length how those of opposing views might convince one another. His conclusion is remarkable in that it points to the pragmatic rather than the objective:

Both sides need a good dose of humility, that is, realism. If the encounter between faith and humanism is carried through in this spirit, we find that both sides are fragilized; and the issue is rather reshaped in a new form: not who has the final decisive argument in its armory … Rather, it appears as a matter of who can respond most profoundly and convincingly to what are ultimately commonly felt dilemmas.55

To be sure, we need more than convincing arguments and profundity. In The Ethics of Authenticity, Taylor says, “Your feeling a certain way can never be sufficient grounds for respecting your position, because your feeling can’t determine what is significant.”56 However, my hope is that this article has proved that emotive demonstrations of authenticity (to include all godly emotions, but especially anger) are an integral component of communicating Christ convincingly in our current circumstances.

Now to him who reigns supreme over the sea of sanctimony and whose eschatological throne will be revealed to all before, not tempestuous waters, but “a sea of glass, like crystal” (Rev 4:6).

[1] For example, Deanna Adkins stated this in US District court: “It is counter to medical science to use chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, or secondary sex characteristics to override [subjective] gender identity for purposes of classifying someone as male or female. [Subjective] gender identity does and should control when there is a need to classify an individual as a particular sex.” Deanna Adkins, “Declaration of Deanna Adkins, MD.,” Carcaño v. Cooper, US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Case 1:16-cv-00236, p. 7,

[2] Leith Anderson, A Church for the 21st Century (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1992), 33.

[3] Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 154.

[4] In his recent and magisterial treatment of the subject of the dominance of subjectivity, Carl Trueman’s first chapter in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, though heavily reliant on Canada’s Charles Taylor, uses almost exclusively American examples of ingrained subjectivity. See Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 35–72.

[5] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin, 2019), 132.

[6] Lukianoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, 141.

[7] Lukianoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, 33–52.

[8] Carl Trueman, “Queer Times,” First Things, 21 May 2020,

[9] Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter, 2018), 29 (emphasis mine).

[10] “Watery” is a helpful adjective for three reasons: (1) It nods to the biblical idea that evil both comes from and moves to the waters (Matt 8:32 // Mark 5:13 // Luke 8:33; Rev 13:1). (2) It highlights the instability of metamodernism. (3) It maintains the naval metaphor.

[11] The lack of a stable term to describe this trend shows that it is currently taking shape and evolving.

[12] Alan Kirby, “The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond,” Philosophy Now, December 2006,

[13] Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism,” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2 (2010): 5.

[14] Cited in Vermeulen and van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism,” 7 (emphasis mine).

[15] Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), 10.23.

[16] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 41.

[17] Immanuel Kant, Kant on History, ed. L. White Beck (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963), 11–12. Cited in Vermeulen and van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism,” 5 (emphasis original).

[18] Vermeulen and van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism,” 5.

[19] Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 314.

[20] Robert N. Bellah, ed., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 221.

[21] Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 159.

[22] The word, “outdated,” is important here. Participants in metamodernism are not bound by allegedly obsolete social norms. However, this does not mean that new, ironically constricting, “cutting-edge” social norms do not replace them. Part of the malaise of much metamodernism can be attributed to the decrease in happiness that is directly proportionate to the increase of new social norms. In other words, the joy of being released from social standards is short lived because one must jump out of that cage and into another.

[23] I am referencing here the capability to add and block people from one’s social media platform while also maintaining complete control over what pictures and written content are presented not just to all users but also on a case-by-case basis. For example, I may present a picture of myself wearing motorcycle gear only to my internet friends who will appreciate such attire. Yet, I can simultaneously offer pictures of myself in a suit and tie to my more professional friends.

[24] The discussion regarding the need for an objective ethical norm for life dates back to at least Aristotle. See, e.g., “Ethical Relativism and Absolutism” in J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 424–40.

[25] Sarah Pruitt, “Jefferson and Adams: Founding Frenemies,”, 15 January 2020,

[26] In regard to bullets and wars, I refer to duels (which were often not deadly) and the Civil War.

[27] Ian Bassin, “Is Civil War Coming to America?,” New York Times, 18 January 2022; Camila DeChalus, “FBI Search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Reignites Conservative Calls for a Civil War in the US,” Business Insider, 9 August 2022,; Stephen Marche, “The Next US Civil War Is Already Here—We Just Refuse to See It,” The Guardian, 4 January 2022,

[28] The scare quotes refer to the tendency to respond to the statement: “I follow the science” with “whose science?” This is most prominently seen in the era of COVID-19 (but also regarding the “scientific” classification of gender, noted above). For example, many epidemiologists said masking was a sure-fire aid to the reduction of the spread of COVID (which we are all familiar with). Others said the exact opposite: Gemma Mullin, “Face Masks Can ‘Increase Risk’ of Catching Coronavirus,” The Sun, 23 April 2020,

[29] Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 17.

[30] Robert D. Golding, “A Theological and Biblical Examination of Anger,” Unio Cum Christo 8.1 (2022): 135–51.

[31] A similar argument has been made along the lines of righteous mockery. See, Terry Lindvall, God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert (New York: New York University Press, 2015).

[32] One thinks of the vitriolic and even blasphemous articulations, if one can call them that, of the Westboro Baptist Church, for example.

[33] BDAG 123.

[34] Though hatred and anger can be distinguished, I use them synonymously here. The philosophical distinctions that are at play here are important, but not for our purposes. It is sufficient to grasp that there are negative feelings (like anger and hate) that are righteous and unrighteous. Hence, I use the term “righteous anger,” though “righteous hatred” could conceptually be employed.

[35] Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022), 305.

[36] David Powlison, Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness (Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2016), 104–9.

[37] Mark Matlock calls this “apologetical abuse.” See Sean McDowell, ed., Apologetics for a New Generation, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), 139.

[38] Guinness, Fool’s Talk, 175.

[39] Jo Swinney, “It’s Not Christian to Be Nice,” Christian Today, 26 August 2016,

[40] Five years later and very near the time of this writing, Christianity Today is striking the same chord. Liz Lykins, “Gen Z Christians Want Leaders to Keep It Real: That Means Dropping the Façade and Admitting Their Own Struggles.,” Christianity Today, 24 March 2023,

[41] Darrel Paul, “Under the Rainbow Banner,” First Things, June 2020, (emphasis mine).

[42] See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2007), 675, cited in the Conclusion of this article.

[43] Paul Christopher Johnson, “Fakecraft,” Journal for the Study of Religion 31.2 (2018): 118; Cf. Francesca E. S. Montemaggi, “The Authenticity of Christian Evangelicals: Between Individuality and Obedience,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 32.2 (2017): 253–68.

[44] Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith and Harry S. Stout, The Works of Jonathan Edwards 2 (Yale University Press, 2009).

[45] Heidelberg Catechism, A 21,

[46] Joel R. Beeke, Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 24.

[47] Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 237–73.

[48] Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory, 15.

[49] This reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s interview with Cathy Newman. Newman asks Peterson why he feels he has the right (theoretically speaking) to refuse to use someone’s preferred pronouns, when doing so will be highly offensive to the person. Peterson responds by saying, in effect, “that question is offensive to me! Why do you have the right to ask it?” See “Jordan Peterson Debate on the Gender Pay Gap, Campus Protests and Postmodernism,” (21:50).

[50] Another commonly made analogy is that of a beggar telling others where to get free bread. The beggar is not proud of his bread, but he would, for example, condemn the methamphetamine his peers “cooked” for themselves. He can condemn something without being prideful in the alternative he suggests since it does not originate with him.

[51] Of course, there is a distinction between a lie about some thing and a lie about God. But this distinction is not a separation. I cannot lie about my homework, for example, without sinning against God by pretending that I am the arbiter of truth and falsehood. In other words, lying about something other than God is not the same as lying about God, but it is a step in the same direction. It is a link in the chain of sinning against God.

[52] This propensity to demonstrate love at the peril of standing against sin harkens the lyrics of Whitecross: “Love is our weapon. We need to use it. Love is our weapon. Let’s not abuse it.” Whitecross, “Love is Our Weapon,” In the Kingdom (Star Song: 1991).

[53] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (London: SCM, 1954), 46. Many thanks to Herb Kraker for bringing this quote to my attention.

[54] Again, this does not mean that the Church should only send this message. She should also send a message of radical love and invitation. She must do both—reject the sin of homosexuality while embracing homosexual sinners. This is the pattern Christ exhibited (see, e.g., John 8:11 which, despite its dubious authenticity, nicely illustrates the capacity to simultaneously extend gracious love while compelling abstinence from sin).

[55] Taylor, A Secular Age, 675 (emphasis mine).

[56] Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 37 (emphasis original).

Robert Golding

Robert Golding is the lead pastor of First Christian Reformed Church of Artesia, California.

Other Articles in this Issue

How do we decide what to label people of centuries past when they had no clear labels for themselves? Should we describe seventeenth century Baptists as “Baptists” if that was not what they called themselves? Matthew Bingham has recently argued that instead of using the label “Particular Baptists” for the English Calvinistic Baptists of the 1640s and 50s, historians would more clearly describe their subjects as “baptistic congregationalists...

Sonship appears in every section, at every turning point, and on the lips of every character in Matthew’s Gospel...

This paper articulates a provisional thesis, namely, that we need a pedagogical category within our biblical theological frameworks, on the basis that such a category was in the New Testament authors’ minds...

Scholars disagree about the precise nature of the sin that provokes God’s wrath in Genesis 19...