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Here is the second part of my interactive review of Michael Graham’s “critical biography” of C. John (Jack) Miller, one of the key figures of the 20th century as a pastor, evangelist, professor, missionary and author. I hope you take the time to read Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller.

Cheer Up! God’s Spirit Works In Your Weakness

Cheer Up!: The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller - Graham, Michael A - 9781629957210

Jack learned that weakness was a good thing, and his pride and self-reliance were not. This awareness of his weakness set the stage for a time of fruitful, pioneering ministry for Jack. But the changes in his approach to ministry still needed to be applied to family life to a greater degree.

During a summer vacation in Europe, they spent time at L’Abri and were struck by how much prayer took place there. He realized that pride kept him from prayer. He realized that pride keeps people and congregations from prayer. He connected that to the collapse of his ministry & joy in Christ. Jack saw that weakness was not to be feared but was the occasion for prayer which God used as a means for fruitful ministry. As he studied by the Mediterranean he saw the important place of God’s promises to our prayer. He also saw the ministry of the Spirit strengthening the weak who lay hold of those promises. Here exactly is where many churches fail. I am convinced this is why the first church I pastored closed: I couldn’t get people to pray corporately. This was connected to a lack of personal witnessing.

““When I pray and do evangelism, I have laid hold of God’s own … method [of salvation],” Jack wrote. Therefore, he concluded elsewhere, “we must get down to knee-work””

When Jack returned home he continued his study of prayer, promises and the out-pouring of the Spirit. He became a functional Trinitarian rather than neglecting the Spirit. Edmund Clowney helped him see these connections more clearly. Like Paul he wanted to boast in his weakness instead of fleeing weakness. American Christians seem to fear weakness, and expressing their very real weakness. Our denomination struggles with pride: we value success, not struggle. We hide our weaknesses. This can be seen in comments about not needing to learn from other denominations. We think we have it all together.

Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender Miller, C. John cover image

In evangelism, he realized he invited people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelism is relational, and he began to add “Lordship evangelism” to the mix. We can see this in his book Repentance (formerly Repentance & the 20th Century Man). We cannot tear Christ asunder. He was influenced in this view by a paragraph in Bavinck which unmasks false religions as sin and calls people to a knowledge of the true God. Jack sought to approach people as a fellow sinner rather than an angry Christian. We should be humble as forgiven people. We speak as repentant people, not those who have arrived (the last chapter of Repentance is all about this).

Jack experienced a new freedom in evangelism, and ministry. He was free to confess his sins, leading people as the repenter-in-chief. The danger can be that others are content to let you confess your sin as though they don’t also need to do this. As pastor, I can often feel that I’m the only one who seems to own their sin in conflict.

In 1972 Rose Marie experienced a series of health problems. He knew that he should leave either the Chapel or WTS to have more time to care for her. Shaeffer advised him to remain at WTS in order to influence a generation of pastors. He resigned from Mechanicsville Chapel. A few months later his daughter Barbara announced she was leaving the faith. This resulted in an expanded paper on repentance which would become Repentance & the 20th Century Man. It also resulted in a prayer group meeting in his home in Jenkintown.

Those prayer meetings began considering a church where the unconverted could hear about Jesus and be called to faith. By February 1973, 48 people met in the Miller home for the first meeting of what would become New Life Church. They met at 4:30 in the afternoon. Soon they met in the local library. Despite expanding to two services, they needed a larger facility. They moved to the YMCA in 1974 and would be there until 1981.

One main emphasis for New Life was prayer, and prayer meetings could last 3 or 4 hours. People were encouraged to invite non-Christians. John Julien, son of the OPC elder who provided airfare, lived with the Millers during this time frame. As a WTS student, he noted it was essentially a never-ending prayer meeting at the house.

Jack began to speak of “preaching the gospel to yourself.” This practice was not original to him though the language seems to be. Martyn Lloyd-Jones encouraged people to talk to themselves instead of listening to themselves. The Puritans talked of claiming the promises.

Jack’s theology of evangelism which included relationships, Lordship and weakness now incorporated hospitality. This did not mean it could only take place in the home, but that home was a good place to further friendship and express love. This didn’t mean easy. It was often messy. Dealing with sin and misunderstandings in light of the gospel is one way to make the gospel visible and relevant. There was also an assault on a host. Graham includes a shocking example of this with Gwen. After spending time living with the Millers she began to plan their murder. Before carrying out a plan she confessed this to them and experienced the reality of forgiveness. She saw her sinfulness in wanting to kill the only people who’d given her consistent love.

Despite the numerous and often dramatic conversions, Jack learned all was not well at home. So good at listening to others, Rose Marie declared that Jack didn’t listen to her. Jack began to develop his listening skills with her. When he asked again, she had the same answer. He realized his sin problem was deeper than he thought. But so was hers. She looked to him as something of a savior. Her struggle deepened. In 1975 he was granted a sabbatical to caravan in Ireland and Europe. Rose Marie began to learn what Jack had learned earlier about regular repentance and reliant prayer.

Back at New Life Jack had help from Ron Lutz, a WTS intern who became an associate pastor, and Dick Kaufmann. These men complemented one another, and Jack, to form a great team.

Cheer Up! Justification Is By Faith Alone, Even in the Twentieth Century

The growth of New Life Church contributed to a theological controversy that occupied Jack, WTS and the OPC for seven years (1976-1983). This chapter is one of the best resources to understand the controversy. The Trinity Foundation material was not helpful to me. Graham reflects Jack’s concerns, but doesn’t vilify Shepherd. Neither did Jack. Graham also notes that at points, Jack agreed with Norman Shepherd.

Shepherd taught systematic theology at Westminster. He was concerned about “easy believism” in general and what he perceived was happening at New Life. His concerns were similar to later concerns about Sonship (which I find generally unfounded) that the emphasis is so much on justification that sanctification is neglected.

As is common, to address one extreme Shepherd went to a different or opposite extreme rather than re-establishing the gospel. Shepherd began to stress the necessity of works for salvation. How you express that matters. Confessionally, they are necessary evidence of justification but never the basis for justification. It is common to speak of having been saved (justification), being saved (sanctification) and will be saved (glorification). Shepherd expressed the ideas of having been justified, being justified and will be justified. His views seem to lay the foundation for Piper’s “final justification” which includes works, and the Federal Vision (as much as I can understand the FV).

Shepherd believed Jack expressed a Lutheran law-gospel distinction (the WCF expresses such a distinction), while Jack believed that Shepherd overly stressed the continuity of the covenant such that he lost sight of the newness of the covenant under Christ, particularly the outpouring of the Spirit. It was a controversy that tore at the fabric of Westminster’s faculty and board, and then the OPC. This controversy is one reason the PCA turned down the OPC’s inquiry into uniting along with the RPCES. The PCA and RPCES would unite in 1982.

It did result in Shepherd being removed from the faculty after years of debate. It did drive Jack deeper into the Scriptures, Confessions and theologians like Calvin, Vos and more. Sadly his unpublished paper “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century” remains unpublished and isn’t an appendix to this book. Similar to the Marrow Controversy, we should learn that “easy believism” and various forms of “Lordship salvation” are twin sins whose answer is always the gospel rather than pushing the opposite error.

Jack lamented the damage to God’s glory and faculty relationships. In a letter to Gaffin he wrote “I’m left totally downcast at our inability to work through these matters in a gospel manner.” I find his comments in a letter to Norman Shepherd pertinent to the PCA’s current struggles.

“On some points I am closer to you than brothers like Arthur [Kuschke] and Palmer [Robertson]. On the basic issue I think I am further away from you than they … The conflict simply cannot go on in this form simply because it undermines the clarity of the gospel and confuses the faith of us all. … My purpose is only that you might understand that your style at times was not one of reconciliation and mutual love. … It must be greatly offensive to the Lord to see us defending the gospel in a manner that puts us at a distance from one another… The whole matter makes me sick at heart. I see little honor for Christ in what has happened, and no victors, only mutual shamefacedness.”

Theological precision is important, but love is more important. We aren’t discussing vastly different theological systems, but are down in the finest of points. These are not departures from the gospel, but seem to be about how best to minister to others in a culture more like Corinth than the one we grew up in many decades ago.

Cheer Up! God’s Kingdom Is More Wonderful Than You Ever Imagined

A friendship with an African pastor opened the door to ministry in Africa and the formation of World Harvest Mission (now named Serge). WHM would spread to Ireland, Spain and other nations.

That pastor was Kefa Sempangi, who initially met Edmund Clowney at the home of Hans Rookmaaker in 1973. He led a Pentecostal church in Uganda and wanted more trained pastors in his home country. Shortly after Idi Amin took control, Sempangi and his family fled for their lives and he ended up at Westminster. Attending New Life, he became a friend Jack’s who introduced him to Reformed Theology.

New Life began sending some missionaries to refugee camps in Kenya. New Life was a pioneer of short-terms missions as they sent teams to Africa and Ireland. When they were able to go back into Uganda it was still scary. Any sermon could be your last in light of all the armed and angry people. The level of poverty they experienced was also shocking. Rose Marie, in particular, struggled with this. Jack expressed that she was living like an orphan, as if an all-powerful and good God wasn’t her Father. Jack’s weakness and cultural sensitivity opened many doors and hearts. Numerous churches were planted, and people converted.

During this period, Barbara divorced her husband. Their conflict with her “beat the stuffing” out of them. Jack slowly began to apply what he’d learned with others to this relationship: repenting of his failures as a father. He expressed his love for her, which angered her but eventually broke her. She and her new husband Angelo would convert to Christianity in 1980.

In 1982, mission creep led to frustrations between the PCU and NLC. This led to the formation of World Harvest Mission with a clearer vision and mission. In 1983, Rose Marie confronted Jack about his two mistresses: the PCU and NLC. She expressed the need for him to cherish and nurture her (Eph. 5) like he did them. Growth in one area does not guarantee growth in all. We can also fall into the same traps a few times. Jack’s pioneering spirit expressed its downside in his marriage. Living on the cutting end of life is not good for your marriage. At the same time a financial misunderstanding led to a break between the PCU and WHM. The day before leaving Uganda after contentious meetings, Jack suffered a major heart attack. His weakness would deepen. The conflict would be put on hold.

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

In light of this, John Julien was tabbed to plant a New Life church in Philadelphia (he would serve until he retired in 2020). Other changes at New Life became necessary. In the midst of this the AIDS crisis emerged in the States. Jack had seen AIDS in Africa and was far more compassionate than most evangelical leaders. During his recuperation he wrote Outgrowing the In-grown Church.

“We must become the community of the forgiven and forgiving, not the community of the frightened.”

Training manuals for New Life and World Harvest continued to be updated. Paul Miller developed the course to cover prayer, evangelism and discipleship. It had four modules, as Paul describes them “In Sonship you learn about God’s love for you. In Discipleship you learn to communicate that with another Christian. In Evangelism you learn to communicate the gospel with non-Christians, and in Teams you do that with a group of Christians.” So, you have the foundation of Sonship.

Jack taught a Sonship course in St. Louis in 1986. President Kooistra of Covenant Theological Seminary invited him to speak on campus. Kooistra wanted to establish a theology and practice of grace, concerned about a form of Reformed fundamentalism that used theological strictness to continually whittle the church down (and denomination). He saw this as a response to liberalism (here we see the opposite reaction being another departure from the gospel, again). Jack kept pointing him to the gospel of grace as the answer and hope for the denomination.

Learning this I can see why some so despise Covenant Theological Seminary. They want CTS to be theologically strict. This is all part of the Subscriptionist debate in the PCA. This on-going tension seems to be playing a part in the recent controversies.  Theological agreement in the minutest point take precedence over our calling to “seek and save the lost” and partake in the ministry of reconciliation rather than one of condemnation. In Repentance, Jack speaks of loving the Confession more than the Christ of whom the Confession speaks. Some prize theology more than Christ and His church and end up damaging the church through a lack of love.

Cheer Up! Come On, Let’s Die Together! It’s a Great Way To Come To Life

Graham looks at the last few years of Jack’s life as he continued to struggle with health issues. This also saw the growth of the Sonship movement along with criticism from unlikely sources.

I’m not sure the doctrine of justification was neglected in the PCA, but certainly the doctrine of adoption was. You could say justification is neglected as a present reality. Sonship was intended to not simply be theoretical, but designed to help people live out biblical theology, as well as communicate it. It focused on a life of repentance.

Jack perceived resistance in the OPC. In his opinion, too many pastors focused on the sins and failings of others and not their own, nor the denominations. They were in-grown. He began to think that NLC and WHM were a better fit for the PCA than the OPC.

For instance, after his first pastorate in Hopewell Tim Keller worshiped at NLC for 5 years while teaching at WTS. He’d been asked to find a good candidate to plant a church in Manhattan, NY and ended up going himself. He would bring what he learned at NLC to this PCA church plant.

Additionally, the PCA’s Mission to the World used Sonship to train its missionaries. The failed union between the PCA and OPC weighed on Jack as well. The PCU asked Jack how the denominations could work together in Uganda but not in America. After the Shepherd Controversy ended, the PCA extended another offer to the OPC in 1984. This time the OPC, in a 1986 GA vote, rejected the union.

Many thought the denominations nearly identical. There is more to it than theology (as the tensions in the PCA today reveal). There are also considerations of culture and methodology (applied theology). In these regards the OPC is very different from the PCA (and the ARP, RPCNA etc.). In these terms, NLC and WHM fit much better in the PCA.

What happened is odd in that NLC would move into the PCA in 1990. It took so long as the leaders were aware that their departure, as the largest congregation, could have huge ramifications. WHM would remain distinct, and eventually old friend Paul Kooistra would end the use of Sonship for training. The issue seemed to be more about some of the disciplers/trainers than the program. Our Pharisaical hearts can even be legalistic about grace, and some MTW missionaries expressed this concern.

With Jack’s declining health, he followed the advice of many to resign from NLC and work only with WHM in late 1990. There was a financial issue to address. He had to adjust to the additional oversight provided by a board, particularly as a man who had a pioneer spirit. As he health continued to decline due to a series of mini-strokes he focused more on prayer. He wrote A Faith Worth Sharing in 1996.

“It is hard to see it as a perfect plan if you don’t know how much God loves you, because hard things happen to all of us.”

A Faith Worth Sharing: A Lifetime of Conversations About Christ

He continued to travel to speak in the U.S. and Europe. On the day before a scheduled trip home from Spain in April of 1996 he experienced more angina. When they performed surgery on him they discovered that the damage to his heart from the earlier heart attack and his chemotherapy had damaged too much of his heart. It was only a matter of time, and family members rushed to Spain to say their good-byes. Jack was only 67 when he died.

After his death, criticism of Sonship came from some unexpected sources. One was Jay Adams, who had served with Jack for years on the practical theology faculty of WTS. They had been friends which made the personal tone Adams used particularly painful for the Miller family. The word used as Graham discusses this is “psychological”. Perhaps the old word used by the Puritans would be more appropriate: experiential. Sonship pushed you to experience or appropriate grace, not discuss it in the abstract (like a good Presbyterian). Much of the criticism seems focused here. When one uses shorthand too much it can become too much like magic. Kooistra spoke of grace becoming a power word (like gospel-centered would be later), as though simply talking about grace was the answer instead of seeking grace in Jesus Christ by faith.

Graham speaks to the legacy of Jack Miller, which really can’t be well accounted in this life. In terms of institutions you do see his fingerprints on WTS as well as Covenant Theological Seminary (via Kooistra) and Reformed Theological Seminary (as many WTS grads taught there). His impact on pastors, missionaries  and lay people can’t be added up. We will ultimately only be able to behold the fruit in heaven.

Graham did call this a critical biography. He shows us Jack’s development (which includes struggles and sin) as a person, pastor and professor. He shows us Jack’s failings as a father and husband. But those failings were not the end of the story. Graham shows his repentance and gradual transformation. While Jack was worse than he knew, Jesus was greater than Jack could ever imagine. Jack’s pride, self-reliance and insecurity would not get the final word. And neither will yours. This biography offers hope to the struggling pastor, father, husband, elder, missionary, lay person because it shows us that Jesus uses flawed people who embrace their flaws and trust in Christ.

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Jack Miller has been one of the Christian leaders in the background of my life since he came to RTS Orlando to speak on repentance in the 1990’s. My wife and I benefited from Sonship shortly after we were married in 2002. I’ve given away his book The Heart of the Servant Leader to officers, and his devotional to officers and graduates. I’ve used Gospel Transformation for discipleship.

I am not alone. When it comes to the topic of grace, leaders and authors like Tim Keller, Joni Earekson Tada, Jerry Bridges, David Powlison and so many more point to Jack Miller as influential in their lives. He was a pastor, missionary, evangelist, seminary professor who could be summed up as pioneer.

Cheer Up!: The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller - Graham, Michael A - 9781629957210

In Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller, Michael A. Graham communicates Jack’s background, struggles, triumphs and legacy. While Graham’s respect for Miller shines through, this is not hagiography. We see some of Jack’s warts (post-conversion). He is a real man who struggled with sin and found strength in Christ through the Spirit. We also see how the struggles shaped not only his theological emphases, but his approach to ministry.

If your joy is gone, this is a great book to read. If you have a disconnect between your theology and practice, this is a great book to read. If your ministry is going well but family life is not so well, this is a great book to read. It is about how God graciously works in those He loves to bring them where He longs for them to be.

Cheer Up! What Happened to All Your Joy?

Graham’s introduction is appropriate for my own state of mind. Well, the title is. He explains why this is a “critical biography”, as well as his own connections to Jack and Rose Marie. Sonship played a key role in his conversion, and helped save his marriage. During a PhD seminar led by Daniel Akin, Graham notes that the man who influenced the authors of many of the books they were reading was Jack Miller. Dr. Akin was not familiar with Miller and remarked that Graham needed to write a biography on Miller. Graham’s dissertation was a critical biography which has been adapted to become this book. He notes that the gospel was the soundtrack of Jack’s life. When the gospel isn’t the soundtrack (if we change the channel for a while as we are prone to do) we lose our joy. We will discover the times when Jack’s life turned to a minor key, and he struggled. But those struggles opened him to realize the greatness of grace in a new way. This is how God works in our lives. Sometimes it is needful for our us to struggle, even fail, so our weakness reveals His strength, our foolishness His wisdom, our sinfulness His mercy.

“While Jack’s sin patterns do not define him, they grew out of real areas of sin that Jack took seriously and often wept over.”

Cheer Up! God’s Grace Is Far Greater than You ever Dared Hope

The first chapter traces Jack’s family background, marked by tragedy, up to his conversion to Christ as a young man. His early childhood in Oregon was not easy but taught him an independent, self-reliant spirit that was both a blessing and a curse.

I used the word pioneer for a reason. Both sets of his grandparents were pioneers who crossed the Northwest Passage and settled in Oregon. They knew prosperity and poverty. His father was a game hunter, guide and bred hunting dogs. He had a reputation as one of the best in the state.

When Jack was 2 in 1930, his father was pressured by a relative to go on a hunting trip. He was accidentally killed on that trip. Jack was “fathered” by his older brother Leo.

Nearly destitute, Jack’s mother re-married but Al was an abuser. Jack, being the youngest, endured a reign of verbal and physical terror that stopped only when Leo threatened Al if he ever laid a hand on Jack again. Fearing life under Al’s roof, a teenaged Jack moved in with his sister in San Francisco. We begin to see why the doctrine of adoption became such an emphasis for Jack as a result of his difficult childhood. We also see the pioneering spirit as he would return in the summers to work in the national parks.

Jack grew up in a nominal Christian family and church that didn’t seem helpful in processing the pain of his life. At the age of 12 he declared himself an atheist. When he moved to San Francisco, he finished high school, got his machinist certification and worked in the shipyard. Ella Mae, had come to Christ, attended First Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Jack began to attend as well but studied the Bible to argue with the people there. Additional members of his family were converted. In 1945, Jack “converted”. He later called this outward, behavioral change rather than true conversion. Leo’s death, 2 weeks before his discharge from the military in 1945, devastated Jack. He dropped out to college and returned to Oregon for three years.

In 1948 he read Machen’s The Christian View of Man. This was his first exposure to the doctrine of predestination. He hated it! Since Machen referenced Ephesians 1, Jack read it. The Spirit opened Jack’s eyes and for the first time he understood the treasonous nature of sin- to play the part of God. He also finally understood something of who God was. Jack was truly converted to Christ, not simply to “religion”. Jack found a new joy, a stubborn joy. Jack also returned to San Francisco and college.

As a new Christian, Jack learned to share his faith. As a college student he didn’t earn much money. He stayed in a boarding house, eventually becoming the cook. There he interacted with ordinary, sometimes hard men. He also shared his faith with them. He learned about relational evangelism: building trust over time so people can see the authenticity of the message.

“The people you encounter daily are the ones Jesus wants you to share the gospel with. But make sure that you are understanding and loving the gospel more each day yourself or you will not be able to love and understand the friends at your ‘breakfast table.’”

Jack also saw the power of the church in evangelism. Another boarder, Gus, was an atheist. Jack had been unable to convince him of the truth of Christianity. But Gus accepted an invitation of a gathering at First OPC. There Gus saw the love of Christians for one another. The relationship led to community and that helped lead Gus to faith. As Jack continued to share his faith with Bill, the owner of the boarding house he saw in real life the sovereign nature of grace. Evangelism is ultimately about what God does, not what we do.

Cheer Up! You Are Far Worse Than You Think

The second chapter covers his life as a new Christian along the long and winding road to ministry which saw early success. That success came at a cost, and soon Jack’s joy was gone and he was on the brink of giving up.

In early 1949, Jack was teaching a class at First OPC when he noticed a young lady who taught another class. Her name was Rose Marie. He began their relationship by trying to convince her that dispensationalism was erroneous. When he returned to Oregon for the summer to work for the National Park Service, he would write her letters. Those letters were all about doctrine.

Rose Marie came from a Lutheran family that lost their money in the stock market crash of 1929. When Rose Marie was 13, she prevented her mother from committing suicide, and it wouldn’t be the last time. Her first fiancé broke off the engagement when he realized marrying her included marrying into an impoverished family with a suicidal mother and developmentally disabled sister to help care for. When Jack proposed, she wanted him to embrace her role as part-time caretaker for the family. Jack was convinced of two things at this time: that he would marry her and that he would go to Westminster Theological Seminary to study under Van Til.

Self-reliant Jack carried the financial burden of the family himself. While completing his undergraduate degree he worked at the school cafeteria. They lived in a boarding house. In the summer they would return to Oregon to his job with the National Park Service, and when not reading books he’d teach her to shoot.

As their family expanded, God continued to provide. First it was a friend at church who owned a rent-controlled home they lived in for $25/month while he continued his studies in philosophy. At the time that Jack graduated and Paul was born, the home was no longer rent-controlled and God provided a 3-bedroom apartment through another friend from church for $30/month.

Before he graduated God began to address Jack’s fear of man. A professor, Alfred Fisk, was known to attack and undermine the faith of conservative Christian students. When he turned his attention to Jack, Jack’s response was rooted in Machen’s book. Fisk, noting the influence of his old Princeton professor, decided to leave Jack alone. Later Fisk would share an exchange he had with Machen, and Jack invited him to come to Christ. Jack realized Fisk was trusting in his reason. It was this encounter that convinced Jack to attend WTS and study under Cornelius Van Til.

First OPC supported this move and provided monthly money for food. Ruling Elder Jack Julien, a friend of mine, provided the Millers with the airfare to get to Philadelphia. Knowing his friendship with Jack I provided him with a copy of this book. Little did I realize that he would make an appearance (as would his son).

Unfortunately Philadelphia was difficult on their health. There were financial problems. After two harsh winters, they moved back west before Jack completed his degree.

Jack got a job teaching at a school in Ripon associated with the CRC. The financial stress began to bother Rose Marie. It probably didn’t help that the Dutch community was fairly closed to outsiders like the Millers, resulting in relational isolation for the stay-at-home mom. They also lived in a two-bedroom house near the jail, which was not an enviable location. Jack, the pioneer, wanted to apply Dooyeweerdian philosophy to literature, which did not thrill the headmaster. To supplement their income, Jack worked part-time for WTS doing fund raising in California. He also worked with a core group in Modesto to begin morning and evening worship. People in the OPC and WTS viewed him as a rising star and made offers, including leaving his family in CA to finish in Philadelphia before returning to church work in CA. He considered teaching in a seminary once he got his doctorate, and was enrolled to begin in the fall of 1958.

In early 1959 he and another elder were appointed to a church mission in Stockton, CA. Since he did not have his degree, his ordination was “irregular”. His friend Rousas Rushdoony moderated the installation service. Jack was still teaching at Ripon. His time was divided by many projects, and Rose Marie grew increasingly angry and felt guilty. Jack also lost his joy in Stockton. He decided to study philosophy at the University of the Pacific rather than Cal-Berkley since they offered a stipend. As a result he resigned from teaching in Ripon. Two years later he resigned from Bethany OPC to work in a think tank. His time there was also marked by disappointments and changes.

In 1964 Edmund Clowney presented the offer for Jack to return to Philadelphia to finish his degree at WTS and join the faculty when he finished his PhD. Jack completed his qualifying exams at University of the Pacific, and traveled to Philadelphia to find housing suitable for his family and Rose Marie’s side of the family. He rented a home in Jenkintown and got a job with the OPC’s The Mark Magazine. Jack was struck by how ingrown the local OPC churches were.

In 1965 he transferred his credentials to Philadelphia and became stated supply for Mechanicsville Chapel (useless trivia, the first wedding I officiated was in Mechanicsville, PA), a small independent church that hadn’t had a pastor for a few years. He developed the Chapel into a preaching station for students. He finished his own WTS degree in 1965, began to teaching at WTS in 1966 and defended his dissertation in 1968. Jack would remain a professor in the practical theology department until 1982.

Jack was there during two eras at Westminster. He was present for the end of the “early Westminster” period, which Clowney described at having a closed fist. The battle with liberalism that led to the formation of WTS marked this period. The “middle Westminster” period was one of marked by internal struggles. Graham provides a brief history of WTS for those who aren’t as familiar with the institution. Both Van Til and Jack preached and practiced evangelism, often doing street preaching together in the 60’s and 70’s.

Early on Jack struggled personally, spiritually. He later would say he was working out his salvation in his own strength. His theology of grace was not yet applied to ministry. He was insecure. While things went well in ministry, they were not well at home as some of the kids felt forgotten. His pride was producing an angry and critical spirit.

Jack, feeling driven, talked to Francis Schaeffer, D. James Kennedy, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Donald McGavran and Albert Martin about effective ministry and ministers. He found four common features: clear and relevant gospel messages, availability to people to preach to them where they worked and lived, taking risks and being in vulnerable positions, and commitment to prayer. The last seemed the hardest for Jack at the time. As he spoke with these men, it was for them as well. God would work to bring Jack to his knees in prayer.

In 1966 Jack recruited William Edgar to work in New Hope with a model based on L’Abri. New Hope was an artsy community, and Jack and William spoke about art. Early enthusiasm waned, the Edgars were under great financial stress and he felt in over his head. After 6 months the ministry collapsed, Jack blamed Edgar, and Edgar returned to Connecticut. Edgar was deeply wounded by Jack’s accusations. Jack slipped into a depression. It got to the point in May of 1970 that he offered his resignation at both the Chapel and WTS. He informed Rose Marie that he was without any jobs.

Jack now had time to pray, and cry. Here’s how Graham puts it:

“As he prayed, he realized how much he “had been crippled by [his] liking to be liked.”. He had entered into what Richard Lovelace called “an unconscious conspiracy” between this desire to be liked and applauded and the desire of his congregation to remain comfortable and undisturbed. In such a scenario, Lovelace said “pastors are permitted to become ministerial superstars. Their pride is fed … and their congregations are permitted to remain herds of sheep in which each one has cheerfully turned to his own way.””

Jack realized neither he nor the congregations had lives of faith and repentance. He expected them to change, but not to change himself. He had to face his need for approval. Realizing this, not the Chapel or WTS, was the problem he agreed to return to both. For reasons not explained he couldn’t express his repentance to Edgar for two decades. It waited until Edgar was hired as a professor of apologetics in 1989. But Jack’s approach to ministry, and life (!) was changed after his crisis in 1970.

I suspect Jack’s experience is all too common. The subject of the “unconscious conspiracy” may require another post. The fear of man, showing up as the approval of man, marks many ministries and ministers.

Since my interactive review is so long, I will pick up in Part 2 (as you might have figured out by the title).

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A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble Paul David Tripp cover image (1018202488879)

One of the books I’m reading on vacation is A Shelter in the Time of Storm by Paul Tripp. I will confess that I cannot stop reading, but I’m reading books geared to address my spiritual condition during this vacation. It isn’t deep theology but practical theology.

In this particular book, Tripp is providing a series of meditations on Psalm 27 which is one of my favorite Psalms. In the portion I read today he referred to:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.

He spoke about sight, or the lack of it, through his friend George. George is physically blind. It shapes his entire life, and he has to compensate for this reality. One way he compensates is by recognizing his limitations (as the philosopher Harry Callahan said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”). Another way he compensates is to ask others to help in light of those limitations.

Tripp uses this to address the reality of our spiritual blindness. He overstates the case, for the Christian. I’m no longer spiritually blind due to regeneration, but my spiritual eyesight is not perfect.

All my life my father has worn glasses. He recently had cataract surgery. He now only needs glasses to read. His eyesight is greatly improved over his previous condition, even before his cataracts. But he needs reading glasses.

Our spiritual blindness has been removed to a great degree. We “see” Christ and the gospel. But we still have blind spots. There are things about God and ourselves that we can’t see well, clearly or even at all (Calvin notes that our knowledge of God and ourselves is connected).

Tripp’s point is that we need to admit we have blind spots and need to compensate for them. We are to use the corrective lens of the Scriptures, illuminated by the Spirit, to help us see more clearly. But we are also to depend on community, the help of others to help us see God and ourselves more clearly.

Part of our blindness is to our own sin. We seem to see the sin of others very clearly. Jesus warns us about our inner Pharisee who is always on the look out for other people’s sin while being blind to our own.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7

We tend to judge others. By that Jesus means condemn. It isn’t simply saying an action was wrong, and that is why His warning is so stark. Watch out, the same measure will be used against you! Do you judge/condemn people based on their worst moment? Do you offer them grace and repentance?

Even more importantly, do you see yourself? Is the log in your eye clear to you? Probably not or you would have dealt with it. Jesus longs for us to deal with our sin first. Jesus begins with addressing them as a community, for the verbs in nouns in vv. 1-2 are plural. But He shifts to the personal as they are then singular.

Churches can be very focused on the sins of other churches (especially if there was a denominational or congregational split), or of the surrounding community of unbelievers (this is the problem of culture wars- sin is out there, not also in here). Jesus is telling our congregations and denominations to stop focusing on “their” sin (whomever they may be) and get the log out of our collective eyes. We need to see ourselves more clearly in light of who God is, and repent of our sins before we are calling out others, as a community. This should be reflected in our preaching and our conversation. What a change it would make in our evangelism if we came from a posture of humility and repentance instead of condemnation?

We as people are often blinded to our sinful contributions to our communities. We need to get the log out of our own eyes before we start to judge and condemn our brothers. Note that: Jesus says we can’t help our brothers until we are honest about ourselves. Our calling is not to become the Accuser of the Brothers.

Biblical Peacemaking Applying the Gospel to Conflicts of Daily Life - ppt  download
There is a reason for the order.

Imagine if everyone or at least most of the people in your church were focused on their sins and not other people’s sins. Reconciliation is much easier when people are “getting the log out” and owning their contributions to the conflict. Reconciliation is incredibly difficult when you think it is all the other person’s fault. Our spiritual blind spots lead us to think that we see it all clearly, when we don’t. We think we see clearly, perfectly, but we do not.

We not only need the Scriptures, but also one another as part of the Spirit-dwelling community. Recognizing you have blind spots means you invite feedback. I do this (though not all the time). The feedback should come from someone involved in the situation, not simply someone you told your side to. I ask “the guys in the room”. I ask if I was out of line. I can’t see my sin clearly and I want them to help me see it.

I don’t usually ask the person who is mad at me because their vision is often blinded to a degree. As both (all) of you seek to get the logs out of your eyes, this becomes more reasonable. I don’t need the participate in nor invite the ministry of condemnation. We are to restore one another gently (Gal. 6).

You can come alongside your brother and ask if they want 3rd party feedback. But people generally don’t give it unless asked. So ask. Ask your spouse if you were harsh with your child. Perhaps ask someone if you were harsh with your spouse. Or friend. Ask for help to see the log you need to get out of your eye so you can help your brother.

Imagine a community committed to that! That’s the community I want to be a part of, one in which people see themselves as the biggest sinners in the room, asking for help with their logs and gentle addressing the specks in their brother’s eyes. I want to be part of a community that focuses more on the holiness of the community than the unholiness of the world.

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The other day some other pastors and I gathered to discuss the amendments. It was a helpful and charitable discussion that went beyond the amendments to our larger concerns about the denomination and the tensions pulling it in opposite directions. We don’t see those same forces at work to the same degree in our presbytery, but we could be wrong.

I thought I would refer to the rationale presented for voting for the amendments. I want to present them fairly, and so they are not straw men I can easily knock down.

Rationale for BCO 16

It was advised that we consider it grammatically by removing the parenthesis to add clarity. Here we are:

16-4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity … that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.

This helps one to see that an identity undermines or contradicts one’s identity when it meets any one or more of the three criteria given. This means, it was argued, that it offers protection to men experiencing SSA as long as none of these 3 things is true: denying the sinfulness of their desires, denying progressive sanctification, or failing to pursue said sanctification.

It is pretty straight forward.

My Disconnect

I cannot argue with the “exegesis.” I do however sense a grave disconnect. If this actually offers protection to SSA men then why are they generally against this amendment? If this offers protection to SSA men then why are those who find it to be a disqualifying condition in favor of it?

This would mean that both ends of the spectrum are not reading it accurately and fairly (nor am I- though how to interpret those 3 conditions is in the eye of the beholder). Those who find it to be a disqualifying condition read it as though such an identity necessarily violates at least one of the conditions.

Since we can’t agree on what it means and how it is to be applied, I still have reservations about passing it. I don’t want to see this “weaponized” by some presbyteries to be used against candidates or other presbyteries (as we have witnessed in some other cases).

Let’s provide an real life example. Many have expressed that conversion therapy has a very low success rate. My theory, which I have not endeavored to prove, is that those who arrive at SSA through abuse or experimentation are more likely to experience a change of attractions/desires sufficient to sustain a heterosexual marriage while those who have always felt that attraction/desire will not experience a significant/sufficient change of attractions/desires. So, as a result of such a track record some express little/no hope for a change in their attractions, but see progressive sanctification as addressing the mortification of the flesh, making no provision for the flesh and fleeing the evil desires rather than “becoming straight”. Would this view be seen as meeting one or more of the three conditions expressed in the amendment?

As we study human nature we see a proclivity due to our sinful nature to see our opponents in a less positive light. I risk doing that here. If one finds that SSA is a disqualifying condition, then anything that doesn’t sound like total victory can be viewed as meeting the conditions for undermining or contradicting our identity in Christ.

BCO 21-4 (and 24-1)
e. In the examination of the candidate’s personal character, the presbytery shall give specific attention to potentially notorious concerns, such as but not limited to relational sins, sexual immorality (including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography), addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5, Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of the pastoral office, Presbyteries are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations of these matters and to give prayerful support to candidates.

The brothers viewed this as procedural advice for ordination or credentials committees to examine men on a variety of subjects. It is not intended to provide grounds for disqualification so much as to address areas of inquiry.

As I noted in Part 1, I have fewer objections on this amendment. Other brothers had more strenuous objections focused on “reputation.” Another pastor I know expressed to me that he knew some men with ministries to homosexuals that were concerned whether sharing their own struggle with SSA might be construed as “being known by reputation or self-profession”. This may actual hinder their ministry of evangelism among the gay community.

It seems strange to me that some seem to deny our “remaining sinfulness” but I see men dismayed that a Christian would experience persistent temptations. I don’t want to re-trace the material in Part 1 about our remaining sin from the Westminster Confession. Let’s turn instead to the Heidelberg Catechism to see similar statements.

56. Q. What do you believe concerning the forgiveness of sins?

A. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor my sinful nature, against which I have to struggle all my life, but He will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never come into condemnation.

We see here in answer 56 that we struggle against our sinful nature, or indwelling sin, all our lives on earth. We don’t reach a point where we no longer need to struggle against it. We continue to experience temptations and actual sins produced by original sin. Our hope in this life is the righteousness of Christ, not our personal righteousness. Apart from this each of us would fall under condemnation. But, praise God, we are united to the Righteous One.

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

Our obedience, according to Answer 114 is but only a small beginning in this life. It may look like great progress from our perspective, but compared to God’s absolute standard it is meager indeed. The biblical pattern actually seems to be that our awareness of our sin grows as we mature. As we grow closer to the Light we are able to see the spots on our clothes more readily, and see more of them. This is why Paul called himself “chief of sinners” near the end of his life in 1 Timothy 1. The men we thought most holy saw themselves as ungodly. As I noted in a recent sermon, spiritual vitality is tied to our awareness of sin and repentance, not the absence of temptation. This latter is actually a lack of awareness of our temptations and transgressions.

Bi-vocational pastor Chris Accardy in a blog post points out that this amendment fails to mention our status as mandatory reporters in light of the discussion of childhood sexual abuse. His contention is that we open ourselves to lawsuits since our constitution mentions examining men on this subject without also stressing that this is not merely a moral issue but a legal issue.

The Larger Picture and Possible Consequences

Wisdom includes a concern for unintended consequences for our actions. There will be consequences whether the amendments are passed or not. Both sides of this discussion expressed concerns about trajectories, the idea that our denomination is not static but that we are going from 9.2-9.7 to 9.1-9.8 or farther. Some are concerned rejecting these amendments will move us farther left as a denomination. Others are concerned that passing them moves us farther right.

This all mirrors the larger discussion of evangelical fracturing that we are all seeing in our churches. Many are moving toward neo-fundamentalism and many are moving toward neo-liberalism. It is part of the polarization of American society. To use different terminology more of our people are becoming culture warriors and social justice warriors. My conviction is that we are to be trafficking in the gospel (to borrow from Dick Kauffman) and addressing issues of morality and justice as needed by our texts and their application. We should not be captive to either movement. We want our people to affirm a biblical morality and biblical justice because they have received Christ as He is presented to us in the gospel. He sets our agenda, not cultural movements.

These movements represent the fortress mentality versus the transformationist drive. We can’t remain huddled in our churches, fearful of society. We are to be engaging culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing our sins we should not be angry as we address the sins of culture. But we are also to be addressing the hearts of people, not simply laws. Godly people will seek to make godly laws, and those godly people are only produced by the gospel.

Many of our churches focus on the sins of society and not the sins of the church and Church. I believe our focus should primarily be on our sins and secondarily the sins of our society. We need to be humble, not self-righteous, as we speak of society’s ills. We need to be more concerned about unholiness in the church than godlessness in society. This is not to say we are seeking a “pure” or “regenerate” church. It is not about being perfect but about identifying and mortifying our sin. The majority of us, not simply a minority.

There are also generational concerns at play. Our Stated Clerk, Bryan Chapell talked about this issue in a presentation to stated clerks. We grew up in very different societies that affect how we tend to address cultural issues. While agreeing that abortion is immoral, the older generations focus on changing the law. Younger generations focus on caring for women and their children, as well as adoption. These should supplement one another rather than supplant one another. How they approach the question of homosexuality is different as well. Older generations fear the “gay agenda”. Younger generations lived in a world in which it was normalized and want to care for homosexuals instead of battle them for cultural power. These currents create some of the tensions here. Both sides, I believe, recognize the sinfulness of homosexuality while differing on how to minister to those who are homosexual. Remember, generations are not iron clad. Just because you are in a generation doesn’t mean you think like others in that generation because you were also raised in a family and a church that may reflect other approaches.

If these pass, we may lose churches on one end of the continuum. That end tends to leave to join other denominations. If this doesn’t pass some like Jon Payne have advocated for staying and fighting, though leaving is always a future option. Those who do leave may leave for other denominations. Some may leave loudly and form a new denomination (it is hard to leave quietly when you are inviting others to join you). Sadly there will be loses on either pole of the spectrum and those of us in the “squishy middle” will press on while recognizing that we do, in fact, serve in imperfect churches, presbyteries and denomination. My idealism manifests itself in “why can’t we get along” while other people’s idealism manifests itself in pursuing a more pure context. If we struggle with our sin nature, and everyone else does too, it makes sense that there will be differences both moral and non-moral. I can live with that.

The Tenor of the Controversy

I was quite pleased with the tenor of our discussion. We gave one another space to make their case. We spoke as brothers, not adversaries. There were no accusations, though our fears or concerns included reference to wider audiences. The tenor of those discussions was not so hopeful, charitable and edifying.

The declension in the fruit of the Spirit is disconcerting and disheartening. Thankfully there are men who respond well when how they engage becomes a problem. Others speak like this is the 16th century and their opponent is a Roman bishop defending the Council of Trent. They forget we are brothers, and how we speak to brothers is very different than how one speaks to an enemy of the gospel. Or perhaps that is the point, they consider those who differ with them to be enemies of the gospel. I don’t know, but there are men I choose not to interact with because of how they treat those with whom they disagree.

I’m currently reading Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller by Michael Graham. I just finished the chapter on the Shepherd Controversy. We see that Shepherd’s concern for easy-believism led him into a novel view of justification similar to how we can express salvation (been saved, being saved, and will be saved). We use those phrases to refer to justification & adoption, sanctification and glorification respectively. His view of final justification seems to have been picked up by Piper, and his covenant faithfulness by the Federal Vision. Shepherd had a point but instead of returning to the gospel he over-corrected. This is similar to the problem of the Marrow Controversy. The answer to antinomianism isn’t legalism or “Lordship Salvation”. The answer for either is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For more on this you should read The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson.

Cheer Up!: The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller - Graham, Michael A - 9781629957210

My point is that the sentiments expressed by Miller to Shepherd after the latter had finally been removed from the faculty after a 7 year controversy are similar to mine about this controversy though it is not at the heart of the gospel like that was.

“What strikes me, however, is the common failing we have all shared in. What is the gospel all about? It is the reconciliation of sinners to God through the blood of Christ and the reconciliation of men to one another as the fruit of that reconciliation to God. I believe that is the priority which is on the heart of the Lord- and one that we sadly neglected in our relationships to one another. It must be greatly offensive to the Lord to see us defending the gospel in a manner that puts us at a distance from one another… I fear that we have acted hypocritically as brothers together in debating issues that we know little about as part of our own obedience. … The whole matter makes me sick at heart. I see little honor for Christ in what has happened, and no victors, only mutual shamefacedness.” (Graham, pp. 125)

May we not experience this when it is all said and done.

Hopefully I faithfully represented the views of others. Hopefully I faithfully describe more of the bigger picture tensions that drive our differences. Hopefully men are able think through this more clearly. Hopefully we will act like and remain brothers on the far side.

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The CT podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill with Mike Cosper (former worship pastor and author of Rhythms of Grace) has been interesting, to say the least. Some have attributed some odd motives to the podcast. Some I have heard or seen have included bashing complementarians.

The point, to me, is the patterns of spiritual abuse among “Christian celebrities”. A pastor doesn’t need to be a celebrity pastor to abuse congregants. This podcast wants people to be able to see the signs of abusive leadership so they can begin to address it or flee from it.

The episode I listened to this morning was the one off on Joshua Harris called I Kissed Christianity Goodbye. Harris is involved because of the spiritual abuse that took place at Covenant Life when he was a pastor, its affect on him, his coming to grips with how I Kissed Dating Goodbye mainstreamed purity culture in the evangelical church, and how this actually caused a crisis of faith for Harris. As the title alludes to, he deconstructed his faith and no longer identifies as a Christian.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye

He was a teen when he wrote the book that made him famous. It sold over a million copies. I never bought one. I might have read it once to see what all this girls I asked out were talking about. I could claim this book hurt me since it was the stated reason given for some to not date.

I did not grow up in the church and prior to my conversion was guilty of fornication. It is a sin, but purity culture elevated it to the worst sin one could commit. Well, except for homosexuality. The book was written to help people avoid this sin. If you don’t date you won’t find yourself in tempting positions.

This is advancement of purity culture combined with aspects of the shepherding movement. In later years, Harris would see the legalism behind his book and the movement. He seems to have taken the hurt others experienced as if he did it.

The views expressed by Harris (and Doug Wilson whose book I did read) have some application to teens. I do advise my kids not to worry about romantic relationships until they are ready to marry. But I do not “enforce” that. It is advice, not a command.

As a man in my late 20’s and early 30’s who lived thousands of miles from my unbelieving parents who typically knew adult women who lived in another state from their parents, it seemed impractical. I ended up meeting my wife’s parents once before we were engaged. She hadn’t met mine.

When you write a book, you are responsible for what you right. He has been recognizing the issues with the book. That’s a good thing though it led him to leave the faith rather than repent (as Cosper mentions). The gospel is about both our sinfulness (which includes writing books with degrees of error) and God’s mercy in Christ. When we don’t grasp the latter we tend to spiral.

When you write a book, you are not responsible for what other sinners do with it. Some of the people who spoke to him later told of it being weaponized against them. That is on them, not you. It did strike Harris deep, however.

Sovereign Grace Scandal

As we have learned, the Sovereign Grace movement/denomination treated abuse as a sin and addressed the need for reconciliation. It is a sin, and there needs to be reconciliation. But it is also a crime. The Roman Catholic Church, like Sovereign Grace, approached it as a sin alone. That got them both in big messes.

Sadly, this is a common problem in evangelicalism. We think about the “reputation” of Christ and the church. Covering up crimes doesn’t guard reputations but creates a bad reputation for not addressing the crime aspect appropriately.

Harris realizes the damage this policy had done to so many. Victims were not protected, vindicated and cared for. They were treated as though they were the problem.

This was another thread in the awakening he experienced. He slowly discovered that Donald Miller was right- to be known for humility usually means you aren’t actually humble. We all struggle with legalism, and the tendency to tack on man-made rules to the gospel. They can be about dating, or not dating, or how you handle abuse.

The Spiral

Because we can add man-made rules to the gospel, we can also confuse them with the gospel. To question them is to begin to question the gospel itself. You begin to confuse your sin, and the sin of the church, as arguments against the gospel itself instead of the reason we need the gospel.

Lesson 1 of our membership course is about sin and the sinfulness of every single person in the church. You will sin against other people, and other people will sin against you. Some are more devastating, obviously. If you or your child are abused that is huge. Spiritual abuse is also big.

In the midst of all this Harris’ mother died and his marriage was in trouble. Probably not the best time to have an honest evaluation of your marriage. If I was their counselor I’d encourage them to deal with the external stressors together and see after that to the marital issues.

Harris and Cosper began to speak of celebrity. Harris noted that the person our faith is named after is “famous”. Cosper made a helpful distinction between famous and celebrity. People who change the world are famous. People who are well-known simply because they get their brand across have contributed nothing to the world.

Pastors don’t really change the world. They (are supposed to) talk about the One who changed the world: Jesus. While a pastor may be well known, they are not abusive if they are pointing people to Jesus. If they are pointing people to them and/or their movement, then they begin to fall into celebrity and/or spiritual abuse.

Harris was struggling with his own celebrity and unwitting abuse. I think that is a key word, unwitting. He didn’t realize what he was doing. When he did, it is about his sinfulness rather than a defect of the gospel. Deconstruction done well separates them so you are left with a purer faith in Christ. Deconstruction done poorly confuses the two as if the gospel, as if Jesus, was the reason you manipulated, controlled and abused people.

Cosper, who calls himself “Reformed” (I use it as a more technical term than he does since it is more than being Calvinistic, but not less) tried to help him see that his regret was turning Harris around in circles. He spiraled away from the faith because he was not turning to Jesus. As Jack Miller once said, repentance without turning to Christ is just turning in circles (paraphrased). Harris lost sight of Christ and began to spin in circles, spiraling away from the faith. Christ is the answer to our sin, and the sins of our pastors and congregations. Lose sight of Him and you lose faith.

Cosper ended with “I don’t think Jesus is done with him.” I hope not. As it stands now, Joshua Harris is a cautionary tale. It isn’t that he sinned, of course he did. The caution is to lose sight of Christ in our success (celebrity) and our failure.

One thing brought up early in the podcast was how different Harris is from Driscoll. They have a very different demeanor. Driscoll seemed to seek attention. He was aggressive. Joshua Harris didn’t seem to seek attention (he lived in Mahaney’s basement for awhile). He wasn’t aggressive in his approach to people and power. Yet both men were guilty of spiritual abuse. There is no type. Even nice guys can miss the mark in how they lead churches. Both men had too much of their identity wrapped up in ministry.

They were also different in how they responded to the rude awakening. Driscoll has doubled down. He punted on Calvinism (while imperfect we do try to exercise church discipline and hold people accountable) and began to emphasize the charismatic (which groups tend not to hold pastor accountable). Driscoll couldn’t face life without being a pastor. Harris doubted: himself and Christ. He left not only the pastorate/ministry but also Jesus.

Neither man own their faults and ran to Jesus. Driscoll returned to similar patterns like a dog to its vomit and Jim Baker hawking spiritual blessing. Harris has wandered into a far country. May God work to bring him to his senses so he returns home, even if it isn’t as a pastor.

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As a pastor I took vows to study the peace, purity and unity of the Church. The last few years have been tumultuous for the PCA, filled with misunderstandings, allegations and heated discussions online and in person. The peace, purity and unity have been disrupted. Fear of liberalism and/or compromise has led some people to leave PCA churches (and churches to leave the PCA). Visitors to our congregation have not stayed because of their fears, which I find unfounded. As a student of history, what I see in the PCA is a discussion of what the Bible means, not attempts to dismiss biblical authority which we actually find in denominations that become liberal. What began as controversy over the parachurch ministry named Revoice prompted discussion of whether men who experience SSA are fit candidates for office in the PCA. Let us be clear that this is the issue. The issue is whether experiencing SSA is a disqualifying sin in and of itself.

After discussions with a number of people on line I can’t really come to any other conclusion. The Side A and Side B language is not helpful. It is elusive when it comes to Side B. I often think I’m missing something. What I think I’m missing is that many (most? all?) associate Side B with identifying with their orientation as one of the most important things about them but choosing to be celibate because they are Christians (which would make Christ the most important, right?).

So you know where I am coming from, I don’t view all experiencing SSA as seeing that as their identity. Like all single individuals they are to be chaste whether that is temporary or permanent. The question I’m considering, or the lens I’m using, is does a person with unwanted SSA, who is putting such desires to death, qualified for gospel ministry as an church officer?

Before we answer this, let’s clarify some things to lay a foundation.

Our Standards

The theological standards of our denomination indicate that due to Adam’s sin we “became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.” (WCF, 6, 2) This is conveyed to us by ordinary generation since Adam was our covenant head. This original corruption is the source of our temptations and actual transgressions, as well as sickness (body) and suffering. We see here a distinction between sin original (corruption & temptation) and sin actual (transgressions). The ad Interim Study Report uses this language, and Rosaria Butterfield discusses this distinction in Openness Unhindered (pp. 73-75). This is further explained in paragraph 6 while also connects sin to the law of God. The corruption of nature remains in all who are regenerate. Our sin is pardoned and mortified, but it remains sin (6, 5).

SSA is a manifestation of this inherited corruption, which remains after conversion. One may continue to experience SSA as a manifestation of their remaining corruption. It remains sin yet is pardoned and is to be mortified (Romans 6-8). God may choose to fully deliver a person from any particular sin, including SSA, but we should not expect full deliverance until glorification because of the reality of indwelling sin.

From the chapter on Justification (11) we see that Christ has fully discharged the debt of all our sins (11.3), and God continues to forgive the sins of the justified such that we cannot fall from the state or status of justification (11.5). We may fall under his Fatherly displeasure when we do not humble ourselves and confess our sin.

The chapter on Sanctification (13) also notes the reality of our remaining corruption which may prevail at times, but that eventually the regenerated part prevails so we grow in grace (13.3). Our progress is like the stock market with ups and downs but trending up.

In the next chapter, on Saving Faith, we see that faith can have different degrees over time, is often assailed but gets the victory (14.3). Based on the following clause this would appear to be attainment of assurance rather than to an earthly event of victory in a particular temptation or the final victory in glorification.

“3. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.”

This remaining corruption is also addressed in the chapter on the Perseverance of the Saints (17.3). Due to this corruption, temptations external from us and the neglect of the means of grace, saints can and do fall into grievous sins. We can continue in those sins for a time and bring temporal judgments upon ourselves.

We see as well that the Assurance of Grace and Salvation can be shaken, diminished and intermitted by such grievous sins (18.4). Those who engage in same sex lust and activity should expect to have their assurance diminish. However, this also indicates that real, regenerate Christians can continue to experience all kinds of sinful temptations including SSA. We do believe in progressive sanctification, but we don’t assert that any given sin or sinful temptations will be completely removed from the saint until glorification. To argue for earthly deliverance from particular temptations is to have an over-realized eschatology and be out of step with our Confessional Standards. We grow in obedience despite the on-going presence of temptation.

Based on these theological commitments, I believe the Divines would affirm that our remaining corruption could continue to produce SSA temptations, and the saint may fall into same sex sin just like others fall into other sexual temptations and sins of various kinds including fits of anger, bearing false witness, greed, gluttony and failing to submit to legitimate authority. Regardless of the type of sexual temptations that flow from sin original, we are to mortify them. Regardless of the type of sexual sins actual we are to repent of them.

All candidates for ministry, and all officers, in the PCA though (hopefully) justified and being sanctified experience temptations of various strength flowing from their remaining corruption which are classified as sin. They also experience temptations from Satan and the world which are attractive to them due to their remaining corruption. All such men also do actually transgress at times in thought, word and deed. All candidates and officers do experience sexual temptations and transgress at times. Are we to think that only those who experience same sex temptations and transgressions (thoughts and words are in my view at the moment) are prohibited from ministry? Are we to disqualify people for temptations and not just for transgressions?

Our Recent History

Jim Pocta develops this in his recent blog post. The PCA is not an Affirming Denomination, one which affirms homosexuality and same sex marriage. Our General Assembly recently amended our Book of Worship and made that paragraph binding to clearly declare that marriage was between one man and one woman. We ruled out both same sex marriage and polygamy by this action. Is this the action of a liberal denomination? This vote was nearly unanimous.

“59-3. Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24, 25; Matt. 19:4-6, 1 Cor. 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore, ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.”

Our denomination also received The Nashville Statement as biblically faithful in 2019. This, as well, is not the action of a liberal denomination. It is the action of a denomination that affirms the biblical standards of sexual morality. This also means that we generally understand that practicing homosexuals would and should be prohibited from office by Scripture and our Standards (like adulterers, drunkards, the greedy and more). Our question concerns those who are repentant and pursuing progressive sanctification (both mortification and vivification). Our standards indicate that repentance unto life includes both an understanding of the heinousness of our sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus along with an endeavor to new obedience (WSC, 87).  

The PCA ad interim study report noted:

“Insofar as such persons display the requisite Christian maturity, we do not consider this sin struggle automatically to disqualify someone for leadership in the church.”

This study report, which was approved at our last General Assembly, indicates that it does not automatically disqualify someone. It may if they do not display “requisite Christian maturity” which includes sufficient progress that they are not practicing homosexuals or pursuing improper same sex relationships that mimic marriage. The mature would be people who do not pursue their sinful desires.

Changes to BCO 16

Here is the proposed amendment:

16-4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.

Points of agreement would include that officers must be above reproach and Christlike in character. I also agree that they, in keeping with WSC 87 they affirm the sinfulness of their sin and fallen desires. In the past we have not been clear in our discussions such that some are speaking of sin original and others sin actual causing unnecessary conflict rooted in confusion.

My points of disagreement begin with the use of identity language. Yes, we should not primarily be known for our sin. We should not generally call ourselves alcoholic Christians or Christian alcoholics. Neither should hold to shibboleths such that one can say “I am a Christian who struggles with alcoholism” but not another formulation such as “Christian alcoholic”. Such shibboleths inevitably lapse into legalism instead of seeking to understand what one means by their words.

More deeply there is a bigger problem with “identity language”. Scripture does address our identity in Christ, but as Carl Trueman notes in his recent book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, the cultural understanding of the self and identity has change profoundly to be psychological and therapeutic. Our Church constitution should not be culture bound in this way, capitulating to how our culture uses “identity”. Neither should it speak of “identity” in a biblical fashion without explaining the differences lest it lead to more confusion. We would be foolish to expect others to know what we mean. We actually are not clear as to what we mean by professing an identity.

Some have noted that in Hebrews 11 Rahab is still identified as the prostitute (the only person whose sin is mentioned in the fall of faith). Perhaps the point is that even a prostitute can express saving faith (and leave prostitution). What is interesting to me is that in Acts 23:6 Paul still says “I am a Pharisee” even though he didn’t live like one due to the gospel and mission. Was Paul wrong to “identify” himself with a group that largely rejected Christ and was actively trying to have him tried and killed?

A friend noted that this amendment is better than nothing. I disagree. We can do better. We must do better. The words themselves must be clear rather than needing articles explaining what it means which are not footnotes for future readers of the BCO. It should be fairly obvious when one reads it. It is not obvious to me what is meant.  

Perhaps something like this would be more clear:

“… consider themselves primarily as united to Christ, and dead to sin by faith such that they hate their sin and temptations, long to be delivered and pursue progressive sanctification by grace through faith.”

Views of the BCO

I see a deeper tension at work in our denomination in how we view the BCO. When I was in the ARP we joked it was called the FOG for a reason. It was purposely vague to allow for freedom. It was frustrating at times as I wanted greater clarity on some issues. Many in the PCA have a “Lutheran” approach to the BCO: if it doesn’t prohibit it we are free to do it. Many others have an RPW approach to the BCO: if it doesn’t permit it we can’t do it. This means there will be vastly different interpretations of this amendment based on the different approaches to the BCO found in the PCA. We can expect there to be conflict over these different interpretations. On a matter this important, we should be crystal clear so there isn’t such future conflict, not only between individuals but presbyteries.

Theological Tensions

I also dislike the use of “victory” instead of “obedience”. “Victory” adds an element that lacks clarity precisely because the term is unclear. It is often used in non-Reformed doctrines of sanctification such as forms of Christian perfectionism and Neil T. Anderson’s view that we do not have a sinful nature but only bad habits after regeneration.

Is this being used to express “victory” over a particular temptation one is experiencing, or “victory” such that one no longer experiences the temptation? Do you see the ambiguity introduced by “victory”? In our theological system, there is a remnant of sin in us all. We don’t get victory over the sinful nature, while we may gain a measure of victory over a particular temptation. This would mean that we no longer engage in immoral sexual activity, watch porn, get drunk etc. while we may still experience the temptation to engage in immoral sexual activity, watch porn or get drunk.

Another way to look at this is a theology of glory vs a theology of the cross. A theology of the cross recognizes our on-going struggles with suffering, sickness and sin (see James 5). In light of 2 Corinthians 12 we see that our prayers for these 3 “S”’s are often met with “my grace is sufficient for you”. God is more concerned with Paul’s humility than the thorn in his flesh (suffering). God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, whether it be suffering, sickness or sin. He prizes our humility and uses these natural and moral struggles to attain this goal. He uses surface sins to help us identify the root sin. For instance, Rosaria Butterfield in Confessions of an Unlikely Convert mentions that her root sins were pride and unbelief. These had to be dealt with or they would just produce a different sin than SSA. (I’d provide the reference but my book is MIA)

A theology of glory is focused on our triumph in the present, not simply in glorification. It stresses the removal of suffering, sickness and sin in our earthly lives. It sets people up to despair when God does not act according to our expectations. Our denomination seems to be torn, at a deeper level, by this tension between a theology of the cross and a theology of glory.

Changes to BCE 21 and 24

BCO 21-4 (and 24-1)

e. In the examination of the candidate’s personal character, the presbytery shall give specific attention to potentially notorious concerns, such as but not limited to relational sins, sexual immorality (including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography), addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Careful attention m u s t be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5, Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of the pastoral office, Presbyteries are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations of these matters and to give prayerful support to candidates.

There are areas of agreement I have this these amendments. I am closer to voting to approve these changes than the one to BCO 16. We should examine personal character and pay attention to particular problems. Our presbytery committee asks men about their marriages (if there were any separations, how they resolve conflict), same sex attraction, drug and alcohol abuse and prior arrests. We need to know if there has been a child protective services investigation or other criminal investigation. I agree that this paragraph should include pornography, addictions, racism and financial mismanagement (a sign of greed).

Once again we have some vague, uncertain language in that “he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness”. Does this mean that since many of us know that TE Greg Johnson struggles with SSA he is disqualified from ministry? RE Jim Pocta has asked the same question about himself. Are we discouraging honesty about struggles with temptation?

I am not being facetious. A ruling elder in a previous pastorate never shared his struggles with SSA. He struggled alone. Eventually he left his wife and family for a man after being discovered engaging in anonymous sex in a park. I’ve had other friends and acquaintances secretly struggle for years until they “came out” often at the expense of a spouse and children. We’ll never know if it could have turned out differently had they gotten help. The uncertainty of how one’s temptations may be received will encourage others like them to go underground.

In our presbytery (AZ) our ordination team (which also handles transfers) handles these matters. This amendment would seem to establish another committee to handle these examinations. There is some hope and encouragement in that they offer prayerful support. I do remain uncomfortable with the less clear aspects of this amendment.

Conclusion

I want to go back to the beginning. I do not want flagrant sinners to be officers in Christ’s church. I recognize that all officers will struggle with temptation, and will transgress. Paul’s qualifications for office in 1 Timothy 3 list the transgressions that disqualify a man. He does not list temptations. I do not want otherwise qualified men to be disqualified by their temptations unless they consider those temptations to be good. Let’s be clear we are arguing about the same thing. Let our words and intentions be clear. Let’s be careful to understand the views of those with whom we disagree.

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Our community group is wrapping up our lessons in Job. Job can be a difficult book to understand due to its imagery and cultural background among other things.As we went on the some of the commentaries and books I read fell by the wayside. The most helpful commentary was Christopher Ash’s Job: The Wisdom of the Cross in the Preaching the Word series. It’s length may be intimidating to some, but have no fear.

The best parts of the book have been distilled in a much more economical book by Christopher Ash called Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job. Instead of verse by verse treatment, it is chunk by chunk. Ash breaks it down in digestible pieces and understandable themes. He doesn’t get into Hebrew grammar but keeps it simple and straight forward.

Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job - Ash, Christopher - 9781433570117

He begins with Getting to Know the Book of Job. He tells of an all too common tragedy that causes people to ask the question “Why?”. In this case a police officer was killed in the line of duty. He was a family man, a church man. Here was a “righteous” man (not perfect) who was senselessly killed. He considers this a “wheelchair question” when we know and love the person who suffers such seeming injustice.

He notes some of the challenges of Job. It is a long book (42 chapters) that takes many twists and turns. It is filled with Hebrew poetry. On one level it can seem obscure to us. But this poetry also is emotional. The author and Author invite us to enter into our uncomfortable emotions.

Do We Live in a Well-Run World?

This question frames the chapter on Job 1:1-2:10. All was well for Job. He was rich, had a big, healthy family. He was a blameless man. The world seemed to be well-run.

“He fears God, bowing down before him in the wonder, love, and awe, recognizing that God alone is the Creator to whom he and his world owe their entire existence.”

Job had integrity or sincerity. His family got along well, and then is was gone in a series of catastrophes. What in the world happened?

We have a scene in the Lord’s throne room. Satan is present along with the sons of God and is questioned by the Lord. The Satan has come from going to and fro in the world. God asks if he has considered Job, calling him blameless, upright revealed in fearing God and avoiding evil. The Satan’s challenge is that he’s not an authentic worshiper, but only worships because God protects him. Take away the blessing, the Satan argues, and supposedly righteous Job will curse you to your face. After Job’s wealth and children are taken from him, he continues to worship the Lord.

Back we go to the Lord’s throne room. It is almost a repeat as God asks the Satan where he’s been and suggest blameless Job. This time the Satan says that God strikes Job, he’ll crack and all will see his true colors. The Satan is given permission to strike Job, but not kill him. We see here that the Satan is not an equal in any way. He must receive permission to strike Job. But Job remains faithful despite the intense pain he feels: emotionally and physically.

Weep with Those Who Weep

Job 3 finds Job upon the ash heap, a garbage heap. Job is not suffering as a result of sin. Ash tells the story of William Cowper to remind us that people who seem blameless still suffer greatly. Like Cowper, Job is experiencing despair which is not the result of unbelief or unforgiven sin. These men went through great darkness. So may we.

Here is the point with Job: he is suffering because he is godly.

Job begins to lament. He seems to go on and on. It can sound wearisome. Job feels very alone despite the arrival of three friends. Soon they will exacerbate his loneliness. Job has no future hope of joy, he can only look back to find joy. He is in despair and introduces the image of Leviathan as the agent of his woes. He wishes he’d never been born.

Ash brings us from the ash heap to the Garden of Gethsemane where the Righteous One who is about to suffer is surrounded by three unhelpful friends. At least they don’t accuse Him, but they do fall asleep repeatedly instead of praying with Him. Both men experience profound loss and loneliness.

What Not to Say to the Suffering Believer

This little chapter covers 23 chapters. Yes, 23. There are plenty of twists and turns but the message of his three friends is pretty much the same. They make the same basis arguments but grow increasingly angry. His friends are not happy with him. They want Job to just shut up and listen. Job isn’t very happy with them either. Here we see what Ash calls “the Scheme” in his commentary, and here simply calls it “their system.”

God is in control. ==> God is fair and just. ==> He punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous. ==> Those who suffer must have sinned and is being justly punished (or if I’m blessed it must mean that I’ve been good)

As a result, his friends offer up accusations of great sin. Job, in their view, must be unrepentant because he suffers. They are throwing all kinds of sins against the wall to see what sticks. They are wrong. Their little logical syllogism lacks three important things. First, they have no place for Satan and spiritual warfare. Evil is a purely human phenomenon. Second, there is no waiting. Justice is swift! We don’t reap what we sow instantaneously. Often the righteous wait for vindication. Third, there is no cross and therefore not righteous sufferer or redemption.

Two Marks of a Real Believer

The next chapter covers the same territory but focuses on Job instead of the message of the friend. Ash uncovers two marks which seem to be paradoxical, and against all our instincts regarding religion. He begins by looking at worship. When worship is costly we can see the authenticity. In the midst of Job’s pain we are going to see worship.

The true believer reckons with the problem of pain. He believes that God is in control of this world, and God has control over our suffering. Job, for instance, sees himself as God’s target for practicing archery. He can’t conceive of anyone being able to overpower God to destroy him. Suffering that is undeserved seems to question God’s control or fairness. This can cause those who believe great pain.

Despite thinking that God has been unfair to him, Job longs to bring his cause to God. He fears God and yet wants an audience. He is in pain, but he wants to worship.

Is God for or against Me?

The next chapter covers only one chapter, 19. The marks of a Christian mean that we are marked by pain and prayer. Suffering produces the question: is God for or against me? If he’s for me, the suffering can’t destroy me though it sure may hurt. If he’s against me, than my despair is well-founded.

Ash argues that Job paints the picture of a monster God: one who torments him. Job believes in his innocence so God has no right to pounce on him. Like so many of us who’ve been falsely accused or suffered without an obvious reason, Job wants to be vindicated. God is treating him like he’s guilty.

While God is sovereign, it is not him who struck Job. He didn’t stretch forth his arm against him. He did permit Satan to stretch forth his arm to harm Job.

“The hands and fingers that destroyed Job’s possessions and killed Job’s children and wrecked Job’s health were the hands of Satan, not the hands of God. Certainly this is the hand of Satan acting with the permission of the Lord and within the strict constraints given by the Lord; but it was Satan’s hand and not God’s who actually did these terrible things. And this is very important.”

God does not act with malice toward Job. Satan does! We see the doctrine of concurrence here. God is proving the veracity of Job’s faith while Satan is trying to prove Job a fraud. Job laments because there is a monster attacking him, but it is Satan not YHWH. The Lord is his redeemer, not his destroyer.

This Redeemer will stand on the earth. All Job has (being a Gentile alive during the time of Isaac or Jacob) is the promise of the Seed of the woman. His longing is not misplaced, but there has come a Redeemer who stood on earth and vindicates all who trust in Him.

Why Will God Not Answer My Question?

Ash then focuses on Job 28 and the search for wisdom. The quest for “treasure” is hard and violent, and the search for Wisdom is compared to mining rather than agriculture. Wisdom is both priceless and unobtainable. This inability to obtain Wisdom means that we should bow before God Only Wise who chooses not to tell us all we want to know (Dt. 29:29). He can arrogantly demand such knowledge or humbly bow before Him.

Why Justification Matters Desperately

We have been reminded that God has spoken, just not all we want Him to say. Discipleship begins, Ash notes, by “bowing in humble fear before God” and walking in the way He has shown. Job compares his life before the Catastrophe (29) and life after the Catastrophe (30). He enjoyed God’s blessing and the respect of peers.

“For Job was not just a man who ‘happened’ to be rich and powerful. He was one who imaged and reflected in his life the character of God who had given him riches and power.”

Job utilizes a chaistic structure in these two chapters. a, b, b’, a’. He is now despised by men and God seems to be mad at him. Job hasn’t changed, just his circumstances. Since he hasn’t changed Job can’t understand the radical change in circumstances.

This is why justification matters so much. Does God really hate him? Did God turn on him or there is something else amiss? This is a most important question when our lives take dramatic downturns without any observable reason.

A Surprising New Voice

From out of nowhere we have Elihu who is burning with anger. He’s angry with Job. He’s angry with Job’s friends who can’t seem to answer Job’s self-justification. Ash is unwilling to dismiss his anger as unjustified and indefensible. Elihu is concerned to defend God’s honor rather than Job’s or his own. Ash is convinced that “Elihu speaks by inspiration of the Spirit as a true and prophetic voice.

Elihu accurately summarizes Job’s argument. He believes that God speaks to us in our pain as well. His argument is similar to C.S. Lewis’ argument in the Problem of Pain. Elihu is not relying on the System or Scheme. He argues for a personal God who does what is best to rescue sinners.

The One Who Is God

Ash notes that a BBC story revealed that God is less influential in people’s lives than David Beckham. The reason seems to be that God could stop suffering if He wanted to. The question that haunts the Book of Job is whether or not God is competent to run this world.

God appears to confront Job (and his three friends). He wants Job to answer His questions instead. The questions begin with the natural realm. For a man who can’t control the natural realm, much less bring it into being, Job’s questions seem off. God’s relentless questions begin with the inanimate aspects of creation and shift to the animal kingdom.

The issue of evil remains. What is God’s relationship to evil?

God’s second speech moves to the moral order. He asks, first, if Job can subdue the proud who plague the earth. If Job can, God will admit that he can save himself and God is unnecessary.

It gets more serious when God brings up Behemoth and Leviathan. Yes, it is poetry but attempts to make these normal creatures stretch even poetic license. Ash notes George Bernard Shaw’s scoffing remark that you can’t explain the problem of evil by pointing to a hippopotamus. These creatures represent death (untameable, nearly everywhere, lurking and ever-hungry) and Satan. Only God can tame these creatures. God is addressing the real reason for Job hardship, the Satanic accusations. Satan can do nothing apart from God’s permission, no matter how fearsome he is to us. This monster is still a creature. Satan is God’s enemy, but not His equal. This creature will eventually be defeated, not by brute strength, but by the weakness of the Redeemer who suffers unjustly and comes under the power of death. He will triumph over these spiritual enemies thru the shame of the cross.

The End Comes at the End

Ash now connects Job with James 5 and James’ comments about him. We are to consider Job and live like Job.

Job persevered in warfare. We are not only on the battlefield but are the battlefield. God and Satan were battling over Job. His point is that Job isn’t just suffering but that Job suffers because He is a believer. Job is a righteous sufferer. As those who are given the righteousness of Christ, we are now righteous sufferers. When we suffer, as professing believers, will we still love God? The truly righteous will. We stand, not by our strength, but by the intercession of Jesus.

Job also perseveres in waiting. This is not a passive waiting, but a prayer-filled waiting. His friends were content with their System, Job wanted God.

James reminds us that all this reveals that God is compassionate and merciful. God has the final word. God has humbled Job and restores Job. His final condition would seem to be greater than his previous condition.

“Job does not suffer because he has sinned, as his comforters would have it; but he has sinned (in some things he has said) because of his suffering.”

Not only does Job have a new family and wealth, Job is to pray for his friends. They need his help. They got it all backwards. He found that the grace of God is greater than the suffering we experience. God displays His mercy and compassion in His people, culminating with the return of Christ when we share in His glory.

Ash ends with laying out, very briefly, what we should expect from the “normal” Christian life: warfare, waiting, humbling, justification and blessing in the end.

As Christopher Ash notes this book is primarily about God and then about Job. It reveals a sovereign and free God that we are to worship even when life is painful and makes no sense.

Ash provides us with a concise, understandable explanation of this important book. This is a book well worth having. And reading. It will uncover your heart: do you live by a Scheme or do you want the Living God whose power is made perfect in your weakness? Do you worship Him because He is God or because you get nice things?

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2

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If you are paying attention to the news, school board meetings are quite volatile these days. It isn’t just the issue of masks (and soon vaccines). It isn’t just CRT. It is about sex.

There are a number of places where the issue is books in the library like The Lawn Boy which contain graphic depictions of children engaged in sexual activity. Oh, and there are pictures in many of these books depicting sexual acts involving children. Our kids are learning about more than the basics of sexual reproduction in and through our educational system.

Before Covid, the city school district (I live in the county) was fighting with parents about a controversial sex ed curriculum that included oral and anal sex, homosexuality and other controversial issues, particularly when you consider this all begins to be taught in kindergarten.

How did we get here? Why does the government run school seem so hellbent on teaching our most impressionable citizens the most intimate of knowledge?

Carl Trueman addresses that very question in Part 3 of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Sexualization of the Revolution. We’ve seen how the very concept of self and its relation to society has fundamentally changed. The social imaginary, the assumptions we made as a culture that direct us, has shifted considerably.

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

The revolution is on-going. There are still those who hold to a 2nd world culture that views God as the foundation for our identity, morals and more. God is part of the church’s social imaginary and informs much of life.

But an increasingly large portion of our society now has a 3rd world culture in which God has been removed from the social imaginary. They have fallen prey to the psychologization of man, emotivism and a materialist and Marxist view of world history in which the Church and family are institutions that perpetuate the oppression of individuals by forcing them to conform to repressive forms of morality. So, how did sex become such a big part of this cultural revolution?

Sigmund Freud, Civilization, and Sex

Among the “poets” we saw a rejection of the monogamy and other aspects of Judeo-Christian sexual ethics. But it was Freud who brought sex to the center of the revolution and in fact our conception of self which society needed to accept and affirm.

Trueman will note repeatedly that many of Freud’s teachings have been debunked, but this focus on sexuality as central to human identity has entered the social imaginary. Sex has shifted from something we do (procreation and marital bonding) to something we are which must be expressed. The restrictions people like Blake hated were not yet seen as restriction our essential being or identity. This new way of understanding sex and sexuality was joined to Marxist thought in the creation of the “New Left” of the 20th century.

Sigmund Freud - Wikipedia
Sigmund Freud (credit- Christy’s)

For Freud the human goal was not to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” but to be happy. Here he agrees with Rousseau and Hume, but the source of that happiness is different. Freud introduced a decidedly sexual turn into the pursuit of happiness. Hugh Hefner became one of Freud’s greatest disciples or salesmen.

The myth that Freud propagated is that sex “in terms of sexual desire and sexual fulfillment, is the real key to human existence, to what it means to be human.” People are now categorized by sexual orientation or preferences. Gender has shifted from biology (chromosomes) to how one feels about one’s self which must be affirmed by one and all.

“Man’s discovery that sexual (genital) love afforded him the strongest experiences of satisfaction and in fact provided him with the prototype of all happiness, must have suggested to him that he should continue to see the satisfaction of happiness in his life along the path of sexual relations and that he should make genital eroticism the central point of his life.” Sigmund Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents

Freud subordinates procreation to pleasure. Freud contrasts the “natural authentic self” and the “civilized inauthentic self”. Our “natural” sexual desires conflict with the sexual restrictions of life in society. There is no original sin for Freud, even though he was pessimistic about change. Freud sees us as “dark, violent, and irrational.”

Furthermore we are sexual from birth. From this premise we are intended to conclude that to be human is to be sexual. Sexual desire and satisfaction are fundamental to our happiness. Sexuality is the most important aspect of being human. Since children are sexual beings, and their sexual desire is so important then obviously we should teach them about sex early and often. Schools are able to respect the reproductive rights of students without the knowledge of parents.

With the decline of belief in original sin, the focus was on the innocence of children and affirmation of common sexual practices among children, particularly masturbation. It is not a moral problem that arises from within the child, but rather something to be encouraged (for a time it was a medical problem and treated by medical methods during the transition from sin to virtue).

During that transition it was considered “self-abuse”. It contributed to later sexual deviancy. Parents looked to doctors rather than pastors. This is part of the larger shift of sexual problems from the sphere of morality to medicine. What we see most clearly with HIV and teen pregnancy began with childhood masturbation.

Albert Moll created a study which learned that masturbation had no causation of homosexuality. Freud built on this to assert that masturbation was a normal part of growing up. This should not be repressed so the person can mature and enjoy a normal sexual life rather than one distorted by societal repression.

Freud asserted that sexual development took place through stages, each fixated on a particular part of the human anatomy: oral (breast feeding, thumb sucking), anal (potty training), phallic (marked by masturbation), latency (our sexuality gets a break), genital (finding a sexual partner). How we express our sexuality changes.

As we think about sexuality, the problem was the superego which internalized societies expectations and restrictions. The ego negotiated a balance between the desires of the id and the consequences of personal behavior. When the superego dominates, the restrictions of society repress and distort our desires and therefore us.

Like many of the other philosophers we’ve looked at, Freud saw morality as irrational and subjective. We internalize social conventions through the superego. So we are good with kissing our spouse but generally shudder to think of using their toothbrush.

Trueman notes that the Supreme Court has followed this line of thought in seeing objections to homosexuality as being rooted in hatred: irrational prejudice. Morality is removed.

Freud seemed to think that the social consequences of traditional sexual morality was better than the chaos that would arise from rejecting them. But they were problematic due to individual consequences. They destroy our personal happiness.

Religion was an issue of psychology, a form of wish fulfillment. He advanced this in The Future of an Illusion. Religion brings our childish hopes and fears into adulthood. He saw it as infantile neurosis. Religion, therefore, is a form of mental deficiency. People like me are emotionally immature. Religion isn’t based on rational proof but irrational desire.

This doesn’t mean it is all bad. It has kept many from indulging in every dark and destructive desire they experience. Yet it does not provide happiness for people. He saw greater hope for humanity to be led by science, including psychoanalysis. Through science we can be reconciled to society without the burdens of guilt and anxiety produced by religion.

Fulfilling all our sexual desires may seem to make us happy. In practice this would be short-lived as the more powerful and aggressive would dominate social arrangements. My mind went to a recent viral video of gorillas. Trueman mentions gorillas on the next page. The dominant male will drive away the other males and have all the females to himself. It’s good to be the alpha male, so to speak. In the zoo setting the other males must be subservient, even performing sexual favors for the alpha. For humans we can easily see this in Negan who had a small harem of women at the expense of their (former) husbands and lovers. The imaginary world of primitive humanity would not result in unlimited pleasure and satisfaction but a new set of discontents.

The New Left and the Politicization of Sex

Freud’s thought, as we saw with others, became the impetus for newly synthesized ideas. It would eventually be synthesized with critical theory particularly through the work of Marcuse of the Frankfort school.

Critical Theory believes that “the world is to be divided up between those who have power and those who don’t; the dominant Western narrative of truth is really an ideological construct designed to preserve the power structure of the status quo; and the goal of critical theory is therefore to destabilize this power structure by destabilizing the dominant narratives that are used to justify- to “naturalize”- it.” And so Trueman looks at Critical Theory and how Marx and Freud were joined together.

Marxism struggled in places like Russia which never quite experienced the necessary capitalist development and destruction Marx thought would usher in Marxism. It was still a peasant society. Lenin revised the theory so the Party which was led by the bourgeois intellectuals who would stir up the proletariat to revolt. Stalin would purge the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile in Italy, Antonio Gramsci theorized the revolution would begin with transformation of cultural institutions: particularly the schools and media. (heads up, this is what has been happening here).

In parallel, the Frankfort Institute, particularly Eric Fromm, Max Horkheimer and then Marcuse, fused Marxism and Freud. Fromm saw the dynamic nature of human nature as a point of contact for them. They differed in that Marx viewed it in terms of material social conditions and Freud in terms of psychological development. Marx was an optimist and Freud a pessimist.

Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Facism used Marx’s class conflict to develop Freud’s sexual repression for political ends. Sexual codes are how the ruling class to maintain the status quo. Sexual repression becomes political repression. The prime suspects are authoritarian patriarchy and the church.

“Thus, the authoritarian state gains an enormous interest in the authoritarian family. It becomes the factory in which the state’s structure and ideology are molded.” Wilhelm Reich

Christians who argue for the traditional nuclear family and heterosexual monogamy become the primary villans. The family is a unit of oppression. Marx’s friend and co-author Friedrich Engels focused on women rather than children. The family turned women into chattel, property. They were only liberated when sent into the workplace.

This leads left-wing politicians and groups to call for the dismantling of the nuclear family as part of political liberation. We see this in the “trained Marxists” of BLM. We see it in policy moves by left-wing politicians.

In his book, The Sexual Revolution, Reich argues for sex education and freedom among children and teens. What he argues for sounds very much like Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World.

Wilhelm Reich in his mid-twenties.JPG
Reich in his 20’s

“The free society will provide ample room and security for the gratification of natural needs. Thus, it will not only not prohibit a love relationship between two adolescents of the opposite sex but it will give it all manner of social support. Such a society will not only not prohibit the child’s masturbation but, on the contrary, will probably conclude that any adult who hinders the development of the child’s sexuality should be severely dealt with.” Wilhelm Reich

He argues that dissent to the ‘agenda’ be actively punished. Parents and groups that stand in the way of the education complex are to be punished, similar to what we see happening now. We even see a man arrested because the board refuses to admit his daughter was assaulted because it isn’t politically convenient. The problem is the parents who stand in the way of the “revolution” rather than the revolution. This oppression becomes largely psychological, and therefore arbitrary and subjective.

Trueman notes that “sex is no longer a private activity because sexuality is a constitutive element of public, social identity.” Our sexual activity is now political since it is about our identity. There are no longer differences of opinion about sexual activity: those who restrict particular kinds are oppressive. Mostly.

Reich did arbitrarily restrict sexual freedom. He’s not a sexual anarachist. He focuses on consent (good) and avoiding the exploitation of children by adults (good). Trueman notes these are assertions, not the making of arguments. He asserts such people who transgress by lack of consent or age differences are neurotically inhibited. How does he know his objection to pedophilia is not simply one more aspect of the capitalist sexual oppression enforced by the family and church?

There is also an attack on modesty. Reich and Del Noce believed that to be human is to be immodest. Trueman promises to pick this discussion up when he discusses pornography in the next part of this book.

Reich was loosely connected to the Frankfort School, but Marcuse and Theodor Adorno was two of the main figures seeking to reconstruct Marxism. Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man addresses the problem of consumerism, and his Eros and Civilization appropriates Freud for their Marxism. Reich wanted sexual liberation as an element of political freedom. Marcuse considered sexual freedom to lack needed nuance. He introduced the distinction between “domination and the rational exercise of authority.” In any group authority must be exercised lest it lapse into chaos. It should be rational, based on knowledge and reasoning. Domination is power exerted by one group over another group to maintain its own privilege. He connects domination with Freud’s reality principle which tamed the pleasure principle. Marcuse applies this to history so the reality principle becomes domination in various forms. With Reich, Marcuse wants the “oppressive” family unit to be destroyed by destroying the sexual regulations that hold it together. He doesn’t describe what this sexual freedom would look like.

Herbert Marcuse in Newton, Massachusetts 1955.jpeg
Herbert Marcuse

Rousseau made identity psychological. Freud made psychology sexual. Marx made identity political. Oppression is seen not simply in economic terms but now also psychological and sexual terms. Educational institutions became key for dismantling this oppression. This is because the government can’t be expected to dismantle the system it supports (though …. it supports the educational system. Go figure!). In this endeavor, words are weaponized as part of the oppression, which leads to the restriction of speech. Free speech becomes dangerous and oppressive in the hands of the Frankfort school and its disciples of Critical Theory.

Trueman also notes the shifts in feminism over time, as influenced by these societal changes. Early 20th century feminism was part of economic man. It was about economic equality. The focus was on labor law, pay scales and voting rights. Now feminism is part of psychological man as seen in the quote here:

“One is not born, but rather becomes woman. No biological, psychic, or economic destiny defines the figure that the human female takes on in society; it is civilization as a whole that elaborates this intermediary product between the male and the eunuch that is called feminine.” Simone de Beauvoir

Feminist Simone de Beauvoir with Jean-Paul Satre

Human identity is now formed by social relations, including how you want to interact in society. You can choose to act as man or woman. The achievements of transgendered women become the achievements of women which would seem to nullify the value of biological women. We’ve entered a horrendous maze filled with dead ends intellectually (because it no longer is rational) and morally (because the socially constructed morality changes rapidly). It is not about anatomy, chromosomes, genetics, biology or other scientific matters, but whether your feel like a woman or not. One is free to pursue the sexual activity they want (free from personal and public consequences) but also free to pursue the gender one wants free from consequences.

This means we no longer submit to reality (our biology) but reject it in favor of our desires. We now overcome it via technology. As all this continues, we see the norms changing. Heterosexuality is a form of oppression and we are to be freed for polymorphus pansexuality (but what if I only like women? and particularly my wife?). The tyranny of the biological family, they say, must end. Through bad government policy (welfare rules), court rulings on same sex marriage and parental rights, and the activist groups like Black Lives Matter (they removed the end of the nuclear family from their About) it is.

This is a section that is LONG though only two chapters. Trueman covers lots of ground, and I tried to do it justice but all of the connections may not be there. That’s my fault, not his. I wrote this in at least 3 or 4 sessions, so it may be disjointed at points.

This section describes how we have gotten to where we are in our the cultural struggle. We are on the path, so it seems to Brave New World. Huxley’s dystopian book describes the fulfillment of these philosophical commitments currently at work to destroy the world as we knew it. Was it perfect? No, it clearly wasn’t. But it seems like a better world than the one we are descending into.

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Crossway has been releasing short books by David Powlison for the last few years. That they are short may have had something to do with his battle with cancer. But that they are short is also a great blessing as they tend to be geared toward those who are suffering and don’t have lots of bandwidth for long chapters and books. They are also a great blessing in providing short books to give or recommend to members or friends who are struggling.

One of those great little books is God’s Grace in Your Suffering. It reminded me of Sinclair Ferguson’s By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me in that it is structured around a hymn that expresses the biblical theology the author wants to express. Ferguson expounded upon the hymn “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me” by African pastor Emmanuel T. Sibomana. It made for a great book that worked through the gospel and its implications.

God's Grace in Your Suffering By David Powlison cover image

Powlison expounds on “How Firm a Foundation”, an anonymous hymn that applies good biblical theology to the subject of suffering. Powlison wants us to consider this book more like a workshop. In the beginning he wants us to choose an experience of suffering and at the end of each chapter brings us back to that to apply the lesson to our particular suffering.

Powlison also connects the theology to his own story. He brings some of his experiences of suffering into the book. One of the more helpful portions of the book was an experience of suffering that connected with the last 3-4 years of my life. He was able to say things far more helpful than others I have talked to about this period of affliction. More than worth the price of the book to me. He’s the counselor I wish I could have had as a result.

This book, and the hymn, addresses the relationship between God’s grace and our troubles. He wants us to know that suffering both “reveals and forms faith” as well as “exposes and destroys counterfeit faith.”

“Affliction itself is not good, but God works what is very good, bringing the ignorant and wayward back home.”

Powlison notes how our fathers in faith spoke freely of their afflictions, particularly in the Psalms. We tend to hide our afflictions. We can’t walk side by side with one another when we hide our afflictions. We not only want to be honest with God but need to be honest with one another. Honest fellowship is another means of grace as God uses them to uphold us in prayer, speak truth to us, and bear our burdens with us.

Powlison notes that the hymn begins in the third person. It is addressed to the saints, those whom have fled to Jesus for refuge. The rest of the hymn is in the first person as God speaks to us. It speaks to us of God’s promises and commands to those who suffer. It speaks of different times or types of affliction. One of the beauties of hymns (and other songs of worship) is that they express our faith to God, one another and ourselves. Some, like this hymn, also call us to faith. God is calling us to trust Him in the midst of our afflictions.

Afflictions reveal our lack of power. They don’t just make us weak, they reveal that we are actually weak. While others may despise our weakness, God does not. He invites us to seek refuge in Him. His primary promise is the be with us, even in the most perilous of times. This is our existential struggle. Satan lies and says that God abandons us in affliction. Faith says that God is with us, upholding us, purifying us. God uses our suffering for our good.

Powlison had counseled people for decades. He knew that in our anguish we stop paying attention to God. We want to avoid pain, and when we experience it we turn inward. We quickly obsess over our pain. It is like a splinter we keep picking at. We are so focused on getting it out we lose sight of what is going on around us. Too often our friends focus on the problem, not us. Job’s friends focused on his suffering and their bad theology meant that they simply accused Job and called him to repent. They missed Job and his pain. They stopped being with Job and helping to bind his wounded heart. We are changed when God finds us in our suffering.

Powlison also wants us to see God’s sovereign care for us in our suffering.

“God himself calls you into the deep waters.

God sets a limit on your sorrows.

God is with you, actively bringing good from your troubles.

In the context of distressing events, God changes you.”

God ultimately wants us to know Him more thoroughly through our suffering. He wants us to trust Him more thoroughly, and love Him more completely. In this chapter he speaks of a time when some people became his enemies. He then discovered the enemies in his own heart. He found himself craving vindication, obsessing over the self-righteous judgment of others. The inability to be at peace with them was eating him up. He needed to know God’s love and care for him in that situation, a care that didn’t yet include reconciliation or vindication.

“One of the surprises that came with becoming a Christian was the discovery that there were people who hated me because of what I believed. One of the surprises of growing as a Christian was the discovery that some of the people who hated me were professing Christians.”

Not all of our suffering will end until this life ends. This is a hard word to hear, but an important one. As Newton would say, they are needful for us. They are the best way for God to use us, to transform us. The unremitting nature of some afflictions test and try us in ways we can’t comprehend even when we are in them.

“We face certain inescapable afflictions that will prove insoluble until tears are wiped away when we see Christ face-to-face.

Many afflictions are momentary, or last for a season, and then we are restored.

God is at work in us, both when our sufferings have a remedy and when they do not.”

One thing God works in us is our need for mercy and to give mercy or compassion. God’s work in our live is often slow, incremental rather than catastrophic. Powlison likens it to “agricultural time and child-rearing time.” Our transformation can’t be rushed. This is true about the enemy within, the flesh.

The hymn also addresses enemies without: particularly death and the Evil One. I joke with one of our senior saints in his 90s that his new job is to go to doctor appointments. Aging is difficult and can involve the great suffering of loss (other’s you love dying), physical disability, loss of memory etc. In Psalm 23 the road home leads through the valley of the shadow of death. There is also a predator along the road. Satan seeks to destroy us in our suffering, even as God seeks to transform us.

While this is a short book, it certainly covers plenty of territory. There is a good blend of the hymn text, biblical texts and personal stories. This makes for a book that is not simply addresses suffering theoretically but personally and meaningfully. Powlison wants to help others mired in the muck of suffering by reminding them of God’s covenantal commitment to them:to be with them and to purify them through the suffering. He has given us a meaningful and helpful book.

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

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

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

Rousseau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Poets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emergence of the Plastic People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jersey Barriers

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

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

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

An Evening with John Cleese - Tucson Music Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Considering Lulu


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

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

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

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They were fast friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The wrestling wasn’t contained to the backyard.

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

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

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

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Sometimes they’d share a bed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 2020 w/Finn

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

We’ll miss you, Lulu!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Reimagining the Self

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

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

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

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

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

From Political Man to Psychological Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reimagining Our Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacIntyre and Emotivism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anticultures and Antihistorical

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

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

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

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

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

Deathworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Gerecke’s Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assigned to Nuremberg

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

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

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

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

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

The Legal Road to Nuremberg

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

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

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

The Chaplain and the Prisoners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trial of the Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdicts Draw Near

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1946 World Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oceania social structure
from Gordon State College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online surveillance bill opens door for Big Brother | CBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

When he awakes, his whole life changes.

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

Why is the best cover the Spanish language edition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, there is a graphic novel version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anger is the drawn sword of human relationships.”

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

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

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

Balaam and the Ass - Wikipedia
Rembrandt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania

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

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

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

R. C. Sproul (1939–2017)

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

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

A Long, Winding Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ligonier Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading South

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

Slaves and Masters - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECT and Evolution

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

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

Mississippi Burning (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Andrews Chapel and Reformation Bible College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doxology

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

The Addiction (1995) - IMDb

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

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

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

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

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

Painting of Sisyphus by Titian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress from this book I read.

Part 1: The Meaning of Lament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local lynching memorial proposed in Birmingham

Part 2: Lament and Majority Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3: Lament and Minority Christians

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Story and Lament

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

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

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

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