Last month’s Energion Hangout debate on Social Justice was off to an energetic start when audio problems prevented us for continuing. So we will be going to try again. So be sure to join us this Tuesday June 9th at 7:00 PM when I will again be debating the question Social Justice Good Or Bad? I will be arguing that it is harmful, while Steve Kindle, author of Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World, will be defending it. Steve and I agree on many biblical principles, but our application of those principles to our daily lives is vastly different. If last month’s start is any indication it will be lively and interesting discussion.
Archive for the 'Culture' Category
Join us for the next Energion Hangout on Tuesday May 12 at 7:00 PM when I will be debating the question Social Justice Good Or Bad? I will be arguing that it harmful, while Steve Kindle, author of Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World, will be defending it. Steve and I agree on many biblical principles, but our application of those principles to our daily lives are vastly different, so it should make for a lively and interesting discussion.
In his article “Why White Christians Need to Listen to Amos and Isaiah” Rev Morgan Guyton, the director of the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University, asks “I wonder what Amos and Isaiah would say about the self-satisfied scorn that so many white Christians have been spewing out into social media in response to the rage in Baltimore?” Given the question sets up a straw man, it answers itself. God is never pleased with “self-satisfied scorn.” While it fails as an indictment of “white Christians” in general, Rev Guyton’s article is, I think, a clear example of the problems with the attitudes of social justice.
At the risk of falling into “self-satisfied scorn,” I think that Rev Guyton’s claim that “the collective rage that has exploded into violence is an expression of God’s wrath” is absurd. Still it goes to the heart of my problems with his article, and with social justice in general.
For me it is easy to condemn the rioting. It brings nothing good and I agree with President Obama that those who participated in it are thugs. I am mad at the police so I am going to burn down an innocent person’s store? I am mad at the police so I am going to steal a TV? Just how does that make sense? The destruction of the community they brought about, not only caused a great deal of innocent suffering during the riots, but if history is any guide, it will cause problems and suffering for years, if not decades to come.
As for the “collective rage” that Rev Guyton claims is behind them, I would ask, rage about what? This question is asked in all seriousness as we still do not know who or what caused the injuries that lead to Freddie Gray’s death. So how do we do know what is behind the rage? This is the problem with Social Justice. It is the agenda that is important. The facts really don’t matter.
To see this one only needs to consider the events in Ferguson Missouri. Like Baltimore, riots occurred long before the facts were known. When they were known, it became clear that the whole, “hands up don’t shoot” meme was false, and that Officer Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.
For some, the idea that Brown was unarmed is all the evidence they need to convict Wilson, but to see the absurdity of that claim one only need consider the case of Officer David Smith who just a few months before the events in Ferguson responded to a report of a disturbance and was attacked by an unarmed man before he could even get out of his car, very similar to Ferguson. Unlike Ferguson, the unarmed man was able to grab Officer Smith’s weapon and then proceeded to shoot him to death.
Given the numerous split second decisions, and numerous mitigating factors in such a violent confrontation, it is not at all difficult to image that Brown had been able to get Officer Wilson’s gun and Officer Wilson would have shared the fate of Officer Smith, dead and largely unnoticed, like the other 127 officers who died in the line of Duty in 2014,
To put this number in perspective, something Social Justice advocates virtually never do, this is a number roughly equal to the number of black men killed by police each year. The difference being that almost all of the police shootings are justified, the killing of police officers are not. Also given the relatively small number of police officers compared to the black population they encounter, in the police face a greater risk of death. One could also compare this to thousands of black men murdered each year, mostly by other black men, don’t those black lives matter? The problem is that those deaths don’t fit the agenda of Social Justice.
In the end, the Justice of any given situation cannot be determined statistically. It depends on the actions of individuals, not groups. In this case it depends on what actually happened that led to Freddie Gray’s death. It will depend on the truth.
But for many advocates of Social Justice the truth does not matter. Only the cause matters. Thus you continue to hear Ferguson included in the list of alleged outrages, many of which are equally false, which led up to what Rev Guyton calls an explosion of “collective rage” Baltimore.
The other really troubling aspect about Rev Guyton’s charge is its stark racial foundation in that it is directed against “While Christians.” While troubling on many levels, it is very characteristic of Social Justice, which divides people into groups and then pits them against each other. It seeks division, not harmony.
The injection of race into the situation in Baltimore is especially awkward and difficult given that the city is 60% black, most of its elected officials are black and 3 of the six officer charged are black. Given this why does Guyton single out “white Christians” for his condemnation? These are the absurdities that come from abandoning true Justice for the false idol of Social Justice.
God is truth, and whenever we put our agenda ahead of the truth, we put ourselves ahead of God. This is never a good place to be. I, for one, am quite content to wait until I know what happened before I presume to know what would be Just. A rush to judgment rarely results in Justice. Neither does mob justice, whether by a lynch mob, or by a prosecutor who puts appeasing the mob head of seeking Justice.
Supporters of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples like to portray it as the latest battleground in a long tradition of fighting bigotry and intolerance, a fight where victories are celebrated as triumphs of the rule of law. But while supporters like to keep the focus on what they call “marriage equality” in reality something far darker and more sinister is going on.
As I have written in the past, court rulings that redefine marriage are the antithesis of the rule of law. These rulings are not upholding the rule of law, they are destroying it for the sake of an idea of equality. But the ideal itself is false. Often supporters counter with claims that this is the new civil rights movement where allowing same-sex marriage is the equivalent of allowing interracial marriage. This is false.
Previous court rulings on race were grounded both in the Constitution and reality. They were grounded in the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution. They were based in reality because the distinctions based on skin color are false distinctions, no more valid that distinctions based on hair color or eye color.
The same cannot be said for Same-Sex marriage. There is no grounding in the Constitution for over turning long established marriage laws. Instead it comes, not from reasoned analysis of the Constitution, but from judges demanding that their personal views become the law of the land, however they may dress it up to sound legitimate.
Nor is it based in reality, for unlike distinctions based on skin color, distinctions based on sex are very real. While the ideal that men and women are basically the same was a fad back in the 1960s and 1970s, science has completely and thoroughly refuted that notion, as if any refutation was even necessary. Today the ideal that men and women are basically the same is overtly held only by some elites who insulate themselves from inconvenient things like facts.
Yet while refuted, like the walking dead, the theory that men and women are basically the same remains a strong force for many on the left. It is also one of the key underpinnings for Same-Sex marriage, as the basic claim is the categories of men and women are arbitrary and can be interchanged. Thus statements such as “the best environment for raising children is a home with a loving mother and a loving father” is seen as irrational. Mothers contribute nothing special to the raising of a child and the two fathers will work just as well.
As soon as you conclude that it is reasonable to see men and women as different, the rationale for the court cases overturning traditional marriage falls apart. In short they are themselves a lie.
Another major argument used by supporters is some form of ‘What difference does it make?’ How would allowing two men or two women to marry affect your marriage, or affect you? This argument is at best naïve, and more likely disingenuous. Marriage is by definition a social construct that involves more than the two people getting married. If it was just a commitment between two people, same-sex couples have been able to do that for a long time. As a core unit of society, to redefine marriage is to redefine society. Its effects will be reflected in everything from TV shows to the text books used in school.
As traditional marriage laws have been overturned and same sex marriage imposed by judges, normally contrary to the expressed will of the people, one thing that has become clear is that this is not a movement for tolerance as many people have unfortunately found out. So far those on the front line in this battle have been those involved in weddings in one fashion or another, photographers, bakers, florists etc..
Some who did not wish to participate in the celebration of something they disagree with have found themselves facing a hostile government saying you will celebrate same-sex marriage or else. In the most recent case a 70 year old grandmother is facing the loss not only of her business, but of her home, because she refused to renounce her religious beliefs, which see marriage as sanctioned by God.
But these are not the only victims. The CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign because it was discovered that several years earlier he had donated $1000 to the California ballot proposition that upheld the traditional view of marriage. Last month a highly distinguished fire chief for the City of Atlanta was fired because of comments he wrote in a book several years earlier.
This is not tolerance, this is the face of tyranny. You will think what we want you to think or else. No disagreement will be tolerated. As for now the fate of Liberty, the founding principle of the Republic, remains in the balance.
David Watson recently wrote concerning the controversy over the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin that, “We are seeing again and again a great travesty–the killing of African-American men without consequence. If we as Christians don’t call this out and commit ourselves to doing something about it, then we are not living into our high calling as people who claim the name of Jesus.” He goes on to write about the lack of indictment, “I believe that most Christians, regardless of their race, know this is wrong.”
Now I do believe that Christians should be concerned about injustice, but we should also be concerned about truth. Nor are our concerns for Justice limited only to certain groups, but should be a concern for Justice for all. This includes police officers. So while we are in agreement that something is wrong here, we disagree over what it is.
Watson wrote that “we should not convict people before they receive a fair trial” but it is hard to see this as anything more than an empty platitude, for the rest article takes their guilt as a given. After all, Zimmerman did have a trial, and was acquitted. Yet that did not stop Watson from including him. Watson says of the officers in the other two cases that they cast, “a pall over the reputations of many good and honorable law enforcement officers.” What casts a pall are those whose prejudices lead them to rush to judgment before the facts are known and then to ignore the facts when they come out.
A lack of a trial does not preclude due process. The Grand Jury system is part of due process and is there to protect people from needless prosecution. Being charged with a crime and put on trial is not an inconsequential event in a person’s life. Given the evidence in these cases the only hope of a conviction would be from persuading a jury to ignore the evidence so as to placate those with a vocal, and at times violent, agenda. This would hardly be an example of Justice.
Watson’s main argument seems to be based on the false premise that unarmed equals innocent. Consider the case of Officer David Smith who in March responded to a report of a disturbance and was attacked by an unarmed man before he could even get out of his car. The unarmed man was able to grab Officer Smith’s weapon and then proceeded to shoot him to death. Nor is police officers being killed in the line of duty rare. In 2013, 105 officers were killed in the line of duty, 30 were shot to death.
So when Michael Brown similarly attacked a police officer in what reasonably could be construed as an attempt to obtain his weapon he lost any claim to be innocent. When he charged head down toward the officer, Brown left the officer little choice but to use deadly force. This was not a Hollywood western where the hero can just wing the bad guy. Nor is it hard to imagine how this could easily have gone the other way, leaving Officer Wilson dead. Had that been the case, few outside of the area would know of Ferguson, and Officer Wilson would have quietly been added to the list of officers killed in the line of duty in 2014.
Even if you have some questions about the evidence, given this set of facts, the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, and a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, there would be no way consistent with Justice to get a conviction. To put the officer on trial would itself be an injustice.
The circumstances of Eric Garner’s death, while tragic and troubling, hardly call for the officers involved to be put on trial. It is troubling as most of us thankfully can ignore the government most of the time. For those on the left the government is the dispenser of all that is good. But as the Romans 13:4 says, “for it is not without reason that they bear the sword.”
We may not like it; we may even wish it was different; but when a police officer says you are under arrest either you go quietly, or the situation will escalate until you are in custody, even the act of resisting being itself a crime. There is no right to resist arrest. As things escalate, so does the chance for a bad outcome.
In the case of Garner, his resisting arrest and his underlying health problems were major factors in his death. While Garner was black and the arresting officer white, it is hard to see how race played any significant role given that the arrest was supervised by a police sergeant, who happened to be a black woman. But that his arrest was conducted under the supervision of a black woman does not fit the political agenda and so is conveniently left out of most reports.
The simple fact is that when citizens are put into confrontation with the government, the government is going to win, at least in the short term. Last year New York City logged 228,000 misdemeanor arrests. That tragic outcomes such as Garner are so rare is a testimony to the service and professionalism of Police Officers across the country.
The real problem with focusing on these rare events and trying to cast them to fit a racial agenda is that since it is not grounded in truth it is bound to divide people, which has clearly been the case here. While some will focus on the agenda, and others will focus on what actually happened. This will make things worse, not better.
In addition, as I have written in the past, it diverts attention away from the very real problems that face many of our communities: the breakdown of family life, failing schools, crime, and lack of economic opportunity. These are the real problems we should be focusing on.
Given that I am a Christian Apologist, a friend of mine was interested in my reaction to T E Hanna’s recent post on 3 Reasons Why I Gave Up Christian Apologetics. As the author of two books that would clearly fall into this category (Evidence for the Bible / Christianity and Secularism), and one who has a master’s degree in Christian Apologetics, and has been doing this for several decades, I do consider myself an Christian apologist. So at the risk of being argumentative, I thought I would respond.
First, there is a lot that I would agree with in his post. I would certainly agree that apologetics can be misused, i.e., done incorrectly or for the wrong reasons and that his 3 reasons would all fall into that category. I would only point out that the same could be said about most things. Just think what damage a Pastor can do if they are not working as a true servant of God. In fact, just reading the last sentence may have brought to mind some examples. But that would hardly be a reason to give up on the role of pastor, rather it would be a call to do it correctly. The same can be said about apologetics.
Hanna claims “I have yet to meet anyone that has come to know Christ as the result of an intense debate.” In my several decades as an apologist, neither have I. In fact, I have consistently taught in my ministry that the role of apologetics is not to argue people into the kingdom of heaven. The reason is simple, it cannot be done, and if this is why someone does apologetics, they are wasting their time.
Of course this raises the question of why do apologetics? A simple one is that we are commanded to do so in passages like 1 Peter 3:15-16,
Instead, exalt the Messiah as Lord in your lives. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have. But do this gently and respectfully, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak evil of your good conduct in the Messiah will be ashamed of slandering you.
The apologetics that Hanna is critical of is an apologetics that stops at verse 15, but for me verse 16 is just as important.
But there are practical reasons as well. True, no one is or can be argued into the kingdom, but they can be helped to the foot of the cross. One of the ways I teach this is with the metaphor of a wall. We all like to build walls to keep God at a safe distance. Christians build these wall was well, but our focus here is the non-believer who builds walls of excuses as to why they can ignore God. It is the role of apologetics to remove those walls block by block till there is nothing standing between the believer and the cross. At that point the role of apologetics in evangelism ends.
So while no one is argued into the kingdom, some have been brought to the foot of the cross, and thus apologetics did play an important role in their conversion. I know this to be the case, for I was one of them. I was an atheist who had a long list of reasons why I could safely ignore God. But one by one over several years, Christians answered these objections.
True, not everyone has such questions or objections, and thus for them discussions on the reliability of the Bible, etc., would be irrelevant at best, possibly even counter-productive. This is why I stress that the first and most important step in apologetics is to listen. Find out what it is that is keeping them from the cross.
Now to be clear, I do not expect, or even believe, that everyone would be a trained apologist, ready with all the answers at their fingertips. For me the best answer is often, “that is a good question, and I don’t know. Let me find out and get back to you.” I like this answer for many reasons. 1) You don’t need to have all the answers, only a resource where you can get them. If you do not know of one, then I recommend that you start with your Pastor. Bottom line, it is a one size fits all answer. 2) It opens up a dialogue and builds a relationship. I encourage people to be a safe place where those with questions can get answers, a person someone can ask a question of without getting a full come to Jesus sermon. Perhaps it is because of my conversion experience, but I see conversion as more of a process then an event, one that can take a long time, and one in which while there are many stages, there is no set order. Everyone is different and this is why listening and building a relationship is so key to apologetics.
I do want to say something in favor of intense debates. I have been in many. But intense does not mean disrespectful. In fact I came to the attention of my editor many years ago because he noticed me in an online forum engaging some pretty intensive debates, but remaining respectful, even when my opponents were not. At times I would wonder myself, what is the point? These people never seem to change, and at times the argument would just seem to be going in circles.
Two things would keep me going. 1) When I was on the other side, I never told the Christians I was debating that they were right. But afterword, I would reflect on what they said and I now believe the Holy Spirit would use those arguments to work on my heart. 2) When I was really discouraged, inevitably I would get an email from someone I had never heard of, expressing thanks for what I was doing and letting me know how my responses had bless them, and helped them. This is a second dimension of apologetics, strengthening believers. It is important to note that a lie unanswered will be taken as the truth. Currently the lies about God, the Bible and Christianity are rampant and are overwhelming what little apologetics is out there.
While I could write a lot more on this, this has already gotten longer than I intended, so let me just close by saying that as a Christian apologist I do not judge what I do by how many debates I win or souls I save, because the first doesn’t matter and I can’t do the latter in any event. My goal is to be a faithful servant, and I will leave the results to God.
The recent post at Juris Naturalist, is the sort of thing that drives me crazy. Entitled, Evangelicalism == Christian Legislation, it basically, after a lengthy introduction on Wilberforce and slavery, argues that Evangelicals are too tied to the political process and should instead seek more self-sacrifice in their attempts to deal with societal issues, with the main example being, not too surprisingly, abortion.
A key foundational premise for the author seems to be: “I don’t think morality can or should be legislated.” Thus, all the evangelicals marching in the annual Walk for Life in Washington, D.C., an event that seems to have sparked the post, are misguided as this is not what Christian’s are called to do. We are called to sacrifice, not to legislate.
Now there are a number of problems in this argument, one being that this is not an either/or issue. While I don’t think the particular solution of paying women not to have abortions will work, I agree that the spirit of sacrifice is lacking in the modern church. In fact, many have trouble giving of their abundance, much less anything that might actually be called sacrifice. Thus the question “Where is sacrifice?’ is a very good question and one the church would do well to explore it more deeply.
But that immediately raised a problem in that for the author, sacrifice seems to be only monetary. I have no doubt that many at the march in question sacrificed a lot to be there, including the cost to get there, to be counted as supporting innocent life.
As for the other problems, one that stood out for me was the premise that we cannot and should not legislate morality. While a very common view, this does not change the fact that this view is simply silly. It may sound good on a bumper sticker, but it cannot withstand even the mildest critical analysis.
Now if you agree with the belief that morality cannot/should not be legislated, then simply ask yourself this question: Why do we have laws against murder and theft? For that matter why do we have any laws at all? Virtually every law is either a direct legislation of morality, such as the laws against murder, or an indirect expression of moral values, such as our driving laws being grounded in our value for life, and our belief that it should not be needlessly endangered.
Now lest someone conclude from this that I believe all morality should be legislated, I do not. A key question for people in a democratic form of government is what moral values are considered so important that the power of the state must be used to enforce them.
The author sees legislation, Christian or otherwise, to be “merely another tool for force. “ In this he is correct, though his questioning of whether any legislation “do good, or even do well” is more problematic. Like most things in public life, there is no easy one size fits all answer. In our current era marked by very large, and I would say bloated, government, teetering on the verge of collapse, it is easy to build a case against government action. But the evidence of history is also pretty clear that not enough government can likewise be a bad thing. The difficultly is in finding the right balance.
The discussion over what is the right size for government is a never ending debate that must be fought out and answered on a continual basis. When it comes to abortion, given the central issue of innocent life that is involved, this is as much a matter of legitimate state interest as laws on murder.
Christian involvement in politics is also called for by several other factors, which I will only outline here. The first is that we are to be the salt and light to the world. While I do not believe that these verses are in any way primarily political in their nature, I do not believe that they exclude politics, i.e., that we are to be salt and light, except when it comes to politics.
Second, we are to be subject to the rulers and authorities over us. I do not believe that this duty ceases when the government is a democratic form in which we as citizens have input into the process.
Finally, the period from about 1925 until fairly recently was a period where evangelical Christians largely did withdraw from any active role in our government, though since the 1980s there has been some renewed interest. I, for one, do not think the results of that withdrawal are all that encouraging.
Let me conclude by addressing one of the seeming criticisms the author had of Wilberforce’s efforts on slavery, which by implication he applies to modern efforts to ban abortion; that while it was successful, it was not “a clean win.” While this is true, does this really mean that the effort should not have been made? It is very true that God demands perfection, but he also does not expect us to achieve it in this life. Rather, it is something that we must constantly strive for, particularly in the face of a success.
With Romney as the front-runner, the question of his Mormon religion continues to be an issue and came to the forefront recently when a Perry supporter labeled Mormons a cult, which was then followed by calls for Perry to repudiate these comments.
This is an issue, which if not handled correctly, could blow up in a number of directions. Romney supporters are understandably nervous that if Romney’s Mormon beliefs become an issue, it could cost him the nomination or the election. However, if the defense of Romney is to label any criticism of Mormonism bigoted that could also easily backfire and alienate many Christians who make up a large portion of the conservative base that Romney will need to win.
One factor that makes this a huge minefield is the general ignorance of the mainstream media when it comes to religion. But the biggest problem in this whole debate concerns the word “cult.” “Cult” is one of those words that has a very large lexical domain (range of meaning) from academic/technical at one end of the spectrum to a derogatory label on the other. Those calling for Perry to repudiate the term clearly see the term in the latter sense. Because of this ambiguity in meaning I do not use the word, and have encouraged others to avoid it.
While there certainly are some Christians who use the term in a derogatory sense, for many Christians the term cult simply refers to groups who in some fashion claim to be Christian, but who reject one or more of the key doctrines that have defined Christianity. But this gets into a discussion of just what is Christianity. I discussed this issue in my book, Christianity and Secularism.
On these central beliefs there is very little dispute. In fact, it has been these doctrines that have defined Christianity as a religion. Groups that accept these doctrines are considered to be Christian groups. Those who do not accept these doctrines cannot be considered Christians, at least not in any historical sense.
Some may consider it to be judgmental and arrogant to say who is or is not a Christian simply because they do or do not accept a particular doctrine or belief. First, let it be clear that we are talking about classifying groups based on beliefs. After all, if there is a difference between being a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, does it not mean that Christians must have some distinct beliefs that can be contrasted with these other religions? Second we are not talking about an individual’s relationship with God. This is a spiritual matter that only God can judge, for only He knows what is truly in a person’s heart. We may be able to get a good indication by the person’s actions or beliefs but we cannot judge the heart.
Groups do not have personal relationships with God. What defines a religious group is the beliefs of the group. If we were to be completely non-judgmental, then we would have to conclude that any group that claimed to be Christian was, regardless of what they believed. This would render the term “Christian” completely meaningless. Should we consider a group that believed in child sacrifice to be a Christian group? Would this make child sacrifice a legitimate expression of the teachings of Christ? Clearly not. So the question is not should a line be drawn that defines Christianity, but where do we draw that line.
If no line is drawn, Christianity becomes a completely meaningless term that could be applied to any group or any action from the most divine to the most depraved. If, on the other hand, we compose a long and extensive list of doctrines that must be accepted in order for a group to be considered Christian, then we would indeed be arrogant and judgmental, restricting Christianity only to those groups that agreed with us in every little detail. The doctrines that define Christianity should be limited to those expressly taught in the Bible as essential….
Philip Schaff, in his three volume work, Creeds of Christendom, surveyed the doctrinal statements and creeds of the various Christian churches down through the ages. He refers to their ecumenical creeds as those creeds which contain “the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, as necessary and sufficient for salvation.” As to the acceptance of these creeds, Schaff points out that they:
… are to this day either formally or tacitly acknowledged in the Greek, the Latin, and the Evangelical Protestant Churches, and form a bond of union between them.
The differences that divide denominations are mostly peripheral issues, such as whether or not some spiritual gifts are available to be used today. (pg 76-7;90-1)
How this applies to the current debate is that Mormons reject some of these key doctrines. For example, while both Christianity and Judaism believe that there is only one God, Mormons believe that that many gods exist. This does not make Mormons bad people, but it does mean that Mormons beliefs are different from those that have historically defined Christianity.
It is true that Mormons use a lot of the same terminology as Christians, such as referring to Jesus as the Son of God, but what they mean by this is often vastly different than what Christians have historically meant. Thus when a Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, to name just a few, talk about the nature of God, or say that Jesus is the Son of God, and they all mean the same thing. Mormons talking about these topics may sound similar, but they mean something significantly different.
This is not an unusual circumstance. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share a lot of beliefs. In fact they all believe that there is only one God. But they also have key differences. Thus we refer to them as different religious movements. While there are a large number of Christian groups with differing beliefs, they have historically shared a core of beliefs that has defined them as Christian. Mormons reject this core of beliefs, so the easiest thing to do is to likewise consider Mormons a different religious groups. This is not said in a derogatory sense, but merely an attempt to be accurate and precise.
So how does this apply to the election? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The constitution is pretty clear that there should be no religious test for office. The office of the president has no religious function, and therefore the religion of the candidate should be largely irrelevant. It would only become relevant if the candidate chose to make it an important part of their campaign, but this would in and of itself raise red flags. But Romney has not done this, and nothing in his career would indicate that he would. So as a bottom line, when it comes to Romney, while I do not believe he is a Christian, I am looking for a President, not a pastor. Thus I will be much more interested in his polices than his religion.
I have been reading a new book that I find both challenging and exciting. No, it is not the latest spy thriller, and in fact is not even a novel. It is non-fiction and on a subject matter that has been dealt with many times in the past. Yet it does so by challenging cultural norms that most have simply taken for granted, and probably have not even thought much about. What is exciting is the potential it has to impact the church and thereby the world at large, which is huge.
The book is Rite of Passage for the Home and Church: Raising Christ-Centered Young Adults, by D. Kevin Brown (Energion Publications, 2011), and from its title one might question my claims of a huge impact. A huge impact can only come in the face of a huge problem. A book on study habits for those who are B+ or A- students only has a limited room for improvement. A book aimed at failing students that can transform them into A students would be huge, not only for their grades, but on what that would mean for their lives as well.
The problem addressed in Rite of Passage is larger than just grades. To put it bluntly, the church in America, as a whole, is failing its young people. This is a tough message and one that meets with tremendous resistance. I know because I have been talking in my speaking and teaching for nearly twenty years and have met with everything from skepticism and denial to, in few cases, hostility. People point to their youth programs and how many children are being reached, and how many accepted the Lord at their last vacation Bible school as evidence that I am wrong.
Yet the statistics I have been following for quite some time, and which Brown points to in his book tell a different story. As Brown points out, while attendance at youth programs may be strong, numerous studies reveal a problem. “These studies … show that between 70%-92% of ‘Christian’ teens were dropping out of church and abandoning their faith, most by their 20th birthday.” (pg. 12)
What is really exciting is that Brown solution is both revolutionary, and yet not. It is revolutionary because it runs so counter to our cultural norms. In fact, many will find it just too radical and different. On the other hand, it is not revolutionary in that Brown is really doing nothing more than returning to scripture, and asking the question “What do the scriptures say about adolescents?” (pg. 21)
Considering all the books that discuss the scriptural approach to raising teens, the surprising answer is that the Bible is completely silent on the topic. The Biblical perspective is that you have two groups, children and adults, “with no stopovers at a place called ‘adolescence.’” (pg. 22)
Thus Brown argues for a revolutionary course of action, but one that should be music to every believer’s ears: That we treat our teenagers following the biblical pattern. Most of the book is aimed at defending this view and then laying out its implications which are many. This is revolutionary when compared to the culture at large, a culture that allows young adults to drift through their teen years with few expectations and no clear line of adulthood. The current view is neither biblical, nor even very old, only a 100 years or so. As you read through Brown’s book, the individual parts are not really very new or very revolutionary, except that they are rarely pulled together and applied to, or expected of, teens.
Another thing that is clear is that Brown is not proposing yet another youth program. In fact if applied in that fashion, it would probably fail. What Brown is proposing is a vast and long term change in perspective. Given the reluctance to even face the problem, Brown will certainly face opposition from some. That is just not the way we do it. That just will not work with today’s teens. The reasons will be many, but the conclusion will be the same. It just will not work.
To those who are concerned with the current 70%-92% loss among 18-20 year olds, Brown’s book will at a minimum be a welcome point of view and a must read. To those who are skeptical I would make the same challenge that I do in all my teaching on the Bible. You don’t have to believe me, or in this case Brown. Look at that biblical evidence he puts forth. Pray about the examples he cites. Look at how teens are treated in the Bible and what is expected of them. And reach your own conclusions as to what does the Bible say. Ask yourself, if your church’s youth program is patterned after the culture, or if it is patterned after the Bible?
In the end, agree or not with Brown, this is a book that should be read by anyone concerned with the church, and in particular with those in the teen years.
Note: Energion Publications is also the publisher of my books
Recently I finished teaching a study of the Gospel of John. This class took two year (with summers off) so we spent considerable time in John. The class elected to study the letters of John next and so in preparation I have once again been reviewing the preliminary question of authorship, which for the letters is strongly intertwined with the Gospel.
Usually I deal with such questions at the start of a study, but coming back to them having just finished the Gospel really drove home how utterly basis were the claims that the apostle John was not the author. The problems here are an example of what is wrong with so much of academia.
Without going into too much detail, there are several things one can look at when trying to determine authorship. One is external evidence, which in the case of the Gospel of John is very clear and strong, linking back to those who personally knew and worked with the apostle. Then there are several types of internal evidence. The first is what the Gospel claims for itself. The Gospel of John says it was written by “disciple whom Jesus kept loving” (John 21:20-24 ISV) and when the statements about this disciple are examined, it turns out to be John.
From all of this it would seem pretty clear that the apostle John was the author. And yet many, if not most, scholars not only reject the authorship of John, but claim instead John was the work of many authors. Now if there were some clear changes in style or language, another type of internal evidence, which pointed to multiple authors, then one could understand such claims. But as D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris point out in their “An Introduction to the New Testament”,
The stylistic unity of the book has been demonstrated again and again as concrete evidence against this or that source theory. Even the prologue (1:1-18) and the epilogue (chap 21) exhibit a style remarkably attuned to the rest of the book. (p 152)
Again, having just completed an in depth study of the Gospel, and having just recently looked in detail at all the evidence for chapter 21, it drove home how true this statement is. So why then, given the solid external evidence, the claims of the book itself, and the internal consistency, is the authorship of the apostle John even an open question, but less rejected?
The answer seems to be that before a lot of this evidence was established, scholarly opinion dated this, and the other gospels, well into the second century, some dating it as late as 170, well beyond the lifetime of the apostles. If the apostle did not write it, then someone else did, and this someone must have gotten the material they wrote from somewhere. As a result, scholars spent considerable time trying to determine the sources of the Gospels and multiple sources have frequently been seen as multiple authors. A real problem, however, is that unlike the other evidence, attempts of find sources is much more problematic, subjective, and thus error prone.
As a result, elaborate speculations were developed about a Johannine tradition, community or possibly even a school, which was responsible for the creation of the Gospel of John and the letters. Over time these speculations became theories, which with succeeding generations of scholars came to be seen as established fact, based more on the reputation of the earlier scholars, than any actual evidence. Under close examination they remained little more than speculations, with very little if any actual evidence to support them. The earlier speculations then came to be the foundation for even further speculations by succeeding scholars, until a large and elaborate framework of speculation was developed.
Since then, however, the late dating of the Gospels has run into serious problems, not the least of which have been that a fragment of the Gospel of John have been discovered that dates from around 125, well before the speculations about it authorship had claimed it was even written.
And yet, even though the evidence now show the Gospel was written within the lifetime of the apostle John, many scholars continue to reject his authorship, preferring instead the theories/speculations that it was written by Johannine community. In short, they reject the actual objective evidence that points to the apostle John, and instead support what are really little more than speculations that depend mainly on scholarly inertia and group think.
This problem is not limited to Biblical Scholarship. With the possible exception of the hard sciences, which have the ability/burden to actually objectively test their theories, it is found throughout academia. Once the bastion of the exploration of new ideas grounded in reason and evidence, academia have become increasingly unified and closed mined, wedded to scholarly speculations and immune to the evidence.
As in, biblical scholarship, students in the various disciplines are discouraged from thinking critically about the prevailing views of the disciplines, but instead to accept them, in some cases as dogmatically as any medieval doctrine. Slowly, any existing critical thinking and common sense are drummed out of the student, replaced instead by the new gospel of truth, the study.
There is nothing inherently wrong with studies, and the point here is not to attack them per se. But like everything else, they have their strengths and their weaknesses. Yet, I have actually heard professors claim that they will not believe anything unless there is a study to support it. This is an absurd claim, but the very fact that a supposedly learned person could make such a statement, and make it proudly, shows one of the problems with academia. Pointing to studies is a way to avoid actually thinking. If the study says X, then you don’t have to think about X any longer, you can just accept the study.
One only has to consider the problems of conflicting studies, to realize the problems with such a claim. But the problems are much deeper. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were no studies that show men and women were different. The common sense view that they were different was rejected as being based on common sense. So men and women were declared the same.
As a result of advances in our knowledge of biochemistry and how the brain works, we now know for a fact that men and women are not only different, but significantly different in the way they think and react. But as with the evidence for the authorship of John, this is largely ignored and the view that men and women are the same continues to shape much of society even today in everything from how we dress, to how the sexes interact, to how we raise our children, to marriage, and same-sex marriage.
Some might ask: So what? Where is the harm? When pressed, such questions usually are little more than a demand for evidence from yet another study. But, it is also a further problem with the group think-study based view of academia. Most studies are so narrow that they only seek to answer the question the scholar asks. If your knowledge is based on studies, then your knowledge will be limited to what is researched. Thus if they don’t look for the problems, the studies will not find them. The group-think that controls so much of scholarship passively, and sometimes even actively, limits what will be researched. Even when studies are done, that show problems, the group think mentality tend to relegate them to obscurity.
In short we live in a world increasingly under the sway of an academia that through the schools and in government are reshaping society to fit theories that are increasingly cut off from reality. This is a prescription for disaster.