The First Casualty of War

Truth often eludes even those who seek diligently it. But we live in a society that no longer seeks truth, that can think of no reason to seek it, and that mocks those rare individuals who do seek it. What do people value more than truth? What is truth’s replacement? The opposite of truth is falsehood, but people don’t love falsehood—at least not directly. Perhaps, some people wish something to be true so much that they deceive themselves or allow themselves to be deceived to enjoy the illusion for a time. But no one likes to be deceived against their will, because being deceived puts you at a disadvantage. It takes away power and freedom from you and gives them to the deceiver. I conclude that people love not falsehood but power, power over themselves and others. And of course power is useful in retaining the goods one has and in acquiring the goods one wants.

The first casualty in war is truth. In a state of all-out war, power is everything, and truth and falsehood are useful only as means to gain power and defeat the enemy. But not all wars are “all-out” contests where any and every means is used to win and winning means the total domination of the enemy. War is any encounter where gaining power over another person is the chief end. Many sectors of contemporary society have become in effect battlefields where different factions seek power over others. And words and pictures are the weapons of choice. The words and pictures are chosen, not because they are true but because they are effective in disempowering the enemy and gaining power for the speaker. Love for truth plays no part. Desire for power is everything.

Prominent among these sectors are politics, education, the press, jurisprudence, social media, and religion. To be more precise and use a postmodern slogan, “Politics is everything.” The power struggles of the political sphere have invaded these other sectors and the political end of domination has replaced the original ends of these other activities. In the minds of its originators this expression (“Politics is everything.”) meant that every encounter, even superficially innocent ones, is really about the power one person or group attempts to gain over another. All truth claims are really masks for power moves. What seems to be different today, as opposed to the 1980s when the slogan “Politics is everything” came into vogue, is that no one tries very hard to mask their desire for power and their disdain for truth. They know “their side” is lying, but they love what they hear anyway. Whether the “other side” lies or tells the truth, they hate what is said because it tends to empower the enemy.

Clearly, God is the missing factor in these war games. Anyone who loves God will love truth. If you don’t love truth, you can’t love God. If you don’t seek truth, you can’t really be seeking God. God is the origin of truth, because God is the origin of everything real. And truth concerns reality. Jesus explained to Pilate that “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” But Pilate replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). “What is truth?” is the cynical question asked by everyone for whom power is the chief value and winning is the exclusive goal. Later on in Jesus’ trial, the governor explained that he had power to have Jesus executed or released. But Jesus replied “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). To all appearances in the moment Jesus, the lover of truth, lost and Pilate, the lover of power, won. But appearance is not the same as reality and the voice of power is never the word of truth.

We live in a society that sees the world through Pilate’s eyes. It doesn’t love the truth. It loves the appearance of winning for the momentary thrill of victory. In the end, however, truth wins and reality stands, because in the end God wins. But do we have the courage to wait until the end?

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Press Release: New Book–New Approach to an Old Issue

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An Imprint of Sulis International
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
1 July 2017 | Los Angeles

Highfield Takes a Unique Perspective on Women in Leadership for Conservative Churches

Ron Highfield. Four Views on Women and Church Leadership: Should Bible-Believing (Evangelical) Churches Appoint Women Preachers, Pastors, Elders, and Bishops? Keledei Publishing, 2017. Pbk ISBN: 978-1-946849-08-3. eBook ISBN: 978-1-946849-09-0. 112pp.

Should conservative churches appoint women to the offices traditionally reserved for men? Many writers are calling for such changes; others oppose them. Are these proposals inspired by a deeper understanding of the gospel of Christ as their defenders claim? Or, are they inspired by contemporary secular philosophies as their opponents allege? Ron Highfield explores these and other questions in Four Views on Women and Church Leadership. In this book, Highfield stages a discussion in which three fictitious characters explain and defend their viewpoints and critique opposing views. The three views are Secular Feminism, Evangelical Egalitarianism, and New Complementarianism. In a fourth view, Highfield charges that the entire debate is based on a defective view of the church. He challenges the gratuitous assumptions that make the discussion necessary and meaningful: the church is a public institution, the ministry is a profession like other professions, and believers assemble to experience a performance. This book’s brevity, non-technical nature, and its questions for discussion at the end of each chapter make it ideal for private study, small group discussions, Sunday school classes, and undergraduate courses.

Endorsements for Four Views on Women and Church Leadership

”Ron Highfield has given a fair statement of different views, their strengths and weaknesses, on the important and controversial topic of female-male relations.  His work is a reminder that more is at stake than the correct interpretation and application of Biblical texts, as important as those are.  The theology of human nature has philosophical and practical implications for individual human life, the future of the human race, and human society at large.  Out of the countless books and articles on women in the church, this book for its sound common sense and Biblical and theological depth is a must read.”

—Everett Ferguson, Professor Emeritus, Abilene Christian University

”This book is an interesting treatment of the various viewpoints concerning women as leaders in the church.  It may surprise you and make you think differently about the issue.  It may also help you better define your own feelings about the issue.  I highly recommend it.”

—Jane Petty, Dickson, TN

”I learned from both Major League Baseball and Orthopaedic Surgery that the importance of following soundly established principles and best practices cannot be underestimated.  The contemporary church is embroiled in a battle with our dominant Western culture in no less significant ways than was the primitive and early church with its culture.  Professor Ron Highfield cleverly investigates the contemporary church-culture relationship by examining the current debate concerning the proper and acceptable role of women in the practice, preaching and leadership of today’s church. Ron uses an imaginary debate between three fictitious characters as a literary device to tease out the issues involved.  Each of these characters represents a different contemporary position and idea on the role of women in today’s church.  In the imaginary debate, he allows the reader to work through the issues and principles that are involved.   The perceptive reader will see that the issues are fundamentally very simple; yet, they are profoundly important for today’s church.  This very readable “little book” explores the nature of being human, the church and its authority.  It allows the reader to see that progressive culture is fundamentally attacking one of the bedrocks of the church—especially, the inspired and authoritative Scripture.  The role of women within the church is a symptom of the problem; it is not the problem or diagnosis.  This is an important treatise for the church to read and understand.”

—Gail E. Hopkins, MD, PhD

Availability of Four Views on Women and Church Leadership

Four Views on Women and Church Leadership is available now in paperback and eBook at retailers worldwide.

To order, and for more information, visit https://sulisinternational.com/product/four-views-highfield/.

To request review copies, visit https://sulisinternational.com/request-review-copy/

About the Author. Ron Highfield (PhD, Rice University) is Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California. He is the author of Great is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God (Eerdmans, 2008), God, Freedom & Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centured Culture (Intervarsity Press, 2013), The Faithful Creator: Affirming Creation and Providence in an Age of Anxiety. (Intervarsity Press, 2015), and a contributor to Four Views on Divine Providence (Zondervan, 2011).

About Keledei Publications. An imprint of Sulis International, Keledei has been publishing non-fiction titles in spirituality, practical theology, Bible studies, ministry, and the Christian life. These works offer high-quality resources for individual Christians, the church, and those with interest in practical religion and faith. Keledei Publications also offers reprints of works in those areas, especially older titles that are not readily available in print or eBook form.
For information on submitting manuscripts, visit [https://sulisinternational.com/submit-a-manuscript/].

For more, contact Sulis International.
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Coming Soon!

I am excited about the forthcoming release of my new book. I can say without too much exaggeration that it takes a unique approached to this subject. I need all the help I can get to place it in the hands of church leaders and every interested person. I will say more in a few days after it becomes available.

Two Roads to Happiness—One Broad, the Other Narrow

It may seem that I have strayed from my theme for this year, which is “love not the world” (1 John 2:15-17). So it may appear, but it’s never been far from my mind. Living a Christian life can be summed up as loving God in every word, thought, and deed and refusing to love the world. You cannot live the Christian life unless you keep ever before you the difference between these two loves. This task is not easy, because “the world” is the dominant way human beings order their lives. That’s why it’s called “the world.” It’s the majority, which enters the “wide gate” and travels the “broad road” (Matthew 7:13). It’s the way of the rulers and powers of this world (Ephesians 2:1-3). It’s the easy way, the downhill road.  You just follow your lusts, do what everyone else does, approve of what they approve, dislike what they dislike, and love what they love. But to be a Christian, to love the Father, you must break loose from the world and squeeze through the “small gate” and travel with Jesus and the “few” on the “narrow road” (Matthew 7:14).

We deceive ourselves if we think that Jesus’ warning about the “broad road” and John’s assessment of his society and culture do not apply to our age. To the contrary, we live in “the world,” and despite superficial differences, our society follows the ways of the world just as thoroughly as first-century society did. And we are just as tempted to love the world as our first-century brothers and sisters were.

Perhaps the most deceptive value that orders society today is freedom. Even cries for justice and equality can be reduced to demands for freedom. Equality largely means “equal freedom,” and justice means primarily equality, which again means equal freedom. But freedom itself remains largely undefined, because everyone thinks they know what it means. They assume without thinking that freedom means the absence of any power or condition that inhibits an individual’s achievement of happiness understood as a subjective feeling. Hidden in this definition is the idea that happiness can never be achieved as long as one endures any condition that is not desired. The worst thing you can do to anyone is deprive them of their freedom, which is the same as making them unhappy. And to make someone unhappy is to deprive them of their reason for living, which is psychological murder.

Why is this understanding of freedom a problem? What makes it worldly? And what makes it deceptive? If we defined freedom simply as “the absence of any power or condition that inhibits an individual’s achievement of happiness,” we could fit the Christian understanding of freedom within it. For the Christian faith, there are powers and conditions that block our way to ultimate happiness, and God is the only power that can free us from those hindrances. And possessing and being possessed by God is the only condition under which human beings can find true joy. But modern society’s view of happiness and how it must be achieved differs dramatically from the Christian understanding. As I pointed out above, contemporary culture thinks happiness can be attained by breaking free from every limit that prevents us from following our desires. Both freedom and happiness are achieved by our own power, freedom by self-assertion and happiness by self-indulgence. As you can see clearly, modern worldly people put the human self in God’s place. In the Christian view, God is the basis of both freedom and happiness. But the way of the world seeks freedom and happiness through its own power. Hence the contemporary world, just like the first-century world, finds its power for freedom and its way to happiness in “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Nothing has changed.

Blessed are the Peacemakers in a Culture at War

In this time of social division and strife, when tempers simmer just below the boiling point and violent speech edges closer to action, how should Jesus’ disciples conduct themselves? I use the term “disciple” rather than “Christian” because some who think of themselves as “Christians” don’t seem to be aware that being a disciple—a real follower!—of Jesus is the indispensable condition of being a Christian. Do I need to prove that this is so? Well, then, recall the words of Jesus after he washed his disciples’ feet:

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:13-17).

Or the words of John the beloved disciple:

“But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5-6).

Or Paul’s oft-quoted plea for unity and humility grounded in Christ’s example of self-emptying:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:1-5).

Again I ask, how should disciples of Jesus conduct themselves in this age of division and strife? The answer to this question is not complicated. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays it out plainly. Be humble, meek, and merciful. Don’t speak evil to anyone or of anyone. Bless when others curse, love in situations where others hate, and seek peace when others foment strife. Pray, give generously, trust God, don’t seek honor, and don’t judge others.

In his seventh beatitude, Jesus says,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

What would it mean to be a peacemaker in a culture at war? Sometimes we harbor an image of peacemakers as those who step courageously between combatants, placing themselves in harm’s way for the sake of peace. In my view, this is a romantic and heroic picture that is just as likely to lead the “peacemaker” to an inflated and uber-righteous self-concept as to any real peacemaking. Perhaps we ought to begin our peacemaking with less fanfare. The first qualification of peacemakers is that they refrain from contributing to strife. Less romantic and heroic I grant, but essential nonetheless! Our first inclination when we think someone has insulted us or something we hold dear is to return fire. And when we disagree with a strong opinion expressed we feel the urge to “set the record straight.” Jesus urges us to not to be provoked. Truth is truth, justice is justice, and God is God even if the whole world rises up in blasphemy. The survival of civilization doesn’t depend on your sharp-tongued retort. Often, the greatest contribution to peace we can make is to hold our peace.

After we’ve learned the lesson of self-control, we can also contribute to peace by substituting blessing for cursing. Genuine peacemakers look for something good to say, some area of common belief or value to affirm with their would-be opponents. They do kind or merciful deeds instead of retaliating for insult or injury. They go “the second mile” (Matthew 5:41).

Here is the secret of the peacemaker: you cannot become a peacemaker until you attain peace within yourself. You cannot “hold your peace” unless you are at peace. You cannot give peace unless you have peace. Outbursts of anger and episodes of strife are but externalizations of division and strife within. Only by relying on God for forgiveness, acceptance, self-worth, and hope can we become immune to insult and provocation from without. Only by trusting God to judge the world with justice can we give up the anxiety that without our words of protest truth will languish. Only by giving the world into God’s care can we give up the feeling that without our frantic actions the world will fall apart.

In a culture at war with itself let us say it again, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

 

Authentic Living in a World of Imitation Games and Fictional Lives?

Are you living your own life, or is it being lived for you by some other force? From where did you get the script for your life? Do you know who cast you in the role you are playing? Are the passions and thoughts and goals that drive you through life based on reality, or are they elements of fictional story-world? Most people never ask such questions. They just live as they are told to live. They seek what others seek, love and fear what others love and fear. They worry about what concerns others. Most of us are simply personifications of the values, loves, and dreams of the society in which we live. We are the hosts within which live society’s demons. There is nothing inside. There is no substance to us. Take away our masks, costumes, and memorized lines, and nothing remains. And this is not my pessimism speaking; it’s the clear-eyed teaching of Jesus and his apostles.

In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus warned his disciples that their mission to preach the good news would not meet with complete success. He speaks of four different reactions they will receive. The third one strikes me as highly relevant to our situation:

18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

The seed of God’s word can impart truth and authentic life. As it enlightens and enlivens us we become “fruitful,” that is to say, we begin to live the life we were meant to live and become what we were meant to be. But if we focus on “this life” we will grow anxious about what might harm us. We are deceived into a false sense of security by wealth. We are driven by our animal passions to seek immediate pleasure and by our human passions toward envy, jealously, anger, and hatred. With our minds full of other things, we can’t think about the life that exists in God.

And of course we must listen to John when he urges us:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

“Love” in this text does not mean “unselfish self-giving to another.” It means desire for something as if it were the source of life and joy. When we seek our true lives in the world, we lose them completely. The world is driven by the irrational desire for pleasure, unbridled curiosity, and overweening pride, which is a feeling of self-generated, comparative worth based on falsehood.

Let’s now ask an even deeper question: What would it mean to live your own life? Where does one find the script for the real world? How do we get out of the fictional story-world into light of reality?

Popular culture recognizes to some degree the problem I’ve been describing. Its solution sounds simple: write your own script, cast yourself in the role of your choice, in defiance, live your own life! The problem with this advice is that it is but one more subtle and deceptive way the world’s demons colonize our minds. From where do you get the storyline for your script, and on what basis do you choose your role? How can you live you own life, if you don’t know in what your own life consists? The “do your own thing” approach to life always ends up living according to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” These things may feel like our true selves because they move us from within and are always with us, but this too is a deception. And when we live according to these feelings we are doing what everyone else is doing! The differences are superficial.

But Jesus said,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

If you want to live your own life and not be colonized by the world and driven by irrational passions toward death and unhappiness, you must live according to truth. Authentic living is not about merely existing as a thing or in our automatic animal processes. It’s about acting to achieve goals, about becoming in actuality what we are potentially, and about embracing and enjoying good things. It’s about freedom. But apart from the truth about what goals are worth achieving, what we are meant to become, and what things are truly good, we cannot truly live. Apart from truth, freedom is an illusion.

Jesus is the truth, the truth about God and the truth about human life. We usually think of truth as a quality of an assertion; it is the perfect fit between how the assertion describes reality and reality itself. Jesus is the truth because he is the reality of God manifested in the reality of a human life. He is the truth not merely in the words of an assertion but in the reality of a life, and for that reason he is also the way to the Father.

If you want to live your own life, stop imitating others and give up attempting to write your own life script. Follow in the way of Jesus, let yourself be guided by the truth who is Jesus, and you will find yourself living your own life. Only the God the Creator knows the goal of human life, only God knows the way life must be lived, and only God can give us a life that is truly ours. And only in Jesus can we begin to live that life as our own free act.

 

God, Time, and 2 x 3 x 11

It’s my birthday, my 2 x 3 x 11 birthday! June 1 has always been a special day to me. It symbolizes the gifts of life, time, opportunity, and responsibility. Of all the days of the year, it’s the time when I reflect most on my life, what I owe, what I have accomplished, where I have failed, and what I should do with the time remaining. I remember that I owe more than I can repay, have accomplished less than I could have, and have failed more often than I wish to recall. And I still wonder what I should do with my life.

We don’t exist in time. Time is the way we exist. To ask, “What should I do with my time?” is the same as asking, “What should I do with my existence, with myself?” How can I know when I am wasting it? Should I continue to do what I have been doing or should I make a change? Is it best to act boldly or cautiously?

How can we enjoy peace while reflecting honestly on our lives? Such small successes! Such immense failures! A burdened present borders an uncertain future! Come to think of it, how can we achieve a perspective from which to assess our lives? We either exaggerate our strengths and minimize our weaknesses or inflate our failures and shrink our successes. And can I really know what I should do with my time until the moment arrives when I must act?

I find no comfort, no joy, and no hope other than in this thought: God gives me life, time, opportunity, and responsibility. God’s eternity spans and encompasses my time from beginning to end. God knows why he gave me time; for my life was his project long before it was mine. My project will unfold as a mixture of success and failure. I stumble into the future not knowing where I am going or what to do when I arrive. But God’s project will not fail. God works through our “failures” as efficiently as through our “successes,” and for God, our staggering steps make a straight line to glory.

So, on this 2 x 3 x 11 birthday, I will not allow the weight of past failures, or the pride of past successes, or the darkness of a future unknown keep me from thanking God for his gifts of life and time, or placing my life at his disposal, or looking ahead to glory. And I pray that this day will find you in the same frame of mind.