Religious Liberty and the Disintegration of Social Discourse

The following was recorded as part of Millington Baptist Church’s live Underground Sessions event on October 5, 2019. The topic of the event was Religious Liberty and the Disintegration of Social Discourse.

Follow the link to listen to the podcast.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/religious-liberty-keynote-christians-religious-liberty/id1479292290?i=1000452690830

Book Review: Dynamics of Spiritual Life

Books grounded me during my early Christian life. Along with The God Who is There by Francis Schaffer, Pensées by Blaise Pascal, The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, and The Dust of Death by Os Guinness, The Confessions by Augustine (and many others), Richard Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life offered a historically and theologically rich charter for living the Christian life in all its dimensions: individual, church, and culture. To this day, I know of no other book in this category. How pleased I was a few months ago to find a student at Denver Seminary reading and lauding this magnificent book.

I was in campus ministry from 1979-84 at the University of Oregon.  During that time I read Lovelace’s book. Most of my ministry time was spent in preparation for teaching. During the early 1980s, I taught from Dynamics in a yearlong course for upper division credit in Sociology. It was called, a bit pretentiously, “The Twilight of Western Thought.” Given the fear of micro-aggression, the advent of “equality officers,” safe zones and trigger warnings for those fragile souls traumatized by ideas not their own, this course would never be taught today. You see, it was taught from a Christian perspective. Free of any discrimination against non-Christian students or their work, Dynamics explained the Christian worldview in relation to other perspectives. True pluralism respects and listens to opposing viewpoints; it does not avoid them at all cost. That is how the head of the sociology department saw it, so he sponsored the class.

"True pluralism respects and listens to opposing viewpoints; it dose not avoid them at all cost."

What a feast it was to teach through every chapter of Dynamics of Spiritual Life. My copy is decorated with color markings, underlining, marginalia and my own index placed on the inner front cover. As C. S. Lewis wrote in An Experiment in Criticism, the literary person rereads his great books.  In his introduction to Athanasius On the Incarnation of the Word, he says that the older books should not be neglected for the new. This work, now thirty-six years old, deserves to be read and re-read.

Dr. Lovelace approaches the theology of renewal as a church historian, who draws wisely from many movements and thinkers, of whom Jonathan Edwards features prominently. While Reformed theologically, Lovelace appreciates the best of the Protestant traditions and accepted the ongoing power of the charismatic gifts. His winsome and sane approach stimulated me to rethink and eventually leave behind the cessationism I had picked up from the Dispensational theology I was taught in a Baptist Church. I found one could be a Calvinist Charismatic, and so I have remained.

The book proceeds in a linear and systematic fashion by considering the nature of renewal in some depth. He is not writing about revivalism specifically, although he cannot ignore that. Rather, he addresses the conditions for renewal given what the Bible and church history tells us. In Part I, Dynamics of Renewal, Lovelace measures the current situation (1979),  for the church, looks at biblical patterns of renewal, the preconditions for renewal (knowing God and our sinfulness), primary elements of renewal (our status in Christ), secondary elements of renewal (mission, prayer, community, theologian integration, and disenculturation). Renewal in the Church is the second and longer part of the book, and offers a cornucopia of insight on “the sanctification” gap, how revivals go wrong, the nature of orthodoxy and ecumenism, the Christian and the arts, a biblical account of social action, and “the prospects for renewal.”

Lovelace’s reflections are deeply biblical, theologically rich, and spiritually heartening. Consider one example. His discussion of justification and sanctification is deeply biblically, clear, and cogent. Our theology of justification and sanctification is foundational to any Spirit-led renewal in the church and in culture. Twenty years after I taught this material, one of my students emailed to say how significant this was in forming her young Christian life. I often return to this reality in my Christian experience. I am accepted in Christ, justified by his righteous and am loved. That is the foundation. From that foundation, I seek to grow in grace and truth, depending on the Holy Spirit in all things. Francis Schaeffer’s modern classic, True Spirituality, makes these same points in a bit more detail.

The American church desperately needs renewal and reformation, especially as our culture works out the sad implications of its increasing secularism concerning gender, human rights, and more.

The American church desperately needs renewal and reformation, especially as our culture works out the sad implications of its increasing secularism concerning gender, human rights, and more. Dynamics of Spiritual Life, though written in 1979, can help chart the way. I cannot think of any book as profound, wise, and challenging on these matters. Yes, it is high time to reread this modern classic. Thanks to InterVarsity for keeping it in print all these years and thank you, Richard Lovelace for this work of love and erudition.

The Trump Card: Popularity Over Substance

Guest Post by Chad E. Graham


Reading the news this morning, I discovered that Donald Trump, a Hollywood celebrity and business magnate, is now the 2016 GOP frontrunner. I gave myself a pinch to make sure I was not having a nightmare.

Indeed, Trump is leading and there are several reasons for his rise in the polls. To begin, he receives the media attention of a Hollywood celebrity—because he is one. Trump’s show The Celebrity Apprentice easily translates into “household name” status. When voters engage in polls or arrive at the ballot box, they will vote for the name they know. Right now, many more twenty-somethings know the Trump name over Walker, Rubio, and Paul.

Another reason Trump continues to climb in popularity is the clarity of his message. Oversimplified messages are often easy to sell. Trump’s message is this: He hates the federal government and you should, too! This message resonates with many Republicans who consider themselves “angry” with the federal government. Washington Post political analyst Christopher Ingraham writes:

Surveys show that anger toward the government, particularly among Republicans, has been rising over the course of Obama’s two terms in office. When asked how they felt toward the federal government, 37 percent of Republicans said “angry” in a Washington Post poll from last fall. By contrast, in September 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, only 14 percent of Republicans said they were angry.

Trump appears to be the perfect candidate to lead the charge of Republican rage and outcry into 2016 and beyond. He is a loud, fit-throwing, boisterous stage show that really does want to be rid of American politics. Trump is a surrogate voice for the enraged GOP, while other candidates display reserved temperaments aimed at winning the arduous race to the White House.

I am not yet losing sleep over Trump’s candidacy because I think there is a silver lining to his bombastic circus show. Just as Bernie Sanders is becoming a springboard for Hillary to appear more centrist and bipartisan, other GOP candidates—the few who really are centrist and bipartisan—can use the Trump Show to bring voters back to a vision for America that has hope in reality. GOP candidates should use Trump’s propaganda as an object lesson to teach the constituency about the folly of extremism, debased from a full-bodied political philosophy. It is also my hope that politically conservative Christians do not, in haste, throw support behind Trump because he is an embodiment of anger toward the current administration.

Consider the following quotes taken directly from Trump’s presidential campaign site, on his “About” page:

“Mr. Trump has over 7 million followers on social media. He frequently uses this platform to advocate for Conservative causes, Republican candidates and to educate the public on the failures of the Obama administration.”

“Mr. Trump is the Emmy-nominated star and co-producer of the reality television series, “The Apprentice” which quickly became the number one show on television, making ratings history and receiving rave reviews and world wide attention.”

“During the 2014 political cycle, Mr. Trump was a top contributor and fundraiser for Republican efforts. Mr. Trump also campaigned across the country, with each candidate winning by a record margin.”

“On Saturday, November 11th, over 1.4 million watched as Mr. Trump marched down Fifth Avenue with more than 25,000 veterans, some dressed in their vintage uniforms. A month later, Mr. Trump was honored in the Pentagon during a lunch with the Secretary of Defense and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Other than donating to political campaigns, Trump lists zero accolades relating to political achievement, such as ever holding a political office. He has all of the popularity needed to win an election—but no political substance. The GOP needs a unified vision for America. Trump knows this and he is pretending to offer one. However, America requires more than hot air and Hollywood success to pave the road to a safe and prosperous republic. America needs a President that cares both for the economy and our ongoing culture shift. We need a President that can keep our society intact as we are saddled with the weight of political and social turmoil. So far, I see little proof that Donald is our man and Republicans should ignore his pandering while searching for a true leader, in this fragile American moment.

The Philosophy of Gender

Ideas have consequences, but few understand how the consequences are rooted in, and flow from, those ideas. Inextricably related issues such as same-sex marriage and gender identity illustrate this point and require philosophical analysis. Spurring this article is the Supreme Court’s egregious decision that a ban on same-sex marriage is illegal. Worldview assumptions behind this jurisprudence must be exposed to the light of reason.

Gender is now considered a flexible concept; it is not a given in one’s nature. Biology now has nothing to do with gender. Rather, one takes one’s gender by identifying with a wide range of possibilities. The nature of a human organism—down to the DNA—is irrelevant to gender identity. The tradition of the human race that male and female are fixed and perpetual categories of being mean little to the gender experimentalists. Men may identify as women (and perhaps have a sex change operation); women may identify as men (and perhaps have a sex change operation); men may identify as bisexuals; women may identify as bisexuals. Male or female may identify as partially heterosexual and partially homosexual. And on it goes.

How did this reassigning human identity come about? Before we try to answer that, consider the metaphysics of the movement in relation to Christian theism, a worldview increasingly rejected by the power brokers of American culture.

Christians, along with Jews, know that universe has an intrinsic meaning given by an infinite and personal God, the Creator and Designer of the universe. This Being, who thinks and speaks and acts, brought humans into existence as His representatives; as such, they possess rationality, will, emotion, and relationality. As the first book of the Bible teaches:

God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and    increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).

This statement is philosophically rich. Humans have a God-given nature and a constitution as male and female. This is a divinely-bestowed given. That is, humans are a particular kind of being, as is the rest of the living creation. Before the creation of humans, Genesis reports that:

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:24-25; emphasis added).

The word kind should not be taken in a biologically precise manner; rather, it speaks to a distinct form of being, an essence. God did not create the cosmos and humans in a value-neutral manner. On the contrary, the meaning and proper functioning of living entities are specified by their designer and worn in their very being.

While male and female are equally made in God’s image, their equality is not a matter of sexual sameness. Genesis, chapter two, tell us that God created humans as heterosexual being, whose sexual unity is found in marriage. After beholding the first woman, Adam broke into poetry:

“This is now bone of my bones
  and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
  for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-25).

Our first parent’s rejection of God’s order and command issued from the desire to redefine reality independently of God. Their rejection of God’s world on God’s terms resulted in the Fall, the effects of which have been experienced down through the ages (see Genesis 3; Romans 3:14-26).

Moving from creation to resurrection, the Apostle Paul affirms objectively real categories of reality—living and nonliving—in his great discourse on the resurrection of Christ and of Christ’s followers.

Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor (1 Corinthians 15:39-41).

One need not delve into Paul’s greater and detailed argument to discern his intent—God has specified the nature of things. Since this is so, creatures should heed their Creator’s design.

When one rejects the existence of God (or simply ignores him), one is not merely rejecting a philosophical or religious idea. One is also rejecting all ideas and practices that are uniquely supported by Christian theism. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) understood this well. In his famous parable, “The Madman” (from The Gay Science) Nietzsche lets his prophet speak of the implications of “the death of God.”

How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

Yes, “they have done it to themselves,” by banishing God from their thinking, their living, and their culture. God is dead to the ungodly, but remains stubbornly alive as Creator and Judge. Psychologist Eric Fromm (1900-1980) wrote that in the nineteenth century God died. In the twentieth century man died. If man is not created by God, why care much about him? The grim harvest was the tens of millions murdered by Nazism and communism. In the twenty-first century gender has died, since man has no given nature by God. Gender is now unhinged from biology, history, logic, and religion. It is flexible, fungible, malleable, and endlessly fickle, since it need not obey anything objectively real.

Gender talk is everywhere; gender fact is nowhere. Facts make too many demands on free spirits.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), philosopher and social critic, discerned this break from God’s given reality in 1968 in his landmark work, The God Who is There.

Some forms of homosexuality today…are not just homosexuality but a philosophic expression. One must have understanding for the real homophile’s problem. But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished. . . . In much of modern thinking all antithesis and all the order of God’s creation is to be fought against—including the male-female distinctions.

Schaeffer saw the source of the problem: People were denying the real antithesis between truth and falsity, between good and evil, between what God created and what man corrupted. But even Schaeffer—prophet though he was—could not have seen the extent to which reality would be denied in the name of love, tolerance, choice, and freedom.

Let us try to bring all this together. The philosophy that undergirds and animates this redefinition of gender is anti-essentialist and constructivist. Humans as male and female have no objective nature, qua gender. Gender is only a placeholder for the will of the identifier, who chooses gender not on the basis of anything stable or trustworthy, but only through erotic eccentricity. One constructs a gender identity, but without the aid of a blueprint. What one constructs, one can deconstruct—whimsy without end. And now this philosophy is backed by the full force of federal law. If you disagree, you will be punished. I will take this up in a later essay.

Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg

Why I Think American Civilization is Crumbling

The American way of life and civil government are founded on principles that are being renounced, both overtly and subtly. We were exceptional and, thus, much was required of us. President Abraham Lincoln called us, “the almost chosen nation.”

America was settled by Christians who took their worldview seriously. This does not excuse errors, such as how Native Americans were often treated or the terrible institution of slavery. But when the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution were written, they did not appear out of a vacuum. God gave us our fundamental rights. Religion must be neither established nor opposed by the civil government. We affirmed a government of laws, not of men. Hence, the three branches of government were separated and held each other in check.

The American moral compass once pointed to the Judeo-Christian work ethic, the responsibilities of citizenship, and the prizing of liberty over equality, since that latter cannot be achieved East of Eden. The power of private charity and non-governmental organizations were valued higher than any impersonal subsidies or structures. Religion was either assumed or encouraged through the work of Christian churches. National leaders quoted the Bible and called the nation to prayer, whether sincerely or not. But who could doubt the sincerity of Abraham’s statements on God’s bearing on the nation?

America saved the world from global tyranny at least twice in the Twentieth Century—from the fascist, axis powers and from the world domination of the USSR. (By the way, fascism is left-wing, not conservative. Remember Hitler’s ideology was National Socialism.)

And now, it is nearly all gone. The President of the United States denies American exceptionalism and confesses that he is a “citizen of the world.” He arrogates unconstitutional power to himself through executive orders and intimidation. Religious freedom for Christians is threatened by demands to recognize and accept same-sex marriage in businesses and schools. Churches will be next. While the Declaration states that God has given us inalienable rights, including “life,” about fifty-five million unborn humans have been slaughtered through abortion. Now it is federally-supported by The Affordable Health Care Act, which is also the most monstrous statist power move in the history of the republic. Statism, the foulest political idol, abounds. Individual initiative is not saluted. Handouts are demanded. Multiculturalism claims that no culture is better than any other—except that American culture is more guilty than any other because of our supposed imperialism, systemic racism, and the rest of the fictional litany.

The signs of this decay are both large and small. Internationally, the Commander in Chief will only “lead from behind.” He will not recognize Islam as the tidal wave of terrorism globally. A man shouting “Allah is great” slaughters a dozen of his military companions, including a pregnant woman, whose child also died. The Obama administration calls this “workplace violence.” The deceit is painful and deadly. While in prison, the Fort Hood murder continues to declare his worship of Allah and death to the infidels. American citizens want American flags taken down, since they are “offensive” to some. Police recoil from stopping violent protests, lest they offend racial minorities. Cities burn; authority is broken down; fear spreads. Ignorance of American history and the Bible is epidemic. Ignoramuses live by media images, slogans, and untutored emotions. They demand “justice” when they have no idea what the facts are.

America is crumbling from the inside, as did Rome. Its resistance to tyranny at home and attacks from abroad (ISIS) cannot keep hell at bay. Much of the church is either asleep or in bed with the world. Most Christians do not possess a biblical worldview adequate to expose error and establish the good, the true, and the beautiful. Few teachers and preachers explain the biblical theology of suffering and sacrifice. (Rev. Timothy Keller is a blessed exception.)

I was young and now I am old. I have seen just about everything, I have spent long, but meaningful, hours at my study desk; I have dared to step into many pulpits; for thirty-five years, I have presided in the classrooms, secular and religious; I have read and studied and wrestled with my Bible. I have been on my knees. That I write is not flippant, not reactionary, and not impetuous. My aim is truth.

The Kingdom of God is not limited to the land of my birth. God’s ways will not be thwarted, since the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. But nations come and go. God sets them up and knocks them down. I fear the worst for these United States. My hope is in the Kingdom and power of the God of the Bible. But I will go down fighting for the best of the American system.

Why We Should Avoid Celebrity Gossip

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 2 Corinthians 12:20

 

While some godly people are very well known, and might be considered celebrities, most very well known people of today–I do not mean giants of history such as Winston Churchhill–possess almost nothing worth us knowing about. As Daniel Borstin said, “They are well-known for being well-known.” Their biographies–or factoids–are vanity of vanities. Their makeovers, their cars, their idiosyncrasies are not worth knowing about.

Yes, they are made in God’s image and need Jesus Christ’s righteousness for eternal life. In that sense, they are valuable. But how much weight they have gained, whether or not they are pregnant, who they are sleeping with, is mere gossip. And gossip, the Bible tells us, is sin. Sin should be repented of, in order to please God and free us up to do God’s will in his power.

Moreover, celebrity watching wastes time. Listen to Moses, from Psalm 90:

10 The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span [a] is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

11 Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.

14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.

16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Life is short, a vapor. Eternity is long, an infinity. Life should be lived under the audit of Eternity, not in terms of celebrity gossip or any worldly thing (1 John 2:15-17). As Pascal said, our passionate interest in the trivial and our lack of concern for the eternal, evidences a very strange disorder. Let us repent and live for what matters most.