Saturday, February 25, 2012

‘Zero-Sum’ Theology and Sacred Space

Economists use the language of a ‘zero-sum game’ to describe a transaction in which one person’s gain is directly tied to another person’s loss. The outcome will always be zero, with one side coming out in the negative and the other side coming out in the positive, unless both sides come out at zero.
 
By contrast, a non-zero-sum situation is that in which the aggregate gains and losses of the interacting parties can be more than zero.
 
The ancient Gnostics didn’t know about game theory, but they tended to treat God’s glory as if it was a zero-sum contest between God and creation. The glory of God, they seemed to think, could only be maintained by denigrating the created order, or at least denying that anything of spiritual value could be derived from the creation. In fact, the Gnostics adopted such a low view of the material world that they ended up denying that Christ even had a physical body. It would be beneath the dignity of the Divine Being, they thought, to have his glory mediated through material flesh. For precisely this same reason the Gnostics were deeply suspicious of the sacraments. Spiritual growth was directly correlated to being disencumbered with materiality, so that final salvation for the Gnostics involved eternal release from the physical body. (To read more about the Gnostic heresy, see my review of Against the Protestant Gnostics and my article ‘Tears in Things’.)
 
In this article I will suggest that one of the temptations of the reformed theological tradition has been a tendency to operate with similar ‘zero-sum’ assumptions. What I am calling a ‘zero-sum’ approach (though the economic metaphor is only a metaphor and should not be pressed too closely) manifests itself in a number of ways.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Intellectual Disconnect

On November 16 this year, the Barna group published an article summarizing the results of extensive research over the last five. The research focused on young adult church dropouts, and asked questions such as, "Why Are Young Christians Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith?"

Based on their extensive research, the Barna group debunked the following five myths: 

1. Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.
2. Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults' maturation.
3. College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.
4. This generation of young Christians is increasingly “biblically illiterate.”
5. Young people will come back to church like they always do.

What interested me about the research was what they discovered about young Christians being unable to apply the Biblical worldview to their intellectual and professional lives. Even young adults who say they hold to a Christian worldview, often have an intellectual disconnect when it comes to applying that worldview to every area of public life. This intellectual disconnect is often exposed when a Christian goes to college.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Richard Baxter's Heaven

In Almond's book Heaven and hell in Enlightenment England, he takes a paragraph to summarize the fascinating concept of heaven propounded by our blessed brother Richard Baxter. (If you're uncomfortable talking about 'heaven' like this, just substitute 'new heavens and new earth'):
Though, for Baxter, all joy in heaven would be derived from Gods joy, he, like a number of his contemporaries, did distinguish between the primary glory of the vision of God and a secondary glory which consisted of fellowship with the other Saints and angels. Baxter looked forward to the day when he would sit down with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David; to the time when he would eternally dwell with Peter and Paul, Augustine and Jerome, and with worthies of the Reformation - Luther, Calvin, Zwingly, Beza, Bullinger, indeed with 'all the saints of all ages, whose faces in the flesh we never saw, whom we shall there both know and comfortable enjoy'. Baxter's heaven is, in the final analysis, a heavenly society.


Further Reading

Jonathan Edwards at His Best


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Friday, February 17, 2012

Feminism and Gender


Salvo magazine has now made available on their website the first article I ever published with them. In the article I discuss the confusion of gender that permeates our contemporary society. I also show the folly in a particular strain of feminist theory which has tried to deny the legitimacy of the gender polarity. Among such feminists is Andrea Dworkin who has asserted that "the discovery is, of course, that 'man' and 'woman' are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs . . . demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both." 
 
Family therapist Olga Silverstein expresses similar sentiments when she urges "the end of the gender split," for, according to her, "until we are willing to question the very idea of a male sex role . . . we will be denying both men and women their full ­humanity."
 
In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir is even more blunt: "Women are made, they are not born," she asserts. And since women have been "made" by society, the corollary to becoming more enlightened is that we should strive to unmake the female. 
 
This is exactly what the influential psychologist Sandra Bem has suggested. She would like to see the concept of androgyny so absorbed by the culture that, as Melanie Phillips puts it in The Sex-Change Society, paraphrasing Bem's views, "concepts of masculinity and femininity would cease to have distinct content and distinctions would 'blur into invisibility.'"
 
Susan Moller Okin is equally wistful when contemplating a future without gender. She thinks that "a just future would be one without gender. In its social structures and practices, one's sex would have no more relevance than one's eye color or the length of one's toes."
 
If we take the above statements seriously, then we'd have to say that Nietzsche was wrong when he posited the √úbermensch as the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. Rather, true utopia will be found in neither the superman nor the superwoman, but in the liberated unisex being that will emerge out of the liquidation of gender.
 
Other, less radical gender scholars have taken the view that while gender does have coherent meaning, there is no necessary relationship between one's gender and one's biological sex. Thus, it is now standard orthodoxy among sociologists that not all members of, say, the male sex are members of the male gender. (They can produce Venn diagrams to prove this, by the way.) 

To read my entire article, visit Salvo Magazine's website.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Secular Psychology, Nouthetic Counseling and the Bible

Jay Adams 'discovered'
Nouthetic Counseling in the Bible.
But is it really Biblical?
One of my most popular blog posts is an article I wrote last October on the dangers of Nouthetic counseling. Yesterday I found myself in a couple conversations where I had the opportunity to defend the appropriateness of Christians cautiously appropriating elements of secular psychology (an approach that some people have called 'integrationism' to distinguish it from what is called 'Biblical counseling.'). In both these conversations I was challenged to provide Biblical support for my claim that in principle it is appropriate, and sometimes even necessary, for Christians to incorporate secular psychology within counseling contexts.

Rising to the challenge, last night I studied the Bible's teaching on the subject and have gone back and edited my article on Nouthetic counseling to incorporate these Biblical insights. To read the updated version of my article, click on the following link:
 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thoughts are Free...or are they?

When the “peat bog soldiers” were sent by the Nazi’s to work until they died, they took consolation in singing a song titled, “Die Gedanken sind frei” (“Thoughts Are Free”). The idea expressed in the title of this piece - that thought remains the outpost of human liberty – gave a measure of comfort to the prisoners who had been deprived of every other human freedom. At least they could defy their captors in this one remaining quarter: they still exercised control over their minds.

In his dysutopian classic 1984, George Orwell imagined a society in which even this final liberty had been taken away. Using omnipresent surveillance technology, Orwell’s thought police root out and punish those who engage in unapproved thinking. 

Escape from the Body?

In a recent article I wrote for the Chuck Colson Center, I shared a Time Magazine report from the close of last century. Time had reported that two thirds of Americans who say they believe in the resurrection of the dead do not believe they will have bodies after the resurrection.

More recently, a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll interviewed 1,007 American adults and discovered that only 36% of them said “yes” to the question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” Yet most of these same Americans also acknowledged being believers and going to church.
 
The Christians who were polled reflect the increasingly common notion that the culmination of salvation is to live in heaven for eternity as disembodied spirits rather than to have our physical body raised from the dead. The Time Magazine poll suggests that this is now often what people assume the word ‘resurrection’ means.
 
Many who rightly consider it a sign of theological liberalism to spiritualize Christ’s resurrection into something non-physical are quite comfortable doing just that when it comes to their own. This stands in contrast to both the Bible (particularly 1st Corinthians 15) and ancient Christian creeds (particularly the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed), which taught that the resurrection of the physical body is the culmination of salvation.

Although the Christians who were polled did not realize it, their thinking had been deeply tinctured by the heresy of Gnosticism.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Christianity and the Pioneer Mindset

“…the Methodists,” Horace Bushnell noted in 1847, “have a ministry admirably adapted, as regards their mode of action, to the new West”. 
 
The American Methodist movement, which later became paradigmatic of the entire revivalist project, was successful precisely because it was able to capitalize on a certain temperament indigenous to the frontier of the American West.

When the New World had begun being colonized, it took a certain type of person to leave the established institutions and comforts of Europe to face the uncertainties and challenges waiting ahead. If you were not cut from the rugged, pioneer cloth, the new continent wouldn’t just be unappealing, it would break you. It is not hard to see how the spirit of the self-made pioneer gave momentum to Westward expansion or how it contributed to the atmosphere of entrepreneurship, independent thinking and rugged individualism that helped to make America so successful.

What has been given less attention is how these values increasingly became hallmarks of the American religious experience, which moulded itself around the strong individualism,  anti-institutionalism and entrepreneur spirit of the pioneers. The idea of the self-made pioneer, when unconsciously imported into one’s religious orientation, could only prime Americans for the semi-Pelagianism of Finney or that co-deification of Joseph Smith or the un-churchly flavour left in the wake of the revival articulated so profoundly by John Nevin in his interaction with Charles Hodge.
  

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Arthur Pink's Zero-Sum Approach to Creation

I have sometimes used the language of a ‘zero-sum’ game approach when interacting with the tendency reformed thinkers have of viewing the glory of God and the glory of creation as if they exist in an inverse relationship to each other, so that whatever is granted to the latter is that much less that is left over for the former.  

In the beginning of his chapter on prayer in his book The Sovereignty of God, Arthur Pink significantly noted that "Throughout this book it has been our chief aim to exalt the Creator and abase the creature." The subtext of Mr. Pink's arguments is that both these projects are related to each other inversely, so that the more the creature is debased the more the Creator is exalted, and visa versa. It is as if we approached an artist who had painted a wonderful landscape and proceded to exalt him through telling him how horrible his painting was. 

Now certainly by meditating on our depravity we become more conscious of our dependence on God and His grace. Only a person who knows how sick he is can fully recognize his need for a doctor. However, is it not also true that the Bible invites us to contemplate God's glory through a sustain meditation on the glory of creation, including man? Is there no sense in which God can be glorified by dwelling on the fact that even sin could not completely eradicate the divine image? (Calvin articulates this aspect well in his Commentary on Genesis when discussing the death penalty.) After all, God’s glory and creation do not exist in an inverse relationship; rather, the former helps to establish the latter, as Psalm 8 so clearly shows.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Useful Articles

I've recently written some articles for the Christian Voice website that some of my readers may be interested in looking at. While the articles I write for Christian Voice do not always cover the most pleasant of topics, they give useful information about topics of concern for Christians.
 
For one of my recent articles, titled 'Homosexual Groups Get Ready for LGBT History Month', I explained how the month of February is being set aside for UK school students to be indoctrinated about homosexual issues. I give some specific examples of some of the stuff they'll be learning and it is absolutely shocking.

Some of my readers may be wondering what is the point of spending so much time combating the homosexual lobby (indeed, the above article took me an entire week to research and write). Well, the fact that they are setting out to destroy the innocence of children is itself sufficient reason to be aware of what is happening, but there is another reason why we should keep ourselves educated about what the homosexual lobby is doing. That is because the increasingly militant brand of homosexuality that is growing in the USA and UK significantly threatens the freedom of those heterosexuals who wish to go along with their lives minding their own business.

That's right, and I'll say it again: the increasingly militant brand of homosexuality that is growing in the USA and UK significantly threatens the freedom of those heterosexuals who wish to go along with their lives minding their own business.

This is because militant homosexuality often involves radical restrictions on free speech and the type of thought police that is characteristic of totalitarian societies. Homosexuality is thus often the enemy of the type of laissez faire classical liberalism that I defend in my Spokane Libertarian Column. In the following articles I show the connection between homosexuality and restrictions of liberty:


Some other Christian Voice articles which may be of interest is a video of Dr. Grossman where she talks about the way sex education introduces categories into children's thinking that are well beyond their ability to adequately process and can be deeply confusing for them.
 
One of my articles was inspired by
some insightful remarks made by
Pastor Doug Wilson
I have also written an article recently titled 'Douglas Wilson, Flesh Parades and Lara Pulver’s Nude Scene' where I share some of Doug Wilson's insights on female modesty and how this sheds insight into Lara Pulver's statement that public nudity is empowering to women.

I also posted a video where Dr. Berlinski shared some of the problems with evolutionary theory.

Finally, I continually post about the dangers of EU membership, which many Americans don't understand. Membership to the European Union is NOT the same as membership to a common Euro currency. Britain is part of the EU but thankfully is not part of the Euro currency yet. However, being a member of the EU comes with numerous drawbacks for Britain which I explore in the following articles:


Most of the articles I write for Christian Voice show up in their newsletter, available to those who live in Britain. (Information about joining Christian Voice and getting their monthly newsletter can be found here.) The newsletter includes a column which I write every month featuring a different hero or bad guy. I've posted some of the hero articles here and this includes short biographies of
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Friday, February 03, 2012

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Nudity and Public Space

In what the Baptist Press has called the “most significant broadcast indecency case since 1978”, the Supreme Court has been in the process of deciding how much autonomy to allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when regulating displays of nudity and indecency in films.
 
As things currently stand, the FCC has legal power to penalize broadcast companies that violate federal indecency standards. However, many broadcast companies are not happy with this, and have objected to FCC’s findings against ABC’s NYPD Blue program, following complaints from viewers that the program contained far more nudity than is normally allowed on broadcast television. 
 
Since television broadcasts are considered public spaces, many believe the government has a responsibility to protect us from indecent content in much the same way the authorities can intervene if someone decides to walk naked through the middle of town. The broadcast companies, on the other hand, have gone to the courts in a bid for more freedom, decrying the imposition of ‘censorship.’
 
Why not?
 
Behind the surface issues relating to the balance between federal responsibility and broadcast freedom, a deeper question has been percolating: what’s wrong with nudity in public spaces anyway?

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