As I noted, I was fascinated with the first part of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. It was largely describing the shifts that had taken place to find ourselves with a third world culture, psychological man and the expressive self. This week I began to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley which seems to describe the very culture Trueman discusses but one in which the first and second world cultures no longer exist like they do now because Christianity is a thing of the past in Brave New World.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution - Trueman, Carl R; Dreher, Rod (foreword by) - 9781433556333

The second part of Trueman’s book focuses on the thinkers who laid the foundation for a third world culture and the expressive self, dismantling the idea of a transcendent morality. This is not as fascinating though certainly not boring. It covers a variety of major thinkers in the 18th & 19th centuries.


First Trueman addresses The Other Genevan, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. John Calvin was the first Genevan (he was actually French but in exile in Geneva for the vast majority of his adult life), one of the most important Protestant Reformers whose writing also influenced politics, helping set the stage for Democratic Republics like the United States.

Our world currently reflects the influence of Rousseau more than Calvin. He was greatly influential for Sigmund Freud who will show up in the third part of Trueman’s book. Rousseau sought to find reality by looking within instead of looking outside of himself. Trueman characterizes him as one of the “strangest geniuses in the history of Western philosophy.” He is like the anti-Augustine with his own autobiographical Confessions.

“I want to show my fellow-men a man in all the truth of nature, and this man is to be myself.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: as relevant as ever | Theo Hobson | The Guardian

Augustine posited evil within through humanity’s fall into sin through Adam’s disobedience as our covenant head. Augustine points to the theft of some pears “for the hell of it” since he and his friends had no need of the pears.

Rousseau points to being forced (from his perspective) to steal asparagus from a man’s mother so the man could sell it to make money. He was not greedy, but was obliging another (who was either needy or greedy though hadn’t grown asparagus of his own). He uses this to posit evil in society. He had not desire to steal, but felt social pressure. Like Adam when questioned by God, Rousseau began to see his deceit and laziness as the result of his master treated him poorly and his manipulation and covetousness resulting from his father’s severe punishment. He shifted blame for his sin onto corrupting circumstances.

While on a journey from Paris to Vincennes in order to visit a friend, he came across a newspaper sponsoring an essay competition. He decided to submit an essay on the subject of whether or not the restoration of the sciences and arts has improved morals. In putting his thoughts together he developed the basic framework of his philosophical system.

Man in his primal state is innocent and good. It is society that corrupts us. They shape us, not to restrain our darkness, but rather to corrupt us. Society rejects the authentic human being and forces people to live a lie. It condemns our self-love, our self-preservation. Costanza throwing women and children out of his way to escape the fire is understood as a good thing.

The moral and virtuous person is one who follows their instincts. Their sentimental or emotional response are correctly in line. It is not about thought, facts and the impact on others, but being yourself in all your glory (or infamy). Ethics becomes rooted in sentiment, providing the seed for MacIntyre’s emotivism. Ethical standards are not objective standards, but personal sentiments though he tried to reject that idea that this results in moral relativism. He wanted people to act according to their nature- which is good. Augustine’s “love God and do what you want” becomes “love self and do what you want.”

This all means that society tries to put you in its box and that is wrong. History becomes about how societies corrupt human nature so we cannot be who we were meant to be.

At the end of the chapter we see how the meaning of empathy shifts as a result. Empathy shifts from compassion or understanding of another’s circumstances to wanting others to be happy on their own terms. In Doug Wilson and John Piper’s war on empathy they are arguing against (capitulating to?) this contemporary perversion of empathy instead of arguing for the biblical use of the term. Just a thought.

The Poets

Trueman then shifts to Wordsworth, Shelley and Blake calling them Unacknowledged Legislators. He doesn’t spend much time on Blake, which I found disappointing since some Christian musicians referred to some of his poetry in their music (and he briefly makes an appearance in The Frankenstein Chronicles). These poets were leaders in Romanticism which largely was about how to communicate truth. Gone are logical premises and conclusions and in come meter and verse. They were about feelings. Poetry wasn’t simply sharing one’s thoughts on a relationship, a tree or sunset, it was a political and possibly revolutionary act. Shelley called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the World.”

Wordsworth argued for expressivist poetry, focusing on emotion and the ordinary which was typically rural as subject matter. The feelings make the actions described significant. It builds on Rousseau’s innate goodness, emotion and sentiment as ethical mile-markers, the pursuit of authenticity and society as corrupting.

“The fall of humanity into the inauthenticity that Rousseau posits with the rise of inauthentic social existence is for Wordsworth that which takes place with the dramatic rise of urban life in the late eighteenth century.”

He wanted a return to the rural, the supposedly natural, simple and less corrupt. As a former local talk radio host would say, “Nature is not nice.” Mountain men, seeking to escape the confines of society often led brutal lives, not simply lonely ones. Many are fascinated by Into the Wild about a young man who forsakes civilization to live in the wild of Alaska. His death is somehow seen as heroic instead of a pointless tragedy. The quest just seems to be an escape from responsibility and mutual obligations.

But for Wordsworth, civilization corrupts and hides true humanity from our eyes. He forms an antithesis between nature and culture or society.

Shelley saw poetry as a result of the forces of nature moving the poet. It is about the impact of nature on one’s soul. Story, narrative, is about facts which are often detached from meaning and significance. They are but they don’t reveal our true nature. Poetry helps us to see beyond our experience to the harmony of nature that exists. Rational argumentation is a corruption from society, Authenticity is about aesthetics. These emotion stirring words lead to one’s moral improvement. They exalt intuition over reason. Shelley laments, oddly, that the writers he most admired (despite using reason)- Locke, Hume, Voltaire and others- did not impact the world because of how they wrote. They didn’t liberate humanity. Rousseau alone, he thinks, was a poet, not a mere reasoner. Like Wordsworth, “true morality is always built on a foundation of sentimental morality.”

These poets, particularly Blake, hated the church in particular. The church restrained “natural desires”. For Blake this apparently included inhibiting free love with a requirement for monogamy. So we find poetry subversive toward the church, traditional morality and marriage. The church is seen as an enemy of authenticity and therefore natural morality. It inhibits the purpose of life, personal happiness, with talk of glorifying and enjoying God forever.

The Emergence of the Plastic People

The final chapter in this section deals with Nietzsche, Marx and Darwin as philosophers who furthered the destruction of the 2nd world culture through the rejection of Christianity through existentialism, materialism and evolution. They helped create plastic people. “Psychological man is also a plastic person, a figure whose very psychological essence means that he can (or at least thinks he can) make and remake person identity at will.” His/her identity is a putty nose, reshaped according to the desire of the moment.

Consumerism, a product of late capitalism, supports the idea that what we buy and use is central to who we are. We deserve a break today. We can have it our way. If we use this toothpaste we’ll “get lucky”. The same is true if we chew the right gum. This is the notion of self-creation. It is wishful thinking, obviously, but it is the message used to sell all kinds of products. Our desires change over time, and even though the previous set were not fully satisfied, we hold out hope the newest set will be. Until recently we’ve realized that our bodies, not our desires or psychology, has the final say. No matter how hard I tried, I could not be like Mike.

“All three in their different ways provided conceptual justification for rejecting the notion of human nature and thus paved the way for the plausibility of the idea that human beings are plastic creatures with no fixed identity founded on an intrinsic and ineradicable essence.”

Nietzsche spoke of the death of God, killed by us. We did this with Enlightenment philosophy which rendered God unnecessary and intellectually implausible. To have removed God, one then destroys the “very foundations on which a whole world of metaphysics and morality has been constructed and depends.” With religion have been “proven” false, the influence of religion should end as part of the social imaginary. People need to be consistent, and stop keeping God as part of the equation. The universe has no intrinsic meaning, and neither do any of us. Meaning must be created and becomes personal and culturally relative and constructed.

Morality, for Nietzsche, becomes “herd morality.” This was a response to Kant and his ethical imperatives. He wants Christians and Kant to realize their truth claims are not objective but about how they want the world to be. He sees Christianity as exalting weakness over strength, and Kant as exalting his moral preferences to categorical imperatives. The psychology of our values must be examined. This is essentially the abandonment of moral theory, according to MacIntyre. Christianity and Christian morality is not simply indefensible, but for Nietzsche they is disgusting.

The same holds true for human nature. We are free from essentialism, the idea of intrinsic value and meaning or purpose. We are free to create our own value, meaning and purpose. The authentic life is lived for these values, meanings and purposes YOU hold dear. He doesn’t collapse into nihilistic despair but calls us to live in a way that maximizes personal satisfaction. It boils down to “you do you.”

Marx stood opposed to Hegelian thought. Hegel viewed human nature as in process, changing over time. Marx rejected idealism to focus on a materialist approach. The intellectual struggle of Hegel is replaced by material conditions that shape our ideas and self-consciousness. He saw the industrial revolution as transforming social structures and remaking society. Nobility was replaced by rich capitalists as the agrarian culture was replaced with the industrial, urban society. Humanity changes over time with these material changes. It is not simply that people adapt to new circumstances while maintaining human nature; their nature changes. All human organizations are therefore implicitly political.

When it came to religion: “Man makes religion, religion does not make man.” He saw it as “the sigh of the oppressed”. Religion prevented people from being fully and truly human. It contributes, like capitalism, to our alienation. Capitalism, he argued, alienated us from our work and its produce. Religion alienates us from ourselves and others.

He viewed technology as shaping human nature, not human nature using technology. Technology makes it possible for a man to become a woman (and vice versa). Our ideas of gender become putty noses we can put on and take off at will.

Morality, like religion, supports the status quo. The political struggle will necessarily change morality to establish a new (presumably better) status quo. In the history of revolutions the new status quo is often more horrifying than the previous status quo, particularly as we witness the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, Third Reich and the Cultural revolutions in China, N. Korea and Cambodia. All of these tossed religion and traditional morality aside and destroyed all who disagreed. The utopian ends that Marx envisioned became a nightmare for all but the elites, the Party.

Marx was dependent on Darwin and his view of evolution. Engels noted as much at Marx’s graveside. Darwin separated humanity from any meaning, value and significance with his theory of evolution. He was not the first to advocate a form of evolution, but he removed God from the equation and with God a purpose. He tried to bring human nature under the realm of science. To remove an end or purpose is to require a new understanding of who and what human beings are. We are now a cosmic accident, and there is no such thing as transcendent ethical standards beyond that which furthers the survival of the species (though one is not sure why this is important).

Trueman notes that the social imaginary is permeated by the ideas of these three men. In the case of Darwin, the simple ideas persist despite changes in scientific understanding and theory. Darwin for one has facilitated a faith in science and scientists as our new priests who teach us the sacred. More importantly, the idea of human nature as foundational for human purpose has been eliminated. Pop culture communicates Nietzsche’s ideas for living for the now and for pleasure. Self-creation leads to expressive individualism since the self I create is assumed to be good since morality is oppressive. They all argued for poiesis, and demantled mimesis. History and culture must be undone, overcome, removed and replaced.

All three reject the idea that we were created as righteous, and in the Garden our forefather Adam disobeyed plunging us into ruin resulting in the very oppression, violence and sexual immorality they see and at turns reject and yet affirm (on their own terms).

And so we see the stage is set for the therapeutic and expressive set cut free from traditional morality. In the third section we will see how sexuality became central to the understanding of the self.

Last night we had comped tickets to the Gold Over America Tour. When I had been asked by CavWife, who was offered tickets by her employer the YMCA of Southern AZ, I just heard Simone Biles. I thought it would be interesting to hear her speak since it was at the Tucson Convention Center. I’d love to hear about the adversity she overcame.

I was wrong. It was at the Tucson Arena next door to the Convention Center though they share parking. I’d been to the Convention Center for the gem show and a model train show (I’ll hit the gun show eventually), but never the Arena.

The first parking lot we tried to pull into was declared full when we were the 6th or 7th car in line to make the left hand turn. Other barriers of other entrances were not at the street so you got in the left turn lane before discovering it was not open. Eventually we got to an available lot and parked.

They are doing lots of renovations on the building. As a result it looks like a construction site hiding an arena. There were “Jersey barriers” to channel pedestrians. A loud speaker told us of the Covid protocols. Thankfully I noticed the sign indicating only clear bags when we paid for parking. It was mildly amusing for me (since I didn’t have a bag) since the vast majority of the people were gymnastic families who obviously have no intention of harming Simone or any other gymnast they idolize. But since our tickets were at Will Call, I figured CavWife better bring that ID. We didn’t catch the “no outside food or beverage” until in line for the security check. One daughter lost her water bottle since no one in the desert spends much time without one (except me). Ironically, this is the child we call “the Camel” since she seems to drink so little.

Jersey Barriers

I saw signs for the ticket office indicating, I thought, that it was in the lobby area. The signs didn’t point us around but thru the building. So we got thru security and at the door were informed the ticket office was on the far side of the building, and of course we have to go out and around. Now our second line was Will Call. It was a much shorter line. Then our third line was the much longer security line.

I had some trouble reading the tickets. I could see our section, 212, and seats, but couldn’t discern which number or letter indicated the row. Since the rows were letters, I found a letter near the section & seats and guessed that was it. Since we were not asked to move, I think I guessed correctly.

First impressions of the arena: It made for a generally small, intimate setting for a concert or event. John Cleese will be there soon and I considered going but thought I didn’t want to hear vicious Trump jokes. Where we sat I could see 2 concession stands offering the same things (this is NOT Chase Field) and a cart with mini-donuts (???). I could see no signs for restrooms. CavWife and I scanned and notice people going down a corridor and figured that must be where they are. This didn’t seem user-friendly should I take the boys to a Roadrunners’ hockey game.

An Evening with John Cleese - Tucson Music Hall

I think this was one of the first nights for GOAT, a nice double entendre since Simone is probably the gymnastics GOAT. They wanted to film cheering crowds for a commercial before things started.

Oh, I was wrong again. This was not a speaking engagement. It was a gymnastics exhibition. Simone was nervous as she welcomed us to the show after a dance routine and gymnasts on the bars and beam. She needed a cue card, but I’m sure she’ll get used to it.

The music was LOUD and the lights at times were distracting (one kept pointing at my eyes). Thankfully one daughter was not over-stimulated by the sensory overload. Most of the songs were upbeat and conveyed positive messages to the many young girls in the audience. They were encouraged not to live for the approval of others, to be there for one another as friends. One song was a golden oldie, Blondie’s Heart of Glass. The best moment, message-wise, was a song Overwhelmed which is about dealing with anxiety as Simone was beset by other gymnasts wearing black jackets with sayings about anxiety on them, representing her struggle with anxiety. You could see, demonstrably, how they were there for one another as in the opening routines, one of the women on the floor routine had a boot one. Injured as she was, she participated as she could and get her moment instead of being confined to the dressing room or booted from the tour. Great to see.

At times there was too much going on. I was overwhelmed, but not by anxiety. You might have multiple people on the bars, or people on both the bars and beam. It was hard, in those moments, to appreciate the incredible skills of the gymnasts because you were pulled in too many directions. They did show much of it on the big screen to help you see. In one set the filtered the image of the gymnast on the beam so you saw the outline and fuzzy color. So, some special effects beyond the lights.

But these young ladies were amazing. Simone was obviously the star but they were all amazing. It is hard to believe they can do those flips. They were doing this not for competition, but more for fun (yeah, they are getting paid). You still have to do things right so you don’t get hurt, but the pressure of performing is different with only your joy and the joy of others (not a medal) on the line.

After about an hour they left the area and the lights went up. There was no “thanks, goodnight.” There was no “we’ll be back after a short intermission”. We had no clue what was happening. This is another example of “opening night” kinks that need to be addressed. I saw cameras being put away. Some people were leaving, and others staying in the hopes they would return after a break. I understand the need for a break, they were expending tremendous amounts of energy.

We decided to head home after an enjoyable show. Since it was free for us (aside from parking) we didn’t feel the need to “get our money’s worth” and see every second. On the way to the car we talked about how amazing the gymnasts were and the version of Royal & Serpent’s Overwhelmed about anxiety since some of us deal with anxiety.

We don’t know if they came back for more, but what we saw was impressive to our non-gymnastics family. When they come near you it may be worth checking out. This from a guy who doesn’t watch the Olympics, in part, because it is dominated by gymnastics. Gone is the lag time and “judging”. It comes fast and furious as they move from one song and routine to another.

Considering Lulu

In 2010 we decided to adopt again. As part of that agreement was to adopt another dog. Our daughter was heartbroken when I had to put Huck down (me too). I thought it was time to get another dog. Off to the Humane Society and County Animal Control.

Finding a new dog was more difficult than I thought. It included a billion barking dogs making my ears hurt in these cinder block buildings which reverberated the sound. The first dog we spent time with was one I really liked. It would be a great dog- for a bachelor. The kids were scared because it was big and energetic.

The next dog was Lulu, who was chill. She was gentle with the kids. She was a keeper.

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They were fast friends

We were told she was a Beagle mix and had eye dots like a Pincher or Rotweiler. The story was that they found her wandering in the desert. She either ran away or was released by a puppy mill. It turned out to be our gain.

We soon discovered that the reason she was so mellow was kennel cough as snot spewed from her nostrils. At least she liked pills, unlike Huck. She was a bit more energetic. In the morning she would get the “zoomies” in the back yard. She would go so fast that sometimes she would slam into the block wall as she was making the turn.

I would also play tag with her for exercise. As she zoomed past I’d try to touch her. She would try to dodge me before turning around. Let’s just say that she was quicker than I was.

Those first few years our daughter lost quite a few shoes to Lulu. She’d leave them on the back porch and all was fair game for Lulu. It wasn’t just shoes, but items made of plastic were found all chewed up. Eventually her desire to chew led to the destruction of many a dog toy. She loved those nylon bones so much that she’d chew until her gums bled.

She was quite stubborn, as Beagles commonly are. She didn’t bark much at all. She yodeled, leading my daughter to think she was part Basenji. It amused us, and I was grateful to another dog that didn’t bark all the time. Like Huck she was incredibly gentle and great with children. So many children love on her, and her on them. She was a licker. A big licker. One nickname was Lulu Shin-licker. Or Lulu Licks-a-lot.

She was patient as our daughter dressed her up and took pictures. It went from her clothes to sweaters she bought for the dog so she’d keep warm those 2 cold days in Tucson.

The first year we had Lulu we spent the week after Christmas in Flagstaff. She came with us. When we stopped for food and let her out to pee she nearly ran away. It took her awhile to stop trying to run away. While we were in Flagstaff it snowed, a lot. At first she was uncertain about this cold, wet stuff. But soon she was running down the road and jumping into snow banks. It was pure joy, and is one of my favorite memories.

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We soon discovered she hated brooms. We wondered if she had been hit with one. If the broom on the back porch was laying in front of the sliding glass door she would refuse to go out.

She didn’t have the greatest endurance. When we tried to take her on a hike she got tired and just gave up. That stubbornness kicked in and she laid there, refusing to move. If we went out of the neighborhood, including a dog park down the street she’d pull the same stunt.

But she loved the dog park by the Y. It was weird to watch. She wouldn’t chase balls, frisbees or sticks. She’d chase the other dogs who were chasing balls. She’d want them to play, with her.

She was infamously brutal on dog beds. She had to have them “just right” and would paw at them to move them to the “right spot” in the room. It was a nightly affair that could take 10-15 minutes. Soon the dog bed would have tears from her nails and stuffing would trail the bed as she pulled it around.

She also went through many different kinds of dog food due to food allergies. Grain was the initial problem so she was switched to a grain-free diet. More research led to a new kind of food and on it went. She loved to hang around while you were making dinner, hoping you’d toss her some veggies, cheese or egg shells. While we’d eat she’d be there silently but persistently waiting for food.

She loved it when we had company, especially Community Group. She’d have to greet everyone and after they sat down she would stand or sit by them until they rubbed her head. She was patient when we adopted CavKids 3 & 4 from the DRC. They were not sure what to make of her. CavKid 3 soon tolerated her, but 4 grew to love dogs. There was only one person she didn’t like. The man who lived with us for a few years had a friend from China. Apparently his distrust of dogs was evident to her and that was that.

There were times when we’d go outside to say our ‘goodbyes’ and we’d have to make sure she didn’t climb in their car to go home with them.

She loved to roll around on our fake grass in the back yard. Lulu also loved to just lay in the sun and work on her tan. She’d do this on summer mornings before it got too hot. Or any time the rest of the year.

A few times we (meaning my daughter) took Lulu to our church Christmas party. Part of the evening was the singing of Christmas carols. While the rest of us sang she would begin to yowl as if joining us in praise and joy. She’d also take Lulu to church work days so she could “supervise” the chores getting done. It was likely my daughter’s attempt to avoid work, but Lulu loved being able to see everyone.

About 5 years ago I noticed that she was less energetic. She was getting lazy, sedentary. So when my daughter wanted “her own” dog (even though she often refers to Lulu as hers), I agreed. It was great to see her come back to life as they had their daily wrestling sessions in the back yard (and the living room). She started to find her voice as they played, and her go to move was a spin move I can still see in my mind. She’d crouch down with her backside in the air, bark and spin around.

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The wrestling wasn’t contained to the backyard.

Nearly two years ago we noticed she began to drink copious amounts of water. We thought she might have diabetes, but the test came back negative. She also began to sneak upstairs to pee instead of just standing by the door to be let out. Something was wrong but we didn’t know what.

The daughter loves to research things on the internet. Soon she had a diagnosis: Cushing’s Syndrome. It could be caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. It causes the excessive drinking, and peeing. She was ravenous, and began to bark to remind you to feed her. Soon there would be muscle loss, hair loss etc. Life expectancy was about 2 years. The actual testing and treatment were very expensive (thousands of dollars) so we just assumed she had it. The symptoms set in.

In the last 10 months or so we noticed other changes. She started digging outside, like she was trying to escape. She began to bark at … well… nothing. She often sounded like a seal. We realized that she was likely experiencing doggie dementia. The peeing upstairs was likely a sign as well. She would forget how to get back in the house and dig.

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Sometimes they’d share a bed.

Her personality didn’t seem to change much. She was still gentle, though she moved slower and was a bit more stubborn. Her face was increasingly gaunt as she lost muscle mass. She began to bark at 5:30 most mornings until I got up and let her out.

She was ravenous much of the time as I noted. Between feeding times, she would scrounge. If we weren’t paying attention she’d nose her way through the kids’ gate to get upstairs. There she would try to get into the cat’s food. She also took to tipping over trash cans to find something to eat. One night she scared us because we noticed she’d gotten into the trash in the kids’ bath. We saw some blood, and saw the chewed plastic of a women’s razor head. The blades were gone, apparently down the gullet. We weren’t sure she was going to make it but she was fine. We aren’t sure if she passed them or they just hung out in her intestines, but she kept going like nothing was bothering her.

When we were away for vacation, we got the report that she wasn’t doing well. We weren’t sure she’d be there when we got home. A congregant who is a retired vet looked at her. Congestive heart failure, labored breathing. We had to treat her like she was in hospice.

Kody was of two minds regarding her in the last few weeks. When it came to food, he began to resent her. He began to growl if she got near his food, or the parchment paper with bacon grease on it. At other times he’d lick her to comfort her. He knew something was up, but wasn’t sure how to respond.

We began to agonize about when it was time to put her down. I second-guessed when I put Huck down. I didn’t want to put her down too soon, or too late. She didn’t seem to be in pain. At moments there was the old glint in her eyes. Other times she wouldn’t respond to her name. Getting her into her crate at night became quite the process. She was unintentionally making it tough on us.

Then Kody nipped her. In a few days she had an infection, essentially making the decision for us. It was time to put her to sleep.

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April 2020 w/Finn

She was a constant in our home for 11 years. 11 really good years except for the foul-smelling gas. Or when her allergies flared up and her scratching drove us crazy too. But she was a most kind-hearted animal. We’ve been blessed to have, and unfortunate to lose, two incredible dogs.

We’ll miss you, Lulu!

The first part of Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is fascinating to me. The book is about the road to the sexual revolution and the revolution of the concept of self. As he notes, there is a reason many today don’t bat an eye at the idea that “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body”. There is a reason for the increasing polarization of our society. This first portion of his book examines the “architecture” of the revolution.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution - Trueman, Carl R; Dreher, Rod (foreword by) - 9781433556333

I must admit the philosophical books tend to be in the “deep end” for me. I’ve only studied enough philosophy in college and seminary to be slightly less ignorant. As I process his arguments it is from a lay man’s perspective, or common sense and in light of what I perceive in the world I live in. Others may have different opinions of the works cited and Trueman’s use of them.

The book begins with a forward by Rod Dreher. He begins with a statement by Solzhenitsyn, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” He was speaking of the “horrors of Soviet communism”. The same can be said of the seismic shifts in our own nation. He argues that the ways we’ve forgotten God matter, as do the how and why. In the Scriptures it is preceded by prosperity that leads to pride (Dt. 8 & Hosea 13). Focusing on changing morals just scratches the surface.

“Carl Trueman’s prophetic role is to reveal to the church today how that happened, so that even now, we might repent and, in so doing, find ways to keep the true light of faith burning in this present darkness, which comprehends it not.”

In his preface we find a variety of people mentioned including Mortification of Spin co-hosts past and present, some RTS professors in Scott Swain and Scott Redd, Rosaria Butterfield and a variety of institutions.


In the introduction Trueman explains the sentence “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” would be incoherent to his grandfather. Today many believe it to be meaningful and true. This sentence, he notes, “carries with it a world of metaphysical assumptions.” The “connection between mind and the body” is given more weight than biological facts. Gender is separated from sex, and chromosomes no longer define man or woman. His basic assumption is that the sexual revolution is only part of a wider revolution in how people understand the self. Our view of sex has changed because of view of self has changed.

Philosopher Charles Taylor sees a shift in self to the inner psychological life we see developing with Freud. Morality is derived from an inner sense or intuition (I see some possible overlap with Haidt’s moral intuition here). When people deny their inner reality, they feel trapped or that they are living a lie until they “come out” and speak the truth about their inner self. To be authentic, one must pursue that which makes them happy. Trueman will spend plenty of time with Taylor later. We do see the rise of the “expressive individual”. Who you think and feel you are is more important than what society says, and society actually needs to affirm who you think/feel you are.

He will also depend on Philip Rieff and Alasdair MacIntyre to describe the “triumph of the therapeutic, psychological man, the anticulture and deathworks. MacIntyre addresses truth claims finding their source in the inner self which leads to much of the polarization because you are not arguing about objectively true or untrue claims.

Trueman lays out the material in the second part of the book as Rousseau and Romanticism change the face of the world, focusing on the inner life of individuals. Rousseau and a number of Romantics see the individual as good and corruption coming from society, a theme also developed by Marx. The expressive individual ceases to be oppressed by the corrupt and enslaving conventions of society. In the third part of the book he will focus on the sexualization of this larger revolution. Freud advanced the idea that we are sexual beings, not simply sexed beings, from infancy. This explains, in part, the incessant need to push sex ed earlier and earlier. The goal is not simply the expansion, but the abolition, of cultural boundaries. It is an erotic free for all.

He then explores what the book is not. It is not exhaustive of how these ideas gained prominence. The book is “not a lament for a lost golden age” that actually didn’t exist. As Christians we are called to live faithful lives in the midst of various unfaithful societies. He wants us to understand the times so we can live in them with greater faithfulness.

Reimagining the Self

Trueman begins by introducing the social imaginary, or how societies think, as developed by Charles Taylor. It is “that common understanding which makes possible common practices, and a widely shared sense of legitimacy.” It is the things a culture holds in common: narratives, practices, intuitions. It isn’t thought out so much as lived out. There has been a seismic shift in the social imaginary that now affirms what prior generations rejected, soundly.

Connected to this he develops the differences between mimesis and poisis. Surely these are common words in your functional vocabulary. Mimesis “regards the world as having a given order and a given meaning and thus sees human being as required to discover that meaning and conform themselves to it.” This understands there being meaning in life that is objective, not purely subjective. This includes theism, but is not necessarily theistic (though that view would be unstable). The individual conforms to societal norms, to reality.

Poisis “sees the world as so much raw material out of which meaning and purpose can be created by the individual.” This is far more existential in nature. There is no objective meaning to life. You create your own meaning. As society embraces this and the expressive individual, we see that society now conforms to individual norms. This has been facilitated by technological changes that change how we think about the world. It is much smaller now as airplanes and the internet shatter our view of geography. Our social imaginary has incorporated self-creation. “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body,” only makes sense in a poietic understanding of the world. In a mimetic view, the person conforms to culture’s view of man and woman. In a poietic society, society is oppressive if it forces its view on the individual. In the mimetic society, the individual who refuses to conform is seen as sick in some way.

Trueman then brings in Philip Rieff and the Nature of Culture. Beginning with Freud, Rieff developed a theory of culture in The Triumph of the Therapeutic. Following Freud, cultures are “primarily defined by what they forbid.” This is a very negative view of culture. Gone is what culture promotes. It all comes back to taboos, how culture limits the individual (building on the views of Rousseau). A culture must have mechanisms to communicate and enforce these taboos from one generation to the next.

Culture directed the individual outward to find their true selves. You found your place in society, lived a given role or function rather than creating your own true sense. The former is what you find in Richard Philip’s The Masculine Mandate, you find yourself in fulfilling your covenantal responsibilities. The latter is what you find in John Eldridge’s Wild At Heart where you get in touch with your inner self, often in nature, rather than in your community. (That is my application/assumption, not Trueman’s.)

From Political Man to Psychological Man

Continuing with Rieff, Trueman traces the path from political man to psychological man in light of his view of culture. This road begins with finding your self by conforming to culture, and ends with culture needing to affirm your self-generated identity. Political man “finds his identity in the activities in which he engages in the public life of the polis.” Rieff sees this in Aristotle. This eventually gave way, at least in Europe, to religious man who “found his primary sense of self in his involvement in religious activities” often in the context of Christendom. Medieval society was structured by the church.

With the industrial revolution we see the rise of economic man who “finds his sense of self in his economic activity.” You are what you do for a living. A job is satisfying if it provides what you need in life, and uses at least some skills you have. This creates self as unstable and temporary for many as technological shifts create job changes and careers. This was something Marx picked up on and exploited.

Economic man, being unstable, is replaced by psychological man who is preoccupied with the inner quest for happiness. He chooses to change jobs looking for satisfaction in what he does, not merely in what it produces. The gaze has shifted from outside of self to into self.

Trueman sees this as far to simplistic to be a historical framework. He does affirm the rise of psychological categories as dominant in how people view themselves in the West. Rieff ends up with a view quite similar to Taylor’s expressive individualism in which we find “our meaning by giving expression to our own feelings and desires.” This produces a culture of authenticity in which you live according to your inner sense of self no matter how little it conforms to society. Marx and Nietzsche introduced the ideas that the culture must be overthrown because of how it oppresses the individual. In the hands of Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse this takes a decidedly sexual turn.

In this kind of world, institutions become “places one goes to perform, not to be formed.” Or, as Trueman notes, formed by performing. School becomes more about sports and extracurricular activities, and now about activism instead of reading, writing and arithmetic. This explains the idea of “safe spaces” to escape ideas that may challenge us. School becomes a place to be affirmed, reassured. It affirms and furthers the “inward-directed therapeutic categories over traditional outward-directed educational philosophies.”

What we are discussing here is not simply what people do in their own homes between consenting adults. We are speaking of identities which compel others to accept and affirm. The oppressive codes of conduct of older societies must be shattered to set people free to live as they desire (because apparently all our desires are good). One must be allowed to follow one’s heart in the public arena and be approved by all (and bake that cake, too!).

This doesn’t seem obvious at first glance. The identity and sexual revolutions hasn’t stopped at permission. Traditional culture has been replaced with its reverse. Culture must serve the purposes “of meeting my psychological needs.” We inhabit space with others, and they “must be coerced to be part of our therapeutic world.” Rieff calls this the analytic attitude. Once adopted values are “transvalued”. That which was good is not considered bad, and that which is bad is now considered good.

In this therapeutic nightmare, words cause “psychological harm” and free speech needs to be suppressed because it can be a tool of oppression. This is far more serious than damage to persons and property, so riots are less significant than hate speech. Reich and Marcuse approve of these shifts as the birth of a liberated utopia while Rieff laments them as signs that a culture has died.

What is missing is “why some marginal identities gain mainstream acceptance and others remain (at least for the present) beyond the pale.” He turns to Charles Taylor again for the politics of recognition. Self is no longer limited by Decartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” We know ourselves in dialogue with others. We can’t describe ourselves “without reference to those around” us. This is an agnostic or atheistic version of Calvin’s view of the knowledge of God and self. You can’t know one without knowing the other.

Since we need to belong, and a healthy sense of self comes from belonging we must be acknowledged by others as we are (or want to be). No longer are we accepted because we conform, we must be accepted despite the fact we don’t want to conform. “This idea- that identity requires recognition by another- is a vital insight into the subject I am exploring in this book.” As a result, recognition “becomes a life-and-death struggle.”

Reimagining Our Culture

The second chapter shifts focus from the self to the culture. Some of the same material is covered since you can’t really talk about one without the other. It is more a matter of emphasis. At the end of the first paragraph he says as much.

Here Trueman introduces Rieff’s idea of the West as a third-world culture. This is not a question of economic development but rather the basis of moral authority. For Rieff (again building on Freud’s view of culture/society) first and second world cultures base morality on “something transcendent, beyond the material world.” There is an external authority, not a social construct. First world cultures are pagan. This means their moral codes are rooted in mythology. Stories shape the culture. Appeal is made to these stories. There is much about “fate”, in which your destiny is shaped by an unchangeable, impersonal force.

For a second-world culture, faith rather than fate is the issue. We see this in Christianity (providence is a result of the will of a personal God exercising His perfect knowledge, wisdom, love etc.). Culture is shaped by an understanding (however imperfect) of the character of God, and the laws are intended to reflect God’s concerns.

Both first and second-world cultures have stability because the basis of their morality does not change. They are beyond the people who live in the culture.

Third-world cultures forsake the sacred and establish moral codes within the individual. Traditional morality is seen as a social construct and therefore oppressive. This culture has fallen into the lie of the Garden, wanting to know and decide good and evil for one’s self. Yet people still seem to tell others what to do all the time. Go figure, right? However, Rieff considers these cultures to be “mature”. Morality becomes pragmatic, based on outcomes which are deemed good or bad based on the evaluation of the culture (THIS is the social construct).

Trueman sees parallels with Charles Taylor’s immanent frame. This world is all there is, the result of which is the rejection of any moral discourse rooted in what lies beyond it. Morality is utterly immanent, not transcendent. Where Rieff and Taylor differ is on the process of this shift. Rieff sees it similar to catastrophic: sudden and destructive. Taylor sees a slow process.

The problem with third-world cultures and the immanent frame is that they are inherently unstable, and filled with confusion. The individual may not know what is “in” and what is “out”.

The example that Trueman provides is the abortion debate. Is that fetus a “person with potential or a potential person?” 1st and 2nd-world cultures say the former, and the 3rd-world culture and immanent frame say the latter. Peter Singer pushes personhood even farther out than birth justifying even infanticide until children are capable of self-reflection (I think, therefore I am taken to a logical conclusion that I am not until I think or you think I can think). In this scenario, women can play god with the fetus in their womb. They decide who lives and dies; whose potential may or may not come into reality.

In terms of sex, the morality lies in mutual consent not any particular act. As a result “these third-world cultures are really just therapeutic cultures, the cultures of psychological man.” They are focused on self-actualization, on fulfilling the desires of the individual because there really is nothing else.

Trueman argues that all three of these cultures can exist simultaneously within the same society. This is the root of our polarization in many ways. We can’t talk because we have different sources of authority. Some point to a transcendent moral order which makes no sense to the expressive individual. One points to how culture necessarily restrains our wickedness and weirdness while the other demands that culture affirm their wickedness and weirdness as good. There is no common ground available for fruitful conversation about abortion, war, taxes, sexual deviance, marriage, vaccines …

MacIntyre and Emotivism

Truemen takes a detour into the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre who searched for a ground for morality. His book After Virtue focused on the problems created by the collapse of Marxism. He had been a Marxist and now needed to find a new worldview. He looked to Aristotle and those who built on his work. From the Thomist view he appreciated the teleological view of morality. “He insists that teleology enables individuals to distinguish between what they are and what they should be.” The evaluation of our actions is social embedded since we don’t exist in isolation.

MacIntyre rejected a neutrality from which we can deduce moral principles. Society constructs human relations and morality and studying their ethics gives you a picture what what they value. However, now society has a number of opposing ethical views. “Simply put, modern ethical discourse is chaotic because there is no longer a strong community consensus on the nature of the proper ends of human existence.”

Trueman applies this to a topic MacIntyre didn’t anticipate: same sex marriage. Christian tradition (2nd-world) sees marriage for “lifelong companionship, mutual sexual satisfaction, and procreation.” This necessitates the partnership is between people of the opposite sex. This view was the dominant view in Western civilization for thousands of years.

Same sex marriage called for a revision of the purposes of marriage. It needed at least one telos to change since they are not able to procreate by themselves due to nature, not providence.

This introduces emotivism as a theory of use. It presents one’s preferences as if truth claims. The desire to marry someone of the same sex becomes morally acceptable. This cuts both ways. The claim that homosexuality is wrong becomes disconnected from a transcendent morality and a matter of preference. As a mere preference you are now shamed for that preference that stands in the way of another’s happiness. The emotivist is essentially the expressive individual.

Trueman distinguishes between emotivism as a moral theory and as a social. It does not provide solid ground for ethics: I feel therefore I can. He does note it is a useful rhetorical strategy. All you have to do is label the opposing view as -phobic and you create an identity for your opponent they want to separate themselves from.

Anticultures and Antihistorical

Third-world cultures become anticultures. The elites of third-world cultures promote ideas that are not worthy of the term culture. They focus on destroying the 1st and 2nd-world cultures they want to replace. They tear down symbols of tradition. They undermine institutions connected with worlds they want to destroy (church, family, education, military…). If you look at the BLM website you will see how they view these institutions as oppressive and therefore targets for destruction since they are connected to “whiteness”.

He looks at the debate over slavery to see how a second-world culture can change is views. There was conflict because both sides pointed to (their understanding of) the same transcendent view. “Social orders based on sacred orders are quite capable of internal debate and reform based on the working out in practice of their underlying beliefs.” Change takes place on the basis of the accepted authorities rather than the removal of authorities.

Third-world cultures reject the past as a source for significant wisdom. The past is demonized instead of evaluated. This is connected with Lewis’ cultural snobbery but goes farther to the destruction of the past.

In these third-world cultures we see this play out in technology and fashion. There is the never-ending quest for the new. People eagerly await the new generation of phones or computers. Women (usually?) await the latest fashions and dump the old styles on the unwashed masses.

They use Marx’s materialist philosophy with its subversion of history. History becomes the story of oppression (not the mixed story of failure & success, oppression & freedom, sin & salvation). It is necessarily reductionistic. It is only about how people are exploited. It can only be mined to provide warnings of how people are exploited (except, apparently, how they’ve been exploited by Marxists of various stripes). History is reduced to the victims and victimizers.


Art begins to play a role (developed more fully in chapter 4). These intellectual ideas are communicated, emotively, via art which Rieff calls “deathworks”. “A deathwork, by contrast, represents an attack on established cultural art forms in a manner designed to undo the deeper moral structure of society.” I am a Monty Python fan, but it is hard not to see some of their work as deathwork as they undermined the structure of a rigid British society. This is because deathworks make traditional values look ridiculous. This is what much of Hollywood does these days as they characterize Christians as hypocrites and legalists (Footloose is a popular example). The works of John Irving, like The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules, are similar in approach. Forrest Gump treated history in a similar way to undermine our valuing of history and tradition. Religion and traditional morality are portrayed as “distasteful and disgusting.”

Returning to institutions and history we see Trueman discuss forgetfulness. Not only is there the expunging of the public record by removing statues and history books, we also see the renaming of institutions because the honoree failed to live up to our modern standards. These are forms of deathworks.

Trueman returns to abortion. The debates are no longer about when life begins (science settled that!) but when personhood begins (because science can’t settle that and by golly some people just seem to love abortions). Abortion “profanes that which the second world regarded as sacred: human life made in the image of God from the moment of conception.”

Trueman ends by noting these philosophers provide us with helpful categories for understanding the cultural revolution and the revolutions of self and sex that drive it. I also find these helpful and recommend the first part of the book for those who want to think on these things more than a blog post/review can.

I ran across Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend through a World Magazine review. It had been on my vacation reading list for a few years and I finally started it after my summer vacation this year.

The author was a religion reporter in St. Louis. Among his degrees is a master’s from Yale Divinity School. His primary subject Chaplain Gerecke served in St. Louis as a Lutheran pastor prior to serving in World War 2 despite his age. While I’m not sure about Townsend’s theological convictions, at times I noted some errors in understanding other people’s theological convictions. Or at least disagrees with me about what they are/should be. The times he gets into theology at the end of chapters (not at the end of every chapter) are the only weak points of this books.

This is a fascinating story, to be sure. While the book is mostly about Henry Gerecke the core of the book is the Nuremberg trial with background sketches of the key Nazi leaders under his pastoral care. In telling their stories, one learns more about the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime and executed by these men and others. We also learn about those who served with Gerecke. This makes for a meandering narrative. As the atrocities are mentioned focus is on some of the lesser known ones instead of simply the gas chambers.

As a result, Townsend covers personal stories, anecdotes, theological asides, the legal process and more. This keeps the reader engaged.

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12

Townsend begins at the end of the trials with the hanging of Wilhelm Keitel in October 1946. Earlier in the evening Herman Goering had committed suicide. Chaplain Gerecke was shaken. Since the Palace of Justice was on lockdown, he and Chaplain O’Connor would get updates on the World Series between the Cardinals and the Red Sox in light of their bet on the series.

Henry Gerecke’s Background

Townsend portrays Pastor Gerecke as an energetic and compassionate man who choose to go to war though his two sons were already involved in the European theater. When he signed up in the summer of 1943, the army needed thousands of chaplains. The ratio was one chaplain for every thousand men. As the war played out they realized it was not enough.

Henry and Alma Gerecke were a study in contrasts. He was thrifty, and she was decidedly not. He was also dedicated to the poor. Gerecke would consider his year at the Palace of Justice working with the prisoners to be the most important of his life. This was historic: it was the first time the international community held a nation’s leaders accountable for war crimes. Meanwhile this descendant of German immigrants sought to bring this men back to God.

In this non-linear approach, Townsend then gives us a brief sketch to Keitel’s life 10 pages into the first chapter. He is portrayed as the son of a farmer who became a professional soldier. A sycophant, he rose to General Field Marshal. He then returns us to how Gerecke ended up heading to Germany.

The son of a farmer, Henry went into the ministry and was studying at Concordia Seminary. Alma was the daughter of a brewer in St. Louis. His second year of seminary saw the beginning of Prohibition, putting her father out of work. He also married Alma and moved into their home. Henry soon learned that Concordia did not allow its students to be married or engaged. He was kicked out of the seminary he’d dreamed of attending because he married the woman he loved. With her father out of business, Henry would support Alma, her parents and her six year-old sister.

Henry began to meet with Pastor Kretzschmar who directed his studies under the approval and assistance of the Concordia faculty. In 1925 he passed his exams at Concordia and was eligible to be an ordained pastor in The Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. His first call was to Christ Lutheran Church. It was a small manse with Henry and Alma in one bedroom and the three boys sharing another. Alma’s mother and sister were in the other room.

Gerecke soon grew bored with pastoral ministry, or at least congregational life. He thrived on mission work. In 1935 he left Christ Lutheran to work with the poor, elderly, insane, sick and criminals of St. Louis out of City Mission. Part of his work was prison ministry. He also had a radio program on KFUO-AM to promote the work of the mission and talk about Jesus.

In 1943 Gerecke was just below the cut off age for Army Chaplains. He felt a great need to minister to troops in the midst of the conflict. His training brought him to Harvard. Townsend segues into a brief history of military chaplains, particularly in America. In 1942 the average chaplain had about 53 appointments a day to discuss faith, homesickness, suicidal thoughts, marriage and problems with alcohol. In World War II 478 chaplains were killed.

Henry Gerecke – The Randolph Society
Chaplain Gerecke- The Randolph Society

Gerecke was assigned to the 98th General Hospital before they shipped out to England in March 1944. One example of his zeal as a chaplain is seen in attending dances. He didn’t dance and was generally opposed to dancing. However, he saw them as an opportunity to get to know the men. He also went to USO shows and basketball games. He liked the overall order and discipline of the military. He was an innovator, relentlessly looking for ways to get more men to show up for services. The hospital was set up and began to serve troops injured in battle.

Assigned to Nuremberg

Because he spoke German, Gerecke also kept an eye (and ear) on the German chaplain helping POWs. When the war was coming to an end, the 98th was not sent home but to rebuild a hospital in Munich. Working among the Germans presented new problems for the hospital and chaplains. While he was there, his sons visited him to celebrate his birthday with him. The hospital, however, was only 11 miles from Dachau. Gerecke visited the site a few times and pondered aloud, “How could they do something like this?”

In November 1945, Gerecke was called into the commander’s office to learn he was being transferred to the prison in Nuremberg to work with Nazi war criminals. That he spoke German and had done prison ministry qualified him for this unique work. Townsend shifts to give us background on the commander of the prison, Col. Andrus. He then tells us about Nuremberg and the anti-Semitism there. The history of anti-Semitism extends beyond Luther, but he certainly didn’t help correct that problem but aggravated it. After World War I, some Germans blamed the Jews for their defeat. The Nuremberg Laws, as they were popularly known, denied Jews citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having intercourse with persons of German descent. Hitler fanned the flames of anti-Semitism throughout Germany.

Nuremberg had nearly been flattened by British Lancaster heavy bombers. Many of the men were gone so most of the residents were women and children. There was no money, only cigarettes, to be used for transactions. Thousands of dead people were hidden under the rubble of Nuremberg, creating a variety of problems. Food was rationed at 1,325 calories and meat was in short supply. Worse, there was a ban on beer.

Townsend describes the conditions of the prison, particularly the highest level prisoners. The “Judas window” in the door allowed the guards to see them at all times except when on the toilet. When on their beds, the prisoners were supposed to be facing the center of the room, not the wall. Despite precautions, before the trial Leonardo Conti (the health minister who took part in eugenic programs) hung himself with a towel tied to the bars of the window. In addition, Robert Ley (head of the German Labor Front) also used a towel and his jacket zipper to create a noose around the toilet tank.

“We have forsaken God and therefore we were forsaken by God.” Robert Ley

The Legal Road to Nuremberg

This was the first trial of its kind and the Allies worked together to try and figure out a path forward. German’s invasion of Poland violated the 1929 Hague and Geneva conventions. As the war progressed they began to learn of mass killings of Jews and others, as well as the concentration camps. The governments in exile began to engage this question as well, producing the Declaration of St. James expressing the need to satisfy the sense of justice through the “channel of organized justice, of those guilty of or responsible for these crimes, whether they have ordered them, perpetrated them or participated in them.” There was yet no mechanism or known punishments. There was no legal precedent. U.S. representative on the United Nations War Crime Commission Herbert Pell noted that “If we want to avert general massacre, we must satisfy the popular demand for justice.”

As this dialogue continued there are extremes of thought. The most shocking, to me, that that of Murray Bernays a New York attorney with the Office of the Judge Advocate General’s staff. Though an ethnic Jew who sympathized with the plight of the German Jews, he wasn’t sure their treatment was a war crime. After Roosevelt’s death, President Truman stated he opposed summary executions for Nazi leaders. He supported a tribunal. At this time the Americans began to capture Nazi leaders hiding in farmhouses and basements including Ernst Markow who was part of the Jewish pogrom in November ’38, Gerhard Klotten famous for his brutal treatment of POWs, and Hans Dreesen, an SS officer who beat a captured American pilot with rocks and a rubber truncheon.

Gordon Dean outlined the Policy Directive. The world must clearly see what the Nazis have done, and how they did it. History books should relate these crimes so they will not be repeated as time dims memories. They are developing precedents for future cases of war crimes, and effective international criminal law can result. The U.S. did not want to stoop to the level of the Nazis in how they treated them.

The Chaplain and the Prisoners

When Gerecke arrived he met fellow chaplains Sixtus O’Connor (Roman Catholic) and Carl Eggers. O’Connor also spoke German so he and Gerecke worked with the prisoners (though some spoke English). O’Connor grew up speaking German and also studied in Munich before the war. He studied in the area of how modern philosophy were rejecting and replacing scholastic thought. While in Munich, he had a Jewish professor who was harassed by Nazis and left town. As the war began he began to teach philosophy at Siena College in New York. As a chaplain, he was involved in combat areas.

Gerecke was criticized by some for his approach toward the prisoners. He would shake their hands, and treat them as human beings. He was winsome in his approach “in order that that Gospel be not hindered by any wrong approach I may make … I knew I could never win any of them to my way of thinking unless they liked me first.” His goal was to bring them to Christ. He was there to evangelize these men.

Rudolph Hess was born in Egypt since his father was an importer-exporter. He was drafted into the army in World War I, fighting in the same regiment as Hitler. They didn’t know each other until after the war. He suffered a chest wound in 1917 and was discharged. He studied at the University of Munich under Karl Haushofer who founded the geopolitik. Geopolitik was the bridge from German imperialism to national socialism. Hess entered the Nazi Party in 1920. He was jailed with Hitler in 1924 for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch. While they shared a cell, he helped Hitler write Mein Kompf. He took dictation, but some of the basic ideas were his.

The introverted and insecure Hess was fanatical in his devotion to Hitler. He surrendered his life to Hitler. He wanted Germany to be free of the “Jewish problem” by being free of Jews.

Hermann Goering was the son of a government official serving in Haiti. Born in Germany, his mother soon sailed to Haiti leaving him to be raised by family friends for the next three years. When he was ten he was sent to boarding school, which he despised. In an essay he wrote he admired his godfather Hermann von Epenstein. Hermann was punished for admiring a Jew though von Epenstein was Catholic. He was forced to write “I shall not write essays in praise of Jews” a hundred times and wore a sign stating “my godfather is a Jew”. After destroying his musical instruments he was sent to a military academy which he loved.

Goering and von Richthofen in Belgium 1916-18 - YouTube
Goering and the Red Baron

From the military academy he went into the military during World War I. He was a pilot in the Imperial German Army Air Service and became a war hero under Manfred von Richtofen aka the Red Baron. Due to his war record, he was a recruit to the new political movement. In 1922, Hitler made him the leader of the Brownshirts. He was wounded in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. He was exiled for four years in Austria, Italy, and Sweden. During this time he developed an addiction to morphine. Returning to Germany he rejoined the party and was one of the first officials elected to the Reichstag. In 1932 he became president of the Reichstag. When Hitler rose to Chancellor the next year Goering became head of the party’s security, creating camps for political enemies.

In 1935 he became commander of the Luftwaffe and was in charge of the economic plan. This allowed Goering to accumulate wealth through the state-run Hermann Goering Works which employed 700,000 people. He built a hunting estate called Carinhall, entertaining heads of state and party officials there. He even had tame lions roaming the home. He traveled on his own 10-car train. His car had two bedrooms with cherry furniture. When he took a bath the train stopped until he was done, even if other trains needed to pass. There was a car with a movie theater. The train had a staff of 171 as well as guards. 20 soldiers manned air defense guns.

Goering was not as vocal about his anti-Semitism but he gave some of the most important orders in the genocide including the one that put the Holocaust in motion.

But all did not go well for Goering. He led the failed air attack on Great Britain which meant they were not able to execute the plan to invade England. Hitler began to isolate Goering, giving more responsibility to Himmler, Goebbels and Speer. As it became obvious in early 1945 that the war was concluding, he packed up what he could from Carinhall and had Luftwaffe engineers demolish it. In the final days, Goering who’d been declared successor by a transfer of power decree in 1941 was uncertain if Hitler had been surrounded by the Russians. His request that Ribbentrop join him unless prohibited by the Fuhrer led to the order being rescinded and arrest orders for treason issued for Goering. Goering got tired of waiting for the Americans to find him and went to find them. In a ruse they told him he’d remain free if he gave up. When arrested his medical check up revealed short of breath, prone to flop sweat and pale skin. Guards found a vial of cyanide in a coffee can, and another sewn into his uniform.

Trial of the Century

The “trial of the century” began on November 20, 1945 and French assistant prosecutor Pierre Mounier used the term “genocide” in the reading of indictments. The term was coined by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin. Goering tried to make a statement instead of simply pleading. Shut down by Lord Geoffrey Lawrence he plead “In the sense of the indictment, not guilty.”

“Not guilty. For what I have done or had to do, I have a pure conscience before God, before history and my people.” Alfred Jodl

The arguments were that the actions taken by these men and others were so calculated, malignant, and devastating that they couldn’t be tolerated nor ignored. They believed that civilization could afford no compromise. American chief prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson told of the slaughter of 33,771 Jews by SS Einsatzgruppen death squads over the course of 2 days in a ravine near Kiev. He mentioned the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto resulting in the deaths of 56,063 Jews. He brought up “medical experiments” in Dachau.

As the trial progressed some of the prisoners began to accept Gerecke. His organist was a former SS Lt. Col. and former Christian. By the end of the trial he had returned to his faith, and Gerecke served him communion. “The simple Gospel of the Cross had changed his heart.” Soon 13 of the defendants attended services in the two-cell chapel. 4 others attended O’Connor’s Catholic Masses. 5 of the defendants wanted nothing to do with the chaplains.

Townsend discusses the complicated relationship between the Germans and the occupiers who included journalists covering the trial. Often those who took over a home hired the owner as housekeeper. The people associated with the trial faced constant rumors about snipers. Many did not stray far from the beaten path between housing and the Palace of Justice. The Grand Hotel became a center for social activity. There was cheap food and a stocked wine cellar. German bands played jazz. There were cabarets and acts. There was a fair amount of fornication and adultery between the men working with the trial and attractive German women. Enlisted men frequented movies at the Opera House, and danced in the hall upstairs.

Gerecke visited the trial sessions most days. He wanted to hear testimony and the defense as well. One skeptical defendent was Karl Doenitz, an admiral in the navy. In 1942 he ordered the rescue of 2,000 survivors of the Laconia, a passenger ship. Hitler was livid due to a standing order to emphasized waging war, not rescue. The rescue risked Allied attacks on the German ships. Doenitz issued the Laconia Order forbidding the rescue of those whose ships have sunk. The Nazis realized it was easier for the Americans to supply new ships than to provide new sailors and took to killing them. A U-boat commanded by Lt. Eck spent 5 hours firing machine guns and throwing hand grenades at survivors of the Greek ship Peleus. Amazingly 3 men survived and were picked up 25 days later by a Portuguese ship.

“Of course you can be patriotic and Christian at the same time provided you do so according to Romans 13 until you come into conflict with Acts 5:29. The former will tell you what you owe your government and how to be loyal to it as a Christian. The latter will emphasize its application to Christian patriotism and tell you that you must obey God rather than man.” Gerecke to Rippentrop

Joachim von Ribbentrop was resistant to Gerecke’s ministry early on. He was Hitler’s gofer, craving the trappings of wealth and power. “He was contemptuous, incompetent, vain, and combative.” Goering and the others despised him. Eventually he was reading the Bible and the catechism. He was growing repentant and finally wanted to take communion. Constantine von Neurath, the foreign minister, was also resistant but got right with God.

One of the things I didn’t realize was connected to Fritz Sauckel, the labor chief. While not very smart, he was very efficient and became one of the most notorious slavers in history. At the beginning of World War I, the ship he was on was sunk by a French battleship and he spent the duration in a prison camp. He returned home to become a lathe operator and get married. Two of his sons were killed in World War II. In the early 1920’s he became a labor leader, making speeches and organizing for the Party. During the War, Sauckel organized slave raids into occupied territory for free labor in German factories. In one day a raid rounded up 50,000 men in Rotterdam. By late 1942 more than 4.5 million foreign workers were in Germany living in subhuman conditions. By late 1944 that number had grown to 8 million foreign workers. This was 46% of agricultural workers, a third of miners, construction workers and in the metal and chemical industries. Almost 500,000 of them died in the Reich.

During the trial he said he was only responsible for getting them, not what happened to them afterward. Saukel was one of the men who was broken by his sins, reading his catechism during the trial. When preparing to take Communion he cried out “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He was the first to return to Christ.

Albert Speer, hearing of this, asked for a copy of the catechism as well. He admitted to Gerecke that “the neglect of genuine Christianity caused its downfall.” Speer had been an architect in Mannheim. He joined the Party in 1931. He began to design the parades and rallies. In 1942 he became minister of armaments and war production. Speer refused Hitler’s orders to destroy the infrastructure, choosing instead to remove and hide key parts so they would obstruct the Allies but not destroy Germany’s postwar future. At one point he planned to kill Hitler by throwing poison gas grenades into the ventilation system of the bunkers but was thwarted by Hitler building brick walls around the vents.

The other key men that Gerecke led back to Christ were Hans Fritzsche (Ministry of Propaganda) and Baldur von Schirach who led the Hitler Youth and governed Vienna. As a writer and editor for the Telegraphen Union, Hans came to the attention of Goebbels. He was calm, learned, rational and clear, unlike many Nazis. He was clearly anti-Semitic and often attacked Western leaders. He was ruthless. During the trial he enjoyed discussing the Scriptures but was wary of Christian doctrine. Gerecke took the openings he provided.

Schirach had a paternal grandfather who lived in the U.S. and fought in the Civil War before returning to Germany after marrying an American girl. He was born in Berlin and joined several youth organizations after World War I. He read Mein Kampf when he was 18 and then met Hitler who sent him to Munich. Hitler groomed him and gave him more and more responsibility. He became responsible for the 6 million Hitler Youth members. They were trained to “believe in the supremacy of Teutonic culture.” He was blindly devoted to Hitler.

In 1940 he enlisted in the German Army and fought in Germany. Hitler then made him governor of Vienna where Schirach begain to deport Viennese Jews to Poland. He says he became an anti-Semite reading Houston Steward Chamberlain, an American whose books influenced Nazi policy and automaker Henry Ford. He later repented, calling the racial policy “one of the greatest menaces to mankind.”

All three men approached Gerecke about being communed and met for a communion service in the tiny chapel. In the mid-1950’s there was a news report that those who were sent to Spandau were attending chapel with the sole exception being Hess.

During the Christmas Break, Colonel Andrus worked with the chaplains to arrange visits with family. The men were worried about their families. Many were rumored to have been captured by the Americans. At that time von Schirach’s wife Henriette was taken by soldiers from her home and children, and taken to a POW camp where she spent Christmas Eve in a cramped cell.

Julius Streicher was not in a jovial mood. He wondered who made God, and that a Jew being the Son of God was propaganda. The propaganda expert couldn’t think past his own experience, projecting it on others. The promised Christmas Eve services were delayed due to the demands and rumblings of the press. When they finally did gather for worship the prisoners began to hum to the organ, then slowly started singing. The loudest was Goering. Gerecke read and preached from Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth.

“We never took time to appreciate Christmas in all its biblical meaning. Tonight we are stripped of all material gifts and away from our people. But we have the Christmas story.” Fritz Saukel

For chapel services thirteen guards stood against the back wall. They might use their batons if they thought someone wasn’t being reverent enough. Goering was always there, but not for the prayers. He just wanted to get out of the cell. Hjalmar Schacht complained that since Gerecke wasn’t fluent, he had to read his sermons. He also complained that he struggled to carry out some pastoral conversations. Schacht longed for a German pastor. He didn’t fault Gerecke’s intentions nor kind-heartedness.

Hans Frank joined the Nazi Party straight out of law school, becoming the chief legal authority. For a time he was Hitler’s personal attorney. After a series of other posts he was named the governor of Poland in 1939. He received nicknames like “Slayer of Poles” and “Butcher of Krakow” for not only sending Jews to camps but also the intelligentsia. The goal was to enslave the labor class. Frank cared only for the German people. He wanted the Jewish people to simply disappear.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner was the man who received all those people in his camp. Ernst was a childhood friend of Eichmann. He studied law like his father and grandfather. He joined the Party in 1932, becoming commander of the Austrian SS in 1935. By 1942 he was head of the Reich Security Main Office, controlling the Gestapo. The Einstazgruppen units roamed Europe killing as many Jews as they could find. Being Eichmann’s superior, he authorized the concentration and extermination camp system. A huge man, he was also known as “smart, devious, deceitful, and sadistic.” Even Himmler feared him.

Townsend then takes us to Camp Mauthausen on a plateau above the Danube. At that camp, approximately 100,000 people were tortured and murdered. Less than half of those people have been identified. In 1938 it was chosen to house the political prisoners from Austria. The camp was built by inmates in Dachau. Franz Ziereis was named commander and kept a death register called “the book of numbers”. After the invasion of Poland, the death rate increased dramatically. Mauthausen didn’t have its own crematorium at the time. The SS shipped dead bodies to the city to be cremated. Eventually the camp built its own crematorium. In 1941 it was designated a Category III camp, for the anti-social and hardened criminals. Prisoners were used to build roads, tunnels and power plants. They were used to work in factories. Food rations would be cut. Overcrowding created sanitary problems including typhoid and dysentery epidemics. The gas chamber could kill up to 80 people at a time. The SS began to use Zyklon B. Kaltenbrunner tried to claim ignorance, and that he’d only visited the quarry.

The quarries provided granite for them to sell. The prisoners who worked in them woke up at 5:30 and had a cup of coffee before heading off to the quarry. They would march 12 stories down 186 clay steps into it. Lunch was a cup of cabbage or turnip soup. For dinner they had some bread and a wee bit of margarine or sausage. They worked 11-hour days 6 days/week. If you collapsed from exhaustion, you were shot, beaten to death or drowned in the pools of rainwater that would gather. In the winter, many would simply freeze to death. Men would carry massive granite slabs on their backs up the makeshift stairway. It was called the “Stairway of Death”. Sometimes the guard would tell them to throw the slab over the cliff, run down and bring it back up. Some prisoners were thrown down into the quarry. They were mockingly called parachutists. I can’t comprehend the cruelty.

Chaplain O’Connor served in the Eleventh which took Mande St. Etienne in Belgium. They fought at the Siegfried line for twelve days. Later the division moved south, liberating POW camps. Then they came to Combat Command “B”, a concentration camp filled with Russian and Polish slave laborers. As they neared Buchenwald they discovered prisoners who’d overrun the remaining guards. One of their reconnaissance patrols happened upon Camp Mauthausen. Many prisoners were dead. There was evidence of cannibalism. When guards were found, prisoners and sometimes liberators beat them.

In Nuremberg the hulking Kaltenbrunner was turned into a sickly, depressed malcontent. A psychiatrist called him a shivering coward. The charges against him were the worst and most graphic. His strategy was to lie. His lack of craftiness bothered even the other Germans.

This bring us to Townsend’s attempts to understand the problem of evil as exemplified in these atrocities. He can’t seem to differentiate between the evil men do and the disasters that come on them as judgment for said evil. Robert P. Kennedy is used to express the view that God is guilty of not recognizing humans with free will would do such horrible things. He uses an Augustine quote that sounds quite like Rabbi Kushner’s formulation that God cannot be both all powerful or all good. He uses a mistranslation of a passage in Isaiah where “raa” is translated evil instead of disaster. Evil is not a created substance or matter. Evil is action. Townsend wonders if God is responsible for the Holocaust in a way that He should be judged by us.

The Verdicts Draw Near

As the trial went on the men began to blame one another. Some, like Goering, continued to defend Hitler. They blamed Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann. On June 13, 1946 Goering and Franz von Papen shouted at each other with Goering defending him and von Papen claiming he “murdered six million innocent people.” The question was who ordered it if not the Chief of State. The other prisoners were growing weary of it all.

When a rumor was heard that Alma wanted Henry home, some prisoners wrote to her pleading that he be allowed to remain with them until it was all over. Hess’s mental state was increasingly unstable. He focused on Hitler’s strange eyes the last few years of his life.

“I am happy to know that I have done my duty, to my people, my duty as a German, as a National Socialist, as a loyal follower of my Fuhrer. I do not regret anything.” Rudolph Hess

Ribbentrop, likewise, did not think himself guilty. Hans Frank, in utter despair, handed over his diary. He confessed his crimes and became a devout Catholic. He was closest to actually admitting guilt on the stand. But as his mental state fluctuated, so did his statements. Keital considered a plea deal but Goering convinced him to not break ranks.

Both Gerecke and O’Connor grew close to the families. They provided gifts to them as they were able. As the families came to visit their office became a day care. Gerecke would use this time to talk to the children about Jesus.

As the verdicts came in, the men were brought up one at a time to hear their verdict. Fritzsche, Papen and Schacht were acqutited. Goering was sentenced to death by hanging. He would plead to have it changed to the firing squad but was denied. Hess received life in prison. Ribbentrop was sentenced to death by hanging as were Kaltenbrunner, Frank, Sauckel, Rosenberg, Frick, Streicher, Jodl and Seyss-Inquart. Speer was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Funk and Raeder got life sentences. Schirach got 20 years, Neurath 15 years and Doenitz 10 years in prison.

The Nuremberg Trials Started 70 Years Ago Today. Here Are the Three Jewish  Lawyers Who Made the Difference. - Tablet Magazine

The author then goes into the “mark of Cain.” In the process he gets into source theory, attributing the story to J, the Yahwist. Supposedly J is “a fan of character flaws and he is an expert at exploiting them in the service of a narrative.” This is the silly stuff that happens when you deny that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). He also brings in some Miroslav Volf so that the murderous “them” is really the murderous “us”. Townsend concludes that the chaplains believed that God loves all, even the perpetrators. They were not deciding whether or not to minister to them, but how. They were neither judging nor forgiving them. This brings us to the question of what kind of God he believes in. Is it the good but weak God who merely hopes people will be saved or the good and powerful one who reveals His amazing grace and mercy in actually saving messed up people?

Preparing for Execution

From that point on, ministry was done in the cells and the prisoners were handcuffed. The men sentenced to prison were moved to the second tier. Able to walk on the ground floor they chose not to due to the effect it would have on those sentenced to death. After a few weeks, Speer finally relented. Cuffed to his guard, his steps on the metal staircase were like thunderclaps. Ribbentrop read his Bible much of the day. He, Keitel and Sauckel took Communion in their cells.

On October 12th the condemned men met with their wives for the last time. Goering told Gerecke that he died when he left his wife upstairs.

The execution team and their ready-to-assemble gallows arrived on October 3rd. It was assembled indoors. The time of the executions was kept from the condemned. They would be woken up in the middle of the night for a final meal and then executed.

Goering often spoke to O’Connor about baseball: both the game and business. He told Gerecke that while he was a member of the Church he didn’t hold to its teaching (there’s a contradiction for you). He mocked the Creation story and divine inspiration. He denied the atonement. Jesus was just another “smart Jew.” He thought there was no existence after physical death. Yet, he still wanted Communion despite not believing in the Savior because he’d never been denied before. Gerecke would refuse (rightly).

This begins a discussion of Communion. Townsend states that Lutherans believed that the bread became his body (transubstantiation). He then says they teach Jesus “truly present … in, with, and under” (consubstantiation). He conflates rather than distinguishes the two views. Later he correctly explains transubstantiation, and correctly notes that Luther rejected that view.

“It is one thing if God is present, and another if he is present for you.” Martin Luther

Without hope, without a Savior, without fear Goering went to bed in his silk pajamas at 9:15. At 10:40 he turned to the wall and bit into a vial of potassium cyanide. As the Cardinals tied the Red Sox, the cry went out that he’d committed suicide. The author indicates that most historians believe American MP Tex Wheeler gave him the vial.

1946 World Series

At 12:25 am the execution team entered the gym along with doctors, reporters and witnesses. The condemned would be led individually (with a chaplain if desired) to the gallows. At 1 am Andrus began going from cell to cell to collect the men. Goering was supposed to hang first, but now Ribbentrop was first. When it was Keitel’s turn he recited Bible verses and hummed the melody of a hymn. The proceeding paused as they waited for doctors to pronounce both men dead. At 1:39 they finally brought in Kaltenbrunner, who said “I regret that crimes were committed in which I had no part. Good luck, Germany.” Rosenberg rejected all attempts at ministry.

Gerecke noticed that O’Connor, who ministered to soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge, was beginning to crack. As Frank dropped he said, “May Jesus have mercy on me.” Streicher, on the other hand, got his right arm free for a salute as he exclaimed “Heil Hitler.” It is claimed that the executioner adjusted the noose so his neck would not break. The witnesses heard his gasps and gurgles. Sauckel continued to proclaim his innocence. Jodl saluted Germany. At just before 3 am, Seyss-Inquart was pronounced dead and the witnesses left the building.

When the bodies were photographed, the chaplains realized that their faces had smashed into the platform and been gruesomely damaged. Back at his apartment Gerecke reflected on their crimes that began with “petty hates, prejudices and compromises” that we left unchecked.

Townsend then meditates on forgiveness. The Jewish view he recounts is essentially Pelagian. Our turning activates God’s response. People, in some sense, earn grace. He recounts a story told by Simon Wiesenthal to show how representatives of a group can’t forgive sins committed by individuals against individuals of his group. In his story, the Nazi offers an early form of CRT as the believes the Jews were the cause of all their misfortunes: war, poverty, hunger and unemployment.

Townsend then grossly misrepresents Luther. “He believed every human being is both sinner and justified as righteous through God’s grace.” No, not everyone. We are justified by faith alone, not simply by being alive. Further, he says, “No one is innocent- neither a Gerecke nor a Kaltenbrunner- but everyone, Christians believe, is saved.” No, we don’t. We believe none simply by their sin is beyond grace, but not all receive grace.

Returning home, Gerecke returned to ministry including telling his story of the ministry in Nuremberg. O’Connor returned to Siena. While they returned to their pre-war lives, their lives would never be the same.

Winston and Julia had been having a private rebellion, hiding among the Proles for rendezvous. Winston had the notion that O’Brien was a follower of Goldstein. The elusive Goldstein, oft heard of but no one could really quantify what he thought. Like Snowball in Animal Farm, he was the one scapegoated for all that went wrong.

And so the couple decide to visit O’Brien in his home and confess that they’d willing do, and suffer, anything for the cause. O’Brien would covertly provide “the Book” to Winston which explained Goldstein’s views.

And so there our heroic couple is, in their love nest above Mr. Charrington’s shop, as Winston begins to read The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein. Or so it claimed.

The basic premise is that no matter what the political system there are always three groups of people: the High, the Middle, and the Low. Who is High depends on the system: nobles in a monarchy, the party elite in socialism, communism and other forms of totalitarian governments, and the wealthy elite in capitalism. It is either about bloodlines, ideology or wealth. Whatever “it” is, if you don’t have “it” you are on the outside looking in. Revolutions have replace one High group with another.

“The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim- for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives- is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal.”

oceania social structure
from Gordon State College

War has changed from trying to rule the world to unending wars with limited aims between nations unable or unwilling to annihilate the other. War has a purpose for the High to keep the Middle and Low needing the High to keep them safe. War is also for the labor power needed by the three superstates for their now self-contained economies.

“The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party)is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.”

The hierarchical society is only maintained by the presence of poverty and ignorance. The elites work to keep people poor and ignorant while simultaneously claiming to work to eliminate poverty and ignorance. (Is any of this sounding familiar??) War uses resources that would otherwise be used to actually improve the lives of the Middle and the Low. Yet, in keeping with doublethink, the Inner Party believes they will actually win.

“It is to be achieved by some new and unanswerable weapon. The search for new weapons continues unceasingly, and is one of the few remaining activities in wich the inventive or speculative type of mind can find any outlet. In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for “Science.” The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. … The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought.”

Science and engineering are largely dominated by the military-industrial complex, not the quest for bettering life. While there doesn’t seem to be an internet, the media keeps the people ignorant by “re-writing” history to suit present needs. Information is controlled by the Party to achieve their ends (sound familiar?).

What people didn’t realize is that the three superstates had the same basic ideology though they went by different names. In Oceania it was Ingsoc, Eurasia it was called Neo-Bolshevism and in East Asia it was a word translated “Death Worship”. Keep in mind Orwell is writing this after World War II, and is seeing the world through the superpowers of the Allies (England, the US, France and allied nations), the USSR and its growing number of subservient nations, and China who would eventually dominate much of Asia to spread Maoism (through a series of wars fought with the Allies) while the Allies and Russia fought an unending Cold War.

The wars ceased to be dangerous though unending. They were for relatively small disputed territories for labor aka slaves. Nothing in Oceania was considered to be efficient except for the Thought Police. The real war is to keep each superstate intact by making war on one’s own citizens.

Property is increasingly owned by fewer and fewer people. Then private property was abolished so that the Party owned everything collectively. The Party also doles out property to the “faithful” thereby institutionalizing inequality instead of making it the result of opportunities seized and squandered (with the element of “chance” tossed in since a drought or storm can destroy your crops or factory).

Big Brother, the haunting figure throughout the book, is not really a person. He is the Party which watches everyone. No one has ever seen Big Brother as a result, though they might imagine they have. He is the guise by which the Party presents itself to the world.

Online surveillance bill opens door for Big Brother | CBC News

Party membership is not hereditary. There is the Inner Party (about 2% of the population) and the Outer Party (aka the Middle) and then the Proles or the Low. Admission to the Party, either Inner or Outer, is by examination. The Thought Police oversee the Party members. Their surveillance is seemingly ceaseless. They can see you doing most anything including in the bath, but you aren’t sure if they actually are at any given moment.

There is no express law for you to know whether you are guilty or a criminal or not. Whether you are guilty is in the eyes of the Thought Police. The purges and late night arrests are for those who may at some point threaten the Inner Party. Since there is no stable view of the past for comparison, people tolerate the current state of affairs no matter what they may be.

As the past is changed, it is necessary to adjust all written records of the past so agree with the present orthodoxy (like who is a hero or villain and with which Superstate you are allied with and fighting against- again, similar to what happens in Animal Farm). “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting them both.” The Party members know they are playing tricks with reality. This lies at the heart of Ingsoc as the Party uses conscious deception while acting as though honest. As a result, the Party reviles the practices of the Socialist Movement in the name of Socialism.

Julia has fallen asleep. Winston stops reading the book. In terms of doublethink, Goldstein is likely as made up as Big Brother. The Brotherhood or Resistance is not real but this book likely reveals how the Inner Party functions. It is, as one friend said about 12 Monkeys, a mind screw. The Party unmasks itself through the guise of Goldstein.

Twelve Monkeys - Movie Review - The Austin Chronicle
Do you think you’re crazy yet?

And so Winston Smith falls asleep reminding himself that “sanity isn’t statistical”. It isn’t based on the number of people who believe what you believe. Sanity is about coherence with reality, not the ever-revised reality of the Party. The Party makes you think you are insane because they keep changing reality. Thanks to doublethink you both know and don’t know it. The truth is lost in the twist and turns of circumstances. It is collective gaslighting. “I wouldn’t trust a vaccine from Trump” becomes “You must have the vaccine because I’m president now and you should trust me.” “You don’t need a mask” becomes “You might need two.” In this ever-changing reality those who remember both statements feel crazy and are called crazy. Those who replace one thought with the other think they are sane in their ignorance.

When he awakes, his whole life changes.

The next book in the Year of Dystopian Classics is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Of local note is that as a child he spent two years in Tucson while his father was looking for work. While calling themselves Baptists, they were not really church goers. He considered himself a “religious delicatessen”- taking beliefs from a variety of Eastern and Western religions. He only dated one woman, to whom he was married for over 50 years. He never got his driver’s license, instead relying on public transportation and his bicycle.

Why is the best cover the Spanish language edition?

In light of Fahrenheit 451, it is interesting to me that he initially thought “only good would come from computers.” He thought they would become as common as books. He underestimated humanity’s capacity to corrupt every good gift from God. Later he saw the danger of new technologies as his frightening vision of this book began to take place, saying in 2010 “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now”. Fahrenheit 451 was his best known work, and his tombstone states he was his author.

He placed the novel in an unknown future date. Reflecting the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the story takes place after some atomic wars. It takes place during what seems to be a never-ending war. Unlike 1984 there is little history or political background. But there is evidence of a “police state” in which people are encouraged to report non-conformists of various kinds, especially those who own books.

Montag, the main character, is a fireman. Instead of putting out fires, they start them to destroy books since they have been outlawed. Books, and their views, cannot be controlled like the state media is. They are considered subversive.

Fahrenheit 451 – Senses of Cinema
Oskar Werner as Montag in the old movie version

At first he seems to enjoy his job, but not really his life. In the opening scenes we see the devastation of the new forms of media. When I read this in the 1980’s it did seem like science fiction. We had a 19-inch color TV that weighed a ton due to the lead in the tube. Wall-sized TVs seemed unrealistic to me. We now have them.

His wife finds meaning in “the family” something of a soap opera in which the viewers are treated as participants. They are her family. Yet her existence is one of misery. She lacks real connection. Her “friends” only seem to gather to talk about the shows on TV, not about real life. She is suicidal as a result, and the night he returns home at the beginning of the story she has taken too many pills. The medics have a machine that transfuses the blood to remove the chemicals and replace it with untainted blood.

We discover later how their technology is breaking down the most important relationships. Montage can’t recall why he married her. Many of the women have had multiple abortions, and children are raised by the state as an extension of state-sponsored education.

Also seemingly prophetic, they have electric cars. The combustion engine seems to be a thing of the past. People have little regard for human life, and while he tries to cross a street young punks try to run him down at the intersection.

Montag is slowly revealed to be discontent with society. We are shocked to see him steal a book, not realizing he’s been doing that for some time and has a rather large unread collection hidden in his home. He is experiencing something of a conversion of he comes back to life. He feels and looks insane as he comes to grips with the numbing realities of life as structured by the seemingly benevolent political power.

A girl who would seem to normal to his readers is seen as insane, incorrigible. He finds he connects to her in a way that he cannot connect with anyone else. She becomes something of a friend. Her death sends Montag farther down the road of rebellion against the numbing status quo.

Sanity seems insane when everyone else complies with a messed up world. Montag suspects that his boss knows, and there are a few conversations in which he teases Montag trying to get him to turn himself in, promising leniency for turning in the book he stole. He claims to understand the temptation, that he has doe this in the past himself.

Fahrenheit 451 Movie vs. Book: Michael B Jordan, Writer on Differences |  IndieWire
Michael B. Jordan as Montag in the 2018 remake

In the past he had met a former professor in the park. He tracks him down again to discover the truth, and an ally in a scheme to try and expose the truth to society. In the process he learns that before burning the books, technology and media had largely replaced books. People no longer read, and didn’t miss them except for the subversives- a formerly respected intelligentsia. Turning their backs on books, people lost the capacity to think similar to Postman’s warning in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

It all goes south when Montag first reveals his secret to his wife, and then to his friends. When he returns to work, the first fire they are sent to set is his own house as they have turned him in to the authorities. He is on the run chased by the electronic hounds that inject poison into the suspect. The chase is on TV, sadly predicting the networks in Los Angeles televising chases.

Outside of the city he finds other subversives. Lacking books, they preserve them by memorizing them. The war the lurks in the background results in the destruction of civilization. Free from the oppressive state, they are now on their own to begin again.

This is a short novel. As I noted Bradbury, unlike Orwell, isn’t concerned with political theory or how this state of affairs came to be. He’s more focused on how people have surrendered themselves willingly into the hands of the state. He focuses on the dehumanizing effects of this society. It is a sad reflection of the dehumanizing effects of our society.

Yes, there is a graphic novel version.

The parable of the frog in the kettle comes to mind. This is a process that happens incrementally. it is a process that is happening as many have lost the capacity to reason. We rely on memes and Tik Toc as though they express deep thought and penetrating analysis. Younger generations are enamored by them and think they alone have “figured it out” when they are just victims of a society that has not taught them to think, but rather has indoctrinated them. They are falling in love with a system that only seeks to enslave them for the benefit of the elite they think has their best interest in mind. They hate the wars we find ourselves in, but continue to support the politicians who keep us in these wars while somehow tricking people into thinking they will extricate us.

I still have to wrap up 1984 by focusing on the political theory express there. Next on my list is Brave New World by Huxley.

I’ve read a fair number of books on anger. Some of them have been excellent, and others were less than helpful. Christopher Ash and Steve Midgley have recently written The Heart of Anger: How the Bible Transforms Anger in Our Understanding and Experience. This is probably the best book on anger I’ve read.

I’ve begun to read Christopher Ash and enjoy his understated British style. He has been a pastor and is a scholar with Tyndale House. Steve Midgley is a pastor and biblical counselor in England.

The Heart of Anger: How the Bible Transforms Anger in Our Understanding and Experience - Ash, Christopher; Midgley, Steve - 9781433568480

The book is neither technical nor overly popular (filled with stories). The chapters are generally short enough to be read in about 30 minutes. There is some interpretation of pertinent passages, but not exhaustive. I did learn from them as they helped me to see some connections I’ve missed (like in James 1) and background (Mt. 18). It is informative but does not simply show off knowledge or the fruit of extensive study. They bring the pertinent material to the forefront to aid in understanding.

If I were to summarize the book I’d say it takes the best of Good & Angry by Powlison, the section in anger in Untangling Emotions by Groves and Smith and Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. Our unrighteous anger (which is most of it) is about our personal kingdoms instead of God’s, is addressed by becoming more humble through our union with Christ. This indicates they are seeing similar themes in Scripture, not necessarily borrowing from these books.

“Anger is the drawn sword of human relationships.”

Drawn swords cause damage. Anger damages our relationships, often times more than the original offense.

The Scriptures speak much of anger: theoretical and actual. It talks about anger itself, and about people being angry. The 10 Hebrew words used can paint a fuller picture of anger. There are also idioms reflecting anger. Hiding behind anger we often find “sadness, regret, shame, and despair”. Anger is not a loner, it travels with friends.

Part 1 is about Biblical Portraits of Human Anger. Anger is often about something I value taken from me or threatened. They identify control, possessions, sexual intimacy and delight, and reputation as common things of value in the stories of Amnon, Balaam, Babylonian kings and others.

Balaam and the Ass - Wikipedia

Building on the work of Matthew Elliott (Faithful Feelings is a book you may want to look into as well) they address the common process that results in anger. Perception ==> Appraisal ==> Emotion. This happens quickly but there is thinking involved in this thru appraisal. It can be helpful to trace it back, but that cannot all we need to do in addressing our anger from more than an anger management view point. It isn’t simply the occasion that matters, but our hearts that is the issue: what am I valuing?

Anger doesn’t just reflect our values it also “shapes our perception”. It becomes like a pair of colored glasses affecting how we view other people and their actions. Angry, we don’t give people the benefit of the doubt. We can take offense where none is intended. Anger tends to isolate us as we stomp off or others slink away.

“Perhaps the fact that anger can wear a thousand faces is one of the reasons we fail to spot it for what it is.”

Anger flows out of our sinful hearts. And the “original sin” that produces original sin (our guilt and corruption) is desiring to be like God. We are all kingdom builders and expect those around us to join in that building program in submission to us. People and things that don’t get with the program experience our wrath. Therefore one aspect of putting unrighteous anger to death is putting the kingdom of me to death and pursuing the kingdom of God instead.

They move into the harm created by anger. We see the madness of anger in the demoniac called Legion, Potiphar and even Moses. While anger has a cognitive component, a cognitive approach is insufficient. Sin enslaves us, tricks us and pulls our strings. Some anger is explosive, while some burns slow like a chemical burn which is nursed by our rehearsal of events. Simeon and Levi waited to gain revenge on Shechem. When an angry David (like Jacob) does nothing to Amnon, Absalom stews for two years before slaying his half-brother.

“A slow, nursed anger is a strange and terrifying beast.”

Anger can be link to competition which is why leaders often struggle with anger. Some argue that this is the positive force by which leaders express passion and remove obstacles to attain their goals. That “leadership expert” cites Moses whose anger was the reason he didn’t enter the Promised Land. It is common among leaders, I imagine, because they are more focused on building a team, business and organization than people serving in them. They are building kingdoms!

Another fuel that feeds the fire of anger is self-righteousness. Our religious certainty feeds anger. Often religious anger is directed at grace. Jesus was the target of the self-righteous anger of the religious leaders of Israel. They also point us to Naaman who was offended at the notion of receiving grace. The problem of self-righteous anger is that one becomes impervious to correction. They have a righteous cause, they think. We see self-righteousness, and pride, at work in the Scribes and Pharisees who refuse to listen to Jesus teach them the Scriptures.

The authors also warn us about the infectious nature of anger. It is easy to get caught up in the crowd as it morphs into a mob. People egg one another on like in the riot in Ephesus. This can create a culture of outrage, much like we see politically today. The goodness of some is met by the anger of others shamed because you don’t join them in wickedness (1 Peter 4:3-4).

How well do you remember Anger Management? | Zoo
The angry crowd in Anger Management

At times we can recruit others to serve our angry purposes. Angry we seek allies to destroy the person that threatens our kingdom. It makes sense through the lens of wrath, but it is a delusion.

“Once we remember to put God back on his throne, the togetherness we feel is a humble togetherness. A shared penitence. A readiness to acknowledge that the one who is right isn’t me but him. And it is very hard to be simultaneously humble and angry.”

They then address the question of righteous anger. Surely sin deceives us into thinking all our anger is righteous. The reality of our corruption means that even the most righteous anger we express is tainted by sin. Anger is godly in as much as it is stirred by the things that anger God, and out of a sense of God’s glory. They warn that imitation of God can easily become replacement of God. They also warn that pastors care particularly prone to this (okay, this is the second time they’ve hit pastors, remember they both are or were pastors).

“When righteous anger slips into something unrighteous, it is always because I have smuggled myself onto the throne. And instead of representing God, I have replaced him.”

The second part of the book is Leave Room for an Angry God. That God is portrayed as angry, at times, is important for us to understand. It is also intended as a truth to calm our anger since He will right all the wrongs that anger us (if they are truly wrong) without committing any wrongs in the process (like we are too prone to do).

Secular anger management theories, while of some benefit, leave out God’s anger. If there is no God to right wrongs, why shouldn’t I take matters in my own hands (except that I might end up in jail)? And here is where there is some tough theology in a short amount of space. We cannot understand what it means for God to be angry unless we know what it means to be angry (Calvin notes that knowledge of God and self are intertwined because we are made in His image). But we also grapple with the incomprehensibility of God. We can know what He reveals to us, but we can’t fully, completely and perfectly know God. He doesn’t have emotions like ours. We are responsive to events or circumstances outside of us that are unexpected. Emotions exert control over us. As One who ordains whatsoever comes to pass, nothing is unexpected to Him. And nothing controls Him. They do note that when Scripture speaks of God’s anger, it is saying something true of Him analogous but not identical to our experience of emotions.

They hit some more theology in discussing the simplicity of God. He cannot be separated from His attributes, nor can His attributes be separated from each other (they reference Peter Scanlon’s Simply God: Recovering the Classical Trinity). The point is that you can’t take a remove the angry part of God like Jefferson tried to remove the miraculous from the Scriptures. His anger is based on perfect knowledge, aroused only by evil, is just and fair, is forewarned and has a good goal.

God demonstrates His anger through human authorities (see Romans 12-13), the self-destructiveness of evil (people reap what they sow, and often evil traps recoil back upon people), and God hands people and societies over to their evil desires resulting in moral disorder (Romans 1).

God is a zealous God (I prefer this term to jealous due to the negative connotations of jealousy). He is zealous to protect that which He loves. He is zealous for His love to be returned. He is a consuming fire (Deut. & Heb. 12:29)that breaks out against sin.

God reveals Himself to Moses (and it is frequently repeated) as slow to anger. He’s not quick on the draw. He’s not quick with judgment. It may be slow, but as the authors say, it is sure. God’s wrath and judgment will come. We see this anger revealed in Jesus. As a Person with two complete natures, Jesus was angry, particularly in defense of the Father’s honor rather than His own. They note he was angry at hard-heartedness, attacks on His Father’s honor, sin and death.

“Anger at evil is the necessary corollary of love for good.”

All this is why Paul tells us to make room for God’s anger (Rom. 12). We are not to get vengeance on our own. We are often angry when we shouldn’t be. We can also fail to be angry when we should be. Like all sinners we should flee the wrath to come by seeking refuge in Christ who bore the wrath of God for sinners like us.

Having looked at anger human and divine, Part 3 addresses First Steps in Defusing Human Anger. They begin with contrasting our anger with His. They return to the doctrine of simplicity. His anger expresses all of who He is. Our anger doesn’t. The fact that we aren’t “simple” is one reason we err with regard to our anger. God’s knowledge of the situation is absolute, complete; he’s not missing anything. We don’t have all the knowledge we could or should. Unlike Jesus, we often don’t consider the needs of others, and that there may be all kinds of background issues at play.

I got an email today. It was well-intentioned. And it ticked me off. I’ve been incredibly discouraged and this felt like the straw on the camel’s back. I needed encouragement and this discouraged me more. There is so much more to a situation than we could possibly understand.

The next step is to consider the agenda which drives our anger. This is a chapter I wish I had read 15 years ago because they talk quite a bit about parenting. One of my kids just seemed to know every button to push, and I was frequently angry with him. We tend to get angrier with our families, including/especially our kids, that we do people at work. We need to slow down our rapidly moving hearts. They identify some agendas that are common to parents. Our sense of responsibility for their future drives some of our anger. We think we have to change their behavior or they will never get a job, a spouse, leave home, etc. The second is a need for control. Since we are responsible for their future, we think they need to get with our plan. Our anger is often disproportionate because we have a faulty view of what’s at stake. We also get angry with them because we feel shame. We focus on what people will think about us because of our kids. This is a horrible burden to place on them. The forth is placing our value or worth in how we measure up as parents. They don’t make any bad choices, we think we do.

This discussion of anger in parenting returns them to one of their main premises. The heart of anger is our desire to be God. We shift from His kingdom to ours. We don’t exercise His delegated authority but begin to act like we are the authority. Good parents, and leaders, are people who recognize they are under God’s authority.

“Humility defuses anger because the humble man or woman is someone who isn’t grasping at equality with (or worse still, replacement of) God.”

Another step is to uncover the emotions lurking beneath the surface. For many of us anger dominates the stage, but there are other actors up there. They include (as seen earlier) fear, frustration, sadness, and shame. The world does not bend to our will and we experience anger and all those other emotions as well.

In the forth part they discuss how we Find Joy in the Peace of Christ. They being this section with the fun fact that the average family has their first Christmas Day fight at 9:58. That late? They affirm some common sense wisdom in anger management. You will be angry more often when you are hungry, lonely and tired. And the anger and you have the fixin’s for addiction. More profoundly I need a new heart, a new crowd, a way to find peace instead of vengeance, a new spiritual power, a new humbling and a new influence. The book ends with these. Here is where they are similar to Walter Marshall, because Jesus provides all of these in our union with Him. We are regenerated so we have new hearts. We are also united to other Christians and have a new crowd. We partake of the Spirit who is a new power. We are united to the Prince of Peace who helps us forsake revenge.

It's K-k-k-ken, c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me! - Coub - The Biggest Video  Meme Platform
K-k-k-Kenny Gets Revenge in A Fish Called Wanda

Added to these they discuss the love we receive from Christ which helps us to love others. Christ, the wisdom and power of God, also shares His wisdom with us.

Real change is only possible in Christ. The book drives us to Christ, and our anger should drive us to Jesus. In many ways this takes the best elements of a few other books and blends them together for our encouragement and edification. This book is easy to understand, and it communicates important material. If you struggle with anger, and we all do, this would be a good addition to your library.

This weekend CavWife and I were able to get away from the kids and church for a few days. It is very hard to get those times away. We enjoyed this weekend: no chores, no cooking.

I was reminded of another time we got away, very early in our marriage. It was a horrible experience.

As recently married people, we didn’t have much money. There were some big expenses as CavWife was integrated into my existing home. We needed a bigger bed and other changes so she felt at home. She’d also experienced a big change in her health and wasn’t working as we thought she would.

A retired pastor in our small congregation had gotten one of those promotional weekends for a timeshare in Daytona Beach. For $99 you got to stay there a few nights. You had to endure a sales pitch. But it was a cheap way to get away. He and his wife were not going to use it and transferred it to us.

CavWife did a great job working the phones and the angles. We had a beachfront room lined up off site with a kitchenette. She bought food for us to cook so we weren’t going out and spending more money than we had. It promised to be a great weekend on the beach.

When we got there the office we needed to go to first was chaotic. We weren’t sure what was going on until we finally got to talk to someone. At the last minute (??) it was decided there would be a Dale Ernhardt Memorial concert in Daytona. They didn’t know how many to expect for this concert, but the hotel they put us in was pulling the room. Beach-front with kitchenette gone.

Dale Earnhardt left lasting legacy after death, forcing change in NASCAR  that saved lives

They had another place arranged for us. Did it have a refrigerator to at least store the food we had in the cooler?

The negotiations began. They were painful. They were drawn out. But we had an address for a motel room.

Instead of being on or by the beach, we were near the exit on I-95. I can’t recall the particular name of the hotel, but it was a disappointing dump. I’d been in better (non-resort) rooms in developing countries. This room was a disgrace.

It was nearly dinner time so we went to the restaurant next door (Applebee’s I think) to eat. The particular health issue affected her emotional reserves. He we are sitting in this restaurant, not near the beach, and she’s crying.

We were disappointed. Feeling like we should have just gone home. But when you are a pastor of a small church it takes lots of coordination to takes these times away.

I really don’t know how we spent Saturday. I do recall that the dingy, disgusting motel was filled with Dale Earnhardt fans in town for the concert. I know some people who love NASCAR. They are middle class, stable, good human beings. These folks weren’t them. It was like being surrounded by Ricky Bobby and his family. They were congregating outside drinking beer. The kids were throwing things at each other (not playing catch) and taking over the pool. Car engines would rev at odd times. It was like we moved into a trailer park.

Sermonette: The theology of 'Talladega Nights' | Living | crowrivermedia.com

Eventually we had our promotional visit and meeting with the salesman. It was a decent tour, but I’ve been to nicer resorts. The sales office was filled with salesmen making their pitch. We got a man who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We expressed our lack of desire, and funds, to get a time share. He persisted.

I began to feel an impending intestinal requirement. The unstoppable force was upon me. I excused myself to find a place to take care of business. The place I found was similar to some nightmares I’ve had. They are trying to get me to buy a place and they can’t keep the bathrooms clean and functioning. If I had the money, this wouldn’t be the place.

In less discomfort I made my way back. At this point we made a mistake. “We pray about these things. We don’t make impulsive decisions.” Now the salesman begins to mock us. I’m not sure what he was thinking, but this shaming of our faith didn’t make us more inclined to buy, but less. The promised 10-15 minute pitch has become at least an hour. This guy would make a good used car salesman- he just wouldn’t listen to us. I had to extricate us from this human vise.

I can’t recall anything positive about that weekend. I wish it could be expunged. It is too long of a tale of terror to make a decent sermon illustration.

I’m so glad this past weekend was not a repeat performance.

hagiography [ hag-ee-og-ruh-fee, hey-jee- ]

noun, plural hag·i·og·ra·phies. 1. the writing and critical study of the lives of the saints; 2. a biography that treats the person with excessive or undue admiration.

It must be difficult to write a biography of a friend. You love and admire your friend and want to share that with the world. It is tempting to overlook their flaws, which are some of the things that create or prolong struggles in their life. Your friend and their loved ones may not feel honored by the honesty. It must be a very difficult tightrope to walk.

As a Christian, I know all people are flawed no matter how gifted they may be. Their flaws are not necessarily disqualifying flaws. Or, as in the case of Ravi Zacharias, they may be for many. By that I mean not only disqualifying from office, but so discrediting that their material should not be used anymore.

As I think about a biography, and this biography in particular, I’m not talking about recording the sins that sully a man, but honest assessment of a man with a recognition some parts of his life could have been different, better.

Stephen J. Nichols asked his friend R.C. Sproul about writing a biography about him near the end of R.C.’s life. R.C. agreed, noted that the holiness of God ought to be a major theme, and was interviewed by Nichols who also had access to his library and notebooks. Nichols focuses on the strengths and accomplishments of his friend and they are many. There is nary a mention of his weaknesses, and some more personal struggles that one would think would be part of a biography- the story of a man.

I barely knew R.C. I only spoke with him a few times, and that was quite superficial. But having worked for him I could see some of the weaknesses. He was human after all. Having been an RTS student in the early-mid 90’s, it was hard not to know of some faculty disagreement involving R.C.. Knowing how important family was to R.C. one can imagine how difficult the struggles, sometimes very public, of his children could possibly be to R.C. and Vesta. These are part of the story, and the very places grace works.

For instance, years later he shared a stage with another of my former professors. There had been tension in the past. I thought, “have they worked things out?”. I ended up talking with the other professor and was delighted to learn God had been at work reconciling relationships. I am thankful for both men and all they taught me over the years, and I’m thankful grace won the day in their relationship. That is the kind of stuff Nichols seems to overlook in R.C. Sproul: A Life. But I get ahead of myself.

R. C. Sproul: A Life  - 9781433544774 Nichols, Stephen J

This is still a biography worth reading. There is much of interest here for those whose lives have been impacted by R.C. Nichols helps us see the patterns in his life, the themes of life as well as the influences on his life. He walks us through some of the big controversies (but misses a few others).

Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania

Nichols takes a very linear approach to Sproul’s life, organizing his material chronologically rather than thematically. He begins in Pittsburgh and the place that extended family played in his life since his father served in the European theater of World War II. Later his family would shift from the Methodist church to a Presbyterian church, returning to the religious roots of the family in Scotland. R.C. would later discover that it was a liberal Presbyterian church, but as a child he was far more interested in sports and a girl who moved into the neighborhood, Vesta. His teens years would be marked by caring for his father who had a stroke, and who subsequently died while R.C. was a high school senior.

Nichols then brings us to Westminster College which accepted Sproul on an athletic scholarship. One night he and his childhood friend we going to OH to drink and wanted some cigarettes. At the vending machine one of the stars of the football team invited to look at the Bible with him for a few minutes. God used the unlikely text of Ecclesiastes 11:3 to convert R.C. With a new found faith, Sproul found a mentor in Thomas Gregory who taught philosophy but had an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary and was one of the few theological conservatives on campus. Soon he was majoring in philosophy and taken with his coursework.

Soon Vesta would convert as well, and Sproul would have a late night encounter with God’s holiness which would shape the rest of his life. After she graduated from college, they married and he finished his college education. His senior thesis would be on “The Existential Implications of Melville’s Moby Dick.” This would also be a text and theme he’d return to frequently.

R. C. Sproul (1939–2017)

Sproul did well enough in his studies in philosophy that he was accepted into the Ph.D. program at Edinburgh. Gregory encouraged him to get a theology degree first and he ended up at Pittsburgh, once again one of the few conservatives in a liberal institution. It was here that Sproul studied under John Gerstner who played the role of mentor until his death. Between the context of a conservative in a liberal institution and the influence of Gerstner, Sproul developed a fighter mentality. He was a man who fought for orthodoxy. He didn’t run from the fray, even if standing cost him friendships like the ECT controversy would in the 1990’s.

One of the key moments for Sproul was when Gerstner destroyed his presuppositional arguments in class. Gerstner also helped him see the truth of Calvinism. During his second year, Sproul took a position of youth director at First Presbyterian Church of Charleroi. As a senior he took a student pastorate in Lendora, a community filled with Hungarian immigrants. During these early years, Nichols notes the role of prayer in their marriage and ministry.

A Long, Winding Road

As he began to apply for church positions, Gerstner would tell search committees that Sproul was best off continuing his studies first. With Gerstner’s encouragement he went to the Free University of Amsterdam to study under G.C. Berkouwer despite not knowing Dutch.

With Vesta pregnant again (the first delivery experienced difficulty) and his mother dying, he decided he needed to return to the States after his first year. Arrangements were made with Berkouwer for supervision the next year. On July 1, 1965 his mother died and his son was born (Nichols notes he was called Craig, but I never heard him called that- just Jr. or Precious). On the 18th he was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (to which Nichols adds (PCUSA) instead of UPCUSA). I know American Presbyterian history can be confusing. The PCUSA as we know it did not exist in 1965, but was formed in 1983 by the merger of the UPCUSA and the PCUS (the northern and southern denominations though one of the denominations that earlier merged to form the UPC was called the PC(USA) ). This is a confusion he carries forward throughout the book.

In this largely liberal denomination, R.C. helped found the Presbyterians United for Biblical Confession to further the cause of the historic, confessional standards. At the first meeting he wrote a paper on “studied ambiguity”, the practice of “being purposefully vague so to allow for an elastic interpretation or to allow for latitude on a particular doctrine or view.” Sproul would consistently argue for precision and clarity in theology. He would consistently encounter studied ambiguity.

In the fall of 1965 he began to teach philosophy back at Westminster College. A strange phone call by a friend resulting in Sproul moving to Massachusetts to teach at Gordon College which was fundamentalist at the time. Here he connected with Roger Nicole for the first time. It was difficult for the Sprouls since they were mostly in liberal contexts before. Nichols and a friend of mine who was a student of his at Gordon tell slightly different stories of his quick departure from Gordon. Either way he ended up in Oreland at Conwell School of Theology which was a Baptist school. He would visit with the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, particularly Cornelius Van Til. During his time there James Montgomery Boice began to serve at 10th Presbyterian. They would be close friends, “fox hole friends”, until Boice’s death from cancer. During this time he wrote his first article for Christianity Today.

He was not there long, again, because Conwell would merge with Gordon Divinity School to form Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Sproul had no desire to return to that environment. He also discovered that teaching in seminary bored him. (Some have suggested I should be a seminary professor but I thought teaching the same classes every year would bore me to death.)

The next move was to College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH. He was Associate Pastor of evangelism, mission and theology. While in Florida for training in Evangelism Explosion he met another life-long friend Archie Parrish. Evangelism Explosion worked well in Cincinnati. He preached through Romans and taught evangelism to the people of College Hill. Ironically he missed interaction with students. Another change was on the horizon.

While Nichols never processes this, the possible negative perception of impulsivity is not the point. I suspect he was a bit impulsive, but during this time we see R.C. coming to grips with his gifts and calling. We also seeing God providing R.C. with new relationships that would be important for the future. In the providence of God, this was an important time without which Ligonier Ministries may not have been born, nor would he have the relational capital for the controversies to come.

Ligonier Valley

During this time R.C. was asked to speak at a Young Life camp in Saranac Lake which is in the Adirondacks of NY. This would be the debut of a 5 lesson series on the holiness of God. Meanwhile, R.C. was also talking with people who shared a vision for a study center. He envisioned it in the heart of Pittsburgh. But a woman named Dora Hillman was present at the Young Life conference, and she had 52 acres in the Ligonier Valley near Pittsburgh. As the center was being built R.C. met with Francis Schaeffer about the dynamics of L’Abri. While both would engage in apologetics, Schaeffer was focused on evangelism of youth who visited L’Abri. Sproul would be communicating with Christians to help them defend their faith. He also met with others who would be part of the teaching fellowship: John Guest among them. Nichols notes that Schaeffer’s warning rang true: it would be 24-7 for the Sproul family since they lived on site. Later, another home would be built providing a measure of distance for them but it was hard to segregate life and ministry. Jr. seemed to appreciate this experience of his childhood as he would leave Ligonier Ministries in the late 90’s to form a study center along the VA-TN border.

Remembering R.C. Sproul, 1939–2017
He used the chalkboard as a tool allowing him to think, something I got from him.

Support staff helped extend the ministry of Ligonier. Jim Thompson was key in recording lessons on cassette for distribution. The Gooders would join the staff to produce Tabletalk which would shift from newsletter to monthly devotional over time. Jack and Linda Rowley would bring the new technology of video cassette recorders and players into the ministry. It is thanks to them that I saw an ad in Discipleship Magazine offering a free copy of The Holiness of God series which would introduce me to Sproul which would establish the theological foundation for my life.

The Holiness of God: Sproul, R. C: 9780842314930: Amazon.com: Books

During this time Sproul wrote a biography of Ligonier board member Wayne Alderson called Stronger than Steel. Alderson, working with Sproul, sought to apply the dignity of persons into the workplace. Along with Francis John “Lefty” Scumaci they began to work with management teams to apply these principles. Despite many fond memories of my time working at Ligonier Ministries in the 90’s, one executive could have benefited greatly from such instruction.

Among the people who studied at Ligonier in the early days were Tim and Kathy Keller (Sproul officianted their wedding ceremony), Rebecca Manly who later married and wrote a popular book on evangelism. Gerald Ford’s son, Mike studied there for a time. Church planter Bill Hybels would attend, and I recall Sproul speaking at the church he’d plant in the early days. I think he talked about his views on women in leadership.

His first book, The Symbol: An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, was based on a course he taught at Westminster College that he finally put into book form. At this time the first large-scale conference sponsored by Ligonier was put on addressing the issue of inerrancy. In 1974 the sessions were released in essay form as God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture edited by John Warwick Montgomery. The speakers/writers included John Frame, Peter Jones, J.I. Packer, John Gerstner, and Clark Pinnock (prior to his declension into Arminianism and then Open Theism). This would set the stage for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Chicago Statement, an effort also led by Sproul in 1977. The original group also included Roger Nicole, Edmund Clowney, and James Montgomery Boice. Sproul would write the first draft of 19 affirmations and denials in the middle of the night. Future meetings would include John MacArthur Sr. and Jr. John Jr. would be another of Sproul’s life long “fox hole” friends.

In this time period, the “Kenyon Decision” in the UPC(USA) took place. Kenyon was a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary student who spent time at Ligonier as well. He rejected to ordination of women to elder and pastor. This opposition had been a permitted view, but Kenyon was denied ordination. The Assembly ruled in the presbytery’s favor. Men who did not agree with women’s ordination were put on notice. Sproul didn’t think they’d kick him out but had concern for younger, less visible, men. He decided it was time to leave and enter a new denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America which had left the southern PC(US) over this issue and more. Gerstner argued that men should stay and fight. This was one of the few times they disagreed significantly and publicly. It did not affect their friendship, however. R.C. would remain in the PCA until his death.

Nichols shifts to the topic of apologetics which necessarily brings us to Aquinas. Sproul had great appreciation for Aquinas who was one of the greatest theologians in history. In terms of the doctrine of salvation, Aquinas would lead the Church into the problems that made the Reformation necessary. I’ve often found Sproul’s appreciation for him confounding since he put such weight on the Reformation. In one Tabletalk issue the argument was made that Aquinas was nearly evangelical. Sorry, not buying it.

In 1984 he published the collaborative book Classical Apologetics with Gerstner and Art Lindsey. Prior to this he had written The Psychology of Atheism, and Objections Answered in which he answered the most common objections Archie Parrish heard in his evangelism. From Edwards, Sproul focused on the rational. True doctrine must be rational. Oddly, his own conversion was not the result of rational arguments but simply God’s power bringing conviction. Early on he was a presuppositionalist, but as noted earlier Gerstner changed his mind. The other main school of apologetics is evidentialism (Josh McDowell). Van Til, the main proponent of presuppositionalism, addressed presuppositions people bring to the discussion. If Christianity isn’t true, then we essentially can’t think and reason. Contrary to some claims, it is not opposed to using the classical arguments for God but recognizes they don’t prove Christianity but merely theism. These two views are actually closer in practice than many realize but this is an issue with which I disagreed with Sproul. For me it all comes down to how we interpret and apply Romans 1:18ff. No need to spill blood over it. This would be one of the issues that divides the RTS Orlando faculty in the 90’s. Nichols puts the late Ron Nash in the classical apologetics side. I’m not sure about that. He was a rationalist and held Gordon Clark in high regard, particularly in disagreement with Van Til implying the use of univocal language. He did make much of the Law of Non-Contradiction however. Sproul maintained his friendship with Van Til. So while the faculty disagreed on this issue, the real fighting, so to speak, was among the students who formed parties based on adherence to the various schools and professors. This is not the professors’ fault, but the usual sinful zeal of seminary students.

Heading South

In the early 80’s Sproul had begun to teach at RTS Jackson part time. The costs of running the study center were beginning to be problematic. The growth of the audio and video tape side of the ministry de-emphasized the physical gathering of students at the study center. The board decided to move the ministry to Altamonte Springs, a northern suburb of Orlando where I lived for 6 years. They initially used a local television station for taping. Before building a recording studio at the Ligonier offices, they also recorded at Greg Rike studios. While there for a taping I could see the autographs of Deep Purple members who used the studio to record Slaves and Masters.

Slaves and Masters - Wikipedia

1985 saw the release of The Holiness of God in book form. Nichols notes that over time the mission statement for Ligonier shifted and got shorter, focusing on the holiness of God. This became the centerpiece of Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. God’s holiness encapsulates all that God is. It captivated Sproul due to his late night experience at Westminster College as a student. In light of all this Nichols brings us to Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relations to the Rational. In the midst of this there is an error the editors missed: “one thinks of Abraham before the burning bush”. But more pertinent is the influence of Otto’s book on Sproul, particularly the concepts of the numinous and the mysterium tremendum.

As Sproul moves from Isaiah and the concepts from Otto he is struck by the episode with Uzzah. He first preached about Uzzah in chapel while teaching at Gordon College. He focused on the presumption of Uzzah to think he, a sinner, was more sanctified than the ground. All this was set up by the fact they disobeyed God by not carrying the Ark but putting it on a cart. Apart from the holiness of God, this story makes God seem capricious. But as holy, God’s Ark and mercy seat cannot be approached apart from sacrificial blood. He is “a God who plays for keeps.”

This would be one of the most popular and most important of the books Sproul wrote. It’s message was central to the mission of Ligonier. The holiness of God is foundational to properly understanding the work of Christ in the atonement.

The next book to be published would be connected to this incomprehensible God and His sovereignty, Chosen By God. He explored the doctrine of predestination for “people who are committed to struggling with this difficult, complicated doctrine.” This book has been influential in changing people’s lives, but also churches. One church where I live moved from being Word of Faith to embracing this doctrine and reforming church life as a result. Sproul presents double predestination as asymmetrical: in salvation God is active in effectual calling, but in reprobation God is passive, leaving people in their sins and misery.

The next year would complete something of a trilogy with One Holy Passion: The Consuming Thirst to Know God being published. Sproul presents the classical view of the Trinity including aseity (self-existence, non-contingent). In 1988 Pleasing God, concerning the doctrine of sanctification, was published. While conversion is monergistic (Nichols uses salvation rather than regeneration, effectual calling and justification), sanctification is synergistic in that we cooperate. God initiates by working in us so we will and work according to His good purposes (Phil. 2).

1988 also saw the first Ligonier Ministries’ National Conference at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs. The theme was Loving a Holy God with speakers J.I. Packer, Chuck Colson and Jerry Bridges. These national conferences continue to this day. I was there as a guest or staff (first for the Admissions office of RTS Orlando and then Ligonier) from 1991 to 1997.

ECT and Evolution

In the mid-90’s a controversy arose that challenged Sproul in that it cost him important friendships: J.I. Packer and Chuck Colson. With Sproul stood Boice and MacArthur among others. Sproul and the others believed they needed to stand against what they saw as a compromise of the gospel in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Whether this played a part in Sproul’s departure from RTS depends on who you talk to. Nichols doesn’t really address his time at Knox Seminary, founded by good friend D. James Kennedy, until the end of the book.

In this context Nichols returns to Sproul’s time at Jackson (including playing golf and talking with Gene Hackman during the filming of Mississippi Burning which movie was one of the reasons I didn’t go to Jackson) and the switch to the new campus in Orlando along with Richard Pratt and a newly retired Roger Nicole. In the early days of RTS Orlando he wrote The Glory of Christ and The Mystery of the Holy Spirit. One of his disappointments was how poorly Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue.

Mississippi Burning (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

With Not a Chance Sproul stood against evolutionary theory and the arguments of Carl Sagan in 1993. In September of that year, R.C. and Vesta were riding the train back to Orlando. He hated to fly, and until that night he’d ride the train. The train they were riding was engaged in the deadliest crash in Amtrak history. They suffered only minor injuries. Sproul would write of this accident in The Invisible Hand, published in 1996, on the subject of the providence of God.

Nichols then brings us back to ECT. Colson would send manuscripts for Sproul look over its theology. Sproul was concerned in 1991 when Colson’s manuscript for The Body: Being Light in Darkness revealed he “did not quite understand the issues with Roman Catholic theology”. Colson had developed a friendship with John Richard Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor and author, who became a Roman Catholic in 1990. Colson took Francis Shaeffer’s idea of cobelligerence too far. They took it beyond areas of common grace interest to overlook theological distinctives. This resulted in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document which Sproul saw as compromising justification by faith alone. Prior to this coming out, Sproul was largely kept in the dark. He saw Packer as someone he wanted in the fox hole with him in the culture war, adding that he and Packer didn’t disagree on anything (expect church polity).

That changed when R.C. was in his “office” in the country club when Joel Belz of World magazine called him on the pay phone in 1994. He wanted R.C.’s opinion of the document. Blindsided, he believed it a betrayal of the Reformation, the gospel and Christ. When he called Colson, Chuck indicated that Packer reviewed it and signed it. When he reached out to Packer, James reportedly said “I see the problem. Perhaps I shouldn’t have signed it.” Boice, a board member of Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals with Packer, talked with him and walked away dismayed. Packer spoke of justification as the “small print of the gospel”. He was no longer a board member and the dominoes were falling.

There was a closed-door meeting between those who signed and R.C., MacArthur, Michael Horton, John Ankerberg and D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge. Joseph Stowell and John Woodbridge were there to moderate the discussion. Colson stressed unity in the larger body which minimized the profound theological differences. Sproul then engaged Packer on justification. The former said it was essential, and the latter central. There was to be no common ground here, and the friendships with Packer and Colson were over. Unity must include theological agreement, not disagreement, on the most important tenants of the faith.

This controversy prompted Sproul to write Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification in which he interacted with ECT. Due to his coursework with Gerstner, Sproul was quite familiar with the Council of Trent and brought this into the discussion. Not only did ECT ignore the alone in faith alone, but the doctrine of imputation. Apart from imputation there is no gospel.

This controversy also led to The Cambridge Declaration in response to ECT. Sproul joined Boice and others in writing it. This document reaffirmed the solas of the Reformation as well as imputation.

R.C. also took something of a stand against dispensationalism. Gerstner wrote a harsh book critical of dispensationalism. Sproul noted that it was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible and began the process of putting together a study bible that would influence people for Reformed Theology, which is covenantal.

The Geneva Bible was the first to include study notes. It was the Bible used by the Puritans. Nichols greatly reduces the story of how the New Geneva Study Bible came to pass. Initially there was a struggle to get the rights to the NIV (this is before the gender-neutral controversy). Contributors also came from different sides of the ECT controversy. Somehow, out of a convoluted process, we ended up with the New Geneva Study Bible in the New King James which was promoted greatly by Ligonier, and the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible in the NIV which I think is now out of print due to the revision of the NIV.

St. Andrews Chapel and Reformation Bible College

In the next chapter Nichols focuses on the origins of St. Andrews Chapel. Oddly he begins with Gerstner’s funeral in 1996. He then traces their time in Orlando from Orangewood Presbyterian Church (Maitland) to the planting of St. Paul’s in Winter Park from members of Orangewood who wanted a more traditional worship service in 1991. I would eventually become a member of Orangewood from 1996 to 1998 when I was ordained in the ARP. I came under care of Central Florida Presbytery at the 1997 meeting where Sproul, in writing, requested permission to labor out of bounds in the planting of this new non-denominational church. While not a Presbyterian church, Sproul expressed a desire for them to eventually join the PCA (they remain independent to this day).

St. Andrews Chapel was not R.C.’s idea. He did have a Bible Study in his home and some of the members wanted to plant a new church. They asked him to be their pastor. I was friends with the daughter of one of the men who sent the letter to R.C. and soon to be fired by another of them.

40 Years Later: R.C. Sproul on Biblical Inerrancy, Evangelical Focus

As part of this chapter Nichols addresses Sproul’s process for sermon preparation. 1. Read the text repeatedly. 2. Identify the drama in the text. 2. Examine commentaries for controversial or interpretative issues. 4. Think about it for the week. 5. Preach it. He preached without notes and encouraged homelitics students to preach without notes.

Also in this chapter he addresses the death of James Montgomery Boice in 2000. They were personal friends, not just churchmen with similar theological concerns. Their families spent time together on vacations. The cancer diagnosis was devastating to Sproul. The letter he wrote to Jim, which Nichols includes, reveals much of Sproul’s heart. He loved Jim: “I love you deeply, Jim”; “my beloved Jimmy”; and “I love you”.

Nichols returns to controversy with the 35th PCA General Assembly and its discussion of the Federal Vision. It was one of the occasions that Sproul spoke on the floor. I wasn’t there since I wasn’t in the PCA yet, but Nichols tells it dramatically. Sproul had had a stroke 2 years earlier and still suffered some effects. As the men in line realized R.C. was waiting behind them, Nichols indicates, they made way for the PCA’s most prolific author and famous theologian to address the issue.

Later that year his friend D. James Kennedy would die. Here Nichols briefly outlines Sproul’s relationship with Knox. Nichols doesn’t delve into the controversies at Knox but records how first Anne Kennedy mourned the death of her husband, and then the death of the seminary he founded. (Thankfully she didn’t need to mourn the death of Coral Ridge.)

In 2011 Sproul was still suffering the effects of the stroke to some degree, and the effects of COPD. Many Bible colleges were falling on hard times. But Sproul founded Reformation Bible College anyway. Like with most of his life, he was out of step with the mainstream. Most Bible colleges were decided dispensational. RBC would not be. He would also seek to install various safeguards against theological declension which is a common problem with Christian institutions of learning.

R.C. and Vesta began study tours as well. They went to Europe to visit Geneva and Wittenburg. They followed Paul’s missionary travels. They went to New England to see sites associated with the Great Awakening. This was a time of building relationships as well as sharing information about Christian history. Sproul began to be more concerned for a future awakening of the American church.

Tied to America’s declension, Sproul wrote (with other teaching fellows) the Ligonier Statement on Christology. Nichols fails to mention the controversy that followed this Statement. There were charges (that I find false) that it proprogated Nestorianism (separating the two natures). I had Sproul for Christology in seminary, and he understood the dangers of Nestorianism. Additionally, the teaching fellows intended to continue the ministry of Ligonier after his death (something of a return to the early Ligonier days) included the likes of Sinclair Ferguson. If he contributed to the document, I doubt it would lapse into such an error. Nichols specifically mentions himself and Chris Larson, as well as a series of articles written by Keith Mathison and John Tweeddale of RBC.

It is in the context of the teaching fellows (initially Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson and R.C. Jr.) that Jr. finally emerges. These men were Sproul’s “foxhole buddies in the final years of his life”. Later fellows would include Nichols, R. Albert Mohler, Derek Thomas and Burk Parsons. The pieces of the transition were in place as Chris Larson became CEO of Ligonier, Nichols as President of RBC, and Parsons would become Senior Pastor when R.C. was no longer able to preach (which he did until he died).

R.C. had been feeling better in late 2017. He preached every Sunday in November. He’d even hit some golf balls around. He was very excited about the 2018 National Conference. But at the end of the month Sproul got a cold which is no big deal unless you have COPD. Soon he was in the hospital and struggling to breath. It seems like a storybook ending as he breathed his last breath as The Highland Hymn with its hope of heaven concluded.


Nichols includes a number of tributes to Sproul that were made upon his death at the beginning of the final chapter. He also notes a number of facts that some may find interesting. I knew he was quoted in the Christopher Walken vampire film The Addiction. I didn’t know (or remember) that he was cited in the liner notes of a Van Halen album (likely Van Halen III which I never owned but the new lead singer was a professing Christian). I didn’t know Guy Rizzo was just a guy at the golf club he led to Christ (Guy is/was a developer/builder in central Florida). Tombstone was one of his favorite movies.

The Addiction (1995) - IMDb

Throughout his career, R.C. fought studied ambiguity. He could be fiery when in controversy. ECT was among the most painful times of his life. But there was usually the impish grin and laughter. His laugh was like his voice, hoarse from those years of smoking (at one point he noted that quitting was the hardest thing he’d ever done). His faithful ministry was key in a revival of Calvinism as well as Reformed Theology. So many owe so much to him and the supporting staff (especially Vesta)that helped him adapt to new technology and make resources available. I worked there when we were selling Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruit like hot cakes.

He was one of the most important figures behind the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He was vital in the early success of RTS Orlando. He left behind Ligonier Ministries which is entrusted to teaching fellows to carry on the work and is far larger than when I worked there. He leaves behind a massive volume of outstanding, easy to understand books and audio/video series. There are decades of Renewing Your Mind radio shows. He left behind Reformation Bible College and St. Andrews Chapel. Sproul was used greatly by God for good.

This book is worth reading to gain a better understanding of one of the most important churchmen of the 20th century. My (admittedly small) issue is not with what he says (aside from a few factual errors) but with what he doesn’t say. Little is mentioned about Jr.’s struggles aside from his resignation. Little to nothing is said about the various men who led Ligonier Ministries well or poorly. But it isn’t all negative that is left out. He helped Keith Mathison get his first book published, for instance. I’d think that would be important since Keith subsequently worked at Ligonier for many years and is an important faculty member at RBC. We see that he had a number of long-term friendships but only with Boice do we see a glimpse of his heart and some dynamics. Not much is said about John MacArthur (I still scratch my head on that friendship for some reason).

I’m thankful for Sproul. He played a big role in my life even if it wasn’t a personal role. I didn’t have the kind of relationship with him that some of my friends and colleagues did. I spoke with Vesta more than him. I felt more like a fly on the wall than someone who gets behind the curtain. That’s not intended to be critical of anyone, just an assessment of my vantage point during the 90’s.

Imagine, if you will, a train at the station. You’ve been sitting on the train, ready to go. Every time the doors begin to shut a new group of people show up and force the doors open. It seems full but it never seems to move.

Painting of Sisyphus by Titian

That is how I feel about the race issue. I’m ready for progress, for changes. I’m ready for the cities to stop burning. I’m ready for the necessary reforms to policing to take place. I’m ready for people to forgive, reconcile and begin to try and make this whole thing work. But we seem stuck at square one. It’s like Groundhog Day.

Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation by Mark Vroegop seemed like a different kind of book. It isn’t about how white people are horrible, fragile, clueless etc. It seemed to offer a way forward out of this Sisyphus-like mess.

Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation - Vroegop, Mark; Anyabwile, Thabiti M (foreword by) - 9781433567599

Vroegop repeatedly tempers our expectations. He’s not offering a magic bullet. He isn’t saying “do this and everything will be right as rain.” This is an important step that can help us make progress because it will convey empathy (or compassion). It is part of the way forward, but not the totality. Necessary but insufficient. It is important to keep that in mind.

His first book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament is the background of this book. He seeks to apply the work he did there to the problem at hand.

“The biblical language of empathy and exile, perseverance and protest, can open the door for reconciliation.”

In his introduction Vroegop notes that the gospel has produced racial reconciliation in the past. Antioch was a metropolitan city filled with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. Roman cities, he says, were segregated by design. At its founding there was a wall built to segregate the Syrians from the Greeks. Division and violence were common. The church was THE desegregated population of the city.

Keep in mind, the city itself didn’t experience reconciliation. The church did. The gospel created unity but people who rejected the gospel didn’t experience this unity.

This is not where he goes with it but perhaps we need to keep this in mind. The world CANNOT and will not be reconciled precisely there is no source of unity, no ground of forgiveness, no power for the heart change necessary. The world will continue to devour itself unless it sees the power of the gospel in racial reconciliation displayed in the church and believes.

This is not where any of us want to go with this. But there is some truth there. We can’t expect those who can’t love selflessly to love selflessly. The works of the flesh include divisions, factions, pride and violence. Romans 1:18ff can only be undone by the amazing work of Jesus in Romans 5 by which He died for the helpless, ungodly, weak enemies who fell in Adam. To expect the sons of Adam to act like the sons of God is pure foolishness, unless we are first ambassadors of God imploring people to be reconciled to God so they can be reconciled to one another.

But I digress from this book I read.

Part 1: The Meaning of Lament

Vroegop begins the book by talking specifically about lament, and he begins with prayer as the language of lament. Lament is a type of prayer, and a common prayer, in the Psalms.

Before getting too far he offers a series of definitions. This is good practice since we want to know how he understands particular terms. At times his definitions were frustrating, however. He uses the sociological re-definitions of recent invention. These arise from a different world view, and one that isn’t simply different but I would consider “anti-gospel” at points. While all truth is God’s truth, not all that purports to be true is truth, and many truths have untrue applications (there is a blog post critiquing John Fea’s embrace of CRT simmering in my head).

At one point this embrace of worldly thinking creates a weird series of statements. He quotes Daniel Hill about how whites began to “deemphasize the differences within various European ethnicities and began to describe white people as a human collective that was inherently superior to people of color.” I wrote in my margin “how do we explain hatred of Irish, Italians, European Jews…?” As if he’d heard me, Vroegop notes that the Irish initially formed a bond with African-Americans, but eventually Irish people wanted to be accepted by the majority, embraced racism against African-Americans and “became white.” I guess his definition of “white”, which is unstated, is very different than mine. Mine’s about pigmentation, not oppression because when you associate “white” with sin … you’re racist. Despite being frustrated, I continued.

This is not just frustrating, however. It is an unbiblical concept which is unedifying, inaccurate and feeds the flames of the racist anti-racism movement. Just as a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, racism (or prejudice and favoritism) by any other name remains as foul.

Let’s return to the matter at hand, lament. Lament is not simply complaining but an expression of pain that leads us to trust God. It faces the brokenness of our world and the specific afflictions one experiences, and recommits oneself to God to make things right in due time on the basis of His promises.

Racism and oppression create a complicated emotional space. It is worthy of lament. We recognize, often with tears, that this is not how image bearers are meant to treat one another. It recognizes that we can’t fix this problem, and we are relying on God and His promises to bring this to an end. Vroegop identifies four elements of lament: turning, complaining, asking, and trusting.

Lament is part of the “fivefold path” of reconciliation he also identifies: love, listen, lament, learn, and leverage. And here is why we never seem to leave the station, we keep waking up to the same day and the rock keeps falling down the hill. I lament that there are many who refuse to listen and learn. I feel like the kid who’s ready for multiplication and we can’t seem to get past addition and subtraction.

Too often we don’t listen because we are too busy keeping score. We compare the sins and crimes of individuals committed against people we know with the sins and crimes committed against others because of the color of their skin. We compare apples and oranges (in my mind anyway) and refuse to acknowledge how life could be filled with obstacles for others that don’t exist for you.

This leads to part of my great frustration with the “race problem”. I get the picture. I watched Roots on TV when I was a kid. I watched many movies like Amistad, Rosewood, Mississippi Burning, Glory (and the list goes on and on). I knew about Tulsa years ago. I know there are racist laws (but not the whole system is racist, nor is every white person). I’m ready for us to change the racist laws. I’m tired of talking about what has changed as if it hasn’t (the 3/5ths Compromise is not law anymore- praise God). We can’t seem to accept advancement because that somehow means claiming nothing needs to change. No, some things need to change but we don’t need to “burn it down” either. When you burn down your house, you’ve got no place to live. We don’t need to be homeless, but we need to get the mold out. I do agree with him when he says “the gospel is more foundational than our most painful historical categories”. Let’s live like it instead of picking at the scabs and waiting for the same issues to represent themselves because we’ve done nothing.

American Rhetoric Movie Speech from Glory - Men of the 54th Regiment Gather  for Prayer and Song Meeting on the Eve of the Battle of Fort Wagner
Campfire laments help the story of Glory

“When Christians from majority and minority cultures learn to grieve together, they affirm their common bond as brothers and sisters in Christ. Lament enters into the deep emotions of sorrow, hurt, misunderstanding, and injustice.”

Vroegop wants us to listen, in particular, to African-American spirituals. Listening to their laments can help develop proper empathy, a willingness to recognize that our brothers and sisters are in pain. This is not the only way he wants us to listen, but it is a way to hear the historic pain. He points us to some rappers who share laments as well.

It isn’t just the past that is the problem, but the present. I want to hear about my friends’ experiences. Although I guess friend may be too strong a word since I’m not trusted with their pain. Perhaps I’m not trustworthy. Perhaps they aren’t willing to trust. Getting on the bus together should mean personal, not simply collective, stories.

A cultural (not racial) difference is the individual vs. more collective thinking. White American culture isn’t focused on white people so much as America. THAT is our community identity. On 9/11 people didn’t grieve that white people died in those towers and those planes, but AMERICANS regardless of their pigmentation. Most see nation above ethnicity. When the Marathon bombing took place I wept because that’s my place, my home and Patriots’ Day is our version of Juneteenth because I grew up there. It had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with place. As a result, the focus on race over place, over national identity is hard for many majority Americans to understand. Again I digress with my own little laments.

One powerful spiritual he uses refers to the pain of being sold and separated from parents and siblings, spouses and children. This is generational trauma. Sadly, many now choose this trauma as they abandon women and children. This is not a legacy people choose willingly, but is rooted not only in the realities of slavery but the racist welfare laws of our nation’s “war on poverty”. All this is worthy of lament.

In his own congregation he’s seen reconciliation take place on their civil rights pilgrimage. They traveled South, visited places like the Lynching Memorial. There white people began to see the horrors committed (sometimes in places they grew up), and minorities shared their personal pain. People lamented together and moved closer together.

Local lynching memorial proposed in Birmingham

Part 2: Lament and Majority Christians

He begins with more about empathy, which is a controversial subject lately (and unfortunately). To weep with one another doesn’t mean that we agree with everything they think. We do agree with them that their afflictions are deep and worthy of sorrow. He defines empathy as the “ability or willingness to understand and care.” Lamenting together is sharing pain, and this helps form community.

I can grow in this. He offers a test, quoting a message by Mika Edmonson. My heart wonders about the statistics. This is not a denial of the problem, but questioning the magnitude of the problem. I want my African children to be wise in dealing with the police, but not fearful of police. I don’t think the police are coming gunning for my kids, but I think there are some bad cops who might. I refuse to believe its “open season” on my kids. I do believe that there are evil people who break the law, and they should be punished if they do. Derek Chauvin did and was.

Raising kids, I’m skeptical about the first story I hear. Having watched the news for years, I’m skeptical about the first story I hear. I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Been there, done that and it never works out well. I want to sort out what is actually going on, not simply surrender my mental faculties to emotions. In a world filled with lies, false narratives and wilful attempts to deceive there is sadly cause to be cautious at times. I want to be empathetic but not gullible. I’ve seen cities burn over false narratives. Jumping to conclusions can have disastrous results which are just as evil.

Vroegop addresses six reasons we can choose silence. Fear drives silence for many, and this takes many forms. Uncertainty about the facts of a case (wisdom!) or feelings (??). Many have wounds from past experience. Many are ignorant and don’t understand the layers of injustice and racism. Some are selfish. Some are racist.

Minorities have long been frustrated by silence. We don’t have to speak with all the answers. But we can lament, express sorrow for the way sin has twisted our relationships.

The 6th chapter is called Repent and subtitled Remembering with Remorse. These are not quite the same. Many struggle with repenting for the sins of previous generations. It shouldn’t be an issue when we are part of the same community (example: a church that was formed out of the fear of desegregation), especially for those of us who hold to covenant theology. But at times we aren’t so connected. Expressing remorse may be quite helpful. Lament vocalizes sorrow for past wrong whether we committed them or not. Some of us need to personally repent of racist actions, attitudes or passive indifference. Some of our communities need to repent, as some denominations like the PCA have for support of slavery, Jim Crow laws and other aspects of racism. We can express corporate remorse even if we don’t feel the need to repent. Pastoral laments can go a long way in opening some of the doors for reconciliation in a congregation.

Part 3: Lament and Minority Christians

While this section is about minorities, many “majority” culture Christians should get ready to experience much of what he’s talking about here. He’s talking about the voice of exiles. Christians are exiles, though we’ve been part of the majority culture and thought we weren’t: we are. He errs in thinking that the exiles of the Old Testament were only physical and not spiritual. It wasn’t just a change of geography and custom but they were surrounded by paganism.

Minorities have a sense of exile, “otherness”. It is the sense of not only not belonging but not being wanted. The experience of minorities in many cultures (not just America) is they are not wanted there. This is something Christians of all people should understand, we are generally not wanted in cultures and increasingly unwelcome in America. This lack of welcome is for minorities a cause for lament. Lament does reorient us in our pain. It reorients us to God and His promises. Lament ends in hope, not because the situation changed but because it will. There will be racial reconciliation in the church. We will all be gathered around Jesus, not looking at one another but at Him who made us a new humanity. We have hope, and are a community of hope. Red warned Andy that “hope is a dangerous thing”. It is dangerous for the oppressor, not the oppressed, however. To lose hope is to stop trying to work toward reconciliation.

Perhaps the loss of hope is the result of misplaced hope instead of biblical hope.

At the end of each chapter, Vroegop includes an example of lament, written by a variety of people. He also includes questions, some helpful and some less so, to process the information.

Where he sticks with Scripture and the application of biblical principles, Vroegop’s book is helpful. When he depends on sociological concepts connected to CRT and/or anti-racism the book is less than helpful. There are some bones to spit out but the church could be well served by lamenting together regarding our racial, political and ecclesiastical problems. Some of mine probably made this review harder to read.

Personal Story and Lament

In middle school I road the bus to school. There were some kids from the next street over who decided to regularly tease me for my “greasy Italian hair”. They never did this in elementary school but suddenly I was a target.

Like any middle school boy I was self-conscious. I began to wash my hair with shampoo for oily hair. Problem is, my hair wasn’t oily. My hair became increasingly dry and brittle. I was destroying my hair because some kids who felt bad about themselves decided my being Italian made me less then them, an object of ridicule and derision, unwanted and unworthy.

Father, kids can be so cruel in their desire to fit in, to belong. To float their fragile sense of worth they attack the worth of others. We’ve all done this, and been victims of this. We lament those who’ve been made to feel less because of the color of their skin, because of their accent, or a different kind of church. We lament that this happens every day, under our noses. We lament that the power of the flesh is so destructive and divisive to the beautiful community we could be under the reign of Jesus. We long for the coming of the kingdom in its final fulness, when we stop looking at one another full of envy, jealousy and hatred but love one another because You have loved us to the full. That day when we are focused on Jesus, who sits upon the throne and are overwhelmed with His glory, a glory He shares with all His people. Bring peace to your people from every tribe, nation, tongue and language. Sustain us until then as we feel overwhelmed by the strife and sorrow produced by sin.

There are not many books on the subject of the fear of the Lord. One of the classics is John Bunyan’s The Fear of God. A more recent treatment is by Jerry Bridges: The Joy of Fearing God.

This subject came up while watching the first Paul Tripp session in his Faithful Men seminar. He noted that our fears can only be driven out by the fear of God, the greatest fear.

Michael Reeves, who is becoming one of my favorite writers, has entered the fray about the fear of the Lord with Rejoice & Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord. This is the first installment in his Union series, and it is joined by What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord? which is intended for lay people. One should not take this to mean that Rejoice & Tremble is academic, lengthy or exceedingly difficult. It really isn’t. It seems to be written at a popular level. The latter book is more condensed, perhaps intended for people who have less time to read. I hope to use it with some of our men in light of the Paul Tripp seminar.

Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord (Union) - Reeves, Michael - 9781433565328

As I said, this is not a lengthy book, clocking in at 8 chapters and 168 pages. He brings us to Bunyan, Flavel, Sibbes and Spurgeon among others to examine what is meant by the fear of the Lord. It is not overly technical as original languages are really only mentioned at two points. I still prefer Jerry Bridges’ book, but that seems to be out of print though Amazon had one copy of the audio book. This is a good book, on an important subject.

Reeves begins with the most common command in the Scriptures: “Do Not Be Afraid!” He notes that “we are both fascinated and repelled by our fears.” Many of us like to be scared, within reason. The Scripture encourages, in fact commands, that we fear God. He quotes John Murray in saying “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.” Apart from the fear of the Lord there is no godliness, nor worship. The fear of the Lord is not to be thought of like other fears, perhaps a fear of spiders, ghosts, drowning or the like. “(The fear of the Lord) frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear.”

The Messiah, for instance, delights in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:3). The Spirit which rests upon the Messiah is “the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Jesus grew in stature and wisdom, which begins with the fear of the Lord. As Messiah, Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord, a fear we need by lack apart from the grace of God in Christ.

One of the important contributions of this book is the connection with the present spirit of the age. Our is a very anxious age, and is growing more fearful all the time. This, Reeves argues, is because we’ve generally removed God from our society. Where there is no fear of the Lord, the fear of all else is bound to grow. Fear is used by politicians, media and more to control us. Ours is a society that seeks safety above all else (including liberty) becoming more risk and loss averse. Because we can’t deal with fear, citing Frank Furedi, we build more protective fences. This growing anxiety is accompanied by the moral confusion that happens when we no longer fear God. Sexual immorality of all kinds is approved but we go on crusades against plastic, or militant about masks and vaccines.

Reeves then begins to differentiate sinful and godly fear. Chapter 2 focuses on Sinful Fear. Citing Wilhelmus a Brakel, he notes that our fears are connected to what we love. Fear is about losing them or bad things happening to them. The greater fear that drives us lesser fears is not just any old fear of God. Scripture notes two kinds of fear with respect to God. We see this in Exodus 20. They were not to fear God, but they were to fear God so they would not sin. There is a wrong (sinful) way to fear God, and a godly way to fear God. Here is where he gets into the original languages.

The same word(s) are used for both kinds of fear in the both testaments. The difference isn’t simply in a different word. The difference is seen in the context and results: “Moses here sets out a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God: those who have a fear of him will not be afraid of him.” The similarity is the physical component of the root word: trembling. The difference is between trembling in your boots and trembling with delight.

Theologians have contrasted these in a variety of ways: servile vs. filial fear; sinful vs. religious fear; ungodly vs. godly fear. Reeves uses sinful vs. right fear though he explains them.

Sinful fear flows from our corrupt (sinful) nature. It is a function of original sin. It is a fear that drives you away from God, rather than towards God. In addition to this being a function of our sin, it is also a function of Satan’s lies about God. Here we see Reeves covering similar ground as Sinclair Ferguson in The Whole Christ and Dane Ortlund in Gentle & Lowly (the cover of which is very similar to Rejoice & Tremble). It is this fear the drives the new atheism led by men like Christopher Hitchens. They are afraid of the God who exists, rather than denying He exists. Hitchens noted that it would be awful to live in the presence of such a God: “It would be like living in North Korea.”

We also see the early Luther, prior to his discovery of the Gospel, expressing such fear. This is why he hated God, knowing he could not live up to God’s requirements. Luther, like so many, ran from God but not from religion. They used religion as an attempt to keep God at bay, unlike Hitchens. When we are afraid of God, we don’t entrust ourselves to Him and look for security elsewhere (religion, politics, money etc.). Afraid of God, they don’t trust Christ for salvation but seek other mediators (Mary, Joseph and the saints, etc.). Read 1 Samuel 12:20-24 to see the 2 fears in this context.

He brings us to C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce to see that this kind of fear clings to our sin. It is the dread of holiness, and I experienced this for about a year before converting. I didn’t want to give up my sin for Jesus. I had to learn the high price of sin before Jesus became sweet and excellent to me.

Right Fear is produced by the Spirit and draws us to God instead of driving us away from God. This fear is promised to us in the New Covenant (Jer. 32:38-40; 33:8-9). It is sung about by John Newton in his most famous hymn. I think Reeves misses it here though. He seems to argue grace taught my heart to fear and that same fear is relieved by grace. But is was grace that relieved my fears by teaching me to fear God.

This right fear is tied to forgiveness. Because God forgives us we tremble with delight. We delight in His goodness which is seen, in part, in His pardon for sin. We see this in Psalm 130, and the life of Isaac. We see that fear does not soften love, or balance it. They go hand in hand rather than being in tension. “We also love him in his holiness and tremble at the marvelousness of his mercy. True fear of God is true love for God defined: it is the right response to God’s full-orbed revelation of himself in all his grace and glory.”

Fear conveys the idea of being overwhelmed by God, weak-kneed trembling. This is not the romantic love of a man and woman.

Reeves argues that this “right fear is the heart of holiness, making the difference between hypocritical performance and genuine knowledge of God.” The new heart God gives us in the gospel produces a new fear and a very different kind of religion and obedience. “(S)aving faith cannot be separated from the right fear of God, for we will trust in God only to the extent that we have this fear that leans toward him.” The God-fearing heart is a God-entrusting heart.

Overwhelmed by the Creation & Redeemer

Reeves covers God as Creator and Redeemer in successive chapters. While all fear God as Creator, not all fear God as Redeemer. Apart from Redeemer we are afraid of the Creator, exhibiting the sinful fear of God. He roots much of this in Calvin and The Institutes. As Christians we have a right fear of Him as Creator, we are drawn to Him in awe and love. To those who don’t know God as Redeemer, the Creator seems dangerous. We run from Him instead of to Him. Edwards, for instance, “found the knowledge of a Creator to be terrible.” This is tied to our flight from accountability.

The right fear of the Creator draws us out of ourselves. We are not longer the center of the universe. Reeves notes a study published in 2018 under the title Emotion which revealed that the symptoms of PTSD diminish after experiences of awe. In light of this he begins to discuss The Idea of the Holy by Rudolph Otto (cited by Sproul as well). God is awe-inspiring, humbling and mysterious. We need to keep the Creator-creature distinction in mind. Otto stops there, unfortunately. Apart from Christ, Luther wrote, “we see nothing in God but an angry and terrible judge.”

While he moves to Redeemer in the next chapter, the title focuses on the Father. Redemption brings us sonship. The Son reveals the Father to us. Here Reeves brings out some material from Delighting in the Trinity and the relationship between Father and Son in trinitarian development. Redemption, of course, is not the Son sneaking out of the house to appease an angry Father on our behalf but the Father and Son agreeing that the Son would come to satisfy the wrath of God to bring us home.

Here Reeves addresses filial fear, a deeper, richer, and sweeter fear. Filial fear is rooted in God’s mercy. If we begin to rely on our good works our filial fear erodes into dread and terror (quoting George Offor). We lose assurance of salvation until we remember the reality of justification. This is different than Aquinas who saw filial fear as including the fear of offending the Father and losing our salvation. True filial fear is evangelical, resting on Christ’s work for our redemption.

The Son delights in the Father. United to Christ, we share in His delight. We are overwhelmed by the greatness, kindness and goodness of God. We do fear loss of communion, grieving the Father, not loss of union and salvation.

Growing in Godly Fear

Reeves admits that this chapter could be written as a self-help book. There is no 5-step (or 3 or 7) program to grow in godly fear. Reeves brings in Lewis again in terms of “mere morality” as a false goal. We seek an obedience that is driven by a renewed heart filled with godly fear. This will produce genuine or sincere obedience. Obedience itself really isn’t an accurate measure since obedience can be the result of sinful fear as well.

Thomas Boston discussed fear is a matter of our longings: what we love and hate. Filial fear transforms our affections, our longings. Godly fear results in engaged worship, which is why Christianity is a song-filled faith. We can’t help singing. We sing to express what is in our hearts, even if we aren’t in a worship service.

During the Reformation, Luther opposed the Aristotelian view of ethics taught by Thomas Aquinas. In this view we become righteous by doing righteous things. Aquinas cultivated virtuous habits. Luther argued that we have been made righteous and begin to do righteous deeds. Imputed righteousness precedes imparted righteousness.

But how do we grow in the fear of the Lord? The Spirit continues to work in us, as Owen says, “implanting, writing and realizing of the gospel in our souls”. As we behold Christ crucified in the Scriptures, sermons and in meditation our hearts are transformed and grow in the fear of the Lord. The means of grace are utilized but they don’t change us ex opere operato. They are points of contact with the gospel which transforms those who are trusting in the gospel they encounter there.

“The fear of God… that whole worship of God, wherein that and all other gracious affections toward God are to be exercised. … the only motive and encouragement for sinners to engage in it and give themselves unto it, is this, that there is forgiveness with God. Without this no sinner could fear, serve, or worship him.” John Owen

This means that people need a Scripture-filled diet. They need sermons that keep returning to the well to drink of Christ to grow in godly fear. Such preaching seeks to produce godly affections in response to truth.

The Awesome Church

Back to love: what you fear shows what you love. Our fears are sign points, signals about the state of our hearts. What are the signposts that you are manifesting godly fear? He begins with deeper communion with God, rooted in Proverbs 14:27 since the “fear of the Lord is the fountain of life.”

Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, you will also grow in wisdom and knowledge. When we have the fear of the Lord growth in knowledge does not puff us up but enables us to love others well (wisdom). This knowledge is also not sterile but we become more like God. We begin to loathe our sin and long to be like God. We begin to marvel about God more and more. Consider how often people marveled at Christ in Mark’s gospel.

Additionally we find strength. The fear of man robs us of strength as we overcommit because we can’t say ‘no’ (Luther said that learning to say ‘no’ would be of more use to you than Greek or Latin). We are overly sensitive to criticism and comments. Prior to answering the authorities at the Diet of Worms, Luther was advised by friends to fear the One who can destroy body and soul in hell, not those who can destroy the body. He ended his famous speech with the words, “Therefore we must fear God.”

Peter struggled with the fear of man, particular in the courtyard of the chief priest. He discovered the hard way that he loved himself more than he loved Jesus. Like Winston in Room 101 he disavowed the one he said he loved.

Why George Orwell's '1984' is such a timeless novel

When we fear God, the other things we fear shrink. They have less influence on us. God reorganized our perspective. The nearness of God is what kills the anxiety we feel, therefore pray.

“Those who fear God are simultaneously humbled and strengthened before his beauty and magnificence.”

Both Calvin and Spurgeon pointed to the example of Hugh Latimer who defied the King Henry the VIII by speaking of his sin in a sermon. When told to recant in his next sermon he spoke of how he spoke not only before the king but also the Lord God Almighty and must tell the king the truth regardless of the outcome. Henry didn’t take off his head as threatened.

“Satan’s lies would rob believers of their filial fear and leave them with a groveling dread of God and a competitiveness instead of any real fellowship between us.”

Reeves returns to our culture of anxiety. The fear of the Lord among His people will adorn the gospel and attest to its power among the nations. The church is to be a community of those who fear the Lord.

Eternal Ecstasy

The final chapter focuses on the eternal state for those with sinful fear and those with right or godly fear. Everyone trembles before God, it is the character of that trembling that matters.

Hell is a world of fears. Those there experience the reality of the terrifying Judge they feared for so long. The fears in hell are unrelieved, constant and relentless.

Heaven is a paradise of filial fear. That delightful fear is unending, unquenchable and soul-satisfying. We will know God without the distortions of our sinful corruption. There will be no doubts, no misunderstandings.

“In fact, all fears are a foretaste. The sinful fears and dreads of unbelievers are the firstfruits of hell; the filial fears of Christians are the firstfruits of heaven.”

This is a very good book. I would not call it an excellent book. It does what it does well. I wish it had done a little more. It is on a much neglected subject. He hits the main points and is clear. He is edifying. It is balanced in addressing both sinful and right fear, and their results. He doesn’t shy away from speaking of judgment (one of the criticisms of Ortlund’s book). If Ortlund focused on the character of God, Reeves focuses us on our response to that character: rejoice & tremble.

As I resume consideration of the numerous overtures we will handle at the General Assembly in St. Louis, I move to the slightly less controversial matters.

I won’t look at the overtures about presbytery boundaries. I generally approve them.

Overture 38: Commend Human Sexuality Report

This is a positive overture on the part of Calvary Presbytery and I will vote to approve it. In the course of the overture it summarizes each of the 12 statements found in the report. There are a number of important distinctions and assessments in this document.

“We all stand in need of God’s grace for sexual sin and temptation, whether married or not.”

“Moreover, some persons, in rare instances, may possess an objective medical condition in which their anatomical development may be ambiguous or does not match their genetic chromosomal sex. Such persons are also made in the image of God and should live out their biological sex, insofar as it can be known.”

“Without some distinction between (1) the illicit temptations that arise in us due to original sin and (2) the willful giving over to actual sin, Christians will be too discouraged to “make every effort” at growth in godliness and will feel like failures in their necessary efforts to be holy as God is holy.”

“Nevertheless, being honest about our sin struggles is important. … Christians out to acknowledge their sin in an effort to overcome it.”

“Nevertheless, we recognize that some Christians may use the term “gay” in an effort to be more readily understood by non-Christians. The word “gay” is common in our culture, and we do not think it wise for churches to police every use of the term.

“Nevertheless, we do not support the formation of exclusive, contractual marriage-like friendships, nor do we support same-sex romantic behavior or the assumption that certain sensibilities and interests are necessarily aspects of a gay identity. We do not consider same-sex attraction a gift in itself, nor do we think this sin struggle, or any sin struggle, should be celebrated in the church.”

I think this is a positive step forward for us. It is clear but gracious in recognizing particular struggles in need of greater understanding and assistance from the community of faith.

Overture 3: Amend MTW Manual

Heritage Presbytery returns to an older request that has likely been amended. The manual has a “Statement on Valuing Women in MTW” which was distributed to missionaries. Guidelines opened leadership positions to unordained men and women. They want spiritual oversight for ordained serving in MTW and don’t want them subject to unordained persons. It is an agency of the Church. Should it be run like the Church? That is the basic question.

They want women valued but also those who are ordained to not under the authority of unordained persons. They see “an untenable crisis of conscience for both men and women”. Two years ago I argued against the similar overture. I think I understand the concerns of friends in MTW. Let me say that such an agency was not anticipated in the NT (this does not prohibit its existence). It is run by the Church but isn’t a church though it facilitates the planting of churches. I am sympathetic but still not sold on the overture.

Amending Processes for Pastors and Officers

This begins with Overture 5 by Calvary Presbytery. The BCO requires a majority vote for pastors, elders, deacons from those eligible and present at the meeting. The key is the majority of those eligible to vote versus the majority of votes actually cast. Both GA and Robert’s Rules have focused on votes actually cast. In some cases (larger churches) it may be quite difficult to assess the number of members present. Under the BCO if there are some candidate overlooked by a member they are counted as ‘no’. So they want to substitute “votes cast” for “voters present”. This seems quite reasonable to me.

With Overture 31 from Northwest Georgia Presbytery, there is a desire to amend BCO 22 regarding the process from Assistant to Associate Pastor. Currently there is no process spelled out. The default would be 20-2 which includes a search committee which seems inappropriate for a change in call instead of a change of pastors. They want to add a sentence indicating that those who have served for a least a year may be elected to Associate Pastor by the congregation upon the recommendation of the Session w/out a pulpit committee.

This seems quite reasonable and I will vote to approve this. Even though I want to get rid of the Assistant Pastor option.

Overture 6 from Covenant Presbytery wants to amend BCO 24-1 on the question of timing for exams of officer candidates. This is in connection to a SJC case that declared the “sequence in BCO 24-1 is mandatory”. The nomination period is to be followed by the training of all the nominees, and then they are all examined. Nominees, supposedly, are only to be removed after examination. The SJC recommended changes to the BCO to create more flexibility.

How many of us who read this went “Ooops!”

There is a lack of common sense at work in this mandatory order. Not all nominees are qualified and should not have to go through with training when the Session knows they will not approve of the nomination. Training, well done, should also reveal how well the nominee works with the officers. Why would a person who doesn’t play well with others have to continue this process and waste their, and the Session’s time?

This overture seeks to allow Sessions the flexibility to sequence examinations in accordance with their desires and wisdom. It adds “qualified” prior to nominees (which doesn’t seem to help matters). They strike “then” which is the word that creates the sequence.

Overture 18 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery covers the same ground and for the same reasons. The difference between these overtures is that this one only strikes the “then” in 24-1. It then adds a sentence to clarify: “The Session may render a decision on Christian experience at any point in the process, and based on that decision, may judge him ineligible for that election.” This is a more helpful overture in my opinion. I guess the questions of giftedness and chemistry could fall within that. These are the issues for our Session. We are a small congregation. These are the manifestations of Christian experience that we are most concerned with after the biblical qualifications. This would be the preferred of the two overtures.

Amending the Rules of Assembly

In addition to the BCO and Robert’s Rules of Order, the workings of General Assembly are also governed by the Rules of Assembly (RAO). Two overtures seek to amend RAO 15-6.s.2, 3 to adjust the rules concerning Minority Reports. The Overtures Committee is allowed to have minority reports. This is to permit voice at the Assembly to minority opinions.

This is a delicate balance. Voice should be heard and not just in debating the majority recommendation. But debating minority reports can eat up lots of time. One issue becomes how small a minority should be permitted to present their opinion. At the 47th Assembly the size of the Overtures Committee was more than doubled, while the number of dissenters necessary for a minority report remained the same rather than increasing in proportion. This means a much smaller minority can force the Assembly to follow procedure for their minority view.

Overture 9 from Ascension Presbytery focuses on this problem. They foresee additional growth in the number of presbyteries which permits an even larger Committee. They propose fixing the minority report to a percentage of delegates rather than a fixed number of delegates. This does seem to be a better way “to balance the rights of the minority and those of the majority”. This proposal indicates that at least 10% of delegates, at least 1/3 of them must be ruling elders, must sign the minority report for it to be presented to the Assembly. I intend to approve this Overture.

Overture 10, also from Ascension Presbytery focuses on the content of minority reports. Currently there are no requirements on the content of minority reports. Currently the majority does not see the minority report and often does not have sufficient time to prepare a response to the minority report. They recognize that the minority report may actually present a better proposal and the Assembly would be better served if they had the opportunity to present it to the Committee first. As a result they propose adding two new paragraphs to the RAO.

The first would require that a “proposed action or proposed change in the recommendation from the Overtures Committee” be included unless presented to the Committee. The second limits the minority report to arguments actually presented in the Committee deliberations so the representative of the majority isn’t answering previously unheard arguments. I intend to approve this Overture as well.

Technological Issues

Overture 26 from Philadelphia Metro West Presbytery wants to add a new section to BCO 10 to permit the use of telecommunication as the discretion of the body in question: General Assembly, presbyteries and congregations. This would include the meetings of committees, commissions, and agencies. The newest version of Robert’s Rules includes this provision. This may be unnecessary as a result. But it doesn’t hurt to end discussion and debate (since no all of us are experts on RRO and keep up with changes). I agree in theory. Presbyteries that cover lots of geographic territory have been using technology for awhile with committee meetings. Covid has expanded the use of technology to presbytery meetings.

But I can see problems. I just don’t want one person’s technological limitations or problems to nullify a meeting.

The Overture notes that in 2002, the Committee on Constitutional Business prohibited the use of teleconferencing for presbytery meetings based on the language of 13-4 and 14-5. Unless that language is also changed this will probably be rejected by the CCB.

Overture 32 from Central Indiana Presbytery is a request to form a study committee for Biblical Ethics in Digital Media. Their concern arises from the 9th commandment and the WLC 144 & 145. The growth of social media (FB, Twitter and blogs) has brought out the worst in many. Officers in the church (as well as lay people) should be accountable for their words. The overture wants to study how best to apply God’s commands to internet communication and recommend possible BCO changes.

I do see a great need for this. There have been “discernment” blogs run by PCA officers and members that misrepresent actions and views of others. There are times when men treat others horribly online. Our discourse is not always God-honoring. Attempts to self-police have failed. Moderators are often disparaged in other groups. What we are doing isn’t working and we need wisdom to navigate these new waters.

Overture 15 is from the Session of New Covenant PCA in MD to “Disallow Electronic Communications Regarding Voting at the General Assembly.” It refers to RAO 11-2 communications to General Assembly, as does 11-3. This seems irrelevant to the matter at hand. The messages in question are to individuals, not the Assembly. This Overture alleges the existence of a “political director of the National Partnership”. This seems quite inappropriate to me, the making of allegations as the basis for an Overture. If I can talk to my friend sitting next to me, why can’t I use technology to communicate with my friend on the other side of the building? I’m not the part of the National Partnership. Not all communication in the Assembly is for the Assembly. Are we now wanting to silence and censor those who disagree with us or think disagree with us? I do not support this Overture.

Issues of Race

Overture 36 from Chesapeake Presbytery requests a study committee on white supremacy. Yes, racism is a sin. That includes white supremacy (and black supremacy which member of BLM seem to advocate for in its place). Since we have position papers on other issues, they want us to have one on white supremacy in light of the “recent national events reveal both the ripples of, existing tensions between, and deep wounds within” our nation, congregations and families. Perhaps this Overture is mis-named since they mention “how to make progress toward racial reconciliation”.

I know that the media and some politicians want us to see white supremacy as one of our biggest threats. When I see who’s burning down cities, it isn’t them. I don’t think the KKK has much power and aside from some militia groups in the middle of nowhere, I’m just not seeing it. Admittedly, I could be naive and I don’t spend time in dark web chats.

This is controversial since the goals and foundational ideas supporting this overture are not clear (beyond explaining that racism is a sin). Is this arising from embracing CRT and wokeness? Or, to put it another way is this from Social Justice A (biblical justice) or Social Justice B (non-biblical expression of social justice- see the Thaddeus Williams video below)? Which “social scientists” will be rely on? Why only “white supremacy”? Hopefully these are questions that can be addressed more fully at GA.

I recognize that there are racists and there is systemic racism. I am increasingly convinced that CRT, which rejects a biblical world view, by its focus on groups (oppressors and oppressed, colonizers and colonized etc.) at the expense of individuals, with its focus on power and not hatred, and its worldly solutions is not the way for us go. It is anti-gospel, in my opinion. I am not in favor of an overture that would move us toward wokeness. I would be interested in one that seeks gospel solutions to these problems of sin.

There are three overtures on the issue of “Asian Flourishing” in light of the recent rise in attacks on Asians in America (what about the rise in anti-semitism?). The first is Overture 45 from Metro Atlanta. The next, Overture 46 from Metro NY, is nearly identical.

In previous years we addressed racial issues that had direct connection to our denomination (meaning, our churches and forefathers were guilty and complicit in racism in our churches and communities). Are the Korean churches in our denomination experiencing problems within our denomination? I’m sorry, I’m growing weary of what can seem to be virtue signaling. That doesn’t mean this is simply virtue signaling. I struggle with our perceived denominational need to made statements about every controversy. (Did I mention that one of my kids is from China?) I didn’t think we needed to make one on marriage. I thought the Scriptures and our Confessions were clear on that issue and on this issue: favoritism is sin. Hatred in the heart is condemned by Jesus. Acts of violence are sinful. Scripture also tells us to weep with those who weep.

There are some positive recommendations in the overture, such as the pastoral letter, making information known (though I’m not sure how people couldn’t have some general idea about the racism and oppression experienced by Asian in our country). I am divided.

Overture 48 from the Korean Capital Presbytery also wants us to denounce anti-Asian violence. It does hit home with them, and we should weep with them. Is that accomplished with an overture? This overture highlights some of the most egregious events in our national history (the Massacre of Chinese in Los Angeles in 1871, the Chinese Expulsion Act of 1882, and the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II). Perhaps we should just repudiate the listed activities (scapegoating, jokes, slurs and violence), period. They are wrong regardless of who the victims are. The largest public lynching in U.S. history was in New Orleans in 1891 and the victims were Italian. Polish joke books are common. Irish people were enslaved and hated in America. Our objects of hatred and prejudice is not limited to any particular groups (Hispanics have plenty of events they can mention). Those who hate and exhibit prejudice are also not limited to any particular groups. Spike Lee’s profanity-laden montage in the middle of Do the Right Thing exposes the hatred of people of different ethnic groups for other groups. I think we need to go deeper and broader in how we approach this or we will just address the problem de jour.

Too often such events lead to the comparing of grievances which leaves us more estranged from one another. We use them to justify our actions toward other groups of people. It would be a great day if comparing our scars drew us together as it did Hooper and Quint in Jaws. We all know these actions are wrong- we need a way forward. The Law doesn’t give us the way forward, only the gospel does.

Overture 47 from Chesapeake Presbytery concerns a study committee on Critical Race Theory. Many in the PCA have been embracing CRT, and others have been denouncing it as committing the same sins of favoritism and prejudice that lead to our racial problems in the first place. I have relationships in which disagreement on CRT has created walls. It is so hard to talk about this because rejection or acceptance of CRT is met with equal measures of suspicion. At times assumptions are unfairly made which shut down discussion.

I’m not sure a study committee is the right way to go. Perhaps a debate at next year’s GA would be a better route. It could be preceded by a short tutorial on what CRT is by an advocate. Perhaps this takes place in addition to a balanced study committee that summarizes CRT in a way that advocates affirm. Let us learn from the Federal Vision Study Committee that many questioned in terms of content and tone so we don’t make similar mistakes.

This is an issue that isn’t just “out there” but also within our denomination. We need to address it, somehow, so we don’t bite and devour one another. But fairly, accurately.

After his twelve questions, Thaddeus Williams wraps up Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth with a epilogue and a series of short appendices addressing particular issues. After considering those, I will give my final thoughts on this book.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

Epilogue: 12 Differences

  1. While Social Justice A recognizes God as sovereign and the person who defines justice and injustice, Social Justice B “erases the Creator-creature distinction” and embraces the “false gods of self, state and social acceptance.”
  2. While Social Justice A recognizes unity in our shared guilt in Adam, Christians are united in our new identity in Christ regardless of our “tongue, tribe, and nation”, focusing on reconciliation, Social Justice B breaks people up into identity groups, pitting them against one another for a new form of tribal warfare.
  3. While Social Justice A offers us the fruit of the Spirit which unites people in love, peace, patience, kindness etc., Social Justice B “generates a spirit of mutual suspicion, hostility, fear, labeling, and resentment.”
  4. While Social Justice A “champions a love that is not easily offended”, Social Justice B encourages people to quickly take offense.
  5. While Social Justice A recognize we are sinners individually, we also create sinful systems so both need to be addresses properly by getting at the root with the Gospel, Social Justice B blames oppression on systems such that all disparity is evidence of discrimination and must be resolve with activism, not faith and repentance.
  6. While Social Justice A upholds universal guilt in Adam which can only be addressed in Christ and condemns people for sin rather than their ethnicity, gender or class, Social Justice Be imputes guilt based on one’s skin color, group identity which is resolved by renouncing privilege and joining the mission to end oppression under the authority of the oppressed.
  7. While Social Justice A confronts us with the reality that apart from Christ our good works are like filthy rags, Social Justice B encourages self-righteousness on the basis of group identity.
  8. While Social Justice A calls us to love God and our neighbor and sees injustice as a result of not loving God and neighbor, Social Justice B interprets “all truth, reason, and logic as mere constructs of the oppressive class” so a person’s viewpoint is easily dismissed if they don’t have the right skin color, gender or class.
  9. While Social Justice A teaches that God has defined our purpose and goal, and that when we deviate from that we bring oppression to self and others, Social Justice B teaches that we create our own purpose and goal and anyone who challenges those self-defined goals is an oppressor.
  10. While Social Justice A views men and women as complementary and the marriage of one man and one woman as the proper life-giving setting for human sexual expression and human flourishing, while Social Justice B sees “heteronormative” distinctions as oppressive and seeks to liberate people from any sexual and gender limitations.
  11. While Social Justice A sees all people, including the unborn, as image bearers and calls us to protect the “least of these” from the abortion culture, Social Justice B celebrates abortion as female liberation from the oppression of men and excludes the unborn from the concerns of injustice.
  12. While Social Justice A celebrates the family and views it as a “God-ordained signpost of Jesus and his relationship to the church”, Social Justice B views the family as unjust, oppressive and something to be undermined and abolished.

A concern for justice does not mean one adheres to Social Justice B. When we do engage those who do, we need to herald the gospel as foundational to seeking justice. We need to show them the beauty of reconciliation, grace and God-ordained limitations.

“The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time; so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.” T.S. Eliot

Abortion and the Right to Life

In keeping with the pattern established in the bulk of the book, Williams provides answers to the common arguments of Social Justice B, showing they are often based on bad facts and/or bad logic. It all ultimately boils down to the identity of life in the womb. Is it a person or not? A human being? If so we should reject abortion on demand. If not, then who cares.

Black and White

Truth matters to Christians, and words have meaning. Social Justice B has been redefining terms in their favor. Tolerance has been redefined as agreement. Intolerance has been redefined as disagreement. Of course these are only applied to the other person, not yourself. Marriage has been redefined with regard to the participants, time frame, number of people involved etc. Bigot has been redefined to mean anyone who challenges the views of Social Justice B regarding family, sex, gender and race.

Racism has been redefined as well. Power has been added to prejudice. From the oppressed perspective, power is what matters rather than the prejudice that God considers sinful. Williams argues the absurdity of this argument. Was Hitler, for instance, only a racist when he had power and not while writing Mein Kampf in prison? Is the KKK still racist since they have little to no social power anymore? Can a black president, vice president or mayor be racist? While Williams asks (rhetorical) questions he wants us to see that this new definition generates false conclusions, that we are no longer talking about the same reality, that is blurs the meaning of power and most importantly obscures the gospel.

Capitalism and Socialism

The younger generations are very concerned about real and perceived injustice. They are very vulnerable to the allure of socialism. They want knowledge now, and solutions now. They are impatient, as young people are prone to be (exaggerated by living in the microwave society and high speed internet). Williams addresses 5 problems with socialism. First it replaces the joy of generosity with governmental requirement through taxation. It thinks its way to help the poor is the only way to help the poor. It also overlooks the complexity of life and offers simple solutions that create unintended consequences of greater harm. Socialism reduces us to “homo economicus” and elevated the state to God. Socialism’s rejection of God sacrifices a transcendent moral reference point necessary to assess our powers and limits.

Defining Sexuality

The Roman culture in which the Church began was saturated with sexual oppression, and avoided the sick and dying in times of plague. The Church was known for their sexual ethic of marital faithfulness, and cared for the sick and dying regardless of their faith. They took in the abandoned children discarded by the Romans. Williams laments that today all that has changed. We withdraw from the sick and dying instead of caring for them. We fled from AIDS, and the homosexual community remembers. This makes the discussions of sexuality difficult.

Williams then brings in the 6-phase agenda presented by Kirk and Madsen in After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s. They used the anti-discrimination theme to gain support. Williams offers 6 questions reflecting his 12 questions in response.

Ending the Culture War

He then addresses the question of how the Church relates to the nonchurch. We tend to use the language of warfare. Many have embraced the culture war. But are we fighting the right enemy?

Paul told the Ephesians that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood. We aren’t fighting people. They are pawns of the powers and principalities. This should affect how we approach the nonchurch. He discusses the devil, the flesh and world (which in Revelation is connected to the Beast). We are not hermits who’ve withdrawn from the world but aliens and strangers living in the world but not embracing its sinful practices and unbelief. We are called to love our enemies and bless those who curse us, not curse them in return. Our mission is to be ministers of reconciliation, not steamrolling those who disagree with us.

“We refuse to become slaves, victims, friends, or lovers of an oppressive system in which greedy consumption, radical self-glorification, and constant pleasure-center brain stimulation are hailed as virtues.”

Fragility and Antifragility

He begins this appendix in confusing fashion. It is true that if you don’t understand the nature of something than you will end up harming it. The confusing part is his reference via Jonathan Haidt of peanut allergies. It required explanation and clarification.

But he gets into Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Muscles, unlike glass, are antifragile. When you break them down through exercise they become stronger. The question is: is the human spirit fragile or antifragile? Social Justice B treats us a fragile. God, on the other hand, uses suffering to build character. This is not to excuse the injustices of others, but to recognize that God is at work even in those injustices and works good from them for his people (see Joseph).

Good News to the Poor

Jesus reading from the Isaiah scroll is a key passage for Social Justice B (and prosperity gospel charlatans). Jesus does come to bring justice. But it confuses the good news with justice. A truncated gospel doesn’t consider justice, but when social justice is claimed to be the gospel it is false gospel that doesn’t actually save anyone. The good news is about Jesus, the bleeding, dying Savior raised from the dead and ascended to heaven to reign and rule at the Father’s right, who has purchased a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. Those people will begin to act justly. Jesus called His disciples to pick up their cross daily and follow Him, not to reform the unjust systems.

Final Assessment

I’ve been sitting on this for about a week. Letting it percolate in my brain.

I loved this book!

It is great as far as it goes. He does not really explain how we pursue Social Justice A. It is really a critique of Social Justice B which is very popular in our society, and increasingly popular among Christians. Some think CRT, for example, is compatible with Christianity. I can’t really see how since it fundamentally misunderstands humanity, sin and sinners. I have friends to agree with it, I think because it provides a theory for systemic sin (they mention this as the contribution). But it argues on the basis of identity group, tribes, which is contrary to Scripture. And its solution(s) are anti-gospel. That is really the benefit of this book, being able to process and understand claims and compare them with a more solidly biblical view.

The danger of Social Justice B thinking is made manifest for me in Paint the Wall Black: the Story of Nini’s Deli. I don’t agree with everything the pastor says about the Covid crisis. But we see how the ideology of the mob destroyed the minority-owned business because the owner said “All lives matter because all lives are made in the image of God.” His refusal to bow to BLM (since they reject the nuclear family and support sexual minorities as among the oppressed) led to woke sponsors revoking their deals, death threats and the destruction of a business that have positively contributed to its community because it didn’t toe the ideological line. That version of social justice is unjust.

I believe Thaddeous Williams does the church a good service in writing this book. He interacts with a number of Social Justice B authors (including former PCA pastor Jemar Tisby). He’s not trying to paint charactitures or build straw men. This is well-researched. It just doesn’t do the positive work of how to implement Social Justice A to the problems of our day. Perhaps there is another to follow that will.

I’d recommend this to those with whom I disagree. Here’s the rub, often proponents tend to dismiss alternative theories (as Williams notes) and sometimes take offense. This is a hard discussion to have because of the walls that can be erected (on both sides). Perhaps in asking his questions, we can listen and learn both where they are right and where they deviate from God’s standard. Maybe, just maybe, they will hear themselves and think “Did I really just say that?”

With the 2020 PCA General Assembly canceled due to the pandemic, this year’s Assembly has extra work and important work. There is also controversial work to be done.

As officers, we vowed to study the peace, purity and prosperity of the Church. I trust that the people who wrote these overtures (requests for action) and approved them are seeking the peace, purity and prosperity of the Church. Sometimes we can disagree on the best way to do this.

I want the PCA to be doctrinally sound (I think most of us do), winsome in approach such that we are speaking the truth in love to our members, and to our unbelieving family, friends and neighbors. We should distinguish between issues of justification and issues of sanctification. In our interaction (including mine) there should be words seasoned with grace and the pursuit of clarity. Part of the problem has been the lack of clarity in our thinking, and therefore in our words. I think my thinking on these issues has become increasing clear in the last few years. Some may disagree on that point

Requests To Transfer Original Jurisdiction

Three overtures address the investigation of TE Greg Johnson. These presbyteries believe that Missouri Presbytery (MP) did not adequately fulfill their responsibilities in their investigation. As a result they want jurisdiction to be transferred to the Standing Judicial Commission in the hopes of greater resolution.

Overture 2 from Central Georgia Presbytery (CGP) says that TE Johnson teaches that “Christians can be identified as homosexuals, and that those who experience same-sex temptations are not normally delivered from these.” I want to separate these from “not normally changed in nature by the Lord”. The first two accusations they list are questionable. They may take Johnson’s statements to mean more than they do. His meaning should be clarified at points. That is the work of an investigative committee, not a judicial commission.

As one who struggles with SSA, TE Johnson has not been delivered from his attractions and temptations. He has stated that Revoice was born out of the failure of Exodus International to see such deliverance on a regular basis (Harvest USA recognizes many will continue to experience SSA). He seems to be arguing from his personal experience as well as discussions with numerous people. Since our many temptations don’t cease upon conversion, it seems likely to me that many don’t experience deliverance. Some may experience sufficient deliverance to marry a person of the opposite sex, but not all. My wild guess has to do with the roots of a particular person’s homosexual desires. If they are born of abuse or experimentation (which interacts with a sinful heart) they are far more likely to experience “deliverance”. Had they always experienced these desires, they would seem to be less likely to experience such deliverance.

Many prominent Christians who came out of the gay lifestyle, including Rosaria Butterfield, Becket Cook and Christopher Yuan, continue to experience such desires and temptations flowing from their corruption as part of original sin. This gets to the third accusation. Thomas Boston, in Human Nature in Its Four-Fold State, speaks of regeneration being total but not yet complete. Like our depravity it affects every part of us but is not complete. We are not as bad as we could be. Likewise, in regeneration every aspect is affected but we are not as good as we’d like to be.

In terms of “identification”, which will come up in a different series of Overtures, one should ask what TE Johnson means when he says he’s a gay or homosexual Christian. Since he and others involved in Revoice (it is by no means monolithic, however and there are serious issues with the whole) use the term to set themselves apart from “ex-gay” ministries and in a way described in Washed and Waiting (see pp. 22) to mean “Christ is my identity and homosexuality is my struggle” the allegation may be a big misunderstanding. So, I’m not convinced that he’s saying what they think he’s saying. Do you get what I’m saying? Sadly we’ve been talking about this for 3 years and don’t seem to have a clear picture. Are we asking the right questions?

They additionally say the Session of Memorial Presbyterian Church “promoted Revoice 2018”. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics. They did host it, but I’m not sure if they actively promoted it. They were admonished, I believe, by MP.

In terms of CGP’s use of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 they are reading identity back into the passage. The passage is about those who do certain things, not those who claim identities. These notions of identity arose with psychology in the mid-19th century. The liar is one known for lying. He doesn’t claim an identity as a liar. This text deals with people known for certain sins, not people who introduce themselves as “Hi, I’m a fornicator.” Like someone in a support group, one may confess their struggle. Hopefully that isn’t their identity, their defining quality.

I affirm WCF 13:1 with them, but they don’t reflect 13:3 which speaks of “remaining corruption” which for a time “may much prevail” and speaks of the “regenerate part” which eventually overcomes the apparently not-fully-regenerate part. Thomas Boston, in holding these together, is a wise guide for us (as does Owen among others). In other words, we must mention portions of the Confession that may not support our view point lest we be unbalanced (contra-confessional) in our arguments. We need the whole of the truth, not just part of the truth to rightly assess these matters.

Overture 4 from Savannah River Presbytery (SRP) focused on the results of the MP investigation. TE Johnson and others requested an investigation regarding his involvement in Revoice and teaching on this subject. They note that while acknowledging error on the part of Memorial Presbyterian Church, there was no formal action. They were essentially rebuked. This is within the rights of the presbytery. SRP notes that many of the allegations remain unaddressed.

Overture 25 from SE Alabama (SEAL) is much longer and includes a number of attachments. They allege that “TE Johnson conflates our confessional categories of sin and misery in a way that contradicts our confession by teaching that homosexual or “gay” orientation is non-sinful yet due to the Fall;… conflates our confessional categories of the state of sin and the state of grace in a way that contradicts our confession by teaching that it is acceptable to identify as a “gay” or homosexual Christian.” The attachments cover this ground extensively, and dare I say repetitively.

Sin (original and actual) brings misery. Homosexual attraction and desires are produced by original sin. Those desires can produce misery, particularly in the regenerate person who wants to be holy and yet suffers from unwanted homosexual desires and temptations as well as the shame associated with them. Homosexual lust and activity are actual sins (transgressions) and bring the misery of guilt, shame, broken relationships and more. I don’t find that SEAL distinguishes these very well in their documents. They fail to recognize that at times he’s likely referring to actual sin, such as in the Cross Politic interview (he says “a sin” implying he’s discussing transgression or actual sin rather than the corruption of original sin). On the spot, we aren’t always as clear as we could or should be. I’ve taken him to refer to sin actual not original in that interview which often got a bit heated.

“Homosexuality is a term that is never used in Scripture to refer to our broken, fallen biology or sociology or any other non-sinful aspect of our condition…”. Well, homosexual and homosexuality were not used until coined in Germany in 1845. It is a psychological term, not a biblical term. So we can’t make the use of it they do. Or shouldn’t. In this paragraph they continue to use the term sin without distinction, possibly conflating sin original and actual.

They similarly read the idea of identity back into texts. Some practiced those sins. Much focus is put on Paul’s past practice of sin. How are we to consider these texts?

15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1 (this is intended to be a saying we can all say)

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7

Here we see that Paul uses language about his present experience as one in Christ who struggles with sin. As children of the Reformation we confess we are at the same time just and sinner. This doesn’t mean we find our identity in our sin but are honest about the realities of sin original and actual. Yes, we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin (Rom. 6:11) as SEAL notes. This doesn’t mean living in a fantasy land, as they admit in mentioning our remaining corruption. They seem, however, to minimize its power. We are Confessionally Reformed and therefore not perfectionistic in any way. We aren’t Wesleyan or Keswick in how we understand sanctification. TE Johnson is making an honest statement about his on-going attractions. A justified man can experience SSA. Sanctification addresses our obedience and renewal in the image of God but is incomplete in this life. Some experience more progress in their sanctification than others regarding particular sins.

It is interesting to me that after Jesus casts the Legion of demons out of the man who lived in the tombs by Gerasenes (Mk. 5) he is still called “the demon-possessed man”. Twice. He was not the man formerly known as demon-possessed, the ex-demon-possessed man or even by his name. He was still “identified” as the demon-possessed man.

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I’m glad that they “agree it is good to be known in one’s weakness and to not have to live secretively within the body of Christ.” Yet when we prosecute those who are honest about weakness and temptations, people live secretively (discipline is important to address transgressions with an eye toward restoration). I’ve known too many people who hide their SSA instead of coming to seek help in sanctification. They were dismayed when conversion didn’t take desires away. Sadly, with no one standing beside them they have fallen into special sin (WCF, 18.4) from which I hope and pray they are restored.

So much for the theological discussion of these overtures.

I’m still not sure how I will vote for these. I have no sense of injustice regarding the actions of MP. It is possible I have misunderstood TE Johnson’s statements. I wish there was an easy way to clarify the issues instead of debating these issues to death on the floor. I’m assuming MP did due diligence in their investigation and weren’t swayed by favoritism. As a result, I’m likely to vote ‘no’ unless there is a compelling reason not expressed in these overtures. While I share their general concerns, I’m not convinced TE Johnson teaches what they say he teaches. I confess I have not read every thread he’s been in, but I’ve seen plenty of them.

Amending BCO 7, 21 & 24

There are a number of overtures that seek to amend BCO-7, 21 and 24 to prohibit men who identify as homosexual from being ordained in our denomination.

The Study Report, which will be discussed at length at GA, notes that those with SSA who display Christian maturity and are not acting on their attractions may be ordained. This, I know, will be controversial. Some think that SSA alone disqualifies a man from ordained ministry since the desire is “unnatural”.

Overture 16 from Westminster Presbytery begins by affirming a biblical view of marriage and sexuality as well as the sinfulness (original and actual) of homosexuality without distinguishing original and actual. In referring to the qualifications for office they mention “husband of one wife” without explanation aside from the implication that this seems to disqualify a man. It is hard for me not to wonder if they think I was improperly ordained as a single (straight) man. I know of congregations (often independent churches) that do make marriage a requirement for office. I’m not sure if this is the intention or not. Yes “officers and candidates for office must conform their lives to Biblical sexual ethics.” Men experiencing SSA must conform their lives by putting the desires of the flesh (sin original) to death lest there be actual sins of lust or practice. They must not pursue sexual relationships outside the bounds of marriage, nor romantic relationships with a person of the same sex.

Another confusing aspect is the action requested is “Amend … to Disqualify Same-Sex Attracted Men from Ordination” but the focus of the body is those who “identify as homosexual. The quote from the Nashville Statement speaks not of attractions but a “self-conception” or identity. There is no internal agreement in their document.

The issue returns to what a man means when he says “the words”. We seem to be treating it like a shibboleth. Like the Knights-who-till-recently-said-“Ni” we recoil reflexively at this combination of words rather than seek to understand what is meant and then act accordingly. We seem to be making a superficial, rather than a right, judgment.

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Words are tricky things. You can use the same word as someone else and be talking about a completely different thing. Try to talk about salvation with a Roman Catholic and you’ll find the same words used but very differently. This was the problem with Evangelicals and Catholics Together in the 1990’s. Both sides used the word “justification” but were so different in their use that you thought “we aren’t together”. Here in AZ I interact with Mormons and they talk about “grace”. Their conception is more like that of the Pharisees: it fills in the cracks of your obedience like ice cream fills the cracks in your tummy after dinner. They use it as merited by “covenant faithfulness” rather than the being the foundation of covenant faithfulness as one is progressively sanctified.

I am more concerned about the concepts, the ideas involved, than the words used. We do need to reject the idea of a person embracing homosexuality who professes to be a Christian as though they are compatible. But when we focus on phrases, we can miss someone’s meaning and put concepts in their mouths that they don’t actually embrace. That is not fair, just and loving. It would be appropriate to not permit those who embrace homosexuality as compatible with Christianity.

Overture 23 from Gulf Coast Presbytery is nearly identical. They add a reference to the 5th Assembly which states “a practicing homosexual continuing in this sin would not be a fit candidate for ordination or membership in the Presbyterian Church in America.” I don’t think anything has changed, nor should. They ask for greater clarity regarding those who “claim not to be committing homosexual acts, but who identify as “gay Christian” or “same-sex attracted Christian.” I admit I may be reading too much into this, but “claim” reads as if they don’t believe that a person can be celibate.

Overture 30 from Lowcountry Presbytery seeks to amend BCO 21 and 24 instead. They are presenting this in light of the Study Report on Human Sexuality. They focus on the candidate’s character and the lack of reference or clarification in the BCO.

Can I express frustration? As they note it is found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Do we really need to put it in the BCO when it is in Scripture? Can’t we just cite the text?

We also seem to have some different interpretations of “beyond reproach”. Some read that as not being known in the community for committing sins. Others read that as not experiencing, or admitting to particular temptations. Yes, sexual immorality is worth noting.

Yes, as noted above, “Christians should expect to experience progress in the Christian life (WLC 75; WSC 35) as a work of grace by the Holy Spirit.” The question is ,what is meant by progress? How much should we expect or how should we measure it? In addition to “progress” the Confession is balanced, which we seem to not be. Notice what the Confession also says:

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. WCF 13

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. WCF 13

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. WCF 17

4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. WCF 18

The Confession does not say these things only happen to immature Christians. They can happen to any Christian which means we must be vigilant. We must continue to make use of the means of grace (neglect of which being one of the causes of loss of assurance). That is a proper subject of inquiry as part of one’s Christian experience.

Yes, I agree maturing Christians are “battling of all sinful passions and desires that remain.” That is not limited to SSA but all manner of such sinful passions.

I agree with the additions are worthy of inquiry for candidates for ministry and transfer, I’m just not sure about “codefying” it. Our Presbytery asks about pornography, masturbation, SSA, and debt. We meet with wives to discuss the marriage as well. Nothing prevents any Presbytery from doing so. It is wise to do so. I’m not sure we need to amend the BCO, again (and again, and again). Are we not able to utilize common sense? Do we need the BCO to give us permission to do anything?

Overture 37 from Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery also wants to amend BCO 21 and 24 for the same reasons. In their rationale they get back to identity and self-conception. They reference some important passages. We should see ourselves as the new man in Christ, not the old man in Adam. But Paul was also very honest about struggles with sin, particularly in Romans 7 which I quoted above. Paul had a reason to speak this way to his audience. There may be times a pastor speaks in similar fashion to his audience. It shouldn’t be a common or regular fashion.

I have found that people pay lip service to their pastor as sinner. They don’t want to know that he is an actual sinner, just a theoretical sinner. Pastors are big sinners even if we don’t see big sins (which is what is meant by beyond reproach and blameless). The point is that pastors are to be repenting sinners who mortify sin. We are not theoretical sinners beyond temptation.

Ministry is not simply being clear about sin but also being clear about the gospel to sinners. It is applying the gospel to justification and sanctification in the messy realities of life. That includes candidates for ministry.

I am much more comfortable with the recommended changes to 21 & 24 than I am with the recommended changes to 7. The former focus on temptations and sinful struggles, the latter the elusive category of “identity”. My concern lies with how that will be applied. Will we be brothers coming alongside or the Inquisition? That will surely differ by Presbytery. This is part of what we don’t always realize when we request such actions: not everyone will apply this like I would.

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We are pastors and elders, and one would hope that we would have pastoral concerns in such inquiries. Too many of us can relate stories when Presbyteries haven’t been quite so … pastoral. The issue in sanctification hinges on repentance. It can hinge on the occasional vs. the habitual. Inquiry should uncover these matters. The BCO doesn’t have such nuance and codifying it can quickly lead to legalistic application- the letter rather than the spirit of the BCO.

I will likely vote ‘no’, not because I am against inquiring (I greatly encourage it) but in anticipation of how this can be misused- the unintended consequences of good ideas that meet sinful hearts. I think we should anticipate the drift or slippery slope of legalism just as much as the slippery slope of license. I’m content with Scripture (and that sounds really pious, doesn’t it?).

The fourth and final part of Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams focuses on the question of Truth of Tribes Thinking?. This larger question will be examined through three other questions about Social Justice and Knowledge. He’s already looked at Social Justice and God, Community and Salvation.

If you haven’t been following along Williams is seeking to differentiate Social Justice A (biblical justice) from Social Justice B (what can often be called Social Justice Warriors). He affirms the biblical call to act justly, and submits to the biblical bounds of justice. He asserts that when we seek justice without reference AND submission to God we are really following a different religion. Not as frequently asserted is that the failure to seek justice is also a different, unbiblical religion.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

Part 4 gets to the question of “epistemology”. For those not philosophically inclined, that is our mental operating system. It is the process of sorting truth from lies among the data of life. Just as R.C. Sproul said everyone is a theologian, everyone has an epistemology. A good operating system allows for the efficient and accurate processing of data. A bad one has bugs that make it inefficient (oh, the circle of death) and/or inaccurate. Some operating systems are better than others.

How to Stop the Spinning Wheel on Your Mac
No one wants to see this on their Mac

The goal of the operating system for the Christian is to love God and neighbor well. Bad, buggy operating systems hinder love for God and/or neighbor. In this context he addresses Tribes Thinking. This is a way of thinking that breaks reality down into the narrative of one group oppressing another group or groups. Failing to recognize the oppression you sleepwalk through life. But when you see it, you are woke.

In the very campy John Carpenter movie They Live, the main character played by wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper becomes aware that humanity is oppressed by aliens among us. Reality is only known by wearing a particular set of glasses which reveals if one is an alien and the subliminal messages. He then tries to free unwitting humanity from the aliens. He is an example of being woke, while everyone else was sleepwalking through life. This was a metaphor of social conditioning and an oppressive state and corporate culture filled with the subliminal messages to “obey” and “buy”.

They Live
They Live, and he is woke.

Williams turns “tribes” into an acronym: Beware the Theocrats (usually right-wing Christians), Racists, Islamophobes, Bigots (the heteronormative crowd), Exploiters and Sexists.

He recognizes they get some things right. There is a real insight before it goes too far. There are many examples of these groups discriminating against others. There are those who dehumanize others on the basis of their skin color, religion, sexuality or gender. There is injustice! Tribes thinking is right in this respect. Our operating system is not functioning properly if we don’t recognize there is injustice, sexism, bigotry, and racism in our world and our country.

The Tunnel Vision Question: Does our vision of social justice make one way of seeing something the only way of seeing something?

Operating systems crash when they see the world in only one way. Data is silenced or amplified based on that one way. Family is good, but when it comes THE good you become like Michael Corleone committing all manner of crimes to protect the family. You ostracize those members of the family who don’t do what you think is best. (Fredo, you are nothing to me.)

The Godfather

As sinners, we tend to turn a bit of data into a total world view or way of knowing anything. We are people who need and enjoy stories. We need a story to make sense of the world. Christianity, I believe, is the one TRUE Story that makes sense of the world. It is the whole elephant, while other stories only grasp part of the elephant while claiming to know the whole elephant.

“When oppression- a true insight into some things– becomes the way of seeing most things or all things, then our story of the world ceases to be a grand story.”

Income inequality, for instance, becomes all about oppression. Differences in skills, gifts, determination, choices and personality are not factored into the equation of inequality even though they exert influence in the unequal outcomes. But to question oppression as the sole or primary factor is seen with siding with the oppressors, ending any meaningful discussion and, often in these day of cancel culture, the relationship.

Williams discusses “concept creep” by which “a concept expands outward in all directions until the entire tub is clouded” by the ink (representing the concept). It taints the whole. Ideological projections can frequently mask the real problem. The more you rely on one factor, the more you obscure truth and leave people broken. Put another way, it sees oppression everywhere. It puts oppression onto one group of actors and but also fails to see it in others.

“The extent to which Tribes thinking predetermines answers to hard questions is the extent to which it obscures truth and unintentionally leaves more people broken.”

This not simply about what might also cause inequality. It is also about missing what actually is. People see inequality and think there has been no progress in addressing injustice. Absolutism reigns these days. One focuses no the bad events in history and denies the advances ever took place or that they have much meaning. We miss the contributions to society by the oppressor groups.

Let’s play a game that Williams doesn’t. There was a movie in 2004, A Day Without a Mexican, which sought to show the importance of Mexicans in America by indicating all they contribute (which is quite a bit) if it was removed. Play that game with white people. Erase democratic republics, contributions to science and technology (planes, trains and automobiles; medicines developed in Western countries), erase the industrial revolution. But you must also replace the widespread, legal slavery that was present in non-white cultures, the diseases eliminated or managed. Do this with Christianity. Erase the educational and medical institutions founded by Christians including all of the Ivy League school, most hospitals, homeless shelters and ministries to the poor. Replace slavery, again. For all the wrong done by these tribes, there is also much good. Such is the way of life in a fallen world. Actions, not tribes, must be examined to see if they are just or wicked.

A Day Without a Mexican Poster

Tribes thinking, by locating evil in one or two groups, keeps us from seeing the oppression committed by other groups, especially those viewed as oppressed. We fail to see the lies, injustice and ugliness committed by members of particular tribes because they aren’t part of an oppressor tribe.

Williams illustrates this with a personal experience. He was labeled an oppressor for his interaction with a pro-abortion student online. He brought other data to the discussion, that points to the injustice of the pro-abortion movement which claims to be rectifying injustice. Over 50% of women felt pressured to choose an abortion, over 75% felt guilt. More to the point sex-selective abortion (injustice against women) is common in China AND the United States. In many American cities more black babies are aborted than born (injustice against black image bearers).

Social Justice B gives a pass to the injustice perpetuated against women and children in the pornography industry. It ignores the injustice of persecution against Christians in many countries especially China which also persecutes the Uygurs including enslavement to make produces sold for the benefit of Social Justice B athletes who lecture us about our real problems which seem a drop in the bucket compared to what China is doing. Social Justice B turns a blind eye to the millions who suffered (and still suffer) under the socialist and communist regimes they advocate to solve our inequalities.

Xinjiang internment camps - Wikipedia
Internment Camp

“Christians should be known less as culture warriors and more as Good Samaritans who stop for battered neighbors, whether they are black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, capitalist, socialist, Republican, Democrat, near, far, tall, short, or smaller than a peanut.”

The most important thing that Social Justice B leaves out is the gospel. It seeks to change behavior or eliminate the bad tribe. The gospel, on the other hand, seeks to change the heart of the person from oppressor to one who loves mercy, acts justly and walks humbly with God. The gospel isn’t about revolution but reconciliation. Many millennials now think it is wrong to evangelize because you force your religious views on others, but joyfully force their ethical and moral views on others who are not as progressive. As a Christian, the gospel is the foundational element to pursuing justice. As John Perkins says, love is the final fight, and we fight it in pursuing reconciliation on the basis of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ upon the cross to create a new humanity that worships the one, true God.

The Suffering Question: Does our vision of social justice turn the “lived experience” of hurting people into more pain?

In discussions of epistemology there is always the question of authority. In Social Justice A that authority is the Scriptures. It challenges me, encourages me, provides me with hope for the future in the midst of a bleak present.

In Social Justice B, people are encouraged to make their “lived experiences” authoritative. One’s lived experiences must not be questioned by others, nor should the interpretations that one makes on the basis of those experiences. These experiences are the basis for tearing down and then rebuilding society.

Listening is a good thing. We are to be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1). But we don’t listen uncritically, and we realize there is often another side to any story. We also shouldn’t be selective in our stories: meaning only those that fit our narrative. We can benefit from the lived experiences of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Anne Frank and Solomon Northup, among others. God listens to the cries of the oppressed, and as His people we should too.

What happens when we make them authoritative rather than illustrative? Williams discusses phobias. In arachnophobia all spiders are dangerous and want to kill you. The phobia is born of over-generalization. To be free of the phobia one generally unlearns the generalization through systematic desensitization. On doesn’t learn that no spiders are dangerous, but one learns to identify the dangerous ones like a black widow to distinguish them from helpful spider that are no danger to you, like a daddy longlegs.

James Wan Is Producing an 'Arachnophobia' Remake

Tribes thinking encourages over-generalization. Future actions are seen in light of these generalizations which confirm them even if they shouldn’t. A negative comment to a woman is not necessarily sexist. It may be the result of her poor performance on a project that cost the company business. But when we over-generalize it confirms our suspicions.

“We … saw insidious oppression and exploitation in all social relationship, stifling our ability to relate to others or ourselves without cynicism. Activists anxiously pour over interactions, looking for ways in which the mundane conceals domination. To see every interaction as containing hidden violence is to become a permanent victim, because if all you are is a nail, everything looks like a hammer.” Conor Barnes

Tribes thinking leads one to be “oppressi-phobic” by reducing your identity to that of a victim. Thoughtless comments are given unintended meeting. Brains are trained to see oppression everywhere. Williams notes, importantly, that people on the right can play the same game and living perpetual fear of secularists, Marxists, evolutionists, immigrants, the gay agenda and so on. This is not a liberal thing.

Tribes thinking is also obsessed with being “on the right side of history” (public opinion). Quick to virtue signal, the concern for truth diminishes into irrelevance. Feelings aren’t facts, and shouldn’t be the reason we act. There needs to be greater concern with objective reality than perceptions of reality. We should want real justice, not the knee jerk “justice” of a mob mentality. Jonathan Haidt laments the shift from “Truth University” to “Social Justice University” which exists to overthrow those in power and change the world. College should teach you how to think and learn, not simply be an activist.

Social Justice at Southern: an Alumni Magazine Recap – News at Southern

Williams brings us to Chile in the 1970’s. Socialist Salvador Allende ran for president appealing to those wanting justice. Many church leaders supported him, citing the teachings of Jesus. The focus was on the “lived experiences” of the poor (all kinds of politicians do this to make things personal) but to question the frequency of that experience is to be lumped with the capitalist oppressors. After Allende won, inflation sky rockets, his socialist policies of land reform drove poverty rates up. As the situation grew worse than under the “capitalist oppressors” protests and strife grew.

NPR focuses on these “lived experiences” of the downtrodden. Conservatives can focus on the “lived experiences”, for example of those whose loved one were killed by undocumented immigrants. In both cases, the pain of people is exploited to focus on a set of facts instead of all the facts so policy is wise rather than deepening and spreading the suffering of others.

The Standpoint Question: Does our vision of social justice turn the quest for truth into an identity game?

One problem with tribes thinking is that it turns the views of Social Justice B “unfalsifiable”. This means that no amount of logic, experience, evidence or even Scripture can change one’s thinking. It is similar to a man under the power of a delusion. You can’t talk him out of the delusion and everything becomes incorporated into the delusion.

Tribes thinking, Williams asserts, includes programmed responses to protect the core beliefs from any views that threaten to crash the system. Men can’t talk about abortion. White people can’t speak credibly on race. The game goes on. Your arguments about racism show that you are in the grips of white supremacy (or if you are a black person you have been colonized).

A meritocracy of arguments has been replaced by appeal to one’s skin color, gender, sexual orientation to automatically grant or deny you a voice or authority. This is a form of ad hominem argument which allows people to not actually think. It assumes bad motives for those in the oppressor groups, erasing the Creator-creature distinction. Logic is now viewed as a mark of “whiteness”. Asking for evidence is another micro-aggression. The focus becomes on external identity markers, not evidence or logical arguments. Discounting someone’s arguments because of their race is racist, their gender is sexist, or their orientation is bigoted.

“If the law of justice are like the laws of nature, if justice is a real thing and not an imaginary construct, then we should expect statements about justice to be true regardless of the color, gender, or social status of those who articulate them.”

Oddly, Williams points out, Social Justice B sounds remarkably like the ideas of old, dead white men: Marx, Rousseau, Marcuse, Reich, Alinsky, Foucault and Derrida.

Tribe members are granted automatic authority. For instance, it is common to now say that “God is on the side of the poor” which is a bit of an overstatement. He hears the cries of the oppressed, indeed. But not all those who are poor are poor due to oppression. In terms of justice, Israel was told not to rule in favor of the rich, or the poor. Justice looks at reality, not simply social status.

Here is one of the Williams’ few missteps. He quotes philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff positively: “God’s love for justice is grounded in his love for the victims of injustice.” Nope. “God is just”. It is an attribute of God. He loves justice because He loves Himself. Secondarily He loves His creation. But the focus is on loving justice.

Without God and the Scriptures it is ultimately impossible to have a moral framework by which to judge the lived experiences of others. We find ourselves unable to verify or falsify an argument.

So we come to the end of the 4th section of the book. Soon I will wrap up the book and the appendices.

In 1984, George Orwell writes about the effect of Ingsoc (English Socialism) on Oceania. Orwell himself favored socialism, but the kind of which he writes is totalitarian, not “democratic” in nature. If the Party were honest, it would be Ingcom, communism, instead.

Life in Oceania is very different from the way life was before. This is no more clear than when one thinks about sex, marriage and kids.

When we first see Julia, she is wearing an Anti-Sex League sash around her waist, drawing the ire of Winston. He wanted her, but this indicated he never could. He fantasized of assaulting her. He was a miserable, angry man needing to drive it deeper and deeper lest the Party know. Imagine his surprise when she slips him a note with three words: I love you.

George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1948) | Picnic Wit
A Countryside Rendezvous

In Oceania, sex has been denigrated and made dirty. Her sash says it all. The proletariat, uneducated and dirty, are amused and distracted by sex. For a time Julia worked producing cheap pornography built on six basic plots. These books were sold to the proletariat. We aren’t told this but the implication is that they are encouraged to breed like rats to produce soldiers for the military which is always at war.

But for the Party, sex is discouraged. One’s energy is reserved for the Party. It is also about controlling the loyalty of Party members. “It’s real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. … Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema.”

Here we learn that Winston was married, still, though he had not seen his wife in years. Marriage between Party members had to be approved. If you seemed to like each other, it was not. Children, to be produced for the benefit of the Party (future administrators for the apparatus) were conceived artificially. They were brought up by the institutions, with minds shaped for Party loyalty. They were turned into spies, agents of the State to identify those guilty of Thought Crime or Face Crime. Yes, the wrong facial expression was considered a crime.

“The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations.”

Katherine, Winston’s wife, recoiled at sex. She didn’t resist but she would wince and stiffen. No romance. No enjoyment or delight. She was a good Party member.

Julia appeared to be the good Party member. She played the game. But when it came to sex, she was a rebel below the waist. Much to Winston’s delight. It as indeed her rebellion. That’s she’d been with numerous partners delighted Winston. From their first “date” in the countryside to the meetings in the upstairs flat in the slums, their relationship was built primarily about rebellion of a sexual kind.

A Different View of Women in Orwell's 1984 - Owlcation
Julia hiding in plain sight with the Anti-Sex League sash.

The relationship changes Winston for the better. He realizes that he’s not crazy for having these ideas about the government. Someone shares them, and he begins to care for her. He drinks less gin, and his health improves. What the Party feared has happened.

“He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic. … The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.”

With another to speak to, to rebel with, Winston began to maintain a cover like Julia. He re-engaged in the after hours Party activities since he no longer needed to hide his rage.

We get a glimpse, however, into the power of gas lighting. The State lied. Changed news stories. Changed history. You could never trust your memory, what you knew to be true because next week it wouldn’t be. At some point you stop questioning them and begin to question yourself.

The lies were also about capitalism, the exploitation of the people. One lie was about jus prima noctis. You might remember that from Braveheart, as the English claimed the law of the first night to produce English children among the Scottish. Here it was the capitalists, so they said, that could force themselves upon the female employees at any time.

In the quest for control, they sought to undermine the institution that provides for a stable community: family. Wanting total allegiance to the State, they must destroy the family. Similar to Rollerball, they must show the futility of individual action by forcing people to be individuals. With no family, or no warmth within the few permitted families, the individual must depend upon the State.

This is not just some dystopian novel, but Orwell speaks of the ways of the totalitarian governments of his day. It speaks to government’s insatiable desire to control. Scripture often speaks of governments as beasts which seek to control worship and commerce. They control worship by being worshiped. They have to be seen as the granter of all good things. Orwell focuses on the material and psychological dimensions of this process. Christianity brings in the spiritual aspect of this. In a world without God we worship government. Government often wants to be worshiped.

1984 George Orwell Julia Description - A character analysis of julia in  1984 by george orwell
Sometimes rebellion is a dress, and a kiss.

We see a similar undermining of the family today. In our welfare policy we have incentivized single parent homes among the poor. With no-fault divorce we’ve produced broken homes as “better for the children” even though those homes are more likely to be below the poverty line (and dependent on the government). Instead of sexual repression like Oceania, it is sexual expression without the bonds of marriage. Marriage gets in the way of “sexual fulfillment”. The nuclear family is now viewed as a Western construct and inherently oppressive as the result of “white supremacy”. Those who oppose the new sexual expression (which is just the old pre-Christian sexual oppression of the Philistines, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans)are labeled as bigots and oppressors. Sex has been disconnected from marriage and procreation so it exists solely for pleasure. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” “If you haven’t tried it, how do you know you don’t like it?” The mantras go on and on, assailing truth and tradition.

The goal is still control. Destroy the family and people are dependent on the State. Destroy the church (which opposes the new sexual expression as one of the foundational institutions of a stable society) and people worship the State as the giver of all good things and protector of the people from the oppression of other institutions. Government is a jealous god.

We see our own version of Newspeak and the breakdown of common sense. “Abortion is healthcare.” “Marriage is slavery.” “If it’s love it can’t be wrong.”

Question these lies and you are an oppressor or colonized by the white supremacist system supported by the family and church. Government, which supposedly created the system, is replaced with the new government which creates a new cycle of oppression in the name of “freedom.”

1984 isn’t here, but some are trying to make it a reality. They are taking away the freedom of speech which undermines the freedom of thought. If we can’t freely speak our disagreements, speak the old truths which provided flourishing in the face of the new/old lies that enslave people, freedom will be lost. Not simply political freedom, but also spiritual freedom. The mob that wants to gain control must never grant freedom of thought and speech. Big Brother watches through social media and technology. The corporations determine who gets to speak and what they are able to say through “fact checkers” weighted to their values.

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

Winston is right, our hope is in the people no one cares about because the danger is from those grasping after power.

“The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time; so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.” T.S. Eliot

Considering Rollerball

When I was a teenager, The Movie Channel often had the old James Caan movie Rollerball. Like any teen boy I was attracted to the violent aspects of the movie and missed the dystopian features.

We had a free preview of a premium channel last month and when I saw that the old Rollerball was on I decided to record it for old time’s sake.

The movie takes place in the future where the game Rollerball functions in a way similar to the Roman Coliseum. It provides a violent distraction to people’s whose lives are ruled by others. You get little bits of info as you go. The warring nations had somehow been reduced to three and there was the “corporate wars”. The corporations went to war. The world, it seems, is run by a faceless and nameless group of executives that calls all the shots. The games begin with the “corporate hymn”.

In a way it is like the world of The Hunger Games or Catan. Cities are responsible for particular commodities. Houston was responsible for providing energy, and Chicago for food. This interdependence, it seems, helps the cities to co-exist. Their rivalries are played out in the game of Rollerball.

Rollerball 2018: Trump, Zuckerberg and the Future Present | Film Inquiry

James Caan plays Jonathan E., the superstar player for defending champion Houston. He has ruled the sport for 10 years, but though he enjoys a life a privilege he is a man on the end of strings. He is what the Godfather feared. He has little control over his life. One of the executives took his wife. The man who runs the company that owns the team in Houston claims she was ready to leave anyway. Similar to Orwell’s 1984, marriage has been nearly nullified. It means next to nothing.

What is Rollerball (1975) About? | Falcon at the Movies
Jonathan with his friend and teammate Moon Pie

Jonathan enjoys, perhaps, an endless series of live-in women sent by the executives. They come and go at the will of the powers that be, not Jonathon nor the women themselves.

In a hat tip to Huxley’s Brave New World, drugs are used to keep people happy. All they are given at the great generosity of the corporations makes them blind to the cages they live in.

In the middle of the playoffs, Mr. Bartholomew (the owner, played by John Houseman) informs Jonathan that it is time to announce his retirement on a multi-vision special about him. He is being forced out of the game from which he derives meaning in life. In a Kafkaesque turn, he’s never told why and doesn’t know who is forcing him out.

After failing to record the announcement, the rules of the game are changed. No more penalties, limited substitutions. They are setting the stage for Jonathan to be killed in the semi-finals against Tokyo. Bartholomew tells him not to play against Tokyo, but Jonathan wants concessions- a measure of control over a life that seems to have little to none.

We never see what life is like for the average person, just the privileged and the women intended to keep them happy. The library is not really a library as books are in the computer so the “government” controls information, history (what Jonathan wants to learn, much like Winston in 1984). He who controls the past controls the present, and the future.

While privileged fools burn down the forest with a gun, Jonathan burns down his future in a power play with Bartholomew. He’s willing to die in Tokyo rather than buckle under to the “man”. He has become bigger than the game (which is implied to be the problem), and tries to leverage this with the public. Does he think the “prols” are the only hope like Winston?

Rollerball (1975) directed by Norman Jewison • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

As the bodies pile up Jonathan is being patched up and Moon Pie is jumped by 3 players from Tokyo and hit in the back of the head. After he’s dragged off the track, Jonathan puts on his gloves and goes hunting. It is no longer a game- he wants blood. There is more fire on the track as Jonathan’s life is burning and chaos erupts in the arena.

After the game he must sign for the doctors to pull the plug on Moon Pie who is in a vegetative state. Jonathan refuses, again, to play by the hospital rules. His rebellion extends farther and farther has he continues to search for answers.

Rollerball (1975) Review |BasementRejects

As the corporate directors meet to discuss Jonathan, Bartholomew reveals that “the game was designed to demonstrate the futility of individual effort, let the game do its work.” Since the champion has defeated the meaning of the game, he must lose. Like the Sanhedrin they vote to defeat the champion.

In his quest for knowledge he goes to Geneva to ask the supercomputer Zero. This is 1970’s tech, people. So it is laughable but like Hal, Zero refuses to have Jonathan the answers he wants about the corporate wars and anything beyond “corporate decisions are made by corporate executives”. Everything hs run by the corporate executives, which he already knew.

But he does get a visit from his wife, Elle. “You know, Johnny, all they want is incidental control over part of our lives.” He learns that she left because the game was everything to him, not her. He wants to feel again, especially the love he once had and lost. And we get to the crux of the matter as the athlete gets philosophical.

“It’s like people had a choice a long time ago between having all them nice things or freedom. Of course, they chose comfort.”

“But comfort is freedom. It always has been.”

“Their privileges just buy us off.”

And then she reveals that the last game will have no substitutions and no time limit. He must quit to save his life. He no longer wants her and deletes the home movies of their time together. He also says goodbye to his friend before the game.

As they play New York and players are dropping like flies the coach of the New York team screams, “It’s just a game!”

“It’s not a game! It was never meant to be a game!”

All that remains are Jonathan and 2 NY players. And then one. Ready to kill the last opponent ….. individual effort prevails over the schemes of the corporate executives.

He “beat” the system, but didn’t change the system. The dominance of the executives continued, but did the game?

Sadly, recent events have indicated that most people do choose comfort and safety over freedom. The few who choose freedom can’t really break free. Their rebellion is barely more than a ripple in the face of the power wielded by those who are in control by providing the comfort. But the comfort they provide? An illusion.

The main body of Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams is comprised of 4 sections, each of which addresses 3 questions on the subject. These questions are intended to help us distinguish between Social Justice A (aka biblical justice) and Social Justice B. As a result, the bulk of the body is “critical” or discerning. In the appendices Williams hits particular subjects for justice.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

This post will examine the 3rd of the 4 sections in the main body. This section focuses on the question of Sinners or Systems? It will cover issues of wealth, race and the gospel.

He introduces this section with a discussion of his friend Sid who used to hold to Hinduism and reincarnation. This is a radical form of individualism in which our present life’s conditions is based on our performance in the previous life. So, if you were born in a New Delhi slum you had been a very bad person. If you were born in an upper class family you lived well previously. It is essentially a meritocracy, but one that begins again in the next life. You are always under review as each life affects the next. This is how they process issues of “unfairness”.

Other people root “unfairness” in systems. Life is bad for some people because of the system: capitalism, Christianity, white supremacy or some other system. There are times when the system is rigged. Systemic injustice happens because sinful people can make sinful laws and systems. If all injustice is systemic, then you’ve got to fight the power.

Is this an either/or or both/and proposition?

That depends on whether you embrace Social Justice A or B.

The Disparity Question: Does our vision of social justice prefer damning stories to undamning facts?

He is getting to whether or not your view is rooted in all the facts or just the convenient narrative. The Bible doesn’t use the term “systemic” but we can see systemic injustice in the pages of Scripture. Jews were enslaved by Egyptian law, for a very famous example. Scripture’s commands are not limited to personal piety, but include how we treat others, and how laws are to be applied (without favoritism to rich or poor, citizen or sojourner).

Williams defines systemic injustice from a Social Justice A perspective as “any system that either requires or encourages those within the system to break the moral laws God revealed for his creatures’ flourishing.” Laws that allow no exemption for conscience sake are systematically unjust. Forcing Christian healthcare workers to perform abortions would be an example.

For Social Justice B, injustice is seen by outcomes. Disparity = Discrimination. He provides 3 examples: women in the Silicon Valley work force (15.7%), black drivers on the NJ Turnpike getting twice as many tickets for speeding, and mortgage lenders rejecting twice as many loan applications from blacks than whites.

They are unequal outcomes. Are they the result of discrimination? Solely or partially? Can we even tell?

Ibram X. Kendi, an anti-racist advocate in residence at my alma mater, argues they must be the result of racial discrimination. Having identified discrimination, the system must be overthrown. Williams notes that for Christians who embrace it, you call it a “gospel issue”.

“Automatically equating disparity with discrimination is not just something that happens in six-hundred page bestsellers or in many sociology and humanities departments around the US. It has gone mainstream as the way most conversations about social justice are framed in the twenty-first century. That includes conversations in the church.”

The problem is that we begin to assume the worst about others rather than displaying charity and at the expense of facts. So Williams begins to share facts about each of those three examples. He notes the Speed Violations Survey of the New Jersey Turnpike: Final Report. The sample size was 38,747 drivers on the southern portion of the turnpike. I find some of these results hard to believe because I’ve driven on the turnpike. Far more people speed than they seemed to find. But 2.7 of black drivers were speeding compared to 1.4 of white drivers. The disparity grew was the speed did. While blacks were 16% of the drivers they were 25% of the speeders where profiling complaints were made. In NJ the black population is much younger than the white population, and younger people drive faster than older people. Other factors beside race were are in play and must not be neglected.

The US Commission on Civil Rights that found banks rejected loan applications from blacks twice as often as whites, also discovered white Americans were rejected nearly twice as much as Asian Americans. Black-owned banks also turned down black applicants at a higher rate than white-owned banks. Systemic racism does not seem to be the issue.

Other factors play into many of the inequalities we recognize. Geography, age, and birth month can play into inequalities. He notes an inequality among professional hockey players between those born in January to March, and those born in December. December is under-represented. Do scouts and GMs hate December? No, January 1 is the cut off for Canadian youth hockey programs. The kid born in January is older than the kid born the same December, and often more mature and better. The kids born in December are less likely to be promoted as a result. This also happens in European soccer and American baseball, which explains why I’m not a professional baseball player like I wanted to be.

“When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around you.”

To further illustrate his point he breaks out the “magic equality wand”. Pretend the “great reset” has taken place and there is no discrimination left in our world. We each have a million dollars in our bank accounts. Apply this to the characters of Parks and Recreation. “Donna expands her real estate business. … Ron buys gold and buries it in the woods. Tommy throws a lavish red-carpet party, complete with six open bars, a Bengal tiger, and a shrimp wall.” And so on. We would immediately see inequalities as Donna flourishes while Tommy and Andy flounder. Their different priorities and choices result in different outcomes. While racism can be a factor in outcomes, so can personal choices. We are foolish to ignore this.

Parks and Recreation TV Review
Parks and Recreation

There is a biblical concept at work. We do reap what we sow (there can also be outside factors like oppression and calamity that affect outcomes). The sluggard doesn’t get rich (apart from inheritance). Differing outcomes are not necessarily unjust. Identical outcomes for the diligent and the lazy would unjust. If we want equal outcomes, we must take away freedom and replace it with collectivism. Such cries of equality led to the destruction of the French Revolution among other dystopian nightmares.

“Working to free the world of some inequalities is just, good, and biblical. Working to free the world of other inequalities will just turn us into monsters who think of ourselves as angels.”

To sum up this chapter, Williams notes:

“There is real racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the world. It is damnable and should be vanquished. If we aren’t willing to put in the effort to thoughtfully separate damning disparities from the undamning, then we don’t take discrimination and its victims seriously enough.”

The Color Question: Does our vision of social justice promote racial strife?

Black lives are made in the image of God just like other human lives. They matter, just like others do.

Many blacks don’t feel like their lives matter. One issue, but not the only one, where this emerges is policing. This is a complex issue. Racism can be involved, but it isn’t necessarily involved. It is an emotional discussion that focuses on some facts and ignores others.

Between 2016 and 2019 an average of 1,000 people were shot by police officers. About 1/2 were white and 1/4 were black. 4% of those killed were unarmed. This means an average of 25 unarmed white people, and 18 unarmed black people per year. 16 of those whites were not fleeing and 8 blacks were not. Those not fleeing nearly all were physically attacking the police, typically under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Yes, these still don’t match population demographics. The location of a crime often indicates whether it is violent or not. Police usually don’t have to pull weapons on white-collar criminals since they are less likely to resist arrest. Those guilty of or suspected of violent crime are more likely to resist. Sadly, there are drastic disparities regarding violent crime rooted in poverty, not race. There are more factors involved than racism.

“But ideas have consequences, and false ideas have bad and even fatal consequences for real people.”

Again, racism is a real problem but not every inequality or incident is the result of racism.

“How can we reconcile the Social Justice B narrative that America remains systemically white supremacist to its core when Indians, Taiwanese, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, Iranian, Japanese, Pakistani, Filipino, Indonesian, Syrian, Korean, Ghanian, Nigerian, and Guyanese earn more income on average than whites in the United States?”

One of the issues for both white and black communities is the rise in single parent homes. Fatherlessness is tied to increase in violent crimes, poverty and mental health issues. The rates of single family homes are much higher in the black community but are rising in the white community. These are not conditions for flourishing (there are always exceptions). Oddly enough the conditions for flourishing follow a biblical pattern aside from the first. Finish school, get a steady full-time job, get married before having kids and you are unlikely to end up in poverty apart from personal calamity. The poverty rate for married black couples was LOWER than that for married white couples.

Williams contends that the “black voice” is a white liberal voice. Many of the common phrases were coined by liberal whites. Those include “whiteness”, “white privilege”, and “white fragility”. The newer definition of racism as “prejudice plus power” was devised by a white liberal. Additionally, conservative black voices are silenced and/or demeaned. The voices of people like Sen. Scott, Thomas Sowell and others are silenced by racist accusations. Racial strife is furthered.

When it comes to color, the anti-racist movement roots evil in “whiteness”. Ekemini Uwan says “the reality is that whiteness is rooted in plunder, in theft, in slavery, in enslavement of Africans, genocide of Native Americans …. whiteness is wicked. It is wicked.” This blinds us to the universality of human depravity, and the fact that God calls all men (and women) to repentance. The focuses on the follies of white persons, and denies the positive contributions of white persons. This is inflammatory speech, and untruthful speech.

“Social Justice B singles out a physical feature that God gave some people and not others. It then uses that feature not as a physical descriptor but as a mark of evil.”

The Gospel Question: Does our vision of social justice distort the best news in history?

Williams begins by addressing first and second things from C.S. Lewis. The first are most important. Many seek the second things, hoping they’ll get the first but it doesn’t work that way. Lewis asserts “You get second things only by putting first things first.” Jesus taught this in terms of “seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” You don’t get the kingdom by seeking food, money, power or pleasure. Or justice. But if you seek the kingdom you will get justice (which ultimately can only be found in the kingdom consummated at Christ’s return).

This means that the gospel is part of the first things. It is about what Jesus has done for sinners. Gospel logic (Sinclair Ferguson) begins with gospel indicatives before moving to the gospel imperatives. If you lose the indicatives, the imperatives become part of the self-salvation project that is doomed to fail. The Judaizers corrupted the gospel by adding the imperatives to the indicatives. They made justification dependent on the imperatives.

Williams connects this to an episode of The Good Place. The show has a faulty understanding of salvation which is based on a point total (works). It turns out that for centuries no one has accumulated enough points to make it to the Good Place. Life had gotten more complicated as the human-friendly demon Michael finally puts it together.

“It’s impossible for anyone to be good enough for the Good Place. … These days just buying a tomato at a grocery store means you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming.”

In the face of this one of the humans, Tahani, laments it “feels lie a game you can’t win.” This is not just the musings of a sitcom. Social Justice B professor Richard Day speaks about “infinite responsibility.” Every choice is not simply an ethical decision before the face of God but a question of social justice and corruption. Due to the interconnected nature of life, we are all guilty of contributing to injustice.

Four Lessons in Bridge-Building from “The Good…

“If everything is unjust all the time- since Social Justice B interprets all inequality as injustice- we end up in the chronically frazzled state of mind well described by an ex-radical: “Infinite responsibility means infinite guilt, a kind of Christianity without salvation: to see power in every interaction is to see sin in every interaction.””

This means we are constantly feeling either guilt or are searching for the guilty party. Many white people feel a constant guilt because they are part of the oppressor race. Others constantly feel aggrieved and point the finger. Williams notes that the alt-right plays a similar game, blaming those who are darker skinned.

God has been replaced as Judge by the every-capricious mob. The mob pounces on any mis-step. Your transgressions mean that you are not worthy of life, or at least a good existence. Separated from a God of mercy, there is only rage against those who don’t get the latest understanding of injustice.

Gal Gadot: Wonder Woman actress receives backlash over Middle East tweet
Actress Gal Godet was attacked for supporting her homeland in the Middle East conflict

Justice is important to the Christian life. Justice isn’t the Christian life. The Christian life is faith and repentance. Because I love God I will seek to act justly (Micah 6:8). I will treat people as they should be treated, and repent when I don’t. I only have control over my actions, not “the system” unless like William Wilberforce I am a person with the power to influence law and practice. Sadly, many young Christians have been taken by Social Justice B and left their faith behind. There is no faith & forgiveness, no hope in future justice instituted by Jesus, no mercy. The gospel is abandoned for condemnation.

If we get back to the question for this section. In Social Justice A, we both sinners and sinful systems established by those sinners. In Social Justice B, it is the system that matters and those systems must go.

It remains for us to examine Part 4 and then the appendices.

In Part 1 of Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus J. Williams, he formulated his material around three questions about worship. Here in the second part, Unity or Uproar?, the three questions center around the question of community. Social Justice should build community rather than fragment or destroy it. In particular, church community.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

In Part 2 he addresses the problem of tribalism in which “we should divide people into group identities, then assign undesirable or evil traits to that group…”. People are no longer viewed as individuals (not the same as individualism) but only as members of groups. Some groups are good, and the others are bad.

God is love and has always subsisted in a community of love: Father, Son and Spirit. Made in His image, we were created for community as well. Sin has twisted that drive toward community so we now have mobs, gangs, cults, hate groups, partisan political parties etc. Tribes become self-righteous and seek to vanquish the “opposition”. Perhaps it would be better to say tribes are an expression of our self-righteousness.

The Collective Question: Does our vision of social justice take any group-identity more seriously than our identities “in Adam” and “in Christ”?

Williams shares the story of Christian Picciolini who used to be a member and leader of the Chicago Area Skinheads. He felt abandoned by his nation. He was looking for an identity, a community and a sense of purpose. He found the wrong ones until after his first child was born. He left white supremacy and co-led a group called Life After Hate.

In terms of the far left he introduces us to Conor Barnes who was 18, “depressed, anxious, and ready to save the world.” Williams notes that Barnes’ description of the group he found makes it sound like Fight Club pursuing Project Mayhem. He soon was burned out and seeking true freedom.

Secret Theatre- Project Mayhem - 1185 Films - Documentary Film Production
Fight Club: Project Mayhem unfolds

“Christian Picciolini and Conor Barnes are mirror images. Both were swept up in groups that used categories like race, economic status, and oppression to see themselves as angels and others as demons, although one man’s angels were the other man’s demons.”

Social Justice B offers answers to these longings we all have. For those without church or disenchanted with church, it fulfills the role of church to provide identity, belonging and purpose.

Social Justice B rejects the reality of original sin. They consciously or unconsciously follow Rousseau’s “natural goodness of man” and that institutions are the problem. Evil flows from institutions, not people. Ironically, they form institutions (groups) to take away power from the individuals they see as comprising the bad institutions. They divide the world into good groups and bad groups. Those groups may focus on gender, color, economic status or other factor but they ignore the fact that these are human problems all. All humans struggle with these problems, and we can’t reduce the world’s problem to one of them but all of them and more.

A popular book these days is Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States which is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The oppressed are good and oppressors bad. There are no shades of grey like we find in history (go back to the Aztecs and Conquistadors for example). Unbalanced history is no way to evaluate a problem.

The Reformed doctrine of human depravity lays waste to such notions that my side is faultless but theirs is full of fault. Williams brings us to Paul to see three unifying truths he taught groups that experienced historic grievances. The first is that sin is a human problem, not exclusive to the oppressor. The second is that “in Christ” we have a new identity that transcends other group/cultural identities. In Galatians 3, for instance, it isn’t about race, gender, economic state or culture- all are one in Christ. The third is that forgiveness only comes through the substitutionary death of Jesus.

Williams then contrasts this with James Cone, the father of black liberation theology. He see whiteness as the source of sin, and people must be converted from their whiteness to struggle against white oppressors. His is a view of black supremacy or as some say now sovereignty. White people will submit to black people. Williams summarizes an excerpt from Cone as inverting Paul’s teaching.

“Any and all righteous status we have is solely in Jesus, not our color, not ethnicity, not gender, not the amount of oppression we or our ancestors have or haven’t experienced, not our good works, our ticking the right squares on the ballot, or our height on a hierarchy of privilege or pain; it is nothing but Jesus. The cross of Christ forms the spear through the heart of both far-right and far-left ideologies.”

The Splintering Question: Does our vision of social justice embrace divisive propaganda?

Propaganda has been used to turn people against one another as a violation of the second greatest commandment. It was used by Nazis to dehumanize Jews, by the Hutu to dehumanize the Tutsi, the KKK to dehumanize blacks and the Khmere Rouge to dehumanize its opponents.

Williams identifies three common marks of propaganda. 1. a highly edited history designed to paint the other group in the worst possible light, 2. encouraging you to treat all members of that group as guilty of the sins of the group, and 3. provides a way to blame all life’s troubles on that group and its members.

His contention is that Social Justice B uses propaganda to demonize groups. He illustrates a revisionist history in terms of slavery. He draws on the work of Thomas Sowell in “The Real History of Slavery.” Slavery was so widespread that we find it in nearly every culture. China had one of the largest slave markets in the world. It is estimated that there were more slaves in India than all of the Western Hemisphere, and that slavery existed there before the Spaniards showed up. The first civilization to begin to reject slavery was Western (largely Christian) civilization which also helped end slavery in other parts of the world. You won’t learn any of this from the 1619 Project. Obviously this doesn’t excuse the chattel slavery practiced in America and the British Empire. It does provide a more balanced picture of reality, however.

“So I say again: slavery, racism, and sexism are inexcusable, and anyone who has participated in such sins should repent and run as fast as possible to the cross of Jesus.”

To present only the sins and not the virtues of a group of people is to be guilty of bearing false witness through selectivity.

In terms of individuals as group exemplars he compares an article in the Washington Post with one in Wake Up from Rwanda. The first is about sexism condemning all men, and the second condemns all Tutsi. Each advocates that those groups lose all power, that they not be trusted, that they be re-educated, shown no mercy and that feminists and Hutu FIGHT.

People are not treated like image bearers, but as something to be exterminated. Williams critiques their views, not calling for the destruction of these people. He finds their ideas problematic, not that they should be exterminated.

Then he shifts to scapegoating which is used by groups on the far-right and far-left. It is used by racists and anti-racists, men and women, rich and poor. Both sides play the same blame game and want you to join them. All these groups are presenting a form of theodicy, making a group to blame for the woes of the world. Social Justice B is a secular form of theodicy. Williams wants us to recognize the body count produced by these theodicies in the 20th century before we go down this similar road.

The Fruit Question: Does our vision of social justice replace love, peace, and patience with suspicion, division, and rage?

This is the chapter that presses in to all of us. One of the works of the flesh is divisions, quarreling and factions. This is not a problem just for Social Justice B. The difference is that Social Justice B exists on these works of the flesh. They seem to be the goal.

“For quick-to-quarrel, easy-to-offend, clique-forming people to have any hope of experiencing real community, of gathering, of doing church together, then we need love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control to deal with other far-from-perfect people. … Without the Spirit’s fruit, we fall into tribal default mode.”

He offers the example of Corrie ten Boom after a speaking engagement being approached by a former guard at Ravensbruk. He sought forgiveness for the cruel things he did. She struggled in the moment but chose to forgive him. She noted that those who forgave were able to move on and build lives after the camps. Those who couldn’t became spiritual and emotional invalids. She had to cry out to Jesus to help her, but cry out she did.

This, Too, Is In His Hands - Corrie ten Boom - Renovare
The ten Boom family

He also brings us back to Charleston, SC and Dylan Roof’s attempt to start a race war by murdering 9 African-Americans worshiping in church. Instead of returning his murderous rage, the families of victim offered forgiveness.

Social Justice A rejoices in forgiveness and reconciliation. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

In Social Justice B their is little to no forgiveness as grievances new and old feed the call for justice, meaning judgment. It revels in the rage, wanting to destroy those if finds responsible.

As an example he provides Gloria Watkins’, writing as “bell hooks”, essay “Killing Rage”. She tells of having upgraded to first class with a friend. A mistake was made, however, and her friend was asked to return to coach and an apologetic white man sat next to Watkins. In her mind, the friend was treated horribly and it was all this man’s fault. She saw this as sexist and racist and wanted to kill him. His sin was having paid for a seat before her friend did.

Williams notes it is an extreme example but illustrates three things. First, she never questions if racism and sexism are the best or even only explanations for what happened. They form the presuppositions driving her rage. The unwillingness to even consider less heinous reasons or grant the benefit of the doubt to another human being is common for advocates of Social Justice B.

Second, “throughout the essay, individuals become exemplars of entire groups and those groups’ cumulative injustices.” The object of her rage was an anonymous white man. He may have been one who sought justice and served minority communities, but he was viewed like the Grand Wizard of the KKK.

Third, the essay is not just about rage but revels in rage. There is no regret for the rage. No grace, kindness or attempt to seek peace. This is quite different than the gospel call to forsake rage, malice and bitterness.

Watkins never looks at her own heart. Hers is assumed to be a righteous rage. Her revenge fantasy is assumed to be righteous instead of a manifestation of sin in her own heart.

“What if someone were to question her killing rage? It would only prove their white supremacy. Says hooks, “To perpetuate and maintain white supremacy, white folks have colonized black Americans, and a part of that colonizing process has been teaching us to repress our rage, to never make them the targets of any anger we feel about racism. Most black people internalize this message well.” If white people question hook’s rage, they are oppressors; if black people question her rage, they are victims of colonization who have internalize white racism.”

Certainly paints people into a corner while justifying yourself.

We see this often. There is no other reason for a police encounter gone wrong. It can only be racism. Presuppostitions of supremacy drive the rage about perceived injustices. No time is given to ascertaining real motives or taking other data into consideration.

Consider the lamentable murders of the Asians (and Whites) in Atlanta day spas. It was immediately labeled an act of racist violence. Still the other factors seem to not matter as he’s been charged with hate crimes in addition to the hate crime of murder.

I said at the beginning of this section that this presses into us all. You don’t have to be a Social Justice B advocate to think this way. It is a part of our polarization. We quickly succumb to tribalism. Our rage at Social Justice B can be just as wicked, and blind us to the logs in our own eyes.

We need the grace of God to move beyond the rage for justice to seek reconciliation, confess our own sins, and seek mutual understanding.

Much is made of white fragility these days. I prefer to call it human fragility because none of us like to face our faults and we self-righteously point to the grievances done to us (or our group) to weigh it all in the scale. This perpetuates the problem that only repentance and forgiveness can heal. Killing rage does not accomplish the righteousness of God.