On hating unbelievers

On hating unbelievers

There are a number of popular Christian pastors and teachers, usually on Twitter, who are writing about how evil Justice Ginsburg was. They suggest it’s ridiculous that any Christian express polite appreciation for her legacy. They seem quite happy she is dead. They typically mention her support for abortion as justification.

It’s seems strange that Christians should be pleased when an unbeliever dies. It is strange. These Twitter Christians often accuse those who do express appreciation for Justice Ginsburg of being soft on sin. Being wimps, basically.

I think those Christians are very angry people. Angry at what’s happened to their country. Angry at changes in society. And, their philosophy of ministry is essentially Christian fundamentalism. That movement has a good and noble legacy that’s often tarred by the foolish excesses of its worst people. These angry Twitter pastors would never say they’re fundamentalists, but they are. They often want to fight, fight, fight. They’re the archetypes of a philosophy they often claim to despise.

I was reminded, recently, of the strange dichotomy between Charles Stanley and a certain other well-known, conservative octogenarian preacher. What different philosophies. What different mindsets. What different emphases. What different ministries.

One Christian pastor, popular on Twitter, wrote just today:

Why must we refrain from stating the necessary and obvious reality that Ruth Bader Ginsburg promoted clear, definable, delineable evil? For over fifty years? In a position of great power, and hence responsibility before God? With all her strength, purposefully? With her last breath? And can we step back long enough to realize that if we allow the cultural pressure to “be nice to the dead” to control our speech at this time, that the result is the fundamental denial that true moral evil actually exists, that the secular worldview is truly morally evil, and that the deaths of the born and unborn that will be laid at the feet of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the judgment were not as important as our cultural comfort?”

These words, and others in his article, ooze hatred. Anger. This is an unhappy man. Ginsburg was not on the Court in 1973, when it decided Roe v. Wade. She came 20 years later. What could force a Christian pastor to hate a dead woman so much? Justice Thurgood Marshall concurred with Roe v. Wade in 1973, but can’t we still laud his achievements for civil rights in the 1940s and 1950s?

I’ve watched this same pastor become increasingly polarized in his politics over the past two years. He believes all Democrats are evil. He slanders evangelicals who think differently than he about every aspect of social justice. Politics infects everything he says, now. He doesn’t see it, of course, but he’s become a very angry man. So have many other Christians. Angry enough that he can write:

What is RBG’s legacy? I am seriously listening to Christian leaders lauding her for her “courage” and “consistency.” There is no questioning her intelligence. She had a formidable mind. And yes, she was consistent. Very much so. But here’s my point: so was Jezebel.

So many Christians are consumed with hate fueled by partisan politics. When you begin to think of all your ideological opponents as not wrong and misguided, but deliberately evil, then you’ve crossed the line. You’ve been radicalized. Ironically, you’re the mirror image of the leftist partisans you hate so much.

He hates Justice Ginsburg. HATES. Why? Should we be surprised when an unbeliever acts like an unbeliever? How can you reach somebody with the gospel if you hate her? Forget Justice Ginsburg; how can you reach a culture that largely agrees with her if you hate them, too? You can’t, of course.

That’s very sad. To hate people so much because they act like … unbelievers. Such were some of us. If God (Father, Son and Spirit) had that mindset, we’d all be toast.

On Being Human

On Being Human

The other pastor and I recently finished teaching through the Book of Judges. We each alternate teaching Sunday School and the morning sermon; switching back and forth each week. It fell to me to teach Judges 19.

I don’t teach narrative verse by verse. Instead, I usually teach the passage by crafting several questions from the text that seem to get to the heart of the matter. I’ll discuss one of those questions here.

What’s gone so wrong in Judges 19?

You could answer this rather simply. The men of Gibeah have consciences seared with a hot iron. Sin can take you farther than you ever thought possible. Yes, and yes.

Yawn.

Is that all there is to say?

I believe the real issue in Judges 19, the root of the problem, is that God is showing us how we can literally cease to be human. We remain human, of course. But, we don’t act or think like humans. I don’t mean our chromosomes change, or anything weird like that. I mean Judges 19 shows us a snapshot of humanity perverting its very nature in the worst way.

We need to take a step back and ask ourselves a series of questions:

  1. What’s it mean to be human?
  2. Which really means, once you translate it into scriptural categories, “what’s it mean to be made in the image of God?”
  3. That prompts the next question; “what’s fundamentally gone wrong with us?”
  4. This leads us to ask, “what, exactly, is God doing when He brings people into His family?”

The “image of God” is the structural makeup that hardwires us for relationships.1 God made us to want and need a relationship with him (vertical), and with one another (horizontal). We’re the only one of God’s creatures that are made this way. Everything we are, and everything God made us to do, can only rightly exist when those relationships are properly set.

This means that to be human means to be in community with each other, and in community with God … because you’re reconciled to Him and to each other. In the new creation, relationships will finally be fixed, because all God’s children will finally be holy. There will be perfect love and submission to God, and to one another within the covenant community.

This is what the scripture looks forward to; one combined family of God (Jn 10:16; 17:11, 21-22) united to glorify Him (Isa 43:7). This will only happen because of the restoration of those vertical and horizontal relationships.

Why else, do you suppose, does Peter tell us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God,” (1 Peter 1:22-23)? We must love one another in the church because we’ve been born again. That reconciliation and adoption, that togetherness, family and community, is why Christians must love each other. Repair the bonds. Restore the relationships. Make a community that reflects, however dimly, the happy family all true believers will be in eternity.

So, when Paul explains that Christians, as they behold the glory of the Lord, “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18), he means that God is refurbishing us as human beings to reflect His image.

That image is, in the end, a hardwiring for community.

How is God the image for this hardwiring? The Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit share a divine circulation of eternal life and exist in perfect, symmetrical, and internal communion with each other. Therefore we, as though patterning ourselves after a reflection we don’t even see, want and crave that vertical and horizontal togetherness, belonging, and security in community. We want to be like our archetype, the Triune God.

Until you’re a part of the family of God, through Jesus Christ:

  1. You won’t be “fully human,”
  2. because you’re not living the life God intended you to live,
  3. because you’re alienated from Him,
  4. and from everyone else

This means the story of scripture is something like this:

  1. God is making a family to love and serve Him here
  2. to show, tell and draw people to Him through the Christian story
  3. so we can all love and serve Him forever there

In other words; because of His great love, God is making a community of people from out of the mad Antifa mob that is humanity; “the people whom I formed for myself, that they might declare my praise,” (Isa 43:21).

This brings us back to Judges 19-21. It’s perhaps the lowest moral tide in scripture. This is an Israelite community. The Levite pushed his party on past Jerusalem because he didn’t want to risk spending the night among pagans (Judges 19:10-13). He felt it’d be safer among his own people. He was wrong.

What he encounters is the antithesis of humanity; more of an imago satan than an imago dei.2 On the horizontal plane, there is no community with each other and no brotherly love; only gang rape. That horizontal bond is missing because there is no real shared community on the vertical axis; there is no true, shared relationship with God.

So, you have no real covenant family, because there’s no real community, because there’s no shared reconciliation with God binding them together.

But, make no mistake. They do have a community. They have shared values and passions. They’re united together in a common vision; an answer to the multiple choice of them. The glue that binds them together is their rejection of God and His law; a re-direction of ultimate allegiance to themselves. In their rebellion they’ve ceased to be human, in a sense.

The passage is a flashing red light to the world. It tells us we’re hardwired to want community, togetherness, and belonging. So we make up shared dreams to coalesce around. We do it because the real community, the real relationships we crave are closed to us; “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Cor 4:4).

It takes a specific, individual, divine intervention in our lives to rip away that veil. That’s the Spirit, as He draws people to the Father and applies the Son’s finished work to hearts and minds. And then, once He opens our hearts and rescues us, He begins making us human again by re-establishing then refurbishing those broken relationships.

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven,” (1 Cor 15:49).

Notes

1 See the discussion by Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013; Kindle ed.), 469-471. 

2 I know “Satan” isn’t in Latin. You’ll have to get past it …  

Pushing back against the madness

Pushing back against the madness

I’m a bi-vocational pastor who works in the real world. In my own small way, I am fighting against the anti-racism madness sweeping our society. If you are tempted to believe I am one of those, “ain’t got no racism in there here country!” evangelicals who worship President Trump and have the GOP party platform sown into my bible between Malachi and Matthew, I direct you to my comments on racism and Jim Crow, and about the dangers of Christian nationalism.

Corporate and government human resources (“HR”) offices are prime movers behind the new religion of so-called anti-racism or critical race theory (“CRT”). This is a movement that’s captured the hearts and minds of the academy and the social science departments of colleges and universities. It may capture you, too. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employer watches news and becomes worried.
  2. Employer decides it must be able to say it “did something” to combat racism.
  3. Employer turns to HR for answers. “Do some training, or something …”
  4. HR departments become desperate, then Google (or, perhaps, Bing) “diversity” and “racism training,” and forward random YouTube videos to employees to watch; sometimes watching is mandatory. Little attempt to vet content to weigh ideology and perspective of the video.
  5. HR also finds huckster trainers, many of whom drank from the same well as the YouTube videos. Huckster trainers have developed cottage industry peddling a bastardized and popular form of critical race theory from “hot” authors like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi.
  6. Employer can now say it “did something.”
  7. More employees are indoctrinated into a hot new religion many don’t like, don’t accept, and find extraordinarily offensive.
  8. Nobody says anything. The real problem goes unresolved in favor of a new religion that teaches people to hate themselves, their society, and live in perpetual outrage

I speak from experience. I am a government employee; a manager at a State agency. Just last month, our HR forwarded a video to every manager and suggested we watch it and share with our subordinates. The video was everything I expected; an earnest academic telling everyone they’re racists because they aren’t black. Our society is soaked in racism, the trainer assured me. It impacts us all. We’re so racist, we don’t even know we’re racist.

I see.

Well, I replied to the email and sent a response to every single manager and Deputy Commissioner in the entire agency. I did it because I will not be intimidated by this evil worldview. Here is what I wrote:


It’s unclear where the line is between indoctrination and education, here. When employees are encouraged to watch a video whose thesis is that Americans (implicitly, white Americans) are all unconscious racists with associated unconscious bias, then it makes folks raise an eyebrow or two. Add to it, Professor Eberhardt’s faculty profile from Stanford University reveals she has a very particular thesis to push:

Through interdisciplinary collaborations and a wide ranging array of methods—from laboratory studies to novel field experiments—Eberhardt has revealed the startling, and often dispiriting, extent to which racial imagery and judgments suffuse our culture and society, and in particular shape actions and outcomes within the domain of criminal justice.

This thesis plays out in her comments in the video:

  • 1:37: “We are living with such severe racial stratification that even a five-year-old can tell us what’s supposed to happen next, even with no evildoer, even with no explicit hatred. This association between blackness and crime made its way into the mind of my five-year-old. It makes its way into all of our children, into all of us. Our minds are shaped by the racial disparities we see out in the world and the narratives that help us to make sense of the disparities we see …”
  • 13:06: “We know that the brain is wired for bias, and one way to interrupt that bias is to pause and to reflect on the evidence of our assumptions.”

Some people are racists. I’ve met people like that. However, Professor Eberhardt believes the very nature of American society is so “suffuse[d]” with racism that it is in “all of us,” even unconsciously. That’s a rather sweeping statement about a country that has had:

  1. an African-American President who was elected twice, winning the popular vote each time,
  2. an African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later Secretary of State, and
  3. has appointed two African-Americans to the Supreme Court, one of whom was Thurgood Marshall; a key architect and leader of the NAACPs successful strategy to put a stake into the heart of the Jim Crow laws.

I note that Professor Eberhardt, an African-American herself, holds an earned PhD from Harvard, is a former faculty member at Yale, and now teaches at Stanford. She has done well for herself; and good for her.

However, Professor Eberhardt impugns the integrity of every American (and every agency employee) of any ethnicity or creed, because she claims we’re all unconsciously racist. This is beyond the pale.

I look forward to future recommendations on the important issue of race relations. I can only hope they do not follow the same theme of “if you’re white, then you’re an unconscious racist and I can help you change.” This is a critical topic, as the [agency head’s name] recent communications have made clear. Perhaps it would be best to not begin by unwittingly impugning the hearts and minds of co-workers because of … their white skin color.


I got away with this for at least three reasons:

  1. I have a good reputation at my agency as a calm, intelligent, serious person. At least … I think I do!
  2. The email was polite, factual, and acknowledged that racism is an issue in American society.
  3. Every manager and Deputy Commissioner at the agency knows I’m an evangelical Baptist pastor.

Christians must not be turtles, hiding in their shells. We shouldn’t be scared kittens, peeking out from under the couch. We can have a voice. We must have a voice. Don’t be driven from the public square.

NOTE: on 04 September 2020, after I published this article, President Trump directed federal agencies to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.” This is likely an attempt to curry favor with his base of support. Still, it is a welcome development.

Baxter and his tomahawk

Baxter and his tomahawk

This is my quick take on Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.

Everybody says it’s great. I’m not sure how many of those people have actually read it. Baxter was a Puritan who died in 1691. He spends most of the book explaining that you’re a failure and a loser if you don’t completely dedicate yourself to pastoral ministry. That’s fine so far as it goes, but Baxter likes to make sure you get his point.

He has this gem I’ll never forget (p. 127):

Consider that it is of your own voluntary undertaking and engagement that all this work is laid upon you. No man forced you to be overseers of the Church.

Thanks, Dick. I needed that.

Guilt trips make up perhaps 80% of the book. They’re helpful for the first 20%. Then, they get annoying. Then, they make you feel worthless. Then, you begin to REALLY dislike Baxter.

The last 15% of the book are detailed instructions about how to catechize a parish of mostly unregenerate people, which is largely inapplicable in a context where you believe the New Covenant is only for actual believers.

So, what do I think about Baxter? I think he’s a depressing guy. Comes across as self-righteous, but earnest. Book was a disappointment, and I’ll never read it again. Some guys know how to encourage. Baxter knew how to take a tomahawk to your skull and tell you he’s there to help.

This is the Cliff-Notes version of the 1,500 word review I’ll be writing for my DMin class. I’m gonna keep that line about Baxter’s tomahawk …

Meeting Jim Crow

Meeting Jim Crow

Like many Americans, I knew very little about the context of the civil rights era. I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in elementary school, like everyone else. That’s about it, for me. As a Christian, of course I condemn slavery and racism as evils; a poisonous fruit of the Fall.

However, like so many others, I have recently been assaulted with anti-racism rhetoric that seemingly sprang forth from nowhere. This perspective often comes from Critical Race Theory (“CRT”), a new religion I began writing about a little while ago. I have encountered this anti-racism “training” at work in State government, peddled by unwitting Human Resource personnel so the agency can now say it’s “done something” in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death and the ensuing riots.

A host of revisionist Christian pastors, all darlings in the woker quarters of the evangellyfish pond, have sallied forth to denounce racism – often employing extra-biblical categories to push a watered-down CRT in the Church. One such well-known black pastor recently called for reparations from white Americans and foolishly cited Exodus 12:33-36 as support.

Well, I want to actually learn something about the civil rights era and its context. I don’t want it from woke Christian pastors, or by radical scholars pushing an agenda. I want it from responsible sources. My studies have only begun, but I wanted to pass along some excellent resources to better understand the context of Jim Crow laws and the civil rights era:

  1. The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward. This classic, endorsed by MLK, Jr., was written by the dean of Southern historians in the mid-1950s after Brown v. Board of Education, and revised three times (the last being in 1974). It advanced the so-called Woodward thesis, that Jim Crow laws did not follow immediately on the heels of the Civil War, but were a calculated step backward after Reconstruction that deliberately disenfranchised the entire black population and reversed racial progress. The thesis is much more nuanced than I’m presenting it (racial prejudice certainly still existed during Reconstruction). But, it’s a horrifying look at how a culture deliberately took a step back towards pure evil.
  2. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow by Richard Wormser. This is a short history of the entire Jim Crow era, with particular focus on eyewitness accounts. It is the most horrifying book I’ve ever read and literally changed my perspective forever. I will never think of my country the same way again. You wonder how the Nazis constructed concentration camps? Then, wonder how a “Christian” people did this to other human beings in America. Sin can warp the mind worse than anything else. Terrible. 
  3. Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King. Pulitzer Prize-winning account of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACPs legal strategy to destroy Jim Crow, using the Groveland Four case (from late 1940s Florida) as a foil. One of the most readable, enjoyable books I’ve ever read.
  4. Grand Expectations by James Patterson. Part of the Oxford History of the United States series, focusing on 1945-1974. Essential for capturing the greater context to understand the civil rights era.

I’m listening to the Oxford History entry on the Reconstruction era right now. I plan on listening to a detailed history of the pre-Civil War era slave issue (likely Impending Crisis, by Potter) after that. 

On Divine Persons and Three-Headed Dogs

On Divine Persons and Three-Headed Dogs

This series of more academic articles are the fruit of my own study about divine Personhood in the Trinity. Eventually, I will make more popular versions for “normal” people. For those who, after reading this article, are on tenterhooks wondering what my own framework is, see this sermon I preached on Trinity Sunday 2020.

It’s not partisan to declare that social trinitarianism abandons Nicene concepts of divine Personhood.[1] It does. It adopts a completely different framework. Many non-confessional evangelicals likely adopt it unwittingly.

With one exception, the most influential social trinitarians are not widely read in evangelical circles; certainly not by the average seminary-trained pastor. They are Jurgen Moltmann,[2] Leonardo Boff,[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg,[4] Robert Jenson[5] and Millard Erickson.[6]Pannenberg’s influence is profound; Erickson, Jenson and William L. Craig each studied under him.

Is revision allowed?

First, we need to decide whether it’s possible to put a new framework on biblical truth. Millard Erickson suggests three ways to contextualize theology:[7]

  1. To transplant. You simply state the message using biblical categories, and do no contextualization at all
  2. To transform. The faith needs to be “updated” for modern times, and truth is not found in outdated doctrines.
  3. To translate. “The translators attempt to say what the Bible would say if it were being written to us in our present situation.”[8]

Erickson is a translator, and his social trinitarianism is an example of him doing just that.[9] If you believe it’s possible to re-frame theology in contemporary terms, if necessary re-working allegedly outmoded frameworks while retaining “timeless truth,”[10] then you’ll be open to accepting a re-framing of divine personhood in the Trinity.

What do these social trinitarians do with “personhood?”

A new framework

The first thing to note is a dissatisfaction with the classical understanding of Person.[11] Robert Jenson, for example, rejects divine simplicity as incoherent.[12] He dismisses Augustine’s thinking on the trinity,[13] claiming he was undone by “the old dissonance between the metaphysical principles of the Greeks and the storytelling of the Gospel.”[14] If the Persons are just active subjects of the same, identical nature, then it does not matter which Person does what. It’s irrelevant. Jenson criticizes Augustine, who admitted as much.[15] The classical doctrine has Father, Son and Spirit as the same Being, so all their actions are the same action. The Persons do not merely work together, they do the same thing. Their actions are indivisible.[16]

How, then, can we know the Persons at all!? Pannenberg observed that the idea of “person” seems to requirean individual subsistence, but this is “not compatible with the unity of divine essence.”[17]

So, social trinitarians argue, we must cast aside the straightjacket of Greek metaphysics and see the Persons as scripture sees them.[18] The answer, Jenson argues, is in the Cappadocian scheme of perichoresis and unity of action.[19] The Persons don’t perform the same action, but the same thing together. If there is no meaningful self-distinction within the Godhead, Jenson insists, then we are really speaking nonsense. We’re inventing formulas without meaning, and that makes dogma useless.[20]

What is a person?

So, we have a quest to define “person” more precisely; to put flesh on what is otherwise an alleged abstraction. Leonardo Boff is one such pilgrim.[21] Pointing to John 14:11 and 17:21, he sees divine Personhood as defined by an “I + Thou” relationship:

… a knot of relationships, an identity formed and completed on the basis of relationships with others … Interiority (consciousness in its ontological aspect) and openness to the other (freedom and ethical dimension) constitute the mode of being proper to a person.”[22]

Pannenberg explains:

If the trinitarian relations among Father, Son, and Spirit have the form of mutual self-distinction, they must be understood not merely as different modes of being of one divine subject but as living realizations of separate centers of action.[23]

The classical position, remember, sees the divine Persons as active subjects of the same nature. Consciousness, will, emotion (etc.) all each proper to a nature, not a person. The Father does not think one thing, while the Son thinks another. The Son does not will one thing, and the Spirit another. There is no individual self-consciousness. Everything is collective, because the Persons are the same Being.  

Social trinitarians say no. Each Person has his own will and self-consciousness. The old, stale view of Personhood is “merely an item of linguistic debris knocked from Hellenistic philosophy by collision with Yahweh.”[24]

“A person,” Boff declares, “is a subject existing as a centre of autonomy, gifted with consciousness and freedom.”[25] But, in the closeness of their union, they are really one:

the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three intelligent and free subjects; but they possess the same intelligence and the same will, like a triangle with three angles but only one area. All three Persons affirm themselves as an ‘I,’ not in order to close in on themselves, but in order to give themselves to the other two. What emerges is a real psychological perichoresis.[26]

Boff explains he does not reject the classical position; he “develops and completes it.”

since there are not three consciousnesses there, but only one … At most we can say that in the Trinity there is one substantial consciousness (nature) which is really expressed by three divine, conscious beings (Persons). What we can say is that, analogically, each divine Person is a center of interiority and freedom, whose raison d’etre (nature) consists in being always in relation to the other Persons.”[27]

His contribution is that he sees a divine Person as more than a particular active subject of the divine nature; more than even a specific, unique existence of the divine nature. He emphasizes the personal, conscious, relational aspect of each to the other in the same nature through perichoresis. Jenson suggests we drop person and use the term identity; “there are three identities in God …”[28]

Jurgen Moltmann believes it is a strawman to say social trinitarians believe in a “modern” understanding of Personhood. Critics like Karl Rahner, he charges, are actually imputing a caricature of extreme individualism.[29] Instead, real “personhood” can only truly be defined as an individual in relationship with others; “the ‘I’ can only be understood stood in the light of the ‘Thou’ – that is to say, it is a concept of relation. Without the social relation there can be no personality.”[30] Pannenberg warns that, if the only way you can distinguish the Persons is by their manner of origin, then “one cannot do justice to the reciprocity in the relations.”[31]

In this way, social trinitarians have re-framed the doctrine of God. However, to Moltmann, because the classical position understands the Persons as merely active subjects of the same nature, this means God communicates only with Himself in an internal, self-dialogue. There is no “I + Thou” conversation; there is only the one subject speaking to Himself. There is no community. Interpersonal relationships with the Trinity are surrendered. Man looks to God for a communal example and can only become “turned inwards and solitary,”[32] for God speaks only to Himself, about Himself.

So, Moltmann flatly denies that the Persons are the same identical essence.

If we search for a concept of unity corresponding to the biblical testimony of the triune God, the God who unites others with himself, then we must dispense with both the concept of the one substance and the concept of the identical subject.[33]

Moltmann points to the imago dei for support. “A person is only God’s image in fellowship with other people.”[34] Many theologians, independent of this controversy, have agreed.[35] Accordingly, the Persons must relate to one another in a real “I + Thou” relationship. This means the Persons must have individual self-distinction, intelligence, consciousness and will.

Thus Erickson, the one conservative evangelical proponent of social trinitarianism, suggests the Trinity must be understood as a society of persons.[36]

In union with each other

How do social trinitarians avoid tri-theism? Through perichoresis, a doctrine first formulated in the East by the Cappadocian Fathers. The Persons are united without confusion and mutually indwell one another without any blending or mingling, without change or division. Erickson calls perichoresis the “guard against tritheism.”[37]

If God is love (1 Jn 4:8), then He must be more than one person. Love needs an object. “Thus, if there were not multiplicity in the person of the Godhead, God could not really be love prior to this creation of other subjects.”[38] Unlike human persons, however, the Trinity is incorporeal and has no spatial limitations that hinder interpersonal relations. Their union is such that there are no separate experiences and so none of the typical barriers to perfect love. Nor is there any self-centeredness.[39]

Moltmann likens this union to a “circulation of eternal divine life.”[40] He explains that “[b]y virtue of their eternal love they live in one another to such an extent, and dwell in one another to such an extent, that they are one.”[41] There is not one subject; there is only “the living fellowship of the three Persons who are related to one another and exist in one another. Their unity does not lie in the one lordship of God; it is to be found in the unity of their tri-unity.”[42] Erickson, echoing Moltmann, explains the Persons “are so intimately linked and intertwined that they are unable to live apart from one another. Each supplies life to the others. What they do, although it may be primarily the work of one of them, is done together.”[43]

He suggests we stop thinking of God as metaphysically simple and consider Him as an organism; a union.[44] In a similar fashion, Pannenberg describes God’s essence as a “single constellation.”[45] No Person can exist without the other; “[n]one has the power of life within itself alone.”[46] Boff notes, “[t]heir relationship is one of reciprocal participation rather than production and procession.”[47] This abolishes the classical doctrines of eternal generation and procession. Yet, Moltmann avers, without this “perichoretic unity, then Arianism and Sabellianism remain inescapable threats to Christian theology.”[48]

Indeed, Moltmann contends that this perichoresis of three individual centers of self-conscious Persons is the only way to make sense of salvation history.[49] All ideas of subordinationism are now gone; the concept “has no validity within the eternal circulation of the divine life.”[50] Each Person eternally brings glory to the other in this circulation.[51]

Analogies

Following the classical model, we recall that Donald Bloesch proposes the analogy of the Trinity as different dimensions of the same space; height, width and depth.[52] The dimensions, though real, are distinct aspects of the one shape. If the dimensions had independent status, you would have three shapes. But, you do not have three shapes. You have one shape with three facets.

Social trinitarians cry foul and see this as modalism by any other name. William Craig is a social trinitarian. In perhaps the very worst analogy in the history of the Church, he offers up the analogy of Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards Hades, to explain the Trinity.[53] In a more responsible fashion, Erickson suggests the idea of the human organism consisting of heart, brain and lungs. Each is distinct, but not separable. Each depends on the other for existence. They can only exist together as a unit. They share the same life. He also proposes the analogy of Siamese twins who share the same organs. There are two, but also one.[54]

We close by returning to Erickson’s notion of “translating” doctrine. Can it be done? Donald Bloesch, independent of this issue, warns, “We can and must avail ourselves of philosophical concepts, but we must not let these concepts rule our thinking. We must always be prepared to modify them and perhaps set them aside as new light breaks forth from God’s holy word.”[55] If this be true, have social trinitarians done it here?

Barth warns that, if you have three separate objects of worship, you have three gods.[56] In denying the Persons’ numerical identity of essence (homoousia), is this what the social view hath wrought?

It is time for thinking Christians, especially pastors, to decide what “Person” means. Unfortunately, most don’t know it’s an issue. One may be right to stand in opposition to Church doctrine that is nearly 1600 years old. But, you should at least do it consciously!

A special thanks to my friend, Tito Lyro (Pastor, Bible Presbyterian Church, Olympia, WA and President of Western Reformed Seminary, Lakewood, WA) for reviewing this article!


[1] Robert Letham declares, “The idea of social Trinitarianism is alien to the classic doctrine, for which the unity and indivisibility of the Trinity, together with the inseparable works of God, are axiomatic,” (The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, revised ed. [Phillipsburg: P&R, 2019; Kindle ed.], KL 386).

[2] Jurgen Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom, trans. Margaret Kohl (reprint; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993; Kindle ed.). 

[3] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. Paul Burns (reprint; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2005).  

[4] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

[5] See both The Triune Identity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1982) and Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 

[6] Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995). Erickson did postdoctoral studies under Pannenberg and dedicated his Christian Theology (in part) to him.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013; Kindle ed.) KL 1681-1842. 

[8] Erickson, Christian Theology, KL 1771.

[9] In addition to Erickson’s God in Three Persons, see his other two monographs on Theology Proper and Christology in which he goes his own way on a number of issues; (1) God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998; Kindle ed.), and (2) The Word Became Flesh (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991). 

[10] “… the really crucial task of theology will be to identify the timeless truths, the essence of the doctrines, and to separate them from the temporal form in which they were expressed, so that a new form may be created,” (Erickson, Christian Theology, KL 1842).

[11] Robert Jenson believes that, had the gospel been birthed in a culture other than one steeped in Greek thought, then the Church would have used a different framework for understanding God. “The fathers did not, as is still often supposed, hellenize the evangel; they labored to evangelize their own antecedent Hellenism, and succeeded remarkably if not fully,” (Systematic, 90). 

[12] Jenson, Systematic, 110-114. 

[13] “Augustine imported Eastern doctrine, interpreted it according to his lights, and passed on the result … he was mostly blind to Athanasius’ and the Cappadocians’ specific achievement, and where he saw it he rejected it,” (Jenson, Systematic, 110-111). 

[14] Jenson, Systematic, 112. 

[15] Jenson, Systematic, 111.

[16] Augustine, “On the Trinity,” 15.5, in NPNF1, 14 vols. (Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1887), vol. 1.3. “He who is sent is not therefore less than He who sends because the one sent, the other was sent; since the Trinity, which is in all things equal, being also equally in its own nature unchangeable, and invisible, and everywhere present, works indivisibly.” Emphasis added.

[17] Pannenberg, Systematic, 1:286. 

[18] “To find a basis for the doctrine of the Trinity we must begin with the way in which Father, Son, and Spirit come on the scene and relate to one another in the event of relevation,” (Pannenberg, Systematic, 1:299). 

[19] Robert Letham has a good initial definition but, as a classical trinitarian, he shows his cards in his description: “The mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Trinity in the one being of God. In social Trinitarianism, the word is used in a quite different way, to claim that the three hypostases are like three human persons engaged in a dance around one another, a development hinting at tritheism,” (Holy Trinity, KL 11553). It is not an accident that theologians allow no wiggle-room on the issue of divine Personhood; it goes to the heart of who God is.

[20] Jenson, Systematic, 113. 

[21] Boff, Trinity and Society, 118ff. 

[22] Boff, Trinity and Society, 89. 

[23] Pannenberg, Systematic, 1:319. 

[24] Jenson, Triune Identity, 108. 

[25] Boff, Trinity and Society, 115.

[26] Boff, Trinity and Society, 116. 

[27] Boff, Trinity and Society, 89. 

[28] Jenson, Triune Identity, 111. 

[29] “What Rahner calls `our secular use of the word person’ has nothing in common with modern thinking about the concept of persons. What he describes is actually extreme individualism: everyone is a self-possessing, self-disposing centre of action which sets itself apart from other persons,” (Jurgen Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom KL 2133-2134).

[30] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2135-2136.

[31] Pannenberg, Systematic, 1:319.

[32] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2290.        

[33] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2199-2200. 

[34] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2277.

[35] Robert Reymond quotes Charles Hodge approvingly, who believed the imago dei consisted in both knowledge of God and moral rectitude toward one’s neighbor. The fall ruined both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with our neighbors (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, revised ed. [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998], 429). To be in the image of God includes the concept of relationship.

Erickson takes a structural view and explains that God made us a certain way in order to fulfill the relationships He meant us to have. “Humanity qua humanity has a nature encompassing all that constitutes personality or selfhood: intelligence, will, emotions. This is the image in which humans were created, enabling them to have the divinely intended relationship to God and to fellow humans, and to exercise dominion,” (Christian Theology, KL 10321).

[36] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 221ff. 

[37] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 228-238. 

[38] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 221. 

[39] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 223-225. 

[40] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2548. 

[41] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2547-2548. 

[42] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2558-2560. 

[43] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 234-235. 

[44] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 231, 264. 

[45] Pannenberg, Systematic, 1:359. 

[46] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 264. 

[47] Boff, Trinity and Society, 145; see 145-147. 

[48] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2208-2211. 

[49] “For this trinitarian history is nothing other than the eternal perichoresis of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their dispensation of salvation, which is to say in their opening of themselves for the reception and unification of the whole creation. The history of salvation is the history of the eternally living, triune God who draws us into and includes us in his eternal triune life with all the fullness of its relationships. It is the love story of the God whose very life is the eternal process of engendering, responding and blissful love. God loves the world with the very same love which he is in himself,” (Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2300-2303).

[50] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2562. 

[51] Moltmann, Trinity and Kingdom, KL 2567-2568. “The Persons of the Trinity make one another shine through that glory, mutually and together. They glow into perfect form through one another and awake to perfected beauty in one another.”

[52] Donald Bloesch, God the Almighty (Downers Grove: IVP, 1995), 186. 

[53] William L. Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 593. 

[54] Erickson, God in Three Persons, 233-234. 

[55] Bloesch, God the Almighty, 35. 

[56] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 1.1, trans. G. W. Bromiley, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), 349.

I Love Me …

I Love Me …

Carl Trueman’s forthcoming book will be required reading for any pastor (or, anybody, really) who is interested in a Christian explanation for the cult of self-worship in the West. He summarizes the issue in an article published today titled “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self … And How the Church Can Respond.”

Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you want to know what’s happened to the world? To people? Where did this “you do you!” ethos of self-worship come from? Why do people see their psychologized self-conception (which, tellingly today, almost always centers on sex) as the thing that defines them?

Trueman sums up the problem in the article:

… the idea that happiness is personal psychological satisfaction—“self-fulfillment”—is the staple of sitcoms, soap operas, movies, and even commercials. And this narrative, this illusion, has powerful implications. When the goal of human existence is personal psychological satisfaction, then all moral codes are merely instrumental, and therefore continually revisable, to this subjective, psychological end.

I’ve preached both a sermon that touched on this a BIT:

and one that touched on this a LOT:

and hopefully have an article forthcoming in a Christian magazine that lays some of this out. My latest article about the Bostock decision also noted that this lens of narcissism is behind SCOTUS’ redefinition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trueman closes his article with this:

We have been here before—despised, considered immoral, standing on the margins. And we can learn lessons that will fortify us as we move into an uncertain future.

I’m looking forward to the book.

Sign Gifts and the Church

Sign Gifts and the Church

In the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament letters, people do some amazing things. They miraculously speak foreign languages without study. They raise people from the dead and heal the sick. They provide direct revelation (prophecy) from God. These gifts are known as sign gifts.

This means they’re a sign or credential the Kingdom of God has broken into this world in the person of Jesus. Something new and amazing has happened, and these miracles are signs from God proving it. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I am God the Son. See, watch this! [Insert miracle here] Now, listen to my message …”

Jesus pointed to His miracles as proof the kingdom had come (Lk 7:21-23; cp. Isa 35:4-6). That’s why the scripture says “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will,” (Heb 2:4). The apostles agreed (Acts 2:22), and that’s why some of them had these gifts, too (Acts 2:43).

Do these sign gifts continue, today? People have different opinions, ranging from (1) absolutely not, to (2) yes, absolutely, and (3) many shades in-between.

I’ll briefly answer the question, then define my terms and suggest a scriptural way to handle it if somebody claims to have an apostolic sign gift. This article is nothing more than a primer to frame the issue for the congregation where I serve, so I won’t defend my statements here. I’ll just place some guardrails so I can have that conversation during an upcoming theology class.

Answering the question

1 Corinthians 12-14 suggests there was a time when many Christians had the apostolic sign gifts. The scriptural evidence for their disappearance today is circumstantial. At least in the West, these sign gifts don’t appear normative like they were in Paul’s day. But, it’s more than a bit brazen to suggest God does not or will not give these sign gifts again. God can still give these gift if He wants. Does He? I’m not sure, nor are you. So, just test for the gift.

Defining terms and testing the spirits

  1. Tongues. This word means “language.” Over time, some Christians have assumed it means something it doesn’t. The “tongues” in Acts and in Paul’s letters (e.g. 1 Cor 12-14) are real human languages. According to the example from Acts 2 (and 10:46), the gift of tongues means the supernatural ability to immediately speak a foreign language without training. We test this gift by acquiring an interpreter for the language in question and inviting the Christian to demonstrate miraculous, instantaneous fluency in the foreign language.
  2. Healing. According to the examples from scripture, this is the supernatural ability to completely cure somebody from a disease, injury or illness instantaneously. The best way to test for this gift would be to drive the individual to the oncology ward of the local hospital and invite him to heal everyone in the ward.
  3. Raising people from the dead. It means what it says. Test this sign gift by, say, driving the Christian to the local emergency room and inviting him to raise from the dead everyone who has recently died in the ER.
  4. Prophecy. This means you receive a direct revelation from God, and you give that revelation to God’s people. Prophecy is not a feeling or a leading (though both of these may be promptings from the Spirit). Prophecy is direct communication from God; as in “the oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi,” (Mal 1:1). There are two tests for a true prophet; (1) the prophecy must always come to pass (Deut 18:21-22), and (2) the prophet must never prophesy or teach anything opposed to the scriptures (Deut 13:1-5).

Once we understand terms, the short answer to the question of whether sign gifts continue today is, “Probably not, but maybe so! God can do anything! If you have the gift, please prove it.” One Christian theologian has written some good advice about this:

What we must do, then, is to evaluate each case on its own merits. This does not mean that we are to sit in judgment on the spiritual experience or the spiritual life of other professing Christians.

What it does mean is that we cannot assume that everyone who claims to have had a special experience of the Holy Spirit’s working has really had one. Scientific studies have discovered enough non-Spirit-caused parallels to warn us against being naively credulous about every claim. Certainly not every exceptional religious experience can be of divine origin, unless God is a very broadly ecumenical and tolerant being indeed, who even grants special manifestations of his Spirit to some who make no claim to Christian faith and may actually be opposed to it.

Certainly if demonic forces could produce imitations of divine miracles in biblical times (e.g., the magicians in Egypt were able to imitate the plagues up to a certain point), the same may be true today as well.

Conversely, however, no conclusive case can be made for the contention that such gifts are not for today and cannot occur at the present time. Consequently, one cannot rule in a priori and categorical fashion that a claim of [speaking in tongues] is spurious. In fact, it may be downright dangerous, in the light of Jesus’s warnings regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to attribute specific phenomena to demonic activity.

Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013; Kindle ed.), p. 802.

It’s never a good policy to repeat the mistakes of the Pharisees, who attributed the power of God to Satan (Mt 9:32-34). God can do anything He wants. But, we should be cautious and follow the scripture in testing for the gift.

Resources

I will recommend a few resources, if you’re interested:

  1. Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter by Thomas Schreiner. 121 pages. Perhaps the best modern book on the topic.
  2. The Charismatic Phenomenon by John Whitcomb and Peter Masters. 100 pages. A great book that’s a bit more stern than Schreiner … or me!
  3. Chapter 52 (especially pp. 1031 – 1046) from Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem. He takes a more open position on the sign gifts, and Grudem redefines “prophecy” for the New Covenant era.
  4. I wrote a short article explaining what I believe 1 Corinthians 14 is saying.

I hope this very short primer is helpful.

Jim Crow wasn’t inevitable

Jim Crow wasn’t inevitable

C. Vann Woodward was a celebrated historian of the American South. His most well-known work is The Strange Career of Jim Crow, originally published in 1955 and updated for the last time in 1974. He aimed to explain why and how, exactly, we went from (1) the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction to (2) a segregation more complete than anything experienced in the antebellum, pre-war South.

His startling thesis was that the Jim Crow laws did not follow immediately on the heels of the Civil War, but came perhaps 30 years later and destroyed the (in some quarters) considerable progress that had been made in race relations. This is known as the “Woodward thesis.” He explains:

The obvious danger in this account of the race policies of Southern conservatives and radicals is one of giving an exaggerated impression of interracial harmony. There were Negrophobes among the radicals as well as among the conservatives, and there were hypocrites and dissemblers in both camps. The politician who flatters to attract votes is a familiar figure in all parties, and the discrepancy between platforms and performance is often as wide as the gap between theory and practice, or the contrast between ethical ideals and everyday conduct.

My only purpose has been to indicate that things have not always been the same in the South. In a time when the Negroes formed a much larger proportion of the population than they did later, when slavery was a live memory in the minds of both races, and when the memory of the hardships and bitterness of Reconstruction was still fresh, the race policies accepted and pursued in the South were sometimes milder than they became later.

The policies of proscription, segregation, and disfranchisement that are often described as the immutable ‘folkways’ of the South, impervious alike to legislative reform and armed intervention, are of a more recent origin.

The effort to justify them as a consequence of Reconstruction and a necessity of the times is embarrassed by the fact that they did not originate in those times. And the belief that they are immutable and unchangeable is not supported by history.

C. Van Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd ed. (New York: OUP, 2002; Kindle ed.), 65.

Now, that’s something to chew on. Here’s something more – where were the Christians in the South as this reversion to evil took place?

Note: The feature photograph (above) depicts Sheriff Willis McCall, of Lake County, FL, in November 1951 moments after he murdered one man and shot another during a fake “escape attempt” he staged as he transported both men to a State prison. This case of the so-called “Groveland Four,” in which his department framed four innocent men for the illusory rape of a white woman, is a poster child for the evils of the Jim Crow laws.

6: Bostock, transgenderism, and the cult of self-worship

6: Bostock, transgenderism, and the cult of self-worship

Read the rest of the series about the Bostock v. Clayton County court decision.

The Bostock ruling made two momentous decisions; (1) it read “sexual orientation” into Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and (2) it did the same for “gender identity.” So far in this series I’ve focused on the former. Now it’s time for the latter.

The transgender component of Bostock involves a man named Mr. Stephens. He identifies as a woman and all references to him in the Bostock literature are to “Aimee Stephens” or “Ms. Stephens.” However, I will refer to him as Mr. Stephens throughout.

Mr. Stephens was terminated from employment at Harris Funeral Homes (“Harris Funeral”) after he declared he would begin presenting as a woman to perform his duties as a funeral director. Mr. Stephens filed an EEOC complaint which eventually wound its way to the Sixth Circuit. In its petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”), Harris Funeral’s counsel argued:

… the Sixth Circuit ordered it to allow a male funeral director to dress and present as a woman at work. Harris Homes must do that even though its owner reasonably determined that the employee’s actions would violate the company’s sex-specific dress code and disrupt the healing process of grieving families. The language of Title VII does not mandate that result.

Petition, 2

Harris Funeral advanced two key arguments (Petition, i):

  1. Title VII says it’s unlawful to discriminate in employment matters “because of … sex.” The law never mentions “gender identity.” In fact, these are two very different things. So, Mr. Stephens can’t appeal to Title VII.
  2. The Sixth Circuit wrongfully applied the precedent from Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins to Harris Funeral. In Price, SCOTUS found it was unlawful for an employer to use sex-based stereotypes to deny a woman a promotion. In Price, employers considered the woman too “macho” and otherwise unladylike, so they did not promote her. But regarding Harris Homes, its attorneys argued, “[t]he Sixth Circuit thus treated the very idea of sex—which determines a person’s status as male or female based on reproductive anatomy and physiology—as an illicit stereotype,” (Petition, 11).

These are dividing lines. How do you know what you know? Christians have a divine revelation that tells them about the world, about themselves, about God, and about reality. Unbelievers have nothing but social conventions.

This is why the culture can re-invent the meaning of “sex” when it’s convenient. It’s also why it can assume that “sex = reproductive function” is a harmful stereotype. This is what Mr. Stephens’ attorney argued.

He was fired, the attorney declares, “because of [his] employer’s stereotypes about how women and men should appear and behave … because [his] appearance would no longer conform to his sex stereotype,” (Response, 1).

The Sixth Circuit decision remarked:

discrimination because of a person’s transgender, intersex, or sexually indeterminate status is no less actionable than discrimination because of a person’s identification with two religions, an unorthodox religion, or no religion at all. And “religious identity” can be just as fluid, variable, and difficult to define as “gender identity”; after all, both have “a deeply personal, internal genesis that lacks a fixed external referent.

Petition, Appendix A, pgs. 24-25a, footnote 4.

During oral arguments before SCOTUS, Mr. Stephens’ attorney proclaimed:

the objection to someone for being transgender is the ultimate sex stereotype. It is saying, I object to you because you fail to conform to this stereotype: The stereotype that if you are assigned a male sex at birth, you must live and identify for your entire life as a man.

Oral arguments transcript, 20:22 – 21:3.

Identity is the thing

At some point, you have to decide how and why you “know” what you know. Do you know it because you have a standard that transcends cultural values and trumps subjective opinion? What’s your basis for telling the other guy he’s wrong and you’re right?

The world has no standard. That’s why it’s gone mad. I fear it will now take a divine intervention for some people to even acknowledge what used to be accepted facts of reality.

The real problem is the cult of narcissism. The idea that you, as a person, are the sum total of your feelings. This is what our world teaches, encourages, indoctrinates us with. I preached about that, recently.

There are factors that shape you as a person. They determine how you see yourself and the world. How you see reality. There are the four primary agents of socialization in a person’s life (Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein, The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, 6th ed. [New York: W.W. Norton, 2018], 109ff):

In fact, according to many sociologists, the “self” is not a fixed thing. “[T]he self is created and modified through social interaction over the course of a lifetime,” (Real World, 102). Your identity is putty, ready to be formed and re-formed as you live your life. And this self-conception of you is often formed by those four agents, above.

There is certainly some truth to these insights. You are, in a meaningful sense, a product of your environment. But, our culture used to have “understood” guardrails inherited from the Christian faith that defined reality; mores that hemmed in the overt damage of our worst impulses even among unbelievers. This is what John Calvin called the second use of the moral law (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.7.10). God’s word, as the foundation for right and wrong in Western society, restrains evil by threat of punishment. It’s a deterrent:

Such persons are curbed, not because their mind is inwardly moved and affected, but because, as if a bridle were laid upon them, they refrain their hands from external acts, and internally check the depravity which would otherwise petulantly burst forth

Institutes, 2.7.10

But now, Western society has deliberately cut itself off from the Christian story that alone can anchor and explain reality. The world has tossed the moral law overboard; a move that was implicit for a while but has now become explicit.

Mr. Stephens is the result. We drift aimlessly on the swells of … feelings. Psalm 2 has something to say about God’s response to that. So now, these vehicles of socialization have no guardrails stopping them from jumping the track and plowing through a sub-division. Our feelings, our worship of self, knows no bounds. So, you see, to believe that “sex” is immutable is to be a hater.

Along with a whole range of beliefs in the modern world, there is confusion as to how they are to be understood and a yawning chasm as to how they are to be grounded. Originally pioneered in the West and grounded in Jewish and Christian beliefs, human dignity, liberty and equality are now often left hanging without agreement over their definition and their foundation.

If the original Jewish and Christian foundations of human dignity, liberty and equality are to be rejected, the ideas themselves need to be transposed to a new key or eventually they will wither. The Western world now stands as a cut-flower civilization, and such once-vital convictions have a seriously shortened life.

Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013; Kindle ed.), KL 847).

When he wrote that last sentence, seven years ago, Guinness was right. But now, that cut flower has died. The world has tossed it into the rubbish bin. The arguments Mr. Stephens’ attorney used prove it:

  1. Sex isn’t a biological fact. It’s a feeling validated by a mental health professional’s diagnosis; a verdict which is nothing less than our culture’s sacrament of grace dispensed on letterhead.
  2. To believe sex is a fixed, biological and reproductive reality is to discriminate. To cause harm. To be a hater. Cancel yourself now, bigot.

This “no guardrails” new normal is why a modern (c. 2019) sociology text can blithely dismiss the view that sex is fixed and immutable as an idea “found outside the discipline in such fields as medicine, theology, and biology,” (Real World, 256). It doesn’t appear to bother sociologists that their field, alone among all disciplines, goes its own way. Instead, the authors declare, “most mainstream sociologists” (i.e. the smart ones, you know) “believe notions of gender are socially determined, such that a binary system is just one possibility among many,” (Ibid).

This is why CNN, in an article recommending increased cervical cancer screening, refers to women as “individuals with a cervix.” After all, we can’t assume only women have cervixes, right? That would be a … discriminatory stereotype.

Tellingly, another sociology text that’s only 13 years old (c. 2007) knows nothing of “gender identity” as a category. The term doesn’t even appear in the index; nor does “transgender,” (Rodney Stark, Sociology, 10th ed [Belmont: Wadsworth, 2007]). It’s gender-based discussions focus on that most un-mainstream of assumptions – sex is immutable. How much changed in those 13 years!

Thus, Guinness the prophet wrote in 2013:

In the end, such a change of worldviews will mean decisive changes for the understanding of humanity, for the defense of human rights and ultimately for the treatment of human beings. Just as the road to Auschwitz began in professors’ studies and academic lecture halls, so the present degraded views of humanity will inevitably create a harvest of evil consequences, even if not fully visible now.

Guinness, Global Public Square, KL 898-913.

Untethered to the grounding of the Christian story, our culture will drift closer and closer to the reef. It will destroy itself because it has no grounding. It will become increasingly crazy. It’s always been this way. This is why in the 5th century Augustine wrote his masterwork apologetics text to teach Christians they don’t belong to this world; they belong to the City of God.

What’s the Christian’s task? To explain reality to a confused world. To insist, gently but firmly, on the truth. Women are women. Sex is sex. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You are not your feelings. You’re so much more than that. You don’t have to be a slave to yourself. There’s a God, named Yahweh, who made you because He loves you. He wants to fix you. He longs to fix you. He asks for your allegiance first.

What’s the Christian’s hurdle to achieving this? It’s that none of this great witnessing will ever happen if the Church’s agents of socialization aren’t stronger than the world’s:

As you consider these two competing frameworks for identity, these two prisms for understanding yourself, consider which one has more influence in your life. Consider how Mr. Stephens came to believe what he does.

Our culture teaches us to worship ourselves. So, we tend to do exactly that. Christians aren’t immune to the siren song of narcissism. But our story, our scriptures, our God, tell us to worship Him and His estimation of our identity and value.