Monday, August 31, 2009

Are we becoming a nation of stupid voters?

That may sound like a question asked in anger by a losing political party, but in fact, more and more sociological work is being done that answers in the affirmative. One recent essay by Mary Grabar makes that case. One of the more frightening anecdotes she tells (it is frightening because it is all too familiar), is of a surgeon and medical student at a townhall meeting debating health care reform.

One young student, a Doogie Howser type, cocksure in his white coat, was convinced that he was on the right side of compassion and “social justice.”

The surgeon, who was not wearing the doctor’s coat, argued against the government encroachment into the relationship between doctor and patient. He admitted that there are problems with health care currently, but argued quite logically and ethically against the extreme measures of the bill. He cited his experience of working in a government (VA) hospital. He said that competition means good service for patients and gave examples and reasons.

The med student accused him of “trying to make a profit.” (The good doctor had said he treats at least a couple of children of illegal aliens a month for free.)

As the surgeon understandably became increasingly frustrated in the debate, the med student used techniques that are now common in the classroom: emotional sabotaging tactics under the cover of “conflict resolution.” Acting as if the surgeon were an unreasonable child (or more likely senile), the student said, “Let me crystallize this …” The tone was condescending.

Grabar is not alone in her observations of students and younger voters. Begining with Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, we have recently seen a slew of works devoted to the dumbing down of the newest set of 20-somethings. Among my favorites are Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation and Tim Clydesdale's The first Year Out (not to mention the seminal works done by Niel Postman).

Health Care: Right vs. Good

Among the ethical issues which are invariably part of the push for health care reform, is the question of whether health care is a right. We may all want all people to be covered with adequate and useful health care, but to use the word "right" is to invoke all kinds of political realities and social responsibilities. So it really does matter whether it is actually a right alongside things like the freedom of speech or the freedom of religion.

On his prolific blog on bioethics, Wesley J. Smith comments on an article posted on First Things by Dr. Eric Chevlen (a medical doctor). It touches on the rights issue as well as other hot-button topics like rationing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jesus and the New Evangelicals

Modern evangelicalism is drinking deeply from the waters of postmodern and contemporary sensibilities. And depending on who you read, that is a good thing, or the one thing that will eventually destroy the movement. It is possible to understand the current postmodern culture well and address it through the lens of traditional Christian faith, or you can use the culture as a template for reimagining the Christian faith. Many in the emergent movement, and some in the seeker-sensitive movement are doing the latter, and it doesn't please John MacArthur.

The Jesus You Can't Ignore begins strong. In his introduction, MacArtuhr outlines the pressing reasons for writing the book. The more he encounters and reads the new evangelicals, the more he worries they are giving up on the central and defining components of the faith for irenic encounters with those who disagree deeply with Christian faith. His introduction to the book centers on the leading thinkers of the emergent movement and the recently published, Evangelical Manifesto. MacArthur argues that both strains of modern evangelicalism are soft on everything that matters and strong on ideas that are dangerous to the faith.

The rest of the book extends his thesis through the life of Christ. Jesus wasn't "nice" the way many construe niceness today. He confronted, even instigated arguments with, false teachers believing and teaching that false doctrine was dangerous to the human soul. Even when the encounters resulted in repentance and belief, Jesus was never less than straightforward about the truth of the Gospel (e.g. his encounter with Nicodemus). Where writers like McLaren and Campolo seek for dialogue with other faiths, glossing over the distinctives of the Christian faith, MacArthur argues that they could not be further from the example of Christ.

The strength of the book lies in MacArthur's overwhelming biblical evidence for his point. Chapter after chapter, he outlines and does the exegesis necessary to describe several scenes from Jesus' life and how he encountered false teaching. From the obvious encounters to the Sermon on the Mount, the book is loaded with biblical evidence. In fact, the evidence is so overwhelming, I think it puts to bed the soft-headed emergent idea that Jesus was first of all nice to others and never confronted them with the truth. If they want that idea to be taken seriously, they need to engage with the scenes portrayed and explained in this book.

The weakness of the book was that MacArthur didn't, to my taste, engage the emergent authors directly. Early on he quotes them a few times, but after the second chapter, they are non-existent. The premise of every chapter is aimed directly at refuting what he sets up early, but I think the book would have a greater impact if he kept up with the citations.

Overall, this is a great book directed at one of the defining issues in evangelical theology today: will postmodern philosophy define our theology as well as our culture? MacArthur's answer is basically, "God forbid!" and he backs it up well.