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!
I find the trinity attractive, compelling, and there are desires we all have for community and individual impact that showcase we are created in the image of a triune God. My next door neighbor who is not a Christian said this made sense to him.
Our culture emphasizes a faux unity that kills true diversity or a faux diversity that kills true unity. The trinity elevates both in glorious splendor. There is much Christians have to offer our chaotic culture.
Sadly, I’ve found many Christians confused in their thinking about the trinity. Here are five errors I’ve heard the most in my conversations with a number of Christians:
Thinking that the incomprehensible nature of the trinity means I can’t say anything meaningful about the trinity.
Thinking the trinity is illogical.
Thinking the trinity is impractical.
Thinking the trinity is something Christians can disagree about like other unimportant matters such as the proper mode of baptism.
Thinking the trinity is simply a river in Texas.(HT: To my friend, Helen Reeves!)
MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN! Hey lawyer friends: Can I copyright that?! 🙂
Madison’s political philosophy was greatly influenced by preacher and Princeton president, John Witherspoon. Witherspoon’s influence is apparent in places like the Federalist Papers where you see Madison’s realistic view of man’s fallen nature.
“Democracies allow the greatest number of citizens in ruling, Witherspoon notes, but often, as he learned from Aristotle, they degenerate into mob rule, ‘deceived by demagogues’ and ‘subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.’”
Do you think that is a word for us today?
“Left” and “right” are thrown around a lot by, well you know, those on the left and right.
Did you know that the terms may be more beholden to the Enlightenment, so fairly recent?
Also, before we glibly designate someone of the left or right, we ought to consider whether we can answer a few questions:
What’s the difference between the left and the radical/progressive left as used today?
What’s the difference between the right and the far right as used today?
What is the irreducible minimum that makes one a “liberal”?
What is the irreducible minimum that makes one a “conservative”?
And I finish by recommending this terrific book:
“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
Here are three pieces I recommend:
Senator Marco Rubio:
Timothy Dalrymple, President and CEO of Christianity Today:
Shai Linne at the Gospel Coalition:
Some Encouragement/Final Reflections
Like you, I have plenty to do, so will make this my final (at least for the time being) post on the racial crisis. My correspondence was heavy these past days. I am grateful for all those conversations but must pivot to other matters including the final edits of a book my publisher is waiting on.
Here you go…
I reject Critical Race Theory (CRT). Full stop. For those who know me, that will come as no surprise.
When I use “white privilege” I don’t have in mind the various tenets of CRT. I am a Christian who is seeking to think biblically and theologically about this issue. And historically. No claims to perfection about my reflections, but I am trying to make sense by writing (Augustine said writing clarified his thinking and writing showed him what he thought).
I’ve had many good conversations in the last couple days. Some have helped me to think in clearer ways about this issue. Some have shown me that there are differences of emphasis, and some have reminded me that complex issues are not resolved overnight.
One difficulty with any complex issue is that groups are hardly monolithic. Saying all people in a certain group believe x is not reflective of what exists in any group: a myriad of perspectives.
My use of “white privilege” as I mentioned in a quick blog post on June 6 was “not a punt to liberal, political ideology, but rather the manifest witness of God’s Word.” Manifest may be the wrong word because we can disagree how clear that emerges from the pages of Scripture.
Here is where I should say more about “white privilege.” As one friend said, since the term is used in a certain way by those who hold to CRT, perhaps another term is needed. I think that is good counsel. I am looking for a way to communicate that some/many (certainly not all) of us white people can be oblivious at times to the struggles those from other backgrounds face.
Making sweeping assertions is a constant temptation but should be resisted. If you are familiar with the conditions of many whites in Appalachia, you will know that they have less “privilege” than affluent African Americans in the suburbs. Class is not being talked about enough these days, but it is also worthy of our attention. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a good reminder of this reality.
One last word for all of us: Let’s not get weary in well-doing. That is clearly biblical! See Gal. 6:9. We must fight the tendency to hunker down in our own world and so leave the messy problems for others to address.
In modern life there are more controversies than any one person can address. You may be called to other things. All of us need great wisdom to discern where and how our time should be spent.
We Christians have a huge advantage because we have God’s Spirit to empower and direct us. We don’t go it alone. We also can shout the glorious truth that our God is triune. The beauty of true unity, but never at the diminishment of diversity, really does exist and is worthy of emulation.
I’m planning to design a t-shirt that says, “MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN!”
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:
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.