Pastor, Are You Talking About Me?

This post is a sort of detour from the game plan laid out at the end of my last post, and there will be at least one more detour on the way, but it isn’t actually changing the topic at all. You see, I’m not only talking about politics. I have been talking about Christian anxiety and the need to make Jesus your soul’s satisfaction. This whole series is secretly about pastoral theology. I’m trying to sneak soulcare into a conversation about worldview. Don’t tell anyone. And so, to the question at hand. Have I been talking about you?

This is something that pastors actually experience frequently. In sermons or other writings we use illustrations or we praise or critique something by description, and so the question arises, “Is he criticizing one person in particular?” I am not here talking about academic, formal, or legal cases. It is appropriate and necessary to name names and cite sources in those instances. But in pastoral contexts, things are different. We aren’t making charges against someone. We aren’t writing a book review. We are using illustrations and examples to prove a more general point about sin and righteousness. These can be tricky and even dangerous occasions, and they are why we have the expression “bully pulpit.” Using a sermon or pastoral essay to “go after” someone is a sort of power-play, and it is hurtful and unfair. Continue reading

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Putting Politics in Its Place: Vocation and Dominion

I’ve been talking about politics lately. I know that it appeared like I was talking about not talking about politics, but to do that is to still talk about politics, and so, yeah, anyway, here we are, politics. I got a fair amount of responses to my post Political Talk as Totalitarian Distraction, some of them rational and some of them not, and so that gives me a good opportunity to say more. It would be a mistake to assume that I was talking about a kind of theology per se in that post. I singled out “political talk” as the thing under critique, and I highlighted the immoderate consumption and use of “TV news, talk radio, and online media.” I cannot see how this applies to a specific school of theology directly, but I suppose that if someone wishes to volunteer their feeling that the shoe fits, then I won’t be able argue too much against them. Perhaps some theologies do actively promote such immoderate consumption as a key commitment. Still, we shouldn’t confuse experiential memory and reflex with faithful interpretation of text. What I was addressing was not a theology at all, but rather a pathology– giving the discussion of politics, usually a fairly medium-to-low level discussion at that, a totalizing control over your life and, especially, allowing it to dominate your church and family. That was my actual target, and that is what any responsible reading of my words will substantiate.  

Also, my concluding three points were not presented as an alternative political theology but instead as a pre-political theology, or as a way to “put politics in its place,” as I said in the immediate context. If you understand justification by faith, the biblical doctrine of dominion, and the role of vocation in your life, then you will be free to engage in politics appropriately. But if those things are out of order, as they so often are, then you will be unable to resist a totalitarian political theology. It will fill the void of those more basic things, and you will find yourself enslaved. 

But what of politics itself or political theology? Can we say specifically “Christian” things about it? Yes. But before we get there we need to define our terms. Continue reading

Political Talk as Totalitarian Distraction

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is the kind of book that should be read several times throughout one’s life and for a variety of reasons. Most people who read it do so as assigned reading in High School or College. They then apply it to history and politics, respectively, seeing the themes and connections that Huxley is presenting throughout the story. What I would propose, however, is applying it not simply to politics, but to society itself and indeed ourselves, to human nature. While a much better book, Brave New World is less iconic than Orwell’s 1984 and so it does not contribute to our common parlance in quite the same way. Everyone knows what “Big Brother” is, but hardly anyone in the general population would know what I meant if I referred to soma, Fordianism, or “the feelies.” This is too bad, because Huxley much more accurately foresaw the condition of the middle-to-late 20th century, and what he saw continues today. In fact, I think it is a book with immense pastoral value. (Pastors: read it next to Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos and for the same reason.)

The difference between Huxley’s vision and Orwell’s lies in the nature of coercion and repression. Orwell’s presentation is of the classically totalitarian sort: traditional-style propaganda, the military-industrial complex, and top-down control. Huxley sees things from the opposite direction. True, there is still a “program” which is enforced on society, but in Brave New World, the powers that be have figured out how to make the people impose this program on themselves, voluntarily and without ever feeling discomfort. This is achieved through a strict class stratification, the disestablishment of the family, free sex, ubiquitous prescription drugs, and an entertainment industry which keeps everyone constantly distracted. Where Orwell depicts the old-style statism of Nazis and Soviets, Huxley captures liberal-progressivism of the sort that the modern West, including the US, embodies today. We have largely entertained and distracted ourselves to death. Continue reading

One of the Nagging Problems with Worldviewism

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.

But worldview also has a problematic side. Continue reading

What About “Sexual Orientation”?

heartPicking 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

Objectifying Phineas Gage

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

Abortion, Freedom, and the American Dream

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

What are Men and Women?

7321265-man-and-womanAs I’ve written about sexual identity and the natural differences between men and women, several questions have come up in different venues all asking the same thing: Where are you getting your concepts of gender roles? There are a lot of complicated ways to answer this question, and there are a lot of flat-out wrong ways to answer this question. I’ll try to keep it as simple (and right) as I can, but it will still take some ins and outs.

I believe that men and women have distinct roles and functions in life because I believe that sex matters. Men are men. They do not choose to be men. There is not some internal asexual self waiting to be freed. The same is true for women. This is both physical and psychological. It is a matter of body and soul.

Now all of this is derived from my own understanding of God and His design, but also from the nature of things. This can get us into the “complicated” very quickly, and so I’ll start by giving us some easy analogies. Imagine yourself in something of a desert island situation. You’ve got leaves, trees, sand, dirt, rocks, animals, etc. Then you stumble upon a fully-crafted ax. You can tell it is different from the other items because of its composition and the clear evidence of design. You run your thumb across the blade and cut yourself. This thing is meant for cutting. It might work for other jobs, but obviously cutting is the primary one. Continue reading

Women, Family, and Economy

rosieI’m not sure what it takes for something to qualify as having “gone viral,” but my latest post on feminism and women in combat is hinting in that direction. It isn’t that it got so many hits all at once, but (more interestingly) it is getting very diverse traffic, some friendly and some not so much. And so instead of leaving well enough alone, I figured I should be like the Apostle Paul and not let a small-scale riot be an opportunity wasted. For those who were confused, bothered, or enraged, let me say that while yes, I do believe some very radical and outrageous stuff and wish to persuade you all of it as well, I probably don’t quite mean what you think.

For starters, I don’t condemn or even blame women living in our society who have sought to go be their own persons and do what they believe. I think they are wrong, of course (as are also most of the men), but they’re doing exactly what you would expect, given our culture’s values and the basic framework of our society and economy. Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense if they weren’t trying to make it to the top. To quote Mrs. Sayers again, women are human. Continue reading

The Actual Culture War

So there definitely is a culture war.  It doesn’t take much reading through academic literature and the press to see that discussions of reason and revelation, faith and science, social freedoms, public morality, and sexual identity all attract attention and all cut to the deepest convictions and principles of American society.  And it doesn’t take long to see that America is unsettled on those convictions and principles.  The problem is that this culture war is often pretty mixed up, with participants shooting themselves in the foot as often as anything else.

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  This is true.  People learn a couple of talking points and a few intellectual formulas, and suddenly they think they have profound weaponry for social regeneration.  One example is a billboard on Interstate 55 here in Jackson.  It’s advertising a school which, I’m told, actually does do a good job at placing students into colleges and preparing them for high-paying jobs.  Still, the sign’s faux intellectualism is unnerving.  It advertises that the school will “Teach you how to think, not what to think.”  Now that certainly sounds pious.  This school, unique among all others, will avoid brainwashing its students with socio-political bias and will instead impart to them a view-from-nowhere objectivity that will allow these students to discover the best world and life for each of them, as they freely realize it on their own, with no intrusion from the principalities and powers.

Obviously that’s ridiculous.   Continue reading