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I Am Not a Cultural Fundamentalist

October 25, 2010 5 comments

You’ve probably noticed regular new labels and terms popping up.  One of these, I’ve seen, is “cultural conservative.”  I don’t know when that terminology was first used, but I know it differentiates certain conservatives from the “fiscal conservatives.”  Whether you would have the “cultural conservative” label or the “fiscal conservative” one probably depends on why you vote for who you do.  The latter would vote with his so-called “pocketbook.”  Fiscal concerns may bring people together that do not see eye-to-eye on the culture.  The two terms, culture and fiscal, divide conservatism.

What Is Cultural Fundamentalism

I believe that this division in conservatism between cultural and fiscal has now become the basis for a new division that I have read only in the last few years, that is, the cultural fundamentalists and the theological or doctrinal fundamentalists.  With just a little looking, I have found that “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile as a technical terminology for something entirely different than how Christian fundamentalists have used it.  “Cultural fundamentalism” has referred to a usually violent antipathy to a change of culture.  That label is often hung on the jihad of Islamic countries who desire one Islamic culture.  So “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile, but only recently has it been used, mainly as a pejorative, to color a certain brand of Christian fundamentalism.

In 1999 a professor at the University of Wisconsin, William P. Tishler, referred to “cultural fundamentalism” existing in the U. S. in the 1920s.  He described it like this:

The 1920s was a time when many adherents of “Cultural Fundamentalism” attempted to ensure that all Americans followed the right patterns of thought:  quest for certainty and predictability in social relationships; an order in human affairs that was at once familiar, comfortable, and unthreatening; and nostalgia for the idealized, non-industrial society of their parents.

Tishler’s syllabus reads like sheer propaganda, assigning motives to people without evidence.  David G. Bromley in his 1984 book, New Christian Politics, calls the “new religious right” (NRR) “cultural fundamentalism.”  He, like Tishler, would say that “cultural fundamentalism” supports things like right to life and male headship.

The first “cultural fundamentalism” struck me as an identifiable label was when I read what Tim Jordan said at the latest GARBC national conference.  He warned:

If we produce ‘biblical’ reasons for cultural fundamentalism, they [the young Fundamentalists] know you are lying. And why do they know you are lying? It’s because you are!

So you see his usage of “cultural fundamentalism,” differentiating himself from that.  I started looking for other usages and I read this from Bob Bixby on his blog in January 2008:

These first-generation Calvinists embrace Calvinism in order to embrace what they really want: contemporary worship, a swig of beer, or the sheer pride of life that gratifies the egos of those who, embittered because of everything they could not have in cultural fundamentalism on the basis of dumb argumentation, now have an indisputably better biblical argument for anything they want.

I don’t know exactly who Ben Wright is talking about at 9 Marks in Mar-April 2008 when he says cultural fundamentalists are atheological fundamentalists.  He writes:

In addition, the theological Fundamentalism of Bauder and Doran represents a matured strain of Fundamentalism that intends to expose and disassociate from the atheological (sometimes called cultural) Fundamentalism that has dominated many segments of separatist Fundamentalism in recent decades.

Here’s how someone named Charlie defined “cultural fundamentalism” at SharperIron:

I have heard the term “cultural Fundamentalism” applied to those described as hyper-Fundamentalists. I like this term at least somewhat better, because it communicates that the real areas of controversy are not “doctrinal” in the sense of disputes about systematic categories (which some cultural Fundamentalists wouldn’t even be able to explicate), but rather cultural in the sense of affecting the look, feel, and function of church life. For example, you can sing vapid songs, but not CCM songs. You can murder the meaning of a Bible passage, but you have to have the correct initials on the binding. You can preach all sorts of bizarre allegory, but you need to be in coat and tie when you do it.

Kevin Bauder dealt with this way back in 2005 in his essay “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving,” especially in these two paragraphs:

This, I think, highlights the limited usefulness of a distinction between “historic” and “cultural” fundamentalism. Biblical obedience is never acultural for the simple reason that human beings are never acultural. We must always obey God at a particular time, in a particular place, situated in a particular culture. We do not really care whether George Carlin’s words were obscenities in 1560, nor whether their cognates are obscene in German or Norwegian. We care about what they mean in English at the beginning of the 21st Century.

In short, the only way to be a historic, biblical fundamentalist is to be a cultural fundamentalist. The only alternatives are, first, to say that cultures are beyond the Bible’s ability to critique and correct, or second, to argue that fundamentalism is concerned only with doctrine and not with obedience. I doubt that any of us really wants to take either of those steps.

It’s interesting to consider that Ben Wright says that Bauder is not a cultural fundamentalist, and wants to distinguish him from one, when Bauder himself says that a historic fundamentalist must be a cultural fundamentalist.  I think I’ll go with what Bauder says about himself rather than what Wright says about Bauder to help his article along.  It would do Ben well to also check out a certain paper produced by Mark Snoeberger, who teaches at Detroit, Doran’s seminary, and his words about cultural fundamentalism:

It is often suggested that there are two kinds of fundamentalism—doctrinal fundamentalism and cultural fundamentalism. The former is to be embraced as a defense of the orthodox core; the latter to be eschewed as a counter-cultural set of archaic, arcane, and even pharisaical traditions some of which are downright silly. There is some validity to this distinction. At the same time, since theology always informs our view of culture, it is impossible to completely divorce the two.

We have already noted above that in the specific issue of evangelism, fundamentalists have typically eschewed both the ―Christ of culture‖ approach (practiced broadly by liberalism and new evangelicalism) and also the holistic ―Christ transforming culture‖ approach (practiced in Kuyperian Reformed circles). I would suggest that this understanding has extended beyond evangelism to a whole plethora of cultural issues.

Snoeberger says you can’t divorce the theological fundamentalism from the cultural.

Why are doctrinal and cultural fundamentalism being divided?  I believe there are those who want to hang on to the doctrine of separation.  They think it’s in the Bible.  But they only want to separate over certain theological issues.  They want to allow much more room to maneuver on the so-called cultural issues.  Therefore, if there exists doctrinal fundamentalism, they can still be a fundamentalist without associating with the fundamentalists who disassociate over violations of the right cultural practices.

Why I’m Not a Cultural Fundamentalist

I really do identify with these people who don’t mind being and being called “cultural fundamentalists.”  But I’m not one.  Most would make me a poster boy for cultural fundamentalism.  I refuse it.  I reject it.  Don’t lay that label on me.  However, I also don’t like that this division is occurring in fundamentalism.   I see what it is, and it’s not good for fundamentalism in my opinion, really for the same reasons Bauder states in his “Fundamentalism Worth Saving” article.

But again, I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because, first, I’m not a fundamentalist.  Fundamentalism is a movement that gets along and gets together based upon agreement on a short list of doctrines.  I don’t see that as scriptural unity or biblical separation.  To obey the Bible, I can’t be a fundamentalist.

I add to the above first reason that I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because I don’t separate based upon culture.   I don’t unify based on culture.  I refuse that designation by others.   I will not allow that to stick.   The name “cultural fundamentalist” is just being used to discredit a biblical belief and practice.  It is sliding that scriptural doctrine and practice to something that is just cultural, really only opinion.  That isn’t the case.  I don’t believe and practice opinions.  I am sanctified by the truth.  My church will be sanctified by God’s Word to every good work.

Male headship isn’t cultural.  It is biblical.  Heterosexuality isn’t cultural.  It’s scriptural.  Gender designed distinctions in appearance isn’t cultural.  They are biblical.  Modesty isn’t cultural.  It’s in God’s Word.   Complementarianism isn’t cultural.  It’s in the Bible.   Spiritual, sacred worship isn’t cultural.  It is scriptural.  Dress that is distinct from the world isn’t cultural.  It’s biblical.  Patriarchy isn’t cultural.  It is Scripture.  I’m to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word.  I’m to teach the saints whatever God has said in His Word.  I’m not going to have those teachings diminished for the convenience of those who prefer to fit into an unbiblical way of life.  Take the world, but give me Jesus.

The Bible is lived in the real world.  The Bible reacts to culture.  The Bible guides how we will live.  The Bible tells us what is the right music, the right art, the right marriage, the right fashion, and the right family.

“Redeeming the Culture”

October 21, 2010 16 comments

This last week I was out evangelizing with quite a few others from our church and I came to the door of the jr-high pastor of one of the local Rick-Warren-Purpose-Driven types of churches.   I was with two teenagers.   The man’s wife answered the door-bell and she seemed happy we were there once she knew we were out preaching the gospel (not JWs).  She said her husband was the jr-high pastor at that particular church, which I know well.  A first thought for me was what does a jr. high pastor do all day, but I refrained from asking that question, although I was really curious.  I considered the oiling of the skateboard wheels and the proper wrinkling of the urban chic t-shirts.  But I digress.  I talked to her for awhile about the gospel to find out what they believed the gospel was.  I had about finished with her thinking, which wasn’t quite developed enough for me to conclude, when her husband arrived.   I spotted her husband before she did.  As much as people stereotype fundamentalists, evangelicals might be easier to identify in their desperate desire to blend.  Information:  stop trying so hard.  You blend like a Chinese tourist at Dollywood.  Next.

The wife had to leave, so jr. high man and I talked first about the gospel.  I was a little surprised to hear that he was a Calvinist.  The senior pastor is a Dallas graduate.  He didn’t disagree with most of what I said there on the basics, although I’m hard pressed to have even an LDS contradict me up to a certain point.  It’s become all how you define the terms.  Maybe that’s always been it.  A big one is:  Who is Jesus?  A lot of different viewpoints there all under the banner of Jesus.  But I moved on to worship.  I kinda see that as the next thing.   In a certain sense, I see the gospel and worship categorically as the same (see John 4:23-24).  My question is:  do you worship God in your church?  Just because worship is happening doesn’t mean that it is actually happening.  What people think is worship relates to Who they think God is.  I already knew that at this church the worship was a matter of one’s taste.  Those were almost the exact words I heard from their senior pastor when I had a previous conversation with him.  I will say that talking to the jr. high pastor was a little like talking to a jr. higher.  The arguments were similar to jr. high ones.  I made a note that he needed to get out of the jr. high department a little more—pooled ignorance was happening.

Jr. high guy asked what music was appropriate for worship.  I’m fine answering that question, and I knew it was a trap to offer the name of a particular style, but I did name some I did not believe were acceptable to God for worship, namely rap, hip-hop, grunge, and rock, among others.   Upon listing those, his eyes lit up and he fired off a derogatory question as an answer:  “So you’re saying that God can’t take rap music and redeem it for his worship?”  The answer to that question is, of course, “N0,” but that is not how you answer.  The key word in his question, I believe, was “redeem.”  How he used that word says a lot about his view of the world and his understanding of God, of Christ, of worship, and of the Incarnation.

I believe this man’s concept of “redeeming the culture” is quite popular today.  It is also new.  It is not a historic understanding of either “redemption” or “culture.”  The phraseology is an invention, designed to justify worldliness.  What is most diabolical is that the phrase, “redeeming the culture,” is used to categorize a wicked activity into some sort of sanctified one.  You should be able to conclude what damage this would do to the cause of biblical discernment.

Earlier I said the man carried on a jr. high type of approach.  What did I mean?  He used questions as a form of mockery.  For instance, he asked, “So you’re saying that individual notes are evil or something?”  He also leaned on the time-honored, “So any kind of song that is upbeat, I guess, is wrong then?”   Who said anything about “individual notes being evil” or “upbeat songs being wrong”?  No one.   And he asked them with a kind of accusatory and incredulous tone, as if he was shocked.

To get the right idea of what God will redeem, we should consider 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and that we can glorify God with our body.  The body itself is not evil, despite what the Gnostics might say.  It is how one uses the body.  Paul explains that in Romans 6 when he says that the body can either be used for righteousness or unrighteousness depending upon what it serves.  Letters and notes are about the same.  They can be either used for evil or for good.  Cloth is the same way.  The material that turns into immodest clothing is not itself evil.  What is evil is what the cloth is turned into, how it is used.  Letters can be turned into foul language.  Paint can become wicked or profane art.  Notes can be formed into godless, pagan music, just like they can be made into sacred music.

However, someone can’t take pornography and redeem it for God.  I explained this obvious point to jr. high man.  I illustrated it by asking if naked women on the streets of a Marine base could be redeemed by handing out tracts.   The Marines would show more interest.  More tracts would be taken.  The contents of the tracts was holy.  Does the message justify the medium?  Of course, he said no.  The beauty of the illustration is that it makes it simple even for a jr. higher.

At a root level, this wrong idea about redemption relates to a perversion of Christ’s incarnation.   It is very much a Gnostic understanding of the Incarnation.  The logic of it goes like the following.   Jesus became a man.  Men are sinful.  Jesus became a man so that He could relate with sinners.  This takes His condescension right into the sewer.  Jesus was a man, but He was a sinless, righteous man.  He was tempted like men were, but without sin.  Jesus didn’t relate to men.  There was nothing wrong about the body.  A body isn’t wrong.  Jesus took a body.  That wasn’t wrong.  Jesus wasn’t redeeming the thing of having a body.  He didn’t take a body to relate with what sinful men do with their bodies.  He took on a body to die for us.  That’s how Jesus redeemed.  Jesus didn’t take a body to be like men; He took a body so that men could be like Him.  These “redeeming the culture” people turn this right around.  We Christians are not to take on the characteristics of the world, become like the world.  That isn’t incarnational.  We should be turning the world upside down, not the world turning us upside down.

To go a little further, we can also see an attack on the atonement in this idea.  Jesus redeemed by dying in His body, and shedding real, physical blood in His body.  He did not redeem the whole thing of sinful men having sinful bodies by taking a body Himself.  This borders on a moral example theory of atonement, as if Jesus showed to sinful men how to have a body through his moral example in and with His body.

Here’s what the “redeeming the culture” people take out of this.  If Jesus could take a body to do His work, then we can take rock music to do our worship.  Just like Jesus accomplished what He did with a body, we can accomplish what we need to with modern art.  This is incarnational to them, redeeming like Jesus redeemed.  We redeem these things, making good use of them, sanctifying them, like Jesus made good use of a body.

What should be sad to anyone reading this, and really anyone period, is how that this brand of so-called Christianity destroys scriptural concepts and just about makes it impossible to follow Jesus for these people.  The people of their churches think that their feelings, that are really orchestrated by sensual passions, are actually love.  They are convinced of it.  They are told that it is true, and in so doing, they are deceived.  And now the most conservative of evangelicals and most fundamentalists would say that we can’t judge that to be wrong.  Sure we can.  Those feelings are not love.  They are not love for God.  Ironically, they are love for self, fooling someone into thinking they are love for God.  Rather than redeem anything, they have taken something already redeemed, love, and have perverted it as a result.  And God requires His own to love Him.  You can see what this does to Christianity.

Professing Christians should just stop using the “redeeming the culture” language.  They have it all wrong.  They’re just excusing their love for the world and their desire to fit in with the world.  You don’t take a profane or sinful activity and “redeem it.”  The letters can be used for God.  The notes can be used for God.  A body can be used for God.  But a wrong use of letters, notes, a body, or cloth is not redeemable.   Whether any of those will be used for God will depend on what to which they are yielded.  If they are yielded to God based upon biblical principles, therefore, acceptable to God, then culture is being redeemed.  And only then is culture being redeemed.

Culture is a way of life.  If one’s way of life smacks of this world system, the spirit of this age, it is not redeemed.  Only a way of life surrendered to the way of God will God redeem.

Is Halloween a Guilty Pleasure?

October 22, 2009 1 comment

Every year at about this time, I find myself re-amazed at the amount of money and effort people in Utah put into decorating for Halloween. But this year especially, I am beyond re-amazed. In a bad economy, as people lose their shirts and undershirts to the stock market, as businesses fold, and as unemployment rates spike, Halloween Stores are popping up all over town, filling every vacant store they can find.

Is there really that much demand for Styrofoam gravestones and inflatable monsters? As I drive around, I find that yes in fact, there is that much demand for it. Utah has several cultural oddities, but Utah’s fetish with all things Halloween just might be the most glaring obsession of all. What gives with that?

As Christians, we must remember that men become what they worship. People who worship a god that has eyes but see not, that have ears but hear not, that have mouths but speak not, become just like that — sightless eyes, speechless mouths, just like their gods of stone (see Psalm 115 and 135). Only in this case, we are confronted with a god who is the brother of Satan, and who demands from his worshippers, not groveling at the feet of a stone god, but rather a strict adherence to a very rigid set of “traditional values.”

In their system, righteousness comes by the law. And, since righteousness by the law is an impossibility (Galatians 2:16; Acts 13:38-39), it can never produce redemption or rest. The only thing that “traditional values” can possibly produce is guilt (Romans 3:20; James 2:10). What we have then, among the practitioners of the local religion, is a religion that is laden with guilt. One pastor rightly compared it to the Salt Lake — an enormous dead sea of guilt. It is their “traditional values,” their commitment to righteousness by the law that generates this Salt Lake of guilt. Their “values” produce such a weight, such a burden of standards that the load of guilt crushes them.

So, what do we make of Halloween in Utah? Why is it celebrated so furiously? Besides the fact that they are celebrating their lord’s next-of-kin, we can also say that this is their way of dealing with their guilt. I suppose that we could make the same comparison to slavery — men find odd ways to put a positive spin on their condition. Even in slavery, men still found a way to be happy. A man who is enslaved by guilt soon finds a way to enjoy it, even to make it seem like this is the way it is supposed to be.

The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Conservative” Evangelicalism pt. 2: Dovetailing with ‘Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture, pt. 2′

Not too long ago I had written the first part of an essay entitled “Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture.”  It was only part one, but we moved on to another topic here.  I post-scripted it with:  “I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing.  I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes.  I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.”  That short paragraph fit nicely with what I was writing at the end of the first of this multi-part post.

I began breaking down Romans 15:15-21 as a choice passage to expose the hypocrisy of conservative evangelicalism.  I believe that fundamentalists are also hypocritical as it relates to conservative evangelicals.  Someone has mentioned that in the comment section here.  How so?  They complain about segments of fundamentalism that are revivalistic and man-centered, and yet they seem to turn a blind eye toward the conservative evangelicals who participate in revivalism and man-centeredness.  In this regard, I like the comment Art Dunham wrote:

I believe the time has come for us to be independent MEN of God and state the truth whatever the consequence to any affiliation, friendship, or Bible College.

Bravo Art.  That’s what we need.  We don’t need to move from one big, bad example to another big, bad example.  It reminds me of the historic Baptist martyr, Balthasar Hubmaier:  “Truth is immortal.”

Back to Romans 15

There are many truths to flesh out of this text in Romans 15, but the first we called to your attention was “instrumentality.”  I drew your attention especially to the end of v. 17, the teaching here being that Christ is glorified or worshiped only “in those things which pertain to God.”  Paul was ministering as an Old Testament priest, who presented to God his sanctified sacrifices, and he wanted these Gentile converts to be acceptable offerings to the Lord.  For this to occur, all of His service must be found within the confines of those things which pertain to God.  Things which pertain to men won’t fulfill the goal of glorifying Christ.  They are not the instrumentality that God will bless with that result.

I think we should be able to understand how that the things that we use to accomplish the noble goals of glorifying Christ and offering up acceptable sacrifices to God must be those things which pertain to God.  It is very much akin to the use of carnal weaponry to attain spiritual ends in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.   Paul didn’t war after the flesh.  In the end, that warring wouldn’t even work.  As I have read from many different sources through the years, “You will keep them with what you get them.”  Carnal weapons can’t succeed in spiritual warfare.

Here’s what happens today.  Hard packed, stony, and thorny hearts today don’t want the incorruptible, life-giving seed.  The idea is that if we could package that seed in something that those hearts do want or love (zoom to 2:25 on the link), then we could make the seed work.  The seed needs a little help.  It needs music.  It needs entertainment.  It needs stage lights or a night club environment.  It needs to look like a theater.  It needs a trap set.  Maybe even some tattoos.  It needs syncopation and driving drum beats.  It needs the enticement of some hormonally charged boy-girl interaction.  It needs the license of personal expression in the hip-hop cap, soul patch, or oversized shirt.  It needs stylin’.  It needs “dude.”  It needs the emotionalism of some rhythm induced hand-waving.  It needs the hip, ghetto, graffiti font on the decaying, urban brick background.  It needs youtube ads that mimic the twittering hand-held production values of the Blair Witch Project (this defines authenticity).  It needs sensuality and things conforming to the world and its fashion (play numbers one and two, you’ll get enough of a sample).  These are all things that hard, stony, and thorny ground might be able to relate to or with.  Today we might call this missiological or contextualization, you know, just to make it sound like it is spiritual, when it isn’t.  The adherents know everything they are doing and the meaning of everything they do, and yet they’ll often say that it is meaningless and can’t be judged.   It smacks of the spirit of this age.  It pertains to man.

Holiness Pertains to God

To comprehend this more, we should unpack the theological understanding of “those things which pertain to God.”  Those things which pertain to God are holy.  Holiness is not just moral purity.  It is God’s majestic transcendence, His otherness, His non-contingency.  Holiness is sacredness, which means it is not common or profane.  It is distinct, unique to the attributes and character of God.

The Old Testament term kadesh or the adjective form, qadesh, translated “holy,” is not used just for that which pertains to God.  It is used to describe, for instance, the temple prostitutes of pagan religion of strange nations (Deuteronomy 23:17).  That means that those prostitutes had qualities that were unique to their gods.  The root of the word means “to cut,” that is, “to separate.”  Holines is related to consecration.  When an item was holy, it was devoted for and only for the worship of the Lord.  Items associated with pagan and defiled concepts could not be used in the worship of the Lord.  Something that is holy is designated as sacred and was distinct from the profane or common.

The Christian does not look to the world to find worship forms.  He looks to scripture.  He sees certain qualities of this world system—sensual, carnal, of the spirit of the age, making provision for the flesh.  A basic element of Israelite worship was the maintenance of an inviolable distinction between the sacred and the common.  They guarded against the sacred being treated as common.  While the realm of the holy was conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, it could nevertheless operate within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained.

Holiness was not and has not been just a separateness from sin.  It is a maintaining of distinctions between those things consecrated to God and those that are common.    The common may not be sinful, but it is not sacred.  God’s name and His worship should not be treated lightly.  They should not be brought into association with that characterized by earthliness.  Certain aspects of the world are not redeemable as sacred.  They were invented by men for men’s passions, to touch his will through the body to influence affections inordinately.

Opponents to holiness today say that worldliness is only a matter of the heart, only an attitude.  They fall far short of what scripture says about worldliness.  Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.”  “Conformed” is not internal.  It is external.  1 Peter 1:14-15 reads:

14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

“Fashioning” is external.”  “All manner” includes internal and external.  Sure, being a friend of the world is internal (James 4:4), but the external manifestations also anger God.  That’s why God said through Zephaniah (1:8):

And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

He would punish those clothed with strange apparel.  In other words, they were appearing like the world, associating themselves in their externals with pagan culture.  God didn’t want them fitting in with the world.  He wanted a sacred Israel.  He wanted to keep a difference between the sacred and the profane.

I believe that the redefining and the dumbing down of holiness comes because of professing believers, maybe unconverted, who want to fit in with  the world.  They know how to do it.  Almost everybody does.  The philosophies of the world can be seen in dress, music, art, and more.  We can know on the outside what message a particular form is communicating.  We know when a man is acting effeminate.  We know when a woman is acting masculine. We know a foul word.  We know a term, an appearance, and a composition that carries ungodly associations.  The conservative evangelicals are using these to reach their desired ends.   When they succeed, they say that God was responsible.  God was also responsible for giving water to Moses when he struck the rock.  That end did not justify the means.  And men who drank became carcasses in the wilderness.

Hollywood knows what it is doing with styles.  It knows how to play something sensual or sexual.  It knows how to target certain human emotions (emotionalism) and carnal passions.  Conservative evangelicals imitate them.  They offer their adherents the same thing as the world with some Christianity mixed in.  This is called syncretism—“worshiping” God and using worldly means.  It blurs the dinstinction between the sacred and the common, between God and the world, between the Divine and the worldly.

Limitation to Scriptural Parameters

To accomplish the glory of Christ and an acceptable offering to God, Paul limited himself to Scripture—he would only regulate his audience according to a Divine message (vv. 18-19).  To make the Gentiles obedient,” in either “word or deed,” he would not “dare to speak” anything but that which was given Him by Christ.  Those were all that were authoritative and authenticated by means of “mighty signs and wonders.”

The Bible wasn’t given to us to read between the lines.  Certain actions aren’t forbidden in God’s Word.  That doesn’t mean they become our means of accomplishment or a strategy for success.  God gave His Word as sufficient to regulate any area of our lives.  Even if our own ideas aren’t sinful, they aren’t what He said.  Only what He said, when obeyed, will give glory to God.

Conservative evangelicals often expose scripture.  However, they are just as guilty as revivalist fundamentalists at looking for non-scriptural techniques to influence believers toward what they believe will be salvation and spiritual growth.  Even if they “worked,” they wouldn’t give glory to Christ or be acceptable to God.  They would not require faith and so they couldn’t please God.  Paul kept just preaching the gospel.  He limited himself to the activity God endowed to fulfill His work.  We must limit our means if we will glorify Christ and send up that acceptable offering to God.

Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture

We’re to be regulated by Scriptural precept and example.  We’re to be distinct from the world.  We should have a unique Christian culture.  Culture itself isn’t amoral.  Many ways that a culture expresses itself are filled with meaning.  Some of those expressions may honor God and others may not.  God laid out some very detailed laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of the nations on earth.  He wants us to be different.

If we’re going to reacquire a Christian counterculture that separates from the world’s culture, however it is expressing itself, we must get a grasp on scriptural holiness.  We must understand it, let it influence our affections above indifference, and then choose to be holy as God is holy.  Our music, dress, and other cultural expressions will change.  They will become distinct from the philosophies of the world and from the spirit of this age.  The change will not allow us to fit into the world.  The world will also know that we’re different–not just in matters of righteousness versus sinfulness, but in those of sacredness versus profanity.

A Bonus (a comment I wrote under a blog post about Peter Master’s recent article about worldliness).

In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).

Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.

What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.

Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.

This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.

Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.

Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture pt. 1

April 28, 2009 9 comments

Massive cultural changes came about in the 1960s in the United States.  During this era, many Americans went away from standards of behavior that once characterized them, brought about by feminism, freedom of expression, environmentalism, recreational drug use, and civil disobedience.   The Bible and prayer were taken out of the public school system and the nation began a very rapid alteration of its former life and character, leading to a point where several states today (2009) are legalizing homosexual marriage.  Evangelicalism hasn’t slowed down this change.   In many ways, evangelicalism contributed to the slide to where we’ve now arrived.

This social revolution that climaxed in the 60s in this country had started earlier with the advent of the industrial revolution from 1880 to 1920.  Families and then communities conducted themselves based on traditions handed down from the past.  The industrial revolution brought the onset of modernity in at least two ways.  First, it transformed America from a rural to an urban culture because of manufacturing.   People lived closer together.  Dads worked away from home, spending less time with kids.  The school system moved from small rural schools to larger urban ones.  This packed together immature young people all day, every day, every week, spreading their influence one to another.  Second, it brought the invention of new technological advances.  The ones in transportation and communication especially made a huge difference in the lives of Americans.  Of course, all of this combined spread false ideas and practices much more rapidly, introducing people to lifestyles with which they weren’t familiar, but gradually made them acceptable.

Christian Counterculture

Often churches and preachers stood against these changes.  This is the Christian counterculture.  Christian counterculture differs from the world.  The world bucks scriptural, God-ordained aspects of culture.  Christianity is repulsed by what the world offers.  This is very much like we read from Jesus in Matthew 6:32-33:

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

The Gentiles, the world, seek different things than what believers seek.   Believers seek to submit to their King, Jesus Christ.

The pastors, the preachers, the men of God stood up against cultural changes.  Some called this moralism, but it was preaching against sin and worldliness.  All of evangelicalism did this as the United States modernized.  They preached against entertainment, immodesty, and booze.  Every step of the way, the godly stood up against the adverse changes in the culture—not as a means of salvation or as a replacement for the gospel, but because the gospel wasn’t compatible with this new conduct.

Churches Conforming to the World’s Culture

However, Christianity, churches, began making changes that conformed to the culture that had been created by the world system in the United States.  Preachers took on characteristics of showmen to manipulate an audience.  Evangelism became an event where a charismatic figure would hold the crowd’s attention with fiery rhetoric.  This was preceded by a new kind of music that no longer centered on God and His worship, but to draw a crowd and to infuse the people with strong emotions and passions.  It was the new evangelistic or gospel music that utilized the kind of composition that possessed characteristics familiar to what the audience, mainly lost, would hear in the world.

Of course, compared today all this that Christians and churches did between 1920 and 1950 was very tame.  The preaching was scriptural and substantive compared to what one might hear today.   At that time there was still a general respect for a preaching gathering and for things related to God.  People would dress respectfully out of honor of the occasion, despite the sometimes sweltering heat.

A nation won’t preserve its traditions just because they are passed down from a previous generation.  There must be more.  There must be a scriptural basis for counter cultural behavior, for being different than the world.  Still, the United States clung to much of its cherished ways of life, including those values related to marriage and child-rearing.  However, young people will chafe under baseless traditions, and they did.  They must be provided an authoritative foundation, a scriptural one, one that changes a person from the inside out, if a unique culture is to be preserved.  For the most part, this doctrinal and practical basis was not nurtured in America’s young people.   Instead, they became more enamored with what they heard and then saw on radio and television.   Whatever their parents told them, they were hearing something different from the night time DJ, their music, and their friends at school.

Most of what was left of the former values was propped up by tradition itself, a false-front city with nothing behind.  It looked right on the outside, but something vital was missing.  Those walls collapsed in the 1960s in the United States, exacerbated as well by multiple circumstances, including the explosion of rock music, the assassination of the nation’s youthful president, growing dissatisfaction with the present civil arrangement, and a war beginning in Southeast Asia.  Many young people began searching for something real, for answers, for what could really satisfy them.  It was something akin to what happened in 18th century France, when the people there became angry with their current social structure.  It was a bomb ready to go off.

Cultural Collapse

During that time, society as a whole changed radically.  Men with long hair.  Women with pants and short, short skirts.  Rebellion against authority.  Refusal of military service.  Music, art, and fashion took giant leaps away from where they once were.   Many kinds of behavior became acceptable too.  Divorces multiplied.  Drugs.  Fornication.   How people talked changed too.  A culture that at large had been held up by tradition had popped.

What did Christians do?  With these massive changes in the culture, Christians would stick out more than ever as different.   Men grew their hair long as part of the rebellion.  Christians kept theirs short.  I remember that time.  I had teachers with long hair in a family where this was considered female or effeminate.   I had a difficult time inside with respect for a man with long hair.   Because of this sudden transition, it looked like Christians were simply trying to preserve an era—the 1950s—before things collapsed.

What Did Churches Do?

In many cases, churches kept a separate culture from the world.  However, a faster cultural erosion was occurring in Christianity.   Young people growing up in an increasingly different culture knew they weren’t fitting in.  It didn’t feel comfortable.   They didn’t like it.   At the same time, whole movements of evangelical churches just capitulated to the culture.   They would not impede the profanity all around.  There became a growing contrast between evangelicals and fundamentalists.  The fundamentalists kept a distinct culture and the evangelicals gave in.

The evangelicals had “reasons.”  For hair length it was “how long is long.”  “You don’t want to change people on the outside, when we know that God looks on the heart.”  “The emphasis on the outside is just legalism.”  “These people that dress so different and want us to do that are just Pharisees and legalists; they love the 1950s.”  And so on.  They never preached against cultural issues.   Cultural issues became non-moral and preferential.  Worship itself became a matter of men’s taste.

The Jesus Movement

On the West Coast, especially in California, a new movement was growing.  The Jesus movement.  I remember them as “the Jesus freaks.”   In California, you had the most protesting, drug use, and hippies in the United States.   In California especially, you had massive break up of the family and kids who grew up empty and searching.  At that time, the Jesus movement was there to fill that vacuum.   The Jesus movement was not counter-cultural at all.  Their music was the same.  Their appearance was the same.  They looked like everyone else except they had this relationship with Jesus that had them so happy.  Their methods were also very much with the spirit of the age.   They sat down cross-legged in the grass like the hippies.  They played some Beatles-like rock music on their guitars, sung like Joan Baez and other folk-rock singers, except with Christian words, and they just talked about Jesus and what He could do for their hearts.  They made a point of not being different.

Part of the explosive growth of the Jesus movement was the drastic needs of West Coast youth with a hopelessness and despair, and that was met by an approach that was entirely non-judgmental. The leaders just talked to you in a kind of non-authoritative way.   They had on their casual clothes, just like youThey played the same kind of music as you.   There was a tremendous amount of good feeling and companionship and family that was missing at home.  Guys and girls hung out together and played on their guitars and talked about Jesus.   Certain things dropped out—-drugs, fornication, and hate for authority—but the cultural aspects remained entirely the same.  When you got baptized, you headed down to the beach to do it.  You spent time around a camp fire, singing folk-like rock tunes with Christian words, and then you along with dozens of others were put under the surf.

The churches that came out of these efforts were the same.  The services were very emotional with the Christian rock and folk singing.  You came as you were.  Except for the Budweiser t-shirt, you looked no different than the world.  The men had long hair and beards like the hippies.  The woman appeared in the native peace-protester garb.  The promotion was done in the psychedelic sixties font with the big pastel flower petals.   There was the swaying and hand raising and hand holding something like you’d find at the sixties rock concert, minus the drugs.

A lot of large evangelical churches started and expanded during this time with this kind of cultural compatibility.   The culture moved against a clean-cut image with the long beards, sideburns, and facial hair.   Much of it was for the purpose of making the lost feel more comfortable, to contextualize the church to their cultural sensibilities.    This methodology spread to evangelical churches all over the country.  Those churches were growing and others imitated what they were doing.

Where Did This Go?

Evangelical churches did not practice personal and ecclesiastical separation.   That was not only not emphasized, but it was repudiated in most cases.   The goal was a non-judgmental environment, especially on cultural issues, making people feel comfortable that were in the world.   A particular theology of grace came right along with it.  Churches would not give themselves denominational names, because in so doing it would offer doctrinal distinctions that could cause disunity.  Their idea of love, which was very tolerant, surpassed all values.

Evangelical churches have continued like that for the decades since the 1960s, leading up to today.  They have moved right with the world on these cultural issues.  Some fundamentalist churches have grown their ranks, desirous to see the same type of numerical growth they have.  The world’s culture has continued its slide, very much not being impeded by this type of Christianity that uses grace as an occasion of the flesh.  However, not only has the world veered further away culturally, but so have the churches.  The kind of contextualization accepted by these evangelicals has been taken one step further by today’s emerging/ent churches with their grunge look and music, modern art, piercings, tattoos, and street appearance.

Recently, one way that fundamentalists have sought to move along with these culturally compatible evangelicals is by accepting a snapshot of fundamentalism that they believe existed before these cultural issues became an issue in fundamentalism.  They wish for fundamentalism to be a coalition of evangelicals who will separate over a false gospel.  Other factors would not be considered as a basis of fellowship, would even be viewed as a problematic cause of disunity, even heretics.   As a part of this, gone would be the issues of dress, music, and in many cases, alcoholic beverages.   Churches would be fundamental that would simply agree on a very minimal doctrinal statement that was especially clear on the minimal doctrinal aspects of the gospel.  Social issues could be left out.

On the other hand, some evangelicals think now that many evangelicals have slid too far on cultural issues and contextualization.  Those who have moved past their comfort level are now worldly.   Even certain evangelical speech has crossed the line in its casualness, entering the realm of the profane, dishonoring to God, even not worthy of the gospel.  Some are now saying that the gospel must be adorned with certain type of behavior that isn’t specifically laid out in scripture.  In other words, things have gotten even too worldly for them.  When the hippies in the sixties were coming with their rock music and their rebellious dress, they didn’t say anything.   Of course, then they were benefiting from that influx of new people, and that was then.  What we’re seeing, of course, is the complete deterioration of our culture with the contribution of these evangelicals and now fundamentalists who have capitulated to it for the sake of numerical success, false love, and fake unity.

I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing.  I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes.  I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.

A Follow-Up to Questions for Non-Revivalist Fundamentalism

April 15, 2009 2 comments

The grass gets tall this time of year in Northern California.  It is the end of rainy season.  When I cut the tall grass, two things often happen.  One, some of the grass doesn’t get completely clipped.  Two, you’ve got to mow again really quickly just to keep up.  I went back and forth with my mower in no special pattern to get the job done.  Some of the long grass needs another run.   The yard, of course, in this instance is non-revivalist fundamentalism (NRF).   I made a pass over NRF several days ago with some random sweeps of my mower, that is, questions for NRF.  I got some answers, but I would like to follow-up because of the eclectic nature of my interrogation.

Psychoanalysis

In some good fundamentalist fashion, people read into me and my column.  Some of that was due to how I mowed the grass the first time.  I had a few lines in there that could have provoked some young Freuds to get me on their couch.  Because of the link over at SharperIron, the nature of the comments seemed as though I may have written a column about SharperIron, when that was just one of my questions.  As a result of that, some speculated that I must be trying to become a member again.  Others assumed that I was pouting over a lack of attention.

I was in fundamentalism for a lengthy time.  The point of fundamentalism I agree with, that is, purity of doctrine.   If that is the major idea of fundamentalism, I like it and have sympathy with fundamentalism and fundamentalists on that.  I also think I have now lived a little so that I can judge history a little better, so I wrote the first post.  I would prefer to keep this all to the actual lines I typed, although the psychoanalysis was interesting.

Misrepresentation

I read comments that misrepresent what I wrote.  They verge on more psychoanalysis.  For instance, I haven’t said anything about stifling discussion on issues or “blocking out other views.”  We should prove everything, hold fast to that which is good.   Regarding SharperIron (SI), I’m saying only that I see it left-leaning on the fundamentalist (right)-evangelical (left) scale.

I think where the “stifling discussion” point segues with the essential-non-essential issue is that, I believe, evangelicals have been those who talk most about ranking doctrines.  They do this to avoid separation.   The truth is that the fundamentalism I grew up with wanted to talk about everything that might be scriptural.  I find it is the evangelical side that “blocks out views.”  They don’t want to talk about cultural issues unless it suits their fancy (“smutty pulpit speech”—see Phil Johnson and John MacArthur).  This isn’t anything that I had heard in fundamentalism, while I was in it.  Everything in scripture was important in the fundamentalism I knew.  Maybe that’s what McCune and I have in common—he and I are old school in this way.

Evaluation

Hopefully you, like I, have a biblical grid that screens all that you read and hear.   If we do have one of those, we should all leave it in the “on” position, evaluating everything in light of scripture.  I’m curious at least when professing fundamentalists don’t use the Bible to judge.  Perhaps it is what I should expect today.   I don’t think I read any comment here or in the filings thread at SI that exposed my post to God’s Word.   The only valid criticism of fundamentalistic positions should be biblical, shining light on error.

Someone wrote this:

But are there not degrees of separation, just as there are degrees of agreement and degrees of practical importance? (cf. Mohler’s triage) Brandenburg’s (and McCune’s it seems) view of pan-importance is true in one sense, but I don’t believe that we ought to be separating over baptism in the same way that we separate over the virgin birth.  Haven’t some evangelicals been a little more discerning – and hence a little more biblical – in their application of separation when they have paused to identify the exact level of disagreement?

The answer to this should come from scripture.   Some, it seems, think that asking the question qualifies as an argument.  Or, someone should be shamed by even bringing up the topic.  Or, that the question alone shows the lack of common sense involved in taking a different view.  I’ve never thought of these tactics as replacing biblical authority.  You still need “thus saith the Lord.”  And I don’t think anyone should trust common sense.

I haven’t found evangelicals will separate at all.  I don’t even hear them talk about separation.  It is as if it has dropped out of scripture.  By the way, where is that criticism of evangelicalism and this dearth of biblical teaching at SI?  Show one good dealing with separation by an evangelical, when they are supposed to be the master exegetes of scripture.  Young fundamentalists don’t like some of the positions of older fundamentalism and their criticism of fundamentalism, even saying that evangelicals are “more biblical” than fundamentalism.  It really is a matter of personal comfort on where the line is drawn; it isn’t a matter of trying to find out what the Bible says about why and how to separate.

Keep on your biblical thinking caps.  Consider this again that Joel Tetreau writes:  “We could get more accomplished because our partnerships would be larger.”   Where do you get a scriptural basis for “larger partnerships” as a motive for what we do as Christians?  How are we guaranteed at all through this pragmatic approach in getting “more accomplished” either?  I see scripture teach the opposite.  Think Egypt.  You think you’re safer, but not only is it wrong and it doesn’t trust God, it doesn’t end in more being accomplished.

This statement made in response to my post is typical of a fundamentalist argument today:

That camp makes little distinction (beyond lip service) between the fundamentals and rural, turn of the century American culture. . . . The real force of true fundamentalism is a loyalty to the Word of God, not a canonization of any particular culture or era of time. If it is otherwise, I want nothing to do with it.

This has already been standard fare for evangelicals.  To start, it is incredibly simplistic on the matter of culture.  Second, it is no argument or at least an illogical one.  Third, it is dangerous and ignorant (1 John 2:15; Rom 12:2).

What Issues Are Important to God

Some talked about the issues that are important to God.  We don’t have to guess on that.  We can go to scripture and see how God operates with regards to what He said.  He wants us to take seriously everything that He said.  Now I can hear the response:  “No one is saying we shouldn’t.”  It is what I read from fundamentalists and evangelicals now.

Joel Tetreau wrote:

Well for starters Brandenburg would separate from all of us….oh yeah he’s already done that….my bad, I forgot. Sorry Kent! What would that do for fundamentalism’s MO?

I’m not a fundamentalist.  It’s true.  Greg Linscott got it right.  It’s because fundamentalism is too ecumenical, that is, it is ungodly in this way.  However, what I’d like to point out here is the last statement.  Look at it.  I believe that sentence is tell-tale.  It really does explain the biggest issue:  what will other people think of us?  Oh my!  It should be:  what does God know about us?  We’re not walking by faith when we’re concerned with how the evangelicals view us.  There are reasons they are more popular and get published by major publishers, and we shouldn’t admire them for it.

Off Topic

Some of the discussion about my first point veered off topic regarding my beliefs.   One person said that my beliefs were rejected by most of fundamentalism a long time ago.  I don’t think that fundamentalism takes the time to consider an exegetical defense of biblical ecclesiology.  I also believe they haven’t sorted through historic bibliology, which is why, I believe, we have  a mutating doctrine of inerrancy today in addition to major attacks on meaning, interpretation, and application of scripture that has eroded the authority of God’s Word.

A Problem

Like God is Truth, God is perfect in the unity of His attributes, all in an irreducible and unseparable whole.  He isn’t holy at the loss of love or loving to the detriment of holiness.  Joel Tetreau writes this:

Fundamentalism because it has become fixated on “separation first” instead of “unity first” has become….well, ill. . . . (Don’t you think Biblical evidence suggests we start with unity first, and then separate instead of starting with separation? I don’t think this should be that hard. I mean count up the times the NT writers speak to unity and then count up the times they mention separation.).

Both separation and unity are taught in the NT.  Both should be obeyed, neither to the exclusion of the other.   Since God cannot deny Himself, we can practice both according to Scripture.  Our position is correct only if we can be consistent in obedience to both unity and separation.  Something JG wrote at SI sheds light:

Seems to me that if unity is first, rather than holiness, you’ve got a major problem. Unity is always within the confines of truth, or it is not real unity.

Something Missed

A major part of my first post was about a wrong evaluation of fundamentalism.  To give a proper view of fundamentalism, you have to consider it in its cultural and historic setting.  People say accurately that fundamentalism isn’t monolithic.  That’s true, but it also applies to the setting for the various eras of fundamentalism.  It isn’t like early 20th century fundamentalism has some grand stamp of approval from God.  We see it for what it is.

I’m not a fundamentalist because I can’t justify fellowship with disobedient brethren anywhere in Scripture.   I believe infant sprinkling constitutes that.   However, I am a fundamentalist in spirit and by dictionary definition.  I adhere strictly to a standard.  I believe that we love God and others by battling for that which is of the greatest benefit:  the truth.  I believe there is an idea of fundamentalism that is worth saving.

I don’t see a valid historic argument to beg for a paleo-fundamentalism that includes conservative evangelicals.  I know we don’t have a biblical basis for fellowship with them.  However, we are judging fundamentalism at the time of a more singular American culture.  Not only has fundamentalism changed, but so has evangelicalism.   The issues have changed since that time.  There is a lot more toleration of false doctrine and practice now than there was then.  The culture has eroded.  We would do well to keep this in mind in this discussion.

This talk of unity is more in common with the onset of new-evangelicalism than the oldest brand fundamentalism.   I get the idea of “looking for unity.”  I don’t see it in scripture.  I’ve found that you don’t have to look for unity.  You find it and it’s based on what you believe and practice.  Unity happens with people and churches with the same positions and application of those positions.   The way to find unity that you might be looking for is through reconciliation.  Reconciliation, however, only occurs based upon scripture.  We aren’t right to “reconcile” by ignoring the truth.   We attempt to reconcile by preaching the truth, very much like someone who is reconciled to God.  That occurs when the  nature of a lost person is converted to line up with God, not when God approves of something less than Who He is.

Based on the terms for reconciliation that I mentioned in the last paragraph, I think that I work at unity more than fundamentalists and evangelicals.  Rather than give up on evangelicals or fundamentalists, I am often talking to them with the purpose of helping us come to the same doctrine and practice.  This is love.  We ought to be patient.  We ought to take some grief along the way.   At some point we may need to determine that future contact will not be the right way to go.  I don’t think we get unity by ignoring our differences in the matter of fellowship.   We honor God by taking seriously what He says.

New-evangelicals were the ones who denigrated militancy and favored getting together.   They were more concerned with how they were perceived by the world, its academic institutions and its scholarship.   We should have one goal:  the pleasure of God.  Our labor is not in vain in Him.

A Biblical Approach to Liberties Versus that of Evangelicals and Many Fundamentalists

March 25, 2009 84 comments

The internet is new.  Just look at Al Gore.  Social networking sites (SNS)  are even newer.  In this era of modernity with the explosion of the information age, there is more to come.  C. H. Spurgeon faced new kinds of entertainment at the end of the nineteenth century.  He had words of warning based on scriptural principles for issues not found in the Bible.  These require the development of spiritual discernment.  God didn’t give church leadership a mandate to bury its head in the sand.  We should give guidance in new areas of potential danger to the church.

A common opposition to biblical application to cultural issues is argument by moral equivalence.  I’ve heard a couple different types even this month.  One goes like this:  “You can get in trouble with any kind of communication device.  You can sin on the phone or on the internet too.  SNS are no different.  You could get hit crossing the street.  Are you going to stop doing that too?”  How did you know?  I’m putting my finishing touches on my no street-crossing post, the father of all safety-patrol.  I’m kidding, but I do believe there is a biblical answer to this.   It’s 1 Corinthians 10:12:  “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”  We have admonition against presumptuousness about sin.  Certain places are of greater temptation than others.  Some have worse associations.

Another moral equivalent has been the “SNS isn’t that much different than writing on a blog and you do that” argument.   I could waste time here.  I could violate scripture.  I could cause damage to a church.  I could get puffed up with pride over readership.  I say “yes” to all of those.  I could do any four of those “couldas.”   So I should look at blogging with scrutiny as well.  I do.   I’m not going to write about it, but I do.  However, as I have, I see them as very different activities.  My blog posting doesn’t parallel with the activities of facebook.

The responses I’ve read and heard in this SNS discussion remind me of the major differences in the approach to liberties.  What I am often reading from evangelicals and even fundamentalists are several unscriptural and indefensible perspectives of liberties.  They’ll deny it, but I’ll also explain how it is that they do take on these three at least.

1.  We have liberty to sin.

They say, “Do not say that.”   I say, “You don’t say it, but you do it.”  How?  Some commands in Scripture require a secondary premise.  Let me provide a syllogism.

Major or First Premise:  The woman who wears the male article is an abomination to God.

Minor or Second Premise:  Pants are the male article.

Conclusion:  The woman who wears pants is an abomination to God.

I’ve found that Christians today won’t even agree on the major premise, even though Deuteronomy 22:5 says:  “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”  “That which pertaineth unto a man” is the male article.  I often ask men, what is the male article.   Most don’t want to answer it.  They know it’s pants, so instead of replying to it, they say:  “the cape,” “the derby,” etc.  They take a position of mockery akin to those who scorn the coming of Christ in 2 Peter 3.  Without pants, there is no male garment any longer, and people know it.  And they don’t care.  It isn’t an abomination to them, only to God, so it doesn’t matter.

I recognize that I’ve chosen a more controversial example, but this isn’t a liberty issue.   We don’t have liberty just because there’s a controversy.  We don’t have liberty just because men have muddled up this issue.  This is how Christians have practiced for centuries.  Since the onslaught of feminism and unisex, men have changed the practice in favor of one more acceptable to pagan society.  We have liberty in non-moral issues, and things that are an abomination to God are moral.  It’s a sin to violate God’s instruction.  There are many other examples.

2.  We have the right to cause someone to stumble, to be a bad testimony, to offend another person’s conscience, to conform to the world, or to profane worship.

They say, “I do not say that.”  I say, “You do too.”  How?  Evangelicals and now many fundamentalists turn 1 Corinthians 6-10 and Romans 14 on their head.   Those passages don’t emphasize demanding rights.  They emphasize limiting liberties for the sake of weaker brothers, of unsaved people, and for the greater glory of God.  And yet the evangelicals and fundamentalists now see this as a basis for many unscriptural activities.

3.  I don’t practice personally unpopular biblical application.

They say, “I do not say that.”  I say, “You do too.”  How?  Evangelicals and many fundamentalists say something like what Nathan Busenitz wrote over at Pulpit Fellowship:

[T]he Bible tells us “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). We cannot add to the Scripture without subtracting from its effectiveness in our lives. If we elevate personal preference and man-made tradition to the level of God’s Word (Mark 7:6-15), we risk entangling people in the bondage of legalism and diverting them from the true issues of sanctification (Romans 14:17).

It sounds good.  They say we don’t want to exceed what is written.  And yet Phil Johnson recently wrote what he believed determined what foul language was:

Culture determines this. It’s quite true that the standard may be different from culture to culture and generation to generation. But both history and literature prove that it’s not nearly as fluid or as nebulous as postmodern language-theorists suggest.

You read it.  If you want to know what cuss words are or what smutty speech is, culture determines this.  Really?  I agree with Phil wholeheartedly.  To make application, you have to do that with truth not found in the Bible.  Certain words, based upon the culture, we can conclude, “Yes, that’s foul language.”

We can also determine by the culture what is worldly dress, what is pagan music, and all sorts of other important application of Scripture.  We do it the same way.  Here’s what happens.  Busenitz and Johnson (and me) don’t like the profanity in the pulpit.  That’s wrong.  So there, it’s OK to “exceed what is written” in Scripture.  They throw that verse around at what they want to throw it at.  But when it comes to these other cultural issues, they are blind in their application.  What you will see them do is make statements like this monumental and mocking strawman that Johnson  threw out for areas that he does not prefer to make application:

Yeah, but no one here (except maybe Kent Brandenburg) has ever seriously suggested that 1950’s style is the standard to pursue, either. What I have consistently argued for is clarity, biblical language (as opposed to some subculture’s hip patois), sound doctrine, and boldness in our proclamation of the truth-claims of Scripture that aren’t currently fashionable.

It’s weird how that keeps getting morphed into 1950s-style haircuts and poodle skirts in the thinking of some of the very same people who are so keen to keep up with postmodern fashions. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about dress codes, hair styles, or ’50s fashions in corporate worship or music. Let’s not pretend this post is about that.

What do you think of those arguments?  See what evangelicals and fundamentalists do?  They pick and choose the kind of applications they want to make and then veto the others.  In this case, he talks about 1950’s style (who would make that argument?) or “poodle skirts” as a way to frame what is what Zephaniah 1:8 calls “strange apparel.”  Evangelicals and fundamentalists commonly protect their popularity by making these areas of application matters of “liberty,” and the ones that they don’t like, they say they can be determined by the culture.  You can see it yourself.

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