Christians Should Be the Most Gracious and Edifying People on Social Media

I like Alastair Roberts. Here’s some wisdom for you (emphasis mine):

Progressive versus conservative evangelical spats are one of the very worst things about Twitter, which is really saying something. Such arguments illustrate just how poor a medium Twitter can be for productive conversation, not least on account of its tendency to foreground some of the shrillest and most antagonistic voices on both sides and privilege reactive instinct over considered response. What results is generally more of a predictably polarizing exercise in group psychology than an illuminating exchange. The issues get lost behind the personalities, the party politics, the outrage-mongering, and the emotionality and, rather than making progress, we all end up that bit more alienated from and frustrated by each other.

This is extremely unfortunate, not merely because of the animosity it excites, but also because issues of no small importance become snarled up in the instinctive antagonisms and alignments of a crowd of people who really shouldn’t be in the same room. The form of historic communications media meant that participation in theological discourse was generally heavily restricted to people with extensive learning or significant qualifications, to people who were expected to be able to defend their claims without erecting human shields around them, and to people who were subject to a code of discourse. By contrast, the Internet gives prominence to people who lack either the learning, the self-mastery, or the character to engage in a calm and effective conversation. It gives the young, the popular, and the polarizing an unhealthily high profile. It also has the unfortunate tendency to bring out the worst in people who actually have something to say that is worth hearing.

Now this is awfully convenient. Guys with PhDs telling other people they shouldn’t speak because they don’t have the qualifications; they don’t have the right to express an opinion. But, no, it’s not like that. Alastair is bookoo smart, so there are many, many, many topics he can speak on with authority and profit. The list of topics I can speak to edifyingly is radically shorter than his. But I know I, and I am certain he, backs off of certain issues. I’m just not going to write an article about climate change or medicine or pretty much anything in the field of economics. I don’t really have a right to a publicly expressed opinion on those things. I wouldn’t want to dilute people’s trust in me by spouting off on them and putting my ignorance on display. It would be a folly and shame to me (Prov 18:13).

Proverbs 18:13 should, in fact, be a lens through which all Christians view social media. If you give an answer before you really hear the question, before you really grasp the issues, before you’ve listened to both or all sides, before you’ve taken time to drill down through your dirty prejudices (we’ve all got ’em) and come back out with some clean truth, God says it’s shameful.

If you or I do need to discuss an issue we don’t have great facility in, maybe just maybe we ought to be tentative and humble. Not that knowledge gives one the right to be proud, of course. But Christians, who of all people should know humility—because you can’t get into the club without admitting your depravity—should ideally be the most gracious and edifying people on social media.

Sigh.

MacCulloch on the Reformation and Homosexuality

At the very end of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial (what other word is there for such a book?) The Reformation: A History, he offers some brief assessments of where the various Christian churches are today. This is one comment he makes about the movement that arose out of the subject of his book:

Protestantism is faced with [a] momentous challenge to its assumptions of authority: the increasing acceptance in western societies of homosexual practice and identity as one valid and unremarkable choice among the many open to human beings. This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of a homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong. (681)

MacCulloch is himself homosexual and has lived out his convictions. Born to an Anglican priest and a long-time active participant in the Church of England, this is what he wrote:

I was ordained Deacon. But, being a gay man, it was just impossible to proceed further, within the conditions of the Anglican set-up, because I was determined that I would make no bones about who I was; I was brought up to be truthful, and truth has always mattered to me. The Church couldn’t cope and so we parted company. It was a miserable experience.

MacCulloch is—and clearly writes as—a “candid friend” of Christianity:

I have a strong appreciation of the importance of it all…. [But] I’ve struggled with statements of belief. I think it’s hugely important. It’s still very important to me. I play the organ and sing in a church choir and I can’t imagine life without Christianity. But I cannot sign up to doctrinal statements.

MacCulloch’s history of the Reformation was evenhanded and very knowledgeable. I recommend it.

 

Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism and Recent Trinitarian Controversies

Just a short reflection on the argument among Reformed theologians about theology proper (read, for example, Frame’s review of James Dolezal here and here).

I think some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are looking to confessions and scholastic categories and other elements of reasonably-stable-and-long-term-but-not-overtly-Catholic church tradition for a way out of the interminable theological disputes going on around and among us.

But these disputes are our lot under the sun, because we’re all fallen interpreters; and I think the Bible (see those hapless Corinthians) leads us to expect disagreements. I totally get the fatigue, and I’m tired too (at the ripe young age of 37)—and I think confessions are useful for terminating many disputes healthily. Churches ought to have careful doctrinal statements and ought to hew to them; so should parachurch organizations (schools, camps, publishing houses) and denominations.

But as friends of mine in a Reformed Baptist group recently (re-)discovered, a confession also adds to the list of documents over whose interpretation Christians end up disagreeing. I will not say “I have no creed but the Bible”; I am bound by the confessions of faith that God has placed me under at my church and even at my job. But adding human statements to divine ones is never sufficient to keep fallen people from twisting the truth. “Pervasive interpretive pluralism” is a strong argument against Protestantism, sure, but it’s also a strong one against Catholicism and Protestant (hyper-)confessionalism. They added human statements to divine ones, and I don’t think they’re doing much better in the unity department.

It’s my “something close to biblicism,” learned in part from Frame and in part from my heritage, that lets me conclude, along with the Bible, that the noetic effects of sin must always be expected and never forgotten. In others and in myself. Till glory!

Sloganeering: A Choose Your Own Adventure Post!

This is a Choose Your Own Adventure Post. You make it what you want! See below!

Not long ago my little budding reader, six years old, noticed in a liberal relative’s home a sign full of slogans. This is the one:

He read it out loud flawlessly. I was rather impressed (as was our beloved liberal relative); he had only just started performing this trick.

But then, can you really call what a six-year-old does with this text “reading”? Decoding, maybe. But reading? With the likely exception of the text in white at top and bottom, I feel confident that he understood every word and none of them at the same time.

And where would I even begin explaining these slogans to him? Each one has a backstory that it is attempting to summarize—and weaponize; that’s what political slogans do. They’re most effective when they put opponents on the defensive. They are rhetorical moves on the level of “Did you beat your wife today?” Who’s going to deny, strictly speaking, that African-American lives are important, that women are human, that to be human should be permitted by governments worldwide, that Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard really did those cool experiments on TV when we were kids, and that tautologies are tautologies? A successful slogan makes its targets appear foolish, deniers of the obvious like, well, climate deniers (which I, for one, am not: there is a climate, darn you!).

The function of slogans is the same on the right. (And in the center. And among greens or Tories or Labour or those pro-Uhuru-Kenyatta and those pro-Raila-Odinga. I don’t actually know any Kenyan political slogans, but I know humans.) Who’s going to say that police lives are expendable or that we should erase 9/11 from the history books?

Slogans do not summarize arguments; they replace them. They serve when the argument has broken down, for when there is no room left for two (or more) sides to discuss their claims. Slogans are screams. Within a group they are binding totems—in both senses. They bind the group together, and they wield authority: disagree and you’re out.

Lest I appear to be opposed entirely to slogans, let me observe that sometimes a slogan is all you have time for—like on a bumper. And if they’re not nasty or irresponsible or profane or scatological they can serve a valuable role: they constitute a vote noticed by enough people that, in the aggregate, they shape the zeitgeist. Without doing a scientific study, exactly, I can still get a sense through bumper stickers of where the people around me lie on the political spectrum (around here I’d say it’s an even mix of ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ and COEXIST). That has a value.

And they’re such a fixture in our culture that a viewpoint without a slogan is an immature viewpoint—and an “offenseless” one. Sometimes one’s opponents really are wrong, really are doing something bad, and a little sloganeering is what’s needed to bring a group together that hasn’t existed before: only after 1973 did we need “it’s not a choice, it’s a baby.”

Now, as promised, you get to choose how this post ends. Do you want it to be about King James Onlyism or about acceptance of homosexuality in evangelicalism (by the way, I do not equate the two in importance)?


CHOICE A: KJV-ONLYISM

To make this Choose Your Own Adventure post work I had to bury the lede way down here… I’ve been building to this paragraph: Sometimes I feel the desire to grab a slogan and scream it at my opponents. I even hope that my forthcoming book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible might help create one, and bring a new “movement” or strategy to maturity. We’d have a slogan something like “GIVE US THE BIBLE IN OUR ENGLISH” (longer version for bigger bumper stickers: “GIVE US THE BIBLE IN OUR ENGLISH BASED ON WHATEVER MANUSCRIPTS YOU PREFER”). But I wrote a book because I’m not ready to sloganize yet. I won’t give up on the possibility that there are godly, reasonable, persuadable people who disagree with me over the present usefulness of the King James Bible. There are such people: I know some. The book is not, therefore, formally aimed at King James Onlyism. My intended audience is the apparently large number of Christians (based on a Pew study done with Mark Noll) who read the KJV regularly but are not KJV-Only.

There are some Christians, sadly, before whom I feel I must not cast my pearls (though they’re more than welcome to read the book). Discussion is pointless; with them I can only retreat to my slogan. These are people who, at least with regard to the KJV, can’t debate; they can only turn and rend, turn and rend. I pray for God’s mercy on them, and I pray for his mercy on me never to reach that state myself. I don’t want anyone concluding about me, “There’s no point in talking to him,” if I really am sinning or otherwise in error. Only on the truth do I wish to be immovable.

But for other Christians, people who might listen—I won’t retreat to my slogans until I’ve exhausted all other appeals. Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible is the last appeal I can think of to my reasonable KJV-Only brothers and sisters, but it is an earnest one, given in the belief that it would be poor service to them to shout a slogan when I can instead “patiently instruct those who oppose themselves.” That’s what they’re doing, after all: “opposing themselves.” They’re hurting only their own by keeping many of God’s words out of their own hands. And I love them enough not to want them to be hurt. I’m keeping my placards and bumper stickers put away until they’ve had a chance to read Authorized. I’m praying for a specific number of them to be persuaded to read God’s words—and to permit others such as their children and bus kids to read God’s words—in their own language and not someone else’s.


CHOICE B: EVANGELICAL ACCEPTANCE OF HOMOSEXUALITY

To make this Choose Your Own Adventure post work I had to bury the lede way down here… I’ve been building to this paragraph: I fear that the debate over homosexuality has reached the sloganeering stage out on the leftern edges of evangelicalism—and that the sloganeering is going to keep moving rightward. Just read this sad and alarming and hectoring letter written by a BIOLA student to its president—and placed in the Huffington Post; or read the statements being made by a tenured professor suing her evangelical college (and yet presumably still agreeing ex anima with its inerrantist doctrinal statement?). The slogans are flying thick and fast.

Perhaps I’ll reveal undue bias here, but I’d say they’re flying thicker and faster from the left. They’re the ones who’ve spent the most time developing such slogans over the last few decades, “Love is Love” being preeminent among them. Conservative Christians, it seems to me, have just kept saying something that isn’t ever going to be very catchy: “Homosexual acts and desires are sinful.” (Okay, we have our “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” line—that counts as a slogan. It’s a bit hokey-sounding, but it is profoundly theologically and biblically true.)

Here’s what I’m going to suggest: the more slogans you hear, the more you know the debate is over. I’m willing to believe that there are Christians out there who are genuinely—and by that I mean “not culpably”—confused about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. I think that number is going to shrink, not grow—not because fewer people are going to be confused but because their very confusion is going to be sinful. When God is clear, we have no right to waffle, hedge, and fudge. And he is clear. If Genesis 1 and Jesus’ use of it in Matthew 19 aren’t clear enough, Paul specifically condemns both female and male homosexual relations:

God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Rom 1:26–27)

This is not to deny that adultery and porn and other heterosexual sins are serious and spiritual-life-threatening; they are. It is not to deny that evangelical permissiveness on divorce helped the Western sexual revolution along. It is simply to affirm what every Christian everywhere has always affirmed, following the teaching of both testaments. Professing Christians who deny the unanimous Christian position and have had opportunity to know better are not to be credited with “honest” opinions. I have honestly wrong opinions, I’m certain. We all do. But some wrong opinions are not just mistaken but wicked.

In the very passage in which Jesus says, “Judge not,” he goes on to encourage his disciples not to cast our pearls before swine. “Judge not” can’t mean, then, that we make no judgments—but rather that we make only those judgments that we’re wiling to have applied to ourselves. I’m willing to bear this one; I’m willing to be judged by the measure of God’s words: if a professing Christian is shouting pro-LGBT slogans at you, hold onto your pearls. Expel that student. Fire that professor. Don’t let SoulForce on campus. The debate for them—barring an act of God, an act for which I pray—is over. All we can do is slogan it out.

A Bracing Conversion Story

A lesbian at Yale starts exploring Christianity (a must read):

At the time, I knew two girls who were seriously dating each other. One was training to be a Lutheran minister. I wanted to know how they could reconcile their lives with Jesus and his teachings. They assured me that any appearance of conflict rested on historic misinterpretations of Scripture. They thrust a packet into my hands, and I ran back to my room to discover what the Bible really says about sexuality.

The packet had a neat internal consistency. It pleased me greatly. But as I looked up the verses it claimed to be expounding, I grew frustrated. These revisionist interpretations just didn’t line up with the plain meaning of the Bible’s words. Feeling duped, I threw the packet on the floor in disgust. Clearly, I had been foolish to hope that this old-fashioned religion had any room for me.

She becomes a Christian and gets plugged into a Bible study group on campus. She has to decide what to do with her sexual desires.

Thus I had to learn my first lesson of the Christian life: how to obey before I understood. My whole life had taught me to master a concept before I could assent to it. How could I possibly agree to something so costly without grasping the reason?

She does it because she can see that Christ loves her, wants her best, and is more than worthy of her trust.

Read the whole article.

She also offers something of a helpful FAQ at her blog.