Category Archives: Discernment/Wisdom

AFGHANISTAN: WHEN “REALISTIC” LOSES ITS PERSUASIVE POWER

Note to readers: This post does not address who is to blame for the debacle we are witnessing in Afghanistan. If that is your interest, you have ample things to read elsewhere.

“Let’s be realistic…” Three words that remind us that we have set our expectations too high. Three words that remind us that the real world is full of pain and suffering, so we better adjust our assumptions accordingly about how life really works.

But realistic can also be a cheap dodge from moral responsibility. Invoking the need to be “realistic” can protect us from the critical obligations of a moral life. And this moral life is messy and difficult whether we are looking to address our own life or the life of a country like Afghanistan.

It seems utterly irrational to hang onto a plane when it is taking off, but we Westerners make our judgments far too hastily. When King David numbered his troops and the non-military men, he fell under the discipline of the Lord. God gave David three possible options for his punishment. Let David’s response sink in deeply: “…I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” Like the terrified Afghans, David knew full well how ruthless people can be.

From the comforts of our homes, it is understandable why we Americans feel helpless in offering anything of lasting benefit to the Afghans. I know the feeling. I wonder what I as a sixty-three-year-old man living in the safety of the American suburbs can do. It seems crazy to think I can do anything of consequence. Yes, I am terribly sad over the ghastly images I witnessed of those desperate people in Afghanistan, but then my inability to do anything screams with a clarity that seems undeniable. And inability eventually leads to a cold logic that says I have no real responsibility. It is a brutal calculus, but it permits me to go to go to bed with a clean conscience.

Realpolitik is a fancy word that describes geopolitical decisions being made based on pragmatic realities instead of allowing our moral outrage or ideological commitments to set the agenda. For example, our government (and this is true of both sides of the political aisle) understands that calling the Chinese to task for their abuse of the Uyghurs is impractical because it would hurt our economic interests. Our government can certainly offer some periodic outrage over the Uyghurs, but everyone knows, including the Chinese, that we are simply grandstanding for a hollow sound bite.

Realpolitik reminds us that America cannot be the police force for the rest of the world. It is a terrible thing to admit, but in our big and complicated world it is hard to gainsay. We Americans must simply nod in sad resignation that this is the way things are and carry on with our own lives.

During my days of college ministry, I recall hearing about a study that explained why people get more animated with lesser causes like saving the whales. Nothing wrong of course with wanting to save whales. The author of the study said people get exercised with lesser causes because the more important ones seem impossible to address. The lesser causes give us a sense that we are making some difference in the world.

It’s understandable why we are tempted to pass on bigger problems, but perhaps the crisis in Afghanistan is one we can do something about. Perhaps we are too easily invoking “Let’s be realistic about Afghanistan…” to escape things we can do.

What are those things? More than the stifling “Let’s be realistic…” will allow. Fresh brainstorming among those who know and love the Afghan people ought to be encouraged. “Let’s be realistic…” will hardly provoke the kind of creative, out of the box thinking about the issues that most vex us. “Let’s be realistic…” may also be a bogus excuse to do little to nothing when other possibilities exist, the kinds of things that only come into view when one is committed to thinking with moral clarity.

 

 

MY VOTE…WHILE LIVING FAR EAST OF EDEN

The following represents my opinion, and mine alone. 
In light of my recent posts about our current cultural moment this may come as somewhat of a surprise to some of you, so here goes…  

From my early days as a Christian it made sense to me that the Bible has something to say to all of life. The Bible is certainly not a spiritual cookbook. It is not always straightforward how one should arrive at one’s decision. The book of Proverbs, and the whole wisdom tradition, showcase this sort of nimble discernment. Christians disagree over the proper interpretation and/or implications of the Bible. And those are Christians who agree on the binding authority of the Scriptures!

I continue to believe that is problematic to have Christians who rationalize or diminish the president’s rhetoric. That said, I Tim. 2:1,2 is a significant influence on how (at the present) I will vote. My vote is very much influenced by the person and party I believe that best protects religious liberty.

WHAT WHITE CHRISTIANS CAN/SHOULD DO

I am sixty-two years old. I am white. I was not responsible for either of these two things, but I am responsible for many other things.

A good friend asked me what we as Christians in the majority culture here in America can do with respect to the racial crisis. There are many things, but here are a few in no particular order, except for the last which is of first importance.

*We Christians need to stop being so consumed and/or afraid with how terrible we believe America is at this point in its history. Instead, we should spend our time making sure we are clear on all of God’s truth, compassionate to every person, and courageous even if it is costly. This will keep us Christians plenty occupied. It is animated by the reality that “judgment starts with the household of God.” (I Peter 4:17)

*It is great to have African American friends, but you will not have much to offer any friend if you are not grounded theologically. I used to give disclaimers whenever trying to promote the study of theology for all Christians. No longer. Knowing what and why you believe the Christian faith to be true is the most practical pursuit of life. This leads to my next thought.

*If you unable to give compelling reasons for why the trinity has much to offer not just with the racial conflict in America, but with many other pressing matters, please study up before you go out representing what Christians believe. The unity and diversity of the trinity has far-reaching implications for all sorts of things. Again, get studying if you can’t articulate in compelling and clear language all that the trinity (and other Christian beliefs) has to offer.

I have asked several Christians why the trinity is compelling including a Dallas Seminary trained pastor. Except for my wife and a handful of others, I typically do not receive a great response. Most Christians sign their church’s doctrinal statement with a thin understanding of what they are agreeing to. I concur with J.I. Packer that the most pressing issue for the church is robust education. Again, no apologies.

*We must make concerted efforts to get out of our echo chambers. Most of us live in some sort of echo chamber. In addition, we should avail ourselves of theological education that is increasingly aware of two thousand years of Christian reflection not just what happened after the Protestant Reformation. All the major Protestant Reformers would agree with me on this!

*There is a good chance many of us have significant homework to do. Homework is another word I used to apologize for when talking with adults! To quote President Bush #41 “Not going to do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

If you have not read it, begin with reading Narrative of a Slave by Frederick Douglass. There are many more things I would add, but that is a good place to start.

*Be aware of false dichotomies. Believing that people need to trust Jesus as Savior is not at odds nor diminished by acknowledging “structures of evil” or “institutional racism.” Or “white privilege.” If we want to be biblical, we will need to juggle many truths at the same time.

We Americans do not tend to be the most thoughtful people. The great observer of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville, appreciated several things about America. However, he saw the problem of superficial thinking in our country almost two hundred years ago. American Christians are not immune from the tendency to emphasize one (many times valid) truth at the expense of other truths.

*Last, but obviously most important, we will need God to convict, direct, and motivate us to do these things, things many of our fellow Christians either denigrate or worse still, do not think about at all.

I am grateful to my friend, Dr Vince Bacote of Wheaton College, for his input on this post. As it is always said at such points, but with good reason, I alone am responsible for the content. I am glad that Vince agreed that what I wrote should be “common sense” among Christians. Sadly, foundational truths should not be assumed in our day and age.

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

MUCH FOOD FOR THOUGHT!

Apologies for the script below, but what insight!  HT: Alan Jacobs
The loss of Roger Scruton, who recently died at the age of 75, is a grievous one for us all, whether we know it or not. Outside of conservative circles, Scruton is known mainly for his critiques, but critique wasn’t what he excelled at. His special gift was for celebration and praise. My friend and colleague David Corey pointed me to Scruton’s late book on Wagner’s Ring tetralogy, which I have devoured over the past few days. Scruton loved Wagner and was indeed something of a philosophical Wagnerian, and in this book he makes an extraordinarily eloquent case for Wagner’s account of human psychology and society. I don’t accept the case, but I admire the cogency with which Scruton makes it. Along the way he offers us many set-pieces on a wide range of subjects. Here’s one:
Erotic love, in its true inter-personal form, does not belong in the world of contracts and deals. Its foundation is not a contract but a vow. Contracts have terms, and when the terms are fulfilled they are at an end. Vows do not have terms, and cannot be undone by any calculation. The unity created by them is, as Hegel put it (in his discussion of marriage), a ‘substantial unity’: not a unity of purpose or place or pleasure but a unity of being. Lovers dedicate themselves to each other, and it is in part for this reason that they are so much at risk: to place a commission in another’s hands is to risk something; to place yourself in another’s hands is to risk everything. […]
In the world that we know today sex is widely viewed as a commodity, and the act of love as a ‘transaction’ involving pleasure in the sexual parts – a matter of desire and satisfaction, rather than existential commitment. We find this view already in Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality, and shaped as orthodoxy in the writings of Alfred Kinsey. It is embodied in a certain kind of sex-education, which seeks to relieve young people of the burden of shame and guilt, and to open the path to pleasure. If this view of sex were correct then the outrage of rape would be impossible to explain. Rape would be just as bad as being spat upon: but hardly worse. The fact that, in almost all criminal codes, rape is next to murder in the hierarchy of offences, would be a mystery, a hangover from superstitions that humanity is on the way to discarding. And the trivializing of rape is what we find in a world where women are seen as instruments of pleasure, sexual ‘objects’ from which the subjective essence has been wiped away.

ON THE ROAD WITH SAINT AUGUSTINE

In lieu of a typical book review, as is my habit from time to time, allow me to mention half a dozen things I greatly appreciated about this book.  It will definitely make the list for my “Favorite Books of the Year.”

This is the seventh book I’ve read by Smith.  All of them made me think in fresh and provocative ways.  How (Not) to be Secular was my favorite. It now comes in a close second to Smith’s latest.  On the Road with Saint Augustine is now my favorite.  

So here are a half dozen things I appreciated about this book:

*There is elegant writing combined with keen insights.  It is no surprise that On the Road with Saint Augustine received a coveted starred review by Publishers Weekly.

*It makes a compelling case for why Augustine is the ideal travel partner as we make our way through life.  For me, both Augustine and Bunyan (there are others) have been indispenable to have as my vagabond friends.

*There is a thick realism in this book (take note Joel Osteen), but Smith always keeps this tethered to a compelling hope.

*Smith has a good nose for the telling quote or captivating illustration.  HIs wide-reading across various disciplines showcases the brilliance of Augustine.

*In my own teaching, and especially in my ministry of discipleship with men, this is the kind of book that I can use as a gateway of sorts to the riches of Christian history.

*I’ve always found that great books help me clarify important issues.  My marginalia reflects this reality in On the Road with Saint Augustine.  For example, in the chapter on friendship, Smith’s interaction with Heidegger resulted in my marginal comment of “Molds are everywhere, so it is impossible to break out of every single mold.”  In other words, autonomous individuals don’t exist because they can’t exist.

Whenever the time comes that sales begin to dwindle for this book, I would recommend Brazos making booklets out of some chapters.  For example, the chapter on freedom is one I would love to give to any thoughtful person, irrespective of whether they are a Christian. 

 

DEAR PASTOR JOHN MACARTHUR

I imagine many of you are aware of the recent unpleasantries (yes, a mild word!) between Beth Moore and John MacArthur.  I thought you might find my letter to Pastor MacArthur of interest:

Dear Pastor MacArthur,

I heard you preach in person right after Christmas 1977. I was with fifteen friends. We were on our way to a Campus Crusade for Christ conference in southern California. I was a young convert to Christianity. Your message clarified that my faith in Christ was real. Thank you!

In my twenties and early thirties, I was the director of Campus Crusade for Christ at Stanford University. I went through some deep waters of doubt during that time. During one of my lowest moments I heard you deliver a message over the airwaves. It was a great encouragement to me. I wrote you a letter saying so. To my surprise, you wrote back…a personal letter. I still have that letter. Thank you!

In my late thirties and early forties, I had a radio show here in Austin. Most of the time I interviewed authors and leaders of various backgrounds. You were one of my guests and stayed for the entire hour. That alone is quite a commitment, but my show was on Saturday afternoons. Since Sunday is a big day of ministry for you, I was impressed you would give me the entire hour. Thank you!

Most recently, I met one of your sons. Business brought him to Austin. We had breakfast together. I couldn’t believe how much he looks like you! I thought I was looking at the man I heard preach when I was that three-month old Christian. Your son said you are the real deal: a great dad who is uncomfortable with the praise of men. I was tremendously encouraged to hear all that. Thank you!

My own convictions about men and women in the home fall roughly in the complementarian camp, though I might be one of the “softer” types that seems to be a non-category for you. I won’t get into the hermeneutical weeds on that issue because this a short letter not a theological treatise.

I humbly ask you to reconsider the tone of what you said about Beth Moore. For the record, I’ve had my own concerns about her teaching as well. However, your tone came across dismissive and condescending. At the very least, it seems one of you should have mentioned to the chortles of the crowd that this was no laughing matter. Instead, it seemed that you, Todd Friel, and Phil Johnson had no problem with the loud laughter of those gathered that day.

I am now sixty-one and the beneficiary of over forty years of your ministry. From listening to you over the years, I have every confidence that you will seriously consider what I say in light of Scripture. Thank you!

In Christ,

David (George) Moore