Category Archives: Culture

THE TEARS WERE NOT EXPECTED

Late last night, I was overcome with grief. The tears were not expected.

It is impossible to digest properly all that happened yesterday. As I write in my forthcoming book Stuck in the Present, we need the longer view of history for that, so I am heeding my own counsel.

Over the years, I have heard warnings to not take the American experiment in democracy for granted. It is sturdy in one sense, but still fragile. I remember hearing that each generation of Americans must commit to it. I thought it was good to issue such a warning but was never too worried. No longer.

Have things been this bad before in America? An argument can certainly be made for that and the antebellum period is the one historians typically mention.

Are our cluster of present problems unique to the more modern period of American history? Again, I think the 1960s offers another example of serious strife and deep division.

My deepest sadness, however, is not over our country’s present chaos and strife.

My deepest sadness is over the state of the Christian faith in America.

For many decades I have witnessed Christians who are apathetic about knowing God’s Word, loving one’s enemies, an unwillingness to suffer for Christ in the most modest of ways, prayerlessness, and much more. 

Most Christians are poorly prepared for times of crisis. We love the church programs that meet our insatiable desires. We adore our celebrity pastors. We are biblically and historically illiterate, but more than willing to offer our superficial opinions on the most vexing issues of the day.  

This sad state of affairs is due to a lack of making long-term discipleship and serious grounding in the Christian faith our priorities. These simply do not take place in many churches (or parachurches for that matter). We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. We should not be surprised where we find ourselves.

Things are not going to be any better by avoiding these realities. Things also might not be any better if we face these realities but at least we will have been faithful.

I pray for God’s mercy, but I do not find myself too sanguine. My lack of “optimism” is not because the culture is so bad. Rather, it is because many of us Americans claiming the name of Christ have become dull of hearing.

God’s Word makes it clear that Christians can lose their influence (Mt. 5:13; Rev. 2:4,5). We are kidding ourselves if we think this is not happening right now.

All of us who claim the name of Christ need to ponder and consider Peter’s dire warning:

Indeed, none of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or wrongdoer, or even as a meddler. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?… (I Peter 4:15-17)

I added this in the reply link, but will also add it here:

Again, to underscore the biggest point of the post: Yes, shock over the events of yesterday, but I am much more worried about the state of Christianity in America. And my concerns go way back before Trump or any other politician.

We must look at ourselves!

 

 

COMPLEMENTARIANISM

From Carl Trueman:

I rarely read complementarian literature these days. I felt it lost its way when it became an all-embracing view of the world and not simply a matter for church and household. I am a firm believer in a male-only ordained ministry in the church but I find increasingly bizarre the broader cultural crusade which complementarianism has become. It seems now to be more a kind of reaction against feminism than a balanced exposition of the Bible’s teaching on the relationships of men and women. Thus, for example, marriage is all about submission of wife to husband (Eph. 5) and rarely about the delight of friendship and the kind of playful but subtly expressed eroticism we find in the Song of Songs. Too often cultural complementarianism ironically offers a rather disenchanted and mundane account of the mystery and beauty of male-female relations. And too often it slides into sheer silliness.

WHY IT IS HARD TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

Some of my reflections on why sharing the gospel is so difficult today:

The combination of globalism and connectivity via media makes this generation much more perplexed, even immobilized to know how or whether to share the gospel. Sharing the gospel seems more scandalous than ever.  We are more proximate to other religions and have a growing difficulty in believing we are right and everyone else is wrong.

TELLING A BETTER STORY

The best compliment I can pay this book is that it joins my list of favorite dead and living authors for better engagement with our culture.

For the former, there are Augustine, Pascal, Chesterton, Lewis and Newbigin. For the later there are Dan Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Tim Keller, Charles Taylor, and James Davison Hunter.

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

HOW ADAM SMITH CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

How Adam Smith can Change Your Life is wise, insightful, entertaining, and well-written. How much more can you ask of a book?

I learned much about Adam Smith. If you think of Adam Smith as the fountainhead of capitalist greed, you will be surprised by his clarion call to virtue.

As a Christian, I believe Smith’s Deism and glad embrace of the Enlightenment made him too optimistic about the potential of humans to do good. I certainly believe all humans, irrespective of religion, can do good because all people are created in the image of God. And Smith believed that humans do very bad things, but I think he was a bit naïve about the penchant of all us to do things that are destructive and yes, irrational.

How Adam Smith can Change Your Life is a great read and one that I highly recommend!

CORONAVIRUS, PLAGUES, AND JESUS

The Black Plague (1348-49) brought terror on an unimaginable scale, wiping out up to half the population of Europe. One work, Piers Plowman, written shortly after the disaster, included these arresting lines:

Kings and knights, emperors and popes;

Death left no man standing, whether learned or ignorant;

Whatever he hit stirred never afterwards.

Many a lovely lady and their lover-knights

Swooned and died in sorrow of Death’s blows…

For God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us,

And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.

(As quoted in Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Black Plague)

Sadly, the conclusion that “God is deaf” does not comport with what we find in Scripture. Circumstances, as many of us were well reminded this past Sunday by Pastor Andrew Forrest, are hardly an accurate gauge to determine whether God is with us or not. As Andrew said so well, Genesis mentions several times that “God was with Joseph” when Joseph’s circumstances were dire.

In a much earlier epidemic around 260 AD, Christians believed they were the hands and feet of Jesus. Bishop Dionysius described them this way:

Many of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took care of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen…

(As quoted in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)

Perhaps our responsibility will not involve loss of life, though we should never count it out. We do know that it should include kind gestures and acts of everyday generosity. And we should never fail to tell stories to one another. The therapeutic effects of good storytelling are attested throughout human history:

The Italian Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron in the wake of the plague outbreak in Florence in 1348. The disease ravaged the city, reducing the population by around 60 per cent. Boccaccio described how Florentines “dropped dead in open streets, both by day and by night, whilst a great many others, though dying in their own houses, drew their neighbors’ attention to the fact more by the smell of their rotting corpses.”

According to Pace University’s Martin Marafiot, Boccaccio’s prescription for an epidemic was a good dose of “narrative prophylaxis.” That meant protecting yourself with stories. Boccaccio suggested you could save yourself by fleeing towns, surrounding yourself with pleasant company and telling amusing stories to keep spirits up. Through a mixture of social isolation and pleasant activities, it was possible to survive the worst days of an epidemic. 

(As quoted in André Spicer, “The Decameron—the 14-Century Italian Book that Shows Us How to Survive Coronavirus,” accessed at www.newstatesman.com)

The Decameron tells bawdy and humorous stories. It sought to help people keep their wits about them during a time of great upheaval. Christians may not believe in telling bawdy stories, though some of us feel more freedom in that regard than others! Wholesome humor, however, is always a good idea.

Telling stories to one another ought always to be part of our spiritual repertoire. The greatest story is of a God who comes near, suffers for us, and one day will fix all that is broken. What a hope not only during the challenge of coronavirus, but for each day no matter how catastrophic the circumstances.