A helpful clarification to modern heresies closely associated to ancient heresies by Dr. Tom Wright.
We live in an unusual age today. As objective truth collapses and the authority of a triune God who objectively reveals himself inerrantly in scripture disappears, it is little wonder that an unanchored world goes insane. What is truly sad is when once faithful and orthodox denominations abandon the authority of scripture for a worldly ethic. Many ordained leaders in my own denomination (PCUSA) as well as most other mainline denominations have signed onto a statement that abandons nearly all traditional Christian sexual ethics in favor of an ethic that mimics the liberal sexual ethos of our postmodern times. While on the one hand they favor, plead, and politically maneuver for the freedom of nearly all sexual expression absolutely prohibited by God’s Word, the other hand works with the liberal left of the political world to bring about tyranny and control in nearly all other aspects of our lives. Mark Steyn has written very cogently about this here. Here is an ironic section of his article:
A few years ago, Kenneth Minogue of the London School of Economics wrote that ours is the age of “the new Epicureans” in which the “freedom to choose” trumps all. A childless couple can choose to conceive. A female couple can choose to conceive. A male couple—Barrie and Tony from Chelmsford, England—can choose to conceive and both be registered as the biological fathers of their children not so much on the technical grounds that they had “co-mingled” their sperm before shipping it out to their Fallopian time-share in California but out of a more basic sympathy that this is how Barrie and Tony “self-identify” and it would be cruel to deny them. A woman in Bend, Ore., can choose to become a man, and then a “pregnant man.” A man can choose to become a woman. A man can choose to get halfway to becoming a woman, and then decide it’s more fun to “live in the grey area.” Biologically, Barrie or Tony, but not both, is the sole father of their child; the “pregnant man” is pregnant but not a man; the he/she living in “the grey area” is in reality black or white—at least according to what we used to call “the facts of life.” But issuers of passports, drivers’ licences, even birth certificates and no doubt one day U.S. Department of Homeland Security visas now defer to the principle of “self-identification.”
In terms of sexual identity, we’re freer than almost any society in human history, at least in terms of official validation of our choice to “redefine” ourselves in defiance of biological and physiological reality. And yet, if you accept that infertile couples and gay couples should be free to “have” babies by means of technology, why should you not be free to sell them the semen that enables them to do it? If you suggest that, say, “partial-birth abortion” (which is actually partial-birth infanticide) ought to be illegal, feminists will be out in the street chanting, “Keep your laws off my body!” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!” But, when the government tells you you can’t sell your own bodily fluid, which is, after all, about as basic a personal property as anything, there are no outraged progressives to chant “Keep your legislation off my ejaculation!”
At some point we will come to see that the developed world’s massive expansion of personal sexual liberty has provided a useful cover for the shrivelling of almost every other kind. Free speech, property rights, economic liberty and the right to self-defence are under continuous assault by Big Government. But who cares when Big Government lets you shag anything that moves and every city in North America hosts a grand parade to celebrate your right to do so? It’s an oddly reductive notion of individual liberty. The noisier grow the novelties of our ever more banal individualism, the more the overall societal aesthetic seems drearily homogenized—like closing time in a karaoke bar with the last sad drunks bellowing off the prompter “I did it My Way!”
And in the end even the sex doesn’t do it. In the Netherlands, the most progressive nation in Europe, the land where whatever’s your bag is cool, where naked women beckon from storefront windows, a certain ennui is palpable. Last week, the ANP news agency released a poll showing that the Dutch now derive more pleasure from going to the bathroom than from sex. It wasn’t a close-run thing: eighty per cent identified a trip to the toilet as the activity “they enjoy the most”—or, as the South African newspaper the Witness put it, “The Bog’s Better Than Bonking.” To modify Eliot, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a flush.
Many months back I received a request to complete a Presbyterian Church USA survey. Not being a person who likes doing surveys, I ignored it. But as I was hounded to complete the survey, I finally gave in and completed it. You can find the results of the survey here.
The results of one question is quite revealing, especially given the severe decline in the denomination.
The question asked if you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved”.
39% of members either agreed or strongly agreed.
45% of elders either agreed or strongly agreed.
35% of clergy agreed or strongly agreed.
22% of specialized clergy (clergy not working in a church) either strongly agreed or agreed.
Yet, in response to the severe decline, no one has connected these two statistics? Why? I would speculate that those who are in leadership on these issues are either in agreement with the majority or do not want to face the fact that most of the denomination has abandoned clear biblical revelation on this issue.
Slightly above one third of clergy agreed or strongly agreed (they do not make available a detailed breakdown on this statistic) that only followers of Jesus can be saved and less than one fourth of specialized clergy (who often have the strongest voice in national leadership) strongly agreed or agreed. Considering the strong possibility that those who only agree and did not strongly agree still hold out at least a strong possibility for salvation outside of Jesus Christ or hold a soft inclusivist position, this should be held up as the strongest evidence for severe decline. For what is the impetus for evangelism when you believe that salvation is available outside of Jesus Christ? For clergy and specialized clergy the strongest incentive for “church growth or maintenance of numbers” is job security. My hunch is that once you have discarded eternal destination, the incentive for conversion shifts to self-preservation.
Augustine once wrote that,”…God provides the means and arranges circumstances that will lead the elect to convert to Christ.” Conversion is an absolute foundational aspect of a basic Christian faith. Since we are born with a sinful nature and deserve eternal judgment we must receive a new spiritual nature (we must be born again) and be united with Christ to receive eternal life. We must be born again, repenting and receiving by faith, the grace of God in Jesus Christ, trusting in his saving work on the cross and in the historical reality of the physical resurrection. Paul clearly and firmly proclaims to the church at Rome, that our justification (being proclaimed righteous in God’s eyes) is only possible if we have an inner belief in Christ’s resurrection (Rom 10:9-10; 3:23-25). This basic understanding of the scriptures has been severely undermined by the entrance of pluralism and inclusivism, which have no scriptural basis whatsoever. Without a recovery of the gospel of salvation, whatever “growth” occurs will in reality be no growth at all.
We live in a very confused and intolerant world today. Civility in our postmodern so-called tolerant world has become non-existent, but not necessarily where we might expect to find it.
It has recently been reported that MSNBC and others have made a big show of pointing out a particular man at a protest who was carrying weapons linking him to racism. What they did not tell people, and was clearly avoided by the video camera was the fact that this man was black. Not only does this show media bias bordering on negligence and malpractice, but it also highlights the modern views of tolerance. It has not only become acceptable, but even fashionable to attack and demean individuals for not holding the same views as the attacker. We require tolerance of all ideas, which gives license to be intolerant toward people. This is an entire reversal of the traditional view of tolerance.
Gregory Koukl has written an incisive and important article on the topic of tolerance, available online here.
Here is a portion of that article:
Escaping the Trap. “Would you like to know how to get out of this dilemma?” I asked. They nodded. “You must reject this modern distortion of tolerance and return to the classic view.” Then I wrote these two principles on the board:
Be egalitarian regarding persons.
Be elitist regarding ideas.1
“Egalitarian” was a new word for them. “Think equal,” I said. “Treat others as having equal standing in value or worth.” They knew what an elitist was, though, someone who thought he or she was better than others. “Right,” I said. “When you are elitist regarding ideas, you are acknowledging that some ideas are better than others; and they are. We don’t treat all ideas as if they have the same merit, lest we run into contradiction. Some ideas are good. Some are bad. Some are true. Some are false. Some are brilliant. Others are just plain foolish.”
The first principle, what might be called “civility,” is at the heart of the classical view of tolerance. It can be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.
These two categories are frequently conflated in the muddled thinking created by the myth of tolerance. The view that one person’s ideas are no better or truer than another’s is simply absurd and inescapably self-contradictory. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful definition or standard of tolerance.
Topsy-Turvy. The modern definition of tolerance turns the classical formula for tolerance on its head:
Be egalitarian regarding ideas.
Be elitist regarding persons.
If you reject another’s ideas, you’re automatically accused of disrespecting the person (as the coed did with me). In this new view of tolerance, no idea or behavior can be opposed — even if done graciously — without inviting the charge of incivility.
To say I’m intolerant of the person because I disagree with his or her ideas is confused; ironically, it results in elitism regarding persons. If I think my ideas are better than another’s, I can be ill-treated as a person, publicly marginalized, and verbally abused as bigoted, disrespectful, ignorant, indecent, and (can you believe it?) intolerant. Sometimes I can even be sued, punished by law, or forced to attend re-education programs.2
In this way, tolerance has gone topsy-turvy: Tolerate most beliefs, but don’t tolerate (show respect for) those who take exception with those beliefs. Contrary opinions are labeled as “imposing your view on others” and quickly silenced.
This is nonsense and should be abandoned. The myth of tolerance forces everyone into an inevitable “Catch-22,” because each person in any debate has a point of view he or she thinks is correct.
Catch-22. Classical tolerance involves three elements: (1) permitting or allowing (2) a conduct or point of view one disagrees with (3) while respecting the person in the process. Notice that we can’t truly tolerate someone unless we disagree with him or her. This is critical. We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views. They’re on our side. There’s nothing with which we need to put up. Tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong, yet we still choose to treat decently and with respect.
This essential element of classical tolerance — disagreement (elitism regarding ideas) — has been completely lost in the modern distortion of the concept. Nowadays if you think someone is wrong, you’re called intolerant no matter how you treat the person.
This presents a curious problem. In order to exercise true tolerance, one must first think another is wrong, yet saying so brings the accusation of intolerance. It’s a “Catch-22.” According to this approach, true tolerance becomes impossible.
Intellectual Cowardice. Most of what passes for tolerance today is little more than intellectual cowardice — a fear of intelligent engagement. Those who brandish the word “intolerant” are unwilling to be challenged by other views or grapple with contrary opinions, or even to consider them. It’s easier to hurl an insult — “you intolerant bigot” — than to confront an idea and either refute it or be changed by it. In the modern era, “tolerance” has become intolerance.
As ambassadors for Christ, we choose the more courageous path, “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5; NASB). Whenever you’re charged with intolerance, always ask for a definition. When tolerance means neutrality, that all views are equally valid and true, then no one is ever tolerant because no one is ever neutral about his or her own views. Point out the contradiction built into the new definition. Point out that this kind of tolerance is a myth.
— Gregory Koukl
No…Lynne and I are not having more children.
Our little Pomeranian girl Itty-bitty has had 4 (3 boys and 1 girl) beautiful little puppies. It looks like two of them will be a rare blue merle color, while the other two are looking to be tri-colored (party colored). They are amazingly entertaining and absolutely precious.
There is something quite satisfying about holding a new life.
I have always been concerned with efficiency and effectiveness in the church. My undergraduate degree was in organizational management and I often look at the church through those eyes. It has been exceedingly popular to mimic the business/management world within the church setting, and there is some wisdom that we can glean from there. But we must never lose sight of the centrality of the cross. I truly appreciate all of the works of D.A. Carson that I have read, and this book is a must read. It is a refreshing prophetic reminder that all the wonderful sociological tools that are available to us today can never replace the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s inerrant word.
Western evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how "vision" consists in clearly articulated "ministry goals," how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements–but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning. Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry. (pp.25- 26) D.A. Carson The Cross and Christian Ministry