culture wars

“Perfect Love Drives Out Fear,” but Whose, of What?

1 John may win the prize for the most quotable single letter in the New Testament.  “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:6);If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9); “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1); “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (2:20); “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (2:23); “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2); “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1); “We love, because he first loved us” (4:19); “everyone born of God overcomes the world” (5:4), are just a few of the often-quoted verses.  You could almost read the letter as the “greatest hits” of pastoral maxims developed over a lifetime.

And among these quotable quotes is the simple phrase, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  I have quoted this myself many times, and often heard it quoted.  But it occurred to me recently to ask, for the first time, whose love?  Love of what, or whom?  And for that matter, fear of what, or whom? (more…)

The Holy Family in American Politics

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do not play very visible roles in US politics.  “For God and Country” is a slogan that makes the rounds in some circles, but the nature of that God is left unspecified (perhaps beyond typically excluding Muslims).  The dearth of direct appeal to Jesus even in conservative American politics, to say nothing of the silence about his mother and step-father, makes it all the more surprising that the Holy Family has been dragged into political debates twice in one month.  The nature of those invocations, and their historical and theological confusion, reveals the cynical pragmatic secularism driving the use of these religious ideas at this political juncture.  Christian complicity in these invocations threatens the intelligibility of the gospel message to outsiders. (more…)

Fictional Transgender Before It Was Cool?

Sometimes it is useful to look back to a time before the heated debates of the present were kindled, and see how cooler heads then discussed those issues.  One of the heated public arguments of our time is the place of gender and gender expression in our society, and the degree to which those are God-given, naturally determined, socially constructed, or individually chosen.  This past week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a “Nashville Statement” outlining what they regard as necessary Christian teaching on homosexuality and transgenderism.  Reactions to the statement were covered in all the major and most of the minor media outlets.  And this is only the latest flurry in a discussion which already goes back several years.

I recently read Margaret Widdemer’s 1915 novel Why Not?, written long before the current cultural uproar regarding transgender identity and gender expression.  It includes, solely for entertainment value, a subplot surrounding a woman who wants to be a man, and how that turns out.  In doing so, it raises possibilities that our modern gender pugilists do not consider, or even wish to foreclose.  Let us examine those, looking for an alternative to a renewed culture war.

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The Spiritual Danger of Graduate School

There is a danger in pursuing the highest levels of education.

It is not, as a few antagonistic atheists suppose, that doing so will teach you to think, and that thought is incompatible with faith.  In point of fact, some of the brightest people throughout European and American history, even recently, have been Christians.  Some of them have even become Christians, not simply grown up with it.  (Indeed, I wish more people, both Christians and others, would learn to think better.)

Nor is the danger, as some Christians suppose, that all Christians pursuing graduate education will be brain-washed by professors who are antagonistic atheists out to destroy their students’ faith.  No doubt there are such professors, but graduate students are supposed to think critically about what they hear from all sources, and many advisers give their students a fair degree of latitude to disagree with them (in certain areas).  Historically, Christians have learned a lot from studying with non-Christians, such as the fourth-century author John Chrysostom from the pagan Libanius.  And of course, Christians worried about such brain-washing can pursue graduate study at confessional Christian schools.  While I have known people who have left Christianity while pursuing graduate degrees, I have also known Christians whose faith grew and flourished even in very secular environments.

Nor is the danger that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33, quoting the pagan poet Menander).  While this is certainly true, in general academics are no more immoral than can be found in any bar, coffee-house, movie theater, sports stadium, large corporation, or other place where people gather.  The apostle Paul made clear that Christians were not to shun the presence of all non-Christians (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

The danger of pursuing a Ph.D. or similar terminal degree is simply, in the words of the apostle Paul, that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). (more…)

“Fear not!”

(I haven’t written for a few weeks, partly because of starting my new job, and partly because the situation in northern Iraq was driving me to write in other venues…)

I did not grow up in a church, and so I am always a little curious what going to church is like for children.  I particularly appreciate this gem, from a puppet re-telling of the Christmas story in Luke 2:

  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: Fear not!
  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: What part of “fear not” didn’t you understand?
  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: Never mind.  I bring you good news…

It always strikes me how fearful many Christians remain, even though Christ has already given us all that we need for godly lives.  To hear some Christians talk (or blog), they are afraid of Islam, atheism, homosexuality, church shrinkage, cultural de-Christianization, loss of constitutional rights, President Obama, censorship, contraception, courts, and the news media.  This is clearly a very heterogeneous bucket o’ fear. (more…)