Monthly Archives: December 2009

2012 Comment

The other day I wrote a short review of the movie 2012.  I mentioned that there was a theme–having compassion for human beings just because they are human, not due to any accomplishments or instrumental value they possess–that was very out of place given the naturalistic/humanistic plot.

One commenter wrote the following:

Isn’t theism merely one of the ways we “might ascribe a higher meaning on all this to make ourselves feel better”? Theists utilize a belief there is a god giving humans higher intrinsic value (through the concepts of “soul” or “relationship” or “similarity”—all familiar themes) but that doesn’t make it actual reality.

It is as if you are so close to the answer. You realize humans want to give our own species greater “value” (a loaded term, of course) and go to great lengths to manufacture reasons to do so. Where you fall just shy is the failure to realize theism—the belief there is a God who “values” humans—is just one of those manufactured reasons.

I’m glad he brought this point up, for it gives me a chance to add further clarity to my thoughts.

Of course, if theism is false, Dagood’s comment is a good point.  Just because something helps you live life (in this case, a way to ascribe value and meaning to life) doesn’t mean its true.  In that case, theism, just like humanism, is a way for humans to manufacture value.

However, I have excellent reason to hold that theism is true.  In the war of the worldviews, it easily stands on its own two feet. That makes all the difference.  Given the evidence backing it up, its ascriptions of value are actually describing reality.  If I didn’t think this is the case, I wouldn’t be a theist!

The reason why I made the point in the movie review is to give humanists pause.  Many I’ve met don’t get that if naturalism is true, life is absurd, yet they continue to live “as if.”  As I mentioned in the review, if naturalism is true, every attempt at meaning is an effort in shuffling chairs on the Titanic.  That doesn’t make naturalism false and theism true, but it sure should give one pause in blithely jumping on the bandwagon.

Taken one way, though, all this *is* a sort of evidence for theism.  Human beings have intrinsic value, and we know this deep down. It’s why we recoil at gassing babies but don’t think twice about gassing termites.   We know this by intuition, the same way we know “one should not torture babies for fun” is true.  What worldview makes the best sense of that knowledge we possess?  Theism.  Humanity’s intrinsic value is quite at home in a theistic worldview, but it fits very oddly in any naturalistic worldview (many atheistic philosophers, like J.L Mackie, made a career out of arguing as such.).

Putting Stones in Shoes

One of the banes of just about every English teacher in the country is grading papers.  It is oh so very labor intensive, and you’re like me, you feel like putting a fork in your eye when you’re done.  I’d rather watch paint dry.  Last week I just finished a Santa-sack size load of research papers.  Some essays you can zip through quickly, but not these suckers.  It took me about 20 minutes to grade one of them…and I had 60 to grade!

You know, though, this time through I actually enjoyed the process a bit, because of the importance of both the topics the students were addressing and the skills I had to impart.  There were a few exceptional papers in the bunch, but by and large the overwhelming majority struggled in a few important areas: giving hard data and evidence to back up assertions, avoiding simple logical fallacies, and giving their opponents charity.

Most students could assert with the best of them, but they could not argue.  They employed rhetoric effectively, but lacked depth in their thought.  This is not surprising, since they are surrounded by so much surfacy stuff that passes for critical thinking.  When your intellectual diet consists entirely of MSNBC or The O’Reilly Factor (yes, I know some of you are fans, but you have to admit, many times, instead of level-headed arguing, he gives his audience a series of one liners and hand-wave dismissals.  Just because he yells louder and acts more outraged doesn’t mean he’s making a good point.), the depth of your own arguments tends to suffer.  Sound bites and status updates are the main mental diet of generation 2.0 (and that might even be generous, come to think of it), and this doesn’t bode well for critical thinking.

When one’s argument is full of assertions and devoid of evidence, it is pretty easy to defeat it.

The same overwhelming majority also struggled with giving their opponents a fair shake.  If they even addressed counter-arguments at all, they were typically summarized in a line or two, then done away with a simple upturned nose in the air.  Students on both sides of the hot button issues, conservatives and liberals alike, struggled with this.  This way of treating one’s opponents, of course, is not convincing.

Here’s an example: one girl in the class wrote in defense of same-sex marriage.  At one point in her paper, she brought up the Old Testament’s prohibition against homosexuality as a counter argument.  Though it is, strictly speaking, not centrally relevant to the legality of SSM, that was the main counter argument she addressed.  She responded by leveling a charge of hypocrisy against Christians.  Yes, homosexuality is condemned a few times in the Old Testament, she acknowledged, but the Old Testament also condemns things like picking up sticks on the sabbath, wearing certain clothing, as well as a host of other odd things.  No Christian today, however, takes those prohibitions seriously: many work long hours on Sundays and blithely violate most or all of the OT ceremonial law.  Her point was that if Christians don’t take all those commands seriously, why should society take prohibitions against homosexuality seriously?

Her response is a common one, and it is most of the time stated as if it’s plain as day.  Typically, most people who make the same points make little to no effort at engaging with the large amount of scholarship out there answering the question.  Most just act like it doesn’t exist.

Here was my response to her that I wrote:

When you do address counter arguments, you do not handle them well. Your treatment of the Bible is a case in point. I don’t think you took the Bible and your critics seriously. Seems to me like you simply dismissed their arguments with a handwave. Even if you do not think Jesus was God or anything of the kind, he was a smart guy. The same thing goes for the other New Testament players like Paul and John. Even though you might disagree with them in the end, please admit that they weren’t country bumpkins. If your charge of inconsistency were as obvious as you seem to say it is, don’t you think they’d notice? Do you think it’s possible that they might have information/perspective about those passages that you missed? The same goes for the Church Fathers after the apostles and all the biblical scholars since then. Again, though you might disagree with them in the end, they deserve to be engaged with. Christians have had 2000 years to figure out an answer to your charge, and there are some cogent explanations out there. In your rush to prove a point, you missed the meaning and nature of the Old Testament law.

Though I could have gone to great lengths to explain the OT law and how it functions in the new covenant today, I was under no compulsion to do so, since her assertions were formed so haphazardly.  The simple questions above should be enough to give her pause.  It is probably the case that no one has stopped her and asked her those common-sense questions before.

She also trotted out the same old-name calling assertions, calling those who think homosexual behavior is immoral intolerant and hateful.  This was my response to that:

You want to convince your audience with evidence, data, and reason, not alienate them. If your conclusion is offensive to them, so be it. You are not to be faulted for that. But if your method of argumentation is offensive, that is a different story. In your paper, it is your method that is offensive. When you blithely call your opponents bigoted, intolerant (page 2), and hate-filled (page 4), you alienate them. That is name calling, and name calling is not an argument. This sort of manipulation has no place in a principled discussion. Your opponents think that some lifestyles should not be encouraged, and they think that for moral, health, and public welfare reasons. They might be wrong, but how is that hate?

Again, she’s probably never considered the question before.  I’m glad she’s in my class, and I’m glad I had the chance to hopefully make her think.

A 2012 Sized Explanatory Gap

I guess once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  Obscure scientist discovers odd and shocking environmental data, and from it he predicts future grand natural catastrophes.  Government either ignores it or fumbles the intervention.  The end of the world as we know it comes.  Somehow, humanity survives, and emerges more compassionate and wise as a result.  The end.

That is how, oh, about 20 other movies over the last 10 years go.  The latest incarnation is 2012.

I do admit that I was entertained watching the movie, despite the predictability of the plot.  The special effects were good, and there were some supporting characters along the way (most notably, the Russian, Woody Harrelson’s character, and the weenie plastic surgeon guy) that added color.  There were some things that bugged me, though.

First, the main character, Jackson Curtis, escapes by a hair one too many times.  It seems like at least 7 or 8 times he eludes a horrible and painful death by literally milimeters.  If it happened once or twice I would have bought it, but after he outruns the earthquake and dodges the flaming hot lava rocks for the upteenth time, the movie jumped the shark for me.

Theme-wise, 2012 also sent a very mixed and confused message.  It is clear that the “acts of God” in the movie are nothing of the sort: they are completely natural.  And though there’s this whole “Noah’s Ark” motif going on (the humans survive the tsunami’s via–you guessed it–gigantic arks), divine providence has no role in the survival of humanity.  We do it all ourselves via our own courage and ingenuity.  The religious point of view is present, but never taken seriously: it mainly pops up in crazed-eyed, sandwich-card-placard-wearing preachers roaming the street proclaiming the end of the world (oh, we’ve never seen *that* image in Hollywood have we?  Totally unique).  The whole thing is kind of a circus side show.

So on the one hand the disasters are completely natural, and humans save themselves, therefore 2012 is a sort of ode to human triumph.  It’s a very colorful “survival of the fittest” tale, if you will.  But on the other hand there is a message of compassion, trumpeted by another main character, Adrian Helmsley.

The climactic scene occurs when most of the “ticketed” passengers are aboard the arks (rather than a lottery, giving all humans an equal chance, certain people with influence are allowed to buy their survival).  With only a few minutes to spare before a gigantic tsunami hits, the doors close, and the ship prepares to set off, leaving the countless people outside to die.  Helmlsey interjects aggressively, arguing for compassion.  We are humans, he argues, and humans are supposed to show compassion.

The foil to this speech is Carl Anheuser, who argues for a more “practical” perspective.  To him, the goal in this “ark” endeavor is not compassion, but survival.  Yes, he notes, the lost lives outside will be unfortunate, but they do not have much of a choice: if the doors re open to allow the others inside, they will not survive.  The ticketing method of entry isn’t pretty, he admits, but the arks are supposed to preserve human culture.  The people who have passage aboard the ship have more merit than those outside due to what they’ve contributed to society and their functional value.  All this is quite odious to Hemlsley.

In the end, Helmsley’s argument wins the day: compassion is victorioius over survival and species preservation.

I’m greateful that was the message of the movie, but I’m perplexed because there’s a gap in the theme.  The overarching metaphysic of 2012 is naturalistic: there is no God maneauvering in the world–natural causes reign.  On this story, survival of the species is the goal.  However, human compassion wins in the end.  The problem isn’t that humans can’t be compassionate in a naturalistic view; it’s that there’s no rational reason to act in such a way.

On naturalism, what’s so special about human beings?  A particular human might help the species survive…this would confer functional value–based upon what s/he can do/accomplish–upon the person, but naturalism has no philosophical resources to confer value on a human just because he’s human.  Humans are merely animated, complex animals that inhabit a speck of dust we call earth.  There’s nothing that special about earth either…mindless cause mindlessly coughs up animated chunks of matter that live on a larger chunk of matter, and eventually, this mindless, purposeless material cause will swallow everything up again.  We might ascribe a higher meaning on all this to make ourselves feel better, but that’s the philosophic equivalent of shuffling chairs on the Titanic…the higher meaning doesn’t really apply to reality.  Only upon theism do humans have intrinsic value.

On naturalism, those the more you help the species survive, the more value you have–Anheuser represents this view–but humans don’t have value just for being human (which is Helmsley’s view).

In other words, on the naturalistic view–which casts its shadow over the movie–rationality is in the corner of survival, not compassion.  In the worldview of the movie, Helmsley wins only on borrowed capital from a theistic worldview, which is completely absent as a serious consideration in the film.

Life at the Bottom

Very often, my partner-in-blogging Wintery Knight recommends books.  He recommends more books than I know what to do with–I swear the written word is a food group to this man–so I usually just let the book recommendation trot on by without much ado.  Call it the “drink from a fire hydrant” syndrome.

But I dabbled tonight in a recent recommendation of his–partly because the dabbling is free, and partly because they author’s name is so dang quirky.  I mean, geez, what could I do with a name like Dalrymple.

The Dalrymple is a psychologist in a hospital in an area beset with problems of crime and violence, so he gets to see the habits and lifestyles of what he calls “the underclass” in a way few politicians and intellectuals do.  His whole book is about how the policies and worldview of the secular left is fomenting those problems and how those policies are keeping such folks poor and vulnerable.

I’ve only read a few of the chapters, but so far it’s good stuff.  I highly recommend it.  You can access the whole book–for free!–by visiting WK’s site here.

Here are a few excerpts.  I hope you’ll permit me to quote at length.  I simply can’t divy it down to sound bites and at the same time do justice to the thrust of the quotes.

On the bitter fruits of the sexual revolution:

The sexual revolutionaries wanted to liberate sexual relations from all but the merest biological content. Henceforth such relations were not to be subject to restrictive bourgeois contractual arrangements—or, heaven forbid, sacraments—such as marriage; no social stigma was to attach to any sexual conduct that had hitherto been regarded as reprehensible. The only criterion governing the acceptability of sexual relations was the mutual consent of those entering upon them: no thought of duty to others (one’s own children, for example) was to get in the way of the fulfillment of desire. Sexual frustration that resulted from artificial social obligations and restrictions was the enemy, and hypocrisy—the inevitable consequence of holding people to any standard of conduct whatsoever—was the worst sin.

That the heart wants contradictory, incompatible things; that social conventions arose to resolve some of the conflicts of our own impulses; that eternal frustration is an inescapable concomitant of civilization, as Freud had observed—all these recalcitrant truths fell beneath the notice of the proponents of sexual liberation, dooming their revolution to ultimate failure.

The failure hit the underclass hardest. Not for a moment did the sexual liberators stop to consider the effects upon the poor of the destruction of the strong family ties that alone made emergence from poverty possible for large numbers of people. They were concerned only with the petty dramas of their own lives and dissatisfactions. But by obstinately overlooking the most obvious features of reality, as did my 17-year-old patient who thought that men’s superior physical strength was a socially constructed sexist myth, their efforts contributed in no small part to the intractability of poverty in modern cities, despite vast increases in the general wealth: for the sexual revolution has turned the poor from a class into a caste, from which escape is barred so long as that revolution continues.

On how the new nonjudgmentalism (one that many of my students are unable to shake) is neither right nor compassionate:

Not long ago I asked a patient of mine how he would describe his own character. He paused for a moment, as if savoring a delicious morsel.

“I take people as they come,” he replied in due course. “I’m very nonjudgmental.”

As his two roommates had recently decamped, stealing his prize possessions and leaving him with ruinous debts to pay, his neutrality toward human character seemed not generous but stupid, a kind of prophylactic against learning from experience. Yet nonjudgmentalism has become so universally accepted as the highest, indeed the only, virtue that he spoke of his own character as if pinning a medal for exceptional merit on his own chest.

That same week I was consulted by another patient who had experienced even worse consequences of nonjudgmentalism, though this time not entirely her own. Her life had been that of the modern slum dweller: three children by different fathers, none of whom supported her in any way and the last of whom was a vicious, violent drunk. She had separated from him by fleeing with their two-year-old to a hostel for battered women; soon afterward she found herself an apartment whose whereabouts he did not know.

Unfortunately, sometime later she was admitted to the hospital for an operation. As she had no one to whom she could entrust the child, she turned to Social Services for help. The social workers insisted, against her desperate pleas, that the child should stay with his biological father while she was in the hospital. They were deaf to her argument that he was an unsuitable guardian, even for two weeks: he would regard the child as an encumbrance, an intolerable interference with his daily routine of drinking, whoring, and fighting. They said it was wrong to pass judgment on a man like this and threatened her with dire consequences if she did not agree to their plan. So the two-year-old was sent to his father as they demanded.

Within the week he and his new girlfriend had killed the child by swinging him against the wall repeatedly by his ankles and smashing his head. At this somewhat belated juncture, society did reluctantly make a judgment: the murderers both received life sentences.

Of course, the rush to nonjudgment is in part a reaction against the cruel or unthinking application of moral codes in the past. A friend of mine recently discovered a woman in her nineties who had lived as a “patient” in a large lunatic asylum for more than 70 years but whose only illness—as far as he was able to discover—had been to give birth to an illegitimate child in the 1920s. No one, surely, would wish to see the return of such monstrous incarceration and cavalier destruction of women’s lives: but it does not follow from this that mass illegitimacy (33 percent in the country as a whole, 70 percent in my hospital) is a good thing, or at least not a bad thing. Judgment is precisely that—judgment. It is not the measure of every action by an infallible and rigid instrument.

Apologists for nonjudgmentalism point, above all, to its supposed quality of compassion. A man who judges others will sometimes condemn them and therefore deny them aid and assistance: whereas the man who refuses to judge excludes no one from his all-embracing compassion. He never asks where his fellowman’s suffering comes from, whether it be self-inflicted or no: for whatever its source, he sympathizes with it and succors the sufferer.

The housing department of my city holds fast to this doctrine. It allocates scarce public housing, it says in its self-congratulatory leaflets, solely on the basis of need (give or take a nepotistic connection or two—after all, even the nonjudgmental are human). It never asks how the need arose in the first place: it is there to care, not to condemn.

In practice, of course, things are a little different. It is true that the housing department makes no judgments as to the deserts of the applicants for its largesse, but that is precisely why it cannot express any human compassion whatever. Its estimation of need is mathematical, based on a perverse algebra of sociopathology. To return to the case of my patient whose child had been murdered: she was driven from her home by her neighbors, who felt that she was responsible for the death of her child and therefore acted as good, outraged citizens by twice attempting to burn down her apartment. Thereafter she found cheap lodgings in a house where there also lodged a violent drug addict, who forced his attentions upon her. When she applied to the housing department for help, it refused her on the grounds that she was already adequately housed, in the sense of having four walls around her and a roof over her head (and it would be wholly wrong to stigmatize drug addicts as undesirable neighbors), and also because she had no young dependents—her only young dependent having been murdered and therefore not part of the equation. Stones might have wept at my patient’s predicament, but not the housing department: it is far too nonjudgmental to do so.

Experience has taught me that it is wrong and cruel to suspend judgment, that nonjudgmentalism is at best indifference to the suffering of others, at worst a disguised form of sadism. How can one respect people as members of the human race unless one holds them to a standard of conduct and truthfulness? How can people learn from experience unless they are told that they can and should change? One doesn’t demand of laboratory mice that they do better: but man is not a mouse, and I can think of no more contemptuous way of treating people than to ascribe to them no more responsibility than such mice.

In any case, nonjudgmentalism is not really nonjudgmental. It is the judgment that, in the words of a bitter Argentinean tango, “todo es igual, nada es mejor”: everything is the same, nothing is better. This is as barbaric and untruthful a doctrine as has yet emerged from the fertile mind of man.

Good stuff.

What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff? A Response to Shane Claiborne

Bordner’s note: this is a response to a letter Shane Claiborne wrote to non-believers in Esquire magazine.  Parts of this response are taken directly from Shane’s original letter.

To all my non-believing, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends:

I read Shane’s heartfelt letter to you.  You know, it made me think.  His service to the poor is certainly something to marvel at.  He’s a dynamo, and he’s done so much good for the world.  In his letter, he’s got a point, but not in the way he might think.  I, too, am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to Christ has been Christians.  So many of us just want to make nice.  Sin is a real problem, hell is an objective reality, and the road from perdition is more narrow than most admit, yet so many times we Christians worry so much about our image.  We wring our hands about being thought of as anti-gay, judgmental, or hypocritical, and we are oblivious to the fact that through no merit of our own, God has given us the real cure to humanity’s real fundamental problem.  Why don’t we…well…give it away and actually tell people about it?

Have we earned it?  No.  Has God given it to us because we are somehow his “favorites”?  No.  We’re just like everyone else, yet here we are, with this incredible message, and so many times we either don’t communicate it at all or the way we do communicate it doesn’t make sense.  We’re a timid, easily embarrassed bunch, you see.

The other day I was walking around observing a promenade of street performers.  There was a breakdancer or two, there were a few magicians, and then there was this preacher.  He was preaching about stuff we don’t like to think about.  He talked about how we are all going to go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

There were several different reactions to this man.   Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin.  Then there was this one guy.  Couldn’t take my eyes off him…kinda looked like Shane.  Anyway, he might have been a believer.  He looked so clearly embarrassed, as if he wanted to stand up on a box beside the preacher and yell at the top of his lungs, “God is not a monster!”

His reaction, to me, was the most curious thing of the whole scene.  Sure, the preacher was doing some odd and quirky things.  There was his megaphone, and the “dead” manequin, of course, the way he was speaking was a bit intense, and his moustache wasn’t helping either.  He was unpolished, for sure, and the way he was communicating the message was a turn-off.  That much I’ll admit.

But I don’t think the embarrassed onlooker was worried about all that.  Seemed to me that he was embarrassed about the content of the preacher’s message–the talk about sin and hell.

It is this embarrassment that I want to apologize to you about.  Far too often, we only tell you a partial message.  We tell you all the stuff that will make you like us, all the stuff that is joyful to hear.  We are embarrassed about the other part of Jesus’ message.  If this onlooker were to stand up next to the preacher, I’d want to stand up next to him standing next to the preacher and shout “God is not Santa Claus!”

Jesus, afterall, spoke of hell and sin bluntly…and often.  The apostles in the book of Acts continued that trend, speaking of those things as if they were actually actual.  They didn’t speak so much about the love of God, though.  In Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he spoke of God’s love and mercy only after he wrote at length about our rebellion against God and the penalty that has earned.

I’ll be the first to admit that God is love.  That is all over the Bible….but so is God’s justice, and it is clear that both my hands and your hands are on the bloody knife.  There is good news–God, in His mercy, offers amnesty, but that good news isn’t good news until we reckon with the bad news.  Just as a doctor’s willful misdiagnosis keeps a cancer patient from seeking the proper cure, our hiding the truth of God’s justice from you keeps you in the dark.  How is that loving?

Now, Shane did have a point in his letter: the Church could do a better job of adequately addressing the hells around us.  We could always do a better job, and we will never measure up completely on that scale this side of eternity.  Yet, he missed something too: obscuring God’s severity by only talking about His love does no one any favors.  God is not a celestial Santa Claus.  He is holy, and we neglect this at your peril.  Yes, speaking of hell, wrath, sin, and all that stuff doesn’t put anyone in a good mood.  Yes, some have abused those subjects by using them to control and manipulate the disadvantaged.  I’d rather not talk about  hell, to be frank.  When I do, I don’t gain much popularity.  However, I am convinced by Jesus’ words and the apostles testimony that those things are real as the couch I’m sitting on, and the Gospel isn’t the Gospel without them.

Think about this (I borrow this illustration, ironically, from one of those quirky street preachers that I just talked about): you are on a plane, and the flight attendant hands you a parachute.  “Put this on, it will improve the quality of your flight” she says.  You put it on, but it obviously doesn’t improve the quality of your flight; it weighs you down, people laugh at you because you look goofy, and it sure doesn’t ease the burn when another flight attendant accidentally spills hot coffee on you.  Would you keep it on in that case?  I wouldn’t!

Now what about if she came up to you and said instead, “put on this parachute.  In a few minutes, you’ll have to jump out of this plane, and you will need it to be rescued.”  I’ll go to Vegas on the wager that you’ll keep it on no matter what now!  The spilled coffee will even make you look forward to the jump!

Perhaps that’s not the best illustration.  Say that one day, after you walk through your house door, someone knocks on the door and hands you an envelope.  “The judge loves you and wants you to have a wonderful and hope-filled life.”  After feeding you and giving you some water, he leaves.  Confused, you open the envelope and find inside a document stating that your fine and community service has been paid in full.  What would be your reaction?  It wouldn’t make sense.  “Who cares about the judge’s love?  I mean, thanks for the food and all, but I don’t owe anyone anything!”

What if, though, before the stranger handed you the envelope, he said, “before you parked, you ran three red lights and caused a terrible accident.  This is a very serious infraction of the law, but someone you don’t know paid your fine and has already taken care of your community service”?  You’d still probably have lots of questions, but at least the gift in the envelope would then make sense.

Both illustrations aren’t perfect, of course.  For starters, our predicament is much more serious than a plane jump, and our sin is much more egregious than a traffic violation.  What both illustrations drive home, though, is that good news only becomes good news once bad news is brought into the picture.  The parachute and the clemency do not make sense apart from the jump and the traffic violation.  This simple fact is what many Christians, including Shane, miss.  In our rush to only talk about God’s love, we make God look silly.  Aren’t there better ways, afterall, for God to communicate His love than a crucifixion?  Why did He send His only Son to such a horrible death if He’s only trying to communicate His love to us and set a sacrificial example for us?  Apart from God’s wrath–yes, His wrath–the cross is utter nonsense.

Shane calls that “force.”  I fail to see his point.  If I tell you that you have rebelled against God by breaking His commands, and that only Jesus Christ has the adequate means to rescue you from the gavel of God’s judgment, how is that “force”?  Maybe it’s false, maybe it’s misguided, maybe it’s crazy.  If that’s the case, then Jesus Himself is false, misguided, and crazy, for that is the very same message He preached.  But under no circumstances am I “forcing” you just by telling you that.

I hope you are able, dear friend, to look past all the rhetoric about “forcing” and ask honestly ask yourself just one question: is it true?  Twelve years ago, I asked that same question.  Not only did it change my life here and now, but it changed the trajectory of my eternity.  Through pondering that message, I came to see God not as petty and hateful, but as merciful, graceful, and–yes–loving.

Santa Claus Theology

“To reject all ideas of divine wrath and judgment, and to assume that God’s character, misrepresented (forsooth!) in many parts of the Bible, is really one of indulgent benevolence without any severity, is the rule rather than the exception among ordinary folk today.

It is true that some recent theologians, in reaction, have tried to reaffirm the truth of God’s holiness, but their efforts have seemed half-hearted and their words have fallen for the most part on deaf ears.  Modern Protestants are not going to give up their ‘enlightened’ adherence to the doctrine of a celestial Santa Claus merely because a Brunner or a Niebuhr suspsects this is not the whole story.  The certainty that  there is no more to be said of God (if God there be) than that he is infinitely forbearing and kind–that certainty is as hard to eradicate as bindweed.  And when once it has put down roots, Christianity, in the true sense of the word, simply dies off.  For the substance of Christianity is faith in the forgiveness of sins through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.

But on the basis of Santa Claus theology, sins create no problem, and atonement becomes needless; God’s active favor extends no less to those who disregard his commands than to those who keep them.  The idea that God’s attitude to me is affected by whether or not do what He says has no place in the thought of the man on the street, and any attempt to show the need for fear in God’s presence, for trembling at His word, gets written off as impossibly old-fashioned–’Victorian,’ ‘Puritan,’ and ‘sub-Christian.’

Yet the Santa Claus theology carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil.  It is no accident that when belief in the “good God” of liberalism became widespread, about the turn of the twentieth century, the so-called problem of  evil (which was not regarded as a problem before) suddenly leaped into prominence as the number one concern of Christian apologetics.  This was inevitable, for it is not possible to see the good will of a heavenly Santa Claus in heartbreaking and destructive things like cruelty, or marital infidelity, or death on the road, or lung cancer.  The only way to save the liberal view of God is to dissociate him from these things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world.  Liberal theologians took this course fifty years ago, and the man on the street takes it today.  Thus he is left with a kind God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief.  When trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it.  In this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in an fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.”

–J.I Packer

My Boy Grant

My friend, Grant, is going for it.

In a few weeks, he’ll embark on an 11 month, 11 country, mission trip titled “The World Race.”

During the trip, they’ll be doing all sorts of Kingdom activities.  Here’s how TWR’s own website puts it:

The World Race is an 11-month Christian mission trip to 11 different countries around the world, and it’s not your typical missions experience. It’s a way for young adults to abandon a traditional lifestyle in exchange for a dramatic paradigm shift.

Through adventure, ministry, community, and self-discovery, World Racers develop broken hearts that propel their hands to act for God’s kingdom around the globe. The best part of the World Race is it’s merely the beginning of a life-long journey.

In a day when the culture tells and enables young men to cling to their video game controllers and weekend oversized tonka-truck toys, Grant is swimming against the tide.  He’s sacrificing his time and resources for the Kingdom.

To pull this off, though, he needs considerable prayer and support.  Consider helping him make the trip by supporting him.  For more details, visit his website.