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By In Politics

What is a Just War?-The Just War Tradition in Brief

This is the second in an ongoing series about the just war tradition. Here is the first post where I review Charles and Demy’s book on the just war tradition. They list three basic sets of rules for a just war: rules for going to war (jus ad bellum),  rules for conducting a war (jus in bello), and a third list of what the authors call “prudential” or “secondary” criteria that flow out of the first two. There are three rules for going to war, two for conducting the war, and five prudential criteria.  In subsequent posts I will address these different criteria. In this post I give several quotes from the authors’ introduction where they explain what a just war tradition is and what it is not. The goal is to give the reader an overview of the just-war tradition.

Just war thought in its classic expression…is not first and foremost about military tactics and strategy; nor is it about justifying military operations that already have been undertaken. Rather properly viewed, it is a morally guided approach to statecraft that (1) qualifies the administration of coercive force and (2) views peace as the result of justly ordered relationships. Not all use of force is just; frequently it is not. And not all use of force creates conditions for bringing about peace and justice.  Therefore, the use of force must be highly qualified. Peace is not to be understood as the absence of conflict; it is rather the fruit or by-product of a justly ordered society…The ordering of society-and the just maintenance of that order at its various levels-is the task of policy

(more…)

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By In Politics

It’s You I Like: Plato’s Cave and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

I recently had a student get injured. Not seriously so, but enough to warrant a few sick days. I told the student I wanted to pray for her, that God would heal her ailment. She responded, “Thanks, but instead please pray that I’ll be more faithful in having quiet times. I don’t think God has much interest in my body, but I know he cares about my soul.” I asked the student if she was able to do the readings from class while she was out. “Yes,” she said hesitantly, “I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Plato!”

Well over two millennia ago, Plato gave an analogy that helped shape much of Western philosophy going forward. Here’s the most famous (though, not best) interpretation of the allegory: There are people in a dark cave facing a wall. Behind the people is a fire and behind the fire is an opening to the outside world. In that world, people walk, talk, dance, live.

Inside the cave, however, the people can only watch their shadows. Having never seen the outside, “real” world, the cave-people foolishly think the dancing shadows are ends in themselves, actual things. They aren’t, of course; they’re only shadows, “receptacles.” Freedom, for Plato, is recognizing the ultimate vapidity and illusiveness of the material world. Physicality—“objects”—lie in the realm of mere opinion and shadow. It’s in the incorporeal, metaphysical world of forms that true life can be found.

Having just completed readings surrounding this interpretation of the cave illustration, I asked the student, “how has this view shaped the church, do you think?” Substitute “objects” with “creation,” “form-world” with “heaven,” and you start to see the origin of the disembodied world many modern Christians inhabit. A view that leads us to think that only the spiritual world is real, and God takes no interest in concussions or broken bones.

This view stands in stark contrast with the biblical understanding of physicality. In Genesis 1 we see a world made by God. It is good, indeed, very good. Sin enters the world and distorts this goodness, but never eradicates the Creator’s handiwork. Sin is like rust on a ship; it’s not integral to the structure of the object. The ship existed before there was rust and will exist after the rust is removed. Indeed, the removal of the rust will only make the ship more of a ship.

The Christian view of creation can be seen well in this exchange between Mr. Rogers and one of his neighbors, Jeff Erlanger:

Jeff was born with a tumor that left him bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In the video, his handicap is pronounced and his young age only makes the disability more agonizing. Watching the episode, I can see why Plato wanted to understand the world as mere shadow. It explains and relativizes so much of the torment and agony of life. In understanding ourselves as more than physicality, there is hope. However, what do we lose when we understand ourselves as less than physicality? While Plato’s analogy can interpret our pain, I don’t think it can account for the beauty and dignity of this world.

Mr. Rogers no doubt sees Jeff’s brokenness, but he also sees his worth. To Jeff, he warmly sings, “It’s you I like. Every part of you. Your skin, your eyes, your feelings.” He saw the boy—the whole boy, body and soul—as real, as an end, as a creature. The wheelchair did not typify Jeff to Mr. Rogers. Nor was the “real” Jeff simply his spirit. In that moment, Rogers did what he did so often; he recognized and named the humanity in the other. Jeff was not a shadow to Mr. Rogers, he was real, he was worthy, he was loved.

When recounting so many of the difficulties of being handicapped, Jeff reminds us that there is such difficulty for everyone, those inside and outside of wheelchairs. Jeff knows we are all on a scale of brokenness, all in need of healing in myriad ways. So, in addition to praying for my student’s quiet times, I also prayed for her ailment, despite her earnest wishes. Because denying the goodness of our bodies won’t take away the badness. God did not place us in a cave, he placed us in a real-life neighborhood. The question is: will we see creation as a trick of the eye, or as a gift from the Creator? To do the former, ironically, is to choose to live in a cave of our own making. To do the later, however, is to be reminded of our Creator’s love for his creation when we hear Mr. Rogers’ song:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.

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By In Politics

Adams’ Warrior Children II: A Response to a Response

Heath Lambert released a response to the criticism leveled at him by me and others. First, I want to say I’m thankful for him, his ministry, and his humility. In apologizing for his sermon, he hedged no bets. While I don’t know Dr. Lambert well, I had the opportunity to take a few classes with him at Boyce. I’ve only ever known him to be a fine, upstanding Christian. His response to the sermon only bears out what I already knew to be true of him.

However, I feel the need to defend myself a bit. I suggested that Dr. Lambert leveraged his position at ACBC to get Dr. Johnson fired. I called that fact “indisputable.” Lambert calls this charge “baseless,” “unsubstantiated,” and “slanderous.” Lambert says: “It would never occur to me to try to force, cajole, or blackmail [Dr. Mohler] into anything.”

Far from being baseless, it remains indisputable that Lambert used his position to professionally harm Dr. Johnson. If he did nothing else besides claiming his colleague was terrible at his job, a faithless teacher, etc. *That* was him putting Dr. Johnson’s job in jeopardy. Surely we aren’t supposed to believe Dr. Lambert expected the public to assume he was in favor of such a dangerous man teaching young pastors after hearing that sermon. Dr. Lambert cares too much for pastoral education to want a terrible theologian instructing students.

I don’t think Dr. Mohler was blackmailed. I think he was put in an unfair, untenable situation in which one faculty member publically accused another of being dangerous, if not unconverted. This in no way questions Dr. Mohler’s integrity, as Lambert implies. To the contrary, Dr. Mohler would have been derelict not to have seriously reconsidered Johnson’s employment after hearing Lambert’s allegation. I’m not the one who questioned Dr. Mohler’s integrity, Lambert did when he implied Mohler hired, aided, and abetted a wolf in the sheep pen.

Again, I don’t think there was some grand conspiracy which Lambert orchestrated. I don’t know what part, if any, Lambert’s well-known opinions of Johnson played in his termination. But I do know that Lambert leveraged his position to professionally harm Johnson. There is video evidence of him doing just that.

While I wish Dr. Lambert didn’t blame-shift on that last point, I’m still appreciative of the statement and consider him a brother in Christ. One mistake doesn’t make a man or an institution. I still heartily recommend Boyce College to students, and happily so!

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By In Politics

Adams’ Warrior Children: On the Firing of Eric L. Johnson

Update: Dr. Lambert has issued an apology here and I wrote a follow-up here. I also removed a line which I thought was too definitive in retrospect.

A petition began yesterday to protest the “wrongful firing” of Eric L. Johnson, longtime professor of counseling at Southern Seminary. Though I hold Johnson in high esteem, I hesitated to sign the document for a few reasons. First, I want to give Albert Mohler the benefit of the doubt. I went to Boyce College (Southern’s undergraduate school) largely because of Dr. Mohler. In the few opportunities I had to watch him up close, I saw a warm, compassionate, faithful follower of Jesus. I honestly don’t think there is a finer Christian statesman alive today.

While I was disappointed to hear of Dr. Johnson’s firing, it’s easy to think of reasons such a move may have been warranted, however sad it may be. Southern is known as a “Biblical Counseling” school. Perhaps students who would like to study Christian Psychology are simply going to other seminaries, like Covenant, TEDS, or RTS. Maybe Dr. Johnson’s classes weren’t full enough to merit his salary. Or perhaps Dr. Mohler wanted continuity in the department. While that move isn’t wise in my estimation, it’s his to make and, frankly, understandable. Or maybe there’s some other reason to which I’m simply not privy.

Then I watched the video linked in the petition. The video is of Heath Lambert, Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, publically condemning Eric Johnson. He quotes a section from Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care, leaving out key sentences and paragraphs. He says Johnson’s words are “a total and utter mockery of God’s Word.” He paraphrases Johnson’s thesis as,

“There’s all this stuff in there [the Bible] about anxiety, but it’s general and can’t really help you. The Bible has this general level of sophistication. The Bible – translation – can’t even help you with the spiritual items it brings up.”

He then says, “I think that’s slander. Honest, I do.”

He says of Johnson:

“The reason that he is wrong, the reason that his counseling advice is bad is because he has not been faithful to the teaching. He has not been faithful to the Word. He is a horrible theologian.”

Most stunningly, Lambert seems to question Johnson’s salvation:

“…you know when I was reading this some [9 years ago] when the book came out, and I was deeply troubled by it, and I was angry about it, and I was frustrated about it ,and then I realized something about this man. This isn’t just a demonstration of faithless teaching. It is a demonstration, is it not, of 1 Tim 4:16 of faithless living? It broke my heart when I realized that. This is a man, who denigrates Psalm 94 because he’s never experienced the consolations of Psalm 94. He can’t teach Psalm 94 because Psalm 94 never got into his bloodstream. He is a bad theologian because he doesn’t understand the teaching and the teaching never changed his life, and so he is a very bad counselor…. If we refuse to allow the Word of God to take root in our heart and change us then the overflow of that unchanged heart to broken people will be just as corrupt as [Johnson].”

After listening to this sermon, I signed the petition. Lambert’s treatment of Johnson’s words were horrendous on two fronts. As a Christian, he should have interpreted Johnson with more generosity, and as a counselor, Lambert should have interpreted Johnson with more honesty. How can a man who gets paid to listen have been so deaf to another’s words? At no point in the sermon did Lambert present Johnson’s position in a way in which Johnson would recognize. Thus, he never actually engaged with the rival position. He built a straw man and condemned that straw man to unemployment, if not hell.

The petition claims that Lambert was behind Johnson’s firing. While I don’t know that his pushing of Johnson was the only, or even main, cause of Johnson’s termination, after watching the video Lambert’s intentions are clear even if Mohler’s are not. Lambert implicitly accused Dr. Mohler of hiring, aiding, and abetting a wolf in the sheep pen. Lambert’s disgust—and I don’t think that’s too strong a word—for Johnson was palpable. Lambert put Dr. Mohler in an untenable situation. One of them had to leave, and Lambert knew his side (the Biblical Counseling side) had the institutional advantage.

Almost 15 years ago, John Frame wrote a prophetic essay entitled Machen’s Warrior Children. The essay argued that John Gresham Machen faced a serious and dangerous enemy: namely, liberalism. Facing a bonafide enemy of the faith, he fought. Those after him, argued Frame, adopted the posture Machen took toward liberalism in each and every battle going forward. Their side was the “Christian” one and the other side was the “faithless” one, no matter how trivial the dispute. For these people, everything was a fight to the death.

I respect and have learned from many in the Biblical Counseling camp. Their perspective is laudable and needed. But even if one thinks Dr. Johnson’s approach to counseling is anemic or flawed, he’s no enemy of the faith. His newest book (which I’m excited to read!) is endorsed by Kevin Vanhoozer, Jeremy Lelek, Michael Allen, Kelly Kapic, and Richard Winter. My goodness, Dr. Johnson’s theology is about as orthodox and mainstream as it gets in Evangelicalism. At least in this particular sermon, Heath Lambert embodies the sort of immature, pugnacious attitude against which Frame so eloquently rails. Lambert was busy winning a war when he should have been having an honest conversation.

Whatever institution Dr. Johnson ends up teaching at will no doubt be blessed to have him. Through his writing, speaking, and counseling ministry he’s ministered the gospel of Christ to thousands. That such a father in the faith has been treated this way is a disgrace and, frankly, an embarrassment to a school which I love and treasure.

Featured image taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexandermason

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By In Politics

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 4: The Kuyperian Alternative

In response to the evident defects of liberalism, we might well ask what the alternatives might be. We evidently cannot return to the religious establishments of old. Even the most dedicated communitarian is highly unlikely to make such an obviously retrograde proposal. Although at least one church body has long sought to amend the US Constitution to recognize the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ, no one would argue that, for example, the state’s coercive apparatus should enforce ecclesiastical judgements issued against recalcitrant members.

Everyone now presumably agrees that the execution of heretics handed over by the Inquisition to the civil authorities was not only a very bad idea but fundamentally unjust as well. Nevertheless, the major Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries charge the civil authorities with the responsibility to “protect the sacred ministry; and thus [to] remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted.” By the beginning of the nineteenth century, this confessional charge to the political authorities was sounding less and less plausible in the increasingly pluralistic societies of Europe and North America.

In this context, the Dutch statesman and polymath Abraham Kuyper charted a different path in articulating the relationship between church and state. To begin with, Kuyper understood better than many of his predecessors that the church-state issue was part of a larger societal pattern characterized by a multiplicity of agents, including individuals and a variety of communal formations. In a mature differentiated society, an ordinary person would find herself embedded in many overlapping communities of which the gathered church and the state were only two.

The question is thus enlarged: How do church and state relate to each other? now becomes: What are the proper relationships among church, state, marriage, family, school, business enterprise, and a whole host of voluntary associations? If Thomas Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation” is inadequate to account for the complex relations between state and gathered church, it is certainly inadequate for understanding how a variety of human communities function in the real world.

Kuyper came up with a description for this phenomenon: soevereiniteit in eigen kring, that is, sovereignty in its own sphere or sphere sovereignty. Of course, God himself is ultimate Sovereign, but in his grace, he has conferred limited sovereignty, or, better yet, authority, on human beings and institutions, none of which can claim this ultimacy for itself. “This perfect Sovereignty of the sinless Messiah at the same time directly denies and challenges all absolute Sovereignty among sinful men on earth, and does so by dividing life into separate spheres, each with its own sovereignty.”

Sphere sovereignty corresponds to Mouw and Griffioen’s “associational diversity,” but it is not without relevance for spiritual or directional diversity, even if it is not identical to it. The very notion of sphere sovereignty can hardly be religiously neutral because it is dependent on the recognition that ultimate sovereignty belongs to God alone and cannot be monopolized by a mere human individual or institution. In other words, what I like to call the pluriformity of authorities cannot so easily be divorced from directional diversity.

In fact, the relationship between these two types of diversity is a complicated one. Although many tend to conflate the different forms of diversity as if they were all of one piece, this is not exactly correct. The tolerance of different claims to truth so championed by Crick would, after all, allow one’s fellow citizens to believe in the very ideological illusions that would deny sphere sovereignty and ascribe ultimate sovereignty to the individual, the nation, the economic class or the state. This means that, despite the fact that the concept of sphere sovereignty, for many of us, seems better to account for societal pluriformity than does liberal individualism, the two approaches remain competitors and thus must be tolerated within the political arena.

Acknowledging pluriformity will thus stand in some tension with spiritual or directional diversity, which suggests that efforts at doing public justice to both realities will not reach an easy solution capable of commanding universal assent. The only way to lessen the tension may be for those of us who are persuaded that sphere sovereignty is superior to liberal individualism to show in practice how this superiority is manifested in ordinary life.

This is precisely what Kuyper sought to do both in his writings and in his practice. Two of his essays are particularly relevant to this effort. The first is titled, “Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life,” which he delivered fairly early in his career in 1869, that is, before he entered the Dutch Parliament and before he founded the Free University. Although this essay is perhaps marred by some of the elements of a typical nineteenth-century romantic nationalism, its central point has positive social and political ramifications: that God’s creation is a diverse creation with its unifying principle found in God alone, while a secularizing modernity is improperly preoccupied with seeking another locus of unity in something created. Hence the longstanding efforts of the various pagan and modern rulers to establish an imperial unity that would bring order to the apparent chaos of created diversity. As Kuyper puts it, “sin, by a reckless leveling and the elimination of all diversity, seeks a false, deceptive unity, the uniformity of death.” The world strives for a stifling uniformity that would erase all legitimate distinctions found in God’s creation, but it does so in imitation of God’s plan, which is to unify creation in himself.

The second essay is simply titled, “Sphere Sovereignty,” and was delivered in 1880 on the occasion of the opening of the Free University. Sovereignty Kuyper defines as “the authority that has the right, the duty, and the power to break and avenge all resistance to its will.” Of course, only God can possess sovereignty in this absolute sense. Nevertheless, God has graciously conferred a portion of this sovereignty on a variety of earthly agents. As Kuyper affirms, “This perfect Sovereignty of the sinless Messiah at the same time directly denies and challenges all absolute Sovereignty among sinful men on earth, and does so by dividing life into separate spheres, each with its own sovereignty.” The state and the gathered church are but two of these spheres, which also include “a domain of the personal, of the household, of science, of social and ecclesiastical life, each of which obeys its own laws of life, each subject to its own chief.” The differences among these spheres are irreducible in that the sheer variety of spheres cannot be reduced to or derived from a single sphere superior to all others. God has invested each with its own authority and given it a distinctive calling within the larger panorama of his creation. This is something for which liberal individualism cannot easily account.

An example will suffice to illustrate this. I am lecturing a class of eighteen-year-olds in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, and someone walks into the room without prior knowledge of what she will find there. She may be aware that people are inside, but as yet she has no idea who these people are or what they will be doing or what sort of relationships might exist among them. However, once she enters the room, she does not have to employ sophisticated reasoning to intuit the presence of an instructor and students whose interactions are structured by the classroom context. She knows, almost without thinking, that she is not in the presence of a family. The reasons are obvious. The oldest person in the room is decades older than every one of the young people and physically resembles very few, if any, of them. In other words, he is obviously not their father. He is too short and dark, whereas the males in particular tend to be tall and blond. There is no way he could have sired all of them, at least without the co-operation of a large number of prospective female partners. In other words, there are unmistakable biological cues that this is not a familial community. The fact that the young people are seated at desks while the older adult is on his feet talking up a blue streak suggests that this is not a gathered church community either. Nor is it a parliamentary body, few of which would have eighteen-year-olds as deputies and certainly not in these numbers. Nor is it a business enterprise, a labor union or a garden club. The reality of the classroom community presents itself to the visitor almost immediately upon entry. It is not an abstraction created in her mind out of the raw data of aggregated individuals. The classroom is a classroom. The labor union is a labor union. State is state, and church is church. It is as simple as that.

Many people tend to assume, drawing on H. Richard Niebuhr’s categories, that Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty is part of a grand effort at Christ transforming culture, perhaps through political means. Yet that is to misunderstand what sphere sovereignty is about. Yes, it has implications for political and other forms of social life, but it is above all a framework enabling us to understand the diversity of God’s creation, especially the human cultural and social project. It represents an effort to grasp social realities apart from the distorting effects of the post-revolutionary ideological illusions that sought unity somewhere other than in the creating, redeeming and sustaining God.

However, it is fairly evident to even the casual reader of Kuyper that he did not develop sphere sovereignty into a sophisticated theoretical framework capable of making fine but necessary distinctions. For example, he rather easily conflated political federalism, contextual diversity and societal pluriformity. It would fall to Kuyper’s more philosophical heirs, such as Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), to articulate a more consistent theoretical foundation for sphere sovereignty, something that would have an impact on such organizations as the Center for Public Justice, the Canadian think tank Cardus, the Christian Labour Association of Canada, the Acton Institute, and the network of Christian universities loosely associated with the Christian Reformed Church. In some fashion these would all affirm principled pluralism, including the spiritual or directional pluralism described by Mouw and Griffioen, yet they recognize that they still have an important task before them, namely, to persuade their fellow citizens that a framework taking seriously the diversity of God’s creation is superior to those attempting artificially to squeeze this diversity into a single principle, whether that be the sovereignty of the individual or that of the state, nation, people or class.

Acceptance of directional or spiritual diversity is not, in other words, a pretext for acquiescing in the persistence of differences of opinion that really do matter. There are still battles to be fought and there will continue to be such until Christ returns. But it does mean, in most circumstances, that we wage our battles with civil means, making our case before the watching world and demonstrating, as we are able, that recognizing and respecting societal pluriformity,  better than its competitors, leads to flourishing communities and balanced social development. There will never be a complete congruence between these two types of diversity, but one provides a context for us to promote the other to the best of our abilities, and that may be the best we can hope for in between the times.

Part 1: Liberalism and Two Kinds of Diversity

Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association

Part 3: What Liberalism Implies for the Two Pluralisms

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By In Books, Politics

Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World

To make the Christian faith plausible to the secular mind, we either have to (1) de-mystify their Scriptures or (2) re-enchant their cosmos. In addition to the later apologetic being more truthful, it’s also more beautiful. In his new book Recapturing the Wonder (available here), Mike Cosper has written a truly beautiful book—one able to re-enchant the world of even the most jaded modern. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton, Cosper shows that there is indeed a path—paved in ancient practices—to transcendence in an age of materialism and consumerism. As a High School teacher, I’ll certainly be using the content of the book in classes for years to come. The book is especially apropos for college students. Were I organizing a reading scheme for a CCO/InterVarsity/RUF leadership team, Recapturing the Wonder would be at the top of my list this semester. To whet your appetite, below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Ours is an age where our sense of spiritual possibility, transcendence, and the presence of God has been drained out. What’s left is a spiritual desert, and Christians face the temptation to accept the dryness of that desert as the only possible world. We have enough conviction and faith to be able to call ourselves believers, but we’re compelled to look for ways to live out a Christian life without transcendence and without the active presence of God, practicing what Dallas Willard once called ‘biblical deism’—a strange bastardization of Christianity that acts as though, once the Bible was written, God left us to sort things out for ourselves.”

“Technology has given us the sense that everything within the universe can be made to appear to our senses and harnessed for our purposes. It may be meaningless, but it can be comprehended and mastered. This mastery, though, is a bit of an illusion as well. The accumulated body of scientific knowledge can tell us all about the canvas, oils, and minerals that combine to make a work of art, but they cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

“We hunger for that kind of know-how, for a relationship with Scripture that leads to something deeper than head knowledge. We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God, but we’re so afraid of getting something wrong that we either avoid Scripture altogether or treat it as a cold, dead abstraction, unable to connect it to real life.”

“In a disenchanted world, we have our own overarching narrative, and its cornerstone is progress—a sense that the world is moving from disorder to order, that humanity is improving not just biologically and evolutionarily but morally, intellectually, and spiritually.”

“The power of habit is in the way it tunes our body and soul to anticipate a return to the rhythm. We’re primed for it, and when we’re starved of it, we’ll feel pangs of hunger.”

“Regular is a word that needs some redemption in our modern usage. We’re so used to superlatives that we tend to be dismissive and suspect of the ordinary. We don’t want regular; we want super-sized awesomeness. But regular is a good word, and it’s important to embrace it in two senses here. Regular means ordinary. But regular also refers to time. We need solitude to be regular in the sense that it’s repeated— a rhythm we return to as Jesus did.”

“Consuming is about possession, and consuming something uses it up. The end goal of a fast food meal is a pile of empty wrappers. The end goal of most consumer products is obsolescence. We are not meant to dwell with cars, smartphones, and running shoes—not for long, anyway. These things are meant to be used up, and once used up, disposed of or recycled into something new.”

“Reading about the lives of saints, I don’t see immovable giants. Instead, I see Merton falling in love with a nurse and having an affair. I see Brennan Manning fighting a life-long battle with alcohol abuse. I see Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones—two of the greatest preachers in the English language—fighting lifelong battles with depression. But Merton came home to the monastery, Manning died declaring ‘all is grace,’ and Spurgeon and Jones kept preaching the gospel… Somehow, grace abounds in a world full of sorrows.”

“Follow Jesus if you must, seek the face of God if you must, but don’t be surprised if, after a while, it feels like you’ve been battling angels in the darkness. Seeking God’s face in a fallen world is not the easy life; it’s the good life.”

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By In Politics

Conservatives on the Cutting Edge

Guest Post by Troy Green

In James K.A. Smith’s excellent book, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theologyhe explains recent developments in theology and philosophy among mostly post-liberal (some Catholic) theologians. As with everything Dr. Smith writes, his prose is accessible and written with clarity and precision as he describes the contribution made by some of these post-liberal scholars.

One quote caught my attention. He quotes Wolterstorff saying, “I have long thought, that . . . it’s remarkable that Karl Barth should have arrived in the 1920’s at the views which I characterized as those of the Yale theologians, views which we can now recognize to be….postmodern views. But it’s even more remarkable that Abraham Kuyper should have arrived at postmodern views of academic learning fifty years before that, more than a hundred years ago.”Abraham Kuyper was a brilliant theologian and politician of the latter 19th century who remains in high esteem among conservative evangelical scholars. Yet, Wolterstorff finds it remarkable that Kuyper could be on the cutting edge of theology some 50 years before men like Barth came along and 100 years before Yale theologians.

Question: Is this an anomaly or true to form for conservative evangelical theologians to be so far advanced in comparison to certain philosophical and theological trends of their day?

Smith describes the general consensus of the Radical Orthodox movement: “They are all particularly wary of the danger of adopting secular frameworks for Christian theological and theoretical reflection insofar as such secular paradigms are, ultimately, pagan (i.e., religious but misdirected or apostate).  In short, there is no secular, if by “secular” we mean “neutral” or “uncommitted”; instead, the supposedly neutral public spaces that we inhabit–in the academy or politics–are temples of other gods that cannot be served alongside Christ.”

Wow. There is no secular. There is no neutrality. Since this is the recent big discovery over the past several decades of post-liberal theology, I wonder if we could go back some 50 years and look at some of the conservative evangelical theologians to see what they were saying in the 1950’s and 60’s. A simple reading of anything by Cornelius Van Til one could find similar statements. Of course, this doesn’t even come close to plundering other works–which are replete with such statements–from men like R.J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer.

I’m appreciative to see many of these post-liberal theologians stating similar conclusions to that of Van Til. I am delighted to see them make contributions to revive a much needed political ecclesiology—the institutional church—in light of the realization that there is no secular or neutral ground. Conservative evangelical theologian, James B. Jordan, has been pushing an ecclesiocentric theology for decades. This is needed in both conservative and liberal churches as Smith mentions in his book exposing the shortcomings of the fundamentalist and liberal theologians of the modern 20th century.

But before I jump too much in my appreciation of post-liberal thought embracing a virgin birth and the resurrected Jesus, I don’t want to ignore all the areas it’s still wrong (e.g. views on feminism, socialism, homosexuality, etc.). I want to say something to these post-liberal theologians in light of the historical battles – very costly battles – fought by conservative evangelicals defending the integrity of the Bible and the fundamentals of the Christian faith against the claims of liberal predecessors: Welcome! Welcome to the 1960’s. If you are this elated about the discoveries of the sixties, imagine how ecstatic you will be when you reach the eighties and discover cassette tapes, classic rock, and Theonomy/Reconstructionist debates within conservative evangelical theology.

My assumption: Abraham Kuyper is not an anomaly. Neither was R.L. Dabney on EducationJohn G. Machen on LiberalismR.J. Rushdoony on the Politics of Guilt and Pity, and Cornelius Van Til on everything. These men are true to form. To believe the Bible is God’s Word–and to study it as such–is to always be on the cutting edge.

Post originally published at Theopolis.

Rev. Troy Greene is Pastor of The King’s Chapel in Brooklyn, New York.

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