I can’t help but think the insanity we’re seeing in politics right now is what happens when a culture gives up the idea of objective truth. For years, postmodernists have argued against a modernistic view of truth (i.e., that it can be discovered, known, and argued for, even if imperfectly—and that, in this way, consensus can be found across varying communities), saying we should drop it because it leads to dangerous conflicts. But in a postmodern world of relativism, people don’t stop trying to promote their political, theological, and worldview positions; they just use power and propaganda rather than rational argument to do so.
Ten years ago (on a blog that’s now defunct), I wrote about the danger ahead of us:
Those who advocate the postmodern view that we construct our world through our language within our separate communities do so in part because they believe it will be a remedy for violence in the world. If we would only understand that our views are merely the views of our community and not representative of reality itself (i.e., if we didn’t have confidence that we had the “right” view), then (they believe) we would be humble about our views and just live and let live, not attempting to force those views on others through violence.
Here’s the irony, however: this view will, in the end, lead to more violence than we currently experience. Imagine a world where all people in all societies view the world in these postmodern terms, believing that all of their values and stories about the world (history, theology, etc.) are subjectively created through the languages of their particular communities. Further, communication of one’s beliefs to another who is part of a different community is not possible in any meaningful way because the separate communities (e.g., Christians and atheists) have different languages and have constructed different worlds for themselves. The only way for someone outside the community to enter in is to slowly learn the language and behavior of that new community.
Why do I say this will lead to violence? Currently, people from different communities (like Christians and atheists) debate and discuss their diverse ideas in an effort to promote what they consider to be the truth. But imagine what would happen if the whole world believed in the postmodern view described above. The problem begins with this: Even if people do not believe their view represents actual reality, being postmodernist does not automatically make people care less about the view they prefer. After all, postmodern philosophers and theologians prefer their views strongly enough to write many books trying to convince others to take on those views as well. The danger then comes because of the isolating effects of the postmodern view. Each community is trapped within the confines of its own language, and the people within are unable (or believe they are unable) to rationally communicate with those outside (who have very different languages) to persuade them that their view is a better one. That is what will lead to violence. In a world where postmodernism dominates and people live out the implications consistently, what is left when separate communities come into conflict and the members believe rational communication and persuasion is impossible? Only the international language of power remains.
I’m not saying everyone has thought through what I said above. Ideas, and the behavior resulting from those ideas, work their way though a society even when most people have never thought through either the reasons behind their worldview or how that worldview connects with their behavior. This happens through institutions like our universities, which, as a result of ideas like those above, have shifted from being places where we search for truth together to places where we learn techniques to promote our particular tribe (including shouting down opponents, protecting ourselves from hearing views from outside our community, and driving out people who disagree with us).
I think this postmodern denigration of our ability to find a shared, objective truth through reasoned argument accounts for at least part of what we’re seeing play out now, from the violent rioting against Trump supporters to the frighteningly demagogic propaganda we’re seeing in the media.
TheNew York Times claims that Romans 1 calls for the execution of gays. A Republican congressman read the passage at a committee hearing. I don’t know the congressman’s purpose, but it couldn’t be to call for the execution of gays because the passage doesn’t say that. And 2,000 years of Christian teaching has never taught that it does.
It tells us we’re all sinners deserving punishment, but the only execution referred to in Romans is that of Jesus, who took the punishment Romans 1 is speaking of on behalf of sinners so that sinners can be reconciled to Him.
The relevant passage, Romans 1:18-32, begins: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” All ungodliness. Romans isn’t singling out gays, though homosexuality is mentioned. So are many other sins:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
No one can read that passage and walk away scot-free because we’ve all committed at least some of those sins, and maybe all. Some of these sins are universally common – disobedient to parents – because Paul means to count every single one of us as sinners so that we will look to the Savior who won a pardon for us.
Matthew Henry’s commentary, a very mainstream study of Romans, explains that the wrath spoken of here is God’s focused on all sin. Christians identify themselves as the subjects of this passage because we are sinners. Paul’s point in writing this is to point to Jesus. Romans 3:21-25:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
There is no distinction. All of us have fallen short. And whose actual death has offered redemption to make the spiritual death spoken of in Romans 1 unnecessary? Jesus.
Christians make no claims about sinners that we aren’t making of ourselves – and we aren’t calling for our own execution. Rather, we make the same appeal Paul makes here – to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and be reconciled with God and receive spiritual life.
Sure, it’s understandable to get angry about an article like this. But that’s not constructive. It’s also grievous that the Gospel can be so misunderstood. A constructive response to this is to recommit ourselves to communicating the Gospel as clearly as we can and living in a way that commends the message and glorifies the Savior.
I was praying about it this morning, asking God that instead of turning ugly, this could actually be a new opening to the Gospel, as it comes under attack, that people will see what Christians have to say and we would be faithful and clear to tell them.
Pat Robertson made remarks that have people up in arms. He said, “The left is having a dilemma of major proportions [between two favored groups], and I think, for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.” People are questioning whether the “them” is the left or gays and Muslims, and many are taking his words in the worst possible way to confirm the worst they think about Christians’ feelings about LGBT people. Even in the best possible light, his comments are tone deaf in the wake of the Orlando shooting and inappropriate for a Christian in the media to say.
There’s a new story that a pastor in Sacramento said that the people at the Orlando club got what they deserved because they were sodomites. No they didn’t. In the New Testament, homosexuality is listed along with a variety of other sins that pretty much everyone commits. So no single kind of sinner deserves to be murdered. And the Bible certainly doesn’t teach that gays are to be singled out for punishment in this world.
Jesus’ teaching does not leave Christians the option to make flippant or cruel and uncaring remarks about others.
So let’s clarify what Jesus taught about Christians’ feelings and attitude toward others. Jesus said to love and pray for those who differ with us. He made Christians ministers of reconciliation to the world, to lost people, appealing to them as though Jesus were appealing to them.
We cannot dismissively wish others harm.
The Gospel message that Jesus taught is that all of us are sinners, and those who have been reconciled to God already are to love those who are not yet reconciled and to offer them peace with God.
These two men have offered unbiblical responses. Let’s pray the Body of Christ as a larger whole responds as Jesus taught us to.
You must read this article about an actor who memorized and then performed all of Paradise Lost (over 60,000 words). I say you must because I want to convince you to take up the long-term practice of slowly memorizing short books of the Bible (see two of my past attempts to convince you here and here), and I think the description of how this practice changed his experience and knowledge of the text is both accurate and compelling.
[John] Basinger didn’t just remember the words; it would be a mistake, says Seamon, to interpret Basinger’s performance as “simply a remarkable demonstration of brute force, rote memorisation.”
In order to memorize the epic poem, he spent a lot of time repeatedly analyzing its meaning and structure. Acting researchers emphasize this strategy, Seamon notes: “Deep encoding requires actors to attend to the exact wording of lines, and it is the focus on exact wording to gain an understanding of the characters that yields verbatim memory, instead of merely the retention of gist.” …
Actors like Basinger use deep encoding to give “honest, spontaneous performances, ones that focus on communicating the meanings underlying the literal words,” according to psychologists Helga and Tony Noice…. Basinger, Seamon says, “really got into the story, what Milton was trying to convey.” Noice and Noice suggest that this would aid his recall: “Bodily action and emotional response, in addition to semantic analysis, can enhance human memory.”
Memorizing in order to perform the words from the perspective of the author forced him to work on truly understanding the meaning of what he was reading. From the big picture to the smallest word, it all had to make sense to him.
He beautifully describes what this kind of memorization does to you:
“During the incessant repetition of Milton’s words, I really began to listen to them,”says Basinger, “and every now and then as the whole poem began to take shape in my mind, an insight would come, an understanding, a delicious possibility.” …
For his part, Basinger says his years of effort have let him explore Paradise Lost as if it were a physical space. “As a cathedral I carry around in my mind,” he says, “a place that I can enter and walk around at will.”
I can’t believe how well he captured the experience with that image. Imagine knowing books of the Bible this way. And you really can do this. There was nothing at all special about the man’s memory:
Nothing in Basinger’s tests suggested that his memory was otherwise irregular or exceptional. “His memory for everyday tasks appears entirely normal for someone his age,” Seamon says. “He still forgets where he puts his keys.” For those of us who struggle to remember to-do lists, it’s encouraging to know: “Our findings are in agreement with other research on world-class memory performers,” Seamon says, “which indicates that exceptional memorizers are made, not born.”
Pick a book of the Bible, and start today with two verses. Add two verses a day. Speak them out loud as if you’re reading a letter (the Epistles) or telling a story (the Gospels). If you don’t understand what you’re memorizing, struggle with it until you do. When that book—from start to finish—becomes “a cathedral you carry around in your mind,” move on to the next book and start again. You may not perfectly remember every word of a particular book a year after you’ve moved on, but the intimate knowledge you will carry of that “cathedral”—its architecture and floor plan, the images on its stained glass windows, its unique sounds and smells—will remain with you. You will forever know it as one who has thoroughly explored all its corners, not merely as one who peeked in its windows.
If you're a Christian why do you worship the scriptures in the current Bible and not those that are left out? … [T]he Bible had a long history of changes before becoming the collection of books that Christians worship today. Entire books have been removed or added during the Bible's history and entire generations of Christians have devoted their faith and lives to earlier versions of the Bible which contained a various different collection of books and teachings. The Bible only became relatively consistent in its current form because of the 15th century invention of the printing press which mass produced copies of the current collection of books.
How would you respond to this challenge? Give us your answer in the comments below, and come back to the blog on Thursday to hear Tim’s answer.
The shooting in Orlando yesterday was an atrocity. As Al Mohler tweeted, “The Bible honors weeping with those who weep. A lot of our LGBT neighbors and their families are weeping now. Christians must weep with them.”
When I retweeted Mohler’s statement, someone responded that we’re hypocrites because we think gays are going to burn in Hell and God will be happy about it. Not true.
The Bible teaches that all people – every single person – is a valuable human being born with God’s image, and that we have an obligation to respect that. Every one of us. The Bible also teaches that all human beings are fallen and lost. The consequence of that is that all people – every single person – will be lost forever unless we are reconciled to God. No person, no group, no particular sin is singled out, because all sin breaks relationship with God. And even though we are all lost, while we are yet lost, we are valuable human beings who still retain the image of God and deserve respect.
The Bible also teaches that reconciliation with God is available to all people – every single person – through Jesus, God in the flesh who came to us to make that possible. And the Bible teaches that those who have been reconciled to God because they have realized their lost situation are now reconcilers themselves, appealing to others to accept peace with God that He has made possible through Jesus, God Himself.
We’re all the same – valuable human beings. We’re all in the same situation – lost and alienated from God. And peace with God is available to all.
As Russell Moore stated today, “We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism.” To disagree on political and policy issues is totally different than loving others and offering them the forgiveness we needed, too.
Let’s be as clear as we can be in our message and have our actions back up our role as ministers of reconciliation.
So we grieve at the loss of valuable human beings. We are angry at the atrocity of targeting LGBT people. And we show Jesus’s love for them and all people at all times.