Church, Holy Spirit, Theology, Uncategorized

Prayer Changes Things, and Prayer Changed Me

A short autobiographical message on the power of prayer to change a life.

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One striking difference between our Christian forebears and us is their repeated emphasis on prayer and our comparative de-emphasis of it. They prayed frequently and fervently. We pray infrequently and languidly. They called prayer meetings. We call staff meetings. They had revival and reformation. We have apathy and apostasy. A leading reason for these distinctions is that they were inclined to believe what God said about prayer. We are often less confident in God’s word when it comes to his promises about prayer. A blunter way to say this is: we commit the sin of unbelief. Prayer changes things. When we pray, we are asking God to change things. And when he answers our prayer, he does change things. This brings us to a most telling fact that we don’t often consider: if we are perfectly willing to accept the way things are as God’s unchangeable will, we will never be people of prayer.

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Culture, politics, Theology

Cultural Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is an alleged mental malady in which one’s behavior is stamped by alternations of a period of euphoria, energy, and ecstasy, with a period of moroseness, withdrawal, and languidness. It is often treated by medications. Whether an actual clinical condition or not, all of us have known individuals suffering from what is termed bipolar disorder.

A. J. Conyers’ The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit[1] makes the intriguing suggestion that John Locke’s view of political and religious toleration that made such an impact on the modern West (not least on the United States) created a bipolar society that has led, despite his best intentions, to our present social disorder: a cultural bipolar disorder.

Two Poles: The State and the Individual

The two poles of society  are the individual and the state. This bipolar society was unprecedented before modernity. In most of the ancient and medieval worlds, society was comprised of individuals all committed to several interlocking and interdependent institutions, what we today term “civil society.” The most important were the family and church. Others included the guild and the local community. Individuals were also political citizens, of course, but the state was merely one institution among several, and in some ways the least important (though most coercive), since it was the only one that was artificially constructed.

The family, for example, was a given, a natural institution without which life was impossible. The church was a supernatural institution, created by the triune God as the indispensable public assembly of his blood-washed people. This means that individuals participated in numerous institutions concurrently, each of which fulfilled its own distinctive role and demanded its own loyalty of its members. Society was multi-polar, not bipolar.

Locke and others (including especially the French Romantic thinker Rousseau) believed that these pre-political institutions constituted a threat to social tolerance and stability since they demanded a devotion that conflicted with the devotion to other people’s families and churches. After all, the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), fought largely between Roman Catholics and Protestants and in Great Britain also between High Churchmen and Puritans, had left its bloody carnage all over Europe.

Locke and other thinkers wanted to propose a society in which intensity of religious belief in particular was mitigated and the state was empowered to forbid religious persecution by remaining neutral in religion (an impossibility, since some religion, even if it be secularism, will prevail). This could happen only if the chief loyalty of individuals was reserved to the state. Individualism and politics would thereafter govern life. The state didn’t mind individual freedom as long it was expressed individualistically and did not vest too much devotion to the family and church.

Our Disordered Bipolar Culture

With hindsight we know  how socially pernicious this proposal has turned out to be. Almost every social factor of modern life conspires to dilute civil society and embolden the state, always under the guise of liberating the individual from the oppression of the family and church and other “private”[2] institutions.

Children are encouraged to circumvent parental love and authority and create a separate relation with the state, allowing girls to get abortion and both sexes to get vicious, violent “gender reassignment surgery” without parental approval.

Spouses can get a quick and easy “no-fault” divorce. Radical autonomy negates the marital covenant — what’s important is not “signatures on an old piece of paper” but my current desires and aspirations, which might not include my spouse. The state intervenes to collude in the elimination of the marital covenant. The state and the individual alone are the poles.

The church, in addition, is considered “non-essential” during draconian Covid lockdowns because the state insists on an unmediated relation to the health (or supposed health) of individuals. The church as an institution of safety and healing (including in some cases physical healing) simply doesn’t enter the bipolar cultural calculation.

At the heart of the bipolar society is “expressive individualism,” the widespread idea that The Good Life is about “following your heart,” getting plenty of “me time,” and “being authentic.” Before modernity, the good life was defined as knowing your place in God’s order and living there for his glory. Only those who did this could expect to be fulfilled, since the Creator alone knows how best to fulfill his image-bearing creatures.

We have lived to see, in Conyers’ words, “the long-term consequences of a society in which individuals come to think of themselves as free of every bond and every obligation except that of the state.”[3] A society plagued by divorce’s broken families, porn’s objectification of women, abortion’s slaughter of preborn children, homosexuality’s and transgenderism’s inversion of the sexual order, feminism’s purging the woman’s and man’s dignity, and Critical Race Theory’s inciting racism and racial strife exhibit the socially chaotic consequences of bipolar cultural disorder.


Rebuilding Christian culture demands restoring the multi-polar society. We must overturn statism, the notion that there is no social problem for which increased political control isn’t the best solution, that every social problem (poverty, drug addiction, uneducated youth, wealth disparities — or a viral epidemic) is really a political problem that just doesn’t know it yet. Christians in particular must implement and restore the pre-political society. The family and church must again meet most of the needs presently met (inadequately and oppressively) by the state.

For example, healthcare should be de-nationalized. Education should be returned to the family and church and “private” schools. There should be plenty of “social safety nets” — the net of the family and church and friends and neighbors, not the state. The reason those “private”-sector nets are so hole-filled today is that the bipolar cultural disorder resists all competitors; the state must marginalize any institution that competes for its loyalty. This hatred for civil society that so stamped Marxist regimes like the old Soviet Union is equally fierce in the benevolent social dictatorships like the United States.

But just as God exists in community (Trinity) so he created man to exist in community.

And that community dare not be limited to two poles: the state, and the individual.

[1] (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2001), 137–141. I’m grateful to my friend Dr. Roger Wagner for recommending this book several years ago.

[2] I place “private” in apologetic quotes to highlight the widespread semantic strategy of referring to politics as a “public” good and free markets as a “private” good, as though politics benefits everybody while the free market benefits only a few greedy people caring only for themselves. The opposite is more nearly true: free markets benefit everybody, while politics these days benefits the politically connected.

[3] A. J. Conyers, The Long Truce, 146.


Critical Theory Is Neither Meat Nor Bones — It Is Alien

As I observe from a distance the current debate in major conservative denominations over the possibility of employing aspects of Critical Theory (CT), including Critical Race Theory, keeping the meat and throwing away the bones, it occurred to me that a number of the disputants (on both sides) seem unaware of a fundamental facet that would set the entire debate on a new footing — or abolish it altogether.

The early 20th century Frankfurt School of Critical Theory as well as the roughly contemporaneous Cultural Marxists outside Germany like Antonio Gramsci (GROM-shee) and György Lukács (LOOcotch) developed their program in conscious interaction with and reaction to an already de-Christianized intellectual climate. For them, the seminal intellectual sparring partners were Kant, Marx, and Hegel, and the schools of thought that served as their foil were the Enlightenment and, to a lesser degree, Romanticism.

Anybody who has read Max Horkheimer’s dense and brilliant (and pernicious) foundational essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (download the chapter here) knows that he and the others weren’t assaulting Christianity, certainly not directly. To them, Christianity and Christendom were simply not a part of a plausibility structure. Their animating attitude could be summarized as: “Given that Christian theology and Greek metaphysics are no longer tenable, how then should we think and live?”

Both Classical and Cultural Marxism are nearly conscious alternative religions devised by intellectuals attempting to create a world-and-life view within the intellectual atmosphere of the 19th and 20th centuries (much earlier de-Christianized). That atmosphere was not so much opposed to Christianity as simply forgetful of it. They didn’t consider fighting Christianity because Christianity to them, at least, was already defeated and irrelevant. Christianity wasn’t their antithesis; it wasn’t even a player.

Now, it seems to me, the problem with the Christians today wanting to incorporate aspects of CT into a Christian social analysis, the usable meat as opposed to the unusable bones, is they’re unintentionally taking this lack of explicit conflict with Christianity on the part of CT as opening the possibility for the adoption of some of its contributions.

But if they understood that CT is grounded in a plausibility structure in which Christianity is not an enemy but simply an irrelevance, they might think differently. It’s not a case of this particular erroneous CT tenet versus the corresponding accurate tenant of the Christian faith.

No, CT is an entirely alien system developed within an intellectual architecture out of which Christianity is hermetically sealed.

This also means — and this is perhaps the most important point of all — that the leading tenets of CT make sense only within that de-Christianized intellectual atmosphere. This might sound like I am importing a form of Kantian idealism, but in reality, I’m simply recognizing that CT is a particular pernicious form of intellectual rebellion that by its very nature excludes anything Christian.

To be Marxist is to presuppose what Christianity excludes, and to be Christian is to presuppose what Marxism excludes.

This is why Cultural Marxism and CT are not merely objectionable on the grounds that they’re all bones and no meat.

They’re an entirely different species altogether (“aliens”), and Christianity was never designed to relate to them other than to refute them at their very root — and abandon and incinerate them.