Alarmist? I’m in good company.

I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen. – A. A. Hodge, “The ‘Engine’ of Atheism,” Evangelical Theology 1890

Hodge was one of the leading theologians at Princeton near the end of the 19th century. In himself, he is worthy of study (and Mark Noll has some good stuff to say about him), but I’m interested in him for a different reason now. I don’t prognosticate like Dr. Hodge did, but I have to give him credit for being right.

Sarah and I just finished the IndoctriNation documentary, and I wanted to interact with it for a few moments before going to bed.

For those who don’t know, IndoctriNation is a Christian family’s journey around the country (mostly the Midwest and Eastern seaboard), to check out the state of affairs in public schools. The conclusion is fairly straight forward: public schools are a wreck, and for no reason should Christian families send their kids to one (nor should Christians work there). The film highlights that prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham will say we need to take the schools back, but a quick history lesson will show that they were never really “ours” in the sense that Graham means. According to Gunn and the people he interviews, Christianity and government-run schools are simply incompatible. He talks with people who worked in the government school system for years, until the Lord made it clear to them they had to leave.

The movie is worth it for the interviews alone. Seriously.

Now, for a couple of points of agreement.

1) I’m glad Gunn really pushed the Salt & Light mentality. I have family and friends who work in public schools, and I know they are attempting to serve Christ where they’re at, but I do wonder if they’ve ever really thought about what they’re doing. I know after the 6 months I worked in the government sector, I was in the wrong place. And it’s not that I don’t get it: education matters, therefore we shouldn’t abandon educating young people. I agree. But how can you be salt and light in a place that you are legally forbidden to spread your saltiness or shine your light? Jesus said,

You, beloved, are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness, can anything make it salty again? No. It is useless. It is tossed out, thrown away, or trampled. And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it, (Matthew 5:13-16, The Voice).

This is so important: you cannot be light in a place where you are made to snuff out the flame. I hear pastors and lay Christians of all types say it frequently, “We’re sending our kids so they can share the Gospel.” Unfortunately, that means you are sending them to do something (that requires training) to a place that tells them there is no God (where they will receive their training). I’ve written at length about this in my philosophy of education, so I won’t rehash it here. But I just don’t get it.

2) I was stoked that Gunn (and others like R.C. Sproul, Jr.) brought it back to Deuteronomy 6. This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and it is a conviction for me every day:

Listen, Israel! The Eternal is our True God—He alone. You should love Him, your True God, with all your heart and soul, with every ounce of your strength. Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning. Do whatever it takes to remember them: tie a reminder on your hand and bind a reminder on your forehead where you’ll see it all the time, such as on the doorpost where you cross the threshold or on the city gate, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, The Voice).

Let it be the first and last thing, every day. That’s powerful, and only reinforces my belief that education belongs first in the home. Even if you don’t feel qualified to teach Chemistry, the Word of God should be so paramount in your thinking that your children don’t know any other way to see you other than through the lens of Scripture. Lord knows I do not accomplish this every day, but man, what an awesome responsibility.

Of course, the movie is not without some faults.

1) While I agree with so much of the film (I found myself saying, “This is what I’ve been saying for the last two years,” quite often much to my wife’s chagrin), I cannot get into the idea that evolution is inherently atheistic. Like any other tool it can be used in that manner (even the Bible can be used by atheists to “prove” God isn’t real), but evolution itself cannot be the starting point. Everyone starts here: god. Capitalize, make it plural, whatever; nothing changes the fact the most foundational belief for every person is what they believe about God.

2) I wish the film had gone on to critique Christian schools. I know, their purpose was fairly pointed, but I worry what will happen when Christians see this film, and then put their kids in a “Christian” school that does all the same things (minus the teaching of evolution of course). Think about it: is evolution really the issue? If Gunn is right and the current model of schooling is based on pagan philosophies which denied the existence of God, and saw humanity as cattle, then why would a Christian school do the same thing? I actually asked someone at ACSI that question, and they deflected the question, got mad at me and hung up without any salutation the first chance they got. I don’t really blame them (I know I can be a pain), but I genuinely don’t get why Christian schools would do the things identical to the public schools while telling parents to pull their kids out of public schools. That’s borderline lunacy if you ask me.

Overall, I cannot recommend the film enough. For the few grievances I might have with it, IndoctriNation is on the money. Christianity, when properly examined through the lens of Scripture in regards to education, is wholly incompatible with government-run education.

I know to many, that sounds like a radical or extremist point of view. Well, if I can count myself in the company of men like A.A. Hodge, men who fear God and love Jesus Christ, then I’ll take any label you want to put on me. Alarmist, included.

Angels, Pins and Making Sense

I do a lot of talking in a given week. I spend a minimum of three hours a day teaching Monday through Friday, plus an additional two hours a day driving my wife crazy with perceived nonsense wrapped in theoretical theology. One of the things that frequently consumes my loquacious behavior is the concept of compartmentalizing life. In a nut shell, I don’t think it’s prudent, or for that matter truly possible, to make decisions that are isolated from other aspects of our life. Decision A will always be impacted by the faith of Individual X, just as much as Decision B, C, D and more. But those Decisions are also affected by X’s politics, which is affected by X’s faith and so it goes.

This doesn’t mean there is no segregation in life though. Take the concepts of the sacred and the profane.

Sacred – from the L. sacer, meaning sacred, holy, cursed, damnable. We here see the connection between sacredness and secrecy. The sense is removed or separated from that which is common, vulgar, polluted, or open, public; and accursed is separated from society or the privileges of citizens, rejected, banished.

Profane – from the late 14c., L. profanus “unholy, not consecrated,” from pro fano “not admitted into the temple (with the initiates),” lit. “out in front of the temple,” from pro- “before” (see pro-) + fano, ablative of fanum “temple.”

To have something sacred, you must have something profane. It’s not just an issue of secrecy or exclusion. For the Christian, the sacred is a means of redemption. In a sense, redeeming is the process of bringing things “into the temple.” To some, this may sound like the Augustinian questions about dancing angels and the heads of pins, but I think it’s actually more practical than that. This is how we become a peculiar people. Bathing becomes baptism when it’s made sacred. Dinner becomes the Eucharist. You get the idea.

But it doesn’t end there. Education becomes discipleship. Marriage breaks down walls. Speaking brings grace and healing. In this line of thinking, there is no aspect of your life that God wants to remain profane; He wants all of you engaged in the business of priesthood.

That includes the way you vote.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be musing out loud about the consequences and benefits of sanctifying your vote. I welcome everyone’s thoughts.

Indeed

Once again Easter has come and gone. It was the first Easter I ever celebrated with a “big” church. It was also the first Easter for my budding family. It came and went like most days, without too much fuss. It makes me sad that I’m in a place in my life where something like that might happen. It should have been a day of celebration, of rejoicing in the triumph of Christ. But it’s just so easy to become worn down and tired from the day to day of work, school, blah, blah, blah.

As I was reading this morning, I came across someone who had a similar sentiment, yet they handled it in a very different way:

We all live in the hustle and bustle of our work.  And everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways.  And I admit that my plate has been full as well. The inbox keeps on accumulating.

But then comes Holy Week. The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross.

And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world — past, present and future — and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.

In the words of the book Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this “Amazing Grace” calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of his Son and our Savior.

I don’t have a high regard for President Obama (yes, he said that and you can read the remarks in their entirety here), but I’m chastised by his wisdom this morning. God’s grace is truly magnificent, and it certainly calls us to prayer.

I’m hoping, and praying, that as I have time over Spring Break to return to a habit I used to revel in every day (and feel remiss about if I skipped it), namely my coffee with God. It’s not enough to merely “study” His Word, I know I need to enveloped in it like a man walking through a dense fog. There may be times when I feel lost like that same man, but there is not doubt as to Who my guide is.

Here’s to a new season: may His resurrection be visible in each of us today!

Other Alternatives

In my last post, I wrote about the contradictions inherent in Christian Capitalism. The post served as a critique of a system that, I believe, is a hindrance to God’s Kingdom being ushered in during this present age. I don’t mean this in any kind of apocalyptic sense, but rather in the sense that Jesus has begun ushering in His Kingdom with his life, death, and resurrection; resulting in our invitation to be participants in His reign in our present circumstances.

With that being said, it was brought to my attention that in my criticism of Capitalism, I offered no solution in return. This is partly due to that fact, as I have mentioned elsewhere, that my knowledge of economics (particularly global markets) is limited. I don’t think this disqualifies me from general criticism (after all, the Pilgrims certainly did not have a suitable alternative worked out prior to boarding the Mayflower), but it does limit my ability to offer corrective responses. As someone who studies theology and literature, I know where my constructive limits are.

However, there are a few things I would like to suggest.

1) All things should be shared, equally distributing what we have to make sure that everyone that we can take care is taken care of (Acts 4:31-33). I’m not opposed to Marxism (even if he didn’t understand God like one would wish). Unfortunately, I have yet to see someone correctly implement Marx’s philosophy. Thus far, all attempts turn into a wretched disfigured form of what Marx wrote (like the USSR, the DPRK, and the PRC). Still, I don’t think the principle is what is wrong, but rather humanity’s distortion of it.

2) Debts should be forgiven regularly, and without penalty in order to avoid abuses (Leviticus 25). This isn’t to say people shouldn’t pay what they owe, but rather this is to remove the oppression that debt maintains over so much of the world. While I hold that the current credit crises is a result of greedy materialism, a practice like the one in Leviticus would stem the tide to some degree.

3) The Kingdom of God must be understood as something that effects everyone in this life, here and now (Matthew 5, Matthew 13). We behave as though we must operate under the guise of “take what we can get,” but such a mindset is never promoted by Jesus, nor His disciples. Acting in this present life to bring God’s Kingdom to fruition today is a critical part to all of this. Reforming the system will never truly work, because we don’t need reformation. We need transformation.

Perhaps these tidbits are not a cohesive structure (yet) but they still offer what I view as a better system than the one we have at present.

How do we implement such things? On a global scale, I have no idea. But operations like Spilling Hope and Advent Conspiracy I think are on the right track. On a local scale, it is up to the local Church and the members who comprise it to bring these things to reality. On an individual scale, it’s simpler. Obey Jesus’ commands to love God, our neighbors, and other Christians. Pray the Lord’s prayer, and mean it when we ask God to complete His will on earth as it is in heaven.

How does that change Capitalism? It doesn’t. At least not at first. But by transforming the individual, we can transform the local community, and then, well, the world.

It’s not going to be easy. And it may not ever be completely fulfilled. But I would rather live for Jesus, sharing Him with those who are oppressed, poor, down-trodden, and marginalized, than worry about my mortgage, or buying that HD TV I really want.

It starts with Jesus. But He invites us into His reign. So let’s get started.

Can we bridle Greed?

How is that Christians believe that we can work Capitalism to our own ends? I realize that many within the Christian community believe that Capitalism is a good thing. The idea breaks down into something like this:

1) The best kind of society is one where freedom, in particular religious freedom, is the norm.
2) Politics and economics follow the same outline in that freedom is what is best.

2) Capitalism promotes freedom through competition, therefore it is the best economic system available.

Of course, the Industrial Revolution taught us a thing or two about the abuses of freedom (as if we had not been taught this lesson throughout history already), and so began regulations. Two World Wars, and three substantial economic crises later (‘20s, ‘80s, 2000s), the regulation continues. In fact we could add to the above outline:

4) Complete freedom, particularly in Capitalism, is dangerous so we must learn to control and direct the path of our economy.

While not a detailed economic blueprint, the above sketch is how many people (not least American Christians) think about the current economic system. This video serves as a prime example:

While it would be most prudent to go into a complete explanation of how our global economy currently functions, we cannot. My own knowledge is too limited for such an endeavor (without merely resorting to parroting someone else). But, I would like to challenge Dr. Deimer’s thought all the same.

There is no way in which Capitalism can ever truly be “bridled.” The recent economic crises around the world, not to mention in Greece and Ireland specifically, should have taught us that (this video was made in 2009 so apparently not all have come to the same conclusions as I have). Competition, whether we like to admit it or not, is in contrast to the character of God. Look at Paul’s writings to the Colossians, the Galatians, or the Romans. When he describes Christian virtue, does he list competitiveness? Does he mention anything closely resembling it?

No, he does not.

Why? Because it is not in Christ’s nature to compete, and His nature is what should govern God’s children (one could argue that God the Father is jealous, but that would be remiss…after all, God does not compete for our affections).

It brings me back to Matthew, and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teachings on money are not vague.We either love money, or we love God. There is no in-between.

Of course, I’m stating the obvious, and no Christian, Capitalist or otherwise, would argue. In fact, they would say in my understanding of Matthew 6, I’m right.

The issue, then, comes from something else. After studying Scripture (in particular Exodus, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and the Gospels), I cannot fathom how any self-professing Christian can think that the economic system we have in the United States is anything other than a love of mammon. I understand that money is a useful tool, but that is not the limit of Capitalistic greed. Think of the housing collapse. Money, in the form of credit, was not being used as a tool. It was more a child’s plaything. We didn’t use it to end poverty, or better our communities. We used to get what we wanted. We manipulated numbers until the lifestyle we desired was achieved. There are, of course, exceptions to this (particularly people who suffered even though they did all the right things), but they are by far the tiny minority.

I don’t blame the people who took out home loans they could not afford. I don’t blame the banks who lent to people they should not have. Both of those  goats have been faulted enough.

I blame our habits, our hearts, our process of thinking. We believe that money can be tamed; that greed can be bridled. Regulation, deregulation, taxation, financial reform, and on, and on, and on. The truth is, no matter how you try to, you cannot accommodate greed. And what is Capitalism but greed put into practice?

Forgive the humor...We can do the math in way we want to, but the answer will never change. What is needed is not more of what we have, nor less of it for that matter. What we need is transformation.

 

 

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:1-3, NASB)

It is only by this that things will change. And it is my continual prayer that things will indeed change. That’s what Jesus told us to do.

Christian Capitalism?

I’ve posted this video to Facebook a few times, but I doubt many people looked at it. And that’s a shame. Rarely have a seen such a concise and understandable explanation of why exactly Capitalism (i.e. the American Dream…) is bound to collapse in on itself. You should watch the video before going on…

…or not. The things is, Harvey is right on a several fronts.

Capitalism never solves its crises problems. It moves them around geographically.

But this is a governmental issue, right? The problem is the corporations and the politicians, right? “I don’t have anything to do with this,” we say. The reality is something else though.

Christians need to rethink everything about the manner in which they live their lives. For starters, how do most Christians choose the church they go to? Doctrine? Beliefs about the nature of God? Not really. Most Christians choose a home church based on the worship method. “What?” you say. How many Christians change churches because they don’t like the music, or they need “deeper” teaching on Sunday morning, or they want communion more often, or they want the church to stop hounding them about serving. “I’ve got a busy life already!” When it comes down too it, few Christians choose where they worship because of what the church believes. And what do we call that? Consumerism. We’re consumers within God’s church! We aren’t going to church looking to bring glory to God, but we go to be filled ourselves. We want to receive. Christian society has become one of taking, and it’s a lesson we’ve learned all too well from Capitalism.

Ultimately, something has to change.

More billionaires have appeared in India since the recession hit than ever before. How is this possible? Its possible because Capitalism, Consumerism, whatever you want to call it, is selfish. That sounds like an oversimplification, for sure, but that doesn’t make it not true. How does this affect anyone? Well, as Harvey points out, even he doesn’t have the solution. But what if there was a solution? What if there was a method that rose out of the mire of greed and offered a different view of how this world can and should function? Well, that might be something worth listening to.

I think paying attention to the new series at Mosaic is a good place to start, and you can listen to them online (through download or podcast) here. But, as with any place that might offer clues towards an answer, all preconceptions should be left at the door. I say that only as a warning to those who are seeking to have their own ideas validated, instead of genuinely seeking the Truth. The difference between the two approaches are vast, and not to be taken lightly.

So perhaps there’s an answer nearby. And maybe its not new. Maybe its time that everyone, Christians included, find a new mode of thinking.

And I guess, in order to find, we have to seek.

More than confused

With all the hullabaloo about the cancelled Mississippi prom, I’ve been thinking about homosexuality in America.

Today I found myself really confused about the whole thing. Schools in the “Bible belt” forbid same-sex dance partners. State governments argue back and forth about who can and can’t be wed. Christians argue with secular people about the depravity they see. Liberals try very hard to make it seem as though homosexuality should be viewed as a norm. It seems like everyone is trying their best to make everyone else see things their way. Which of course, will never truly work.

The thing about America is, well, minorities will always have the advantage. At least in a legal sense. America is founded on the idea that the majority will try to take away the perceived rights of the minority. The masses will subjugate everyone else, basically. The people who put together the documents that bind America together saw this inherent danger, and put things in place to prevent it. And many politicians since then have helped put more measures in place to make sure that minorities are protected.

Now, with that being said, I don’t think there’s any disputing that the gay community is a minority in America. And as such, the government will do everything it can to give that community the same rights as everyone else. Christians can be upset by this, or they can simply move on.

Part of the issue, in my very insignificant opinion, is patriotism. So many Christians are upset by gay rights because it flies in the face of their religious beliefs (although I don’t think that’s entirely true; murderers receive rights, and the Bible has much harsher judgments for people who teach people things that are untrue about God than it does for homosexuals). As I was walking home from work today, I started wondering if Paul was a patriot. I doubt it. Jesus certainly wasn’t. He had more negative things to say about the “politicians” in the Hebrew community than He did anyone else. Jesus told His disciples to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus didn’t seem to care much about any one political institution. I think that’s because He knew just how transitory all governments are. Nothing lasts, really. And patriotism demands a loyalty to one’s nationality that I do not think is very Christ-like. Rather than acknowledge this, most American Christians try to make their patriotism fit by making America into a “Christian nation.”

So as I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I believe Christians are wrong to try to force a Biblical worldview on a secular nation. I wouldn’t see anything wrong with holding people to God’s standards were this a Christian based government. But that’s not the case. There are people in America who do not believe in God. And for some reason I doubt Christians accurately represent God to those people when they do what they can to deny people of the rights they feel they deserve. Are all rights universal? I don’t necessarily think so, but that doesn’t matter because the American government does. Fighting it is a waste of resources, quite frankly.

Understanding that I am not a patriot in a conventional sense of the word (I do in fact say the pledge of allegiance, and would serve my country if asked to; but that’s about as far as it goes. Truth be told, I rarely vote), I am finding it difficult to understand the mainstream Christian perspective concerning gay rights. I am certainly convinced that the gay rights battle is not anything like the Civil Rights movement in the 20th century, and it annoys me greatly when the two are compared. Yet even though I do not agree with the belief that people should be allowed to live however they want simply because they want to, I do not see any reason for Christians to struggle so hard to keep certain rights away from the gay community (I apologize if I sound repetitive; I’m trying to somewhat PC).

Exactly how do we display the love of Christ when we argue with someone about who they can and cannot marry? Especially in America, where the divorce rate clearly demonstrates a lack of respect for the “sanctity” of marriage? I just fail to see the point. It seems hypocritical to me. Christians say marriage is sacred, but they don’t treat it that way. And if marriage is no longer sacred, then what is the Christian argument against gay marriage? It’s just all so… self-righteous. And there’s nothing of Christ in that.

Loss of freedom?

I’ve spent the last couple of years thinking about prison. I have a cousin who is serving his second stint, and it often breaks my heart. While I don’t mean to exonerate him, I still can’t help but feel as though something is wrong with the way he’s been treated.

I do think those who break the law should be given a consequence, I just also happen to think that the consequence should be relevant. Putting someone in prison is almost never related to the actual crime. But what else is there to do?

Dietrich Bonheoffer, who spent the last years of his life in prison, wrote out some ideas he had during World War II to create a better justice system:

I think a lengthy confinement is demoralizing in every way for most people. I’ve been thinking out an alternative penal system on the principle of making the punishment fit the crime; e.g., for absence without leave, the cancelling of leave; for unauthorized wearing of medals, longer service at the front; for robbing other soldiers, the temporary labelling of a man as a thief; for dealing in the black market, a reduction of rations; and so on.

Bonheoffer’s ideas obviously pertain to wartime. So the question becomes, how do we make this work today? I don’t really know. Some crimes are indeed heinous, some kinds of evil to much to simply “repay.” And what of the death penalty? An eye for an eye? No, I could never endorse that. When I was younger, my self-righteousness couldn’t see why a person shouldn’t be deprived of their life if they had taken the life of someone else. I was having an arrogant rant one night when my pastor at the time said, “everyone deserves God’s grace.” I hadn’t ever thought about it quite like that. Tommy went on to talk about how killing someone is taking away any chance they may have at discovering God’s redemptive power. The idea took some time to sink in, but it is a lesson I have never forgotten.

That of course, only complicates the concept of eliminating prison. How can you make a punishment relevant to murder? I don’t know. Public servitude to the victim’s family? I don’t know if that would work. Going Germanic and instating a wergild, or man price? I don’t think money will really soothe someone’s wounds of loss. And let’s face it, some people have enough money to really take advantage of a system like that.

Ultimately, I don’t know of an adequate alternative.  but I know the system we have now is not sufficient. Bonheoffer goes on to ask,

Why does the Old Testament law never punish anyone by depriving him of his freedom?

I think its a question worth looking at. I’m not saying we should adopt the Old Testament law. Surely though, a system designed to reflect God’s desire for justice has some truth to teach us? And if God didn’t see fit to deprive an individual of their freedom, why should we? Because its the best we can come up with? I just don’t think that’s acceptable.