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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.

Social Networking Sites (SNS): A Case Study for Standards of Judgment

March 17, 2009 5 comments

I’ve made some bad choices.  All the way through college and graduate school, I used the same manual Smith-Corona typewriter that my dad used all the way through his college and graduate school to type every paper.  When we got the church going out in California, I decided to buy an electric typewriter, an IBM selectric with rotating and interchangeable ball.  It’s very funny now, but that was big-time for me at that juncture.  I bought it used with no warranty for about $50, if I remember correctly. What a deal!  In less than a month, it was broken.  I paid $75 to have it fixed.   A little over a month later, it was broken again.  I didn’t repair it again.  I went back to the Smith-Corona, and shortly thereafter, I owned a used Apple IIe with dot-matrix printer (it was free), so the broken IBM launched me into the computer age.

I learned from that mistake a little about purchasing.  I’ve never made that type of bad decision again.   I’ve made others, but not that one.  We go through this life only once.  The choices we make about how we will use our time, energy, and money are what make up our life.  We are redeeming the time, exchanging it for what will be greatest value.   Nothing is more important for us than how we will use this life that God has given us.   What becomes very important is our criteria for making those exchanges of time.

We have more than a standard of right and wrong.  It’s not wrong for me to eat a bowl of hot chili right before I go to bed, but I will pay for it all the next day because of the lost sleep, the acid reflux, and what I call “rot gut.”  I have a higher standard than right and wrong for myself.  So does God.   We’re not always arguing about whether an activity is right or wrong.  We’re asking ourselves other questions like:  Is it the best?  Will it glorify God?  Is it true, lovely, of good report, or virtuous? Will it edify others?  Will God be pleased?  Will it hurt someone else?  Is it a bad testimony?  Is that wise stewardship?  Those types of questions.

In Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, he asked of God for them (1:10):  “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.”  Paul didn’t want just what was right.  He wanted what was excellent.  Someone said, “The greatest enemy of great is good.”  Why have it be good if it can be great?  When Paul wrote that to the Philippians, he wasn’t praying for them to do right.  He wanted them to do their best.

For the Philippians to strive for excellence, he also prayed something else for them in v. 9:   “that [their] love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.”   They needed love, love for God and love for others, if they were to be excellent in their decision making.  It wasn’t just love, but love that was tempered by knowledge and judgment.  When it is love, which it must be, then it will be thoughtful and judgmental, that is, discerning.

One of the bad problems in discussions about issues like social networking sites is that people want to argue that there is nothing wrong with the activity.   They resent someone like myself even questioning their desired practice.  Well, wrong and right aren’t even a biblical standard for a Christian (unless he’s a legalist).  It is ironic, isn’t it, that the people who talk about legalism the most want the standard to be right or wrong?  It reminds me of a blog I read recently, entitled, “Am I Still a Fundamentalist?”, in which the author was asking his readers to inform him if he was still a fundamentalist despite the fact that he allowed himself a list of ten different activities, two of which were:

The church I pastor usually changes the schedule of our Sunday evening service on Super Bowl Sunday to an afternoon service. And, if I were given tickets to the Super Bowl I would probably miss Sunday night church for it (and that might go for Cubs World Series tickets too).

I don’t know what type of behavior he thought he was encouraging with those two points, but it was neither about loving God nor about excellence.  His standard was:  the Bible doesn’t say thou shalt not watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.  He was angry with anyone who might challenge him to anything higher.

Our standard for ourselves is nothing like right or wrong.   We want excellent service, excellent products, excellent food, excellent traffic, excellent treatment, excellent attitudes, and even excellent entertainment.  I contend that the evangelicals and the fundamentalists with the low standards are the legalists.  They will be judged by no greater standard than right or wrong or they are allowed to mock, ridicule, and name call.   I believe that they don’t love God.  They love themselves.  If this is all about God, and not about us, then there is no way that right or wrong could possibly be a sufficient criterion.

The Case of the Social Networking Sites

In a recent study by Valerie Barker, PhD at San Diego State University, research was conducted in the way of interviews with older adolescents about their motivations for social networking site usage.  The most important incentive for SNS was communication with peer group members.   The conclusion of the research was that these teenagers used these sites for collective self-esteem.  Females especially reported a positive collective self-esteem to compensate for negative feelings about their real life social group.  Males more than females needed SNS for identity gratification and as a social function to compensate for low self-confidence.

What do we see in this research?  Young people look to SNS to find their social identities and to boost their low self-confidence.  This is in fitting with a modernistic society that looks outward to find its value.  Who we are, instead of being about belief and character, has become about other’s opinions or estimations.  David Wells talks about this in No Place for Truth (pp. 157-158):

[W]e turn outward in a search for direction, scanning others for the social signals they emit.  This produces a new kind of conformity. . . .  [The modern person] seeks approval and even affection from a surrogate family, “an amorphous and shifting, though contemporary, jury of peers,” as Reisman put it.  This person is oriented not to inner values but to other people.  It is in the peer group that acceptance is found and outcasts are named. . . . Relationships within the group become the coin for all of life’s transactions as well as the chief test of taste. . . . He feels at home only in the mass. . . . Where once people took pride in their accomplishments and in their character, other-directed individuals think only of how they stand with others. . . . Once people worked to achieve tangible ends, to accomplish things.  Now, such accomplishments are of far less signficance than one’s “image.”  Once peple worked; now they manipulate.  Once people sweated; now they seduce.  Once people wished to be respected, to have their accomplishments recognized; now they wish to be envied, regardless of whether they are envied for anything they have actually accomplished.

Facebook and other SNS fit into the modernistic pattern of finding our value in other’s estimation of our personality.  In Losing Our Virtue, Wells writes (p. 97):

Until this time, the self had been understood in terms of character, of virtue[s] to be learned and practiced, of private desires to be denied. . . . These virtues were all sustained by a belief in a higher moral law; . . . the focus abruptly shifted from character to personality. . . . Character is good or bad, while personality is attractive, forceful, or magnetic.  Attention therefore was shifting from the moral virtues, which need to be cultivated, to the image, which needs to be fashioned.  It was a shift away from the invisible moral intentions toward the attempt to make ourselves appealing to others, away from what we actually are and toward refining our performance before a public that mostly judges the exterior.

Our character was once judged by those communities formed and ordained by God—the family and the church.   Wells says in No Place for Truth (p. 202) that “we are creating a new tribe based not on relational but electronic connections.”   Productivity and character are no longer necessary in this new medium to gain social identity, acceptance, and even status.  Once our culture valued the higher achievements of human nature—the good use of language, moral behavior, reasoned discourse, and aesthetic achievements according to the highest aspirations of the human spirit.  We’ve reduced these often to the lowest common denominator, vulgarity, politicization, and triviality.

Objective truthfulness has been replaced by subjective experience.  Personal testimony has become a source of knowledge.  The question is no longer whether Christ is objectively true but whether the personal encounter has been appealing and whether it has brought me into common connection with others.   A true indicator of worth becomes the number of friends, requiring a kind of friendliness that is divested of scriptural judgment, since such judgment cannot escape a charge of unfriendliness, even bigotry.

SNS fit within a larger paradigm of modernistic society.  In other words, when we examine them, we need to take a few more steps backward to see the big picture.   More is going on then typing and talking and networking.  Something that is so popular in the world ought to give believers pause.   Their judgment should not merely consider whether SNS are wrong or right.  What makes SNS so popular in a God-hating world?  Do I have my sufficiency in Christ?  Am I seeking first the kingdom of God?  Why is it that I can’t get satisfaction through my family and my church?  Am I just running from God-ordained evaluation for unconditional acceptance?  Does my desire for SNS signal my own discontent?   Have my electronic relationships replaced or hindered my real ones?  What does God want and is that important to me?

Romans 14 and Issues Like Social Networking

March 11, 2009 4 comments

If someone on the highway speeds past me and cuts me off, almost causing an accident, I don’t care if he gets caught by the police.  However, if I do the same to someone else, I hope I don’t caught.  We believe in justice. We just don’t like it when it applies to us.  I can say the same thing about being judged.   My flesh is repulsed by someone telling me that I’ve done wrong.  I don’t normally like hearing from another person about how far off I am in some of my thinking.   We don’t like to be judged.

All of us are going to be judged by God.  “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).  What God knows about what we do is what’s most important.  And when God judges, He’s going to judge based upon more than whether the activity was right and wrong.

The Bible doesn’t say facebook or social networking are wrong.   Because of that, people don’t want to be judged for using facebook.  When I start talking about potential problems with it, people often don’t like hearing it.  They don’t like to feel judged by me or anyone else.   Just because facebook is permissible, doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for you to use it.

To make a good decision about whether we will use an online social network or not, we must look at the principles God gives us to judge matters that the Bible does not mention.  The first half of Romans 14 says that we should not judge people so harshly in non-scriptural activities.   Verses 1-12 of Romans 14 say that it’s okay to use facebook.  After all, it is a non-moral issue that Scripture nowhere prohibits.

However, the second half of Romans 14 says that we should judge ourselves harshly on the same non-moral activities that we had liberty to practice.  If we’re going to please God, then we don’t judge them based just upon whether they are right or wrong.  The strong Christian doesn’t flaunt his liberties or rights and demand them, but restrains himself in them for the sake of others.  There is nothing wrong with playing pick-up basketball, but that doesn’t mean that I should play on Sunday mornings.  There are reasons why not.

There are two related reasons why it is that we don’t just do anything we want even if  it might be permissible to do so.  We might have a right or a liberty to do something, but that isn’t the only criteria.  We also must ask:

Will Someone Else Be Affected?

The Christian Harmed by a Stumbling Block

An activity may be lawful to do, but it could cause someone else to stumble.   Facebook is a tool, but one that has trappings built into it.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:13:

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Instead of being concerned about whether we’re being judged or not, we should judge ourselves by asking if our continuation will harm someone else.   God is our Judge, but He will judge us not just for what we do, but also for what impact what we do will have on others.  There are many ways that a weaker believer could be harmed by facebook.  We must consider whether our example could result in the potential spiritual hurt of others.

We can see some of the harm that we cause others in vv. 13-15.   One of us might be able to handle facebook.  However, there might be someone else who can’t.  It may waste his time.  It may result in him getting caught up with the wrong people.  It might draw him away from God by his addiction.  In the end, he is grieved by the problems he has because of facebook.  At that time, he might remember that he went ahead and joined because we were there already.

What I am hearing from some commenting about facebook is something like:  “There are numbers of ways that people can sin.  If they were going to sin at facebook, then they probably would have chosen someplace else to sin anyway.  Since they were going to sin one way or another, we shouldn’t be kept from facebook just because of them.”  However, there are dangers on facebook.  I believe that they are too heavy for many, if not most Christians,  to remain obedient to God.  However, they may not be too much for certain believers.   Those Christians must think about how that their continued association with facebook might result in the future grief (v. 15a) or destruction (v. 15b) of others.

The Christian Harmed by Loss of Testimony

You may think that an activity is fine to do.  It might be.  But “your good could be evil spoken of” (v. 16).   There is one verb in v. 16 and from it comes the English word “blaspheme.”  Since it is a liberty, it is a good.  However, if your good causes the world to see us in a different way, in a way that causes “men” (v. 18, not a reference to believers) for whom Christ died to turn from God, to blaspheme, then we should not do it.

Verse 17 tells a little about how this could occur.  An unbeliever might miss out on a true understanding of the kingdom of God because we would rather prioritize what God has allowed us to do rather than what He wants us to do.  It might be that our liberty keeps us from evangelistic opportunities.  If we spend hours on a facebook page and never talk about Jesus in a scriptural manner with the kind of seriousness that would represent Him in a salvific way, then the lost will not understand Him, His kingdom, or His life.  Someone can’t just “drop” the name of Jesus into a mass of commonality or profanity as an accurate representation of Him.

An unsaved man might ask, “If Jesus is really Lord, what doesn’t this man talk about Jesus like He is?”  Or, “If He believes in Jesus Christ, then why does the subject matter of his conversation not differ from mine?”

While I was on facebook the short time I was there, I never heard anything good about Jesus or what He had to offer.  The talk was a clean waste, but nevertheless just as much a waste as any unbeliever’s talk.  These social networking sites are not conducive, I believe, to evangelism.  They tend to weaken or cheapen Christian testimony.

And we also should ask:

Will It Build Up Someone Else?

Does facebook result in the building up of other believers?  Will this be something that edifies the most in the most constructive way?

As other believers relate to our Christian liberties, they should receive us in non-scriptural issues (Rom 14:1).  Facebook is one of those.  However, as we judge ourselves and our use of our liberties, we should see our lives as the Lord’s.  They aren’t our own liberties but God’s for Him to use.  Our desire should be to do what He wants us to do, since we’re going to be judged by Him.  If we see facebook that way, then we won’t be angry if we feel like someone is judging us in our usage of it.   In matters of liberty, we’re called to think first of God and then of others.  Will He be pleased as our Judge?  Will we cause others some kind of spiritual harm or will we edify them?

The Escapist World of Social Networking

March 6, 2009 30 comments

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And just as a reminder, this same Jesus, Whom God hath highly exalted, and given a name which is above every name, this same Jesus, that every tongue should confess as Lord, this same Jesus is Lord also of the Internet.

Social Networking is the new reality.  Friends multiply daily, and rapidly. Whether we agree with it or not, our kids are involved.  Some directly: they have their own Facebook page.  Others indirectly: they hear their friends and cousins talking about their Facebook page.  Like it or not, we are all affected by the Social Networks.  They influence our young people, they entice our old people, they affect our ministries.  Social Networking includes all the various ways of “connecting” or “communicating” via the Internet — including (but not limited to) blogs, forums, chat rooms, and so forth. But my intention is to deal directly with the issue of MySpace and Facebook. Before I begin, though, let me recommend a hilarious article on this subject… it illustrates through satire what I can only talk about.

Social Networking 101

As I understand it, Facebook and MySpace are more alike than not. Originally, Facebook was limited to the Harvard student body (A group of Harvard students invented it in their dorm rooms). It slowly expanded to other ivy league schools, then to college students (Facebook required an e-mail address with a “.edu” in order to join). Finally, in 2006, Facebook expanded to include high schoolers and eventually all users 13 and older.

MySpace, on the other hand, was created in 1999 by Tom Anderson, who (I’m told) is the first friend to join the network of every MySpace user. You might be interested to know that MySpace was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for $580 million (that $580,000,000 in Russell Anderson terms) in July, 2005.

Most of the differences between the two are merely surface differences. From what I can see, there are differences between who uses them, how they are used, and the features that are available. More women use MySpace than Facebook (by about 4%). College educated, career-oriented, and suburbanite people tend to use Facebook, while teens and inner-city people tend to use MySpace.

Some have said that the more creative types tend to gravitate towards MySpace, and that the pencil-pushers and account handlers tend to like Facebook. That could be the result of some of the user-features of the two. MySpace allows more control of user profiles by the individual, enabling a user to be more creative. This design feature often leads to a very amateur and cluttered “look and feel.” Facebook profiles tend to be more uniform. Also, many MySpace users will use a pseudonym of some sort, or will attempt to hide their true identity. This has made MySpace more of a hotbed for sexual predators.  I have not been able to verify this, but a friend told me that within the last six weeks, MySpace removed 90,000 sexual predators.  As I understand it, Facebook will remove any user that they have good reason to suspect is using a fake identity.

As far as I can tell, these are the major differences between the two. And, as I said earlier, they are more alike than they are different. Both have a stated purpose — to connect people. MySpace is more likely to connect total strangers, while Facebook tends to connect people with mutual backgrounds. Both are all about promoting the self.

And both are highly addictive. The information I have on this is a little over a year old… but in October of 2007, MySpace and Facebook were both in the top 10 domains visited on the web. MySpace accounted for just under 5% of all Internet visits. Facebook for 1% of all Internet visits. I realize that this is old information.  As I understand it, Facebook is quickly overtaking MySpace in popularity.  but the point is that when you consider that these two represent just 2 domains on the Internet, the numbers are phenomenal. In addition, the people who frequent these places tend to spend hours going from one friend to another to another. It is the Internet version of bar-hopping.

Slumber Partying 101

At our youth camp this last year, in a discussion of these Social Networks, I made the comment that MySpace reminded me of a giant, virtual slumber party. In fact, I find the whole idea of young men frequenting these social networks to be very troubling — and I think it leads towards effeminacy. To further illustrate my point, Facebook has what is called a “status” feature, where users note how they are doing or feeling at any particular moment. MySpace has also added a “mood” option. It reminds me of those mood rings that people wore back in the ’80’s.  You’ll have to excuse me if you did that, but I was always a little weirded out by guys who wore mood rings.  Especially if they wore one on their pinky.  And played the piano.  Or wore leather pants.  But that’s just me.  I do think there is something very effeminate about a guy who wants the world to know what mood he is in.

But if we are to deal with the larger issues surrounding the virtual world of the Internet, we really must discuss the voyeuristic and escapist elements of Social Networking.  We must understand that Social Networking is a cultural issue.  It is but the next step in a culture consumed with itself.  And, naturally, with amusing itself to death.

With that in mind, MySpace and Facebook are first and foremost voyeuristic.  This is in keeping with the times, to be sure.  We live in a supremely voyeuristic age. We much prefer watching to doing.  We like reality shows.  We love American Idol.  We like to watch people try and we like to watch people fail.  We like to watch the making of the next Elvis.  And, considering the rampant obesity that afflicts our youth, we must be more into watching than into doing.  Consider our fetish with pornography, with video games, with spectator sports.  And, consider our fixation with MySpace and Facebook, a fixation that has made these domains million dollar industries.

There is something effeminate about all this video stuff… guys who are the big heroes on the virtual gridiron, who couldn’t stay in for a set of downs on a real football field. The Bible commands our boys to “act like a man” (I Cor 16:13). Among other things, this requires some real action on their part. It also requires diligence — associated with doing, not with voyeurism. What are video games associated with? Industry, or sloth? And what about Social Networking? Instead of video games and social networking, we must teach our young people how to play some real sports and real games, how to make some real friendships, how to be a real friend, and how to build a real friendship.  In the realm of social networking, voyeurism meets friendship.  We no longer try to be a friend.  We now try to get friends.  We try to “friend” people.  We have become watchers of friendship.

Secondly, Fakebook and MyFace are escapist.  Consider this quote from the New York Times online edition…

Facebook purports to be a place for human connectivity, but it’s made us more wary of real human confrontation. When I was in college, people always warned against the dangers of “Facebook stalking” at a library computer — the person whose profile you’re perusing might be right behind you. Dwelling online is a cowardly and utterly enjoyable alternative to real interaction.

So even though Facebook offers an elaborate menu of privacy settings, many of my friends admit that the only setting they use is the one that prevents people from seeing that they are Currently Logged In. Perhaps we fear that the Currently Logged In feature advertises to everyone else that we (too!) are Currently Bored, Lustful, Socially Unfulfilled or Generally Avoiding Real Life.

For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.

Friendship 101

We have all sorts of virtual friends… but do we have any real ones? Having lots of friends (which I understand is one of the goals of networking) hinders many from having any sort of real relationships.  The social networking scene is the gathering place of the socially unfulfilled, where people go to escape reality, to escape friendship. Besides being effeminate, the escapism embodied in social networking is yet another form of abdication… a way of shrugging off duties.

When we think of real friendship, the kind that involves real people in real time in a real world, we have real duties and obligations that we really must meet.  It has been rightly pointed out that virtual friendships, those that involve pixels rather than people, provide absolutely zero opportunity for fulfillment of those duties and obligations.  That is not to say that people who have Facebook relationships never venture beyond the virtual and into the real, nor is it to say that they cannot.  Just that neither Facebook nor MySpace require a person to venture beyond the profile.  Facebook enables a person to escape loving his neighbor through long ‘friend’ lists.

Beyond that, Facebook is a place where a person can go to escape the pressures and responsibilities and problems of this life.  If a man would have friends, he must show himself friendly.  This requires him to do.  But in the world of Facebook, one must leave the virtual on purpose, and enter the real world if he is to do his duty as a friend.  Facebook provides fake friendship.  Facebook friendships have all the depth of a spray-on tan.  They look like friendship, but Facebook friendships are ended the way a spray-on tan is ended.  One need not explain.  One simply needs to delete.

If there ever were a day in which we need to re-learn the real-world work of friendship, it is in this day.  Our culture is dying of loneliness and starvation.  Ironically, we die this way in a day of ‘overpopulation’ and ‘overcrowding.’  We don’t know our neighbors, but we have thousands of friends.  We haven’t done anything for anybody, but we have thousands of friends.  We don’t love anybody, but we have thousands of friends.

Friendship, as we said, requires work.  The man who attempts to escape the work of friendship in the real world will have no friends.  A man that hath friends must give way.  The self-centered will find few real friends.  And yet, somehow in the world of Facebook, the most narcissist and self-absorbed among us are the ones with pages and pages of virtual friends.  That fact alone should wake us up to the reality of virtual friendship.  It is a form of escapism, and not true friendship.

Addictions Anonymous (101)

Besides the voyeuristic and escapist elements of social networking, these things are also very addictive. Those who spend a considerable amount of time blogging might have an idea of the addictive nature of the Internet.  It is a difficult thing to put up a comment and then to walk away from it.  And that is in a cross-section of the Internet that leans towards serious discussion and debate.  How much more so is this true in a venue that calls, not for serious commentary, but for techno-grunts and lol’s and rotlmfho’s, and “like, cool, and stuff.”  Virtually all of the features of the MySpace world encourage more MySpace.  And we must remember that I Corinthians 10:23 and 6:12 apply to the Internet as much as they apply to anything else.

Finally, social networking is degenerative… it always tends towards entropy.  Just like in the teen-aged slumber party scene (something that godly parents should conscientiously avoid), the conversation tends to move in a specific direction.  We don’t expect to hear our teen-aged daughters, sleeping bags stretched across the living room, immersed in a discussion of William Shakespeare.  Nor do we expect to find that sort of conversation anywhere in the social networks.  I like this quote from Douglas Wilson in the most recent edition of his Credenda/Agenda, referring to what he called the Internet version of the slumber party (Facebook and MySpace):

“In any setting, when kids get together without parental direction and supervision, two things will happen – and they will happen for the same reason that weeds grow in your garden. The first will be that the conversation will drift downward into the silly and inane. Once that tone is set and established, some people will introduce some real sin. They will wait a bit to introduce it because teens steeped in the silly and inane are not equipped to stand up to real sin. Laziness is not preparation for battle, and so when battles do come to the lazy, they are usually short battles. Silly and inane conversation revolves around trivialities, superficial feelings, flatteries, flirting, and so on.”

This is the kind of thing that fills pages and pages of Facebook and MySpace.  It is the reason why these places are so attractive.  It is the reason why even adults, longing to escape their own miserable reality, enjoy the virtual world.  It is the reason why these places are so addictive.  And it is the reason why we must be on our guard at all times when we enter into the realm of the Virtual Relationship.  Sin will be introduced.  It is not a question of ‘whether,’ but of ‘when.’  At some point, that immodestly dressed girl is going to hit on your son.  Or, maybe, on you.  These sites do not move in a direction towards more sanctification and holiness.

As we interact on the Internet, we must remember that God promises to judge our every word — even the idle ones. Especially the idle ones. Is there a lawful use for Social Networking? Certainly… among family, keeping in touch, even for witness.  Just that this is not the common use for such places.  We must then set a watch before our lips (and our keyboards).  And we must be sure that we do all things to the glory of God.

Putting the Web in Web

Read Proverbs 4:14-28 and think about facebook and myspace, especially for youth.  I’m going to highlight parts that catch my attention.

Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.  The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.  My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.  Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.  For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.  Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.  Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.  Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.  Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.

If you didn’t read the text, go back and do that.  The first part of Proverbs targets the youth culture.  God knows that people have certain problems when they become teens, certain new temptations.  They need the help of their parents.  In their trek to become an adult, and a godly one, they don’t need the dumbing down of the opinions of other young people.  Nothing in scripture tells young people to look for the company of other teenagers.   The Bible doesn’t recommend youth groups.   If anything, God’s Word says no to it.  We see the rejection of a peer group in Proverbs 1:8-16:

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:  For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.  My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.  If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:  Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:  We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil:  Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:  My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:  For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.

Did you read those verses?  If not, go back and do it.  Teens have their family.  During these unique times, they need to listen to their parents.  See how many times Proverbs 1-7 tells a young man to listen to dad and mom.  Again and again.  Teens need a group, the same one that adults need.  It’s the church.  In Psalm 73, Asaph seems to have been going through some of the same kind of covetous desires that a lot of teenagers go through when they’re growing up, thinking they’re being ripped off.  Asaph got caught up meditating upon how good it was in the world, very much like the prodigal son.  What was the solution for him?

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;  Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.  Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. Psalm 73:16-18

Teenagers feel pain, all alone and no one understands what they’re going through.  They turn to facebook and myspace.  Where did Asaph find what He needed?  The house of the Lord.  There he heard something from God.  Today it’s the church and you hear God’s Word to give you the right perspective on life, what’s really important.

The internet is a worldwide web and it’s a place to get caught in something you don’t want.  You think you are getting something, but in so many instances you’re just getting gotten.  Bad boy-girl relationships.  Busybodying.  Introduction to sins.  Havens for lust.  It’s the same for adults too, but young people are getting heavy doses of exactly what scripture warns them in particular about.

Social sites are a glove fit for the youth culture, because so much of what teens think they are missing, they can get virtual loads of.  And they are not ready to handle it.  I haven’t met one teenager who the social networking scene really helps.  They’re supposed to be becoming an adult, but they are served more immaturity and childishness, very much lacking in responsibility and sobriety.

Teens look out for acceptance.  They need to look up and see they already have it in Christ.   In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and we are complete in Him.   They need to look to their family like Proverbs commands them.  Facebook gives them another source to find acceptance.  It won’t give them what they need.  It is a lie in that way.  We have to learn to say “no” to the different ways that sinners entice us.

Young people think they need their space.  Now they have their space on myspace.  And what does it turn into?  Everyone needs accountability.  No one needs a place where he is uninspected.   In Proverbs 7 you see the young man without anyone around.  He is loitering in a place that he shouldn’t be.  He might be very intelligent, but there are places that will turn down any of our IQs and could reduce us, like it did him, to a piece of bread.  We should stay away from those places—or spaces—wherever they may be.

What We Say about Television

I’ve been away from my keyboard for a bit (and not minding it at all), and will be away for about another week. We spent half a month in Indiana and the country in between, visiting family and friends and covered bridges and State Parks. Along the way, we saw the new Lewis and Clarke Museum near Nebraska City, the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, and paid through the nose for petro. We arrived home on Tuesday night, unpacked for half a day on Wednesday, and then I got down to business preparing for our Summer Camp, which begins on Monday. When I finish camp, I’m looking forward to a little bit of a slower pace… and (I hope) some extra time to re-acquaint myself with my fellow JackHammers, and with my keyboard.

I had one more post I wanted to do on television, before we move on to the next item on the agenda. About a month ago, I wrapped up a series of lessons on television by asking our people to consider their relationship to what has affectionately been dubbed the “boob tube.” I proposed a series of questions for our people to ask themselves regarding the television, and in this post, I want to propose that same set of questions. Feel free to answer them in the comments section, if you like. But first, let me introduce the questions.

Paul makes a statement that I believe is relevant to the issue of television, as it is to many other cultural issues. He said,

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6

We want to bring into captivity every thought about television to the obedience of Christ. Really, that has been the point of this series all along. Would we like you to turn your television off? Sure. Would we like you to get rid of it altogether? Why not. But we have not turned this series into an extended rant on “television, smell-a-vision, hell-a-vision.” We have not urged holiness Read more…

Categories: Culture, Mallinak Tags: ,

Scriptural Realism in Application to Television

For several weeks of summers, during my college years, I spent time in a cabin with jr. age boys.  I always had a disciplined group and rarely missed the few hours designated for sleep.  To get this accomplished, I didn’t make threats like:  “If you don’t stop making noise, I’ll jump from this bed, roll you in honey, and make you do 1000 push-ups on top of an ant hill.”  That was big talk that might work until they found out that you wouldn’t follow through with your promise.

We want to get rid of the television problem in churches, but we shouldn’t do that with big talk that we can’t back up with Scripture.   We should strive for air-tight application in the verses we use as guidelines for television viewing.  We also don’t want to set standards that we don’t enforce because we can’t due to the fact that we’re not convinced of them ourselves.  A few things will happen in a church if we do that.

1.  Lots of television will be watched; we’ll just not know about it.

2.  The people who do watch will limit talk about television to those with the least discernment in the church—those with the most discernment won’t talk about it.

3.  Kids will grow in the church seeing the standard as phony, so won’t have sustainable convictions.

4.  Wild contradictions will exist in behavior in the church relating to entertainment.

5.  We’ll be a joke to the world and deserve it.

I’ve already explained my television credentials.  You may not do better than sending your TV to the dump.  We survived just fine the centuries before television came along.   With television, networks possess a convenient pipeline to send out their moral sewage.  Advertisers will feed your lust and news outlets will manipulate your view of the world.  Even the sports is often a distraction to what’s really important. Read more…

Categories: Brandenburg, Culture Tags: ,

God of the Thoughts

Does television exalt itself against your knowledge of God?  If it does, it probably does through its images.  God revealed Himself and His will through His Words.  God is a Spirit.  We can’t see Him.  Our understanding of Him comes through Scripture.  He won’t captivate our mind if we can’t allow Words to dominate our thoughts.

Our brains more easily access images.  They are mind candy.  Something close to the equivalent would be the choice between koolaid or water, a coca-cola or h2o, or a candy bar or a piece of celery.  If thinking is a road, images are downhill compared to words uphill.  We machete through words and coast through images.  We sweat through words and relax through images.  Images are the elephant in the room.  Words are the dust mite.

Everywhere we go we have the choice presented between words and pictures.  The Bible or the game.  The book or the movie.  The reading or the activity.  Images are the enemy of pondering.  We can’t meditate when the pictures have muscled their way to the front.

The more we give into the visuals, the deeper their groove becomes in our mind.  We become more comfortable with them.  It gets harder to think about what God said or a book about it.  Our mind tires on the long sentence and thick paragraph.  The golf cart’s there, so why walk the eighteen.  Just push on the gas.

We won’t submit to God, when something else dominates our brain.  The images crowd God out.  He wants to fellowship through the Words and sentences.  He wants to inform, to convict, to guide, to encourage, and to help.  He wants our attention.  Whenever He doesn’t get it, whatever it is that does is what we worship.  How much competition should we give Him?

Categories: Brandenburg, Culture Tags: ,

What Television Says about Values

May 16, 2008 3 comments

Graduation is tonight, then I’m off for a couple of weeks that will include some R & R, some family reunion-ish activity, and some guest preaching. But I don’t want to quit on our discussion, so I’m leaving a short and sweet post for you all — enjoy!

I invited our church members to participate in a little experiment… watch one hour of television, leave it on the same channel for the entire hour, and count how many commercials there are in that one hour. I think you would be surprised at the answer. Any television-saturated person will also be a commercial-saturated person. To watch television is to watch commercials.

Of course, some of our faithful readers (thanks, Mom!) have already thought to themselves, “I don’t watch the commercials… I mute them.” Perhaps you do what my dad did when I was growing up. Of all the things on television that bothered my dad, the commercials made his skin crawl the most. So, he invented a Commercial Curtain. He had my mom cut and hem a piece of dark material that we couldn’t see through, he gray-taped it over the screen, and then put a message on it. It said, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” Whenever the commercials started, he would flip the Commercial Curtain over the screen.  Then, he would turn down the volume, and every once in a while peak to see if the commercials were finished.  When the regular program (which, apparantly, was not the ‘wicked thing’) returned, the Commercial Read more…

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