By In Interviews, Podcast

Episode 6a, Interview with Douglas Wilson: Ministering the Gospel in the Trump Age

A discussion with Pastor Douglas Wilson and Kuyperian’s Andrew Isker on the 2016 election, the rapid political and cultural transformation in America, the Alt-Right, the SJW-left, and evangelism in light it all; this is a fascinating discussion. This interview is divided into two sections. The second will be available next week.

 

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By In Culture, Family and Children, Wisdom

A Few Cheers for Worldview Education

“Almost every belief system that in the past seemed objective and important is now dismissed as an ‘ism’ or a ‘phobia.'” -Roger Scruton

 “To imagine oneself in the place of another [is] the only human future.” -David Dark

Upton Sinclair once quipped, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Rod Dreher—channeling a recent lecture by Joshua Gibbs—has outlined “the problem with worldview education.” As one who gets a paycheck from providing such an education, I’m aware that I’m not approaching the issue from a neutral position. But heck, I’m a worldview teacher; I know there isn’t such a creature as neutrality anyhow, so why not offer a brief defense?

To be clear, I wasn’t at the conference to hear Joshua’s lecture, so my critique is limited to Dreher’s summation, which begins:

“The problem with worldview education, [Gibbs] said, is that it closes off the possibility of wonder by providing a rigid ideological measuring stick for texts. Gibbs said it gives students unearned authority over a book. Hand them ‘The Communist Manifesto,’ they open it up, say, ‘Marxist!’, then case it aside. Hand them ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra,’ they open it up, see Nietzsche’s name, say, ‘Nihilist!’ — and cast it aside.”

Positively, I’m appreciative of the danger of “unearned authority” over a text. In my worldview class at least, we read Plato before discussing Platonism, we read Camus before discussing Existentialism. What I’m after is honesty—taking people at their word, not imposing an alien agenda onto them.

My decision to organize the curriculum as such has as much to do with pedagogy as it does integrity, however. It seems to me humans learn by approaching the world from the particular to the general. We don’t learn the “principle of sowing and reaping” and then act accordingly. Rather, we do or don’t study for a test and then do or don’t receive a good grade. From those experiences, over time, we come to understand sowing and reaping at a conceptual level. Likewise, before one identifies an “ism” associated with a person, one must do the difficult, honest work of first reading the person.

Dreher goes on:

“Gibbs was not arguing for Marxism on nihilism. He was saying that to truly encounter and wrestle with a great book (even a great bad book!), you have to enter into its world. For example — and this is me saying this, not him — in order to understand where Marxism comes from, you need to put yourself in the place of the man who hears something liberating in, ‘Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.’ Why did Marxism sound plausible and morally righteous to people once upon a time? What does it get right about justice? What does it get wrong? How do we know?”

Here, it seems Dreher is arguing contra Gibbs. Gibbs, If I’m understanding him correctly, is saying students should read the words “workers of the world, unite!” nakedly, taking no note of any plausibility structure (i.e. worldview) which may make such words intelligible and attractive. Indeed, such context would only prevent wonder, according to Gibbs. Now, I’m with Dreher here—it is worthwhile indeed to enter the man’s world, understand the given biases at play. When done well, such a worldview education doesn’t cause the student to toss the book aside; far from it! It rather opens the book up anew to the student. Making the word “worldview” synonymous with “lazy/dismissive thinking” is, ironically, lazy and dismissive.

You see, worldview education begins with the humble premise that we aren’t approaching the world “from above.” As the poet Anne Carson put it, “There is no objective place.” We are creatures, bound by space and time. We don’t offer some supposed “neutral” interpretation of a given book, painting, data point, or fact. Rather, conscious or not of our myriad prejudices, we encounter the world Christianly. Likewise, every other reader, connoisseur, or scientist comes to the world from their own particular angle.

Worldview education seeks, imperfectly no doubt, to give these angles a voice at the Harkness table. Could such an education make students arrogant as Gibbs fears? I suppose. However, does the alternative make the student any less arrogant: supposing that the texts they are reading are composed by context-less men, and that they are encountering them unencumbered by their own commitments, values, and motives? I think not.

In the end, having read countless articles by Gibbs over the years, I have no doubt that he and I share common educational philosophies and goals. Further, his fear of creating thoughtless readers is valid. I also see too many students quite willing to dismiss foreign ideas out of hand. However, training students in worldviews—teaching students the empathetic skills needed to see the world through another’s eyes—is not the problem. Indeed, worldview education is the solution.

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By In Theology, Wisdom

Face to Facebook

I sit here in my office and poke around on a keyboard that is not even physically connected to my laptop and characters appear on a screen. I have a phone in my pocket through which I talk to someone around the world, send a text message, and to which I can ask questions and give commands. Usually, when all things are working as they should, the phone responds. At times it will even talk back to me asking me clarifying questions or telling me it doesn’t quite understand me.

I still marvel at this technology. As a child, I watched television shows such as Star Trek and dreamed of a time when those communicators would be real. Not only did they become real. The flip phone that they resemble is already technologically passé. One generation’s science fiction dream world is the next generation’s relative necessity.

These technological dreams and advances are an aspect of our being created in the image of a creative God. As such, they are not only good; they are also necessary. We are created to take dominion over the world, making it fruitful in every way. When God created Adam and told him to tend and guard the Garden, Adam had to figure out new and creative ways to plow the ground and, eventually, fight the thorns and thistles. He and his descendants created new and more effective and efficient ways to accomplish their tasks, making the world an ever-increasingly fruitful place.

Throughout history, man has continued to create new technologies for these purposes. From farm implements to the vast array of computer technologies, we have made our lives and the world flourish. But there is something interesting about the technologies that we create. As Sherry Turkle observes in her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Others, “We make our technologies, and they, in turn, make and shape us.”a Our technology begins to drive and shape the culture.

This is not inherently bad. It is simply the statement of a fact. One generation invents the automobile. The culture of the next generation is driven (pardon the pun) by the automobile. Schedules, work, play, markets, and other cultural matters assume the use of the automobile. What was a luxury to the culture of one generation becomes the necessity of the culture in the next? Electricity, phones, and computers are now the staples of the culture. We have developed our technologies, and our technologies, in turn, have shaped the way we live our lives.

As a pastor, I have been especially intrigued by the world of “relational” or “social” technology; that is, technologies designed to keep us connected in some form of communication. How are these relational tools affecting our relationships? How do these technologies affect the expectations that people have when they come to be a part of a local church? Is there a dark side of these technologies that the gospel must address? As Christians, we are called to engage the culture. What kind of culture are we engaging? How much of that culture has affected (infected!) the church? How does the church counter those cultural trends?

It is becoming painfully evident that our social technology is being used in such a way to make us more lonely. We are connected more than ever by telephones and social media, yet we are more and more isolated from one another. This is not the conclusion of some Bible-thumping Luddite. Non-Christians are recognizing it. Ironically, I suppose, you can find articles online such as Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? , The Loneliness Epidemic: We’re More Connected Than Ever – But Are We Feeling More Alone? , and The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us. Here is a video that explains how our connectivity is isolating us. That video is based on a TED Talk delivered by Sherry Turkle summarizing her full-length treatment of the subject in her book Alone Together. None of these is an explicitly Christian evaluation of the situation, but they are all recognizing that our social technology is developing a culture that, while connected, is becoming disconnected from full human interaction.

This technology gives each of us the sense of control that we haven’t had in the past. We always have a measure of control to be sure, but today’s technologies give a perception that we are more in control than ever before. Looking at a sliver of the metanarrative of our culture, we can see huge cultural shifts and, consequently, how we have gained more and more control of our lives and interactions with others.

There was a time in our country when, by and large, to have a job, one had to go to a place of work, was forced to work with others he didn’t know and submit to “the man.” A man was “forced” to learn to interact with others in an amicable way and, generally, wanted to keep his job for forty years and retire with a gold watch. Though we still go to places of business, internet technology has changed our situations tremendously. Now we can be employed by a huge corporation and rarely go into “the office.” We connect online, control our schedules, and control our interactions with people.

This was brought home to me at a dinner with a young couple who were both urban professionals. We talked about their work. The lady to whom I spoke worked from her home and only chose to go to the coffee shop to work when she felt as if she needed to be around people. She was in control of her interactions. In the previous generation, unless you were a farmer, you weren’t able to isolate yourself to this degree. Now technology has allowed us to interact only as much as we feel comfortable doing so. (more…)

  1. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Others (New York: Basic Books, 2011)  263.  (back)

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By In Family and Children, Theology, Wisdom

How to fail in the pursuit of godliness

I want to say a few words about a common way in which we often fail to grow in godliness. As it happens, parents also sometimes make a similar mistake in raising their children, with the result that their kids go off the rails as they approach independent adulthood.

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By In Interviews, Podcast

Episode 5B: Second Interview with Thomas Purifoy on his Documentary: “Is Genesis History

Thomas Purifoy, writer, director, and producer of the recent feature film, “Is Genesis History?” discusses the current state of the Bible and creation debate with Kuyperian contributor Luke Welch. We discuss the difference in asking the question from a science framework, and from a historical framework. Purifoy answers questions about why the way you read the Bible about this matters, and about what directions the current church is headed. The interview is full of historical and scientific highlights.

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By In Politics

We Worship By Faith, Not By Fun

As you approach the outer court of the Tabernacle with an animal in tow, your journey has been filled with thoughts of what is about to happen. This little animal, an animal of which you may have grown fond, is about to be slaughtered in your place. There may even be some thoughts of turning back.

The priest meets you in the outer court somewhere around the bronze altar; this big, hollow box with four horns on the top in which a fire is constantly burning. You lay your hands on the head of the animal, ordaining it to stand in your place to be offered up. The knife is then taken in hand and the throat of the animal is cut. The blood that gushes from its throat, being pumped out by a heart taking its last beats, is caught in a basin so that it can be splashed on the sides of the altar. The smells of death fill your nostrils. The priest finishes filleting the animal, cutting it up into pieces, washing the parts, and then placing it in this bronze altar in a particular order.

Though after a while in a culture that practices this day-in and day-out you become somewhat accustomed to this, it is not really what you would consider fun. In fact, this is something of a chore. It is difficult at many levels. You can think of many other things that you would rather be doing with your time. So, why do you do it?

You do it because God commanded you to do it. You walk by faith, not by fun. You are created by God to be a worshiper, and this is what worshipers do.

In this New Covenant age in which none of these animal offerings is required of us, there are still things about worship that aren’t fun … and aren’t designed to be. We cheapen the worship of God when we try to make everything fun so that people will be comfortable and want to come back. While we do not have the obligation to bring animals to sacrifice, worship is still the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12.1-2). There are parts of our worship, consequently, that won’t be pleasant. All discipline for the present seems painful rather than joyful (Heb 12.11). Worship is a place where our lives are being disciplined to deny the sinful desires of our mortal bodies, fight against the sin all around us, and be shaped more in the likeness of God. Quite frankly, it isn’t always fun.

I suppose this is one reason why there are people who will spend their food or utility money on a concert or a sporting event, go and sit for hours (sometimes in inclement weather), and then tell you that they had a great time. However, an hour to an hour-and-a-half in worship is “too long,” “burdensome,” and, worst of all, “boring.” It’s just not fun. If it were fun, I would move heaven and earth to get there. I love to have fun.

There is nothing wrong with having fun. God, you might be surprised to learn, wants us to have fun. There is a time and place for it. God wants you to delight in his good gifts. Spend money on things your enjoy. Take trips. Go to those concerts. Hunt. Fish. Go to ball games. Watch movies. Have fun.

But as with any good gift of God, fun can become an idol. When fun becomes my god, I only do the things that are pleasant and avoid the unpleasant and inconvenient. Being confronted with sin in my life when I enter into worship, kneeling in humility and confessing my sin goes against the Law of Fun. Spending time with the people of God getting beyond the superficialities of life may also be a violation of the Law of Fun. Let’s always keep it light so as not to enrage Fun. (more…)

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By In Politics

Not So Special

Guest Post by Peter Leithart

Why is the US embroiled in the Middle East? There are two primary answers: Oil and Israel. Both are fairly intractable problems, the latter in significant part because of the unique convergence of theology and politics that has forged American policy in the region. Dispensationalists insist that we must bless Israel or incur the curse of Israel’s God, and dispensationalism has had an enormous influence on US policy. Daniel Pipes has said that “America’s Christian Zionists” are, next to the Israeli armed forces, “the Jewish state’s ultimate strategic asset.”  For obvious religious and political reasons, American Jews pressure the US government, very effectively, to support Israel militarily and diplomatically. Any deviation from a pro-Israel policy is liable to be tarred as anti-Semitic.

Just ask John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. In 2011, Mearsheimer was condemned for his endorsement of Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who, which a group of writers condemned as anti-Semitic. Alan Dershowitz claimed that Mearsheimer had crossed the “red line between acceptable criticism of Israel and legitimizing anti-Semitism.” This wasn’t the first time that Mearsheimer had dealt with the charge. His 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Stephen Walt, was condemned as “anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent.” “Yes, it’s anti-Semitic,” wrote Eliot Cohen in the Washington Post. In response to the original essay that served as the basis of the book, Alan Dershowitz called the authors bigots whose ideas were similar to those found on neo-Nazi web sites.

Mearsheimer and Walt deny the charge, of course. They insist that Israel has a right to exist, reject the notion that the “Israel lobby” of the title is all-powerful or conspiratorial, agree that Israel’s advocates in the US are playing the same game of advocacy as everyone else in political life. Their central thesis begins from their conclusion that the US has neither sufficient moral nor strategic reasons to give unconditional support to Israel. Since moral and strategic considerations don’t explain US policy, there must be another factor: “The real reason why American politicians are so deferential is the political power of the Israel lobby” (p. 5).

I’m less interested in the argument about the Israel lobby than in Mearsheimer and Walt’s analysis of the moral and strategic rationale for US support for Israel. They argue that there is a “dwindling moral case” for supporting Israel. They don’t find the “underdog” argument plausible anymore.  While Jews have been victims for centuries, they observe, “in the past century they have often been the victimizers in the Middle East, and their main victims were and continue to be the Palestinians” (p. 79). Israel is no longer the David facing the Goliath of Arab states; they are instead “the strongest military power in the Middle East.”

Nor does support for Israel entail support for democracy, at least not democracy as most of today’s Americans understand it. Israel is, after all, a Jewish state, and “its leaders have long emphasized the importance of maintaining an unchallenged Jewish majority within its borders” (p. 87). The initial draft of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty contained an explicit guarantee that “all are equal before the law” and an assurance that “there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, race, ethnic group, country of origin.” When the Knesset passed the Basic Law in 1992, however, that article had been dropped (p. 88). As a result, “Israel’s 1.36 million Arabs are de facto treated as second-class citizens” (p. 88).  (more…)

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