Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Justice Scalia: Religion and the Law

Justice Scalia has recently made some remarks in a speech that would certainly upset some regarding the role of religion in the public square. Here is the Christianity Today article, and the Jerusalem Post article. A couple of quotes:

"We are fools for Christ's sake … We must pray for the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of religious lawyers.

Sometimes that takes a pretty thick skin-and I can only imagine what he faces in his position.

He told the crowd, "There is something wrong with the principle of neutrality." Neutrality as envisioned by the founding fathers "is not neutrality between religiousness and nonreligiousness; it is between denominations of religion."

This sentiment is obviously not PC, but it is, I think, correct. Take these statements about religion:

1. There is no God.
2. Even if there is a God, He/She/They/It do not belong in the public square.
3. God exists.
4. The public square needs to take God into consideration.

One might argue that statements 1 and 2 are “public” and reasonable while statements 3 and 4 are “private” and belong in the home or the church. What is it that distinguishes the two sets? Why are two considered public and the others private?

Typically the answer is that making the second two statements public would force a point of view or a morality on the rest of the populace. But this is certainly no different than making the first two public. Statements 1 and 2 come with a metaphysical, political, social and moral point of view, and if they are made the standards for social interaction, they then force a certain point of view on the populace.

Sometimes the argument is made that the public square should be free from religious convictions so all can be free to believe what they want. Statements 1 and 2, however, are not free from religious conviction, and as the slew of recent ACLU lawsuits make clear, they are statements which force a certain kind of religious practice upon believers. A public position of “there is no God” is not a moderating position for “there is a God”-it is its opposite.

In the sense that all four statements are propositions about religious matters and that they carry with them certain political, religious, social, and ethical points of view, they are no different. They certainly differ on what they assert about these matters, but it is a commonly accepted fallacy that the first two do not contain religious and ethical convictions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Plato. Socrates, Aristotle, Kant...Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson Teaches Class at Temple U

It is almost as if our culture no longer knows who is, and who is not a good thinker. The very fact that someone at Temple takes him seriously is a smear on the institution. And any time MTV takes an interest in a college (Art and Society-thanks for the clarification, Mr. Pierce) class, you know you shouldn't touch it with a ten foot poll.

There is so much wrong with this one, it is not even funny...

Moral Liberation?

The NY Times recently ran a story about their polling efforts of Kerry and Bush voters in regard to moral views. What came out of the poll, and what has been discussed almost ad naseum since the election, is that there is a significant portion of our society who is afraid of people who hold religious views. One little segment of the article pointed out that a significant portion of voters were worried about candidates who were “too close to religion and religious leaders.” Although the context of the Times article was political, the point of this post is a bit more philosophical. I would like to comment on what seems to be a growing view of religion, morality, and the public square.

I think what is coming out in these kinds of polls and punditry is a kind of moral calculus which can be described this way:

Religious/Absolute moral standards=moral constriction (read “evil”) and lead to intolerant (read “evil”) behavior.


The only good moral code is non-religious and allows for a greater moral flexibility and freedom.

Is this kind of moral freedom good for humanity?

I think those who think and argue along these lines have lost track of some very important historical and sociological lessons. Hitler went wrong in part because he freed himself from the Christian ethic “love thy neighbor.” The Crusades went wrong for the same reason. The excesses of a consumer culture are a result of freeing ourselves from the Christian ethic, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Dysfunctional families are dysfunctional in large part because people feel liberated from the Christian moral codes “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house….” Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in our pharmaceutically rich nation because people don’t feel constrained by the Christian ethic of Chastity.

The teleology of the human moral structure is analogous to the teleological structure of something like a watch. If you liberate your watch from your wrist and try to use it to sail to England, you will not fare well; if your liberated watch and you engage in a dual in which you feel it discriminatory to not allow your watch to not take part, it will be a short and one-sided duel indeed. One will discover that a watch functions best, and will function successfully, when it is used in the context for which it was created.

So it is with the human moral structure. Francis Schaeffer has famously said that though people disagree with God, they are still beings created in his image and living in the world He crafted. In other words, people may try to liberate themselves morally, but they will be uncomfortable and uneasy until they find themselves back in the hands of the God who created them. Paradoxically, it is the Christian moral structure which provides us with the freedom to really be human.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Another Update on the Science of ID and its Impact on the Scientific Culture

BreakPoint You Can�t Have It Both Ways

You can also find summations of this issue here.

For the longest time, the Intelligent Design movement has been cast aside because they didn't have articles published in peer reviewed journals. Now that there is one, the back-peddling has begun.

Squeezing Morality Out of the Public Square

A friend gave me this article this morning, and I found it to be a very incisive comment on the state of moral judgment in our culture today. Here is a snippit:

Those who think Christians should keep their moral views to themselves, it seems to me, are logically bound to deplore many praiseworthy causes, including the abolition movement, which was mostly the work of the evangelical churches courageously applying Christian ideas of equality to the entrenched institution of slavery. The slave owners, by the way, frequently used "don't impose your values" arguments, contending that whether they owned blacks or not was a personal and private decision and therefore nobody else's business. The civil rights movement, though an alliance of Christians, Jews, and nonbelievers, was primarily the work of the black churches arguing from explicitly Christian principles.

Double standard. The "don't impose" people make little effort to be consistent, deploring, for example, Roman Catholics who act on their church's beliefs on abortion and stem cells but not those who follow the pope's insistence that the rich nations share their wealth with poor nations or his opposition to the death penalty and the invasion of Iraq. If the "don't impose" people wish to mount a serious argument, they will have to attack "imposers" on both sides of the issues they discuss--not just their opponents. They will also have to explain why arguments that come from religious beliefs are less worthy than similar arguments that come from secular principles or simply from hunches or personal feelings. Nat Hentoff, a passionate opponent of abortion, isn't accused of imposing his opinions, because he is an atheist. The same arguments and activity by a Christian activist would most likely be seen as a violation of some sort.

I agree. It seems the very fact of some religious backdrop to a decision disqualifies it from the public square. As Leo points out, those who think this way have massive lacunae in their understanding of the shape of the modern world. Trying to squeeze moral positions out of the public square simply because they are religious is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. We might as well disqualify murder, theft, adultery, etc.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Yahoo! News - NBA Suspends Artest for Rest of Season

Yahoo! News - NBA Suspends Artest for Rest of Season

Good for the NBA! That sport has become a joke the more it has played to the egomaniacle segment of our culture.

Oh for the days of Bird, Johnson,Jordan, Jabar, Ainge, Merovich...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Good To Know God Still Has Something To Do...

I am on the mailing list of a Philosophy department at a major University which shall remain nameless, and I recently received this email regarding their Theology Forum:

Since Plato's Euthyphro, it has been problematic to try to provide a divine justification for normative claims. For if something is good merely because God loves it, then his love seems arbitrary and capricious and so unworthy of moral allegiance; while if God loves something because it is good, then he is responding to some independent standard of value rather than providing such a standard himself. I argue that the first possibility -- that something is good or valuable because God loves it -- becomes more plausible and appealing if we consider various ordinary and everyday examples of ways in which love can confer value on the object loved rather than responding to its prior loveability. This opens the way to provide some (limited) role for God as a source and ground of value.

Before I make a couple of comments, I want to make sure people are familiar with the issue typically labeled, “Euthyphro’s Dilemma.” Socrates once discombobulated an interlocutor (poor Euthyphro-how would you like to be immortalized for loosing an argument?) by spearing him on the horns of a dilemma regarding the nature of the gods and goodness. The dilemma is this: Are good things good because God commands them, or does God command good things because they are good?

If you answer in the affirmative to the first half of the dilemma, you have made the god’s commands arbitrary, saying they can command anything they want to and it would be deemed good. If you like the second half of the dilemma you have agreed to a position in which the gods are inferior to a higher standard of goodness to which they are bound.

As a Christian, how does one respond? Do we grab the horns and prepare to be philosophically impaled claiming we hold to Christian goodness on blind faith? There may be another way to handle the problem before the blood-letting begins.

An influential paper written on this very issue a few years ago was entitled (something like), “What Euthyphro Could Not Say.” The point of the article was that Euthyphro was successfully impaled on the horns because there was no third way out of the argument. In other words, if Euthyphro could argue that the dilemma was a false choice and that there was another way to see the issue, then he might have escaped Socrates’ famous question. But given the nature of the pantheon of Greek gods, Euthyphro did not have another theological escape valve. It appears that believers in the God of the Bible do.

The article goes on to point out that the best way to escape the dilemma is to argue that God’s very nature determines what is good. That way, God’s commands are not arbitrary because His good nature determines what He commands, and God is not beholden to something outside of Himself. Avoiding the arbitrary charge, God could not command, “torturing babies is good,” because it would go against the goodness of His character. Additionally, humans have a nugget of that goodness built into their natures, giving further accountability to what is good and not good. We know (morally speaking) that torturing babies is evil, and if God commanded it, we would still know it was evil. But because we were created with the image of God implanted within us, we share (on some analogous level) God’s sense of goodness.

Having touched on the dilemma, we can now talk briefly about the issue raised in the e-mail.

Does God Provide Some Level of Moral Grounding?

The proper notion of God provides the only source of moral grounding. Ultimately there are two sources of possible moral grounding-something human and something superhuman (beyond the physical-not Clark Kent). The variants of “something human” are multifold. Maybe morality is built into our DNA. Maybe morality is a kind of shared, communal experience. Maybe morality is a matter of personal choice. Maybe morality is a matter of pragmatism.

Though the DNA option is a popular one, it fails for the reason that a physical, descriptive state of reality can never produce a prescriptive injunction. Because something is the case does not mean it ought to be the case. Justifying the ought of morality takes more than describing the is of physicalism.

The other sources of moral grounding reduce to some flavor of relativism, be it cultural or individual. Even if a large culture develops a moral structure over time, there is nothing which binds other cultures to that ethic. For example, there is no moral justification for going to war against people like Hitler. So what if Hitler wants to commit genocide? Maybe that is just what his culture has decided to allow him to do. Even if Hitler attacks our country directly, that may be the moral value of their culture and who are we to impose our sense of peace on them? But if a culture wants to stop a maniac like Hitler, it has to believe that its moral code has some kind of trans-cultural authority. At that point we are beyond human sources of moral grounding.

It is a pretty major concession for a non-theist philosopher to grant that God plays some role in grounding morality. Good to know that God still plays some role in the modern, enlightened world…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What is Christian Meditation?

I ran across this article from a former professor of mine in which he distinguishes between meditation that is Christian in nature, and meditation which is not. It is becoming more and more popular in Christian circles to be involved in eastern-style meditation as a form of mental and/or physical health, and more and more people no longer understand what it means to “meditate” as a Christian. The concept people are typically confronted with today is a fuzzy, “harmless” notion of meditation for some kind of inner-peace, and as a result, many believers don’t know the difference between yoga and the meditation enjoined in Scripture.

So what are the differences between the two? One passage from the article states:

The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is "with groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7).

Christian meditation, then, is a matter of reflection, discernment, reason, and prayer (communication). There are many biblical passages which talk of meditation, and each and every time they refer to meditating on precepts, works, laws, teachings, etc. When the Christian mediates, they are thinking about God. Some representative passages include:

Joshua 1:8 - Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Psalm 48:9 - Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

Psalm 77:12 - I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Psalm 119:27 - Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.

Psalm 119:99 - I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

On the other hand, when one mediates in the tradition of eastern mysticism, the exercises people engage in are designed to turn off the mind to all things. As people “empty” themselves, they, according to eastern teachings, finally open themselves to the reality beyond the physical world and achieve enlightenment. Mantras and koans are designed to disengage a person’s rational capacity and open them up physically and spiritually to the spirit world.

The differences could not be deeper. A famous Zen koan is, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ It is not designed to be answered-it is designed to make the adherent comfortable with not answering questions. In direct contrast to that, take a question posed by the scriptural passages I noted above, “what is God’s love like?” That question is designed to be answered, even if analogously.

Christians should not swallow what passes for popular meditation whole. They should be discerning and discipline themselves to turn on their minds and hearts when the do meditate.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Ironic Connection Between The Emergent Church and The Church Growth Movement

If you were to read up on the postmodern movement in the evangelical church world right now, you would discover a vehement distaste of Modernism and what I have called the “Pragmatic Church.” Postmodern, or Emergent, pastors and leaders talk a lot about how the Church Growth movement in general sold out to the reigning cultural paradigm of Modernism. As a result, they say, we must separate ourselves from the consumer church culture and recognize the postmodern tide around us.

There is nothing wrong in recognizing and describing the postmodern world around us, but many in the Emergent movement have gone a little over the edge and are consciously becoming postmodern themselves. It is not uncommon to hear that someone is planting a “postmodern church.”

Of all the pitfalls inherent in postmodernism, one that seems to not be noticed is the philosophical heritage Emergent churches and Church Growth churches share. That common ancestry is found in the tenants of pragmatism. In an ironic twist of cultural fate, pragmatism is a key component of the Church Growth movement, and is a subset of postmodernism. In short, pragmatism teaches that if something works, it is true. Or from the other side of the equation, the value of truth is wrapped up in whether something works. This philosophy is easy to see in the Church Growth movement; size equals success. In the Emergent church movement, it is a little more sly than that.

Pragmatism is a part of the philosophical tradition that holds to a heavy-duty skepticism concerning Truth. The skepticism is so deep that contemporary pragmatists deny not only metaphysical truth, but the possibility of talking about metaphysical truth in any meaningful way (see Richard Rorty and the recently departed Derrida whom too many Emergent writers have held in high esteem). In my adventures in reading Emergent authors and bloggers, there is an unnerving similarity to this level of skepticism. So much so, that some of them even question the heretical moniker of people like Arius.

In addition, there is a general move away from the shared tradition of inerrancy and theological authority. You might be hard pressed to find an evangelical, emergent pastor who flat-out denies the role of scriptural tradition, but too many of them are ready to think so far “out of the box” that they have entered a whole other box altogether.

Here is my prediction about Postmodern Christianity: Because it is based on a worldview that is so vacuous and dangerously skeptical, it will disappear as a major evangelical movement within a generation. There is no doubt there will be plenty of postmodern churches around for a long time, but they will cease to be the intriguing and influential movement they are now. If a house is built on the sand…

The Bigoted Beat Goes On...

After posting my last blog on evolution and the ID movement, I ran across this article on CNN. It actually contains these words from an evolutionist:

"We're really busy. We have a lot to do. And here we are, having to go through this 19th century argument over and over again," said Sarah Pallas, who teaches biology and neuroscience at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

You gotta love that kind of myopic bigotry!

National Geographic and Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

National Geographic (NG) magazine has decided to throw its two cents in on the current tide of evolution and Intelligent Design (read “creationism” in all of NG’s writings). It is not that NG has not been solidly in the evolutionary camp, but it recently ran a cover story with the question ,”Was Darwin Wrong?” The answer comes in swift fashion on the first page of the article in one sweeping sentence, “NO.”

I don’t want to spend my time detailing too many of the issues raised in the article. New Covenant has done a fair bit of that and has dealt with many of the specific issues involved. Ultimately, I want to raise a couple of other issues with the evolution/ID debate, but I can’t pass up at least one specific jab at the article.

One of the favorite justifications of the evolutionary model, and one that is used throughout the article, is any kind of analogy to domestic breeding. Although this has been a favorite argument from the days of Darwin himself, I am frankly shocked that it has not been banished from the evolutionary world due to its clear ID-style implications. The argument is simple-domestically bred animals change over time into new breeds. The implication is also simple-an intelligent mind guided the domestic process to achieve a predetermined goal. Every time that argument is made by an evolutionist, they are cutting off the branch they are sitting upon.

One might wonder why this argument is still in play in evolutionary circles. I have a hunch. It is my theory that evolutionists lack the amount of evidence they need to get rid of bad arguments. Hence, they return again and again to arguments from similarity in shape and domestic breeding.

J.P. Moreland agrees when he writes:

The blind watchmaker thesis is crucial to the naturalist, and it is precisely this sense of evolution that has far less evidence in support of it than is often realized. Whether or not you agree with this statement, one thing seems clear: the certainty claimed for evolution and the ferocity with which it is held go far beyond what is justified by scientific evidence and empirical testing. No one could read Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity, 1991), Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1986), or JP Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (InterVarsity, 1994) without realizing that a serious, sophisticated case can be made against the blind watchmaker thesis even if one judged that, in the end, the case is not as persuasive as the evolutionary account.

The curious reader could follow the trail of evidence and argument many places. I want to raise two philosophical arguments against the naturalism of evolution. First, if you are not familiar with the “argument from reason,” you should peruse these posts (here, here), which, if successful, undercut the paradigm of naturalism altogether. Here I want to briefly raise the problems of values and agency.


If naturalism is true, then it would be hard, if not impossible, to account for values. If I noticed that, “the apple is green,” we would be able, in completely naturalistic terms, to account for all the portions of the proposition. We would be able to physically locate the apple, genetically prove it is an apple, and then verify through wavelength experimentation that it might be the most delicious of all apples, the Granny Smith. On the other hand, take a statement like, “love is a virtue.” In short, there is nothing in that statement which can be verified through naturalistic experimentation or verification. Neither “love” nor “virtue” are natural/physical properties or substances, and yet they are real.

The fact that we experience values and act on values stands as a strong argument against a universe which is wholly physical. Atoms and molecules cannot account for love, humility, courage, humor, fear, guilt, altruism, etc. For a fuller treatment, see this article.


This section is, in part, a restatement of the arguments from reason noted above. Kant was famously one of the more dominant thinkers to take naturalism to its natural conclusions regarding agency. He argued that the physical universe acted only as a matter of physical input and output and was hence deterministic. Output could be determined by input, and output could not occur without the right input. At the same time, he was struck by the inescapeable reality of human agency and ethical responsibility. In fact, agency and responsibility were such powerful and intuitive notions for Kant that he built another level into his philosophy to account for them. As a result, he argued that although the physical aspect of the human was guided by deterministic input/output, the non-physical aspects of the human were detached from the cycle of determinism.

Whatever is true or false about the details of Kant’s philosophy, he was right to conclude that we as humans simply cannot get rid of agency and responsibility. “Cannot” in this sense does not mean “we hope to keep these notions,” it means “it is a philosophical absurdity to get rid of them.”


Thanks to New Covenant for the link.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

What's In A Name?

What’s in a name? Just today I decided to give this blog a bit of a fresh life by updating some of my links and working a little harder to hit the rest of the blogging world. Part of the new wax job is a name change from the minimalist, but satiated with meaning, “sentio.” Sentio is latin for “thought,” “meaning,” or “purpose.” It sounded good when I first created the blog, but I have decided since to make my existence and purpose a bit more accessible to the English speaking world. (Not that I speak anything much but English, a bit of impromptu Spanglish, and engage in the occasional Ebonics spelling contest myself.)

Hence the new name, “every thought captive” taken from 2 Corinthians 10:5. That little phrase captures what I am intending to do with this blog-see the world through the eyes of a holistic Christian worldview. You can be the judge as to how successful I am.

But keep in mind the words of Paul from Philippians 3:15 as you do, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

G.K. Chesterton - Reviews

I have recently run across a couple of articles/reviews on Chesterton that I think are worth reading when you have the time. Of all the accolades heaped upon this prolific writer, I think one thing that can be said of him in certainty is that there is no Christian writer alive today who is quite as lucid, witty, and right as he was. Plenty of Christian writers are incisive and revealing, but very few are as fun to read as Chesterton.

This one is written by the head of the Chesterton Society.

This one is a review of the TV show, G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, which, by the way, is proof that TV can be redeeming.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bumper Sticker Science: Intelligent Design, Evolution, and Public Education

I don’t mean to be a one note samba of late, but this issue of evolution and Intelligent Design has hit the news hard, and the results of people questioning the intellectual hegemony of Darwinism are laughable. If you don’t believe that the scientific community at large is afraid of anything which would question naturalistic evolution, consider the outrage sparked by this sticker in a text book in Atlanta: (here, here)

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
As a result of this “warning sticker,” the chicken littles of the scientific community are running to the courts claiming this is a violation of the so-called separation of church and state. I must have missed something, but did you happen to catch the Nicene Creed or the Lord’s Prayer in the warning sticker? Did you feel the need to repent and seek religious conversion as a result of the sticker?

What is really happening is that the scientific community has defined the science of human life and origins as evolution, and defined all other contenders as religion. If you wanted to put it in a formula, it might be: Evolution=Science; Every Other View=Private Religious Value. They are scared to death of anything which might challenge their scientific sugar daddy. If they were not frightened, they would challenge ID on the merits, but they don’t. I don’t claim to have read everything which is a challenge to ID science, but the fair amount I have read boils down to ad hominum and ad hoc attacks.

Another thing which strikes me as ironic, is that the sticker in question is altogether scientific. It states the position which follows and encourages the reader to be critical and open minded. If one replaced the second sentence with just about anything else, there would be no furor; but because it addresses evolution specifically, some very scientific shorts are in a bunch.

In case you did not know, the nexus of the ID movement can be found on the Discovery Institute web page.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Opposing Intelligent Design by Loading Terms

This story highlights the latest battlefront for the ID movement. You wouldn’t know it to read this article, but what is at stake in Wisconsin is not Christian theology, but the science of Intelligent Design. Why wouldn’t you know it? Because the terms of the “debate” have been determined beforehand, and it has been decided that anything but Darwinist evolution be described in loaded theological terms.

That way, the science of Intelligent Design can be opposed in terms of “separation of Church and State,” as well as “bad science.” But if ID is described as what it honestly is-a viable scientific option to the standard evolutionary model-then these stories can’t use those kinds of emotionally loaded terms. Who could oppose scientific theory being taught in schools? Well, not too many people. But who could oppose religious dogma being forced down the throats of unwitting school children? Why, everyone!

In one way, it is great these issues keep on hitting the press. It means more people are getting the science of ID. Certainly there are probably those on school boards who have religious agendas, but if they are using ID to express them, then they are using a solid theory to do so.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Why NBA Centers are Descended from Festivus Poles

The human eye stands as one of the outstanding examples of a complex biological mechanism that is either difficult or impossible to explain in purely evolutionary terms. The fundamental concept behind “irreducible complexity” is illustrated well with the eye-it doesn’t work unless all the major parts are there all at once.

Therefore, the eye represents one of those hills that evolutionary theory would like to take. Many are sure it can be explained by purely naturalistic processes (if that is the only interpretive model you have then by definition, everything is or will be explained by it) even if there is no robust theory at this time. Enter one of the oldest moves in the Darwinist playbook. If the chemical or biological pathway can’t be explained, then surely the physical approximation theory has to work. Something smaller and older looks like the latest evolutionary branch in the tree, so the two must be related.

This kind of move has been a major justification for the evolutionary model for a long time. We all remember the sketchs of human embryos and tadpoles whose purpose (which turned out to be deliberate hoaxes) was to make us all believe that becuase we all looked like tadpoles at one point, we are therefore related to them. That explaines why tall, skinny NBA centers are evolutionarily descended from Festivus poles.

This commentary, put out by the Intelligent Design movement, links to the latest incarnation of this visionary model. Don’t be taken in by the level of similarity (sub-cellular). The argument is the same: If they look alike, they must be related.

Confusing Political and Spiritual Kingdoms

It is difficult at times to figure out what view a Christian should take on political matters. That Christians should vote based on their theological and ethical principles is certain, but how that gets worked out in reality is a lot more complex and nuanced.

From time to time Chuck Colson speaks wisely to these matters. His recent column does this pretty well. In it he writes:

With the presidential election finally over and with the re-election of
President Bush, some are thinking, “Hallelujah! We have a president who’s going to promote a godly moral agenda. All is well because we’ve won.”

If that’s what you’re thinking, it’s time for a serious reality check. The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One…

I have often thought that many pastors confuse kingdoms and assume America is synonymous with the Kingdom of God. Sometimes I feel like we are being asked to worship the American flag placed neatly next to the “Christian flag” on the platform. We need to be careful about these matters and do our best to distinguish the One who will never do evil or fail us, and those political figures who are just as fallible and broken as we are.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Emergent Church and a Christian Worldview

Reading Robert Webber’s “The Younger Evangelical,” I was shocked to discover that there is a wave of young evangelical out there who rail against the notion of Christianity as a “worldview.” (pages 164-164 explicitly) Their argument is that looking at the Faith as a worldview narrows it down to a philosophy and not something that is lived out. Quoted in the book, Charles Moore says that seeing Christianity as a worldview, “abstracts reason from history and pits the existing, choosing subject against the object. It reduces Christianity to metaphysics.”

Against this view is Nancy Pearcey’s “Total Truth.” This book is a long and well developed argument that a well understood Christian worldview is a matter of life as well as thought. In fact, to reduce Christianity to “merely” a metaphysic is to do damage to the intent of the Christian faith. To properly understand Christianity is to understand it as a worldview (a metanarrative, if you will) which permeates each and every part of the believer’s life.

The first quote in “The Younger Evangelical” highlights what I think is a disturbing and sad trend in many portions of the emergent church movement. Some of the leaders of the movement don’t understand their own faith well enough to know what ideas like “Christian worldview” really mean. The leader quoted has succumbed to a poor and inadequate philosophy which probably promised him the ability to “go beyond” Modernism and Enlightenment thinking. The consequence, though, of such postmodern balderdash is not a deeper and better understanding of the faith, but a worse.

“Worldview” is one of those concepts you can’t get away from. It is a little like Truth. Although a relativist may say something like, “there are no truths,” if that statement is supposed to be true, then it collapses under its own weight. Likewise to argue that Christianity should not be understood as a worldview is to cause your own view to collapse under its own weight. That statement reveals a worldview (call it whatever you like-metanarrative, heuristic philosophy, etc.) in which Christianity is not a metanarrative. What is most likely happening in the case quoted above is that Moore has either not properly understood either the concept of “worldview” or the reality that his faith is a worldview. The first possibility is sad-the second is deadly.

As for a more specific thought on exactly what Moore wrote in the quote above, what is wrong with a Christian metaphysic? If he believes God really exists, he has a metaphysical point of view. If he believes God only exists for those who believe in Him, he has a metaphysical point of view. And so on. Additionally, it has always been the case, from the Apostle Paul on, that having right knowledge about a Christian metaphysic changed the way people behaved. Take for instance Colossians chapter 3. The whole chapter is an argument for a change of lifestyle as a result of a newly held Christian metaphysic. If a Christian wants to degrade things such as a Christian metaphysic, it will result in biting the hand that feeds them. The very thing which justifies their system of behavior is a system of metaphysics, metaethics, epistemology, etc.

Concerning the subject/object distinction brought up in the quote, is it simply a false dichotomy in a well understood Christian worldview. Living out our faith unifies the subject (disciple) and the object (creator), and is the goal of the Christian worldview.

I wrote a post a while ago about the aftertaste of postmodernism, and one of the issues I discussed was sloppy thinking. The student is like the master-if the master is a bad thinker, then the dutiful student will be as well. Postmodernism is a bad philosophy and pastors and church leaders who embrace it (to any degree) will be bad thinkers when it comes to serious matters.

Christianity is a worldview-there is no getting around it. The real issue is discipling believers to live it out in every aspect of their lives.

Gibson and Stem Cells

Way to go Mel! (here, here)

I typically cringe when a celebrity comes out of the closet politically, but this is a good move for us all. If the jejune quality of celebrity can influence people’s opinions, then I am in favor of Mr. Gibson making this stand.

Why is this not hypocritical on my part? (Supporting one celebrity endorsement and not another.) Because some celebrities are wrong (probably most of them) and some of them are right. On this issue Michael J. Fox is unfortunately wrong and Mel Gibson is right.

Missional Church: Consuming Mission

Mars Hill Audio is a great resource for those who want to keep up with a lot of the thought out there on Christianity and contemporary culture. Sometimes the interviews and subject matter can be a little esoteric (at least for a pastor and philosopher), but they are more often than not rewarding for the attentive listener.

A recent interview with Vincent Miller about his book, “Consuming Religion,” could easily fall into that category. He argues that we have separated ourselves enough from the roots and humanity of our products that we no longer treat them as real objects with real histories. Instead, products like food, clothing, and music are nothing more than commodities. We consume potatoes, for instance, and have no idea where they come from, how they got to us, and any of the issues facing potato farmers. I know that argument will excite several people, especially those who are driven by social justice issues, but what it did for me was cause me to reflect on the life of the church in the 21st century when it comes to mission.

I have always been a supporter of supporting missions. Not all of us have the inclination, the gifting, and the drive to pick up our lives, move to a foreign land, and live among the natives. As Americans, though, we more than likely do have the ability to provide for missionaries financially. In fact, I believe that we shirk our duties and blessings if we do not do such things.

When we turn our attention to the American cultures, however, more and more people are seeing the church’s job “at home” as missional. As time goes on, more Americans have no discernible Christian background, and have little to no interest in the Christian church. I believe that part of what the church will find itself doing to meet these new challenges will be augmenting the traditional formats of missional work. Given what we have typically done in the American church, I think we have flirted with consuming mission; we have turned missional work into a commodity and have separated ourselves from the human issues with our money. One friend of mine calls this “buying our way out of evangelism.”

In addition to the financial support of missions and missionaries over-seas, I think the church should pursue missions closer to home which bring the believer into literal physical contact with the mission field. It is true that many Christians have been on short term missions trips and have worked closely with needs in other countries, but I imagine it is another level of mission altogether when a believer sees themselves as living 24/7 among the need. There is no going home from this mission field.