Archive for August, 2017

Open & Closed Minds

I teach at a Christian university. A concern I’ve expressed before in this blog is that sometimes Christian academics have a tendency to think they are lesser scholars than those in the more prestigious centers of higher education. Then they make the mistake of trying to become respected by secular academia by minimizing their faith publicly.

I’m not saying that’s the norm for Christian academics, but it is a temptation for some. There sometimes is a haughtiness emanating from the confines of Ivy League and other “top” schools that tells us we don’t really match up.

However, God disagrees. We’re told in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That last verse goes on to say, “And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

When we jettison that first step—reverence for God—we set out on a path that leads to foolishness, not genuine knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

It’s as C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity:

There is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source.

When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

All the talk in circles of higher education of having an open mind sounds nice. Sometimes, those of us who teach at a university that has a basic statement of beliefs are considered close-minded. Yet as Lewis reminds us in his The Abolition of Man,

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.

I’m reminded also of an incident related by Whittaker Chambers in his autobiography, Witness. As a child, he once said something to his mother about God creating the world. His mother, decidedly nonreligious, told him that he had to think for himself, to have an open mind. He was not to accept other people’s opinions, she declared. Then she followed that with this statement: “The world was formed by gases cooling in space.”

Chambers continued,

I thought about this many times. But it was not the gaseous theory of creation that impressed me. . . . What impressed me was that it was an opinion, too, since other people believed something else. Then, why had my mother told me what to think? Clearly, if the open mind was open . . . truth was simply a question of which opening you preferred.

In effect, the open mind was always closed at one end.

I have no problem saying I begin my understanding of history (which is what I teach) with the knowledge of God. After all, history came into being by His creation. Why would I ever omit Him from an analysis of history?

My mind is open when it comes to the facts of history and whether I need to change my perspective on particular events. My mind is blessedly closed, though, on matters of ultimate significance. Neither do I suffer from feelings of inferiority for saying that. Staying faithful to God’s truth leads to proper understanding and wisdom.

Speaking Truth to a Sinful Culture

I was born in the 1950s, became aware of the larger world and moral issues in the 1960s (subjected as we all were during that era to the so-called sexual revolution), solidified my Christian faith in the early-to-mid 1970s, slipped away from Christian reality for a while after that, only to return to faith in the late 1980s with supreme gratitude to God for His patience and willingness to forgive my stupidity.

I was blessed to be brought back from the brink of spiritual destruction. As a result, I speak earnestly and forcefully (with love, I trust) about the need to hold fast to His truth and not allow slippage to occur, both in the individuals I have the opportunity to influence (students, in particular) and in my ongoing concern for the Christian church’s witness to the world.

When the church—which is comprised of all those who have come to the foot of the Cross, repented of sin, and received the forgiveness and grace only offered there—stops being the voice of God on moral issues, the culture degrades in proportion to the church’s apostasy.

This hasn’t happened on all issues. Take abortion, for instance. Despite the efforts of those who want to see abortion accepted as normal, great strides have been made by Christians in our nation to stem that tide. Regardless of the government’s promotion of abortion via the Supreme Court, the attitude of Americans on that issue is shifting more and more toward rejection of that horrific act.

Not so with homosexuality, unfortunately. This has become the primary issue now with the government and the culture in general (entertainment media, especially) in an attempt to overthrow Biblical morality.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s-1970s era look around us and almost can’t believe what we see. What was once considered abnormal and not even to be mentioned publicly has become a celebration of “diversity.” Those who oppose the gay agenda are singled out as “haters,” “bigots,” and “narrow-minded.”

Same-sex marriage, from a Biblical standpoint, is an absurdity. Probably more than 90% of Americans would have said the same thing a mere twenty years ago. Now, even Republicans—you know, the “conservatives”—are on the verge of accepting it as normal. A recent poll revealed that nearly 50% of Republican voters no longer have a problem with it.

While that certainly concerns me as a conservative, the more pressing problem is the change occurring with those who claim to be Christians. The shift within the supposed Christian community is disheartening.

One Christian professor at a Baptist seminary has come up with a sad, yet from my perspective, accurate description of what is happening. He sees evangelicals moving toward the same acceptance of same-sex marriage as the overall culture.

Here are the stages he outlines.

(1) Oppose gay-marriage: Every evangelical starts here, or at the very least they appear to start here.

(2) Oppose taking a stand on the question: Persons in this stage are becoming aware of how offensive the traditional view is to those outside the church. Their initial remedy is to avoid that conflict by not talking about the Bible’s teaching on this subject. In Brian McLaren‘s case, he urged evangelicals to observe a 5-year moratorium on talking about gay marriage. For Jen Hatmaker, she advocated going “into the basement,” where we don’t talk about these things but just love people. Choosing to avoid the question is never a final answer for anyone in this stage.

(3) Affirm gay marriage: At some point during the “we’re not talking about this anymore” stage, those who used to oppose gay marriage find grounds to affirm it. Some do it by questioning the Bible’s truthfulness. Others do through revisionist interpretations of the Biblical text. In either case, proponents end up affirming what the Bible forbids.

(4) Vilify traditional marriage proponents: Persons in this stage not only affirm gay marriage. They also view traditional marriage supporters as supporting invidious discrimination against gay people. They will adopt the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics to describe believers who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.

The professor then goes on to state that while it may take some time for people to go from stage 2 to stage 3, once they hit stage 3, they quite often go rapidly into stage 4.

I teach at an evangelical university. During the Obama presidency, we, along with other evangelical universities, experienced pressure to change our public stand on this issue or else our students would be cut off from getting education loans and our accreditation might be withdrawn over time.

Some may think that just because we presently have a Republican Congress and a president who curries favor with evangelicals that we are “safe.” Believing that all is back to “normal” would be the height of wishful thinking.

It is crucial for those who truly know what it means to be brought out of the pit of sinful destruction and receive the mercy and grace of God to stand firm at this time on Biblical teaching about sin.

Many will twist my words, saying they are hateful. They are just the opposite. I want everyone caught in a sinful life to be set free. I needed that in my life at one point and God graciously gave me a new life. I seek the same for others.

All sin—homosexuality included—leads to chains that bind us. When we are in those chains, we get used to them and our consciences become seared. The Christian’s responsibility is, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to break through that seared conscience with the twin weapons of Truth and Love so that those caught in the trap will see their need and respond to God’s mercy through Christ.

To be faithful to God’s truth and to speak to our society about that truth is the most loving thing we can do.

Being Mere Christians

Let’s talk Christian unity. Let’s focus on what we all have in common if we name the name of Christ as our Savior and Lord.

I am not a Roman Catholic. There are doctrines and practices of the Catholic church with which I am not in agreement. I don’t consider the pope to be my spiritual authority, I don’t adhere to a belief in transubstantiation when I take Communion/Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. I’m concerned about the adoration given to Mary quite often.

Yet I know that Catholic teaching on the deity of Jesus and the meaning of His sacrifice for us is the same as mine. Only through faith in Jesus does anyone become a child of God and a citizen of heaven.

I have worked alongside Catholics whom I consider brothers and sisters in the Lord. I expect we will all be together when this earthly life has ended.

I am not of the Reformed Protestant persuasion. The theological system devised by Calvin and those who have followed him is not mine. Specifically, I don’t accept the idea that God predestines some to salvation and others to damnation.

Yet I know that Reformed people believe as I do that Jesus is the Son of God and that only through Him can anyone be saved.

I have worked, and still do, with those who are Reformed and I know their faith is genuine despite our differences on how to explain it. We will be standing side by side in heaven.

I am not a Quaker. I don’t believe that baptism and communion are insignificant and should be set aside as unnecessary outward forms. I can’t accept pacifism as scriptural.

Yet Quakers worship the same Jesus that I do. He is God, and all are called to bow the knee to Him as Lord.

The Quaker William Penn, who suffered imprisonment for his faith, later was able to start a colony, aptly named Pennsylvania, in which all varieties of Christians were welcome. In a letter he wrote to a friend in 1688, Penn first of all commented on how one should look to God alone for what one believes and not be swayed by what others think:

It is now above twenty years, I thank God, that I have not been very solicitous what the World thought of me. . . .

The first and main point with me has been to approve myself in the sight of God, through patience and well-doing: so that the World has not had weight enough with me, to suffer its good opinion to raise me, or its ill opinion to deject me.

Summary: I stand before God with my conscience clear about what I believe, and I’m only concerned with pleasing God, not men. I’m not looking for the world’s favor to make me feel good; neither will its disfavor make me unhappy.

That’s called liberty of conscience before God, knowing what one believes and why one believes it, and recognizing that God will be your only judge ultimately.

Then Penn goes on with respect to how Christians from different theological perspectives ought to treat one another:

He that suffers his difference with his neighbor about the other world, to carry him beyond the line of moderation in this, is the worse for his opinion, even though it be true.

In other words, your theological perspective and your specific doctrines may actually be the correct ones, yet if you go beyond “moderation” in how you interact with those who disagree, what does that profit spiritually? You may be right, but you have exhibited a very unchristian spirit in the manner in which you assert your beliefs. It’s one thing to be doctrinally right, but what gain is that if you are arrogant and judgmental in your dealing with others?

Penn concludes with words that stir my soul:

Since all . . . parties profess to believe in God, Christ, the Spirit, and Scripture, that the soul is immortal, that there are eternal rewards and punishments, and that the virtuous shall receive the one, and the wicked suffer the other: I say, since this is the common faith of Christendom, let us all resolve in the strength of God to live up to what we agree in, before we fall out so miserably about the rest in which we differ.

When all of us eventually stand in the presence of God and all becomes clear, I doubt whether any of us will be able to say we were correct on all points. Neither will it matter to us on that Day. We will, instead, be one in Him, regardless of what we called ourselves on earth.

If we are all going to be one at that time, shouldn’t we begin practicing that oneness now? We have so much on which we agree; let’s concentrate on that agreement and be the mere Christians God intends for us to be.

A Bitter Deal

All the drama in the Trump administration and in a dysfunctional Republican Congress has overshadowed the effort by Democrats to re-energize their base and try to figure out what regular Americans are really like. Perhaps the best development in the six months of the Trump presidency has been the irrelevance of the minority party.

As if to emphasize their irrelevance, they’ve concentrated on coming up with a new slogan, one that’s supposed to provide confidence for voters that they know what they’re doing. And what did they come up with?

What is it with Democrats and “deals”? Apparently, they think the public will look back fondly on FDR’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal and fall in love with this rehashed slogan.

Somehow, I doubt it. Those of us with some historical context might see a different connection:

If you think that worked out just fine for Russia, you probably are thrilled by the slogan. Individuals with active brain cells, however, might not see it that way:

All of this sloganeering, of course, has as its primary goal to return Congress to Democrat control in 2018. The party is hoping to attract candidates who can win, although I can understand why some might be reluctant to board this ship.

Actually, the only thing Democrats have going for them in the next election cycle is the incompetence of Republican leadership, both in Congress and in the White House. If that can be turned around, Democrats will remain the minority party. But that’s a big “if.”