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[232] Isaiah 1:18

More than a half century ago, President Lyndon Johnson, facing potential division over his accidental presidency on the heels of the assassination of the popular John F. Kennedy, quoted a piece of Isaiah 1:18.  He prefaced his remarks with “Come, let us reason together…” in an effort to set a tone for unity.

It is interesting that the scriptures so often offer sage counsel in what seem this-worldly practical matters.  Indeed, we need the words of the ancient prophet more than ever now.  We are living in a time of unreason, ungrace, unforgiveness, intolerance, incivility, and emerging violence.  These are not traits that make for a stronger nation.  Just as societies crumble when the family structure collapses, so also does the social order of a nation when polarizing viewpoints are more powerful than the values that bind a citizenry.

The Democrats are reaping a bitter harvest for their actions during the Kavanaugh hearings, but we need only go back to Obama’s administration to find members of the GOP also more committed to wrecking a presidency than improving the national wellbeing.  The sin of division is the only true bipartisan issue.

Regrettably, Christians are too often participants in this divisiveness, and that is the point of this blog. Evidencing the fruits of the Spirit amid political debate over third rail issues is a challenge Christians need to meet.  The call to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” is of special significance and a unique challenge in our current polarized environment.  Abortion, borders, law enforcement, immigration, and health care are intensely passionate issues, ones that do not give rise to “reasoning together.” There can be no better witness to our faith than to be role models in how we conduct political discourse in the home, at work, or in the public arena.  For Christians, perhaps more important than the issues themselves is the importance of their being engaged in a “reasonable” fashion.  If we join the rest of society in abandoning such conduct, the issues may become irrelevant because the nation that houses them will not survive. DC

[231] Culture Lag

Recently I used this space to make the case for a required course in Christian apologetics (defenses of the faith) in Christian colleges.  Since then I ran this idea past the esteemed Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, perhaps as astute a Christian thinker as anyone in the world.  He concurs with this position, apparently because he—like myself—sees the mind as the battlefield on which current spiritual warfare takes place.

We no longer live in a Christian-friendly culture.  Today’s Western culture is increasingly shaped by secular-progressivism—an organized force aimed at driving religion in general, and Christianity in particular, out of contemporary society.

Hence, sound theology has its place, but it is not the panacea for keeping youth in the kingdom.  Theological divisions typified particularly the first half of the 20th Century, and therefore doctrinal purity became the first priority in educating youth for discipleship.  Those days are gone—permanently.  Today the battle is with secular-progressivism—the notion that provable scientific facts are the only universally acceptable creed.  On the spiritual/philosophical front, secular-progressivism takes the form of postmodernism—the notion that non-material truth is individual in nature.  In other words what is true for me is true only for me.  Not for anyone else.  Therefore, non-material truth does not exist, because “truth” is not universal.  It is customized to the individual.

So much for evangelism.  It is unnecessary because there is no grounded, immutable, spiritual truth to communicate.  It simply does not exist.

It would seem then that courses in apologetics would loom large in importance for Christian educators, the need for such courses being inescapably obvious.  To the extent that they are not so regarded suggests that much of Christian higher education is caught in what sociologists call a “culture lag,” one in which colleges are continuing to focus on matters of past rather than current importance.

Please understand, this is not a call to delete courses in theology from the curriculum.  Indeed doctrinal education remains vital, as it crystallizes one’s Christian beliefs.  The issue is that the secular-progressive, postmodern culture attacks the very validity of any theology.  It attempts to wipe out the acceptance of any spiritual truth before the first doctrine is taught.

We cannot continue to lag behind contemporary culture.  The enemy is well positioned in the 21st Century, and is rapidly gaining ground.  DC

[231] The Caravan

The infamous Caravan, making its way toward the US border is a challenge for the faith and learning believer.  On one side, we have the issue of law—the sovereignty of a country.   Sovereignty is an interesting word here, as it is usually associated with the God of the universe, a bit more authoritative than a nation state, but I digress.  Law does have its place.  Without law the social order crumbles into anarchy, and perhaps more to the point, a group has no more moral right to march into a country because its members are in desperate need of its resources than one’s indigent neighbor has to seize what is in your refrigerator.

There is another side.  Matthew 25: 31-46 pretty much hangs salvation on one’s care for the hungry and thirsty, the sick and the imprisoned.  Christ is not judging on faith here.  He is looking for cost-of-discipleship, self-sacrificial behavior.  Hence, to slam a “sovereign” door in the face of the needy simply because one has the legal right to do so, should be less than satisfying for the thinking Christian.

Now of course there are the grimy fingerprints of politics all over issues like these.  In fact, often people on one side or the other are less than likable and seem driven by selfish or partisan motives.  Faced with open-border advocates whose motives and character seem less than honorable, the believer needs not let that be a permission-giver to favor closing down the border to the poor on our doorstep, freeing us of the messiness of concern and involvement in their tragic state.

The point of all this is that for the serious, thinking Christian simple answers are at a premium.  The dominant color of social issues is often more gray than white or black.  It is for just this reason that we are to pray for guidance, rather than react reflexively. Thinking—employing the exercise of faith and learning—and praying, rather than reacting in anger, is critical if we take seriously the haunting words of Christ in Matthew.

DC

[230] Elizabeth Warren

So we now find out that Elizabeth Warren’s physiology houses perhaps less Native-American ancestry than that of Trump.  How embarrassing.

But you don’t need me to tell you that.  There is, however, much more below the surface of this self-defeating act of the Senator.  Warren appears to have cozied up to Native Americans (at least conceptually, not biologically) as if such affiliation makes the 69-year-old, patently pale-faced woman more avant garde, more relevant—chic, if you will, in a time of identity politics.  It conjures up memories of whites fawning over blacks, as they frantically sought black acceptance back in the 1960s.

If that’s all it is, Warren’s gaffe is simply silly—sophomoric—but relatively harmless.  But I think it is more than that.  And it is dangerous.  It plays into the worst form of identity politics—the secular tendency to venerate one’s race or ethnicity (or denigrate the race or ethnicity of others) over character.  For the thinking Christian, this is idolatry.  We are who God made us to be, and there is no getting around that.  Hence, there is nothing special about being German, Mexican, African, or Chinese.  What is special is that each of us is in the image of God, with a calling and purpose so much larger and more important than the physical container in which we are housed.

We can have our ethnic festivals and guard the rights of the imperiled, but anything more than that sends us in the direction of worshipping the creature rather than the Creator—the container rather than the person inside the package.

A half century ago, Martin Luther King dreamed of a day in which people would not be judged according to the color of their skin, but rather on the content of their character.  King was dividing the flesh from the spirit.  It is what every Christian needs to do.

DC

[229] Kavanaugh

You saw secular progressivism in action during the Bret Kavanaugh drama.  Kavanaugh represents everything the progressives oppose.  He is male, he is white, he is politically conservative, he is a Constitutional constructionist, he is likely pro-life, and he is a practicing Catholic.

The last three form the linchpin of the opposition to Kavanaugh.  The secular progressives do not accept Judeo-Christian values—the philosophical context of the Constitution—as authoritative.  They want to create a society bound by ever-evolving human values.  In short, they wish to be their own god.  This is what Genesis 3 is all about—humans wanting to be their own authority.

With that as the non-negotiable belief, the end justifies the means.  The words of Chuck Schumer, stating at the outset of his nomination that Kavanaugh needed to be defeated “by whatever means necessary,” ring prophetic.  You see, for progressives there is no divine authoritative code, because they believe humans are the most highly developed form of life in the universe and therefore fully capable of making their own moral rules.  They are rarely going to state that publicly, as so many liberal voters embrace some form of theism.  But make no mistake, that humanistic notion is a bedrock doctrine of secular progressivism.  Hence, the need to obliterate Kavanaugh—even if it means indefensible and uncorroborated character assassination—as it serves the larger goal of preventing someone with his beliefs and worldview from influencing the future of the United States.

The biggest risk to the preservation of this country is not liberalism or conservatism.  It is unvarnished secular progressivism, and it was on display in all its ugliness during the Kavanaugh hearings. DC

[230] A Must

I have long been beating the drum for a required course in Christian Apologetics in Christian colleges.  I am more convinced than ever that such a course is a must.  You name a biblically-based Christian college and I will show you their courses in theology.  Valuable as they are in spelling out the faith for the theologically uninitiated, these courses often serve as little more than reinforcements of what has been already learned by the many students from Christian families.  Again, these courses do well in presenting the cognitive elements of the faith, but that is not what so many students need.

In a world awash in secularism and postmodernism, students need to have a defense of the faith.  They need, as Peter states (1 Peter 3:15), a ready answer to the forces who will challenge their faith. Christian students really need that because many of them come from environments in which they feared expressing even the slightest doubts as to the truth of Christianity. 

In many Christian homes and churches, children are not educated in the faith.  They are indoctrinated with the faith.  Before they can think for themselves they are taught the faith as if it were as provably true as gravity.  Unfortunately, as these children develop intellectually, their scientific certainty is continually confirmed while their faith often encounters challenges—challenges that create painful doubt.

Many feel they have no place to go with those doubts.  Expressions of doubt and questions that challenge the faith are not very welcome in many churches and Christian homes.  Worse, many young people already feel guilty about even entertaining doubt.

The Christian college is to be a place of education, not indoctrination.  It is a place in which students should learn how to think critically, rather than accept bodies of knowledge without question.  There is no better place for students to investigate the case for their faith than right there.  It is the best place for them to express their doubts and ask their challenging questions without guilt or condemnation.  And find some answers.

Consider the all too common alternative.  It is often a double life, one that looks like one of faith on the surface (going to chapel, following the norms of the Christian college community, and going to church with their family when at home) but actually one of dwindling and ebbing faith.  Once free from the restraints of the Christian community–home and college—the movement out of the life of faith accelerates.  Worship stops, relationships with non-believers (often including marriage) multiply, and that once Covenant child is gone.

I have no idea how many young people could be rescued from this all too common plight had they had a safe place to examine their faith.  I can tell you that place is the Christian college.  DC

[229] Intimidation

Why is the church scared?  Why does it back away and equivocate in the face of secular-progressive attack?

Over the decades, faith and culture are sometimes aligned, sometimes at odds.  Despite all the sins of our nation—from slavery to the exploitation of the poor—for about 200 years the US mainstream culture was loosely aligned with the church through public acceptance of Judeo-Christian values.  In that context, many Christian churches saw themselves charged with being a transformative influence on the mainstream culture, repeatedly calling it back to God.

I don’t see that much anymore.  I see the church trying to avoid polarizing issues of values and lifestyle–and when addressing them–doing so in ways that will minimize push back and disapproval from the larger culture.  Over and over when the secular culture and the church are in a stare-down it is the church that blinks.  It is the church that changes, because it is intimidated.  Instead of cultural transformation (or at least attempts at it) I see intimidation shivering through the church, resulting in backpedaling and compromise on critical matters in hopes of avoiding public ridicule.

So much for the cost of discipleship.

Let me clarify something here.  Prayer, discussion, and study on incendiary issues like those of gender roles, sexual orientation, and abortion have their place.  It was through just such activities that Christians became enlightened with respect to the evils of slavery and segregation.  The Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged from an examination of the Second Great Commandment.  In short, Christians were spiritually enlightened and through that enlightenment many were changed.

I don’t see that now.  I see the church changing through intimidation, and then trying to reduce the dissonance of these shifts by issuing carefully worded reports and rationales, as if the changes were the result a enlightened Christian worldview rather than fear of mockery, dismissal, and rejection—even discrimination.

We live in enormously complex times, in a world drowning in information and intellectual diversity.  Christians need to be vigilant, open to putting everything on the table for prayer, discussion, and study.  Any change of position on a major issue, however, needs to emerge from these spiritual exercises rather than cowardly attempts to appease an increasingly hostile culture.

Eleven of the twelve apostles who founded the church were martyred, and the twelfth died in exile.  They cared only for divine approval; not at all for human acceptance.   That legacy of courage is not very visible now. DC

[228] Non-spiritual

Faith and learning is arguably more important today than it was a decade, two decades, five decades ago.  The reason is that our culture is increasingly non-spiritual.

By non-spiritual, I am not talking about trust in in science as some final authority here.  As far back as I can remember science has been venerated.  In my youth, commercials regularly presented their products as “scientifically proven.” I am talking about the marginalizing—the making irrelevant—of all things spiritual.  It is as subtle as the serpent in Genesis 3, but over the decades our culture has evolved into one in which a spirit world—angels and devils, for example—is not a part of our consciousness.  For many, even the thought of such spiritual realities is preposterous, a venture into a sort of religious science fiction.

Thinking Christians are surrounded by exactly that mindset.  To the secularist, the notion of a Christian colleague moving from the scientific pursuits of academe, business, or some other professional sphere to a time of prayer is incredulous.  It is a quantum leap from scientific reality to unprovable fantasy.  For the Christian it is seamless.  Science is part of the Creator’s order, so studying that creation in the context of a personal relationship with the Creator is smooth logic.

Prayer may increase in importance for the thinking Christian, as she is living and working in a non-spiritual culture, one which dismisses as fiction the central force in her life.  DC

[228] Jimmy Obama

Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, in the eyes of presidential scholars, had the two most ineffective presidencies of my lifetime.  Never mind that they are both Democrats.  Republicans have had their share of clunkers in the two-and-a-half century history of our republic.  Presidential fecklessness, however, is not all Jimmy Obama have in common.  Both seem driven to rescue their ineffective–if not destructive–administrations from the condemnation of historians. Carter has made that a near obsessive 40-year quest. Such a thinly-disguised four-decade endeavor itself suggests that he had what scholars call a “failed presidency.” Obama is at it already, trying to rationalize his lack of accomplishments and take credit as the author of our current economic recovery.

Carter will be known for explosive inflation and unemployment rates, Iran hostages, and a blowout loss in his attempt at a second term.  Obama, who in all fairness inherited a brutal economy, presided over eight years of a laggard economy and persistent joblessness, along with engineering the calamitous Obamacare, and leading from behind on the international front.

But they are both out there trying to tidy up their historical profiles.  I can forgive these apologists in their attempts to defend their presidencies.  It must be painful to pour oneself so fully into something so important and come up short.

What is much more difficult to tolerate are their attempts to critique the performance of their successors–all of whom have been substantially more successful than Jimmy Obama.  And they are pretty much alone in doing this. Reagan, and both Bushes, have assiduously avoided such pettiness. George W’s public position is that the presidency is an enormous challenge and he wants whomever resides at 1600 Pennsylvania to be successful.  Bill Clinton has made public service announcements with the elder Bush and been remarkably restrained in his statements about his successors.

A Hall of Fame pitcher once said of a manager (who never played major league baseball), when the latter tried to critique his performance, “All he knows about pitching is that he couldn’t hit it.”  All Jimmy Obama know about the presidency is that they weren’t very good at it. DC

[227] Consciousness

Why do so many people seem so uninterested in things of faith?  Some time back I dined with Bill, one of my dearest professional friends on one of his trips to Las Vegas.  He asked what was new in my life.  I think he was surprised when I told him that it was the impact of a prayer discipline I was practicing—and still do.  “I’m not interested in that,” Bill said dismissively.  I was startled. Such a cold shutdown was unlike my charming friend, who used to be a practicing Lutheran.

So what is going on here?  I submit that Bill is the product of an era that–due to the carefully orchestrated efforts of secular progressivism–no longer has a “God consciousness.”  The mention of God is unwelcome in our schools; many groups recite the Pledge of Allegiance omitting the “under God” phrase, or do not say the Pledge at all; the national media assiduously avoids reporting on stories of faith and avoids any reference to the God of the scriptures, Yahweh; and sports reporters show their disrespect for our Judeo-Christian tradition by referring flippantly to “the gods of basketball” or some other sport.

The secular progressive movement wants to remove any consciousness of God from our culture.  They want a nation that simply does not put God into its life equation, hoping to spawn new generations that will be functional atheists.  This movement goes back to the Madalyn Murray O’Hair days of the 1960’s and has gathered force ever since.  Its members would be proud of Bill. DC

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