Transforming Christians to Transform Culture

White (and Black and Red and Yellow and Brown) Privilege

Posted on August 26, 2014

African-American-Business-WomanWhat I find most objectionable in Matt Chandler’s comments about the Ferguson, Missouri conflagration (literally) is his remarkably unverified and unverifiable statement that “white people, in most cases, have easier paths than most black people,” and, in particular the utter omission, if he is going that route, of addressing secular privilege, female privilege, Asian privilege, homosexual privilege, Roman Catholic privilege, black privilege, Episcopal privilege, college-educated privilege, manual-dexterity privilege, environmentalist privilege, and on and on. There is no white privilege on the campus of some West Coast universities where Asians are clearly superior to whites in intellectual performance — and everyone rightly privileges them on this point. Everybody is privileged in some situations and not in others. It is Matt’s intellectual and social over-simplicity that’s especially offensive. I mean right behind his commitment to political correctness.


White privilege is not a sort of lifelong social construct. Different kinds of people during different times of their lives with different characteristics and in different social and cultural situations are privileged. When a black businessman walks into a Four Seasons wearing a Hickey Freeman suit, he is privileged. When a white construction worker walks into the same establishment wearing blue jeans and a dirty T-shirt, he is not. There is no such thing as white privilege or black privilege or male or female or Asian or old or young or rich or poor privilege as an overarching life category.


Further, I would be less inclined to believe Matt is capitulating to political correctness were he to boldly challenge the reigning radical racial paradigm. Had he said, for example, “There are some whites who are privileged in this country, and there are some blacks who are privileged in this country, and we need to understand what ‘privilege’ all about,” I’d have a greater respect for him. I’d really enjoy hearing him expostulate on the black privilege of socially unjust racial hiring and admissions policies that harm Asians and Hispanics.


There are huge, unverified biases behind the common notion of “white privilege.” I wish Matt had mentioned some of them. 

An Economic KICK (Keep It Complex, Knucklehead)

Posted on August 21, 2014

You have, no doubt, heard the famous advice to speakers, writers and salesmen, expressed in the abbreviation KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It’s good advice for speaking, writing and sales. But it’s bad advice for other activities.

In fact, the bleating of sincere, moralistic souls for simplicity in modern life is often, by intent or not, a call for increased tyranny.


The Tyranny of Simplicity

In the economic sphere, the victory of simplicity almost always necessitates the deprivation of liberty. A good example is price controls. The economy sure would be a lot simpler if tomorrow the federal government decreed that the price for a dozen eggs across the country must be $1.00, the price for every loaf of bread must be $2.00, and the price for a gallon of low-fat milk must be $3.00. Just think how this would simplify certain calculations of grocery store owners and managers. It would be a simple and soon disastrous decision. Why? The free market rests on a highly complex interplay of human decisions, and it cannot be reduced to a simple formula.

I don’t understand all the motivations behind, and mechanisms implementing, the human decisions that every two weeks bring the ice cream truck to deliver to my very own doorstep chocolate mud pies, for which I fork over a little hard-earned cash and then greedily devour. It sure would be a lot simpler to explain why there should be a new law from the Sacramento capital requiring that a dozen chocolate mud pies be delivered to all Californians with the initials PAS.

A lot simpler, yes, but a lot less successful and, worse still, a lot more tyrannical.

In his astoundingly learned and extensively documented work Fire in the Minds of Men, James Billington observes again and again how that revolutionary socialists have historically been committed to a radical social simplicity. Among these revolutionaries, there has been an eerie obsession with geometric and mathematical formulas as a pattern by which society should be redrawn. “If Newton could discover the law of gravity and reduce it to a few simple formulas, why can’t we discover the laws of society and reduce them to a few simple formulas?” The problem is that human society is not analogous to the laws of gravity. Men, made in the image of God, are relatively free moral agents; and the attempts to reduce their society to a few simple formulas inevitably results in tyranny.

By intervening in the free decisions of the grocer, the state sets into motion processes that extract food from everyone’s table. The bewildering complexity of activities and processes that underlay the exchange of goods and services in the marketplace requires and perpetuates human liberty. Each of us makes thousands of decisions every day, most insignificant, some occasionally momentous. If those decisions are voluntary (non-coercive), without molesting life, liberty, or property, they combine with everybody else’s decisions to produce a dramatically free society.

Don’t ask how this happens. Don’t ask how my decision to buy my daughter a new pair of tennis shoes benefits not only the shoe salesman and the shoe store, but possibly a butler in Paris, a baker in San Jose, and a candlestick maker in Tokyo, but this very well could happen and this sort of thing happens every day. If you try to simplify this dizzying complexity, you end up stealing liberty from a lot of people and eventually produce massive shortages (just ask somebody who lived in the old Soviet Union or anybody who lives in today’s North Korea). The complexity of multi-billions of free decisions by millions of people fosters liberty, while the simplicity of a few thousand decisions by a few hundred government bureaucrats creates tyranny.


The High Cost of Simplicity

Now the main problem with “simple” price controls is that they absolutize economic information while lacking the capacity to absolutize the reality underlying that information. Imposing price controls on eggs, bread, and milk can’t make chickens lay more eggs, the soil grow more wheat, or cows give more milk. In a free market economy, prices are simply information about underlying realities, not greedily erected, artificial barriers to keep poor (or middle-class) people from getting what they “deserve.” You can’t change the underlying reality by freezing prices, but you sure can change the reality of available products and services by coercively freezing prices: price controls always produce shortages, which hurt everybody’s reality.


Complexity and Human Action

I repeat: almost every attempt to simplify the main factors in the realm of the exchange of goods and services in a market economy results in a loss of liberty. Why is this? Because the leading factors in a market economy are not products, services, or even prices, but human decisions and other human actions. Goods, services, prices, and exchanges are the result of human actions, not vice versa. State interference in the market disrupts these human choices and in so doing, creates tyranny. If, in an alleged effort to keep prices down for grocery shoppers, the state imposes price controls on eggs, bread, and milk, the result will (temporarily) benefit consumers (the first ones that get to the grocery); but it surely will not benefit the grocery owner, who, all other things being equal, is forced to pay fluctuating market prices to his suppliers for these products. It doesn’t take a Ph. D. in economics to figure out that the simplicity of price controls benefits one group at the expense of another group. Soon, such price controls will hurt almost everybody, because if the grocery owner isn’t free to charge the price he wants, he eventually won’t be able to afford to buy at his suppliers’ selling cost; and if the supplier can’t sell his goods to the grocer, he will eventually quit buying from the farmers and dairymen, who will be stuck with food that cannot readily enter the marketplace.

Note how complex the spurious attempts at economic simplicity can get.

In the realm of economics, we need to replace the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) with the KICK principle (Keep It Complex, Knucklehead).

Junk Culture, Join It, or Change it?

Posted on August 6, 2014


Until recent times, Christianity was a dominant force in the Western world. To one degree or another, and usually to a large degree, Christianity shaped the culture. By culture, I mean the external manifestations of the inward, guiding impulse of a society: its education, arts, politics, technology, economy, and so on. This impulse is always religious. Culture, in the words of Henry Van Til, is “religion externalized.” Each religion produces a particular kind of culture; Christian culture is different from Islamic culture, Buddhist culture, Satanist culture, New Age culture, secular culture, and so on. Today, the religion of Western culture is secularism. Therefore, our politics, education, entertainment, and technology are predominantly secular. This is our root problem. Getting this particular candidate elected or that particular law passed won’t solve it. The problem lies much deeper. We need an entire cultural root excavation.

When Christianity began to lose its cultural dominance to secularism in the United States after the War Between the States, it was relegated to an opposite role, countercultural. Christianity became the ignored — and sometimes persecuted — minority. By the middle of the 20th century, certain Christians began to investigate what the proper relation really should be between Christianity and culture. This never would have happened had not Christianity lost its cultural leadership, but it is an investigation we cannot afford to dismiss today.

Three of the insightful treatments of this issue were Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture, Christopher Dawson’s small book The Historic Reality of Christian Culture, and J. Gresham Machen’s essay, “Christianity and Culture.” Niebuhr, Yale theologian for many years, was “neo-orthodox,” about halfway between orthodox and modernist, but leaning in the modernist direction. Dawson, a brilliant British Roman Catholic historian, was offered a Harvard teaching post late in his life. Machen, an eminent New Testament scholar and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, was an orthodox Calvinist. All three offered deeply penetrating analyses of how Christians historically have related their faith to their culture — and how they should do it today.

When you boil it right down, there are three main ways to approach the relationship between Christianity and culture, and we had better learn them if we expect to make sense of what  Christian responsibility is in today’s culture.

Cultural Abandonment

First, Christians may abandon culture. This is a seemingly easy route. It is certainly popular. It has been the majority view of non-Roman Catholic conservative Christianity in this country since 1880: “The world is going to Hell in a handbag; Christians will soon be ‘raptured’ up to heaven; and even if they aren’t, our job is to win a few souls to Jesus, not try to change the world. Heaven belongs to Christians, but the world belongs to the Devil.”

Cultural abandonment has sold the church into cultural bondage. It says, “Jesus and the Bible should exercise authority over the individual Christian, family and church, but not over the media, education, arts, and politics.” In other words, the proponents of cultural abandonment deny the Lordship of Christ in all of life. They often complain about the evils of modern culture. But it’s their own inaction and laxity that allow the forces of evil to gain the upper hand and, eventually, enslave them. This has been going on a long time now. In the words of a popular novelist, the problem with doing nothing is that you never know when you’re finished.

Culturally, doing nothing simply will not suffice.

Cultural Immersion

Second, we may immerse ourselves in culture. This has been the agenda of Protestant liberalism since late last century, and it includes professed evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo today. It has been the view, “You’ve gotta be like ‘em to win ‘em.” Because liberals understood that cultural elites mightily influence society, they wedded their version of Christianity to causes popular among those cultural elites. This meant that religious liberals quickly lined up behind popular socially and politically liberal causes, since this is just where the cultural elites were standing. These causes, as diverse as the temperance (anti-alcohol) movement, civil rights movement, and state socialism, were considered “forward-looking,” and “progressive.”

Today, the religious liberals’ “progressive” causes include ordination of women and homosexuals, legalization of homosexual “marriage,” expansion of abortion rights, and acceptance of goddess-worship. You may have noticed that these just also happen to be the views of the Eastern Establishment, Hollywood, and the major media. The cultural immersionists believe that they can win over the society to Christianity by adapting Christianity to the prevalent ideas of the culture, particularly its secular elites.

Cultural immersion suffers from two fatal errors. First, it has no standard by which to judge right and wrong. Long ago the disciples of cultural immersion jettisoned any belief in the full authority of the Bible. Therefore, they cannot say with certainty, “This is right and this is wrong.” The only thing cultural immersion really labels wrong is opposition to its own ever-shifting agenda. The real enemies are the “absolutists” — those who contend that abortion, socialism, homosexuality, feminism, and racial preferences are wrong. To the cultural immersionists, the “absolutists” are the only dangerous crowd.

Second, cultural immersion quickly becomes outmoded. He who marries the spirit of the age becomes a widow in the next. Right about the time the religious liberals had slavishly adopted a “progressive” anti-war posture in the ’30s and ’40s, for example, their more progressive counterparts, the secular liberals, had become rabid warmongers. Just when the religious liberals were getting onto the equal rights bandwagon, the secular liberals were fashioning the “special rights” bus. Religious liberals simply change along with the prevalent secular culture, reshaping (that is, disemboweling) Christianity in the process.

Cultural Transformation

There is a final view on the relation between Christianity and culture. We may work to transform culture. This view does not retreat from culture. Nor does it make culture the norm and try to find an area of agreement. Rather, it sees culture as fallen in sin and in need of godly change. This position has been held by certain Roman Catholics (like Christopher Dawson), many Protestants (especially postmillennial Calvinists), and certain culturally active evangelicals (Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham, for instance).

This view is the right one. It says, “We must not abandon culture, because Christ is Lord of culture too. But neither may we immerse ourselves in culture, because our Lord and the Bible stand over it and judge it. Our job is to work to bring every area of culture into line with the Bible.”

This means that every area of modern life should be Christianized: technology, media, arts, education, economy, science, and politics. By “Christianized,” I mean aligned with what the Bible teaches. I don’t just mean Christians should be leaders in these fields. I mean that these fields themselves should have a distinctively Christian — i.e., biblical in character. This is just what the Puritans, leaders in early colonial America, believed about culture. Permanent society on this continent was founded by cultural transformers.

Cultural transformers believe they do their work by the gospel, faithful obedience, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They are not on a “fundamentalist jihad.” The use of guns and other forms of coercion to impose Christianity and its law would horrify them. They know that Christianity cannot be imposed; it must be embraced. They work relentlessly to get others to embrace it.

Unless we want our children and grandchildren to be fighting the same cultural battles with the sin and evil that afflict us today, Christians had better become cultural transformers.

Prayer Changes Things

Posted on July 30, 2014


Read: 1 Kings 17:17–24

If you’ve ever visited Christian bookstores, you likely have seen bracelets or plaques or bumper stickers with the statement, “Prayer Changes Things.” For years I thought that statement was trite. After all, lots of these bookstore statements are trite: “God is my copilot,” “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” “Honk if you love Jesus” (I once saw a bumper sticker-response: “If you love Jesus, tithe; anybody can honk”). But over the years, the more I pondered “Prayer Changes Things” the more I’ve come to believe that it is true, and not only true, but precisely and powerfully true in a sense we do not often consider. The culprit is that we misunderstand prayer.

Prayer is more than communion

We are called to commune with God. We worship him. We think about him, we ponder who he is and what he is done in the world. We stand in awe of the sovereign, triune God.

But this is not the same thing as prayer. Almost all prayer in the Bible is petitionary. By that I mean, in prayer, we ask God to do things in the earth. More importantly, we ask God to change things. Prayer really is asking God to change the status quo. Things are a certain way — our hearts are cold, or someone has cancer, or we don’t have enough money for the bills, or our children are drifting from the Lord, or we need direction for a decision, whatever — and we ask God to change the way things are. In other words, we’re not satisfied with the way things are. And, by the way, there’s a godly dissatisfaction. Ungodly dissatisfaction is when God does good things for us, and we don’t accept what he’s done. But godly dissatisfaction is when things are out of kilter, and we ask God to change them. There’s nothing ungodly about that kind of dissatisfaction.

Some people seem to have the idea that if we ask God for things, if we petition God, that’s somehow self-centered or unspiritual. Only if we’re worshiping God or telling him how great he is are we truly glorifying him. This is a very mistaken, and possibly even a spiritually fatal, idea.

In addressing the Lord’s Prayer, the commentator Matthew Henry notes that the devout Jews of Jesus’ time would often pray by telling God how great he is. This is a wonderful and entirely appropriate way of approaching him. But Henry writes that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told him to pray petitions. In other words, he told them to ask his Father for things. When we ask for things we are not somehow less spiritual than when we tell God how great he is.

Answered prayer glorifies God

For one thing, when we pray, and when God answers prayer, he increases our faith, and he shows the world his great might and power. Let’s take one petition in the Lord’s Prayer: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When God answers that prayer, when people turn to Jesus Christ for salvation, when they start living godly lives, when artists and businessmen and politicians start doing God’s will, God glorifies himself. Both believers and unbelievers look around and say, “This God must be some kind of God to do all this when his followers ask him. Nobody I ask has ever been able to do something so massive!” In other words, God gets the glory when we pray and when he answers our prayers. And know this: God loves to get the glory. He deserves to get the glory.

Prayer changes things. When we pray, we’re asking God to change things. And when he answers our prayer, he changes things. This brings us to a most telling fact that we don’t often consider: if we are perfectly willing to accept the way things are, we will never be people of prayer. Great prayer warriors are people who want things to change. Prayer changes circumstances. Prayer changes people. And prayer changes God.

I want to show you this most graphically in this passage from the life of Elijah. I could’ve selected hundreds of passages in the Bible (yes, literally hundreds), but this one I read recently, and it’s especially powerful.

Prayer Changes Circumstances

Note, first, that prayer changes circumstances. God had sent a great drought on Israel because Elijah had prayed for it. Ahab was the king, and he and his wife Jezebel were apostates and idolaters. And Elijah was God’s prophet, and he’d read God’s law which says that if God’s people apostatize, he will shut up the heavens so that they will not send rain (Dt. 28:23–24). In other words, Elijah prayed, and he declared God’s actions according to God’s revealed will.

Think about this. Elijah didn’t need to ponder what the will of God was. He knew what the will of God was. If God’s people turn away from him, he promised to punish them. Elijah prayed that God would do just that. Elijah prayed that God would act according to his word. That’s always a safe prayer to pray.

Well, as result of the drought, there was little food and water. God led Elijah to the home of a widow and her son, and God miraculously provided for her so that she could provide for Elijah. After awhile, this precious woman’s son got sick and died, and you can imagine how grieved she was and, in fact, how resentful she was of Elijah, whom God had sent to invade her home (see v. 18). Elijah, too, as you might imagine, was deeply shaken. Why would God allow this tragedy?

Now, I draw your attention to a most striking fact. In observing this child’s death, and in seeing the mother’s grief, Elijah did not pray a “predestinarian prayer.” He didn’t pray, “Lord, you’ve allowed this precious child to die, and obviously that is your will, so we accept your will.” And then he didn’t encourage the mother simply to accept her son’s death as God’s will. No. Elijah apparently did not believe that it would be pious, that it would be God-honoring, to allow the child to remain dead.

No, Elijah didn’t accept the status quo. Elijah knew that prayer changes things. This leads us to what some Protestant quarters, but, I believe, no one who reads the Bible without prejudice on this issue, would deem a controversial view: if you constantly accept the status quo as God’s decretive will, you cannot be a mighty man or woman of prayer.

Too often we are so worried about violating the secret decrees of God that we turn our backs on the revealed word of God. God is a powerful, prayer-hearing God, and he longs as a heavenly Father to do good things for his people. The Bible teaches this very plainly (Mt. 7:11). Yes, sometimes God allows “bad things to happen to good people” (Job), but that’s not the way he operates most of the time. He is a loving, heavenly Father to his children, and just as you want to do good things for your children, so he wants to do good things for his children. Unless you believe that you are a better parent than God is? I don’t think so.

So let’s be very careful about using God’s secret councils as an excuse not to pray. They are called God’s secret councils for a reason. We can’t know them. Let’s pray according to what we do know, and not according to what we do not know. And we do know that God is a loving, kind, Father who wishes to delight his children.

Prayer changes circumstances, and it changed this widow’s circumstances.

Prayer Changes People

Second, prayer changes people. This child was dead. Elijah prayed, and God raised him from the dead. This is not an example of a modern “healing ministry.” Some of you know about a large charismatic church in Redding, California that specializes in alleged public resurrections. There’s a huge amount of weirdness and goofiness and theological error surrounding this ministry, but one thing I want to point out is that when Elijah raised this child from the dead, there wasn’t a bunch of public fanfare. There wasn’t any fanfare at all. In other words, this wasn’t an example of an “answered prayer party.” These “healing ministries” that bring in hundreds of thousands of spectators and bring glory to man and bring money into the coffers are a prostitution of the biblical teaching a prayer. When God used Elijah to raise this boy, three people knew. Only three people needed to know. And they did.

Prayer changes people. God gives us volition and choice, and he doesn’t turn us into robots or machines, but God can work in our and in other people’s lives in such a way as to change us. This means that we can pray that God changes people. And we should.

This is why Paul tells Timothy (1 Tim. 2:2) to teach his flock that they should pray for their political leaders, so that the people of God can live a quiet and peaceful life. In other words, we should pray that God changes the hearts of political leaders so that they leave the church and God’s people alone to do God’s work.

Job was a godly man of prayer (1:1–6). Every day he would pray that God would forgive his adult children if they had sinned.

And then there are several times in the Bible (see, for example, Jer. 14:11) where God tells his prophets not to pray for his people. In other words, they have turned their back on God so much, that he didn’t want his prophets trying to persuade him not to send judgment. This means that God recognizes that prayer for people can be very effective — God has made himself so vulnerable to prayer that he sometimes told his saints not to pray. Please ponder the implications of this fact.

Prayer changes people. I don’t mean by that that if we pray, the act of prayer will change us. Of course that’s true. When we pour out our hearts to God, we get much closer to him. Our minds and hearts are riveted to spiritual things. We gradually lose our worldliness. God changes the people who pray.

But I meant something else. I meant that we should pray for God to change people, and he will change them. Just as God raised this child in answer to Elijah’s prayer, so he can and will raise sinners to eternal life because of our prayer. The question for us is: do we pray for God to save sinners? And if not, why not?

If we answer, “Well, we don’t know if they are one of the elect,” we give the wrong answer. All of God’s chosen will be in the fold in the final day, but he uses prayer to get them there. Are God doesn’t only elect the men; he elects the means. And one of those big means is prayer.

If our spouse or children or friends are walking away from the Lord, let’s pray that God unleashes his bloodhounds to find them and bring them back. They have the mark of baptism on them. That’s the mark of discipleship. That means they’ve been given to the Lord. Well, they have been given to him, so let’s pray that he goes and gets them. This isn’t rocket science. This is godly prayer.

If our brothers and sisters are sick, we need to pray that God heals them. This isn’t just a good idea. This is what the Bible demands (Jas. 5:13–16). Think of that fact. God didn’t say that prayer for healing is a wonderful privilege if only we choose to exercise it. He says that if someone is sick, we need to pray that God heals them, and, in fact, they should call for the elders to anoint them and pray over them.

Yes, there are certain specific illnesses that are in God’s will (2 Tim. 4:20). But in many, many cases, God sends illnesses so that we will pray and exercise faith and be healed and bring glory to God (Jn. 11:4).

In other words, like Elijah, when someone is sick, even to the point of death, we shouldn’t merely accept the status quo.

Why? Because prayer changes people.

Prayer Changes God

Finally, prayer changes God. This statement may not ring true in our ears. The Bible says plainly that God does not change (Mal. 3:6). Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Obviously, there is some sense in which God does not change. But we know that in another sense, he does change. Again and again the Bible says that God repents, or relents, or changes his mind (Gen. 6:6; Ex. 32:14; Dt. 32:36; Jer. 42:10). This isn’t a contradiction, and it’s not hard to understand.

God’s character doesn’t change. He’s always loving, just, holy, kind, long-suffering. God isn’t capricious. God isn’t flighty. God cannot be evil. He cannot be unrighteous. He cannot be unloving. His nature cannot change.

But his stated purposes can change, and they do change. One of the most powerful proofs of this is Genesis 6, where we read the God looked on the earth in Noah’s time, and he was sorry that he had created humanity. He was excited to have created man, and it grieved him that man had raced into depravity. He was sad that he had even created man.

In the book of Jonah we read that God says that within a few weeks, he’ll completely destroy Nineveh. He didn’t put any qualifications on that warning. He didn’t say, “If you repent, I won’t judge you.” But they did repent, and God didn’t judge them.

God says he’s going to do something, and then people pour out their hearts before God, and then he changes his mind. This happens again and again in the Bible, so many times, in fact, that we might want to say that it’s in God’s nature to change his mind when his people pour out their souls to him.

A great example is in our text. We read that twice Elijah “cried” to the Lord (vv. 20, 21). This means that he spoke emotionally, in a very loud voice. This is just the opposite of a “quiet-time” prayer. And we read in verse 22 that the Lord listened to or heard his prayer.

This verse implies something very important. God was set on the path to take the widow’s son in death. That was his implied purpose. But Elijah’s great emotional plea turned God around. God changed what he had planned to do. Elijah prayed, and his prayer changed God.

The Bible is quite clear that prayer changes God. If this is true, then we should be much more audacious in prayer than we are. We read in Exodus 32 about how Israel turned to idolatry and fornication when Moses was on Sinai receiving from God his law. God told Moses that he was going to destroy the entire nation and then he said something very interesting. He said to Moses, “Leave me alone” (v. 10). God knew that Moses was in the habit of “disturbing” him in prayer. God would say, “I’m going to do this,” and Moses would say, “I beg you, God, don’t do that,” and God would change his mind.

In other words, God’s stated purposes can be changed if we pour out our hearts in prayer. This is another way of saying that God has made himself vulnerable and susceptible to man’s pleading. This isn’t the God of the ancient pagan Greek philosophers. The Greeks believed that emotion and changeableness were inferior qualities. Therefore, the highest deity they could think of was a god who had no emotions and who never changed his mind. The problem is that this isn’t a person. A person has emotions and changes his mind. Emotion is not sin. Changing your mind is not sin. You’re not somehow inferior because you have emotions or change your mind. And since God is the greatest possible person, he has emotions, and he changes his mind.

Therefore, when something bad has happened, or when someone has committed some terrible sin, don’t just sit and wait for God’s judgment. Get on your knees and beg God to avert his judgment and to lead them to repentance. God will never break his promises to us, but God certainly will change his declared purposes if we pour out our hearts before him.

Do not think that your prayer cannot affect God. Do not think that God is not emotional about his people. He gets furious at them when they turn their back on him, and he delights in them when they love and trust him and repent and obey. Therefore, appeal to God’s mercy and honor and even his reputation (Ex. 32:11–14) when you pray.

Prayer changes circumstances. Prayer changes people. And prayer changes God.

If this is true, and it is, we should pray more, and we should pray more often, and we should pray more fervently, and we should pray more confidently, and we should never settle for the status quo, because the whole point of prayer is for God to change the status quo.

The Tyranny of Individualism versus the Liberty of Community

Posted on July 11, 2014



Absence of state coercion is not equivalent to political liberty.  Political liberty is possible only when there is a series of independent social institutions that check each other’s authority.  These institutions are communities.  Man cannot live without community (Gen. 2:18).  Aside from the Bible itself, perhaps no work in recent times has made that point more effectively than Robert Nisbet’s The Quest for Community. Nisbet, a communitarian-libertarian, argues that man is a communitarian being.  He is made to live, laugh, work, play, love, suffer, cry, and die in a community.   And he will always find communities in which to live.  Communitarianism is ineluctable.

Now in the Bible and the Christian faith, that community is manifested primarily in the family and church, and secondarily in vocation (“business”) and other “private” spheres. These are the multiple communities in which people live their lives.  They find their liberty in participation in various communities, each of which stands as a sentinel over its own prerogatives and provides a haven for individuals treated unjustly by other communities.  If a husband is dictatorial, the wife can appeal to the church.  If the church is abusive, the family can appeal to a higher church court or another church body.  If a business is unjust, the individual or family can appeal to a private court system. In the case of injustice, a Christian-ordered society almost always offers recourse to another community.

The problem with the modern state is that it professes to be a community.  For this reason, as Nisbet shrewdly notes, the state is not opposed to “individual freedom.” Individual freedom, far from being the effect of emancipation from state power, is, in fact, the precondition of that power. Tyrannical states do not war against the individual; they war against those non-coercive, intermediate institutions which claim the individual’s allegiance: the family, the church, the school, business, and so on. In fact, as Nisbet observes, the only freedom tyrannical societies permit is individual freedom. They desire an individual wedded exclusively to the state as an exclusive community, and offer him a certain limited sphere of “freedom.” It is not individual freedom that these tyrannies oppose, but competitors to their authority that they find unacceptable.  They do not mind individual freedom; they only mind competitors to the allegiance they require of men. They are willing to give men a long leash, as long as they alone are grasping the other end.

The modern state is never at war with the individual.  The state needs the individual (and it wants only the individual) for its sordid, tyrannical purposes.  The state is at war with other communities that vie for man’s allegiance – the family, church, business, and so on. The state wants to wipe out all communitarian competition so that it can remake man into a pliant agent for state purposes. Men are “material” to the modern state, particularly the secular humanist state.  They exist, in Mikhail Heller’s language, to be “cogs in the wheel” of a massive, utopian state enterprise.

In other words, the state wants a monopoly on community.  Libertarians err if they suppose that the center of the statist program is economic monopoly – exclusive ownership and distribution of goods and services.  Statist economic monopoly is easy once it is has seized a communitarian monopoly.  When people’s lives, hopes and aspirations are severed from family, church, and vocation, they are an easy prey for the state.  The state will permit great latitude to these individuals, just as long as they do not create, or divert their allegiance to, other communities.

In these communities, people willingly exercise and live under authority.  As rulers, they act as humble servants to (not dictators over) those for whom they are responsible (Mk. 10:42-45).  As subjects, they honor and obey those in authority (Heb. 13:17).

But trouble brews when politics becomes a community — because it soon will lust to be the only one.



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