Tom Gilson is a missions strategist, speaker, and author with Campus Crusade for Christ, currently on assignment to BreakPoint/The Colson Center. He holds an M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida, and hosts the Thinking Christian blog. His home is in Yorktown, Virginia, where the Revolution was won (or, if you're one of our British readers, was lost). He and his wife have two teenaged children who are trying to survive as aliens in a foreign land: the local public high school and community college.
To have a persona [to be a person] was to have a face before the law—which is to say, to be recognized as one possessing rights and privileges before a court, or as being able to give testimony upon the strength of one’s own word, or simply as owning a respectable social identity. For [your turn--fill in the blanks here], legal personality did not exist, or existed in only the most tenuous of forms…. [Fill in the blank again] was [someone]… “not having a persona,” or even, “not having a face.” Before the law, he or she was not a person in the fullest and most proper sense.
Of whom might this author might be speaking? Does this represent an injustice? If so, on what basis, and what could be (or might have been, if this was in the past) be done about it?
Someone guessed slavery. Someone else thought it was quite believable that it had to do with unborn babies.
Even Christianity’s most implacable modern critics should be willing to acknowledge that, in these texts and others like them, we see something beginning to emerge from darkness into full visibility, arguably for the first time in our history: the human person as such, invested with an intrinsic and inviolable dignity, and possessed of an infinite value. It would not even be implausible to argue that our very ability to speak of “persons” as we do is a consequence of the revolution in moral sensibility that Christianity brought about. We, after all, emply this word with a splendidly indiscriminate generosity, applying it without hesitation to everyone, regardless of social station, race, or sex; but originally, at least in some of the most cricuial contexts, it had a much more limited application. Specifically, in Roman legal usage, one’s person was one’s status before the law, which was certainly not something invariable from one individual to the next. The original and primary meaning of the Latin word persona was “mask”….
To have a persona was to have a face before the law—which is to say, to be recognized as one possessing rights and privileges before a court, or as being able to give testimony upon the strength of one’s own word, or simply as owning a respectable social identity. For those of the lowest stations, however—slaves, base-born non-citizens and criminals, the utterly destitute, and criminals—legal personality did not exist, or existed in only the most tenuous of forms…. A slave was so entirely devoid of any “personal” dignity that, when called to testify before a duly appointed court, torture might be applied as a matter of course. For the slave was a man or woman not habens personam: literally, “not having a persona,” or even, “not having a face.” Before the law, he or she was not a person in the fullest and most proper sense.
Today, as Hart reminds us in the surrounding context, such a thing is unthinkable, outrageous. This change in Western attitudes toward human persons is directly traceable to New Testament Christianity, the “texts” he referred to in the first sentence of the above quote.
Isn’t it fascinating how well this language concerning slaves in ancient times fits abortion-supporters’ view of unborn babies today? Someday, maybe, our culture will wake up and recognize that human beings are persons, whether they have been enslaved, live in poverty, lack citizenship—or haven’t quite been born yet.
A Liberal Idea of Civility A commenter who goes by “Remember Rollen” had this to say in the discussion on Hunter Baker’s article on dominionism:
If a “gay rights” law touching basic matters of justice cannot be justified in terms we can reasonably expect others to accept, then we violate a liberal ideal of civility when we restrict the freedoms of others through that law.
But I don’t quite see this with respect to [the overturning of] Prop. 8. (But you are surely here in in a better position to point out something I don’t see.) Maybe you can point to something in the court transcripts that contains the sort of violation you have in mind.
There is an attractive sort of ideal expressed there, one that I could really appreciate, if only it could work. Yes, let’s let our policies be guided by what we can reasonably expect others to accept. Since this came up in the context of dominionism, I take it that for Remember Rollen, this is one of the best ways to head off dangers of the sort represented by dominionism. (Whether there’s anything there that needs heading off is a different question. I do not know where Remember Rollen stands on that question, but it seems he is at least concerned about dangers of the sort that dominionism is supposed to present. I will refer to him as “RR” here, and I’ll accept the risk that I might be wrong in using the masculine pronoun.)
His point in that passage is this: if we can find a way to limit our public policy decisions to principles that can “be justified in terms we can reasonably expect others to accept,” then we can be assured no one’s freedom will ever be limited, except in ways they could reasonably be expected to agree with. That certainly sounds consistent with Western democratic principles. Unfortunately, working out that ideal presents problems that may be insurmountable. (more…)
A good friend of mine wrote today of John Stott’s profound impact on her life:
A good friend [not me--Tom] introduced me to his book, “The Cross of Christ”. I read it, begrudgingly. I didn’t want the things that Stott wrote about, to be truth. For if things that Stott taught—the centrality of the cross, the necessity of the cross, the authenticity of the cross–were truth, then who Jesus was and the reason He died on the cross would be truth also, a hard thing for my agnostic-leaning, atheistic-embracing soul to bear. That God would send His Son—would SACRIFICE–His Son out of love for me was overwhelming.
And yet, read I did. Page after page. I devoured “The Cross of Christ”, digging deeper into each and every page, marking it up with highlighters and notes in the margins—”Is this true?” ”What if this is truth?” ”Why would Stott write this very logical paragraph?”. And So Forth. And So On.
Until I came to the last chapter, and one of the last sections, titled “The Pain of God”. My soul. Could it be truth that God could know pain? Could it be truth that He could see and know the pain my soul was in? For I had settled that there could not possibly be a God. Because if there was a God, than the forsaken nature of the pain I felt was for nothing. And yet…..and yet I learned through Stott’s writings and through the Biblical story of the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross itself, that God not only sees my pain–He knows it. He knows it. …
For me the change was welcome. Not everyone is likewise convinced it’s a good thing. Some observers in the blogosphere have taken a cautious stance—Touchstone, for example—but a few members of the press and some bloggers have been sharply critical of Campus Crusade’s dropping “Christ” from our movement’s name. I’ve seen headlines like, “The Beginning of the End.” I’ve seen dire warnings that we are falling away from Christ. I’ve seen pastors writing that their churches could no longer support us in our apparent apostasy.
No Place for Pride We recognize that anything is possible: there is no guarantee that God will keep his hand of blessing on our ministry, and those who think they stand must take heed lest they fall. When Bill Bright left Campus Crusade’s presidency, I wrote up a study for leaders on how prior movements had come and gone, and I learned there were more than a few that had slipped away from their founding vision in Christ. Possibly the greatest missions sending movement of all time is one that’s all but lost to memory today: the Student Volunteer Movement. For decades around the turn of the 20th century it had been vibrant, world-changing, sending thousands around the globe;, but theological liberalism led to its downfall around 1920. The Y (its official name now) was originally the Young Men’s Christian Association. Its Christian roots are all but invisible now.
We’re Holding Close to Christ Still, as I wrote elsewhere yesterday, I wish everyone could have experienced what we staff members did on the days this name change was announced. It was above all a time of worship, repentance from sin, exalting the name of Christ, re-affirming our commitment to our mission, and learning new ways to advance the glory and knowledge of Christ. We spent hours on that. Included in that mix was about 60 or so minutes spent on the new name, but even that was positioned in context of our continuing mission to reach the world for Christ.
For that reason, even though I know anything is possible, I remain convinced Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) will stay focused on knowing Jesus Christ and making him known, for at least as long as we are led by the current generation of leaders. And because of their leadership and the biblical reverence and worship expressed among our staff members, I believe we’ll continue on track with Christ for years beyond that.
A Biblical Perspective What does the Bible say about our name, though? Much of the debate I’ve seen centers around one question: should we bring the Name of Christ with us as a banner everywhere we go, or can it stay in the background for a while sometimes? As “Campus Crusade for Christ,” we see the banner effect all the time: people see our written material or signs, and they form impressions of us right from the start, based on whatever impression they might have of Christ or of other Christians. The same thing happens to us when someone asks us who we work for.
Is there a problem with that? Some bloggers think we’re “backing away” from the Name of Christ because of shame. Not by any means! It’s no accident that one of our leaders focused on Romans 1:16 at our staff conference this week. And there was nothing extraordinary about him doing so: it’s engraved on all of our hearts. Still the question remains, is it necessary or even helpful, though, to present the name of Christ at the beginning of a conversation with a non-believer? Let’s look at the New Testament witness. (more…)
Even a democracy can undermine freedom and foster the unethical rule of power. America’s founders saw this, and placed in our Constitution a Bill of Rights to preserve civil rights and protect us all from the tyranny of the majority. Gay “marriage” is often regarded as a civil rights issue deserving that constitutional protection. And indeed it is. George Weigel has perceptively showed us, though, that it is not the kind of civil rights matter that its proponents claim it to be. They tell us gay rights run parallel to racial civil rights, but as Weigel notes,
the analogy simply doesn’t work. Legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause. Something natural and obvious – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – was being denied by the state in its efforts to maintain segregated public facilities and to deny full citizenship rights to African Americans. Once the American people came to see that these arrangements, however hallowed by custom (and prejudice), were, in fact, unnatural and not obvious, the law was changed.
What the gay lobby proposes in the matter of marriage is precisely the opposite of this. Marriage, as both religious and secular thinkers have acknowledged for millennia, is a social institution that is older than the state and that precedes the state. The task of a just state is to recognize and support this older, prior social institution; it is not to attempt its redefinition. To do the latter involves indulging the totalitarian temptation that lurks within all modern states: the temptation to remanufacture reality. The American civil-rights movement was a call to recognize moral reality; the call for gay marriage is a call to reinvent reality to fit an agenda of personal willfulness. The gay-marriage movement is thus not the heir of the civil-rights movement; it is the heir of Bull Connor and others who tried to impose their false idea of moral reality on others by coercive state power.
Several streams have fed into this. Until about twenty to twenty-five years ago, what was “natural and obvious” concerning marriage was that it was for a man and a woman. Now a significant number of Westerners think it “natural and obvious” that the meaning of marriage can be stretched beyond that. This principle has now been codified into law in New York and five other states.
Of course no one thinks it will go any further than allowing couples of the same sex to “marry;” no one would ever support stretching marriage to include polygamy or polyamory: for isn’t it obvious that marriage is for two adults? Well, yes, and once it was obvious that it was for two adults of opposite sex. What’s most obvious is that what is “obvious” can change over time. We cannot count on what is obvious today to predict what will happen tomorrow. Marriage has lost its moorings, and now it will drift where it will.
Those who do not know history, it is said, are doomed to repeat it. In this case they are doomed to invent a brand-new future; but this future continues a long-established trajectory. The Western world has been trying for centuries to establish mastery over nature in every way. We have won many battles, but not without cost: our victories have been Pyrrhic, as C.S. Lewis both saw and foresaw. We have overcome nature’s power in part, but in so doing we have pronounced ourselves part of nature, like the animals.
This giving up of ourselves to mere nature was never essential to the progress of science. It results not from any growth in our knowledge or skills, but from an intentional rejection of spiritual reality. Naturalistic philosophy lets us imagine that our dominance over nature will someday be complete. If on the other hand there is a God, then we have no such hope for total mastery.
In making ourselves part of nature, though, we forgot that nature is where appetite, instinct, and power prevail, and where reason and ethics have no place or meaning. The implications for marriage are profound. Whereas true marriage is mostly (not entirely, but mostly) about giving to and building a future generation, gay “marriage” is mostly (not entirely, but mostly) about appetite justified by instinct: ”I was born this way so I have to do it!” Psalm 8 tells us that God made us a little lower than the angels. The logic animating homosexual advocacy is that we are no higher than the animals.
Along those same beastly lines, the foisting of gay “marriage” upon us by courts or legislatures is mostly a matter of power. Weigel said concerning this,
resistance to the agenda of the gay-marriage lobby is a necessary act of resistance against the dictatorship of relativism, in which coercive state power is used to impose on all of society a relativistic ethic of personal willfulness.
He is right, and this has been a matter of great concern to me for quitesometime. Where the ethic of truth is lost to public policy, public policy moves to being based on an ethic of power. When that happens, much more of what seems obvious today is at risk of being obsolete tomorrow. Now that we are living under a “relativistic ethic of personal willfulness,” what bounds can we set around said willfulness? I search and I can find none, other than someone else’s willfulness, someone who by force of power will establish his, her, or their ethics as dominant over the rest of us.
Thus Weigel is exactly right to see the same-sex “marriage” movement as a civil rights issue. More precisely it is a symptom of a larger shift in our culture, away from an ethics based in truth, and toward policy based in power. This is what the founders knew they had to prevent. This is why the created for us a Bill of Rights. This is what has protected our liberties for more than 225 years.
Herein lies the ominous irony of homosexual activism. It calls itself a movement of personal freedom and liberty. It borrows the language of civil rights. It employs the structures of a free society to achieve its ends. But it rests on a philosophical foundation that undermines all of these.
And herein also lies a caution to all of us who oppose this gay insurgency. Our rights are rooted in our being human, endowed by our Creator with a nature higher than the merely natural. There is no need to follow others’ descent to appetite, instinct, and power.
Therefore, while it is necessary to oppose power with power, we must never forget we have more at stake than just winning for our side. We’re fighting for the principle that there is a higher principle than mere fighting. Let us let that guide our methods in all that we do. We who believe in prayer, let us pray. We who believe in love, let us not return the other side’s language of hate, no matter how venomously they spew it at us. We who believe in truth, let us not resort to bumper-sticker slogans. Let us employ the power we have, but let us do so in a principled way.
In this series’ first three posts I tried to show that Christian teachers apologists must take seriously the moral question, and not just the truth question, of Christian exclusivism. Otherwise when we ask people to believe Christ is the one way, many will take it that we’re asking them to accept something they consider morally unworthy to believe. The key message to emphasize is that it’s not our private truth: we don’t hold the truth, the Truth holds us. Our exclusivist stance is not exclusively ours, at any rate; we are not the only ones who say, “Your belief is wrong!” Anyone who understands what the Christian message says must hold that if it is not exclusively true, it is entirely wrong—on account of the cross of Christ.
Some try to reimage the gospel in the name of Christianity, holding that a truly loving God demonstrates love, not through the sacrifice of his Son but through the sacrifice of truth. This is expressed by God through intellectual generosity in the form of tolerance for religious and moral diversity…. Sadly, this Jesus does not call anyone to repentance and makes a mockery of the cross. This is a reimaged Jesus not found in the pages of scripture.
Christian exclusivism is true because it is true. It is moral because it is true; and because God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus Christ is the one way God provided.
There was someone close to me who was antagonistic toward Christ and Christianity for most of his adult life. He and his wife chose to be non-exclusive in their religious approach, raising their children “in all the traditions,” as he put it. He finally came to faith in Christ in his mid-40s. He told me then that he had always wondered why God would put up Christ as a barrier to coming to God, as if believing in Jesus was one more hoop everyone had to jump through. Then he realized that Christ came to remove all the barriers. The fences and walls were already up, and it was we who put them there. It was Christ’s work that took them out of the way.
In the first part of this series I suggested that Christians who want to convince others that Christ is the one way to the one God need to talk about more than whether that belief is true; we also need to give attention to the common belief that it is immoral to think so. I followed that by contrasting an arrogant belief that we Christians “hold the truth” with “The Truth holds us;” that we receive the truth given by God in grace, and we submit to it in humility. In this third part I want to show that Christians are not the only exclusivists anyway. More than that, though I want to direct our attention toward one key teaching at the heart of Christianity’s exclusivist beliefs—Jesus Christ and the Cross—and show how it makes all other beliefs exclusivist. (more…)
I wrote recently about an under-recognized shift in the way many people object to Christianity: that it is immorally arrogant in its exclusivism. Historic orthodox Christianity claims that there is one God uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the one way, truth, and life for all people everywhere in all times. This means that other paths to God are excluded. Once the principal objection to Christian exclusivism was that it was false. Now, at least in my experience, the main problem have with it is that it seems immoral.
To Understand, So As To Be Able To Translate Missionaries to distant lands know that their first task is to understand their host country’s language and culture. Many are the stories of messages that have backfired for lack of doing that deep cultural study. Christians in Western culture can make the same mistake of delivering a message that makes sense coming out of our mouths, but get completely garbled going in our listeners’ ears. We need to understand so as to be able to translate.
And so at the high risk of over-simplifying, I offer some ways to understand our culture’s view of truth, so as to suggest some ways to translate our message. (more…)
The world has a big problem with Christian exclusivism—the belief that there is one God uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the one way, truth, and life for all people at all times. Theologians and apologists have defended exclusivism’s truth since time out of mind, but never so much as in these pluralistic and relativistic times. Recently I’ve come to wonder, though, whether we’re addressing the wrong question; for I am hearing less and less that exclusivism is false, and much more often that it is immoral. The difference is crucial.
I would never dispute the importance of the truth side of the question. I am convinced that Christ is indeed the one way to God. I am equally sure that the truth of this exclusive claim can be defended, and that when someone questions its truth, that’s exactly what we ought to focus on.
It’s just that this is not always the question; in fact in my (limited) experience, it’s no longer frontmost on many people’s minds. It used to be they said, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, but that’s not true.” Now more often they say, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”
Or to put it another way: nowadays when people ask themselves, “Should I believe in Christianity?” it’s no longer primarily, “should I believe it on account of evidence or reasons that may support it?” (an epistemic should). Instead it is an ethical “should,” as in, “wouldn’t it be morally irresponsible for me to accept this belief?” (more…)
Arguably the second oldest and most persistent Christian heresy is gnosticism (the first is legalism). Early forms of it were condemned in Colossians and possibly other Pauline letters, and also in 1 John. Gnosticism splits the “spiritual” world from the visible material world, saying that what really counts is not what we can see, but only what happens in the invisible realms. It seriously undermines God’s work in creation and especially in the Incarnation and Resurrection. It violates clear biblical teaching about the end times, the future state we call “heaven.”
Gnosticism is not Christianity.
Harold Camping says Judgment Day actually did happen last Saturday—in a “spiritual” sense. Can his teachings still be called Christian? Some of them, yes. But his most public ones are infected with deadly error.
I don’t want to draw the Gnostic connection more closely than it deserves, but it comes to mind that Gnosticism tends to promote spiritual pride, and vice-versa. One wonders if some humility might have helped Camping admit he made a mistake.
The great thing about horror movies is that no matter how awful things look, no matter how terrified we feel, we know with absolute 100% certainty that everything will be perfectly fine in the end. I’m not talking about the movie plot: there’s no guarantee on that. I’m talking about ourselves as the viewers. We know that after about two hours of movie time or so, the credits will roll, the lights will come up, and we’ll get in our cars, go get coffee, and laugh at ourselves for letting it get to us the way it did.
The terrible thing about Harold Camping’s prediction that Christ will return today* is that it turns God’s Judgment Day into the same sort of thing. There are some among us who take nothing seriously about the Lord, and I’m sure they’ll laugh at anyone who wonders about a day like today. Let them. For doubters and seekers there might be instead an entertaining thrill, a delicious frisson of fear to the thought, “What if this is The Day? What if they’re right, and this is Really It for us all?”
I’m picturing someone in my mind who doesn’t know if God is for real, but doubts he’s ready to meet him if he is. The prospect is unsettling, even fearful. And then the thought: what if Camping is right? But he knows that’s just dumb. At worst, it’s a kind of horror-movie fear. No one really believes this is The Day—not even Camping’s own staff. However frightening the thought of meeting God this very day might be, it’s a thrill no more dangerous and only slightly less entertaining than in a movie. He knows in a few hours he’ll be past it. At the end of the day he’ll have his coffee and laugh at himself for letting that “what if…?” creep into his mind: “Silly me, to let myself even wonder about that!”
Silly indeed. Or maybe not. Yesterday morning I was driving on a narrow, shoulder-less two-lane road near our home, where some very foolish driver ahead of me decided to pass the car in front of him. He pulled his pickup truck out and came alongside the other car, so they were fully side by side going southwest. Did I mention this foolish driver was coming toward me? I was only about a hundred yards from both of those vehicles, going northeast at 35 mph. I mashed my brakes, and thank God, the other guy did too, and he pulled back into his lane.
My heart was pounding for a good while after that. This was no cinema scare. There’s no guarantee things will come out right when a driver pulls a stunt like that. Yesterday could have been The Day for me.
It could have been The Day for any of us. Some day certainly will be.
Like other would-be prophets before him, Camping has trivialized the Day of the Lord. This is Camping’s crime: he has turned it into an entertainment piece. He gives the atheists something else to laugh about in Christianity. That’s bad, but it’s not the worst thing. He gives the doubters and seekers reason to laugh at themselves: “Silly me, to wonder about that! I’ll be more careful not to let those kinds of thoughts bother me from now on.”
*The linked page is specific to today, May 21. I have no idea how it will look tomorrow. Today, however, it’s further trivializing–especially the trumpets. The last trumpet will not have flags of the nations hanging from it.
On April 7 at Notre Dame University, William Lane Craig and Sam Harris debated whether morality requires God. Dr. Glenn Peoples posted a detailed play-by-play of the debate on his blog, including links to the audio. There are several other reviews listed here.
I have a reflection rather than a review to offer here. At least two of Craig’s arguments could be described as “knock-down” disproofs of Harris’s position. Craig himself used that term for one of them, noting as he did so that such strong proofs are hard to come by in philosophy, but that this one, based on the logic of identity relationships, was certainly one of them. The other had to do with the impossibility of moral realism if determinism in the strictest sense is true, as Harris believes it to be.
Harris’s response to these two logical arguments was to ignore them completely. His rebuttal was essentially a series of word pictures depicting moral outrages for which he held religion responsible. It was an appeal to the gut, not to the head. Now, I would be first to admit that morality has an emotional component, and emotionally-based arguments like Harris’s deserve answers. Craig did respond to them briefly, for example making reference to Paul Copan’s recent work on Old Testament morality.
And yet there is something strange in this. Harris is the founder of Project Reason (“Spreading Science and Secular Values”). In that role he illustrates and represents the New Atheists’ oft-sounded claim that they represent reason in the face of the irrationality of faith. Yet his response to Craig’s logical arguments was mostly in the form of emotional appeals.
There was definite power in Harris’s approach. My guess is that for those who are not oriented toward logical reasoning as a guide to knowledge, he scored more debate points than Craig. But he essentially forfeited the logical argument: the argument based on reason and rationality.
Doesn’t that seem odd for the man who leads Project Reason?
The big question on the Christian blogosphere has been whether it was appropriate for Americans—Christian Americans, specifically—to celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death.
In one sense it’s moot. The celebrations two nights ago were spontaneous and immediate outpourings of deeply held feelings. Feelings can’t be right or wrong. Thoughts and beliefs can be. Our beliefs and our feelings are tightly connected, in that what we believe ultimately determines what we feel. What motivated those spontaneous parties two nights ago, but the belief that an evil man who had hurt us very badly had just been taken down?
Then what should we think and believe? What can we know to be true about this man, and about his death? He was an evil man who hurt us badly, and he was taken down. I have no argument with that. There’s more truth to it than that, though.
• We know that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires for them to turn back toward him in repentance (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Had Osama done that, God would have welcomed even him into the company of the faithful. There is no reason to think that he did.
• We know that God calls us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to pray for them.
• We know that sin carries with it a just penalty of death (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ paid that penalty on behalf of those who accept his payment. There is no reason to think Osama accepted that offer, so his penalty remained his own to pay.
• We know that God gives civil authorities the right to execute justice (Romans 13:1-7), which (in my view and many others’) includes capital punishment for capital crimes; and we know that Osama was guilty of murdering thousands. The international community has stood behind America’s decision to carry out justice on Pakistan’s soil. For those who are in disagreement or doubt concerning capital punishment, this action also stands legitimately as an instance of just war theory being applied. Either way we can be confident that what America’s President ordered and what the troops accomplished, was acceptable in God’s eyes.
What feelings might this knowledge lead to? We often speak of justice being satisfied, which suggests an appropriate Christian response: satisfaction, mixed with regret. I regret deeply the end to which Osama bin Laden has come. For his sake I regret his choices, I grieve over what it made this fellow human being to become, and I am saddened to think of his likely current state, as one who committed grievous evils and rejected the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.
Yet justice was satisfied in his case, and in that I find satisfaction. It is not good that the guilty continue in their ways, but it is good that God is just and deals justly with them. That includes situations like this one, when men act as his instruments to carry out that justice. Osama’s death, though grievous, was good.
The feeling of satisfaction is good and positive; it’s something to be encouraged and supported, when it’s appropriate. Did something feel good to you about Osama’s death? Why shouldn’t it have? There really was something good about it.
But satisfaction is a quiet thing: usually we don’t throw big parties over it. Especially when it’s mixed with regret.
Bullying is being purged from college campuses, says David Hacker, in a blog post dated yesterday. At first it sounds a lot like what my parents taught me: treat others civilly. But there’s a twist there:
As USA Today reports, “civility” policies and programs are cropping up at universities across the nation. Some seem to be bound up with efforts to purge “bullying” from campus … other efforts seem to have more affinity with the egg-shell student and the quest to eliminate “offensive” (read, Christian or pro-life) speech from campus. However, you slice it, the civility police are back.
In place of bullying, there is, all too frequently, intimidation. Matthew J. Franck writes in an article dated today:
The deadly combination of unchallenged liberal presumptions and casual intimidation of dissenters is probably at its worst in the most prestigious universities, which set the tone for the rest of the country, on this issue as on many others. But in all except the most resolutely religious colleges, there is no doubting that the default position of the American academy is to dismantle the institution of marriage and remake it on a new basis. The result is a good deal of self-silencing—self-exile into the “new closet” on issues involving sexuality—not just by students but by faculty, too. The path of least resistance turns out to be the path of no resistance. For institutions that claim to be homes of diverse views and free inquiry in the pursuit of truth, this creeping orthodoxy is a sign of wounded institutional integrity and failed leadership.
I used to think colleges gave up behavioral guidance, what used to be called in loco parentis, long ago. How naive of me. They are still very much in the business of telling students how to behave.
I won’t be naive enough, though, to call it moral guidance. The mood on campus is not just to act in the parents’ place. It’s to displace prior generations’ morality and faith, and replace it with a new set of what’s now called “values.” I’ll need help on this from someone who knows Latin: it’s much less in loco parentis; much more in loco [parents' beliefs and morality].
speaks of the country’s natural resources as “blessings,” and grants the Earth a series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clean air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and the right to be free from pollution.
It also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with an ombudsman whose job is to hear nature’s complaints as voiced by activist and other groups, including the state.
“If you want to have balance, and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or companies, then how can you reach balance?” Pablo Salon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, told Postmedia News. “But if you recognize that nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance.”
Bolivia’s law reportedly grants “bugs, trees, and all other natural things” rights equal to those that we humans enjoy. Sure, it’s silly, but it’s also instructive concerning the language and culture of rights.
The framers of America’s Bill of Rights were, by and large, the same people who had stood resolutely by a statement that we were “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.” They never conceived of themselves as granting rights, but rather as protecting rights already in our possession, granted us by God, not to be infringed upon by government.
The case of Florida pastor Terry Jones presents Christians with an easy judgment but a difficult dilemma. This publicity-seeking pastor of a tiny congregation deserves to be condemned in every way for his act of putting the Qur’an “on trial” and for then burning a copy in a staged act of inflammatory showmanship. The judgment is the easy part. The difficult dimension of this is the fact that even our condemnation gives this pastor what he most desires — public attention….
Pastor Jones is not wrong to see Islam as a way that leads millions of people away from the message of the Gospel, and thus to spiritual death. But he did not reach out with a Gospel message, he simply staged a theatrical stunt intended to draw attention to himself and his church.
There is a striking parallel here with Satan’s temptation of Jesus. From a certain perspective, what Satan suggested or offered to Jesus was on the right track. Jesus genuinely needed bread, he had come to become known among Israel, and the kingdoms of the world were rightfully his. Satan painted his temptations as quick, innocent ways to get to the ends that Jesus genuinely wanted to reach. Of course Satan’s temptations were wrong just because they were not from God, but that is not all; have another deadly feature to them, which is that they were all easy roads, bypassing obedience. They were shortcut routes to distorted destinations.
Similarly, it is good to make it known that Islam is a way of death. It’s even good to make it widely and publicly known; for the more who know it, the more who might be rescued from it. Thus far Pastor Jones was on the right track. But he succumbed to the very temptation that Jesus rejected on the pinnacle of the temple: he made himself a sensation. He bypassed the incarnational work of living among the people with love, sharing their pains and joys, teaching and demonstrating that there is a better way in Christ. I very much doubt his antics have contributed a thing toward rescuing anyone from Islam.
Still, Pastor Jones is receiving his desired public attention. He has created a stir; he has gotten his name in the news. As Jesus put it more than once in Matthew 6, he has received his reward. It is the same kind of reward Jesus would have received had he jumped from the pinnacle of the temple: the insubstantial reward of being an insubstantial spectacle. God intends much better from us and for us than that, as Jesus demonstrated by following the road of obedience.
There is another column in the ledger next to “rewards.” Though he was not the direct, immediate perpetrator of riots and killings in Afghanistan, Pastor Jones still bears real responsibility for them. When God holds him to account for that, I fear that what he has gained through his fame will seem very much lacking.
One non-religious researcher’s best estimate for First Baptist Church, Philadelphia: $6 million in value to the community, almost ten times its annual budget. “Later studies may find even higher values.”
A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007….
They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.
Rob Bell’s Love Wins—and the PR leading up to its release—ignited perhaps the greatest storm of theological debate today’s Internet-focused church has ever seen (that same church being woefully unaware of anything preceding the Internet; but that’s another topic).
And then he had this interview with Martin Bashir.
I haven’t read Bell’s book. If I had, I might have some idea what he considers worth raising such a brouhaha over. I’ve heard others’ take on it, and I rather thought in this interview I would get Bell’s perspective. Bashir certainly gives him plenty of opportunity to explain himself.
So what does he tell us? God cares deeply for us. The last word hasn’t been spoken and God’s going to fix this place.The problem of evil is a paradox we ought to let be.I’m not a universalist.It’s terribly important how we respond to Christ. Why? Christians have had lots of perspectives on this, and what happens after death involves a lot of speculation and questions. Why do you accept Origen and not Arius? I’m a pastor and it encourages people to know they’re not the first ones to have the kinds of questions they have. What about hell? There’s an entire chapter in my book on that.
I’m still wondering: What do you believe, Pastor?
Jonathan Morrow said, “This was a cultural moment and he balked.” I agree: Bell missed a profound opportunity. I would alter the metaphor, though. Bashir, not Bell, was the pitcher, and he was serving up fast balls right down the middle: the kind that come hard, but that a real hitter longs for. He should have knocked them out of the park.
What pastor wouldn’t want to help the nation begin to understand God in relation to Japan’s disaster? What pastor wouldn’t want to explain that God has revealed himself in ways we can really know? What better moment for a pastor than to be asked what’s important about our relationship to Christ? Bashir kept asking that one. (He interrupted Bell once or twice as he tried to answer, but not every time.) Bell stood there looking at every pitch, called out on strikes without taking a swing.
What makes it stranger is that he was the one who had said “Let’s play ball.” It was his book that got the whole game started. For my part, I refuse to enter into the debate over Love Wins before I’ve read it; that’s just being responsible. But Bell failed to enter into the debate after he wrote it. That’s being something else.
I won’t be so rash as to suppose that this interview represents all that he believes. It’s a very short snippet out of his entire life of preaching, teaching, and writing. If somehow it did represent his beliefs, however, one would be led toward the conclusion that he doesn’t believe much of anything at all.
(By the way, kudos to Bashir for asking good questions and for persisting with them. Would that more journalists would do that with more politicians!)
Gay-rights activists scored a coup by injecting the language of “homophobia” into our national conversation. They may regret it, though. It’s poised to come back and bite them.
From one perspective, “homophobia” is a truly marvelous term, as strategic as it could possibly be. We who disagree with homosexual practice aren’t just wrong, we’re sick. No need to talk about whether there’s merit in what we believe: our very position on the issue proves we’re mentally and emotionally deficient. Game over.
Thus gay cultural insurgents have used “homophobia” as part of an open strategy to subvert rational discourse. Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote in their 1989 strategy manual After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90′s (pardon the language, please; it is theirs, not mine):
For us to attempt to argue with homohaters is to risk carrying the argument onto their turf, which gives attention and, implicitly, credence to many of their basic assumptions…. we’d better have a strong emotional appeal in our back pocket. (p. 140)
Propagandistic advertisement can depict homophobic and homohating bigots as crude loudmouths and assholes—people who say not only ‘faggot’ but ‘n___,’ ‘kike,’ and other shameful epithets—who are ‘not Christian.’ … Our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or proof. (pp. 151-153)
(The bold emphasis in all quotes is mine.)
Emotions, not reasons, are at the core of their persuasive strategy. The following comes out of a slightly different context, but it continues to illustrate the non-rational approach these strategists promoted:
The objection will be raised… that we would ‘Uncle Tommify’ the gay community; that we are exchanging one false stereotype for another equally false; that that is not how all gays actually look…. It makes no difference that the ads are lies; not to us, because we’re using them to ethically good effect…. the ads will have their effect on them [straights] whether they believe them or not. (p. 154)
Lest you think these quotes exaggerate their propagandistic intent (or its effect), I invite you to read this short article the same authors wrote two years before the book. (Madsen used a pseudonym for that piece.)
The phobia suffix became an effective tool in creating and managing a strong, non-rational, non-logical, cultural attitude adjustment; a way to achieve a result without needing to be overly concerned about truth. The problem is, like the “gate” suffix, “phobia” turned out to be flexible enough to use anywhere. Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, analyzes how that has happened:
This successful linking of a hostile attitude towards gays with the emotional disorder that is ‘phobia’ has encouraged others to define themselves as the victims of phobia, too. The coining of the term ‘Islamophobia’ is the most successful recent attempt to customise the homophobia tag for a new group of people: Muslims. The Islamophobia tag gained currency in the 1990s. In 1996, the UK Runnymede Trust’s Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia played a key role in framing anti-Muslim prejudice as a form of irrational sentiment….
[B]y drawing on the successful creation of homophobia, the advocates of the new term of Islamophobia could appeal to an established consensus around identity politics and multiculturalism. Moreover, the constructers of Islamophobia, like those who rewrote the phrase homophobia, could draw on the powerful therapeutic outlook that dominates Anglo-American societies today….
“Homophobia” was the lexical parent of “Islamophobia.” Odd, isn’t it, that the one would have given birth to the other?
I wonder whether someday some gay-rights advocate might feel threatened by Islam. It’s a realistic enough scenario, especially in Europe. We can be sure he would be emphatically opposed to Islam’s extreme social restrictions (far more extreme than evangelical Christianity’s). His strong opposition to Islam would make him “Islamophobic,” diseased with the “irrational sentiment” of “anti-Muslim prejudice.”
I wonder if he might object to being labeled that way. “This is no irrational fear, and I’m not mentally ill,” he would want to say. “I’ve thought this through, and I have reasons to believe there are some things actually wrong with Islam. Don’t just set me aside with a label like that. Let’s at least talk about it.”
And I wonder if he would recognize the irony in that.
We had another bullying incident affect one of our children today. Something like this has happened in our family every year (this one is mild by comparison to some others, thankfully).
It’s going on everywhere. A student at another high school just a mile from our home committed suicide last year rather than face repeated bullying. It’s a tragedy widespread enough to have its own name now: “bullycide.”
I can’t claim expertise in bullying statistics, trends, or causes. I know our own family’s story well enough, though. Our children have been advised to “ignore it first, then ask the other person to stop.” It hasn’t worked. (How surprising is that?) They’ve been told to “advocate for yourself.” That’s good advice as far as it goes, if the theory is true that bullies seek out those who seem weak. There is a limit, though. If someone threatens me with a weapon, I’m not going to “advocate for myself,” I’m going to call the police. That principle has a parallel in the schools: sometimes teachers and administrators must get involved.
The solution cooked up by one of our daughter’s grade-school teachers was to write a mark on the whiteboard when she caught a student misbehaving. She gave one student twenty-six marks one day. Something was desperately wrong there. We finally got Lisa, our daughter, transferred to another classroom, where the teacher had a reputation for being terribly strict. Lisa was just thankful and relieved to be in a safe environment at last.
A few months ago she and I talked with a middle-school counselor who has been trying to strengthen anti-bullying measures in our county. Lisa was hoping there might be some way she could help as a student. I asked the counselor what he considered to be the causes of bullying. He answered in terms of broken homes (undoubtedly a major contributor), and also self-esteem issues among both bullies and victims. He’s a thoughtful and well-informed man, but still his list seemed to be missing something, so I asked him, “Isn’t it also that bullies know they can get away with it? Wouldn’t bullying decrease if schools took strong disciplinary action against it?”
It wasn’t a new thought to him—but it had hardly been mentioned at the last anti-bullying conference he had attended. Bullies can be very good at hiding what they do, he said, which partially explains how they get away with it. Our family’s experience, however, tells us that some bullies get a pass. Even when the schools have known what was going on, they haven’t always done much about it. Sometimes they have (one principal stands out as excellent among them), but not consistently enough at all.
I was a music education major at Michigan State University in the 1970s, when MSU’s education department was regarded as one of the top two or three in the country. Our training included a semester in a sensitivity group—a valuable experience for the relationship training it provided, yet weakened terribly by the ethical philosophy informing it. The buzzword of the day was “values clarification.” Teachers were not to impose ethical values, but rather to help students clarify and understand their own, with a view to honoring all students’ values. It was an incoherent idea from the beginning, for there is an ethical value expressed even in that; and to enforce (or not enforce) any rule whatsoever is to communicate and to impose a value upon students. Moreover, as Josh McDowell has pointed out, the Columbine shooters were expressing their values, too. Why not honor them for the clarity of their purpose, if clarity was indeed what their schools were trying to promote?
Values clarification was the fruit of an unbiblical and manifestly false view of persons, that we are basically good: if only our goodness can be drawn out from inside us, we will all do good to each other. This failed educational doctrine has never disappeared as it deserves; instead it has morphed over time into tolerance, the value imposed on others by those who would never dream of imposing a value on others. The effect of values clarification (or at least its underlying philosophy) remains in schools’ unwillingness to recognize evil for what it is. One telling outcome of the 9/11 tragedy was young persons’ “full cognitive meltdown:”
The campuses, once citadels of opposition to military action, generally are quiet, in part, said author and commentator David Rieff [in October, 2001], because this generation of students is hamstrung by the “politically correct” education it has received since kindergarten. “The nice kids have been taught that all differences are to be celebrated,” said Rieff, currently a visiting professor at the University of California Berkeley, “and they’re in full cognitive meltdown. Their homeroom teachers and guidance counselors never told them that there are people in the world who mean them harm.”
To young people educated in this way, Rieff said, “it just doesn’t make emotional sense that cultural differences could lead to war and not greater understanding.”
Schools need to help children understand that evil is real. There are people in the world who mean them harm—and some of them might be riding the same bus with them.
There is a growing anti-bullying movement in America. I welcome and applaud it. I doubt it will succeed the way it could and should, though, unless it takes seriously what Bible believers have known all along (but which our culture has suppressed): that supreme goodness is not bound up in the heart of humans, just waiting for the opportunity to be released. There is evil among and within us. It needs both redemption and correction. As long as we try to hide these obvious truths from ourselves, bullycides will increase, and children like my daughter and her friends will continue to get hurt.
The school assured us today that they will deal with this incident appropriately. We’ve always worked hard to keep good relationships with our kids’ teachers and administrators, and this time I think they will do what needs to be done. I’d love for them to prove my thesis wrong (this time, at least) that schools don’t respond the way they should; for obviously it is a generalization that has exceptions. If they take the right action I believe it will help. It’s hardly the whole answer, but it would be a good step to take.
Being young was never what it was cracked up to be. Our media culture wants us to think it’s the greatest thing, but they’re wrong. If someone somehow offered me the chance to go back, I would say, “no, thank you.” Sure, I could stand to have my joints back in the condition they once were, but not if it meant starting over on everything else.
I’m not yet old—I’m in my mid-50s—and if my kids are right, I never will get old (and neither will you!), for they have a saying, “you’re not old until you’re fifteen years older than you are.” So far, though, this stage of life is way better than what’s gone before.
My wife and I have been through two or three seasons so trying we could only lean on each other and the Lord, and we weren’t even that much help to each other: we felt like a pair of cooked noodles trying to hold each other up. All we really had to lean on was God. Everyone has times like that, we’re not unique; in fact, as Americans with a loving family, food to eat, a house to live in, and freedom of religion, these seasons are less severe and frequent for us than for most people around the world. Still they are challenging when they come. We’re in another time like that now, with some severe illness in our extended family and enough health, work, and financial stress in our immediate family to make that larger issue all the harder to deal with.
I’m grateful this is not the first time.
I don’t know how it is for everyone; I can only speak for myself, and I think probably also for those who have been graced with a relationship with God. God is good, and his promises are sure. His promises were sure when I was in my 20s, and they are no more sure today than they were then—but experience has made me more sure of them. Sara and I have seen with our own eyes how God fulfills his promises. Faith grows like a muscle with exercise; and the fruit of such practice is greater confidence and a calmer assurance that the words on the Bible’s pages have genuine substance and reality. It feels less like being a noodle leaning on God, and more like having God’s own strength inside us.
I can see clearly how necessary it was to learn the lessons of one of those prior seasons, about eight years ago now. There is a direct link from those rough days to the vocation in which I am very happily and fruitfully engaged today: without that struggle, I would never have been equipped for what I am doing now. I can’t say the same so clearly for every tough time I’ve been through. Not all of it makes such apparent sense, except for this: I have seen God’s faithfulness in action, and I know him in a deeper way than I could have otherwise. That alone is very, very good.
I was probably about thirty years old when I first looked back at who I had been five years earlier and thought to myself, “I didn’t know much then. I’ve learned so much in these five years.” At the time, I told myself, “I’ll bet that five years from now I’ll look back at myself today and say the same thing again.” Sure enough, now when I look back at who I was five years ago, I can still say, “Man, I didn’t know much then.”
If I’m still around to take the same retrospective five years from now, I will surely say the same then, too. I still don’t know much today. The calm assurance of which I spoke earlier is far from complete; I do not know God that well yet. But I know him better than I did, and the knowing is good. I’m grateful for the years of opportunity to learn what little I have about God’s immense greatness, and how to live with a bit of wisdom in his world. I’m grateful for the additional strength that experience gives both my wife and me for today’s challenges.
And I’m grateful no one is asking me to go back and start all over again. Being young was great in its way, and I loved the life I was living, but once was enough. I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for the years ahead.
Albert Mohler’s comments on the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores begins,
“Book stores are going away.” That is the conclusion reached by Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co., a consulting firm based in New York. Shatzkin offered his ominous prediction to The Wall Street Journal as that paper was reporting on the expected bankruptcy filing by Borders, one of the nation’s largest book store chains…. Shatzkin offers a blunt assessment of the future: “I think that there will be a 50% reduction in bricks-and-mortar shelf space for books within five years, and 90% within 10 years.”,
Mohler does an especially good job of explaining what physical bookstores do for us:
For the last two centuries and more, bookstores and bookstalls have been centers for the dissemination of culture and ideas. The merging of the bookstore and the coffee shop brought two complementary cultural spaces together. Books are about ideas, and bookstores offer a rare context for meeting other people interested in ideas.
Being in a bookstore helps me to think. I find that my mind makes connections between authors and books and ideas as I walk along the shelves and look at the tables. When I get a case of writer’s block, I head for a bookstore. The experience of walking among the books is curative.
I learn a great deal just by being in a good bookstore — and often even in a bad one. I have learned much by visiting a Maoist bookstore in Berkeley, Jewish bookstores in Brooklyn, the old Communist Party bookstore in central London, Muslim bookstores in Berlin, and the eccentric book shops of the Left Bank in Paris. I know cities by their bookstores. To visit Oxford, England without a trip to Blackwell’s is unforgivable — as is a visit to Oxford, Mississippi without a visit to Square Books.
Call me optimistic—call me naïve if you will—but I cannot believe that bookstores are going the way of tack shops and livery stables. There has to be some kind of viable commercial value proposition in the kind of experiences Mohler describes here. It may look different than what we’re used to, but then, thirty-five years ago, who knew that bookstore/coffee shops would pop up in almost every shopping mall?
The alternative, should physical bookstores go extinct, would be a continued fragmentation of exposure; a limiting of our awareness of the rest of the world. When I shop Amazon.com, I do not walk past the feminist studies aisle on my way to the John Piper book I came for. There are no New Age titles on the screen next to Christian theology. Amazon.com helpfully informs us “People who bought this book also bought….” It never tell us,”If you really want to think that topic through, you might also want to read these contrary perspectives.” You could wander in and out of there all week and hardly even realize there are contrary perspectives.
What do you think? Is there a future for physical book stores? If so, then in what form? Will there be another new concept melded with book sales, as coffee shops were in the past few decades? Will book stores become more elitist? More regional (and possibly even larger? Will they morph into some other new form? Or will they just disappear?
Not long ago we learned the “scientific” reasons we like music. Today, for Valentine’s Day, we discover why we love:
Men and women can now thank a dozen brain regions for their romantic fervor. Researchers have revealed the fonts of desire by comparing functional MRI studies of people who indicated they were experiencing passionate love, maternal love or unconditional love.