Center for Cultural Leadership

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).

Sola Scriptura — What It Does, and Does Not, Mean

Posted on November 9, 2017

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In the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation, it’s helpful to rehearse the five Reformation solae, of which sola Scriptura might be the most well–known. What does it mean, and what doesn’t it mean?

 

Not the exclusive authority

 

Sola Scriptura does not mean that the Bible is our only authority. The Bible makes clear that God establishes subordinate human authority: valid authority under his sovereign authority. God, as it were, deputizes certain institutions to carry out his will. This is why God says in Romans 13 that if we resist civil authority, we resist God’s authority.

 

We live in a time obsessed with individual autonomy. Autonomy means “self-law.” Ours is an era deeply resistant to external authority of any kind. We live in a culture of rebels. This includes aversion to civil authority (like police officers), family authority, church authority, employers’ authority, teachers’ authority, and much else. Social commentators often declare that our society is skeptical of all institutions. This is actually just another way of saying that people resent authority. This is obviously the case in our wider society: disrespect for police officers, disobedience to schoolteachers, disdain for employers. But it’s true even among Christians. I know of Christians in our Internet age that rarely skip a chance to digitally attack pastors and elders. They’re constantly at war on church leaders, despite what the Bible teaches (Heb. 13:7, 17). Oddly, some of these lawless people pit the Bible’s authority against church authority. Yes, some churches abuse their authority, but we mustn’t forget that it’s the Bible that validates church authority. If you believe the Bible, you must believe in church authority, and other specific human authorities.

 

Valid church tradition

 

Second, sola Scriptura does not mean that church tradition has no value.[1] Paul himself wrote that the Thessalonians (2 Thes. 2:15) should keep the traditions they’d learned from him and from others. The reformers weren’t the enemies of church tradition. They affirmed the early ecumenical orthodoxy and the creeds. They recognized the church fathers’ formulations of the Trinity and the two natures of the one person Jesus Christ. They accepted the orthodox definition of the canon of the Bible.[2] They weren’t trying to reinvent orthodoxy on the anvil of their own speculation. They knew they weren’t the first people to read the Bible and they didn’t think they understood the Bible better than everybody who went before them.

 

But, and here’s the key, they weren’t willing to allow tradition to be a coordinate authority with the Bible. Heiko Oberman[3] and Alister McGrath[4] have offered a shorthand way to understand the views of the relation between the Bible and tradition at the time. The Roman Catholic Church held that both the Bible and tradition were, in effect, equally authoritative in the church. This is Tradition 2. The radical reformers wanted to get rid of all tradition and appeal only to the Bible. This is Tradition 0. The Protestant reformers wanted to retain tradition, but only tradition that could be justified by appeal to the Bible. This is Tradition 1.

 

The final word

 

Sola Scriptura is Tradition 1. The best definition I ever read of Sola Scriptura is John M. Frame’s: “Scripture, and only Scripture, has the final word on everything . . . .”[5] And by everything, this means everything, not just in the church and theology but also in love and friendships and science and architecture and music and economics and farming and information technology and everything else. Of course, the Bible doesn’t touch every possible topic. It doesn’t give us the square root of pi or the location of ancient China. But it does give us the truths by which we are to approach and interpret these topics and all others.

 

The Bible has the final word on this and anything else it declares or implies. This is the meaning of sola Scriptura.


[1] See the balanced Reformation view explained in Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia and Boston: United Church Press, 1964), 97–124.
[2] Luther questioned the book of James, but this was an exception.
[3] Heiko Augustinus Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Durham, North Carolina: The Labyrinth Press, 1983), 365–412.
[4] Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought (Oxford, England and Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1993, second edition), 144–147.
[5] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P & R Publishing: Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2010), 571.

To Rod Dreher: Ours Is a Pre-Christian World 

Posted on October 15, 2017

Rod Dreher has solicited responses from ordained ministers asking whether they are sufficiently courageous to acquaint their congregants or audiences with the present dire apostasy afflicting our society. Below is my response:

Rod,

I am a long-ordained Reformational minister committed to credal, Bible-believing Christianity. I’m a member of the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.

I agree almost entirely with your diagnosis of the present apostasy, both ecclesial and cultural, but not with your dire prognosis. Everywhere I travel, I preach and lecture on the very evidences of cultural evil you raise; but I would suggest you abolish the moniker post-Christian, or at least replace it with the more accurate post-Christendom. The vestiges of the Constantinian Settlement are disintegrating, but the best days of Christianity are ahead of us.

The Bible is replete with promises about the victorious gospel, so it is more accurate to say that we live in pre-Christian days. Pessimism is simply not a Christian virtue, and the measure of our eschatological pessimism is the measure of our overweening unbelief.

In Jesus Christ, we are called to victory, in time and history, and victory we will have.

Real Differences, Real Commonalities 

Posted on October 13, 2017

On the verge of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it is imperative for Protestants to neither exaggerate nor underestimate the differences with Roman Catholicism. The original reformers were quite happy with the basic inherited orthodoxy they shared with the Latin church (for example, Nicene Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology), as well as what Christopher Dawson termed the historic reality of Christian culture. However, they disagreed firmly (and relentlessly) with the Roman church on the relationship between the Bible and tradition (sola Scriptura), and on how the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied to the believer (sola fide). Understanding both these truths today will tend to prevent among Protestants — and Roman Catholics — a mean-spirited bigotry on the one hand and a toothless latitudinarianism on the other, both of which derive from historical ignorance. 

To act as though there are no basic commonalities between the two communions is to devalue the great central truths of ancient catholic orthodoxy that most of us confess in the Apostles Creed every Sunday. To act as though there are no basic differences is to slap both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the face, implying that their deeply held beliefs are comparatively unimportant. 

Reconciliation under the present circumstances is neither possible nor desirable, but we do stand together within Christendom, and those of us in both communions committed to the basics of the historic Christian faith should unite in opposing the great heresies within Christianity and the great depravities in contemporary culture. 

The fact that we cannot join together does not mean that we cannot work together.

Creation and Sexuality Conference in Western Pennsylvania 

Posted on October 7, 2017

Hosted by Living Church International, Summerville, Pennsylvania

David Shay, Pastor 

WEDNESDAY

5:30 – 6:45pm – Dinner Provided at Parsonage for out-of-town guests

7:00 – 7:15pm – Hymn & Invocation

7:15 – 8:00pm – “Creation Lost and Regained” with Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin

8:00 – 8:45pm – “Sexual Order IS Social Order” with Jeff Shafer, Esq.

8:45pm – Benediction & Dismissal
THURSDAY

8:15 – 9:00am – Continental Breakfast

9:00 – 9:45am – “Creational Normativity” with Dr. Sandlin

9:45 – 10:40am – “Same-Sex ‘Marriage,’ Transgenderism, & Beyond: Law, Inhumanity, and the Path to Totalitarianism” with Mr. Shafer

10:40 – 10:50am – Break

10:50 – 12:00pm – Stategy Session

12:00 – 1:00pm – Lunch Provided

1:00 – 1:45pm – “Gnosticism: The Primal & Perennial Heresy” with Dr. Sandlin

1:45 – 2:30 – “Thinking About Things We Ought To Be Thinking About” with Mr. Shafer

2:30 – 3:30pm – Strategy Session

3:30 – 5:30pm – Break

5:30 – 6:45pm – Dinner Provided

6:45 – 7:00pm – Break and Transition

7:00 – 7:15pm – Worship

7:15 – 8:00pm – “Recovering Creational Christianity” with Dr. Sandlin

8:00 – 8:45pm – Final Strategy Session

8:45 – 9:00pm – Prayer, Declaration & Dismissal
——-

Hello Friends,

As we are busily (perhaps frantically) finishing up preparations for our time together next week, I wanted to update you on a few items.

Housing: If you are staying with us here on the church campus, you need not bring linens; they are provided for you. If you have a pillow that you can’t sleep without, bring that along.

Travel: For those driving to Pennsylvania caution is recommended. The white tail deer are as thick as the flies on the white tail deer that you hit three days ago. If you are relying on your GPS, use 341 Carriage Road, Fairmount City, PA 16224 to get to the Living Church Welcome Home. There is a new driveway that enters from Pine Run Road (turn left where it crosses Carriage). There is parking in front of the manse for those of able body (use caution on the new stairs as the railing has yet to be installed). If the stairs are a hindrance, please pull up into the courtyard and park there.

Schedule: Meetings on Wednesday and Thursday have been moved to the Welcome Home, since most of us are staying here on campus.

We are praying that Holy Spirit anoint our time together and impassion and empower us to serve our Lord Christ and His everlasting Kingdom to the glory of our Good Father.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email or call us. The phone at the Welcome Home is 814.365.5683. 

See you soon,
Pastor David and Emily

REV. DAVID G. SHAY
Senior Pastor of Living Church International
Headmaster of Christ Dominion Academy
59 W Penn Street
Summerville, PA 15864
pastordavidshay@gmail.com  

Joy Bell: A Eulogy for My Mother

Posted on October 7, 2017


How within a handful of minutes does one take measure of a life, especially the life of a parent, and particularly the life of an extraordinarily godly, Christian parent? It cannot – and perhaps should not – be attempted. But to say something is preferable to saying nothing, even if the something is woefully insufficient. That is my difficult task today.

My mother exhibited many Christian virtues, and she exhibited them extraordinarily, but I’ve chosen only one to enumerate. It is the one that, in my view, characterized her life more than any other. For social media, my mother selected the name Joy Bell. There is a reason for this: she considered joy a vital part of the Christian life. She valued joy. She desired joy. And she had joy.

We often consider joy a secondary and optional Christian virtue. The Bible gives it a much more prominent place. In the Old Testament, God threatens terrible things to his people if they do not live lives of joy in him (Dt. 28:47–48). We read in Psalm 16:11, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Jesus told his disciples that he came in order that they might have maximum joy (Jn. 17:13). Again and again the Bible speaks of the gift of joy and of rejoicing in all that God is done, is doing, and will do. To be a joy-less Christian is to be less than a Christian.

My mother knew this fact, because she studied the Bible carefully. She consistently reflected this joy.

She knew that joy is not identical to fun. Joy is not evidenced by incessant laughter. Joy is not the product of exciting or peaceful circumstances. Joy is knowing and loving God and his Son and other believers, delighting in the Lord and walking in his paths.

Joy does not presuppose exemption from trying circumstances. Like all of us other Christians, she suffered the trials of life: loss of friends; misunderstanding of loved ones; material fluctuations; and, of course, severe illness. But she did not abandon her joy.

She had great joy in her husband, my father, whom she loved — and loves — so much, and who taught her so much about the Lord and the Bible, and who always provided faithfully for her.

She had great joy in her children grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, on whom she often looked with the greatest love and admiration.

She rejoiced in her parents and sisters and brother and delighted in family reunions, and enjoyed few things more in life than simply having her family surrounding her — watching them.

What joy she took in singing both at home and church! She sang deeply moving, Spirit-filled, painstakingly articulated solos – hymns and gospel songs, to thousands of saints and sinners across the United States for over 40 years

She rejoiced in her church, including this church. She enjoyed singing not just solos, but congregationally, and she rejoiced to hear the word of God faithfully preached.

She took overwhelming joy in the word of God. She loved it, she believed it, she read it, she studied it, and she obeyed it. Early in their marriage, my father encouraged her to get into the word, and she never got out of it. Although she got plenty out of it.

Most of all, she rejoiced in her Savior Jesus Christ. As a young girl in Sunday school, she trusted Jesus Christ for salvation. Our Lord himself said that if we were to come to him, we must come as little children, with a very simple, guileless, unadorned faith. She trusted Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection to save her, and she never looked back, never doubted. It was this great, overwhelming life commitment that guided her, in which all her joy was rooted.

This brings me to my final and most significant point. My mother did not simply find joy in people or things. Joy was a part of her very being. To be Salle Jo was to be joyful.

We live in dark times. Of course, the world has been afflicted with moral darkness since man’s Fall in the garden. Our times are especially dark due to the loss of Christian influence in the Western world and our nation. This sin produces sadness. The world is full of sadness because it is full of sin. In the middle of this sadness, an island of joy in a sea of sadness, was Joy Bell. With David she could say, “I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:5-6). When our heart fixed on God, joy is the fruit.  

I’m quite sure that I never witnessed my mother reflect a sustained spirit of pessimism. Realism, yes. Recognizing the evils of sin and hardships, yes. But she always had an optimistic outlook. Her attitude: Things will change for the better. Why? Because God answers prayer, and she prayed. Romans 12:12 calls us to rejoice in hope. She was joyful because she was full of hope, and she was full of hope because she trusted Jesus Christ, and she trusted Jesus Christ because she believed the Bible. And the Bible is the most hope- and joy-filled book in the world. 

The day after my mother died (my birthday), I started to wonder what emotions I would experience at her passing. I didn’t have to wait long. I soon experienced a wave of gratification and satisfaction — of joy. She had lived a joy-filled, Christian life to the fullest. As she told one of her granddaughters, she had no regrets. She grew up in a faithful Christian family. She attended and served in stellar Christian churches. She married a godly Christian man. She was a devoted mother to four children. She sang God-glorifying music around the country and in the British Isles. And she died a Christian death. What was there to regret? A life without regret is a life of joy. 

If Mom were here today, I need not speculate on what she would tell you. You were meant for a life full of joy. And joy is found in casting yourself entirely on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for your and my sins, and he is alive today interceding for us with his Father, and he will one day return to the earth to consummate eternal joy. 

My Mom did not always have the strongest physical constitution, and I sometimes wondered how she endured the vicissitudes of life. After serious and sustained reflection, I believe I now have the answer. It was the same answer that Nehemiah gave ancient Israel:

Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

My mother’s great, underlying, overarching, strength was the joy of the Lord. This is what kept her going. This is what made her hopeful. This is what carried her into her Lord’s bosom.

Recovering Personal Responsibility in Our Culture of Victimhood, Blame-Shifting, and Identity Politics

Posted on September 25, 2017

bg_san_francisco_bay

 

Every year, the Center for Cultural Leadership hosts for its friends and supporters at least one major symposium on a critical cultural issue. CCL is a think tank, so we value thoughtful discussions that can lead to godly change in our families, churches and wider society. In addition, and no less importantly, we value friendships, and we are confident that godly change occurs as much by cultivated friendships as it does in other ways. 

 

Our 2017 symposium will be Saturday, December 2 at a gorgeous hotel on San Francisco Bay. The theme is “Recovering Personal Responsibility in Our Culture of Victimhood, Blame-Shifting, and Identity Politics.” At this time in our culture’s history, I’m not sure there are many topics as relevant. Presenters include David L. Bahnsen, Brian G. Mattson, Jeffery J. Ventrella, and me. Just as important, all attendees are invited to be part of the discussion, and we treasure that contribution. Our goal: not one attendee goes away without a greater knowledge of how to influence our culture in distinctly Christian ways — and the courage to do it.

 

This event is not a conference in the conventional sense. Rather, it will be a discussion — more accurately, five, fifty-minute discussions (with breaks). All guests will be invited to enter the discussions. There will be no recordings, and you will be permitted to discuss pertinent issues freely, as long as you are gracious and respectful. 

 

This event will not be open to the general public, and attendance is capped at 45.  There is no cost, but you must be invited.

 

Plus, you get to spend at least one day rubbing shoulders with like-minded, culturally attuned Christians, renewing old friendships and making new ones. 

 

Our objective is three-fold: (1) to furnish a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere in which Christians committed to godly cultural change can discuss relevant issues and suggest strategies leading to effective cultural action; (2) to foster a thoughtful, respectful, prayer-drenched camaraderie among these diverse but like-minded Christians; and (3) to create a network of these Christians that can work both individually and collaboratively to bring God glory by reclaiming our culture according to distinctly Christian truth.

 

It’s also a great time to take in the gorgeous scenery of the Bay Area. The culture and politics may be bad in San Francisco, but the scenery and weather are great!

 

I am committed increasingly to the younger Christians (late teens and 20s and 30s) who must perpetuate the culture-reclaiming message of a robust Christian Faith. I’m convinced few messages are more vital today for this age group than our symposium theme: personal responsibility. I want to get specially selected young adults there. Can you help me do that? 

 

First, if you have children or other young adult relatives open to influencing the world for Jesus Christ, can you let me know so that I might invite them? Second, can you sponsor one or more attendees? The cost (tax deductible) is $250 per person. I would be happy if as many as half our attendees this year are young Christian adults whom we can influence for the kingdom. In addition, please save the date and let me know if you’re planning to attend.  

 

Contact me: sandlin[at]saber[dot]net or 831-420-7230. You can also send a private Facebook message. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Romanticism in Prayer

Posted on September 13, 2017

We live in a time drenched in the Romanticist notion that spontaneity is king. In the church, this means that godly habits and customs are sub-spiritual, while spontaneous, carefree, “Spirit-led” actions truly please God. The less we ponder and plan and premeditate, the godlier we are. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same Spirit who leads prophets to speak spontaneously leads them to spend time in prayer every day at the same time, and in the same way. Godly habits and customs aren’t somehow less spiritual than godly spontaneity — and are almost inevitably a great deal weightier.

I urge you to set aside time, like Daniel, every day, to pray, to call out to God:

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Dan. 6:10)

Make a prayer list. There’s nothing whatsoever sub-spiritual about a written prayer list. Unless your memory is superhuman, there’s no way you can remember everyone and everything you need to pray for. It might not be necessary to pray through the entire list every day, but you probably need a list. In fact, if you can remember every person and everything you want to pray for, I suspect your prayer life is quite paltry. Your memory is not good enough to recall everyone and everything you need to pray for.

From a youth, Daniel had learned to pray. It was his custom. We’ll never be people of prayer until prayer becomes a custom and habit. If we wait to pray until the exigencies of the moment, we’ll never be people of prayer. Prayer is a religious observance in the best sense. Jesus prayed at customary times. It’s a principle of the Christian life. Every day we must acknowledge God as our Almighty and our Father. Every day we must glorify him in prayerful worship. Every day we must bring our requests to him. Every day we must show that we rely entirely on him for our life and provision. To go day after day without that kind of prayer — I’m not referring simply to hurried prayer over meals — is to go day after day without any communion with the One in we live our very lives.

Customary and habitual prayer is normal prayer. 

The Nashville Statement and the False Teachers

Posted on September 6, 2017

Pete Enns, self-appointed champion of the burgeoning anti-inerrancy wing of evangelicalism, joins a chorus of “progressives” opposed to the Nashville Statement. That statement is a simple, direct, bold affirmation of the Bible’s teaching concerning human sexuality, particularly with reference to homosexuality, signed by leading biblical evangelicals. Enns assaults the statement with satire and irony, but in particular a heavy dose of epistemic skepticism. We can know that there’s a God, but for some reason we cannot be rock-certain about what he’s like. We know that he’s given us a revelation, but we really can’t be quite sure what it is teaching us. 

There’s nothing new or interesting about this form of skepticism. Postmodernism dictates the unreliability or uncertainty of textual meaning. It blankets the humanities departments of most major American universities. It is always self-defeating. In Enns’ case, he can’t be sure what God teaches in the Bible about human sexuality, but he can be sure there’s a God, apparently. Modern discoveries and understanding about the universe call into question ancient interpretations of the Bible, but apparently this fact did not lead Enns to question Christianity itself, which is an ancient faith. 

Being consistently postmodern is oh-so-hard. 

Enns’ objections to the Nashville Statement will carry little weight with culturally latitudinarian run-of-the-mill evangelicals who are tolerant of same-sex “marriage” mainly because it has become popular. He will, however, influence some younger putative evangelical scholars who wish to be academically popular. Seemingly his goal in his mocking skepticism is to unsettle the faith of intelligent Bible-believing Christians weary of the arrogance they perceive in sectors of today’s Christianity.

But skepticism about what God has said is not the proper antidote to epistemic arrogance. It is no arrogance to submit to what God plainly teaches, and it plainly teaches that homosexuality is a grievous sin. It is, in fact, arrogance, not humility, that leads one to dispute what the Bible plainly teaches. 

This skepticism needs to be called what it is: false teaching. And Enns needs to be called what he is: a false teacher. If you spend your time undermining students’ confidence in the authority and clarity of the Bible, you are simply not a Christian teacher. Christianity demands, and has always assumed, a stable, knowable, generally understandable propositional revelation. Jesus taught this. The early apostles taught this. You can’t have Christianity without it.

For too long well-meaning evangelicals have treated Enns and similar false teachers with kid gloves.

It’s high time the gloves came off. It’s the Christian thing to do. 

Two Forms of Racism 

Posted on August 31, 2017

There are two chief forms of racism in the West. 

First, the garden-variety, traditional racism of the antebellum South, the KKK and the current white supremacist sort. It is abominable and abhorrent.

Fortunately, this form of racism is proportionately less pervasive than at any time in history.

Second, there is the ideological racism of Libertarian Marxism. This is the racism instigated to subvert the rule of law, equal treatment of all citizens, and merit-based rewards and replace it with a politicized culture dictated by power-hungry elites. It is abominable and abhorrent.

Unfortunately, this form of racism is proportionately more pervasive than at any time in history.

As Christians, we should oppose, expose, and abominate both forms of racism.

How Modern Marxism Is Libertarian

Posted on August 29, 2017

homo

 

Today Communism as a political system, if not dead, is on life support. It survives only in North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam — and the campuses of elite American universities. That last sphere is the one that concerns me, and it should concern you, and it does concern you, whether you want it to or not. It’s not a Communism identical to Leninism and Stalinism, but a development of it, and it’s more pernicious and successful than anything Lenin or Marx or Pol Pot could have imagined.

 

This evolved Marxism is the leading social vision of our time. Some call it neo-Marxism, a refinement and development of the vastly influential 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx.[1] Others label it existential Marxism. Still others designate it Cultural Marxism or the New Left. I term this vision “Libertarian Marxism.”[2] (I’ll explain why in a moment.) Call it what you want,[3] it’s the reigning vision of the vast majority of cultural leaders in the West.[4]

 

The Libertarian Marxists differ widely among themselves on many issues, but they’re generally united in embracing their all-controlling vision. There’s likely no intellectual movement in history that has endured so many revisions as Marxism. Sometimes it seems there are as many Marxisms are there are Marxists. At several key points this newer vision deviates from traditional Marxism,[5] but this vision is sufficiently common and coherent that it’s correct to see it as an extension of Marxism, and its leaders certainly see it that way. It’s a way of thinking, living and being in the world.[6] It was invented and championed by a number of thinkers. Leading ones included Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, and Georg Lukács. Their objective was to transform Western civilization from its Christian foundations to an elite-led, secular egalitarian utopia. They have been wildly successful.

 

Libertarian Marxism Defined

 

Here is a provisional definition of Libertarian Marxism by Sidney Hook, one of its advocates. It is

 

… a philosophy of human liberation. It seeks to overcome human alienation, to emancipate man from repressive social institutions, especially economic institutions that frustrate his true nature, and to bring him into harmony with himself, his fellow men, and the world around him so that he can overcome his estrangements and express his true essence through creative freedom.[7]

 

This permutation of Marxism is by no means identical to Marx’s original vision, or to Leninist-Stalinist Marxism. This newer version of Marxism is much more germane to our Western world than old-time Marxism. The founders of Libertarian Marxism knew that violent political revolution would fail in Western democracies, so they rethought how the basic instincts of Marxism could be introduced into and capture those democracies. Marxism was all about seeing and making society the sum total of its material conditions: everything was reduced to economics. Libertarian Marxism is all about liberating humanity from the social institutions and conditions (like the family and church and business and traditional views and habits and authorities) that prevent the individual from realizing his true self, his true desires and aspirations, from being anything he wants to be — full autonomy. Original Marxism and Libertarian Marxism overlap, but they’re not identical. Libertarian Marxism is the Marxism of our culture, of our time.

 

 

Libertarian Marxism Distilled

 

Modern Marxism is Libertarian. 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 good seed, the bad soil, and the great plow

 

The seeds in this metaphor are humans as we enter the world. Recall the famous first line of The Social Contract by the 18th century French romantic thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Humanity is good at heart; we have massive, unrealized moral potential. But we’re chained. Returning to the original metaphor, we’re stifled by the hard, frozen soil, which won’t allow us to unleash our moral potential. That soil is our society, especially leading institutions like the family and church and business. We’re born into a family that requires us to curb our desires and sacrifice for other family members. Our family doesn’t provide the environment for realizing many of our desires and dreams. Perhaps our family is not well educated. It might not be wealthy. In any case, our families establish oppressive moral guidelines: you must obey your parents. You must attend school. You may not eat whatever you want, whenever you want. All life choices are not open to you.

 

And then there’s the church. It teaches that there’s a Triune, sovereign God to whom you’re responsible. He lays down his truth the Bible. The church establishes the boundaries of belief, or orthodoxy. You and I don’t get to decide. The church says premarital and extramarital sex and homosexuality are sinful. Ditto with covetousness and self-centeredness. If you have an unwanted pregnancy, you may not have an abortion. If you sin, you must confess your sin and repent and amend your ways. You must rely on Jesus Christ alone to save you. You don’t have free spiritual reign in your life.

 

Add to this your employer. You have to be at work on time. You work for your employer’s goals, and especially the customer’s. If your business exists to provide cheeseburgers or Chevy Impalas or legal counsel, you’re required to serve if you’re going to get paid. Your employer might hamper your dreams and ambitions. You feel stifled.

 

These social authorities — the family, church, business, as well as others — keep us frustrated and in check. Recall Sidney Hook’s definition. The Libertarian Marxists “emancipate man from repressive social institutions ….” This cold, hard topsoil prevents us from breaking through upward to realize our true selves. We should be free like an artist to paint beautiful pastels of our life onto the world we create. 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.

 

The oppression-liberation nexus

 

This is where Rousseau stepped in: he basically appealed, “Give me a state strong enough to wipe out the authority of these stultifying social institutions, and I’ll give you individual liberty — except, liberty from the state itself. I’ll give you your soil-wrecking plow.” This, in fact, essentially happened during the French Revolution. The church was gutted, the medieval guilds were destroyed, and the family was diluted. What became all-powerful was the state.

 

Why were so many individuals willing to make this trade? That’s simple enough. These other institutions, like the family and the church, demanded morality. The state doesn’t demand morality; it only demands subservience. Individuals were willing to give up political liberty in order to gain moral (=immoral) liberty. Or, more accurately, they were willing to enslave themselves to the state as long as they could emancipate themselves from moral standards. This has been the course of Leftism in the West. The state is the enforcer of the “oppression-liberation nexus.”[8] Your freedom to practice homosexuality is protected; your freedom to start a degree-granting Christian college is not protected. Your freedom to abort an unborn baby is protected; your freedom to pass on all your wealth to your heirs is not protected. Your freedom to produce and disseminate pornography is protected; your freedom as a pastor to endorse a Christian political candidate is not protected. Virtually any sort of sexual “preference” is permitted, just as long as you acquiesce to the state’s power.

 

This is Libertarian Marxism: it uses the state to get rid of all that is impeding sinful man from venting his basest instincts. Hierarchies keep those instincts in check. They have to go. The traditional authorities must be enslaved, literally or culturally: men, especially white men; fathers; clergy; business owners. They and their hierarchical authority put a crimp on us, particularly a crimp on our sexual desires. So, the authority of family and church and business must be diluted and undermined to provide individuals with maximum autonomy. This is the goal of Libertarian Marxism.

 

They undermine family authority by using the giant plow of the state to enforce abortion rights, allow quick and easy no-fault divorce, legalize same-sex “marriage.” They break the authority of the church by forbidding it to exclude from the clergy or membership people who violate the church’s beliefs, or even by imposing punishing zoning regulations. They dilute business authority by enacting excessive environmental regulations and imposing burdensome requirements for employees. In Libertarian Marxism, the state longs to assault all competitors to its own ubiquitous authority.

 

When we hear libertarianism, we think of freedom from the state. When we hear Libertarian Marxism, we should think of freedom from everything but the state. The state exists to hamper all other authorities that keep us from realizing our true dreams and desires. This is the leading social vision of our time.

 

And it also explains why pure libertarianism paves the way for statism: if you oppose the state but champion liberation from the non-coercively, God-ordained regulating institutions like the family and church, you’ll eventually need the state to coercively guarantee your freedom to live any way you want as long as you don’t hurt somebody else. This is how libertarian support for no-fault divorce, same-sex-marriage, pornography, hard drug legalization, and Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” will come full circle to statism. Individual autonomy and state autonomy grow from the same liberty-crushing depraved root.

 

 

The Adversarial Intelligentsia

 

The Libertarian Marxists were led by thinkers. The Christian counterrevolution also needs a strong core of thinkers to combat the false, pervasive ideas of contemporary culture. Ideas have consequences, but only people communicate ideas. We Christian culturalists need what has been called an adversarial intelligentsia.[9] We need godly, courageous adversaries with nimble minds to refute the massive ideas eroding our culture. Ideas are important to everybody reading these lines, but some of you are gifted and called to be the adversarial intelligentsia, or to support them by your prayer and finances.

 

But everybody, from homeschool Mom to pastor, college student to professor, dishwasher to CEO, has a critical role to play.

 

We must labor by the Spirit’s power and the inspired Word of God to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and . . . take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Humanly speaking, the future rests with us.

 

Professing and practicing Biblical Faith, in all of its glorious and gracious hierarchies, is the revolutionary alternative to Libertarian Marxism.

 

And in the end, it — and it alone — will win.


[1] Isaiah Berlin, Karl MarxHis Life and Environment (New York: Time, 1963), 204.
[2] Interestingly, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn uses “libertarian” to describe the young Karl Marx, with whom what I term the Libertarian Marxists have special affinity. See his Leftism (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1974), 374.
[3] On Marxism as an ideology, see Sidney Hook, “Marxism,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Philip P. Wiener, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1973), 3:146–161.
[4] See William R. Schroeder, Continental Philosophy — A Critical Approach (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2005), 76–92.
[5] Sidney Hook, “Marxism,” 3:158–161.
[6] I take this concept from Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1996), but of course my notion if thoroughly Christian.
[7] Sidney Hook, “Marxism,” 157.
[8] Kenneth Minogue. The Servile Mind (New York and London: Encounter Books), 2010, 296.
[9] John Fonte, “Antonio Gramsci and the Transformation of Institutions,” in Building a Healthy Culture, Don Eberly, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 211.

Today’s Contest of Rival Religions 

Posted on August 26, 2017

Secularism is simply a temporary, transitional intellectual and cultural phase between the Christian Faith and neo-paganism, as Peter Jones has demonstrated. All of us are created in God’s image and therefore are at root religious beings. When we turn away from the triune God, we do not become irreligious; we eventually adopt another religion, even if under the guise of irreligion. There are no honest atheists. All of them embrace a covert, and apostate, religion.

 

The sheen of Enlightenment rationalism had already begun wearing off with the Romantic movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Romanticism in art, literature, and music championed the religious spirit in man without returning to a biblical faith. Even by then, secularism was no longer uncontested. Romanticism was, and is, a testimony that man cannot live without faith of some sort.

 

In the 20th century, the spectacular successes of science and technology (based originally, by the way, on Christian presuppositions) led many to believe that the brave new utopia would be a wonderland of secular science. The successes are real, but the prediction of a secular scientific utopia has been shown a cruel illusion. Science as a methodology is a success; science as a faith is a failure.

 

Religion, the heart-deep, basic impulse of humanity, always gets its revenge. Just as the ancient pagans turned away from the triune Creator God, so modern sophisticated secularists turn increasingly to neo-pagan spirituality, the New Age, and sex-god worship. They must have their faith.

 

The contest is never between faith and reason, but between rival faiths: those that worship and serve the Creator, and those that worship and serve the creation.

 

It’s Romans chapter 1 for 2017.

 

The solution to this conflict is not a return to the universal secular standards of Enlightenment reason; nor to a natural law that specifically excludes Jesus Christ under the naive hope that modern pagans will go along; nor a pre-60s restoration of conservative communities growing local fruits and vegetables, void of computers and iPhones, anathematizing technological progress.

 

The solution is what it always was: a return to the triune God.

 

If we are to be Christians, let us be Christians, and let us assert as clearly as possible that Jesus Christ is not merely the only way to heaven; he is also the only way to a peaceful, harmonious, law-abiding (though never sinless or problem-free) society.

 

Let us not be beguiled by the siren song of multiculturalism and assume that a mixture of (1) timid Christianity, slightly embarrassed by Jesus and God’s Word but indignant at the depravities of secularists and neo-pagans, and (2) 50s conservatism, with its alleged genteel manners and rural slowness, will produce a society safe for our children and grandchildren, all sweetness and light.

 

It will not. Jesus Christ is Lord of all things, and he will not bless any place, any culture that spurns his Lordship.

 

Our culture is to be Christian, or it is to be a disaster.

 

Pick one.

 

 

The Ideological Roots of the Present Political Upheaval 

Posted on August 18, 2017

Over the last 300 years, three chief political ideologies have dominated Western societies. While they can coexist and have coexisted, they do not coexist peacefully, and each seeks dominance.

First, there is old-line, caste conservatism, including (sometimes) racial slavery. This version of conservatism is often, though not always, associated with monarchies: British, Spanish and French, for example. In the modern world, there are few old-line monarchies, but the ideology persists in strongmen political leaders; annoyance at negotiated politics; and tribal, identitarian social cohesiveness (for example, White Supremacy). It’s an attractive ideology to people weary (and wary) of rampant cosmopolitanism and the gradual erasure of national borders. It is a slander to consider most of these people racists, but they are much more committed to and interested in people who look and act like them than people who don’t.

Second, and more recently, radically individualistic progressivism, epitomized by Robespierre and Marx. This ideology is committed to social revolution and always (no exceptions) led by a politicized elite. It likes to play one economic class or one race or one sex off against another in order to create antagonism leading to perpetual social revolution. This assures that the elite will always be there to solve the social problem that they helped instigate. This view is rampant in the highest reaches of most Western universities, national governments, think tanks and, increasingly, big business. Unlike the other two ideologies, it tends almost always to be accompanied by an air of moral superiority: “You are venal and self-centered, but we are selfless and disinterested and know best how to run modern society.”

Finally, there’s the classical liberalism of many 16th-18th century Englishmen and the American founding. It began principally in England with Magna Carta and later flourished with Oliver Cromwell and the jurisdictional battles between parliament and the monarchy. It came to the fore at the founding of the United States. It was also heavily shaped by Protestantism, which stressed individual liberty within the rule of law. It strongly supports property rights, free-market economics, not only because this arrangement most fully eradicates poverty, but also because it protects human liberty and is a great check on political power. Classical liberalism has a distinct universalist streak. It is interested in God-given rights (like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and responsibilities to everybody, not just people in our country or people who look and act like we do.

Classical liberalism sets itself apart from both the top-down political authority of caste conservatism as well as the radical egalitarianism championed by a politicized elite. It stresses trust in the triune God and, secondarily, in the character of the population to preserve liberty and, more formally, in constitutions and bills of rights and separation of powers. 

The preeminent weaknesses of classical liberalism are (1) that it depends on self-government, the character of the population, which is not naturally self-perpetuating, and (2) that it is vulnerable in the face of passionate, rousing, high-sounding appeals to social unity based on blood and soil (caste conservatism) as well as urges to radical social change (individualistic progressivism). Classical liberalism is a calm, reasoned ideology. When the other ideologies get the populace in a lather, the classical liberals are at a distinct disadvantage.

Unfortunately, the first two ideologies are working overtime to lather up our nation at this moment.

This is the main underlying source of the present social upheaval. 

A Blunt Christian Statement on Racism 

Posted on August 16, 2017

Biblical Christians, of all people, should not avoid or tiptoe around the issue of race. Shout it from the housetop without fear or favor: racism is anti-Christian. White supremacy is evil. Leftist identitarianism is evil. The idea that whites are superior to blacks is evil. The idea that whites are “structurally” racist is evil. The defense of racial slavery by the South in the Civil War was evil. Using the history of racial slavery to attack whites, Asians, and Hispanics is evil. Nazi ideology is evil. Libertarian Marxist ideology is evil. 

For Christianity, this is what really matters: all races are created in the image of God; all races fell in Adam and Eve’s sin and are born into sin; and all races can and should be redeemed by the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The church is a multinational, multiracial, multiethnic unity of the people of God swearing allegiance to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

The real difference in this world has nothing to do with race. It has to do with religion: Those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith versus those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ. 

The only color that fundamentally matters is not black or white or yellow or brown, but red: the shed blood of Jesus Christ and all washed from their sins in that atoning blood. 

Anything less than or different from this is contra-Christian. 

The Christian Purification of Sex

Posted on August 2, 2017

ring

 

Long before our lifetime, the West gave up on Christianity, so even we Christians aren’t aware of the cultural capital we owe to Christianity. It’s not possible to conceive of the West without the influence of Christianity. Our civilization, though now secular and pagan, is unthinkable apart from Christianity.

 

Jesus Christ was born as a Jew into the Roman Empire. Israel was a satellite of Rome. It was governed locally by fellow Jews, but Rome pulled the strings. The Romans had supplanted the ancient Greek Empire, and Rome had assimilated many Greek ideas and practices. This is why we refer to the beginning of the classical world as Greco-Roman. This was the world within which Christianity emerged and which it finally vanquished. To grasp the legacy of Christianity, it’s useful to contrast the Christian ways with the Greco-Roman (and other pagan, non-Christian) ways. We therefore can ask what the world might look like today had Jesus Christ never been born, and had Christianity never emerged.[1]

Sexual license

An obvious example is the purification of sexuality. If you visited a home in the Greco-Roman world, you’d likely be stunned by least one factor: the depiction of raw sexual acts, including perversion, on everyday items like wall fixtures, oil lamps, vases, bowls, and cups. Pornography was routine and ubiquitous. There’s a very good, harrowing, explanation for this pervasive pornography. Marriage and sexual fidelity were looked on with derision and disgust. Sexual fidelity in marriage was a rarity. Sadism, masochism, and sexual orgies were common. Common bathhouses were magnets for heterosexual fornication. The emperor Caligula had people tortured during his sexual acts. The Romans were open about their sexual acts with children, even small children, who observed them or observed the acts depicted on common household items. Women were no less licentious than men, and many worked themselves sexual frenzy when they observed licentious acts.

Perversion

Both the Greeks and Romans were notoriously homosexual, and a great deal of homosexuality was pederasty and pedophilia. Roman emperors like Tiberius (emperor when our Lord was crucified), Nero, and Galba set the abominable standard for elite society and then the commoners. They would have at least one or two beautiful boys for their sexual pleasure.

 

To heterosexual fornication and homosexuality were added lesbianism and bestiality, also widely practiced among the ancient Greek and Romans. The description of these acts in the classical world is so coarse that it wouldn’t be appropriate to enumerate it publicly. Likely as evil as the acts themselves is the fact that there’s no indication of any remorse or repentance for these depravities. As Paul said in Romans 1, not only did the pagans commit these acts, but they happily approved those who committed them (v. 31).

The Christian view of sex

The Christian approach to human sexuality was decisively different. The sexual act is a beautiful gift from God to be reserved in marriage between a man and woman. Intercourse is designed for both delight and procreation within the divine ordinance of marriage. Interestingly, it was Christianity that introduced the now widespread notion of sexual privacy. Sexual intercourse is a private, not a public, act.

 

It should come as no surprise that the ancient Romans deplored the Christians precisely because Christians opposed and exposed sexual immorality. Rome was filled with sexual darkness, and Christians shined the light of sexual purity on their evil. By the way, the same thing is happening today when we for stand up for sexual morality. Secularists reverting to paganism mock us and shout us down and even expose us to legal action because we advocate God’s sexual standards. Licentiousness is their idol, and we’re the iconoclasts, and they’re furious with us.

 

Of this we can be certain: the decency and propriety and privacy toward sexuality that has marked the Western world at most times was the gift of Christianity. Had Christianity never appeared, the unbridled sexual license of the Greco-Roman world would likely have continued unabated.

 

And the loss of sexual and propriety and unbridled sexual license signals a reversion to paganism.

 


 

[1] I am greatly indebted to Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

John M. Frame’s Doxological Life

Posted on July 15, 2017

9781532613760

 

I’ve never read an autobiography (or a biography) quite like this, and I never expect to again. Perhaps the best description of my reaction after finishing it in three multi-hour sittings (after all, I did have to eat and sleep) is John Wesley’s memorable portrayal of the effect on him of his conversion experience: “strangely warmed.” This book’s objective is not so much to recount life’s leading events as to show God’s good grace and providence in those events, and how theology shaped — and was reshaped — by them. The present review, therefore, won’t be analytical (the sort of review Frame himself advocates in the book), for the simple reason that this book doesn’t invite analysis; it invites love, joy, sadness, hope, consternation, empathy, wonder and, most of all … doxology. Yes, doxology. John’s has been a doxological life. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a friend of John’s for 20 years; therefore this review will not be “objective” [rather, we might call it “relationally presuppositional,” though I have very good evidence for my presuppositions!])

 

The book recounts in nine chapters, John’s (1) early life and conversion to Jesus Christ, (2) teenage years and their formative Christian influences, as well as his temporary drift toward liberalism, (3) Princeton undergraduate experience, (4) second conversion: to the Reformed Faith at Westminster Seminary-Philadelphia (the original Westminster), (5) postgraduate and doctoral studies at Yale, (6) teaching stint back at his alma mater, WTS-P, (7) his move to the fledgling Westminster Seminary-Escondido, as well as his marriage, (8) trials at and eventual departure from WTS-E due to their creeping, suffocating traditionalism, and (9) move to the “winsomely Reformed” Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (from which he recently retired), as well as extended discussion of his growing family. Through it all, there is copious discussion of church life (on which, more below).

 

Like all memorable memoirs, John’s includes some juicy, behind-the-scenes tidbits. Did you know that:

 

John got married at 45 years old?

 

Wayne Grudem (a student of John’s) once tried to talk John into premillennialism in order to get him a faculty appointment?

 

John was once present at a sermon when the preacher died in the pulpit — as he was preaching on the glories of heaven?

 

When renowned Old Testament scholar Meredith Kline once walked into John’s office to claim that John hadn’t been true to the teaching of Westminster Seminary luminary Cornelius Van Til, John tried to correct that impression by offering the unpublished manuscript of one of his (John’s) books, yet Kline refused the offer?

 

John is a movie buff and has often has gone to the theater by himself?

 

For years John and his wife Mary opened up their home to the homeless and the mentally and emotionally handicapped?

 

 

Even if you’ve never met John or heard his teaching, I suspect you’d find a number of his life’s revelations either humorous, striking, or sobering.

 

I’ll simply mention seven factors that I found remarkable, actually at times extraordinary, about this book:

 

First, John came to the Lord is an unusual way. His parents were at best nominal Christians, but like many parents at the time, they wanted their children to have a church experience. John was not a devout child by any means (something rather of a distracted prankster in church), but in time developed a love and aptitude for piano and organ. Soon his Presbyterian church was requesting he accompany various services and meetings on the organ, and he loved practicing at home by playing Bach and the church hymnal. By the time he was 14 years old, God had used the biblical truths of the music he was playing (reinforced, to be sure, by the teaching he was hearing in church) to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This decision was urged along by the fact that his public school had prayer time, and it reinforced at leading points the basic character training he was getting at home and church. We might even say that the three-fold cord of a Christian (or at least Christian-influenced) family, church and school constituted a Christian mini-culture within which trusting and following the Lord was not especially difficult.

 

Second, I was struck by this book’s remarkable transparency. John frankly acknowledges his own ins and faults and asks forgiveness for those he has hurt along life’s way. I could not help thinking how this is the antithesis of another memoir I’m reading, Richard Nixon’s; but it’s also far more honest and transparent than even many other Christian memoirs.

 

Third, for a genuinely renowned academic, he spends a lot of time talking about his church experiences. In fact, it seems he spends more time addressing his and his family’s personal church history than his academic history. Clearly this man loves the church of Jesus Christ. He loves sinners; he loves saints; he loves public worship. He has spent many years in church ministry, and this is remarkable considering the fact that he considers himself a failure as a preacher and having failed at pastoral ministry. Yet he has for decades buried his mind, heart and soul in the church.

 

This leads to my fourth observation: rarely have I encountered such an intellectual less excited by academia, despite the fact that he’s spent his entire adult life there:

 

So I left WTS [Philadelphia, at his graduation] with a tension that I have never overcome: my passions are pastoral, but my abilities are academic. “Tension” is not a strong enough term to describe what I feel. Successful as I am in the academic field, I am often totally bored with academic theological study. And though I love above all working in the church, seeing up close the work of God, I frequently back away from ministry from fear that I will mess everything up. (p. 72)

 

That’s an extraordinary admission. Almost all intellectuals gravitate toward academia, or institutions that somewhat mimic academia: think tanks or major intellectual foundations (like the Council on Foreign Relations). American intellectual Richard Hofstadter once famously suggested that intellectuals find sheer fun in ideas, as ends in themselves. This certainly describes John, but he’s far from excited about academia, and would much rather be ministering in the church — where he feels so inept.

 

Fifth, I noted another rare quality in John as a Reformed theologian: several times he admitted that after he’d made a friendship, he’d stand with that friend in a controversy, largely on the basis of the friendship. I’m sure John wouldn’t endorse sin, even in friends, but the fact that he cherishes friendship so much was especially moving to me. Many Reformed theologians’ stress on “objectivity” wouldn’t permit this default support of friends in controversy. John would designate this part of the “normative” perspective in his tri-perspectivalism. But he’s equally committed to the “existential” and “situational” perspectives and believes that the modern Reformed have underweighted them. Frame’s own life strives to balance these perspectives in very concrete, tactile ways, as in his friendships.

 

Sixth, at the root of the two main institutional trials he has suffered is the charge that he’s not “Truly Reformed,” meaning: not as traditional as some folks would prefer. The charge that his commitment to Reformed theology is deficient is so wrong as to be ludicrous, but there is another sense in which this charge is entirely on the mark: while he is theologically Reformed, he is not dispositionally Reformed, certainly not in the too-often accurate stereotype, and that is the actual nub of the issue. He tries to see both sides in a serious debate; counsels gentleness; is willing to battle other Christians only as a last resort; is open to learning from other traditions; loves art and music, even of the popular variety; is humble. I describe John to those who have never met him: “He looks and acts like a great big teddy bear, but a very smart one.” The “Truly Reformed” are the antithesis of smart teddy bears.

 

Finally, what has always amazed me most about John is that in the midst of his towering intellect and learning, as one of the most celebrated conservative theologians in the world, at heart he’s much like a Christian child: He loves Jesus. He believes the Bible. He relishes going to church. He cherishes hymns and choruses. He just wants to worship and please the Lord Jesus. It’s precisely this utter, child-like simplicity that makes his theology so cogent — and profound. A doxological life produces a doxological theology.

 

There are likely ten more observations that burrowed into my mind and heart while reading this book, but I’ll close with this:

 

The most sobering line in the book appears right near the end, a line that just won’t leave me in peace: “I hope that one day [God] will give you [the reader] the opportunity to rethink your life.”

 

Thank you, John, not only for re-thinking yours, but for letting us peek at your conclusions after you did.

Introducing Cultural Theology

Posted on July 12, 2017

 

Introduction

 

Ours is an age of specialization. This is particularly true of vocation. At one time, “doctor” denoted an expert in general medicine; he was called a GP, General Practitioner. Some simply called him “The family doctor.” Today it seems as though GP’s are few and specialists are many: podiatrists, cardiologists, oncologists, ophthalmologists, neurosurgeons, osteopaths, anesthesiologists, hematologists and scores more. The same is true of law. The wide-ranging expert in law is hard to find. Instead, we have tax attorneys, trial attorneys, estate attorneys, criminal attorneys, bankruptcy attorneys, immigration attorneys and many else besides. Specialization might be most prominent in academia. There are so academic specialties today that attempting to catalog even many would severely understate the number. As much as we might complain about overspecialization, we benefit from it and wouldn’t want to return to the days of generalizers. After all, we wouldn’t want a podiatrist operating on our brain, or an immigration attorney representing us in court on charges of tax evasion, or a Latinist teaching us engineering. Although generalists, with their bird’s-eye-view of the landscape, are necessary, specialists have their place.

 

What is theology?

 

They have their place in theology. Theology literally means “the study of God.”[1] In one sense, everybody is a theologian, even a professed atheist, because every person has a view of and interest in God. But when we use the term theology, we usually denote an intentional, systematic investigation of God and his revelation. Theology defined in this way invites specialization. Traditionally those specialties have included natural theology (the study of nature as God’s creation), biblical theology (the study of the progressive unfolding of truth in the Bible), systematic theology (the arrangement of biblical teaching under prominent thematic heads), historical theology (the study of what Christians believed at various times during church history), and pastoral (or practical) theology (what the Bible says about day-to-day individual and church life). These specializations include their own divisions: biblical theology is often divided into Old and New Testament theology. Systematic theology includes soteriology (doctrine of salvation), ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), and eschatology (doctrine of the last things). Historical theology consists of various eras: patristic theology, medieval theology, Reformation theology, and modern theology. Pastoral theology may divide into spiritual formation, prayer, church growth, spiritual leadership, and similar topics. All of these are theological specialties. Like doctors and attorneys, theologians generally [!] specialize. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps best known as a proponent of natural theology. Karl Barth was a systematic theologian. Jaroslav Pelikan was a historical theologian. Charles Swindoll is a pastoral theologian. Theologians specialize within their specialties. Karl Barth specialized in revelation. J. N. D. Kelley, a historical theologian, focused on patristics. John Walvoord, a systematic theologian, devoted his attention to eschatology. Theology is such a wide field that it’s impossible for any one theologian to master all of it — not even towering theologians like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin or Barth.

 

Cultural Theology

 

What is cultural theology?

 

An emerging specialty in theology is cultural theology. It is defined as the study of what God’s full revelation teaches about culture and applying that teaching to pressing cultural issues.[2] Because the issues of our time have become specialized, the study of revelation must include a special(ized) concern for culture. Of course, culture has been around as long as man has,[3] and therefore cultural theology is not a specialty whose need has only recently evolved. However, dramatic developments of culture in modern times (in, for example, ideology, technology, jurisprudence, medicine, economics, and the arts) press serious Christians for a coherent grasp of godly truth to address and govern them. For instance, what does God’s revelation have to say to the political views known as socialism, liberalism, conservatism, or libertarianism? Or ideologies like Marxism, feminism, Islamism, transgenderism, and white privilege? What about new technologies like stem-cell research, genetic manipulation, cloning, transhumanism, and surrogate motherhood? Consider theories of law: originalism, progressivism, sociological law, utilitarian law, and natural law. These developments, contemporary or traditional, and many others require a distinctly Christian evaluation. After all, Christians must glorify God, whether eating or drinking or in doing whatever else they do (1 Cor. 10:31) — including how to vote in a political election, whether to support contraception or same-sex marriage, and which movies and TV programs to watch. Christian painters and architects must know which art and architecture glorifies God. Christian code-writers should consider how their Faith should shape computer technology. Christian business owners and salespersons should know God’s law as it pertains to business exchanges and selling products and services. Cultural theology is not, therefore, limited to intellectual fields like scholarship and ideology. It also must deal with ordinary, tactile culture as we encounter it in our daily lives.

 

What is God’s revelation?

 

I have been using the expression “God’s revelation,” “revelation,” and “God’s law,” and it’s imperative to specify what I mean. After all, if God’s revelation and law is the source of our knowledge about how to apply truth to culture, we need to know where to find it. We find it in three places: creation (Rom. 1:20), Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–3), and the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16–17). These are not three revelations, but a single revelation in three forms: they work together, and they may not be isolated from one another. For example, the Bible is not a catalog of moral religious truths that may be severed from Jesus Christ’s atoning death and victorious resurrection.[4] Nor is creation designed to be isolated from Jesus and the Bible (“natural theology” or “natural law”[5]). Nor may Jesus Christ be sequestered from the Bible, from which alone we can infallibly learn about him.[6] The Bible occupies a priority in this triad, not because it is inherently more important than creation or Jesus Christ, but because it is the only source of objective, infallible knowledge of the other two. We can learn powerful truths from creation (Ps. 19:1–6), but not the truths of salvation and many specifics of morality. We can know of the historic person of Jesus Christ apart from the Bible, but almost nothing else authoritative about him. Jesus Christ is more important than the Bible (he saves us from our sins; the Bible can’t), but the Bible holds a certain priority in revelation.

Since the Bible was written many centuries ago and most of the modern cultural topics had not yet appeared, it obviously doesn’t (and couldn’t) address most of these topics explicitly; but it does address them implicitly. Cornelius Van Til wrote:

 

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instruction of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.[7]

 

The Bible is the revelatory light in terms of which we — and everybody — should see and interpret all of life.

 

Is the Bible designed to govern all of life?

 

Behind cultural theology is the rock-solid conviction that the Christian Faith is designed to shape (and reshape) all of human life. This conviction is rooted in what has been called the cultural mandate.[8] God created man to create culture for his glory. Adam and Eve weren’t created merely to fellowship with God. They were also created to exert godly dominion over the rest of creation, to serve as God’s stewards, his “deputy governors,”[9] in J. I. Packer’s words, over the earth. They were his royal representatives, mediating God’s will to the rest of creation. We read in Genesis 1:26 — “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion . . . .’”

Dominion (stewardship) over creation is man’s and woman’s chief earthly calling. Man’s basic calling is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism), but his chief calling as regards the earth is to subdue it for God’s glory.

Man interacts with God’s creation to lovingly impose God’s prescriptive will on it. Man isn’t called to leave creation as it is. He interacts with creation, adding his God-given creativity and ingenuity to improve it. This means that although creation as it came from God’s hand was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), it wasn’t everything God intended it to be. In short, creation isn’t sufficient; God wants culture, too. Just as man was to grow and mature in devotion and obedience to God, so creation itself was to grow and mature under man’s guidance. God didn’t create fruit trees simply for man to admire the fruit; the fruit (from all but one tree) was to be eaten. Horses weren’t simply to be contemplated; they were to be used for human transport. Water wasn’t to be merely marveled over; it was to be used for consumption and cleaning and bathing. That is, the creation, including man himself, wasn’t to be static, but dynamic.

The cultural mandate is a pre-Fall (or creational) ordinance. Did God rescind the cultural mandate after the Fall? By no means. In Genesis 9:1–4, after the universal Flood, God re-stated to Noah the mandate he first gave in Eden. Sin did, however, introduce two modifications. First, because of sin, man would suffer from the hardships posed by a creation under the curse. Man’s work would be tiresome; woman’s childbearing would be painful (Gen. 3:16–19). The cultural mandate would be hard work.

Cultural theology shows Christians how to think and act in this way: culturally, not just individually or familially or ecclesiastically. With a passionate commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit’s power, it investigates both creation and the Bible (as a united revelation) to determine how man and woman are to progressively align contemporary culture to God’s will.

To advocate cultural theology is not the same as suggesting that theology must “attempt to relate [God’s] word to a particular age and cultural milieu.”[10] It doesn’t, for example, merely answer questions like, “How do we explain substitutionary atonement in our highly individualistic and democratic world?” or, “How must we speak so modern man can grasp salvation by grace, since our culture is performance-based?” The task of cultural theology isn’t just to “relate [God’s] word to a particular age and cultural milieu,” but also to relate God’s word to a particular age and cultural milieu on specifically cultural topics. Cultural theology presupposes that the Bible is designed to offer truth and guidance in all areas of life.

This is particularly the case with biblical law: God’s ethical imperatives.[11] The Bible is God’s word, and it’s not God’s word only in matters pertaining to church and prayer and evangelism. The fact is that the Bible has a remarkable lot to say about cultural matters, including instructions about such matters. There are so many, in fact, that one would almost seem to have to work intentionally to miss them. God’s law covers cultural topics as diverse as food, cooking, clothing, personal cleanliness, politics, education, farming, building, music, jurisprudence, money, economics, warfare, health, marriage, crime, penology, abortion, homosexuality, substance abuse, and much, much more.[12]

The problem isn’t that the Bible is silent on cultural topics. The problem is that many Christians “read around” these topics or simply ignore them or find them insignificant. Nor does the fact that the New Testament cancels some of the Old Testament laws (like the sacrificial system and dietary laws) invalidate my point. That point is that the Bible is quite interested in cultural topics; it lays down laws about many of these topics; and we can’t simply dismiss this entire category out of hand.

If God’s word is binding, it’s binding in all that it says, not simply in “spiritual,” heavenly or non-cultural topics. “This book [the Bible], writes Meeter, “therefore, besides teaching us the way of salvation, provides us with the principles which must govern the whole of our life, including our thinking as well as our moral conduct. Not only science and art, but our home-life, our business, our social and political problems must be viewed and solved in the light of Scriptural truth and fall under its direction.”[13]

This doesn’t mean that the Bible is intended to furnish an exhaustive supply of cultural knowledge. It doesn’t tell us the value of pi, the duration of the Ottoman Empire, the recipe for apricot jam, the formula for carbon monoxide, or the details of human DNA. But it does establish the basic principles in terms of which all of these cultural topics and all others must be understood, and it does lay down God’s law on many specific cultural topics. Recent examples of cultural theology include Peter Jones on paganism,[14] Nigel M. de S. Cameron on medicine and biotechnology,[15] Brian G. Mattson on politics,[16] Stephen C. Perks on education,[17] Very S. Poythress on science,[18] and John R. Schneider on economics.[19] John M. Frame;[20] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.;[21] and R. J. Rushdoony[22] have shown how the Bible speaks an authoritative word to a myriad of cultural issues. Joseph Boot has offered a paradigm for this cultural mandate mission in the world.[23]

 

Is theology primarily for the church?

 

This means that theology cannot be limited to the church. Some theologians are ecclesiastical or confessional theologians: they are called to provide doctrinal direction to their particular church or denomination, and often to explain and defend that ecclesiastical tradition: Lutheran theology, Baptist theology, Roman Catholic theology, Presbyterian theology, and so on. But if man must live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth (Matt. 4:4), the entire Bible must govern our lives in their entirety. And if we must glorify God in all that we do (1 Cor. 10:31), we must take God’s word as a lamp to our feet and light to our path (Ps. 119:105) — not just in our individual lives or families or churches, but in our eating and voting and sexual and exercise and spending habits and, more broadly, in economics and technology and theater and movies and education and science and music. The Bible is designed to govern our entire lives, and culture in its entirety. Theology is essential to the life of the church, but must not be limited to the church.

This is not to suggest, however, that cultural theology is uninterested in the church. For starters, cultural theology shows the church the doctrines and ideas she has embraced that have caused her to fail in applying the faith in culture.[24] In addition, it teaches the church cultural truths found in the Bible by which she should exercise the cultural mandate. These are biblical ways to help make the church truly “culturally relevant,” rather than finding ways that the church can ape the culture to attract attendees, which is what church relevance is often thought to entail these days.

 

Is theology privileged?

 

When we speak this way, we seem to be veering far away from the concerns of traditional theology. If you pick up almost any textbook on systematic theology, you’ll not see biblical teaching categorized according to economics, education, music, psychology, and technology. This is because these topics, while addressed by the Bible explicitly or implicitly, are not categories most theologians believe most important. Theologians define what the theological categories are. And cultural categories are not deemed most important theologically.

This brings up a vital though perhaps jarring distinction: if man’s chief earthly calling is the cultural mandate, and if the Bible provides the truths in terms of which he must fulfill that mandate, theology as it has been traditionally understood is not the central use of the Bible. Theology is a theoretical science, not unlike biology, mathematics, and language arts. It is man’s attempt to arrange the “data” (biblical revelation) into a systematic, topical order,[25] just as biologists do with their data, i.e., living things.[26] Both of these theoretical sciences are necessary, one dealing with biblical revelation, and one dealing with creational revelation, but are subsets of more fundamental use of the Bible. That use is to fulfill the cultural mandate before the face of the God whom we worship. Systematic theology is one necessary way of doing that, but so is discovering the biblical view of animal treatment, economic market mechanisms, musical beauty, and space travel. These are not somehow less significant or less “theological” than how sin entered the world, how the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ relate, and when Christians might expect the Second Advent. They only seem less important because Christianity has assumed that individual salvation rather than a more comprehensive cultural redemption (of which individual salvation is a central part) is what the Bible is all about.[27]

 

Is philosophy necessary?

 

One barrier to many intelligent Christians’ considering a biblical application to culture is that they consider this concern the province of philosophy, not theology. After all, philosophy is defined as “rationally critical thinking, of a more or less systematic kind about the general nature of the world (metaphysics or theory of existence), the justification of belief (epistemology or theory of knowledge), and the conduct of life (ethics or theory of value).”[28] Philosophy deals thoughtfully with the broad issues of life, while theology is limited to specific leading themes of the Bible. Historically, Christians have usually considered the Bible (or nature) the source of knowledge for theology, while allowing common, universal reason to be the source for philosophy. Put bluntly, this meant that theology was to be Christian and philosophy a- or non-Christian. Theology was churchly and philosophy was worldly.[29] This also meant that the broad views of culture were not treated in a distinctly Christian way, because they weren’t deemed as significant as theological topics.

Yet it is precisely because what we term philosophy is so broad that a Christian philosophy must inform Christian theology. As Gordon J. Spykman asserts:

 

[T]heology finds its place within the larger contours of a biblical worldview explicated in a Christian philosophy…. The fundamental premise of this Christian philosophy lies in its commitment to the biblical teaching that all of reality is so ordered by the creative work of God that his Word stands forever as the sovereign, dynamic, redeeming law for all of life. [30]

 

If the Bible is designed for all of life, then thinking about all of life in a biblical way is Christian philosophy. In fact, this is just what a Christian or biblical worldview is. If we include cultural theology in what has traditionally been known as philosophy, we can say that philosophy and theology are virtually identical.[31]

In this way, Christian philosophy/theology (which is what cultural theology actually is, a biblical worldview) is our guide for thinking and living in this world. It fulfilled precisely this role among the faithful in the eras covered by biblical history. God created Adam and Eve to think and act in God-honoring ways in a lush, sinless environment, communing with him and stewarding the rest of creation for his glory. After God’s Flood of judgment wiped out nearly the entire human civilization, God repeated the cultural mandate to the godly man Noah, who walked with the Lord God. God soon elected one man, Abram, to father an entire godly race to reside in a specific track of land and act according to his comprehensive word. From this race was to rise the Messiah, God’s anointed One, who would sacrifice his life for the sins of humanity and rise from the dead in great victory to assume his heavenly throne over which he presently rules the earth. Christians, redeemed from their sins by the blood of the Lamb and restored to their status as culture reclaimers, live all of life for God’s glory and, despite great trials and hardships, move forward in great faith, expecting extensive victory in this world.[32] They work faithfully on God’s good earth and anticipate the day when God himself will descend to a renovated and resurrected earth (2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 21:1–7) and dwell eternally with humanity. This will truly be heaven on earth, what God has always intended. Cultural theology is the Christian attempt to provide guidance for this comprehensive historical odyssey.

 

Conclusion

 

Cultural theology is the theological project of the Center for Cultural Leadership. The most urgent need of our time is not a revival and restoration of denominational distinctives or an ecclesiastical theology that leaves the culture untouched. It is not simply Christian theology and Christ’s church that are under satanic assault today but the very foundations of our society and even the cosmos itself (to attempt to erase sexual distinctions is to war on the God-created cosmos). H. Even Runner’s words first uttered nearly 50 years ago are even more germane today:

 

Yet Christianity, in spite of much of the apparent history of the movement, is not a matter merely of devoting a certain part of our life to some or other church institutions or of our giving our assent to this or that more or less orderly body of theological judgments. To be Christian is to live whole human lives in this creation of God’s by the light of God’s word and with the aid of his Spirit. The most fundamental and urgent battle of our time is not to be thought of in the first place as one for the preservation of some familiar and accepted church organization or of some system of theological propositions — though both of these may have their subordinate importance. The struggle of our time goes much deeper: it is a struggle for the religious direction of human society in its totality. The battle of our time is to determine which spirit is to possess our hearts and give direction to our civilization …. Even to preserve the organized churches and whatever of theology may be dear to us we shall have to fight for a more integral Christian faith to sense the religious unity of man’s life in the world, or there will follow the last remaining steps, almost imperceptible in their advance, to a thoroughly secular way of life in which there is no place for the Good Shepherd’s voice. It is not possible in the twentieth [and now twenty-first, PAS] century for Christians to make a good confession only within the secure shadows of the institutional church.[33]

 

Cultural theology is committed just to this comprehensive program. It is calculated to foster the godly “religious direction of human society in its totality.” Anything less is destined to defeat.


[1] Two excellent introductions to the definition and classifications of theology are Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 1:17–37 and John M. Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2013), 3–12.
[2] It might be assumed that cultural theology is a species of systematic theology, but since the sorts of topics that the former addresses have never been of great interest to the latter, this identity is incorrect.
[3] P. Andrew Sandlin, Christian Culture, An Introduction (Mount Hermon: Center for Cultural Leadership, 2013).
[4] This was the tack of much of Protestant liberalism. See J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923).
[5] As in Roman Catholic thought. For a refutation, see Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Texas: Word, 1976), 1:181–201.
[6] Neo-orthodox theologian Rudolph Bultmann “demythologized” the Bible to give us a Jesus that moderns could encounter without the burden of the ancient world picture of the Bible. See his “On the Problem of Demythologizing,” New Testament Issues, Richard Batey, ed. (New York and Evanston; Harper & Row, 1970), 35–44.
[7] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967 edition), 8, emphasis in original.
[8] For an introduction to this idea as its was held by one of its early champions, see Richard J. Mouw, Abraham Kuyper, A Short and Personal Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 6–8 and passim.
[9] J. I. Packer, Truth and Power (Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw, 1996), 18.
[10] Donald G. Bloesch, A Theology of Word and Spirit (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1992), 115.
[11] See Jonathan Burnside, God, Justice, and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977, 1984); C. E. B. Cranfield, “St. Paul and the Law,” New Testament Issues, Richard Batey, ed.,148–172; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “God’s Promise Plan and His Gracious Law,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 33:3 (September 1990): 289, and Recovering the Unity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 160–162.
[12] See Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth, 1988), 85–90.
[13] H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1960 edition) 44.
[14] Peter Jones, One or Two, Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, California: Main Entry Editions, 2010), 169–183.
[15] Nigel M. de S. Cameron, “Christian Vision for the Biotech Century: Toward a Strategy,” in Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, Charles W. Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 21–39.
[16] Brian G. Mattson, Politics and Evangelical Theology (no loc., no pub., 2012).
[17] Stephen C. Perks, The Christian Philosophy of Education Explained (Whitby, England: Avant, 1992).
[18] Very Poythress, Redeeming Science (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006).
[19] John R. Schneider, The Good of Affluence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
[20] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2008), 385–850.
[21] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., What Does the Lord Require? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).
[22] Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (No loc.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973).
[23] Joseph Boot, The Mission of God (St. Catherines, Ontario: Freedom Press, 2014).
[24] P. Andrew Sandlin, Hindrances to Christian Culture (Mount Hermon: Center for Cultural Leadership, 2013).
[25] John M. Frame reminds us that we might easily fall into the trap of assuming that the Bible is not quite in “good working order” and that theology is necessary to correct that “problem” by arranging a more systematic revelation. See his The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 77–81.
[26] Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 79–101.
[27] J. Richard Middleton, “A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Case for a Holistic Reading of the Biblical Story of Redemption,” Journal for Christian Theological Research 11 (2006): 73–97.
[28] A.Q. [Lord Quinton], “Philosophy,” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 666.
[29] In the medieval world, this did not mean that philosophy was to be atheistic. It did mean that it was thought it could glorify God without being Christian. See Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 111–137.
[30] Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 100.
[31] John M. Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2015), 4.
[32] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).
[33] H. Even Runner, “Christianity and Humanism: A Re-thinking of the Supposed Affinity of Their Fundamental Principles,” mimeographed lecture, 1968, 7–8, emphasis in original.

Must Christians be Crusaders?

Posted on June 17, 2017

Crusades

 

In the summer of 2011, the well-known evangelical campus ministry Campus Crusade announced it was planning to change its name to the strange abbreviation “Cru.”[1] The word “crusade” had negative connotations, particularly overseas. It was identified with the medieval Christian crusades against Islam. Apparently the word became a barrier to today’s campus evangelism. Similarly, when I attended Christian schools in the 60s and 70s, many of them chose as their team name “the Crusaders.” This in fact was the name of my own high school in northern Ohio.

 

Times have changed. Many people even in the United States believe that the Crusades were a great blot on Christian history. It’s true that they were far from perfect, and Christians committed atrocities. On the other hand, the goal of the crusaders was to retake Christian territory that had been forcibly overthrown by Islam.[2] We could certainly make the case that if there’re any room for just war, this would be it.[3] Getting rid of violent, murderous Islam (like ISIS today) is a legitimate military aspiration.

 

Whatever you may think of the Crusades, however, you should know this: Christianity is a crusading Faith. I don’t mean principally physical warfare. I mean as a spiritual and ethical and intellectual force in the world. I’ll go so far as to say that if you want to purge crusading from Christianity, you’ll need to abandon Christianity.

 

The Call to Peacemaking

 

At first glance, this assertion might conflict with the Bible’s truth about seeking peace and unity. At his birth, the angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace to earth (Luke 2:14). Solomon offers this proverb: “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out” (Proverbs 17:14). Paul exhorts the Corinthian saints, “[A]gree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11b). The Bible expects that God’s people won’t be quarrelsome. Unity and peace in the world and among the people of God are nothing short of beautiful: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

 

The Call to Crusading

 

But the Bible also expects that Christians will fight the good fight of faith in this sinful world. The Bible bristles with martial terminology applied to the Christian life and the church. As Paul sums up his own Christian life, he writes to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He employs three metaphors to describe this Christian life: a battle, a race, and a stewardship. He has completed the great battle of life. He has run the marathon God laid out for him. And he has protected and preserved the deposit God placed in his care. He first mentions the battle, and there can be no Christian life without it. He’d already written in Ephesians 6 that the Christian life is a battle, and we’re soldiers.

 

Today’s Irony

 

We live in ironic times. Never before in recent memory has there been as much violence and conflict on TV and the movies and videogames. If you spend time on the Internet, you know of the utterly vicious language often used. More and more more kids in public schools are bullying children, and even raping them. People treat one another hatefully.

 

And yet there’s a pervasive political correctness that shouts down and extinguishes even the mildest objections to, for example, atheism, abortion, and homosexuality. You can be as vicious as you want supporting homosexuality, but if you even raise a voice to oppose it, you’re shouted down as unloving and intolerant.

 

From this we learn that crusading is an inescapable concept. We will crusade either for righteousness or for unrighteousness, for godliness or for sin, for truth or for error. But we will not do is avoid crusading. We will always crusade for or against something — or someone.

 

Our charge is to crusade for Jesus Christ and his truth. If we do not, we are not faithful Christians. Faithful Christians are both peacemakers and crusade-makers.


[1] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Campus Crusade Changes Name to Cru,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/campus-crusade-name-change.html, accessed May 2, 2017.
[2] Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperCollins, 2009).
[3] Harold O. J. Brown, “The Crusade or Preventive War,” War: Four Christian Views, Robert G. Clouse, ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1981), 151–168.

Prayer and Sovereignty

Posted on May 16, 2017


 

Pastor Sandlin – do you have a trove of quotes on prayer? You for quite a while were posting on prayer and it really affected me. A lot of great Bounds quotes.

 

 

I sometimes feel like we Purtianical Reformed in certain parts pray without expectation to justify a theological position. Where is there faith without expectation?

 

The questions are hard when one prays fervently for an outcome that does not happen. But i now believe prayer to be more powerful than I ever thought it was.


 

 

 

 

Dear –––––,

 

I’m so sorry this has taken so long to answer. Sharon and I have been out of town a lot lately.

 

The best quotes that I can give you on prayer are simply found in E. M. Bounds’ complete works on prayer. That book is inexpensive, and I hope you can buy it and consume it. I have read it three times straight through. I just this morning started on my fourth time. I hope before I die to have have read it completely 30 to 35 times. I find it inconceivable that any true Christian can read that book faithfully without his life — not just his prayer life — being transformed.

 

You’re 100% right that the Puritan Calvinists today often have unenthusiastic and paltry prayer lives. This is odd, because Calvin certainly didn’t. For some reason, they let their truncated views of God’s sovereignty and predestination get in the way of powerful, persevering prayer. You would think the opposite would be the case: if God is truly sovereign, why not ask him to do the greatest things possible and thus provide for his children and display his glory in the earth? Now that’s sovereignty!

 

On this point, these often loud proponents of sola scriptura scamper away from the Bible’s plain teaching: God answers prayer if his children cry out to him in simple faith. He answers when they persevere in prayer. He is often willing to change his stated course of action if they cry out to him. He wants to do good things for them and not hurt them “for his greater sovereignty.” These facts are so plain and so frequent in the Bible that one would have to be committed to an alternative theological proposition to bracket them out and pretend they don’t say what they obviously do.

 

I am praying right now that God continues to give you a mighty spirit of prayer and demonstrates his greatness in the earth as a result of prayers he answers for you.

The Covert Agenda of Contemporary Pluralism

Posted on May 2, 2017

Cultural pluralism

 

God-glorifying Christianity sustains a collision course with contemporary pluralism. This pluralism says that you can believe what you want in your private life, but the public realm, including politics, is a lovely, rainbow-hued cornucopia of competing beliefs, none of which is especially important. The public realm is religiously neutral. Pluralism defined in this way is not only entirely false. It is also disingenuous. There are no neutral realms of life.[1] There are either covenant keepers or covenant breakers. There is either covenant-keeping private life and/or public life or covenant-breaking private life and/or public life. No individual, no family, no culture, no politics can be religiously neutral.[2]

 

Contemporary pluralism, child of secularism, is not religiously neutral. It is actively hostile to Biblical Christianity. It is hostile to Jesus Christ and his law. Modern pluralism is not open to the biblical definition of marriage ( covenant of one man and one woman). It is not tolerant when it comes to God’s law about free markets. It would never accept civil law that forbids abortion. Its claims to be religiously neutral are spurious. Pluralism pretends to be tolerant of all viewpoints unless those viewpoints contradict its own cherished presuppositions. At the root of those cherished presuppositions is radical autonomy, particularly sexual autonomy. Modern pluralism essentially offers this Rousseauian bargain: “If you give me a state powerful enough to crush all other authorities, including God’s word, I’ll give you the freedom from all authority except state authority. I’ll especially deliver you from God’s authority.” Have you even wondered why modern pluralists are so timid before Islam, a non-neutral religion if there ever was one? In some cases, they’re very open to it. Listen to this analysis:

 

The treatment of women might be expected to make Islam questionable from the liberal elite’s point of view. This has not happened, for a good reason: Muslim teaching on women, marriage and the family undermines the traditional European concept of matrimony. Islam thus becomes an “objective ally” of the postmodern Cultural-Marxist ideology that relativizes gender, sexuality, marriage and family.[3]

 

In other words, modern pluralists can make common cause with Islam because they both subvert the Christian family, which created “the traditional European concept of matrimony.” It’s Christianity that modern pluralism has in its crosshairs. It’s anything but neutral. It wants to bring all of society under its heavy yoke of religious secularism.


[1] On the false pretensions to neutrality in modern liberalism, see Stanley Fish, “Why Liberalism Doesn’t Exist,” There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech … And It’s a Good Thing, Too (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 134–138.
[2] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 26.
[3] Srdja Trifkovic, “Horror in Europe,” https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/horror-in-europe/, accessed May 17, 2016, emphasis in original.