A Must-Read Must-Read

I’m really liking Jonathan Leeman. He humbly lets his gifts be sublimated to those of Mark Dever when the two chat on 9Marks Pastors Talk episodes, but when I read The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love and then went and heard his paper at the 2016 ETS—I saw that Leeman himself is really theologically and intellectually sharp. And doctrinally solid. This recent article by Leeman on gender roles at the 9Marks site is an absolute must-read.

His analysis of “broad” vs. “narrow” complementarians is very helpful; his graciousness is palpable. His wisdom is… Okay, I’ll stop gushing. Go read it.

My non-denominational, biblicist training might possibly have pushed me in a “narrow” direction, making my complementarianism focus solely on wives submitting to husbands and men taking church leadership roles. But my overall conservatism and, especially, my respect—and continual search—for “creational norms” put me clearly in the “broad” camp with Leeman. That is, I’m primed with him to see divine norms in biology and even in culture.

But Leeman helps people like me make sure not to find norms where they aren’t: that could lead to injustice. And it helps me remember not to be too firm about norms that required several judgment calls to arrive at.

And he cautions us all, on the other side, from putting ourselves in a position in which we are apologizing for the Bible. This is so true:

When churches hesitate to say what distinguishes men and women, God’s explicit precepts for the church and home begin to look arbitrary, even a little embarrassing. You can hear the Sunday school lesson now: “The Bible teaches that women should not be elders, but here’s what I really want you to hear: women can do everything else a man can do.” The tone or subtext is, “No, these commands don’t make a lot of sense because we all know men and women are basically the same. But he is God, sooo…”

And this is brilliantly simple and, in my opinion, profoundly true:

Wisdom issues an “ought,” as in “men ought” or “women ought.” But wisdom’s “ought” is a little different than the “ought” of law. Wisdom’s “ought” sounds like something from Proverbs (“a wise son hears his father’s instruction”). Law’s “ought” sounds like something from Exodus (“you shall not steal”). Wisdom’s “ought” comes with an “ordinarily.” Its opposite is folly (the father might be a fool, a thief, or a typical dad who gives mixed advice). Law’s “ought” comes with an “always.” Its opposite is sin. Yes, sin and folly often overlap, but not always.”

This has application beyond gender roles, but it surely applies to them.

I’m really jazzed about this article, if you couldn’t tell.

Must-read, must-read, must-read!

Wise Words from Lesslie Newbigin on Pluralism and Secularism

I’m listening to Lesslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks (Eerdmans, 1988). My local library had it among their digital audio loans, and I thought it was high time I went through a Newbigin book. The book comes from lectures he delivered in Princeton’s Warfield lectures of 1984—and yet it sounds like things that didn’t hit the evangelical mainstream for a decade or more after that. Remarkable.

(Newbigin makes dismissive comments about fundamentalism,  particularly its supposedly blinkered view of science, but I’ve come to realize that the whole point of mentions of fundamentalism is dismissiveness. Outside of some scholarly works in which careful definition is attempted, “fundamentalism” only ever means, “The dummies to my right.” These dummies never get to speak, because presumably all they could say is “Bar, bar, bar.” Ah, well. The book is still packed with wisdom.)

This quote jumped out at me this morning:

Of course, as contemporary history proves, Christians can live and bear witness under any regime, whatever its ideology. But Christians can never seek refuge in a ghetto where their faith is not proclaimed as public truth for all. They can never agree that there is one law for themselves and another for the world. They can never admit that there are areas of human life where the writ of Christ does not run. They can never accept that there are orders of creation or powers or dominions that exist otherwise than to serve Christ. Whatever the institutional relationship between the church and the state—and there are many possible relationships, no one of which is necessarily the right one for all times and places—the church can never cease to remind governments that they are under the rule of Christ and that he alone is the judge of all they do. The church can never accept the thesis that the central shrine of public life is empty, in other words, that there has been no public revelation before the eyes of all the world of the purpose for which all things and all peoples have been created and which all governments must serve. It can never accept an ultimate pluralism as a creed even if it must—as of course it must—acknowledge plurality as a fact. In fact, it cannot accept the idea … of a secular society in which, on principle, there are no commonly acknowledged norms. We know now, I think, that the only possible product of that ideal is a pagan society. Human nature abhors a vacuum. The shrine does not remain empty. If the one true image, Jesus Christ, is not there, an idol will take its place.

These words made me think of none other than Stanley Fish, who said in an epochal First Things piece,

A person of religious conviction should not want to enter the marketplace of ideas but to shut it down, at least insofar as it presumes to determine matters that he believes have been determined by God and faith. The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch….

A religion deprived of the opportunity to transform the culture in its every detail is hardly a religion at all.

So, on the one hand, I’m not aiming for a theocracy. I can’t go around immanentizing eschatons all day. That’s not my job. I’m Awaiting the King; he will do that. I acknowledge the fact of pluralism. But I can’t accept that pluralism is a good, only a lesser evil—a lesser evil than coercing people’s consciences to confess belief in something they don’t believe in. I like the ad-hoc nature of the church-state relation suggested by Newbigin, because it seems to me that that’s what most Christians will get. They have to be able to live and think Christianly under any regime. But as Jamie Smith points out, sometimes prophets who stand athwart society get elected to high office; they’ve got to be able to get to the work of construction, of bringing change. They can’t cease to be Christians at that time and suddenly become convinced pluralists. I think that every day, and in every way, we push for whatever good we can get away with without doing any evil (like coercing consciences).

Some Thoughts on Some Thoughts on the Future of Christian Higher Ed

Alan Jacobs and Carl Trueman are probably right to fear that the sexual revolution will “annihilate” a number of Christian institutions of higher learning once discrimination for sexual orientation fully and officially becomes the new racism. But my alma mater survived the loss of its tax-exemption; I do think there are Christian parents who will be willing to send their children off to schools that are unaccredited. I was born to a pair, both of whom were college-educated and knew what they were doing. And I will do it. I will.

Call me a dreamer, but I wonder if the death of certain institutions and the compromise of others will actually galvanize the Christian community, causing them to view my alma mater—and any other school that will not bow the knee to unfettered Eros—in a new light. I don’t know. Darkness and low enrollment may continue for a night, but a “baby boom” of a freshman class may be coming in the morning, along with a lot of transfer students.

An alternative model I’ve recently heard involves churches putting together Bible colleges that complement the education being offered in secular institutions. This is not ideal; I’d rather ask my kids to “joyfully accept the plundering of their property” (Heb 10:34) through unaccredited degrees at “Benedict-Option” Christian schools in the hills than ask them to navigate the challenges of a capital-S Secular education during their formative years. I certainly wasn’t ready as a college freshman to withstand those challenges.

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.

Condoms and Consent

Mark Regnerus in Public Discourse:

Saying that it’s all on men to change their behavior may signal progressive virtue online, but it will do little to diminish real-life grief. The realities of sexual exchange will not disappear and cannot be eviscerated by fiat or reformed by speech rules. And eventually, the social media shaming will come to an end. Then what?

Regnerus suggests establishing and/or reinforcing cultural norms, clear “no-fly” zones in which men know not to make a pass and women insist on the boundaries.

I have a two-part suggestion for my fellow members of the XY chromosome club, one that comes from the inventor of sex: 1) marriage is a “fly zone”; 2) every other situation is not.

Rachel Lu shows through her experience in the Peace Corps that the progressive liberal method of chucking abstinence before marriage and boiling the norms down to condoms and consent still puts women (especially women, but not only women) in danger:

If you’re accustomed to thinking of Hollywood as a cesspool of sin and vice, you may not find [the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, et al.] surprising. Many were surprised, though. Progressives assume that their own mores protect and affirm women while the traditionalists objectify and repress. It’s worth thinking through the logic of a libertine environment, to see how mistaken this reasoning may be.

Traditional sinners and progressive ones can both objectify and repress women; there are ditches on both sides of the highway. But which worldview best protects and affirms them? I believe it is the one that says they’re made in the image of God, just like men, and that their sexuality is a precious gift meant for their husbands alone (Prov 5:15–19). My wife and I have talked this over extensively: we see clearly that biblical guardrails shaped our singleness toward the happy marriage we now enjoy. We are so grateful that the fly and no-fly zones were clear—and were reinforced by our Christian communities.

Lu shows the mistakenness in the progressive worldview by describing what it was like as a conservative Mormon to be in a libertine environment, the Peace Corps of the early 2000s.

In the absence of a more elevated sexual ethic, baser realities tend to assert themselves. No social engineering can really change the fact that men have a higher sex drive than women, while women remain more vulnerable in sexual encounters. Any sane response to this will demand that men take reasonable steps to discipline themselves, and women to protect themselves. Society at large should support both efforts, while providing especially strong protections for children, the most vulnerable of all. Obviously there is much room here for debating what is “reasonable,” but if we reject even that broad framework, we inevitably set the stage for uncomfortable professional and social dynamics, which may also facilitate more-serious forms of sexual predation.

And she makes this very important point:

“Consent” offers at least some standard of behavior as a lowest common denominator that no decent person can reject. That principle is grossly inadequate, though, for grounding a healthy sexual dynamic. Rape, after all, is not the only form of sexual misbehavior. If it’s the only one we discourage, we’re likely to end up with more rapists.

I love my liberal neighbor, and I want to ask him or her, are you sure that your sexual ethic is leading to human flourishing? Are any partisans for the sexual revolution out there engaging in any true soul-searching, or are they going to pin the Weinsteinian downfalls on a few bad apples? Perhaps the apples are rotten because the tree is—but God is in the business of replanting people. Repent and believe.