Wrong Tree

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Union Theological Seminary is back in the news, with another display of the theological deterioration that liberalism brings.

I trace the progression something like this: the failure to hold to the truth about God as revealed in Scripture leads to an over-emphasis on the immanent, on the matters of this world; accordingly, the Divine transcendence collapses into immanence–aided by the feminist impulse, which takes umbrage at the masculine personalism of God in the Bible, and pushes either in the direction of goddess-worship or a loss of God’s personalism (or, paradoxically, both); the result is a slide from theism into panentheism, the conflation of Creator with creation.  I’ve read that Paul Tillich, possibly the most renowned 20th-century American liberal theologian, came to the point where he couldn’t really pray, but only meditate in or upon nature; God had ceased to be personal in his conception.

What I’m saying is that when your gospel becomes too this-worldly, so does your picture of God.

I am not saying that Union has arrived at panentheism yet, only that they are perhaps on the road there.  They have certainly arrived upon a place of absurdity; what else can you call a worship service involving confession to plants of mankind’s sin against creation?

To quote Union’s widely-circulated tweet:

Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.

What do you confess to the plants in your life?

It is not entirely clear whether they prayed to plants (i.e., regarded them as divine) or simply whether they prayed about their misdeeds towards plants or prayed with plants to God, so I give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t actually worship the plants.  But they did confess to them, regarding them as “beings who sustain us.”

It is one thing to poetically address plants as a sort of metaphor, or to speak about how they reveal God, as in Psalm 19 or my own poor poem from yesterday.  It is quite another to confess our sins to plants, as though they were personal beings and as though it were them, not their Creator, who we have offended by our wasteful destruction of the environment.  It insinuates devotion to Gaia, rather than to God.

Faced with criticism over this debacle, Union has defended their decision by pointing out that they weren’t exactly committed to wholehearted devotion to the one true God anyway.  As their statement is reported in the Washington Examiner article linked above, in their chapels:

“One day, you may come in to find a traditional Anglican communion, another day you may enter into a service of Buddhist meditation or Muslim prayer,” the spokesperson continued. “Another, you may find a Pentecostal praise service or a silent Quaker meeting. We create a home where people can worship side by side, in traditions similar to and very different to their own. Through this process, we learn from our neighbors and discern our own faith more deeply.”

That does fill in the picture, but its hardly comforting for anyone concerned about the students’ souls.

There is a God, a righteous and holy God, a jealous God–the God who says, “I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8, NIV).

You must know Him; that is the single most important thing in this life.

There’s no absolution from confessing your sins to a fern.  It can’t forgive you.  It’s not the tree of life.  You have to bring your sins, instead, to Christ who bore them on the cross.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24, ESV).

But when you turn away from the cross, you can get so lost you find yourself talking to trees.

 

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Unhidden

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That bold azure canopy above shows,

rather than hides,

the brilliant gates of heaven to our eyes,

and every blossom that unfolds

unfolds to us.

The twining grapevine molds

a sculpture of suggestive power

as songbirds herald

celestial tidings with each daylit hour.

We search, but cannot find what we

refuse to see–

that every moment apes eternity.

Real Nonconformity

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Nonconformity is all the rage these days.

Except that it isn’t, of course.  It can’t be.  If it becomes popular, it’s no longer nonconformy–it’s just conformity.

So I think it would be more accurate to say that the idea of subversion is very popular, while actual subversion never can be.  This is a point that it would be nice to see impressed, somehow, upon certain populations, such as the literary industry.  If all the cool kids are waving your flag, you might be in rebellion against God, truth, nature, and so on, but you’re not ‘speaking truth to power.’

Real nonconformity is never fashionable.  But it can be righteous.  In Romans 12, the apostle Paul exhorts Christians, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v.2, NIV).  There is a godly nonconformity, the transformed living that comes from the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work.

This nonconformity doesn’t parade its transgressiveness, but quietly displays its virtue.  Its hallmark is virtue, not virtue-signaling.  Its the nonconformity of the man who doesn’t swear and the woman who dresses modestly–the people who get mocked for their respectability, rather than lauded for their scandalousness.  The pattern of this world urges greed, pride, lust, and anger; the Spirit-transformed life displays charity, humility, chastity, and peace.

Clothed in the right amount of virtue-signaling, the pattern of this world may get you headlining music festivals and photographed on magazine covers.

But the transformed life is usually happier now, and eternity awaits.

Rejecting Young Lives

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Famously liberal Religion News Service gave an unintentionally apt title to a recent article: “Duke University’s student government rejects Young Life over LGBTQ policies.”  It would have been even more apt had they not capitalized “Young Life.”

The story is an old one by now: supposedly tolerant university decides that, in the wake of the sexual revolution, the standard Christian morality that has been a cornerstone of two millennia of Western civilization is no longer to be tolerated.

Not surprising, since Duke University is a very prominent academic institution, and therefore expected to yield immediately to inane cultural movements.

Interestingly, Duke’s motto is Eruditio et Religio, “Knowledge/Learning and Faith.”

The eruditio is hard to dispute, but I have a question about the religio–namely, what religion would that be?  Not the Methodism of the school’s history.  Some sort of paganism, apparently.

In their privileging of sexual deviancy above Young Life, Duke’s student government has shown they do not understand what will really nourish the minds and souls of young lives.

One more reminder that secularism is a mask for anti-Christian ideologies, and not the neutral force it pretends to be.

On Silvery Wing of Holiest Song

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“Hush! while on silvery wing of holiest song

Floats forth the old, dear story of our peace,

His coming, the Desire of Ages long,

To wear our chains and win our glad release.

Our wondering joy, to hear such tidings blest,

Is crowned with ‘Come to Him, and He will give you rest.’

Rest, by His sorrow!  Bruised for our sin,

Behold the Lamb of God!  His death our life.

Now lift your heads, ye gates!  He entereth in,

Christ risen, indeed, and Conqueror in the strife.

Thanks, thanks to Him who won, and Him who gave

Such victory of love, such triumph o’er the grave.”

from “Threefold Praise,” by Frances Ridley Havergal

The Price of an Immoral Society

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Gun control has been in the news a lot lately.  Partially this is due to recent tragedies, and partially due to the season of political campaigning–gun control being a highly politicized issue.

The politicization of it suggests a certain disingenuous flavor to much of the conversation.  On a roundup of today’s liberal opinions, I observed both the contention that because of the Trump presidency we are on the verge of becoming a fascist totalitarian state, and various calls to disarm the American populace–both of these ideas being promoted from the same side politically.  Surely this is an odd juxtaposition?  When reality imitates parody, how can we take such people seriously?

I would like very much to live in a safer world.  I see the suffering, and the violence that continues to unfold.  But I am concerned that the way all of this is being discussed points not to safety but to slavery.

So Beto O’Rourke said, with damnation-invoking enthusiasm, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”  I don’t have either of those, but I do wonder what might be taken from me a little bit down the line.  Freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, religion, perhaps?

‘Nonsense,’ you say.  ‘Conservative fear-mongering.  Slippery-slope fallacy.  All the liberals want is a reasonable assault-weapons ban, nothing more.  Pinky-swear.’

Maybe; but I doubt it.

For one thing, conservative fear-mongering is a difficult charge to make in light of recent history.  Ten years ago, saying ‘if we legalize gay marriage, Christian bakers and photographers and others will find themselves being prosecuted for not wanting to participate’ would have been called ridiculous fear-mongering.  Five years ago, ‘teachers will be fired for refusing to call boys girls’ would have been called fear-mongering.  Radical social shifts happen awfully fast these days, and the unthinkable can become the standard before you know it.

But back to the point at hand.  If the gun control debate were really just about some background check laws, or banning AR-15s, we could have that conversation.  But I really don’t think it is.  I think the debate we are seeing in America is not about controlling guns but controlling people.

There are two reasons I think this.

The first is simply my observation that the defining feature of the left is centralized control.  You wouldn’t think that, given the fact that we call the political left “liberals” and “Democrats,” but it’s true.  Their center is big government, and a substantial amount of their power comes from big business, big media, etc.  Increasing government control over various areas of life is at the heart of a lot of their policies.  Their radical wing is socialism.  So the left’s position on gun control must be seen in the big picture of their general approach to society.

The second is that, by contrast, the constitutional freedoms of American society have a sort of coherence, and those who attack one are likely to attack others.  I am not fear-mongering, just observing.  In a recent interview, UCLA professor Douglas Kellner underlined this, saying, “I don’t see the Second Amendment as absolute, just like I don’t see the First Amendment as absolute.  In both cases, there need to be qualifications in certain contexts.”  The first amendment, just like the second one, may be subject to “qualifications” for the purpose of addressing gun violence; we should further regulate what people are allowed to say.  Given the rather broad scope of what the left is willing to label as hateful, harmful, or extremism, the implications of this kind of thinking are considerable.

Ultimately, I think that what we’re seeing from the left in the gun control debate is the offer to trade freedom for safety.  An unhappy trade, but I understand why people would be interested in making it.  It should be noted, of course, that when societies give up freedom in pursuit of slavery, they sometimes end up both enslaved and unsafe.  But, however we go forward, we should go forward with open eyes.  Safety, as being dangled before us, has slavery attached down the line.

Yet there is a third option.  I’ve said this before, so I hope I don’t sound like too much of a broken record.  Instead of chaos or control, we could choose Christ.  It is possible to have both a great deal of freedom and a great deal of safety–if you add to the mix a great deal of virtue.  Instead of giving up the right to keep and bear arms–and the right to free speech, and freedom of conscience, and probably a few other things–we could give up paganism.

Give up paganism?  I know, it’s a big ask to a lot of people, but we could do it.  We could put the Bible and prayer back in the schools, and the Ten Commandments in prominent public displays.  We could stop watching movies and TV shows filled with violence and vulgarity and nudity, thus compelling Hollywood to produce edifying entertainment instead.  We could stop listening to musicians whose music, apparel, or conduct are indecent.  We could stop letting the rich rob the poor with cigarettes and slot machines.  We could stop killing babies, and show that we actually value human life.  We could teach children–in the public schools–that life has a transcendent meaning, that God their Creator is holy and loving, and that they, too, should do good and love one another.

With a culture-wide embrace of virtue, grounded in God, we could be able to be both safe and free.

Or we could keep our paganism, and choose between anarchy and slavery.

Immorality comes with a high price tag.

Deeds of Darkness

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America is a land of ideological chaos.  Many Americans labor to do good to others; but no upright society could tolerate the extreme wickedness of the abortion industry.  Four years ago the CMP videos came out, raising the public debate for awhile–though their revelations were really unnecessary, for the main scandal of abortion is that the abortionists are killing babies–how they harvest and sell their parts is only a secondary scandal.

But how can the machineries of American law allow these atrocities to continue, while prosecuting not the abortionists but the people who exposed them?

The logic is actually quite simple: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19, NIV).  The light of Christ is so often rejected, for the same reason that the light of truth more broadly is rejected: it shines upon the dark deeds of men, and wickedness prefers the darkness.  So a pagan society reacts to uncomfortable light not with repentance and punishing those who do evil, but by punishing those who expose them.

But it is difficult, even in this world of shadows and deception, for darkness to snuff out light.  The persecutors (no, I did not misspell) are discovering what they should have anticipated, that when you persecute people for shining a light on your wickedness, you only draw more attention to those misdeeds.  So ‘no,’ the judge says, ‘you can’t prosecute them for this and prevent new revelations about your evil from coming out in the process’ (not an actual quote, just the substance of what’s happened).

It would have been better for them to just hide in the shadows, instead of trying to snuff out the light.

Love Indescribable

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So many things are advanced under the banner of ‘love’ these days, and such a variety of things are condemned as hate.  As a culture, we are deeply confused about love.

But there is a transcendent standard, if we will look to it: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Love is a self-giving for the other, and there has never been such a marvelous demonstration of love as when God the Father sent His Son to die in our place, the Savior of the world.

We were not good and worthy of saving.  We were His enemies, not His friends.  He wasn’t in our debt; we already owed Him everything, and had reneged on our obligations towards Him.  Any attempt to see us as deserving of salvation cheapens God’s grace and undercuts the matchless mystery of His redeeming love.

Christ died for us because God is love.  God is so consummately loving, that He gave His only beloved Son for our redemption.  God’s love was demonstrated, enacted, incomparably displayed, upon the cross where Jesus died for us.

Love indescribable, wonderful and wild, extravagant and incomprehensible.  This is the majesty of divine love.  This is love that shakes the world.

A Brighter Light

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So small the glitterings that satisfy

our little minds, the fading glamor

which captivates our child-eyes,

the sparks we take for stars eternal,

entrancing flickers in the night.

We are too satisfied,

too soon bewitched

by shadows vague and fading fast.

How brighter, fuller, shines celestial

the fiery pillar everlasting;

how brighter burns that majestic

Light of all light,

Light unending,

which alone can satisfy.

The Path of the Prodigal

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In yesterday’s Briefing, Al Mohler was describing an excessively liberal church that had been featured in The New York Times, and among the interesting elements in that congregation’s worship was the removal of masculine names for God.  They still wish to call on God, but not to call Him Father.

This is not an isolated or surprising feature for a liberal church.  Masculine language for God is increasingly regarded by the left as an artifact of oppressive patriarchy.  For a more direct example, near the beginning of last year the Washington D.C. Episcopal diocese decided to remove such masculine references to God when they update their Book of Common Prayer.

There’s a lot that could be said about this move: the basic irreverence towards God, the self-reflective idolatry, the studied disregard for Scripture, and so on.  But I want to draw attention to the tragic way in which this undermines one of the most precious blessings of salvation–adoption as a child of God.

We have a strange capacity for regarding blessings as curses.  A comparatively trivial example is our ability to twist the gift of freedom and leisure into boredom.  But the present case is far more serious.  God’s Fatherhood is not a curse, a relic of oppression to be thrown off by those sufficiently enlightened through feminist theory.  Fatherhood is a facet of the divine identity, and it marks a relationship into which we are wondrously invited.

For Jesus Christ, the one and only son of the Father, has given Himself for us; united with Him by faith, we are offered adoption as children of God.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 Jn. 3:1).  We may call on God as our Father, as Jesus instructed His disciples to do (Matt. 6:9).  God the Father becomes our Father.  We come to know His Fatherly love and care, we come to have that priceless privilege of adoptive sonship in the Son.

The desire to be free of the Fatherhood of God leads, like the way of the prodigal son (Lk. 15), into the far country of disappointment and loss.  Freedom from God is slavery to sin.  But the gospel remains; for those prodigals who wish to come home, the loving welcome of the heavenly Father waits.