Here’s the latest installment of my “13 Reasons” series over at my church’s website.
Category Archives: Culture and Economics
In another blaring case of an institution speaking out of both sides of the mouth, Princeton Theological Seminary declared that it would rescind its offer to Rev. Tim Keller of the Kuyper award for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness as well as affirmed its commitment to “the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community.” Evidently, Rev. Keller’s good status as a minister in a denomination that doesn’t permit the ordination of women or LGBT individuals is a step too far for the “diversity” of their community. Or, if Orwell’s animals were describing the situation here, they might say that, though everyone in the Reformed community is equal, Keller’s views make him not quite as equal as those at PTS. Thankfully, Keller is evidently a classy enough guy to accept their invitation to come and speak regardless of the snub.
But the irony here just keeps right on coming.
The award that PTS has rescinded for Keller is named after Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch statesman and theologian from the late 19th-early 20th century, known as one of the earlier voices that began speaking into a North American context about the concept of a worldview (from the German Weltanschauung). In other words, Kuyper helped American Christians begin to think of biblical truth as applicable to all areas of life (e.g. industry, art, science, etc.) and not just as it relates to the church, salvation, and the hereafter. Here’s the ironic part. Kuyper delivered a series of lectures at PTS in 1898 in which he issued some warnings to the American theological community about what he called “Modernism”, a distinctive of which Kuyper said “denies and abolishes every difference, [and] cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity.” (Lectures on Calvinism (1943), 27) So Kuyper, for whom the award is named, would have decried the demolition of distinctions that is today’s zeit geist, and Keller, in apparent agreement with Kuyper, is denied the award by the institution for reasons that Kuyper warned it about 120 years ago.
If that wasn’t rich enough, I discovered through my highly sophisticated research on the interwebs that Keller wouldn’t have been the first “holy man” to receive the Kuyper award who belonged to a religious order that doesn’t ordain women. In 2010, PTS awarded it to Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, an Orthodox Jewish movement that “…has yet to officially accept women in its rabbinate…” (see context here). But we Americans have short memories, tender toes, and institutions like PTS apparently determine their standards by licking a finger and holding aloft to see the direction the winds of cultural change are blowing. So I guess the moral of this story for all who seek honor in the hoary halls of PTS is, you better not be a conservative Protestant.
Sorry Keller. I hope your speech is at least well-received.
You’re probably thinking, “C.S Lewis on fake news?! Uhhh… wasn’t he dead long before this whole fake news trend started?” Well… yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it wasn’t called fake news in his day. But, no, in the sense that misrepresentations of current events in order to shape or alter public discourse/opinion (e.g. yellow journalism, etc.) has been going on for a good long while. Only our chronological snobbery (also a CS Lewis-ism) would allow us to think that fake news is a postmodern American problem. So I commend this reading (and illustration!) of Lewis’s take on how we can be done with wicked journalists. An added bonus in this video is this: Lewis shares some very clear-headed thinking on a subject that many in our knee-jerk culture struggle to grasp, namely that it is possible to make a moral judgment on someone’s actions or words without necessarily falling prey to the charge of “self-righteous”.
There’s a level of anxiety being expressed on social media right now that is far from healthy and giving birth to an ugly sectarianism. And for the Christian, that kind of anxiety and sectarianism is both damaging to an individual’s walk of faith as well as harmful to the unity of the Church. Yet turning a blind eye to matters political and neglecting our privilege of voting is being a poor steward of the kingdom we are to be seeking above all things (Matt 6.33). So in this soup of sound bites, polarizing talking heads, nasty barbs and zingers, suspicious conspiracy theories, red-faced cries of injustice, and enough analytical info to cause the most patient among us to throw up their hands in disgust, here are a few questions that we all can ask ourselves to help bring focus to our faithfulness at the polls.
- Who possesses my greatest motivational allegiance? Our loyalties call us to be motivated to all sorts of things. As a Washington Redskins fan, I’m motivated to support them through thick and thin. However, if Kirk Cousins, the surprise QB star of the Redskins’ most recent season came out in favor of voting for Attila the Hun for POTUS, I’d probably have to respectfully decline to follow suit regardless of how cool Cousins’ first name is. This comes into political play when the party we most often align with puts forward a nominee that requires a Christian to check his or her allegiance to Christ at the door before casting their vote. Are you being asked to violate your conscience in voting for someone of questionable character and/or competencies in order to “support the party?” If so, ask yourself, “Why do I feel an allegiance to this particular political party? Would I ever ask a politician to violate his or her conscience in order to support some agenda that I have?” There is a cost of discipleship when one claims allegiance to Jesus Christ. Sometimes that cost entails relegating one’s vote to what the world might consider irrelevant.
- Should I submit my conscience to the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument? Or another way of asking the question is this: how despicable does a nominee for my party of choice have to be before I refuse to support them? I mentioned Attila the Hun earlier only partially in jest because the choices for nominees Americans are being offered have been increasingly distasteful over recent years. But I want to point out the ethic that is often behind the motivation to vote for one ‘evil’ over another one. Most people think, “I have to vote for Candidate Gag. I don’t like it one bit, but Candidate Blech has to be stopped.” Or another way of describing this ethic is this way: the ends justify the means. But not only is this a sub-Christian ethic, it is the ethic that gave this world such atrocities as Hitler’s “Final Solution” and Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.”
- Is my choice of candidate driven more by fear of the future or by the fear of the LORD? So much fear-mongering goes on on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media avenues that the Christian must be careful to guard their heart. And part of that guarding process is reminding oneself that no Christ-follower ought to fear whoever occupies the oval office. Though our nation’s Commander in Chief wields more authority now than ever was intended by our nation’s founders, it doesn’t alter the fact that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21.1).” Do not fear the state. Fear God. Or as Psalm 143 puts it: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation… Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever (Psalm 146.3, 5-6).”
- Am I familiar with what God’s Word says about what makes a good leader? I considered not putting this point in this post but I keep hearing my bride’s voice tell me things like, “Go ahead and believe the best about what other people know but state your point anyway.” To that end, part of fearing God is a working knowledge of what His Word has to say about who is qualified to lead and who isn’t, who is a fool and who is wise, who is a righteous person and who is wicked. I am fully aware that we are not electing a PastorOTUS, but the Bible nevertheless gives us a glut of data by which we can judge who is fit to be a public official and who is not. Consider just a few verses from just 10 chapters of Proverbs that apply to at least one of the top three major party candidates: 10.4; 10.9-12; 10.18-19; 11.2; 11.9; 11.12; 12.15-18; 13.10; 13.16; 14.2; 14.5; 15.1-2; 21.4; 21.23-24; 21.29; 22.5; 22.10-11; 25.14; 25.19; 26.1; 26.12. Take these earthy proverbs alongside other biblical data about what kings aren’t supposed to do (Deut. 17.14-17) and what kind of person an overseer in the Church is supposed to be (1 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 1.7-9) and a much clearer picture emerges about what a public, elected servant ought to look like. [Note: Harry Reeder in a recent blog post put an important qualification: “[I]t must be remembered that at times, God’s common grace produces leaders that though unsaved have a dependable and reliable character.”]
Can we not look at the major party candidates as well as independents and minor party candidates, vote for the best person available with a clear conscience, and trust that we are cared for by the mighty hand of the King on His heavenly throne? Can we not trust a long-range view in which there is major reform in the existing major parties or their break-up and subsequent shift in the political centers of gravity? So yes. We have a right to be upset with both the Democratic and Republican parties. But no. We should not allow our anger to cause us to respond faithlessly at the polls. We must consider how the reactions in our own hearts can lead us down unwise paths. We must weigh our decisions and actions according to the clear teachings of scripture, for “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established (Prov. 24.3).”
Much virtual ink was spilled recently in celebration of what has been dubbed “Darwin Day,” the annual February 12th celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday. Of those articles fighting for the survival of the fittest on the interwebs was a piece published by Huffington Post titled “Darwin Day Revelation: Evolution, Not Religion, Is the Source of Morality“. While the article reads easily and proved to be quite provocative (hence the current response), the reasoning within it proved to be as fallacious as it was badly misinformed. But this appears to be standard fare when those within the Darwinian camp attempt to cross professional lines and try and connect biology (evolution) to ethics (morality). Though I could simply allow readers to click on the article and read it without commentary, let us take a few things in hand from the article itself to demonstrate the hypothesis.
First of all, Mr. Naff, the article’s creator, opens with a typical look-how-stupid-creationists-are quote lifted from a website with such confidence-bolstering categories as “Conspiracy Facts” and “Forbidden History” and a front page article purporting to have the “latest cutting edge research on UFOs, Remote Viewing, Stargates, Genetic Engineering and Alien DNA.” After besmirching any respectability creationists might have had in the readers’ minds, he runs off a beautiful litany of scientific information in the areas of paleontology and genetics. Having established “the fact” of evolution and the idiocy of creationism, he plunges forward to the point of his article, namely that evolution is the best explanation for a universal morality for the human species. But by this point the fight is already over for most readers. After all, who wants to be aligned with a bunch of evolutionarily regressive creationists when you can post cool phylogenic models with the ‘in’ crowd?
Secondly, the article betrays a pretty crayon-simple misunderstanding of how religion in general (but Christianity in particular) considers the morality of humanity in general. For instance, Mr. Naff says, “If religion were the vehicle that delivers morality, then atheists, the disaffiliated, and those who have never heard of God’s laws should show comparatively inferior moral behavior. They don’t.” But this has never really been the position of, at the very least, Christianity. As a matter of fact, the Christian understanding of humanity, namely that all humans are created in God’s image, is the very basis for why there seems to be some common, moral currency between humans across the full spectrum of religion and philosophy. If God has indeed impressed His character onto each person, engraving on our humanity some fundamental moral principles, then we would expect to see reflections of that moral character in every person. It’s what C.S. Lewis labeled “the Tao” in his book The Abolition of Man. The problem (from a Christian standpoint) is that our rebellion against God and His ways, namely the suppression of the truth written on our hearts, causes major differences in what individuals deem moral/immoral. So no, Mr. Naff, the Christian would say that atheists and other non-Christians can and do perform positive, moral actions, sometimes even moreso than some Christians. But this is not new information. It has been the position of Christianity for hundreds of years. The problem in this realm is actually that even our moral actions need redeeming (see chapters 10 and 11 of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God for more on this idea), but that goes beyond the scope of this post.
Next, the hinge pin and weakest point of the article appears to be that evolution – and more specifically cooperation – has granted us a morality more… uhh… humane than the typical characterization that Darwinian doctrine of survival of the fittest grants us. After a brief review of some examples of a rudimentary moral instinct in the animal kingdom (e.g. dolphins, elephants, monkeys, and voles), Mr. Naff encourages his readers to consider how the four chambers of our heart is an example of cooperation pointing to evolutionary morality. But this is a very strange (and fallacious!) thing to do. After all, our hearts are not independent organisms, and his point is to prove how cooperation between independent organisms points to an evolutionary origin for morality. However, the fact that the action of our heart’s four chambers are coordinated (not the same thing as cooperation) is as much evidence of evolutionary morality as a heart attack is an instance of immorality. But even if we reject this heart-cooperation example and simply focus on the rudimentary ‘moral’ instincts found in the animal kingdom, it is fallacious to argue that just because something is observed in nature , therefore it ought to be so. This poor reasoning (sometimes called the “naturalistic fallacy”) is even eschewed within the stridently evolutionary camp. Steven Pinker, for instance, a Harvard professor and staunch proponent of evolutionary psychology said, “Today, biologists denounce the naturalistic fallacy because they want to describe the natural world honestly, without people deriving morals about how we ought to behave (as in: If birds and beasts engage in adultery, infanticide, cannibalism, it must be OK).”
In the end, Mr. Naff’s article has to assume certain moral universals such as cooperation, empathy, and disgust, and then be very selective in the evidence it puts forward as suggesting an evolutionary root to those universals. Unfortunately, he leaves major, crucial questions unanswered like, “Why should cooperation, empathy, and disgust be deemed good?” “Cooperation with whom?” “Empathy towards whom?” “Disgust over what?” As a counterpoint, the picture at the top of this post depicts a troop of chimps coordinating an attack on an alpha male, not because he was a “bad actor” among them as Mr. Naff has suggested, but because they wanted the food and the chimpanzistas that were his. Why is this activity not included in our canon of human moral universals? Whose to say that Nietzsche wasn’t right in his work The Antichrist: “What is good? — Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man. What is evil? — Whatever springs from weakness.” Nevertheless, convinced proponents of Darwinian doctrines are always trying to force this world into their mold. Daniel Dennett attempted this in the mid 1990’s with his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and he proved to be largely unconvincing even to committed Darwinists. And Mr. Naff has resuscitated that attempt only to have it expire yet again, falling prey to those of us unevolved enough to still be willing to question the reigning Darwinian establishment.