Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Atheism and its Abuse of Women

The way we think is the way we live. If we think that we humans are merely another genus within the kingdom of animals, eventually, we will begin to treat others as animals.

Mark Oppenheimer has documented many instances of abuse among those sharing this worldview. Atheist women are complaining that they have abused by their atheist brethren:

  • For the past several years, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and online forums have become hostile places for women who identify as feminists or express concern about widely circulated tales of sexism in the movement. Some women say they are now harassed or mocked at conventions, and the online attacks — which include Jew-baiting, threats of anal rape, and other pleasantries — are so vicious that two activists I spoke with have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. One of these women has been bedridden for two years.

Why is such abuse taking place among the most “enlightened” ones – the “freethinkers,” those who are truly “bright?”

  • According to [atheist and evolutionist] PZ Myers, atheists and skeptics may be uniquely unable to recognize their own flaws. “You’ll find the atheists who say, ‘I’m rational, therefore I’m better than everybody else,’” Myers said. “They take it for granted that all of their beliefs and positions are founded on rational thinking.”

Arrogance breeds hardness – an unwillingness to be self-critical. This is a theme that is epidemic among all groups that believe that they are the “enlightened” ones. In Going Clear, an expose of the cult of Scientology, Lawrence Wright quotes a former Scientologist who claimed that those who felt that they had been liberated by this cult had actually been imprisoned by it:

  •  “You have all these thoughts, all these ways of looking at things, that are [the founder’s] L. Ron Hubbard’s … You think you are becoming more you, but within that is an implanted thing. (320-21)

Those who regard themselves “freethinkers” are sometimes the most bound up. Without humility and the awareness that there is still so much we need to learn, we cease to be students and resist any correction. Meanwhile, our false ideas will chasten us.

Believing that we are animals, we will act like animals and will reap the appropriate consequences. It seems that these atheists are beginning to receive the censure that they so well deserve. Orthodox Jewish writer, David Klinghoffer, has concluded:

  • Whether the rampant accusations of sexual harassment are all true, mostly true, or even just one quarter true, the New Atheism is a community that has a problem with women.

And women are understandably finding that they have a problem with it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We Need Sexual Taboos

Advocates of homosexuality had assured the public that accepting homosexuality would not provide a slippery slope into wholesale sexual deviance. On the other side of the debate, it was argued that this rationale could be used to justify almost anything, and it has – pedophilia, polyamory, and sex-change surgery.

Unsurprisingly, the rationale for the homosexual agenda, as a hard-wired, unchangeable sexual orientation, has quickly expanded into “choice.” Anyone has the right to “love” whomever they want. Consequently, one motherexplains:

  • “Vertasha and I knew we were attracted to each other when she was sixteen,” Mary Carter said. “But we decided to wait to have sex until she was eighteen, legally of age. We are now going public with our relationship to help others who might be in gay mother/daughter relationship feel confident and okay about coming out. We want the world to know we love each other as mother and daughter and romantically… we’re not hurting anyone. We’re a new minority and just want acceptance.”

Carter pleads that they “just want acceptance,” and why not? Who wants to be regarded as “haters” or “familio-phobic?” And don’t they have a right to enjoy sexual “love” wherever it might take us by surprise?

There are costs, significant ones. Homosexuals bear tremendous physical, spiritual, and psychological costs. The intra-family costs are even more ghastly. Can a daughter or a son sit on a parents lap without wondering whether or not they are being groomed as a sexual object? Can they wrestle, play, and remain affectionate with their parents (or even siblings) once the taboo is removed, and their school informs them that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with sexual relations with their parents?

The trust arising from our unconditional, “taboo-ridden” parent child relationships is the foundation of family and the minimal condition that children require for a stable and secure childhood. What will happen when the wife can no longer trust the husband to keep his hands off the children? Will not sexual jealousies tear apart the family!

Our progressive society blindly jumps into sexual experimentation because it yields pleasurable but very temporary benefits. It then becomes politically correct and beyond the pale of any serious discussion.

Sex-change surgery is now financed by tax dollars despite the lack of evidential support. In a “review of more than 100 studies,” the University of Birmingham found that “no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.” (Salvo, Fall 2014, 33)

Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital reports on two studies which tracked children claiming to have transgender feelings.

  • Among children who received no medical or surgical treatment, 70 to 80 percent spontaneously lost those feelings. (32)

Clearly, the scalpel should not be used to address mental disorders. However, the “right to choose” has become a conversation stopper. If parents want to sex their children, well isn’t it their right, even if they have to wait until their child becomes “legal?”

And why shouldn’t we take seriously the little girl who says she wants to marry “daddy?” We don’t, at least for now. But why shouldn’t we if that’s her orientation! Shouldn’t we honor it?

Vertasha is no less naïve and myopic:

  • “My mom is still my mom. She does normal mom stuff: buys me clothes, pays for food, tells me to make our bed. We just happen to enjoy sex with each other too.”

Vertasha assumes that mom will always be mom. However, if other lesbian relationships are any indication of their future, the inevitable challenges presented by jealousy, bitterness, guilt, and the many other forms of disappointment will bred alienation, and mom will be history along with dad.

They want acceptance for their sexual experimentation, but should they receive anything other than censure? Should they be allowed to open a door to the inevitable demise of society? Acceptance would be the death-knell of an already imperiled but necessary institution of the family.

Peter Enns, Inerrancy, and the Re-Interpretation of Scripture

The doctrine of Inerrancy – the teaching that the Bible is entirely God-breathed and therefore entirely trustworthy – is more than a doctrine. It’s a radical re-orientation towards God and the entirety of life. It removes us from the throne and allows God to remain there. Consequently, this doctrine changes everything, placing us in submission to God’s revelations. Peter Enns, former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, laments how this approach to Scripture impacts our creationist beliefs:

  • The big impasse for evangelicals is that accepting evolution requires them to rethink how they read their Bible, specifically the story of Adam and Eve.

Rather than to ask the Christian – Enns calls us “evangelicals” – to reject the Scriptures, he calls upon us to interpret them differently:

  • Maybe the way in which evangelical read the Bible and conceive of its authority is the problem in the evangelical system that needs to be rethought, rather than being the non-negotiable hill to stand and die on for addressing every issue that comes down the road? This isn’t about evangelicals accepting or rejecting the Bible. It’s about thinking self-critically about how they read it and their approach to biblical authority.

However, it seems that Enns is demanding more than just a reinterpretation. Although he charges that we read our Bible blindly, instead of “self-critically,” he also charges that we attach too much divine authority to the Bible, suggesting that it isn’t entirely God’s word.

Okay, let’s look “self-critically” at the implications of having a Bible that is not completely divinely authoritative. What then do we believe? If the Bible isn’t entirely authoritative because it is not entirely God-breathed, then who is to decide what we take from the Bible? We are! Who then becomes the deciding factor – the #1 authority? Ultimately, we decide with the help of the “experts” or what feels socially or professionally comfortable.

Once we take this step, we invariably pick-and-choose what verses seem reasonable, work-for-us, and are politically correct. This seems to be inevitable with the shift of authority away from the Scriptures and onto us.

Dialogue with some “progressive Christians!” You will find that their faith is virtually indistinguishable from the university community. Consequently, they will vote for gay marriage and regard those who don’t believe in macro-evolution as sub-Cretan. With this one shift regarding the authority of the Bible comes a shift in everything else we believe in.

For them, the Bible has become little more than the New York Times. They both say many trustworthy things, but ultimately, the choice is ours – what to accept and what to reject. Why then even bother with the Bible? Why meditate on it both day and night as we are instructed to do (Psalm 1)? We can find good ideas in many other places – ideas that are at least up-to-date!

Is the Bible just a book of good ideas, or is it the Word of God? If it is the latter, we have to treat it as such! However, Enns believes this is a problem:

  • The problem, though, is that the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inerrant authority for the church is its ground floor raison d’etre. Evangelicalism exists, at least intellectually, to defend and promote this view.

To not regard the Bible as entirely God-breathed puts us at the controls, where we become creator and concoct an entirely different religion. For many years, I unwittingly attempted to do this. I had been convinced that many biblical teachings were simply beneath the dignity of God, like the teaching that we are to submit to the authorities (Romans 13). I had been a radical, and this just didn’t accord with my intellectual baggage.

However, over the years, God has humbled me and my regard for my own thinking and proclivities. Admittedly, not all of the teachings of Scripture are now agreeable or even sensible to me. However, these “problems” are no longer proof that the Bible isn’t fully God-breathed. Instead, they represent challenges to deepen my understanding into God’s ways.

Perhaps Enns thinks too much of his own thinking and too little of God’s. He concludes:

  • To ask evangelicals to do a critical self-assessment of how they read the Bible is in effect to ask them to assess the entire system.

He is right about that! But of course, Enns has already completed this “critical self-assessment.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“God Loves you” and the Shape of our Preaching

What should a good sermon look and feel like? One Christian scholar and Reformed brother answered the question this way:

  • Sermons and Bible studies that focus on “law” (the demands of Scripture for our obedience), no matter how accurately biblical in context, tend simply to add to the burden of guilt felt by the average Christian. A friend of mine calls these sermons “another brick in the backpack” – you arrive at church knowing five ways in which you are falling short of God’s standards for your life, and you leave knowing ten ways, doubly burdened. In my experience such teaching yields little by way of life transformation, especially in terms of the joy and peace that are supposed to mark the Christian life.

There is truth in this. To understand the Bible is to perceive its Christo-centricity. It’s all about Christ. All the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ:

  • For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 1:20)

Jesus also repeatedly pointed back to show how Scripture is about Him (John 5:39; Luke 24: 25-27; 44-48). Peter (1 Peter 1:10-11) and Paul did likewise (Acts 26:22-23).

Understandably, the above scholar warns against the do-better-try-harder sermon as unbiblically burdensome, tending “simply to add to the burden of guilt.” After all, since He is the One who has secured our grace and forgiveness through the cross, shouldn’t our teachings be Christ-centered, focusing on His mercy and not the moralistic, death-dealing requirements of the law? Yes! However, I think that this assessment requires some modification.

Christ is not only the mercy of God; He is also the righteousness of God. He is the all-in- all, embodying the fullness of God (Col. 2:9-10):

  • But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)

  • It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.(1 Cor. 1:30)

However, Christ’s holiness does not let us off the moral hook. Instead, we too must be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Paul claimed that we must follow God’s unchanging moral dictates, even though no longer under the law:

  • Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

Having been freed from the Covenant of the Law doesn’t mean that we are now free to murder and steal. Instead, we are now freed so that we can live under Christ and bear moral fruit by the Spirit:

  • So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code [the Covenant of the Law]. (Romans 7:4-6)

Under the headship of our Savior, we have been reconciled to God, have received the Spirit, and He has His laws upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And these laws are there for a purpose. They not only instruct us but they also guide us into moral obedience, and our teaching should reflect the Spirit’s plan.

Consequently, although Paul’s Pastoral Epistles are Christ-centered, they also law-centered. They require that our teaching and preaching demand moral holiness. In line with this, Paul insisted that all Scripture “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), not just the parts that emphasized God’s mercy.

He instructed Timothy to, ”Teach these things” (1 Tim. 4:11). Which things did Paul think that Timothy should teach? Just things of grace? No:

  • For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:8)

Paul taught about how servants and masters should treat one another. Then he instructed Timothy to teach “these… things”:

  • These are the things you are to teach and insist on…If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. (1 Tim. 6:2-4)

Understandably, it would have been difficult for servants to obey a harsh master, and so this command would have provoked feelings of guilt and possibly disdain. However, this should not be the last word for a Christian. Instead, the guilt should continue to lead us to Christ, forgiveness, and restoration.

Paul then instructed Timothy:

  • Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17-18)

These commands were not to simply be expressed on a personal level but also through teaching and preaching. It is unthinkable that these moral teachings could not be expressed in sermons or Bible studies.

In his next letter to the young pastor Timothy, Paul instructed:

  • And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Tim. 2:2)

Paul didn’t simply teach Timothy about grace, but also the need for grace in the face of ubiquitous moral failures. Teaching adherence to the requirements of the law was central to Paul’s message to Timothy:

  • Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen… Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly… Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:14, 16, 22)

Paul then instructed Timothy about the lawlessness in the last days when people would no longer be interested in hearing moral teachings. What was the answer? Teaching a message consisting only of “God loves you?” No! Preaching Scripture in its fullness would be required:

  • Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim. 4:2)

This would be a message that would not only embody encouragement but also moral correction and rebuke!

Paul’s instruction to Titus about the substance of his teaching was similar – it had to include moralizing:

  • You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. (Titus 2:1-3)

However, moralizing must not be isolated from grace:

  • For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12)

“Grace… teaches!” What does grace teach? “It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness!” The law should not be taught without the hope of grace; nor should grace be taught without the requirements of the law and our failures in light of them.

In light of this, theologian Iain M. Duguid wrote:

  • To put it simply, he [Paul] never preached Ephesians 4-6 (the ethical imperatives) without connecting them to Ephesians 1-3 (the Gospel indicative.) (Is Jesus in the Old Testament? 12)

Law (requirements) and grace should not be separated in our teaching and preaching. They are partners that complement each other. The law highlights the exceeding beauty and necessity of grace, while grace is the necessary answer to our ubiquitous failures in light of the teachings of our Savior.

Paul observed that the law was instrumental in leading us to Christ (Galatians 3:22-24). I think that the convicting and humbling power of the law continues to show us the relevance of Christ:

  • Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

God continues to humble us so that He might also exalt us:

  • Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:9-10)

Good preaching should grieve us, but it must also lift us! Okay, we are no longer under the law. We are under Christ, but even His teachings still humble and provoke guilt. However, these difficult teachings serve to lead us back to the mercy of Christ where we again grasp what He accomplished for us on the cross.  It is when I am overcome with the sight of my own sins that the cross appears in its glorious splendor.

Without this, the God-loves-you message can become insipid and uninspiring. Instead, we need constant reminders of how much we need His love and forgiveness. Without these reminders, our preaching might be casting God’s precious seeds upon hardened ground unprepared to receive them.

I therefore think that the law still leads us humbly to the cross, while the cross gratefully and confidently leads us back to the law – a functional and growth-producing marriage.