The new Jerk Store?

WARNING: The following is an egregious display of dispassionate thinking that some may find highly offensive. Assumptions made within the post do not reflect the position of any church, denomination, or Christian entity. --The Administrator

One storm gives way to another and so, having survived Irma, I turn my thoughts back to the web storm that was the Nashville Statement (NS). If you’re wondering whether or not you should continue reading here’s a simple test:

The Nashville Statement is:
(a) an evangelical statement on human sexuality
(b) a press release on Troy Gentry’s death.

If you answered ‘b’ you probably won’t care to read any further.

For the remnant who answered ‘a’ (and are willing to persevere to the end) you should read the NS if you haven’t already. The responses have been all over the map so trying to group people in pro and con camps is futile. But amidst the cacophony is a variegated faction who agree with the NS but refuse to endorse it because they believe the document is incomplete and/or cold. I find their position curious and unpersuasive.

On the whole, I like what Samuel James has to say in his article over at First Things, especially when he says:

I suspect that what has turned off many people to the Nashville Statement is its clarity.

I think James is right on this point even though it’s impossible to prove the relative sincerity of a given critic, so while some may withhold their endorsement with integrity I have a few suspicions of my own.

{pause to adjust soapbox}

I suspect many people are letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Perusing my Documents of the Christian Church (2nd edition) I search in vain to find a creedal statement that is both exhaustive in scope and sensitive in tone. The Nicene Creed? Good on the Trinity but weak on the hypostatic union. The Westminster Confession? Exhaustive but as warm as January in Maine. The Baptist Faith & Message? Pick your poison. Then there’s The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Manhattan Declaration but you get the point. Christians have never claimed nor expected perfection from their doctrinal statements–what’s changed?

I suspect that many critics conflate sexual orientation with personal identity and, as a result, no longer consider same-sex desires inherently sinful. As long as this remains true I don’t think any orthodox statement will pass the sensitivity test. Everything will be interpreted as a personal attack.

I suspect that some of those who balk at the NS would be encouraged by taking a quick look at the initial signatories. J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, Russell Moore, Sam Allberry, and Rosario Butterfield aren’t exactly short-sighted, insensitive clods. That has to count for something, right?

I get that some Christians have genuine concerns when a select group addresses a complicated issue with far-reaching consequences, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we distribute our dogma in Costanza’s Jerk Store. But orthodoxy will  always have sharp edges and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can smooth them out with a little more craftsmanship.

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‘Christianity And’

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’, You know–Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Physical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart–an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.

–C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

What do rejected people need to hear?

Our premise matters–especially when we intend to prescribe a remedy for suffering souls.

I came across this line in the promo for a Christian book study. File under MTD, therapeutic:

Rejection steals the best of who I am by reinforcing the very worst that’s been said to me.

Even if this kind of existential theft were possible (it’s not), consider the implications. First, the best of who I am–whatever that is–is assumed. I may not be told how much ‘best’ is part of me but it exists. It’s who I am. The very worst, on the other hand, isn’t me but what’s been said to me. Is it true? Again, I’m not told but I have no reason to assume a factual basis for it.

None of this is to cast aspersions on those who suffer from personal rejection and long for acceptance. We were created for meaningful fellowship on a number of different levels and the loss of that blessing is part of our groaning under the curse. In Christ and in Christian community we should be able to offer the comfort of personal acceptance through reconciliation (Rom 15:7).

But the Christian media complex has flooded the market with spiritual placebos complete with glowing endorsements and customer reviews. Maybe the prescription isn’t thoroughly biblical but it’s awfully hard to argue with success.

Thankfully, American Christianity hasn’t degenerated to bald pragmatism. I haven’t yet heard of any Christian author adopting ‘the end justifies the means’ as his ministry mantra. No one is that crass. But ‘Jesus justifies the means’ is a much easier sell and it keeps one in the mainstream of Christian ministry. And so we’ve come to a point where we’ll forgive almost any content or delivery method so long as the people get a little Jesus in the end [see Exhibit A].

And this brings me back to the blurb on rejection. Our premise matters–especially when we intend to prescribe a remedy for suffering souls. Assuming that Jesus is the remedy that follows the premise above, it’s hard to see how Jesus doesn’t become a  supplement to boost your emotional well-being. ‘The best of who I am’ is a pre-existing condition that just needs a booster against hurtful words. My best + Jesus is the cure for rejection because he sees what my haters don’t (or won’t). So sing it loud & proud:

True to who You are
You saw my heart
And made
Something out of nothing.

But beware the side effects of a quick fix. When everyone has a little best no one is “a wretch like me.” And yet it’s the confessing wretch with no good (let alone best) to speak of who finds acceptance while the man praising God(!) for the ‘best of who I am’ ends up rejected (Luke 18:10-14).

Maybe the first step to finding acceptance is hearing that I’m actually worse than the worst that’s been said to me.

Carson on the ‘encroaching roots of self-esteem’

…the continued drift toward privatized religion is a fertile soil in which to water the rapidly multiplying and universally encroaching roots of self-esteem . . . The drive to sort out life’s problems and my happiness along the axis of self-esteem banishes truth questions, makes feeling good about yourself more important than having a clear conscience, insists that your opinion of yourself is more important than God’s opinion, and fails to deal with objective guilt. In the Scriptures, a right knowledge of yourself is contingent on having in the first place a right knowledge of God.

-D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God

A. Stanley affirms inerrancy

Stanley has issued a straightforward affirmation of biblical inerrancy.

Stanley has issued a straightforward affirmation of biblical inerrancy. In an article for Outreach Magazine, Stanley explains that the difference between himself and many conservative evangelicals isn’t doctrinal but methodological.

Glad to hear that. Far better, in this instance, for us to disagree on our methods. Case closed.

UNIDENTIFIED CYNIC: Why did Stanley need a co-author for “his” explanation???

Irreverent musings: The Facebook-driven faith

If Fb has tinkered with the trends what might that say about the incessant effort to keep Christianity “relevant”?

Brace yourself. If this report is true then Facebook curators aren’t honest brokers when it comes to managing the company’s “trending” news section. It would seem that said curators ignore some trends while manufacturing others. But the doctoring of the news trends wasn’t an attempt to drive more traffic thereby generating more revenue. No, the trends were tampered with in order to–brace yourselves–suppress conservative news.

Those of you hearing this for the first time (what? you didn’t see this story on Fb??) may need a moment to get over the sudden onset of  the vapours. For the rest of you I hope that you file this story under “unexpected, not surprised” since Facebook isn’t the only member of the media industrial complex to use their platform to serve an agenda. I guess part of what makes the story “newsworthy” is that not an insignificant portion of the population (millennials?) is purported to get their news from Fb. I suppose they had to find another reliable source when John “Just-the-Facts” Stewart stepped down from the Daily Show.

On a more serious note, I draw attention to the story for two closely related reasons. First, Fb (et al) has been something of an unofficial bellwether of societal mood and thought. Second, if the fix is in at Fb we have to seriously question whether or not features like “trending news” show trends or steer trends.

The plausibility of the report should at least give us pause. If Fb has tinkered with the trends what might that say about the incessant effort to keep Christianity “relevant”?

It’s not easy to buck the trend or to run against a headwind which is why on a host of issues–sexual ethics, racial reconciliation, biblical authority, etc–too many prominent Christians have assumed the role of ecclesiastical pioneer so as to lead the rest of us plodders into a new frontier. In the hope of saving Christianity from itself these brave souls run against doctrinal headwinds as they ride the cultural gusts. As one Dr. Zeitgeist has said:

Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go.

But what if the new winds blowing aren’t all-natural?

What if portions of that perfect storm have been generated by an industrial blower?

The ubiquity of social media has made it an essential tool in ministry today and a helpful, albeit imperfect, measure of issues that require a Christian response. We can and should use it responsibly.

But a word of caution is in order. If keeping up with trends is one of the conditions for maintaining your Christian witness, you’ll  look back one day and be shocked to discover that you were the tool all along.

This is the beginning of the New Creation

The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe.

…the Resurrection was not regarded simply or chiefly as evidence for the immortality of the soul. It is, of course, often so regarded today: I have heard a man maintain that “the importance of the Resurrection is that it proves survival.” Such a view cannot at any point be reconciled with the language of the New Testament. On such a view Christ would simply have done what all men do when they die: the only novelty would have been that in His case we were allowed to see it happening. But there is not in Scripture the faintest suggestion that the Resurrection was new evidence  for something that had in fact been always happening. The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the “first fruits.” the “pioneer of life.” He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened. [emphasis added]

-C. S. Lewis, Miracles

Allah comes to Wheaton

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

So said Larycia Hawkins, the tenured political science professor at Wheaton College (aka the Harvard of evangelicalism), in a Facebook post announcing her “human solidarity with her Muslim neighbor.”

Shortly thereafter, Wheaton placed Prof. Hawkins on paid administrative leave “in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.”

But orthodoxy is the new heresy so it should come as no surprise that the progressive and enlightened (but I repeat myself) are troubled not by Hawkins’ doctrinal trespass but by the administration’s effort to hold the line.

Student protest letter: There is nothing in Dr. Hawkins’ public statements that goes against the belief in the power and nature of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit that the Statement of Faith deems as a necessary requirement for affiliation with Wheaton College.

Caitlin Post (student): We are not an institution that silences out of fear. For an institution that seems to want headway on issues of diversity, this is about a thousand steps backwards.

TOM¹: Does [Wheaton] wish to welcome a wider range of students and faculty into its fold, like an Ivy League school would? Or will it choose to calcify commitments to political and theological conservatism on par with schools like Liberty University?

Cripes, people. This is irritating not simply because the stakes are so high but because the issue is, well, simple. You don’t need an advanced degree to know that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

But don’t take my word for it. Consider what Christ himself said about God and his worshipers:

John 4:23-24  But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

5:23 He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

8:19 Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”

10:30 “I and the Father are one.”

14:7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So if you cannot worship God apart from knowing Christ, as Jesus himself claimed, where does that leave us?  Unless we slept through a seismic shift in Islamic doctrine, I’d say Hawkins claim is in error (Pope Francis notwithstanding).

How ironic that the dust-up comes a week before we celebrate God’s clearest self-revelation in the incarnation of his eternal Son (Jn 1:1, 14; Heb 1:1-3).


¹The Other Merritt

Believing things on authority

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place, I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the solar system, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Reflecting on deconversion

Add deconversion to your socio-cultural vocabulary if you haven’t done so already. The signified phenomena is just what it sounds like: the loss of a previously held faith/religion. Deconversion may mean moving from one religion to another but it seems that the move is more frequently from faith to atheism.

So what explains the phenomena of deconversion? While no one answer would suffice consider the progression of this anecdotal evidence:

  • A friend tells of a dialogue he once had with an atheist that stretched over a period of time. During one of their discussions the atheist was asked a hypothetical: “What if, after your death, you discovered that God did exist–what would you say to Him?” The atheist replied, “F*** you!”
  • In a recent podcast from Unbelievable? a young, deconverted Brit acknowledged that the realization that he was gay was one of the first things that led to his break with the church. His thought process moved from “I need to either be happy or celibate” to “I need to be happy and that made me want to leave the church.”
  • In Basic Christianity John Stott recounts a conversation he had with a young man who had left the faith:

I remember a young man coming to see me when he had just left school and begun work in London. He had given up going to church, he said, because he could not say the Creed without being a hypocrite. He no longer believed it. When he had finished his explanations, I said to him, ‘If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to alter your manner of life?’ He smiled slightly and blushed. His real problem was not intellectual but moral.

Stott nails it. The real problem is moral.

In each anecdote, the individual reveals a moral objection to God and/or the Christian faith that must be weighted equal to (if not greater than) his intellectual objection.

Three brief reflections are in order.

First, whatever we might say about intellectual stumbling blocks, Scripture identifies our moral objection(s) as the root cause of unbelief (Psa 14:1-3; Jn 3:19-20; Rom 1:18-21).

Second, Christians shouldn’t ignore intellectual objections (Acts 17:2; 18:4). Christian truth will often penetrate intellectual strongholds in order to reach the moral resistance.   Who can tell where the mind ends and the heart begins?

Third, acknowledging moral objections to faith will lead us to question many methods & strategies that are promoted for the sake of “effective witness.” At a certain point none of our compromising, harmonizing, or contextualizing will ever be enough to win someone (back) to the faith.