Category Archives: Christianity

MICHEL FOUCAULT

This is a terrific introduction to the thought of Michel Foucault. When I say “introduction” that certainly does not mean this is an easy read. Watkin does make his extensive learning more accessible, but Foucault is not the easiest person in the world to comprehend.

I knew a bit about Foucault from other books but had not read him directly. Watkin does a good job of laying out several of the critical ideas to Foucault’s thought.

In the second half of the book the author does a stellar job of showing how the Christian faith best responds to Foucault.

WHAT ABOUT BIDEN?

Since several friends have asked (and more of you may want to!) why my criticisms are mainly directed towards Trump, it is easy and straightforward to answer.

My teaching and writing are mainly to Christians. 

When I am speaking to someone who hates Trump and his policies, I am quite comfortable saying that I find the progressive left terribly lost. And I have a long list to offer!

But here is my concern…

I don’t hear many Christians talking about our own need for landscaping (see my previous post from Nov. 16. 

Sadly, I mainly hear (and many are glad to bend my ear about it) about how “bad our American culture has become” and little said about personal sin, or the various sins of American Christians. I am grateful for my friends who put their sins on the front burner of their complaints. It reminds me of a conversation with a pastor friend years ago during our lunch. I asked him: “What is your biggest challenge as a pastor?” He said, “Oh that’s easy Dave. My biggest problem is me.”

DO CHRISTIANS STILL BELIEVE IN FREE SPEECH?

“There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith

I have become skeptical whether many of us self-professed Christians believe in free speech…even in our interactions with one another!

Conservatives, whether that is of a political or theological stripe, like to criticize liberals (a word that I am using in its popular not historic sense) lack of commitment to free speech. We like to crow about the illiberalism of liberalism. I am afraid, however, that we are blind to our own hypocrisy. We are like the owners of a landscape company who lack credibility because our own backyards are full of weeds.

So, I am skeptical whether many of us self-professing Christians truly believe in free speech. You may be skeptical about my skepticism, so let me offer a few examples.

Do Not Discuss Trump!

Christians have told me they have lost friendships with fellow believers because of differences over President Trump. Others have told me that there is a well understood rule to not speak about controversial issues (again, Trump was the dominant reason given) both with friends and family members. Thanksgiving meals got even more challenging these past five years! Consider these alarming words from an eminent historian at Wheaton College:

“A 2017 poll found that one in six respondents had even cut off communication with a family member because of disagreement over the 2016 election…A survey shortly before the 2020 election found that fully two-fifths of respondents didn’t personally know a single individual who planned to vote for the candidate they themselves opposed.”

(Robert Tracy McKenzie, We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy, p. 7, emphasis his)

[Doreen and I had a candid conversation with two of our closest friends this past weekend about our deep differences over Trump. We walked away with greater respect and our friendship solidly intact. I am sad to say our experience is rare.]

We are deeply divided yet remain content to hunker down in the silos that protect us from seriously considering opposing views. Interacting with those outside our own tribe is viewed as a sign of weakness, a dangerous step towards waffling on the orthodoxies of our group. The “inner ring” that C.S. Lewis wrote about can be an unforgiving place to plop your tent. There is a way out of the parochial or provincial thinking of such echo chambers, but it is a road as one famous book title described, “less traveled.” Alan Jacobs writes:

“But there are healthier kinds of group affiliation, and one of the primary ways we can tell the difference between an unhealthy Inner Ring and a healthy community is by their attitudes toward thinking. The Inner Ring discourages, mocks, and ruthlessly excludes those who ask uncomfortable questions.”

(Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, pp. 58-59, emphasis his)

I have been present in many Sunday-school classes, small group Bible studies, and other Christian gatherings where an honest question was brushed aside. I have also found that thinly veiled mockery is not just the province of non-Christian gatherings. Believe it or not, I heard professors in both seminaries I attended mock students. I was also once the target of such mockery. This particular professor realized that he was wrong about the facts, so he apologized in his office, but the mockery took place in front of eighty of my classmates.

It seems that the brushing aside or mockery of a legitimate question are due to two main reasons: it is perceived as a threat to the cohesion of the group and/or those doing the brushing aside do not have a satisfactory answer. They do not want to be exposed on a subject they really should know something about.

Is Christian Education Still Available?

Jacques Ellul famously said that propaganda is effective because most of us do not want to consider the far-reaching implications of the truth. The truth stings before it heals. The truth corrects and who is excited about being corrected? It is one reason the ancient Greeks had two words to describe true education: mathein pathein or “to learn is to suffer.” It is painful to learn that you are wrong.

I taught part-time at a rigorous prep school. I taught juniors and seniors. I was encouraged to stoke debate since this was the time in the classical trivium where debate is welcomed. This so-called rhetoric phase is the culmination of the classical model.

I loved teaching and my students appreciated my candor. It is a wealthy school. I broached their socio-economic assumptions about life in both my Bible and apologetics classes. I found out to no surprise whatsoever that this was a ticklish issue to speak about openly. I did not let that influence what I believed was proper wrestling with a critical issue. As time wore on it became painfully clear that there were other important topics that were not allowed to be debated. In no small measure, it was one of the big reasons I left.

I have been doing several interviews on my recent book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. In one of the first interviews, I was asked a question that included a popular Christian trope: The world “out there” is not interested in the study of history or in being thoughtful. The interviewer then said that this makes it nearly impossible for us Christians to have any reasonable conversation with those who do not know Christ. Lack of thoughtfulness was assumed to be only “out there.” I gently corrected the interviewer by saying that the lack of thoughtfulness is also a big problem among us professing Christians. To his credit, the interviewer retracted his comments.

Whether it is in stifling serious questions or believing that only outsiders lack a desire to think well, we Christians must ponder our own less than stellar example. Do we professing Christians believe in free speech? Some honest reflection about that question seems warranted.

David George Moore is the author of Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. https://www.amazon.com/Stuck-Present-History-Frees-Christians/dp/168426460X

THE MAKING OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD

Along with the book, Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, these books raise a number of concerns about the biblical basis for the so-called complementarian position of men and women.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood does a good job of raising questions about how the social mores of one’s time influence the way one reads the Bible. Barr provides some interesting examples, especially from her area of expertise: the Medieval period.

All of us must wrestle honestly with how much our views are influenced by the socio-historic context (our own and previous periods) in assessing whether our views are consistent with the biblical record. This is a life-long process and one all of us will receive plenty of correction on in the next life! If Paul saw through a “mirror dimly” then we ought to be more circumspect about how clearly we see, especially with respect to the issues that thoughtful Christians disagree on.

This book does not purport to be a work of exegesis. As the good scholar that she is, Barr knows well that her main lane is history. That certainly does not mean that she has nothing of value to offer about the Scriptures. That is patently not the case.

I am in that small group of “left-leaning” complementarians (though I do not like the baggage that comes with the word complementarian). By that descriptor you will know that I didn’t find all of Barr’s arguments persuasive, but I am glad for the things that did make me think afresh about this issue. My own position is that women can teach both men and women as long as it is clear that they are under the authority of the church…something I wish was taken more seriously for men as well! Having heard many men who had no business preaching and teaching, I wish churches would be careful in vetting everyone.

HOW CAN YOU PROTEST?

Christians have a solid basis for saying something may be legal, but remain immoral.  Abortion is a good example.
Atheists don’t have a good basis for saying is immoral even if it’s illegal.  Think of the scandals brought to the fore by the MeToo movement.
On what basis can someone protest when they don’t believe in God?

CHRISTIANS HATING ONE ANOTHER

We live in turbulent and divisive times.  

We may be tempted to focus only on the ungodliness of the “culture” in general, but ungodliness is hardly limited to those outside the church. 

Inside the church there is suspicion among Christians, even hatred. Christians have told me that they can’t talk about their differences on important issues…with their best friends!  How much hope is there then to discuss controversial matters with those we don’t know?  Growing numbers seem pessimistic about the prospect.

The gadfly sensation, Jordan Peterson, likes to tell young people that they have no credibility to protest in public unless they first keep their own bedrooms neat and tidy.  It is good counsel and one we Christians ought to take more seriously, even if others don’t.  To change the imagery a bit, I like to say that we Christians regularly want to start a landscape company when the weeds in our own backyard need serious attention.

Consider the following not so hypothetical conversation:

Pro-Life Christian: I can’t believe that people think partial-birth abortion is okay.

Pro-Choice Friend: How come?

Pro-Life Christian: Because it is the killing of a human being!

Pro-Choice Friend: Why do you believe anyone two and younger is human?

Pro-Life Christian: Because the Bible says so!

Pro-Choice Friend: Would you show me a few of those Bible verses?

Pro-Life Christian: Uh, let me see…I know they are in there somewhere…

Whether it is engaging in conversation with those inside or outside the church, we ought first to consider whether we are adequately literate to speak with such confidence and conviction.

The final chapter of Stuck in the Present offers a way forward…

 

AM I WOKE?

Danny Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Danny and I are bound together (literally) because his commentary on Song of Solomon and mine on Ecclesiastes were matched together in B & H’s series of commentaries on the whole Bible.

Danny believes the shocking truth that the gospel of Jesus speaks to all of life.

Some within the Southern Baptist “denomination” (see my post on June 15, 2021) dubbed Danny a “woke liberal.”

If shrewdly “plundering the Egyptians” and seeking to have an irenic spirit makes one a liberal, then I guess many of us must wear that moniker. 🙂

And by the way, before you are tempted to sling out the word “woke” ask yourself whether you have done the hard work of lots of biblical and theological study along with ample historical work. If not, it would be better to ask questions than make confident pronouncements of who is and who is not “woke.”

If you want to better know history, here is a pretty good book to get you oriented: