Ideas from David Wells: The Courage to be Protestant

In America, personality (being charismatic, glamorous) has replace character (being virtuous).

We look to the self for meaning, truth, and fulfillment. This is sin. The result is the loss of meaning and the unmooring of the self from reality, which is the Triune God.

Too many churches are trying to sell the gospel through marketing. But the Gospel cannot be changed into a consumer item for empty selves. The Gospel flows the objective and holy nature of God himself.

The postmodern world gives us the context for ministry; it does not define the content of theology, which is based on the timeless truths of Holy Scripture.

The number of fitness centers has increased as the number of church diminishes. Fitness becomes the new holiness.

An Education Manifesto

Teachers are being taken out of the classroom by technologies, bureaucrats,and statism. The teachers may remain on site–although many are disappearing into cyberspace. But the teacher qua living, interacting, breathing, seeing, hearing presence, is vanishing from the scene. How could this happen?

First, technologies are not interpreted for their strengths and weaknesses. Then some technologies–such as PowerPoint–become avalanches to the unaware, who use them (and spend vast amounts of time on them that could be spent in study) often at the expense of embodied presence. Attention goes to the screen and away from teacher and students. Books are left behind, to everyone’s loss.

A particularly egregious and heart-breaking example is that of a proven virtuoso, a master teacher of reading known for taking the worst readers and making them the best readers. That was before the required technology, which forces her to record on a keypad who is saying what and when. We must have the sacred statistics to that the Control Room can know it all. The result, of course, is to take the teacher out of the classroom. Yes, she is there, but she is removed (by the technological mediation and distraction) from the learning dynamic which she had developed over fruitful decades of instruction.

There is a word for this: sin.

Second, because of undue federal pressure regarding accreditation, schools must attempt to quantify education through “assessment.” This means setting up burdensome and unneeded measures such as “metrics,” “rubrics,” and all manner of outcome measuring. Therefore, administrator are politically horsewhipped into becoming bureaucratic enforcers. Besides being pedagogically pointless (teachers should evaluate students by grades and personal counseling), it forces teachers to use a top-down imposed mold. Thus, the teacher, as a responsible thinker, is robbed of her individuality and adaptability. No, she is not to be trusted; rather, faceless and soulless Conditioners (yes, CS Lewis’s term from The Abolition of Man) shape what they do not know in order to know what which matters not: statistics out of context. But that is what the computer wants

What, then, can traditional and unreconstructed teachers do about it all, beside lament? And lamenting is called for.

First, teachers can become interpreters of technology, not its slaves and sycophants. Every communication technology has its trade-offs; it gives and takes away. To begin to identify this reality, start with Neil Postman, The End of Education. Administrators should give their teachers a wide birth in the classroom and not require any particular technology.

Second, what can be done about the statism that drives the impersonal standardization of education? I doubt I will see the political changes necessary to reverse this in my lifetime. (I am 57.) However, only a return to small civil government and a robust sense of the free and responsible citizen can push back the tidal wave of leftism. Before then, teachers can be principled subversives by not letting the official regime and its regimen hijack the classroom.

Most learning–and the deepest learning–is undetectable by objective measures, because it is a matter of skill and character, which only develop through a mentor-mentee relationship and strong peer friendships among students. As teachers reluctantly abide by new rules, however mindless, they may still inspire students to intellectual virtue by their example and through serendipity, something the number crunchers cannot completely destroy through their statistical imperatives. Have class parties outside of the classroom. Allow time in office hours to sustained conversation. (The Conditioners have not yet demanded matrices and rubrics for these.) Interact with students on Facebook and other social media.

In other words, Never give up. There is too much at stake.


Inspired by a speech by Winston Churchill:

1. Christian socialism (inspired by charity) says, “All mine is yours.” This is voluntary and compassionate. Francis Schaeffer spoke of “the compassionate use of acquired wealth.”

2. Leftist socialism (inspired by larceny and envy) says, “All yours is mine.” This is involuntary and requires state coercion.

What is Worldiness?

David Wells described worldliness as

that system of values, in any given age, which has at its center our fallen human perspective, which displaces God and his truth from the world, and which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. It thus gives great plausibility to what is morally wrong and, for that reason, makes what is wrong seem normal. (Losing our Virtue, p. 4)

See  1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1-2.

Cultural Exegesis

I often tell my students to exegete the Bible, themselves, and their culture. Otherwise, we become worldly and ineffective for ministry. See 1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1-2. However, I have never spelled out specifically what exegeting culture involves. I will try.

1. You look for the worldview behind films, songs, art works, and more. This does not exhaust their meaning, but it is vital, since cultural forms often speak subtly, but powerfully.
2. Continue to read and study and meditate on the Bible, since it gives you an eternal perspective on the temporal. See Psalm 119; 2 Timothyy 3:15.
3. Observe how technologies effect relationships.
4. Abstain from some popular technology for ten days. Then reflect on how this has affected you and those around you.
5. Learn the history of various cultural objects and systems, especially those pertaining to communication. Consider books like, “The Victorian Internet” and “The Shadows” treatment of Nietzsche’s use of the newly created typewriter.
6. Talk to those from cultures outside your own about their culture and how they perceive and evaluate your culture.
7. Make time and place for silence in order to set in order the experiences. of your life. See Psalm 90:12.
8. Consult your elders on matters of cultural exegesis, both inside and outside of your family. They may much more than you think.
9. Pray all the time, depending on Christ, and asking the Spirit for wisdom.

Now, do you have more ideas? Or would you like to challenge any?

“America: What Would the World Do Without Her?”

What is America? What role has she played in history? Has she been a force for more good than for evil or a force for more evil than for good? This well-produced documentary-drama featuring politico Dinesh D’Souza attempts to answer this question by using the anti-American left as its foil. Interviews and various footage are interspersed with historical reenactments of scenes from the lives of George Washington, Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and even Hillary Clinton.

The film interviews thinkers on the left and the right and responds to five charges made against America, which include that America is based on theft, that it is imperialist, and that capitalism steals from the poor. It was heartening to find that it takes particular aim at Howard Zinn’s a-historical machinations in A People’s History of the United States, a book that is sadly assigned in high school history classes in America.

While the film is pro-American, it is not nationalistic or jingoistic. It rather tries to correct pervasive misunderstandings and outright lies. In this, it does well, but the fuller case made in the book of the same name should be consulted. (I have not yet received the book from Amazon.) It is particularly insightful in charting a key ideological influence on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. That man is Sal Alinksy, who wrote Rules for Radicals.

Whatever your political persuasion or knowledge of American history, “America…” is worth seeing and discussing, as I was privileged to do with two of the smartest young people I know. I will not likely see America’s return to the liberty and opportunity of its founding heritage. But perhaps Joey and Sarah will.

Reincarnation and the Challenge of Jesus

Can we live multiple lives? Do our actions in this life affect what we come back as in the next life? Douglas Groothuis discusses the doctrine of reincarnation versus the
Christian doctrine of eternal life.

Karma and Its “Justice”: The Claim
People have always wondered what — if anything — lies beyond the grave. Is death the end of existence, an entry into eternity, or an intermission between earthly lives? Some Eastern religions — such as Hinduism and Buddhism — teach that the soul reincarnates in many different bodies, and a significant percentage of Americans now believe it. Why are so many people drawn to the doctrine of reincarnation?

Reincarnation offers hope for many who would otherwise fear their own demise. If we don’t “get it right” in this life, we will have another chance the next time around — and the next and the next as well. Some worried souls even consult therapists in the hope of learning the details of their past lives, which, they believe, may help them solve their present problems.

Reincarnation also claims to insure justice on a cosmic scale. We each get what we deserve in every life. In Eastern religions, reincarnation is connected with the law of karma, which teaches that our good and bad deeds produce good and bad results from lifetime to lifetime.

The law of karma is an unbending and impersonal rule of the universe. By “working off” one’s bad karma over many lifetimes, a person can finally escape the process of rebirth and attain enlightenment in a realm beyond this life. But can reincarnation realistically offer hope and a sense of justice to a troubled world? Can it answer the nagging and perennial problems of death and injustice?

Karma and Its “Justice”: The Letdown
Even those who believe in reincarnation admit that the vast majority of humans do not remember their supposedly previous lives. But how can we learn from our past mistakes if we cannot remember them? We seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.
While world history reveals the development of science and new technologies, humans do not seem to be progressing morally, all things considered. War, racial prejudice, hatred, rape, child abuse, prostitution, and even slavery refuse to go away in our blood-soaked and tear-stained world. Given the moral failure rate of human history, do we any have reason to hope that we will get it right in a future lifetime — or in any number of them? But there are more intellectual problems with the teachings of reincarnation.

According to reincarnation, the innocent do not really suffer. Suffering is real, of course, but all suffering is deserved on the basis of bad karma. The baby born without legs deserved it, as did the woman who was raped and the man who is enslaved in the Sudan. There is no injustice — and there is no forgiveness. None are innocent, and there is no divine grace available for restoration.
This is not good news for humanity.

Moreover, this claim should rub our conscience the wrong way. The innocent do indeed suffer around the world and in horrible ways throughout human history. It is nothing less than cruel to claim that children who are abused by parents “had it coming” somehow.

Where Mercy Is Found: Karma vs. Forgiveness
The law of karma is unmerciful. The message of Jesus Christ is quite different. He taught that no one can keep the moral law that is written on the heart (see Romans 2:14-15). By nature, we know the basics of morality, as C.S. Lewis argued and illustrated so powerfully in The Abolition of Man. Yet our response to what we know is something else again. The human heart (the core of the person) is impure because of wrong attitudes and actions. Thus it is no surprise that human beings have struggled with guilt through all time and in every place. Jesus saw to the heart of the matter.
For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’ (Mark 7:21-23, NIV).

This inner and outer wrongdoing is an offense against a loving and absolutely good and holy God (see Isaiah 6:1-8), and no self-help program will undo its effects. Jesus warned, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). He informed the most devoted religious leaders of His day that “not one of you keeps the [moral] law” (John 7:19). Yet Jesus never spoke of reincarnation as a way out of this prison. Rather, Jesus affirmed that people would receive either eternal reward or eternal punishment according to how they responded to Him during their one lifetime on earth (Matthew 25:31-46; see also Hebrews 9:27). Reincarnation is ruled out. But Jesus has offered Himself as the way of escape.

Jesus proclaimed that He came into the world “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Through His ministry of teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons, He demonstrated a sinless and perfect life, as well as the power over death itself by raising the dead (see John 11). He said that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Apostle John declares that in Jesus Christ, God himself entered space-time history. He did not leave us to determine our own fate.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:1-5, 14)

Defeating Death, Not Repeating Life
Jesus offered eternal life to all who would accept Him on His terms. As John goes on to say, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

Jesus showed his forgiving love even on his own blood-stained cross. A thief on the cross next to Jesus confessed his sin and asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Only a contrite faith in Jesus was required for paradise, not lifetime after lifetime of working off bad karma and building up good karma so that one could be released from this “wheel of suffering,” as the Eastern writings put it.

Jesus defeated sin and death through His death on the cross and His miraculous and historical resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Nothing less could secure our deliverance from the graveyard of our “transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
God’s plan for rescuing erring mortals has nothing to do with their own efforts — in this life or from lifetime to lifetime. On the contrary, Jesus affirmed: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

That, indeed, is good news — for this life and for eternity.

A Biblical View on Homosexuality

The biblical position on homosexuality is rooted in Genesis 1-3; this is where foundational principles for religion and relationships are laid out. God’s designed order for human sexuality is heterosexual monogamy. Male and female are equally called to serve God, love each other, and to develop and cultivate the good earth (Genesis 1-2). But through the fall, humans are alienated from God, from themselves, from each other, and from nature (Genesis 3). It is because of the fall that homosexuality exists; it has no root in creation. The Hebrew theocracy required the death penalty for those convicted of homosexual behavior (and for many other crimes as well). In the New Covenant, the civil laws of Israel are transcended, yet Paul teaches that homosexual activities are the result of sin and rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32), and warns that those who persist in such activity will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Thus, the theological categories are clear cut. The Bible gives no positive examples of homosexual activity. Rather, homosexual activity is something to repent of, and repentance cannot be subtracted from the Gospel (Matthew 4:17).

Because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, any sinner can be justified and forgiven through the atonement of Jesus Christ. (While Jesus did not directly speak about homosexuality [he did not need to, since no loyal Jew would defend it], he did ratify the Genesis pattern of marriage in Matthew 19:1-4.) All guilt, homosexual or otherwise, can be taken away through Christ’s finished work on the Cross. As Francis Schaeffer taught in True Spirituality, the justified person can hope to experience “substantial healing” through sanctification. This includes the dimension of sexual sin. Some homosexuals have experienced total deliverance from this orientation through God’s healing; others experience more gradual restoration. But in a fallen world, some regenerate people will not find themselves restored to a heterosexual set of desires. In that case, the Christ-follower must submit himself or herself to a life of celibacy for the sake of conscience and in obedience to God and his Word.

While these moral guidelines are clear cut, they do not warrant hatred or bitterness to those affected by homosexuality. The gospel goes out to all sinners, homosexual or otherwise (Acts 17:30). Yet we cannot twist the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16) to make them endorse homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, should show compassion toward homosexuals, but this does not include supporting same-sex marriage, which is a violation of the most basic institution ordained by God at creation: heterosexual marriage. Further, in our pluralistic and largely post-Christian culture, the case for heterosexual monogamy can appeal to natural law (Romans 1:24-23; 2:14-15) as well as to special revelation, since heterosexual monogamy is deeply rooted in human nature, as Robert George and others have argued. But if relativism prevails in our culture, even this appeal will become increasingly difficult to make.