Archive for May, 2021

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?”

Read Full Post »

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.

Artist Formerly Known As Prince - Symbol For Rest In Peace, HD Png Download  , Transparent Png Image - PNGitem

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.

EPBOT: The Knights Who Say Ni - Free Helmet Templates!

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.

The Spanish Inquisition, Drones, and the Obama Administration | Andrew  Holt, Ph.D.

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?).

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

In the early chapters of 1984, Orwell introduces us to Newspeak which looms large in the story of Winston Smith. In some instances Newspeak makes language meaningless or contradictory. In other instances Newspeak redefines terms according to its interests and agenda. We see some of this in the Party slogan.

Why Did Orwell Choose Freedom Is Slavery, Instead of Slavery Is Freedom as  the Second Slogan in 1984? - Owlcation
Party Slogan

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some sort of Hegelian dialectic but the Party is gaslighting the people because nothing is as what they thought it was . These re-definitions are contradiction.

The one who controls the language controls the future by manipulating the present. The Party controlled the language through the Ministry of True (Minitrue). Winston worked in Minitrue, as we’ll see, changing history through cut & paste work. They controlled history, and language. Such is the power of totalitarianism. By doing this they control the populace.

“They were the homes of the four Ministries between which the entire apparatus of government was divided: the Ministry of Truth which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts; the Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war; the Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order; and the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economics. Their names in Newspeak Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.”

I love the irony expressed in the Newspeak here. It reveals something of their contradictory purpose regarding the names. Little truth, little peace, little love and little stuff. They don’t work for their names but against them by policy.

It has humorously noted that churches generally lack what is mentioned in their name. Faith Baptist would lack faith, for instance. This is a society that lacks truth, peace, love and plenty. It is all a big lie. Similar to Animal Farm, they report great production and simultaneously reduce rations. They don’t provide what is needed in terms of staples and yet prohibit the markets beyond government control.

I recall a number of years ago a Democrat Congressman wanted to change the Department of Defense to the Department of Peace. I’m not sure he got how ironic that would be, and how Orwellian. My kids have not known a day when we were not at war. Thankfully I have but we’ve been at war for an entire generation, 20 years and counting. Like Oceania we are seemingly in a constant state of war.

Conservatives conserve. This is viewed as preserving the status quo and fighting against progress. They think that some “progress” isn’t really progress at all but regression to a less civilized time (think of the sexual revolution which is returning us to a very Roman sexual ethic). They want to conserve or preserve language and the meaning of words.

One of the efforts of the progressives is to change the meaning of words and thereby change how people think about certain things (marriage equality, who doesn’t want that?) to change society. Like the Party, language becomes a putty nose in their hands. Don’t say abortion but pro-choice. It sounds better and choice is good (except when you choose to murder innocent human beings). It is similarly about control, to bring the populace increasingly under control by making them dependent on the government. Amsoc, people.

More recently we’ve seen new phrases and redefined terms in the discussion of racism, largely by liberal white women scholars: whiteness, white privilege and white fragility. Racism is prejudice and power, so minorities are only guilty of prejudice, not racism since they have no power. They control the terminology and the narrative to control people, their thoughts and actions.

It is with a sense of foreboding that the Narrator describes the home of Miniluv.

“The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. There were no windows in it at all. Winston had never been in the Ministry of Love, nor within a half kilometer of it. It was a place impossible to enter except on official business, and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed wire entanglements, steel doors, and hidden machine gun nests. Even the streets leading up to its outer barriers were roamed by gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms, armed with jointed truncheons.”

This was the home base for the Thought Police who used the surveillance and spies to uncover those whose thoughts were unorthodox. They were a secular version of the Spanish Inquisition.

In Scripture we learn that the moral law is the law of love (see Romans 12 and Mark 12 for instance). God’s law is summed up in loving Him and your neighbor. There is little love in the society of Oceania. People must hide who they are, what they think and conceal what they do lest they end up in Miniluv.

Love is redefined for allegiance to Big Brother whose mustache probably reminds you of Stalin. Secret police and imprisonment with torture and brainwashing are standard fare for totalitarian dictatorships of all stripes. Yet, our cancel culture is a form of thought police where you are ruled unorthodox for your ideas, ostracized and in some cases sued. Legal action for violating the new orthodoxy produced by the elites is not far behind. And it all starts with language. Language isn’t just shaped by our thoughts but also shapes our thoughts when we manipulate it. Voter beware.

1984 was one of the influences for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

Read Full Post »

I read 1984 about 40 years ago. I can’t quite remember which year of school we had to read it. While I found it tedious at times, it definitely made an impression on me. Since I’m calling this the Year of the Dystopian Novels of Old, it is time to read 1984 again.

Unlike my more exhaustive blogging on Animal Farm, this will be more selective because it is a bigger book. I want to hit the things that hit me, not so much the plot line. This will be a sort of stream of consciousness affair rather than a highly structured endevour.

1984 (Essential Orwell Classics)

The second paragraph paints a bleak picture of Winston’s surroundings.

“The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. …It was no use trying the lift. Even in the best of times it was seldom working, and at the present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week.”

I skipped the poster of Big Brother with his big mustache and eyes that follow you everywhere declaring “Big Brother Is Watching You”. This government official lives in a dump. The area around his apartment building is in disrepair as well with collapsing walls and boarded up windows. Most of London appears to be a ghetto produced by Ingsoc, Newspeak for English Socialism.

The description of Winston drinking Victory Gin made we never want to try gin. The Victory cigarettes fall apart easily. His kitchen is small and prone to need repairs, as is everyone else’s apartment as evidenced by helping his neighbor with a clogged sink.

Hate Week says it all. This is a culture that feeds on hate, as a tool of the government. Big Brother is watching and wants to see you hate his enemies. The first chapter includes the daily Two Minutes Hate, a break in the day in which the people are encouraged to express their hate, particularly for Emmanuel Goldstein. He reminds one of Snowball who reminds one of Trotsky. He was a member of the leadership that lead the rebellion but ended up disappearing mysteriously and yet was a Boogey man who was behind all manner of rebellion against the oddly beloved Big Brother.

1984 (1984) - IMDb
Two Minutes Hate in the 1984 movie with John Hurt

“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash face in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.”

Winston’s hate was secretly for Big Brother rather than Emmanuel Goldstein. He also hated the girl with the dark hair and the sash wrapped tightly around her waist that declared she was a member of the anti-sex league. He hates her because he wants her, and can’t have her.

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present the past.”

Winston can’t tell us how Ingsoc came to dominate Oceania, which includes England. His memory is fuzzy, probably because the government keeps changing history. As long as he can remember Oceania has been at war. They are currently at war with Eurasia. The State claims they always have been, but Winston remembers being at war with Eastasia a few years earlier. The ever-shifting history erodes people’s memory. Winston thinks it is 1984, but isn’t really sure.

Newspeak - Wikipedia

Big Brother doesn’t just appear to watch you in the poster. He watches you through the TV (sound familiar?). Winston has to find the blind spots in his apartment to subversively write in his diary. You never know when they are watching, and during the mandatory morning exercise he’s chastised for not touching his toes. Children are Spies, not Scouts, trained to identify traitors. People are disappeared in the middle of the night. All records are erased, as if they never existed in the first place. Winston’s parents were part of the first purges. He barely remembers his mother and little sister.

Our description of Winston is of a man old before his time. He’s short, and hobbled by an varicose ulcer on his right ankle. He’s skinny and the uniform doesn’t quite fit because he’s so thin. Of course, they keep cutting rations, usually after the new of a great victory that may not have actually happened.

Winston has a depressing life in a depressing nation in a depressing world filled with hate, war and suspicion. Personally it was a boring and unfulfilling life, but all that was about to change.

Read Full Post »

In the forward to Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth, John Perkins offers four admonitions to the those who confront injustice: start with God, be one in Christ, preach the gospel and teach truth!

As Thaddeus Williams begins his book he has taken these admonitions to heart. Before he gets to the first part, and its 3 questions, he answers why he’d “write about the most explosive, polarizing, and mentally exhausting issues of our day?” He begins with the “nonjudgmental spirit” of the ’90’s. Amazingly we’ve turned into “one of the most judgmental societies in history.” Theocracies have nothing on the “religious zeal” of secularists, apparently. Much of this is made possible by social media where we can say some of the worst things about others without accountability, as long as you are from the right tribe. We are devouring ourselves as a nation.

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

“I wrote this book because I care about God, I care about the church, I care about the gospel, and I care about true justice.”

He wants to advance true justice in a way that glorifies God and draws people into Christ-centered community. These are lofty goals.

What Is “Social Justice”?

Like a good professor, he begins by defining the most important term in the book. Social justice is the controversy of our day. It has moved beyond the classroom to the street.

Williams believes that social justice is not optional, particularly Christians. We were made for community. Justice is about the relationship of one person or group with another. Justice gives each its due. Injustice affects others. He then cites a number of Scripture passages admonishing us to pursue justice.

“The same God who commands us to seek justice is the same God who commands us to “test everything” and “hold fast to what is good.””

Our pursuit of justice is to be discerning. It is not about being fashionable, or getting big press. It is about doing right, as God sees it.

Into this he introduces Social Justice A and B. Everyone, it seems, champions justice. Justice shouldn’t be so vague that anyone can claim it in a world filled with injustice. Social Justice A is used in this book to refer to biblically compatible social justice. He uses Social Justice B to refer to the politically charged banner for groups that advocate violence against those who think differently than them, with a form of justice that separates people into the oppressed and oppressor. This form of social justice has its roots in the Frankfort School, “the deconstructionism of Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida, and the gender and queer theory of Judith Butler”.

This type of social justice seeks to dislodge the traditional family from importance. It wants to force nuns to have birth control and abortion as part of their health insurance plans. It can’t tolerate the moral standards of Christian universities. Anything connected to the power of the past must go, go, go.

No one is championing injustice. They champion their version of justice which means we have to ask what are the “issues behind the issues.” Different groups supply different answers to life’s big questions. One’s view of justice is a product of one’s worldview, what which we believe deep down and act on in daily life. Our differing worldviews crank out different political conclusions.

Williams brings up the question of Communism. Communism sought to pursue economic justice. Their starting point was flawed when it came to the question of humanity. They didn’t understand what makes people people. They denied the reality of sin, and blamed everything bad on evil systems. You need to examine the presuppositions of worldviews to see where they go awry, because eventually they will do much damage as a result. In Communism the evil was viewed as capitalism rather than greed. Greed continued as the Party lavished themselves in luxury at the expense of the people just as much as any rich, capitalist pig. But it got worse because they sent millions to gulags and re-education camps because they disagreed with the powers that now were resulting in millions of deaths in the name of Communism. Justice pursued for the wrong reasons, will be justice pursued in the wrong ways resulting in grave injustice.

The people who are hurt are image bearers in a Christian worldview. Williams will introduce 12 questions to help us discern what is and isn’t compatible with our worldview. He wants us to discern Social Justice A from Social Justice B that we may pursue the former and not the latter.

Each section of the book will address the “Newman Effect”. In 2018 Jordan Peterson was interviewed by Cathy Newman who consistently misrepresented his views with “So you’re saying …”. We all have the tendency to do this and disrupt the unity of the church.

“The result is rampant self-righteousness, a loss of humble self-criticism, widespread confirmation bias, a loss of real listening required to reach nuanced truths, and pervasive partisanship, a loss of real community that requires us to give charity and the benefit of the doubt to others.”

His goal is biblical justice, not the policies of any particular political party. Since one party waves the social justice banner more fervently, he admits the book will necessarily be more critical of that party but this shouldn’t be taken to mean full alignment with other party.

“Please don’t take anything said here as an attack on you as a person. Please don’t use anything said here to attack other people.”

A Matter of Worship

The introduction to part 1 begins with the 1st commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

One of his fundamental premises is that the root of all injustice is a problem with worship. “Theistic justice- bowing down to something that is worth bowing down to- is not a justice issue; it is the justice issue from which all other justice blooms.” Conversely, failure to worship the One worth worshiping blooms into numerous injustices.

He tells the story of when Cortes decimated the Aztecs. He describes the Aztecs’ inhuman worship resulting from worshiping created things. But Cortes also worshiped created things. The idolatry of the Aztecs led them into human, including child, sacrifice. The idolatry of the Spanish (wealth) led them to murder, rape and enslave Aztecs. Both committed injustices rooted in idolatry.

“In short, social injustice is first and foremost a matter of misplaced worship.”

If you don’t start with God, you don’t understand justice and will commit injustice.

The God Question: Does our vision of social justice take seriously the godhood of God?

For anyone familiar with the second half of Romans 1, the idolatry of the Aztecs should come as no surprise. It is a function of the human condition common to all people groups, genders and skin tones. Favoritism or prejudice, self-interest, hatred and murder are pretty much par for the course thanks to Adam’s sin. The 20th century reveals this clearly as we witnessed the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, gulags, Mao’s cultural revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia and the Rwandan genocide. Extermination camps covered the century.

To understand all this we must keep God in the picture. In all of these genocides rulers or governments made themselves to be gods and answerable to no one. They destroyed those they hated for racial or political reasons. When we don’t give God His due, we won’t give people made in His image their due either. We begin to treat God’s image alike garbage.

This evil begins in the human heart but is manifested in numerous utopias gone wrong. Utopian dreams usually seek to end one injustice and commit others in the process. Because it is a sin issue it won’t be removed by education, revolution, social engineering or elitist policy changes (as seen in any number of dystopian novels and movies). The envy, strife and deceit that produce such malicious behavior and policy remain intact.

“(White supremacy) makes race, not God, supreme. It worships and serves created things rather than the Creator. Racism, therefore, is not merely horizontally unjust, depriving other creatures what they are due; it is also vertically unjust, failing to give the Creator his due by making race an ultimate object of devotion. Why is racism so evil? If we leave God out of our answer to that question, we will fail to grasp the true diabolical depths of racism and find ourselves boxing ghosts of the real problem.”

He makes the very Martin Lutherish statement that “all injustice is a violation of the first commandment.” The injustice we commit is a window into what we really worship. The conquistadors were Roman Catholic and Hitler used Christianity and the statements of Luther as justification, but they didn’t worship the One, true God.

The Imago Question: Does our vision of social justice acknowledge the image of God in everyone, regardless of size, shade, sex or status?

Williams begins with Charles Taylor’s “immanent frame” meaning that we tend to live as if the universe is a closed box. We try to make sense of stuff in the box with other stuff in the box. Various thinkers have reduced life to biology, physics, psychology, economics, sex, technology, entertainment or any other aspect of creation. The problem is that nothing inside the box serves as sufficient grounds for dignity, equality and value. Those only have basis in the image of God unless as good existentialists we will to value. “I am therefore I matter. At least to me.”

When we remain in the box we don’t have the proper goals and means for justice. As Christians we must reject the immanent frame for the Creator’s world.

He brings us to Augustine who said “Love God and do what you will” since the love of God will shape our will. My wants will reflect my love for God. This means I will love my neighbor made in His image. This means I won’t exploit my neighbor for my own interests. Idolatry is mother of all injustice as a result.

Naturalism sees us as nothing more than our bodies. Existentialists like Jean-Paul Satre have supported this viewpoint. Charles Darwin saw no foundation for human equality, and his theory of evolution argues against it (you’ll find it in The Origin of Species, and The Descent of Man). It serves as a good foundation for racism.

Origin of Species | work by Darwin | Britannica
“preservation of favored races”

Today there is a tendency, due to postmodernism’s rejection of individualism, to reduce people to their groups or ideologies. We fail to see image bearers, but Neo-Nazis and Social Justice Warriors. Perhaps we treat people based on their gender or skin color, if that is what matters most to you.

“As we seek a more just world, if we see those who disagree with us as Republicans or Democrats, progressives or conservatives, radical leftists or right-wing fundamentalists first and image-bearers second, or not at all, then we aren’t on the road to justice. We’re on history’s wide and bloody road to dehumanization.”

At the end of this chapter he includes Walt’s Story. He was a man engaged in groups exalting European man. He was in a racist hate group. He, and so many, reacted to the common negative attitude toward men and particularly men of European descent. He only escaped both lies by grace found in Jesus our Creator and Redeemer.

The Idolatry Question: Does our vision of social justice made a false god out of self, the state or social acceptance?

Williams begins with John Calvin’s famous statement that man is a factory of idols. We make all kinds of things into idols and these blur our vision. The Hindus boast of having more than 33 million deities. In the individualistic West there are probably as many gods as there are people. We go through a series to idols as we move through stages in life: acceptance, career, marriage, children, retirement and more. Idols often begin as good things but as ultimate things become destructive things.

Both political left and right have their idols. Social Justice B is on the political left therefore its idols will be addressed throughout the book, but the right’s idols include “stuff, solitude, sky, and the status quo.” When you add skin tone you get the alt-right.

“A super-spiritualized Christianity that has no implications for real pain in the here-and-now is hardly worthy of the word Christian.”

Social Justice B has abandoned traditional religions, thinking they are part of the problem. Williams quotes Camille Paglia that since were irresistibly religious they turn their causes into a form of religious fanaticism. Andrew Sullivan notes that CRT and gender theory have become “the orthodoxy of a new and mandatory religion.” This religion is just as fanatical in rooting out heresy as the Spanish Inquisition.

Intersectionality can be seen as a “quasi-religous gnostic movement”. It accounts for brokenness, has a saving story (but no Savior) and gives meaning to life.

So we see that the most pressing social issues are really worship issues. Williams brings us to Francis Schaeffer who warned that most Christians are wringing their hands over singular issues and failing to see they are but a symptom of a much bigger problem. And then Solzhenitsyn who pointed out the moral and spiritual root of our legal and political problems and issues. By this we make room for the triumph of evil. And then he brings us to Abraham Kuyper who saw the city of man struggling with the city of God in the midst of these smaller struggles (the Struggle in his day was that of Marxism).

Most Americans worship the self, among other idols. Self-actualization, self-determination, and more. This is the moral and spiritual root of the ever-expanding sexual revolution, rising divorce rate, increase in fatherlessness and so on. But from a biblical perspective we are “authored beings”. We don’t create meaning but have it bestowed upon us by the Creator. This is a God-sized task that we keep trying to rip from His hands.

In Social Justice B literature, God is absent and humans create the goals of the story. We make our identity rather than receive our identity in Christ.

“Herein lies one of the deepest problems with idolizing the self as sovereign. The omnipotence-demanding task of constructing an entire person’s nature is forced onto our all-too-shaky and finite shoulders.”

Williams notes that churches will begin to be trauma centers for those crushed by this demand for self-creation.

Many of those who feel the weight of autonomy refuse still to come to Jesus and seek refuge in others instead. They moved from the individualism of modernity to the collective of postmodernity. They seek the power of the government to protect their constructed identities. Williams quotes Chesterton here: “Once we abolish God, the government becomes God.”

People seek their justification not from Christ but others. Self-justification needs others to approve. And self-justification must eliminate those who seek justification in Christ. The guilt grows and the ones who inadvertently poke the wound must be eliminated. They must no longer bake their cakes, attend their schools with their own worldview, or sell their chicken sandwiches because they are evil for not celebrating what we celebrate.

Political power must be invoked if one is to accomplish their goal of truly canceling those who disagree with our self-justification project. This has been tried and found wanting, numerous times and with millions of casualties.

“Make no mistake: Social Justice B seeks a theocracy, a theocracy of creation worship that seeks to silence its heretics.”

He then moves to the idol of social acceptance. People want to be liked, even Christians. People want to “be on the right side of history” even if we can’t be on the right side when we reject God’s Word and wisdom. Our idols shape us, we become them as one Christian thinker put it. Our thinking about injustice never happens in a vacuum but is always influenced by our idols.

“We must decide in our hearts who we answer to- creatures or the Creator.”

At the end of this chapter he lets Becket Cook tell his story of moving from a self-created identity as homosexual to a God-given identity in Christ and the loss of social acceptance. Interestingly those who disagree with “Side B Christianity” hold up Becket as a model even though he’s living as a celibate, not married, man. Just an observation. He should be seen as a faithful Christ-follower who is taking up his cross and denying himself. It is just that some who find it acceptable for Becket seem to dismiss it in others. Oh, what crazy cats we are.

All the chapters in the book end with similar stories so we can see the truth fleshed out in a life. This is great. Each chapter also ends with questions for person or group study. They can be pointed.

Each part includes “So You’re Saying…” as well as a prayer. In “So You’re Saying…” he puts into words the expected mischaracterizations of what he has said, a device used by Paul in Romans and other letters. It may be helpful to remember these objections because you will likely hear them if you offer a critique of Social Justice B to others. So, I’ll positively paraphrase them, or answer them I guess.

The pursuit of social justice is not optional for Christians (but we must be wise about it).

People who reject the Scriptures can make some meaningful contributions, but also dangerous ones.

Christians should be known for the gospel and social justice, not social justice posing as the gospel.

Christians can agree with the political left about particular problems, but may often disagree about solutions.

Right-wing politics has its own set of problems too since they often don’t submit to Christ and the Scriptures either.

Read Full Post »

For many the Church does not seem to be a wonderful work of God. They see the obvious blemishes of the visible church: enculturation (not just an American thing), seeking power and prosperity, trying to maintain image. Over the centuries the visible church has been a political animal (many popes tried to rule over kings). There have been sex scandals galore (I brushed up on the Bakkers for a recent sermon). The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant groups have covered up child sexual abuse by clergy. I can understand why many would think it was not a wonderful work of God.

But they are only seeing part of the picture. Having finished with the doctrine of salvation proper, Herman Bavinck moves on to The Church of Christ in The Wonderful Works of God. It is a wonderful work of God when we see the whole picture which includes the invisible church, the church triumphant.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

Holy Community

Salvation does not occur in a vacuum. God calls unbelievers to Christ through the Church and into the Church. We are sanctified in the context of the Church, nurtured by God there, sustained there and serving there. Just as there is no salvation outside of Christ, there is not salvation apart from the Church of Christ. His is the essential work for our salvation. He alone is the Savior. He also places us into the Church which is His Bride, His Body, His living temple and more.

“The believer, therefore, never stands apart by himself; he is never alone.”

This has led many a theologian to state that the Christian must have the Church as his mother. We are not made for “independence, isolation, and solitude.” We were made (creation) for community, and redeemed for the holy community. We need holy company to grow in holiness. We long for this by both creation and redemption. In most religions the “holy community” is formed along tribal or national lines. It cannot stand apart from these other ties to keep people together. The Church transcends tribal or national boundaries, as well as language and cultural barriers.

In the New Testament we see the words synagogue and ecclesia used for the church. In the Septuagint we see ecclesia used for the assembly of Israel. The early church continued to meet in the temple, and we see they were devoted to one another, the apostles’ teaching, prayer and the breaking of bread. These are the foundations for church life, and the church that neglects them is in trouble. Today this is called “ordinary means” ministry which de-emphasizes programs for Word and sacrament.

The Church Universal

The church was initially predominantly Jewish. Over time more Gentiles entered the church and it became predominantly Gentile. This began with Peter’s visit to Cornelius. This paved the way for Paul to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. First the Jews, and then the Gentiles. These Gentiles are not second-class citizens but fully sons of the Promise (as he elaborates in Galatians). This was a large part of the mystery of the gospel. Many thought Messiah would subdue the nations as vassals, not full citizens and co-heirs.

The local church would generally meet in groups in homes. This was a matter of practicality at the time, not prescribed as some writers today seem to think.

The Apostles wrote to actual churches. These churches, like ours, were defective. Our salvation is in Christ, not our sanctification either personal or corporate. Due to justification and our union with Christ, we are seen as perfect. Just as our imperfections are pardoned in Christ, so are the Church’s. The Church is becoming holy as the Spirit works in it.

One of the ways the Spirit works in the church is through gifting individuals for ministry. We have different gifts to foster interdependence. Sin uses these differences, and cultural differences, to divide us through pride.

The Holy Church

We are separated from the world and united to Christ and His body in conversion, and baptism is the sign and seal of this. Bavinck spends some time talking about baptism in this context. As a baptized person we should a very different view of the world. Our old associations (for the convert) are broken, or at least re-valued, and new associations are spiritually profitable. We don’t withdraw completely from non-Christians. We do need to be wise lest bad character corrupt our good morals. A new convert may have to navigate marriage with an unbeliever, extended family that doesn’t believe, and work with unbelievers.

Bavinck briefly discusses church discipline as a means to maintain the holy character of the church. When we see the many scandals, financial and sexual, there is often a toleration of sin due to position that short-circuited God’s plan of church discipline. Many churches and parachurch ministries forget that some sins are also crimes and should not only be treated by the church but also the legal authorities. It is crazy to protect child molesters!

In discussing the catholicity of the church, Bavinck begins in the Garden. Gospel promises were given to the disobedient couple. The narrowing down was important for the coming of the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman and Abraham, but was always intended for people of all places and races. This leads into a discussion of the kingdom. Jesus spoke primarily of the kingdom and only occasionally of the church. This seems to be flipped by the Apostles. “His apostles have been called and qualified by Him to gather the church by means of the gospel of the kingdom.”

“The church is not bound to a land or a people, to a time or a place, to any given generation, to money and property; it is independent of all earthly distinctions and contrasts.”

He returns to the imperfection of the church as he discusses the ministry of the church. The church ministers to imperfect people to move them closer to the perfection of Christ. For instance:

“After all, the church, so long as it exists on earth, is still imperfect; each of its members and all of the members together must constantly be fighting against sin and following after holiness; at all times these people require instruction, guidance, direction, strengthening, comfort, admonishment, and chastisement. And not that only, but the church must also reproduce itself from generation to generation; it does not always have the same members, since it daily loses those who are transferred to the triumphant church, and is constantly augmented by new members who are nurtured in it, and who must be introduced into the life of the church.”

Here he necessarily shifts to the law given to develop our sense of sin. It revealed our need for repentance and forgiveness. It reveals a life pleasing to God; the life of love to God and neighbor. In this context there is a confusing statement he makes, one that sounds like neo-nomianism but he earlier rejected that, so call me Vinnie Barbarino.

“Nevertheless He came in order that by thus keeping the law He might fulfill it and so place a different burden on the shoulders of His disciples from that of the hard yoke of the law.”

I’m not sure Jesus is referring to the law alone but the law and the tradition of the elders whom Jesus condemned for playing heavy burdens on people. We are released from the condemning power of the law. We are not justified by keeping the law, but Jesus’ law keeping for us.

Church Government

Bavinck also interacts briefly with the Roman position that Peter was the greatest of the Apostles as the foundation for the office of the pope. Odd, then, that he would essentially disappear in the latter portions of Acts, and even in Acts 15 plays a role subordinate to James.

Each congregation has elders to rule it. There was interaction between the churches on matters of common importance, as in whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised. The apostles functioned, according to Bavinck, as the consistory or session of the Church.

In the early church there were also the “extraordinary offices of apostle, evangelist, and prophet.” They received these offices for the founding of the church. After the founding, elders and deacons governed the church. He seems to neglect the on-going work of establishing the church in new places by evangelists/apostles (lower case, no new revelation just fulfilling the role of bringing the gospel to a new people group or place). He notes that in the second century the overseer or bishop arose as a separate office from elder. They were higher in rank than elders and deacons. This was not simply a Roman thing but we see it in Eastern Orthodoxy as well. But he presses on to the office of pope in Catholicism.

Bavinck alludes to the two kingdoms in some of the differences between the Lutheran and the Reformed. While the Lutherans “restored the office of preaching” they did not restore the rule of the church and care of the poor to the church but kept it in the hands of the civil magistrate. The Reformed resumed rule of the church with the session and care of the poor with the deacons.

“Of all forms of church order, the presbyterian system as it was restored by Calvin, corresponds best to that of the apostolic time.”

Spiritual Power

The power of the church is limited. We have no worldly power, though we are often tempted to pursue it. The weapons of our warfare are not guns and bombs but spiritual in character. There is a very brief discussion of the armor of God. Our primary weapon is the Word of God, a double-edged sword. He notes Calvin that the Word is the soul of the church. The Reformation restored the Word to its primary place. The sacraments confirm the Word and therefore strengthen our faith. Sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace. They don’t have the power to grant grace not given by the Word nor accepted by faith.

“Although baptism and the holy supper have the same covenant of grace as their content, and although both give assurance of the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, the holy supper differs from baptism in this regard that it is a sign and a seal, not of incorporation into but of the maturation and strengthening in the fellowship of Christ and all His members.”

To the Word and sacrament he adds the exercise of discipline AND the service of mercy. The church has the power of the keys and the responsibility to care for its vulnerable members. The church is where the strong (in one way) minister to the weak (in that way). Faith expressing itself in love reveal professing Christians to be true Christians and churches to be true churches.

This seemed to be a bit meandering. Bavinck tends to double back. Not circle back since that apparently means not addressing the subject. He doubles back to look at things from different angles and connections. As one more familiar with the British expression of Reformed theology, it is refreshing (generally) to hear his different formulations.

There is one more chapter which I hope to blog on soon to wrap up this series.

Read Full Post »