Guilt/Innocence Or Shame/Honor


Just last week, a man here in the LA area who served 32 years in prison was released from custody because of a wrongful conviction. How will this man be perceived in society? The answer to that question can be easily determined by the kind of society from which he comes.

Anthropologists study humankind, including the way culture works. One such scientist, Franz Boas, and his student Ruth Benedict, first identified differences in cultural patterns, claiming that Eastern cultures follow an honor/shame arrangement and Western cultures, a guilt/innocence mode.

Benedict endorsed and popularized what some called “Boasian conceptual kernel” of US anthropology:

Human behavior is patterned. There exist within historically specific populations recurrences in both thought and behavior that are not contingent but structurally conditioned and that are, in turn, structuring.

Those patterns are learned. Recurrences cannot be tied to a natural world within or outside the human body, but rather to constant interaction within specific populations. Structuration occurs through social transmission and symbolic coding with some degree of human consciousness.

If I understand the first point correctly, the idea is that people groups behave and think in identifiably similar ways, because the people have been conditioned to do so. In turn they teach others to also be structured in the same way.

The structure of those in Eastern cultures is based on honor/shame, which largely identifies the way a culture “manages” its citizens. Individuals care a great deal about their standing in the community, so they don’t want to do something that would cost them respect or high standing.

What the community deems deplorable, then, takes presidency over individual desires or beliefs of right and wrong. I assume the community values are also somewhat fluid. If a society softens its position against a certain behavior, presumably an individual would no longer bear shame for engaging in it.

A guilt/innocence society follows a different paradigm. Rather than conforming to the community based on their praise or condemnation, a guilt/innocence outlook is more concerned about the individual’s adherence to law. The idea of innocent until proven guilty emphasizes the difference in the two approaches.

In the shame/honor culture, an accusation brings shame. In a guilt/innocence culture, an accusation needs to be proved.

A third cultural outlook is the fear/power model. Tribal cultures and totalitarian regimes and perhaps gangs operate on the fear of a group and their desire for power to counter it.

The general knowledge about these ways of grouping cultures, has simplified them as Eastern or Western. Little mention is made of fear/power, and Eastern cultures are believed to be shame/honor driven, while Western societies operate according to the guilt/innocence model.

One aspect of cultures adhering to the guilt/innocence model is that they are more concerned with the individual, whereas shame/honor groups care more for the community. As a result, some clear differences have emerged:

Individualistic cultures, primarily located in the West, appeal more to legal notions of right and wrong to govern social behavior. Morality is internalized, so people experience guilt for misdeeds. Guilty persons become innocent when they are forgiven or justice is served. (“Honor and Shame Societies,” the Zwemer Center)

Consequently, the man I mentioned at the outset, who was wrongly convicted of murder, has no shame because he spent half his life in prison. He was innocent.

What I find fascinating about the study of these cultural differences, is that I can see elements of both in the Bible. The Old Testament deals primarily with Hebrew culture, and there is much of the shame/honor culture apparent in the story of the Jewish nation, but at the same time God is the one who departs from the norm and tells the people that a man’s family is no longer to be considered guilty just because the man is guilty. In other words, no more guilt by association. A guilty person was to die for his own crimes, but his sons were to go free.

The New Testament with its teaching about sin and the forgiveness bought by the blood of Christ further built the guilt/innocence culture that took hold in the Greek and Roman societies where Paul ministered.

As I view Christianity, I see the perfect marriage of both shame/honor and guilt/innocence. What I don’t see is fear/power, unless it involves Satan and what he wants to accomplish.

All this to say, I wonder if through globalization and perhaps through the devaluation of Christianity, Western culture is sliding more and more into the shame/honor camp. I mean, all the politically correct approach to life is little more than putting pressure on an individual by the group to get people to conform to a societal norm, regardless of Law.

What’s particularly interesting is that bullying is taboo, but group bullying is the means by which we attempt to put an end to individual bullying.

In this climate, everyone is easily offended, every position expresses hate or abuse, no one is innocent any more as long as they hold beliefs that contradict the “group.” As yet, the “group” is not society at large, but certainly it’s growing in numbers.

As I see it, this kind of shame/honor approach is divorced from reality. Someone who gets away with a crime has no shame because he has not reflected badly on his community. Never mind that he might be hurting the less fortunate. Never mind that he makes his money on the backs of the weak.

The real problem with the shame/honor approach is the loss of the sense of personal sin. In light of the fact that Christianity alone offers mercy and forgiveness, I wonder if the concept of a Savior might be lost if our culture slides more and more toward shame/honor.

Of course, there is great emphasis in the Old Testament about God’s people upholding the honor of His name. One reason that God didn’t do away with the complaining people of Israel after the Exodus was precisely because of what the people around them would think about God. In fact, the point of a nation entering into a covenant relationship with God was to show the other nations the blessings God wanted to shower upon them as well.

Israel as a community was to be God’s ambassador to the world. Today we believers have that role. Individually, but collectively as the Church. We are to love one another in such a way that the world notices.

But we receive forgiveness for sins, not as a collective community, but as individuals, foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified by God because we as individuals believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that He was raised on the third day, that He is now at God’s right hand interceding for us.

Shame. Guilt. Fear. Jesus Christ dealt with all of it. He is the most cross-cultural person who ever lived. But that is what I’d expect from the Savior of the world. No wonder the gospel penetrates the Amazon jungle and the Russian steppes equally.

Traditions Of Men


One of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote was to the church in Colossae in which he said those believers should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8).

There are a lot of parallels with that church and with Christians today in the west. As such we can look at Paul’s instruction and admonition to them about how to conduct themselves in the world and learn what we should be doing today.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a knowledgeable PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference a number of years ago, explained that she anchored her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, those of us who work in the public arena need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, who are decidedly different from regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men.

I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes.

He did that with Abraham; then with Jacob when he worked for Laban; in Joseph’s day, He again did so in Egypt; and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites, God again had them make use of the culture they were dispossessing.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense—the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king—their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement—“See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

Holidays and Heritage


lincoln_on_5_usd_billSome years ago I had to take care of making my traditional contribution to our family dinner on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, which first required me to dash to the store for some of the ingredients. Not only did I need to go to the grocery store, I also needed gas since I would be traveling to the other side of LA.

Happily, I had passed a station posting gas at $3.15 a gallon, a dime cheaper than my regular station and about 7 miles closer! So off I went, first to get gas, then to pick up items for my Thanksgiving dish.

Imagine my surprise when I passed the shopping area (they still call them malls, though there is nothing resembling a true mall in most SoCal shopping centers any more), and found the parking lots brimming with cars. On Thanksgiving Day?

This was duplicated at the grocery store. In fact, I haven’t seen that store so busy … ever. On Thanksgiving Day?

Add to this fact, the night before one news broadcast reported shoppers setting up tents in order to be near the front of the line for store openings on “Black Friday.” Rather than being at home for the traditional “family time,” which is what Thanksgiving has become, these shoppers preferred to increase their chance of finding a bargain.

What’s it all mean? Holidays, which nationally stopped being Holy days a long time ago, are even losing their secondary meanings—a break from the normal work day, time with family, opportunity to express thanks or give tokens of love and appreciation. More and more, these “set apart” days are becoming excuses for buying more stuff.

As if the stuff is what we need.

There used to be a phrase used for the older, affluent businessman, the gift for the man who has everything. Thing is, now that term can be adapted to say the gift for the child who has everything, and it describes the kids in most middle class families.

I realized something just recently. On our money here in the US, we have inscribed the words In God We Trust. Whoever made that decision was insightful—and probably informed by Scripture, because the Bible declares no one can serve God and riches both. (Matthew 6:24) You see, what I realized wasn’t that we had the phrase on our coins and bills but rather WHY we have it there, and not on public buildings or statues or even in churches. It is that when we have abundance, often seen in the form of cash, we can so easily trust in the abundance and not in God.

To think, several hundreds of years ago, people setting up our government foresaw the danger of trusting wealth instead of trusting God! What a remarkable heritage! For that I am truly thankful. For what we have become as a nation of users, not so much.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2007.

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 4:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Satan, The Imaginary, And Halloween


Every year around this time Christians begin a discussion about celebrating Halloween, but perhaps speculative writers, more so. The conversation is justifiable, especially in light of the fact that Halloween has become a highly commercial, and therefore, visible, holiday in the US. As a result, television programs, movies, and certainly commercials have some tie in to the weird, the supernatural.

For Christians, there seems to be a great divide when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Are we taking up the cause of the enemy if we carve a pumpkin and hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters? Should we offer alternatives—a harvest festival instead of a haunted mansion—for our church activities? Should we seize the moment and build good will in our community by joining in wholeheartedly, or should we refuse to recognized the holiday, turn off the porch lights, and decline to answer the door when masquerading children arrive?

Satan

As I see it, there are two critical issues that dictate our response to Halloween. The first is our attitude toward Satan and demons. Is he (and are they) real? How big a threat is he? How are we to respond/react to him?

Scripture gives clear answers to these questions. Satan is a real being, one referred to as the father of lies (see John 8:44) and as a being masquerading as an angel of light (see 2 Cor. 11:14).

In response to something Spec Faith co-contributor Stephen Burnett said in his article “Shooting at Halloween pumpkins”, I laid out an account of Old Testament references to Satan and his forces. Here, in part, is that comment:

Satan was abundantly active, starting in a certain garden where he brought his devilish behavior before Man and his wife. Another vivid depiction of Satan’s activity is detailed in the book of Job.

In Egypt, Moses faced Pharaoh’s conjurers. Certainly their source of power was not God, yet they duplicated a number of Moses’s miracles.

On the way to the Promised land, God instructed the people “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:7 a). Forty years later in Moses’s farewell speech, he described how the parents of the current generation had behaved:

      They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
      To gods whom they have not known,
      New gods who came lately,
      Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deut. 32:17)

I think it’s clear that the gods Israel continued to worship—and the ones worshiped by the neighboring people—were demons. Hence the admonishing to excise sorcery from their midst.

Unfortunately they didn’t obey but continued to involve themselves in demon worship:

      But they mingled with the nations
      And learned their practices,
      And served their idols,
      Which became a snare to them.
      They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Ps. 106:35-37)

Then there was this verse in I Chronicles: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

I could give you verses from Daniel too, showing that Satan was active in standing against his prayers, and that he was in fact “the prince” of, or had cohorts who were, known locations. Isaiah, too, and Zechariah had prophecies involving Satan.

The point is, Satan was very active in the Old Testament.

Scripture is also clear that Satan is a threat. He is described as an adversary and as a lion seeking to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). He’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), the tempter (Mark 1:13), the one who snatches away the Word of God (Mark 4:15), the one who can bind (Luke 13:16) and destroy (1 Cor. 5:5) and torment the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7), who comes against us with schemes 2 Cor. 2:11), who demands to sift some (Luke 22:31) and possess others (John 13:27), who hinders believers in their ministry (1 Thess. 2:18).

Satan is real and he is a threat, but he is not greater than God. In fact his doom is sure. Scripture instructs us to be on the alert against him, to stand against him, to resist him, but Satan is a defeated foe (Col 2:15 and Rom. 16:20). We are never told to fear him.

The Imaginary

The second critical issue when it comes to deciding how we are to deal with Halloween is our understanding of the imaginary. Dragons, vampires, cyclops, werewolves, zombies, goblins, orcs, trolls, and such are imaginary creatures from the pages of literature. Witches and wizards that wave magic wands and/or fly around on brooms are imaginary. Ghosts that float about like bed sheets and are friendly or who pop in and out of sight at will or move things about with a word are imaginary.

Are Christians ever instructed in Scripture to stand against the imaginary?

On the other hand, most of us recognize that these various creatures are or have been representative of evil. The question then becomes, are we handling evil correctly by giving attention to the things that have been used to represent it?

Along that line of thinking, I believe it’s fair to ask if we should avoid representations of snakes, because Satan entered one, lions because Scripture said he is one, and angels because he appears as one.

The greater question, it seems to me, is whether or not dressing up in costumes of creatures that have an association with evil might trivialized evil. For instance, the “red devil with horns and a pitch fork” image of Satan trivialized him so that fewer and fewer people believe he is a real being—not a good thing at all if we are to stand against him.

Halloween

These two issues—what we believe about Satan and what we believe about the imaginary—collide in this one holiday. But there’s another element that must enter into the discussion because ultimately, what we do on Halloween is done in front of the watching world. We need to ask, what does our culture believe about Halloween?

As other comments to Stephen’s post reveal, some studying the holiday see its historical underpinnings—either pagan Celtic practices or early Church traditions. But what do ordinary people today see? Are our neighbors celebrating evil? Or are they having fun dressing up as something spooky? Are they going to haunted houses because they want to invoke the dead or because they want a shot of roller-coaster-ride-like adrenaline?

While we can’t deny that a fringe element—perhaps even a growing fringe element—see Halloween as a celebration of evil, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that the majority of people in the US view it as nothing more than a reason to party. The activities are consistent with the day but have little or no meaning, much the way most people celebrate Christmas.

How we as Christians celebrate Halloween, then, hinges on these three factors—our view of Satan, our understanding of the imaginary, and what we want to say to our culture.

Is there one right way of doing Halloween? I don’t believe so. I do believe we should avoid pointing the finger at other Christians and saying that they’re doing it wrong. Paul speaks to this issue in Colossians 2: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath Day” (v. 16). Those who choose to celebrate are just as clearly not to point the finger at those who choose not to celebrate.

The only way we can insure that Satan has his day is by our disunity, our unloving attitude, our angry arguments over whether or not we celebrate Halloween.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared at Spec Faith in October 2011.

Impulse Control


MacDonald'sAs I was driving out of the mini-mall with groceries in the trunk, I came to a stop sign. A young mom was walking with her son and her daughter who she held by her hand. They’d just finished crossing the street from the McDonald’s they must have visited because in the mom’s other hand she held a food item wrapped in the bright, cheery colors of the fast-food giant.

As she reached the near side of the road, I waited. Which way was she planning on going? As it turned out, she was no longer going at all. She reached the corner near the stop sign, mostly out of the traffic lane that led to the McDonald’s drive-through window, released her daughter’s hand, and opened the food parcel—a cheeseburger, by the looks of it.

Once set free, the daughter, who I’d judge to be about four, reached toward her mother with both hands.

With the little girl now free to run into traffic if she chose, I had added incentive to wait until I knew the mom and her charges were safely out of the way.

The harried woman proceeded to stand where she was and break off a piece of the sandwich to give to her daughter.

Really? I thought. Really? In the middle of traffic? You can’t tell your daughter to wait until the car goes by, at least?

But of course she couldn’t. We are a society of instant gratification, and we’re training our kids to our way of living.

How this societal trait contrasts with the Christian worldview! In Galatians 5, for example, we learn that the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. In 1 Corinthians 13 we learn that love is patient. Even the idea that we are to wait for Christ’s return as victorious King, shouts of a need to harness our impulses and do what’s right, not what we feel like doing.

Romans 6:12-13 speaks to God’s standard for us:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

In the first eleven verses Paul explained how our identification with Christ through baptism enables us to walk in newness of life, no longer slaves to sin. But the clear implication of the verses above is that we can still live as if we are slaves to sin, or not. If sin reigns, then we obey our lusts—our impulses, our selfish desires, what we want, no matter who it might hurt or offend or inconvenience or put in jeopardy.

If you want it, why by all means, go for it! seems to be our new motto. In other words, our lusts are reigning in our mortal bodies. Sin is reigning in our mortal bodies.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the little girl was sinning because she wanted some of the sandwich. But the mom clearly missed a teaching point. She could have shown her daughter that she needed to wait because the circumstances weren’t safe. They may have had that conversation before they crossed the street—I don’t know. But if so, the mother was either not a good judge of “safe” or she had caved to her daughter’s insistence that she get what she wanted NOW. For clearly the little girl was being insistent.

Sadly the church in the west seems to be rapidly incorporating the values of society instead of standing for God’s standard of patience and self-control. Just recently I received a newsletter from a Christian that boldly proclaimed, “I’m learning to say YES to myself.”

I don’t think the problem is that we haven’t said yes to ourselves.

I’ve been reading the biography of George Müller, who established homes for over a thousand orphans in England during the middle to late nineteenth century, all by faith in the provision of God and without asking for donations to meet any of their needs. I tried to imagine this man of faith saying that he was learning to say YES to himself. It doesn’t compute.

For Müller, the only thing that was important was seeking God and His righteousness.

To be honest, there is a movement in the church to be “missional,” by which those who use the term mean, working for social justice. But the aim seems less concerned with God’s kingdom and righteousness than with fixing the brokenness of our society.

Müller could be the cover boy for social justice. I mean, he was accepting into his orphan homes any and all children, regardless of their social status or financial means. At the same time he established an Institution of Spiritual Knowledge Home and Abroad which educated and provided for needs in various places.

But undergirding all this activity was prayer and faith and a desire for others to see God as He is—a loving Father who provides for the needs of His children, who answers the prayer of faith in the contemporary world just as He did in Bible times.

Müller’s life and way of working stand in sharp contrast to the self-indulgent lifestyle of today. I suspect he eagerly embraced, and undoubtedly taught, Paul’s admonishment not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies so we won’t obey its lusts.

Today we’re more inclined to ask, What is sin? Some might go so far as to say, Paul simply didn’t know how harmful it is to restrict a person from pursuing his or her natural inclinations. In other words, the Bible is Wrong!

Well, actually God knows us quite well, being that He came in the form of a man and lived among us. Not to mention that He created us.

Since I know myself to a degree (and because I trust Omniscience), I’m inclined to agree with God, here: I need impulse control. We all need impulse control.

Me-ism


Olympia_roller_coasterI was talking with a friend yesterday about the radical changes in society here in the US. We started looking at history to see if we could figure out how the earthshaking changes occurred. OK, first she related to me a discussion in a Bible study centered around Ephesians 5:16: “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The question came up from a Millennial, what does it mean “the days are evil”?

Well, that’s a question I think is self-explanatory. I mean, I just heard a statistic that said 90 people a day die in the US from gunshot wounds. Well, I went to verify this if possible. It’s a stat apparently Secretary Hillary Clinton has used in speeches against gun violence. On a web site that lists the numbers of deaths annually, the total they give for 2015 is 12,942 people killed “in a gun homicide, unintentional shooting, or murder/suicide” (The Trace). A little math reveals that’s more than 35 deaths a day.

Oh, so 35 isn’t 90, meaning it’s not so bad? The days aren’t really evil then? Well, 35 people would be like killing everyone (and a few visitors) in one of my classes during my teaching days. Every day! I think that’s pretty evil.

And that doesn’t begin to address the numbers of assaults, the muggings, the lies, the adulteries, the rapes, the abuse, the drunken stupors, the addiction overdoses, the robberies, the prostitution, the bribery, the corruption, the hate, the pornography, the abortions, the cursing, the betrayal. I find the evil to be overwhelming.

I mean, listen to an average news show and see what horrific things are happening in the world. The days are evil.

But this young Millennial had to ask, What does it mean, “The days are evil.”

So my friend and I began to discuss where in society is the breakdown that made this intelligent, well-educated Millennial ask for a definition of evil days. I mean, with atheism on the rise and church attendance on the decline, with terrorism seemingly unchecked, and presidential candidates who are potentially going to be indited for crimes or who have advocated for illegal action in their debates, I find it astounding that anyone would not immediately grasp the concept of “evil days.”

Thus the conclusion: something in our society has broken.

What, and when?

I suggested first, the dynamics of the home are not what they once were. During World War II and the Korean War, then the Viet Nam War, young men were not in the home, so any number of young wives were left to parent alone or to change roles from the one caring for the home to one providing financial necessities.

I didn’t mention this, but divorce also became easier to obtain and the stigma of divorce was removed. Hence, single parent homes began to increase. In short, a generation was not parented well, and they, in turn did a bad job of parenting their children who are now Millennials.

Parenting styles also changed. One difference was the determination that spanking was an inappropriate form of punishment. But there was also a surge of what my friend called “helicopter parents” who constantly hovered. I’ll add that homes became more child-centric than ever.

Our discussion ended before we reached any conclusion, but as I look at the changes in our society, I see two threads: parents who neglected their children, so they ended up growing up like weeds, and pampered children who grew up thinking the world owed them whatever their hearts desired.

Both extremes produced children who are part of the Me-ism of today. The first decided that no one else was going to watch out for them, so they had to watch out for themselves. The latter saw that everyone was taking care of them (coaches awarding participation trophies, teachers giving do-over tests, or changing their standardized test results, more recently, safe zones on university campuses where students won’t hear anything that offends them, and the like), so they expected the world to continue to center around them.

I’ll add another element. Our society has moved from one that believed in hard work and success to one that believes in happiness and safety. Our highest priority now seems to be happiness, and safety is needed to make happiness possible.

Consequently, entertainment occupies much of our time and attention. We want to have music on always. Unless we’re watching TV or the movie of our downloading choice. We read about the stars and watch “news” shows about the stars and talk about the stars. We are obsessed with the lives of people who act. Or sing. Why? Because they entertain us. And entertainment is key to happiness.

I think Me-ism is responsible for our view of truth and the push for tolerance. After all, if the most important value is each person’s individual happiness, then whatever the person wants must be good. If you want to believe in an after life, then that’s fine because it works for you. But if someone else says there is nothing beyond the grave, that’s fine too because they can be happy here and now. Because, you see, all views have to be tolerated so that everyone can be happy.

Enter Jesus saying that He is The way, The truth, The life, and no one can come to God the Father except through Him. He shatters the underpinnings of Me-ism. He shakes us from the lethargy of escape to entertainment and tells us to be on the alert. Peter explains that our enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Paul says to Christians

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6)

In short, we simply don’t have time to be caught up in Me-ism, no matter what our culture is about. Like the first church which broke from their Jewish friends, neighbors, family, and community, Christians need to break from the culture of Me-ism and hold to the standards of the Bible. Because, yes, the days are evil, but our Redeemer is coming back to set things right.

Morality In Fiction


Reading_Jane_EyreIn response to “Fiction Isn’t Lying”, a number of people, here and at Facebook, said they had experience with people who thought of fiction as a form of lying. Once again I was shocked. The thrust of the article, however, dealt with the Christian’s responsibility to speak truthfully about God in our fiction.

I’ll say again, Christians do not have to speak about God, directly or indirectly, but should we choose to do so, we have an imperative to be truthful. But “truthful” doesn’t mean we must tell all about God. First, it’s not possible to do so, and second, so much theology would overwhelm the story so that it would cease being a story.

I’m convinced that many readers and writers alike stumble over theology in stories because they confuse it with moral teaching. Two years ago I wrote a short series about that issue, and I’m re-posting the concluding article which sums up more completely than the final paragraph in yesterday’s article, what I believe about morality versus theology in fiction. Here is that article:

– – – – –

In my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

Later I added

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons—all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place—theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Prager-ZachariasInterestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation—reason; (2) art—the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”—the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral—a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art—and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters say golly or disobey their parents, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

This post first appeared here in June 2014.

Kids Need To Know: Generations And Perspective


rebels-1438262-640x480When I was a teen, the media talked much about a generation gap, as if this was a new thing. Never in the history of man had teenagers had such dense parents who knew nothing about growing up or about the world or the problems facing young people in that day.

Of course that was just silly. While crises like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II may have focused teens on things about which their parents also cared deeply, there nonetheless have been other periods of history during which the young people wanted to follow the newest trends and try the latest gizmo or test the waters in a new profession—much to their parents’ dismay.

But parents always understood these inklings and urges because they were once young, too. The truth is, older generations have perspectives younger ones do not. After all, they have been 13 or 17 already, but their teenage children have not yet been 35 or 49.

Further, kids don’t know what it’s like to see a basic technology such as the typewriter be replaced. They likely haven’t seen a new invention such as the VCR not only come but go. Many will not realize the revolution in the way we live our lives that the Internet or cell phones have created.

For most teens, President Obama is the only President whose administration they’ve paid much attention to (if they have paid attention to government at all). Consequently, most teens grow up without an awareness of how the world has changed, even in the last twenty years. They simply aren’t old enough.

In the end, I think it’s easy for teens to think they know more than they do, and I think it’s normal for them to think their parents are being outdated to talk about the way things were—when the Civic Center put up a manger scene or when Linus could recite a Bible passage as part of a Christmas play or when marriage was between one man and one woman.

Teens also don’t remember when there was no such thing as an Amber Alert or when there had never been a mass shooting in a school or when abortion was illegal or cross dressing was listed as deviant behavior in college psych books.

Kids today don’t have the same perspective about something like pornography that their parents have. Before the Internet “adult movies” were rented from a back room of the video store or “girlie magazines” were purchased at “adult book stores.” Teens today don’t realize that there was a time when TV sit coms didn’t joke about threesome sexual encounters or when condom’s weren’t passed out at school by teachers.

I could go on and on, but the point is, teens need a good education by their parents. Yes, parents do understand what kids think and feel because they were themselves once that age. Yes, the world has changed a great deal in the last ten, fifteen years, but this fact only makes the imperative for parents to educate their teens all the greater.

Teens need to know that the majority isn’t always right—which is why following the crowd isn’t always the smartest thing. We all understand the desire to fit in, but we as adults also know the danger of giving in to the “everybody does it” argument. Kids don’t know.

They see strength in numbers and safety in not sticking out in the crowd. If their peers are having sex or doing drugs or sneaking out at night or cheating on tests or running with gangs, that’s what they want to do too, and they can’t see the consequences for it.

[It’s rather ironic that the more we tell kids how special they are, the more they want to be just like everyone else.]

Parents need to educate kids about their own past. They need to tell them what life was like when they were teens. It’s better if parents don’t wait for their kids to turn into teenagers to give them glimpses of life before, but it’s never too late.

And why is it important? Because kids will not realize the direction society is going if they don’t realize where it came from. It’s easy to think of technological advances—“You mean you used to lock car doors by hand?”—and think the world is becoming more interesting, more advanced, more sophisticated. And in some ways it is.

But what’s been lost? What did we use to do before Facebook? Or YouTube? Or Twitter? Did we check our email during dinner? Did we talk about the events of our day or what we’d read or what we’re thinking? As opposed to what meme is going around on the Internet or what TV programs we like most?

We’re not going to change culture to the way it was in 1996 or 1986 or 1976, nor should we want to, but kids today don’t know what it was like to live back then, and they should know. They’ll be less apt to be fooled by someone who tells them how much better the world is now . . . or how things have never been like this before.

Really? People have never been afraid of terrorism from within? Then why did the US Government round up all Japanese Americans and put them into “relocation camps” during World War II? Why were Indian nations put on reservations during the 1800s?

History, like older generations, has much to teach also, whether for the good or the bad. They both allow people to discern patterns and to ask questions [i.e., Why did we oppose socialism during the Cold War with the USSR, but now we’re practicing it?]

Kids won’t know what life was like before . . . unless we tell them. And they can’t judge accurately whether or not the direction we’re headed is positive or negative if they don’t know there’s actually been shifts in society.

Published in: on January 6, 2016 at 7:37 pm  Comments Off on Kids Need To Know: Generations And Perspective  
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