Category Archives: Christianity

JOHN LOCKE OR JOHN CALVIN?

A friend asked about the individual in Christianity. Here is what I dashed off:

It is a big topic of course so here is where I typically begin. We now live on the other side of the Enlightenment. It sought to make the self sovereign.

The “self as individual” idea emerges which is a novel one for understanding personhood.

Westerners now look at the Bible through a lens that over privileges the individual (literally undivided one).

Yes, every single person is precious, a sinner, and in need of redemption, but groups and various associations are talked about a lot in the Bible. Groups of people are talked about both favorably and unfavorably. In those groups when one sins (Achan at Ai) all suffer.

Yes, there is still individual accountability per Ez 18, but nations will also be judged. Americans do not have a great way to understand all this other than those who believe large sections of the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians.

I’m afraid our exegesis is at times more beholden to John Locke than John Calvin!

THE RISE AND TRIUMPH OF THE MODERN SELF

Carl Trueman’s writings always deliver. In the fall, I will be interviewing him on The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. I get loads of books from various publishers, but there is no book I have more looked forward to reading.

For a taste of Carl’s writing, check out this recent essay in First Things:

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/06/a-dark-cloud-for-democracy

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.

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

FALSE DICHOTOMIES

I will only speak for what I know best. The white, evangelical community traffics in various false dichotomies. Yes, individuals sin, but so do nations. The Bible is full of such teaching. On the other side, individual people are tied to communities. Consider how one person, namely Achan, brought a group into judgment.

Also, keep in mind that “the person understood as an individual” (literally undivided one) is a staple of the Enlightenment not the Bible. Before the Enlightenment we understood who we are as persons as we look to something bigger than ourselves: our community, family background, ethnicity, and religion. That idea has been lost both in the broader, secular culture and sadly among many Christians.

I agree with CJ Rhodes.

CJ Rhodes
@RevRhodes
How convenient it is that when it comes to racism and white supremacy, the Evangelical solution is individualized heart change (which I believe in, btw). But when it comes to any other justice matter the Religious Right endorses, the solution is institutionalized policy change.
Dr. Robert Jeffress
@robertjeffress
·
The only cure for the racism in America is a changed heart that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ. To try and heal racial divisions without that changed heart is like trying to cure cancer with a Band-Aid.
HT for tweets: Thabiti Anyabwile

 

DOUBT: A QUICK NOTE…

In many conversations over the years, one thing has proven true with those who struggle with the Christian faith: there are things all these folks believe that are not truly germane to walking with Jesus.  I always mention to the surprise of these folks that if I thought the Christian faith meant some of the things they think it does, I wouldn’t stay within the Christian faith myself.

PAUL AND THE GIANTS OF PHILOSOPHY

A terrific introduction to the similarities and differences between Paul and other philosophers.

I have been interested especially in how Christianity interacted with Stoicism. This book has much to offer in that regard. The various contributions are balanced and wise.

Recently, I interviewed C. Kavin Rowe on his influential book, One True Life. There is an entire chapter in Paul and the Giants of Philosophy dedicated to looking at the strengths and potential weaknesses of Rowe’s book. That chapter alone made this book a worthwhile read.

THE J CURVE

For the first half of this book, I felt the author was a bit redundant. That criticism probably still stands, but I found the second half of the book terrific. It’s not that the first half is worth skipping over. It still offers much, but I think the examples of dying and rising with Christ could have been reduced.

I greatly appreciated the illumination Miller brought to bear from ancient history. His exegesis of some key passages is also well done.