Category Archives: A Bit Controversial

School — No Place for a Child

 

Some days I need to yell, “The world has gone crazy!” This is one of those days. Let me tell you up front that my wife and I homeschooled our children, and we’d do it again. So, this essay is not a cool analysis. One more caveat: I come from a family of public school teachers. I think many teachers do the best they can given their situation, and they are all underpaid. This “yell” is about the system and the culture, not about the individuals trapped in it. Okay, ready?

Yes, I mean it. A school is no place for a child. As a child nears 5 or 6 years of age she or he is made to believe that starting school is a glorious coming-of-age transition. You’ll become a big boy, a big girl. You’ll learn to read and write and do all sorts of fun stuff! You’ll get to make decisions for yourself—which actually means that you will give in to pressure to do what your peers are doing. At six years old the baby bird must leave the warm nest and learn to fly. At six! Is that crazy or what? You’ll learn to deal with ubiquitous bullies and pick up the ways of the world from older kids. Why? Because the world is full of bullies and you’ve got to face the world sooner or later anyway! (Actually, the only place I have ever been bullied is at a school.) Away from the protection of mommy and daddy you will be taught and protected by an underpaid and over-stressed teacher, who has 30 children to look after. And teachers are all-knowing and all-seeing. They always know what goes on in the play yard, the hallways, the athletic fields, and the restrooms. You might get a teacher who views the world like your parents and your church does or you may end up with teacher who views God, morality, life, and love in radically different ways. You don’t know in advance.

And what will you learn in the education factory, the state-run orphanage for parented kids? You will learn the least common denominator of moral values. Government schools are supposed to be religiously and morally neutral, and that “neutrality” is the heart of their religion and morality. You’ll read the books, hear the stories, and engage in the sort of activities that are designed to make you exactly like everyone else, a compliant, tolerant, and uncreative citizen. Excellence, creativity, thoughtfulness, and individuality are discouraged because they are disruptive. Everyone is equal, everyone is special, everyone is gifted, and everyone is right. And no one thinks.

The parent-child bond must be broken (at six years old!), because parents teach their children all sorts of crazy stuff about religion, race, and gender. Useful skills like language, writing, and mathematics must be subordinated to the really important task of socialization for life in a “pluralist society,” that is, of teaching children not to judge anyone for anything…except of course for believing in the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and good and bad. Or, for believing in the superiority of one’s own culture or religion. And the informal “socialization” you learn is how to survive in a school culture with 10 adults and 200 children near your own age. Such a social skills have nothing to do with those you’ll need in the real world.

Okay, I’ve had my “yell,” my rant if you like. I am not asking you to join my chorus. I just wanted your attention. My main goal is simply to plant a question in your mind: Does it have to be this way for me and my family? I want you to know that if you feel like there is something not right about giving up your parenthood when your child is five or six years old, that there is something crazy about that notion, you are right. And you don’t have to do that. You are not the crazy one.

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What is Divine Forgiveness?

In the previous post I asked you to consider the question, “What is so bad about sin that we should want to be saved from it?” And the answer that forced itself upon us was that the nature of sin is “absurdity, death, emptiness, wretchedness, isolation, despair, and destruction.” Only when we understand sin’s destructive effects on us does the gospel of Jesus Christ become good news to us. The gospel tells us that Jesus Christ came to rescue us from these ills, restore our health, and lead us to a destiny glorious beyond our imagining. What must Jesus do in order to save us?

Forgiveness

For most believers, the first idea that comes to mind in answer to this question is forgiveness. We need forgiveness for our sins, and Jesus secures divine forgiveness for us. So let’s think about forgiveness. Forgiveness makes sense only in a personal context. Sin causes damage to us and to others. (Let’s leave aside for the moment the interesting question of whether we need forgiveness from ourselves for the damage we cause to ourselves and focus on the damage we cause to other people.) Some damage we cause to other people is reparable and some is not. If you steal my cash, you could correct that harm by repaying the money. However, if you take my life or cause permanent bodily harm, you cannot repair the damage and restore the body to its original condition. But whether the physical damage is reparable or irreparable, great or small, there is another kind of damage that accompanies all sins against other people: insult or offense. Sin against others treats them as having less than human dignity. You put the disturbing thought into their minds that they are unworthy–unworthy of life, possessions, or respect. Of all the possessions a person has, a sense of their own worth is the most precious. If I do not feel that I am worthy of love and respect, I will be afraid of everyone in every situation. I will trust no one. Life becomes a burden.

The instinctive reaction to insult is anger, hatred, and desire for revenge. In revenge, people assert their dignity by attempting to balance harm with harm and insult with insult. Revenge releases anger and provides a momentary sense of relief. It is an effort to restore our damaged sense of worth, to assert and reestablish our dignity. Of course, revenge doesn’t really work to restore confidence in our dignity, because our desire for revenge shows that we never had confidence in our worth! If we had such confidence, the original insult would not have caused us to hate and desire revenge so intensely in the first place.

Now we are prepared to understand the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness is refusal to take revenge for insults against us. Where do we find the power to forgive, and why should we forgive those who insult us? Forgiveness is withholding revenge, but this forbearance arises from a deeper source. The forgiving person has the spiritual power to neutralize, absorb, or be immune to insult. The insult does not shake their confidence in their own worth. Hence it does not cause fear, evoke hatred, and provoke violence. But the forgiving person is not only unshakably confident of their own value, they are also unclouded in their perception of their enemy’s dignity. Even while being insulted, they are compassionately aware of their enemy’s lack of clarity about her or his own worth. When you forgive your enemy, unlike when you take revenge on your enemy, you are witnessing to your enemy’s worth as well as your own in a dramatic way. If your enemies can receive your forgiveness, they may also come to perceive their true dignity. Only forgiveness can “balance” the books on the worth of individuals. Only forgiveness can convert an enemy.

Divine Forgiveness

Divine forgiveness follows the same logic as outlined above. When God forgives, God refrains from taking revenge. Divine forgiveness deals with the personal offense and insult sin directs at God. We cannot damage God physically as we can God’s creatures. But when we damage, insult, and withhold love from human beings, we also disbelieve, disobey, and mistrust God. We refuse his love and reject his guidance. We insult God’s dignity indirectly. (Blasphemy is direct insult of God.) God deserves our faith, obedience, and love, but when we sin against his beloved creatures, we display our ingratitude and disrespect. But God does not take revenge. God absorbs and neutralizes the insult, not returning violence for violence. God does not allow our refusal to love him to cause him to stop loving us. Our insults cannot place in God doubt of his divine dignity or lessen his love. Instead, God demonstrates his unchallenged dignity and eternal love by forgiving us. God affirms our worth by maintaining his eternal love for us unchanged

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the loving and forgiving God. Jesus’ action of forgiving his enemies is the expression in time of God’s eternal love and forgiveness. Let’s get clear on this: the work of Jesus Christ was not designed to change an offended and revenging God into a loving and forgiving God. Jesus’ suffering is not the cause of divine forgiveness. No. Jesus Christ is the visible, temporal enactment of divine forgiveness, of God’s eternal selfless love for us. Jesus is “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8).

In Jesus Christ, God absorbs and negates human offense and insult. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s sheer, gracious, unexpected, and incomprehensible forgiveness of insult to his divine dignity! In the humanity of Jesus Christ, God became able to suffer and die for us. Jesus’ human love for his Father in time corresponds to his divine love for the Father in eternity and his human suffering and death for us in time corresponds to God’s love and forgiveness for us in eternity. In the suffering and dying of Jesus Christ, divine forgiveness becomes effective for the conversion and salvation of humanity. In Jesus, God’s refusal to take revenge (forgiveness) becomes the negative side of a positive act of rescue from the power of sin and death.

Next Time: Forgiveness is not enough. We need healing, purification, transformation and glorification.

 

Can God Fail? Six Points of God’s Providence

Theologians speak about God’s action in relation to the world in various ways depending on what aspect they are discussing: creation, providence, reconciliation or redemption. Some writers give the impression that these different aspects are really separate acts each with its own quality and way of acting. In my view, this separation produces many misunderstandings, such as the common idea that after God creates creatures he must change the way he relates to them. In contrast, I consider it very important to understand each of these four aspects as ways to understand the one God-creature relationship. In creation God begins, in providence God continues, in reconciliation God corrects, and in redemption God perfects creation. From beginning to end the same God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, acts toward creation in view of his eternal plan, the perfection and glorification of creation.

Given my view of the unity of God’s action in creation, you won’t be surprised to learn that I define providence as “that aspect of the God-creation relationship in which God so orders and directs every event in the history of creation that God’s eternal purpose for creation is realized perfectly(The Faithful Creator, pp. 209-210). I see six major points in this definition that need explaining in detail.

(1) “Providence is not a totally separate series of divine acts but an aspect of the one God-creature relationship.” God is eternal, his act of creation is eternal, and his providence is eternal. But the results of that act are temporal. We live our lives in time and experience God’s one eternal act of creation and providence in time. God’s eternity encompasses time but is not limited by time.

(2) Providence is God’s own personal action, not delegated to angels or left to impersonal causes. In Christianity, all God’s actions in relation to creation are understood to be from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. God needs no non-divine or quasi-divine mediators in order to be our creator and providential guide. God uses creatures, nature, natural law and human agents. God can work through them, and they are real causes of their effects. But God is not restricted by them in what he can do through and with them. Creatures do not stand between God and the work God accomplishes through them. If God uses a physician to heal or a teacher to inform, God is just as close and just as effective as he would be if worked without them.

(3) God “orders and directs” the history of creation, not leaving creation to chance or fate or misguided freedom. The Faithful Creator explains this point in these words:

“That God “orders and directs” the history of creation means that God brings it about that the created world is and remains the world God intended it to be and that in all worldly events, processes, and free acts God brings it about that his will is achieved… When the Bible affirms God as the creator, it does not mean that God created matter and left it to form a universe by pure chance. Nor does it mean that God created matter and the laws of physics and left them to form a universe by a combination of chance and necessity. It does not mean that God created matter, the laws of physics, and an initial order and let them explore their more constrained but still infinite possibilities by chance. No, when the Bible affirms that God is the creator of heaven and earth it means that God created the order we now experience, the ones that came before and those that will follow until God has created the definitive order in realization of God’s eternal plan. God was, is, and will be the creator of heaven and earth. Hence a robust view of divine creation and a robust view of divine providence stand or fall together.” (The Faithful Creator, pp. 217-218).

(4) Divine providence covers every event in the history of creation, great and small, good and bad, contingent and necessary. God is the creator of everything that has being to any degree. And “events” are the coming to be of new states of creation. God orders and directs—indeed God gives being and sustains—every event no matter how it comes to be. Great and small are relative terms. What seems small at one time may grow in significance with perspective, and what seems great may diminish with time. What seems good in the moment may not work to our ultimate good in the long run, and what seems bad in the moment may be the thing we need to set us on the right path to our ultimate glorification. And what seems to originate exclusively in chance or free human acts can be and will be indwelt, ordered and directed by God according to his plan. God cares about the little stuff, and no power can separate us from his loving care.

(5) God’s eternal purpose guides God’s providential work. God does not need to adjust his plan or improvise in response to unexpected events. Many contemporary writers on providence view God as living in time and responding to events as they occur without being able to anticipate fully what will happen next. I reject this idea as inconsistent with the biblical doctrine of creation and with the promises found in the biblical doctrine of providence. God truly relates to us every moment and in every situation and always responds perfectly. God relates to the temporal creation from eternity, and hence is always ready for whatever happens. For us, the future does not exist at all and God’s act of creation is still ongoing. In our prayers we are relating to the eternal God who is not determined by what we call the future. He can answer our prayers without altering his plan. He knows from eternity what we need and what we should want. Who would want God to give them a lesser good just because they used the wrong words to express their anguish? Every prayer should be accompanied by a sincere “Not my will but yours be done!” You will always receive your request, and it will always be the best answer:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

6) God realizes his aims perfectly. God cannot fail, even in part. We cannot know the details of God’s eternal plan for creation. But how could God fail to accomplish something God intends to do? Doesn’t God know what he can and cannot do? How could God’s plan fail unless God mistakenly thought he could do something but discovered that he was unable? Take comfort. Though we fail often God will not fail:

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

What Pope Francis Should Say to America and the World…But Probably Will Not

Francis is coming to America! If Pope Francis really wants to act like the Vicar of Christ and the heir of the Apostles, he might consider speaking the way they spoke. They did not advise the devil on how better to manage his affairs; they cast him out. They did not instruct rulers, soldiers, politicians, scientists, public officials, rich, poor, men and women in their official and social roles. They spoke to them as naked human beings, responsible directly to God. They spoke about the most urgent matter: how do you stand with your God?

So, your honor, instead of playing the scientist, policy expert and economist, why not speak about something on which you can speak with real apostolic authority: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then the division you cause would between those who accept the gospel and those who reject it! That is would your predecessor Peter did in Acts 4; and that is what Paul did in Acts 19. You could begin like this…

“God is the creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. Every individual owes God for their existence and everything they have and are. Apart from God you are nothing and your accomplishments are worthless. And each one, poor and rich, obscure and famous, weak and powerful will answer to God for every word they say and everything they do and for how they use everything they have been given. Everyone dies, and everyone will stand before the “judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every secret will be revealed. It is no excuse to say, “I was acting for the company or the country or for an ideal.” Nor will it work to say, “I was oppressed or poor or ill favored.” God does not show favoritism. Nothing else matters if God is not pleased with our work. The most urgent problem, the root of all other problems, in the world today is its sinful rebellion against the Creator (Romans 1).”

“The answer to this problem, the only answer, is Jesus Christ. He is Lord of all, and every knee will bow to him. He alone has been raised from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand. He alone is our righteousness and wisdom. There is no salvation, no knowledge of God and no life in any other savior. He demands that you repent of your sin, trust in his mercy and following him. No excuses, no delays.

“Allow me to quote a warning given by Apostle Paul in Romans, Chapter 1:

“18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

“Is this not the real problem in America and in the world we live in? We can give more specificity to Paul’s warning by quoting his moral teaching in Galatians 5:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

“Hence my first word to America, to its leaders, officials and its people and to the world is the same as Jesus’ first message to the people of his day: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” Jesus said many things after and along with this message of repentance, but he never compromised or set it aside. Jesus proclaims that the deepest problem that plagues this world, the root of all others, cannot be solved by sinful human beings, individually or collectively.”

This is what Pope Francis should say but probably will not.

One reader recommended that I place the following paragraph from the comments into the post:

“Well, I am thinking about how leftest politicians fawn when he speaks about global warming or socialist economist policies and how rightest politicians fawn when he speaks about abortion or same-sex marriage. Neither party cares to hear the message of repentance; they want to use the church for their own ends. Why not simply call everyone above and beyond the world? Why not attack the devil in his stronghold and call out the idolatry of human self-worship? Do not let yourself be co-opted by the worldly minded! Call them all beyond their utopian visions, right or left.”

The Doctrine Post-Christian Culture Loves to Hate

Today I want to bring out two truths implied the Christian affirmation that God created “all things visible and invisible.” (1) We tend to locate God’s act of creation in the long past and apply it only to the first creatures. Most Christians are semi-deists; they think God acts in the world but only on occasion, in what are called miracles. But the doctrine of creation asserts that God is Creator in all time and space and of every creature that comes into existence. The world is God’s constant act of creating. God acted just as much as creator in giving you and me existence as he did in saying “let there be light.” We are just as dependent on God for our existence as was the first creature that came into being from nothing. We can allow this thought to inspire us to celebrate God’s love, grace and faithfulness or create in us resentment that we “owe” God so much, that we do not create ourselves and are obligated to obey his commands.

(2) Everything God made is good, and God made everything. There is sin and evil in the world, but the world itself is not evil. The affirmation that “everything is good” means that each and every creature was created for a purpose that serves the final end for which God made the world. There is no such thing as an evil entity, that is, a creature that should not exist and cannot be used for good. Sin and evil are misuses of created things, which are good in themselves. Accepting the Christian view that God created all things good should compel us to look for God’s wisdom in the created order of nature and seek God’s will concerning how to use the creation for good.

But there have always been those who deny the goodness of creation and suspect the Creator of malice. In the early centuries of Christianity (1st through 4th Centuries), some forms of Gnosticism including Manicheanism taught that a world as bad as ours had to be the work of an evil god. They rejected embodiment, passions, sex and eating meat as evil. They were not just vegetarians or vegans; they considered eating fruits and vegetables murder, unless you performed the proper ceremonies to free the spirit trapped within. The goal of this religion was escape from entrapment in the material world, and its practices and ceremonies were designed to facilitate this escape.

I see in contemporary culture some troubling analogies to the Manichean rejection of creation and the Creator. Perhaps this sounds implausible. After all, we live in a pleasure seeking, sensuous culture, not a world-denying one. Let me explain. Modern culture began with a general dissatisfaction with the evils attributed to the ancient social order. Thinkers sought first to persuade and enlighten their way to utopia. Revolutionaries found this method too slow and ineffective and turned to violent revolution to remake the social order. Both of these methods are still being used, but some unwanted conditions cannot plausibly be attributed to unjust social structures or to the physical malfunction evident in disease. Some are bound up with creation and the created order.

I am thinking of Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Jesus reaffirmed this created order in Mark 10:6-7: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” We must be clear that both male and female are made “in the image of God.” Both are fully human and they are made for each other, to complete each other. Woman is not woman apart from man and man is not man apart from woman.

But there are distinctions that constitute the maleness and femaleness of each. It seems to me that if we really affirm the goodness of the Creator and the order God made, we will embrace and celebrate our maleness or femaleness and the mutually defining the relationship between the two. God made males with certain distinguishing characteristics. These characteristics are “good,” that is, they can be used for the good purposes for which God designed them. (They can also be misused.) God made females with certain distinguishing characteristics, and these characteristics are also “good,” that is, they can be used for the good purposes for which God designed them. (They, too, can be misused.) One set of characteristics is not better than the other, because what makes them “good” is their God-given purpose, not some humanly imagined ranking of goods. Hence men and women should seek their proper dignity and identity not in relation to humanly constructed social orders, which always reflect the fallen and sinful human condition, but in relation to God. Envy and competition, distain and domination or pride and shame arise from ignorance or rejection of the goodness of the Creator. Every gift is to be used for others. The Creator’s work should never be the occasion for pride or shame.

Contemporary culture does not think or speak this way about male and female, nor define the goodness of maleness or femaleness in terms of God’s purpose in creation. Instead, it speaks of “gender” (indeed of multiple genders), which it considers a socially constructed reality, and spreads it out in an infinite continuum. Increasingly, the dominant culture denies the “for each other” nature of male and female with its God-given goal of becoming “one flesh.” In place of a God-created natural teleology it substitutes individual preferences, male for female or female for female or male for male or both. Instead of accepting and celebrating God-created nature, it celebrates the human act of defying confining natural structures and asserting a self-liberated self. At the heart of the gender revolution lies a Manichean-like rejection of creation and the Creator. It seeks escape from entrapment in the confining male-female distinction (the “binary gender” construct) and mutuality, not by practicing asceticism and engaging in mystical ceremonies as the Manicheans did, but by willful acts of self-recreation, rearrangement and redirection. But the fundamental heresy is the same: creation is not the good work of the benevolent Creator to be embraced and celebrated but a condition from which to escape by any means possible.

The Politics of Jesus

Did Jesus have political aims? Of a certain kind, yes. Let’s talk about it.

In his book Politics, Aristotle wrote:

“Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it; he is the ‘Tribeless, lawless, heartless one,’ whom Homer denounces—the outcast who is a lover of war; he may be compared to a bird which flies alone.” (Book 1.2.9).

Human beings are endowed with reason and speech, and these powers cannot be brought into full actuality apart from human community. Human nature is so rich that it cannot be realized fully by one individual, but when many people over centuries contribute their gifts, each individual can enjoy the work of all. The products of reason and speech become common property and enrich everyone. In the first paragraph of Politics, Aristotle made this significant claim: “If all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims, and in a greater degree than any other, at the highest good” (1.1.1).

Aristotle grounds the state in human nature. A being that is stateless by nature is either a god or a beast. The political order encompasses all other communities within its sphere. Unlike subordinate communities, it aims “in a greater degree than any other, at the highest good.” A family, a guild or a school will aim at the welfare of its members, a partial good. The state aims at the welfare of everyone, so that everyone may enjoy to the fullest degree the full flowering of human nature.

Let’s compare and contrast Aristotle’s thinking about the political community with the New Testament’s teaching about the church. Surely Aristotle is right that the state is an outgrowth of human nature and that a being stateless by nature is not human in the ordinary sense. The church is a human community, and Aristotle would number it among those subordinate communities that aim in a less comprehensive way at the highest good. But Christianity understands this community to be composed of a “new humanity,” “born again,” a people endowed with the “Spirit of the living God” and having under gone “the transforming of their minds.” They are in Aristotle’s words “above humanity.” A divine power is at work in the church to raise it above normal human life.

Aristotle is also on target when he asserts that every community aims at a good that gives it purpose, unity and identity. However, Aristotle’s “highest good” is limited to this world, this life. Christianity asserts that human beings should aim at a goal higher than the common good of the whole community within this life. God created human beings in the image of God, and human nature, empowered by the grace of the Spirit, can participate in the divine nature and attain eternal life. From Aristotle’s viewpoint, the church’s aim is off target; it aims too high and it demands too much of mere mortals. It is bound to fail.

The New Testament presents the church as the community founded by Jesus Christ. It is indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit and directed to God the Father. In analogy to Aristotle’s view of the state, the church is based on the nature of the new humanity and is necessary for the full flowering of this new human being. Christians are not “birds that fly alone,” but they really do fly. The Christian is not only a human being endowed with reason and speech but also someone united with Christ, who dwells in heaven and yet fills the universe. The Christian has received the life-giving Spirit and has been freed from the power of sin and death. Unlike Aristotle’s natural human being, the Christian lives by faith and not by sight.

The church is the community whose threefold purpose is (1) to enable the new powers and virtues that have been given to believing and baptized human beings to come into full use and benefit the whole church and through the church the whole world; (2) to embody as far as possible in the present the perfect community of heaven, the Father, Son and Spirit and the coming Kingdom of God, which is the union of human beings and God in the perfect divine/human fellowship; and (3) to call the whole world to rise up not only beyond the beastly nature of the stateless one, the ‘Tribeless, lawless, heartless one.’ It also calls human beings beyond the best political order human beings can create. She serves the whole human race by calling it to its final destiny and revealing its true dignity.

Hence to normal human beings, Christians will always appear to have their heads in the clouds. Their values are a bit askew. They are always rejoicing but never take pleasure in evil. They are serious about everything but in despair over nothing. The Christian is as courageous as a lion but as gentle as a lamb; they have wills as hard as steel but hearts as soft as wax.

The church will never subordinate itself to the political community because the good it seeks is higher than the good sought by the state. The virtues she promotes—love, faith and hope—are better than those the state values. She seeks heaven while the state grasps at earth. The state is built on violence and coercion, and it seeks wealth, power and worldly security; the church is built on freedom and love and seeks treasure in heaven. The church is the temple of God, the city of God, the body of Christ. The state is human nature writ large, with all its strengths and weaknesses.

For Aristotle, human beings are “political animals” whose destiny is achieved, if at all, only in this life. For Christianity, human beings are more; they are ecclesiastical animals whose destiny lies in eternity, in the divine life.

“Liberal Christianity”—Neither Liberal Nor Christian!

We are nearing the end of our year-long series on the question “Is Christianity True?” One more topic remains to be covered. So far in the series I have attempted to show that we can make a reasonable judgment to believe the Christian gospel and a responsible decision to take up the Christian way of life. Early in the study, in the third essay, I made it clear that by “Christianity” I meant the original faith attested in the New Testament. It is that faith I contend is true. And I responded to outsider critics in defense of this faith. But now I want to deal with those who “defend” Christianity by revising it to make it fit within modern thought and culture.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries many western intellectuals came to believe that Galileo’s and Newton’s scientific discoveries made it impossible to believe in divine revelation and miracles. God made the world and gave it its laws, and there is now no reason for God to interfere. God gave human beings the power of reason as a light to guide their way, and reason is as sufficient for religion and ethics as it is for science and practical life. The first thinkers to adopt these ideas had little use for Christianity; they saw no value in tradition, church and worship. Religion could be reduced to living a moral life outside the church. These are the so-called Deists.

But early in the 19th Century something new came on the scene, liberal Christianity. Liberal Christianity accepts most aspects of the deist critique of orthodoxy. Along with Deism, Liberalism rejects miracles understood as supernatural events in which God reverses, interrupts or sidesteps natural law. Hence it rejects or reinterprets in a non-miraculous way the Old and New Testament miracle stories, including Jesus’ nature miracles (resurrections, healings of leprosy, walking on water) and most significantly Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Liberalism rejects the apocalyptic elements in Jesus’ teaching and in the rest of the New Testament. And it rejects the substitutionary doctrine of the atonement. But unlike Deism, Liberal Christianity gives Jesus a central role as a religious and moral example and it retains a place for the church, clergy and worship in individual and social life.

During the 19th Century two major forms of Liberal Christianity developed. The first form emphasizes Jesus’ religious experience and was pioneered by German theologian and preacher Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who is universally acknowledged as “the father of modern theology.” According Schleiermacher, Jesus experienced a deep God-consciousness so intense that it overcame all resistance from the flesh. Jesus’ God-consciousness differs from other people’s experience in that he was able to inspire that consciousness in others. Only in this way is Jesus our redeemer and savior. The church is the community that cultivates this consciousness and passes it on to others. Christian doctrines derive, not from inspired words revealed by God and recorded in the Bible but from the feeling of absolute dependence on God that Jesus inspires. In Schleiermacher’s now classic work on theology The Christian Faith, the Berlin theologian reinterprets every Christian dogma and doctrine in Liberal way, that is, as reducible to the religious feeling of absolute dependence. For Schleiermacher, Christianity is not the religion about Jesus but the religion of Jesus.

In the late 19th and the early 20th Centuries, another Liberal tradition became dominant. This tradition was begun by Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) and continued by Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) and Wilhelm Herrmann (1846-1922). It focuses not on Jesus’ religious experience but on his moral example. For Ritschl and his followers, Christianity is based on Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom of God, which calls on people to embody perfect righteousness on earth in a community. Jesus inspires us to believe that the cause of the kingdom will prevail over all resistance. Like Schleiermacher, Ritschl rejects miracles, the resurrection of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the incarnation and other orthodox doctrines. Jesus is a human being who so identified himself with the purposes of God that he functions as the revelation of God in human form. He is not God in his being, but he reflects God in his character and actions. He “saves” by inspiring us to live according to the higher standard of love of God and neighbor.

The moralism that Liberal Christianity emphasizes is not personal holiness, that is, sexual purity, personal honesty and the absence of individual vices. It leaves this to the holiness churches and fundamentalist movements. The Liberal churches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries focused on bringing Jesus’ message of the kingdom to bear on modern social problems: poverty, capitalism’s exploitation of the working class, alcoholism, war and women’s suffrage. Later Liberal churches continued this tradition, adding the campaign for civil rights for African Americans, women’s liberation, environmental justice, gay rights and “marriage equality” for same-sex couples. In other words, Liberal Christianity follows and reflects the trajectory of what the consensus of the progressive element in culture takes for moral progress.

Now let’s address the assertion contained in my title. Is liberal “Christianity” Christian? Of course, it claims to be Christian, and it seems judgmental and rude to deny that claim. But surely it is not judgmental and rude to ask liberal Christians what they mean by the noun “Christianity” and the adjective “Christian”? What are the faith affirmations of liberal Christianity and what are its denials? The liberal Christianity I described above affirms Jesus as a paradigmatic religious man or a profound moral teacher and an extraordinary moral example. And orthodox Christianity also affirms these beliefs. But liberal Christianity denies that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, that he was the eternal Son of God incarnate, that he the performed miracles recorded in the Four Gospels, that he died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and that he was raised bodily from the dead. Liberal Christianity rejects much of the moral teaching of the New Testament because it conflicts with modern progressive culture.

But these rejected doctrines and moral teachings were part of the original, apostolic Christianity. Many of them are confessed and taught in the New Testament as absolutely essential. It’s obvious that in the New Testament era such “liberal” Christianity would have been rejected as unbelief or heresy and moral laxity. Does anyone doubt that had the Paul, John, Peter, James or any of the Apostles encountered someone teaching the liberal view of Jesus and morality that they would have denied it the name “Christian” and rejected it as “a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all” (Gal 1:6-7)? Call it what you will, “ecclesiastical deism” or “progressive religion” or something else. But if the original, apostolic faith is the norm for what qualifies as Christian and what does not, liberal Christianity is not Christianity at all but something else. But is apostolic Christianity really the norm for Christian teaching for all time? This is a decisive question. I affirm that it is, and I suppose liberal Christianity denies it.

My title also questioned Liberal Christianity’s liberalism. How so? The word “liberal” is related to the words, liberty and liberate. Hence liberal Christianity claims to be free and freeing. But from what is liberal Christianity free and from what does it promise liberation? From doctrinal orthodoxy, tradition and a strict and ridged moral code! How does it get free from those authorities? Does it assert anarchy or a latter day revelation? No. Liberal Christianity gets free from orthodoxy by selling itself to de-Christianized progressive culture. To stay relevant and on message it must jump on board with whatever progressive culture designates as the next area ripe for moral progress. Liberal Christianity has no place to stand to critique progressivism. It cannot appeal to tradition or the Bible or the divine authority of Jesus; it cannot even appeal to reason. It is always running to catch up with the next bold effort to liberate somebody from tradition and oppressive social institutions. And its vestigial Christian baggage, as light as it is when compared to orthodoxy, slows it down so that it always behind the curve.

Liberal Christianity “defends” Christianity by giving up its most powerful and liberating teachings. It’s an army that defends its homeland by surrendering the capitol, the best farmland and the most defensible heights. And in doing so it becomes powerless to challenge the world at the place where it most needs to be confronted, where it is most in rebellion to God. Like the ventriloquist’s dummy, it has nothing of its own to say. It looks to its master for what to say next. And so I conclude that liberal Christianity is neither Christian nor liberal. It’s not even interesting.