When it comes to the general revelation of God, the human person adds a whole new level. What do I mean? Check it out.
Writing a couple days ago about the call of the gospel involved expressing that the gospel call is urgent. It matters whether or not people hear the message of Christ, and whether or not those who hear believe; it matters because there is judgment to come, and where you stand in the day of judgment depends entirely on whether or not you are in Christ.
This is the perennial scandal of the Christian faith. True Christianity will always be scandalous to the world, though different aspects of the faith will be scandalous in different times and places and cultures. But the exclusivity of the gospel message is a perennial scandal, because it stands against every worldly ideology and religion, and because it is at the irreducible core of the Christian message: eternal life is found in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone. You have to place your faith in Him if you are to be saved.
This claim is denied not only by avowed secularists, but by some who claim to be Christians. I came upon the website of a liberal Episcopalian church in San Francisco, noteworthy (among other things) for how they use their sanctuary for a popular yoga program–the sentence “Colorful mats cover the labyrinth, the aisles and even the altar” has a certain resonance with 2 Kings 16. I saw that they had sermons online, audio and transcripts; I wanted to see what their preaching was like, but didn’t want to give it a lot of time. I needn’t have been concerned; my sampling suggests that, in keeping with typical liberal practice, their sermons range from fairly brief to very brief. Given their beliefs, brief is probably for the best.
So here is a sermon from “The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clements Young.” He’s the dean of the cathedral and has a Doctorate of Theology from Harvard, so no one can say I’ve chosen a straw man. His text is John 3:16-17…and if you say, ‘Why just through verse 17? …aha, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
John 3:16 is quite understandable a beloved passage, a one-verse encapsulation of the gospel. Dr. Young, in his short message, says a number of things, some of them good. But things get particularly suspicious about halfway through–manuscript page 3, that is–when he turns to examine Jesus’ reference to the bronze serpent, a story detailed in Numbers 21.
The Israelites were complaining against God, and the text says, “Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them” (Num. 21:6, NIV), but Dr. Young says “God allows poisonous snakes to come among them”; perhaps the change from God’s direct action to divine permission is unintentional. But stranger is Dr. Young’s assertion that “In both this exodus story and the Gospel of John sin is less a punishment from God than it is a self-destructive human choice.” Well, yes, the sin of the Israelites is a self-destructive choice–and if that’s all he meant, that’s one thing, but we’re still going to have to grapple with Romans 1–but the punishment from God is clearly present: they chose to grumble against God, but God sent the venomous snakes.
Dr. Young brings this back to John 3, which is good, and Jesus’ statement that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (Jn. 3:14). But this is Dr. Young’s comment:
“In this world which is poisoned by envy, greed, fear, betrayal and death – Jesus promises that we can be healed by experiencing him near to us in our suffering, and the hope that we have for the resurrection”.
Is that all Jesus promised, His nearness in our suffering? Why no mention of the atoning significance of His death upon the cross?
After this suspicious beating-about-the-bush about the wrath of God and atoning work of Christ, Dr. Young makes his last point quite clearly:
“My last point has to do with what my friend Matt Boulton calls the “anti-Gospel.” Gospel means good news and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really good news for all people, not just Christians. It is the message that God does not condemn the world, but always reaches out to save us even when our choices have led us disastrously astray. But somehow many Christians warp Jesus’ words into an anti-gospel which is a message of contempt and exclusion.”
The Gospel, for Dr. Young, appears to be a message of universal salvation. Faith in Christ is not necessary, and those who say that it is are guilty of promoting “an anti-gospel which is a message of contempt and exclusion.” This is the rhetoric of the religious left, where ‘inclusion’ is good and ‘exclusion’ is bad, and where the other side is regarded as showing hatred or contempt. But how does this message square with the very text of Scripture being expounded? Dr. Young quotes John 3:16 in its entirety, so he has right there before him that the verse says “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It does not say that Christ gives life to everyone; it says He gives life to those who believe in Him.
How does Dr. Young deal with this? He doesn’t, really. He emphasizes that the text is saying this is a demonstration of the way God has shown His love:
“The Greek doesn’t mean to emphasize “how much” God loves us but instead shows us the character of God’s love, that God loves us in this way, through not even withholding his own son. The point is not that Jesus only saves the few who believe, but like the Israelites looking at the snake, everyone is healed by God through Jesus.”
Like the Israelites looking at the snake? But it wasn’t all of the Israelites who were healed by the bronze serpent–it was only those who looked at it. In the same way, it isn’t all people who are saved by Jesus, but only those who believe in Him. The parallel seems to work rather against Dr. Young than for him. Can he really justify such a shaky interpretation in the face of the clear teaching of the biblical text?
He can try. Here’s the clincher:
John confirms this interpretation and writes, “God did not send his son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3).
He’s quoting John 3:17, a wonderful verse about God’s love. Jesus came to save. God sent His Son to be our Savior. And, if this verse was all we had to work with, we might conclude that it teaches a universal salvation, regardless of whether people know Jesus or not.
But this verse doesn’t stand alone, and a basic principle of biblical interpretation is that verses must be interpreted in context. The verse before it, verse 16, says that it is those who believe who are saved. What about the verse that follows?
And this is why it is so interesting that Dr. Young stopped with verse 17. Now, I can’t read his mind. Maybe he forgot what verse 18 said. Maybe he just didn’t have time to bring it up. But it is awfully interesting that he didn’t mention the verse that says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Jn. 3:18).
So we have an Old Testament parallel and two clear assertions that a response of faith is required in order to receive the life Christ offers, sandwiching the ambiguous verse that Dr. Young tries to use to nullify the clear message. It is overwhelmingly obvious that Dr. Young has misinterpreted the Scripture, and has done so in a way that shows either a remarkably careless disregard for the context or a deliberate desire to twist the message of the gospel.
He wants to do away with the exclusivity of the gospel. In the process, he has thrown out the urgency of the gospel, for a message of universal salvation is not a message that anyone needs to hear; and, if heard, it is a message that perfectly suits the individualistic self-determination of the (post)modern west, because it means that how you choose to live your life doesn’t really matter in the end.
Can Dr. Young’s own charge be reversed? Is he guilty of teaching an anti-gospel? I think so. Maybe he teaches that people should repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus, but he doesn’t preach that such is necessary in order to be forgiven and receive eternal life.
The true gospel is urgent, because it proclaims that God’s gracious offer of life is found exclusively in Jesus Christ, is received exclusively by faith in Jesus Christ. You need this gospel, and you need it now.
And you may have it, no matter who you are, no matter what you have done. Turn from your sins and place your trust in Jesus Christ, who died for your sins and rose from the dead to bring you life. Accept His mighty hand reaching down to draw you to Himself. Be cleansed, forgiven, made whole, adopted as a child of the Most High.
The time is now.
It is Sunday, which is for Christians the Lord’s Day, the weekly celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We rejoice, because we have the message of grace and redemption, the urgent and necessary offer of life to all who will receive it:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
(Isaiah 55:6-7, NIV)
This exhortation came from God through the lips of His prophet Isaiah long ago, and it is still relevant today. This is a time of crisis, but as such it is only a reminder that we are always in a time of crisis until we seek and find the Lord. He may be found, and He calls us to seek Him; this call is urgent, for there will come a judgment day–but today is the day of mercy, when the gospel is held out freely to all. God is near. Seek Him now.
Seeking God calls for repentance. That is too often absent from our prayers in a time like this. If we want to turn to the Lord, that necessarily involves turning away from evil. For “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
But what is the promise? What will we find when we turn to the Lord? Read again those wonderful words: “he will have mercy on them”, “he will freely pardon.” Here is the wonderful gospel, that sinners may receive the mercy of God, His pardon freely given.
For Jesus Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, and rose again to give us life. Those who place their faith in Him find forgiveness full and free, healing, hope, and life forevermore.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, highlighting the wonder and the scandal of the gospel. The wonder is overwhelming if we can truly grasp even a part of it: that God the righteous and holy, the loving and compassionate, has sent His own Son to us, and that in Jesus Christ we can return to the Father. We can be forgiven all our sins and receive the gift of eternal life. How can we grasp the unfathomable mercy of God?
But the scandal comes because we can have a very difficult time accepting the truth about the holiness and righteousness of God. Jesus is the way of salvation, and Jesus is the only way of salvation. That is a scandalous teaching in our (post)modern world, with its special brand of tolerance. And, in keeping with this spirit, there are those who claim a Christian identity but don’t accept the truth that just as God has made a way of salvation, so also there is condemnation for those who do not receive Jesus Christ.
The refusal to acknowledge the stern reality of God’s wrath can come as a direct embrace of pluralistic universalism, the idea that all religions and none lead to the same ultimate destiny: all roads go to heaven. But it can also come in a more subtle way, and one that skirts some of the rather exclusivist biblical passages. That is, some professing Christians contend that, indeed, Jesus is the only way, but that people will have an infinite opportunity in the afterlife to receive Jesus.
One such argument was made a couple of years ago, by none other than William Paul Young, whose bestselling novel The Shack presented such a distorted view of God. Young suggested that the idea that a person must accept Christ in this life or be condemned is acting “as if death is the final arbiter”.
That’s not really the case. Orthodox Christian teaching is that God is the final arbiter, and death is the limit He has set for man’s repentance: “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Young proceeds to back up his case with exegetical shenanigans:
“Romans itself says that death can’t separate you from the love of God [see Romans 8:31-39, in particular,” he argued, insisting that the verse applies to all people, including those who haven’t accepted Christ.
Ah, the power of insistence. But insisting is not enough to overturn the basic hermeneutical key of context. Who is the apostle Paul talking about in this passage? All humanity indiscriminately? No, he is speaking about believers, those who belong to Jesus Christ, as the context makes quite clear.
Young does not rest his case there, but proceeds to make an argument from Greek vocabulary:
“And every time the New Testament talks about the issue of judgment, it talks about crisis—the Greek work [sic] for judgment—and it’s a crisis. You’re going to enter a crisis—and I don’t think the story is over; I don’t think death is our damnation,” he continued.
“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” the saying goes. But, in this case, beware of inexpert use of Greek in argumentation, which can be a Trojan horse for all sorts of nonsense. Yes, the NT uses the Greek word krisis for judgment, and other variants related to the noun krima. Yes, krisis would seem to be the etymological origin of our English word crisis. But no, that doesn’t mean we should just read krisis as a crisis in any sense we want to; words have to be understood in context. When the translators of English Bible versions render krisis as “judgment” (e.g. Mattew 10:15), they do so for good reasons. This crisis is the crisis of coming under God’s judgment (krisis).
At the bottom, there is nothing more substantial than Young’s opinion. He doesn’t think death is our damnation, by which he presumably means anyone’s damnation. What does he think?
“I think that Jesus is both our salvation and rightful judge but that judgment is intended for our good, not our harm…I think there is an ongoing relational confrontation between the One who knows you best and loves you best. Potentially forever and, potentially, you could say ‘no’ forever. How someone could do that I don’t know, but definitely that tension is held in Scripture for sure,” he positioned.
Jesus is the way of salvation for all who will come to Him. Jesus is the rightful judge. But this idea that “judgment is intended for our good, not our harm” is to say that judgment isn’t judgment. Judgment is a decision; in this case, it is a decision of whether someone will be acquitted or condemned. Since all of us deserve condemnation, the only question is whether we have had our sins washed away by the blood of Christ. And on that judgment day, the verdict will be final.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
A potentially eternal tension of “ongoing relational confrontation” is not held in Scripture, however sure Young may be of its presence. What is held forth in Scripture is the radical confrontation of the gospel, where we must choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).
In the end, we have to decide whose word to trust: God’s, or William Paul Young’s. If we trust God, then we will run to the cross now, recognizing that this is our one offer to be saved from the wrath that is to come.
And what an offer!
God has done all the work to offer us redemption. The Father sent the Son by the Spirit for our redemption. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and rose again to accomplish our salvation. The Spirit comes to convict us, indwell us, and unite us with the Son and the Father. And God will bring His plan to fulness in due time.
Those who come to Christ in faith receive meaning and purpose for life, moral and spiritual transformation, the forgiveness of sins, adoption as a child of God, and eternal life in the coming new creation. The gospel is wonderful in its accomplishment, in the marvelous scope of redemption, and in the free offer to all who will receive it.
Jesus is the way.
Individually and collectively we need a basis for knowing what is real and right. Only with a knowledge of the truth can we make wise decisions that will lead to human flourishing.
But in a pluralistic society, competing truth claims vie for recognition. Sometimes this leads to a relativistic outlook, where truth is privatized. A person may defy absolute reality and claim legitimacy for “my truth”, which is personal and immune to challenge. This is untenable, because relativism is ultimately the rejection of truth—the rejection of reality. If there is no objective and absolute truth, there is no reality.
Truth exists, but how can we know it? If we cannot know it, we are blind in our pursuit of meaning and of a flourishing society. If truth is knowable, there may be several ways of discovering it, such as rational consideration and scientific examination. But truth discovered in these ways will always be limited by our own frailties and the finitude of our knowledge. Is there any absolute way to know the absolute and objective reality outside of us?
Jesus prayed to God the Father, “your word is truth” (John 17:17, NIV).
God is the absolute reality, Creator of the entire cosmos. He knows what is. He speaks the truth, and tells us what is good and beautiful. Divine revelation provides an absolute reference point for human knowledge of reality.
As individuals, our lives will only be built on truth if they are built on a proper relationship with God in Jesus Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In submission to God’s Word, we will know the truth. As a society, we will only have the proper basis for human flourishing if the overall character of our culture is consonant with Christian truth. A Christian society will allow individual members freedom to believe untruth; but a pluralistic society, with no fundamental commitment to the truth or the source of truth, cannot be expected to promote human flourishing.
Flourishing, individually and collectively, requires receptivity towards the truth and rejection of all falsehood. We must love the truth if we wish to be free.
I wrote a post the other day titled “Tom Steyer, Theologian?”, and now have encountered a liberal religiousinterview with a much more prominent Democratic candidate, Pete Buttigieg. This transcript appeared in Sojourners Nov. 19, 2019, but I only came across it the other day. No doubt there are similar articles out there, as Buttigieg has been quite vocal about his claim to Christianity. While a thorough dissection of this interview could be instructive, I want to highlight two things I find especially noteworthy.
…so the radical message of the gospel includes this idea that every single person is of equal concern; it has the divine in them.
There is an initial difficulty in reading this remark because of the grammatical tangles that result from the sexual revolution. I think Buttigieg is saying that every single person (“it”) has the divine in him or her (“them”). That grammatical confusion is significant because you can see how depersonalizing–thus, ultimately, dehumanizing–the sexual revolution is. People cease to be men and women, and they become objects and plurals–‘it’s and ‘them’s. And this comes in the midst of a comment where Buttigieg is trying to promote the dignity of every person; but you can’t do that while promoting the sexual revolution. You can only have one or the other. Trying to have both is one of the impossible tensions of contemporary American society.
But when we move past the grammar and its implications, the statement is problematic for what Buttigieg is deliberately claiming. Every person has the divine in them? No doubt there are some religions that teach that, but Christianity isn’t one of them. We are God’s creatures; we are made in the imago Dei, the image of God; but only those who belong to Christ and have come to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit may be said to have the divine in them–and, even then, it needs to be understood in the right sense.
2. The source of truth. Concerning the elephant in the room with Buttigieg, part of what he says is:
…on an issue like LGBTQ equality, I really believe this is also a battle within people. I think it is sometimes a battle between what they have been told and how they have been brought up, and something very good inside them, which is compassion.
Notice what’s on each side of this debate in the way he wants to frame it: on the side of Christian sexual ethics is ‘what someone has been told’, and on the other side is the goodness inside them, in the form of ‘compassion’. This is a twisting of the truth, which is why it’s so effective. What’s true is that revelation stands on one side, and that feelings are used to pull people to the other side.
But the most important question is, for Christians who have been told that sexual immorality is sin: who told you that? If the answer is that God tells us that, in His holy Word, then no emotional appeals should move us. God is true, and His Word is truth.
And, of course, it is only by acknowledging the truth of the gospel that we can repent and believe and come into a saving relationship with the one true God; only by submitting to God’s truth do we come to have ‘something very good inside’ us, the Spirit of the living God.
G.K. Chesterton has been frequently quoted as having said something like, “The first effect of not believing in God is that you believe in anything.” Apparently Chesterton did not write that phrase, though the idea is true enough to what he elsewhere communicated.
In any case, it is a startling idea, and one that helps explain the resurgence of paganism, witchcraft, and astrology in the (post)modern era.
For astrology is all too alive and well in America today. Our civilization, that prides itself on its technology and scientific advancement, has, to a startling degree, returned to the most nonsensical spiritual practices. But the reason for this is obvious–pagan spirituality tells us just what we want to hear. Paganism is amorphous, obsequious, relativistic, and self-indulgent in all the ways that true Christianity is not.
Consider this telling interview at Vox.com, The existential lure of astrology (sic–we shall pass over their abhorrent lack of title capitalization with no more than the wagging of a disapproving finger). Chani Nicholas, “head astrologer at O Magazine” (?!) makes the self-indulgent appeal of astrology quite transparent.
For the (post)modern gospel is that you’re great just the way you are, and accepting yourself in all your goodness is the first step towards building a better world. Or:
As Nicholas sees it, the more we accept ourselves for who we are, the more we can show up and effect positive social change, both in our immediate relationships and our communities. Astrology is one tool, she argues, for getting to know ourselves, what drives us, and how we can be of use in the world.
For all its mushy sentimentality, that is much easier to deal with that the gospel of Jesus Christ, which tells us that we are corrupt, condemned, and need to be redeemed by faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us; that we need to repent and follow Him, being transformed by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, both to be useful for God’s redeeming mission in this world and to attain eternal life in the world to come–rather than suffering the wrath of God.
You see, mushy and sentimental self-acceptance is just easier and less offensive.
Astrology, Nicholas admits, appeals to our basic narcissism. Having put it so bluntly, she tries to add a positive spin:
But also, there’s a deep need for self-actualization, and a deep need to know that we’re worthy of that.
Which is really just an embrace of our narcissism. The sad news is, there’s no hope to be found in that direction. Self-acceptance is only the determined satisfaction with what is obviously false and illusory–the idea that I’m alright just how I am, and don’t need God to fix me.
But Nicholas understands that there are deep matters at stake in the pursuit of spirituality, even if she misses the truth:
When we self-actualize, we’re much less interested in all the outer things and we’re much more interested in the quality of the moments of our life. That’s actually where the soul is yearning to go.
No, the soul is yearning for God, and will never be satisfied with the self. She completely misses the solution, but she has something of a handle on the problem:
I think we’re really lonely. I think we are really afraid. I think that we live in a world that feels increasingly less stable and less known. And I think we need to know ourselves as a counter to being in this place. We need to deepen our relationship to knowing who we are, and astrology is one way to do that.
We are lonely, and afraid. The world is unstable and filled with darkness. But knowing ourselves can never bring joy, security, stability and light, because we’re part of the darkness of the world. Sin has darkened the human heart. We cannot find light in our own hearts, because the light of the world comes to us from outside ourselves.
Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV).
We have a yearning of the soul, a deep yearning, because we were made by God to be in a right and loving relationship with Him, to be holy and to love the God of holy-love. But sin has plunged our hearts and our world into darkness. So we yearn and grope for what our souls long after, but which we can no longer see.
But false hopes will never satisfy our souls. The stars can’t guide us through the darkness of sin. There is no inner light to be gained by self-acceptance. These things only lead to death.
Jesus is the light of the world. He has brought light into our darkness, and life to the dying. He came to show us the way home, so that we could have fulfilled the great longing of our souls.
In His life He showed the light. In His death He made atonement for our sins, satisfied the wrath of God, and bridged the gulf that separated us from our maker. In His resurrection He offers us the hope of life, if we are united by Him with faith. In Christ, we are made whole and brought home to God.
In Christ is fulfilled the yearning of the soul.
A recent salvo from the cultural left comes this article describing 350 members of the legal profession who filed an amicus brief regarding a supreme court case, in which they share about their abortions. The basic goal, as even stated later in the article, would seem to be the normalization and de-stigmatization of the horrendous evil of abortion.
One may wade through the typical and deceptive jargon that attempts to make personal determination the central issue, rather than the lives of all the vulnerable innocents these women have killed. This is the standard lie, and it needs no more comment than that.
What I did find interesting was a statement at the beginning of the article, where one lawyer says,
I was smart and I deserved my career and I deserved to be able to give it my all and to become a mother when I was fully, emotionally, psychologically, and in terms of resources prepared to become the best mother I could be.
The rhetorical and political success of abortion comes substantially through framing it as a right, something that is deserved. It is connected with personal autonomy and flourishing. And notice how positively everything is put: she does not say, ‘I deserved to decide whether to kill or give birth to my baby’ but ‘I deserved to focus on my career and defer motherhood until I was ready for it.’ It just so happens that deferring motherhood came at the price of an innocent life.
There are curious comparisons of this attitude with the story of the Fall. We’re not told Eve thought she was entitled to the forbidden fruit; but she was given the idea that it was something good which God wanted to withhold from her, and she decided to reach out and grasp it. Abortion advocates tell women that the God-given fruit of their womb is theirs to reject, if they decide it is not good. In both cases, the basic lie is that we know better than God, and we can make our own path to flourishing.
But the attitude of entitlement moves us even further from the truth. We don’t deserve to actualize ourselves at the expense of others. We’re not entitled to kill people who stand in the way of our careers.
When you put it that way, it sounds absurd that anyone could think otherwise.
But add to that a true perspective on what we do, in fact, deserve. We are sinners, and the judge of the universe is absolutely righteous. We deserve the wrath of God. The good news is that if we come to Christ, we receive not the just sentence we deserve, but mercy instead.
We shouldn’t be too quick to demand what we’re entitled to. There’s no life that way. But a society that trades the pursuit of righteousness and mercy for self-actualization and the pursuit of an increasing list of supposed rights is prime soil for a culture of death.
Christ is the answer. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
I read old books, and learn interesting things. Sometimes you see things that were common knowledge a hundred years ago, but not so well known now. But today I saw a rather sobering instance of the reverse.
In a book from about a century ago, I saw that the author felt the need to explain the concept of a horoscope. Now, perhaps astrology was better known at the time than she thought, but perhaps this is a pointer that paganism was not so mainstream then as now.
We like to think that we are enlightened, sophisticated, and so on; but in some ways we seem to be regressing into ignorance, both intellectual and moral. The rise of paganism in postmodernity is a sobering reminder of what G.K. Chesterton so aptly said,
Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain. (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 42)
History does not advance at an ever upward climb. Enlightenment is not guaranteed to increase over time. Sometimes light grows dimmer, and hearts and minds become darkened; and our society loves the darkness. Those who think of themselves as progressive are in some ways most prone to regress.
But while enlightenment is not guaranteed, it is also true that regress is not inevitable. The light still shines in the darkness (Jn. 1:5). We do not have to become ever more mired in paganism. Revival can be had; but you have to want the light.
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.