ChurchLife

Survey for Foundations Baptist Fellowship Talk

I have been asked to address the Annual Fellowship of the Foundations Baptist Fellowship International in June, 2018, in Troy, Michigan, on this topic: “The Legitimate Concerns of the Next Generation (An Objective Analysis).”

Now, every Christian worships within some tradition or other, even if some don’t like to admit it because it threatens their claim to be the only true tradition! The tradition I was handed in God’s providence has often been one such tradition, but I don’t think it has to be: independent Baptist fundamentalism. To be clear, because that tradition has split over the KJV, I’m in the 25% (?) of that tradition that values education* and is decidedly not KJV-Only.

No one wants to take the title “fundamentalist” in public (good thing this blog is so obscure), and I’m not unaware that the title is both fraught and fought over—and despised by almost everybody. I’m all too aware that the label lumps me in with sectarians and other people I’m not proud of, and puts an artificial gap between me and other believers whose books and blogs I actually read. Please find me a label that avoids all these faults and still lets me love the people who nurtured me and carry on what’s valuable in our tradition, and I’ll happily take it, and probably already do. (There is, yes, the added problem that the label is associated with Muslim terrorism—and that’s why I helped [a little] move my “denomination” toward a new moniker, the Foundations Baptist Fellowship.)

But as I’ve explained before, I can’t deny the good I got out of this tradition. And I not infrequently hear evangelicals lamenting that they lack the very things my tradition has given me (here’s another example). I’d like to see a revitalization of my tradition, and that requires some shoptalk for those of us who have been shaped by it. Other readers are welcome to listen in, but I’d ask that only those who know what I’m talking about already and fit the intended demographic would take the survey I’m about to describe.

I’m running the informal survey below because I want to represent the “The Legitimate Concerns of the Next Generation.” I’ve been asked to do so—which speaks well of the previous generation(s). So this survey is meant for people who have been shaped by American Protestant Christian fundamentalism and still find themselves either within or not too far from that tradition. But I make no attempt to be scientific; I won’t be presenting stats (the last effort to do this ten-plus years ago was, in my judgment, a failure when it tried to do that but was still valuable for other reasons). I’m just trying to listen. I am asking that no one submit an anonymous survey—for your sake: I find it is not healthy. But I promise I will not use your name in any article or presentation without your permission. Please feel free to be honest, but I encourage you to aim for persuasion, not venting. Write with an audience of older (non-KJV-Only) FBFI members in mind. Write in a gracious and godly way calculated to influence them and appeal to them, because you may.

2018 Survey

*To say we value education more than our KJV-Only brothers is not an insult; it is an empirical observation of the credentials of their Bible college faculty vs. ours, and I’ve done the study to back it up. Contact me privately if you’re interested in seeing the stats.

Linguistics

Take That, Arrogant American English Speakers

This was utterly, absolutely fascinating. I laughed out loud with joy to hear these residents of Mumbai defend their English and criticize ours (see especially starting around 1:10). Why did I find this so funny/interesting?

Because it overturns American expectations in an extremely healthy way, linguistically speaking. The truth is, even though Americans now know we’re not supposed to say it out loud, we tend to regard Indian English (and Kenyan English and Singaporean English, if we ever encounter them) as “sounding funny.” Whereas Brits and Aussies (and Canadians and Scots and the Welsh and Irish) use English accents that sound familiar through our exposure to British TV, and whereas they use accents to which we feel they have a right; Indians are (we tend to suppose) all speaking English “wrong” because (we tend to suppose) they speak it as a second language. Indeed, the way the real-life young Indians in this video talk is just a beat off from what we would say. (I still found it all perfectly intelligible, but I noticed that the captioner silently “corrected” it to fit American norms.)

  • One young woman pronounces basically as a four-syllable word rather than a three-syllable word (1:55 or so).
  • Another man, when asked whether he knew that Americans make fun of his accent, said, “After I went to United State I thought they spoke wrong English, so I make fun of their English, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.” (Yes! Loved that guy! See at 1:59.)
  • Another young man, after opining that American English speakers “look like they are spitting,” said, “Sorry, not offensive.” He elided “to be” (or “I don’t wish to be”) in a way I don’t think American English speakers would, and it sounded purposeful and not mistaken. (See 2:12ish.)

“I think our accent is better,” said that same young man. “I think they need to learn English from us,” said the next young man interviewed. (See 2:18ff.) That’s when I laughed out loud with pleasure. Because these young people were so entertainingly articulating what I’ve been saying now for so long, but what I had to learn the hard way—by putting my foot in my mouth in front of a Kenyan and later a Singaporean: Why is what we say “right” and what they say “wrong” if, as several of them point out, they can understand each other just fine? Do we own English just because we’ve had it longer? Indeed, basically is spelled like a four-syllable word—why isn’t it pronounced that way in the U.S.? If India were the ruling power of the world, if Bollywood dominated global entertainment, if Indian English authors were the most translated of all writers, Americans would see things differently. I predict you’d see Indian usages cropping up inside our borders: Indian catchphrases, Indian pronunciations. We just can’t imagine our linguistic world in any other way than it is now, but we should. It’s a healthy exercise.

Now, the people interviewed in this video are not all linguistic saints. The one man in the turban said he finds French-accented and Russian-accented English funny. But then I’m not sure anyone learns either of those Englishes as his or her first language, and as this video makes clear, many Indian youth are now taught Indian-inflected English before learning their “proper” native tongues.

I have not read deeply in sociolinguistics. I’m sure I’m missing opportunities to use the jargon of that field to explain what I’m witnessing. I just know I find it all delightful. Language is so fun; people around the world all take it so personally, as well they should. Give it some time, and we’ll see what impact that powerful subcontinent over there with its billion-plus inhabitants, 12.6% of which speak English, will do to our shared tongue. I can’t wait to find out. But if you think your English is “right” and theirs is “wrong,” watch this video. And take that.

ChurchLife

Piety

Theology

Alastair Roberts on Fundamentalism, the Graham-Pence Rule, and Purity as Avoidance

I’m becoming an Alastair Roberts fanboy. I can’t wait for his Crossway book on a theology of gender—except that the guy can write 4,000 intellectually rich and biblically sound words a minute, and I actually want to get through the book so I’m hoping the editors can help him reign in the page count just a bit. The guy is ca-ra-zy prolific, like no one I’ve ever seen, including Alan Jacobs. And his British accent increases his apparent intelligence by about 10%, much as going on TV adds ten pounds.

I’m sure Roberts is fallen and finite, but I can’t help but feel he’s been raised up for such a time as this—our big, bad gender this that’s going on right now.

And inside a huge and super helpful analysis of the Graham-Pence-but-not-Tish-Harrison-Warren rule, he made a little comment that I couldn’t help noticing (HT: the proprietor of exegesisandtheology.com):

The pride many Christians have in rejecting the legalism of fundamentalism’s excessive boundaries often does not seem to be manifested in greater holiness of life, a more intense hunger for righteousness, wiser behaviour, and deeper virtue, but in more thoroughly rationalized dabbling in the dirtiness of the world. Even many Christians who are earnestly pursuing holiness can far more easily be overcome by sin in a society where the boundaries that once protected us from temptations or from acting upon them are so lowered.

Reading Christians of past ages, one is often struck by their strong sense of a need for renunciation of anything that would hinder or trip them up in their pursuit of holiness. Their strong rules around entertainment or interaction between the sexes seem so excessive to us today—surely purity is not avoidance! Yet it is hard not to wonder whether this is simply because we have such a high tolerance for sin, provided that it is perceived to occur among consensual adults and to be a tolerable cost incurred by our increased enjoyment of autonomy. Likewise, we seem to have little sense of our weakness and corruption: we all have a fifth column within our hearts.

If my own fundamentalist tradition has erred, it’s in being uncertain of or forgetful of the T in TULIP, in talking as if the fifth columnists aren’t inside the walls, as if all serious threats are external.

Let me offer, though, two Bible verses that fit Roberts’ read and don’t fit the way the cool kids talk:

Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue. (2 Pet 1:5 ESV)

In other words, the life of Christian virtue requires effort.

And now, speaking of Graham and Pence,

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil. (Proverbs 4:14 ESV)

In other words, there are plenty of times when you literally, physically just don’t go there, wherever there is, because of that fifth column inside you. You don’t make provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. You consider yourself, lest you also be tempted, even while you’re in the midst of trying to restore a sinning brother.

Now one more Bible passage—because we’ve got to hold these truths together with Col 2:

“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:21–23 ESV)

It is the strength of the fundamentalist tradition to have a titanium backbone about stuff we won’t do, no matter the looks we get (and I’ve gotten looks). It is the weakness of that tradition to allow our traditional abstinences to become petty, to harden into arrogant shells that keep us from seeing the way times have changed, or the places other Christians are in their spiritual maturity, or the fact that our hearts don’t always keep up with our rules. But if, as I’m coming more and more to believe, every legitimate Christian tradition/group exists to give its gifts to Christ’s body, let’s magnify our office (humbly): you who have been influenced as I have by Protestant Christian fundamentalism, continue to quietly be willing to aim hard at holiness. Don’t let the worst and most painful kind of mockery, the kind that comes from other Christians, dissuade you from that calling to be always in pursuit of purity. Purity is more than avoidance, but not less.

Personal

Piety

Theology

Edifying Words on Gender and on Civility

Edifying words from theologian Alastair Roberts:

Much of the discourse on gender issues in all quarters has pitted men and women against each other, treating men and women chiefly as competitors or opponents, rather than as loving collaborators. Our differences, I am convinced, should not be seen primarily as differences from each other, but as differences for each other. Both men and women need the space and means to thrive—something that requires recognizing our differing strengths and giving us both the space to play to them—and both sexes can benefit from the thriving and strengthening of the other sex.

I really like that. My wife did, too.

Shifting gears… I liked this from Alastair, too, and I kind of needed it today. He was talking about how people treat Jordan Peterson (and I have seen it), but I’m trying to apply it to how I treat my own enemies. They’re out there.

Strawmanning and carelessly rejecting the work of someone who has made a profound difference in many people’s lives, while it may play well with your own party, is only going to lead to knee-jerk reactions against you by those who aren’t. It is easy to play the partisanship game, but if we are truly to make our society a better place, we need to start trying to win people, not merely win ideological battles against grossly caricatured opponents.

Peterson’s advice to set our own house in order first before we try to change the world is valuable and it applies to all of us in this area. We all need to learn how to think and engage calmly and non-reactively. We all need to seek out sane and reasonable people who disagree with us and to forge charitable, generous, receptive, and attentive conversations with them. If you don’t believe that such people exist, you aren’t looking very hard: there are plenty of them out there. We need to stop playing zero sum games. We all need to learn how to care much more about our neighbours who disagree with us and to consider how we could pursue a good that we could hold in common with them. While we may not care for certain of their viewpoints, it is imperative that we care for them.

This is so hard to do, especially given that some enemies really are malicious—listen to the way David talks about them in his prayer in Psalm 17:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

They close their hearts to pity;
with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
They have now surrounded our steps;
they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. (Psalm 17:8–11 ESV)

And then there’s what Paul says, in several places, about his theological enemies. Here’s just one, where he warns Timothy against “certain persons” who desire

to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I’ve met these people online. I’m not going to succeed at being civil by pretending that such people don’t exist. But I’m not going to succeed by placing everyone in the “wicked-arrogant-violent” category either. By God’s grace I wish to listen well enough (Prov 18:13) to discern who belongs in which category—and whether I myself ever stumble into arrogance. I think, too, that if love “believes all things” as Paul says (1 Cor 13), I’m going to err on the side of assuming good will in people.

God help us all in this social media world.

Culture

Liberalism is Unstable

Liberalism is architecturally unstable. It is a massive edifice that has been slowly, intentionally, and, by design, built without concern for its foundation. It has been built on the assumption that a stable, prosperous, and free society can allow “incentives to do the work of morals”—and that assumption is wrong.

Brian Dijkema on economist Samuel Bowles (and also channeling Michael Sandel)

Serious people are saying this, not just Christian zealots.

Patrick Deneen appears to be saying it, in a book I need to read. And his title, at least, says that liberalism has already failed, not that it is unstable.

My favorite essay on the theme of the emptiness and foundationlessness of liberalism, my favorite essay of any kind and for all time, is Stanley Fish’s “Why We Can’t All Just Get Along” (First Things, Feb. 1996).