Category Archives: Character

WHY LIBERALISM FAILED

Don’t be misled. The liberalism that the author speaks of is the classical variety that undergirds both conservative and progressive liberal thought. The liberalism the author believes has failed is that of Mill and Locke, the latter a big influence on our Founding Fathers.

I heavily annotated my copy of Why Liberalism Failed because it is the kind of book that makes you think in fresh ways about old ideas.

Much ink has already been spilled debating the merits of this book. I won’t go into detail on those since this brief review is designed to say that I find Deneen’s thesis quite compelling. I plan to read more of Mill and Locke so my view could change some, but right now, I find myself aligning with Deneen’s concerns.

 

CONTROVERSY, CRITICISM, AND CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER

No matter what Christian tradition we align with, or group we associate with, all of us should consider the following questions. Over the years I developed this list to ask myself these kinds of things on a regular basis:

*Am I fearful of speaking up due to the fear of losing my livelihood? As a pastor I regularly reminded myself that the folks at church were not responsible for paying me. They were God’s instruments to be sure, but God was in charge of my well-being. I am glad for a father who instilled in me the virtue of doing the right thing no matter the cost.

*Am I fearful of speaking up due to jeopardizing opportunities for ministry (or business) in certain venues? Much could be said about this, but the reality is that many don’t press important issues over fear of losing out on speaking and writing opportunities. 

Years ago, I talked with a guy who lost his job at a big, Christian publishing house because he protested them accepting a book which contained heresy. The best-selling author stayed and the editor left. It cost him in some significant and very tangible ways, but it did not cost him his integrity.

*Am I fearful of speaking up because I truly like these people and don’t want to lose my “community”? This is understandable as indeed all of these temptations are, but we must ask how good the friends really are if any pushback and challenge is viewed as a threat to the friendship. 

Personally, I don’t mind hearty disagreements and have had them with many friends. I do mind when a lack of respect, not actively listening to one another, setting up straw-man points, ad hominems, or the all too common practice of passive-aggressive behavior takes place. 

*Am I fearful of speaking up because I don’t want to be tagged “a critical spirit”?  Labels can be lethal. I have seen the “critical spirit” label wielded with wicked efficiency. 

To be candid, I have been guilty for labeling some “company men” who may not have deserved it. Others probably did, but that still is not the best way to communicate. We label because as David Dark said so well, we are lazy and want “mental shortcuts.”

In either case, we ought to be willing to be misunderstood, but actively seeking to understand others better. I am absolutely convinced this is greatly aided by proximity. If I don’t know someone it is easy to label them in an unfavorable light. If I do get to know them, we might still disagree, but be less keen on categorizing one another with our unflattering arsenal of terms.

One example is the mea culpa a popular blogger gave over his less than flattering review of Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts. Tim Challies candidly registered his dismay over how he treated Voskamp (http://www.challies.com/articles/in-which-i-ask-ann-voskamps-forgiveness). Wonderfully, it was Voskamp’s invitation to Challies and his family for a meal with the Voskamp family which got that ball rolling. So proximity is powerful. Repeat it often!

My go to verses which have helped me better navigate (no perfection achievable this far from Eden!) the choppy waters of simultaneously not fearing man, yet remembering the need to remain a man growing in peace with others whenever possible are:

“Stop regarding man, who breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Isa. 2:22)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  (Matt. 5:7)

“If possible, so far as depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) while always remembering the balancing verse of “Woe to you when all the people speak well of you; for their fathers used to treat the false prophets the same way.” (Luke 6:26)

“This you know, my beloved brethren.  But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Stuck in the Present: David George Moore: 9781684264605: Amazon.com: Books

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!

 

 

CONTROVERSY AND CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER

In light of my recent posts, I thought it might be good to offer a few principles that I try to apply when engaging issues where sharp disagreement occurs. These are from my forthcoming book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians.

First, it is possible that we did not properly understand the other person’s position. We may be jumping the proverbial gun and thus setting up a straw man argument. A great antidote, and one we have noted that is characteristic of humble people, is listening well. We should make certain we are properly tracking on what is communicated. We are told in Scripture to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (Jas. 1:19 NASB)

Some of you may be familiar with the folks from Westboro Baptist Church. They are the ones that like to show up with signs announcing that some person or group is “going to hell.” 

The Christian teaching on hell has occupied most of my adult life.  My thesis then first book was on hell.[i] 

The people of Westboro Baptist think they are being brave by proclaiming the scandalous message that people who don’t trust Christ are going to hell. A few years back, the following illustration came to mind. I think it illumines the folly of approach among those who align with Westboro Baptist.

Most people have not been to either Yuma, Arizona or Dubrovnik, Croatia. I have.  Yuma is a fine place. Some quaint things to see there, but Dubrovnik is absolutely stunning in its beauty. Now let’s say I offer someone an all-expenses paid trip to either Yuma or Dubrovnik.  Most would have to guess which one is better because they know nothing about these places beyond perhaps hearing their names. They have no context for what I am offering. The folks at Westboro jump right to the topic of hell, but there are so many important biblical truths to know before one can even begin to appreciate hell. I have found many church-going folks needing more teaching on the character of God, the nature of sin, and so forth, to better understand Scripture’s teaching on hell. If that is true of regular church-attenders, how much more for those who know little of the Christian faith!

Listening well and making sure others understand what is being said is not a strength of the folks at Westboro Baptist Church.

Second, we may not understand our own position as well as we think. The most secure in any debate are those who have taken time for adequate preparation. Our need here is to dig deeper and see if in fact our position holds up. Spiritual growth, as we talked about earlier in this book, is tied directly to our growth in knowledge. And this comes from recognizing when we really don’t know what we are talking about! We can learn something especially important from the ancient philosopher, Socrates. The Oracle of Delphi said he was the wisest man in all of Athens.  Socrates thought the pronouncement was over the top and so sought to demonstrate that it was untrue. He assumed, rightly he thought, that there were others wiser than he. Like a good interviewer on radio, he sought to interact with various people. It turned out that everyone acted wise but were in fact plenty foolish. Socrates ended up accepting that the “oracle’s declaration was actually correct, for at least he recognized his own ignorance.”[ii]

It is also interesting to note Augustine’s admiration for a non-Christian teacher by the name of Faustus:

I wanted Faustus to tell me, after comparing the mathematical calculations which I had read in other books, whether the story contained in the Manichee books was correct, or at least whether it had an equal chance of being so. I now did not think him clever enough to explain the matter. Nevertheless I put forward my problems for consideration and discussion. He modestly did not even venture to take up the burden. He knew himself to be uninformed on these matters and was not ashamed to confess it. He was not one of the many loquacious people, whom I have had to endure, who attempted to instruct me and had nothing to say.[iii]

Third, we may properly understand the other person’s position as well as our own but give them more importance than they deserve. We typically do this in one of two ways: by making a secondary (or even tertiary) issue into a primary one, or by failing to remember that there are in fact “grey” issues sincere Christians do disagree over (see I Cor. 8; Ro. 14).

Last, we may properly understand the other position and our own, it may be an important issue, but we still need to communicate with grace and truth. Again, having a gracious spirit does not mean there must be a toning down of one’s convictions. It does mean we proceed cautiously ever aware of our fallen and finite state.[iv] 

[i] David George Moore, The Battle for Hell: A Survey and Evaluation of Evangelicals’ Growing Attraction to the Doctrine of Annihilationism (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995).

[ii] James S. Spiegel, How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 176.

[iii] Augustine, Confessions trans. by Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 5.7.

[iv] For a terrific reflection of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, especially with respect to our limited perspectives, see David F. Ford, The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014), 56.

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.

TRUMP, MY FORMER PROFESSOR, AND ME

Dear Wayne,

Thank you for the many kindnesses you showed me (and Doreen) during our time (90-92) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Your recommendation that I receive the award for the best thesis on a theological subject encouraged me in my writing.

Your recommendation that I publish my thesis with the same publisher that did your Cambridge dissertation was also a wonderful blessing. And thanks for writing the foreword.

Your approaching me to serve as executive director of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood surprised and humbled me. I am the furthest thing from a one issue guy, so it was easy to turn down, but it was an honor to be asked.

And I will never forget that you regularly supplied us with doughnuts at your advisee meetings!

I read your Town Hall piece. Allow me to offer a few areas I wished you had addressed.

https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2020/08/08/letter-to-an-antitrump-christian-friend-n2573909

Nothing is mentioned about the founding fathers on the needed character to govern. For many years, the founding fathers were invoked by us conservatives, but then we slowly gave up their counsel because of Reagan’s divorce, Newt’s ruthlessness, etc. Realpolitik grabbed the imagination of many conservatives, so we got more “realistic” about the limits of purity in our governing philosophy. The political machinations of bad boys like Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich turned Republican politics into a blood sport. Yes, it is played that way on the other side of the aisle as well. Some would say the Democratic party plays it better. Since most of the people I speak with are on the conservative side of the ledger, I will keep my concerns focused there. I still think Madison and other founding fathers should instruct us on character. I find it telling that the counsel of those folks has faded into the political ether.

You mentioned the illiberalism of the left. I agree. In the 1980s, I spoke on the free speech platforms at both Stanford University and Cal/Berkeley. I wonder what that experience would be like today, so I understand your concern. Unfortunately, you left out that freedom of speech is not just stifled by those on the left. It also gets stifled at bastions of not just conservatism, but Christianity, like Liberty University.

I wish there were more conservatives like Robert George of Princeton. He, as you well know, is close friends with Cornel West. They do not agree on many things, yet they truly seek to learn from one another. Trump, and many who follow him, find Professor George’s model quaint and impractical. Again, realpolitik rears its head above such idealism.

My biggest concern is one I have not heard mentioned by any who support Trump, even by those who say he is the better option of the “lesser of two evils” gambit.

What about the confusion Trump creates over the gospel? Christians who say Trump is the “lesser of two evils” seem to forget the integrity of the church and gospel. I was surprised you did not mention anything on this topic.

Here’s a diagnostic of sorts: Which candidate brings the most confusion to the gospel and hurts the integrity of the church? I would argue, and believe it is easy to do, that Trump does. The Democratic party has little use for evangelicals so no confusion to the gospel occurs. But a candidate who has health-wealth preachers and other Christians supporting him no matter what, certainly does untold damage. And that damage does not go away once Trump is out of office.

The church in America has lost much integrity in supporting Trump. You mentioned Trump’s unsavory character which is a proper thing to do. I am afraid your concerns over his character got drowned out when you so quickly pivot to how great Trump’s policies have been. In other words, your concerns over Trump’s character come across tepid and they lack the penetration of the prophet that is so sorely needed. 

There are several other things I keep hoping to hear from Christians, but sadly I keep hearing lots of crickets. For example, three times Jeremiah says that Nebuchadezzar was “God’s servant.” If God is still in charge with the likes of Nebuchadnezzar, should we really have a Chicken Little posture as we contemplate someone from the Democratic party being in office?

I did not vote in the last election. My reasons for doing so are too long to mention here, but a scholar of James Madison’s political philosophy said Madison would have supported my right to do so. Three months out from the upcoming election, I continue to think (and pray) about how I should vote this November. And rest assured, my vote will not be for Joe Biden.

No matter what happens I would like to hear more Trump supporters, especially the Christian ones, say he is unfit for the presidency, even though they are glad for his policies. Saying Trump is less than perfect is hardly the same as saying he is unfit to govern.  

[One factual error in your piece: Schlafly did an MA at Radcliffe, but her JD was from Washington University not Harvard.]

Your Former Student,

David (George) Moore

 

QUOTABLE

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites—in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity;—in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption;—in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

(Edmund Burke, A Letter From Mr. Burke To A Member Of The National Assembly, 1791.)

Repost from June 3, 2016

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.

ME AND TRUMP

HT: To Roger Berry for the picture.  I am writing a book with Professor Michael Haykin on Ralph Waldo Emerson.  It seems the president likes Emerson.  I don’t think it is quite accurate to say, “I love Emerson,” but he has been a very productive conversation partner.

And now to the matter of this post… 

Some of you know about my critical piece on Trump which was cited favorably on the Gospel Coalition and elsewhere.  I still stand by everything I wrote.  Here it is: 

IS VOTING FOR TRUMP A “MORALLY GOOD CHOICE”? RESPONDING TO WAYNE GRUDEM

I did not vote during the 2016 election when it comes to president.  For everyone else, I cast a vote.  And I still stand by that decision.  And yes, I think it was my patriotic duty to not vote.

But things can change…

I regularly preach (really I teach it) that true education is many things, but one thing for sure: painful.  The ancient Greeks had a name for it: mathein pathein.  “To learn is to suffer.”  If you are truly learning, you have to face deficient views/ideas you previously believed.  

Do I think my previous thoughts on Trump deficient?  Largely, I do not, especially because I was addressing some specific areas of concern and those have not changed.

And yet, I want to remain open to new dynamics.

I’m still not sure what I will do in the upcoming election, but this is the best piece that is causing me to consider Trump:

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/02/2020-election-religious-conservatives-trump-voters/