Center for Cultural Leadership

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.

Miniaturizing the Gospel

Posted on April 24, 2017

iiXezVl

An early evangelical ministry was the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. By “full gospel” they meant the charismatic gifts. Whatever your view of those gifts, this ministry did get one thing right: the gospel is full, not partial. The full gospel means that the gospel is designed to touch and redeem every area of life — our minds and hearts, family, church, education, music, architecture, politics, technology, law, science, economics, and everything else.[1]

Evangelicals or soterians?

One problem is that too often evangelicals have been soterians, not really evangelicals.[2] That is, they have reduced the gospel to personal salvation, soteriology. So, when we hear “gospel,” we immediately think of people “getting saved” and little else. But in biblical terms, this simply isn’t the entire gospel. The gospel is much fuller. To be evangelical in the full sense is to stand for the gospel. To be a soterian is to stand for personal salvation. We should be evangelicals in the biblical sense.

The Un-Full Gospel

How did we get off track? How did we start declaring an un-full gospel? There are numerous factors, including developments in the surrounding culture that propelled the church toward an un-full gospel. Those would include the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Darwinism, existentialism, scientism, and, more recently, postmodernism. But here I’ll mention just three reductive developments within the church or Christianity itself.

The individualized gospel of the Reformation

First, the Reformation individualized the gospel. The Protestant Reformation restored to the church the gospel of the grace of God. The medieval church had gradually lost sight of salvation by grace.[3] It had begun to bury grace under rites and ceremonies and sacraments. The church itself began to obscure Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation. Martin Luther launched the Reformation in his rediscovery of the gracious God exhibiting himself in Jesus Christ.[4] He recovered the truth that it’s by faith alone that we appropriate eternal life. The Roman church had taught that you could encounter the saving work of Jesus Christ only by joining the corporate body of the church (their church, of course). The Reformation correctly saw that the individual gets right with God by trusting in Jesus, not the church. Over time, however, the Reformation churches so identified the gospel with the individual and his relationship to God that they lost sight, at least partly, of the comprehensive, biblical gospel.[5] Why is this?

 

Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel came at the long end of a personal struggle. For Luther, the gospel was all about getting a clear conscience on account of our Lord’s death on the Cross. In time, Luther’s struggle became a paradigm in many evangelical churches for the individual’s salvation. Man’s chief problem is that he is weighed down by sin, and he can be liberated, and get great relief, by trusting in Jesus. Appropriating that grace (by justification by faith alone) became a hallmark of biblical soteriology. Luther saw in Paul’s view of the gospel his own existential struggles.[6] Many Christians later imported Luther’s experience and consequent understanding of the gospel back into the Bible. This meant a reduction of the biblical gospel. Luther was not wrong in what he affirmed, but his evangelical successors were mistaken in what they omitted.

 

The gospel can’t be limited to how the sinner gets right with God on the basis of our Lord’s death and resurrection. The gospel is how God is using his Son’s comprehensive work to comprehensively overturn sin in the world. Personal redemption and justification by faith alone are two critical dimensions of the gospel, but the gospel is much bigger than both. Because many Christians in the last two and a half centuries have embraced this truncated, individualized view, they have shrunk the gospel.[7]

The dualized gospel of dispensationalism

Second, dispensationalism dualized the gospel. The 19th century saw the rise of dispensationalism.[8] It constituted a comprehensive hermeneutics (way of interpreting the Bible), but for our purposes it’s important to understand that it divided the Bible into two separate messages:[9] one message to the nation of Israel, and another message to the Gentile church. The Jews were considered to be God’s earthly people, and the church his heavenly people. God’s promises to the Jews were for this world, and his promises to the church were for the eternal world. The Bible itself was deemed a dual book. The OT and parts of the NT were given to Israel. Much of the NT, and particularly Paul’s epistles, were given to the church. Among other things, this meant that the NT promises to the church, which assumed the OT promises to the Jews, had to be cut off from the OT, which was a Jewish book. The gospel promises are for personal victory and our future home in heaven. They have nothing to do with God’s redeeming the entire creation by his Son’s death and resurrection. This earthly victory could only happen by the enforced kingdom during the centralized government of the future millennium during which Jesus literally rules in Jerusalem over the Jews.[10] The Gentile church by that time would be far away in heaven, having been raptured away from the earth.

 

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

 

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

The privatized gospel of evangelicalism

And then there’s the privatized gospel of evangelicalism. Christianity pervasively influenced both the United Kingdom and the United States late in the 18th century, even if it was sometimes weak. The United States broke away from the idea of a national church (the Church of England) because each of the colonies, which became states, already had their own established churches or religion (Christianity).[12] Over time, under the influence of secularism, this separation from a national church came to be interpreted secularly, as a separation from religion in general and Christianity in particular. This is what the American idea of the “separation of church and state” means today. The United States Constitution says nothing of the kind. With the growth of secularism, “separation of church and state” came to mean that Christianity may be practiced in the individual life and the family and most of the church, but it has little or no place in the public sphere. The theology of much of evangelicalism in the 20th century implicitly assented to this divorce between public and private.[13] A reduced piety limited the Faith to otherworldly concerns, except for personal evangelism.[14] This theological approach was well suited to the strong public/private divide of American secularism.

 

If during Christmas you display a manger scene on a statehouse lawn, you might be violating the separation of church and state. If a Christian teacher sets a Bible or her desk in the government school, she’s unlawfully intruding religion into the public space. In social debates over same-sex “marriage,” so-called, opponents may speak of “traditional” marriage but are considered totally out of line to quote the Bible. Religion is about one’s personal life.

 

This was also the Marxist approach. One of its maxims was, “[R]eligion is a man’s private concern.”[15] And it has increasingly become the Western democratic approach: your religious convictions regarding human sexuality (and anything else) are fine, just as long as you keep them in church, or, more preferably, between your two ears.

Conclusion

By contrast: Paul tells us that the goal of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is to bring all things in heaven and earth and under the earth into worshipful obedience to him (Phil. 2:4–8). In other words, the gospel is God’s way of peacefully subduing the world to God’s will. But the privatized gospel, under pressure of a radically public secularism, keeps that gospel Lordship bottled up in the church and family. It fences in the good news. It says that it’s all right if individuals and churches trust in Jesus, but going out in the public square and declaring the full truth of Christianity is frowned on, and in some regimes, criminalized. But, by and large, the church in the West hasn’t preached that comprehensive gospel. It’s preached a private gospel and thus put it’s light under a bushel (Mt. 5:15). This isn’t the full gospel of the Bible.


[1] P. Andrew Sandlin, The Full Gospel (Vallecito, California: Chalcedon Foundation, 2001).
[2] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 12, 29.
[3] This drift started very early, even in the patristic church. See Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1948, 1996).
[4] Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 37–59.
[5] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel, 71.
[6] Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 78–96.
[7] The Reformed wing of the Reformation was less inclined to follow Luther’s individualized gospel, particularly the neo-Calvinists influenced by Abraham Kuyper. See his Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931), 22–23.
[8] For a sympathetic treatment, see Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965).
[9] For a refutation, see John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991).
[10] For a comprehensive dispensational eschatology, see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958).
[11] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).
[12] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom (Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 1994), 270–288.
[13] See George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).
[14] For an evangelical reaction, see Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947).
[15] Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 81.

Biblical Anthropology: Neither Dualistic Nor Materialistic

Posted on April 17, 2017

soul_and_body_21

 

Dear ——-,

 

These are great questions, and I’m so glad you are studying these anthropological issues. They are not ivory tower topics but have serious implications for the real world.

 

Strictly speaking, the Bible advocates neither naturalism nor dualism. Much of the Christian church historically has been dualistic in that it has defined the human soul as an independent component in contrast to the body and/or the spirit. In some quarters today, there’s a strong push toward a renewed Christian dualism in reaction against our secular culture of naturalism, the idea that man is comprised simply of chemicals and electronic impulses. Obviously, that latter idea is atheistic and unbiblical. But Christian dualism as it is usually understood is not biblical either. In the Bible, “soul” in both the Old and New Testaments is roughly the equivalent for “life,” or “living being.” It is not what is today called “The Ghost in the Machine,” as though the “real” you is inside your body looking out. For instance, in Genesis 2:7 we read that after God fashioned man from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, he became a living soul or being (nephesh). God did not insert a separate, constituent part into Adam and Eve.

 

Unfortunately, Christians have been influenced by the Greek idea when they encounter the English word soul, and they understand it to be a separate, potentially independent part of man, the ghost inside looking outward through the human body, which is an external shell.

 

This is to say that the human without a body is not fully human as God intended. Nor, conversely, is this to say that man cannot exist in some sense apart from the body. There certainly are biblical examples of disembodied human consciousness (Mark 9:2–4; 2 Corinthians 12:2). It seems clear that consciousness is not inextricably tied to the human body. However, disembodied existence is not fully human, and you can see in 2 Corinthians 5:1–5 how the apostle Paul regards with horror the idea of being disembodied.

 

The biblical anthropology, it seems to me, includes the idea that the immaterial and material parts of man are tightly woven together. At death, they’re temporarily unwoven, and the person retains his consciousness, but he regains full humanity at the resurrection.

 

Providentially, I dealt with these issues somewhat in a couple of the recent Holy Week articles, and they are here and here:

 

I could say much, much more, but I hope this makes sense. Let me know if I need to answer more.

 

I’m so eager to see you in a couple of weeks.

Easter: Bodily Resurrection, Not Soul Immortality

Posted on April 15, 2017

Resurrection2

And when they [the Greeks] heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked (Acts 17:32a)

 

In late November 2001, the Arts and Entertainment Television Network carried a special by popular rock singer Billy Joel. Among other inane comments, he said, “I believe that when people die, they go to live in the hearts of the people they love.”   This is a manifestly pagan idea; and it should not surprise us, because Billy Joel is a manifest pagan.   Unfortunately, it is only a somewhat secularized notion of a heresy too commonly held by many Christians today — that the “release” of death is the joy of a disembodied “spiritual” existence.

The Greeks’ “Immortality”

The ancient pagan Greeks were proponents of the inherent immortality of the soul (I’ll elaborate below).  The Bible, on the other hand, stresses the resurrection of the body.   While we do not cease to exist at death (“soul sleep” until the Final Resurrection), the Bible has little to say of this “intermediate” existence (2 Cor. 5:6-8).   In the Bible, personal eschatology is inextricably linked with the resurrection of the body.   First Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 (among other Scriptures) make this abundantly clear.   As G. I. Williamson wrote several years ago,[1] one of the big defects of many Christian funerals is all of the talk about the deceased’s being “with the Lord” (which is blissfully correct) but no talk whatsoever about the resurrection.   This, in fact, is to reverse the Biblical emphasis and to revert somewhat to Greek paganism.   In the Bible, the emphasis is on the resurrection — not “being with the Lord,” in a disembodied existence.

 

To the ancient Greeks, however, man is made up of several distinct, and potentially independent, parts.   The soul is the principal part of man — it is his insubstantial existence, which conforms to eternal, super-temporal “Forms.”  It existed before his body did, and it will exist after the body is gone.   The body, in fact, is simply the house of the soul.  In fact, it is the prison of the soul. According to the Greeks, the body is unnatural for man.   It is an alien part that prevents him from realizing what he could if he were not imprisoned within it.   The body was a troubling vexation to the pagan Greeks — it constrains man to time and space, subjects him to sickness and weariness, and gives him all sorts of fits.   Therefore, the Greeks saw death as a pleasant, delightful, joyous experience.[2]   “The human soul,” writes Charles MacKenzie of Greek humanism, “is a virtual prisoner within the body, and a true philosopher lives to die.  Death is not an enemy, but a friend because it releases man to inhabit the eternal world of ideas.”[3]   At death, we finally get rid of this old constricting baggage we carry around.   Death is man’s Great Emancipation.

 

This is why the Athenians (Ac. 17) rather politely listened to Paul (their perspective was, “After all, isn’t everyone entitled to his own point of view?” [v. 21]) until he mentioned Christ’s resurrection (v. 32).  To the Greeks, resurrection was silly.  After all, the whole goal of life is death, so that man may escape the limitations of the body and join the eternal Forms.  Why would he want to be re-embodied after death?  That defeats the whole purpose!  Both the preaching of both the Cross and the resurrection were foolishness to the Greeks because these Christian realities centered salvation in redemptive history.[4]   The Greeks, by contrast, wanted a salvation from history.  They wanted an escape.  They didn’t want to be “Left Behind.”

The Goodness of Creation

This is as far removed from the Christian teaching of the body set forth in the Bible as the East is from the West.   The contrast, as Thomas Oden suggests, is unmistakable:

The Greek tradition held that the soul existed before and after earthly life, hence one’s true life is the life of one’s soul, the body being ancillary to the human person.  The Hebraic tradition viewed the human person as a single composite reality of inspirited mud, grounded in the earth yet capable of transcendence, in an interface so closely woven that it was unthinkable that one could be a person without a body of some sort.[5]

This latter idea was seemingly incomprehensible to the Greeks.  They surely did not deny an afterlife.  The problem was resurrection, which was simply not a tenet of ancient thought apart from many Old Testament Jews and the Christian church.

The Body’s Goodness

The main impetuses behind the Greek’s general denial of the resurrection were (a) the low value they placed on the human body and (2) their firm belief in man’s inherent immortality, i.e., that his soul was naturally imperishable.  We one day (fortunately) lose the “bad body” but we retain the inherently imperishable soul.

 

According to the Bible, however, the body is good because God makes it.   It is a good work of divine creation.   When Adam led the human race into sin, this sin affected his body, just as it affected every other aspect of his being (Gen. 3:16-19). But this act of sin did not undo the goodness of God’s creation.   Man’s body succumbs to illness and death because of sin, but these are not natural.   In particular, death is not natural.   It is unnatural. God threatened Adam with death if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17).   Death is the result of sin, not the result of humanity.   Had Adam never sinned, he never would have died.   Just as sin is unnatural, so death, its consequence, is unnatural.

 

This is why death is described as an enemy in the Bible.   In fact, we read in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s great chapter on the resurrection, that death is the “last enemy” that will be “destroyed” (v. 26).   Similarly, we read in Hebrews that Jesus came to turn back men’s fearfulness of death (Heb. 2:14-15).  Death is man’s enemy that our Lord vanquishes.

“Body Sleep”

As I noted above, none of this means that the Bible teaches what some (like the Seventh Day Adventists) have called “soul sleep.”   It does not teach that we completely lose existence between our death and the time of the Final Resurrection.   But it does teach what we may call “body sleep.”   In fact, the Bible uses this very expression to refer to our bodies.   Paul speaks of those who are “asleep in the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:14).   Jesus Himself spoke of the dead child as one who “sleepeth” (Mt. 9:24).   The reason the Bible refers to Christians who have died as “sleeping” is that their bodies will one day wake up!

 

The great war on things material is a largely pagan conviction, deeply pessimistic, which has infected the church as heresy.   The greatest proof of the inherent goodness of creation is Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection — and ours.   Our hope is not a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost existence, but an existence on a renovated earth (2 Pet. 3:10-12; Rev. 21:1-3) in a resurrected body.

 

The resurrection hope should shape our consciousness as Christians and animate the Church, most visibly in its Lord’s Day meeting on the first day of the week.


[1] G. I. Williamson, “Resurrecting the Resurrection,” New Horizons, April, 1998, 5.

[2] Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (New York: Ballantine Books), 43.

[3] Charles S. MacKenzie, “Classical Greek Humanism,” in ed., W. Andrew Hoffecker, Building a Christian World View (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986), 1:39.

[4] Herman N. Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed [1963], 1988).

[5] Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press [1992], 1998), 397.

Easter Against the Gnostics

Posted on April 14, 2017

The-Order-of-the-Gnostics-Tshirt

The earliest heresy afflicting Christianity was Gnosticism. The followers of our Lord, committed to the Bible, believed that God created a good world but that man’s sin had corrupted it, and yet God sent his Son in human flesh to die on the Cross for man’s sins and rise again to redeem man and all creation. We celebrate these latter momentous events this Holy Week.

Gnosticism Yesterday

The Gnostics had an entirely different worldview.[1] They believed that the Evil God of the Old Testament (the Demiurge), the God of law and cruelty and capriciousness, was countered by the good God of the New Testament, the God who sent Jesus Christ to deliver a fallen humanity from the Evil God and his evil world. Obviously, the Jesus of the Gnostics was (and is) not the Jesus of the Bible and of the Christians, and the Fall recorded the Bible is not the Fall as interpreted by the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that the Fall was from spirit and secret knowledge (“gnosis”) into matter and the material world. Salvation is by knowledge by means of which man escapes the material world. Jesus, therefore, only appeared to be human, and his sufferings on the Cross were not physical sufferings. Man’s real problem is creation, and his body, not sin. Jesus brought the secret knowledge of liberation from the enslaving created order. The specific knowledge by which man is delivered is the knowledge of the true, inner person: the Gnostics “believed that if they could look into the best side of themselves, they [could] discover the nature of God and of existence.”[2] The Gnostics were the world’s first champions of “authenticity.”[3] Therefore, Jesus came to lead people to salvation by showing them their true selves, which are obscured by creation and by the human body.

 

Unlike other heresies, Gnosticism was not about this particular false doctrine or that. It was an entirely alien worldview. In fighting Gnosticism, Irenaeus and other early church fathers were preserving the Christian worldview against a false interpretation of reality.[4] Had Gnosticism won, Western culture would have been radically different from what it has been. Christian culture would never have developed.

 

The Gnostic heresy is at root an Easter heresy. If humanity’s great problem is creation and the body, then the central tenet of the Christian Faith, our Lord’s resurrection, is a farce. If creation is inherently evil, it does not need to be redeemed; it needs to be rejected and transcended. This is precisely what Gnostics believed. Gnostics must constantly war on Easter, and Easter must constantly war on Gnosticism.

Gnosticism Today

Gnosticism is alive and well in today’s culture.[5] It is a chief plank of the Leftist ideology, which sees material reality as a barrier to autonomous human imagination: “Nothing actual can be authentic” was the sentiment of Marxist existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre,[6] and Leftists’ inner dreams of the perfect world intentionally bypass God’s created reality to impose their inner “authenticity” on it. A chief example is the entitlement of offspring for a same-sex “marriage.” Creation itself must bow before the dictates of the Gnostic dream of equality. Same-sex unions are just as entitled to children as opposite-sex ( = natural, God-created) unions. Since nature ( = creation) does not afford this possibility, technology must engineer the fulfillment of the Gnostic dream. Michael Hanby writes:

 

[W]e must first understand that the sexual revolution is, at bottom, the technological revolution and its perpetual war against natural limits applied externally to the body and internally to our self-understanding. Just as feminism has as its practical outworking, if not its theoretical core, the technological conquest of the female body — “biology is not destiny,” so the saying goes — so too same-sex marriage has as its condition of possibility the technological mastery of procreation, without which it would have remained permanently unimaginable.

 

Pop culture is rife with the Gnostic dream of overcoming creation. The current movie Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, is about a woman whose body was saved from a horrific terrorist attack and whose brain is inserted in a hyper-upgraded cybernetic body for the purpose of serving in an anti-terrorism squad. Humanity must be reengineered to effectively combat terrorism.

 

In the 2014 movie Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, a brilliant technologist died but his surviving consciousness is uploaded to a computer and eventually allowed to impact the world and even create a utopian society via the Internet. The human body is disposable and man transcends creation to recreate himself and humanity. This is the ancient Gnostic dream adapted to technological culture. Creational reality is the enemy of human freedom.

 

In addition, Gnosticism afflicts today’s church. Note this quote by openly gay United Church of Christ (Norman, Oklahoma) pastor Dwight Welch:

I used to say no, I didn’t believe in the resurrection. And I still don’t believe that the laws of biology can be suspended in our favor, that a dead body can be physically resuscitated. I don’t believe religious faith can be the suspension of our critical faculties nor a requirement to believe things we know aren’t so. That is credulity, a form of magic, not an expression of faith.

But my answer has changed now. Today I do believe in resurrection. It is a kind of resurrection that happens when there is a transformation of our lives such that our old self dies and a new self, a more authentic and real self emerges….

When I consider my own coming out story, when I hear the coming out stories of others, the process is a kind of resurrection, an affirmation of life, one that struggled to be born against the odds, against the death dealing ways of our communities and those still in the grips of fear and prejudice.

 

This apostate clergy denies that God can sovereignly overrule his natural laws to raise his Son and his people from the dead, but he embraces resurrection (redefined) as a dream of ethical reengineering: God cannot govern man’s biology, but man may transform his divinely given biology and fulfill his inner dreams of escape from God’s external ethical standards: “[The] old self [this is, the God-given self] dies and a new self, a more authentic and real self emerges….” In short, God’s creation imposes limitations, but these limitations render man “inauthentic.” To be his authentic, “real self,” man must transcend the God-imposed limitations. He then is resurrected as the New Man, the Authentic Man, on whom nature, creation and God have no claim. One reason that even conservative Christians have been impotent to combat this heresy is that they, like the Gnostics themselves, have tended to separate creation from redemption.

Easter Yesterday, Today, and Forever

In radical contrast, Easter glories in creation. Creation fell under God’s curse because of man’s sin, but creation is not inherently evil. It is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our Lord died and rose to redeem not just man, but all of creation (Romans 8:33). Whatever sin polluted, Jesus Christ redeems. Creation is not and never has been a barrier to man’s salvation. It is the resplendent arena of man’s salvation.

 

Despite what many Christians, tinged with Gnosticism, seem to believe, Jesus did not die to save us from creation. He died to restore man and man’s body and all of the rest of creation to its proper, God-honoring status. The popular idea that Jesus died to “take us to heaven” is more Gnostic than biblical. It is true that those who’ve trusted in Jesus Christ will be forever with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17), but we will be forever with him on a resurrected earth, an Easter earth, we could say, as the heavens descend and the Triune God lives eternally with his people (Revelation 21:1–4). We do not die and “go up to heaven.” God comes down to Earth to dwell with man and his creation.[7]

 

All attempts to transcend or bypass creation constitute a war on the created order, a war on God himself. Creation is already inherently very good, and to attempt to transcend creation is to try to overthrow God. Gnostics, both ancient and contemporary, are not satisfied with God’s crated order. They’re convinced that their inner imaginative dreams are superior to creation. But this is a self-frustrating notion. If anybody knows about “human flourishing,” it is God. Since he is man’s Creator, he knows precisely the conditions under which man flourishes. He created those conditions. Man is most full of joy and peace and hope, indeed, holy revelry, when he conforms to God’s creational purposes in the Bible. The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is designed incrementally to restore man to those purposes.

 

This Easter, in celebrating our Lord’s bodily resurrection, we are not celebrating that we will go to heaven when we die. We are celebrating, in Michael Reeves’ memorable phrase, “a pinchable reality.”[8] It is true that we will forever be with the Lord and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31–39). We are, however, celebrating the life-bestowing, creation-renewing, world-affirming redemption accomplished by the Father in the Son 2000 years ago just outside Jerusalem. We are celebrating the fact that God’s verdict over the Fall is No!, and his verdict over creation is Yes!

 

We’re celebrating at Easter that in creation and in human life and in the future, Satan does not get the last laugh. God gets the last laugh.


[1] Martin Seymour-Smith, Gnosticism, The Path of Inner Knowledge (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
[2] Ibid., 9.
[3] On the authenticity rage today, see Andrew Potter, The Authenticity Hoax (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 81–97.
[5] For an introduction, see Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992).
[6] Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 83.
[7] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 104–106.
[8] Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 43.

Holy Week: No Greater God than Jesus

Posted on April 12, 2017

jesus-christ-looks-on-us-with-tenderness.jpg

To his disciple Philip who demanded that Jesus show him the Father, Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John. 14:9). We learn from the writer to the Hebrews that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3, emphasis supplied).

 

To know Jesus is to know God.

 

A subtle subordinationism infects many Christians (subordination is the heresy that the Son is not equal in his being with the Father). In (rightly) affirming the Trinity, they seem to believe that there is some “Godness” deeper or more profound than Jesus Christ. They must “get behind” Jesus Christ to know God even better. We can learn only some things about God from Jesus. We need more from God than Jesus can offer. This is false — and dangerous.[1] Jesus declares in Luke 10:22, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

 

If you want to know more about the Father than you can learn from the Son, you’re on a fool’s errand.

 

Once a young woman who had suffered sexual abuse as a child and had been battered by evil men and was living in squalor and poverty finally made her way as a last resort to a faithful church. After the service, she talked to the pastor and summarized her harrowing history and declared that this church was her last attempt at life. She had given up on God and was almost hopeless and was contemplating suicide.

 

The pastor immediately related the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, that would not only birth her into God’s family and heal her brokenness but would one day turn back all evil in the world and make everything right.

 

Slowly she said, “I imagine that if I believed God were like Jesus, I could believe in God.”

 

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

 

The poor, downtrodden young lady became a Christian that very day.

 

This Holy Week, know this: in the life and, in particular, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we learn everything about God we need to know — his creative power, his love, his justice, his tenderness, his hatred for sin, his longsuffering, his perseverance, his sovereignty, his commitment to utter victory. We learn all this and more by learning of Jesus Christ.

 

If you want to know God, know Jesus Christ.


[1] Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 15.

The Cultural Mandate, Not the Benedict Option

Posted on March 30, 2017

ben-op-cover-black-hill

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (an excerpt of which appeared in Christianity Today),[1] has launched the latest Facebook-Twitter-blog-web battle among culturally oriented Christians. The Benedict Option (Dreher abbreviates it: Ben Op) is a “strategic withdrawal” according to which many conservative Christians, aggressive culture warriors since the 70s, now retreat into tight-knit communities to bolster their faith during our time of nearly unprecedented cultural hostility. Dreher argues that this culture is presently so influential and pervasive in its anti-Christianity that to refuse to withdraw from it relegates our children and grandchildren to “assimilation.” Our cultural foes are so vast and influential, that we just can’t expect to hold out against them. We’ve lost the culture wars, and we’d better adopt and act on a strategy to spend our earthly sojourn as the cultural losers we’ve become.

 

It’s not a new proposal. After all, Dreher himself patterns the Ben Op after monasteries and nunneries (without advising Christians literally join them). He also suggests as a paradigm Orthodox Judaism and its members’ inclination not to live more than walking distance from their synagogue: talk about close-knit communities! We also think of the Amish communities, which have practiced cultural withdrawal for hundreds of years. Moreover, H. Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture (1951) offered five paradigms to explain how Christians have reacted to their surrounding culture, one of which is “Christ Against Culture,”[2] which, while Dreher does not explicitly support, becomes the effect of his proposal: the only Christian culture is the culture of generally small, local, close-knit Christian islands holding out against the surrounding and encroaching sea of hostile secularism.

 

But even in recent memory, late, long-time Christian Right leader Paul Weyrich suggested a nascent form of the Ben Op. Writing in early 1999, Weyrich, a Roman Catholic and later Greek Catholic churchman, declared:

I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. That doesn’t mean the war is not going to continue, and that it isn’t going to be fought on other fronts. But in terms of society in general, we have lost. This is why, even when we win in politics, our victories fail to translate into the kind of policies we believe are important.

Therefore, what seems to me a legitimate strategy for us to follow is to look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness, or by other enemies of our traditional culture. I would point out to you that the word “holy” means “set apart”, and that it is not against our tradition to be, in fact, “set apart”. You can look in the Old Testament, you can look at Christian history. You will see that there were times when those who had our beliefs were definitely in the minority and it was a band of hardy monks who preserved the culture while the surrounding society disintegrated.

 

Dreher could have written almost each of those lines. But he has elaborated on this viewpoint and thoughtfully adapted it to our present situation.

 

At its roots, the Ben Op is laicized monasticism. The objective of ancient monasticism was to sequester the especially devout, committed believers from the distractions of the world so that they could devote undivided attention to God and spiritual exercises within a like-minded and -acting community. The Ben Op adapts this paradigm to the laity — almost all Christians, in fact: while they don’t actually live in monasteries or nunneries, they do live as much as possible in seclusion from the unbelieving world while still interacting with it. The secular world goes its own way, and Christians go the way of faithful obedience within a (comparatively) pure community.

 

There can be no doubt that the Ben Op is attractive to culture-war-weary Christians as well as to the community-entrenched faithful who long for a life lived with the likeminded and like-acting. But the Ben Op is wrong, and it will not work, and even if it could, it shouldn’t.

First Principles

First, the exigencies of a particular historical crisis (and the anti-Christian secularism of Western culture is nothing short of that; Dreher is quite right on that score) sometimes spur Christians to adopt strategies that conflict with (what should be the) first principles of their faith. One such first principle is found in the Bible’s creation account (Genesis 1:26–28):

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

 

Theologians call this the Cultural (or Creation) Mandate. Man’s primary earthly calling is to exercise dominion, or stewardship, over God’s non-human creation — all of it. God decided not to directly oversee and steward this entire creation. He gave that responsibility to man. In other words, man is God’s deputy in the world.[3] This dominion act is what we call culture. Creation is what God makes; culture is what we humans make. Creative human interaction + God’s creation = culture.

 

The urge to dominion is woven into man’s very nature. God made man to be a dominion creature, culture-creator. Give him wooden sticks and animal skin, and he’ll make a drum and rhythm. Give him pigment and hair and a flat surface, and he’ll make brushes and a painting. Give him sharp metal and trees and he’ll make a cabin. Allow him to develop sophisticated tools and technology, and he’ll make an iPhone, a four-movement symphony, and a thermonuclear warhead. Man is a cultural creature. Man acts on God’s creation and produces culture, and he cannot act differently.

 

God’s design is that godly people produce godly culture. But the fall in the Garden of Eden introduced a perversion of the cultural mandate. Because of sin, sinful people also now produce culture. Unbelievers in the post-fall world fulfill the cultural mandate no less than believers do. This, in fact, constitutes the great conflict in our world: two kinds of people with two very different spiritual natures and fundamentally conflicting convictions both shaping the world, intentionally or not. Each of us, believer and unbeliever, approaches cultural tasks — education, politics, medicine, science, the arts, music, architecture, technology, moviemaking, and all other cultural activity — in two distinctively different ways (God’s “common grace” often does not permit these distinctions in practice to be as radical as they otherwise would be). This is the root of the Christian struggle against the new paganism, abortion, pornography, socialism, same-sex “marriage,” judicial tyranny, Islam, radical feminism, and much more. “Culture,” writes H. Henry Meeter,

 

is the execution of this divinely imposed mandate. In his cultural task man is to take the raw materials of this universe and subdue them, make them serve his purpose and bring them to nobler and higher levels, thus bringing out the possibilities which are hidden in nature. When thus developed man is to lay his entire cultural product, the whole of creation, at the feet of Him Who is King of man and of nature, in Whose image man and all things are created.[4]

 

It is never a question of culture versus no culture, but of godly culture versus ungodly culture. The mandate of Christians is to labor to produce godly culture, though never perfectly this side of the eschaton.

 

Dreher asks Christians under the pressures of the cultural moment to abandon a first principle, the Cultural Mandate, and adopt a situational strategy, the Ben Op. It’s the perennial temptation to see one’s own historical period as unique — and uniquely depraved. The onset of modernity[5] has only intensified that human propensity: “Every historical period is unique and demands its own unique standards and strategies.” But our own time is less unique than we often suppose — the early fourth century in which Christendom first arose with Constantine was immediately preceded by intense persecution of Christians. The deadening effects of the 18th century Enlightenment in Britain and its miracle-denying Deism in the churches were followed by a 19th century Christian revival in the Victorian Era, both in church and wider culture. Very Bad Times for Christians are not new, and our predecessors (unless literally enslaved like those in Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia) did not adopt a wholesale “strategic withdrawal” from culture. Our historical situation is less unprecedented — and less important — than we suppose, and God did not rescind his mandate for our cultural engagement when the Supreme Court handed down Obergefell.

The Culture Wars Have Only Just Begun

Second, the announcement that Christians have lost the culture wars is premature. Actually, the culture wars have only just begun. Since the 1970’s, when Christian conservatives awoke from their self-induced, decades-old stupor to reengage the present world, they took their strategy from the playbook lying right before them: the Left’s. This meant: politics. For the last 40 years or so, Christian conservatives haven’t been fighting a culture war; they’ve been fighting a culturally driven political war. They’ve assumed that politics is the most natural path toward cultural renewal. After all, this is precisely what the Left in the United States has believed. (It is also, as Angelo Codevilla has recently shown, why the Left, in adopting the Stalinist policy of domination rather than the Gramscian policy of seduction, has provoked such a backlash, one of whose effects was the election of Donald Trump.) Only recently have Christians become aware that recapturing for a distinctly Christian approach such fields as entertainment and popular music and literature and business and economics and technology is the path toward cultural victory. Politics is a final, and relatively inconsequential, step in that victory, almost a byproduct. Revisionist Marxist Antonio Gramsci understood that seizing politics as a way to capture culture is the least productive way. The lasting way is gently persuading the populace to accept your viewpoint. In this, he was ripping off God: The success of the Good News, both eternal and temporal, springs from relentless but patient evangelism, including cultural evangelism, not political imposition (Matthew 28:18–20). The latter as a cultural strategy has failed; the former strategy of godly infiltration has yet to be tried in post-Enlightenment Western culture. When it is, it will succeed.

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

Third, cultural withdrawal and retrenchment will not keep the church safe. Interestingly, Dreher writes:

 

The cultural left — which is to say, the American mainstream — has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

 

But if the Left’s goal is a “harsh, relentless occupation,” what makes Christians think their tight-knit conclaves will be safe? Dreher understandably desires a culturally reclusive, theologically rigorous, pure-practicing Christianity. He seems to assume that cultural disengagement by Christians will satisfy secularists, who’ll just be relieved that those pesky Christians are finally out of their cultural hair. But much of today’s secularism consists of Gramsci’s ideology of cultural domination that won’t stop at the front church steps or the family threshold. Sequestered, tight-knit Christian communities like the church are fair game for the secular dominionists who won’t allow discrimination against potential church members living in a same-sex “marriage.” The pastor who preaches within the sequestered church against abortion or multiculturalism might reasonably expect prosecution for “hate speech.” In short, the fact that Christians decide to leave a secular culture alone is no guarantee that a secular culture will leave privatized, Ben Op Christianity alone. There are no “safe spaces” from secularists for Christians. Nor are there any “safe spaces” from Christians for secularists. Christians need to wake up to both sides of this equation.

 

The best way to keep satanic secularism off the sacred turf of the church and family is to contest the so-called secular turf of modern culture (I prefer the older monikers “sacred” and “profane,” not “sacred” and“secular”; if it’s not sacred, it’s profane, in the worst sense). Forcing secularists to defend universities and Hollywood and Wall Street and the pop music industry from holy subversion will leave them little time to contest religious liberty in churches and families. The kingdom of God ( = the reign of God) grows incrementally, almost imperceptibly in the world. Daniel (chapter 2) foresaw the tiny, supernaturally hurled stone vanquishing the pagan world empires. This stone, the Messiah and his reign, would grow to overwhelm the entire earth (vv. 44–45). The church storms the gates of Hades, the abode of the satanic hosts (Mt. 16:18). The metaphor is clear: gates are stationary. Jesus’ message isn’t that when Satan and his hosts assault the church’s gates, they will not prevail. Rather, when the Spirit-empowered church storms Satan’s gates, he and his minions cannot withstand the onslaught.

 

God’s kingdom grows; it doesn’t recede. It attacks; it doesn’t retreat. The best defense is always a good offense.

Cultural Faith or Unbelief?

But many Christians lack this world-transforming vision, and that fact leads to the final objection to the Ben Op, and it’s the most severe: it exhibits a persistent tendency to unbelief in the power of God. Rod Dreher, I must add right away, is doubtless a Christian man of faith, zeal and knowledge. But the Ben Op is not a proposal brimming with great faith, that is, brimming with what the Bible would identify as normative, faith-drenched Christianity.

 

The writer of Hebrews makes clear that faith in God’s promises elicits his power in the earth:

 

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him…. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection…. (11:6, ­32–35a)[6]

 

What staggering divine resources are at the saints’ disposal, but how often our unbelief limits even the work of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:58). The gospel accounts bristle with healings and exorcisms the other evidences of the incursion of God’s Kingdom in the person of our Lord (Matthew 12:22–30). This manifestation of God’s power in matters much more fundamental than healings and exorcisms was promised by our Lord to the disciples (John 14:12). Paul writes that as a result of his victorious resurrection and present enthronement in the heavens, Jesus is incrementally vanquishing all of his foes (1 Corinthians 15:20–28). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that Jesus the Christ presently rules over all powers seen and unseen — and that his people are his deputies in the earth (1:20–23).[7]

 

When Christians believe the promises of God’s word, and act on their belief, our Lord himself promises that they can remove mountains. When their faith is sterile and anorexic, they are ineffectual, and Satan in time gains wide dominance in the world (Matthew 17:14–21). That’s a description of our culture.

 

Man’s perennial tendency is to live by sight, not by faith. It’s to live in Satan’s manufactured world, not God’s actual world. The Bible’s promises to praying saints are not limited to private, vertical spirituality, or even the family and church. And Christians’ calling is to disciple the world’s nations (not merely individuals in them, Matthew 28:18–20), sometimes called the Great Commission, it’s actually the Cultural Mandate adapted to the post-fall world. The church itself, as I noted above, is promised to vanquish the stronghold of Satan. A. W. Tozer captures this spirit:

 

The dynamic periods were those heroic times when God’s people stirred themselves to do the Lord’s bidding and went out fearlessly to carry His witness to the world. They exchanged the safety of inaction for the hazards of God-inspired progress. Invariably the power of God followed such action. The miracle of God went when and where His people went; it stayed when His people stopped.

The static periods were those times when the people of God tired of the struggle and sought a life of peace and security. Then they busied themselves trying to conserve the gains made in those more daring times when the power of God moved among them.

Bible history is replete with examples. Abraham “went out” on his great adventure of faith, and God went with him. Revelations, theophanies, the gift of Palestine, covenants and promises of rich blessings to come were the result. Then Israel went down into Egypt, and the wonders ceased for four hundred years. At the end of that time Moses heard the call of God and stepped forth to challenge the oppressor. A whirlwind of power accompanied that challenge, and Israel soon began to march. As long as she dared to march, God sent out His miracles to clear the way for her. Whenever she lay down like a fallow field, He turned off His blessing and waited for her to rise again and command His power.

 

“As long as she dared to march, God sent out His miracles.” But too often, Christians lack faith, preferring instead a pious naturalism, a world largely bereft of the presence and power of God. We do not hold God to his promises (including his cultural promises), but are content to live in spiritual and cultural squalor and defeat. Therefore, we do. The Ben Op, like many proposals (or approaches) before it, capitulates to the cultural evils that God designed his people to overcome by faith, obedience, sacrifice, and tribulation.

 

God’s calling for his people is nothing short of global Christianization, not by the power of the sword, but by the power of the sword of the Spirit. It is, by patient obedience, and over many generations, to bring the truth of the full-orbed Gospel of Jesus Christ[8] to every human and every human institution, expecting, not unalloyed Christianization, but nonetheless significant Christianization — much more than we experience today: “[T]he earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).[9] This cultural victory is not some sort of Christian jihad or Christian tyranny, a contradiction of terms. It produces a society of maximum individual and communal liberty in the framework of widely agree-on moral law — in other words, what the West largely was for many centuries. And this is precisely why the Libertarian Marxists scream the bogeyman of “Christian theocracy”: a Christian culture would provide the individual freedom that would not permit them to engineer a wholesale and constrictive secular (= profane) regime.

 

Meanwhile, we Christians live and act in faith, finding in every encounter, every institution, an opportunity to influence this present alt-world for the true world that it’s obscuring, and thereby fulfill the Cultural Mandate and enhance the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.

 

That’s a mandate, not an option.

 

I’ve made two minor but necessary changes from the original post at the suggestion of Brian Mattson.


[1] I’ve decided in this post to interact exclusively with the CT cover article. Otherwise, this could have become a book review, which might come later.
[2] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: harper & Row, 1951), 45–82.
[3] Stephen C. Perks, The Christian Philosophy of Education Explained (Whitby, England: Avant, 1992), 69–82.
[4] H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1960 edition) 80–81.
[5] Peter Gay, Modernism, The Lure of Heresy (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2008).
[6] The chapter goes on to mention those who intentionally declined great deliverance and victory but still exercised monumental faith.
[7] See Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham, 2015).
[8] P. Andrew Sandlin, A Gospel Without Limits (Coulterville, California: Center for Cultural Leadership, 2017).
[9] For a defense of this way of interpreting the Bible, see Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).

Multiculturalism, Not Immigration, Is the Problem

Posted on March 17, 2017

Immigrants

 

The United States and the West don’t have an immigration problem; we have a multiculturalism problem. American openness to immigration has waxed and waned over its history, but immigration has never until recently eroded the fabric of our society, for the simple reason that to be an American was first of all a cultural fact, rooted in a basic Christian past. This doesn’t mean the U.S. was ever an explicitly Christian nation, but it was implicitly Christian in that it was founded on Christian principles rooted in generic conservative Protestantism.

 

In the 1960s, however, Libertarian Marxism (Marxism designed for the West, a systematic attack on Christian civilization, one which requires multiculturalism) began to erode the Christian inheritance within the U.S. Before that, immigration was a great benefit to the nation, which in fact could not have existed without it. Even today, if we recovered our heritage, our immigration policy could again be robust. The problem has never been a proliferation of foreign workers, as long as they adopted our shared culture, shaped by Christianity. Foreign workers committed to American ideals have always been good for America. But since Libertarian Marxism has fostered a relativistic culture (= multiculturalism) guilty about and averse to our common heritage, immigration in the last half century has helped erode that heritage — a major goal of the Libertarian Marxists. When we once again properly separate multiculturalism from immigration, the latter will be a blessing and not a burden.

 

It should not be necessary to employ immigration as a tool to fight multiculturalism, since a self-respecting American culture would demand that immigrants assimilate to our historic ideals and we would, under those conditions, welcome immigrants with open arms. But Donald Trump and other Western leaders are increasingly using the blunt axe of immigration precisely because we have failed as a culture to preserve our heritage, and they are not prepared to educate the nation about that heritage. Recovering that heritage would open the way again for a generous immigration policy.

 

The fact that the courts are poking their noses into the present immigration executive orders testifies to the almost perpetually wild overreaching of the judiciary. Allegedly at issue is the implicit targeting of Muslims (“animus toward Muslims”) for non-immigration. Presumably the orders violate the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the Bill of Rights. The problem is that the Establishment Clause was designed to forbid a national church (like the Church of England), and the Free Exercise Clause the curbing of the exercise of religion of U. S. citizens. Neither secures rights for non-citizens, and even if they did, neither forbids the President from issuing immigration orders to protect the nation from terrorism. Whatever your view on immigration policy, it’s not the purview of the courts to decide that policy. That’s chiefly the responsibility of Congress, and secondarily the President.

 

The proper solution to the immigration conundrum is a reeducation of the U.S. citizenry of its heritage and, more profound still, a revival of the ideals of American culture shaped by Christianity. Until then, secular Leftists will advocate ever more open borders and less aggressive vetting as a means of diluting the uniquely American composition of the nation, and secular Rightists will advocate a nearly racist immigration policy, assuming that America’s heritage rests in its northern European racial roots.

 

Both of these approaches are evil.