Gone with the Wind: Malcolm Muggeridge on the Effervescence of Geo-Political Rulers

warMy best friend from high school posted this Malcolm Muggeridge quote today on his Facebook account. In light of the world’s unrest, and our need to pray for international peace, they are quite fitting. In an essay entitled “But Not of Christ,” Muggeridge writes,

We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.

I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. Continue reading

Preaching to the Late Modern Mind: Five Cultural Narratives to Know

preachingIn his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller addresses how Christianity confronts culture. Wisely he speaks of the way we must (1) affirm truth in culture, (2) confront idols in culture, and (3) show how truth in culture is derived from and only satisfied by the Christ who reigns supreme over all cultures. Thus, instead of just being for or against culture, Keller describes a “Yes, but no, but yes” approach for preaching Christ to culture.

Approaching culture in this nuanced way means understanding the modern world in which we live. In a chapter entitled “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind,” he describes the difference between the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christianity brought dignity and personal value to the West. In other words, before Christianity emerged in the West, the pagan world with its philosophers conceived of the world as an impersonal universe. Belief in a tri-personal God, sovereignly directing history and seeking to redeem humanity changed all of that. And the bounty of the Western world, therefore, is a byproduct of Christianity’s influence.

In one place, Keller nicely summarizes five differences between the pre-Christian world with the Christian West. He then goes on to explain how secularism has taken Christian values to the extreme, making them idolatrous falsehoods. But in explaining how Christian values have gone rogue, he doesn’t include them in his compact table. On page 128, there is one column missing (that would help flesh out his argument on pp. 128–33).

So, I added the third column to the table below to help show the way in which the West has left Christianity behind and distorted many of the values it provided. By seeing in our culture post-Christian culture the traces of Christian thought, we can as Keller points out, begin to lead people back to the source of the values (e.g., science, individualism, personal choice) they embrace today. Indeed, if you value and enjoy science, justice, or personal choice today, it is worth noting where those cultural gifts derive. Keller’s chapter on preaching Christ to culture is an excellent place to begin thinking about that relationship.

Five Chief Narratives of Western Thought[1]

Before Christianity Emerged [in the West] After Christianity Came to the West After Christianity ‘Left’ the West
The body and material world are less important and real than the realm of ideas The body and material world are good. Improving them is important. Science is possible. Science is absolute. Materialism is absolute. Technology is sufficient to solve our problems.
History is cyclical, with no direction. History is making progress. Progress means history is unimportant. Everything novel is superior to the past.
Individuals are unimportant. Only the clan and tribe matter. All individuals are important, have dignity, and deserve our help and respect. Individuals are supremely important. Individualistic expression should never be questioned, even when detrimental to the group.
Human choices don’t matter; we are fated. Human choices matter and we are responsible for our actions. Choice is sancrosanct and must be guarded and guaranteed at all costs.
Emotions and feelings should not be explored, only overcome. Emotions and feelings are good and important. They should be understood and directed. Emotions and feelings are determinative. To feel authentic I must express my desires and never suppress them.

In sum, these “five axes,” which Keller adapts from Charles Taylor (The Secular Age), help diagnose some of the challenges in front of us. Together these five narratives can be classified as follows:

  • rationality (and an explanation of where the world came from and what we can know about it),
  • history (and the meaning of life),
  • society (and the relationship of individuals to groups),
  • morality (and who gets to determine right and wrong), and
  • identity (and where we get our sense of value and purpose).

To be sure, these realities do not drive our exegesis of the biblical text, but in communicating that text to others we must be aware of these ideas. Knowing these cultural baselines helps us affirm and deny the beliefs we find in individuals and in our surrounding culture. Preachers must be aware of these realities to wisely apply God’s Word.

Indeed, all Christians should have a growing awareness of cultural presuppositions. Why? So that we will not be ensnared by them, and so we can communicate the gospel by rightly affirming some cultural desires as finding their telos in Christ and by confronting others cultural idols as errant promises that ultimately lead to death (Prov. 14:12).

In short, Keller’s sections on preaching Christ in a post-Christian culture are worth considering. They challenge the faithful witness to love his neighbor(s) by knowing what his neighbor believes and loves. Therefore, while planting ourselves in God’s unchanging Word, we must also learn how to share Christ with others who embrace various aspects of the aforementioned narratives.

To that end, let us continue to give ourselves the Word and the world, so that we can take the good news of the former to meet the dire needs of the latter.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

_________________

[1] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 128. First two columns are verbatim; the last column summaries Keller’s prose.

Marriage Convenient or Marriage Covenant: Six Truths About and Six Threats Toward Marriage (Genesis — Revelation)

worldview.pngThe Bible begins with a marriage, and it ends with a marriage. In fact, the goal of all humanity is a spiritual union between Christ and his bride the Church. In between, we must decide if we will abide by God’s design for marriage or design our own.

To be completely honest, every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal for sex and marriage. Born outside the Garden of Eden, we cannot experience marriage as it was created to be. Sin has tainted every part of life, including the desires that move us towards love, romance, and sexual relationships.

Thankfully, the goal is not to rebuild what we have torn down. As Galatians 2:18 indicates: this only proves we are lawbreakers. Rather, the Bible gives su a vision of coming marriage that is offered to all who look to God for redemption. Hope, therefore, is found in embracing the gospel  and seeking the marriage he offers through faith in him. By entrance into this covenant, we find renewed grace to pursue a path of holiness and wisdom with our sexuality.

God’s grace, then, is the singular answer to our sin. And a future marriage is the singular source solution to a host of threats against marriage today. In yesterday’s sermon I outlined six threats to God’s design for marriage. You can listen to the message online or read the notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study below. Continue reading

Camille Paglia on the Transgender Movement: “Liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming . . . flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender”

camilleCamille Paglia is right.

As a former editor for JBMW, the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I have not cited too many feminists on my blog. Nor have I unconditionally quoted many. But when it comes to the topic of transgender, I believe Camille Paglia is right and worthy of quotation.

Now, it goes without saying I disagree with Paglia on a host of things, but in a world that keeps buying the next philosophical and cultural fad, I deeply appreciate the way she is willing to expose contradictions and oppose false beliefs. And with regards to the “current transgender wave” (her words), I believe her comments expose something many others are unwilling to say, or unwilling to see.

In an interview with Jonathan V. Last at The Weekly Standard, here is what she said.

JVL:I keep waiting for the showdown between feminism and transgenderism, but it always keeps slipping beneath the horizon. I’ve been looking at how the La Leche League—which stood at the crossroads of feminism once upon a time—has in the last couple years bowed completely to the transgender project. Their central text is (for now)The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,but they’ve officially changed their stance to include men and fathers who breastfeed. The actual wording of their policy is wonderful: “It is now recognized that some men are able to breastfeed.” Left unsaid is the corollary that some women are biologically unable to breastfeed. Though this would go against the League’s founding principles, one supposes. What does one make of all of this?

CP: Feminists have clashed with transgender activists much more publicly in the United Kingdom than here. For example, two years ago there was an acrimonious organized campaign, including a petition with 3,000 claimed signatures, to cancel a lecture by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University because of her “offensive” views of transgenderism. Greer, a literary scholar who was one of the great pioneers of second-wave feminism, has always denied that men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are actually “women.” Her Cardiff lecture (on “Women and Power” in the twentieth century) eventually went forward, under heavy security.

And in 2014, Gender Hurts, a book by radical Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, created a heated controversy in the United Kingdom. Jeffreys identifies transsexualism with misogyny and describes it as a form of “mutilation.” She and her feminist allies encountered prolonged difficulties in securing a London speaking venue because of threats and agitation by transgender activists. Finally, Conway Hall was made available: Jeffrey’s forceful, detailed lecture there in July of last year is fully available on YouTube. In it she argues among other things, that the pharmaceutical industry, having lost income when routine estrogen therapy for menopausal women was abandoned because of its health risks, has been promoting the relatively new idea of transgenderism in order to create a permanent class of customers who will need to take prescribed hormones for life.

Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows. Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.

It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women’s studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.

The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.

In a democracy, everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse. But at the same time, no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The categories “trans-man” and “trans-woman” are highly accurate and deserving of respect. But like Germaine Greer and Sheila Jeffreys, I reject state-sponsored coercion to call someone a “woman” or a “man” simply on the basis of his or her subjective feeling about it. We may well take the path of good will and defer to courtesy on such occasions, but it is our choice alone.

As for the La Leche League, they are hardly prepared to take up the cudgels in the bruising culture wars. Awash with the milk of human kindness, they are probably stuck in nurturance mode. Naturally, they snap to attention at the sound of squalling babies, no matter what their age. It’s up to literature professors and writers to defend the integrity of English, which like all languages changes slowly and organically over time. But with so many humanities departments swallowed up in the poststructuralist tar pit, the glorious medium of English may have to fight the gender commissars on its own.

I am not sure I could say it better. And I certainly could not say it from the position of this erudite feminist. Therefore, I leave her answer without comment, save one.

Her insights are a reminder that it is not only Christians and conservatives who take issue with the inconsistencies of modern gender studies. Feminists who take science and grammar seriously do as well. Therefore, let us consider well her words and seek to press for common sense in the public square. 

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Does It Mean to Be Human? A Biblical Response to (the Spirit of) Transhumanism

rainbowWhat does it mean to be human?

This is a question with increasing complexity. And the future doesn’t look like it will make the answer any easier. For instance consider just a few challenges facing us today. Recently a baby sheep was grown in a synthetic womb, raising the specter of human hatcheries, something out of Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World. Prior to this experiment, two chimpanzees were momentarily granted human rights by a court in New York, before reversing course. Before that cloning has been a much-debated topic since the name Dolly became a household name—she was the first sheep animal cloned in 1996.

In such a world, where designer babies and decoding death are part of an increasing cultural conversation, and lawyers and policy-makers chalk up new ways to define gender, sexuality, and humanity, Christians need wisdom to think biblically about what it means to be human.

book

Thankfully, there is help. For instance, in their book Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families, C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley give us eight coversations about various topics in biomedical ethics. Organized under the taxonomy of taking, making, and faking life, they consider topics like abortion, euthanasia, infertility, cloning, and transhumanism. As the subtitle suggests, they write for more than medical professionals, and their conversational style helps the reader digest complex subjects.

On the whole, therefore, I commend this book. It should be required reading for anyone in ministry or medicine, and should probably be on the shelf in any family raising children in this complex world. But the reason I point to this book today is to consider the topic of transhumanism—a subject they report on in chapter 8 and one Christians will likely face just after the transgender movement runs its course. Continue reading

On the Transgender Movement in Public Schools: Video and Written Resources

malefemaleThe Prince William County School Board is set to vote again on Proposal 060, the measure postponed last fall. This policy change would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the non-discrimination policy of the public schools. Since last fall churches in our county have sought to speak with grace and truth in the public square.

Such speaking is not often easy, because it is often perceived that opposition to transgender policies is unloving towards those struggling with gender dysphoria. Yet, the most unloving thing we can do is permit falsehood to reign and children to be deceived by the messaging of the transgender movement. (See there agenda here).

In what follows, you can find a number of video resources about the transgender movement. Below that are written resources that can also be read and disseminated. Continue reading

Finding Life in Leviticus 19: Ten Gospel Notes for Social Justice Warriors

commandments-311202__480The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Old Testament—once in Exodus 20; once in Deuteronomy 5. They are also explicated at least twice. After each list (Exodus 21–23 and Deuteronomy 12–25), Moses specifies and applies the Lord’s “ten words.” This means that we do not need to wait for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) to get an inspired interpretation and application of these commands. There is, within the Torah itself, explanation and application.

In fact, there is one other passage on the Ten Commandments which stands between Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Leviticus 19 Moses records the holy standards of God and makes personal application to the people of Israel. In reading this chapter recently, I took note of ten observations related to the content and context of these laws. I share them here to help us to better understand the good purposes of God’s Law, and specifically to show how many modern desires are best fulfilled by God’s all-sufficient Word.

In short, Leviticus 19 is not an archaic list of do’s and don’ts; it is actually a personal application of the Law which deals with so many of the issues Social Justice Warriors seek out. Only because these “laws” are grounded in the personal, holy love of Israel’s God, they retain their life-giving shape—something that no human set of ordinances can ever do.

Take time to read Leviticus 19 and consider how these laws give life by leading members of God’s covenant to trust in him. Continue reading

Rightly Dividing the Cultural Background to 1 Corinthians 11

corinth

The Corinth Channel

There are a lot of cultural challenges to 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, a passage that invites discussion about the trinity, gender roles, the use of head coverings, and the role of angels in public worship. Tomorrow I will preach on this passage, but today I share a number of quotations from various commentaries related to various cultural and theological challenges in this passage. These quotes provide some background to this enigmatic passage.

Dress

In the context of prayer and prophesy, it makes sense that dress would be considered. For prophets often had a particular dress. Moreover, they often symbolized in their appearance various biblical truths. So for instance, John the Baptist appearance is given as wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). Importantly, this outward dress identified him as a prophet in the manner of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8: “They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’)

Likewise Isaiah 20 records how God commanded Isaiah to walk through Israel naked for three years to indicate God’s coming judgment on Egypt and on those who trusted in that foreign power. This outward expression of God’s will fits other examples too. For instance, the high priest wore garments of beauty and glory to reflect the presence of God’s holiness with Israel (Exodus 28:2); Nazirites did not cut their hair in order to express devotion to the Lord (Numbers 6); and many grieving saints tore their clothing or wore sackclothe and ash in order to express their contrition. So, throughout Scripture, clothing and hair did play a part in expressing worship to God.

Moving from Old Testament to Greco-Roman culture, the same attention to dress is found.

The Greeks’ self-identity arose most from their speech and education, while our Roman often distinguished himself by what he wore. It was not the Greeks eschewed head apparel. Rather it was clear to them and Romans that the habitual propensity of Romans to wear head apparel in liturgical settings stood in sharp contrast to the practice of others. (R.E. Oster, “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11.4,” NTS 34 (1988): 494; cited by Ben Witherington, Conflict and Communion in Corinth24) Continue reading

The Air That We Breathe: Expressive Individualism, I, and Me

mirrorFew modern theologians have helped me think more clearly about culture than David Wells. His collection of works on modernity and postmodernity (listed below) address the many ways evangelicalism has been bent and broken by chasing the winds of culture. Considering the ways the modern world (with its penchant for technology, urbanization, consumerism, and mass communication) has refocused Christianity, and the way modern philosophies have turned religion towards the subject, he shows why so much modern Christianity mirrors the world, rather than prophetically modeling a different way of life.

For me, his observations have been a helpful corrective against the acids of culture that eat away at our soul. He has given me eyes to be a better cultural exegete, and his Reformed convictions, have pressed me back to the Bible to see what it says about any number of topics. Most recently, I picked up his Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision to consider in more detail the effects of individualism on the church.

What follows are a few quotes, observations, and insights on the topic of expressive individualism—a poisonous air wafting through so many American churches.  Continue reading

Exposing Abortion’s Allies (pt. 1): Expressive Individualism (Genesis 4:1–8)

rhythms-of-holiness

Abortion is a bloody evil that has taken the lives of almost sixty million children since 1973. Rightly, Christians (and non-Christians like Secular Pro-Life) have stood up against this modern-day holocaust. Through prayer vigils, sermons, information campaigns, legislation, and pro-life marches, much ground has been gained ground in the fight against abortion. But much ground remains.

In this year’s Sanctity of Life sermon, I addressed one issue related to the ongoing survival of abortion, and that is the rampant self-willed individualism that pervades our culture—and the church. In fact, the cocktail of personal autonomy, expressive individualism, isolated self-dependence, sexual immorality, and trust in technology has created a five-fold elixir that continues to fuel the abortion movement.  Therefore, I made the case that in addition to combatting the flames of abortion, we must aim to cut off abortion’s various fuel supplies.

Unable to tackle all of these allies to abortion, I focused on expressive individualism, something captured perfectly in LeCrae’s song, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. In that song, Lecrae recalls the way his own self-will overcame his young Christian faith and led him to assist in the abortion of his child. It is a sobering song but also illuminating. Here’s what Lecrae rhymes,

I remember back in ’02/ I was in school and actin’ a fool
My soul got saved, my debt had been paid / But still I kept running off with my crew
Sex on my brain, and death in my veins / I had a main thing, we stayed up ‘til 2 (Smokin!)
Waking and baking we naked, my body was loving it / Soul was hating it,
And time and time after time, our bodies were close / The girl was so fine
We heard a heart beat that wasn’t hers or mine / The miracle of life had started inside
Ignored the warning signs / Suppressed that truth I felt inside
I was just having fun with this, I’m too young for this / I’m thinking me, myself, and I
Should I sacrifice this life to keep my vanity and live nice?
And she loves and trusts me so much that whatever I say, she’d probably oblige
But I was too selfish with my time / Scared my dreams were not gonna survive
So I dropped her off at that clinic / That day a part of us died

This song shows how self-will leads to and fuels abortion. It also reminds us that the God of resurrection and redemption is able to bring forgiveness and healing to all people, the same message that we find in Genesis 4. In truth, the only way we will make abortion unthinkable is to begin exposing and defeating the worldview beliefs that swirl around self. That’s what I sought to do yesterday, and I pray that God would help us to continue to take captive thoughts that lead to abortion and all forms of sin.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources are below. Continue reading