Chesterton on Progress

Lately I’ve been on a reading binge of G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis. I have too much to say on the treasures I’ve found in them to possibly remember to blog about it all. That’s a shame. On the bright side, there’s still lots of good stuff to mention.

One of my favorite paragraphs I’ve come across (maybe, it’s hard to narrow down favorites from such writers) is one in which Chesterton discusses the notion of progress, specifically in relation to the modern world. Everyone likes to talk about progress, though the fever was undoubtedly higher in his day. We still have progressives in politics (of many kinds: economic progressives, cultural progressives, environmental progressives, etc.), and we probably have far more now in theology. In fact, these so-called “progressive” theologians are my chief targets here, whereas Chesterton was more concerned with a political temperament. But much of what he had to say is relevant to either.

A chief characteristic of progressive Christianity is questioning. They like to ask questions regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality, what the Bible says about gender, what the Bible says about salvation, and of course just how seriously we need to take what the Bible says at all. The framing assumption is that we must ask these questions afresh because the classical answers are, we now see, in some way broken, obsolete, or unrealistic. For many of these issues, a sufficient Chestertonian response might be that the classical answers have not been tried and found wanting; they have been found difficult and left untried. But I disgress. My point here isn’t about whether the progressive’s questioning process will lead us to better answers than the traditional ones or not. My point, or rather Chesterton’s, is that you can’t really call yourself “progressive” in such a state of uncertainty. If you are stuck in questioning phase, you can’t genuinely say whether you’ve been making progress towards anything or not, since you don’t know where you’re going. And in Chesterton’s day, it didn’t matter how efficiently and skillfully you could run the the government. If you don’t know where you’re running it to, you can’t say that “progress” is underway. I’ll let Chesterton himself elaborate and leave it at that. The quote is from his excellent, excellent book What’s Wrong with the World:

As enunciated today, “progress” is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative. We meet every ideal of religion, patriotism, beauty, or brute pleasure with the alternative ideal of progress—that is to say, we meet every proposal of getting something that we know about, with an alternative proposal of getting a great deal more of nobody knows what. Progress, properly understood, has, indeed, a most dignified and legitimate meaning. But as used in opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous. So far from it being the truth that the ideal of progress is to be set against that of ethical or religious finality, the reverse is the truth. Nobody has any business to use the word “progress” unless he has a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals. Nobody can be progressive without being doctrinal; I might almost say that nobody can be progressive without being infallible—at any rate, without believing in some infallibility. For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress. Never perhaps since the beginning of the world has there been an age that had less right to use the word “progress” than we. In the Catholic twelfth century, in the philosophic eighteenth century, the direction may have been a good or a bad one, men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree. Whether the future excellence lies in more law or less law, in more liberty or less liberty; whether property will be finally concentrated or finally cut up; whether sexual passion will reach its sanest in an almost virgin intellectualism or in a full animal freedom; whether we should love everybody with Tolstoy, or spare nobody with Nietzsche;—these are the things about which we are actually fighting most. It is not merely true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this “progressive” age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what is progress are the most “progressive” people in it. The ordinary mass, the men who have never troubled about progress, might be trusted perhaps to progress. The particular individuals who talk about progress would certainly fly to the four winds of heaven when the pistol-shot started the race. I do not, therefore, say that the word “progress” is unmeaning; I say it is unmeaning without the previous definition of a moral doctrine, and that it can only be applied to groups of persons who hold that doctrine in common. Progress is not an illegitimate word, but it is logically evident that it is illegitimate for us. It is a sacred word, a word which could only rightly be used by rigid believers and in the ages of faith.

Illusions of the Times

“The end is near! Jesus will be back any day now!”

As Christians, not only do we hear this a lot, but¬†very many of us say it a lot as well. If you look on Facebook or Twitter, or if you¬†go to Bible studies or listen to people’s prayer requests, you find a common sentiment that finally, in the 21st century, we are living in the last days and Jesus will return¬†probably in our lifetimes.

This sentiment is nothing new, of course. It has been around since Jesus ascended. But that’s exactly why we should be skeptical of it today. If 2000 years ago everyone thought Jesus would BRB, but He didn’t, I don’t know why we would think that our day has a significantly different chance than they did.

But many people think they have proof. After all, didn’t Jesus say that¬†the end¬†would come with signs of war, famine, earthquakes, and violence? Today is more violent, war-torn, and full of natural disasters than ever before, right? So Jesus¬†has to be coming back especially soon.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, Jesus never said any of those things were signs that the end was about to come. Instead, He specifically said they are not signs of the end. Here is the relevant passage in Matthew:

Then Jesus replied to them: ‚ÄúWatch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‚ÄėI am the Messiah,‚Äô and they will deceive many. You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these events are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then they will hand you over for persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.

Matthew 24:4-14

Pay close attention. Jesus specifically lists all of these problems¬†with the notice, “the end is not yet.” These wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, and lawlessness are all part of the¬†beginning of the birth pains, not the end. These evils began even before the end of the first century. They began in full force¬†ages ago. Jesus¬†warned the disciples not to freak out or be confused by these signs. He told them, “All of this stuff will look frightening, but they don’t mean the end is here!” So the way people use these events today is in fact the¬†opposite of how Jesus spoke of them.

The other problem with this line of thought is that it misreads the present. Even if these things¬†were signs of the end, then we shouldn’t expect Jesus to come back now, because we have less¬†of this stuff today than at almost any other time in history.¬†These days out of the hundreds of countries in the world, only a couple of them, mostly in the Middle East, are at war. This is¬†different from most of history. There is less war today than ever before. The same goes for famine. With modern technology, there is more food in the world than ever before, and¬†even when prices have gone up a bit there has been no shortage of food in¬†Western countries since the Great Depression (and even then, there have been many worse periods in history).¬†Developing countries are actually developing and suffer less famine than they ever did in previous centuries (except Yemen, which is being systematically starved by the Saudi war and our abominable US support). Natural disasters don’t appear to have changed much.

Even violence hasn’t really changed. We think these mass shootings and terrorist acts are bad and new, but in fact they are tame compared to history. The Holocaust is in the past now. But even before that, constant tribal warfare, torture, brutal methods of execution, vigilante justice, and¬†barbarian pillaging were all widespread for most¬†the past. The idea of a landmass and population as large as the United States, for example, not being filled with wars and political murders and lynchings and human sacrifice is a novelty. Abortion, infanticide, and the rampant sexual immorality which have only¬†in the past several decades infiltrated Western countries were already the norm in the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day. Overall, not much seems any worse than it ever has.

Thus, what many people see as signs of the times just really aren’t. They’re illusions. This doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t coming back soon. I think He may come back at any time, though to be honest I expect the Gospel to reach¬†a lot more of the unreached world first, per the last verse in the text I quoted. But the point is we have no¬†idea when He will come, there is no specific reason to think we are especially close right now, and we can only hope, pray, and evangelize if we do want it to be soon (which we should).

The truth is, as long as the Church is around, we will be waiting with the feeling that Jesus’ coming is right around the corner, and that’s honestly because He is. While the years may extend, Jesus is¬†never far away. Heaven and earth are but separated by a thin curtain, a curtain Jesus has already opened, and in His Church Jesus constantly blurs the lines between this age and the age to come. So we will always feel the pressure of¬†Christ’s coming on our time, and we will always long for His final day of salvation. But whenever that day will come, well, we can just have no idea.

A Quick Thought from Russell Moore: Something to Remember about People

Here’s something worth keeping in mind from Russell Moore’s new book,¬†Onward:

The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. That‚Äôs a sentence I remind myself of almost every day, every time I feel myself growing discouraged about the future…That‚Äôs what the elderly theologian taught me, as I stood there and wrung my hands over the pragmatism, the hucksterism, the liberalizing tendencies I saw in the Christianity around me, and wondered, ‚ÄúDoes gospel Christianity have a future in this country at all?‚ÄĚ He looked at me as though I were crazy. Of course gospel Christianity had, and has, a future. But the gospel Christians who will lead it may well still be pagans. He was right. Christianity is not like politics, rife with the dynasties of ruling families. God builds his church a different way.

The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic right now. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star right now. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was.

But the Spirit of God can turn all that around, and seems to delight to do so. The new birth doesn‚Äôt just transform lives, creating repentance and faith; it also provides new leadership to the church, and fulfills Jesus‚Äô promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time (Eph. 4:8‚Äď16).

Remember this next time you have a problem with anyone, and next time you fear for the future of Christianity.

Hate the World, Or Burn with It

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world ‚ÄĒ the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one‚Äôs lifestyle ‚ÄĒ is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God‚Äôs will remains forever.

1 John 2:15-17

This world will burn. I don’t mean that the physical, spacetime universe will be permanently destroyed, of course.1 I mean the rulers and systems¬†of¬†this age, the present cultures, structures, and institutions which are beholden to the flesh and the devil, which foster sin and¬†exacerbate¬†suffering. These are what¬†John and Paul often refer to in Scripture as the “world” or “this age.” And as John said just above, they are passing away. The world will be¬†condemned¬†and toppled when Christ returns to judge and recreate.

But it is¬†easy to talk about this stuff in general, abstract terms. What is this condemned¬†world in real, actual life? What does it mean to love it and the things in it, as John warned us against? I’ve been giving this some thought lately, and it is not too hard to see how it works. The world offers¬†its own vision for life in direct opposition to the call of Jesus. Naturally, this vision¬†takes different forms in different cultures, and I do not know much about the way of¬†worldly life presented to people in most cultures, but what I am familiar with is the¬†American one. So what is the world in America?

One easily identifiable component of the world¬†system in¬†America is its relentless pursuit¬†of personal wealth and “success.”¬†Our society is¬†powerfully shaped by this idol. Ideally, we go to school to get qualifications that land us in decent jobs from which we can work our way up to riches.¬†Few make it all the way through this journey to the top, but its role as the standard goal is unquestionable. The life of corporate advancement, complete with expensive¬†clothing, status watches, luxury cars, and all the rest, is¬†taken for granted as an ideal, part of the good life for¬†which we Americans strive.

Yet, while diligently working in a profitable job is by no means an evil or a sin, the system behind¬†this success culture is¬†clearly and certainly corrupt to the core.¬†Quite frequently, it demands that you offer in sacrifice¬†your integrity, your¬†spouse, your children, your commitment to your church, and¬†by all means your sacrificial giving on its pagan altar. It breaks apart families and in fact even individuals under stress and the pursuit of the wind.¬†You are not permitted to¬†give¬†with unlimited¬†generosity,¬†sacrificing¬†wealth and¬†status too thoroughly to help the least of these, but must¬†spend freely and extensively on certain restaurants, gizmos, and fashions¬†with symbolic functions in order¬†to climb the ladder.¬†This system is greed and pride incarnate, the actual reality of the “pride of life.” It may be true that it is entirely possible to have one of these jobs while not participating in these corruptions, but it remains a frightening world, and one¬†which demands intentional, diligent Gospel devotion for a follower of¬†Christ to spiritually survive.

The world also manifests itself in the reigning sexual¬†ethos, where the only thing that¬†matters is personal sexual expression and unrestrained choice. The union¬†of easy divorce, endlessly accessible birth control, affordable abortion options, casual hookups, proliferating online porn, and the de-shaming of adultery brings forth a sexual culture of death. It creates emotional distress, insecure men, unfulfilled¬†women, rapidly spreading¬†diseases,¬†fuel for sex trafficking, and broken¬†homes (the last of which tends to¬†bring with it a host of other problems, such as¬†generational poverty, drug abuse, gang crime, and school violence). What is hailed as “liberation”¬†is¬†actually¬†slavery to the¬†flesh. The culture¬†which¬†asks “What’s wrong with consenting adults doing what they want in the bedroom?”¬†is the very same culture which robs millions of people¬†of their consenting freedom to slavishly serve (in many cases quite literally) the god Sexual Pleasure.

I could go on exposing the systems and structures which make up the world, but I want to move on to make a more important point. We must¬†hate the world. These¬†systems¬†are¬†evil, pure evil, ruining God’s creation and the humans He loves so much, and they will be damned to Hell when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. We are not allowed to flirt and compromise with the enemy of God’s create humanity, even if¬†this enemy is made up in large part of those same humans. Whoever may make up many of the ground troops, the rulers and powers behind the world are Satan and his hordes. To participate in¬†the systems they have set up on earth in their time of power is to participate in¬†cosmic, demonic rebellion against God. The force that¬†might tempt you to a “harmless” casual hookup is the same one that turned a mere man into a naked, superstrength, chain-breaking monster before driving a horde of¬†pigs to cast themselves off a cliff to their deaths.2

This brings me to a related point about¬†human accountability. We often wonder how God could really be justified in condemning¬†so many normal, seemingly decent people.¬†Would it really be right for God to punish polite Jim Bob¬†down the road just because he’s not sure Jesus rose from the dead? Yet I want to say on this that the majority of¬†people are not as¬†innocent as they look. No, Jim would never buy a¬†sex slave, but¬†he does give his money to a porn website that acquires¬†much of its “talent” from¬†trafficking organizations. Yes, Jim pays for welfare with his taxes, but¬†despite his¬†ability to afford a BMW¬†he has¬†politely ignored¬†every email, telephone, and visitation campaign asking for his support for starving orphans in¬†Afghanistan for 15 years. And of course, Jim would never expand his company with a sweatshop filled with impoverished children, but he has no problem making major business deals giving money to¬†companies that¬†do¬†just that. He might be innocent of thousands of awful crimes, but in the end God sees how he is aiding and abetting tens¬†of thousands.

The¬†world is an omnipresent web of wickedness, and¬†to avoid getting caught in it takes great care. But as Christians we must¬†take that care, because to do otherwise is to¬†entangle Christ with Satan. Nothing can result from such a union but pain, suffering, and judgment. As John said above, “the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God‚Äôs will remains forever.” If we do not want to pass away with the world, we will have to cling to Christ, but to cling to Christ is to hate the world which opposes Him and His reign of grace. ¬†There is no other option. Hate the world or burn with it.

This will lead us to some¬†tough questions about the lines and¬†connections in participation with the evils of the world. We know it would be sinful for us to submit children to¬†labor in rough conditions with pitiful pay just because they can’t survive otherwise, but is it¬†wrong to give¬†our money to companies that do¬†so in exchange for affordable shoes?¬†All evangelical Christians would agree that¬†homosexuality is wrong, but does that mean we shouldn’t come to¬†our gay non-Christian friend’s wedding? And while I may¬†just need a job, is there something inappropriate in trying to sell services for a company that¬†I’m convinced is seriously (though legally) ripping people off?

These questions all need to be addressed, but in addressing them all we must remember the enemy. The world is the devil’s kingdom. Let us not get drawn in, but draw our swords and fight to stand for the kingdom of God instead.

Don’t Forget that Celibacy Is an Option

As many of you know, I’m in college right now. I’m also happily married. In fact, I can’t imagine doing my adult life single. Several other young couples seem to feel the same way, and I pray God blesses them. Marriage truly is a wonderful gift, and a powerful sign of the relationship between Christ and His Church.¬†That said, I’m¬†concerned with the relentless promotions and endorsements (even some of the prayers) for¬†marriage I see given to my fellow students. As great as marriage is,¬†it’s not the only lifestyle available to Christians. Our Lord Jesus Himself did not go that route, but another.¬†Celibacy is also an option.

Both Jesus and Paul exemplified the celibate call, devoting their entire lives to a sacred mission for God rather than taking on the earthly entanglements1 of marriage. This is not to say, of course, that marriage is at all a bad thing. Indeed, it is rather a very good and natural part of the original creation.2 It remains the bedrock of healthy society and plays an important role in the life of the Church. There are few more potent images of the union which Christ enters into with His Church than the union of man and woman.3

Nonetheless, marriage is at its heart part of this age, the world that is passing away.4 Practically speaking, it was needed to fill the earth with people who could reflect the image of God in worship and service.5 This purpose is expiring in the new creation, which has already begun breaking into the world through Christ’s resurrection and the outpouring of His Spirit upon His Body at Pentecost. The new world is ever present before us as we wait for the return of Jesus, and when He does return marriage will be finished.6

In addition to all of this, marriage is, well, quite a task. I’m not complaining; I love it! Nonetheless, it takes up a great deal of time and effort, time and effort which could be spent by the single person doing a wide variety of other things for the kingdom of God.7 There are serious practical differences in serving God with a family and without one. While of course a married person¬†can serve God passionately and effectively (that is my goal, after all!), the single person can do so with greater¬†flexibility, freedom,¬†simplicity, and even risk. I will¬†never be able to drop everything and risk my life or even just my livelihood for missional and ministry purposes the same way that, say, the Apostle Paul could.

So what I do I aim to say? To all of you unmarried college students and youngsters out there, especially my co-learners at the Bridal Baptist College of Florida, don’t assume that marriage is, must be, or should be in your future. There is an alternative, indeed a radically countercultural (even for Christian culture) one. You can not marry, and you can¬†not have sex.¬†Everyone in our culture outside the Church¬†expects you to be regularly sexually active, either within marriage or without. Sex is in fact almost given¬†god-like honors. “You must not repress your sexuality,” you are told. That would be a sacrilege¬†against the rite of sexual self-expression and satisfaction. It’s¬†unhealthy¬†(ritually unclean?) and¬†prudish/ignorant (heretical?) to deny yourself such pleasures. Even within many¬†Christian circles, these basic tenants are often (at least subconsciously) accepted, only with the caveat that the right place for all of this sexual expression is marriage.¬†A commitment to lifelong celibacy amounts to a polemic, if not a declaration of war, against corrupted¬†modern sexual ethos.

In addition to this, a commitment to celibacy functions as a powerful eschatological sign to the world. Marriage, as I noted before, is proper to the old creation, and will pass away. To commit to celibacy in the present stands, then, as an anticipation and symbol of the future state. In cultures with particularly strong family ties, where getting married and having children can affect all sorts of relationships, social status, fortunes, reputation, or property rights, celibacy serves to declare trust in God rather than these temporary systems. Refusing to marry or engage in sexual activity in the present is a way of showing the world that you are part of a different world, the age to come, in which reproduction is by the power of the Spirit rather than by man, satisfaction is found in union with Christ rather than sexual union, and the family that truly matters is the family born of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, rather than the family born naturally.

In today’s culture, though, celibacy is essentially seen as a death sentence, at least¬†for our social/relational selves.¬†The fear goes that a celibate person is missing out on what makes life count, on true love and intimate¬†personal relations. Yet Christ declares an alternative. He promises and creates a new family, a new web of relationships, in His Church.8 I wrote on this in a previous post, and¬†it matters for the question of celibacy. Lifelong celibacy may rule out relationships of¬†sexual-romantic and paternal/maternal love, but those¬†are¬†not the only¬†kind of relationship which¬†be fulfilling and¬†truly loving. When we come together as Christ’s body, allowing Him to reform our hearts, minds,¬†affections, and interests by His Spirit, then we can more than make up for this lack, supporting those who would commit to celibacy. This is a high calling for¬†those of us who are Church family,¬†demanding that we be genuinely interested in and compassionate towards each other, but¬†for those of us who follow Christ, what else do we expect?

So, then, I simply ask you all, actually and personally as my fellow youngsters, to seriously consider this. You BCF people, I know they call it the Bridal College of Florida. But there are very few other lifestyles in our culture which can have the same power as committed celibacy, especially in this post-Obergefell world. It is a sign of Christ and His kingdom, comes highly recommended in Christian history, and I honestly believe can and will change your life, if you are willing to take the plunge.

(P.S. I know it may seem odd that I write so encouragingly of celibacy when I myself am married. Yet I need to be, and I know it. I’ve known for a very long time that God designed me specifically to¬†marry. I couldn’t do life any other way. Not everyone is like that. Many people are not. And it concerns me that this valuable and powerful Christian lifestyle is so neglected and marginalized today.)

(P.P.S. I’ve written on this once before, and my friend Clark also wrote on it as a guest writer.)

(P.P.P.S. Speaking of guest writing, if anyone wants to guest write here you can/should hit me up [email protected])

Assorted Thoughts on Christmas

The title here is as descriptive as they get.¬†I basically have a bunch of random thoughts about Christmas. I could write them all as separate posts and try to elaborate and go into loads of detail, but why do that when it’s almost Christmas and you have people to see, presents to¬†wrap, and plans to make? So here you go, assorted thoughts on Christmas from yours truly:

  • The way I see it, the question about “the meaning of Christmas” is¬†rather pointless. Christmas is too big and straddles too many groups and cultures to even have a single meaning.¬†It¬†it’s not something laid out by God’s will¬†in Scripture, so we have no basis for saying it even has to be about Jesus, though of course it’s great if it is. The more important question, in my mind, is “What will you make of Christmas?” or perhaps even, “What will you make Christmas mean to people in need?”
  • Following somewhat on that point, I personally tend to see basically two Christmasses¬†as my personal framework. To me, there is the celebration of Jesus’ birth as one thing, and the common cultural traditions¬†as another thing, both of which happen to be called “Christmas.” I enjoy each one in its own way and as its own thing. I love to think about the significance of Christ’s birth, and to call the world to think about the Savior. In¬†a mostly independent way, I love the¬†air of cheer, joy, friendliness, presents, trees, lights, and celebration. The two can overlap somewhat, but I¬†nonetheless enjoy each part of Christmas in its own right.
  • I think Christmas is a very interesting phenomenon. What drives massive portions of the human race to calm down a bit on the hostility, celebrate peace, exchange gifts, and try to be a little happier than usual? It seems to be something that came¬†along apart from the celebration of Jesus’ birth, so what led¬†everyone to do this once a year? Why aren’t we mostly the same all year long? What power lies behind this kind of global day of the good that something like the Christmas truce¬†could even happen? It’s all rather odd to me, and I cannot help but think that God intervenes, at least a little bit, to give us this time of year.¬†Who’s to say that snow angels aren’t really angels?
  • Why¬†was Jesus born? “To save us from our sins” is the usual answer. So I’d like to ask next, “Would Jesus have come if the Fall never happened and we didn’t have sin?” This is an interesting question, and I believe myself that the answer is “yes.” A neglected part of our theology of salvation is how essential it is for God and man to be united in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man.¬†Eternal life is not merely the biological reality we would have if we never sinned; it is the life of eternal communion with the Triune God, a life given to us through the Holy Spirit and created by the life of Jesus, the only person in whom divine life and human life are always and completely united and reconciled. So even without sin, I’m convinced that we would not have eternal life without Christmas.¬†Jesus was always destined to be the one Mediator, the Reconciler, the Firstborn over all creation, God’s Word in flesh.
  • I think most churches should take a far more active role in bringing Christmas blessings directly and personally to the people of their local communities. Not just giving money and/or outsourcing to another organization. Not just contributing to a Christmas charitable thingo. Not just shoeboxes. Actually getting out,¬†taking gifts of many different kinds, and sharing the love of Christ face-to-face with loads of people. Not just cheap gifts, either. Nice gifts. Gifts like you would want someone to give you. It’s like that one rule Jesus taught. What was that, again?
  • “Away in a Manger” seems to imply the heresy of Docetism. Just sayin’.

One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

I am not an angry person. For the most part, I just¬†deal with people and don’t worry about their nonsense, shenanigans, rudeness, or¬†offenses. When I do think about these things, it’s usually analytically, thinking about the wider patterns in society of which they are a part, and about¬†any theological issues involved. I already digress, though, so back to my point. I don’t generally get angry, and it usually takes some repeated problems to make it happen. Most issues don’t spark any fire any me.

There are a few things, of course, that do. Talking about abortion for more than 5 minutes. Bullies. A handful of politicians. But none of those are the subject of this post. Instead, this post is about what angers me if I think about it for too long: nonchalant money wasting.

What specifically do I mean? I work at a Papa John’s.¬†I see almost every day people spend $20-40 on pizza and cookies. Likewise, I walk into stores and see $1000 TVs that people actually buy. On Black Friday,¬†so many people practically turn into a raging mob trying to throw their money at companies for things that usually aren’t important.¬†College kids¬†buy Starbucks several times a week,¬†or even daily. Well off couples plunk down hundreds of thousands for houses much larger, fancier, and prepared than they actually need. Half of our society, if not¬†much more than that, revolves around buying and selling, and when your society is the size of ours, that guarantees most of the business being done isn’t essential to life and well-being.

So, so much of this money is just wasted. Hundreds of millions of dollars essentially go down the toilet, serving no purpose but to give us some momentary pleasure, distracting entertainment, or a few extra moments of convenience. I could multiply examples, and in fact a part of me is simply dying to do so just to illustrate the severity of the problem and get out some of the frustration that builds even as I think about this subject to write on it. But stop and think for yourself: how much money do you spend in your average week, even average day, that you could quite easily get by without spending? What about the expenses that you could get by without just by putting in a little extra effort?

I know I do this. I try to avoid it, but I do not always do so, and plenty of times if I step back and think too hard about it I get frustrated. But why? Why does this all so rile me? Why does all of this make me so angry?

The reason, which may be obvious to some of you, for my ire is the African child with a¬†stomach bloated from malnutrition and starvation, the Afghan mother¬†struggling to¬†find some kind of health care for her baby, and the old redneck lady who can’t afford to keep electricity hooked up in her trailer. People like¬†these and those in many other situations around the world are suffering in extreme poverty (or at least serious relative poverty for their society), and try as they might they can’t do anything about it.¬†Most of them aren’t just a little bit poor, either. According to Compassion International:

Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.

This means that for every one of us who can afford to spend $7 for lunch at Chick-fil-A almost whenever we want, there is someone else out there who would have to go without any other food for at least 2 or 3 days to afford that opportunity. 

In the face of such intense and rampant poverty and suffering, the waste I see every day becomes absolutely disgusting. The constant churning of spending more and more money on frivolous or disposable things by whim appears to be pure evil, the evil of a world system under the sway of the evil one. Fancy new gadgets, savory steak dinners, and luxurious vacations are shoved into our faces daily by advertisers desperate for our money, money which could be better spent for the sake of mercy on the poor. And we take the bait! We buy into the system and throw away our money together with our souls for the sake of temporary pleasures, ignoring the billions of people who could never afford our 40-inch TVs or 6-inch iPhones in a hundred years.

Naturally, I’m not saying that we can never spend any money beyond what we absolutely have to have.¬†Moderation is always allowed. But we don’t usually try or think about moderating our spending in order to give. In the US, concern for¬†extreme poverty is extremely low1, and giving is pathetic2. That is what makes me angry. The lack of care, and the lack of action¬†proving care, is what¬†frustrates me.

So let’s fix it. Give. Go. Help. Pray. Send. And¬†waste less money on the stupidities of American consumerism when you can be giving it to those who need it to survive.

If anyone has this world‚Äôs goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need ‚ÄĒ how can God‚Äôs love reside in him?

1 John 3:17

Does Anyone Really Believe in the Church Family?

Does this look like a family?

A few weeks ago, I ran across a question on Reddit about Christians giving preference to helping Christians. Someone, who if I recall consider herself a Christian, had heard Christians wishing to especially help Christian refugees moreso than others. She was horrified by this, and asked if anyone agreed and how they could.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable at all? Are you alright with giving special treatment to Christians, at least in your personal life?¬†Some of you probably feel fine¬†about that, while I’m sure at least some of you find this a bit disconcerting, at least in some corner of¬†your mind or heart.¬†

I’ve thought about this lately, and realized that this must stem in part from one¬†Biblical belief which has¬†largely forgotten (at least at a practical level) in the modern American church. What is this basic belief? The family nature of the¬†Church.

In most evangelical churches, there is a sentiment about the Church as a family, but that is usually¬†all it is: a sentiment, a feeling. People in close churches “feel” like a family. That’s not the point of the Biblical teaching, though. Here’s what Jesus said about family:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters ‚ÄĒ yes, and even his own life ‚ÄĒ he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37

But He replied to the one who told Him, ‚ÄúWho is My mother and who are My brothers?‚ÄĚ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‚ÄúHere are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.‚ÄĚ

Matthew 12:48-50

The Old Testament also demonstrates the primacy of covenant and worship over natural family:

‚ÄúIf your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‚ÄėLet us go and worship other gods‚Äô‚ÄĒwhich neither you nor your fathers have known, any of the gods of the peoples around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other‚ÄĒyou must not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity, and do not spare him or shield him. Instead, you must kill him. Your hand is to be the first against him to put him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.‚ÄĚ

Deuteronomy 13:6-10

Romans 9 also makes a point about the primacy of grace over natural family relations, but it is somewhat tangential, so I will not look much at it for now. Feel free to peruse it later.

All of this in mind, the Biblical teaching should be clear. Natural family is superseded by the Church family. We are now not, firstly, sons of our fathers, daughters of our mothers, brothers of brothers or sisters of sisters. Rather, the first and most fundamental relationship we have is the new birth from one Father, which makes us children of God and siblings of Christ and each other1 This displaces all of our other relationships. When we become a Christian and enter the Church through baptism, we are re-related. All our previous relationships of family and friends become secondary to our new true family in Christ. We are to, in comparison to Christ and His family, hate them all.

These words, alas, make many people uncomfortable in this day and age, probably because of the liberal (in the classical sense) underpinnings of American society. Embedded in our Constitution and culture is the sense of the individual as the fundamental unit. Every person is his own person and thing, defined by himself apart from all other people. What matters is your own self-determination and preferences.

Most people think this way, even Christians, to some extent and on some level. It is reinforced by the wider culture and legal structures which surround us, embedding itself into our hearts and minds. This has particularly poisoned people’s view of religion. In most people’s minds, religion is a preference, a personal interest. It is no more or less¬†substantial than your interests, careers, or passions. Those are important to you, but are freely chosen and no objective standard really matters. What is sacred is not the religion, but your choice of religion.

If this is the framework, then your religion can’t¬†be a new and superseding family. Religion is a preference! It can’t create obligations to other people, or override any relationships you already had. More importantly, it can’t be used to treat some individuals¬†any differently than others, because it’s all a matter of personal preference, and you can’t discriminate among¬†people based on personal preferences.

We must drop this nonsense. God has recreated us, given us a new birth and identity in Christ. Our old persons and identities are passing away, and only those which join with us in the new life of Christ will last. All of our families and friends outside the Church are not family in the same way that even strangers in the Church are. Our foremost obligations are to the new family, not the old which exists by the flesh.

This doesn’t mean, of¬†course, that we are to neglect or not love the others. Rather, if we love them, we must seek by all means to bring them into the Church, to make them a part of the new family. Our children, parents, cousins, friends, and acquaintances outside the faith need us to love them into it, that they might in fact¬†receive the high place we wish them to have.

So basically, let us remember that the Church is our¬†true family, over and (when necessary) against¬†all other relationships. This isn’t just a negative fact against the rest of the world. It is a positive one, the beginning of the¬†fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that His followers would receive more than enough to replace all they gave us for Him. In fact, I had something else to say, but I think I’ll let Jesus finish for me:

‚ÄúI assure you,‚ÄĚ Jesus said, ‚Äúthere is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel,
who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time ‚ÄĒ houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions ‚ÄĒ and eternal life in the age to come.

Mark 10:29-30

5 Myths about End Times

Recently I’ve seen more Christians¬†than usual warning about the imminent end. Perhaps in light of recent political events, an expectation/desire for Jesus to return has increased beyond the everyday. This has reminded me of several misconceptions people have about that time, the¬†eschaton, so I figured I’d throw together this list of 5 popular end times myths.

  1. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters are signs that¬†Jesus is just about to return. This is a common misconception, based on Mark 13:7-8 and the parallel verses. But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in those verse. He tells the disciples “don’t panic” when you hear of such things. These must come, but “the end won‚Äôt follow immediately” (literally “the end¬†not yet”). Instead, they must endure for quite some time, for¬†this is only “the first of the birth pangs” and in the mean time they will need to “watch out” for persecution.
  2. Babylon the Great is America/Islam/[insert modern power here]. In¬†Revelation 17-18, John gives a¬†dramatic description of a great city, called Babylon,¬†which has fallen to ruin. Many popular prophecy teachers like to associate this with America, Islam, or some other modern power perceived as a threat or wicked group. Yet the original historical context clearly identifies this as Rome. Rome was known as the city on seven hills (Rev. 17:9), and had by John’s time seven notable kings (17:9-10). The empire relied heavily on puppet kings in the provinces (17:7,12).¬†For John’s original audience, nothing would have sounded more like a “great city that rules over the kings of the world” than Rome (17:18). Like the Old Testament prophets, John prophesied God’s judgment on a wicked nation¬†oppressing His people.
  3. The last days are just starting, about to start, or recently began.¬†Biblically, the “last days” doesn’t just refer to the very end, the time of the Tribulation and¬†return of Jesus. The last days began with Jesus, when He through His¬†life, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom of God. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years. (See Acts 2:14-21, Heb. 1:2, Jas. 5:3, 1 Pet. 1:20.)
  4. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are all or mostly about the end times. Despite the common opinion, Jesus’ speech to His disciples on the Mount of Olives¬†after He cleansed the Temple wasn’t mainly (or some people would say at all, but I’m not 100% sure about that) about¬†the Tribulation and His future return.¬†Instead, the primary point was the judgment about to come on Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70. Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:20-24 make this point the most clear. Jesus treated¬†the impending fall of Jerusalem as an event of major theological significance, the last of God’s repeated judgments on His wayward people. He constantly warned them to repent or they would be desolated by Rome, just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the other prophets of old warned about other kingdoms. When Jerusalem fell¬†national Israel would fall apart, and only the new Israel of Jesus followers would continue in God’s¬†purpose for election.
  5. Jesus’s return will mean the end of space, time, matter, and planet earth. As I have argued in previous posts, the universe is not to be permanently destroyed any more than our bodies are to die forever. Just as we will die, when Jesus returns the world will be¬†burned up, but this is not a permanent end. God will redeem His creation through the Spirit (see Rom. 8:19-22), and it will become a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1), just as we have become a new man/new creation (cf. Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17). There is no Biblical evidence that it will be timeless, or simply spiritual, or non-physical, or that the earth will be gone forever. We’re not simply going to heaven forever; heaven is coming to us and recreating our world.

Bible Time with Owl City: Bombshell Blonde

Another new post series I’ve had in mind has been this: Bible Time with Owl City. Because Owl City. Since Owl City (i.e. Adam Young, the¬†sole songwriter and singer) is a Christian and has made that perfectly clear, and some of¬†his songs are either explicitly or implicitly founded on his faith, his material seems¬†perfect for mining.

That said, I was a bit dismayed when I heard one of his newer songs, “Bombshell Blonde.” If you want to listen to it, here’s the YouTube link. Or just the lyrics. At first I was¬†a bit confused and disappointed at what appeared to be a song basically about clubbing and trying to pick up a girl.¬†Here’s the chorus, for example:

She’s a bombshell blonde, wired up to detonate!
I’m James Bond, live to die another day!
Bombshell blonde, high explosive dynamite!
She’s all I want so I, I’m on a mission tonight!

This bugged me. Adam had always appeared to be a rather genuine Christian, and around the same time I heard this song, his new hit with Britt Nicole “You’re Not Alone” was all over Christian radio. So a song that basically seemed to be about him trying to, well, get lucky¬†with some hot chick was unexpected and unsettling.

Yet, precisely because this looked so out of character for Adam Young (his faith aside, his personality doesn’t even seem to match my initial impression of this song), I listened more closely until I realized something.¬†The language used reminded me of Proverbs. So then it hit me: This isn’t a song about¬†pursuing an attractive woman. It’s about¬†resisting one. Evidence? Here’s Proverbs about seductive women:

My child, pay attention and listen to my wisdom and insight. Then you will know how to behave properly, and your words will show that you have knowledge. The lips of another man’s wife may be as sweet as honey and her kisses as smooth as olive oil, but when it is all over, she leaves you nothing but bitterness and pain. She will take you down to the world of the dead; the road she walks is the road to death. She does not stay on the road to life; but wanders off, and does not realize what is happening.

Now listen to me, sons, and never forget what I am saying. Keep away from such a woman! Don’t even go near her door! If you do, others will gain the respect that you once had, and you will die young at the hands of merciless people. Yes, strangers will take all your wealth, and what you have worked for will belong to someone else. You will lie groaning on your deathbed, your flesh and muscles being eaten away, and you will say, ‚ÄúWhy would I never learn? Why would I never let anyone correct me? I wouldn’t listen to my teachers. I paid no attention to them. And suddenly I found myself publicly disgraced.‚ÄĚ

Proverbs 5:1-14

So she tempted him with her charms, and he gave in to her smooth talk. Suddenly he was going with her like an ox on the way to be slaughtered, like a deer prancing into a trap where an arrow would pierce its heart. He was like a bird going into a net‚ÄĒhe did not know that his life was in danger.

Now then, sons, listen to me. Pay attention to what I say. Do not let such a woman win your heart; don’t go wandering after her. She has been the ruin of many men and caused the death of too many to count. If you go to her house, you are on the way to the world of the dead. It is a shortcut to death.

Proverbs 7:21-27

There is actually even more material like this in Proverbs, but you should get the gist. Solomon speaks of these women in very attractive but deadly terms. Granted, so do many guys out looking for them anyway, but in this case the severity of the warning comes through loud and clear. Upon reexamining “Bombshell Blonde,” I think the exact same theme is present. Again, with this in mind, try reading¬†some more:

That blonde, she’s a bomb, she’s an atom bomb.
Rigged up, and ready to drop!
Bad news, I’m a fuse, and I’ve met my match.
So stand back, it’s about to go off!

That vixen, she’s a master of disguise!
I see danger, when I look in her eyes.
She’s so foxy, she could lead to my demise.
So I’m running, ’cause I’ve run out of time.

All through the song, the same theme comes through that Adam is not going after this woman, but fleeing for his life. He’s running away and trying to save himself from the ticking time bomb. He is indeed on a mission tonight, not a mission to get something but to escape and “live to die another day.”

With that in mind, my confidence in Adam Young was restored, and indeed he seemed more clever than ever. I go on to present this as advice to all the guys out there: take Owl City’s advice. Don’t play around with desire or put yourself in the way of girls you know have a certain reputation. “It is a shortcut to death,” as the wisest king who ever failed to take his own advice said.

Not to be sexist, I should remind girls that it goes the other way ’round, too. Just because he’s sexy, or mysterious, or perhaps misunderstood, that doesn’t mean you should get involved. Be wary, especially when there are any signs of danger (even when that danger is simply your own desires). Flee youthful lusts.

Now, everyone, thank Owl City for being awesome. Until next time, listen to more of his music.