jasonbwatson

January 25, 2017

Authentic Christianity

Recently my family and I visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. I had been there before but my children had not. I had explained to my son ahead of time that there was something unique about the exterior of the house. It appears to be made of stone, but it is actually wood. Through a process called rustication, the wooden plans that side the house are cut with beveled edges periodically and then, while the white paint is still wet, fine sand is thrown onto the wood. The result is that it gives the appearance of stone blocks. This is both creative and effective, and for the purposes of architecture there is nothing wrong with it. However, it got me thinking about other things that are not what they appear to be–and specifically about the times that I cause myself to appear to be something other than what or who I am. As I pondered this I began to consider what it means to practice authentic Christianity.

If you google that phrase you will find plenty of hits. There are books and sermons by that title as well as plenty of blog posts and articles. I found a number of thoughts that were particularly helpful for me.

In one such message, titled “Authentic Christianity,” Steven Cole tells a story that was contained in a 1984 issue of Reader’s Digest. A bishop who had just had a cup of tea with a parishioner commented, “I’m glad to see in what a comfortable way you are living.” The churchgoer replied, “Oh, bishop, if you want to know how we really live, you need to come when you’re not here.”

That is funny, of course, but it is also true. How many times do I straighten things up and do my best to create the right appearance when there will be company coming over–particularly company whom I want to impress? Maybe that is no big deal really, but it is a big deal when we do the same thing with our lives, living differently at different times depending on who is around and whom we are trying to impress.

In that same message Cole said, “Unfortunately, a lot of Christians live that way, keeping up a good front to impress others with their spirituality. But if you knew how they really live, you’d find that they are faking it. They don’t live as authentic Christians.”

Several years ago Megan Hill wrote an article in Christianity Today about authenticity, with the subtitle “Do we Christians even understand what the buzzword means?”

In that article she suggested five principles for being an authentic Christian:

  1. Authenticity proclaims the reality of the Gospel – “Being authentic means that God and His Word define what is real,” she wrote.
  2. Authenticity doesn’t excuse sin. She writes:

Elizabeth Gilbert’s phenomenally popular Eat, Pray, Love was the memoir of a woman seeking an authentic life. Its first page bears the motto: “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

But for Gilbert, living authentically includes adultery, hedonism, blasphemy, and so on.

Gilbert’s type of authenticity is easy for Christians to reject. Her sins are “obvious.” But are we on guard against more subtle sins? …

Selfishness, love of men’s praise, lack of joy can all lurk, undetected, around our authentic edges.

  1. Authenticity seeks the good of the Body. “We live transparently, not to unload our own burdens and thus walk more lightly alone, but to intentionally share the burdens of others and carry them to the same grace that liberated us.”
  2. Authenticity honors wisdom. “Christians seeking to be authentic rightly value humility. We recognize that we are broken. But sometimes, in our quest to avoid the appearance of pride, we question our God-given ability to shine the light of wisdom.”
  3. Authenticity points ahead to a perfected future.

John Piper once said in an interview,

Here is the big issue: How do you go about living the Christian life in such a way that you are actually doing the living, doing the acting, doing the willing and yet Christ, or the Holy Spirit, is decisively doing the living and doing the acting and doing the willing in and through your acting and willing and doing? …

[W]hen I stood behind that pulpit, I wanted to preach by the Spirit. I wanted to preach in the strength that God supplies. I wanted to preach in a way so that I could say: “Not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (I Corinthians 5:10). I didn’t want to get up there and do nothing. It is my job. I am supposed to preach. I must preach. And yet the devil can preach. People can preach without the Holy Spirit. But that is not the Christian life.

Someone has said, “Sincerity is the key to success. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made!”

But we have no business faking Christianity. The Bible is full of passages that tell us what authentic Christian living really is and looks like. Consider the Sermon on the Mount, the fruits of the Spirit or Paul’s writing about the new life in Christ in Ephesians 4 and 5 for starters.

So, food for thought from two perspectives:

First, am I examining myself and striving to live an authentic Christian life? We are not “playing a role.” I recently read a dual-biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. When I finished I told my wife I enjoyed it but if she wanted to continue to think of them as the lovable characters from The Andy Griffith Show I would not recommend reading it. Both men were tortured individuals with deep personal demons. They were, of course, actors–and very talented ones. That is what they were paid to do and they did it well. But we, Christians, are not to be actors. We are not to “play the part” of a Christian at certain times or put on certain appearances. We are to be like Christ.

Second, are we teaching our students, our own children, our co-workers and colleagues, friends and fellow church members, to pursue authentic Christianity? We do not want them to throw sand in wet paint, so to speak. We want them to be genuine, authentic Christians.

August 11, 2016

Evaluating Donald Trump–and Why Hillary Clinton Cannot be an Option

This is, by far, my longest post ever. It also includes far more links that I usually include so that you can read the thoughts of others for yourself if you wish. This post’s length reflects two important things, I think. One, this is an incredibly important issue. Two, it does not have an easy answer and trying to make sense of it is difficult at best. This is my best effort at doing that and, if you stick with me to the end, I thank you for your endurance.

Whether or not Christians should vote for Donald Trump is a question that is getting a lot of attention these days—and rightly so. Voting is a privilege and a responsibility, and Christians have a specific responsibility, I believe, to stand for biblical values and truth in a secular society—which includes through the ballot box. Accordingly, the question of whether or not to vote for Trump—or Hillary Clinton—is a valid one and one that is worthy of serious contemplation. No one should vote blindly or ignorantly, nor should anyone cast his vote based solely on the letter that appears after the candidate’s name (party affiliation). Individuals far more well known that me, far more educated than me and with far larger followings than me have already weighed in on this question and will no doubt continue to do so…but I see no reason for that to deter me from sharing my opinion!

On July 28 Wayne Grudem posted his thoughts on Townhall in an editorial entitled “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice.” He starts his thoughts by saying that many Christians have told him that when faced with choosing between two evils the right thing to do is to choose neither, meaning that a vote for Trump is not an option. These folks, says Grudem, advocate a vote for a write-in or third party candidate. To that, Grudem responds that, with his 39 years of experience teaching Christian ethics, he believes that “voting for a Trump is a morally good choice” now that Trump is indeed the Republican nominee. Before giving his specific reasons why he thinks this, Grudem states the following:

American citizens need patience with each other in this difficult political season. Close friends are inevitably going to make different decisions about the election. We still need to respect each other and thank God that we live in a democracy with freedom to differ about politics. And we need to keep talking with each other – because democracies function best when thoughtful citizens can calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences.

I agree with Grudem about that, and, just as his post was his effort at contributing to the discussion, this is mine. If you discuss politics with family and friends at all, or look at a Facebook feed every now and then, you are no doubt baffled, frustrated or just downright upset with the political inclinations of some people you know right now. Me too. The challenge on that front is to respectfully express our differences, kindly try to persuade, but, in the end, still have love and respect for those people even when they disagree with us. So it is not my desire here to denigrate anyone, but I do think this is a discussion worth having.

Grudem says that voting for a flawed candidate is not morally wrong if you think that candidate will do more good for the nation than will his opponent. I would agree with that and would suggest that we all do. After all, if you are a Christian and you believe in the sin nature of man, then you must recognize that there is no such thing as a candidate who is not flawed. If we could only vote for candidates who were not flawed then we would never be able to vote.

In a paragraph enumerating Trump’s flaws Grudem begins with this sentence: “He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash.” Certainly true. At the conclusion of that paragraph, which includes reference to Trump’s marital infidelity, he writes, “These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.” Now I do not know, and to my knowledge Grudem has not said, but it would seem to me that the words this election are crucial in that sentence. In other words, it would seem to me that Grudem is stating that while the flaws of Trump—which are, admittedly, greater than the flaws of many other candidates who ran in this election and who have been nominated in the past—would disqualify him from consideration in any other election, the fact that Trump and Clinton are the only major candidates left now makes this situation different. Grudem explained that he spoke against a Trump candidacy just six months ago, but his position has now changed. That causes me to think that when there were a dozen other candidates to consider, Grudem did not think Trump was a good moral choice.

That does beg the question of whether or not someone who is not an acceptable candidate at one time can become an acceptable candidate later when said candidate has not changed at all but the environment in which he is running has changed and the options have diminished. Is the acceptability of a candidate subjective or not?

Back in April Andy Naselli wrote a post on his web site entitled “Can You Vote for Donald Trump with a Clear Conscience?” Naselli had just coauthored a book on the conscience, so this was a relevant subject for him to address. Like Grudem, he began by enumerating Trump’s flaws and failures. He made it clear that Trump is not a man of good character. “A presidential candidate does not need to sign off on my church’s doctrinal statement to earn my vote,” he wrote. “But character matters immensely for leaders. If a presidential candidate is not trustworthy in other areas, how can we entrust him with the most influential governmental position in the world?” There is really no debate over many of the points Naselli makes, including that Trump brags about his adultery, mocks and disrespects women and those with disabilities, is shamelessly proud and so on. His conclusion? “Trump is not morally qualified to lead a Boy Scout troop.”

In his article, Grudem explains that be believes Christians have a responsibility to seek the good of the nation in which they live, and I agree. He cites Jeremiah 29:7 as support for that position: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (ESV). I think there are ample other passages that can also be used to support the importance of Christians seeking to influence for good the community, state, nation and even world in which they live. John MacArthur wrote a book a number of years ago entitled Why Government Can’t Save You. I do not agree with everything he wrote there, but I certainly agree that government cannot save anyone, nor should seeking to influence the public good through government ever replace the importance of seeking to lead lost souls to salvation. But I think Grudem would agree with that.

Naselli writes, “If you vote for a presidential candidate in America’s democratic republic, it does not mean that you fully endorse all of that person’s policies or that you think that person’s character is stellar.” He says there are two basic voting strategies—voting for “the least bad candidate who has the best chance of winning” and voting “for the best (or least bad) candidate, even if that person has a low chance of winning” (italics his). Naselli says he has employed the first option to this point in his life but questions now whether or not there is a limit on the application of that principle. “Can the most viable candidates be so bad that you cannot dignify either of them with your vote?” he asks.

He goes on to use an example of an election between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. If they were the two most viable candidates, Naselli asks, would someone really feel obligated to vote for the lesser of the two evils? “The strategy to vote for the lesser of two evils breaks down at some point. You must draw the line somewhere. The question is where to draw that line.” I agree that there does come a tipping point, but I think it is also necessary to bear in mind the notion of taking the course that will do the most good for the nation within the available options—and I will address that later using Naselli’s hypothetical as an excellent example.

It is precisely because of the responsibility to vote for the person who will do the most good for the nation that Grudem says voting for Trump is the moral thing to do. In his estimation, a vote for someone other than Trump, such as a write-in or third party candidate, is a de facto vote for Clinton, since it reduces the number of votes Clinton needs to win. Historically, there is significant evidence of a third party candidate making a difference in some elections, so that is a legitimate concern. Grudem’s point is that by not voting for Trump someone would be in essence supporting Clinton; in other words, voting for someone other than Trump and Clinton is as effective as voting for Mickey Mouse…or not voting at all.

Accordingly, the real question Grudem asks is, “Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?” That is a very fair question. I think Grudem goes too far, however, in claiming James 4:17 as reason to support Trump; I do not think it is reasonable or accurate to say that voting for someone other than Trump is sin because of the fact that it could result in helping Clinton.

Grudem goes through a long list of topics that should matter to Christians and that will be adversely affected of Clinton wins in November. These topics include sanctity of life, religious liberty, freedom of speech and, most importantly, the makeup of the Supreme Court. He also addresses issues like taxes, minorities, the military, terrorism, Israel, energy and health care.

In response to the rhetorical question “Does character matter?” Grudem answers,I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.” I am really not so sure that his character is better than it is portrayed. Does the media seem to relish in portraying his worst moments and most ridiculous statements? Of course. But that does not change the fact that they are there. In other words, the way his character is portrayed, even in the left-wing media, is usually not completely fabricated. Is his character better than Clinton’s? I suspect it may be, but that still goes back to the “choosing between two evils” conundrum.

Alex Chediak, also on Townhall.com, responded to Grudem’s essay on August 1. He wrote, of Trump’s claim that he entered the political arena to defend those who cannot defend themselves against the powerful who continue to beat up on them, that in actuality “we see [from Trump’s track record] the picture of a fundamentally arrogant, selfish, and greedy man, who will do or say anything to beat his rivals. This is a man who glories in a kind of self-exaltation that most of us would find shameful.”

Grudem says those who reduce their decision on whom to vote for solely to character are guilty of reductionism, but I would disagree. A person’s character will determine how he or she will handle all of the other issues that matter. During one of the presidential debates John Kasich responded to an answer Ted Cruz gave regarding his philosophies by saying, “You don’t run anything with philosophy.” Kasich’s point was that actually having done something is more meaningful. The truth, though, is that one’s philosophy will dictate how he or she will run something. Trump’s character and philosophy indicates that he has usually been out to do what is best for him and his personal bottom line. He made it clear during the debates that he is proud of all the money he made in Atlantic City and the fact that he got out before most other casino owners, but the record of his operations in Atlantic City is not flattering.

Chediak says he agrees with Grudem that character cannot be the only factor to consider, but he also says that there comes a point where poor character makes it a necessary consideration. Writes Chediak,

But there is a character threshold that we should expect any candidate to meet. A man who owns his vices as if they were virtues, who talks proudly about “going after the families” of suspected terrorists, who has profited from strip clubs, who is by all accounts a pathological liar, who disparaged a disabled journalist, who insulted POWs, who criticized the looks of a rival’s wife, is unworthy of the office of president.

I agree with most of what Chediak said there. I have to ask though, who is worthy of the office of president? How do we determine that? Who gets to decide is us—we the people. That means, by default, that anyone who gets elected is “worthy.” When we are the losing side of the equation we probably do not like that, but we would not really want any alternative. If we were to suggest that some group of people should get to determine who is worthy or eligible to be the president we would only like it as long as we were in that group. That’s the great—and terrible—thing about democratic government; the majority will sometimes choose a candidate that we feel is completely wrong for the job, either by his positions and/or by his character. James Madison famously wrote, in The Federalist #51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Men are not angels, and angels do not govern men, which is why we have to take seriously our responsibility as voters. In Christianity Today Russell Moore wrote, “In our system, citizen is an office; we too bear responsibility for the actions of the government.” That is also why, by the way, not voting is really not an option in my opinion. Even if a candidate lacking character—a candidate we feel is “unworthy of the office of president”—wins the office, we must be diligent to do all that we can within the system to keep him or her accountable through the checks and balances within our system. We have not done a good job of that in recent years, with a Congress that has allowed the president to usurp his constitutional powers on multiple occasions without calling him on it in any meaningful way and with a judicial branch that has created rights that do not exist and laws that were not voted on without holding those judges accountable either.

Grudem said that people’s concern that Trump will not be the president he has promised to be is a moot point because “all of American presidential history shows that that result is unlikely, and it is ethically fallacious reasoning to base a decision on assuming a result that is unlikely to happen.” I don’t agree with that either. That’s akin to saying that because everyone lies we should not care if one individual person lies. To use the faults of the whole to justify or excuse the faults of the one is ethically fallacious, too. I hesitate to start a debate with an ethics professor on ethical fallacies but this particular assertion by Grudem is an example of appeal to probability. Grudem says it is ethically fallacious to base a decision on the assumption that a result is unlikely to happen but it is just as fallacious to base it on a result that is likely to happen. Trump probably won’t do what he has said he will is a fallacious argument Grudem says, but opposing that by arguing that no one does what they say they will is also fallacious. Grudem is committing a fallacy of his own, saying that history tells us that candidates rarely do govern as they promise, so of course Trump is unlikely to as well.

Of course Grudem is not the only person whose writing is getting attention on this question. Though not nearly as prominent a voice as Grudem, a blogger named Shannon Dingle posted, on July 31, her opinion on the matter. It was entitled “I’m pro-life. And I’m voting for Hillary. Here’s why.” She says her opposition to abortion has not changed, but the Republican track record has caused her to come to the conclusion that she is “not sure we can hold that voting Republican is the best thing for abortion rates in this country.”

According to Dingle, “abortion rates rose under Reagan, rose under the first Bush, dropped under Clinton, held steady under the second Bush, and have been dropping under Obama.” However, I am not sure where received her information or on what she is basing that assertion. The National Right to Life Education Foundation reports, on nrlc.org, that the U.S. abortion rate (measured as the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44) was lower when Regan left office than when he entered, lower when the first Bush left office than when he entered, was lower when Clinton left office than when he entered, was lower when Bush 43 left office than when he entered, and has also declined under Obama.

Perhaps Dingle misspoke and she meant the abortion ratio. That is the number of abortions per 100 births ending in live births or abortion. However, that number reached its peak in 1983 but had dropped markedly by the time Reagan left office. When Bush 41 left office it was slightly higher than when he entered, but then the ratio fell during the Clinton and Bush 43, and has also fallen under Obama. These are not NRLC numbers, either; they come from the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute. The NRLC did comment, however, that while the abortion rate is declining, the number of abortions from RU-486 and other similar means were up.

Dingle goes on to say that Trump has no political track record and therefore all we can go by are his words. Those words, she says, are “are inconsistent, unreliable, and highly subject to change based on what’s politically convenient for him.” I don’t disagree with that at all. She says he has a “newly minted pro-life stance,” and I do not disagree with that either. (That was also true of Mitt Romney, by the way). At the same time, Hillary Clinton has a political track record, and it is one firmly committed to the pro-abortion position. Just a few months ago she made the news with her comments on Meet the Press in which she said that unborn children do not have constitutional rights. She also said that the absence of those rights does not negate the responsibility to do whatever can be done medically to help the unborn child of a “mother who…wants to make sure that the child will be healthy.” Those words are significant because the imply Clinton’s well-known position that the medical community should also do whatever is necessary to end the life of an unborn child when the mother does not want that child. Here is an excerpt of Clinton’s response to Chuck Todd’s question, “When or if does an unborn child have constitutional rights?”

Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists. The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions.

Dingle continues on to say that abortion—while deeply important to her—is not the only issue she is considered. She also makes it clear that she is voting for Clinton because she agrees with Clinton on enough issues to warrant her vote. If she did not, she says, she would abstain from voting or would vote for a third party candidate because she does not believe in voting against someone. Wrote Dingle, “I find enough I can affirm and identify with in the positions and record of Hillary Clinton.… Aside for abortion – which I do care about deeply – I see the Democrats as the party that champions other pro-life issues more effectively and consistently.”

Quite frankly, that statement blows my mind, so I found it very interesting to explore Dingle’s rationale. And she did not hold back, believe me. She enumerated ten ways in which she feels Clinton is a more pro-life candidate than Trump (and Republicans in general). Her first example is the lives of people with disabilities. Donald Trump has a hideous record of statements and insults directed toward and about individuals with disabilities and there is no defense for those statements. Clinton has a more admirable record of statements made about the still-existing need to provide more help and greater access for individuals with disabilities. So I will let Dingle have this point, but I do want to mention that the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by a Republican president (Bush 41) and Republicans Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin, among others, have rock-solid records on the issue of individuals with disabilities, due in no small part to their own experience as parents of children with disabilities (and their position that parents who are told their child will have a disability should not have the right to abort that child—a position Clinton does not hold).

Dingle’s second point is on the matter of women who would otherwise get abortions. She suggests that “empowering poor and low-income women can make a difference in overall pregnancy termination rates.” I find the word empowering to be trite and therefore almost devoid of meaning, but Dingle specifically mentions family supports—especially for single mothers, increased educational access and frank conversations about the issue of rape. Dingle says Clinton started the first rape crisis hotline in Arkansas and was “considered a leading advocate for abused and neglected children” shortly after leaving law school. That’s commendable, but it does not ignore the fact that Clinton only advocates for the rights of children who are already born—while simultaneously advocating for a woman’s right kill that child before it is born for no other reason than the fact that she does not want the child. In a 1995 speech at the UN women’s conference in Beijing Clinton made a gutsy statement, given the location of the conference. She said, “It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls….” That’s absolutely true. But let us not forget that Clinton supports the right of a woman to have a doctor do those exact same things to a baby before it leaves the womb. While Marco Rubio’s assertion earlier this year that Clinton supports abortion even up to the due date of the child may be a small stretch, Clinton said on Meet the Press Daily on September 28, 2015, “”There can be restrictions in the very end of the third trimester, but they have to take into account the life and health of the mother.” Note the key words—very end of the third trimester.

Dingle writes, “As the mother of children who one day might benefit from any or all of these policies [that can benefit women who might otherwise have an abortion], I can’t look them in the eye, say I value them deeply, and then justify a vote for Trump. As someone who believes the best anti-abortion policies prevent abortions rather than ban them, I can’t say I’m pro-life and say I’m with him. I can’t.”

To that I would ask Dingle, Could you look those same children in the eye and say you voted for a woman who believes you had the right to kill them before they were born if you had wished to do so?

I am not going to take the time to discuss all of Dingle’s points because I do not feel they all need to be discussed. It is true that Hillary Clinton has a more admirable record on some issues than does Donald Trump. There is no defending Trump’s treatment of, and comments about, women. Wrote Chediak,

Trump has directly profited from the debasement of women. Trump was the first to put a strip club in a casino in 2013, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Trump was a frequent guest on the Howard Stern show, where the two men regularly objectified women in the most degrading of ways. When we combine this record with Trump’s boasts of marital unfaithfulness and (more recently) his grotesque remarks about Megyn Kelly and the looks of Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz, it’s hard to argue that accusations of misogyny are unjustified.  (emphasis mine)

But Dingle seems to lose her grasp of reality when she says Clinton will be a better candidate for the lives of our armed forces. After admitting that Clinton made a complete mess of Benghazi, Dingle writes, “but I do think Hillary learned from the grievous errors leading up to and following that horrible day.” Really? Based on what? When questioned by Congress she said, notoriously, “what difference does it make now?” I do not think that shows any lessons learned. Dingle cites James Comey’s failure to indict Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server as an example only of poor judgment. I think, despite Comey’s statement, that conclusion is erroneous. There is evidence that Clinton knew exactly what she was doing, and continued to do it intentionally—if for no other reason than to avoid future FOIA requests. Her behavior would have resulted in an indictment for anyone else.

Dingle says she was “I was astounded by the number of military leaders speaking at the DNC…vouching Hillary as the best choice for our troops and most knowledgeable in this area of policy.” I wonder if she has checked out the number of military leaders who have said that Clinton is absolutely not the best choice for our troops? I think she would be even more astounded.

In an article in WORLD Mindy Belz wrote, referring in part to a number of pieces the magazine has run exposing connections between the Clintons and rogue Nigerians,

Our reporting uncovered multiple ties between the Clinton Foundation, Hillary herself, and Nigerian business interests who benefited from the United States not cracking down on terror in Nigeria. It’s a small anecdote. But it fits a pattern of cover-up; of Clinton denying shady practices plain for all to see; of her dealing with rogues, defying the law in plain sight, and daring anyone to catch her. A nuclear arsenal and the world’s best army won’t be in trustworthy hands on her watch.

In November 2015 Rasmussen Reports reported that a “RallyPoint/Rasmussen Reports national survey of active and retired military personnel finds that only 15% have a favorable opinion of Clinton, with just three percent (3%) who view the former secretary of State Very Favorably. Clinton is seen unfavorably by 81%, including 69% who share a Very Unfavorable impression of her.”

In March of this year, on americanthinker.com, retired Air Force Colonel Chris J. Krisinger wrote, “If polling is any indicator, Mrs. Clinton has few fans in the military. … Given the military’s performance-based ethos, coupled with the ideals and standards U.S. military members are held to account for, it seems increasingly likely that few among them would publicly offer up their names and professional reputations for her political fortunes.” So there may be plenty of military personnel who oppose the notion of Donald Trump as Commander in Chief, but there are no doubt just as many who oppose Clinton for that position. And she, by the way, has a track record on which to base such opposition.

Near the end of her post Dingle writes, “One reason I’m voting for Hillary is that I know what and who I’m voting for.” That, in my mind, is exactly why I could not vote for Clinton. I know what I am voting for and I could never in good conscience lend my support or endorsement to Clinton’s past or promises for the future.

A different take on Clinton comes from a (much shorter) blog post by Helen Wickert on courageousmotherhood.net and entitled “An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton.” Having stated that she would love to be able to celebrate with her daughter the first nomination of a woman for president by a major political party, Wickert writes that she cannot. “Sadly, Mrs. Clinton, you have shown not only my daughter but all daughters—and not only in this country but globally—that in order to, in your words, ‘shatter the gla’ you have to lie, cheat, abuse, insult, bully and ignore.”

Wickert writes, “Mrs. Clinton, how can I possibly tell my daughter to follow you as an example after you allowed your husband to assault and demean multiple women throughout his political career?” Good question—especially since Dingle says that one of the reasons she is supporting Clinton is Trump’s abysmal record toward women. Trump demeans women with his words and actions, Dingle says. No argument from me on that one. But has not Clinton done the same? In January of this year the New York Times ran an article that enumerated a number of instances of Clinton’s attitude toward the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or of having affairs with them. According to George Stephanopoulos Clinton said “We have to destroy her story” when Connie Hamzy came forward against Bill Clinton in 1991. The article also references Clinton’s approach toward Gennifer Flowers and quotes “one of her closest confidantes” as saying that Clinton called Monica Lewinsky “a narcissistic loony toon.” You can read the article for yourself if you want to know more.

Wickert also asks,

How can you get up and speak about income equality and then pay your own male executives considerably more than your female staff? How can you receive donations from countries that publicly abuse, shame and even execute their own women? Yet you continue to boast about how you stand for women’s rights. Double standard?

I have nothing to add to that, but it would be interesting to know how Dingle would respond. Wickert also raises the issue of Clinton’s $12,000 jackets she often speaks in and the six-figure speaking fees she collects. How do those facts contribute to Clinton’s ability or desire to help women who are struggling?

Wickert wasn’t through though; she also writes this:

You have the interests of only one woman in mind here: your own. You have done nothing to bring the United States together. Quite the contrary—you have done your best to divide, and you have succeeded. Congratulations. You crave power, and you will do whatever it takes to get it. You have lied, cheated and let down your own country.

Now it would be difficult to suggest that Trump has done much to bring the country together either. I am not suggesting that he has. But I am suggesting that Dingle’s assertions about Clinton being the better candidate really do not make much sense when you truly compare the two candidates.

This is already long and is only getting longer, so the time has come to begin moving toward a conclusion.

I said earlier that I would come back to Naselli’s example of an election between Hitler and Stalin. Obviously that would be an extremely undesirable choice to have to make, and if there really were a U.S. election with two such candidates it would be quite tempting to abstain or vote for a third party candidate. However, I said this was a perfect example because if we reflect back to World War II we see that the United States actually did choose Stalin over Hitler—just long enough to defeat Hitler. Very few people, if any, in the U.S. liked the idea of working together with the Soviets, but it was a temporary necessity in order to defeat Nazi Germany, which was an even worse evil at that time. History bears out that there are times when the adage is indeed true that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump is the enemy of Hillary Clinton.

Dingle writes that she has changed her mind about support for abortion being a deal breaker position. I cannot agree with her. Instead, I side with John Piper, who wrote back in 1995, “I believe that the endorsement of the right to kill unborn children disqualifies a person from any position of public office.” Now I should clarify that, supporting the freedoms which make our country the great country that it is prevent me from saying that I actually believe that such a position disqualifies a person from running for or holding that office, but I do believe that it disqualifies me from ever voting for such a person—and I think it should have the same impact for anyone who claims to be pro-life. Writing on The Gospel Coalition web site, Thomas Kidd wrote earlier this month, “Just what we know about her views on abortion and the rights of conscience should disqualify her, in my opinion, as a political option for Christians.” Despite Dingle’s best efforts, there is simply no way to claim to be pro-life and support a person who passionately defends a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Back in April Naselli wrote that if Trump and Clinton ended up being the nominees there would basically be four options for voters: (1) Don’t vote; (2) vote for Clinton; (3) vote for Trump; or (4) “vote for someone else who has no chance to win.”

I do not think number one or number two are real options for believers—or for anyone who believes that there are responsibilities that come along with being a citizen of the United States (and a citizen of heaven, for those in the “believer” category).  That leaves three and four. There are arguments to made for and against voting for Trump. I have discussed some of them already, and I will share just a couple of more thoughts from Russell Moore.

Again, in Christianity Today, Moore wrote this:

For starters, unless Jesus of Nazareth is on the ballot, any election forces us to choose the lesser of evils. Across every party and platform, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Still, the question is a valid one. Believing in human depravity doesn’t negate our sense of responsibility.

Moore also wrote this:

Can a candidate make promises about issues then do something different in office? Yes. Can a candidate present a sense of good character in public then later be revealed to be a fraud? Sure. The same happens with pastors, spouses, employees, and in virtually every other relationship. But that sense of surprise and disappointment is not the same as knowingly delegating our authority to someone with poor character or wicked public stances. Doing so makes us as voters culpable. Saying, “the alternative would be worse” is no valid excuse.

That is why, bottom line, I do not believe a Christian can vote for Hillary Clinton. Neither can someone who does not profess Christianity but does claim to be pro-life. Such a vote would be, in Moore’s words, “knowingly delegating our authority” to someone who has said she defends the right of women to kill their unborn children.

That still leaves the question of whether or not to vote for Trump.

There are plenty of intelligent arguments being made both for and against doing so. Many people I respect are passionately in favor of supporting Trump. Many others I respect are passionately opposed. Several months ago I said myself that I did not know how anyone who professes to be a Christian could support Donald Trump for president. At the time I said that there were other Republican candidates still in the race, but if I felt that way then can I change that position now? Should I? That brings me back to the question I asked near the beginning of this lengthy piece, “whether or not someone who is not an acceptable candidate at one time can become an acceptable candidate later when said candidate has not changed at all but the environment in which he is running has changed and the options have diminished.” As I said, I think that is Grudem’s position. I just need to determine whether or not it is mine.

Chediak suggests that voting for a third candidate—whether a proclaimed candidate or a write-in—is the appropriate choice. “By voting for neither Trump nor Clinton, we do not participate in our country’s decline. We lay the groundwork for a brighter day to come,” he says. David French, writing for National Review, says, “It is hard to face the fact that — on balance — Trump is no better than Hillary Clinton. Hillary is a dreadful politician, and Republicans have waited for years for a great candidate to take her on. They’re still waiting. It’s Democrat versus Democrat for president, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that sad reality.” And Matthew Franck, writing on thepublicdiscourse.com, a web site of The Witherspoon Institute, said this of Trump:

Was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

At the beginning of his piece Franck sets the stage by recounting being asked this: “If your vote were the deciding one in the election, with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming president on the basis of your vote alone, for which one would you vote?” No one is ever actually in that position, of course, a fact that Franck acknowledges, and which leads him to his ultimate conclusion:

Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

I understand Franck’s point and I think one’s own character and conscience certainly must be factors in how to vote. At the same time, loving God necessarily entails loving each other, and I do not feel it can be justified biblically to act in a way that could result in contributing to Hillary Clinton becoming the president. That means that Naselli’s fourth option—voting for someone who has no chance to win—is not an option at all if voting for that person will have the resulting impact of helping Clinton win. (See again Grudem’s point that voting for such a candidate is in essence a vote for Clinton).

Tony Reinke, by the way, added a few more options to the four voting choices Naselli presented. One of those was, “Vote utilitarian by choosing a major candidate based on who would appoint the best SCOTUS judges.” This argument is consistent with what Eric Metaxas said in a recent interview: “We need to take seriously the realization that the wrong people in the Supreme Court can effectively end our form of government. That’s why, for all the shortcomings, I would say we have no choice but to vote for Trump.” Reinke is not persuaded by this argument, though, saying “it remains difficult to know how many SCOTUS judges will be selected in the next four years, maybe only one (to fill Scalia’s vacancy). After last summer I have a hard time believing SCOTUS, in any forms, is little more than a codifier of public opinion.” I think that’s unlikely. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably not going to be able to serve another four years. Anthony Kennedy is 80 and Stephen Breyer will be 78 next week. So there is a high probability than the next president will appoint more than one justice to the court.

The lasting influence of SCOTUS justices is undeniable. It is no coincidence that the average age of the last four appointees—Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan—was just shy of 53. A Supreme Court justice can easily serve thirty years—longer than seven presidential terms. So this has to be a serious consideration.

That is why, combined with everything else I have said here, I believe that voting for Donald Trump is the right thing to do for voters who live in a state that is not a sure thing for Trump to win. There are plenty of states where the vote is going to be very close, and these states are likely to determine the outcome of the election. Recent elections have all been close in electoral votes. Some states, though, are not really “up for grabs.” I live in South Dakota, for example, and it was last won by the Democratic nominee in 1964. In 2012 Obama received only 40% of the vote in the state. California, on the other hand, has not voted Republican since 1988 and is highly unlikely to do so this year. But if you live in a state that could go either way—Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia among others—I believe voting for Trump is the right thing to do. I could vote for Trump with a clear conscience if I lived in one of those states because it would be the most effective step I could take to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president. It would, in other words, be me loving my neighbor by doing what I could to ensure that the worst candidate did not win the election. I am not certain that makes Trump a good candidate, but if doing what is best for the nation as a whole—which is another way of saying loving my neighbor—is what Grudem means by Trump being a good moral choice then I agree—within the confines of what I stated above.

For those, like me, who live in states where the outcome is unlikely to be a real race, though, I think voting your conscience is the right thing to do. Notice I did not say not voting is the right thing to do, because I do not see that ever being the appropriate choice, but voting for a third party candidate or a write-in candidate is justifiable in those situations, and if it will ease your conscience or help you sleep better, then it is definitely the right choice. In fact, perhaps even more than that, I think it is the right choice because it communicates effectively that you are concerned about this country—enough to be an involved citizen—and are not pleased with either of the two major party candidates that were nominated this year. If there is enough of that kind of voting there may well be attention paid. There is no way, though, that a third party candidate is going to win the election this November (assuming nothing drastic changes between now and then) and doing anything other than whatever you can do to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning simply cannot be an option.

November 30, 2015

Mercy is Messy

For the past eleven years I have been in positions that entail enforcing rules and administering discipline for young people. There have been many times when I have wrestled with making the right decision in situations when disciplinary consequences were necessary, hoping and praying that I would make the right decision. Balancing justice and mercy is not easy to do. For some reason, though, a recent situation prompted me to wrestle with this matter even more than I have in the past, or at least more than I have in a long time. I probably spent the better part of three days mulling over how to handle a situation, praying for guidance and wisdom. Here’s the conclusion I reached after all that mulling: mercy is messy.

It is easy to make a decision to impose consequences. When in an institutional setting, there are almost always guidelines in place that inform discipline. Nothing could be easier than finding the offense and following your finger across the chart to the predetermined penalty. That requires no thinking at all, though; a computer or a robot could be programmed to do that. People are more complicated than that, though. And when you are enforcing discipline in a ministry that claims to be following Christ, it gets exponentially more complicated. God does not use a cookie cutter approach to discipline. He does not kick us out of His family when we blow it. He does not revoke our salvation. He does not eliminate the consequences of our actions, either, of course. There are often very real, even very painful, consequences for sin. Dallas Willard wrote, “If you choose to step off the roof, you cannot then choose not to hit the ground.” His point was that our actions and choices all have consequences, and we cannot opt to avoid the consequences after we have made our choice. I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I do not want anything I am saying here to suggest that I think we should eliminate consequences. What I am saying, though, is that meaningful, effective, God-honoring consequences do not come in neat, clean packages.

Laura Coulter has written this: “I think when we aren’t being merciful, it’s because we aren’t seeing the wild mercy of God in our own lives. If we were, we couldn’t help but splash it everywhere we go, all over everything.” This is the rub, actually. When I stop and reflect on all of the mercy God has shown me, I am left wondering how in the world I could not show mercy to someone else. If being a Christian means being like Christ, showing mercy has to be an essential part of how I live my life. The reality, though, is it isn’t. I don’t really like mercy most of the time. When I have been offended or wronged or, let’s face it, even just irritated, I want justice. I want revenge. I want punishment inflicted and pain felt. I want to hear wailing and gnashing of teeth. I want to see fire fall from heaven and the offending party obliterated, blown into a billion tiny particles scattered across the universe. I want the offending party to get exactly what’s coming to him.

When I calm down and think about what I am really saying, however, I realize exactly how much like Jonah that sounds. Jonah got ticked off at God because He decided to show mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah wanted no part of mercy. He wanted to see cosmic destruction, up close and personal, from a front row seat on a hill overlooking town, enjoying the shade of a lovely plant that God provided for him. When God took away the plant and extended mercy on the Ninevites Jonah was so incensed he wanted to die. How many times have I read Jonah’s story and used him as a great example of the wrong kind of heart, the wrong kind of attitude? It’s not so fun when I look into the mirror of God’s Word and see Jonah staring back at me, though.

Being merciful means taking a huge risk. Multiple risks simultaneously, in fact. It means risking the comments that will come from others who see you as weak for not giving someone what they deserve. It means risking the behavior that others may engage in when they saw someone else “get away with it,” whatever “it” may have been. It means risking the possibility of having that mercy thrown back in your face by the very one to whom it was extended when, rather than seizing the opportunity to change his life, he decides instead to capitalize on the opportunity to do whatever he wants yet again. It means taking the risk of having to look back later and wonder if all of the trouble, headache and heartache that comes from the possibilities just enumerated could have been avoided by just saying “see ya” the first time someone messed up.

I have no idea if the decision I made in the instance that I alluded to at the start of this post will turn out well or not. It is too early to know for sure. I do know, though, that I have–for now anyway–peace about that decision. When I ponder why I have that peace I am left with a simple conclusion: if doing my best to treat someone the way God would treat them, I cannot be doing the wrong thing, even if it turns out to be a disaster. Phillip Holmes wrote recently on the grace of God, describing it like this:

God is neither motivated by his own sinfulness nor enabled by his ignorance. He is a holy and righteous God, completely void of sin and full of goodness and love. He’s never made a mistake and can do anything but fail. He is perfect in all his ways. If he were a doctor, he’d never lose a patient. If he were a lawyer, he’d never lose a case. There is no moral compass that could measure how upright and blameless he is.

Nevertheless, when we, his sinful and rebellious prodigal children, spit in his face, wallow in our sin, and grieve his Spirit, he calls us to repentance with open and loving arms saying, “Come home, child.”

He’s not ignorant of all the ways we’ve sinned against him. He knows everything we’ve ever done and is able to stomach it. His knowledge of who we really are will never hinder his love for us. He’s even aware of the evil behind our righteous deeds. The intimacy by which the Lord knows us but is able to lovingly embrace us as his children is supernatural. God’s grace is mind-blowing. Every time I think of this reality, I’m brought to tears because I serve a God whose love and grace baffle me.

I have to agree. God’s love and grace baffle me, too. So does His mercy. God gives me far more than I deserve, and, in His sovereignty, does not give me what I do deserve. I am not God. I am not perfect, I am not all-knowing and I surely make mistakes. I know all of that quite well. Here’s what else I know, though: If taking the opportunity to extend mercy to someone has even the slimmest chance of leading them to the Lord, or closer to the Lord, it’s worth it. Every time. All of the mess, the risk and the headache is worth it. I do not spend much time reading Rick Warren and I rarely quote him, but he got it right with his blog post on May 21, 2014 entitled “Don’t Be Reluctant to Show Mercy.” “The mercy God shows to us is the motivation for us to show mercy to others,” Warren wrote. That is certainly true, because in and of myself, there is no motivation for mercy. In and of myself I am just like Jonah. In and of myself I am like James and John in Luke 9–I want to call down fire from heaven. But I don’t really want to be like I am in and of myself. I want to be like Christ.

In a sermon entitled “Blessed Are the Merciful,” John Piper said the following about mercy:

[M]ercy comes from a heart that has first felt its spiritual bankruptcy, and has come to grief over its sin, and has learned to wait meekly for the timing of the Lord, and to cry out in hunger for the work of his mercy to satisfy us with the righteousness we need.

The mercy that God blesses is itself the blessing of God. It grows up like fruit in a broken heart and a meek spirit and a soul that hungers and thirsts for God to be merciful. Mercy comes from mercy. Our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us.

The key to becoming a merciful person is to become a broken person. You get the power to show mercy from the real feeling in your heart that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy. Therefore, if we want to become merciful people, it is imperative that we cultivate a view of God and ourselves that helps us to say with all our heart that every joy and virtue and distress of our lives is owing to the free and undeserved mercy of God.

That last sentence is a doozy, isn’t it? How transformational it is to understand that everything in our lives is “owing to the free and undeserved mercy of God”!

Importantly, Piper also points out that knowing when and how to show mercy is not easy. Note what he has to say…

If we ask, How shall we know when to do justice and how to show mercy? I would answer, by getting as close to Jesus as you possibly can. I know of no hard and fast rules in Scripture to dictate for every situation. And I don’t think this is an accident. The aim of Scripture is to produce a certain kind of person, not provide and exhaustive list of rules for every situation.

The beatitude says, “Blessed are the merciful,” not, “Blessed are those who know exactly when and how to show mercy in all circumstances.” We must be merciful people even when we act with severity in the service of justice.

That’s an insightful reminder to end with, I think. It seems contradictory, but sometimes mercy does require the effective administration of swift justice. Guess where that leaves me, though? Exactly where I started–with the point that knowing what to do and when is difficult. Mind-taxing, heart-wrenching, time-consuming and just plain hard. Like I said…mercy is messy.

November 3, 2014

Abounding Grace

Every once in a while something comes along that those who read and follow this blog expect me to address. The death of Brittany Maynard is one of those issues. It has been covered in every news outlet–major and minor–and opinions have been shared by countless others. Indeed, people far more knowledgeable about assisted suicide and both the physical and emotional pain of a terminal illness have already offered their insights. So I doubt I am going to offer anything new, but I will offer my thoughts nonetheless.

In case somehow you do not know, Maynard was informed by doctors last spring that she had a likely stage 4 glioblastoma. They said she likely had six months to live. A glioblastoma is a tumor “generally found in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain, but can be found anywhere in the brain or spinal cord,” according to the American Brain Tumor Association, and they are “usually highly malignant.” Maynard then moved with her family to Oregon in order to be able to access Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. Maynard announced that she would end her life when her suffering became too great, and later announced that November 1 would be the day she would die.

According to an article on The Huffington Post on October 8 Maynard received her initial diagnosis last January, and seventy days later was informed of the progression of the cancer and the six-month time frame she likely had remaining. “After months of research, Maynard found care options in her home state of California were limited and that treatment would destroy the time she had left,” the article stated. So she moved to Oregon, where the state’s Death with Dignity act “allows mentally competent, terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to end their lives with self-administered medication prescribed by a doctor.” Four other states have such laws, though Maynard made it her mission at the end of her life to expand that option for others. She partnered with Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization which seeks to “raise awareness about the widespread need for death with dignity nationwide.”

“Brittany’s courage to tell her story as she is dying, and alert all Americans to the choice of death with dignity, is selfless and heroic,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee in a press release. And that is really what I want to address. Is it selfless and heroic to end one’s life in the face of tremendous pain and suffering? I would suggest that it is not.

Maynard told PEOPLE, “My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control. I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.” I have no doubt that a terminal diagnosis is incredibly terrifying. It is not my intention, with anything I say here, to minimize in any way the incredible challenge of receiving such a diagnosis and then deciding what to do, or not do. I certainly do not wish in any way to add to the pain Maynard’s family is no doubt already feeling. But what strikes me most about Maynard’s statement above is this phrase: “being able to choose.” The Right to Life movement is certainly focused predominantly on abortion, but euthanasia and assisted suicide are just as much a part of defending the dignity of life. Maynard, and those on the pro-choice side, believe that individuals should be permitted to make their own choices about taking the life of an unborn child, taking their own life when the quality of life is no longer what it could or should be or when the prognosis for the future is bleak and painful.

Several things need to be taken into consideration in this discussion. First, death is necessarily final. There is no second chance on death. A medical diagnosis is not. In 2013 Good Morning, America ran a story Heather Knies, a woman who battled not one but two brain tumors, one of which was a stage 4 glioblastoma. As of January 2013 Knies was still alive, six years after her diagnosis, cancer free. She had married and become a mother, even, despite the fact that radiation and chemotherapy can sometimes leave patients sterile. Knies, the story said, “broke the biological rules.” Interestingly put, though I would suggest that, difficult as it is to accept and understand, there really are no biological rules. God does whatever He wants to do. That is incredibly difficult to accept sometimes, and even frustrating, because we are left wondering why God heals some people and not others, why He allows some people to be afflicted with deadly diseases and not others…why, why, why. Like probably every child has heard from the parents at times, sometimes God’s answer is simply this: “Because I said so.” His ways are not our ways, and He owes us no explanation.

Joni Eareckson Tada knows about suffering. Having been paralyzed by a diving accident as a teenager she has lived for decades with both extremely limited bodily function and extreme pain. How frustrating must that be to not be able to use your body but to still experience pain?!? Commenting on Maynard’s choice, Tada wrote, “I understand she may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.” Furthermore, Tada said, God “alone has the right to decide when life should begin and end.”

John Piper, addressing Maynard’s choice and Tada’s response to it, wrote, “The fact that suffering almost inevitably increases with the approach of death is often a terrifying prospect. Even those who are fearless of death tremble at the process of dying. … But this tragic fact — which the suffering apostle [Paul] knew better than any of us — did not change the truth: Giving and taking life belongs to God, not to us. And the suffering of our final days is not meaningless.”

I imagine it is not coincidental that WORLD Magazine‘s November 1 issue–the day Maynard had originally planned to die–includes an essay by Kara Tippetts. Tippetts has stage 4 cancer. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her prognosis has not improved. She writes, “Cancer has found new corners of my body in which to take up residence. But so has God’s grace.” The response of Kara Tippetts to a death sentence is completely different than the response of Brittany Maynard. I do not know either woman. What I do is that Tippetts knows Christ and she has accepted His sovereignty. She has also accepted that He has a purpose and a plan, even though it is not the plan she and her husband had in mind and is not the plan either of them would have chose or wanted. Rather than choose to end her life when she wants to, how she wants to and without suffering, like Maynard chose, Tippetts has chosen to embrace the suffering because she knows that it is temporary and that there are things far more powerful than physical pain. Yes, she is dying and no doubt in pain, but that is not what Tippetts has chosen to focus her attention. “I get to love my children and my guy with this abounding love that comes from Jesus. But I also get to meet my last breath knowing a much greater love will meet my family. The abounding love I know from Jesus will love them long past my last moment on this side of eternity–and that love will be breathtaking. More and more, abundance and grace meet us where my body is becoming less and less. That is grace. I never deserved to know such abounding love, but it is ours in Jesus.”

I am not alone in wishing that God did things differently sometimes. I am not alone in wishing that God would explain Himself. But Kara Tippetts has it right. The abounding love of Christ is far greater than the pain any of us may bear in this life–even those dying from stage 4 cancer. We do not know what God may do. He may choose to spare someone’s life in a miraculous way, as He did with Heather Knies. He may choose to let cancer run its course, and He seems to be doing with Kara Tippetts. Whatever He may choose to do, He is the only One with the right to choose. Brittany Maynard had no right to end her own life. She is not God. And God always has a plan.

July 15, 2014

“Glad to be with Christ”

I do not remember where I read it, but I have a quote from John Piper written on a 3×5 card in my Bible that is a regular reminder to me of how I should be living my life. Piper said, “There is an infinite chasm between the one who is glad he’s not going to hell and the one who is also glad to be with Christ.”

There is incredible truth in that statement and, if you’re anything like me, it is very convicting. Of course I am glad I am not going to hell. But is that all my Christianity is about? Did I get my “get out of hell” card and now I can do my own thing? Or is knowing hell is not in my future a very nice benefit of the more important fact that I have a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Since I cannot remember when or where I came across the quote from John Piper I am also not sure if I found it in reference to I Peter 1:3-9 or if I added that reference to the note card in my Bible later, but that passage is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Here is how it reads in the ESV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter emphasizes the fact that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior have been born again to a living hope. It is not temporary, not conditional and not finite. Rather, it is a living hope because it is received through the acceptance of Christ, who is Himself living now in Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The inheritance that believers are promised–an eternity in heaven in the very presence of God–is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” It will never go bad, it cannot be tainted in any way and it will always be just as bright and wonderful as it is now. There is nothing on earth that compares. The reality of this inheritance can be hard to fathom because everything we know in this world is perishable, can be defiled and does fade.

Not only is this inheritance unlike anything we can relate to on earth, it is being kept for us by God Himself. He is protecting it, preserving it and defending it. No one and nothing can take it away. Thank goodness this inheritance is not being kept by the government or Wall Street or my bank! No, my eternity is being kept by the sovereign God of the universe!

I may encounter difficulties in life. No, scratch that–I WILL encounter difficulties in life. Those difficulties, though, cannot threaten or diminish my relationship with the Lord or my inheritance through Him at all. Those trials may test my faith, but through the power of the Holy Spirit in my life they can refine me and draw me closer to the Lord–and allow Him to be displayed through me.

The question is, am I, as Peter wrote, “rejoic[ing] with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”? Do people who interact with me see that joy in me? Does the fact that I have an inheritance through Christ that is preserved forever by God show through in the way I live my life? I am not the most visibly-expressive person in the world and that is not likely to change, but I don’t think that is Peter’s point. He is not calling us to be giddy all the time or to have a fake smile plastered on our faces. But he is reminding us that we have received an incredible promise, we have a relationship with the almighty God, and if that is not evident in our lives then there is a problem. If salvation is just about missing hell then once we’ve got it that’s pretty much it. But it is far more than that, Piper reminds us. Am I glad to be with Christ? And if I am, can you tell by how I live my life? Thought-provoking questions…

April 7, 2014

Speaking Out

Back in January WORLD Magazine published its annual issue focused on right to life issues. One of the articles in that issue was titled “Still-silent shepherds.” The article, by Joe Maxwell and Stephen Hall, begins with this editor’s note: “In 1994, WORLD published “Silence of the shepherds,” an article addressing the reticence of many evangelical pastors to preach on abortion. Two decades later, a WORLD survey shows that many are still silent.”

Just that caveat by itself should be enough to spark outrage among anyone who believes that the Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of the sanctity of life. The article begins by explaining that John Piper did not preach on the subject of abortion until the late 1980s. A change came over him then, though: “It was a combination of seeing other people taking it seriously and then beginning to check my own soul, and God just mercifully taking away some blind spots, showing me in the Scriptures all kinds of reasons for standing up and defending these little ones,” Piper said. Since that time Piper has preached more than twenty sermons on the subject of abortion and has become so active in defending life that he was arrested in a sit-in. “I don’t regret it,” he said. The article goes on to quote Piper saying that pastors need to take abortion seriously and they need to address it biblically, including from the pulpit.

Shortly thereafter, however, the article provides a perspective from the other side. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, does not address abortion from the pulpit and that is by design. The article quotes an article Keller wrote for Leadership Journal in 1999: “Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. …Jesus himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for virtue for the good news of God’s salvation.” The WORLD article includes the story of a woman who was approached several years ago by a woman who thanked him for not addressing abortion from his pulpit, saying, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.” Later she accepted Christ and asked Keller if he thought abortion was wrong. He said yes, and the woman–who has had three abortions–said that she was coming to see that perhaps it is wrong.

I think that’s a great story and a good example of the transformation that occurs when someone accepts Christ — the “renewing of the mind.” However, it is not, in my opinion, a justification for not addressing the issue of abortion in church and from the pulpit. Abortion is, plain and simple, the murder of a human being, albeit one that has not yet been born. Would any pastor argue that churches should avoid speaking out against murder? Of course not. Why, then, allow the culture’s pervasive efforts to define abortion as something other than murder to influence our willingness to stand firmly on the Scripture and state unequivocally that abortion is wrong? Billy Graham apparently once told Larry King, “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” suggesting that doing so might interfere with his main message of salvation. Of course salvation is the main message, and of course salvation will, hopefully, bring the renewing of the mind that caused the woman in Keller’s story to reexamine her previous beliefs about abortion, but that does not mean that we keep mum on the subject until after salvation. Franklin Roosevelt was unwilling to take a stand on civil rights issues during his presidency because he feared it would undermine the support he needed for his economic policies. Was that a reasonable justification for keeping silent on the discrimination that African Americans were facing? I think not.

WORLD‘s article reports that it conducted a random survey of forty pastors from seven different denominations within the National Association of Evangelicals. Interestingly, all forty said that life begins at conception and that pastors should preach against abortion. Despite that unanimous response, eighteen of the forty pastors had not preached on abortion in the past year and five more had never done so! Many of the pastors surveyed indicated that their churches work with or fund crisis pregnancy centers, provide pro-life information within their churches, participate in Right to Life marches or even–in 10% of the churches–picket abortion providers. That is all well and good but it is no substitute for addressing abortion from the pulpit.

One reason suggested within the WORLD article for the reluctance of pastors to address abortion is the impact it may have on giving within their churches. Another reason is the possibility of offending influential church members. Might I respectfully point out that the Bible itself is offensive? R.C. Sproul recounts creating materials to help pastors and churches address abortion several years ago. The response Sproul received was overwhelmingly consistent, he says. “It was like a broken record. Pastors said, ‘I can’t use this material. It will split our church.'”

Interestingly, those pastors who refuse to address abortion from their pulpits are ignoring a subject that an overwhelming number of Americans already believe is immoral. According to an August 2013 Pew study 85% of Americans believe that abortion is immoral. So why would pastors shy away from addressing it? The reasons WORLD received could be divided into four categories according to the article: (1) it might make some church members uncomfortable or “hurt women in congregations who’ve had abortions”; (2) addressing abortion should not be handled in an issue-specific manner, especially if expository preaching is the church’s focus; (3) addressing abortion might politicize the pastor or the pulpit and could scare off seekers; and (4) speaking out on abortion might be “uncool or anti-intellectual.”

If I may, I’d like to state in no uncertain terms that I find those four reasons ridiculous. There are very few subjects in the Bible that will not make someone in the church uncomfortable. When churches refuse to address those topics they cease to become biblical churches and instead become feel-good gatherings and support groups. There is no reason that abortion can not be addressed in a way that also extends forgiveness, love and support to women who have experienced abortions. Given that abortion is explicitly addressed in the Bible I disagree that it could politicize the pastor or the church. If it did, though, I would consider that a cost worth paying for taking a stand. If any pastor fears being uncool he better get out of the ministry now, because the Bible was never intended to be cool. In this increasingly hostile world there will never be a time when preaching the truth of God’s Word will be “cool.” The only one of the four reasons that even comes close to being legitimate in my mind is the second one, but even that is a stretch and is, in my opinion, a flimsy excuse for ducking the issue.

Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and Republican presidential candidate, provides some of the best comments on the issue of abortion being addressed in the church that I have seen. As to the possibility of addressing abortion being divisive, Huckabee asks, “How can you claim to proclaim a gospel that turns its back on the slaughter of innocent babies?” He accurately addresses the concern about hurting women who have had abortions, too: “We need to be careful and offer grace to people who’ve made bad decisions and give the gospel to them, while at the same time drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘This is not something that can be acceptable.’ It’s forgivable, but not morally acceptable.”

To that I say simply, “Amen.” If your pastor speaks out against abortion from the pulpit, thank him. If he does not, ask him why, and challenge him to step up and defend life. There is simply no excuse to not do so.

March 27, 2014

Blurred Vision

On March 24 Christianity Today ran an article in which World Vision made clear that it is now hiring homosexual Christians in legal gay marriages. Interestingly, the charity’s policy against sex outside of marriage is still a rule.

World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns granted CT an exclusive interview in which he explained the policy change. According to the article, “Stearns asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”

Before I go any further I need to stop right here and state that very few things I have read or heard recently trouble me so much as someone simultaneously stating that abandoning a long-standing policy that is consistent with the Bible is a “very narrow policy change” and that this change is “symbolic…of [Christian] unity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This “narrow policy change” rests on the belief that what the Bible makes clear about homosexuality and marriage is not correct or, at the very least, has been traditionally misunderstood. It is not possible to pursue Christian unity by redefining the Bible.

Franklin Graham, in a statement on the World Vision decision, said, “World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.” Graham is exactly right; you cannot unify the church by embracing sin!

The CT article continues, “In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently ‘tearing churches apart’ over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.” I read that to mean that Stearns hopes that Christians will ignore World Vision’s trampling of one part of Scripture in order to join forces in adhering to another part of it. The reality is, of course, that that makes no sense. After all, if what the Bible teaches about homosexuality or marriage need not be adhered to why should its teachings on caring for the poor stir me to action?

Stearns stated that the policy change is nothing more than that. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.” Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Stearns. A decision to hire and accept individuals who are living a life that is contrary to what the Bible teaches absolutely is an affirmation of that choice–whether you say it is or not.

Because of World Vision’s size–it had revenue of more than $1 billion last year–and the scope of its ministries, “other Christian organizations look to World Vision for leadership on defending faith hiring practices,” Christianity Today reported. That is true…and scary. When one of the largest Christian charities in the world accepts this kind of compromise it will surely lead other ministries to consider doing the same.

For that reason it is imperative that churches, parachurch organizations and other ministries, as well as individual believers, take a stand for biblical truth and against the compromise of World Vision. Franklin Graham is but one evangelical leader who was quick to denounce the decision. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission issued a statement that included this observation:

But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth.

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper said this: “This is a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition – and therefore, the cross – and because it sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor.” Piper goes on to highlight the idiocy of the stated position of World Vision:

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

There are no doubt many other individuals and groups that have issued and will issue similar statements affirming the biblical position on marriage and challenging the foolishness of the World Vision position. When they do we must echo a hearty “Amen!” and join in their willingness to stand on the wall to defend the truth.

Russell Moore concluded his statement by suggesting that a refusal to stand firm for the Scripture, a refusal to call sin sin and to also share the Bible’s message of forgiveness is nothing more than “empowering darkness.” May we never be guilty of empowering darkness. May we, instead, follow the exhortation of Paul to the church at Ephesus when he wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11, ESV).

November 18, 2013

I’ll be a nutcase, thank you

The conflict over girls being allowed to participate in boys sports is not a new one, but unfortunately it is not going away, either. Parents of a seventh grade girl in Pennsylvania are suing the school district because it will not allow their daughter to wrestle on the school’s (all male) wrestling team. The school says the reason is that allowing her to participate would present dilemmas for the coaches. The family contends that it is because she is a girl.

Hmmm…ya think?

The family has filed suit in federal court. The district has responded that is does not allow boys and girls to participate together in close contact sports because students have a “right to be protected from undesired contact of sensual body parts from a person of the opposite sex.” The parents countered that their daughter began wrestling when she was in third grade and that in Iowa, where they lived at the time, she was on the school wrestling team in fourth and fifth grade and she competed against boys there. A federal judge has issued an order for the school to allow the girl to sign up for the team and will have a hearing this week to decide whether or not to make that order permanent. My guess is that the judge will rule in the girl’s favor. In my mind, that is unfortunate.

There are girls participating in wrestling all across the country. There are girls on wrestling teams in South Dakota, where I am a school administrator. Our school has a wrestling team and our school policy is that (1) girls cannot wrestle and (2) our boys cannot wrestle girls on other teams. If there is a girl on another team that one of our boys would be paired with, we forfeit the match. There is no discussion, no question, no negotiating. And yet this is not out of some sexist desire to exclude girls or restrict their opportunities or treat them as lesser individuals. It is, on the other hand, out of respect for the girls and the boys and the way in which God created them.

In 2009 John Piper wrote what I think is one of the best responses to the issue of girls wrestling boys. He wrote it in response to first female competitor in a high school wrestling tournament in Minnesota, and it was entitled “Over My Dead Body, Son.” In the post Piper wrote that the moment was not a step forward; “some cultures spend a thousand years unlearning the brutality of men toward women,” he said.

In Piper’s inimitable way he identified the real issue regarding the unwillingness of many to stand in opposition to this perversion of healthy gender roles: “It’s just too uncool. The worst curse that can fall on us is to be seen as one of those nutcases who hasn’t entered the modern world. This is not about courageous commitment to equality; it’s about wimpy fear of criticism for doing what our hearts know is right.”

I was never a wrestler, not in a formal sense. Like probably any male who grew up with a brother close in age I have certainly wrestled. But the sport of wrestling has rules, it has “moves,” and it has uniforms. None of these create a situation that allows for a healthy male-female interaction. First, the uniforms are skin tight. I have never seen a girl in a wrestling singlet and I never want to. Second, wrestling as designed requires grabbing, squeezing, twisting, pushing, pulling… There is, to my knowledge, no other sport in which the opponents are so physically close for so long. Wrestling opponents are literally as close to each other, and entwined with each other, as two humans can be. Tell me then, why in the world any sane parent would allow, much less encourage, a daughter to intentionally place herself in a position to be wearing skin tight clothing pressed together with a young man also wearing skin tight clothing? Piper writes of watching an online instructional video for wrestling, illustrating how to pin your opponent. Of this video he writes, “these two guys are pressing and pulling on each other with unfettered and total contact. And it isn’t soft. It’s what we do not allow our sons to do to girls.”

In 2011 Iowa high schooler Joel Northrup was the fifth-ranked wrestler in the state, but he took a stand when he was matched with a female opponent in the first round of the state championships. Northrup forfeited because he was unwilling to wrestle a girl. Here is what he had to say: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy [Herkelman, the wrestler he drew] and Megan [another female wrestler who made it to the state championships] and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most high-school sports in Iowa.”

Northrup’s father is a pastor, and he said, “We believe in the elevation and respect of woman.” ESPN’s Rick Reilly responded in complete foolishness to that statement when he wrote this on ESPN.com: “That’s where the Northrups are so wrong. Body slams and takedowns and gouges in the eye and elbows in the ribs are exactly how to respect Cassy Herkelman. This is what she lives for. She can elevate herself, thanks.”

National Review‘s Mona Charen wisely challenged Reilly’s comments with this questions: “Are we really sure we want to obliterate the last traces of chivalry in young men — to stamp out every trace of protectiveness from the male psyche?” Charen, like Piper, pointed out that boys wrestling girls are put in the position of either being at a distinct disadvantage or of touching girls in places that boys are told in every other context not to touch girls. Says Charen, “Supporters of co-ed wrestling insist that sex is the last thing on the kids’ minds when they’re in the arena, which is almost certainly false.” She concluded her piece with this summary: “Joel Northrup did the honorable thing by bowing out and refusing to wrestle a girl. He cited his conscience and his faith. They have been better guides for him than this gender-neutrality ideology has been for the state of Iowa.” I agree wholeheartedly, though I would suggest that gender-neutral ideology has been detrimental to far more than just the state of Iowa (as, I am sure, would Charen).

Selwyn Duke, writing for American Thinker, said this: “Having girls and boys grapple on mats in front of spectators is nothing short of social perversion.” Later, Duke writes, “We put boys — whose natural desire to be a knight in shining armor and protect girls should be cultivated — in an unreasonable position: They either have to contribute to the defeminizing of the fairer sex or the emasculation of their own.”

I am not really convinced that girls need to wrestle at all. If they do need to, though, they should be wrestling each other, not boys. After all, what other sport is there at the level of high school or above where girls and boys compete against each other? I cannot think of any. And if there is any sport in which coed participation should not be happening it is wrestling! Jen Chu, the Pennsylvania director for women’s wrestling, agrees. She said, in a March 2012 article for Max Preps (a web site devoted to high school sports), “My goal is to have something completely separate from the boys and establish girls wrestling. The answer is to separate girls and boys wrestling, and the way to expand the sport is to separate it.”

Bottom line, girls and boys should not be wrestling each other. There is no realistic argument that supports it. The gender equality argument does not. The comparison to other sports does not. The biblical perspective certainly does not. We need men and women to stand up for the truth, to be willing to say to each other and to their children that boys wrestling girls is not right, it does not benefit anyone, and we will not allow it. And if, in Piper’s words, that means someone will see me as a nutcase, sign me up.

November 1, 2013

Sacrificing the Truth

The September 21, 2013 issue of WORLD Magazine includes the second part of an excellent interview with John Piper who, earlier this year, stepped down after 33 years of being the preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. One of the things I admire greatly about Piper is how clearly he delivers his message and how unwavering he is in doing so; he does not beat around the bush or hedge his position or sound wishy-washy. When he is convinced of the biblical perspective on any issue he presents it and holds to it without apology. Whether you are familiar with Piper or not, his comments about the future of America are poignant and relevant. Some of what he says I have stated in this space before, but his words are worth repeating.

When asked what he thinks the United States will be like in ten or twenty years Piper responds that he is not optimistic, though he also believes that God could “move like a tornado through this land” and cause a spiritual coming-to-our-senses. More specifically, Piper says America needs to admit, “‘We’ve been insane.’ It’s insane to kill babies. it’s insane to define marriage as two men having long-term sex with each other.”

If we do not come to that realization, Piper says, we will have serious consequences facing our nation. “We are going to wake up after this marriage fiasco in 10, 15, or 20 years, and the fruit of it will be absolutely devastating for children, for all the legal implications we haven’t thought of, for thousands of people who tried their best to manage their undesired same-sex orientation and didn’t get any help from the leaders of their land. Who knows what will follow in terms of polygamy and other kinds of sex once you have said a woman who wants a baby not to exist has the right to make it not exist, and you have the right to call ‘marriage’ whatever you want to call it. Then there are no philosophical roadblocks to taking lives at lots of other times and calling lots of other things marriage.”

Piper is right on target here; as I have stated before, the legalization of abortion and the legalization of same sex marriage are but initial steps onto an extremely slippery slope. Where does that slope end? We do not know. As a nation we have begun removing the guard rails that were there to protect us from plunging over a cliff into a chasm of chaos and lawlessness. We do not know how far the fall will be, how many times we may “bounce” on the way down, how many bones will be broken or whether or not we will still be alive when we hit the bottom. And if we do survive the plunge, we have no idea if we will be able to climb out of that chasm.

Christians need to realize that silence in the face of this guard rail removal is both cowardly and dangerous. The reality is, the issues of abortion and marriage are not just “religious issues.” How one defines these things must not be dependent on which church one attends (if any). These are matters of national survival. Taking a stand for the truth is not going to be popular, but we must remain undaunted. In response to being questioned about so-called political correctness Piper said, “Political correctness means there is a way to talk that will prove least offensive to the cultural elite, or whoever you happen to be talking to with the authority and power to shut you down. … Therefore I abominate political correctness. I abominate calculating your words so that you get acceptance by sacrificing the truth.”

March 8, 2013

Think!

I know it is not original to me, but I have always said that the best thing a teacher can do for his or her students is teach them to think. Unfortunately, while it would seem that this should be a given, it is not always. Far too much “education” these days is in the form of pumping the heads of students full of facts and figures long enough for them to pour it back out for the test. After that, who cares? As long as the scores are high enough on the standardized tests and the school makes “adequate yearly progress” that’s all that matters.

I was reminded of the importance of thinking recently when I saw an ad for Reformed Theological Seminary. A picture of young man gazing intently into a star-filled sky was beneath the headline “If you long to know the mind of God, you must learn to use your own.” Near the bottom of the ad is this statement: “[A] faith that’s truly mature requires a mind that’s well-informed.” I am not particularly familiar with RTS, but based solely on this ad I am convinced that someone there “gets it” (even if only someone in the marketing department).

Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay entitled The Lost Tools of Learning that is well respected among many educators, especially those within the field of classical education. My favorite statement in her well-written essay is this: “Is not the great defect of our education today–a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned–that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” And that was written some sixty-five years ago; how much worse is it now?!?

Unfortunately the dearth of thinking goes far beyond institutions of formal education. Sadly, it tends to be a mark of the church, as well. Far too many Christians fail to engage their minds, somehow afraid to wrestle with the practical application of their faith to their everyday lives, throwing their mind in neutral at church. John Piper wrote a book entitled Think, and Ravi Zacharias has radio broadcasts entitled Let My People Think and Just Thinking. They have built their ministries at least in part around stimulating the believer to engage the mind as well as the heart when it comes to spirituality.

Dictionary.com begins its eighteen definitions of the word “think” with these two: “to have a conscious mind, to some extent of reasoning, remembering experiences, making rational decisions, etc.; to employ one’s mind rationally and objectively in evaluating or dealing with a given situation.” The Bible is full of instructions on the use of the mind and the importance of thinking; why have so many believers allowed their minds to become intellectually flabby? Why are so many churches failing to stimulate thinking and intellectual rigor?

Jesus Himself said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind….” Can we really love Him with all our mind if we refuse to think?

I dare say incredible things would happen if Christians would start thinking seriously about the Word of God and about using its power to impact our world.

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