I should start out by saying that I, just like many of you, came into the Reformed faith during college. I was introduced to the concept and language of “worldview” through a number of sources, but almost all of them had some connection to Dutch neo-Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper, and then Francis Schaeffer. And a lot of this was very good. It helped me to see the ways in which my faith impacted the rest of life, and it helped me see the ways in which religion and core philosophy really matter for every other deeply-held conviction. The language of “worldview” also energized me to study more and ask critical questions about where an idea was coming from and what implications it would have on others. The title of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences says it all.
For most of my young education, and yes I was educated in public schools, I had been content to live in a two-tier universe. My religion was true, somehow, but also the things which contradicted my religion were also true, somehow. One set of ideas worked in church environments. The other set worked in school. In Church Adam and Eve were the first humans, and in school there were millions- now billions- of years of pre-humanoid development with neanderthals and cro-magnons and all sorts of other “cavemen” in the story. The cultural-social events which were neither church nor school were always a riddle. Which truths were true there? The language of worldview was a breath of fresh air in such a context.
I reviewed Allan Carlson’s book Third Ways back in January, and since then I have been working my way through his rather enormous catalogue of work. President of The Howard Center, professor of history at Hillsdale College, and author of ten books and countless essays, not to mention the many other distinguishing appointments he has held, Dr. Carlson is prolific and treating extremely important questions.
This David Platt video was going around yesterday, and it gave me a chance to hear his basic message. Some friends had asked me about his latest book Radical, which I haven’t read. Also at about this same time Matthew Lee Anderson’s article “Here Come the Radicals” was posted at Christianity Today. I won’t pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of these various pastors and writers, but I do think I understand their general message and methodology. They argue that Jesus calls us to a total commitment, not just a pick and choose program, and that we must be willing to sacrifice our lives and lifestyles, being open to the new changes that God will make. We must get comfortable with God making us uncomfortable.
There is certainly a lot of good to be said for this, particularly when you compare Platt with other megachurch pastors. He’s certainly a relief when set against Joel Osteen. At the same time, I’m not sure that Platt is really doing anything all that new. I grew up in a revivalistic Baptist church, and each year we had conferences which sounded a lot like Platt. They weren’t as young of course. Our guys were more polyester with big hair. But still, the message was that you could not rely on your culture, your family, or even your going to church to save you. Instead you must have an intense interior experience and relationship with God, and only this “true,” “real,” and “authentic” sort of faith would qualify as trusting Christ. The intensity and sincerity of your faith was the focal point for personal assurance. One of them’s favorite line was, “Do you know that you know that you know?” There was also the catchy, “99% sure is 100% lost.” Platt and co. strike me as a brainier version of the same thing, and the central objection I have to the “radical” emphasis is that they confuse faith with commitment. Continue reading →
I have been fascinated with Allan Carlson’s body of work for the last few months (you can see a book review I did of his latest book here) and have recently begun reading his book From Cottage to Work Station: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age. What’s noteworthy about Carlson is that he is arguing for a pre-modern conception of the family, one that might strike some readers as radically “conservative” and even fundamentalist in nature. Yet Carlson typically critiques industrial capitalism as the primary opponent of the traditional family, even being willing to employ Marxist arguments at times. Carlson is not himself a Marxist, of course, but he is willing to cut to the heart of the issue, and that typically involves an exploration of the notions of capital and the exploitation of labor. Here is a summary which will show you what I mean:
Industrialization tore asunder this settled, family-oriented European world. In historian John Demos’ words: “Family life was wrenched apart form the world of work—a veritable sea-change in social history.” The goods produced by factories using a division of labor rapidly displaced household-produced commodities such as cloth, shoes, and candles. The unique demands of the new machines, the construction of factories, and the need for labor discipline further severed the workplace form the home. In the new economic order, family living quickly ceased to have a dominant productive side. Family units tended to reorganize as places for shared consumption and shelter. Through legal changes abolishing the protections of rural tradition and guild privileges, labor became a commodity governed for the first time by a national, and eventually an international market. The reciprocal, complementary tasks of husbands and wives in household production were quickly leveled, and questions grew about gender roles in the new order. Older children, too, could forego the obedience demanded by lineage and birth and sell their own labor to manufacturers. In the industrial milieu, the inward-looking, autonomous, cooperative family changed into a collection of individuals in potential, and often real, competition with each other. As residual dependents, infants and small children had no immediate prospects for individual economic gain; the market mechanism left their fate uncertain. ~From Cottage to Work Station 2
Carlson goes on to explain that many have been happy to say that America avoided this revolution, since it was always “modern” from its inception. This is not the case, however, Carlson says. Indeed, America also reckoned with the rage against the machine, fighting back in important ways until the early part of the 20th century. Then it gave up the fight, and we subsequently saw the social revolution which is so familiar to us today.
Those of you who know me know that I have a certain kind of spark. I feel passionately about a number of things, and I feel called to do something about that. This means I end up trying to teach, which also means that I end up talking a lot. This has good and bad effects, one of the bad ones being that I can come across as arrogant. Now, I’ve always realized this perception while also resenting its existence. “But I’m not!” I would always say. I don’t think I’m always right. I don’t think I have all of the answers.
Picking back up my series on Christian sexual identity, we have to realize that the foundational issue in conversations about “gender roles,” homosexuality, and the public place of marriage is that of definition. For the progressive gender, sexuality, and the various institutional structures supporting them are to be defined by the individual’s desire. Now, this doesn’t simply mean the surface-level choices that one makes, though it does mean that often enough, but rather those deep-seated desires which then incentivize one’s actions. I’m not sure if it is still the preferred nomenclature, but not too long ago folks used to use the term “orientation” to name this concept. A person’s “sexual orientation” was either heterosexual, homosexual, or something else, and this orientation was an important way that they were to be classified, even getting down to their fundamental identity.
This debate over orientation vs. “what’s natural” is at the heart of the traditional marriage debate. In its crudest form, the traditional marriage position says that it doesn’t matter what an individual might feel about it, marriage is by definition the union of a man and a woman. The response has been to say that this definition is far too thin and doesn’t take into account all of the images and promises that we have been attaching to marriage for some time now. Some might point to the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasizing “mutual society” over procreation. Others might blame it on dating culture and no-fault divorce. Others might still point to the notion that marriage is now one of those ways in which people continue “the pursuit of happiness.” Either way, the issue is that marriage is not simply a societal institution for childbirth and rearing, but it is also a key way for people to find personal fulfillment.
And we should admit that this response has been mostly unanswered because it is (currently) unanswerable. Continue reading →
From time to time in my cultural and apologetic writings I will criticize scientism, the belief that the physical sciences provide all of the meaningful knowledge in the world (a variation of positivism), as well as the parasciences and pseudosciences known by various “social science” names. Often the dismissal is quick and witty, perhaps to a fault, and so it is worthwhile occasionally to spell out the problems with such a method. The first thing that we should say is that it is in no one’s interest to dismiss the true findings of science or to deny that science is a powerful means of acquiring knowledge. To do so would simply be stubborn and superstitious. The point, rather, is to demonstrate that science is necessarily limited. It makes observations and predictions, though the predictions often leave the realm of the strictly scientific. This is all well and good on its own, a valuable means of learning and of forming the mind. And this really is what the best scientists all admit. Science operates within these boundaries by design.
What science should not do is attempt to construct metanarratives. Or rather, as soon as science begins to construct metanarratives it ceases to be “science” in the modern sense of the term. It becomes philosophy, literature, or religion. And as anyone who has met me well knows, I am a big fan of philosophy, literature, and religion. I think they are fundamental to all true wisdom. So I don’t say that science shouldn’t do this work because I don’t think such work should be done. I most emphatically do! It’s just that in doing this work, science invariably cheats. It ceases to operate on a strictly observational and test-confirmation methodology, and it begins to add in other considerations which are outside its strict bounds. It does so, however, all while still using the nomenclature of “science” to claim an objective point of view and the rhetorical authority which is currently granted to such.
It is also the case that when science attempts to engage in the humanities it does a much poorer job than the humanities can do. Continue reading →
This sermon was preached for Pro-Life Mississippi as a part of their 40 Days of Church campaign, outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, MS.
Sermon Text: Romans 6:16-23
It is a privilege to speak to you on this solemn but important occasion. I am saddened by the need for demonstrations like this, but as long as there is evil to be fought and lives to be defended, then we must be unapologetic in answering the call. So while I am saddened by the need to speak out against abortion, I am not sorry for doing so.
I should also say that I realize I am speaking to people who are advanced well beyond me in age and experience. Most of you have been involved in Pro-Life activities since before I was even engaged with the basic categories of the debate. And so I would not want to pretend to have any expertise beyond those of you here. But I have spent the last several years studying the issue of abortion closely, mostly at its philosophical foundations. And as an ordained minister of the gospel, I am also a student of the Scriptures. I have wrestled with God through His word for many years now, and I have not always liked what He has had to say. But I do believe that, by His grace and through the help of teachers and pastors, I have received something of an education in this regard. And so today I am sharing that with you, not my own personal opinions or expertise, but rather the antithesis between the philosophy of abortion, which is the basic philosophy of the flesh, and the philosophy of the Word of God.
Abortion is Freedom through Death
The first thing we must understand is that the argument for abortion is an argument for freedom. Continue reading →
So I saved this post for after Ash Wednesday. Well I saved it for nearly after, because I have had just about all of the Lenten apologetics that I can handle. All of us catholic-minded Protestants seem to have just discovered Lent, and we’re very committed to talking about it, whether in favor or against. But I couldn’t quite stay out of it fully, which brings me to this post.
The first thing to say is that Ash Wednesday and Lent are definitely in the “non-essentials” category. Adiaphora, or things indifferent, are things which are neither morally commanded nor morally prohibited. There may be good things about them or bad things about them, and they may be pastorally wise or not-so-wise, but they are not absolutely sinful or righteous. I know that’s an uncomfortable category, but it is the mark of maturity be able to judge and apply such cases.
Secondly, the practice of the imposition of ashes in the manner of today’s Ash Wednesday celebrations dates back to 10th cent. Spain. Continue reading →
It’s funny. I can look back on a life of achievement, on challenges met, competitors bested, obstacles overcome. I’ve accomplished more than most men, and without the use of my legs. What… What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski? Is it… is it, being prepared to do the right thing? Whatever the price? Isn’t that what makes a man?
Too many of our conversations about gender roles presume that there are certain social attributes which, taken together, make up the essence of the respective sex. To “be a man” is to be strong, hardworking, and determined, and to “be a woman” is, supposedly, to be meek, servile, and emotional. But this is fundamentally wrong. Continue reading →