P. Andrew Sandlin, Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership

Pious Unbelief Is Still Unbelief

Posted on May 14, 2018

I’m surprised and disappointed at how many Christians, including Christian leaders, accept the status quo as the decretal will of God. They compound this tendency by suggesting it is an act of piety. They select Paul as an example, in that he submitted to his famous thorn in the flesh. They do not mention the hundreds of counterexamples, in which God’s people prayed for God to change their circumstances so that he would receive greater glory. It is true that in limited cases, God reveals to us that he plans not to change our circumstances. In the Bible, however, in the vast majority of cases, he implores his people to pray to him in great faith and expectation so that he can demonstrate his greater glory in changing our circumstances — converting our unbelieving loved ones, healing our physical illness, restoring our wayward children, providing a job or money. In this way, he strengthens our faith, and he blazingly exhibits his power in the eyes of unbelievers. Pious unbelief is still unbelief.

Cultural Marxism, Simply Explained

Posted on April 23, 2018

I am increasingly using the expression “Cultural Marxism,” and it occurred to me that I shouldn’t simply assume readers and listeners know what it means. I will try here as simply and briefly as I can to explain the basics. If you have questions, please pose them in the comments section or on Facebook.

Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and V. I. Lenin saw the basis of all human existence as economic. This was the social and political philosophy of the old Soviet Union. It is called classical or economic Marxism. This form of Marxism is not nearly as popular today (except in North Korea). By contrast, you might have heard of Marxists like Gramsci, Lukács, Sartre, and Marcuse. They are among the first cultural Marxists. Their view of Marxism was designed to appeal to and succeed in Western societies. They knew that economic Marxism would likely not win in the West. (This is why their revision is sometimes called Western Marxism.) For one thing, they doubted that the working class would rise up in violent revolution as they did in Russia in 1917; the workers in the West were mostly satisfied with life most of the time. To win in the West, you needed a Marxism suited to the West, one that took into account Western ways of thinking. Freedom, liberty, and equality, watchwords of the West, were ideas they could commandeer to win the day. They would engage in the “long march through the institutions,” words wrongly attributed to Gramsci but rightly describing the strategy of cultural Marxism. They would reinvent the meaning of liberty, freedom, and equality to seduce Westerners and gradually capture their culture.

Human Liberation

Unlike the original Marxists, they held that humanity’s main problem isn’t economic. It’s that society’s ideas and institutions prevent us from fulfilling the Good Life. What is the Good Life? It is being able to be exactly what we want to be, to live exactly as we want to live — maximum autonomy. Every individual should be an artist, but in a very basic and profound sense. Every person should be able to paint his own life, his own meaning, his own reality. The world should be the canvas on which the person paints himself.

61YVpu5O1hL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Unfortunately, our society conspires to restrict our autonomy. Traditional institutions like the family and church and business command our allegiance. Husbands lead families, parents direct children, clergy disciple laity, employers make demands of employees. This means they crimp our autonomy. It really means these institutions crimp our autonomy. Therefore, we live artificial, unreal, and unhappy lives to conform to these cultural institutions and expectations. We are alienated from our “true selves.” Marxists have always been very concerned about liberating the true, real self from the cultural environment suppressing it. That self might be atheistic, exhibitionist, homosexual, transgendered, bestial, or solitary; but in whatever form it takes, that self meets resistance in traditional culture. To be truly free, traditional culture must be marginalized or crushed.

An extended metaphor might help. Imagine thousands of tiny seeds, full of flourishing, fruitful potential, but they can never fulfill that potential because they’re submerged beneath hard, frozen, nearly impenetrable soil. Imagine further a sympathetic farmer who comes with a massive plow and cracks the soil and waters and fertilizes it so that the seeds can finally sprout upward.

The seeds in this metaphor are humans as we enter the world. But we’re stifled by the hard, frozen soil, which won’t allow us to unleash the potential of our real selves. That soil is our society, especially the chief cultural institutions like the family and church and business.  We should be free to sprout and grow upward and exhibit to the world all of our autonomous beauty. What we need is a plow to break up this hard soil and get it out of the way.

In our metaphor, that plow is the state. This is why cultural Marxists are statists. It’s not because they simply love power. They want state power so they can destroy traditional authority, and especially Christianity, which justifies and produces that authority. For cultural Marxists, what has been called liberty in the West, defined as absence of political coercion, becomes true liberation, the imposition of political coercion to guarantee human autonomy. Liberation becomes liberty from the institutions that our society grants the liberty to enslave us. The state must pulverize every barrier to our true selves.

Class Consciousness

How do cultural Marxists instigate this liberation? How do they get the state involved in their liberation crusade? Mainly by divvying up people into different classes and fomenting conflict, claiming that all classes must fight for equality. This is called class consciousness. In Marx’s day, the oppressors were the bourgeoisie (elites, business owners), and the oppressed were the proletariat (employees, “wage slaves”), who demanded equality. By equality, the cultural Marxists do not mean equality of condition — that is, they don’t mean everybody must play by the same rules. Rather, they believe in equality of results — the rules must be bent to make everybody get the same things. Today class consciousness is known as “identity politics,” and the battling classes are expanded — men versus women, whites and Asians versus blacks and/or Hispanics, children versus parents, millennials versus the middle aged, wealthy versus poor and “middle class,” cosmopolitans versus nationalists, and other binary categories. Cultural Marxists portray one pole of the binary (women, homosexuals, millennials, blacks) as oppressed, and demand that the state liberate them from their oppressors. Oppression here almost never means literal enslavement, abuse, or assault. Rather, it means disrespect, disapproval, or social inequality. If, for example, homosexuals are not as respected as heterosexuals, they are oppressed and deserve state-coerced liberation. This is also where the new campus speech codes come from. The newly defined oppressed (millennials) are entitled not to be offended by words from the oppressing class (older whites, teachers, men).

Liberation becomes liberty from the institutions that our society grants the liberty to enslave us.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-06-at-11.56.02-AM.sized-770x415xcOver time, this human liberation sees even nature itself as an oppressor. Like the Gnostics of old, creation is evil and a barrier to the good life. Male or female body parts are oppressive. “Sex-reassignment surgery” must become “gender-affirmation surgery.” A man becomes a woman who then becomes a dragon. This is an extreme case but not an inconsistent one. It’s simply the latest example of liberation, and, unless this grand social march is arrested, we should not expect the dragonization of man to be the most extreme example of liberation in the future.

Progress by Conflict

It is this class conflict that produces cultural progress. Marxists have always believed that life is everywhere filled with opposing forces, and the collision of these forces brings a higher, better reality. Today’s liberals like to be known as “progressives,” and the progress they want is human liberation ( = autonomy). That progress comes about only by conflict. So conflict is a good thing, and the elites should be fostering conflict everywhere. If you want a better society, you need to spread conflict to get there — unremitting conflict, violent if necessary. The objective of launching rallies and Twitter campaigns to challenge the “hegemony” (a favorite word of Gramsci) of men, parents, whites, straights, Asians, and Wall Street is to create a conflict that ends in the liberation of the oppressed classes and a better world, all (except the previous oppressors, who will be dispossessed and de-privileged) enjoying the Good Life.

And all led, of course, by the cultural Marxists, magically at the very top of the egalitarian heap.

Karl Marx Meets the Gospel Coalition

Posted on April 11, 2018

Both classical Marxism (Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Lenin) and cultural Marxism (Gramsci, Lukács, Sartre, and Marcuse) assert that social progress is the result of conflict between humans. Man is a product of nature, “a three-dimensional lump of flesh, blood, and bone,”[1] on which the iron laws of nature do their irresistible work. The difference between humanity and the rest of nature is that he is a toolmaker; he fashions tools for his survival and enjoyment within nature. Those tools can be anything from a primitive club to an advanced iPhone. For classical Marxists, the people who get control over the tools dominate those who do not control them. They even create ideas (“ideology”) to justify their domination and to pacify those whom they oppress. In Marx’s day, the oppressors were the bourgeoisie (elites, business owners), and the oppressed were the proletariat (employees, “wage slaves”). But since the law of history is on the side of the oppressed, who will eventually overthrow any oppression that keeps them alienated from “their true selves,” the days of bourgeoisie dominance are numbered. They will increasingly initiate conflict — unremitting conflict, violent if necessary — until the oppression stops. This is a feature of “dialectical materialism”: inherent imbalances at all levels in society mean that constant change and conflict are necessary. Conflict = progress. Because Marxists have commandeered the progressive agenda of liberalism in the last century, all leading progressives today revel in conflict. Fostering conflict is the name of the game.

 

Western Marxism

 

The cultural (Western) Marxists like György Lukács extended this philosophy to include noneconomic features, which generate groups: sex and race, for example. Oppression is everywhere. It is pervasive and systemic. The goal of the progressives, who are the best of us, of course, and therefore hating all oppression, is to stamp it out everywhere. Women must be liberated from men, children from parents, homosexuals from heterosexuals, blacks and Hispanics from whites and Asians, laity from clergy, students from teachers, the mentally “challenged” from the allegedly sane, and convicts from law-abiding citizens. Hierarchy itself is oppression, so war on hierarchy is a war for the Good Society.[2] This is the Marxist agenda.

 

Racial Conflict as Gospel Progress?

 

In the United States, with its tragic history of black slavery, the appeal to racial liberation is especially attractive. Christians are perhaps the most sensitive to the Marxist message because they know the Bible’s abomination of man-stealing (Ex. 21:16) and its teaching that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, race is vanquished by grace (Gal. 3:28). Antebellum slavery, like the slavery in Africa today, is reprehensible. Redressing the grievances of that massive sin is an agenda for which Christians should quickly line up.

 

Exploiting this vulnerability has long been a tactic of Marxists, for whom persistent social conflict, “permanent revolution” (Trotsky), is the mechanism of progress. Black pastor and member of the Gospel Coalition Thabiti Anyabwile (aka Ron Burns) ignited a firestorm when he wrote in an article commemorating Martin Luther King’s assassination:

 

I’m saying the entire [white?] society killed Dr. King. This society had been slowly killing him all along. … . My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start [repenting] by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice. [emphasis original]

 

Pastor Anyabwile is a professed evangelical, but he puts into motion Lukács’ thesis that people must think in terms of “class consciousness.”[3] Today we call this “identity politics.” Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” but Pastor Anyabwile demands that that we judge people by the color of their skin. Because skin color (like creational sexuality) cannot be changed, it is a suitable subject for Marxism’s program of progress by conflict. The progress toward the Good Society can never end. There will always be oppressors to upend. Since neither whites nor blacks can change their skin, racial conflict will be part of the permanent revolution.

 

Inherent imbalances at all levels in society mean that constant change and conflict are necessary. Conflict = progress. Because Marxists have commandeered the progressive agenda of liberalism in the last century, all leading progressives today revel in conflict. Fostering conflict is the name of the game.

 

Pastor Anyabwile, rebutting those of his critics pointing to his cultural Marxism, reminds us that racism preceded Marx. How this assertion has any relevance whatsoever he does not explain. The issue is not that Marx invented race or racism (which has plagued human history as long as race has been around) but that Pastor Anyabwile exploits race in a manner consistent with cultural Marxism. He complains that racism is a unique sin among whites in that they refuse to confess it as sin. He trumpets:

 

I cannot think of a single particular sin people would encourage someone to avoid confessing except for the sin of racism…. There’s another reason we should be specific: the Bible is specific. Consider the places where the Bible gives us a catalogue of particular sins (Rom. 1:28-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; and 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Why does the divinely inspired Word of God give us so many lists with such specificity? It’s not solely that we might conclude we are sinners in general but that we might also know what sins threaten our souls or our sanctification and repent of them specifically.

 

The Bible is truly clear in calling specific sins what they are, but interestingly, Pastor Anyabwile does not show us where the Bible specifically declares racism a sin. There is a good reason for this. The Bible doesn’t. That racism is a sin must (and should) be inferentially derived. Pride is a sin (Pr. 16:18; Rom. 1:30). Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Racism fundamentally is a belief, not an act. It is rooted in pride, which is a grievous sin. It would have been helpful if Christians who (rightly) decry racism show why it is specifically a sin. The depth of this sin rests in pride. Pride, not the amount of melanin in human skin, is the culprit.

 

The gospel is a peace-creating message. It creates harmony among individuals, families, sexes, races, and nations. The gospel is a conflict-reducer, not a conflict-creator. In sharp contrast with Paul, however, Pastor Anyabwile employs race as a tool by which to perpetuate conflict.

 

Since racism is a belief, it is a sin of the heart, like lust or covetousness. It cannot be seen. It can only be objectively detected by others when manifested in one’s actions. Apartheid in South Africa was such a sinful manifestation. So is today’s post-apartheid state-sanctioned murder of white farmers by blacks. To call for repentance of the sin of racism is to call for a humble heart. That repentance can only be ascertained by changed (non-racist) actions.

 

The call by Pastor Anyabwile to white Christians to claim their “parents and grandparents and this country” were complicit in murdering MLK is so obviously ridiculous that we can only assume he was employing hyperbole for shock value. The Bible does teach collective guilt for ancestors’ sin but only among those who presently agree with that sin (Mt. 23:35), or who have not yet confessed ancestral sin for godless actions, like idolatry (2 Kin. 22). There are, to my knowledge, no examples in the Bible of a godly preacher’s assigning collective guilt for ideas or sins of the heart. This assignment is God’s province alone.

 

Racial Peace as Gospel Blessing

 

Assigning guilt to an entire class (like whites) by which to perpetuate conflict is a quintessentially Marxist technique. The biblical gospel, by contrast, creates peace (Col. 1:20–24), including peace among races:

 

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:11–16)

 

The gospel is a peace-creating message. It creates harmony among individuals, families, sexes, races, and nations. The gospel is a conflict-reducer, not a conflict-creator. In sharp contrast with Paul, however, Pastor Anyabwile employs race as a tool by which to perpetuate conflict. He calls white Christians to repent of sin of the heart that he cannot possibly detect, and he blames their ancestors for complicity in a murder they obviously did not commit. He does this in the name of the gospel — The Gospel Coalition even.

 

It is not actually the gospel that Pastor Anyabwile is advocating. Rather, it is the gospel fused with dialectical materialism, the gospel of conflict. There is little hope that the conflict will end:

 

This is a sick society. And we kid ourselves if we think all the sickness gets healed just by time and rest. Racism, prejudice, hatred and bigotry is not a cold. It’s a cancer. It mutates. It metastasizes. And despite our protest and insistence otherwise, this sickness gets passed on in a kind of social hereditary action, sometimes unconsciously and unsuspected, sometimes systemically, and sometimes intentionally and virulently.

 

In short, Pastor Anyabwile holds out little hope in the power of the Gospel. The gospel abolishes (Paul’s language) racial enmity, “creat[ing] in [Jesus Christ] one new man.” Pastor Anyabwile declares that racial conflict is “a cancer. It mutates. It metastasizes”; but this conflict is precisely what the gospel will abolish. Stirring up racial conflict by recklessly and ridiculously suggesting that “[m]y white neighbors and Christian brethren can start [repenting] by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering” MLK is the opposite of gospel peace making. If individuals are racists, they should indeed repent, but assuming an entire race is racist is itself a racialist interpretation of history championed by cultural Marxism.

 

That, too, is a sin worth repenting of.


[1] Isaiah Berlin, “The Philosophy of Karl Marx,” The Power of Ideas (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002), 116.
[2] Kenneth R. Minogue, The Servile Mind (New York and London: Encounter, 2010), 296.
[3] Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1968, 1971), 46–82.

Reforming Only the Family and Church Won’t Suffice

Posted on April 10, 2018

We live in transformational times for the Christian faith. The last vestiges of Christian culture are waning. Until recent decades, Christianity shaped the West. This doesn’t mean all or even most people were Christian; it means that the basic Christian gospel and ethic had historically rooted society’s institutions, and were recognized by most people (including unbelievers) to do this. At worst, the West was “vaguely Christian” in most people’s minds.[1] All that has changed. Today, Christian businesses are assaulted for simply acting on biblical, family truth, which had been practiced freely in the U. S. for over 240 years. Church attendance is declining. Millennials reared in the faith are leaving it by many thousands; they are more likely to be “Social Justice Warriors” than soldiers for Jesus Christ. Same-sex “marriage” is increasingly accepted among evangelicals. The social elites embrace and impose Cultural Marxism.[2] This is the ideology that adapts Marx’s classical ideas to the West. Armed revolution won’t work here, but the “long march through the institutions” will — and has: All hierarchies are evil. Individual autonomy, guaranteed by an iron-clad state, is the highest good. The courts must be used not to lay down impartial legal decisions but to secure the “just society,” as interpreted by “progressive” dogma. The previously marginalized in society (women, homosexuals, criminals, the poor, racial minorities, children, the disabled) must be exalted and championed, and the previously exalted must be humiliated and brought low: Christians, white males, fathers, the wealthy, and intact traditional families.

Amid this apostasy, unprecedented in the U. S., older, devout Christians are at a loss. The world is shifting under their feet. The 2016 election of Donald Trump was a welcome respite for them, not because his life and language have been exemplary, but because he represented a bulwark against this tide of politically correct unbelief. They still feel beleaguered. What is the remedy? Many are calling for revival and reform in the church and family. This idea is understandable. The church is Christ’s body in the earth. The church is the custodian of orthodoxy (right belief).

 

Think of it this way. Almost everything Christians encounter when they leave the safe haven of the family and church is at war with almost everything they encounter within the family and church.

 

The church monopolizes the sacraments or ordinances. The church holds the earthly keys to the kingdom — who is a Christian and who isn’t. There is no Christianity, no Christian culture, without the church. The family is similar, and even more foundational than the church. The family is a creational norm. It was around before the Fall. Had the Fall never happened, there would have been a family, though not a church or state, at least not as we know them in God’s redemptive order. To preserve the family is to preserve God’s basic unit of human society. To lose the family is to lose the human building block of God’s created order.

But society is much larger than these institutions, and therefore the apostasy of today’s world is much larger. Reforming only the family and church won’t suffice. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. Think of it this way. Almost everything Christians encounter when they leave the safe haven of the family and church is at war with almost everything they encounter within the family and church. Family and church teach: “Put God first. Jesus is Lord. Obey the Bible. Trust God to provide. Sacrifice for others. Marriage is sacred. Sex is for marriage. Be careful of your words. There is a Final Judgment.” The surrounding culture teaches: “Put yourself first. You are lord. Obey your own impulses. You must make your own success happen. Your priorities are most important. Marriage is an informal, temporary arrangement. Sex is a malleable social construct. Say whatever you want whenever you want. You’ll never be required to give a final account for how you live on earth.” Of course, an anti-Christian worldview isn’t new. It’s been pervasive in other times and cultures. What is new in the West is that this secular worldview has consciously abandoned Christianity and Christian culture. In other words, what is historically unprecedented is a civilization that in sequence has consciously (1) embraced Christianity, (2) abandoned Christianity, and (3) embraced anti-Christianity. This is what is new: self-consciously anti-Christian culture. This is what devout Christians must contend with.

Because today’s secular culture is almost all-consuming, Christian young people are easy prey. It is a well-intentioned, self-assuring error to assume that if we can just get the church fired up for God and restore godliness to the family, we can restore a large number of devout Christians and Christian culture. A plethora of devout Christians require a cultural canopy of Christianity, which reinforces everywhere the most basic Christian belief: “Jesus is Lord!”It’s impossible for a virile Christianity to survive for long institutionally in such a hostile climate. Yes, devout individuals can. Noah, Moses, Daniel, the apostles, and the primitive Christians did. But since Christianity by its nature is a world-dominating faith, it suffers greatly when its cultural surroundings are not Christian. This is one chief reason that so many children reared in devout Christian families are drifting from Jesus Christ. The faith in which they were reared is an inherently cultural faith calculated by God himself to be reinforced in all of life. The radical disconnect between a God-loving family and church on the one hand and God-defying popular music and education and science and technology and art and architecture on the other creates spiritual schizophrenia.

Because today’s secular culture is almost all-consuming, Christian young people are easy prey.

Because today’s secular culture is almost all-consuming, Christian young people are easy prey. It is a well-intentioned, self-assuring error to assume that if we can just get the church fired up for God and restore godliness to the family, we can restore a large number of devout Christians and Christian culture. A plethora of devout Christians require a cultural canopy of Christianity, which reinforces everywhere the most basic Christian belief: “Jesus is Lord!”


[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1982), 5:423.
[2] Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

Unbelief in the Guise of Prophetic Piety

Posted on April 2, 2018

Dear —–,

I agree with you, of course, and find little in this article to commend it. I do not reflect on the author’s sincere intentions. I also agree with much of his diagnosis, and his description of the church as prideful and prayerless, e.g.

But here are a couple things to consider. Why adopt the sinking of the Titanic as the church’s governing paradigm? Why not adopt as the paradigm a few frightened, and embattled Christians praying in an upper room after their Lord’s resurrection and just before the rapid dissemination of the gospel?

My greatest objection, though, is a severe verdict: diagnoses like these are suckled on unbelief. Do we believe the promises of the word of God that if His people truly repent and turn to Him, He will heal them? Do we believe in the power of prayer to shake not just individuals and families and churches but entire nations and civilizations? Do we believe that God uses fully surrendered men and women to reverse apostasy just when it seems at its apex?

The Bible does offer a theology of surrender: surrender entirely to God, and not to a depraved and apostate culture.

Let us live in the promises of the word of God, and not according to the circumstances, which we likely misinterpret.

Feel free to share this, my friend.

Much respect, in Him,

P. Andrew Sandlin, S.T.D.

Founder & President

Center for Cultural Leadership

God Was in Christ Reconciling

Posted on March 25, 2018

The heart of our Christian Faith is this momentous fact: God saves sinners. This Holy Week, we memorialize the historic events that make that salvation possible. Because Jesus Christ’s death is the “crux” (Latin for “cross”) of that salvation,[1] we rightly focus attention on him, our Savior and Lord. But we dare not lose sight of the equally vital truth that the Godhead, God as Trinity, saves us. The Father, Son, and Spirit[2] — are all our Savior(s). A folk shorthand goes something like this: God the Father planned our salvation, God the Son secured our salvation, and God the Spirit applies our salvation.

 

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.”

2 Corinthians 5:19

 

This construction is not wrong, but it’s not entirely right either, or at least not complete. It doesn’t take into account the unified work of the Godhead in saving us.[3] It correctly perceives that each member of the Trinity occupies a unique role, but it marginalizes the truth that the person of God saves us, not just the persons of God.[4] In other words, our Lord’s death isn’t just a work of the members of the Trinity all working together but also as the person, the single living God, saving us.

 

Jesus is the fullness of God

 

God was in Christ reconciling …. There is no “Godness” deeper or more profound than Jesus Christ.[5] There is no God with higher or more exalted attributes than the Son. There is no greater God than Jesus. Jesus the Messiah reveals God because he is God. He and the Father are one (Jn. 10:30). To see Jesus is to see the Father (Jn. 14:9). Jesus is the express image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:1–3). Jesus is entirely man, and his deity never mixed with his humanity to produce a weird, third amalgam: a deified human or humanized deity. Yet his deity and humanity are forever united in one person.[6] In Matthew 3 we read of the angel that appeared in a dream to Joseph, declaring that Jesus would be the name of the child whom Mary, his espoused wife, would deliver. We also read that this birth would fulfill the prophet’s word that his name should be called “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” The birth of Jesus is the incarnation of God. Wherever Jesus is, there God is. Jesus “is the human presence of the Eternal God.”[7]

 

Doubting ThomasIn the famous Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley exhorts, “veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” But this quote implies the opposite of what John teaches in his first epistle:

 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (vv. 1–4)

 

The Godhead was not veiled in flesh. The Godhead was revealed in flesh. God makes himself known, not hidden, in flesh. Man is not God and can never be God, but man was created in God’s image and is therefore a specially suitable means for God to reveal his very person. John saw and touched God, just as Thomas did (Jn. 20:28), because it was no less than God who was in Christ reconciling.

 

One God-man person only

 

In an effort to ensure the transcendence (exalted otherness) of God, Christians have tended for purposes of explanation to separate out his two natures from his one person and attribute certain actions and experiences of Jesus Christ to his humanity and not his deity.[8] Since Jesus was not a sinner, they could never say these traits are sinful, only that they are human and not divine. Examples would be anger, hunger, weariness, and grief. These all imply change and emotion, and change and emotion are not attributes of God according to many Christians. However, the Bible does in fact depict God, and not only Jesus, as sometimes changing and emotional. God grieves that he created humanity that had fallen into abject depravity (Gen. 6:5–6). God repented of his decision to obliterate the idolatrous Jews (Ex. 32:14). God is even sometimes weary, in his own way (Is. 1:14). I could multiply similar examples.

Jesus-resting

Many of the changes and emotions Jesus experienced are not do not sound much different from those that God experiences. Nor will it suffice to say that these are all anthropomorphisms, word pictures, which while not literally true, accommodate truth to us finite humans by depicting God with human qualities. After all, would we say that God’s traits of truthfulness, omniscience, love, justice, and kindness are anthropomorphic? And even if they all were, every anthropomorphism signals a referent. We read, for example, in Deuteronomy 33:27 of God’s “everlasting arms.” Because God is a spirit, this language is incontestably anthropomorphic. But what does it mean? It means that just as human arms might bear up those we love, so God’s love is everlasting in bearing up his people. Similarly, even if the language of God’s emotions and repentance is anthropomorphic, it refers to something very much like emotion and repenting. Jesus’ “actions are always those of divinity-humanity.”[9] Jesus sleeps (Mk. 4:38). God does not sleep (Ps. 121:4). But God-as-Jesus sleeps, and not merely Jesus-as-man sleeps. The person of Jesus is God.

 

Because Jesus is God in the flesh, when we see Jesus acting, we see God, and not just man, acting — or, rather, God and man unmixed, but united in one person.[10] We tend to reverse the order and in this way become perplexed. We develop ideas about what God is like and then try to conform Jesus Christ to those ideas. This has things just backwards. Jesus is the one who reveals the Father: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (Jn. 1:18).[11] We need to get our most extensive ideas about God from Jesus the Messiah. Make no mistake: God reveals himself truly in the Old Testament. There is nothing in the Old Testament that deceives us about God. (He also reveals himself truly in creation.) However, in Jesus Christ God gives us his fuller and final revelation (Heb. 1:1–3).[12]

 

There is no more comprehensive display of God than we observe in Jesus. When we see Jesus acted on, we see God acted on. To say differently is really to say that Jesus is less than and different from God. To say that we are seeing only the humanity in his display of emotion but only his deity in (for instance) his forgiving others their sins, is to divide Jesus into two persons. When Jesus experiences grief, God grieves. When Jesus is angered over sin, God is angry. When Jesus feels compassion, God is compassionate. We learn of God by watching Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling ….

 

God and death

 

1101660408_400Now back to Holy Week. You might be old enough to remember the short-lived “Death of God” theology in the 60’s, championed by radical theologians.[13] I once owned a book curiously titled The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann. Moltmann is a theological liberal, and I found the book unimpressive, as I do most books by theological liberals (see a summary of the thesis is here). Moltmann sees the immanence (presence in the world) of God in Jesus, but sees almost nothing of the majesty and transcendence of God. Much of his theology and its social implications reflect this absence of the power and might of the sovereign God. This is an error of most liberals. They exalt man at God’s expense. This is false theology. A book with a similar title that I did find impressive was Richard Baukham’s God Crucified.[14] He is much more conservative than Moltmann and persuasively argues that precisely in our Lord’s death is his deity best understood. Baukham argues that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah reveals Messiah as God in the most powerful way. Our Lord’s death is a striking exhibition of his deity, not just his humanity.

 

God is immanent, both in the Old Testament and most profoundly in Jesus Christ, and we must affirm that where Jesus is, there God is. To say otherwise is equally false theology, no less heretical than the denying-God’s-majesty of theological liberalism. This God-as-Christ-and-God-in-Christ is not less true of the Cross. Even in his anguished cry “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46), Jesus is not less than God[15] — unless we are prepared to embrace the adoptionist heresy that Jesus became God at some point and lost his deity at another, a blasphemous notion. But Jesus died on the Cross. Did God die? He cannot die. He is the living God (Dt. 5:26; Ac. 14:15). But God as Christ certainly dies, and if he does not die, there is no salvation, no gospel, no hope. Death is God’s penalty for sin, and his eyes are so pure that he cannot look (gaze) on evil (Hab. 1:13). But Jesus was (is) God and was not less than God on the Cross. This means that while God is always and ever the living God, he in his Son died.[16] Jesus tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9). God tastes what his Son tastes. The fact that he is fully transcendent does not mean he stands aloof from us, even (perhaps especially) in our pain and suffering (Heb. 2:16–18).

 

My godly mother died of pancreatic cancer last year. As I observed her final days, body emaciated to bones by disease, breath arriving and departing in tiny gasps, pain held at bay by morphine, I wondered how God felt. Could he merely empathize? No. Not merely empathize. In his Son he entered into all the pains and agonies and abandonment of death. In Jesus Christ, the ever-living God knows what it is like to die, just as the ever-holy God knows what it is like to suffer the consequences of sin.

 

Temporal omnipresence

 

51wVlydXswL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgA key to understanding these sobering and profound truths is what John M. Frame terms God’s temporal omnipresence.[17] God is a-temporally omnipresent (in eternity), but he’s also present in time and history, which he created and sustains. He is a participant in history, and his participation isn’t as a play-actor or illusion. God is really here. And being here, he experiences time and its sequence of change, though, of course, only as God can, and not as man does. He experienced what his Son experienced, including death. How can the ever-living God, who cannot cease to exist, experience death? Because he is God.

 

This is how to grasp biblical statements that might otherwise perplex us. We read in Acts 20:28, in Paul’s final exhortation to the Ephesian elders, the curious statement: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” The antecedent of “his” is “God”: God’s own blood. God is a Spirit, so he has no blood. But Paul knew that Jesus is fully God. God’s blood was reconciling.

 

(To be continued)


[1] Leon Morris, The Cross of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 1.
[2] The Holy Spirit’s work is just as vital, but that’s not my theme here.
[3] P. T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ (n.p.: Beloved Publishing, 2017), 34.
[4] I hold with Cornelius Van Til that God is not simply an essence that each member of the Trinity shares but that he is himself a person. See John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R, 1995), ch. 5. To hold this view is to not suggest four members of the Trinity, since the personhood of the unified God is not defined precisely as it is in the case of each member of the Trinity.
[5] Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2015), 15.
[6] On the historical development of what became orthodox Christology (the doctrine of Jesus Christ), see Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 37–90.
[7] P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (London: Independent Press, 1909, 1961), 73.
[8] While no human creed is revelationally authoritative, it is notable that the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 condemned this view as heresy. See Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1900, 1999) 14:211.
[9] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 2:735.
[10] I agree with Donald G. Bloesch that Jesus’ was a true but impersonal humanity. The Son of God took to himself a human nature. “Jesus was not autonomous or self-existent. God is the acting Subject in Jesus.” This does not mean that Jesus’ humanity was impersonal. It means that the person of Jesus Christ is the Son of God. See Jesus Christ, Savior & Lord (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1997), 56–57.
[11] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2:737.
[12] This truth formed the basis of Martin Luther’s early Reformation theology. However, in his battle with Erasmus, he later drifted from it, tragically seeing not Jesus Christ but the secret, inscrutable will of God, sometimes in direct conflict with his revelation in Jesus Christ, as God’s final word. See Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985, 1990), 161–175.
[13] Colin Brown, “Death of God School,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974, 1978), 287–288.
[14] Richard Baukham, God Crucified (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), see especially pages 45–79.
[15] Baukham argues that is precisely in our Lord’s death, forsaken (until the resurrection) by God, that he most fully exhibits his deity. See his Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 254–268.
[16] A common way historically of addressing this issue is to say that Jesus Christ’s human nature died but not his divine nature, which cannot die. The person died, and since both the divine and human natures are united in the person, some action of one or the other can be attributed to the person. A careful and self-professed scholastic explanation of this view can be found in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 1994), 2:321–332. This is a second-order theological verdict (as with the early ecumenical creeds) that cannot be found in the text of the Bible but which can illuminate our understanding of the Bible’s broad teaching. A recurring problem has been that the patristic church took up the issue of the Trinity and the two natures in Christ without primary reference to Jesus Christ’s redemption, which they fit in later. They marginalized the gospel at the point at which it should have been at front and center.
[17] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R, 2002), 570–572.

 

I am indebted to John Barach, Matthew Colvin, John M. Frame, and Brian G. Mattson for valuable suggestions to earlier versions of this essay. I alone am responsible for its content.

No Creation, No Gospel

Posted on March 23, 2018

If you wonder why too many evangelicals are caving in to same-sex “marriage,” surrogacy, “gender fluidity,” and transgenderism, part of the fault lies in the DNA of Evangelicalism itself. Evangelicals champion the biblical evangel, the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead so that sinners can be saved. This is their paradigmatic specialty and, thank God, they have enjoyed great success over the last two centuries.

The Creational Marginalization

But with this specialization has come the marginalization of other parts of the Bible, notably creation. Not that Evangelicals deny creation. Some have been at the forefront of the six-day creation movement. However, they have tended not to integrate creation into their worldview. Worse: they have not understood that creation is the foundation of the gospel. This is very easy to prove, if you think about it. The gospel offers salvation from sin, but what is sin? It is a violation of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4). But how did this violation come about? It came about as result of man’s distortion of creation.

“The Jesus who died on the old rugged cross is the same Jesus who shaped the universe’s laws and upholds its existence.”

Genesis chapter 1-2 lays out God’s creational laws, or norms. These include the Creator-creature distinction, humanity made in God’s image, the distinction between man and woman within that single divine image, the fruitfulness imperative, the cultural mandate, the Sabbath, and the goodness of creation itself. We might call these the creational operating system. This is how God designed the cosmos to work.

And it is within just this operating system that the gospel software works. Sin introduced a virus into that operating system. The object of the gospel is incrementally to eliminate that virus. The virus doesn’t obliterate the operating system, but it does impair it. The gospel is God’s hunt-and-destroy-the-virus mission.

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Evangelicals have tended, however, to internalize, privatize, and Gnosticize the gospel. The gospel is chiefly about getting sinners forgiven by God and fellowshipping with him and taking them to heaven. It’s understandable that, in this telling, addressing same-sex “marriage” might be a tangent to keep the church away from the gospel. Taking on surrogacy, egg harvesting, and transhumanism (like the Center of Bioethics and Culture) is it best a secondary cause and, at worst, a distraction from the church’s mission.

But if we understand that the objective of the gospel is the restoration of God’s created order, increasing adherence to his creational norms, not just for his glory but for our delight, we will recognize these tasks and many others as well within the framework of the biblical gospel.

The Mediator of Creation

 

A fundamental theological flaw is at the root of this truncated gospel. Modern Evangelicals see Jesus is the mediator of redemption, but seem less interested in him as the mediator of creation. But the Bible plainly teaches both. See what Paul writes in Colossians 1:13–19:

He [God the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins [here’s Jesus, the mediator of redemption]. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist [here’s Jesus, the mediator of creation.] And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

For Paul, Jesus’ mediation in both creation and redemption work together to convey the fullness of God to and within the cosmos. The Jesus who died on the old rugged cross is the same Jesus who shaped the universe’s laws and upholds its existence.

Because Evangelicals have embraced a truncated view of the Bible, because they have emphasized the evangel (narrowly construed) as the be-all-and-end-all, they have been willing to sacrifice the more fundamental creational truths on which the true evangel is founded. They didn’t set out to do this. And if someone had told them even 20 years ago that they would one day endorse or surrender to “gender fluidity” or same-sex “marriage,” they would have scoffed. But their preoccupation with one vital part of the Bible and relative neglect of other vital parts paved the way for these wholesale changes. The seeds of the present compromises were there from the beginning. The neglect wasn’t intentional, but it was neglect, and we’re now paying a bitter price for it.

The solution to this neglect is a return to a full-orbed, robust view of creation and creational norms. Let’s preach the Son of God on the old rugged Cross as well as the even older Son of creational Lordship. Christianity within this world requires both.

Liberal Christianity Isn’t

Posted on March 22, 2018

One of the leading American theologians of the 20th century was J. Gresham Machen. One of his most famous books was Christianity and Liberalism. He argues that theological liberalism, sometimes called modernism at the time, isn’t a new version of Christianity. Rather, it’s not Christianity at all. It’s another religion altogether.

 

41OFZDQBB4L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Liberalism consisted of a fusion of 18th-century rationalism (man’s reason is the final arbiter of truth) and 19th century romanticism (man’s experience is the final arbiter of truth). The foundational spirit of liberalism is simple: Christianity must conform to the temper of the times. The Bible and Christian dogma are not finally authoritative. Man’s reason and experience in the modern world, particularly as exhibited in science, are finally authoritative.

 

Perhaps the single greatest source of all liberalism was the greatest Enlightenment philosopher of all, Immanuel  Kant. Kant believed that man can gain knowledge only from his senses interacting with pre-established categories of human thought. Man can know nothing of certainty about God or the spiritual world. Man’s mind isn’t constructed to know God. Kant did not deny God existed. He denied, however, that we could have reliable knowledge about God. Kant’s influence on theological liberals meant that they were free to invent the kind of God and the kind of Christian Faith they wanted to have.

 

This last point is liberalism in a nutshell.

 

The early liberals questioned the authenticity of the Bible’s text, the orthodox Trinity, the biblical account of miracles, the deity of Jesus Christ, and other central truths of Christianity.

 

Contemporary liberals have changed. They haven’t changed liberalism’s guiding principle (they still often deny the doctrines early liberals denied about the Faith); but they have changed what they emphasize in denying. Because the temper of the times has changed, they have been obliged to change. Marx-Jesus2The real issues for them today are sexual autonomy, moral relativism, and Cultural Marxism. In other words, the very things popular in the surrounding apostate culture.  If the credo of liberalism is conforming the Faith to the contemporary world, liberals must always be inherently worldly.

 

Just as the tenets of early liberalism with which Machen interacted were diametrically opposed to Christianity, so the guiding beliefs of today’s liberalism are. The Bible supports sexual fidelity (sexual intercourse between a married man and woman), not sexual autonomy. The Bible presupposes God’s revelation as final truth, and it obviously cannot permit moral relativism. The Bible dictates hierarchies in all areas of life, starting with God’s hierarchy over man. There’s no place for the leveling of all hierarchies, which is what Cultural Marxism is all about.

 

Machen understood that liberalism was not disputing important but secondary issues of the Faith, like the sacraments or ordinances, church polity, the specifics of biblical prophecy, the sign gifts, and so on. Rather, liberalism cut the heart out of the Faith — the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his substitutionary atonement on the Cross. When you don’t have these, it’s not orthodox Christianity you lose. It’s Christianity you lose.

 

“Churches that establish a policy accepting unrepentant homosexuals or same-sex ‘marriage’ or encouraging abortion or radical sexual egalitarianism are not Christian churches.”

 

The reason many Christians are confused as to how to classify today’s liberals is that they’ve not until recently encountered professed Christians who aren’t boldly denying the Apostles Creed but who are denying tenets of biblical teaching that the church everywhere until recently has affirmed. Those teachings include marriage as between one man and one woman, homosexuality as sin, abortion as murder, radical sexual egalitarianism as contra-creational. Today’s liberals deny them for the same reason: the Bible’s teaching doesn’t fit the temper of the age. Until recent decades (or years), no one — not even the early liberals — would have thought of questioning these biblical truths. Even if they agree with Machen about the early liberals, what should they say about modern liberals? They should say the same thing Machen said ­— liberalism isn’t Christianity. Churches that establish a policy accepting unrepentant homosexuals or same-sex “marriage” or encouraging abortion or radical sexual egalitarianism are not Christian churches. wolf_in_sheeps_clothing2.jpgWhy? Because Jesus and Paul and Peter and John would not have considered same-sex “marriage” less evil or dangerous (Rom. 1:18–32) than (for example) the Gnostic heresy that Jesus did not come in the flesh (2 Jn. 7). Not all false teaching striking at the core of Christianity is found in the Apostles Creed. Why? Because no one at the time the Creed was developed would have dreamed of assuming that the Bible would permit, for instance, homosexuality or radical sexual egalitarianism. If anything, this shows that the violations of today’s liberals might be even more destructive than heresies of the early centuries of the church since at the time nobody, including the heretics, would have even considered them. Arianism (the Son of God is a created being) is a pernicious heresy, but no Arian would have supported same-sex “marriage.”

 

Machen 2.0 would say what Machen 1.0 said: teachings that strike at the very heart of Christianity so distort it that if unchecked they produce another religion.

 

That religion is not Christianity.

What About Same-Sex Attraction?

Posted on March 14, 2018

This is a response to a dear Christian friend asking about her church’s policy concerning same-sex attraction:

 

Dear —–:

 

The article was absorbing, and the writer is truly gifted. Even though he writes through the lens of his own homosexuality, the picture he presents of [your church] is largely commendable. Make no mistake about it: your church stands significantly on the authority of the Bible and is deeply Christian. It is far superior to many churches today that are collapsing before the bulldozer of politically correct worldliness.

 

What-Causes-Same-Sex-Attraction

 

You asked specifically about [your church’s] view of homosexuality as depicted in the article. Remember that this article was written by a homosexual, so we cannot be 100% certain that he has accurately conveyed [your pastor’s] viewpoint.

 

Nonetheless, like you, I did find some aspects troubling. Many evangelical churches today ministering to Christians who confess homosexual desires demand celibacy. This certainly is the right start. Homosexual intercourse is abominable. This is what the Bible says, and there is no other way to describe it. But then there’s the more complex and vexing issue of “sexual orientation.” This is a comparatively modern notion. The Bible knows nothing about sexual orientation. God’s creation order is male and female, with no remainder. Sexual intercourse is a beautiful gift from God reserved for marriage between a man and woman. Everything else is sinful. It breaks God’s beautiful creation order.

 

To teach and act as though “gayness” that is not consummated in intercourse is permissible, an ongoing lifelong condition, cannot be sustained from the Bible. I presume that [your pastor] would never say that a man whose heart is filled with hatred for other people but never actually unleashes that hatred in the act of murder should fit just fine in [your church] without addressing the heart (desire) problem. We read in James 1:15, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” The root of all sin is desire that is not governed by the Word and Spirit of God. The metaphor James uses is childbirth. Sin is conceived in wrong desires, and those desires, if unchecked, birth sin that grows up and leads to death.

 

Part of the job of the church is lovingly and patiently to confront those desires — not just homosexual desires, to be sure, but all desires that lead to sin. It just so happens that homosexual desires are the big cultural topic of the moment in evangelical churches. A church that does not address those desires does not understand the radical, transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and does not stand for the radical, grace-drenched holiness of God, which he demands.

 

“Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

 

None of this should detract from my favorable assessment of many other aspects of your church. I repeat that it is far superior to many other evangelical churches today.

 

I’ve tried to be as biblical and as honest as I know how to be in such a short space. Please write back if this answer doesn’t suffice.

 

I am profoundly impressed by your desire to please God and follow Jesus Christ no matter what the cost. Never forget: God blesses obedience.

Dispensationalism’s Dualized Gospel

Posted on March 13, 2018

The evangelical church in 19th century England and the United States saw the rise of dispensationalism.[1] It constituted a comprehensive hermeneutics (way of interpreting the Bible), but for our purposes it’s important to understand that it divided the Bible into two separate messages:[2] one message to the nation of Israel, and another message to the Gentile church. The Jews were considered to be God’s earthly people, and the church his heavenly people. God’s promises to the Jews were for this world, and his promises to the church were for the eternal world. The Bible itself was deemed a dual book. The OT and parts of the NT were given to Israel. Much of the NT, and particularly Paul’s epistles, were given to the church. Among other things, this meant that the NT promises to the church, which assumed the OT promises to the Jews, had to be cut off from the OT, which was a Jewish book. The gospel promises are for personal victory and our future home in heaven. They have nothing to do with God’s redeeming the entire creation by his Son’s death and resurrection. This earthly victory could only happen by the enforced kingdom during the centralized government of the future millennium during which Jesus literally rules in Jerusalem over the Jews.[3] The Gentile church by that time would be far away in heaven, having been raptured away from the earth.

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The dispensational gospel is the Gentile gospel, and the Gentile gospel saves individuals from sin and prepares them to meet the Lord. The Jewish gospel includes restoring ethnic Israel to her God-given land of Canaan and overspreading the earth and its nations with Jewish blessings. This will all be delayed until the future millennium.

 

This dualistic hermeneutic divides what God unites. The Bible teaches the unity of God’s purposes.[4] God’s gospel and the law and covenant and promises come to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. All of those who trust in Jesus Christ are the heirs of the biblical promises, both the OT and NT (Eph. 2:11–13; Gal. 3:25–29). But if you believe the dispensational, dualized gospel, while you might understand the basics of our Lord’s death and resurrection and our future home with the Lord, you won’t understand the unified, comprehensive gospel of the Bible.

 

And this misunderstanding is precisely what has dominated much of evangelicalism for the last few generations. It explains why for many decades large swaths of evangelicalism did not engage politics, did not care much for creation, did not develop (or preserve) a distinctly Christian view of education, did not enjoy many of the blessings of the created order (labeling them “worldly”), and did not plan for a long-term Gospel victory in time and history.

 

The blame for the present cultural disenfranchisement of Christianity can be laid partly at the feet of dispensationalism.


[1] For a sympathetic treatment, see Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965).
[2] For a refutation, see John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991).
[3] For a comprehensive dispensational eschatology, see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958).
[4] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).

The Prohibition of Questioning

Posted on March 8, 2018

Eric Voegelin once identified “the prohibition of questioning” as a chief mark of old-time Marxism: “Shut up and follow us enlightened Communists.” The new Cultural Marxists are worse than the old-line Communists ever were. The latest Marxists (leading our major universities and influencing mainstream media and Hollywood and the legal profession) don’t want to reengineer just economics; their goal is nothing short of inventing the New Utopian Man (forgive me: “Person”) free to live in utterly pagan/secular, sexual, and legal autonomy — except for autonomy from the all-powerful state, which guarantees no interference to their depravity. And anyone who dare speak out against the New Progressive Order is to be silenced and steamrolled.

 

CCL is speaking out, and by God’s grace, and your prayer and money, we’ll never be silent. If you’re a donor, the next few months, plan to see the following titles show up at your doorstep: first, by Holy Week, my Prayer Changes Things: Abolishing Timid Praying. Then comes David L. Banhsen’s Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It. Next comes Brian Mattson’s The Bible as Bedtime Story. By late spring I should mail my Reformationally Correct: How to Be Protestant Today. Judge Graves’ book Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Constitutional Liberties and Law is available but will likely be released and promoted nationally this summer. Joseph Boot’s The Self-Destructive Doctrine of Islam should be ready by fall.

 

Thus far this year I’m scheduled to address the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, Washington, D.C. (Dr. Jeffery J. Ventrella); the Worldview Leadership League, Toronto, Canada (Dr. Joseph Boot); the Wilberforce Academy, Cambridge, England (Andrea Williams, Esq.); and Truth Xchange, Escondido, California (Dr. Peter Jones).

 

And then there are the consistently active CCL blog (docsandlin.com), I-Tunes podcasts, and You Tube videocasts.

 

We refuse to be silenced by the thugs of Cultural Marxism.

 

Can you keep us keep speaking out for biblical truth and against the Cultural Marxists eroding our society ? If you can, please send a check today:

CCL

P. O. Box 100

Coulterville, CA 95311

 

Or donate here via PayPal or here via Venmo.

 

I am deeply grateful for anything you can do to help us.

The Ironic Luxury of Forgetting

Posted on March 7, 2018

Richard Niebuhr’s minor classic Christ and Culture posits five paradigms for how Christians have related the Christian Faith to culture, but today’s environment largely reduces to two: transformationism and privatism. Transformationism sees the task of Christians as gradually influencing society with Christian truth in the hope (and certainty) that all of life will eventually be redeemed. Privatism (sometimes called “pietism”) believes Christians should be faithful citizens in the wider society but limit their Christianity as Christians to the family, church, friendships, personal evangelism, and other “non-public” spheres. The realm of culture is common to all, believers and unbelievers. The realm of the church is sacred, special, for believers. The ethics of Faith are ethics for the church; ethics for culture are common (common sense?), not distinctively Christian ethics. Among Reformation people, the distilled, sophisticated version of this paradigm is designated the “Two Kingdom Theology” (2KT), championed today by such Calvinists as Michael Horton and David VanDrunen.

 

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Brian Mattson (Ph.D., Aberdeen), Senior Scholar of Public Theology at the Center for Cultural Leadership (CCL, which I lead), contests 2KT in Cultural Amnesia, and it is a testimony to Mattson’s remarkable giftedness that in 50 pages he manages graciously to demolish that viewpoint. If you want the most succinct, incisive refutation of 2KT, in fact, this is it.

 

The book consists of three essays, the first two talks delivered at a CCL symposium a few years ago, and the third a short piece originally published on the web. Chapter 1 refutes the basic 2KT argument that ethics are common to all people and that, therefore, there’s nothing especially Christian about them. In short, according to 2KT, we don’t need Christian cultural ethics, just Christian churchly ethics. Mattson furnishes examples of the fact that common cultural ethics aren’t actually that common — and where they are, it’s because of Christian influence. 2KT advocates can argue against distinctly Christian cultural ethics only because of the success of those very ethics: they enjoy the ironic luxury of forgetting. They suffer from cultural amnesia.

 

In chapter 2, Mattson lays out the unity between creation (Genesis 1–2) and re-creation (redemption by Jesus Christ), a unity which doesn’t permit the dualism of 2KT, which actually severs creation and redemption. Mattson relies on the paradigm of Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (Mattson wrote his doctoral dissertation on Bavinck): “Grace restores and perfects nature.” If we decouple redemption from creation, as 2KT in effect does, we march toward Gnosticism, which sees redemption as salvation from the created order, and not from sin itself.

 

Mattson’s concluding chapter is ingenious. He puts 2KT to the test by applying the thesis to the obviously pre-Christian, originally non-redemptive institution: the family. Surely, if any cultural institution is exempt from Christian redemption and distinctively Christian ethics, it’s the family. Right? Wrong. 2KT epic fail.

 

A theologian friend once remarked to me that it doesn’t take long tomes to expound a number of the doctrines of the Bible. Similarly, it doesn’t require a multi-volume series to refute 2KT.

 

You could do it in 50 pages.

 

Jesus Christ’s “Finished Work” Finishes Off Satan and Sin

Posted on March 7, 2018

As we noted in part 1, God as the person of Jesus Christ reconciles the world. Theologians are fond of considering how the members of the Trinity covenanted in eternity to accomplish man’s salvation. They sometimes call it the “covenant of redemption.” But the Bible doesn’t quite call it that, and in fact says very little about a pre-temporal heavenly agreement about who gets to do what in man’s salvation. This is largely an exercise in useless speculation.[1]

 

kruisIt’s not speculative, and far from useless, to consider that God was in Christ reconciling. Man’s sin turned him into God’s enemy (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21; Jas. 4:4). Man wants to be free from God’s love and God’s standards. Man’s sin, in turn, separates him from God (Is. 59:2). It exposes him to God’s severe judgment (Rom. 1:18–32; 2:5–6). From God’s standpoint, this is not a permanently agreeable arrangement. God overcomes the estrangement by reconciling man. This is what Holy Week is all about. God came as (and not merely sent) Jesus Christ. God is the agent in reconciling. Why? Because sin is personal, reconciliation is personal. Sin isn’t just the impersonal breaking of “natural law”; it’s the breaking of God’s revealed law (1 Jn. 3:1–10). Sin is against God. This is why reconciliation must be by and with God. On the Cross, Jesus didn’t meet impersonal demands of impersonal justice. He met the demands of God’s highly personal justice. God suffered his own righteous penalty for (our) sin.

 

Reconciliation is not Christ’s paying our sin debt to a God waiting to find any reason to judge sinners but finally pacified by another, his Son, a Father who did not feel at that point as the Son did. God sent Jesus to propitiate himself, that is, turn away his own wrath (1 Jn. 4:10), because of his great love for us. God himself poured out his own wrath on himself (Jesus Christ) to save sinners.[2] God is the reconciler.

 

God doesn’t hide behind Jesus Christ

 

813552244542f7193108aa0bcca3e9c3If we want to know more about the Father than we can learn from the Son, we’re on a fool’s errand. Once a young woman who had suffered degrading sexual abuse as a child and had been battered by evil men and was living in squalor and poverty finally made her way as a last resort to a faithful church on her block. After the service, the pastor greeted her and asked her about her life. In great sorrow she summarized her harrowing history and declared that this church was her last attempt at life. She had given up on God and was almost hopeless and was contemplating suicide.

 

The pastor immediately related the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, about how on the Cross he died after being beaten and battered by wicked men. He told her that if anybody knows and understands her great agony and shame and loss and humiliation, it is Jesus Christ.

 

She thought for a moment and then slowly she uttered in timid, broken words, “I imagine that if I could believe that God were like Jesus, I could believe in God.”

 

“Well,” the pastor responded, “I have the most wonderful news in the world for you. God is exactly like Jesus, and if you want to know God, simply trust and give your life to his Son. In Jesus you will learn everything about God that you need to know.”

 

God doesn’t hide in Jesus Christ. God manifests himself most plainly in Jesus Christ: “God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Not hidden. Manifested. And manifested most, perhaps, at the Cross.

 

The “finished work” finishes off Satan and sin

 

Because no one less than God is the reconciler, this reconciliation cannot fail. When God acts to finalize his work with man, man cannot thwart him. It is this truth that stands out in Romans 8:32, 39:

 

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? … . For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” not merely because of, or reflected by, but in. The love of Christ on the Cross is the love of God.

 

The old-timers were fond of calling this the “finished work of Christ.” Because redemption is God’s work through and through, it is a final, enduring work. The present intercession of our Lord at the right hand is not one of an aggressive mediator trying to convince a reluctant party, pestering for concessions, anxiously hoping he will get what he wants from his Father. Christ sat down on his heavenly throne (Heb. 1:1–3). His priestly work is forever finished. He intercedes with a Father who, knowing the pangs of sin-inducing death, longs and lives and loves to forgive in his Son.

 

Hebrews 1 assures us that as a result of his priestly, reconciling death, Jesus is seated with his Father, sharing in his heavenly rule over the cosmos, waiting until all of his enemies are subdued (vv. 8, 13). The position of sitting on the throne is one of patient, confident ruling. In Christology, it is customary to distinguish between the humiliation of Christ and his exaltation. This language is borrowed from Philippians 2 — “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him … (vv. 8–9). The state of humiliation covers his birth to death, and his exaltation begins with his resurrection. But if pressed too far without reference to other biblical texts, this distinction shields a very important truth: Jesus’ death was a form of exaltation and victory. Our Lord himself said:

 

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die. (Jn. 12:31–33, emphasis supplied)

 

In his death, Jesus is exalted to judge the depraved world and Satan who leads it. In Colossians, Paul elaborates on this theme:

 

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (2:13–15)

 

jesus-defeats-satanAt the Cross, Jesus squashed the “principalities and powers,” the satanic spirits at war with God. We stood guilty under God’s holy law, and our disobedience enslaved us to Satan. God in Christ “wiped out” that guilt, because God bore his own righteous penalty. He erased not just that penalty, but also even the “handwriting of requirements,” the condemnation of the ceremonial law that always reminded the Jews of their sin (Heb. 10:3).[3] In Jesus’ death, our sins are blotted out. The metaphor is of a triumphant king, returning to his home country, displaying his defeated captives as a great spectacle for all his citizens to see. Matthew Henry captures the victory beautifully:

 

The Redeemer conquered by dying. See his crown of thorns turned into a crown of laurels. He spoiled them, broke the devil’s power, and conquered and disabled him, and made a show of them openly — exposed them to public shame, and made a show of them to angels and men. Never had the devil’s kingdom such a mortal blow given to it as was given by the Lord Jesus. He tied them to his chariot-wheels, and rode forth conquering and to conquer — alluding to the custom of a general’s triumph, who returned victorious.

 

In this way, our Lord’s entire redemptive work is an exaltation by which he plunders Satan’s kingdom (Mt. 12:24–30). Jesus Christ’s exaltation was not delayed until his resurrection, which, along with his ascension to his heavenly throne, is the apex of his exaltation. But his death itself is an exaltation and victory, preparing the way for the transition to the full victory in the resurrection and ascension.[4]

 

One reason we are disinclined to perceive this fact is that we can’t get our minds around an exaltation that includes humility and suffering. But it is precisely in these tribulations that we detect God’s victory in Jesus Christ. It is the slain-but-resurrected Lamb on his throne of deity whom the heavenly hosts worship (Rev. 5:8–13). God shows himself to be God in our Lord’s death on the Cross, high and lifted up in meeting the demands of his own holiness in sacrificing his own life for the world. Put another way: we see in the Cross something of God that we cannot see (or certainly not as clearly) anywhere else. We see God exalted in a way that is an affront and scandal to the sinful world (1 Cor. 1:18–25; Gal. 5:11), a world which prizes an exaltation of pride and dominance and comfort. But God in sacrificing himself for sins is exalted in humility and subservience and agony.

 

Jesus Christ’s death was itself an exaltation and victory — the Son of Man “lifted up” to draw the sinful world to him, and victory over the forces of Satan and sin and hell. 

 

While the apostate chief priests scribes and elders mocked Jesus’ claims as Messiah since in their view Messiah could never suffer crucifixion (Mt. 27:41–42), the Roman centurion and his friends at the foot of the Cross declared after Jesus’ death: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (v. 54), God in Christ exalted himself in reconciling the world. On the Cross, he was not less King than in the resurrection and ascension, though King in a different way. In his resurrection and ascension, he reigns over the cosmos. In his death, he reigns over the guilt and bondage of human sinfulness and the satanic principalities and powers that exploit that sinfulness. It is in this sense that our Lord’s redemptive work can be described as a transition from humiliation to exaltation.

 

For this reason, the gospel of reconciliation will not fail. And for this reason, anxiety is never appropriate for a child of God, no matter the (temporary) victories of Satan and sin. In the memorable words of Longfellow:

 

Though the mills of God grind slowly;

Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting,

With exactness grinds He all.

 

But when we do not see God as the reconciler we might be tempted to diminish the great, global gospel promises. We might recognize that God has delegated the task of world evangelization to the church, but then forget that God himself in the person of his Son is in our presence wherever we declare that gospel (Mt. 28:18–20). God himself is reconciling sinners. For this reason we move boldly in confidence at the success of the gospel. Charles H. Spurgeon asserts:

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The success of the Gospel is in no jeopardy whatever. Jesus must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.

If the devil can persuade you that Christ is going to give up the war, or is going to fight it out on another line and dispense with your efforts, you will soon grow idle. You will find an excuse for laziness in some supposed conversion of the world by miracle, or some other wonderful affair. You will say the Lord is coming and the war will all be over at once, so there is no need of your fighting it out now. Do not believe it! Our Commander is able to fight it through on this line—in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, by the power of the Eternal Spirit, we are bound to keep right on till this world yields before God….

No gunner may leave his gun, no subordinate may disperse his band, no officer may suggest a retreat. Brothers and Sisters, Popery must fall! Mohammedanism must come down! All the idol gods must be broken and cast to the moles and to the bats! It looks like a task too gigantic, but the bare arm of God — only think of that — His sleeve rolled up, Omnipotence, itself, made bare — what can it not accomplish? Stand back, devils! When God’s bare arm comes into the fight, you will all run like dogs, for you know your Master! Stand back, heresies and schisms, evils and delusions! You will all disappear, for the Christ of God is mightier than you!

O, believe it! Do not be downhearted and dispirited! Do not run to new schemes and fancies and interpretations of prophecy. Go and preach Jesus Christ unto all the nations! Go and spread abroad the Savior’s blessed name, for He is the world’s only hope! The Cross is the banner of our victory! God help us to look to it ourselves and then to hold it up before the eyes of others till our Lord shall come upon His Throne. Amen.[5]

 

God will win, because God is the one reconciling.[6]


 

[1] Herman Bavinck, acknowledging that this idea “among the Reformed was not free of scholastic subtlety,” does make a biblical, though inferential, argument for it. See his Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: baker Academic, 2006), 3:213–216.
[2] Leon Morris, The Atonement, Its Meaning & Significance (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1983), 151–176.
[3] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians, in Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker 1993), 21:190–192.
[4] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1978, 1987).
[5] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sovereign Grace Sermons (Edmonton, Alberta: Still Waters, 1990), 50–51.
[6] I am indebted to John Barach, Matthew Colvin, John M. Frame, and Brian G. Mattson for valuable suggestions to earlier versions of this essay. I alone am responsible for its content.

The Great Responsibility Recession

Posted on March 7, 2018

David L. Bahnsen’s counternarrative (p. xx) of both the 2008 financial housing crisis and the 2016 populist political upheaval links both to a single source: a crisis of responsibility, a lack of which infects not just economics and politics but the entire culture. His nearly unprecedented thesis identifies culprits almost everywhere, and not just, as is widely believed, in the perches of elitism increasingly criticized by their alleged victims at the social margins. Bahnsen is an equal opportunity offender (“this book has offered no immunity to anyone,” 156), and his brisk 170-pages cover surprisingly wide ground in indicting nearly every classification in our society for the irresponsibility that contributes to our present ills.

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Although an unapologetic sociopolitical conservative, Bahnsen’s critique targets fellow conservatives just as much as Leftists — and perhaps more energetically, since of the two viewpoints, personal responsibility has been a guiding tenet of conservatism … until lately. The conservatives who blame Wall Street, Washington, NAFTA, China, Mexico and the media are more blameworthy than the Leftists who blame individual liberty, the traditional family and church, small government, military interventionism, private education, and free markets (pp. 15–29). Leftists are suckled on blame-shifting. Conservatives should know better.

Playing the Victim Card

Though a Barron’s- and Forbes-recognized investment executive knowledgeable in both economics and politics, his is a cultural (i.e., spiritual and moral) critique. Economics, like politics, is downstream from culture (p. 32, 42). While his nuanced account avoids oversimplified villainization, valorization, and victimization (p. 11), he contends that a particular personal and cultural vice (irresponsibility) got us into the economic and political mess, and only a particular personal and cultural virtue (responsibility) will get us out. Playing the victim card is oh-so-easy since it contains a built-in disincentive for the cardholder to change his bad behavior. What bad behavior? How about easy, no-fault divorce; protracted cohabitation; out-of-wedlock births; long-delayed marriages; overused disability claims; and downright laziness? And that’s just the men. Bahnsen rehearses Charles Murray’s thesis that wealthier Americans are far more pro-family and in general culturally conservative than the impoverished. Murray wishes that the former would “preach what they practice,” and what they practice is precisely the responsibility virtue Bahnsen champions.

Pleasantly False Narratives

Bahnsen’s thesis includes refuting almost universally assumed narratives (“narratives do not like specifics,” p. 20) surrounding the financial crisis. For example, we all know that the 2008 near-collapse is due primarily to the “subprime housing crisis.” The problem is that, in the old adage, what we know ain’t so. Although fraudulent lending and investment overleveraging were causes, they weren’t the leading causes, the chief of which is millions of borrowers “who could afford their home payment, but realized that the sticker price that they paid was far more than the present resale value of the home, and thus made the morally questionable decision to walk away” (p. 52). We were regaled with the accusatory mantra of “predatory lending,” but the far greater culprit was “predatory borrowing” (p. 56). An entire spurious vocabulary was adopted, including “strategic defaulting” (p. 59) = walking away from your mortgage you can afford to pay in order to put yourself in a better financial position. Perhaps we should call 2008 a “strategic collapse.”

Victims of Free Markets?

Bahnsen then takes on the reputed victimization unleashed by the free market and automization. It’s a pity that such a chapter had to be written, because there’s an overabundance of evidence that everywhere they go, free markets create wealth, not victims. It’s true that free trade doesn’t save every possible job, but it creates new jobs. And Bahnsen supports incentives for retraining workers whose jobs have been lost due to global trade and new technologies. He notes the fact, almost never mentioned, that “when multinational companies hire more foreign employees, they also increase domestic hiring” (p. 72, emphasis in original). And he reminds readers that there aren’t enough applicants for all the jobs presently available (p. 74). Talk about inconvenient truths!

Samuel the Jewish Prophet and Crony Capitalism

Anyone assuming Bahnsen’s unalloyed defense of free markets mutes criticism of the misuse of the market should read chapter 6, a searing attack on crony capitalism. He offers a fascinating application of 1 Samuel 8, Israel’s demand for a king. He notes that the rationale the Jews gave to Samuel is that his sons took bribes and perverted justice, lining their own pockets. In other words, an incipient form of crony capitalism inspired them to nag for bigger government in order to suppress the non-virtuous market (pp. 79–80). In the same way, citizens today shed responsibility and ask for bigger government on the grounds that it alone can “drain the swamp” in which grows the vast Business-Government Complex. And the fact is, the swamp needs draining. Free-market Republicans who clamor for special economic favors for pet businesses aren’t really free-marketers at all. The free market must be free for everybody (pp. 83–86). Bahnsen suggests that lower tax rates and decreased regulation for everybody will abolish crony capitalism and quell the populist demands for bloated government power to “level the economic playing field.” A genuinely free market is a level playing field.

Immigration, the Right Kind

In disclosing how the current immigration controversy contributes to cultural irresponsibility, Bahnsen offers a remarkably balanced assessment. He agrees with criticism of an immigration policy that incentivizes illegality and opens welfare coffers for illegals. Moreover, he points out the error of confusing multiculturalism with immigration (pp. 102–105). Multiculturalism argues that all cultures are equally valid and that the United States should not insist on the superiority of its ideals. Multiculturalism trashes American exceptionalism, dilutes a healthy patriotism, and undermines the cultural virtues that for centuries made for the ubiquitous success of the West. An immigration policy catalyzing multiculturalism must be opposed. But Bahnsen notes that this is not what immigration should be about — or has been about for most of America’s history. Assimilating immigrants committed to basic American ideals and to improving our nation has almost always be U.S. immigration policy. It worked wonders. Bahnsen exposes the unfairness and hypocrisy of protectionism (“No one would ever try to protect a Stanford computer science PhD from an invasion of lower-cost programmers from India,” p. 106). He notes, contrary to received opinion, that low-skilled immigrant labor adds jobs for native-born workers (p. 107). Far from victimizing the native-born, immigrants (the right kind) generate wealth. Blaming immigrants for fewer U.S. jobs isn’t just morally wrong; it’s just plain wrong.

The Civil Wrongs of Public Schools

One of the biggest impediments to recovering cultural responsibility is the monopolistic, coercive — and too often substandard — public school system of the United States. Bahnsen declares that educational choice is “the great civil rights issue of our day” (p. 89). He blasts the teachers’ unions, whose monopoly harms the very people (the poor) they claim to be assisting. Insulating themselves from competition (charter and private schools), government schools happily persist in their own lazy incompetence (with some exceptions, of course). Bahnsen wryly observes that if the current populist rage were directed at this educational monopoly, “we would see a truly righteous transformation” (p. 98).

Hothouses of Irresponsibility

He is even more emphatic in exposing the downright evils of our secular post-secondary education. In this mostly dispassionate book, Bahnsen reserves tart rhetoric for “higher education’s safe spaces” (p. 111):

The American university system now offers families the worst of both worlds — inherit insane debt and receive little preparation for adult responsibilities, while being indoctrinated with propositions that undermine the foundational values of Western civilization. That’s right. One can now go broke being taught to think incorrectly.

Bahnsen offers the jarring statistic that “[c]umulative student loan debt now exceeds $1.4 trillion, greater than total national credit card debt and the total national mortgage debt — by a wide margin” (p. 114). If you think that no economic downturn could be as scary as the 2008 home mortgage crisis, re-read that last sentence.

Bahnsen questions the educational orthodoxy that every young person benefits from college, but his chief argument is that today’s university education insulates students from life and cultivates the mentality and attitude of irresponsibility. Our universities are hothouses for the Great Responsibility Recession.

Who Made Big Government?

One of the foundational tenets of conservatism is limited government, which Bahnsen champions, but he cautions blaming big government for all social ills. Big government is the symptom, not the disease (p. 120). The disease is irresponsibility. Citizens, including many conservatives, are quite happy with big government as long as it’s “good” big government. An example is entitlements. He reminds us of the harrowing statistic:

[I]f we spent no money on anything but transfer payments, we would still run a deficit in this country. If we had no governmental departments, no salaries, no military, no debt interest, no programs — just Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare, Unemployment, and so on — we would still be in a financial hole (p. 125).

Big government didn’t appear overnight. Irresponsible citizens gradually ceded their rightful responsibilities to the federal government — and now have the temerity to complain about the behemoth that is federal government. Like all true conservatives, Bahnsen is an advocate of mediating institutions, what we nowadays call “civil society,” like the family and church and businesses (p. 127). These non-political institutions, not just individuals (he is no fan of “rugged individualism” that bypasses civil society, p. 159) must commandeer the responsibilities that individuals and institutions gradually ceded to the state.

The Responsibility Remedy

In the final two chapters, Bahnsen turns almost entirely from description to prescription. First, how can individuals recover the responsibility mindset? He counsels a ten-item “responsibility remedy” (p. 133), several items of which sound radical, but only because we’ve drifted so far in our Responsibility Recession that responsibility sounds radical: “Thoroughly repudiate defeatism and victimhood in your own life — even when you’ve actually been victimized” (emphasis in original); “Prepare your children for economic self-reliance” (don’t “allow for the years between twenty-one and thirty-five to be merely a time of nonproductive discovery,” p. 139): and “Flee the cult of home ownership and home price appreciation” (p. 141): if you’re using your home equity as an ATM card or as a trading card, you’re acting irresponsibly and will eventually pay the price of a compulsive gambler.

Bahnsen concludes by suggesting the cultural remedy as a counterpart to the individual remedy. He includes the following policy prescriptions: add tax deductibility for job retaining in a dynamic economy, quit using housing policy to engineer social aims, and abolish crony capitalism (pp. 155–156).

He chides conservatives who (legitimately) assail elitism if they do not simultaneously re-appropriate from elites the tasks for which they themselves should have been responsible all along. We must all abandon scapegoatism. We are responsible.

Bahnsen concludes with an autobiographical note, rehearsing his own journey from radical individualism to a responsible pro-liberty view respectful of civil society. His burning passion is human flourishing: that all citizens, whatever their cultural and economic station, can benefit from a free, virtuous society. That society is impossible as long as its members constantly shift responsibility and blame.

The mostly dispassionate language and logic of this book render its bluntly radical thesis less detectible. But make no mistake: if this book were taken seriously by even a sizable minority of ordinary citizens and cultural leaders, the United States of the next few decades would be dramatically different from the one today.

Responsible. And therefore flourishing.

My Favorite 2017 Movies

Posted on March 4, 2018

My theory is that great years for movies come along once every 35 years: 1972 and 2007 come immediately to mind. I’m eager for 2042. Still, 2017 wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. I was greatly disappointed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which, like Mark Hamill, looked old and tired; in Blade Runner 2049, a visual spectacle that would have been much better without the plot and dialogue; and in Dunkirk, though I’m a huge Christopher Nolan fan. My favorite movie, which made no other top list, did, however, highlight another Christopher, one to whom my late mother first introduced me as a little boy and with whom I instantly identified.

 

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  1. Goodbye Christopher Robin

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  1. Darkest Hour

  2. Get Out
  1. Logan
  1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
  1. Wonder Woman
  1. American Made
  1. Baby Driver
  1. John Wick 2
  1. Kong: Skull Island

“Whoever Paints a Pretty Death Can Paint No Resurrection”

Posted on January 25, 2018

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The death of Socrates is a beautiful death. Nothing is seen here of death’s terror. Socrates cannot fear death, since indeed it sets us free from the body. Whoever fears death proves that he loves the world of the body, that he is thoroughly entangled in the world of the senses. Death is the soul’s great friend. So he teaches; and so, in wonderful harmony with his teaching, he dies—this man who embodied the Greek world in its noblest form.

And now let us hear how Jesus dies. In Gethsemane he knows that death stands before him, just as Socrates expected death on his last day. The synoptic evangelists furnish us, by and large, with a unanimous report. Jesus begins “to tremble and be distressed,” writes Mark. “My soul is troubled, even to death,” he says to his disciples. Jesus is so thoroughly human that he shares the natural fear of death. Jesus is afraid… He is afraid in the face of death itself. Death for him is not something divine; it is something dreadful.

Only he who apprehends with the first Christians the horror of death, who takes death seriously as death, can comprehend the Easter exultation of the primitive Christian community and understand that the whole thinking of the New Testament is governed by belief in the resurrection. Belief in the immortality of the soul is not belief in a revolutionary event. Immortality, in fact, is only a negative assertion: the soul does not die, but simply lives on. Resurrection is a positive assertion: the whole man, who has really died, is recalled to life by a new act of creation by God. Something has happened—a miracle of creation! For something has also happened previously, something fearful: life formed by God has been destroyed.

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Death in itself is not beautiful, not even the death of Jesus. Death before Easter is really the death’s head surrounded by the odor of decay. And the death of Jesus is as loathsome as the great painter Grünewald depicted it in the Middle Ages. But precisely for this reason the same painter understood how to paint, along with it, in an incomparable way, the great victory, the resurrection of Christ… Whoever paints a pretty death can paint no resurrection. Whoever has not grasped the horror of death cannot join Paul in the hymn of victory: “Death is swallowed up—in victory! O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”


Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead”, 1955

J. I. Packer on De-Mystifying God

Posted on January 22, 2018

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By “mystification” I mean the idea [often held in traditional views of God] that some biblical statements about God mislead as they stand, and ought to be explained away….

[S]ometimes [in the Bible] God is said to change his mind and to make new decisions as he reacts to human doings. Orthodox theists have insisted that God does not really change his mind since God is impassible and never a “victim” of his creation. As writes Louis Berkhof, representative of this view, “the change is not in God, but in man and man’s relations to God.”

But to say that is to say that some things that Scripture affirms about God do not mean what they seem to mean, and do mean what they do not seem to mean. This provokes the question: How can these statements be part of the revelation of God when they actually misrepresent and so conceal God? In other words, how may we explain these statements about God’s grief and repentance without seeming to explain them away?

[A]t every point in his self-disclosure God reveals what he essentially is, with no gestures that mystify. And surely we must reject as intolerable any suggestion that God in reality is different at any point from what Scripture makes him appear to be. Scripture was not written to mystify and therefore we need to ask how we can dispel the contrary impression that the time-honored, orthodox line of explanation leaves.

 

J. I. Packer, “What Do You Mean When You Say God?” Christianity Today, September 19, 1986, 30, emphases in original.

The Biblical Gospel Is Imperialistic

Posted on January 17, 2018

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It’s fascinating to consider how the ancient Greeks used the word euaggelion (gospel). It was closely associated with the imperial cult. The emperor issued good news, his gospel. He himself embodied the good news. He was deemed in some sense divine. He healed. He performed other miracles. He was the world’s savior. He as a god protected the state. Great signs accompanied his birth and life. His words became sacred writings. He granted great power to humans under his care. No wonder his life and actions and words are celebrated as gospel. The emperor himself was good news.[1]

 

Now if all this sounds familiar, you’ll begin to understand why the NT writers used euaggelion to relate the message surrounding Jesus Christ. He’s the earth’s true emperor, challenging the claims of the Roman emperor.[2] The biblical writers are specifically contrasting Jesus Christ’s empire with the Roman Empire.[3] He’s overturning Caesar’s authority. He’s the real Caesar of the universe. Jesus is the good news. He’s the way of salvation. He’s the world’s rightful ruler. He will overturn all evil and bring redemption.

 

The kingly gospel

 

This is why the NT couches the gospel as a kingdom message (Mt. 4:23; 24:14; Ac. 28:23–31). “The gospel,” writes John Frame, “is the good news of redemption specifically through Christ the King. It is the message ‘your God reigns’ (Is. 52:7) . . . .”[4] This is why Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 16:15 to preach the gospel to the entire creation.[5] The gospel is redeeming the entire creation, not just individuals.

 

The gospel, then, isn’t just a factual enumeration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. More importantly, it’s a declaration of what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ to take his world back from Satan and sin.[6] It isn’t merely a message of how to go to heaven when you die and live a private life well pleasing to God. Personal salvation is one vital aspect of that divine work, but not the whole thing. It’s a message of the Kingship of Jesus in the earth that takes back a sin-scared world for its healing by its rightful owner.

 

 

The Gospel in Part and Full

 

It’s imperative to understand that battling for religious liberty, and protecting the family, and championing biblical sexuality (for example) are not the results of faithful gospel ministry. They aren’t tasks in addition to the gospel. They are a part, an indispensable part, of the gospel ministry.

 

Every time we litigate to protect street preachers, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we influence legislators to vote for marriage, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we lead churches to speak biblical truth outside the walls of the church, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we expose human trafficking, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we work to limit abortion, both by persuading a woman not to get one and influencing the government to limit and eventually abolish it, we’re preaching the gospel.

 

The good news isn’t just that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. It’s also that he’s the only way to get rid of sin in the world. Every act that works to restore God’s pristine creation is a gospel act.

 

We can therefore pray with Isaiah (64:1–4)

 

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains might quake at your presence—

as when fire kindles brushwood

and the fire causes water to boil—

to make your name known to your adversaries,

and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

….

From of old no one has heard

or perceived by the ear,

no eye has seen a God besides you,

who acts for those who wait for him.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Center for Cultural Leadership and similar ministries have their share of Christian critics — not secularists and statists and Muslims, but sincere Christians and churches. Perhaps their attitude is, “Your work isn’t really what Christians are called to do. We’re called to preach the gospel, plant churches, send missionaries, and launch Christian schools. That’s the gospel ministry. At best, CCL and similar works are distracted from the important work. They’re wasting valuable time and money. At worst, they’re turning people away from the true gospel — which is how to trust Jesus and live a holy life and go to heaven when you die. We Christians should be gospel-centered, but CCL is just playing in a sandbox.”

 

These criticisms are mistaken. It’s true that we should all be gospel-centered, but we need to know what the gospel in its fullness actually is. We need more, not fewer, gospel-centered ministries speaking the truth in public life. We need more gospel-centered ministries that are the Lord’s representatives declaring the message that Jesus’ death is reconciling all things to himself. We need more gospel-centered ministries showing how Jesus is redeeming the arts and education and technology and law and vocation. We need more gospel-centered ministries redeeming politics by conforming it to God’s moral law. We need more gospel-centered ministries litigating to protect employees and preachers and families and Christian schools and colleges from the depredations of our apostate state. We need more gospel-centered ministries that will oppose those artificial reproductive technologies that deface humans created in God’s image. We need more gospel-centered ministries that will labor to limit and eventually eliminate abortion. We need more gospel-centered ministries that will restore biblical marriage between one man and one woman in our age of sexual chaos.

 

These emphases aren’t implications of the gospel. They are a critical part of it.

 

The false, bifurcated narrative

 

Christians feel intimidated today by a false narrative: the gospel is a private matter. And so we start using a different language, thinking a different way, operating under different presuppositions in public life.[7] We have a private way of thinking and acting, and a public way of thinking and acting. In private — in our devotions and at home and church — we’re very free and open about our faith: “Jesus is my Savior and Lord. He died for us all on the Cross and rose again for our salvation. We Christians love and serve him. We relish his Word. The Bible governs our lives. We want to glorify God in all we do.” But when we come to public life — politics or the government schools or national economics or the movies or TV or the law — we change our tune. Then we say, “We dare not impose our views on anybody else. We need to be cautious. This isn’t our territory. This is hostile territory. Jesus isn’t Lord here, at least not yet. I’d better just keep my Christianity to myself.”

 

The gospel of the Bible won’t allow this bifurcation. It demands our allegiance and our devotion and passion in public no less than in private. Every culture is religious. It might not be Christian, but it’s certainly religious (secularism is a religion, for example). The only question is whether our public life will be Christian or another, false religion.[8] Our task is, by the Spirit’s power, to replace the current false religion of the public square with the true public religion of Christianity.

 

I invite you to rip down the wall between private and public in your Christian practice. Jesus is Lord of your private life, and he should be Lord of all public life as well. This is the biblical gospel.


[1] Gerhard Friedrich, “εὐαγγέλιον,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-1976), 2:724. My paragraph is indebted to, rewords and summarizes Friedrich’s research.
[2] This is a vital observation of N. T. Wright in What St. Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 39–62. For objections to other aspects of his soteriology, see Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).
[3] With respect to euaggelion, it’s important to remember that isolated words and their etymology do not of themselves provide meaning, as James Barr famously argued in The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford, England: SCM Press, 1961). However, when the context and usage reinforce that traditional etymology, it gains significance. This is precisely the case with euaggelion.
[4] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 95.
[5] R. H. Mounce, “Gospel,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 473.
[6] A. O. Piper, “Gospel (Message),” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, George Arthur Buttrick, ed. (Nashville, Tennessee: Abington, 1962), 2:445.
[7] Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 49.
[8] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Texas: Word, 1976), 1:380.

CCL’s 2018 Agenda: Can You Help?

Posted on December 15, 2017

Friends,

 

Since year’s end is the time when a bulk of the annual donations arrive for many ministries, I try to remind you that we at the Center for Cultural Leadership need money and what we need it for. This year is no different, but there’s much else besides.

 

It was a profound blessing to see a number of you this fall from Middletown, Ohio to Summerville, Pennsylvania to Toronto, Canada to Pratt, Kansas to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Dallas and Corpus Christi and McAllen, Texas.

 

But there’s so much going on, that I must look forward now.

 

In October Drs. Joseph Boot of the Ezra Institute and Peter Jones of truthXchange and I spent a day and a half in southern Ontario near Buffalo, New York at the magnificent, opulent new manor house of the Ezra Institute situated on 23 acres: the International Centre for Reformational Culture. The Centre will host a number of new culture-transforming events, the chief of which will be the Evan Runner International Academy for Cultural Leadership, an intense but exciting two-week school-in-community designed chiefly for college and grad and seminary students and other young Christian adults to educate and equip them in the foundational truths of cultural redemption: everything from biblical interpretation to the meaning of the comprehensive gospel to presuppositional apologetics to creational norms to Oneism versus Twoism to sexual order to biblical law to the heritage of Christendom to Christian culture to Islam and much else.

 

There will be a separate, subsequent week devoted exclusively to young Christian adults preparing to enter the arts (the Centre has a full performance venue with theatrical and musical and sound stage). Please be thinking of students you can recommend to apply. Attendance will be capped at about 50 per academy, the first of which is planned for summer 2019. Drs. Boot, Jones, and I will serve as core faculty, and few faculty will be announced soon. The Centre will also house a 40,000+ volume two-story library and research center for academics and sabbatical for select church leaders. The goal in everything will be to bring the Triune God glory by raising up and educating and equipping a generation of Christians committed to the culture-redeeming Gospel of Jesus Christ designed to shape all of life and thought.

 

Our objective is nothing less than a Christian world based in liberty under God’s truth. CCL is a think tank, and the Runner Academy will be CCL’s premier institutional training program. You’ll be hearing much more about the Centre in coming months. Please contact me with any questions.

 

Judge William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Constitutional Liberties and Law is finished and was just mailed to all donors. If you aren’t a donor but would like a copy of this important work that articulates and defends judicial originalism (the Constitution should be interpreted according to the meaning the Framers gave it), please send a gift for at least $50.00. This book includes over 30 original drawings by the author about law, U.S. history, the Supreme Court, and great Americans from George Washington to Clarence Thomas. It will be a boon to Christian lawyers and students and other Christians interested in a Christian judicial philosophy and the Christian history of the U.S.

 

Next year we plan to release Joseph Boot’s The Self-Destructive Doctrine of Islam and the following works by me: Prayer Changes Things, Creational Theology: An Introduction, and Reformationally Correct: Biblical Protestantism Today. David L. Banhsen’s Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure will be released by Simon & Schuster early next year.

 

After 15 years as a small but faithful think tank, CCL is poised to take the next step in expanding influence for Christ the King. But we need money to take that big step. This is the time of year that donors send big donations. We need a pile this year. Can you help us? If you can, please send a check today or donate here:

 

We must replace about $1000 monthly in decreased donations, so if you can commit to sending $50 to $100 a month or more, I would be most grateful. We are moving ahead, now more than ever, but we need money to do it.

 

This Advent season we celebrate our Lord’s incarnation. He was born to die and rise again and redeem his people, but not just his people: he is redeeming all areas of life presently under the domain of sin. CCL is preaching and teaching and lecturing and writing and praying in expanding that cultural vision. Can you help us do it?

 

I need each of you, and I am humbled by your help.

 

May God bless you as never before during this 2017 Advent season.

 

 

 

For Jesus Christ and Christian culture,

 

Andrew Sandlin, S.T.D.

Founder and President

Responsibility as a Personal and Cultural Imperative

Posted on December 9, 2017

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Slightly revised from remarks delivered at the 2017 CCL symposium in San Francisco, California

 

Introduction

 

Sometimes the topics that the Center for Cultural Leadership targets might seem far removed from your life: D.C. politics, tax-reform legislation, the political correctness of elite Leftist universities, or Hollywood screenwriting worldviews. But today’s topic bores itself into our day-to-day life, into our family, into our very backbone. Responsibility is big a part of what it means to be human in God’s world. We were created in God’s image. God immediately gave our first parents responsibility: to steward the rest of creation, to exert dominion for his glory (Gen. 1:28–28). Think about that fact for a moment. God didn’t first draw attention to a mystical union between himself and humanity. He didn’t ask Adam and Eve to quietly contemplate the beauties of creation. He didn’t even command that they think lofty thoughts about him. He gave them a task for which he made them responsible. Man had the freedom to obey or disobey God. Man is a free, responsible being. God created us to be responsible.

 

Accountability versus Autonomy

 

Responsibility implies accountability. Man is created in God’s image. He’s responsible to God. This means that he’s accountable to God. God calls man to account for his God-given responsibilities. This also means that there can be no autonomy (self-law). Man is not a law to himself. He is responsible to God.

 

God is accountable

 

God himself is accountable. We don’t often think that way, but it’s true. God’s a free and unconditioned being, but he willingly binds himself to his people, and to all humanity, in covenant.[1] In other words, God makes himself responsible. To whom is God responsible? He’s responsible to his own holy being and character. We read in Hebrews: “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Heb. 6:13). A holy God makes himself responsible for his promises. God is accountable to his own stable, holy character.

 

Man’s relationship with God is one of mutual responsibility. Responsibility is woven into the fabric of the universe.

 

Sin and Irresponsibility

 

Man sinned, of course, and man’s sin includes an assault on responsibility. We all know that blame shifting — which actually is responsibility shifting — began in the Garden of Eden. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. The serpent had already blamed God. Sinful man and woman immediately tried to shed responsibility. Blame shifting is tightly bound to original sin. Wherever there’s sin, there’s almost always blame shifting. Why? Man knows that if there is human freedom, there must human responsibility; and if he refuses to be responsible for his sin, he’ll blame somebody else.

 

This blame shifting, this irresponsibility, is at the root of our present apostasy from the Triune God, both personal apostasy and cultural apostasy.

 

Personal Imperative

 

God has laid out in his creational norms (nature) and in his written law (the Bible) man’s basic responsibilities. The fact that the chief responsibilities concern the family shows how important it is in God’s plan. The husband is responsible to love and cherish and provide for the wife. The wife is responsible to love and follow her husband. The parents are responsible to love and provide for and rear their children in the ways of the Lord. The children are responsible to honor and obey their parents. Adult children are responsible for their parents in old age. Individuals as individuals are responsible. We’re responsible for our economic decisions, our sexual activity, and our choice of words. We’re responsible for our property and our animals and the use of our technology.

 

We have specific responsibilities to others besides our family. We are responsible to protect the weakest and vulnerable — children (including, in particular, unborn children), widows, orphans, the sick and elderly. We men are responsible to protect women from assault and harassment and exploitation. We’re responsible to pay our honest debts. We’re responsible to promptly pay our employees. We’re responsible to honor another person’s property. We’re responsible to love and, if necessary, lay down our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters. Life is full of God-imposed responsibility. Without responsibility, there can be no sustained human life.[2]

 

Blaming parents and upbringing

 

But recall that sinful man is almost always inclined to shift responsibility (Gen. 3). The greatest culprit of personal blame shifting of our time centers on one’s own history, particularly our parents and upbringing. It’s remarkable how often the first response to hearing about a gang member or rapist or fornicator or adulterer or drug addict or alcoholic or tax evader or sluggard is, “Well, he or she must’ve had a bad upbringing.” This tendency is one big example of the worldview known as behaviorism: we’re simply the product of our environment. This is a prominent aspect of an anti-Christian, blame-shifting worldview, even though it’s everywhere in our world today.

 

There’s no doubt that our environment affects us. The Bible recognizes this fact. That’s why, for example, it warns us about associating with evil people (1 Cor. 15:33). But environment is never an excuse for our own sins and faults and the consequences we suffer from them.

 

Moreover, if we step back, we might want to consider that all sorts of people had horrid, tragic childhoods and yet they didn’t end up as a criminals or degenerates or apostates. If we suffered from a bad childhood, we can, by God’s grace, overcome that influence. It doesn’t define us, and it’s never an excuse. Whatever our childhood, we are still responsible.

 

Blaming genetics

 

A second blame shifting strategy derives from genetics: “I was born this way.” The father of the young Norwegian who slaughtered over 70 people, including children, at an island retreat a few years ago, explained that his son “must be” mentally ill. There was no other possible explanation.[3] The idea that his son was depraved, and that his son was responsible for his actions, was an explanation apparently unavailable to him.

 

Have you ever noticed in the Bible how God never excuses or even explains man’s sin by recourse to ancestors? If anything, God does just the opposite: he holds children accountable for the sins of their fathers. Children often persist in their parents’ sin, and God judges them: “Just as your fathers were sinful, so you are” (see Is. 65:2–7). God calls us to break with the sins of our parents, not justify our sins by blaming our parents.

 

Learn to blame yourself

 

Amid this personal blame shifting, our calling is clear: take responsibility for our words and actions (and silence and inactions). I’ll be eternally grateful for an aphorism my father drilled into me as a child: Learn to blame yourself. If you spend your life blaming other people for your problems, you will always have a rationale never to change. People who learn to blame themselves, however, have a rationale for changing the way they are, for overcoming their hardships. They can grow in character. Blame shifters never grow in character.

 

If you consistently don’t get a promotion at work, you might want to ask what you are doing wrong instead of always blaming your employer.

 

If your academic record is mediocre, perhaps it’s because you’ve been doing mediocre work rather than that your teachers are conspiring against you.

 

If you persistently lack money, consider that the reason is not that your employer doesn’t appreciate you enough to pay you better. Maybe it’s that you don’t spend wisely or haven’t worked to improve yourself in order to get a better job.

 

Learn to blame yourself.

 

Don’t allow your young children to shift blame. Children don’t need to be taught to shift blame. It’s built into their sinful DNA. Weed out this tendency early. They’ll blame their mistreating of their siblings on their siblings prior actions. Don’t let them blame their failure to do their chores on their tiredness. Don’t let them blame their substandard schoolwork on their allegedly mean teacher. Remember: blame shifting always creates a rationale for the status quo. No one ever changed for the better by blaming somebody else. Teach your children: Learn to blame yourself.

 

“If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, [a]nd if you scoff, you alone will bear it” (Pr. 9:12).

 

This is the imperative for personal responsibility. Then there’s cultural responsibility. And personal irresponsibility leads to cultural irresponsibility.

 

Deep State or Deep Culture?

 

We hear a lot about the Deep State today. Deep State describes the vast government bureaucracy that tries to bypass elected officials in getting its way. Sometimes it’s backed up by conspiracy theories, sometimes not. If all Deep State means is that unelected bureaucracies like to wield power irrespective of elections or political parties, there’s nothing new or surprising about it. Lifelong bureaucrats like to keep their jobs. Conservatives have known about — and complained about — the Deep State long before they heard of that language. Unfortunately, by concentrating on politics, they miss the massive foundation on which politics sits: culture. Here’s another well-known metaphor: politics is downstream from culture. By culture I mean man’s interaction with God’s creation to bring it to higher levels in bringing glory to God. Human hair is creation, but a burr haircut is culture. Water is creation, but irrigation is culture. A sparrow is creation, but a Boeing 747 jet adapted from the sparrow’s flying abilities is culture. Advanced culture includes music and art and economics and literature and TV and movies and other technology. When this culture is dominated by apostasy (a departure from the Faith), the apostasy filters down to politics. This is what’s going on today. In the words of Mark Steyn:

 

 

If the culture’s liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, groovy business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a guy with an “R” after his name isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

 

Nor should it. In free societies, politics is the art of the possible. In the 729 days between elections, the left is very good at making its causes so possible that in American politics almost anything of consequence is now impossible….

 

What will we be playing catch-up to in another 28 years?[4]

 

Big government

 

If (for example) you want to know why we have such a massive government today, it’s because individuals and families and churches and businesses were irresponsible decades ago. They outsourced education and childcare and healthcare and elderly care to politics, and now they complain about a huge, intrusive federal government. Families and churches were culturally irresponsible, and now they’re paying the political price.

 

Same-sex “marriage”

 

Same-sex “marriage” (SSM) didn’t win in June 2015 with the Obergefell decision. It was only legally formalized then. It won out in the living rooms of ordinary Americans, with gay characters on the TV screen depicted as wise and witty, and opponents of homosexuality portrayed as cruel, stupid, and unfair. SSM won in the lecture halls of major universities, where it was deemed just another form of equality that America must stand for. SSM won in the churches, where even evangelicals refused plainly to declare biblical sexual ethics. Because SSM won in the living rooms, the lecture halls and the pulpits, it was easy to win in the courts. The fact that it won at the ballot box in almost every state where it was voted on didn’t matter in the end. Culture trumps politics.

 

Sexual harassment

 

Today’s politics is rocked by scores of charges (many credible) of sexual harassment, groping, and assaulting women. People’s heads are spinning: “How could this have happened?” The answer is easy, and it’s not a political answer. It’s another fruit of the Sexual Revolution of the 60s, in which women are treated as sex objects and playthings, in which feminists, who claimed to defend women’s rights, defended to the hilt Bill Clinton, a political playboy if there ever was one.[5] The irony: feminists of the 90s made it safe for politicians (both parties) to treat women as sex objects. It was the Left who for the last few decades gave male celebrities like Jimmy Page, Roman Polanski and Chuck Berry a pass on sex with underage females. They unleashed the Sexual Revolution, and now their successors are horrified at Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken.[6] Pray tell, what did they expect?

 

These aren’t principally political problems at all. They’re cultural problems that have been commandeered by politics. Our problem isn’t so much Deep State as Deep Culture. Habits of irresponsibility have burrowed themselves deeply into our culture. They’ve been normalized. To say that the government should not provide health care seems callous. To hold that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry one another appears unfair. To suggest that people shouldn’t sleep with whomever they want seems just plain weird. Irresponsibility has now been normalized. This is Deep Culture.

 

This isn’t a conspiracy, for the simple reasons that the deep culturalists are quite happy to tell you what they’re up to. They could resonate with Marx and Engels’ words in their Communist Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims.” The Deep culturalists aren’t hidden. They’re right out for all of us to see. And their program is built largely on blame shifting.

 

Cultural Imperative

 

The most prominent example of cultural blame shifting today is identity politics (or identitarianism). What is identity politics?[7] It’s when people of the same “gender” or race or social or economic status bandwagon together by interpreting all political (and other) issues though the only lens available on their own bandwagon.

 

Identity politics is easy to spot: When gays vote only for candidates that advance the LGBTQ agenda. When feminists support only candidates that advance women’s interests. When whites or Blacks or Hispanics bandwagon with their own race to support policies that help only their own race.

 

The commonwealth

 

Identity politics erodes a culture because it throws overboard the commonwealth. A commonwealth is a political community united around a common good. Christian-influenced nations like England and the U. S. were once commonwealths. What’s most important isn’t what benefits a particular “class” or group, but what’s best for the nation as a whole. There’s a sense of the shared good: we’re all in this together. The individual works for what’s best for everybody else. Identity politics destroys the commonwealth, the common good.

 

Patriotic Christians of all people should oppose identity politics. Christianity is based on an ethic of love for the Triune God and our fellow man. We should support what’s best for everybody, not just a select group, including Christians.

 

Chapter 1 of the Communist Manifesto begins: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Whenever you hear the word “class” introduced into political discussions, you’re often hearing Marxist rhetoric. As in, “This tax policy will harm (or help) the working (or lower, or poor, or upper or wealthy) class.” Note that the goal isn’t what’s best for the commonwealth, but what’s best for one or another “class.”

 

Grievance politics and Libertarian Marxism

 

Almost all identity politics is guilty of blame shifting. We call it grievance politics. The white working “class” blames legal or illegal working “class” Hispanics for their squalid economic state and opioid addictions. The black lower “class” blames the white working “class” for their broken families and low-paying jobs. The white middle “class” blames the upper cognitive class for their own stagnant wages and for “not paying their fair share” of taxes. The upper cognitive “class” blames Donald Trump and the white working “class” for impeding their grand vision of social justice. This is grievance politics, the fruit of a grievance culture. It shifts attention from personal responsibility to class warfare. It is Marxist to the core (I call it Libertarian Marxism), and it eats away at a base of a society like termites eat away at a home’s foundation.

 

Conclusion

 

Let me end with an exhortation: don’t blame anybody else for your life’s present hardships or roadblocks. Don’t blame your parents. Don’t blame your childhood. Don’t blame your business partner. Don’t blame genetics. Don’t blame the bank. Don’t blame the insurance company. Don’t blame Barack Obama or Donald Trump. As long as you blame somebody else or some group or “class” for your bad situation (real or imaginary), you’ll never have the incentive to work to get out of it. Find out from God’s revelation what you’re responsible for, and do it.

 

Don’t identify yourself with a race, or a “gender,” or an economic or social “class.” Identify yourself as God identifies you: as created in his image and responsible to him. No less importantly, as a Christian, identify yourself as a member of Jesus Christ’s body. In his covenant love, the Triune God has made himself responsible to you, and you are responsible to him.

 

Work with me and with CCL to get rid of a grievance culture and revive a responsibility culture. God has called us to victory,[8] and victory begins with seeing ourselves as God sees us and fulfilling our responsibilities before him. There can be no godly change, personally or culturally, if we refuse to take our God-given responsibilities. Let’s work daily to be responsible people.

 


[1] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980).
[2] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Topical Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 549 – 684 marshals an avalanche of biblical texts in which God imposes responsibilities on man.
[3] “Attorney: Norway suspect surprised attacks succeeded,” http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/07/26/norway.terror.attacks/, accessed February 24, 2015.
[4] Mark Steyn, The [Un]documented Mark Steyn (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2014), xiv.
[5] Caitlin Flanagan, “Bill Clinton: A Reckoning,” https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/11/reckoning-with-bill-clintons-sex-crimes/545729/, accessed November 27, 2017.
[6] See Kevin D. Williamson, “The Left’s Sexual Counter-Revolution,” National Review, November 27, 2017, 21–22.
[7] “Identity Politics,” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/identity-politics, accessed November 26, 2017.
[8] John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976).