CENTER FOR CULTURAL LEADERSHIP

Religious Liberty or Redeemed Culture?

Posted on February 26, 2016

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Why would evangelicals flock to the candidacy of Donald Trump, a philandering, thrice-married, profane Manhattan businessman? One chief reason is that many of them have given up on the “culture wars”: they just want a president who will protect their religious liberty in a time of rising persecution (if you don’t believe it, just try refusing as a business to bake a cake or create a flower arrangement for a gay wedding). Evangelicals of the 70s – 90s were “values voters” — they wanted a Christian candidate who championed life, family, and civic virtue. They longed and worked for a national revival and reformation, and politics did not exhaust but was included in that program. That program is changing. Feeling they’ve lost the culture (the Obergefell decision was a tipping point), evangelicals simply want a “strongman” who will keep the secular statist wolves out of their flocks and families.

 

This is a severe mistake. Yes, religious liberty is a vital issue. The Founders believed it should trump (no pun intended) most other rights. But it’s not sufficient. Amid a society more hostile to the true Faith than our own, Jesus Christ instructed his soon-to-be-Spirit-endued followers to disciple the world’s nations with his global gospel (Mt. 28:18–20). He didn’t insist they merely insist on religious liberty; their commission was to help bring all of life and society under his benevolent, liberating authority.

 

The Adversarial Intelligentsia

 

This is the Reformational vision of the great Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper. It is also CCL’s vision: all of life for the glory of God — not merely the freedom to practice our religion. The latter view is compatible with political pietism and “two-kingdom” theology. It is not compatible with a full-orbed Reformational Christianity.

 

CCL champions that Christianity in one prime way: we’re the Christian adversarial intelligentsia. With the apostle Paul, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We demolish our culture’s pervasive anti-Christian ideas and replace them with Christian ideas that contribute to the joy and hope and freedom in which man created in God’s image is designed to live. We preach an intellectually redemptive gospel.

 

The Works

 

I’ll outline it soon in my book Cosmological Gospel: Good News That Redeems God’s Universe. In two weeks I’ll be sending all CCL donors Holy Week for an Unholy World, which will include my original poetry from 25–30 years ago. (If you’re not a donor, why not start donating today?) Next month I’ll send Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self. Bill Blankschaen’s book with Red State’s Erick Erickson You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe was just released. We need to get some pre-digital journal articles scanned with an optical character reader so we can publish the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics. Let me know if you can help us.

 

If you want a Christian adversarial intelligentsia standing up for you, can you send a tax-deductible gift today? You can donate here. Thank you for any way you can help.

 

“Risen”: A Cinematic (and Theological) Triumph

Posted on February 20, 2016

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Explicitly Christian movies, or what are nowadays in our increasingly desacralized culture euphemistically termed “faith-based” movies, have come a long way since the rapture-fever flicks from the 70s like “A Thief in the Night” and “A Distant Thunder.” (Earlier classics like The Ten Commandments and David and Bathsheba were not produced by Christians for Christian reasons). The more recent movies based on the “Left Behind” series are an improvement on the 70s iteration. After ceding movie-making to a distinctly non- and increasingly anti-Christian Hollywood since almost the beginning of modern commercial film, Christian filmmakers have been playing catch-up. The breakthrough movie was Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ, a stark, realistic, mesmerizing — and lucrative — contribution.

 

Thematically, Risen picks up where The Passion left off, and it preserves the quality and power, though in a more understated and minimalistic way. The plot centers on the ambitious skeptic Clavius (played cogently by Joseph Fiennes), Pilate’s tribune (military commandant) charged with finding the body of a royalty-claiming, crucified Jewish rabbi in Judea in A. D. 33 during times of revolutionary fervor in the face of an impending visit by the Roman emperor, who on his arrival expected nothing less than perfect political order as only ancient Rome could expect. The plot exhibits a gradual transformation in Clavius as, in his frenetically paced investigations, he comes to grips with an increasingly unsettling realization: a Jew that he saw die a violent death is now fully alive.

 

The acting, cinematography, editing, pacing, and score are compelling, and with rare and minor exception, Risen follows the biblical text to a remarkable degree. In fact, this adherence to the Bible is more resolute than almost every Christian movie I’ve ever seen, though in a deeper way that we often don’t consider.

 

This movie doesn’t merely reflect the biblical Gospel accounts and the book of Acts with remarkable accuracy. The screenwriter and director have, in addition, evidently thought through with greatest care what the thoughts and emotions and intuitions of Jesus’ disciples as well as his opponents must have been like. Here is a striking, if sometimes disconcerting, example. When Mary Magdalene, depicted as a former prostitute, is questioned by Clavius (under threat of torture) about the rumors of a resurrected Yeshua, she is so overwhelmed by what she has experienced that she can do little but weep. Yet, the case with the apostles is remarkably different. The only word to describe their demeanor most of the time is … giddy. That’s the word for it. They seem always to be laughing, bubbling with joy, in one way or another. Initially this emotion jolts the pious viewer, habituated (as he should be) to a reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ. But this reverence is not the first, or even most important, emotion that his first disciples would have experienced on learning that the one whom they’d loved and to whom they’d devoted their lives but whose life had been remorselessly crushed from him was now up and walking and talking and eating — and laughing — in continuing his love-drenched ministry. Their first emotion would be, I expect … giddiness. And this is just what the Gospel accounts indicate (Mt. 28:8; Lk. 24:41, 52).

 

Cliff Curtis’ portrayal as Yeshua (Jesus Christ) highlights the same emotion. It’s not quite the attitude of Jesus as we view him 2000 years later through the media of traditional interpretations of his immediate post-resurrection activities — a Jesus of solemnity and austerity and the full weight of eternity on his shoulders. Rather, it is Jesus spending time with his closest friends in an upper room and on a seashore and having (dare I say it?) fun. The giddiness of the apostles, led by a loud and ebullient Peter, as they snag a dragnet-breaking school of fish on the suggestion of a Galilean that they tardily realize as none other than their friend Yeshua, is worth the admission price of the movie. This Jesus usually isn’t the Jesus of our theology, but it is the Jesus of the Bible.

 

Mick LaSalle, reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, is, therefore, correct to say, “Whatever your religious affiliation, you will come away thinking that if all this did actually happen, it probably happened something like this.”

 

Yes, and probably in ways that he himself doesn’t even grasp.

 

 

 

15 Top Movies of 2015

Posted on February 13, 2016

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2015 was another mediocre years for movies. Our last great year was 2007. The last great one before that was 1972. At this pace, watch out for 2032.

 

This is the first year ever that a children’s movie scored #1 on my year-end list. The strangest movie on this list is #3. The most beautiful is #15. The most suspenseful — and most moral — is #7. Here’s to hoping 2016 bests 2015.

 

 

  1. Paddington. A “practically perfect” movie in every way.

 

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  1. Sicario. If you don’t like the CIA before watching this movie, you’ll abominate it afterward. Another memorable performance by Benicio Del Toro.

 

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road. The whitest-knuckled movie since … maybe ever.

 

  1. Creed. A fine drama under the guise of a boxing movie. A compelling, understated performance by Michael B. Jordan. And who said Sylvester Stallone can’t act?

 

  1. Last Days in Viet Nam. Evenhanded documentary detailing one of the darkest times in U. S. history.

 

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  1. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Quality late iterations in a movie franchise are hard to sustain. This one is an exception.

 

  1. The Gift. Unbearably suspenseful morality tale.

 

  1. Diplomacy [foreign]. Two actors (French and German) in one room (in Paris) carry a powerful movie.

 

  1. Avengers: Age of Ultron. A guiltless pleasure.

 

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  1. Best of Enemies. Absorbing documentary about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s 1968 debates spanning the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

 

  1. Ant Man. A major miniature superhero movie.

 

  1. Black Mass. Johnny Depp is mesmerizing as true-life crime lord who corrupts an FBI agent.

 

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  1. Slow West. Slowest, and best, Western of the year.

 

  1. The Big Short. Left-leaning but funny account of the 2008 economic collapse by the guys who made millions betting against the housing market.

 

  1. Far from the Madding Crowd. Lovely recent rendition of the Thomas Hardy classic novel.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Bridge of Spies

 

The Peanuts Movie

Older Books, Recently Read

Posted on February 4, 2016

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We bibliophiles occasionally issue recommended reading lists for our peers, but the present list is somewhat unique in that it consists of books from 20-80 years old that I have not read until the last two or three years. I read so much that I don’t have time to read many books recently published, but get far behind, and don’t get around to reading important books, sometimes as late as 10 to 15 years after they’re published. I’m sure this means that I am not up-to-date on the “current literature,” but the compensation, I imagine, is that I have waited long enough to allow these books’ theses to percolate and get an assessment among readers I respect before I myself get around to assessing them. I’m not obsessed with reading “the latest and greatest,” though some great books are being written today.

 

Here are several memorable older books I’ve read relatively recently:

 

Bavinck, Herman. The Christian Family. Almost all other books on the family are trite and shallow compared to this one. It rivals only Andrew Murray’s How to Raise Your Children for Christ as the best I’ve read on the topic. Bavinck lays out the divine rationale for marriage, the cultural mandate, the order of the family, and the family in society in truly profound, unforgettable ways. No book starts with a sentence better than this one: “The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”

 

Berkouwer, G. C. Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith. These 1952 essays are from the “early” Berkouwer, who was still fully orthodox. They are, in fact, uncompromising in their commitment to Biblical authority and the finality of the orthodox Christian Faith in the midst of the acids of modernity. The short book is worth reading with the greatest care and is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written.

 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. A classic on “community” long before that idea became the Christian flavor-of-the-month. Some sobering insights here by a man who lived in and for the community — and died for his Faith.

 

Bounds, E. M. The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer. The greatest, most daring, God- and Bible- and faith-drenched writings on prayer ever written in English — and probably any other language. I’m now reading this work for the third time and plan to read it about 30 more times in my lifetime. It dwarfs every other book on this list. If you can read only one book besides the Bible, read this one.

 

Daane, James. The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit. An attempt to rethink traditional Augustinian views of election in light of the Cross and ancient Israel. Fascinating arguments on how God is related to history.

 

Dooyeweerd, Herman. Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options. A collection of editorials from the mid- to late 40’s but published first in Dutch as a book in 1959 and English in 1979 and recently reprinted. Dooyeweerd was a towering Christian philosopher, and almost no one in the 20th century rivals him. If you read a lot of Dooyeweerd, you’ll find where Colson, Pearcey, Rushdoony, Schaeffer, and Van Til got some of their leading ideas, either directly or derivatively. This book is a remarkable piece of cultural analysis.

 

Germino, Dante. Antonio Gramsci: Architect of a New Politics. This book is not especially well written, but its content is dynamite. The author, an academic if there ever was one, shows that the Italian neo-Marxist Gramsci had a greater impact on Western secular elites than Marx could ever have imagined. While Marx believed that incomes and possessions should be equalized, Gramsci believed that virtually everything should be equalized. He was a strong believer in society’s making the outsider the insider. The new leaders (and subjugators) would be women, racial minorities, sexual deviants, the physically disabled, the poor, prisoners, and social outcasts. This whole program was subjugating the wealthy, intelligent, and privileged and elevating the outsiders. This, of course, is precisely the program of elite Western radicalism.

 

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. You might find it hard to believe that I had not read this classic completely through until a couple of years ago. While it has certain scintillating observations, I did not find it especially impressive. Perhaps it is because of the author’s natural theology and evidential apologetics, and the mere [!] fact that this is a book on theology not written by a theologian. This is not a bad book, but it is quite overrated, in my estimation.

 

Marshall, I. Howard. Kept By the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away. This is probably the most persuasive exegetical and theological defense (essentially the author’s doctoral dissertation) of the Arminian view of perseverance written in the English language, certainly within the last 70 years. While the author, in my view, does not fully account for the Bible’s presentation of justification as a present declaration of the final, and therefore irreversible, verdict of salvation, he completely demolishes (calmly and charitably) what most people mean when they use the term “eternal security.”

 

Molnar, Thomas. Utopia, The Perennial Heresy. The author notes that the attempt to create the perfect, and perfectly just, society, a hallmark of 20th century politics springing from the French Revolution, derives from the ancient Gnostic heresy and its attack on the God of history and the man of history as God created him. This book is bristling with memorable insights.

 

Morris, Leon. The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment. Lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1960, this small book addresses in a readable, exegetical way one of the most neglected biblical truths in today’s church. No work shaped my soteriology (salvation doctrine) more than the author’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, his doctoral dissertation, and this book is just as careful and rigorous in elucidating what the Bible says about judgment — and it says a lot more than many Christians care to consider.

 

Lord Percy of Newcastle. The Heresy of Democracy. A 1955 cult classic, the author argues that democracy as it is understood today springs from the Christian heresy of the “inner light.” He attempts to show that modern forms of democracy are really secularized versions of this Christian heresy and that Christian culture is simply not compatible with what we today term democracy. This is a deeply learned book.

 

Torrance, Thomas F. The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. One of the great Scottish theologians of the 20th century documents in this, his doctoral dissertation, that the doctrine of grace in the New Testament, particularly highlighted in Paul’s writings, slipped into oblivion in the subapostolic church. I’m not generally favorably disposed to primitivist theories (things were great in “olden times” but subsequently plummeted), but it is difficult to argue with the author’s evidence. This book contests those traditions of Christianity that lay heavy stress on the soteriological continuity between New Testament Christianity and its immediate successors.

Unhealthy Cultures Invite Political Quacks

Posted on January 28, 2016

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Heather Wilhelm’s “America’s Daddy Issues” documents the federal government’s recent proposal to enlist the public schools to be “equal partners” with parents in rearing their children, including teachers visiting parents’ homes and providing assessments. I’m afraid to ask what the feds will do if the parents are deemed to be “failing.” It’s easy — and right —to blame the (literally) “nanny state” for this unconscionable infringement, but it could never have happened without massive familial failure: divorce’s broken homes, absentee fathers, feminist mothers, drug-addicted teenagers. This is a profound cultural illness that has invited a political “cure.” In fact, we can say that statists have seen this cultural illness as a golden opportunity. When the family and church fail, the political quacks are right there to step in and “help.”

CCL’s mission is chiefly cultural, not political. Our goal to heal the sick culture, and in doing that, we’ll drive back the statist quacks.

CCL is forming plans to spearhead with Reclaim America (founded by the late D. James Kennedy) to launch the Institute of Christian Leadership, a top-notch bi-monthly pastors’ program, training them in the truth and methods of cultural redemption. In addition, Brian Mattson and I will lecture for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship this summer. Brian will lecture for the Institute for Biblical and Theological Studies in Budapest. He’ll also be debating “Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law” with other top-flight scholars in a prominent academic forum. I will lecture for the Wilberforce Academy in Cambridge, England this September.

Next month I’ll be sending Holy Week for an Unholy World, which will include my original poetry from 25–30 years ago. In April I’ll send Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self, but it should release in a few weeks. The following writings should also be out this year: the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics; my own God’s Promises Crush the Cultural Evil and The Gospel That Reclaims Culture. Bill Blankschaen’s book with Red State’s Erick Erickson You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe will release this month. Richard A. Sandlin is in the final (dissertation) phase of his Ph.D. program.

CCL is all about healing cultural illnesses. Can you help us to greater healing work by sending a tax-deductible gift? You can donate here or by sending a check to:

Center for Cultural Leadership

P. O. Box 100

Coulterville, CA 95311

May God bless you, however you can help. I need each of you.

 

With deep gratitude and respect,

P. Andrew Sandlin

 

Christian Culture Is the Cure

Posted on January 15, 2016

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Introduction

I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker or billboard, “Jesus is the answer.” Cynical agnostics sometimes respond: “What’s the question?” The answer is: it doesn’t matter. Jesus Christ is ultimately the answer to every question. And that answer is truer than even many Christians suppose. Jesus isn’t simply the answer to personal guilt or addiction or despair. He’s also the answer to a homosexualized Hollywood and activist courts and runaway inflation and Obamacare. We Christians must get over the idea that “public” life should, or can, be religiously neutral, or that God has one standard for the family and church and another standard for public life. Lesslie Newbigin wrote:

Christians can never seek refuge in a ghetto where their faith is not proclaimed as public truth for all. They can never agree that there is one law for themselves and another for the world. They can never admit that there are areas of human life where the writ of Christ does not run. They can never accept that there are orders of creation or powers or dominions that exist otherwise than to serve Christ.[1]

Jesus Christ is Lord of all things, and his word is the authoritative truth for all aspects of creation. Our Western society is profoundly diseased. Jesus Christ is the only permanent cure. As it relates to society, Christian culture is the only cure. How? Let me tell you three foundational ways.

Relativism

First, Christian culture reflects confident truth in an age of chaotic relativism. Relativism is the popular idea that there are no objective standards of right and wrong (when applied more widely to cultures, relativism becomes multiculturalism). There is no single truth or morality to which all of us are accountable; each of us gets to make up his own standard of right and wrong. Likely no thinker is more responsible for today’s relativism and Friedrich Nietzsche, the German existentialist. Nietzsche was painfully aware of the consequences of the loss of Christian culture in Europe. He knew that when you lose Christian truth, you lose Christian morality, and when you no longer have Christian morality, you need a substitute morality. He believed that the great figures among us, the “Supermen,” must create a morality.[2] He called this the transvaluation of all values. Nietzsche considered this a sobering responsibility. He wasn’t lackadaisical about it.

Today’s relativists are lackadaisical. There’s nothing sobering about their relativism; they just want the freedom to live as they want without any accountability. Of course, there are no consistent relativists. All of them are hypocrites. They are cafeteria relativists: they are relativists when relativism suits them. The college sophomore that spews relativism in the dormitory nonetheless gets mad when somebody has the audacity to steal his iPhone. Relativism may be a creed, but it’s not a way of life. But too often, relativists try to make it a way of life, and this produces the moral chaos surrounding us: test-tube babies, same-sex “marriages,” the gradual acceptance of pedophilia, and the butchery of unborn children and, recently, the elderly.

Christian culture is the antithesis of relativism. Christianity declares that man must live by God’s loving, gracious revelation in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t reveal just a way of eternal salvation; it prescribes a way of life. This is what God’s moral law is all about.[3] Christian culture doesn’t profess to do away with all sin, but it does profess to eliminate moral chaos. We know what’s right and wrong because the Bible tells us. And the Bible doesn’t tell us what’s right and wrong only in our families and in our churches. It also tells us what’s right and wrong in education and politics and technology and music and Hollywood and corporate America.

Christian culture is the antithesis of moral chaos; it is morally coherent. It recognizes the moral law of God revealed in his Word. This law does not save us (only Jesus Christ can do that by his redemptive work), but his revelatory Word speaks truth — truth to all of culture — in which all humans can place our confidence.

This truth does not allow (for example) politicians simply to devise laws from the fertility of their depraved imaginations. The great comfort of the Bible as it relates to public law[4] is that it imposes restrictions on politics — on the people who have a monopoly on violence (Rom. 13:1–8). They’re not free to make up their own morality. They’re not free to fashion a just society. They’re not free to criminalize behavior that they don’t prefer and decriminalize behavior they do prefer. They are bound to enforce those aspects of the Bible that are appropriate to civil law. This understanding purges moral chaos from politics, just as obeying the Word of God purges moral chaos from all areas of life.

Depravity

Second, Christian culture offers liberating redemption in a time of enslaving depravity. Sin enslaves. Paul makes this very clear in Romans chapter 7. Here he is talking about the individual. But earlier, in Romans chapter 1, he points out that sin enslaves entire societies and cultures. In Romans 7 he refers specifically to homosexuality and lesbianism, but the enslaving power of sin isn’t limited to these sexual sins (see 2 Tim. 2:26). Sin brings us into its tragic bondage.

Jesus came to deliver humanity from sin’s power, but not just as individuals. Jehovah makes clear to ancient Israel that if they place all their hope in him, if they love and obey him, he will grant them great cultural victory and liberty (Dt. 28:1–14). God doesn’t just save individuals; he saves cultures. All of us are sinners, and sin enslaves us, but Jesus’ death on the cross and his victorious resurrection liberate us from sin — if we trust in him alone. Sin enslaves cultures, too. Cultures stand under God’s judgment. But when cultures repent and turn back to God and his grace, he blesses them. He did this with ancient Nineveh after Jonah’s mighty preaching. In the old covenant era, both individuals and societies repented and turned to Jehovah. And here in the new covenant, both individuals and societies can repent and turned to his Son, Jesus Christ.[5]

The reason the United States today is enslaved to debt and consumerism and drugs and pornography and entertainment and video games and government welfare programs is that it has turned away from the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. But if, under the convicting declaration of God’s Word, our society repents and turns to the Triune God, he promises to liberate us and to restore us to a place of great glory (see Jer. 4:1–2). The United States is declining on the world’s stage because it is declining in its trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ, just as England did, just as the Netherlands did. If the Son makes us free, we are free indeed (Jn. 8:36) — free not just as individuals, but also free as a nation.

Despair

Finally, Christian culture inspires joyous hope amid an environment of cynical despair. One of the most reliable indexes of a culture’s condition is its view of the future. Christianity has a bright view of the future, in spite of present difficulties, because the Bible tells us that God is working out his benevolent purposes in history and that his kingdom will gradually expand despite Satanic opposition.[6] Today, our culture is postmodern. Earlier in the Western world, Christian culture was first eclipsed by the European Enlightenment.[7] The Enlightenment was also optimistic, yet it put its confidence not in God, but in man’s ability to reason and to create the good, but increasingly godless, society. The Enlightenment social optimism has, of course, been a magnificent disappointment.[8] In its wake has come our postmodernism, which has turned away from both Christian optimism and Enlightenment optimism to despair.[9] There are no objective standards. There’s nothing to keep us from falling into barbarism. Therefore, we should simply try to enjoy ourselves while we can — if we can. It’s a despairing philosophy. That despair is seen particularly in a great deal of our popular music. The wildly popular Lady Gaga sings in “Princess Die”:

 

Bleach out all the dark

I’ll swallow each peroxide shot, volumes I know

Will love and save me from myself

Maybe I’ll just clean the [expletive] off of these fancy shoes

I’ll be a Princess Die and die with you

Wish that I was strong

Wish that I was wrong

Wish that I could cope, but I took pills and left a note

 

Suicide has been a theme of musicians for generations, but the despair and darkness of contemporary popular music, of much of postmodern art, is a reflection of the biblical aphorism: “[H]e who fails to find me [God and his wisdom] injures himself; all who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36).

In radical contrast, Christian culture inspires great hope for the future. History is not an endless, repetitive cycle of rises and falls. It’s a God-governed odyssey moving from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation.[10] God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ is not static. Although it suffers from diabolical attack, and sometimes, it seems, is almost overthrown, it marches on to its destined victory (1 Cor. 15:20–28). Christian culture is optimistic culture, not because it has confidence in its own society, but because it has confidence in the God whom it loves and obeys.

The eschatology of a Christian culture is an eschatology of optimism.[11] Eschatology is one’s view of the future. Christians who embrace pessimistic eschatologies, who believe that culture is destined to get increasingly worse, are, in this way, at least, thinking more like pagans than Christians. Almost all civilizations at the time of Christ believed in a cyclical view of history: history is destined to go up and down and up and back down again.[12] A truly Christian eschatology sees God at work gradually redeeming all of culture by the power of his Spirit and in spite of fierce, frantic Satanic opposition.[13]

Secularization, a turning away from the Triune God and his word, has infected our culture with a deep spiritual disease. Jesus Christ and his way of doing culture is the only cure. Christian culture is the cure for relativistic chaos. Christian culture is the cure for enslaving depravity. And Christian culture is a cure for postmodern despair. This is why the Center for Cultural Leadership and our allies and I are devoting our lives to Christian culture. (I pray that you will join us.)

A Seductive Illusion

A final word: an understandable and rational response to this pervasive secular (as well as pagan[14]) disease is to quarantine ourselves in our families and, at most, in our churches. The attitude is: even though our society may become more secular, we can become more Christian. A large number of ministries are committed to restoring the family and reviving the church. I support them, and I pray that they’re successful. However, if they neglect the cultural component about which I’ve spoken today — and if they think they can sustain a robust Christianity over time in an evil culture — I believe this view to be not only theologically mistaken, but also dangerously delusional. The church should indeed impact society, but society has a way of impacting the church. The sociologist Peter Berger popularized the idea of “plausibility structures”:[15] what counts as legitimate and illegitimate, real and unreal in a culture. When secularists create a comprehensive plausibility structure, it means that Christian truth is not so much persecuted, as it is simply meaningless. It doesn’t matter if the church stands up for biblical marriage if the wider culture defines marriage in a radically different way. Trying to restore biblical marriage would be akin to trying to restore the 18th century French monarchy. People wouldn’t fight you; they’d simply look at you as nutty. That’s why we cannot afford to fix just one thing: We cannot afford to fix the family and the church but not the culture. These institutions are all interrelated, and each affects — and infects — the other. What our children and grandchildren consider normal will be shaped not only by what they hear and see in family and church but also in the surrounding culture. Abandoning the culture to Satan and secularists is to allow them a hand in deciding what is normal for our children and grandchildren. Only God gets to decide what’s normal.

Conclusion

If you believe in Jesus Christ and in the Bible, I ask you humbly but passionately: join me in the task of working wherever God has placed you to create Christian culture — by the power of the Spirit, restore Christian truth, whether in automobile repair or software architecture or primary education or as the executive in the board room or in the farming fields or in the statehouse.

Christian culture is the cure to our modern spiritual disease, and there simply is no other.


 

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 115.
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in The Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann, ed. (New York: Modern Library, 1968), 326.
[3] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 131–250.
[4] On the Bible as the basis for civil law, see Brian G. Mattson, Politics and Evangelical Theology (no loc., no pub., 2012).
[5] William Symington, Messiah the Prince (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1884, 1990).
[6] John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976).
[7] Peter Gay, The Age of Enlightenment (New York: Time-Life, 1966).
[8] John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake (London and New York: Routledge, 1995, 2007), 215–276.
[9] For a genealogy of postmodernism and the road to despair, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1995), 3–65.
[10] Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 28–36.
[11] J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971).
[12] John Baillie, The Belief in Progress (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1951), 43–51.
[13] For an example of how to interpret the Bible optimistically in this way, see Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).
[14] Peter Jones, One or Two, Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, California: Main Entry, 2010).
[15] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (New York; Anchor, 1967, 1969), 12.

A 2015 Gift for 2016 Battles

Posted on December 28, 2015

Friends,

 

2015 is nearly over, and if you want tax credit for your year-end donation to CCL, now is the time to give.

 

CCL’s mission is bold, broad — and biblical: influence Christians to take the lead, wherever God has placed them, to create a new Christian culture. We are the Lord’s “adversarial intelligentsia” in an age driven by secular-pagan elites. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit employing holy people to communicate holy ideas to restore a holy culture.

 

We need holy resources to do it.

 

Would you be willing to send a gift today?

 

Before December 31, 11:59 Pacific Standard Time, please send a tax-deductible gift here.

 

Or you can send a check, postmarked no later than December 31, to:

 

Center for Cultural Leadership
P. O. Box 100
Coulterville, California 95311

 

Thank you so much for supporting CCL with your hard-earned money.

 

We do not feel entitled, and we don’t take it for granted; but we’re deeply grateful.

 

Thanks for providing us ammunition for the great cultural battle of our time.

Pistol Packin’ Jesus?

Posted on December 14, 2015

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Jesus’ message was the Kingdom of God (Mt. 4:17, 23; Lk. 8:1). The Kingdom of God is the rule of God in the earth.[1] Near the heart of that kingdom-rule lies justice (= righteousness, [Mt. 6:33; Heb. 1:8]). That justice includes (as I intend briefly to show) the defense, including lethal defense, if necessary, of judicially innocent life.[2] Therefore, Jesus, by implication, would have supported — and does support — carrying firearms to defend that life. The fact that this line of reasoning should pose controversy shows how far justice and the Kingdom of God have been relegated to the periphery in the thinking of today’s world, including among many Christians.

Concealed-carry Jerry

For instance: Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the country, raised eyebrows and ire when he told the students in chapel, “If more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those [San Bernardino terrorist] Muslims before they walked in.” This thoroughly Christian assertion unsurprisingly elicited a firestorm from the usual suspects over on the Left. But even some evangelicals got into the act, like student leaders at the mildly conservative Wheaton College. One of the more widely distributed Christian objections emerged from Shane Claiborne in Jonathan Merritt’s column at the prominent Religion News Service. Merritt has been known as a “celibate gay evangelical,” and his writing tips distinctly Leftward. The latter is equally true of Claiborne.

Shane, please read your Bible — all of it

Claiborne tries to make the case, not so much that Falwell was socio-politically mistaken, but that Jesus himself would oppose violence in defending life: violence is never appropriate for a Christian. In other words, Claiborne is a pacifist, and he enlists Jesus Christ in his pacifist crusade. He writes:

As I listened to the words of Mr. Falwell, I could not help asking, “Are we worshipping the same Jesus?”

The Jesus I worship did not carry a gun. He carried a cross. Jesus did not tell us to kill our enemies. He told us to love them.

No one would confuse Claiborne’s views with the product of theological reflection. Jesus indeed carried a cross and not a gun, but there were no guns in the first century, and Jesus’ requirement to love our enemies has no essential bearing on the question of self-defense. It is possible that Jesus would have carried both a cross and a gun (had there been guns), and that possibility cannot be eliminated merely by a pious aphorism.

In fact, Claiborne’ highly selective use of the Gospels refutes his bald assertion. He somehow missed this commission Jesus gave to his disciples:

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” (Lk. 22:36)

That sword Jesus required his disciples to carry wasn’t for carving pork. It was for self-defense.

Claiborne elaborates:

Jesus blessed peacemakers and the merciful. He encouraged responding to evil, not with more evil, but with love. And he modeled that enemy-love on the cross as he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” crying out in mercy even for the terrorists who nailed him to the cross. I see in Jesus a God of scandalous grace, who loves evil-doers so much he dies for them — and for us….

In fact, it is Jesus who scolds his own disciple, Peter, for standing his ground when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. Peter defensively picked up a sword to protect Jesus, cutting off the ear of one of the persecutors. As he stood up for Jesus, he had the ultimate case for self-defense. And how does Jesus respond? He scolds Peter, telling him to but his sword away. Then he heals the wounded persecutor and reattaches his ear… only to be arrested and led to his execution.

Claiborne’s errors abound. He seems not to have considered our Lord’s redemptive work as a unique historical situation that necessitated unique responses. Jesus Christ knew his calling was to die, and he would not be deterred from that agonizing death (Lk. 9:51), even by well-intentioned friends like Peter. Our Lord was not laying down a pacifist ethic; he was assuring that there would be no impediments to his sacrificial death for humanity.

This is why, while Jesus did command Peter to sheath his sword when the Romans came to arrest him, Peter was in fact carrying a sword. Jesus obviously wasn’t prohibiting lethal self-defense, only that action in this unique redemptive situation: “Keep your sword, Peter, just don’t use it right now.” Jesus was in his temporary state of humiliation for the specific purpose of dying for the world’s sin. He is no longer in that state.

Past humiliation and present glory

The Son of God has existed in three modes: his pre-incarnate mode of glory with the Father (Jn. 17:20–24), his incarnate mode of humiliation on earth (Phil. 2:4–8), and his present resurrection mode of glory in his reign (Jn. 7:39; Phil. 2:9–11). It is in this last, glorified mode that we read of him:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:11-16)

Interestingly, Claiborne did not mention this righteously wrathful mode of our Lord’s existence, even though it is the one he presently occupies — and always will. To draw attention to this present life of our Lord would seriously impair, if not completely destroy, Claiborne’s pacifism.[3]

Jesus and life-depriving justice

Claiborne is entirely correct that Jesus Christ relishes peacemaking, love, mercy, and forgiveness. These are intrinsic to the Kingdom of God. In fact, they are precisely what necessitate using guns for self-defense, even lethal self-defense, if necessary. Why?

Jesus’ ethics are grounded in the Scriptures. This meant — and means — the Old Testament:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5:17-20)

And the Old Testament justifies committing violence in self-defense. In fact, in Exodus 22:2–3, violence in defense of property is justified. If this is the case, then violence in defense of judicially innocent persons, who are of much greater value to God than property, is certainly warranted.

This is why we later read these sober requirements:

“… Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps. 82:4)

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? (Prov. 24:10-12)

Jesus affirms the commands of the Old Testament, which requires us when it is in our power to rescue those who are in mortal danger. If we disobey God by not using lethal self-defense to protect judicially innocent life, we are not acting in love and forgiveness, but perpetrating injustice and evil.

In short: if Claiborne had access to a handgun while his mother or wife or sister was being hacked by saws or gang-raped, would he get on his knees in their presence and pray for the perpetrators, or would he use the gun to stop and possibly kill them? If he would not, he would be committing a nearly unforgivable evil, and God would require of him the blood of the innocent.

Christian love requires protecting innocent life

Love means defending, with lethal force if necessary, those unjustly drawn to death. Lovelessness means not defending them with lethal force. In that scenario, not to kill is not to love.

Jesus does not permit personal vengeance, which he reserves to himself and to the civil government (Rom. 12:19; 13:1–5). But protection, including lethal protection, of judicially innocent life in imminent danger is not vengeance.

Pistol Packin’ Jesus

Therefore, if Jesus were on earth today in the United States, we have no reason to believe he would not support the Second Amendment (framed, let us remember, by Christians or those shaped by Christian truth), and he would be quite happy for his disciples to carry firearms — and require them to use those firearms, if necessary, to defend judicially innocent life.

Jesus Christ demands of us life-protecting justice.


 

[1] George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 77–81.
[2] By “judicially innocent life” I distinguish those who do not deserve to die at the hands of man from those, like murderers or violent attackers in the act, who do deserve to die.
[3] Nor were the Romans who crucified Jesus “terrorists.” They were duly constituted civil authorities whose evil consisted precisely in the monstrously unjust perversion of their divinely stamped office.

Family Is Gospel

Posted on December 7, 2015

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Introduction

On October 31 we celebrated Reformation Day, commemorating Luther’s nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg 500 years ago two years from now. But the Reformation must be an ongoing fact. The church must be constantly reforming, espousing “a theology of permanent reformation.”[1]

As Reformation people we take the Gospel and salvation seriously. I fear that sometimes, however, we become imbalanced in our soteriological (salvation) emphases. For instance, we stress justification, being declared righteous before God’s heavenly tribunal. That was certainly Luther’s great soteriological concern or, some might say say, his, or at least his followers’, almost exclusive soteriological concern.[2]

Or if we’re evangelical in a more recent sense, we greatly emphasize regeneration, being “born again.” Of course, the Bible teaches both of these Gospel truths, and it teaches them emphatically, and there could be no biblical soteriology (salvation doctrine) without them. But these are not the only Gospel truths we need to understand, and I’m afraid that this serious imbalance in not emphasizing other truths has helped contribute to some of the great cultural evils that surround us today.

That’s a serious charge, and it’s one on which I’d like to elaborate. Upfront I will tell you that the root problem is that Protestants often haven’t understood the structural role of the family in the Gospel. One effect of this omission has been to undermine the family in our culture, not just the church.

We might begin by considering Mary Eberstadt‘s thesis that the West lost God by losing the family, not vice versa.[3] This thesis sounds strange to us because we tend to think that people become anti-God first and then anti-family as result. But if the family is part of what the Gospel means, if we lose the family, we lose the Gospel — and eventually God himself.

Let’s consider Gospel truths in the Bible that Protestants often gloss over, and then let’s talk about how this omission has helped accelerate our present cultural evil, and what we can do about it.

The Trinity as Family

 First, let’s think of the Trinity. The Trinity is a Trinity of persons. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are real people. God is One Person, but God is also three persons. There are not three gods. There is one God. But this one God is three persons. If we believe there are not three actual persons, if we believe that God is one person but the other two members of the Trinity are just modes or extensions of the one Person, we embrace heresy. The Trinity consists of three actual people. These persons love each other. They commune with each other. They delight in each other.[4]

John chapter 17 records Jesus’ prayer to his Father for his disciples. We call it his high priestly prayer. He’s interceding for his followers — not just his present followers, but those who would one day follow him (v. 20). In other words, he was praying for us.

One thing he prays is most striking:

“… And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me….” (vv. 3, 20–23)

 

In eternity past, the Father loved the Son (and the Spirit). The Son is eternal, just as eternal as the Father. We call this the eternal generation of the Son.[5] He is constantly finding his life and sustenance in the Father (Jn. 5:36) without being one whit inferior to the Father. The Son wants to please the Father, as every good son wants to please every good father. And the Father relishes to exalt the Son, every good human father relishes to exalt his good human son. Every good father is proud of his good son, and the heavenly Father is proud of his good Son. We can only imagine the communion and delight and joy the Father, Son and Spirit enjoy with one another.

Jesus prays that this glory, this communion between Father and Son, will be extended to his followers, the chosen ones. Jesus prays that these disciples — and this includes us — may share in that intimate communion. We will all be one: Father, Son, Spirit, and disciples.

But I’d like to draw your attention to one more salient point. Jesus says this this knowledge, this communion, is eternal life (v. 3). It’s not a benefit of eternal life; it is eternal life. Eternal life is communion with the Father, Son and Spirit.

Later, John gives as the reason for writing his Gospel that his readers will have eternal life (Jn. 20:31). This is why Jesus came: to bring eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

This interpretation is supported by what Jesus says earlier in his ministry. The apostle John especially likes to record the great intimacy between the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Father. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (Jn. 3:35). “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise’” (Jn. 5:19). “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). And perhaps the most tender of all, to Mary, at his tomb: “‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’’” (Jn. 20:30). Jesus felt so close to his disciples that he identified with them in their mutual relation to God. “He is my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

Think about it: Jesus came to give us eternal life, and eternal life is communion with the eternal family love of the Father and the Son.

The Gospel is presented in the Bible from many perspectives, but How many times when we hear the Gospel preached do we hear, “Trust in Jesus Christ because he came to earth to restore the broken communion between you on the one hand and the loving Father and him as the loving Son on the other”? Not as many as we should, I’d venture. But that’s precisely why Jesus came. At root, the Gospel is a family fact — the loving father and his children. The Good News is family love. This isn’t the way that many conservative Protestants today would put it, but it is the way Jesus Christ put it.

The Bride and the Groom

Next, consider marriage. We know from Ephesians 5 that the communion between Jesus Christ and his church is a “profound mystery” (v. 32). The mystery is that this communion is analogous to marriage. This passage explodes with meaning, but I’ll point out just a couple of specially relevant truths.

While the wife is called to subordinate herself to her husband (not anybody else’s husband; this passage doesn’t teach that women in general must submit to men in general), the husband is called to cherish and “bosom” his wife.[6] He is called to meet her bodily needs and protect her and “coddle” her just as he does his own flesh. This is what Jesus does with us, his bride, his church.

Second, the husband’s supreme self-sacrifice is laying down his life for his wife. This is precisely what Jesus did for us as his church, and he’s the pattern for us husbands.

Now the Bible teaches that Jesus’ death on the Cross was a sacrifice for sin and sinners. The entire old covenant atonement system was sacrificial. It pointed to Jesus as the one final enduring sacrifice (Heb. 10:1–18). This death (along with the resurrection) is the heart of the new covenant Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4).

But it’s imperative to recognize that Paul isn’t teaching here that Jesus died just for separate individuals. This is why he speaks of the husband and wife. The bride is collectively the church. Jesus died for his people as an elect body. In our present individualistic culture, this distinction is important. Ours isn’t just a Jesus-and-me salvation. God makes his saving covenant with covenant people in the covenant blood-shedding of his Son.

Jesus is the groom and the church is the bride. Jesus coddles and nourishes and “bosoms” the church. He sacrifices himself in providing for the church, and he gives himself up in the ultimate sacrifice at death.

Think about this for a minute. It’s not just that he paid an abstract penalty for sin. He loves the church. He cherishes the church. He’s emotionally bound to the church. He wants to preserve the church so desperately that to save the church, he gives his own life. This husbandly sacrifice is at the heart of the Gospel. It’s not simply, “Jesus died on the Cross because he wanted to take us to heaven.” No. Jesus, the husband, poured out his life’s blood to rescue his wife. It was his self-sacrificial, husbandly love that made the Cross possible.

Now, think with me. This husbandly sacrifice is a Gospel truth. You don’t have a Gospel without the sacrifice, and you don’t have the sacrifice without the sacrifice of the groom for his bride. This means that marriage is near the heart of the Gospel.

The Children

Third, in John chapter 1 we read:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (1:12–13)

God sent Jesus into the world to get more children. We often don’t think of the Gospel in these terms, but this is one chief way to understand the Gospel, and we cannot understand it as we should if we lose this element. God is a Father. He has an eternal Son. He wants more than an eternal Son. He wants lots of children.

Of course, we are humans, made in God’s image, and we are not God and never can be. You or I cannot be a child of God in the same way that Jesus is child of God, but we can be a child of God, and we are children of God in the way that only humans can be. This in fact is what it means to be a child of God. That is precisely what the Bible calls us. The Gospel is God’s family-growth plan.

Earlier I mentioned being “born again,” or born from above, as we read in John chapter 3. God the Father employs his Holy Spirit to supernaturally birth us into his family. As John chapter 1 just said, we are not born of our own will, but our Father’s. It was not our idea to be born into a physical world, and it’s not our idea to be born into the spiritual world. That is the parent’s choice, not the child’s. Parents want to bring children into a world so that they will love and be loved, delighted and be delighted. Well, this is why our heavenly Father brings to us into his world: to love and be loved and delight him and so that we can delight in his world and his ways.

This is how we become a part of God’s family. We have our heavenly Father. We have a mother, the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26). We have brothers and sisters. A good family delight in each other. The parents nourish and rear the children and protect them and provide for them. The children look to and rely on and honor and obey the parents. The children enjoy each other’s company and plan time together and help each other in hard times. This is precisely what the Bible teaches about us as the children of God; and our family, the church, and the epistle of 1 John has a lot to say about it.

The Gospel, I repeat, is God’s family-growth plan. He has his eternal Son that he has always loved, and the Father desires more children, and the Son desires more brothers and sisters. They refuse to keep all of their family love and joy and delight to themselves. That’s why we read in Hebrews 2 that God “brought many sons to glory” by the suffering of Jesus Christ (v. 10). “For he who sanctifies [Jesus] and those who are sanctified [Christians, his brothers and sisters] all have one source [they have the same Father]. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (v. 11). Jesus is our older brother. We share the same Father.

The Gospel isn’t simply good news. It is good family news. The good news is family love.

To review: the Gospel means that we join the eternal communion of the loving Father and his Son by the power of his Spirit.

The Gospel means that Jesus is the church’s husband and sacrifices and bosoms us and lays down his life for us to rescue us.

The Gospel means that the heavenly Father wants more children than just Jesus, and therefore the Gospel is God’s family growth plan, and we’re a part of that family.

The Implications

Let me explore some poignant implications of these truths as they pertain to the church in the West in the early 21st century.

Creation truths

First, note that while each of these three facts is a Gospel truth, each is also rooted in creation. The heavenly Father and his eternal Son wanted to extend their communion, so they created humans, made in God’s image. Marriage is a creation ordinance, and it was around before the Fall. Jesus was the eternal Son of God, and did not simply become the son of God, but God created Adam as his human son (Lk. 3:38).

All of these predated the Fall. They are creation truths.

Now, the Fall introduced great changes into God’s good creation, but it did not destroy the creation. The Fall effaced creation; it did not erase it. The Gospel is the good news adapted to the fallen world, but the Gospel operates within the created world. In fact, the Gospel isn’t just about redemption; it’s about restoring and enhancing creation. That’s just what redemption does.

Too often, however, in stressing redemption, we’re too quick to get to the Cross. [7] This might sound heretical, but it’s not. The Cross is there to redeem something, and that something is God’s good creation. Redemption always occurs against the background of creation. And that is why the family is a pattern for the Gospel, and in fact, if there’s no family, there’s no Gospel. If there’s no eternal Father and Son, there’s no Gospel. If there’s no husband-and-wife union, there is no Gospel. If they’re no children of God (no Adam as the son of God), there’s no Gospel.

The de-familialized Gospel

Second, the Gospel Protestants have preached over the last century or so has been a truncated Gospel,[8] and one glaring aspect of that truncation is its lack of Biblical family orientation. Tragically, this omission was happening at the same time that our secular culture was assaulting the very foundations of the family: legalized abortion; recreational birth control; unwed teen pregnancy; pornography; easy, no-fault divorce; homosexuality, same-sex “marriage”; machismo; radical feminism; surrogate pregnancy; egg harvesting; artificial insemination; sperm donation. But the 20th century Gospel was all about individual salvation and forgiveness of sins and being right before God and “I’m going to heaven when I die.” The familial aspects of the Gospel were omitted or simply placed in another category, to be dealt with later, in sanctification or Christian growth. The important Gospel truth was the benefit and future of the individual.

Think about it. The church was preaching a radically individualized Gospel that neglected the family at the same time that the culture was preaching a radically individualized counter-Gospel that undercut the family. In other words, our Gospel didn’t challenge the secular culture at its very heart. For this truncated Gospel, we’re now paying a heavy cultural price.

The Gospel isn’t just a message; it’s a worldview. As David Wells wrote, the “Gospel makes sense only in a moral world.”[9] Part of that moral world is the family of God’s creation. You cannot preach the Gospel without preaching the family, and the church’s anorexic Gospel is no match for Satan’s robust counter-Gospel. If we’d been preaching family as Gospel all along, we could have confronted the secular anti-family counter-Gospel as the very point of attack.

Gospel preaching = family preaching

Third, we can’t preach the Gospel without preaching the family. About the time of the Obergefell decision, some allegedly conservative Protestant churches and organizations changed their position about homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” One reason they gave was that if they oppose same-sex “marriage,” they would “not necessarily [be following] the way of the Gospel.”[10] There’s unity in the Gospel, and the same-sex “marriage” dispute sunders this unity. They didn’t want to be distracted from their real calling, which is to preach the Gospel.

The problem is that there is no Gospel without the family. Think of it this way. We can’t understand why Jesus Christ died for the church until we understand that the church is the bride. The church bears distinctive feminine characteristics, and her Lord bears distinctive masculine characteristics. The church is the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). The church bears the Father’s children (Gal. 4:26). The church is utterly reliant on her Lord (Eph. 5:23c). But if both spouses are male, we have utterly lost this Gospel truth. The sacrifice of the husband for the wife is possible only if the husband is male and the wife is female. This is what the Bible means by sacrificial atonement, and it is simply not compatible with same-sex “marriage.”

Think about a lesbian couple with children. The Bible teaches that God is our Father. The right kind of fathers live and act like fathers. They act in ways that only fathers can act and mothers cannot and should not act; but if we have no father, only two mothers, we cannot understand what the fatherhood in the Gospel means. This doesn’t mean that a child without a father in the home cannot know the Gospel. But it does mean that the Gospel must be modeled to him by other fathers nearby. The specific, intentional exclusion of fatherhood in a lesbian marriage, however, doesn’t just destroy the biblical pattern of creation; it destroys the Gospel.

Let us think yet again about children. They are the product of a loving, physical intercourse, if marriage is done in God’s way. But a child born of a surrogate pregnancy (a rented womb) knows nothing about that loving intimacy at its source. A child born of anonymous sperm joined to an anonymous egg might be loved, but that child was not brought into the world as the result of a loving sexual act. We children of God are spiritually birthed by the loving act of regeneration by a heavenly Father. We were not spiritually manufactured by an abstract God acting abstractly. If we lose the loving, personal aspect of this rebirth, we have simply lost the Gospel.

In short: You cannot get the family wrong and get the Gospel right. This is why it will never suffice to say you’re going to set aside family issues and just preach the Gospel. If you set aside family issues, you cannot preach the Gospel.

“Just preach the Gospel”

Fourth, and, finally, our job as churches in counteracting the virulent, counter-family forces in our culture is to: preach the Gospel. But I don’t mean the family-erased Gospel of the 20th century. I mean the Gospel that invite sinners to join the communion of the eternal family, the heavenly Father and his Son and the Spirit. I mean the Gospel of the husband Jesus who sacrifices himself even to death for his bride, the church, and to which we are called in salvation. I mean the Gospel that births us into an entirely new family, with a loving, caring Father, with the God-Man Jesus as our older brother, and with loving and caring brothers and sisters.

Understand that these are not simply implications of a higher and more basic Gospel. These are the Gospel. And if we have neglected them, we have neglected critical aspects of the Gospel. Union with Jesus Christ is union into the fellowship of an eternal Father and Son. The death of Jesus Christ is the husband’s death for his bride. Rebirth is birth into the Christian family. This is Gospel.

In conclusion: in preaching and encouraging and protecting and nourishing the family in our churches, we are preaching and encouraging and protecting and nourishing the Gospel.

We hear a lot of talk about Gospel-driven churches and Gospel-driven living. This Gospel drivenness is an imperative, and this means that we must be family-driven churches who practice family-driven living. This has nothing whatsoever to do with “patriarchy” or “family-integrated churches.”[11] The church isn’t a collection of families. It’s the eternal heavenly family that is the paradigm for the earthly family, not vice versa. If we lose that family, as well as the creation family, we lose the Gospel. And if we do stress the family as we should, we have been faithful Gospel people. The family in its very DNA models the Gospel.

I know of a Christian couple with two small children. The husband’s parents are both Christians, but the wife’s divorced parents are not. I’ve known them for years. The unbelieving parents aren’t actively hostile to the Gospel, but they have had no interest in it. Yes as they see their children, and especially their grandchildren, I am noticing a subtle shift. Their hearts are softening, and I believe I know why. Because the family is Gospel truth, softening toward the family is a softening toward the Gospel, Just as a hardening toward the family is a hardening toward the Gospel. Peter tells us that an unbelieving husband is won over not by a wife’s Gospel preaching, but by her faithful, obedient life (1 Pet. 3:1–2). In the same way, unbelievers can be won over by the loving, caring family, which models the loving, caring family set forth in the Gospel.

If we want a successful Gospel church, we must be a successful family church. If we want a successful Gospel culture, we must be a successful family culture.

Family is Gospel.


 

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, “Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda,” Toward the Future of Reformed Theology, David Willis and Michael Welker, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 120.
[2] Carl Trueman is correct that Luther was so committed to (his view of) justification that he “used [it] . . . to remake soteriology,” in “Simul peccator et justis: Martin Luther and Justification,” Justification in Perspective, Bruce L. McCormack, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 73.
[3] Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton, 2013).
[4] Michael Reeves, The Good God (Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster, 2012).
[5] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2013), 490–496.
[6] Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010, 2011), Kindle edition, commentary at 4:1–6:20.
[7] Gordon Spykman, “Fundamentalism in the CRC: A Critique,” Pro Rege, September, 1986, 16.
[8] On this entire theme, see Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
[9] David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 138.
[10] “A Letter from the Elder Board,” https://www.citychurchsf.org/A-Letter-From-The-Elder-Board, accessed December 5, 2015.
[11] P. Andrew Sandlin, “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem,” https://docsandlin.com/2012/04/17/the-patriarchy-problem-2/, accessed October 9, 2015.

Creation Stewardship: The Christian View of Environmentalism

Posted on December 2, 2015

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Preface

In light of the Climate Change Summit in Paris, please consider this distinctly Christian view of environmental responsibility, which contrasts sharply with the secular view championed by all leaders of the participating Western nations.

Introduction

Global ecology is a notable action item on the agenda of Reformational Christianity, the form of Protestant Christianity traditionally most committed to a world-affirming Faith. To understand this Reformational conception of global ecology, however, we must situate it in the context of the Christian worldview, best summarized for our present purposes as the creation-sin-redemption paradigm.

Creation’s Goodness

The creation of humanity was God’s crowning achievement, male and female fashioned in His image. Humans, animals, plants and microorganisms share a single status as God’s animate created order (the Creator/creature distinction); however, humans are distinguished from animals and plants in that we were created imago dei, in the image of God that we ineluctably bear (the human/non-human distinction). Man and woman were uniquely fashioned for love and communion, not only with one another, but also with God. The animals, despite in some cases high degrees of sensation and intelligence, were not designed for this unique, everlasting communion with God. If, asReformational Christians believe, the Bible is a divine revelation to humanity, we can be confident that a benevolent, just, sovereign God created the universe for His own gracious purposes, no matter how we resolve arguments about how precisely He created it or how long the creative process took. Galaxies, stars, planets, all of earth’s plants and animals as well as its inanimate features — each is the effect of God’s creation ex nihilo. The narrative in the book of Genesis from the Christian Bible insists that this creation was “good,” precisely what God intended it to be: benevolent, harmonious, orderly — and revelatory of its Creator. The inherent goodness of creation is essential to the Christian worldview and therefore dictates how Christians understand ecology.

Moreover, God charged humanity with stewardship (caretaking) of the remaining creation. Genesis conveys that humanity’s charge is to govern creation (as God governs humanity). Humanity, man and woman of all times and races and nations and creeds, are called to be God’s benevolent vicegerents and caretakers of creation. This obligatory privilege is called the “cultural mandate.” Humanity’s divinely prescribed relationship to creation is one of active and perpetual interest, care, and cultivation.

The idea of stewardship is vitally significant to this discussion. While humanity is charged with managing creation, the creation is not our own, to treat as we wish; it is God’s property: “[E]very beast of the forest is mine [says Jehovah], and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (see Psalm 50:10).

Nonetheless, humanity, as God’s crowning creation, enjoys priority in the creational hierarchy. Humans, the paramecium, the jackal, and the rhododendron are all splendorous samples of God’s creation, but humans alone bear the divine imprint and the divine charge to steward the surrounding created order. For this reason, God gave the first man and woman vegetation for food. For the same reason, God fashioned humanity’s first clothing from animal skins. The non-human creation exists for humanity’s benefit, but not for our exploitation. Humanity is the caretaker; God is the owner.

The environment is our home and, therefore, subsists preeminently for our sustenance and delight under God’s ever watchful care. This original ecological arrangement, enveloped in love and harmony and order, was to continue as long as humanity pleased God.

Sin’s Curse

Nor did sin and the resultant curse alter God’s decree to protect creation. In fact, God imposed on humanity additional requirements to protect and preserve His inherently good creation from the predatory depravities of a sinful human race. For example, God warned ancient Israel, His covenant people, not to harm the trees when they besieged a city — the tragedy of warfare is compounded when humans irreparably damage plants and animals. In addition, one justification for the Jews’ weekly Sabbath rest was to grant their hard-working oxen and donkeys — not merely humanity — a chance to recuperate from their labors. The Biblical wisdom literature, too, declares that the slothful hunter neglects to roast his game — we can only imagine God’s grief over the rotting buffalo carcasses on the plains in 19th century America. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, assures His followers that God cares for every sparrow that falls from the sky — and humans, also, must care for the non-human creatures that inhabit God’s good earth.But humanity did not please God. Man and woman violated God’s plan — and broke God’s heart. This violation Christians call sin. Judgment for this sin spoiled the creation in the form of decay, destruction and death. This is God’s curse on creation itself. Creation, originally designed to serve humanity harmoniously, would thereafter pose hardships to us — taxing labor in soil cultivation, hostile animals, and an uneven climate. Moreover, sin introduced disharmony, strife and even chaos into creation. Humanity thereafter arrayed itself not only against God, against fellow humans, and against the individual himself (internal conflict) but also against nature. Woman and man would be tempted to abuse the wider creation just as they had abused God, their fellow humans, and their own selves. However, humanity did not forfeit the task as vicegerent; it forfeited only the fully harmonious environment in which it was to exercise that task.

God permits our use of the land and trees for eating fruit and erecting shelter and use of animals for food and clothing. Humanity enjoys the priority in creation. Yet too often we are predatory, proud and self-centered. Called to steward the earth, we instead exploit it for selfish gain without considering God’s purposes. We grind our fellow humans, including society’s most vulnerable — the elderly, disabled, and preborn — under our heel. We torment and abuse animals. We treat the air, plants and soil as if there were no tomorrow.

Our sin is bad news, not just for humanity, but also for all of creation.

Redemption’s Reversal

But humanity is not the only object of this redemption in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul observes that even the environment “groans and travails in pain,” waiting for its redemption from the curse that God imposed on account of humanity’s sin (see Romans 8:22-23). The creational curse is an abnormality, and God means to roll back that curse on all of creation, no less than the curse on humanity itself. The process of redemption includes the redemption of creation. In the words ofReformational apologist Cornelius Van Til, “The sweep of redemption is as comprehensive as the sweep of sin.” Jesus Christ’s incremental redemptive work, therefore, has global (and, in fact cosmic) implications. Jesus really is the Savior of the world. The good news is that the bad news is not the last news. Paul the apostle, the most prominent Christian of the New Testament, argues that Jesus, in His death, bore the penalty for humanity’s sin and in His bodily resurrection broke the power of that sin. This is God’s loving, gracious, momentous redeeming work for humanity. That victory over sin includes the reversal of God’s original judgment and an incremental, God-given power to turn away from our sin. Man and woman appropriate this redemption by faith in Jesus Christ.

This redemption of creation is perhaps the leading instance of how God’s common grace springs from His redemptive grace. “Common grace” denotes God’s goodness toward humans in general, irrespective of their faith in Jesus. God showers His kindness on humanity qua humanity, not merely on redeemed humanity. This common grace forges a unity within the human race, a common task of which remains stewardship of the globe. Christian and non-Christian, believer and agnostic, people of different faiths — all labor together to preserve the earth, despite sometimes radically different reasons for such ecological impetus.

For Reformational Christians, redemption in Christ has ushered in a new era, an era of global healing, the reversal of the curse. We happily join all men and women committed to preserving and cultivating God’s good earth as our common residence.

We Reformational Christians grant allegiance to Jesus Christ and to the Bible as furnishing our underlying ecological principles. While the Bible is a thoroughly pre-scientific book that does not prefigure the spectacular advances of modernity, its basic truth of the prescriptive relations between God and humans, between humans themselves, and between humans and nature — each a root issue of ecology — is of abiding validity.

A Distinctively Reformational Perspective on Ecological Issues

What, then, is the Reformational viewpoint on pressing ecological issues? First, we relish the earth as God’s creation, inherently good and worthy of our respect, though cursed on account of humanity’s sin. We perceive nature, like humanity itself, as desperately needing redemption.

We support sensible, responsible (though not politically coerced) recycling of natural resources like metal, glass and paper products, as well as solid waste, in addition to reforestation and highly efficient farming methods.

We advocate energy use that accounts for both human and environmental needs, comparatively inexpensive to humans and comparatively innocuous to nature — electricity and nuclear energy, as well as fossil fuels, for instance.

With respect to the human contribution to global climate change, we support neither a politically correct stampede toward coercive (government) deprivation of human liberty nor a head-in-the-sand obscurantism. Rather, we ponder the empirical data and support responsive policies (if warranted) that would delicately balance concern for humanity with that of the wider creation.

Arguably the most ecologically vulnerable, polluted parts of the planet are “common pool resources,” resources for which specific ownership is not obvious — and, therefore, for which specific responsibility is not assigned. We resist a coercive collectivism that contributes to such ecological irresponsibility, though we do not resist basic government protection of intrinsically communal dimensions of creation (like air, the seas and earth’s outer atmosphere), the misuse of which impairs humans’ life, liberty and property.

Because we believe that the earth is creation’s intergenerational playground under the watchful care of the Creator, we labor to deliver to our posterity a world more viable for humanity, animals and plants than when we entered it. We enjoy the earth and embrace the wonder of creation and relish it as a natural consequence of our stewardship.

Most significant perhaps is the fact that human creativity (when serving humanity rather than exploiting it and nature) is the greatest proximate factor in enhancing global ecology. We deny that every imbalance in natural ecosystems created by human activity is harmful. Creatively devised ecosystems are often more beneficial to plants and animals than “natural” ones. “Sustainability” — the small-minded preservation of the ecological status quo — is a poor substitute for vigorous production that will alleviate human poverty, a pervasive contribution to ecological injury. More efficient use of greater quantities of natural resources, as well as the discovery of new resources or the invention of artificial resources, is beneficial to the entire globe. We advocate, for example, the reduction of the scope of farmland through more prudent land use, coupled with the increase of that farmland’s productivity.

Energetic, responsible human engagement with the creation is the solution to, not the culprit of, ecological damage.

Conclusion

Conversely, the person who exercises faith in the God disclosed in the Bible, the God who created a good universe, the God who redeems sinful humanity, and the God who benevolently presides over His creation, will likely (if she or he grasps the momentous implications of this worldview) arrive at the ecological conclusions of this article. Not all Christians, however, share these conclusions.

Some Christians believe that the world, ripe for God’s judgment for its depravity, is destined to end in great conflagration, including environmental decimation. In short, the world, including ecology, is irredeemable. Obviously, these apocalyptic Christians will have little motivation for the sort of ecological stewardship of Reformational Christianity that this article advocates; and they, as did the secular Soviets, may even pose a hazard to global ecology.

Christians, like secularists, simply are not of a single mind on the issue of global ecology. Like so many basic life issues, one’s approach to global ecology will be driven by one’s presuppositions. If, for example, one supposes that the universe is self-contained; that it is the product of preexistent matter, chance and time; and that God is a myth or, if there is a God, that He cannot be known or that He plays no role in the universe, that person, if epistemologically self-conscious, will be led to certain basic conclusions about global ecology. Those conclusions will not always be compatible with conclusions from other secularists. For example, one might suggest that, though humanity is the highest extant evolutionary stage of life on earth, it is not qualitatively unique. Certain forms of hardy, virile, intelligent non-human life (apes, whales) deserve cultivation and legal protection while certain forms of disabled, mentally retarded or aged human life do not. The same assumption about man’s evolutionary priority, however, may lead to a nearly opposite conclusion: the dignity of humanity as an advanced form of life necessitates the compassionate treatment of all human life and the caretaking cultivation of the rest of nature for man’s benefit. Arguably the leading secular state of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, has been criticized widely and from multiple political vantage points for its rapacious, destructive environmental policies springing from its radical economic experimentation (which included little concern for non-human life). Secular presuppositions, therefore, can lead — and have led — to both an intense concern for as well as a diffident neglect of global ecology.

Nonetheless, Christians and secularists, equally vicegerents, though with radically different presuppositions, will at times share specific ecological concerns, goals and policies. In such cases, many Christians will rejoice to labor with many non-Christians, who are also created in God’s image and who, therefore, share in the cultural, including the ecological, mandate.

And Reformational Christians long for the day when, due to God’s redemptive grace showered on the world by Jesus Christ, all creation once again will live together in love, benevolence, and harmony.

Financing a Cultural Reclamation

Posted on December 1, 2015

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Advent 2015
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Our Lord was born into a world riddled with political turmoil, revolutionary fervor, social chaos, and religious apostasy. Sound familiar? That is now our world, and the incarnate God birthed at Bethlehem that grew to be the redeeming King of Glory who transformed that world is transforming ours. CCL is one of his agents of cultural transformation, and you are keeping us in the thick of the transformation business.
Thank you so much for praying for and supporting my successful fall Southwest speaking tour. God blessed in ways I have no room to enumerate here, but here are just a few plans for 2016 —
  • The Oklahoma Center for Cultural Leadership, a national quarterly school for 100-300 pastors, meeting initially in Dallas, training them in the aggressive cultural worldview to re-Christianize our society. It starts in Dallas but, by God’s grace, won’t end there.
  • The following publications: Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self: A Pauline Proposal for Understanding the Paradoxical Call for Statist Coercion and Unfettered Autonomy; the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics; and P. Andrew Sandlin’s Christian Culture’s Roots, Reign, Ruin and Restoration; The Gospel That Reclaims Culture; Bloody Good Friday: Studies for Holy Week; and What the Reformation Must Look Like Today.
  • Brian Mattson’s and my lecturing for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship next summer; Brian’s lecturing on Christian Worldview of Media and Public Policy for the Institute for Biblical and Theological Studies in Budapest; and my lecturing for the Wilberforce Academy in London.
  • Bill Blankschaen’s book collaboration with Red State’s Erick Erickson.
This is just the start.
As you probably know, most Christian ministries receive a large proportion of their annual donations at year’s end. We especially need help this year’s end. To keep us forging ahead for Christian culture, can you send your largest tax-deductible year-end gift to date?
You can donate here:
Or you can send a check to:
Center for Cultural Leadership
P. O. Box 100
Coulterville, CA 95311
I need your prayer, and I need your gifts.
I pray that you and your family have the merriest — and most Lord-honoring — Christmas ever.
With deep gratitude and respect,
P. Andrew Sandlin, Founder and President

 

No Debate About It

Posted on November 29, 2015

 

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I was an opponent of the Patriarchy Movement from almost the beginning, before it (rightly) became the pariah among Bible-believing conservatives it is today. I have justly been identified as one of its leading public antagonists. Here is an example; and another; and yet another. My views on this issue have been well-known for many years. Godly people have disagreed with me, and I respect their disagreement. Last week I posted a succinct Facebook update criticizing “patriarchy” in this precise vein. Pastor Douglas Wilson, after all these years, seemed to take umbrage at my snippet and drafted a long, defensive blog post to express himself. From what I can tell, he agreed with most of my criticisms of “patriarchy.” He agreed so vehemently that he challenged me to a debate.

 

Conventional wisdom suggests that the underdog in any contest challenges the frontrunner to a debate, but if so, in this case I’m not the upper dog the pastor needs to debate.

 

In addition, while I hate the distraction of offering another clarification, for friends and supporters I want to correct a couple of factual errors. Pastor Wilson wrote:

 

“… Andrew Sandlin has (apparently) taken down his earlier posts supporting Natalie’s story.”

 

This is false. I haven’t supported anyone’s “story,” and I have removed no link. It has been there all along, and it took me a grand total of 4 minutes to find it.

 

Pastor Wilson writes,

 

“Christians like —-, —-, and Andrew Sandlin were taken in by Natalie.”

 

This also is false. This young lady as a child was raped by one of Doug’s college students. The fact that I have made brief FB comments bemoaning the (generic) church’s treatment of child abusers — and the abused — and encouraged and mourned this courageous young woman is not tantamount to being “taken in.”

 

Pastor Wilson seems constantly to find himself in loud public quarrels with Bible-believing Christians and is under siege just now (again). Having been under siege once or twice before myself, I do understand how one can make factual errors, especially at those pressurized times.

 

This brief note corrects those factual errors.

Bad Church Ideas That Produce Bad Political Consequences

Posted on November 20, 2015

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You may have heard the saying, “Ideas have consequences.” That’s actually a famous book title from a political conservative just after World War II.[1] And it’s true. Ideas do have consequences. And bad ideas have bad consequences. This is just as true in culture and politics as anywhere else. If you look at the cultural and political evils that surround us today (abortion, same-sex “marriage,” Obamacare, gun confiscation laws, judicial tyranny), at their source are bad ideas. It’s hard to get rid of the bad politics without getting rid of the bad ideas that feed them and give them sustenance.

But the bad ideas I want to address right now aren’t so much bad ideas in the culture and in politics. I want to talk about bad ideas in the church that allow these bad ideas in the culture to flourish.

Many of us are conflicted today. We’re political conservatives. We believe in limited government, the dignity of human life, the traditional family. We believe in what’s called “civil society”: the church and family and other “private” institutions are buffers that protect the individual from, and are competitors to, the state. We believe in Christian virtues: love, faith, hope, honesty, sacrifice, hard work, personal responsibility, We believe that God’s moral law binds everyone, Christian and non-Christian.[2]

But we’re more: many of us are activists. Our country is dangerously adrift — a monster federal government, erosion of states’ rights, abortion, pornography, gay “marriage,” euthanasia, Obamacare, increased gun control laws — and we are committed to doing something about it. We embrace conservative ideas, but those ideas lead us to action: perhaps staging get-out-the-vote programs, trying to elect Christian and conservative candidates, influencing legislation for conservative principles. We’re aggressive.

This is just where a conflict rises. As Christians, we’re church people. We must believe in and belong to the church. But many of our churches are not comfortable with our conservative political action as Christians. Some alleged Bible-believing churches aren’t even politically conservative. Even churches that are politically conservative look down on political activism — what we’re committing part of our life to. They practice what I’d like to call “separation of church and politics.”

The pastor may mention conservative issues, but political action isn’t seen as part of a Christian calling. Maybe it isn’t even Christian at all. Maybe it’s just like picking up groceries or attending the football game. It’s OK, but it’s not especially Christian. It’s just something we choose to do. And we’re tempted to think: “I can’t be a good Christian and an active conservative” or, “I must leave my politics at the church door, or leave my Christianity inside the church.” This is the conflict that we feel.

I’d like persuade you today: there is no actual conflict. You can be a political activist and good Christian at the same time. I’ll be even bolder: you cannot be a good Christian unless you’re zealously conservative.

Today I’ll refute three popular but bad ideas in the church. You can be more confident, not just as conservatives … but as politically active Christian conservatives.

Pietism

By pietism I don’t mean piety. What is piety? It’s “the quality of being reverent.” It’s worshiping the Triune God, loving, honoring him, trusting in his Son Jesus Christ. It’s a heart right with, and riveted to, God. We need more piety.

In addition, by pietism, I don’t mean the 17th – 18th century movement reacting against the cold, hard, sterile orthodoxy of scholastic Protestantism.[3] That was a good movement, and it restored an emphasis on warm piety and love for Jesus Christ.

I mean pietism in a more recent, limited sense. The distinctive of this pietism is that it limits the Christian life to private devotion or the church (Bible reading, personal evangelism, end times conferences, “quiet time,” personal taboos). It’s mostly vertical religion.

Pietistic thinking goes like this: “God doesn’t care about politics (or education, art, medicine, technology, economics, music, movies). He cares about my private relation to him.”

Pietistic churches think this way: “You’ve done your Christian duty when you pray, attend church, read your Bible, and volunteer for VBS.”

Pietistic pastors preach: “Political action distracts and detracts from true Christianity. Real Christianity in the church is about a bigger gymnasium, a larger AWANA program, and more beautiful robes.”

Pietism reduces Christianity to a “personal worship hobby.”[4]

The big problem with pietism is that it undercuts Jesus Christ’s Lordship. We all know the simple saying: Jesus Is Lord. Actually, did you know that this was the earliest creed of the Christian church? Long before the Apostles Creed, there was this simple creed: Jesus is Lord, and Lord = Master.[5]

Question: What is Jesus Lord of? I think we’d answer, he’s Lord of everything. Next question: Is politics part of everything? Yes. Then by simple logic, Jesus is Lord of politics, and this is just what the Bible teaches.

The Lord instructed us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). On earth, not just in the family and church — but everywhere.

Another question: how is Jesus’ will done in heaven? It’s done perfectly. The angels and saints obey him without sin. That’s just what we need to pray for this earth. And this must mean everything, not just our private time and Sunday worship, not just the house and the church house but also the state house and the schoolhouse and the White House.

And then we read Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in Matthew 28:18, the so-called Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And then he commands his followers to disciple the nations, not just individuals, but nations. He means to bring all nations, political units, under his authority.[6]

God the Father gave Jesus the authority to bring all nations under his rule, and he charged us to preach the Gospel and baptize and instruct the nations to do just that.

Therefore, pietism dilutes Jesus’ Lordship. It wants to say to Jesus: “You can be Lord here, but not there. You can be Lord of the church house, but not the state house.” This is a denial of the full Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Pietism leads to strange bedfellows. Secularists say, “Christianity should stay private.” Pietists respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “Christians should stay out of politics.” Pietists respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “God’s Word has nothing to say to our society.” Pietists respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “Unbelievers should be calling all of the shots in society and culture.” Pietists respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “Christianity is a ‘private worship hobby.’” Pietists respond, “We agree.”

I think it’s about time we Christians quit agreeing with the secularists.

Pietism surrenders culture to Satan: it’s a sub-Christian idea, and it’s dangerous.

Apocalypticism

Apocalypticism is end-is-near thinking that inspires cultural sit-on-your-duff Christianity, except for pietistic soul-saving: “The world is getting worse and worse; so it’s a waste of time to change things.” As D. L. Moody once said, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel…. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.”[7] It’s the idea that since the Bible teaches that the world must get worse and worse (the Bible doesn’t actually teach this[8]), it’s futile to try to change things. God has predestined evil to triumph, so why stand in his way?

Now, there are many different views of eschatology (views of the future). Sincere, Bible-believing people hold different eschatologies.[9] We can agree to disagree. However, I don’t care what your eschatology is, apocalypticism is wrong. We read in Acts 1:6–8 … “So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked [Jesus], ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”

Jesus is saying, “You don’t need to know the ‘end times.’ You need to take the message of salvation of my Gospel Lordship (that includes politics) everywhere.” [10]

Similarly, we read in Luke 19:13 that Jesus in a parable said to his followers: “‘Engage in business until I come.’” In short, be busy in my kingdom work. Don’t sit around and wait for the Second Coming or “rapture.”

Twenty years ago in Ohio I was preaching to pastors on this topic. I was lamenting abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and socialism. I was exhorting these pastors in their calling to stand up and oppose these evils.

Afterward a pastor accosted me and said: “Yes, all the abortion, porn, homosexuality, and socialism are bad, but really in the end they’re good, since they mean Jesus coming soon.”

If that idea sounds perverted, it’s because it is.

The churches obsessed with “end times” (conferences, books) while Planned Parenthood crushes and sells baby parts, and the U.S. Supreme Court allows sodomites to marry, are dangerously misguided. They’re selling us into cultural slavery.

Apocalypticism, like pietism, is an evil idea.

Retreatism

Recently a leader in the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention declared, “We’ve lost culture wars.”[11] His view is: Let’s just witness; we must be careful about pushing for a Christian America, turning people off. We need to change our strategy.[12]

And churches line up to retreat — they stay out of politics, quit praying outside abortion clinics, pull back from pressing for godly candidates and legislation.

Christian leaders say: “We live in a time when the church is in the wilderness, in exile. Let’s hide out from the Devil. Admit it. We’ve lost. Let’s regroup and wait for a more culturally hospitable time.”[13]

This is pure poppycock. Canaan was devilishly depraved when God told the Jews to take it for his name (Gen. 15:16).[14]

The Roman Empire was a moral sewer when our Lord gave his world-conquering commission to his disciples. He didn’t say, “There’s no way we can win this thing, fellas, so let’s retreat until we can plan a counterattack.” The early Christians took the Gospel to the known world, and in less than 300 years the Roman Empire was forced to become Christian. Why? Because our forebears refused to retreat during culturally depraved times like ours.

Some Christians seem to believe that if they just avoid confronting the Devil in the culture, he’ll leave them alone in their churches and families. This is a dangerous illusion. You might hide out from the Devil, but the Devil won’t hide out from you. If you retreat from him in public and politics, he’ll hunt you down in the privacy of your own home.

Then behind retreatism is the additional idea that world belongs to Devil: “This world is not my home, I’m just a’passin’ through,” so goes an old gospel song. “Why should we stand for truth in our world since it doesn’t belong to us or Jesus, but to the Devil?”

Have you ever read that in Bible? No.

You did read in 1 Corinthians 10:26, “For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’”

This is God’s world; he created it; he sustains it. He designed it to operate by his truth.

God allows man freedom, so there’s a great battle between good and evil. But if we give up the battle for this world, we are traitors to the King; it’s not our world, it’s his world.

Retreatism is treason; it surrenders God’s world to his enemies.

Conclusion

Pietism, apocalypticism, retreatism — these are bad church ideas that produce bad political consequences. And if you want to know one reason the culture is so depraved today, it’s because the church has bought stock in these ideas, and this creates the conflict in the minds of hearts of politically active Christian conservatives.

But you should not feel a conflict, because there is no conflict between true Christianity and conservative political activism. In fact, if we do not stand for what we today call basic conservative principles, we are not standing for biblical Christianity, because those principles reflect biblical truth.[15]

The call for retreat from political battle for Christ the King is a sub-Christian message.

In the early 40’s amid euphoria of the rescue of thousands of British troops from the German army at Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned: “Wars are not won by evacuations…. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Wars are not won by evacuations. Wars are won by soldiers who stand and fight.

That is our rallying cry for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And we can expect nothing short of complete victory — the unconditional surrender of Satan and his hosts by the power of Jesus Christ.


[1] Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago and London: University of Chicago, 1948).
[2] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 6:442–446.
[3] Dale Brown, Understanding Pietism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).
[4] Stephen C. Perks, The Great Decommision (Taunton, England: Kuyper Foundation, 2011), 12.
[5] Oscar Cullmann, The Earliest Christian Confessions (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), 23.
[6] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954), chs. 15, 33.
[7] George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 38.
[8] John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986).
[9] Millard J. Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977).
[10] John M. Frame, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ, 2014), 32–33.
[11] Leonardo Blair, “‘The Bible Belt Is Collapsing’; Christians Have Lost Culture War, Says ERLC President Russell Moore,” http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-bible-belt-is-collapsing-christians-have-lost-culture-war-says-erlc-president-russell-moore-102576/, accessed October 12, 2015.
[12] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Moore at the Margins,” Christianity Today, September 2015, 32–33.
[13] See John Yemma, “To Separate, Strengthen and Return,” The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, October 12, 2015, 7.
[14] Of course, the Jews as God’s unique nation were called to fight with physical, military arms. Our arms are not physical, military arms but are no less powerful (Eph. 6:10–20).
[15] John M. Frame, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1, 231–234.

Come as You Are?

Posted on November 7, 2015

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All of us have seen a church marquee. We have seen the amusing maxims. Years ago I saw one which read, “Prevent truth decay; burn a Living Bible.” Some are not amusing. They are pithy and true: “A Family Altar Can Alter A Family.”

One that I have seen increasingly is “Come as You Are,” or some variation of it. This is an example of a statement that is true, but one which leaves so much unsaid that it could easily create a false impression. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. It needs more. The statement is a welcoming statement. “You don’t need to change in order to come to this church. Please, come just as you are.” There is even a famous old gospel song titled, “Just As I Am.” This is precisely what Billy Graham entitled his autobiography. The message isn’t only that we should come to church just as we are. It’s also that we should come to Jesus just as we are. Jesus accepts us just as we are.

I’ll briefly explore this idea and show how it is both necessary and insufficient.

You Must Come as You Are

It is correct to say, “Come as you are.” The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. In fact, Jesus told the Pharisees that he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mk. 2:17). Actually, what he was really saying is that he was not calling the self-righteous. Everyone is a sinner. We all stand in need of salvation. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Because we have sinned, we stand under God’s judgment. We have broken God’s law, and we must pay the penalty for breaking his law (Rom. 6:23). The message of judgment is not popular today, and it never has been. The message of judgment is especially unpopular today, because people are taught that they’re entitled to feel very good about themselves. But the fact is, the Bible says a great deal about judgment, more than you might expect. It probably says as much about the judgment of God as it does the love of God. We today do not take judgment seriously because we do not take sin seriously. Sin is a severe affront to God. It not only breaks his law. It breaks his heart (Gen. 6:5–6). When we sin, we rebel against our loving Creator who wants only the best for us. But we don’t want what is best for us. We want what we think is best for us. This is sin.

But God loved us so much that he sent his Son Jesus Christ, to bear the penalty for our sin on the cross. One of the most touching statements about this is in Romans 5:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (vv. 6-8)

We might sacrifice our lives for good and virtuous people. We would die for our spouse or children, especially since they’re committed to us and love us. We might even die for a good person, even if we did not know him well. But it is very difficult to believe that we would die for those who hated us or who lived depraved lives: alcoholics, prostitutes, rapists, murderers, and gang members. The Bible says that God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for sinners, not for righteous people.

In fact, in Romans 4:5 we read that God justifies the ungodly. That is, God declares righteous those whose lives are filled with anti-God living. He declares them righteous by their faith. We are justified, declared righteous, by faith, not by works.

The reason that we must come to God as we are, is because God is the only one that can clean us up. We cannot come to God in any way except as we are.

This is also why we invite sinners to church. We invite them to come as they are. They cannot clean themselves up before they come. Only the gospel can clean them up. That’s why they need to hear the gospel.

There are some churches that are more like the Pharisees than Jesus Christ. They want a pretty church. They want a church where everyone looks beautiful and lives an upstanding, virtuous life. If a prostitute or alcoholic or dope addict or gang member attended church on Sunday, they would be scandalized. But why shouldn’t we want sinners to hear the gospel? Of course, sinners can — and should — hear the gospel outside the church, but often sinners feel a keen need, and the first place that comes to their mind to help them is the church. They assume that they can hear about God and get their lives changed. They’re quite correct about this. God is the only one that can change them. But if we want a church that is not friendly to sinners, we want a church that cares little for the gospel. The gospel is to call sinners to repentance. Therefore, it is entirely correct to say: Come as you are.

You May Not Stay as You Are

But I must quickly add, though you may come as you are, you may not stay as you are. This is the point that Peter makes with white-hot clarity:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13-19)

I want you to get Peter’s drift. God is holy. As his creatures, made in his image, we are to be holy also. But we have sinned. How can we be holy? Peter tells us: by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus died to make us holy. We don’t often hear it put that way today. We hear that Jesus died to take us to heaven, and that is true. We hear that Jesus died so that God could justify us, to count us righteous. That also is true. But for some reason very few people emphasize Peter’s fact. Jesus died to make us holy.

You may have heard the old song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written about the American War Between the States. One of the refrains is, “As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” Whatever we might think of the second part, the first part is true. Jesus Christ did die to make men — all of us ­— holy.

Peter talks about the previous lives of the members of the church. Before they came to Jesus Christ, they were unholy people. They were filled with selfishness and lust and unbelief and divisiveness, and an undisciplined tongue, and rebellion. These are sins, and unrepentant sin is not compatible with holiness.

When Jesus prayed his great high priestly prayer in John 17, he asked the Father to bring his disciples into communion with the Trinity. This is the great goal of the Gospel: to restore the blessed communion with God that was broken in the Garden of Eden. But God is a holy God, and to commune with him, we need to be a holy people.

It is important to understand that Peter is not talking about what some people call imputed righteousness. Others call it positional righteousness. This is the righteousness in God’s courtroom. We are declared not guilty when we trust in Jesus. Christ’s righteousness substitutes for our unrighteousness.

But this is not the holiness that Peter’s talking about. He is talking about our holiness, our obedience in purity: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (v. 14). Jesus Christ poured out his precious life’s blood to bring us to the Father. He is our new Father, and he calls us to a new obedience by the power of Jesus’ blood.

Unfortunately, we have an entire class of churches today whose motto seems to be: “Come as you are, and stay you are.” But we do not come as we are in order to stay as we are. We come as we are in order to be changed. We are called to obey in the Father’s house. We are called to abandon our antinomian (lawless) ways.

An abundance of professed Christians today live in unrepentant pride and unforgiveness and unbelief and rebellion and fornication and adultery and homosexuality and pornography, and they seem to think they can still be Christians. The Bible refutes this idea. Paul writes:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor.6:9-11)

“[T]he unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” If somebody asks you, “I don’t want to give up my sinning, but I still want to go to heaven,” you can tell them that that is impossible. God saves us to change us — to make us holy.

The good news, the gospel, is not just the Jesus forgives our sins. The good news is also that he cleans up our sins. You must come to Jesus as you are, but you may not stay as you are.

Worldview Clustering

Posted on October 26, 2015

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Delivered at the Center for Cultural Leadership West Coast Symposium on “The Brave New Sexual World(view), October 24, 2015  

Did you even notice how people often line up together on an entire range of seemingly unrelated social and political issues? Why are socialists usually pro-same-sex “marriage”? Why are most environmentalists against capital punishment? Why are the strongest advocates of gun control usually pro-choice? Why are most pro-life Americans also committed to American exceptionalism? Why are the chief defenders of the traditional family usually also defenders of the free market? Why are the most vocal opponents of the theory of man-made global climate change also opponents of judicial activism? At the recent Democratic Presidential debate in Las Vegas, why did every candidate express or imply reluctance to confront the spread of radical Islam and also castigate Wall Street? Of course, there are exceptions to these pairings, but these kinds of “people-belief clusters” — people clustering around a cluster of beliefs — are too widespread to be an anomaly. The anomaly, in fact, is when this clustering doesn’t happen. When is the last time you heard of a leading pro-abortionist that also strongly supported capital punishment? A long time ago, I’d venture.

The reason for these “people-belief clusters” is worldview. That word is not hard to understand. It just means how we view the world. Worldviews are like pancreas. Everybody has one, even if we don’t know it. We tend not to see separate issues in their own light, but in light of our entire worldview. This is why so many people hold to the same cluster of beliefs as other people, not just the same beliefs. Lots of people don’t just agree on an issue; they agree on a cluster of issues. This is certainly true in the case of sex.

Socialism and Sex

Think for a minute about socialism and the Sexual Revolution. I re-read recently a 1952 article from a socialist magazine. It appealed to fellow socialists to champion the cause of gay rights. Until that time, the socialists had opposed homosexuality. But the author appealed to his fellow socialists that homosexuals should be their natural allies. Why? Because they were both in the social transformation business. Specifically, both wanted the egalitarian (as opposed to hierarchical) society. The author wrote:

Propaganda aimed toward the sexual individualist [he mainly means the homosexual] should stress his importance as a political concern; it should point out his right to what the Declaration of Independence called the “pursuit of happiness.” This soon will make more and more people aware of socialism as a constructive force in the transformation of America into a truly happy country where the individual rights of all its people (regardless of their departure from the Puritan “norm”) are both observed and respected.[1]

The socialists want economic equality. Homosexuals want sexual equality. Both hate hierarchies, specifically the “Puritan ‘norm.’” The author could have simply said: the Christian norm, because opposition to homosexuality wasn’t limited to the Puritans. But he knew one important fact: both socialism and homosexuality are part of a larger worldview. That worldview includes egalitarianism.

The Christian worldview (by contrast) is based on hierarchy. The basic hierarchy is God, who is superior to man and woman, created in his image; and man and woman are superior to the rest of creation. If you’ll think about it, the popular anti-Christian worldview (especially environmentalism) completely levels that hierarchy. God is a part of nature, and man and woman are no more important than animals and plants. We might at this point call it the egalitarian worldview. It’s embraced by political radicals — and has been since the French Revolution.

Today the priorities have changed for the egalitarian worldview. This shift first started in the 60s.[2] Until then they wanted economic egalitarianism (socialism). But pretty soon they figured out that what they really wanted was cultural egalitarianism. They didn’t just want equal incomes; they wanted equal morality. And they began to understand that it wasn’t necessity first to capture politics in order to redistribute wealth. All you had to do was capture the culture: the major media, elite universities, prominent foundations, the national legal and medical associations, the entertainment industry, and even the mainline denominations. Then capturing politics would be easy.

This is why homosexuality and socialism need each other. It’s why most socialists and big-state advocates support “same-sex marriage,” and why most supporters of “same-sex marriage,” also support increased government intervention in the economy. They share an anti-Christian egalitarian worldview.

ART’s and Abortion

Let me take another example: ART’s — assisted reproductive technologies. You might know them as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and surrogate childbearing. These are all means of enhancing the chances of a live childbirth for people who otherwise can’t have children. Interestingly, however, the leading proponents of ART’s also support abortion. How can this logically be? Abortion snuffs out a life. ART’s foster a life (using the wrong techniques). The two views seem to be mutually exclusive. But they’re not. What holds these apparently disparate views together? Both are committed to individual autonomy, specifically radical sexual autonomy. The pro-abortion vision believes “a woman has a right over her own body,” her own “reproductive rights.” The pro-ART vision believes a person should have the right to a child at any virtually time and under virtually any circumstance. It’s the radical sexual autonomy that’s the commonality.

At least two basic anti-Christian ideas are at work here. Let’s call the first “constructivism.” We might know it best from the famous existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He held that since man had, in effect, killed God, he’d also killed God’s morality. You can’t rely on God’s morality if there’s no God. Therefore, a race must emerge that creates, or constructs, its own morality. Nietzsche called this a race of “overmen,” or supermen. The bravest humans create their own morality, their own “values.” This is a root of postmodernism.[3]

The Christian idea, and even the Enlightenment idea, is that morality isn’t created. It’s given by God in revelation — in the Bible and in the very structure of creation. Morality isn’t constructed; it’s recognized. Postmodern man has turned away from revelational morality and devised a constructivist morality.

This means: we’re the makers of our society, of ourselves. And in making ourselves, we make the world.[4] The most popular example of this self-invention is “gender.” This once meant male and female, but gender today necessitates literally infinite variations: transgender to bigender to gender nonconforming to pangender to androgyny. Facebook now offers 51 gender identifications.

Over the last few years, ontology (being) itself has been forced to surrender its God-givenness. As Brian Mattson once commented to me, “Ontology is now a social construction.” Not merely human society, not merely culture, not merely categories of life, but reality itself is up for grabs. Sinful man is the artist, and reality is his creation. Ultimately, this means not simply the reordering of the given reality, but the re-creation of reality. “What imparts order by binding and unbinding,” one writer noted, “is neither something in the cosmos itself nor a transcendent creator and source of being. It is the human mind that defines and creates the order of being it encounters.”[5] Man is himself the creator of the universe.

This leads to the second idea: Gnosticism. Gnostics believe the material universe is bad or inferior, and disembodied existence, release from the body and the material world, is superior. The human body is one of the greatest barriers to re-creation (God, after all, the Creator, is spirit), so the body must be circumvented (remember the movie starring Johnny Depp Transcendence?). But the present human body seems to have been adapted for Earth. Therefore, overcoming the limitations of this planet will become the artist’s latest project. Autonomous human imagination – the body and its earthly environment = a new godless universe.

Abortion destroys the God-created human body, and ART’s circumvent the God-created human body to construct humanity. Radical individual autonomy is the root of both.

So we have egalitarianism, constructivism, Gnosticism, environmentalism, socialism — and many other ideas all combined to create a (the) prominent worldview. What should we call this overarching worldview? Different people have different names, but maybe we can just call it the elite worldview. Thomas Sowell derisively calls these folks, “The anointed” [6] (self-anointed, of course). They constitute the vast majority of our cultural leaders in the most culturally influential places: mainstream media, Ivy League universities, Hollywood, the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the pulpits in mainline denominations — in other words, the “enlightened” ones who are in a position to influence how everybody else thinks and acts. And their view of sex is a critical part of their worldview.

In light of this situation, how do we act?

A Worldview Agenda

First, don’t make the mistake of seeing sexual issues as stand-alone problems. Abortion is a part of a worldview. Socialism, and environmentalism and man-made global climate change and judicial activism are a part of that same worldview. Make no mistake: single-issue campaigns are indispensable. Groups that oppose abortion, surrogacy, same-sex marriage, pornography, socialism, and radical environmentalism play a pivotal role. However they, and we, must never forget that it’s unlikely any of us will win on a single issue for a long without being obliged to address the worldview behind all the other issues. And we should be encouraged that to win on one issue likely signals impending victories on others. These issues tend to stand and fall as a cluster. You only defeat worldviews with other worldviews. Now perhaps you understand why CCL is about Christian culture, not simply about this particular Christian or conservative issue or that one. It’s restoring Christian culture that must be the ultimate objective, the entire cluster. There are always fruit issues, and root issues. Worldview is a root issue.

Second, and finally, our job is to work within our own sphere of influence to press for just this Christian worldview. John M. Frame has spoken about “little transformations.”[7] We sometimes think that there must always be a big transformations or none at all. But most of the time, big transformations are simply a series of little transformations. Wherever God has placed us, we should both declare and model just this worldview, this way of living. I have said that CCL, in our present culture, is an adversarial intelligentsia. Our job is intellectual. We’re a think tank. But everybody has a role, and in the end, every soldier, every calling, is indispensable. You can and will influence people that I never could. And vice versa.

One thing we must make clear. The Christian worldview, the Christian way, is not simply one option among many. We live in postmodern times. This means that people tend to be egalitarian even about the truth (which is really weird, if you think about it). But the fact is, Christianity is not an option. It will be Christian culture or, in the end, it will be death (Prov. 8:36). We’re not simply asking everyone to think that Christianity might be slightly better than the alternatives. Jesus Christ came not to offer the best among essentially good alternatives. He came to declare the only way, that all other ways are frauds (Jn. 10:7–8).

Say it nicely or say it firmly, say it argumentatively or say it diplomatically, but say it: Jesus Christ is the only true way, and Christianity is the only true culture.

And know this. We will win. We will win first because the Bible promises it.[8] And we will win because the universe is God-rigged. God created the cosmos so that you cannot violate his moral law and get away with it. The universe is stacked against the rebels. As Charles Krauthammer reminded some of us in San Francisco two years ago: “If something can’t continue, it won’t.” Man’s successfully breaking God’s moral law can’t continue.

And it won’t.


[1] H. L. Small, “Socialism and Sex,” New Politics, Vol. XI, No. 5 (summer 2008), 18, originally published in the 1952 discussion bulletin, The Young Socialist.
[2] Richard Wolin, The Wind from the East (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010).
[3] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1995), 3–65.
[4] Thomas Molnar, Utopia, The Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967).
[5] Charles Guignon, Being Authentic (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 63.
[6] Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed (New York: Basic Books, 1995).
[7] John M. Frame, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume Two (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2015), 315.
[8] John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986).

Dualism: “Christian” Enemy of Christian Culture

Posted on October 11, 2015

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One of the greatest enemies of Christian culture within the church is dualism.

Broadly speaking, dualism is the division of life into two overarching spheres or principles, generally antithetical to one another. Likely the earliest dualism was Gnosticism,[1] which posited two gods, the good god of the mind and spirit and the evil god of nature and materiality. The Gnostics perceived salvation as deliverance from the material world by means of secret knowledge (gnosis) to a few, select initiates. Gnosticism was a pagan invention, but it did not leave the church unaffected. Prime early heresies in the church were gnostically tinged (an example was Docetism, which denied that Jesus had an actual body).

Dualism comes in many forms, but it almost always privileges one aspect of created reality and devalues its polar opposite. Dualism is an example of apostate thinking, which always begins when sinful man turns away from worshipping the true God and absolutizes one aspect of the created order.[2] In the church, this dualism comes in at least five forms.

Ideal-Historical duality. We immediately think of Plato. He taught that the eternal world of Forms (or Ideas) stands behind our material world. More than about anything else, the ancient Greeks feared disorder and chaos. They had suffered from deprivations of war and the violence of anarchy. They saw the world as constantly changing, and this fact frightened them. Above all else, they wanted order, immutability, and permanence. This is what Plato’s doctrine of the eternal Forms provided. All the flawed, impermanent things on earth had a perfect, permanent Ideal in eternity. Every earthly chair reflected the ideal chair; every historical expression of justice or beauty was a diluted clone of its eternal Form. You might think that one impetus this doctrine gave rise to was reordering this world in light of the world of the Forms. This rarely happened. What usually happened was a desire for escape from this present world to the Ideal world. This is why death was the great longing for philosophers. Plato believed in preexistent souls. Your eternal soul is encased in a human body and at death is released to return to the ideal world. You can easily understand why Socrates wasn’t afraid of death and, in fact, invited it.[3]

Plato’s fanciful dualism has been widely discredited philosophically. Almost no educated people believe it today — except Christians. Most don’t know what Plato believed, but they do see eternity and time in expressions remarkably analogous to Plato’s. They know about and long for heaven, and they see earth as a pale reflection of the eternal state. Like Plato, they don’t use this view as a springboard to conform the earth to heavenly patterns (“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”). Rather, like Socrates, they long for escape — not to the world of the Forms, but to their heavenly home.

It’s not hard to grasp how this earth-heaven dualism hinders Christian culture. If one of the Christian’s prime objectives is escape from earth, Christian culture can hardly be a priority.

Immaterial-Material duality. I noted that Plato saw the body as a form of prison from which man’s main goal was escape at death. This is one exhibition of the immaterial-material duality. Many ancients, following the Gnostics, posited materiality as evil or at least sub-par. The truly good and virtuous things were beyond our sensory world. It’s not hard to see why Christians would purchase stock in this view. After all, God himself is immaterial; so are faith and hope and love and prayer. Most of the things we hold most dearly are immaterial. But not all. Recent Christianity cares about redemption, but it has a deeply impoverished view of creation (nature). To many Christians, nature just isn’t that important — the only thing important is getting souls saved. They actually don’t want escape from sin; they want escape from their bodies; they want to escape from their humanity; they want to escape from this world. They think that prayer and Bible reading and quiet contemplation are “spiritual,” but trees and the ocean and good food and making lots of money and enjoying nature and basketball are not spiritual. But in the Bible, the conflict is never between physical and non-physical; it’s between righteousness and sin. Sin is the problem; materiality is not the problem. The most evil being in the world is pure spirit, and the godliest man who ever lived (Jesus Christ) lived and died and rose again in a body. If you don’t care about the material world, you can’t care much about culture, even Christian culture.

Soul-Body duality. The Immaterial-Material duality fosters the Soul-Body duality. Plato held to a tripartite view of man, but almost all the ancient Greeks posited a soul-body division of some sort. To the ancient Greeks 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, supra-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. The soul, however, is the “good ghost in the machine.”

Traditional Christian anthropology has been either bi-partite or tri-partite. In any case, it has preserved the soul-body duality, which it inherited from the Greeks. The ancient Hebrews, by contrast, held, as the Bible itself does, a unified view of man.[4] They were not materialists, certainly not in the modern sense. They believed that man consists of both materiality and non-materiality. However, these two were interwoven. Man isn’t man without his body.

A soul-body duality need not (and often has not) hindered Christian culture, but it certainly can, and it has. The soul corresponds to heaven, while the body corresponds to earth. Man is made for heaven, not earth, so Christian culture isn’t a priority.

Internal-External duality. Perhaps even more of a hindrance is the internal-external duality. This duality gets to the heart of dualism’s aversion to Christian culture. Man is made for a vertical relationship with God, and this relationship is a heart matter. Most Christians realize that the Bible places great emphasis on man’s heart. Some believe this term is a synonym for emotion, but this belief is false. They speak of “head” religion versus “heart” religion, a false antinomy.[5] The heart is the inner core of man’s being — “heart” is roughly synonymous with “the synthesis of belief, intellect, will, intuitions, and emotions that govern the person.” In other words, “head” religion is heart religion. Even if Christians do understand the right definition of heart, they sometimes set it in radical opposition to man’s exterior. In fact, they even buy into the vast interiorization project that has afflicted our world since Romanticism. This “interiorization project” is a retreat from the objective realities of God’s created world into the subjectivism of human experience. Romanticism revolted against the cold, sterile impersonalism of the Enlightenment, which highlighted objective, universal reason; objective, universal experience; and objective, universal standards. Romanticism tried to recover the uniqueness of the individual, but it did this in an unbiblical way — without God’s Word. Therefore, it simply replaced autonomous, objective, universal, standards with autonomous, subjective, individual standards.[6] For Enlightenment, man was the measure of all things. For Romanticism, men (individuals, each one) were the measure of all things. We sometimes call this historical transition “the inward turn.”

In the church’s version, this meant that internal piety — prayer and Bible reading and love for God, a vertical devotion to God — was most important, and external piety — especially the visible church and its ordinances or sacraments, and visible adherence to God’s moral law took second chair, at best. Less important still was concern for God’s moral law in society itself. After all, God wants the heart, not external adherence to law, which can easily lead to Phariseeism (or so it has been thought). So, God judges everything by our pious interior, and isn’t as much interested in our visible actions, and particularly with the visible actions of the society in which he’s placed us. If anything, the external world is dangerous, since it can seduce us from God, whom we find in the internal world. The fact that the Bible says it’s man’s heart — his interior, not the external — that’s the source of his sins seems not to be a part of their mental calculation. But, in any case this Christian “interiorization project” obviously leaves little room for Christian culture, which is manifestly external and as a result, that project is a hindrance to Christian culture.

Private-Public duality. This dualism is largely the effect of a creditable development in the West, the rise of classical liberalism, whose roots are in medieval Christendom and Protestant Christianity.[7] Perhaps the fundamental distinctive of classical liberalism was its insistence on a zone of privacy for the individual.  The state and the rest of society do have claims on the individual, but these claims aren’t exhaustive. Man must be free to practice his religion, express his opinion, protect his property, assemble with like-minded people, and so on. Classical liberalism is therefore the source of much of our modern political liberty. It also happens to have been shaped largely by early Protestant Christianity with its stress on man made in God’s image, the inviolability of man’s God-given conscience, and  the right of the individual to interpret the Bible for himself.

In time, however, this liberty surrendered its Christian roots. It degenerated into a radical individualism and privatism.[8]  The zone of privacy came to mean liberty from Christian society and its law and morality, the very factors that fostered liberty in the first place.  The zone of individual privacy from moral law expanded, while the zone of privacy from state interference on other matters (like economic ones) contracted.  The state became known as the “public” realm, purged of Christianity, and the individual’s own moral and religious choices became entirely “private.” This was a far cry from classical liberalism.

Privatization is the intentional reduction of Christianity by Christians to the very places that secularists declare it’s safe to exist: the prayer closet, family devotions, and church on Sunday, or, at most, church social programs throughout the week. Privatization has had supporters from very early in church history (mystics, for example), but it became a widely accepted and practiced view only in the last two centuries. Christians come to believe that culture is inherently evil and cannot be Christianized, that the most spiritual Christians are those least engaged with the culture, that the Christian life can be exhausted by Bible reading and prayer and personal evangelism, and that anything much beyond these is “worldliness.”

Privatization, therefore, works in league with non-Christian forces to reduce Christianity to what Stephen Perks describes as a “personal worship hobby.”[9] Remarkably, many Christians and secularists agree about this privatization. Secularists say, “Christianity should stay private.” Christians respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “Christians should stay out of politics.” Christians respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “God’s Word has nothing to say to our society.” Christians respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “Unbelievers should be calling all of the shots in society and culture.” Christians respond, “We agree.” Secularists say, “Christianity is a ‘private worship hobby.’” Christians respond, “We agree.” This is an odd and unsettling alliance in opposition to Christian culture.

When Christians purge these forms of dualism from the church, Christian culture might then start to become again a historic reality.


[1] Thomas Molnar, Utopia, The Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967).
[2] Herman Dooyeweerd, The Twilight of Western Thought (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 31.
[3] Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (New York: Ballantine Books), 43.
[4] Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead: The Witness of the New Testament,” Immortality and Resurrection, Krister Stendahl, ed. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965), 9–53.
[5] Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Jefferson, Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1986), 92–94.
[6] Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999).
[7] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom (Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 1994).
[8] J. G. Merquior, Liberalism Old and New (Boston: Twayne, 1991), 15–36,
[9] Stephen C. Perks, The Great Decommision (Taunton, England: Kuyper Foundation, 2011), 12.

Why the Culture Wars Cannot Possibly Be Over

Posted on October 3, 2015

Behind the “culture wars” lies a foundational biblical premise: that man’s creational calling is to steward the earth for God’s glory (Gen. 1:26–28). Man is God’s deputy in stewarding the entire created order to bring all glory to him. We denote this calling the “cultural mandate.” This means that God’s interests are larger than the church, and that, consequently, man’s calling is wider than the church. The church is God’s agency for propagating the Gospel and discipling the nations and edifying the saints and protecting and perpetuating orthodoxy (1 Tim. 3:15), but it’s not the kingdom of God, which is the reign of God in the earth.[1] The church is only one aspect (though a vital aspect) of that kingdom. Reducing man’s calling to the church is to surrender vast reaches of the world to satanic reign, the kingdom of Satan. This kingdom vies for the same territory as the kingdom of God. This is also why Jesus commanded his disciples to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10). On earth, not just in the church or family.

If Jesus Christ isn’t Lord everywhere (Acv. 2:22–36), he soon won’t be Lord anywhere. To retreat into the church and erect a firewall against sinful culture with the hope that the church will thereby preserve its holiness won’t protect the church. Satan is rapacious, a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), the first and ultimate boundary-violator (Gen. 3). He will not leave the church in peace just as long as the church leaves the culture in peace. Sin and righteousness are mutually exclusive and fundamentally irreconcilable; each by its nature must root out the other. One will be servant and one will be master (Rom. 6:16). Sin won’t be satisfied with cultural hegemony; it wants to destroy everything godly and pure and holy, and that includes the church and the family and marriages.

This means that any strategy for opposing sin that limits that opposition to only one sphere of life is doomed to failure. Sin is too powerful to resist any opposition but full-fledged evisceration. God is in the sin-evisceration business, not the sin-marginalization business.

Churches that wish to preserve “traditional marriage” but refuse to stand against unsuccessful and unloving — and perverted — definitions of marriage in the culture will soon discover those depraved marriages beating down the church doors. This is as much as to say that cultural transformation by the power of the Gospel is essential to preserve the long-term health of the church, and that a strategy of church renewal alone as the means to cultural renewal is doomed to failure. The course of the church in 20th century Western culture hasn’t been the successful protection of its walls from increasing incursion by social depravity. All to the contrary: as the church abandoned its earlier Reformational paradigm of active cultural engagement,[2] it gradually accommodated itself to the increasing cultural depravity surrounding it. If Christians refuse to confront evils in the culture, we will soon confront them with a vengeance in the church.

And Jesus is not Lord only of the church; he’s Lord of all things. As Lord of all things, he’s progressively trampling down evil in his present, post-resurrection reign (1 Cor. 15:22–25), and even though the days are dark, and we don’t yet see all things subordinated to him (Heb. 2:8c–9), we join with our Lord in stewarding his earth for his glory. This stewardship doesn’t stop (or start) at the four walls of the church or family, and if we want to vanquish the present cultural evil, we had better steward widely indeed.


[1] Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), 354.
[2] Doug Frank, Less Than Conquerors (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2009).

A Brief Clarification

Posted on September 30, 2015

UPDATE: November 30, 2015

Pastor Randy Booth recently contacted me to remind me that it was he, not Pastor Wilson, who had contacted me to endorse the book mentioned in the post below. (Pastor Booth is the co-author.) In my initial post, I mentioned Pastor Wilson and not Pastor Booth as the contact since I surmised that the former had enlisted the latter to approach me on his behalf. Pastor Booth assures me this is not correct: Pastor Booth approached me exclusively of his own accord. Therefore, my second sentence as it stands, while not intentionally inaccurate, is inaccurate. I sincerely apologize for any confusion or injury this misattribution may have caused.

INITIAL POST:

I was surprised to learn of the appearance of my endorsement of a book on justice co-authored by Pastor Douglas Wilson in a recent blog of his. A few months ago he kindly requested a hurried endorsement of this book. I was surprised by the request since it was the only time he has asked me to endorse a book. Though he didn’t leave me much time to peruse it (I was on the road speaking), it looked like a good book exposing the Leftist canard of justice, so I decided after prayer to draft a brief endorsement. Though Doug and I have had a difference or two over the years, I always try to be charitable (even in fervent disagreement), and endorsing the book would (I believed, and believe) be a charitable thing to do.

My endorsement for some reason did not appear in the printed version of the book, so I thought that the fact that it now appears for the first time, at this particular juncture, in one of Doug’s blogs might warrant a quick note of clarification for my friends.

I am willing to question and criticize actions and words, but not motives, and I am confident that the motives of Pastor Wilson’s inclusion of this endorsement are godly. However, an unintended effect (as opposed to intention) at this present time might be the inference by readers that I endorse coddling pedophiles, publicly mocking godly critics, and favoring convicted sex abusers over their victims. My friends know that I find these actions godless and reprehensible.

Sensing how my endorsement (as it has recently been contextualized) might be interpreted, I must mention that had I known then what I know now, I would not have consented to endorse the book. But I did endorse it in the good faith that my endorsement would in some small way bring glory to God. Since I acted in faith and charity, I do not regret my endorsement.

Fall 2015 Southwest Speaking Tour

Posted on September 29, 2015

October 23–24

West Coast CCL Symposium, Saratoga, California (private event)

“Sexual Worldview: Christian v. Secular”

 


October 28, noon

Oklahoma City Political Action Committee

Location TBD

“Bad Church Ideas That Hinder Godly Political Obedience”


October 30, 7 p.m.

Fellowship of Mere Christianity

Living by Faith Church, McAllen, Texas

“The Church Gospel and the Gospel Church


November 1, 10:30 a.m.

Church of the King, McAllen, Texas

“Reformation Life”


November 8, 10:45 a.m.

Trinity Evangelical Church, Pratt, Kansas

“God Abides No Competitors”

The New Religious Establishment Jailed Kim Davis

Posted on September 5, 2015

Kim-Davis-mugshot-410x220

Kim Davis was jailed not because she refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples but because a new religious establishment has finally reshaped the law order on which the United States was founded. The fundamental transformation is religious, not legal.

Law as religion

Every law order reflects the religious foundation in which it is anchored. Law is to be applied impartially, but the very idea that law is to be applied impartially is partial to a particular religious conviction. What is civil law but an imposition of a particular morality in external social life? When we ask why it is illegal to drive an automobile 130 mph in a school zone, or take an iPod from Wal Mart without paying, or strike a rude waiter in the skull with a baseball bat, the answer ultimately necessitates an appeal to religion. Law is a matter not of taste or preference or thoughts but of right and wrong actions in specific social situations. Secular counterclaims that law is based in a morality apart from religion fail spectacularly on close inspection. If murder is evil because “everybody knows it is,” we might wonder how (and why) everybody knows this. If theft is repugnant because it hurts people, we might inquire why hurting people should be considered a bad thing. If rape is wrong because humans should give consent to sexual intercourse, our next question should be where the “should” comes from. The answer is that law is transcendent — it comes not from man but beyond man. It comes from God. When man apostatizes, he does not become irreligious; he perverts his religion in his idolatry, and this perversion soon pervades all of his and society’s life and its institutions.[1]

Law in the United States

The law order in which the United States was anchored is Christianity. This does not mean that the Founding was explicitly Christian. It means that the social order the Founders inherited from colonial North America which in turn was inherited from Great Britain and northern Europe and which the Founders formalized was old Christendom, particularly in its Calvinist and Puritan expressions.[2] While they de-established a national church, they did not de-establish Christian suppositions in their law order.[3] Their dispute with Great Britain was not over the nature of the law but in how that law was applied to their colonies. This Christian law order necessitated a positive law (specific laws) springing from God’s revelation in nature as understood within a broad context of basic biblical beliefs.

The religious transformation

That law order, although as filtered though sinful human minds and hearts was never flawless, did contribute to a distinct Christian social order until the second half of the 19th century, when forces like social Darwinism, higher biblical criticism, secular democracy, and existentialism eroded Christianity as a social force. While few specific major laws changed (like those prohibiting murder, theft and rape; recognizing the integrity of the family and marriage; and protecting religious liberty), the Christian foundation for and assumptions about those laws did gradually evaporate. This means that during the 20th century the superstructure of the law order survived after the religious foundation for that superstructure began to crumble.

The accelerant of this crumbling was the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s.[4] It enthroned dramatically the radical autonomy of the individual (and not just in sexual matters), and erased the covenantal character of society, what we nowadays call “civil society,” family, church, guild and other non-state associations that competed with the state for citizens’ loyalty and carried their own (non-coercive) “laws” that bound their voluntary members.[5] The Sexual Revolution catalyzed the already existent process of easing those bonds by investing the state with the authority to forbid the authority of these and other long-established associations. The state’s role was to guarantee and protect radical autonomy, especially sexual autonomy, from the non-coercive regulations of civil society.

This was a religious move. Christianity was replaced by humanism, not classical renaissance humanism (which itself was far from Christian), but secular humanism. The early classical humanism saw man — mankind as a whole — as the measure of all things. Secular humanism sees individuals, increasingly hedonistic individuals, as their own measure, their own law, their own reality. The fact that secularism claims to be void of religion is chimerical. It is auto-idolatry, the worship of the individual, no less religious, or idolatrous, than a nude ancient pagan worshiping a crocodile god.

The religious revolution on the SCOTUS

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in the landmark Obergefell decision, expressed this religion quite eloquently:

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.

…. The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

Defining one’s identity is essential to spirituality — and protecting this spirituality is a fundamental right of the Constitution. If this is not a religious proposition, I do not know what is. Nor was it merely one protected religion among many. Installing the new religion necessitated abandoning the old one — Christianity — which had defined marriage in the nation for almost 240 years.

Political conservative David French of National Review, therefore, was quite correct to refer to Kennedy and the SCOTUS majority as implementing “a new state religion,” defined as “a secular theology of self-actualization.” (Although a minority of justices are conservative Christians, and their votes usually reflect their religion, the religion of the majority is the new secular religion.)  French was also correct earlier when he referred to the Obergefell decision as a “revolution,” and he meant a legal revolution. But this legal revolution is simply the consequence of the religious revolution that he discussed in his earlier piece and that was victorious in the United States decades ago. Davis’ action was not, properly speaking, revolutionary. It was counterrevolutionary. It was the insistence on law and order, the law and order of the lawful Christian order, not some other religious order. The law she enforced was not naked and neutral. It fit into a specific religious worldview.

The fact that many of the same mainstream radicals appealing to the rule of law in opposing Kim Davis had often congratulated opposition to the rule of law and appeal to a higher law — the law of radical human autonomy — in cases of alleged sexual discrimination proves that the issue is not law but religion. Similarly, when lifelong supporters of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil disobedience mocked Davis’ religious rationale for her disobedience to Obergefell, it is clear that the integrity of law is merely tangential to their argument. Law is not the chief issue; religion is.

Two religions, two law orders

Davis’ incarcerating-inducing (in)action is not inherently controversial. After all, every clerk in every county in every state in the nation would have acted — did act — as she did for 230 years. Not issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples was axiomatic in all of U.S. history (and all human history). In U.S. history that axiom rested on the self-evident divine truth that marriage is between one man and one woman. No one (not even the unbeliever) would — or could — have thought differently, much less acted differently.

Kim Davis’ action was simply normal Christian living. The notion that one may be a Christian in his “private” life but not allow his Christianity to influence his “public” decisions is a remarkably revisionist and spectacularly abnormal view that no saint in biblical times would — or could — have recognized. A convert to Christianity for about four years, she did what any reasonable Christian would do — allow her Christianity to affect her life. The fact that as a county clerk she issued marriage licenses is secondary. She is a recent Christian acting as any Christian should act.

As any Christian, I should add, within a Christian culture. And this gets to the issue of why Kim Davis sits in jail today. She acted on the presuppositions of a Christian law order within a society that had abandoned that religion and, therefore, its law order. In a Christian law order, issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples is illegal. In a (consistent) secular law order, not issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples is illegal. Law is downstream from religion.

Until the U. S. and other Western nations turn from secular religion to Christianity, we can expect increasing fines and arrests and jailing for this and related offenses — pastors preaching that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, churches excluding practicing lesbians from membership, hospitals refusing to perform abortions. The role of courageous and increasingly vital groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom will be to forestall the hostility that the new religious establishment will unleash.

But law is a reflection of religion, and until religion changes — i.e., reverts to Christianity — we can expect legal hostility to Christians acting as Christians would (should) in a Christian law order. Battles for religious liberty are necessary, but not sufficient. Religious liberty itself originated within and is a feature of a Christian law order and makes little sense in any other. We will have Christianity or we will have tyranny.

Kim Davis’ incarceration is merely the spearhead of that tyranny.


[1] This is one of the striking observations of the Reformational tradition launched by theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper and, in particular, legal philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd in the Netherlands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
[2] John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 17–73.
[3]   Joseph H. Brady, Confusion Twice Confounded (South Orange, New Jersey: Seton Hall University Press, 1955).
[4] Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve After the Pill (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012).
[5] Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies [1953], 1990).