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Part 3: Ideas Have Consequences

This article is part 3 of a series about the current events. Find part 2 here.

Have you checked your heart lately? It’s a good thing to do. David pleaded with the Lord, saying “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:24). We need the Lord to expose our sins so we can grow in Christlikeness. A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article asking you to start there.

Last week I wrote an article calling upon our church to prepare to think. The church is not endangered by obvious and blatant heresy, but rather subtle and insidious ideologies that lead to the undermining of the gospel itself. Remember, our enemy has “schemes” (Eph. 6:11). False teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). That is to say, disruptive ways of thinking don’t announce their arrival. The disease of false ideology is often asymptomatic as it spreads throughout the body. And if it’s not identified, it kills.

Ideas have consequences. There have been seismic shifts that have happened in our culture over the last decade, and if you’ve been unaware of them, the last couple months have made it clear. In this article I want to make you aware of some of the big ideological shifts that have taken place in people’s thinking and how the church is vulnerable to being swept up into an anti-Christian worldview, sometimes called “critical theory.” Here are some of the big ideological changes we’re seeing.

Secularization

The whole universe was created by God and for God. Paul summarizes the heart of the Christian life in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” God is ultimate. He created all things for his own glory. That is why we exist. All our lives are to be toward this great end: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Our world, however, has adopted a secular worldview, which means that no longer does the reality of God weigh into the lives and decisions of those in our society. Since there’s no God to fear, people do what is right in their own eyes.

The church is not free from the influence of an increasingly secular society. Often, the church has tried to win the world by becoming like it, and has tried to avoid making God “too holy” or sin “too serious.” Many churches have adopted what David Wells described as a “Weightless God.”

But man, made in God’s image, designed for worship, cannot live with a void in the heart. If God is not the center, something else will be. If the grand story of redemption is not the interpretive and cohesive narrative, some other interpretive narrative will fill the void.

Self-Expression the New Virtue

A godless ideology inevitably leads to the elevation of man. Man begins to see itself not as God does, but as he wants to see himself. Rather than seeing himself as depraved, he just needs to be himself. Rather than seeing his carnal desires as needing to be denied, he is taught to pursue his desires no matter what. Rather than seeing his base desires as sinful, he sees them as righteous expressions of the way God made him. Man is no longer a sinner in need of a Savior, but men see themselves as little gods lusting for glory.

Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The world says, “Deny your neighbor, take up your comfort, and follow your heart.” Self-expression is the exact opposite of Christ’s invitation to discipleship and the clarion call of a godless society.

What happens when humanity starts living that way? What happens when the   is overrun with false human gods who deem their highest good to be self-expression?

A New Oppression

The elevation of man in the place of God creates a new value system. Not only does self-expression become the highest good, but any hindrances to self-expression (restrictions, limits, authorities, or less obvious forces) become the greatest evil. Any systems or constructs that hinder a person’s ability to be “themselves” are a form of oppression.

Therefore, in this worldview, everybody is viewed as a member of a group that is either oppressed or oppressive. The majority group is always oppressive because it, whether intentionally or not, is imposing its norms on the minority group. Every people-category you can think of, then, has a corresponding oppression associated with it: wherever there is race, there is racism, wherever there is gender, there is sexism or homophobia; wherever there is masculinity and femininity, there is patriarchy. For every human category there are oppressors and oppressed.

This is where we need to think carefully. There certainly has been (and currently still is) true oppression in our world. Our nation in particular has committed grievous acts of oppression from chattel slavery up to Jim Crow. Today, there is no doubt that the same sins that created those systems exist in the hearts of men today. Racism, partiality, fear, and insensitivity are sins that must be dealt with in our day. It’s important to make that clear.

At the same time, embracing an ideology that denies God’s rightful authority, places self-fulfillment at the center of life, and views all obstacles as forms of oppression will most certainly wreak havoc. The church must be able to identify and refute it.

What We’re Seeing Today

It’s vitally important that we, as Christ’s church, stay humble and remain vigilant. Much of the uproar we’re seeing today could be linked to our society’s embrace of critical theory. In upcoming articles, we’re going to see how this ideology tampers with our language and, if we fail to uphold the truth, could end up redirecting the church’s mission and redefining the church’s message.

 

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A Battle of Ideas

This article is part 2 of a series about the current events. Find part one here.

The Way We Talk

Neil Postman describes an event in the 1800s when Abraham Lincoln engaged in political debate with Stephen A. Douglas. After Douglas spoke for three hours, it was Lincoln’s turn. Lincoln, understanding how the audience might be hungry, proposed that they go home, have dinner, and return, since his rebuttal might take several more hours. The audience agreed, and after a meal, returned for several more hours of debate.

Postman asks: “What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?” 

The answer, at least in part, is that this audience is the product of a culture dominated by language, ideas, and print. The reason the above scenario is utterly impossible in our day is because we are a culture dominated by visuals, emotions, and screens.

This is why we are living in what could be called an “outrage culture.” When the mode of national discourse is primarily in bits, snippets, tweets, memes, soundbites, and shares, what we get are people in the midst of losing their ability to engage with ideas, understand nuance, engage in argumentation in a logical, rational, fashion.

A Battle of Ideas

I start with that because God has revealed himself in words, sentences, grammar, propositional statements, rational arguments, and truth claims. Sustained thought has always been the mark of Christians who desire to love God with all their mind. The Scriptures repeatedly call us to think, meditate, ponder, reflect, observe, notice, and remember. Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees was often “Have you not read?” which implies, of course, that anyone who wants to accurately know God and obey him should be willing to engage their minds in the rigorous task of reading, which includes following arguments and drawing logical conclusions. The Scriptures are the standard by which we evaluate every truth claim.

Moreover, Scripture is clear that the enemy is a liar, the father of lies, and that he is engaged in deceiving the whole world (Rev. 12:9). His assault is always and first against the Word of God, and wants to blind the minds of his victims (2 Cor. 4:4). He is crafty, subtle, and brilliantly strategic. This is why Christians are called to be “sober-minded” (1 Pet. 1:13).

Consider Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Do you see what Paul is saying? We’re in a war. But it’s not a war against flesh. It’s not a war against people. Rather - and this is important - it’s a war against “arguments” and “lofty opinions.” It’s against “thoughts” that rise up against the true knowledge of God. It’s a battle of ideas. As one author has loosely paraphrased: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, matters in motion, but against isms, against the powers that seek to name, and control, reality.” 

That’s where we are today. There are subtle isms in our society that are so pervasive they’re almost impossible to identify. They are like lenses through which we see the world, lenses we don’t know we’re wearing, and yet they’re coloring everything. These ideologies are an odorless gas, toxic and destructive, but largely ignored and unidentified.

So here’s where it gets challenging. There are real issues Christians need to think about - things we brought up in the previous article. Real sins - like racism, favoritism, fear, and insensitivity - that must be confessed and forsaken. But there are also subtle isms afoot. Worldviews. Ideologies that “rise up against the truth knowledge of God.” How do we disentangle the issues? How can we address the real issues without adopting the anti-Christian worldview that’s out there? And how can we protect the church from false ideologies while remaining humble, gentle, and sympathetic?

Think With Me

I want to ask you, church, to think with me. Over the coming weeks, I am going to putting out articles that help us process these issues biblically.  We are going to have to be more like those people in the 1800s who could listen well, think clearly, and wrestle with ideas. We need to adopt the kind of posture James 1:19 describes: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We will need to humble ourselves to learn while strengthening our conviction in the truth. 

The questions I want to ask are: what happens when God is diminished and man is elevated? What are the consequences of believing that self-expression is the highest virtue? Is it right to view the world through the lens of oppressed and oppressor? What should we think about “social justice”? How is the church vulnerable to current cultural trends?

My sense is that most of us know there are strange things going. Whether or not we know why, we know there have been seismic shifts in our culture over the last decade. We know they threaten not only our society but our church. In order to protect the gospel, we must engage the ideologies at play and prayerfully consider how we can respond in truth and love.

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A Time to Reflect

This article is the first in a short series I plan to write about how to process the issues of our day:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

            2       a time to be born, and a time to die; 
                     a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

            3       a time to kill, and a time to heal; 
                     a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

            4       a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
                     a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

I think we could rightly add: “a time to reflect” to the mix. That’s how I’ve been feeling, and based on many of the conversations I’ve had with you, that’s how many of you are feeling. There’s a lot to think about.

Christians welcome reflection. It’s an important part of growth and change. We are always eager to learn what it looks like to follow Jesus in this fallen world. In the midst of this uproar, we can be thankful for this challenging opportunity that causes us to ponder important issues.

When Tragedy Struck

When tragedy struck in Palestine and certain people asked Jesus about it, he used it as an opportunity to call his people to repentance (Lk. 13:1-5). The tragedies surrounding us ought to make us pause. God’s message to the world, given through Christ, is “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:14-15). Christians are people who live in the posture of repentance. We gladly receive this moment as an invitation to pause, reflect, and evaluate if there are areas, patterns, or attitudes in our lives that are sinful and require repentance. Like David, we can ask the Lord to search our hearts and expose our sins (Ps. 139:23-24) because we know that there is no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

Beware the Inner Lawyer; Beware False Guilt

Paul David Tripp likes to say that we all have an “inner lawyer” that rises up to our defense whenever we’re accused of something. In our study through Mark, we’ve seen that the Pharisees had an almost infinite capacity to delude themselves. We can be just like them. Our inner defense lawyer is highly skilled. He knows how to alleviate unwanted guilt by persuasively proving our innocence. We need to be aware of that. 

At the same time, false guilt is a bad thing. We should not feel guilty for sins we have not committed. We can grieve over the sins of others. This is right. We can mourn over tragedy and loss. This is natural and good. It’s important to remember, however, that we are not guilty of the sins of others. False guilt leads to false repentance, false repentance leads to false humility, and false humility leads us in the exact opposite direction we need to go. That road leads to a new definition for sin, and if you redefine sin, you redefine repentance, and if you redefine repentance, well, I think you’ve just redefined the gospel.

The biblical way of dealing with sin is confessing it (1 Jn. 1:8-9). To confess sin means to name it, call it out, and see it for what it is. It does no good to confess vague, unspecified sin. Growth happens when we, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, see our sin for what it is, confess it to God, and receive forgiveness (Prov. 28:13).

Let’s Talk about Racism 

So here’s my plea. The whole world is talking about racism. Let’s talk about it too. But let’s not talk about it like the world talks about it. And, before we start talking about it, let’s talk to God about it. Let’s ask him for the needed humility and Spirit-given clarity to see our own hearts. Let’s be willing to concede that there may be issues God wants to deal with.

Potential Sins of the Heart

Racism. Biblically, we’re all members of the same human race (Acts 17:28). The various colors we have are aspects of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. Heaven will be filled with the beauty of people from every “nation, tribe, and tongue,” and we believe the church should be a preview to that. Racism is when one “race” believes it is superior to another “race.”  

It would be a violation of our belief in the nature of human sin to deny that racism is a possibility. No one denies the horrors that racist ideologies have enabled across the world and in America specifically. Racism has existed, exists today, and will exist until the Lord’s return. Let’s not act as if we’re immune to it. My friend and pastor “Gunner” Gundersen recently wrote this arresting paragraph: 

Have we forgotten that every heart is “desperately sick”? We know that pride is insidious, lust is corrosive, anger is consuming, and envy has a thousand faces, but we speak as though “racism” is a simple binary, a “pass/fail” diagnosis that ignores the layered, subtle, deceptive, enculturated ways sin works in our hearts and communities.

Let’s pause and go before the Lord and ask the question: Lord, do I have racist thoughts, attitudes, or actions? Do I think, feel, or act like I am superior to other people who have different skin tones than me? Do I think, feel, or act like those with a different skin-color are inferior to me and others like me?

Favoritism. Not all racial problems are rooted in racism. Some could be more accurately described as “favoritism” problems. James 2:1 says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” God doesn’t play favorites (Rom. 2:11), and because God is impartial, we should be too. 

James uses the example of a rich man and a poor man walking into the church. Which do we pay attention to? Which are we drawn to? He says if we show particular hospitality to the rich man while ignoring the poor man, we’ve sinned. “Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas 2:4). 

James uses a rich man/poor man contrast for his point, but his point has further implications for how we treat people who have different appearances. It is possible to be free from racism while still being partial to people who are like you. 

Ask the Lord these questions: Lord, am I partial to people who are like me? Do I prefer them simply because it’s comfortable? Am I more welcoming to them because it’s easier? Do I ignore those different from me because I don’t want to deal with their problems? Do I play favorites?

Fear. Racial strife isn’t always racism or favoritism. It could be something even more basic: fear. The most repeated command in Scripture is some variation of “Do not fear.” The implication is that often we’re like shivering little animals, afraid of all manner of things - especially the unknown. If a person hasn’t had much time spent with people of different skin colors, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they might experience sinful fear and worry. 

Ask the Lord these questions: Lord, I am afraid of people who are not like me? Am I afraid of the discomfort of getting to know them? Am I afraid of the challenges they might bring to my life?

Insensitivity. As a church, we have agreed to “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and with tenderness and sympathy, bear the burdens and sorrows of those who weep.” Whenever members in our church are grieving, we grieve with them, listen, and bear burdens - regardless of race, class, occupation, or issue.

It’s wrong and sinful for us to be completely insensitive to the struggles and trials of those around us, particularly our brothers and sisters in the church. Is there a possibility, that even if we’re not committing racism, playing favorites, or fearing those of a different race, that we’re insensitive to the unique struggles they’ve faced?

Not every black person’s experience is the same. Many, however, I’ve spoken to and learned from don’t have a “chip on their shoulder” or an “axe to grind” when they tell me about certain challenges they’ve had to face. Shai Linne recently wrote an article listing several of the varied difficulties of being black in America:

It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”

It’s easy for us to bear burdens we understand. It’s much more difficult to bear a burden utterly foreign to us; something we’ve never experienced. Let’s let this time help us think through whether we have been sensitive to the unique struggles of our black brothers and sisters. Have we sought to understand them? Have we demonstrated sympathy? Are we quick to write off their concerns? Are we willing to actually bear burdens?

Don’t Repent If...

Let’s seize this moment as a learning opportunity. Remember, we are not of this world, and do not respond to these issues as the world does. We pause. We pray. We think. We look at Scripture. We look at our hearts. We repent where necessary. We grow and change. 

But we don’t manufacture repentance. This is important. If we want real, substantial change, we must deal with the heart. Our hearts first. That’s why it’s imperative that we do not repent of sins we have not committed. That bypasses true growth.

However, if the Lord has exposed real sin, praise the Lord! Thank him for his rescuing, eye-opening grace! Ask for forgiveness, receive his abundant mercy, and turn from the sin you’ve identified. Enjoy the wonderful forgiveness we find in the gospel.

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