9/11 & the Two Visions of America

Can anything new be said on the anniversary of 9/11? Maybe we don’t need to hear anything new; perhaps we just need to be reminded that there are those out there who hate us. However, what is meant by “us?” America, you say? Yes, in the abstract, but what comprises America anymore? Do I with my Biblical worldview represent the true America, or do Planned Parenthood—as one example—and Barack Obama constitute the real America?

On 9/11, eleven years ago today, members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. At the moment, I can’t recall if they sang “America the Beautiful” or “My Country Tis of Thee” or another similar tune. That specific memory eludes me. But sing they did, although some commentators noted that the Republicans seemed to be leading it and a good number of the Democrats looked reluctant to add their voices to the chorus. What a wonderful image it presented: a united nation.

But it was a false image.

It played well for the camera, but the camaraderie was short-lived. The chasm between two very different visions of America is too deep and wide to be bridged for long, even with a common enemy. After the initial shock of the attack, the progressive visionaries began to downplay the severity of the terrorist threat. They even began seeing in their minds’ eye, though not in reality, a kind of pogrom instituted against Muslims in the U.S. All of a sudden, we were the problem, not them. We weren’t sensitive enough to the way they had been treated; we had brought this on ourselves.

That vision of an America that was too big for its britches, and that needed to be slapped down, clashed with the other vision—that of an America that, while often making mistakes in foreign relations, nevertheless had attempted to do the best for others most of the time. It’s the vision of an America that has helped rid the world of truly evil dictators and totalitarian movements such as communism. It’s the vision of an America that retains basic moral values stemming from its faith in God.

These two visions cannot mesh; they are too opposed to each other.

For too long, we have tried to ignore this massive chasm and assured ourselves that we are all Americans who will pull together despite our differences. We need to face reality.

There is no real external union without internal unity.

These two separate visions of America stem from two contrasting worldviews. One is Biblical and God-centered, while the other is secular and man-centered:

  • Beliefs are different on both sides of this divide
  • Purposes/goals are not the same
  • Christian morality battles humanistic immorality
  • One holds to the sacredness of life while the other aborts it
  • One supports traditional marriage and the family while the other redefines sexuality and the very nature of marriage
  • Limited government and constitutionalism inspire the one, whereas a socialistic welfare state is the dream of those who would transform our society and make it into something neither God nor the Founders ever desired

It would be a fascinating object lesson to be able to separate these two groups and let them have their way completely—two entirely distinct nations with two distinct worldviews—and then compare the results. One would go the way of every socialist/communist experiment that has ever been tried, while the other would be an energetic, thriving society where innocent children would be safe in their mothers’ wombs, the family structure would dominate, Biblical morality would be enacted into law, and the government would not be overseeing all aspects of one’s life.

But that won’t happen; we cannot separate the two; we have to make it work somehow the way it is.

What have we learned, eleven years later? Unfortunately, we’ve learned we are not really one people. We are not united. Our foundations are crumbling and we are in danger of turning our backs on the God who gave us life and liberty. If we choose that path, we are lost.

God didn’t make 9/11 happen. It was the brainchild of perverted individuals. Yet when sin abounds, He seeks to use the consequences to get our attention. He will use every circumstance to try to reach into a people’s hearts and lead them to repentance. By all means, may we never forget what happened on 9/11, and may we honor those who displayed great courage on that day. But the best way to honor them is to return to the truth, and to the One who is Truth. That is our only hope.

The New Zeitgeist

I’ve been thinking more about how Christianity and the absolute morality it embraces are experiencing a new, and more vociferous, round of condescension. The culture’s disdain for what are usually termed traditional values seems to be increasing. As I told one of my classes this past week, what was considered basic morality forty years ago is now criticized as hateful. I’m not the only one noticing this:

In the entertainment portion of our culture, one doesn’t have to search long and hard to find the new “zeitgeist.” We are preached at from almost every television program that homosexuality is not only permissible, but that anyone who opposes it is either hopelessly backward or evil. How many shows celebrate saving sex until marriage compared with the number that assume everyone lives together before marriage? When was the last time you witnessed a strong Christian portrayed as a model for how one should live rather than as a bigoted hatemonger? Do you remember when you didn’t have to be bombarded with vulgar language, particularly before 10:00 p.m.?

We’ve come a long way out of many closets in the past few years. As a result, politicians have become bolder in their pronouncements against traditional morality. For the first time in my lifetime, a major political party is set to endorse homosexual marriage. When the Democrats hold their convention next week, reports are that they plan to spend a lot of time advocating the right to abortion and same-sex marriage. They think we’ve reached that tipping point in our society when pushing for those measures will actually increase their likelihood of victory. They’re going to make a big deal over the artificially trumped-up/imaginary Republican “War on Women.” How many will see past that hypocrisy?

Will this really help the Democrat ticket? If it does, we are in worse shape as a nation than I thought. Naturally, I’m hoping that tactic backfires, but I’m only cautiously optimistic.

I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating: Christians need to come to grips with the fact that we’re not necessarily a majority anymore. We are quickly becoming a despised minority group subject to increasing pressures to conform to the modern zeitgeist. If we continue to resist, we will be hated. Yet we were told in advance this would be the case. This happened to the One we follow as well. As He told His disciples shortly before his crucifixion,

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. . . . All these things they will do to you . . . because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.

The reason the prevailing culture of the time rose up against Jesus was because He revealed the sin in their hearts. If we are steadfast in pointing out the sins of our culture, it will rise up against us also. We need to be prepared. As the apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

I teach and write with the hope that we’re not that far gone yet as a culture, that a semblance of Biblical thinking may still remain and can be fanned into a flame once more. But if I am wrong, and the hostility toward the Biblical worldview has become so dominant it cannot be reversed, I will continue nonetheless. God has called us to faithfulness, and my purpose for living is to please Him by doing His will, regardless of the results. He looks at the heart and rewards accordingly. He’s seeking a faithful army that will remain steadfast. As His word abundantly demonstrates, He always works with a godly remnant. I want to be part of that remnant.

 

Barton & Jefferson (Continued & Concluded)

Last Friday, I wrote a post about the controversy over Thomas Nelson ceasing publication of David Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies. My aim was to offer a balanced perspective: I appreciate Barton’s ultimate goal of restoring the knowledge of our nation’s Biblical heritage, yet I take issue with him over trying to force someone like Jefferson into the Christian mold. From my own study of the Founding era and of Jefferson himself, I cannot subscribe to the view that Jefferson was an orthodox Christian.

Barton has written a response at his Wallbuilders site to some of the critiques that others have leveled at him. I read his response, and I now have a response to that. Without going into all the details he presents, I will focus on two of his points.

First, Barton takes aim at academic elites who think they are the absolute experts with respect to historical knowledge and proper understanding of primary documents. I have a lot of sympathy with this critique, but a few qualms as well. After successfully navigating through a doctoral program myself, I can say with complete confidence that having letters such as “p,” “h,” and “d” after one’s name does not confer omniscience. There also is a great temptation to believe you are now in a select fraternity of the privileged; there’s almost a gnostic “special knowledge” quality to this temptation. And yes, there are some professional historians with an agenda who want to rip out all the vast evidence of the Biblical underpinnings of American society and government. But one must be careful not to paint all those with history doctorates with that broad stroke.

After what I wrote on Friday, some may view me as part of that fraternity. Well, that would be almost laughable. I’ve spent most of my post-doctoral existence critiquing that very fraternity as a close-knit group of thinkers and writers who think with and write to one another. Very few of them write a book that the general public is aware of. My desire has always been to provide well-documented, scholarly writing that is geared more toward a general audience. When I penned my doctoral dissertation on Noah Webster, for instance, I determined to break from dissertationese and write in a fashion that could be understood and appreciated by a wider audience than merely my dissertation committee.

So, yes, I agree with Barton that a fraternity of the elite does exist; however, many of his critics do not belong to that fraternity, so to lump everyone together into an amorphous academic elite does not effectively answer the criticisms of his book.

Another part of his defense that I found weak was his assertion that Jefferson only wandered off the Christian path toward the end of his life. I think it is pretty obvious Jefferson was a good Anglican in his younger days only as an external convention; it was how he was raised and what was expected of him. I doubt he ever made any kind of real commitment to orthodox Christian faith. Even when Barton writes of Jefferson’s deviations from some points of doctrine, he does not emphasize that Jefferson denied the deity of Christ. No one who denies the deity of Christ can be a Christian. And this deviation didn’t wait until his later years; his time in France in the mid-1780s marks a decided turn in his views. Jefferson loved French society with its permissiveness in both thought and action. It was this very permissiveness and decadence that turned the stomach of John Adams when he went to France.

I think Barton has chosen the wrong person to try to redeem historically. In my view, Jefferson doesn’t rank very high in a list of Founders who deserve our admiration. Yes, he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but even he later noted he didn’t contribute anything original to the document; he was simply putting into words the general consensus of the time. Yes, he attended church services in the Capitol, but he did so primarily because he thought it important that the chief executive give his approval to religion. He saw religion as beneficial to society with respect to its morals, but he never submitted his life to the One who set the moral standard.

I also defend Jefferson as the author of the “separation of church and state” letter. That letter was not a declaration of complete separation of faith from public office, but only an affirmation to Baptists that the federal government was not going to set up an official church. Further, I use some Jefferson quotes that are quite pithy with respect to federalism and taxes. He is very quotable, and sometimes says exactly what I wish to communicate to my students. So I don’t despise Jefferson, but I do have a critique of his character and worldview throughout his long tenure in public office.

Before we put Jefferson on a pedestal, consider the following:

  • There has been much controversy over his relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave on his plantation. It is not conclusive that Jefferson fathered children with Hemings; it could have been his younger brother Randolph. Yet I personally believe it is more probable that the elder Jefferson is the father. Honest people can disagree on this point, but Jefferson’s close relationship with Maria Cosway [a married woman] while he was in France and his general acceptance of lax French morality lend themselves to that probability. Jefferson also freed Hemings’s children at the end of his life. He didn’t do that for any of his other slaves.
  • In the 1790s and beyond, Jefferson was enamored of the French Revolution, which, at one point, carried out a policy of dechristianization. He never came to grips with the violent nature of that revolution and supported it completely.
  • As George Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson continually worked behind the scenes to undermine Washington’s policy toward France, which was neutrality. He even sponsored a newspaper that was set up for the express purpose of lambasting the Washington administration and Washington personally. Jefferson harbored the belief that Washington was trying to set himself up as a king. Early in his second term, Washington lost patience with the disloyal Jefferson and would have sacked him had Jefferson not resigned his position.
  • John Adams was elected president in 1796. In a quirk that was later corrected by a constitutional amendment, Jefferson became his vice president even though he was in the opposing party. Adams, to his credit, reached out a hand of friendship to Jefferson and sought to bring him aboard as an active colleague in his administration. Jefferson rejected the hand of friendship and worked to replace Adams with himself in the next election. He placed his own personal political interest ahead of the nation’s well-being.
  • As president, Jefferson, in tandem with a Congress dominated by his party, placed an embargo on all American goods in an attempt to keep American shipping out of the Napoleonic wars. This relegated an entire section of the nation, New England, to potential poverty. It also just happened to be the section that was the most anti-Jefferson politically. The embargo was a major disaster for American commerce and prosperity, it had to be repealed as one of the final acts of the Jefferson administration, and Jefferson left office a defeated man. His presidency was looked upon as a failure due to this.
  • Although fiscally prudent as president, Jefferson was profligate in his personal finances. He continually spent more money than he had. At one point, he sold his entire library to try to pay his debts. It became the foundation of the Library of Congress. However, he fell back into debt again, and at his death his home, Monticello, along with all his slaves, had to be sold to cover his obligations.

Jefferson’s contributions to the American Founding were mixed. His positives were either balanced by his negatives or his negatives outweighed his positives. That’s a judgment call. However, I would advise Barton and others not to spend so much time resuscitating Jefferson’s reputation. There are other Founders who deserve more attention. To Barton’s credit, he has not ignored other Founders who have a Christian foundation, and when he focuses on them, he can continue to perform a valuable service. But it’s time to stop attempting to defend the indefensible.

Misperceptions of Holiness

There’s a perception of some evangelicals, particularly in the media and on the “progressive” side of politics, that they are rigid, unfeeling, unthinking, mean-spirited joy-killers. Anyone who speaks out against licentious behavior and calls abortion and homosexuality sins are akin, in some minds, to those who championed the Inquisition during the Middle Ages or those Puritans who refused to celebrate Christmas [without, of course, studying to find out the reason they opposed the celebration—the way it was carried out in England was far from Christ-honoring at the time].

The word “holiness” has gone out of style, even among many evangelicals. Some holiness denominations have contributed to a misunderstanding of the Biblical concept. They have concentrated on what one doesn’t do rather than the positive, joyful obedience to God’s standards that emanates from a heart of love.

One of the early proponents of a doctrine of holiness was John Wesley, who started the Methodist movement within the Church of England back in the eighteenth century. I’ve been doing a little reading of excerpts from Wesley’s journal. One of those excerpts captures, I think, the essence of Biblical holiness and the joyful life that God wants for everyone. Read Wesley’s commentary here, and if you are one of those individuals with a skewed view of holiness, this might provide a corrective:

I am convinced as true religion or holiness cannot be without cheerfulness, so steady cheerfulness, on the other hand, cannot be without holiness or true religion. And I am equally convinced that true religion has nothing sour, austere, unsociable, unfriendly in it; but, on the contrary, implies the most winning sweetness, the most amiable softness and gentleness.

Are you for having as much cheerfulness as you can? So am I. Do you endeavour to keep alive your taste for all the truly innocent pleasures of life? So do I likewise. Do you refuse no pleasure but what is a hindrance to some greater good, or has a tendency to some evil? It is my very rule; and I know no other by which a sincere reasonable Christian can be guided.

In particular,  I pursue this rule in eating, which I seldom do without much pleasure. And this I know is the will of God concerning me; that I should enjoy every pleasure that leads to my taking pleasure in Him; and in such a measure as most leads to it.

When Christians call for a higher moral standard for America, it’s not because they want to destroy pleasure. What we witness in our culture are all the false pleasures that try to substitute for the real pleasures God would like to provide. True pleasure is never found by following our own selfish desires. It exists only in a relationship with the One who created pleasure. When we lay aside our selfishness and rebellion against His reasonable commands, only then do we come to an understanding of pleasure because only then will we see it as coming straight from the heart of God.

So I don’t apologize for speaking out on the issues of abortion, homosexuality, personal responsibility, political chicanery, or media malfeasance, among others. My desire is to help bring our society closer to the heart of God, which ultimately brings His blessing and every true pleasure.

Crossing a Line

The latest report on the upcoming Democrat convention is that the committee working to draft the policy platform for the party has included a plank putting the Democrats squarely on the side of same-sex marriage. Apparently, there was no real disagreement from anyone on the committee; it was the unanimous opinion that same-sex marriage should be enshrined as the law of the land. This was inevitable for a progressivism that has left Biblical morality on what it considers the ash heap of history.

I’m not shocked by this development. Once you begin to wander from the solid basis of eternal law, everything is eventually permissible. What this does, though, is put the Democrats on record as the first major political party in America in favor of abortion on demand and the destruction of traditional marriage, which is also the destruction of the family.

As President Obama has said so often: “Let me be clear.” If you now vote for a Democrat, you are promoting the slaughter of innocent children [over fifty million by the latest count] and the perversion of the God-ordained gift of sexual relations within marriage.

For anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian, this is antithetical to all you profess to believe. This is the rejection of the Word of God as your moral standard. This is a denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life.

It hurts to write those words. I am not the ultimate judge, but I do have a responsibility before God, even as all Christians do, to be a watchman and declare when the enemy is approaching. In this case, the enemy is in the gates.

Perhaps it’s time for a simple reminder of the Biblical teaching on homosexuality. The clearest passage is from Romans, chapter one, and reads as follows:

For this reason [rejection of God and His truth] God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, . . . and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Those who are not Christian will reject these words as “bigoted,” but those who still say they are following Jesus as Lord and Savior must take them seriously.

Christians can have political disagreements. While I believe it is contrary to sound Biblical teaching to advocate Marxist/socialist economics and to put the government in charge of areas that God never intended it be given such authority, Christians who push for those things are, in my view, deceived but not heretical. They are not unchristian, especially since they often are acting out of concern for the poor. They are simply being foolish because those policies ultimately destroy everyone, the poor included.

But when anyone claiming to speak for Christ says it is fine to support those who have no conscience in the murder of millions of babies and who pervert basic Biblical sexual morality, a line has been crossed.

Christians are to be the moral exemplars for a nation. How can we fulfill that mandate when we ally ourselves with moral abominations?

If we go along with the immoral drift of our culture, how are we any different from that culture?

If we don’t stand for truth, who will?

American Morality: The Latest Survey

The Gallup organization has just released its newest survey of Americans’ moral values. One needs to look no further than this survey to comprehend why our culture is changing. I know people may be tired of hearing Christians bemoan the state of morality in society, but from a Biblical perspective, it’s obvious we’re in deep trouble, and this could signify the death of our society eventually. Here are the highlights:

  • The survey shows that 52% of Americans now find homosexual relations as morally acceptable. This is why taking a strong stance against homosexuality elicits such politically correct outrage. I also heard this week that another poll indicates this number has risen since the president verbalized his support for same-sex marriage. Whenever civil government takes sides on an issue, it can also influence the culture. In this case, those who are morally confused find solace in accepting the new morality because the government says it’s okay.
  • Sex outside of marriage is just fine say 59% of our fellow citizens. Well, why not? If you follow the cultural trend as showcased in the movies and television programs, it’s simply a fact of life. Rarely do you see anyone resisting sex at any time with anyone prior to marriage. I remember when dating didn’t used to be associated with an active sex life. It used to be, well . . . dating. Now the assumption is that dating is inextricably linked with sexual relations, and that it would be “puritanical/Victorian” to believe otherwise.
  • How about having a baby outside of marriage? The stigma for that has nearly disappeared with 54% not finding anything wrong with it. Yet the bad effects of absentee fathers is well documented. About 70% of all children born in the inner cities are without fathers. How’s that working out?
  • Remember when doctor-assisted suicide was endorsed only by the likes of Jack Kevorkian? Now 46% of Americans see no problem with it. This is moving us slowly toward acceptance of euthanasia.
  • Stem-cell research from human embryos finds support from 59%. This is distinguished from overall stem-cell research, which is becoming increasingly successful using adult stem cells. In spite of that, 3 of 5 Americans don’t object to harvesting unborn children for their stem cells, even though there’s no need to do so scientifically. This whole argument for using embryonic stem cells has always been a cover for promoting abortion.
  • So this leads logically to the statistics on the moral acceptability of abortion. How are we faring on that issue? This is one of the brighter spots of the survey, which indicates a trend against viewing abortion as moral. Only 38% say they favor abortion. That’s certainly movement in the right direction, while we seem to be drifting away from Biblical standards in other areas. Yet it’s still sobering to realize that nearly 4 of 10 Americans don’t find the taking of innocent human life as repugnant.
  • Fully 69% find divorce to be moral. There are some gray areas here. I do believe there are some Scriptural grounds for legitimate divorce, but I know most of those surveyed aren’t taking Scripture into consideration. They just like the idea of an easy path to break a vow. Again, we are experiencing the sad effects of this lax approach to what should be a lifelong commitment.
  • There’s another category that should help balance most of this sorry list, but I’m afraid it’s not what it appears to be. It should be encouraging to discover that only 6% of Americans believe it’s okay to have an extramarital affair, but here’s where we find a dichotomy between what people say and what they do. While 92% indicate they believe this is wrong, there’s a large segment of that 92% that violates what it says it believes. Hypocrisy is another factor in our moral degeneration as a people.

Government is not the solution to this current state of affairs. All government can do is try to set moral boundaries. If people, by and large, don’t believe in those boundaries, no law will suffice. That means it all comes back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the good news about how to restore our broken relationship with God can bring people out of moral darkness and into His light. Our primary task remains: teach and model Biblical truth.

Judgment Begins with the Household of God

I don’t know much about Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. What I do know is what I read yesterday—that it’s a Christian university associated with the Georgia Baptist Convention and that it has decided to be consistent with that convention’s beliefs by asking its employees to sign a pledge indicating their agreement with the basic tenets of the church. To me, that’s only common sense. If you say “this is what we believe and this is what we seek to teach our students,” you should expect your professors and other staff to be in concert with your goals.

The pledge, though, has now become a center of controversy. More than fifty professors and staff have resigned rather than sign it. Why? What awful points of doctrine and/or practice are included? Here’s what university employees must agree to:

  • No homosexual lifestyle
  • No pre-marital sex
  • No adultery
  • No drug use
  • Be an active member of a church
  • Live as committed, Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ

My, how oppressive! A Christian university actually expecting their employees, including professors who are supposed to be teaching within a Biblical worldview, to live as Christians! [Note: I don’t usually go overboard using exclamation points, but they seemed to apply this time.]

Let’s keep in mind this is a private Christian university that has the authority to set up whatever ground rules it considers appropriate. Not being involved in sexual immorality and not being a druggie would seem to me to be minimum requirements for any institution that claims to be Christian. Yet, as can be expected, this has created a firestorm.

What bothers me the most about this is that some of those who resigned had been there for many years. One of the librarians was openly homosexual. This university doesn’t seem to have cared a whole lot about its Christian commitment for quite some time. By being lax in its internal discipline, it opened the door for the current controversy. If it had been consistently Christian from the start, this would be no big deal now. Therefore, it is now suffering the consequences of its previous policies.

All that said, I congratulate the university now for its attempt to set things straight, so to speak. But this is an object lesson for all Christian colleges and universities: be warned—you may go through a similar rough patch if you aren’t being faithful to Biblical standards now. We need to keep in mind these bracing words from the apostle Peter:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Indeed.