Hmmm…

I am not a very inspirational kind of person. I don’t like it when people try to inspire me or get me excited about things. I keep my expectations pretty low generally and therefore can walk around pleasantly surprised most of the time. I especially despise treacle like writing that is, to borrow the Christian radio tagline, positive and encouraging. I like my reading the way I like my whiskey, neat. 

That said, it is of some small interest to me to see the drift on this blog. I don’t like to attack specific people, but I do like to attack bad ideas. However, a constant stance of war is unhealthy. As Kevin DeYoung pointed out in a sermon years ago even soldiers in Iraq got excited and took a break when ice cream shipments arrived. I think I might need to work harder at writing optimistically more often. Not sure how that is going to work. There is always an endless piñata of stupid out there, and it is fun to whack at it. But there are also good things, funny things, edifying ideas. 

I think the current tone in these parts has become a bit bleak. And since there there currently are no other writers on this blog I suppose it is up to me to give it the old college try. So raise your glasses, Gentlemen, to optimism… I hope.

Interpretation Weak

Image Tom’s Doubts #14

I was sent a Twitter thread by my friend and occasional contributor D.W. Syme, that he felt was a good example of the trend of, “Lots of, ”Bible believing” Christians currently being “liberated” from conservative positions because, hey, that was just an interpretation, and we are human after all so maybe we got it wrong.” 

“There’s a huge difference between the authority of the Bible & the authority of my interpretation of the Bible. Why this distinction is so difficult for some Christians to grasp is a mystery to me. It’s no more controversial than admitting God is perfect and I am not.” – Skye Jethani from the Twitter-verse

You can find the rest of the thread here: 

Syme wondered what my apologetic approach would be to this line of thinking, and I figured I would give that in this post.

My first step would be to find out what sin the person in question wants to commit. If I had to guess 90% of the time this is what motivates people to explain away those passages that Doug Wilson calls, angular texts with sharp edges. Rarely is a person actually doing the hard work of understanding a difficult text. Usually it is explaining away a perfectly clear one they don’t like. 

But let us assume, good faith, that the person is genuinely thinking that what they have been taught is more a result of Regan Era political thinking and not rigorous methods of interpretation. Well then, I have good news. We have over two thousand years of Christian History to survey on this text. And even taking into account that early Church fathers are harder to read, and that Puritans are right out thanks to Hawthorne and Miller,* there is still a few hundred years to play with showing a consistent stream of protestant interpretation. Christians stand athwart history and repeat the same things, over and over again. The idea that suddenly something new has been discovered is always heresy. It is arrogance to assume that out of the blue sky a new understanding has been born. It is chronological snobbery to say that previous generations were rubes who got it all wrong and today you have figured out the true truth. 

With these two thoughts in mind I think the last thing to do is take down the false humility that coats these kinds of things like an inch thick layer of varnish on a 1970’s coffee table. And again this is usually pretty simply done. The person in question usually feigns humility with a phrase like the one above, “It’s no more controversial than admitting God is perfect and I am not.” You simply keep a laser focus on the clear text, that again is usually what is trying to be explained away, and ask, “When God wrote this did he mean it or was it for kicks and giggles?” Any answer other than, “He meant it” or, “He didn’t mean it” is equivocation and weasel words. They proposition they played out was God is perfect we are not, was he incapable of perfectly transmitting a clear message? Is he incapable of perfectly preserving that message? Is he incapable of perfectly maintaining the interpretation through His Spirit over the generations? It is an arrogant position to take that down through the centuries God let people get it wrong until you popped up.** 

At the base the objection that interpretation and modern understanding is wrong is an ignorant one. The ignorance is on display in the assumption that conservative Christians are not standing on the shoulders of giants. The ignorance may be genuine, lazy, or willful. But it is still ignorance. And it is pride to boast in your ignorance: There is no mystery here, there is a desire for sin, and a cover up by saying that the side with clear Scripture, and thousands of years of consistent interpretation behind them is wrong. 

 A final note, what I have laid out above are principals and examples of reason. These are given as an assurance and edification to christians who are meeting these arguments. However, what is conspicuously absent from this post are primary sources. These arguments are of no use to anyone who is equally ignorant or lazy as the person picking the fight. The work of study and knowing the facts must be done, there are no substitutes. As well it is of equal little use to rigidly hold to the argument Daily Wire style. As Chief Justice Joh Roberts told a clerk once, “facts and reason matter less than a good story.” Someone who is arrogant is clamped down, they have to be pried open for the facts and reason to get in. That is done by humility and winsomeness. So blasting them on Twitter will only further entrench them. But if you come across someone like this in the wild. Then how you engage matters. Humility and winsomeness do not mean being a pushover. it’s the difference between a bottle opener and a lead pipe. Both are capable of getting to the ale, but only one does so in a productive way…

*Debunking myths about the Puritans, while fun, would be, in an apologetic context, a red herring.

**Anyone with a minimal internet informed opinion will probably leap to Luther and the reformation. “Didn’t you protestants discover something new?” No, Luther rediscovered what was always there and many people still held to, and the Papists were suppressing. Seekers don’t play the role of expert, they find experts to help them. Arrogant people pretend to have questions when they have already made up their minds about the answer. 

Your World as I See it: Surplus to Requirement

Editors Note: This is the second in a new series in the impromptus section. I am calling it Your World as I See it by Astor Clement. Similar to Doug Wilsons No Quarter November, I will, under the pseudonym, be offering my unvarnished opinions at will. As to that nome de plume, if you are a child of the 90’s the Jim Varney reference will be clear.

Sunday I was assigned to click through the slides on Pro-Presenter for our church service. And when I arrived there was no computer. The graphics card had given up the ghost, as a result the media team leader was scrambling to get his laptop to work with the projectors. One for the front and one in the back. The front one was working but the music guy was in a near panic because we could not get the back one working. What I had long suspected, turned out to be true. Neither he nor the praise team knew the words to any of the songs he had chosen. Several thoughts occurred to me. First of all being the question of why was this person employed by the church if he could not be bothered to be familiar with the one thing that is his primary job description? The praise team, being all volunteers, and pathologically late to any rehearsal, I could sort of understand. But this is supposed to be his job. Not to mention that the songs are so monotonously repetitive and repeated every three weeks or so in a circular fashion, even I have them down pat by now. Secondly, this would not be a problem if only we had some form of technology that did not require, electricity, programs, or graphics cards. Something that any member of the church could pick up and reliably use to give worship to God… Oh right, a hymnal. Those things without the toned down doctrine of sin to our brokenness, opting instead for all of that good theology.

Instead what do we have, someone too cool for school. Specifically, theology, or any music more complex than four chords. But worse than that is what was revealed by the failure of the computer. The rehearsal is not about learning the songs they are supposed to be leading the congregation in. That can simply be read from the screen in the back. Instead it is about the performance. It is about hitting the right beats to swell the emotions. It is about vocal talent, knowing where to preform those not on the screen, not for the congregation, solos, riffs, scatting, and holy sounding oooo’s ahhh’s, whoah’s, and Oh’s. It is about performance and entertainment, that looks like worship, but manifestly is not. Because without all the helps, the show would grind to a halt. As proof I point to the fact that it entered no one’s head that if we told the praise team, and the band they were off this week and just had the pianist play songs and the music guy stood up there to lead, everything would have been fine and God wold be glorified.  But in their minds worship can not happen without them, without the show they put on. 

In the film Fierce Creatures, John Cleese’s protagonist Rollo, is tasked with making a rural zoo profitable. He does this by insisting, to the chagrin of the current keepers, that the zoo will only house the more interesting blood thirsty “fierce creatures.” Naturally there is pushback with the zookeepers trying to convince Rollo that their current animals are fierce, such as trying to rename mere cats the piranha of the desert. Rollo sees through this ruse stating, “They are in fact cute, cuddly, and surplus to requirement!” This is a prefect summation of the modern church’s approach to worship music, and as Rollo insisted about the creatures that failed to meet the criteria, it should be put down.

So Long Roe

Editors Note: Having passed along to me some kind of disease my good friend D.W. Syme has made a contribution to this blog which I am delighted to publish.

It is possible that one of the greatest blows for justice since the civil rights era is about to be struck. We know this thanks to someone who leaked Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion representing a vote which would undo the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade and return the power to regulate abortions back to the states. Yet, many from the crowd of what we may call “Micah 6:8 Christians” seem to have suddenly lost their zeal to do justice. They posted black squares to protest police violence. Many of them marched, others placed BLM signs in their windows and yards. They insisted that Christians must loudly affirm that black lives matter, and in that specific language, regardless of how one felt about the official organization. But today, with the lives of the unborn at stake, the best they can offer is hand wringing over how this will affect victims rape and incest (factors which are only relevant in an estimated 1.5% of abortions), anxieties over whether expectant mothers will have the resources they need (in a time and place where more social programs are available to those in poverty than possibly in any other time in history), and Jeremiads about  our loss of witness to the watching world (we wouldn’t want them to think we actually had convictions). So what gives? Why are they so eager to go to the mattresses over black lives and the lives of mothers, but the unborn must wait at the back of the bus?

Hear me when I say this, I do not believe that these are people want abortion to continue. Nor do I think they are secret theological liberals intent on pulling the church leftward through underhanded means. I don’t want to impute nefarious motives to them. I think they are well intentioned but inconsistent, and I’d like to press them to be consistent. A secular liberal who believes that a baby in utero is only a clump of cells, even a very important clump cells but still less than human, can consistently tolerate abortion (though I have a whole host of other questions for them). But you, Christians, who say that you believe that life begins at conception, ought to have nothing to do with it. So I am writing to you as people who actually do care about ending abortion, actually do care about justice and actually are my brothers and sisters in Christ. If I’m wrong, that will be revealed in time. God does not see the same way people see; the Lord looks at the heart. But I am not God. Therefore, I have to take my spiritual siblings at their word and deal with what they’re actually saying. 

So, what are they actually saying? For years we have been told that voting left is an acceptable pro-life strategy even as the Democratic party has only hardened its pro-abortion stance over the years. The first argument usually boils down to this: social safety nets will reduce abortions. Our friends produce numbers of abortions under Democratic presidents versus the number under Republican presidents to prove their case. Secondly, they tell us that voting for Republicans is futile because Republicans do no more to end abortion than Democrats. Thirdly, they tell us that the Republican party is not truly pro-life because it is full of capital punishment fans, gun nuts and war hawks. Let me take a stab at all three. 

The first argument belies the big, underlying problem. They have bought into a lie. The lie. The great pro-choice lie. That is, that a human life inside the womb has some categorical difference, however slight, which separates it from a life outside the womb. I said that I did not believe my friends to be nefarious. That’s true. I don’t think they revel in the death of the unborn, they just don’t seem to mourn the loss of life in the womb quite the same way they do other human lives. Well, this argument that “such and such policy will reduce abortions” reveals the source of their inconsistency. They no longer actually believe that human life begins at conception. They may say they do, but they would not speak the way they do if they really still believed it. As soon as you employ this type of utilitarian calculous, they’ve got you. The pro-choice side has won you over whether you know it or not. Because no Christian would dare speak of human lives (I mean real, true, actual humans, with all the God given rights which that entails) as a numbers game. If an unborn child is a human being, then abortion is a human rights violation. And when faced with any other gross human rights violation, we would not seek to reduce it, we would oppose it to our last breath. 

For instance, we would not accept such an argument in regard to slavery. We would not say “well, I will vote for this pro-slavery candidate because he has promised reforms for fairer slave treatment.” We would not accept these arguments in regard to the holocaust, either. We would not say, “yes it is unfortunate that the Jews have been sent to the ghettos, but just look what this Hitler fellow has done to eliminate poverty among the Germans!” There were such appeasers during that time, but we do not look kindly on them now. We know that it is not right to weigh the lives of some against the lives of others, but that we must fight for all lives. We know that it is not right to compromise with an institution like slavery, but that it must be eradicated. Why then, would we weigh the liberty of mothers against the lives of the unborn? Why would we vote for politicians who actively seek to establish abortion as an immutable institution in this country, just because they also promise more social safety nets? The answer is blindingly clear. For those who make such arguments, somewhere along line, they bought into the idea that an unborn life is worth just a little bit less than one on the other side of the birth canal (perhaps somewhere around three-fifths).

Okay and how about the second argument? Do Republicans actually do anything about abortion? It seems almost silly ask this question now, on this historic day. But it has been asked so many times before that it does need addressing. The answer is yes. Red states across the country have trigger laws in place which will ban abortions at the earliest possible point, they have passed heartbeat bills, they have past licensing restrictions and so many more small, legislative victories which we are seeing culminate now. This is the result of a slow process of chipping away at this evil institution persistently for fifty years. Oh, and remember that argument about which president is in power and what the abortion rates are at that time? Well, that is what we call correlation. Which, famously, does not equal causation. If you look a little more closely you will find that the efforts of conservative activists and law makers are one of the main factors behind decreases in abortion rates. Even staunch never-Trumper and Christian Nationalist watch dog David French admits this:

“Decades of patient pro-life activism (protected by many of the court precedents referred to above) have resulted in hundreds of pro-life laws in states across the nation—including 288 laws passed between 2011 and 2015 alone—and are drivers in the extraordinary drop in the American abortion rate. The abortion rate is now lower than it was before Roe was decided, when abortion was actually illegal in multiple American jurisdictions.”

So yes, Republicans actually have been doing something about abortion. Specifically, the sort of Republicans that the David French’s of the world do not approve of. Now, if you are fed up with RINOs doing nothing, then you have a point. I certainly think the criticism is fair in the case of Susan Collins, say, who is currently urging congress to chuck out the filibuster in order to enshrine abortion as legal institution across land in perpetuity. Yeah, level that criticism at her all you want. But you can’t say it of most Republicans.

                  Okay so what about that third and final argument? Aren’t Republicans creating a culture of death through guns and war and all that? Don’t they “rally round the family with a pocket full of shells” as Rage Against the Machine once told us? Well, you’re back to doing utilitarian calculous again. Which has never been the ethical framework of Christians seeking justice. That wasn’t what drove Martin Luther King Jr. to write his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, for instance. No, he believed that the rights of everyone, everywhere, all the time ought to be protected because they were given by God. But okay, just for fun, if you want to do some utilitarian calculous let’s go ahead and actually do it. Because I’ve done the math, and you’re not going to like it. Disclaimer: I am about to steel-man this case as best as I possibly can. That means I’m being as generous as possible with these numbers. I want to give the other side as much concession as I possibly can, so that no one can accuse me of putting a thumb on the scale.

Capital Punishment – Yes I know babies are innocent and violent criminals are not, but let’s play along for the sake of argument. Also for the sake of argument, let’s say that all capital punishment cases are the fault of Republicans. That’s 46 people a year.

War – This would be the best argument for an abortion comparison as it is an ongoing issue which is guaranteed to end life and is often justified by society and politicians in similar ways to abortion. However, stretching back to Vietnam (thanks LBJ), foreign wars have been a broadly bi-partisan effort. So it’s hard to see a vote for the left as a clear cut anti-war vote. The biggest conflicts of the last 20 years certainly had bi-partisan support. Despite how badly Dems like Clinton or Biden may wish to distance themselves from their initial votes now. And there have been plenty of smaller conflicts to go around too. Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya etc. So, that argument that abortion happens under both republican administrations and democratic administrations certainly applies to war as well. But let’s just assume for the moment that the Democrats were a solidly anti-war party and could be reliably counted on to avoid foreign wars. In that case, what’s the body count we’re laying at the feet of the GOP? Vietnam – 58k, Gulf War – 294, Afghanistan – 2,216, Iraq – 4,497. Those are the big ones, and they total up to about 65k. But that’s just American deaths, you say, what about the other side? Okay, fine. Double it. Triple it. Quadruple it. That’s still just over a quarter million (260,028) in 70 years of U.S. conflicts. Legal abortion on the other hand has cleared as many as 1.4 million human lives in a single year in the U.S. and hasn’t gone lower than 600k a year since 1973. And how many times does abortion save lives? Very rarely. How many lives are saved due to U.S. intervention? Just ask the millions of Vietnamese starved by their own government in the years after the U.S. pulled out of that conflict. Ask the millions of South Koreans who keep fresh flowers on the graves of American service men to this day because they are grateful not to be like those dead Vietnamese. I’m a libertarian who opposes wars of intervention as much as anyone, but the question of whether they sometimes promote life or only lead to death is far from settled.

Gun Deaths – Going all the way back to 1968, a full five years before Roe, the total number of gun deaths in this country has been 1,624,669. Keep in mind that, sadly, half or more of these deaths are usually suicides. But let’s say that all of these deaths are also the fault of the GOP. 

Healthcare – Again, not a great comparison as not every case of lacking health care results in death, and neither party is actively anti-health care. But again, let’s assume that the case against Republicans is proven and we can safely blame them for the short comings of the American health care system (one of the four most regulated markets in the country). That’s 26,000 deaths a year due to lack of health care. A far cry from 600,000 babies gone due to abortion.

Immigration – Also not a great comparison as every case of immigration does not result in death, nor does every case of denied immigration result in death. And, again, neither party is actively anti-immigration. Though, here, I concede that the current Republican party could much more easily be construed as the anti-immigration party than as the pro-war, pro-poverty or anti-health care party. But let’s set all that aside and again ask what is the tally of lives lost. Well, most of the deaths associated with immigration, tragically, happen along the journey and not at the destination. Hard to see how any administration is going to address that. Since 2004, 193 people have died in detention due to immigration though, can we count those? Okay. Let’s say those are all squarely the fault of Republicans too. Still a drop in the bucket compared to abortion. 

Climate Change – This one is even harder to tabulate than immigration but let’s just look at numbers of deaths due to hurricanes, flooding and fires. Fires, less than 50 a year related to forest fires. The worst recent hurricane, Maria, by the most extreme calculations claimed 8.5k lives. But a more common estimate of U.S. lives lost due to hurricanes is less than 100. Flooding, about 86 a year. So, let’s assume that all of these deaths are due to disasters which are the result of climate change and that Democratic efforts would’ve stemmed the tide of climate change enough to prevent all these deaths if not for Republican’s gumming up the works. That’s about 236 deaths per year.

Pandemic Response – Ah yes, I hear you saying. But what about the Republicans who refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated? That’s not very pro-life, you say. Well, both Democrats and Republicans responded to the pandemic, and some of the worst handling of the pandemic was carried out by a Democratic governor who made a grave error in sending the sick to nursing homes. But alright, let’s assume that a Democratic administration would’ve had a perfect record and all 933k deaths and counting are the fault of Republicans.

Okay, now let’s take all that death and total it up. That’s 2,844,172 lives lost since 1973 (the year of the Roe v. Wade decision) due to capital punishment, war, lack of healthcare, immigration, climate change, and pandemics. That averages out to only 59,253.6 deaths per year. And of course, that’s with using some rather specious numbers. The last year that abortion was anywhere near that low was never. On the other hand, since 1973 it is estimated that over 62 million babies have been aborted. Abortions have been as high as 1.4 million in a single year, and not lower than 600,000 since 1973. And unlike capital punishment, war, gun deaths, healthcare, immigration, climate change, and pandemics, one party proudly supports this barbarism under the banner of women’s rights. I don’t think your “holistic approach” to pro-life is going as swimmingly as you’d like. So, you can add in all the pet policy positions you’d like to the pro-life movement, but ending abortion remains thepro-life battle of our time and the human rights battle of our time. May God have mercy on our souls for all that we did not do to end this thing sooner.

Obnoxious Not Oppressed

Introduction

It is a dark day indeed when I find myself condemning something along with the representative from Minnesota Ilhan Omar. And yet here we are. I am resolved to spill some ink on the topic of the video taken of a group of Christians on a flight that began singing praise songs at 30,000 feet. It would have remained entire innocuous had Omar not brought it to national attention to try and dunk on Christians and portray herself as on oppressed minority. Naturally the conservative right rushed to the defense of the jet singers and we have a good old fashioned internet oppression off to see who is the most wrong and therefore wronged.

The response to this has put me very much in the mind of Screwtape referring to making sure everyone is running about doing the wrong thing:

“The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.” – Screwtape Letters

So keeping in line with this blogs dictum to sit on a story for some time for consideration, all the better to avoid a hot take. I shall now give an opinion on this side show of a side show in the hope of raising the eyes to the much larger panorama that is playing out.

One Caveat

I have been unable to determine if the flight was a standard flight in which multiple seats were booked by the group who started singing, or if it was chartered. I have only found one source that says chartered and it was pulling heavily from the TMZ story which makes an absurd claim that the, “Christians “hijacked the flight” with their singing, and should have chartered the flight. I am going to say more about this below. I am operating off of the assumption that the flight was not chartered, and therefore solely filled with people who are of one mind, that it was a mixed group on a regular flight, riding in coach.

Some Thoughts

First, It really is time for Christians, and the larger conservative right, to stop playing the oppression points game. It is un-winnable. It is a constant game of Lucy with Charlie Brown’s football, it is Calvinball. The game is rigged against us and we just need to stop playing. Ilahan Omar got exactly what she wanted. Matt Walsh sharking around her Twitter feed did not convince any of her followers to see reason, they just continued to support her, she proved to her people why they should keep funding and voting for her thanks to him. As Doug Wilson and consistently reminded us, “Don’t take the bait.” If this is a form of persecution it is a very mild one, liberals said mean things, what else is new. You are never going to convince them that they are attacking you unjustly, they are entirely justified in their own heads and that is reinforced by their own bubble. Twitter is not a place where people go to be convinced of new thoughts, it is where they go to reinforce their held already thoughts. Don’t contribute by being an example of what they already have concluded is bad. Or to put it another way, zookeepers have a reason for telling you, “don’t feed the animals.”

Second, and more importantly, we should make a distinction between being oppressed and being obnoxious. Children making a racket, feel oppressed when they are made to stop. That does does not put them in the right, just because up until that point no one had stopped them before. This is not an example of the ground shifting beneath them, or the Overton window being shoved left, obnoxious is obnoxious, rudeness is rudeness. No one likes to have another person’s music imposed on them when they were otherwise engaged in an unrelated and quieter activity. Consider when you are driving, come to a stop light and the car pulling up next to you is blasting some profane thing, with a bass that sets off all Richter scales in a ten mile radius. That other driver is selfish, obnoxious, and rude. The content of his song is icing on the cake, but the noise, the intrusion is the root of your irritation. At 30,000 feet the last thing most humans want is some doofus with a guitar trying to start a sing along. Panes are the worst, they are cold, cramped, smelly, and noisy. Airlines seem to go out of their way to make you feel miserable, and then enter into that the horror of some guy randomly leading people in song. As evidence I point to the one guy in the video directly under the camera who looks ready to die. Even if this was a chartered flight with everyone on the same mission. There are always people who agree with the classic Babylon Bee headline, Perfectly Good Bonfire Ruined By Worship Leader Who Just Happened To Have His Guitar. Since it looks like the plane was filled with strangers, who were mixed into the merry minstrels, this was not a good witness, it was obnoxious in the extreme. In all honesty it looked like a stunt for rank self promotion.* It is at best it is indecorous to sing at a bunch of trapped people. It is at worst, appalling to do that and call it ministry or worship. These kinds of things are more likely to drive people away than draw them in. The behavior is weird, and obnoxious. To have it called out is not oppression.

Third, Ilhan Omar, is not a hero. As I said before she leveraged the video to promote her own self perceived persecution. The corrections that rolled in were correct. Flights from Arab owned airlines do pray to their false god before flight. It is important to remember that norms in America are not norms around the world. And with Omars, what I give to be, 0.03 guinea pig brain power she failed to consider that there is anything outside of her, very limited bubble. But I think the video worked for her because it hit a chord. No pun intended. Christians acting awkwardly is not a good witness. How we share the very good news of the Gospel matters. As Paul says, to the common man lost in sin, the Gospel is offensive enough on its own. Irritating people is just piling on. The stated reason Omar gave for being uncomfortable with the video is misleading. But there is a real visceral reason to be uncomfortable, it was weird. Omar made something of a leap to Islam with the video, saying people would be uncomfortable if it had been a group of Muslims singing. And she is not wrong it would be uncomfortable, and it would be because of history. Americans are reasonably gun shy when it comes to that kind of thing. Omar is willfully ignorant of history, and covers it with shrill claims of racism. A better example of why this was unacceptable is, people would have been just as turned off if a bunch of Primitive Baptists with a washboard started singing their shape note harmonized hymns. It would be weird, and wildly uncomfortable no matter what.

Fourth, it is time for us to take a good look at what our witness is. We shouldn’t leap to the defense of a group we know nothing about just because the other side says they are one of us. As it turns out this was a group out of Bethel. You know the weirdos who plague airports trying to faith heal people. The ones with the glitter falling form the ceiling that is supposed to be the holy spirit. Basically, the cult… If you consider yourself staunchly reformed you should pretty much agree that these people are not of us. We should regard them in the way we see Papists. There may be some genuine converts in there but they are saved in spite of that work, not because of it. Consider what the outcome of the situation would have been if Matt Walsh had retweeted, “I agree these people are freaks, I would hate to be trapped on a flight with them too.” Someone can use the same words as us but define them very differently, Pentecostal prosperity people mean very different things theologically when they use our language. We should be as happy to see them thrown under the bus as we would to see the college of cardinals.

Conclusion

The musical flight was a moment. It was a chance to remove some dead weight. And we whiffed it, just because these people might vote in a way we like. I am willing to bet their votes won’t change if the Reformed drew a line in the ground theologically and declared this to unacceptable. Oddly enough the people who are most likely to change their minds in this situation, are the singers themselves. These are not theologically rigorous people, nor are they entrenched culturally. They are wrong and at the rate Bethel and Hillsong are hemorrhaging people over their own absurdity is astounding. Stop trying to own the libs, or convince them, and instead work on the lost that are closer to the kingdom than you might think. Yeah, they are weirdos, but at the least they will be actually saved, and beyond that they might stop being useful idiots for the congresswoman from Minnesota.

*Perhaps, there is a chance the Spirit was just moving and these people were so overcome with joy that this was spontaneous. But if so then why was there video posted by the group, with a caption, “We are taking this flight over for Jesus” I have known too many worship leaders that hide behind the Spirit to cover their own ego trips. 

BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

I love it when Kevin DeYoung lets his snark out. I have nothing to say today other than if you can listen to the audio version read by DeYoung do that over just reading it.

https://wng.org/opinions/we-live-in-confusing-times-1648558031

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/life-and-books-and-everything/id1526483896?i=1000556152736

I wish I could write this well. Bravo Kevin. Bravo. 

Lying Liars who Lie Lies

This post is the continuation of last Friday’s post on Evangelicals working through the rising problem of the Evangelical Elite.

Introduction

It is ironic the amount of pushback one can receive from simply stating a truth. Aaron Renn pointed out the inconvenient fact that liberal, even liberals in the church have no problems lying if it advances their agenda. For them perhaps they consider it to be a noble lie like the government is known to make. Or maybe they consider themselves to be similar to the midwives who lied to Pharaoh about the Hebrew boys. Either way, their tendency is to assume that those who are more fundamental than them, are less enlightened and it is their job to assume control and guide these sheep into new progressive pastures. When pushed or confronted that what they snake oil they are selling smells an awful lot like leftist poison. They lie. They claim they affirm all the same creeds this, now suspected legalist, believes. They swear up and down and on their mothers grave that they are not trying to give the red wagon we are all in a shove down a particularly Calvin and Hobbes-esqe hill with a confirmed crash at the bottom. They are just empathetic, you are being an unloving pharisee who loves rules more than people.

The Liars

They lie through their teeth. Lying liars who lie lies, like their father before them. And shockingly the people who rush to defend these people against against such a charge are those empathy deficient legalists. My surmise is that because those hustling a leftist agenda into the side door of the sanctuary claim to be Christians; and the prevailing virtue of the evangelical church is, “niceness.” It is at a minimum indecorous to think that any professed one of us would possibly lie. It seems so harsh to shoot the wolves, they have made that cozy den in here, and their cubs are so darned cute… For the time being.

I tell you a parable. As a child my neighbor kept a wolf for a pet. They had raised it. And for a time it seemed as a dog. But one day, when they were out of town, and I as a young lad, had been hired to “dog sit” it attacked me when I came to feed it. Wolves in reality are dangerous, wolves in the church are dangerous. 

For some time now a “wolf in the church” has been identified as a young guy who is a schmuck and dates around the college ministry, or a husband who is abusive, or a pastor who is manipulative, and increasingly anyone who hurst people’s feelings. Strangely it is never the gay couple that is somehow heavily involved and wants full membership, the lady who thinks she should be an elder* or pastor, the family with a child that is transitioning to another gender and they are so proud of their eight year olds bravery, the hip young couple who are “educators” and are telling the pastor to read Kendi and DeAngelo, or the pastor who is more concerned with the Trump voters than all of those mentioned above.

What Has Been Missed

And it is on that last point I wish so spend some time. Along with the incredulity that members of the church could be lying, is the greater skepticism that a pastor would be pushing these things. And to be sure a good amount of charity goes into the calculation that is made. But a lot is ignored or was quietly slipped past the watchmen. Consider:

  1. it has been assumed that the, “Battle for the Bible” was won. The Broadman Commentary fight in the Southern Baptist Convention was won by the theological right. Before that the fight for Concordia Seminary was similarly won. Even earlier Machen had founded Westminster as a model of staunch fundamental theology. House was cleaned at seminaries and publishing houses across the land. And as icing on the cake Young Restless and Reformed emerged. It all seemed grand. But just because the battle was won, now many many years ago, does not mean the war was over. While resting on our laurels, the left licked their wounds, and began their slow march through the institutions once more. It has been observed the Right is excellent at founding institutions but poor at maintaining them, the Left is expert at exploiting that and taking over. Many lying pastors today are the students of lying professors. And again, do not forget, these lies, half-truths, fibs, obscuring of certain facts, is all for your good. They are the ones over you, and you are merely a sheep.
  2. Even a pastor who starts rock solid can be worn down. Ministry is hard, often thankless, work. And to keep the standards of theology, ecclesiology, and liturgy high and correct is, as one pastor told me, “A lot of work.” And lo, to lighten the pastors load come helps, such as Docent, or The Gospel Coalition. Up until a year ago in the Southern Baptist Convention pastors had a steady stream of reasons why they should hate their congregations flowing from the pen of Russell Moore. A man who was hired to represent those churches and instead called into question their salvation based on how they statistically voted. Or, and I have seen it often, those friendly liberals in the church, offer far more emotional support and generosity than those cold conservatives that only email when he preaches something they don’t like. 
  3. All of their pastor friends, if they have them, are a bubble of the same experiences have the same input from resources. There is a reason TGC has become something of a cottage industry. Everything the contemporary pastor takes in comes in a unified voice. Need to understand a current issue? Check out TGC, Christianity Today, or World Magazines website. Long form reading is out, they need it short and sweet. They want to be told what the answer is quickly. They want to be told what to think. And this is a hive mind. Every one of their peers is doing the same thing. So when they talk together they are all in agreement, and what is exhausting them are those conservatives who only see problems in the church. 

So many pastors in mainstream evangelical churches lean left, some might not even know it, but the problem is there. And the Biblicists are sitting in the pews reeling over what they are hearing from the pulpit. They are shocked when people with clear sin on display are elevated to leadership and honored. They are confused and appalled when their pastor takes snide potshots at them for being conspiracy theorists, or rebuke them for watching Fox News but never rebuke the MSMBC people smugly sitting there in BLM T-shirts. The people who won the battle for the Bible have been caught with their britches down, and they are not happy about it. What do they do, they march down front after service and demand answers. Or they, “get coffee” and lecture their pastor on what Tucker Carlson thinks. Frankly they dig themselves in a hole.

What is to be Done

I do think there is a growing problem of pastors despising portions of their congregations. As well as eschewing the hard work of thinking for themselves and letting Docent do it for them. They gaslight their congregations, claiming to hold to and love the fundamentals while chipping away at them consistently. These are all things that need to be repented of. A noble lie is still a lie, and it is compounded by the sin of arrogance. But short of Christ bodily appearing in an elder meeting and smacking him around the head for considering that nice lesbian lady to be a deacon, what can be done.

The low hanging fruit is hospitality. Don’t let the liberals in the church have the monopoly on this. Meeting with a pastor, buying him a meal, coffee, or hosting him well in a home for no other reason than to be generous and honor him is not only a good way to build a relationship and trust it is simply Biblical. Avoid politics, let him talk about his story, what he could use prayer for, don’t lecture on what you know or how he can do better, basically don’t ambush. Show grace, honor, generosity, kindness, and charity. Fools are quick to speak, the wise hold their tongue. Playing the long game is not weakness, it is patience.** There is a difference between responding and reacting. Making it on a pastors list of conservative cranks does not bring him back.

Also it is good to remember how the conservative resurgence in denominations won. It was not done with long and drawn faces. Criswell’s Wether we Live or Die sermon was presented with tears and passion, not just cold logic. We are not called to be a party of Vulcans. Perhaps it would not be amiss to take Doug Wilson’s advice and fight this one like Narnians. Or if Wilson raises your hackles. Take the Piper route, “I will out rejoice you, and I will out live you.” This is slightly tied to the first point, but it is hard to dislike people who are inviting you to join them in their joy. And if there is one thing that is lacking on the liberal side, it is joy. 

And if anyone with any influence in an institution that is in the process of being assimilated is reading this. Now is the time to declare war. You should walk into work every day prepared to go out in a blaze of glory. You should laugh, out loud, when someone tells your their pronouns. You should remind students that they are just that, students, they are there because they know next to nothing. You should make delightful the truth of the gospel and the way of Christ. Like the prophets of old you should mock with glee the idols of this world. On short do all you can to maintain the institution, not let it fall.

Finally, it’s time to stop assuming that the left will continue to use the rules of fair play that we order our lives by. Of course we would not want to be called a liar, but when you catch someone in a lie… They did it to themselves. Children all the time get caught and deny their actions. The left is very much like a petulant child. Just because they are our kids does not mean we should keep coddling them. They are born in iniquity, it is not loving to cover their sins. They must repent and be converted. And a good way to begin to encourage this is for us to repent of being cowards.

Conclusion

So yes, conservatives in the church have seen this kind of take over attempt before, we are not wrong in our read on the situation. But we have been reacting very schizophrenically. It is neither helpful to corner a pastor and try and fix him without any relationship. Nor defending the liberal wolves in the church because we don’t like to be thought of as a mean person.

I will not say the stakes are too high. Christ will keep and preserve his church. It just may be that he has a role for you to play. 

*A local church put a woman through church discipline for consistently nominating herself for eldership and trying circulating rumors about the elder board among the congregation. She sued the church, and called the press, and took a few people with her to another church that was more easily cowed. 

**That said patience does not mean infinite inaction, it should be coupled with wisdom for when to go to action. 

Elite Status

This is going to be something of an informal introduction to a larger forthcoming article. 

I look forward immensely to Samuel D. James’ upcoming book. I have read him for years and read everything he has written that wasn’t behind a pay wall. He is supremely edifying, even on the rare occasion when he has me a tad exasperated. So I have mixed feelings as he has grown in, well deserved, recognition and acceptance into the evangelical elite status. my trepidation is that he now has friends in that august inner ring and seems resistant to acknowledge their many foibles. Within two weeks he has published very good articles, where he none the less pooh poohs the criticisms leveled at the likes of Russell Moore, Tim Keller, TGC, and a few others. Like it or not James is a company man. I can’t recall a vigorous defense of John MacArthur when the secular establishment was trying to railroad him. 

What I am feeling with James is a kind of mild disappointment. He is an insanely smart guy and talented writer. His clarity and insight is breathtaking. And yet, there he is denying that there is a liberal creep in the upper echelons of evangelical leadership. And here’s the thing, I think I can understand why. 

  1. None of these people are evil. Deceived, or have justified their inconstancies, willfully ignorant, actually ignorant, insulated, take your pick, any number of these people can have any number of blind spots. The expression, “living in an ivory tower” exists for a reason. You don’t get invited up there by reminding the denizens how wrong they have been and how often. And once let in the view is stunning, and accommodations, cushy, and the back slapping gratuitous. James has been treated well by these people, it is more than not biting the hand that feeds you, there is generosity there and he has experienced it first hand. It gets harder to think ill of people who by personal experience are brilliant christians and are pillars of the movement for a reason.
  2. Creep is slow. I don’t think Russell Moore woke up one morning and decided to deny the clear teaching of Scripture on issues like women as pastors and elders. It happened over time. Or as lying liberals who used to pretend to be conservative like to say, “their position evolved.” It is remarkable that it never “evolves” to something more rigorously Biblical, it’s always in one direction. So when someone like James is invited to tag along early in that process the shift is not as apparent up close. It is always more jarring for those of us on the outside who are suddenly reeling when someone like Moore out of the blue scoffs at our “too literal” ways.

There is a problem with the current batch of leaders. It is insulting when they condescend and deny it. But as one of their own once said, “the problem with blind spots is just that, you can’t see them.” And unfortunately the chasm between the leadership and the rest of us is wide. It would be nice if James could be the kind of person where, “wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy.” But I doubt it. 

I will continue to read James voraciously. Like many in “Big Eva” there is lots of good to receive. 

Some Random Thoughts on Mars Hill

Introduction

Since Mike Cosper has seen no reason to cease flogging the Mars Hill horse. I suppose there is no reason for me to not follow suit, mostly for my own amusement. Therefore, in no particular order…

One: Is it possible that Driscoll and his critics were/are speaking past each other due to word choice? Driscoll was famously enraged about abuse, most so in marriage. And what gets constantly brought up was that he was abusive to his staff and the church. The critics, from both inside and outside Mars Hill, saw this as a toxic masculine cycle where Driscoll used the threat of violence to stop violence. But that is bunk. Violence is not always a sin, it can be just and right. The problem is that the critics have a very broad spectrum of what constitutes abuse.* It would seem Driscoll had a very narrow one. Especially considering his view that men should be strong and resilient. My surmise is that a man coming to Driscoll saying Mark had been abusive, would be received very poorly because that in Driscoll’s mind is a huge accusation. Then when that abuse is explained as that man had his feelings hurt. Driscoll would not respond well because the problem is that guy, who just accused him of something awful and then whined about his feelings. Perhaps if the guy just walked up and said something along the lines of, “Mark with all due respect, what you just said was a dick move.” Maybe, maybe that is the kind of clarity Driscoll would have at least understood.

Two: A good amount of Driscoll’s critics that appeared on the Rise and Fall podcast were married couples who, at a minimum rejected complementarianism if not the faith all together. The obvious conclusion was that this was Driscoll’s fault. However, it should be kept in mind that people change. And in a city like Seattle people change quickly. Christians change through sanctification, they move from one degree of glory to another till they see Christ, they conform to his image. Non christians drift aimlessly or ping form one thing to another. often with great enthusiasm. For a while Mars hill was cool, it went against the grain in a city that prided itself as being counter cultural. And what was more counter to the culture of Seattle than Mark Driscoll? One zip people are there, and seem all in, but then the shine wears off and zip they are out again, and rather than consider that the problem was in them, they blame where they just came from and grow bitter. Or to put it another way, they went out from among believers because they were not genuine believers. This is not a new problem for churches, there was one difference between Mars Hill and the average Evangelical Church. Which leads to…

Three: Mars Hill practiced church discipline. Yes Mark was a little too gung-ho about it. And they didn’t always seem to have the best practices in place. But it still seems like their worst examples were not actually church discipline. They were called that, but they were something else entirely, and that should be addressed. Distinctions do matter. But when moved aside Mars Hill never seemed to fail to call the cops when necessary, they seemed to uphold high Biblical standards, they seemed to push for repentance and reconciliation, by-in-large. There biggest discipline scandal seems to be having make some weak guys uncomfortably aware of their softness. As opposed to the broad lay of the evangelical land today where pastors seem more worried about the self diagnosed trauma of cowardly men. Honestly I would rather a Driscoll tell me straight up where he thinks I am wrong and need to man up than to lick my wounds for me. It just seems a bit like when my cats groom each other, it’s weird. Driscoll cleaned house, not well, but he did it. I would rather see churches cleaning house with some errors than let the festering cancer of un repentant sinners pushing churches away from the gospel because they never loved or believed it in the first place.

Four: Again though where were the men? It is brought up in the podcast that Mark needed older, wiser, men around him. And he kicked against that, he is responsible ultimately. At the same time though there were elders in the church that now want to be seen as heroes or victims, who are claiming that they were to star struck by Mark to see what was going on. This reeks of Monday morning quarterbacking. What has happened between now and then that suddenly makes them possess so much spine. I think it is that Driscoll is weaker, and more distant from them. I think they were soft then, and they are soft now. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that a big amount of the failure of Mars Hill was the fault of cowardly men who failed in their respective responsibilities? It seems only two (Bent Meyer and Paul Petry) actually did what Driscoll preached men should do. And honestly, it would appear, they have manfully dealt with the fall out of that show of bravery. It does not seem to me that there are any others in leadership that can claim a heroic mantle or victim title. Did Mars Hill fall because the support beams were sub par and weak?

Conclusion

It is pretty obvious that Mars Hill was great at branding, and Driscoll was not really qualified to be a pastor not at the beginning and not now. Things that early on were seen as as features did turn out to be a box of roaches. All that said I am still having a hard time reconciling the public disasters of Mars Hill, with the slow motion train wrecks happening in churches all over the place with “qualified” pastors with all their credentials in a row. A church imploding spectacularly is no better than one that is decaying slowly, both are failures, one just got there quicker. And the other had the time and opportunity to throw rocks with one hand and pat themselves on the back with the other. Just because the story of a church slowly drifting to the left and into apostasy is not entertaining to watch does not mean it is better. I can’t help but wonder if Jesus will have more compassion on Mars Hill that went out with a bang, than the ones that softly, gently, and slowly slip into the outer darkness. 

*There is also the phrase “victim blaming” which parts of this article might be accused of being. I reject that because how you define victim matters. The category has become too broad and too often self declared. There were people who were hurt at Mars Hill. But what I am talking about are those who had responsibilities, and self determination. This is America after all. No one forced anyone to go to Mars Hill, work for Mars Hill, or stay at Mars Hill. At some point personal responsibility does come in. Victim blaming makes it sound as though everyone was a mindless automaton that suddenly gained sentience and didn’t like what was happening. 

A Call for Pastoral Prayers

“Above all – and again this I regard as most important of all – always respond to every impulse to pray… It is the work of the Holy Spirit… So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will  find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect.” -Martyn Lloyd Jones, Preaching and Preachers Pg 170 171

I have spent a goodly number of words on my deep and abiding dislike of the modern worship service, in particular the music. I despise the shallow repetitiveness, the cord changes designed to manipulate emotions, the self-centeredness of the stage, and appalling theology that slips by un noticed, and the greater devotion to “cool” than worship. And while each of these objections have rejoinders and justifications quickly upon the lips of those practitioners, I would like to hear a rebuttal to the following. 

If there is one thing that is lacking in the average evangelical Sunday gathering, it is prayer. And by this I do not mean the predictably timed but still shot from the hip prayer the the music minister emotes between songs three and four as we “prepare our hearts for the sermon.” There is indeed a time and place for prayer that is unscripted. Written out prayers can be and have been dry. But by the same token stream of consciousness prayers have been vapid, shallow, insipid, and sometimes heretical, if not just downright inane. Both have a possibility of becoming rote. I can predict with confidence in my own church we will be praying yet again for that nebulous group of people who had a rough week and “barely made it there” so God should comfort them. I have confidence in my prediction because we have had some variation of that prayed over us the last ten Sundays, and the previous ten before that, and so on, ad infinitum.

If the music time is about Christ, as we are told by the music man, then could there be any objection to him stepping down so that the pastor or an elder could lead the congregation in a prepared pastoral prayer? Why must we always have an on the spot impromptu that serves more as a nice transition to the next thing, instead of a dedicated period in which we come before the throne of God, amen and amen.

While pragmatics are obviously not the main reason for a congregation to pray. There are several good things that can come out of weekly pastoral prayers. 

  1. The pastor is freed up to not have to address or shoe horn in every current event in his sermon. Those news items can be taken to God, who is sovereign over all, and the congregation is encouraged to have faith and fear not. Prayers can begin on the global, and move down through national, and local levels with emphasis given as prudent. Sermons are therefore able to be entirely exegetical and a pastor is not required to become an overnight expert in whatever issue has become lodged in the congregations collective craw.
  2. The congregation can be encouraged in humility as a different sister congregation is prayed for each week. The body is guarded against the notion that God is only working through their church, jealousy is fought against, and charity is displayed across denominational or openhanded theological lines.
  3. A congregation is unified in their knowledge of each other as members in hospital (or in exceptionally difficult circumstances) are prayed for by name in the gathering. Compassion is exercised and grown among the body as they are taken outside of their own self focus and directed to unselfishly lift up others.
  4. The people are taught silence and to listen. It is far too easy during a sermon to stray from a Bible app to twitter. But in prayer no device should be in hand. Posture matters. And in a day in age where everything tells us to be quick to speak and slow to listen, extended times of prayer actively teach silent, listening and focus. 
  5. The lost among the body will either leave due to boredom or they will be converted. This comes by way of Mark Dever. It is no secret that many unconverted sit in pews, know the lingo, even give, but their hearts are as dead and cold as any man out side the church. Sermons can be entertaining, but prayers are a different ball game. Pray long end often enough and they will either look for new entertainment options or they will encounter the King of Kings.

“Pastors, pray so much in your services that nominal Christians are bored that you talk so often to the God they only say they believe in.” – Mark Dever, Centrality of the Church in Disciple-Making

  1. A prepared pastoral prayer feeds a congregation on good theology so that they will demand rich worship. In a sense songs are prayers. If a congregation has a strong theology of what prayer is they will begin to see problems with man centered worship. A church service where man is praised and only takes from God is not a church service. It is a liturgy of religious leaches. Consistent prayer with clear doctrine and no emotional plugs brings a people closer to God than a feeling from four chords ever ever could. 

My suspicion is that no pastor ever set out to not bring his flock before the Throne of Grace. Rather that a series of church growth experts, pragmatics, cultural movements (both inside and outside the church) and comments from loud minorities all congealed to form the standard four songs and a sermon with Lords Supper wedged in where convenient, service many are familiar with. It is immediately understood that pastors are expected to be not just preachers, but also CEO’s, available on evenings and weekends for weddings and funerals. And a predictable service is easy. You let the music guy handle it, get your sermon written, and not much thought is put into fixing something that doesn’t seem broken. But it is broken. Our complete and total lack of deep prayer reveals it. Our prideful infighting, over politicalization, spiritually infantile parishioners all evidence this problem. And it is a problem that can be solved by leading the people to God, regularly, with preparation.

The church is the Bride of Christ. And to use the metaphor, as a husband I would be appalled if my bride constantly took from me, and the only time she talked to me it was to sing her praises and demand more from me. It would reveal her to be a small, petty, cruel person. And yet somehow this has become the largely accepted norm for the Bride of Christ. 

So let us pray, let us encourage our pastors to pray. Let us pray until our cold hearts warm with affection for the one we gather to worship.