The New Legalism

What comes to mind when you hear the word “legalism”? For me, I think of old, hard things. A big list of do’s and don’ts and a set of rules that you have to live by very strictly. The pictures that come to mind are stone-faced people who never laugh or smile or have any fun. If you’re not a Christian, that word might not make any sense, but you’ll at least get a connection to the law (legal) some how.

In my experience with different Christian people, the term ‘legalism’ also has a different meaning. If someone is a legalist, it means they’re very concerned with things that aren’t all that important, like using specific or technical terminology, or having a certain knowledge of something or holding to a certain position etc. Technically, the word as it’s used in the Bible refers to people who thought they could earn salvation by following/doing certain things that were written down in the law. The law did refer to the 10 commandments, but it also was used to refer to the Old Testament as a whole.

For a lot of Christians, when the word ‘legalism’ comes to mind, you might get a picture of the 10 commandments etched into stone tablets, and maybe the wrath of God comes to mind or something along those lines. Something like this:

Surprisingly, I think the two pictures in this blog have a lot in common. My generation grew up under the teaching of certain Biblical truths that I think are precious, but I think they have been over-stressed at the exclusion of some other ones. The things that were stressed were things like these:

    • God is more concerned with the heart. (Acts 15:8, Luke 16:15)
    • Don’t judge. (Matthew 7:1-5)
    • Love is the most important thing. (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Corinthians 13: 1-2, Matthew 22:37-39)
    • It’s more important to do, than just to say/think. (James 1:22-25)
    • God wants a relationship with you. (John 3:16, 1 John 4:19)

There are more, but these are a few good ones. How does this relate to legalism? Well, legalism revolves around works, or our doing of something. The technical term has salvation as its end, the more modern understanding has some sort of obeying laws or using the right terms etc. as their end. I think these lead to the same thing, works or doing something to achieve a certain end.

There is truth in all the bullet points listed above (I won’t go into all of them), but when they are stressed to the exclusion of, or detached from, other Biblical truths, then we start to get into bad territory. Smarter people have defined this as “legalism lite”, and while that is an accurate way of describing it, I don’t think it really gets the feel of what this phenomenon is. I think it’s better to say that it is a lifestyle legalism.

The reason for this is that one of the mantras that came out of church culture in the 90’s was “Christianity is a relationship/lifestyle, not a religion”, and this idea of lifestyle is the driving force behind the new legalism. Lifestyle Legalism still stresses “do this, don’t do that” , but it’s sneakier and goes undetected because it’s nicer. Think of it this way, would you rather go listen to a lecture on ethics or watch a video on youtube about being a real, loving, good Christian? The two might have identical content, but one sounds boring and cold, while the other sounds happy and welcoming.

To make it more explicit, I’m going to list out some of the commandments of lifestyle legalism, without the more happy context.

    • Be real
    • Do not be fake
    • Do not be hypocritical
    • Don’t get drunk
    • Don’t swear
    • Wear conservative clothing
    • Be loving, kind, and nice
    • Don’t judge others
    • Love people
    • Don’t gossip

Those sound almost just as cold and law-like as the 10 commandments, don’t they? The idea that comes from this sort of teaching is that you have to live your life around doing or not doing so many things, that by doing them, you will be living the Christian life. Unfortunately, we too often get people who call themselves Christians, but are basically just nice people. The wonderful truth about the gospel is that we are free from being under the curse of the law, so that we may live as unto Christ. James makes it perfectly clear that good works flow out of what Christ has done for us and what the Holy Spirit is doing in us, , but they do not earn us anything. Salvation comes by grace alone, and we cannot add anything to the completed work of Christ. Sanctification and holiness are things God love and demands of us, while bringing us through it, but our own efforts lead only to law, and to death.

Whether the laws sound cold and hard, or they are the happy, nice, lifestyle laws of today, they do not save anyone by people doing them. Let us always be looking to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, to give us the strength to live our lives to glorify Him, and to become more like Him, and to rely on His strength, not our own.

SDG

Your (Friendly) Neighborhood Intellectual

So there have been a flood of “how to relate to introverts” articles being passed around the interwebs, and I thought I would do a search on how to relate to intellectuals. Perhaps I missed something, but I couldn’t find a single one. Now perhaps it’s my weird feeling that I’m neither introverted nor extroverted (I’m just a vert?), but I feel it might be helpful to try and write something along those lines.

I think a lot of this will be just a “how to relate to me” article, but hopefully it will have a more broad application to others who might be wired like me. And to start it all off, I’ll say that intellectuals are weird, in the sense that we aren’t the norm. I think the most obvious thing to point out is that we like to read. And not just that, but we tend to read things that are broadly considered boring or dry. I would rather pick up Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” than I would the “Twilight” books. In fact, it took me until just now to put that picture up there. An “oh yeah, people don’t like to just read text” light bulb moment.

Reading books so much tends to bring other things with it. We live in the world of ideas, and understand that ideas have consequences. As a result of this, we are far more interested in deep conversation than in superficial ones. Questions like “what do you believe and why?” are perfect ways to start conversation, or so we think.

While we’re talking about books and conversation, another thing you’ll tend to notice is that our parlance is rather verbose and antiquated. In other words, we tend to use big words that do nothing but confuse people. We don’t usually do this on purpose, it’s just the type of vocabulary we’re used to seeing in the books we read and the circles of other intellectual people we run in. You might also notice a lot of name dropping when talking about quotes or certain ideas. By name dropping, I mean people that are usually long dead. The reason for this is that it’s a sort of short-hand, among academically minded people that allows you to cover more ground in conversation without having to take the time to do so. This isn’t particularly limited to academic people, as you see it in the world of politics too. T-shirts that say “Reagan Republican” and the like. Now that idea means that the person likes a particular flavor of republican that is different than the type of republican that is present today etc.

Another thing you realize when you start reading more academic, particularly philosophical, books is that words have very particular meanings. Among Christians, it’s popular to hear someone say “don’t be legalistic” , and what they mean is “don’t try and pick apart everything I’m saying”. However, the word legalism has a very particular meaning, and so someone who has read books on the subject will hear that as “don’t try and use works to attain your own salvation.” With miscommunication like that, it’s easy to understand how arguments start, or at least a lot of confusion. Intellectuals tend to lament over the way language is used, and may mistake a lack of proper use of terminology with a lack of understanding the content that is being used. In other words, just because someone doesn’t use the right words, doesn’t mean they don’t understand the truth behind them.

A trait intellectuals share with introverts is a tendency to get straight to deep conversation, forsaking the usual small talk. Many of us don’t enjoy sports, hunting, and fishing, which really limits the casual conversation you’re likely to hear in public (at least in the Midwest, where I am). For example, if you go see a movie with an intellectual, they’re usually fine with talking about the acting or the cinematography, but what they really want to talk about is the message of the movie. What is the writer saying about the topic presented? What are they saying about society?

So what does that all mean? Well, let’s try and sketch out some things that you’re probably going to think, when you meet an intellectual. These might be true, and they might entirely be misconceptions, but either way it will be helpful to get these things in the air, and how you can help intellectuals and maybe what you can learn from them.

All that reading might make them come off as arrogant or judgmental. This could be true or false, but you’ll have to get to know them in order to know which. Intellectuals tend to ask a lot of questions; and while this is, for some, an avenue to air their own opinion, for others, this is simply a way of trying to learn about people and get to the real meat of the conversation (remember, they live in the world of ideas). This can feel really intimidating, especially if you think this person is smarter than you, or judging you constantly. The fact of the matter is that they have learned to detach their ideas from their person, so that they can hold a position and put it out in the open during a debate and have it ripped to shreds, but take no personal offense. For them, a vigorous debate is actually a respectful thing to do, because you’re putting your idea and another persons idea in the fire, in order to get to the truth, and hopefully both people will be the better for it. Within Christianity, this is one application of the iron sharpening iron process.

What we don’t realize is that most people haven’t honed the ability to detach their ideas from their person, and that a debate is usually felt as an attack. This is one way that intellectuals can come across as being unfriendly; always making people feel like they’re being attacked and judged. How you can help: Explain to them how it makes you feel when they talk about something or approach something a certain way. While they may not be able to sympathize well with emotional stuff (hence the term intellectual), they will want to be able to communicate things more clearly. Secondly, help them explain something or do something in a way that is more helpful to you. I have a friend who does this for me, and it’s extremely helpful, as I’m often frustrated with my seeming inability to communicate things.

In terms of helping to communicate, here is something from the other side that you an do to encourage your intellectual friend: engage with them in conversation. This may seem silly and easy but it’s vastly important. Don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t understand what they’re saying/asking because they use words you don’t understand. Having to rephrase what is being said so that it’s understandable is a great thing for us to do, so tell us to! There are, thankfully, a lot of material out there about being able to take complicated information and explain it at a simple level, but there doesn’t tend to be much information going the other way. Granted, our society is geared toward simplicity and superficiality, but we won’t know how we are doing in trying to communicate things if there isn’t any interaction. To take a silly example, look at the way Facebook and social media in general is used. We share cute things, or music, or inspirational sayings all the time, and get an overwhelming response. This is the way things usually go, but intellectual people will never do those things. We tend to ask serious questions and try to get discussion going. Want to make an intellectual’s day? Actually engage with one of their questions! It’s both encouraging to us, and helpful.

Speaking of making our day, you want to know an easy way to engage with an intellectual person? Post an article/video to their wall and ask their opinion of it, and then engage. To us that says, “someone cares!”. Plus, think of it this way: reading is hard, and it only gets harder the older the books get back in time. Intellectual people love reading, and enjoy talking about things they’ve learned from all those big, old books. So if you befriend an intellectual and help them communicate, you’re basically getting the gems from those books without having to sit through 1000 pages of words nobody uses!

That got a bit long, but I hope it was helpful in understanding intellectual people (or at least me!). I know it’s hard, but I hope you put in some hard work and reach out to us, because we need you, and you might just find you need us, too. Different parts of the body, and all that.

SDG

The Armor of God

 

I made a shocking discovery as I was reading through Ephesians the other day when I came to the section on the armor of God. Believe it or not, there’s actually a verse before it starts in about putting on the whole armor of God. I’ve heard several sermons on the armor of God, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard this verse addressed, and it actually changes a lot about the verses that follow.

Most of the things I remember about armor of God sermons involve vivid descriptions about what armor was like back in Biblical times, and how each individual piece would benefit us etc. However, all of the armor stuff starts in verse 11. Verse 10 goes like this “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The entire preceding chapter has been talking about children and parents, masters and slaves, and then after Paul lays all that out he tells us to be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.

I see this as both a red flag and an anchor. Lest we think we have the strength to do everything in verses 1-9 and 11-20, we are reminded that our strength comes from God. Yes, the following verses teach us how to use each piece of armor, but it also gives the context for how we use them properly. We also see the type of battle we’re in in verse 12 when it says we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” i.e. not things our earthly strength can fight.

So how do we do it? Paul explains. We fight with truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word, and prayer. Notice what all of these have in common: they come from God as gifts. God saves us through faith, He gave us His Word, which contains His truth. He teaches us how to pray, how to pursue righteousness, and explains the gospel to us so that we can share it with others.

These are our marching orders. God has given us the tools, and the only way we can be effective in using them is by realizing that all of them come from Him and we are to be in His strength if we are to succeed. What is our role? We need to understand all we can about our equipment and how to use them. We need to be in the Word constantly, praying without ceasing, ever looking to Him to deepen our understanding and change our life to be more conformed to Christ’s.

SDG

In Blackest Day, In Darkest Night

If you’re a comic book nerd, you already know this is a take on the Green Lantern oath, which goes like this:

 
In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!!!

I don’t know a lot about the Green Lantern, which is probably why I liked the Ryan Reynolds movie, but what I do know is that their green power rings harness the power of the user’s will. This power is going to relate to the rest of this blog. You see, I have been thinking about my own heart lately, and it really seems like there’s nothing in it but blackness.

As an intellectual guy, I have a tendency toward trying to please God by knowing all the right answers, or just trying harder not to sin. Just about everyone in the Bible writes against this type of legalism, and for good reason. Paul devotes some harsh words in Galatians 3 to this issue when he writes “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” and later “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse;” etc. Now I think this may be a form of legalism lite, in the sense that I’m not looking at the “law” in terms of Old Testament laws and trying to obtain salvation by following them. But what I am doing is trying to refrain from sinning by shear force of will.

This is an interesting battle because on one hand, our sanctification does take effort on our part, but the success of that can’t actually be attributed to us. We are given our right standing before God (justification) instantly, and by grace. We are given a new nature, one that is (through the Holy Spirit’s power) able not to sin. But we can’t be lazy (another tendency of mine) and therefore not fight against the pressures of sin, the flesh, and the devil. I think what it comes down to for me is pride. Pride sneaks its ugly head up in so many different ways. If I do well at fighting certain sins, I’m tempted to be prideful and boast in my success, as if it were in my own strength. If I’m more humble, I’m tempted to be prideful about how humble I am, and how much I have glorified God (or just heaped up empty phrases, more likely).

The twin dangers of pride and laziness are perhaps my “thorns in the flesh” that I must learn to bring under the dominion of Christ. It’s an odd thing, to want to work extremely hard on the one hand, yet be lazy and do nothing and not fight sin on the other. I can totally identify with Paul in Romans 7 when he asks “What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” and actually, all of Romans 7 speaks to exactly what I most struggle with. In some ways, that brings me comfort, knowing that someone like Paul struggled in some of the same ways that I do, and he accomplished much for God.

I suppose all of that is to say that these are areas that I struggle with, and if you’re reading this, you can pray for me and hold me accountable as I try to more fully understand my identity in Christ, and learn what it is to live life Coram Deo.

SDG

This is Your World: The Issues

In the last part of this series I want to take a look at two of the hot button issues of today, and how the divided view of truth and the human body come to bear on them.

In the previous two posts we looked at how it came to be that people came to have a divided view of truth, with facts in the lower story. These were the only things we could know for sure were real, and they were tested by math and science. In the upper story was basically everything else, from religion to emotion, and everything in between. This lead to a divided view of the human body, with the biochemical machine (the actual body) in the lower story and the “self” in the upper story.

These things really messed with people, and in order to live in this divided life, they had to start adopting (historically) very interesting positions. The self in the upper story is autonomous, and is able to do/define the lower story biochemical body as whatever it wants, with no guidelines. For our examples, we’ll look at abortion and homosexuality.

A fairly recent (we’ll say since the 70’s, but that’s just a ballpark estimate) distinction between sexual orientation and gender is an example of this. The idea is that gender (lower story) is something that you are born with, but doesn’t necessarily effect anything. The autonomous, upper story, self can change anything and everything about the lower story body. For example, the self can determine that it is a boy/girl, regardless of what gender they were born with. The self can also determine what it is attracted to, again regardless of what gender they were born. We are told that sexuality in general is fluid, and may change several times throughout a person’s lifetime.

Another issue in terms of the human body is abortion. One of the most used arguments by pro-choice advocates is that women can do whatever they want with their bodies. We rarely stop to think why this is so, but I think one of the main (if unconscious by most at this point) reasons is that there is a divide in their concept of the body. I am typing this one a machine known as a computer, and since I have purchased it, I can do whatever I want with it, whether that is to use it for normal (one might say, natural) means or to break it. If our bodies are simply complex, biochemical machines, then you could argue that we could do whatever we want with them.

Christianity offers answers to these, but in order to accurately engage in conversation, we have to realize that people have this two-story view in their thinking. They may not consciously think “this goes in the upper story and this goes in the lower story”, but you see the effects of this thinking all the time. If we understand the thinking behind the arguments, then we can start talking past one another, and start addressing things in ways that actually get through to people.

It’s my hope that this short series has helped you take a step in understanding the world you live in so that you can engage the culture more effectively for the glory of God.

If you want to read some more in depth analyses of the two-story view and how it effects art, music, movies, and the like, check out “Saving Leonardo” by Nancy Pearcey.

 

SDG

This is Your World: The Human Divide

The Truth Divide I wrote about before is one major piece of the puzzle in determining why the world is the way it is, and why people think the way they do, but it is not the entire thing. Another crucial piece is the affect it had on the way people view themselves. I’ll call this the human divide, or the person divide, as just like with truth, people began to have a two-story view of themselves.

As we talked about before, humans began to view truth in a fragmented way, with the lower story belonging solely to physics and math, and therefore to facts, and the upper story belonging to everything else. The upper story included things which were only subjective, because they could not be tested via the scientific method, or verified by the senses. These were things like love, meaning, ethics, morality, religion, and purpose.

Consequently, people began to question what it means to be a human being. This is something that people have asked since forever, but with this two story framework in place, people began to develop a fragmented view of the self. Scientific discoveries and advancements translated down to the public into new machines, and people began to make connections between the machines of the day and the way the human body operates. In today’s terminology, we often hear how the brain is much like an advanced computer.

Classically, cultures have divided the human self into the physical/biological portions and the spiritual portions. With the divided view of truth solidly in place, the only thing that was on the lower story was the physical body. The upper story contained everything that made human life worth living. Things like meaning and purpose, love and hope, ethics and morality. In psychological terms, the things in the upper story would be referred to as the “I” or the “self” , and then you have the body, which is a biological organism, or a biochemical machine.

Important in this discussion is the idea of autonomy. Since this is something that cannot be tested by science or interpreted by the senses, it is, by necessity, an upper story concept. The body is basically something that carries out the will of the “self”. The upper story (call it mind, soul, spirit, what have you) is autonomous (makes free decisions) and in cause and effect style, the body responds. In a way, this gets around the discussion of determinism/free will by simply shifting the determinism into the lower story and the free will into the upper story.

The lower story can be determined by a number of things. Biological forces determine how our body reacts to certain things, and our autonomous (upper story) self makes choices that determine what the biochemical machines known as our bodies will do. Interestingly, this is an attempt of the upper story worldviews (heirs of the Romanticism tradition) to take over the lower story worldviews (heirs of the Enlightenment tradition). Some of this came about when quantum physics discovered that things aren’t as “solid” as we originally thought. The connection was made that if things weren’t as solid as we thought they were, then maybe the scientific and mathematic communities aren’t the sole bearers of truth they were thought to be.

This is a radical departure from the Christian approach to our bodies, which holds that our bodies are fallen, but ultimately redeemed and are part of what makes us partakers of the image of God. This fragmented view of the human body has important implications on the current issues of our day. Next we will take a look at those issues and determine how to best respond to them in ways that are both meaningful to the world, and helpful to the cause and glory of God.

SDG

This is Your World: The Truth Divide

I think most people recognize the relativism which is so prevalent in society today, but the roots of that stretch back much further, and its roots are much deeper than usually appears.

Have you ever found it interesting that only certain things are considered relative? Every time you try and bring up God or what is right or wrong, or if a certain piece of music/art is good or not, then suddenly everything becomes relative or subjective. Those things are all relegated to personal opinion, but you will never see people clamoring for architecture built by a relativist who doesn’t necessarily believe in the holding power of welding or in the effects of gravity. We see parents committed to raise their children in a “gender-neutral” environment, but you don’t see people tell their children things like “it’s time for you to go to bed, but that’s just my idea of bed-time; whatever time works for you is good too.” In order to understand why only some things seem to be relative while others don’t, we’ll have to take a quick look back at history.

Way back in the day, life used to be thought of as a coherent whole. Francis Schaeffer uses an illustration to explain this by drawing a circle in the sand. One guy would draw a circle and say “There. You can explain everything in life if you just use my circle.” Then the next guy would say “No no no, that circle doesn’t work, you need this circle to explain everything.” and that’s how things progressed for some time. Eventually, people realized that after decades of circle making, clearly nothing worked the way those old people thought they did. And if the old ways didn’t work, then we needed to come up with another system for figuring life out.

Beginning in the 1540s or so, we had the beginnings of the scientific revolution. Science and math were joining forces and making discoveries and improvements every other day (or so it seemed), and people were rightly impressed. Certain philosophers started thinking that in order to solve the old circles problem, all they had to do is observe the methods the scientists were using (since they had so much success) and apply them to philosophy and all the old problems would disappear.

The methods they observed were basically these: scientists found things via their senses and their experiments. So philosophers started what became known as Empiricism. The idea there is that the only things that are true (or, at the very least, the things we know to be true) are those things that science and math can find. So things that we find out through our senses, and that can be tested in scientific experiments or calculated with mathematics.

David Hume was the big dog in this fight, and he took empiricism and applied it to morality. If sense data (things we learn from our senses) was what was true, then morality must fight this model. What we find to be moral must be things that bring us pleasure, and things we find immoral must be things that bring us pain. This was a huge step, if you think about the old way of thinking. Philosophy, and therefore truth, was a coherent whole where you had to figure out something that made sense of all of life. Hume started the divide that would come to dominate philosophy, and sooner or later, all of thinking.

Immanuel Kant took things much further than Hume did, and he really laid the groundwork for the way we see things today. The general worldview that most people have, whether they are secular or even Christian to an extent, more or less came from Kant. What came out of the dust clouds of Hume and Kant became known as the fact/value split. Basically, anything we could know for sure via math and the scientific method were deemed “facts” and everything else was under the “value” umbrella. Francis Schaeffer described this with the analogy of a building with two stories. It looks like this:

Values (Upper Story)

——————————–

Facts (Lower Story)

 

The implications of this were huge then, and are still today, though most people function on this view without realizing it. This was the step that started the perceived conflict between religion and science. For if things like the existence of God can’t be tested or perceived through the senses, then clearly it can’t be a fact. It is thrown into the upper story; into the realm of subjective things and mere preference or feelings.

However, it wasn’t just religion that was in danger of this mind-splitting philosophy. All sorts of things were relegated to the upstairs. This didn’t happen all at once, but over the centuries, everything from the concept of truth at all, to religion, metaphysics, ethics, morals, love, beauty, aesthetics, opinions, values, and even philosophy itself got thrown upstairs. And if those things weren’t “facts” then they must actually be illusions.

In order to save space, I’ve flown over a lot, but this happened in very subtle ways (though there were certainly some overt things going on too), and became very common. So much so that you could have people like Martin Luther King Jr. say “Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.” and similarly, Einstein echoes “Science yields facts but not ‘value judgments’; religion expresses values but cannot ‘speak of facts’.

This had ripple effects (or perhaps tsunami effects) throughout the various disciplines of art, music, philosophy, ethics etc. and you can see this around you every day. This is why only some things in our society are deemed relative, while others are objective facts. Science still reigns supreme in our day, but the results of this split in thinking have been many and they have been quite disastrous.

You can be on the lookout for this as you go about your day. The next time you hear someone say “well, that’s just your opinion” or “it’s not right to push your views on others” or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or “you shouldn’t judge people” etc. you can recognize that as an effect of this fact/value split. As you start to realize this, you can start navigating the worldview waters of our current culture. You can start knowing how to point people back to the holistic Biblical worldview, where everything is a coherent whole.

Next time we’ll take a look at how this divided view of truth lead to a divided view of the human body.

 

SDG

Don’t Rest on Sunday

Now before you start throwing full wine bottles at your computer screens, allow me to explain what I mean. I do not mean that we should ignore the call to keep the Sabbath holy (Exodus 20:8-11) or the restatement in Hebrews or any of the various places the Bible talks about it. In fact, I think this article does a really good job with handling all those questions about what is and is not ok to do on the Sabbath. It grants a much needed perspective shift.

So if I don’t mean any of that, what do I mean? I mean that we should not let going to church be the only thing we do on Sundays. I know it’s a tendency for me (I just did it yesterday) to let going to church override any commitment I have to do anything else spiritual on Sundays. I mean, I went to church and the pastor prayed and read the Bible and we sang songs and had communion, so that has to be enough, right? Wrong. At least it is for me. 1 Peter 5:8 does not say that the Devil is a roaring lion who does no work on Sunday. In fact, if I were him, I would plan on doing a lot of attacking on Sunday, knowing that going to church tends to drop my spiritual guard.

We still need to be doing all the things we’re doing the other days of the week. Still reading the Bible (even though it was read at church) , still praying (even though praying happened at church) etc. The very next verse from the 1 Peter passage actually gives some good advice when it reads “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Think on your brothers and sisters in more dangerous parts of the world who are suffering for their faith. Though persecution is growing in America (I hesitate to use that word, lest it be compared with the people whose lives are at stake for the gospel) we still have it quite easy in comparison.

Sunday church provides many blessings, but it is not a substitute for your continuing growth in sanctification. I’m entirely fine with using church as a springboard for the rest of your day. Reflect on the truths presented in the sermon and in the songs sung. Meditate on the Scripture that was expounded and read more around that area.

Whatever you do, do not let up in your fight against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Your enemy will not stop, so neither should you.

 

SDG

Bulverism, and other Societal Weirdness

C.S. Lewis wrote an essay in 1941 entitled “Bulverism: Or, the Foundation of 20th Century Thought” and the concept has some surprising connections to things we take for granted in the 21st century. I suppose that is no surprise, since things which are the foundation of one century are often forgotten in the next.

In Lewis’ time there were two groups that had made certain discoveries that they felt help explain the human condition. Those two groups were the Freudians and the Marxists. Lewis explains them by saying that “The Freudians have discovered that we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class.” which is basically how we describe them today, but more important today than what they specifically believed, is how they thought.

Each group felt that they could explain aspects of why people do the things they do based on certain things. This is an idea that is still around today, and influences some important aspects of life. This line of thinking brought Lewis to coin the term “Bulverism.” He explains it by using the following example:

Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is ‘wishful thinking’. You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant—but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds.

Why is that important? He concludes:

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism.

I think this is so common today that it primarily goes by unnoticed, and that serves secular society in several ways. Think back to the last national tragedy you can think of. If it’s grotesque enough, you’ll hear the media say things like “an act of evil was done today” or something like that, but usually you will not even hear the word evil in association with it. What you will never hear is that the person themselves are evil/bad. Instead, what you will hear is (after the glamorization of the event by the media) that an investigation was done into the person’s past and they had an abusive father or an alcoholic father or was abandoned by their parents or some such thing. Now certainly these things are terrible, and studies have shown that the way a child is raised will impact how it lives as an adult. These things are important, but why not just call the person bad? If you don’t like the word evil, use bad, or even broken perhaps. Anything, just to get the conversation starting.

However, that is precisely what they want to avoid. Why? Because the idea that someone just is evil really goes against the prevailing attitude in society that deep down, at bottom, everyone is good. It’s just their conditions/upbringing that let them down. Conditions are the fault of society, and society is the fault of conditions, to quote the poem. Worse then that, then you will have to start up ethical discussions on the fact that if one person is evil, then you have to define what the line between people who are evil by nature and the ones who aren’t. And worst of all, that’s starting to sound eerily like the Christian idea of original sin, and how the Psalmist writes “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” ( Psalms 51:5) The Bible talks about the innate sinfulness of man all over the place, and even that men love their sin and hate God. And the more things you can put between you and God the better, since you would have to deal with Jesus otherwise.

Francis Schaeffer talked about how man erects for himself a house of defenses against God. One of the tasks of the apologist (and evangelist) is to tear the roof off their defenses and allow them to feel the tension between their beliefs and God’s truth. The truth is that man is sinful, loves his sin, and hates God. But God is Holy and His justice must be satisfied, and there are two places that takes place, in hell and on the cross. Jesus felt the force of the justice of God when He died for our sins, and if you believe in Him that is where things are dealt with, and if not they will be dealt on you in hell for eternity. This is not to say that psychology and other disciplines can’t be used to help fix certain aspects of people, because it certainly can. But we need to get to the fact that the real issue isn’t that someone is “sick” but that they are sinful and separated from God.

The story is a bit more dire for Christians though. Lewis also wrote a few different essays on what he called the “Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” which was so called to be contrasted with the old, penal system and their horrible capital punishment. It was thought that capital punishment was too harsh and the goal should instead be to either inflict a punishment that would “cure” the person, or at least would deter the public from doing something similar. This theory might still be around, but I will have to leave that question to my smarter lawyer friends. Lewis points out that it would still be compulsory, and the idea of justice would be entirely removed from the equation. The whole idea that someone is getting punished, and that punishment is equal to the crime they committed, and therefore that justice has been served, would be eliminated. Who cares if the person getting “cured” is actually guilty or not, so long as the public sees the example and it gets them to not do something. After all, the person would hear something like “nobody is blaming you, we’re just going to cure you”.

Why is this an issue for Christians? Well, if the idea of justice is eliminated in favor of therapy or making a public example, then truth is quietly pushed under the rug in favor of the public good. Certain things/thoughts could become deemed “dangerous to society” or some such thing. If Christianity found itself out of favor to such a degree that it became something which need to be “cured” then this is a situation that could easily play itself out. Cure the people who tell us we’re sick! I don’t know that I foresee that happening in my lifetime, but it’s happened in different areas of the world, and I think there will be persecution in America of Christians during my lifetime. I think very soon the first example of this will be the government forcing some church to marry a gay couple or to shut down. In any case, we need to be watching culture so that we know how to interact with it. We need to have, as John Piper says, broken-hearted boldness to both preach the truth, but to do it because we love our neighbor as ourselves and do not want to see them perish without hope. People are fallen, and we need to say this, and to speak the law so that people see their need for a savior, and then to tell them about Christ.

SDG

Controversial Topics Pt. 3 Homosexuality

This is a very complex and far-reaching topic. I’m going to try and be concise, but if you follow this blog you know that probably won’t happen, so bear with me.

The Lay of The Land

Right now there’s a lot of discussion on whether or not homosexual marriage will be legalized in the USA. There are a couple cases in front of the Supreme Court right now which will largely decide that, and set precedent for any number of connected issues. There are people claiming this is the last great human/civil rights issue, meanwhile the Westboro Baptist cult goes around being as offensive/hateful as humanly possible without getting physically violent (though I wouldn’t put it past them) all in the name of Christianity.

Christians are divided on this issue. There are several like Rob Bell, who believe that the most important thing is to love them, since Christ said to love people, and then once people see that we love everyone, then they’ll come to our potlucks and we can share the gospel or something. In this instance, loving them means accepting whatever they do as being ok. There is a way to love someone, while still maintaining the position that what they are doing is wrong or sinful. In this helpful blog post, John Piper lays out some ground rules for what churches should do if a homosexual couple repents of their sin. I think you can certainly apply those principles to homosexuals who have not done so either, and thus show them love.

A very common obstacle in this discussion is the fact that the common phrase “hate the sin, but love the sinner” doesn’t really work. In a perfect world, we should be able to disagree with one another’s beliefs about something without committing the ad hominem fallacy. That fancy schamncy Latin just means that when you disagree with someone, you shouldn’t attack their person. For example, if I think we should be allowed to have guns, I shouldn’t argue for that by saying something like “people who think we shouldn’t have guns are idiots”. The problem when it comes to homosexuality is that this is something that is intensely personal for people, and the tendency is to regard any disagreement as an attack on their person.

This is understandable, since sex is such a private thing. However, I want to stress up front that as much as it is difficult to do, please try to understand that when I talk about any belief or activity, I’m not attacking the person. Even if I disagree with something that feels entirely natural. It is quite common today to see that someone has entirely wrapped their identity up in being a homosexual. In such cases, it may be impossible to lovingly disagree with them on that issue. But where it is not, we need to be very careful in how we talk about this topic.

There are also a whole slew of issues related to homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and the like that I will try to either at least touch on or link further resources to.

Sin

I think the first thing to address is what we mean by the concept of sin. A few years ago, when the homosexuality movement was gaining steam and therefore the attention of many in this country, it seemed to focus around the idea that Christians were calling things “sinful” or “an abomination” and that was bad. Those are pretty strong words, but Wayne Grudem gives a concise definition of sin in his Systematic Theology as follows “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.” I like this definition, because it encompasses many aspects of the debate. This definition touches on the fact that all humans are born with a sinful nature, and also covers sins of commission (things we do, when we shouldn’t) and sins of omission (when we chose not do things we should). It encompasses our thought life as well our actions and our natural state. It’s pretty broad reaching. For a more extended discussion of sin, check here (sorry for the bad formatting, it was 3 years ago). Also, check out the “Calvinism?” tab up top for some more information on what reformed people mean by Total Depravity.

So when we’re talking about sin, there are many places in the Bible related to God’s moral law that address the issue of homosexuality and homosexual behavior. There are a few places that people usually go in the Old Testament, but I’ll address those later, right now I’m just going to go to Romans 1. The chapter starts out with Paul talking about how whether someone is a Jew or a Greek (this distinction is often used to describe the whole world in the Bible), they can have salvation because of the power of the gospel. The righteous (everyone who believes the gospel) live by faith. Then he talks about the wrath of God on all unrighteousness (sin). He talks about how people suppress the truth of God (this is our natural, sin nature unless the Holy Spirit goes in and changes our nature), and how nature has revealed certain aspects of God so clearly that people are left without excuse as to His existence. Ultimately, the passage builds up to a discussion on idolatry.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 24-25) “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (v. 26-27)

Under the definition of sin listed above, homosexual desire or acts do qualify as sinful behavior. This is an objective statement, and should not be interpreted as “I hate who you are!” as popular as it is to do so. The issue of sin that clings extremely closely to you is one that I have personal experience with. I was addicted to pornography for many years, and even though I knew that objectively what I was doing was sinful on many levels, it was something that I felt a natural draw to. It felt like it was just something about who I was. Even after pornography was no longer an issue, there was still a nearly constant struggle with lust in some way. Now thankfully, God decided to one day remove all traces of that from me (because I tried everything in the book in my own strength, believe me). I only mention that to point out that I know how hard it is to disassociate who you are with what you do/feel, especially in an area related to sex. Despite the difficulty in doing so, it is something that is necessary when engaging people of different beliefs. This is part of what the word tolerance actually means.

Marriage

I think most people think of marriage is basically just being something you do after you date someone for awhile. It’s just kind of a social progression, right? Dating followed by engagement followed by marriage. What you do before, during, and after that doesn’t really come into it. However, this is not what marriage is, and that common view actually betrays much of what has broken marriage down today. We essentially view it was a bundle of rights, granted by the state, that comes with the title “marriage” and all that word means is that we have strong feelings for someone. Kind of crass, but that’s more or less how marriage is viewed. That’s why it sounds so strange when people refer to “the institution of marriage”. This was one of the steps in the breaking down of marriage: changing marriage to simply the expression of a bundle of emotions, or the next logical step to dating.

There’s a meme out there on the interwebs that has a cartoon old man/woman holding hands and walking down the road with the caption “in my generation, we fixed something when it was broken, we didn’t just throw it away” or something like that. It addresses the issue that marriages are more important than just getting a divorce when things get hard. If you go to divorcerate.org you’ll see a whole slew of stats, but basically, the percentage for people getting a divorce in America is between 40-50%, and only goes up if you get married again and again. Personally, I have found it interesting that more often then not, when you see celebrities get divorced from one another, they cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason. Does that seem kinda weak to you? There’s a reason for that, and it’s called No-fault divorce. With the advent of no-fault divorce back in the 70s (Governor Ronald Reagan signed on to that one. The dude wasn’t perfect), we saw a shift from “till death do us part” to “inconvenience and just about anything else will separate us”. This was another important step in the breaking down of marriage: removing any sort of law which might impede divorce.

Interestingly enough, there is a connection with another hot-button issue that often gets overlooked in this discussion, and that is the connection with abortion. One of the main functions of marriage (definition forthcoming) is to produce and protect/raise children. If marriage was designed with that in mind, and you remove the idea that children are worth it (check the link) then all you are left with is a set of rules that can be changed in whatever way seems best and applied to anyone. This is another crucial step in the degrading of marriage: the disregard for children.

If those are 3 important steps to breaking marriage down, then what was it before? Well, that has to be taken back far beyond the 70s. If we look way back at creation, we learn a lot about what marriage was intended to be. We see in Genesis 1:27-28 that God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” and there we see the issue of children addressed. In Genesis 2:18-25 we see a more detailed description of the creation of man. In it, we find the statement that “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” and then proceeds to create Eve. It’s important to realize that he created a woman as the one that was fit for him. This was the blueprint for marriage, and we see the instillation of it as between a man and a woman, and in Genesis 2:25, we read that they are referred to as “man and wife” meaning that it was, in fact, marriage. Also, in verse 24, it says that “man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is to show the type of relationship that marriage is. This is what Jesus refers to when He is having a discussion with Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-6, where He says “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

So the definition of marriage from the begging, as God decreed it to be, was one man and one woman for life. We have seen some of the key steps in breaking down this definition, and now we find ourselves at the current controversy.

The Arguments

In this article Kevin DeYoung explains what the main arguments are today for the legalizing of homosexual marriage. “I don’t think the arguments for gay marriage are biblically faithfully, logically persuasive, or good for human flourishing in the long run, but they are almost impossible to overcome with most Americans, especially in younger generations.” Why is this the case? Because they pack an emotional punch. If you are against homosexual marriage (or even questioning it) you are immediately painted as hateful, bigoted, intolerant, against progress/love/equality and the like. This is definitely not what anyone wants to be perceived as, and so it is definitely an uphill battle. DeYoung gives Christians some advice at the end of the article:

“And if we are interested in being persuasive outside of our own churches, we’ll have to do several things better.

1) We need to go back several steps in each argument. We’ll never get a hearing on this issue, or a dozen others issues, unless we trace out the assumptions behind the assumptions behind the arguments behind the conclusions.

2) We need more courage. The days of social acceptability for evangelicals, let alone privilege, are fading fast in many parts of the country. If we aren’t prepared to be counter-cultural we aren’t ready to be Christians. And we need courage not only to say what the Bible says, but to dare say what almost no one will say–that gay sex is unnatural and harmful to the body, that abandoning gender distinctions will be catastrophic for our society and for children, and that monogamy and exclusivity is often understood differently in the gay community.

3) We need more creativity. Statements and petitions and manifestos have their place, but what we really need is more than words and documents. We need artists and journalists and movie makers and story tellers and spoken word artists and comedians and actors and rappers and musicians who are galvanized by the truth to sing and speak and share in such a way that makes sin look strange and righteousness look normal.

4) We need a both-and approach. In the months ahead I imagine we’ll see Christians wrestle with whether the best way forward is to form new arguments that appeal to people where they’re at, or whether we simply need to keep preaching the truth and trust God to give some people the ears to hear. I’m convinced we need to do both. Let’s keep preaching, teaching, and laboring for faithful churches. Let’s be fruitful and multiply. Let’s train our kids in the way they should go. Let’s keep sharing the good news and praying for revival. And let’s also find ways to make the truth plausible in a lost world. Not only the truth about marriage, but the truth about life and sex and creation and beauty and family and freedom and a hundred other things humans tend to forget on this side of Adam. The cultural assumptions in our day are not on our side, but if the last 50 years has shown us anything, it’s that those assumptions can change more quickly than we think.”

What are those new methods? Well, Greg Forster has spent a lot of time thinking about that and suggests here, here, and here what that might look like. For the sake of space, I’ll just strongly suggest that you read what he has to say. The issue of framing the discussion in a language and narrative that both more adequately explains reality and engages people where they are is an important task. In fact, I’m not very good at it yet, and that’s one of the reasons this blog has been so long in coming (and why there will probably be related blogs in the future).

But what about some of the other arguments? What about people who come at the topic from the issue of civil rights? Here in America, we have a pretty nasty history when it comes to civil rights, and so this carries an extremely deep amount of emotion with it. The idea is that people (and, unfortunately, a lot of Christians) were against the idea of equality for African Americans, and the same arguments that were advanced then are being advanced now to be against Homosexuals. If it is true, this may be a powerful argument, but if it is not, then this is elaborate smoke blowing and the fallacious appeal to emotions argument. Addressing that particular argument is Voddie Baucham in an article entitled Gay Is Not the New Black.

There has also been an attempt by Rob Bell and others to try and argue for the fact that people can be both Christian and homosexual. They argue that there is support for this position in the Bible and that people who use the Bible to support a different view are using it incorrectly. This is a serious accusation, and one that needs careful attention. Apologist James White has devoted an extensive amount of time to this topic. I believe they took 2 or 3 radio programs and put them all together, so the total time is 5 hours! So take it in chunks if you have to, but if you want to know how to engage with people who hold this belief, then I would strongly encourage you to listen through it.

The Definition Problem

In recent discussions with people within the homosexual community and activists, I discovered a very strange thing. In the discussion on whether homosexual attraction is something you’re born with or something you chose (the community will push for one or the other, depending on which is culturally advantageous at the time) , one of the main issues that is brought up is how human sexuality is fluid. This will change as you grow and discover more about yourself and your culture/society. Now this discovery will be couched in different language based on which of the above 2 choices is being promoted at the time. Either someone choses that being a homosexual is the right path for them, or they discover that that is their true orientation. However, this becomes a problem when it comes to the government granting rights. Perhaps this is merely a logical problem, and that’s just how my mind works, but it seems like it would be difficult to grant rights to a group that you can’t define to do its fluid nature.

Webster has a definition of the word “gay” and that is

  1. attracted to same sex: relating to sexual attraction or activity among members of the same sex

And if we go by that definition, then someone is gay who either is attracted to the same sex or engages in homosexual activity. In my discussions, it was quickly pointed out that anyone who “changes” and becomes straight later on or who only got drunk and had a same-sex fling one night is more accurately described as being bisexual. In other words, someone who is truly a homosexual is one who perseveres to the end.

Why is this important? Well, because I think it gets to the heart of the issue. I don’t think it has much to do with a bundle of rights granted by the state, otherwise why not just fight to have the same rights granted to civil unions? And I don’t think it’s necessarily just about “gay” marriage, because that would discriminate against everyone else in the LGBTQI (I may be missing some letters) community. I think it is more about wanting to do whatever you want, and have as much “permission” as can be granted on earth. Why? Remember way back (seems like forever, doesn’t it?) at the beginning of this blog where we mentioned the passage from Romans 1? “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” emphasis mine. What truth? That marriage is defined by God as the union of one man and one woman for life. So in an attempt to wrap up this already long blog, where does that leave us? Where does that leave us as people, as Christians, as homosexuals, as secularists etc?

Some Warnings

First, to those who would not consider themselves Christians. What I want to avoid is the fallacious argument of the slippery slope. However, slippery slopes are not always fallacious, and unfortunately, this one is being proved true. For years, Christians and others have pointed out that by using certain arguments for the advancing of homosexual marriage, they were opening the flood gates as it were, for all sorts of different things. I need you to hear me very clearly when I make a distinction with what I am saying and what I am not saying. Currently, there are different groups in the world who are advocating for the legalization/normalization of relationships that most people find to be wrong. This includes “intergenerational intimists” more commonly known as pedophilia, and intraspeciesists, more commonly known as bestiality. I am absolutely not saying that those groups and homosexuals are the same. What I am saying is that the very same arguments that are commonly advanced by those within the homosexual community (progress, love, rights, equality, tolerance etc.) are being advanced by advocates within those communities as well. See here if you don’t believe me. There is going to have to be a lot of work done if you wish to still see those behaviors/relationships as deviant, but still use those arguments to legitimize yours. Also, what do you say to the group that defines themselves as people who are gay, but support traditional marriage?

Finally, to the church. This is a very difficult topic, and we must handle it with both care and boldness (and probably better than I have done). However, if we think this is difficult, what is coming in the future will be much more difficult. It is likely that homosexual marriage will be legalized in the near future, but I believe that is not going to be the end of the discussion. For what good is it if it is legal, but churches retain the right to marry or not marry a homosexual couple? That will be the next battle. Look to Canada if you want examples of how this is likely going to go in our country in the future.

End of Line

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’d give you a gold star but I’m broke and those sound expensive. As you can see, this issue is huge and covers a plethora of topics. I have only scratched the surface, and have missed some things entirely. But I hope this will start discussion and will make you think. Ultimately, I hope this is edifying to the people of God, for His glory. SDG

Fighting with you,

Jesse

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