The Extraordinary Individual
Elbert Hubbard once said, “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men but no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” The late 18th century American novelist penned these words in the midst of a technological boom that would inaugurate the famous “Roaring 20’s,” when the American economy and morale reached record heights—a period of time that would have been challenged by the notion that one, extraordinary individual could catalyze society to even greater extents than the phenomenon of technological advancement and efficient machinery.
Today, however, this sentiment does little to challenge the average young American. Instead, quotes likes these confirm something that we arguably already know—that we already are extraordinary, that the self is certainly supreme, and that we are far more capable of advancement when we are unaided, unsuppressed, and liberated by our own capacities for achievement.
In other words, perhaps more than ever before in history, we consider ourselves far more extraordinary than our predecessors and even our successors, convinced that we are the catalytic hinge between past and present and, simultaneously, the everlasting precedent for the future generations that will require our expert contributions.
A Generation of Gods
The ultimate product of such coddling and curating of the supreme self is a generation of young Americans who find even the slightest notion of limit and inability as a stifling agent against the infinite measure of our grand abilities. Told that we are special by default, intrinsically deserving, and naturally qualified, young Americans are in hard pursuit of not merely cultural innovation or social progress—they are in pursuit of personal catharsis through the means of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.
We have essentially become gods, convinced we are smarter and faster than every generation passed and pivotal to every generation to come—and for this reason, young Americans today are arguably the hardest demographic to receive and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At its very origin, the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with an infinite and eternal need: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The natural nature of mankind is not a state of deserving worthiness or infinite capability; it is depraved worthlessness and eternal condemnation resulting from the guilt of original and unavoidable sin. The goodness of the Good News of Jesus Christ is a product of one’s genuine understanding of this concept—the great Reformer John Calvin explained it as so:
But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity… And, as Augustine expresses it (in Psalm 144), since we are unable to comprehend Him, and are, as it were, overpowered by his greatness, our proper course is to contemplate his works, and so refresh ourselves with his goodness. (Institutes, 1.2; 5.9)
How then, can anyone come to understand how good the Good News of Jesus Christ is if he or she fails to understand the need that makes the news itself so good? Simply put—a shimmering oasis is only good to those who recognize their thirst, and our current culture is trending towards a horizon where we are far from dehydrated and no longer thirsty; rather, we are stuffed to the brim with ourselves, having filled our internal longings with our own achievements and the entitlements gifted to us in childhood.
A New Age of Evangelism
Some years ago, Dr. Michael Horton expressed in an article in Modern Reformation that true, Biblical evangelism ought to be centered on the historicity of Christ, trusting that the news of Jesus’ life and love will soften the hardest of hearts and turn even the most stubborn of tides towards belief. Meanwhile, other scholars countered Horton’s views by arguing for a scientific and cosmological emphasis in evangelism, supported by proponents like Dr. William Lane Craig. Today, however, I would argue that modern evangelism needs to return to one simple, Biblical, and logically profound concept: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
To a logically illiterate generation of young Americans, the basic principle that we are not extraordinary is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to defend—and yet, this is the first concept that needs to register in the hearts and minds of millennials, as the push to preserve one’s incredible value and one’s sufficient knowledge immediately encourages the disbelief of any deity that would rob the individual of his or her infinite capacities or stifle his or her natural goodness.
No longer is science the cause for our disbelief; no longer is the validity of Jesus the cause for our disbelief; today, we are the cause of our own disbelief, as we trust none other than the deistic nature of ourselves.
Repentance and Kingdom
If we were to return, however, to a simple method of evangelism based on the concept of “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” what immediately surfaces are two fundamentally undeniable truths:
First, if Heaven is true, what is the measure for goodness to enter into it? If we define our own measure for who enters into it, then how can Heaven truly be good as it would be subject to our limited understanding of goodness. Heaven, in other words, can only exist in a universe where an absolute and objective goodness defines what is good for the individual—not the other way around. Anything short of this would mean that Heaven is a place of preference—not of goodness—and, therefore, does not require good to get there (which means criminals and the objectively evil could easily be permitted).
Second, if Heaven is objectively good, then the only possible response is to readjust one’s value from deistic to depraved as the objective goodness of Heaven will always trump the subjective goodness of the self since Heaven always has to be and remain to be good while we, as individuals crafted by culture and society, shift in both our understanding and grasp of goodness.
Thus, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” is far less of a religious notion and much more of a logical commission for individuals to recognize an ethical dilemma that can only be solved in absolute, eternal terms, motivating the necessity for a God who requires a readjustment of the individual.
Redeemer and King
Jesus Christ, on the cross, provides a means for the individual to encounter absolute readjustment, regardless of culture or context. His love and grace, shed upon the cross in crimson, readjusts our individual values as both infinitely depraved and yet eternally saved.
This news, however, will never be received as good so long as we enable logical illiteracy and encourage natural capacity—to assume we are good simply because we are born is to rob the King of Kings of His infinitely painful and destructively devastating work on the cross. Instead, let us return to a sober understanding of ourselves—and, therein, a desperate need for Christ our Redeemer and King, ascribing all goodness to Him and discovering our own goodness as His.
Written by Phillip Lee