RSS

Monthly Archives: March 2016

Christians are Evil Hypocrites Who Always Need Threats from the Law

Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)

First things first: I’m not anti-Christian and the “Law” in the title is referring to God’s law. If you’re disappointed though, please stick around.

In the online Merriam Webster’s dictionary hypocrisy is defined as “the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do: behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel.” Another definition found online puts it this way: “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.”

I think a hypocrite is simply someone who lets others know that they should behave a certain way, whether they do this directly or indirectly (even if they only “virtue signal”, in effect saying “this is right and I am right… you should be right to… like me!”), but then does the opposite themselves. For example, I’m guessing Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly is thinking twice about the kinds of photo shoots she will do in the future (see here).*

So I suggest the first definition, as well as mine, comports more closely with how most persons in the West have traditionally understood this word.** The second definition seems lacking to me in that it implies that if one’s behavior does not conform to one’s stated standards or beliefs, one cannot, in any sense, actually hold or want to hold those standards or beliefs (hence, “pretense”).

On the contrary, I suggest that we not only can do this, but that we all do. All persons sometimes act like hypocrites (even if it seems the elite world usually only detects this in more traditional folks who are vocal about their standards and beliefs). Better: all persons act hypocritically because all persons, even Christians, are sinners, infected with the venom of Satan’s lie (if you think I am projecting this because I, as a father of five 3-13 year-old boys, can’t fail to be well acquainted with my own hypocrisy, I consider but ultimately reject your point).

adam_and_eveTherefore, when popular Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk says, in a recent You Tube video, that:

“…it is only the hypocrite who would hear such good news about the forgiveness of sins [in Jesus Christ] and say ‘Thank goodness! I am now free to be as evil as I want ; I can throw away God’s law.’”

…I know what he is getting at, but, on the other hand, Satan’s temptations are never quite that crass, right?

I teach a beginning Christianity class online at the university level. Not long ago, one of my students, a theologically astute and fine Christian women judging from all available evidences, privately shared the following with me (now shared with permission):

“I want to talk about [what Philip Yancey says in his book What’s So Amazing about Grace] on page 184. “But why don’t I just go ahead and do it anyway? I can always get forgiveness later.” This is powerful because when I sin I know that it’s wrong before and during the act…yet I do it anyway. This is tough because I know that God will forgive but I’m sure He must get annoyed when I constantly commit the same sin and keep coming back to Him with guilt.”

I took that to be some serious and authentic stuff. And yes, I understand if some reading this might wonder whether or not a Christian can talk this way! Consider, however, that there is big difference between telling God “I will not!”, on the one hand, and feeling utterly overwhelmed by one’s passions and ingrained habits, on the other.

Here I how I responded to her:

Yes – [this] is bracingly honest. Even believers, can, and do, abuse grace (in spite of the Apostle Paul’s heartfelt cry “may it never be!”).

First of all, let me say that you don’t need to be concerned about God forgiving you only reluctantly. He urges us to forgive seventy-times seven because He does the same! His mercies are new every morning! He remembers our sins no more! He buries them in the ocean forever! The blood and righteousness of His Son avails for sinners!

Peter: Preaching Christ - and the virtue that comes from Christ! (2 Pet. 1:5)

Peter: Preaching Christ – and the virtue that comes from Christ! (2 Pet. 1:5)

 

Second, the Bible does tell us that there is a worldly sorrow that is not in line with true repentance: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (I Cor. 7). This kind of remorse does not look to Christ, but elsewhere – or perhaps to a Christ of its own making (I Cor. 11). But to say all this does not mean that Christians – those who bear the fruits of true repentance (godly sorrow) – will not struggle with sin in the way you describe… See Romans 7, for example!

And the Apostle Peter tells us that we are to live “As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” (I Peter 2:16)

A Lutheran theologian by the name of Adolph Köberle said:

“…unrestrained roving thoughts never remain confined to the hidden chambers of the soul, but they crowd out into the open and display themselves in words and actions, that enslave, burden and shape the future of their author…”

I especially like what Yancey says in that book a few pages earlier than the quote you mention:

“Forgiveness is our problem, not God’s. What we have to go through to commit sin distances us from God – we change in the very act of rebellion – and there is no guarantee we will ever come back. You ask me about forgiveness now [as in: “Will God forgive me for what I’m about to do, namely leave my wife for another”], but will you even want it later, especially if it involves repentance?” (180)

Challenging words indeed! But he knows our struggle, and is ready to give us help in overcoming it – again, His mercies – and His humble and steady power – are new every morning. Here is another post I did on a related topic, which you might like. It talks about the effects of the actual sins [not just the original sin infection in our heart] we commit not only on ourselves, but also our neighbor as well! This is important, because the Christian is the person who is being increasingly transformed by God to show Christ-like concern for one’s neighbors. The Apostle Paul gives us a startling picture of what this looks like in Romans 9:1-5, as he mourns for those from whom he has come by blood, the Jewish people:

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

…I appreciate your honesty – I think many Christians feel the way that you do.

Back to the video mentioned earlier…

Yes, the church is full of them. And there is always room for more.

Yes, the church is full of them. And there is always room for more.

I would change the pastor’s statement “it is only a hypocrite who would hear…” to “only a person who is being hypocritical who would hear …” Why? Because I would not want there to be any chance I might give the impression that hypocrites like myself cannot be Christians – in fact, it is precisely because Christians remain hypocrites that we continue to need God’s law and gospel.

Pastor Fisk defines legalism as “trust in the law”, or believing that “the law has the power to regenerate fallen man into keeping it”. I think these are good definitions (though I would emphasize that the legalist believes he is saved by his law-keeping). He also goes on to say that Gospel creates a love for the law without needing to remind the Christian of the law – and that this is something that “legalism never seems to believe”.

Given our fall into sin, I certainly agree with Pastor Fisk that the Gospel alone is able to create a love for the law of God. And I would also say that we do not need to be reminded of it – to a point.

Sometimes, after all, even if we have begun to know it (10 commandments and the like), it seems we don’t really know it as well as we should (it’s not quite “in our bones” as it should be!) and need to be reminded. Pastor Fisk, for example, goes on to do this himself in his video, pointing out that we continue to have a sinful nature (our “Old Adam”) that needs to be compelled and threatened daily to do the right thing. How is this done? By the Christian’s Spirit-driven new man, who is eager to love and wield the law to be who he is – and who he is growing to become more of – in Christ. Pastor Fisk calls this activity on the part of the Christian “the work of the law” – even as he is eager to add that this work is neither the “meaning of Christianity’s center” nor is it empowered by the law itself.

christSo do believers, created to be law-lovers, ever need to be reminded of God’s law? Like I did with the student above – and like Pastor Fisk did as well?

I think he is certainly saying, given what he talks about here, that we sometimes do – even as he wants us to know that he is not a legalist who will never let the Gospel have the last word!***  So, perhaps we do need to be reminded of the law… insofar as its content is not deeply internalized in us?

For those however, who insist that we do not need to be reminded of God’s law, consider this: What is the Apostle Paul doing, for example, when he seemingly endeavors to guide, exhort, and encourage Christians in his letters with commands other than “believe the Gospel”?

If I even ask this question am I going back to legalism? Not letting persons rest in the Gospel? Not “getting the Gospel” myself?

May it never be!

None of this activity on Paul’s part means to say that the Gospel itself – the fact that Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone frees us from sin, death, and the devil – is not the sole reason for the Christian to uphold the law of God, battle his sinful flesh, and to serve his neighbor.

On the contrary, it should be our only reason and motivation. It is only the Gospel that “fleshes out” for us the love of God – and can inspire us to say “Amen!” when we hear the beauty that is God’s law/will. In fact, with the Gospel ringing in our ears, the law can sometimes remind us of who we want to be – and who we have already begun to be in Christ.

FIN

For more thoughts on this see:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/the-first-table-of-the-commandments-relationship-to-the-third-use-of-the-law-part-i-of-ii/

 

Images: “Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged” by KAZ Vorpal. and “a hypocrite” by romana klee.

Notes: 

*Rod Dreher has recently brought attention to an example of the unapologetic hypocrisy of the religious left here.

**Digging deeper of course, one finds that the word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “stage actor, pretender, dissembler.” So when Jesus uses the word he seems to be saying that a hypocrite is a person who pretends to be a certain way, but actually acts and believes in a contrary manner.

***Nowadays, might one be forgiven for having the impression he must be considered a legalist if he asserts, for example, that pastors are not simply “above reproach” by faith alone – but that the Apostle Paul truly means for them to have this and other qualities, before men, in order to qualify for the pastoral office?

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Interview with Martin Luther Regarding Question of Who is Qualified to be a Bishop/Pastor

In need of a few good men.

In need of a few good men! Is it only faith that makes a man who aspires to be a pastor “above reproach”?

 

See AE 28:284, 294. Note that I have put words in our interviewee’s mouth in the brackets.

Dr. Luther, thank you for the interview: let’s speak briefly about your position on the qualifications for pastoral ministry.

[The Scriptures give us rather clear guidance in this instance. Of course] he must be above reproach. This is the first quality he must have. The man who wants to investigate, correct, and teach others should be above reproach… that is, that he is beyond accusation and can neither rightly nor justly be accused.

I see. Well, it certainly makes sense that if someone is falsely accused this should not disqualify them.

[Right,] if he is falsely accused, no harm; he is still above reproach; no law can accuse him before men. Samuel and Moses are good examples. Samuel said, “If I have defrauded anyone, etc.” (cf. 1 Sam. 12:3). There he showed how innocent he was, as far as men were concerned. Moses spoke this way before Korah (cf. Num. 16:15). To live this way, that you do not harm your neighbor by theft or adultery, means that no man can accuse you of anything or say: “You have stolen from me; you have raped my wife.”

So, if I understand you correctly, you do not believe that the Apostle Paul simply meant to show the pastor his inadequacy as a sinner, but actually meant to have his requirements followed.

[I am not sure I understand your question. Certainly] there is no one who is above reproach before God. Paul writes: “I am conscious of no evil” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4). Let the Our Father stand: “Forgive us.” Before God no one is above reproach, but before men the bishop is to be so, that he may not be a fornicator, an adulterer, a greedy man, a foul-mouthed person, a drunkard, a gambler, a slanderer.

But should the church really be so concerned about what those outsiders think who “know” they are better than everybody else, and don’t need the Gospel? Should it not rather focus on proclaiming the Gospel to those who are primarily concerned with their own sin and know they really need it?

[That is a perverse way of looking at things, really. No,] he must be well thought of by outsiders. …[Yes, s]ome theologian of the church might answer: “What is it to us what the heathen think or what the papists think? We live in such a way that the church does not judge us, for it is founded on love and gladly endures the criticism: ‘You bear it … if a man puts on airs’ (2 Cor. 11:20). The heathen, however, do not do this.”

[On the contrary,] Paul says: “It is especially fitting for you, O bishop, to care what the heathen think about you. You see, you have been exposed in your ministry to men and women. Therefore you ought to live in such a way that the heathen are forced to close their own mouths. This is the way you can gain and convert them. If you live in such a way that you are faulted, you frighten them away and force them to blaspheme the name of God.” Cf. Rom. 2:24. Therefore “well thought of.”

I am not sure you are getting the Law-Gospel distinction… Again, I have been taught that one doesn’t actually have to do these things that Paul is talking about… but that all pastors simply need to know they are unqualified. These simply show the pastor his inadequacy as a sinner…

[You try my patience, but may the Lord put up with my bearing with you a bit longer… ] Paul also wrote to Titus (2:8): “Having nothing evil to say to us.” Thus the heathen will say: “People wrong them.” Pliny wrote to Trajan: “There is a certain sect, etc.” He commends the Christians because they live good and holy lives. There those Christians closed the mouths of Pliny and of Trajan himself: “Let men say what they want about those Christians; they are humble and have every good intention.” So a person compares his own shameful life with that of the Christians and is converted. Why does Paul talk about what outsiders think? That he may not fall into reproach.

But the church doesn’t really want to attract persons who are concerned about moral goodness, right? Doesn’t it want to attract persons who realize that no one is morally good – starting with themselves? Don’t we all scandalize the church? Isn’t it only faith that makes a person above reproach?

[Away with such nonsense! This will be my last response to you. The apostle Paul says “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap”. Therefore, I repeat:] Why does Paul talk about what outsiders think? That he may not fall into reproach.… a slanderer should not have just reason to accuse. Look—let a man so live here, and let us be careful of reproach, lest we fall into it.

…Earlier I mentioned that a bishop can live blamelessly before the world but not before God… Paul intends a blamelessness before the world. It is true that whoever is not sincere in his faith and the purity of his heart does not escape falling into obvious wickedness. If he is greedy, he cannot cover up his greed to keep it from breaking out. If he is proud, he cannot hide and conceal it. It must show. If, then, he can live blamelessly, it is a sign that his soul is blameless before God, but not completely.”

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

To Miroslav Volf: Seven Reasons Donald Trump Resonates with Evangelicals

 

volf-trump

 

My short response to Dr. Volf?: “Perhaps. That said, at same time, the ‘Jesus’ of many evangelical elites seems to me pretty tame, cleaned up, and kind of PC.”

In short, I must confess the following: Many of the things that Mr. Trump says that upset people so much actually remind me of the God I know from the Bible[i].

Obviously, this post is meant to be controversial and to get persons thinking. Please note, I myself did not vote for Donald Trump in the Minnesota caucuses, largely in part because I have real doubts about his character and do not know if I can trust him (or is the problem that you can trust him?).

My goal here it to get persons thinking long and hard about the nature of God and what He has done for all persons in Jesus Christ, our Lord – using the Donald as a springboard. Again, I am not supporting Donald Trump for President and I also do not believe that any politician is going to be able to really satisfy those who vote for them – particularly when the problems in our country these days run so unbelievably deep (for example, see this from the Brookings Institution the other day – it is deplorable that many of our politicians don’t have the courage to keep things like this in the forefront).

So, with all of this said, why does Donald Trump make me think about the God of the Bible? Well, for example:

1. Donald Trump believes in being loyal to those closest to him. Ask his family. That said, Trump seems like a narrow-minded nationalist instead of a broad-minded globalist! Well, Christians should reflect here. In Galatians 6:10, the Apostle Paul, as God’s very mouthpiece, states: “… as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” While the Christian is to be concerned to bring good to all persons, there is also to be a hierarchy among our concerns. One notes that the Apostle Paul also said that the Christian who does not take care of his own family is worse than a pagan. Should this not also come into play when it comes to those neighbors who are physically closest to us? Further, in some Christian circles, one might get the impression that it is better to adopt children from poorer nations than from needy ones in one’s own neighborhood. But why, really, should this be the case? When it comes to how we distribute our love, should not family ties, one’s history with others, and physical proximity be, in general, the most critical factors that we take into account? Even as we also insist that God calls us to be good Samaritans, meeting the needs of the “outsiders” God just happens to throw into our paths?

"Sorry Papa [Francis], but Daddy Trump is the One Defending Catholics From Invaders." - Milo Yiannopoulos

“Sorry Papa [Francis], but Daddy Trump is the One Defending Catholics From Invaders.” – Milo Yiannopoulos

2. Donald Trump can use colorful, attention-getting language that stops us in our tracks and gets us thinking. Of course, God would never do this, right? Well, Donald Trump, at least, has not caused some religious believers to be taken back and offended by things like the Song of Solomon’s sex-drenched poetry or Ezekiel 23’s seemingly salacious description. According to Preston Sprinkle, editor of the forthcoming Zondervan book Four Views on Hell, the Bible is full of language and details many of would usually avoid. In part, he tells of the well-known Bible professor Tremper Longman admitting that our “translations are filtered through a bit of political correctness.” Sprinkle writes: “I spend a good deal of classroom time instilling in my students a passion to interpret and believe what the Bible actually says. Not what we want it to say, but what it really says in all its grit and occasional offensiveness. Cleaning up God’s word is like editing a love letter and sending it back for a re-write.” The title of Sprinkle’s post that implies God is OK with profanity is, I would say, going much too far. That said, some of the content of his post should at least cause us to wrestle with the significance of these matters.

3. Donald Trump knows the world is a cruel and evil place. In his 2007 book Think BIG and Kick A** in Business and Life (yes, I think that title says a lot), he and his co-author Bill Zanker write, in response to a question about Trump’s attitude towards people:

“The world is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilized. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you. You have to know how to defend yourself. People will be mean and nasty and try to hurt you just for sport. Lions in the jungle only kill for food, but humans kill for fun. Even your friends are out to get you: they want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife, and they even want your dog. Those are your friends; your enemies are even worse! My motto is ‘hire the best people and don’t trust them’” (p. 29).

We might think this is overly sad, cynical, and untrusting – especially for Christians, who know that God can begin to overcome the Cretan’s paradox in Christ! All that said, to me this kind of sounds like what God says about human beings in Genesis 6:5-8, 8:21, and Jeremiah 17:9. Jesus Himself had no pretensions about human goodness, calling his own disciples wicked (Luke 11:13) and insisting only God is good (Luke 18:19 ; see also John 2 and 3).

4. People who hurt Donald Trumps’s family and his friends will find themselves – and perhaps their families – hurt. Like God (see the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua), Donald Trump has been accused of encouraging war crimes. Trump has even said that he would order the military to go after the families of terrorists. When he talked about going after these folks prior to the March 3rd debate, he had made these comments noting that terrorists sometimes purposely use innocents as human shields (although very few persons who criticized him for this provided this critical context). Christians like to emphasize passages from the book of Ezekiel that say that the children will not be punished for the sins of the fathers. That said, other passages in the Bible do talk about God punishing in a more corporate fashion, i.e. there are “natural results of one persons’ actions ‘rolling downhill’ on another person” (quote from here). When it comes to God, even if one’s eternal punishment is not connected with the sins of one’s relatives or friends, this is, strictly speaking, not always true of the temporal realm.

Trump? : Don't behead Christians. Deftly behead Planned Parenthood...

Trump? : Don’t behead Christians. Deftly behead Planned Parenthood…

5. Donald Trump can catch evil ones in their own craftiness. If Donald Trump does actually want to take Planned Parenthood to task for abortion – and I will admit that this is a big “if” – he has set them up perfectly. Look at it this way: he has called their bluff about abortion only being 3% of their business. If this is the case, when he defunds them for the abortions they do, that means that they shouldn’t complain much! Of course, we know that those statistics are misleading, and that Planned Parenthood is really only about abortion, with the majority of the funding going to support just this practice. The irony is delicious: even though Trump has said that he will defund them for abortion, he actually has them praising him for supporting them in a debate! With his approach to the issue, assuming that he really does mean what he says here (I note Mike Huckabee defends his conversion), he is poised to catch them in their own words, and destroy their incomprehensibly evil work forever. Like God, perhaps he will “catch[] the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.” (Job 5:13) Maybe Planned Parenthood should actually be more worried than ever.

6. People who do not respect Trump’s will to protect his people will experience painful torture. “Good God, don’t go there!”, some of you are saying. Yes, I know what you mean, but let’s reflect here as well. As a Christian, I know that God does not desire the death of the wicked and desires all persons to be saved. Therefore, like many Christians, I struggle with the concept of eternal conscious suffering in hell, even as I ask those who say God annihilates people instead: “Is it man who desires that God does not exist, or God who desires that man not exist?” Luke 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, is not talking about hell (eternal punishment) but rather Sheol or Hades (the realm of the dead where evil persons go before the final judgment). Nevertheless, the rich man says about this place: “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Given that Christians have never believed that a person will get a second chance to receive Christ after they die, one might say of Trump’s position on water-boarding (something I consider an absolute last resort, “lesser-of-two-evils” thing that still requires forgiveness before Almighty God) that his torture, unlike God’s[ii], at least has a clearly stated purpose: that of protecting his countrymen.

7. Finally, Donald Trump mocks those who oppose him and his ways. In the Bible, we see that when God’s enemies oppose His ways (which, unlike Donald’s, are always good), He will not hesitate to mock his enemies – even calling them names in order to make a point. God’s servants do the same, with the classic example of this being Elijah confronting the impotent god of the prophets of Baal. Whether God wants to do this to wake up the person he mocks or to send a signal to those who are able to hear is beside the point – God creatively mocks persons to make specific points about their behavior. Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs” and labeled Herod a “fox”. As a Lutheran, I cannot help but think of the many names that Martin Luther gave to his opponents, usually with the intent of drawing attention to the evil things they were saying and doing (I even recently heard from one of my students about a Roman Catholic priest he met who had converted to Lutheranism shortly after discovering the Luther Insulter!). A scholarly view examining the significance and importance of Luther’s treatment of his opponents can be found here.

There are seven things off the top of my head where I see similarities between Donald Trump and God. I’m sure there are others that could be added.

There are many ways that Donald is not like God. The common people might hear both Trump and Jesus gladly (another clue why), but unlike our God — who comes to us in humility and simplicity (riding a donkey, or hidden in water, bread and wine) — proud and showy Donald Trump does need to apologize for his actions. To take just one example, Donald, like the men that Kamel Daoud writes about, has not always treated women the way he should. Trump has not hurt women like many men do, but he has, deplorably, cheating on his past wife and even slept with the wives of others. This is not a case of the jealous beta male calling out the guy who is lucky to have the alpha male traits. Our Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead that all may know that He is Lord and Savior, is a faithful husband to His Bride, the Church. This Donald has not done, and for this he certainly does need the forgiveness of Jesus, the Christ – forgiveness won through His death that abides not only for great sinners like him, but for each and every one of us.

Mock Him not! Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in Him! [Psalm 2:12]

Mock Him not! Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in Him! [Psalm 2:12]

May God have mercy on us all during these tumultuous and disturbing times – as we seriously wrestle with the meaning of Donald Trump’s candidacy (a couple recent articles I thought were very valuable, here and here).

FIN

 

Image: Milo Y. photo by @Kmeron for LeWeb13 Conference @ Central Hall Westminster – London.

Notes:

[i] And yes, I know some people not only think that Trump is a terrifying autocrat, but that Jesus’ teachings demand democratic governance. If you think that, I advise you listen to this insightful podcast.

[ii] And this is not to decry God for not giving us details about the actual nature of his punishment following our death, or His reasons for it – I submit to these without fully understanding. Other Christians who believe the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment, like C.S. Lewis for example, talked about how they believe “hell was locked from the inside”. What he says here seems to be a variation on what, in particular, many Eastern Orthodox Christians believe to be true about hell (see here). The 16th century church Reformer also commented that “You have the God you believe in…”, another idea which perhaps has some relevance to this issue.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

What Does the Rise of Trump have to do with Science and Christianity?

Donald “lex talionis” Trump: “I really believe in trashing your enemies and really being loyal to your friends I’m a strong believer in loyalty.”

Donald “lex talionis” Trump: “I really believe in trashing your enemies and really being loyal to your friends I’m a strong believer in loyalty.”

“Good God – absolutely nothing!” many will undoubtedly want to say.

But wait.

What is it that makes popular atheist scientist-philosophers like Michael Shermer strong Donald Trump supporters? You can listen to his own reasons, but part of it, I suggest, has to do with the idea that there are permanent and enduring things in the cosmos that cannot be fundamentally altered by our imagination or will (I also addressed this in two of my recent articles here – see this and this). Hard core scientific naturalists like Shermer do not submit to and worship the Creator, but highly respect and revere his creation (“nature”) instead.

And contrary to the suffocating politically correct dogmas that rule in our mainstream media, politics, and universities, many persons want to be able to speak freely about facts that we can all know by experience – including from nature, the physical world, biology, etc. – as opposed to one’s feelings about those facts.[i]

This important realization is something that seems to be lost to the political left more and more, but is embraced by forms of political conservatism (in the West, generally “classical liberalism”), now seemingly re-ascendant, perhaps in part because of what one has called “cultural libertarianism”[ii] (a.k.a., the “alternative right” – this, it seems, is a form of political conservatism with a reduced emphasis on ideological capitalism, small government, and sexual ethics).

Jonathan Haidt: “...liberals favor care, liberty, and fairness, and were often indifferent to concerns of sanctity, loyalty, and authority.”

Jonathan Haidt’s view, per Emily Esfahani Smith: “[Contemporary] liberals favor care, liberty, and fairness, and were often indifferent to concerns of sanctity, loyalty, and authority.” (summed up here)

That’s pretty much it for the political commentary in this post. I think what I just said is clearly related to what follows (i.e. the italicized and bold portion in the paragraph above), but my purpose in this article is really to get into a nuanced but hopefully interesting look at the origins and nature of science – thereby showing its relation to theistic forms of conservatism in general and Christianity in particular… (if that is not your thing, I bid you farewell now).

I truly enjoy thinking about God as the Creator. I have always had a strong interest in science, and prior to getting a theology degree, I studied biology and chemistry in college. Taking a strong interest in what scientists call the “natural world” is, contrary to what many persons say, completely consistent with the Christian faith.

As a matter of fact, the Christian faith actually encourages this. It is very interesting to note, as the Christian philosopher James Bachman does, that the God found in the Bible “demystifies the natural world by taking personal benevolence and malevolence out of the account of sun and moon an natural phenomena” – people of the Psalmist’s day really did worry that the gods of the Sun and Moon “might strike you by day…[and] by night”, respectively! (James V. Bachman, “Lutheran Theology and Philosophy”, The Idea and Practice of a Christian University, p. 174).

That is a fantastic insight. Also, in his very interesting 1970 book, The Clockwork Image, the late Christian scientist Donald M. Mackay had this interesting comment about the rise of “scientific habit of mind” in the West:

“What are the telltale features of the scientific habit of mind? Historically, perhaps the first was a new kind of respect for the natural world as a worthy object of study. Nowadays we might scarcely regard this as a distinguishing feature; but that only shows the extent to which the new ideas have been accepted. Whatever truth there may be behind all the talk about ‘two cultures’, the scientific and the humane, there can be little doubt that the average layman today had absorbed far more than he realizes of the scientific habit of mind. Three centuries ago, the notion that ordinary matter could repay the attention of men of learning seemed absurd to many people. Only a few bold spirits ventured to believe that, if God thought matter worth creating, then they might find it worth studying, and might expect to be rewarded by discovering order and harmony in the most commonplace objects and events around them. By contrast with Plato’s disregard for the material world, and the scholastic preference for arguing in an armchair from first principles, these men shared the burning conviction that what God had written in the book of nature (as they put it) ought to be read. Like the Bible itself, it could not fail to reward the man who approached it in the right spirit.” (p. 24, italics and bold mine)

King David, precursor to modern science?

King David, precursor to modern science?

I think this nicely sums up the beginnings of the scientific revolution from a traditional, intellectual, Christian perspective.

I would add the following: we have very good reason for believing that the success of modern science, for example, is mostly due to faithful Christians who believed that God arranged the universe such that we would be able to discover the regularities in the creation and harness them (and so, the ancient knowledge that good boats will always float and the stars will always follow their patterns has been supplemented with harness-able knowledge that even a few years back was beyond our imaginations).

Truly, God has designed and orchestrated His creation in such a way that it goes through regularly repeating cycles: the sun rises every day, the rains and snows fall in season, each living thing reproduces “according to its kind”, etc. There are regularly occurring things happening all throughout the creation, so much so – and in so consistent a fashion – that we now commonly call these things the “laws of nature” (in our more modern times, the “laws of nature” are now for many thought to be completely autonomous from any “God”, but when this term was first used, most all scientists who used it believed that God had “written” the “laws”). Here we think about the things we call gravity, electricity, time and force – and how they are all a part of the world’s wonderful design by God. God “upholds all [of these] things by His powerful word” and “in Him, we live, and move and have our being”, although to say this does not imply that God is like a member of the Greek or Roman who endlessly expend effort in “working” the sun, wind and waters!

A Montessori school classroom: "Structured possibilities" to educate, inspire, and offer stability.

A Montessori school classroom: “Structured possibilities” to educate, inspire, and offer stability.

I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy, and here is where my view diverges from what you will usually hear from Christians interested in science: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and act in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand (having five kids who have attended a Montessori school has contributed to me thinking about things in this way). Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love. Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!

Adam "contra cultural libertarian [?]" Smith: “The man who barely abstains from violating either the person, or the estate, or the reputation of his neighbors has surely very little positive merit” – Adam Smith, in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, quoted by Donald Trump (who says “it’s definitely worth picking up”)

Adam “contra cultural libertarianism [?]” Smith: “The man who barely abstains from violating either the person, or the estate, or the reputation of his neighbors has surely very little positive merit” – Adam Smith, in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, quoted by Donald Trump (who says “it’s definitely worth picking up”)

And here is where my views differ from the new “cultural libertarians”, the sum of whose ethics seems to be “free speech” and “be honest about facts”. From them you will likely hear that we should not concede that language shapes reality. But the first goal of Christianity should not be winning a culture war (with the best tactics) but to live in, with, and by truth – and we know that words not only tremendously influence the social realities that we know (and words do hurt – and help – us), but lay at the base of them and all Reality, for God creates by speaking.[iii] To say this is not to emphasize some concept of information that is impersonal and can somehow be reduced to 1s and 0s, but rather that all knowledge, goodness, and life arises and flows from personal communication. And as the late Oxford linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior. There must be an “infrastructure” in place from the beginning.

This does not means something like “truth is simply a social construct” instead of having to do with [cold and impersonal] factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially (more here). And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).

And this, perhaps, should remind Christians of Romans 1: “[the] divine nature… [has] been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order = God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love. Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

With this in the background, one can see how creation should be very important to each Christian believer. From the beginning, according to the Bible, humanity’s primary tasks were to: 1) have a relationship with God and live in love and joy with Him; 2) to serve others in God’s name; 3) to take care of God’s creation (plants, animals, planet, universe)[iv]. Marvelously simple!

No Janet "Redefining Realness" Mock - there are limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build - and that is a good thing! Come and see.

No Janet “Redefining Realness” Mock – there are limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build – and that is a good thing! Come and see.

I could say a lot more here, but let me simply close with this: the Christian view is that God’s good creation went awry. There was a fall into sin and things are now not the way they are supposed to be (what I think that means for so much of the “identity politics” we experience today I have written about here). In Genesis 3, the world is thrown into chaos by man’s sin – it is now fallen and in need of redemption.[v]

And here there is this: we are told that the Son of God was there in the beginning of the Creation and He will be there in the end as well – with all those who in faith share in the redemption that is by His blood. Perhaps because of the Fall into sin, Jesus Christ is not unambiguously declared by the Creation itself, but specific, revealed language about Who He is and how He reveals the heart of His Father (i.e. forgiveness for those who were His enemies – us!) is now absolutely vital so that persons might be brought to faith in Him – and continue in faith throughout the course of their lives.

Whatever happens in the world of politics, Christians will continue to talk about how Jesus Christ rescues us from the power of our sin, the scourge of death, and the rule of the demonic. He is the Great Deliverer of His Bride, the church, and looks to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to all persons.

In the midst of currents that might seem more pressing, I invite you to come and see this One we call Jesus, the Christ.

FIN

All images are public domain and are obtained via a Creative Commons search: Trump from Wikipedia, Adam Smith from Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/surfstyle/272576639), Jonathan Haidt from Wikipedia, King David from Wikipedia, Montessori classroom from Wikipedia, Janet Mock from Wikipedia.

Notes:

[i] In the current environment of Western elites, the word “essence” or “nature”, if it is thought to be able to communicate anything (note I did not say “mean anything”), comes to be associated with things like class, race, gender, religion and even sexual desire. Persons will go so far as to deny basic biology in order to push whatever “evolving essentialism” they feel should be their right – revolting vs. biology, nature, the physical world.

[ii] Cultural libertarianism is all about being able to speak freely. Particularly about facts we can all know by experience – nature, the physical, biology – vs our feelings about those facts. Some will go so far as to say that they don’t believe, as the Left does, that language shapes reality. Well, of course it does and they also must believe it does (reality can be defined very broadly), but just not so much so that if overwhelms and makes irrelevant the facts by sheer force.

[iii] Christianity holds both of these things in tension. God’s words and communication did make all and get the ball rolling, and even us speaking His words brings change. But there are also things that are fundamental and that do not change. Platonists, Aristoteleans, Stoics, and even Materialist Epicureans agree with us on this of course, but the details are where we differ.

[iv] There can be no doubt that God desires humans to take care of His world. This is a simple matter of stewardship. As a matter of fact, the Christian thinker Francis Schaefer urged Christians to do as far back as 1973 (in his very interesting book “Pollution and the Death of Man”),

[v]This also may have been a significant thing that propelled modern science. Some of the predecessors of modern science, such as Roger Bacon, saw things like aging, for example as the unnatural result of Adam’s fall into sin. Therefore, men like Francis Bacon, for all of the flaws in his thinking, “addressed the ancient problem of the fall into sin, which effectively sundered godly relations between humankind and nature. Toil and suffering, the ruined earth, affliction with drought and storm, insects and disease, were the consequences of the Fall” ( http://science.jrank.org/pages/10450/Nature-Nature-during-Scientific-Revolution.html ) Again, since Christians never believed the spirits in the entities of the at times frightening world of nature needed to be appeased/placated (they were God’s “good”, though fallen creation), modern science could be pursued.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

 
Sense & Reference

libraries and philosophy

Reliable Source (This is a)

Overcoming "Fake News" and Beyond

The Jagged Word

"What the Hell is going on!"

ROUGH TYPE

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Meditationes Sacrae (et Profanae)

A blog concerning theology, faith, the humanities, and Interesting Things

Pyromaniacs

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Proslogion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog – AlbertMohler.com

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Worldview Everlasting

Jonathan Fisk exposits on all things Lutheran.

De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Abide in My Word

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blogia

The Blog of LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology

Gottesdienst Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

GetReligion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Todd's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

theologia crucis

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Boar's Head Tavern

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Glory to God for All Things

Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith

Eclectic Orthodoxy

"I'm a blogger, dammit, not a theologian!"

Jonathan Last Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Steadfast Lutherans

An international fraternity of confessional Lutheran laymen and pastors, supporting proclamation of Christian doctrine in the new media.

www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/

Just another WordPress.com site

Reformation500

A forum for exploring the historical truths of Christianity reclaimed by the Reformers

Surburg's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Weedon's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

First Thoughts

A First Things Blog

Pastoral Meanderings

Just another WordPress.com weblog