Sunday, December 30, 2012

Individualism: a Result of the Reformation or Romanticism?

[The sledding hill at The Farm]

My thesis is that the radical individualism of the western world, and particularly America, has its primary roots in Romanticism, and its American daughter Transcendentalism.

These insidious ideas have trickled down to every nook and cranny of society, from the college professor to the homeless man on the street. Movies, T.V. shows, pop songs, all testify to the far-reaching influence of this philosophy.

Philosophies often work in the following way: most people may not be able to give an accurate definition of the terms Romanticism and Transcendentalism, some may not have even heard of the terms, and most people may not have read any of the original works of these schools of thoughts--but they unquestionably hold to the pervasive ideas nonetheless. 

The basic tenant of these sister schools of thought is that truth is found inside yourself—and above all, be true to yourself. It dishes up to us two alternatives, demanding that we choose one: either we be true to ourselves, or we be fake/false to ourselves.

But scripture frames the world completely different. First of all, nowhere in scripture are we told to be false, or pretenders, or hypocrites. But the alternative to being a hypocrite is not the Disney movie fixation with “following your heart.”

There is a different road that is only understood through the wisdom of revelation. It is spiritually discerned. This road says that there is nothing good inside me, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Therefore, it must seek truth outside itself.

In scripture, truth changes your heart, so that your true self becomes someone different than you used to be. A transformation takes place. We are changed from one degree of glory to another as we behold his face (2 Corinthians 3:18). We don’t desire to be true to the person we “naturally” are, because by nature, we are corrupt and in need of redemption.

But it is false to assume that the reformation gave rise to a sort of individualism where each person had to be true to themselves. No, the reformers understood full well everything I just stated, and we know they did because they wrote about it very clearly.

The reformers fully acknowledged that humans needed to submit to a truth outside themselves. They never advocated being true to oneself.

The switch that happened at the reformation was the question of what authority outside of yourself are you going to be true to. Is it going to be the authority of the church and tradition, or the authority of scripture? Both of these exist outside of oneself and are something that one submits his fallen intellect to.

And then the question becomes, in Protestantism: “Who’s to say what interpretation of scripture is the right one?”

My answer: the things that were really important to God that we all agree on, He made crystal clear in scripture: the deity of Christ, the infallibility of scripture, the nature of sin and redemption, the atonement, etc (not meant to be exhaustive, just a sampling.)

This does not mean that people will never deny these fundamentals. Of course they do, but for true seekers of truth, the most necessary answers can be easily seen from scriptures.

As to the finer points, freedom in religion is not perfect, but better than the alternative (IMHO). I like what James Madison says in the federalist papers, quoted at the end.

Because to the uncomfortable “baptism drama” that has surrounded our lives the last couple of years, few people have as much firsthand experience with the complications that arise from the different interpretations of scripture which Protestantism as enabled.

So why do I defend it?

In order to explain that, I need to first submit another question which had been gnawing on my mind for about a decade, and how I answered it.

I have often asked myself why God did not ordain that a clear verse be placed in scripture that could once-for-all settle the infant baptism controversy: I’d like one airtight proof text on a platter, to go please. (As if God was a vending machine.)

No matter where your baptism convictions lie, you should be able to admit that scripture could be more clear than it is. There could either be a verse that says: “Now some tried to bring infants to be baptized, but they were turned away. ‘You must be 18,’ said the disciples.” Or, we could have only a few words added, such as, “Lydia’s household was baptized, including the infants.” Now those verses would not have been that hard for God to add!

But I answered my decade’s old query the following way: that God is not as concerned with answering our squabbles as He is with having us pursue wisdom from His scriptures apart from proof texts. Now that takes some heavy theological lifting and many of our flabby jello brains (mine included) are often not up to the task. Well, God has ordained, if we’re not willing to do the study, in this case we don’t get the answer.

It is my personal opinion (being a paedobaptist) that a proof text for infant baptism may have created more problems than it answered and that God ordained the Baptist set as a means to keep us theologically balanced. As it stands, because paedobaptism has no proof text, it can only be arrived at by a robust understanding of the nature of covenants in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s vision for families and the father as head of household including the nature of headship, God’s promise to bless a thousand generations, and the role of faith by the parents. (BTW, infant baptism never negates the necessity of each individual to be born again. This is a common misconception.)

Through understanding those principles is the only way that God wanted infant baptism to be arrived at (IMHO.) He didn’t want people practicing it based on proof texts. A proof text may have led people to trust in the ceremony and not the principles outlined by a comprehensive understanding of scripture.

This is just a theory of course—it’s not a hill I’m going to die on. (BTW, we love all you Baptists friends—even though, I, a-hem, can’t, um, ever, **cough** take, communion with y’all. It’s all good—see you at the marriage supper of the lamb.)

And now, back to the reformation and the diversity it inspired. Just like political liberty, religious liberty requires a lot from us. But the things it requires of us are all good things that the Lord wants for us. The reformation fostered an atmosphere where a person needed to pursue in-depth study leading to a knowledge of scripture so that we know what we believe and didn’t sit idly by, allowing others do to our heavy thinking for us. We have to live out the prayer: “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things in your law.” We have to discipline our faculties in study, discernment, and humility—being willing to admit it when belief we’ve held all our lives, we no longer believe.

This is not to belie the legitimate gift of teaching, of which not all are equally blessed with, but to deny the possibility of trusting in a teacher to the point where we no longer have to be a Berean, diligently searching the scripture to see whether what the teacher is proposing is sound. (Acts 17:11)

In my humble opinion, the benefits of religious liberty are preferable despite the acknowledged difficulties—factions of every stripe conceivable.

But in some ways, factions can serve as an advantage in and of themselves. If someone’s beliefs truly lie apart from orthodoxy (they deny the trinity, deity of Christ, etc.), I’d prefer they not remain in the one church option, but be allowed to go start their Unitarian denomination, or whatever they believe, and they can take with them those who agree. I prefer teachers to openly declare their beliefs, rather than pretending to be orthodox and systematically undermining from under the table. The protestant system allows for this transparency.

‘Tis true, the Bible speaks often of unity. But unity is not the same thing as uniformity. The unity that we have in Christ is one that exists in spite of our minor differences. Our unity is based on our adherence to the fundamentals, the non-negotiables, not on absolute uniformity. We have unity in the midst of our diversity.

Equating the reformation with Romanticism and individualism is understandable because of how pervasive Romanticism has become, so that many have blended the two the two into a hodge-podge philosophy. However, I believe that the true ideas of the reformation are an antidote to the follow-your-heart mantra heard daily in every living room of America.

But misunderstandings concerning the reformation existed right from the beginning. For example, Luther’s ideas were hijacked right from the beginning, such as the peasant uprisings of 1525 which were done in his name, but which Luther soundly condemned:
“For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who, of their own free will, do what the apostles and disciples did in Acts 4:32–37. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others—of Pilate and Herod—should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, want to make the goods of other men common, and keep their own for themselves. Fine Christians they are!” 1

My point is that unintended consequences, that are an abuse of the principle being expounded, are not a sufficient critique of any philosophy. None of us would want our own ideas judged that way.

And now, I’m going to attempt to summarize my thoughts on both this post and my previous one on states seceding.

Having hopefully established in my previous post, the superiority of education that all of our FFs received compared to anyone I personally know (sorry guys), I will now quote from James Madison, from Federalist Paper No. 10:
“There are again two methods of removing the causes of factions: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.
It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it is worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an ailment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
 The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests.  The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments an views of these respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society in to different interests and parties.”

1.Jaroslav J. Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, Luther's Works, 55 vols. (St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Pub. House and Fortress Press, 1955–1986), 46: 50–51.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Long-winded Explanation Concerning Secession

The following is my attempt to continue some discussions that were begun at our boisterous family gatherings. This is not to say that I did not get at least my fair share of talking in. But when 12 people are talking very loudly all at once, one feels that her fair share is rather meager. So I am picking up my pen (figuratively, of course.)

The point on which I desire to belabor is that of the right of the people to secede from a corrupt government. I must here restate that I am in not implying that our current situation is worthy of the mess that would inevitably follow the secession of a state. But that was never my point in this argument, to debate our current situation. My only point is that when our founding father’s (FFs) wrote the Declaration of Independence (D of I), their acknowledgement of a people’s right to dissolve bonds with a distant government in favor of faithfulness to their local government was to serve as a caution to any power-hungry, usurping, centralized monster. The day that “we the people” begin to question in our hearts whether a succession is ever justified, is the same day that we write a blank check to the federal government to run rough-shod over our rights.

A now, a word from the storied document itself:

“…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness [what’s with all the caps?]. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The reason I refer back to the D of I is NOT because I believe it to be a divinely inspired document (come on guys, you know me), or even the last word on every question of politics. However, I refer back to it because it has historical roots reaching back 2,000+ years.

All y’all know that I sacrifice my free time and shopping trips in favor of providing my kids with classical education that our public schools have so methodically poo-pooed for the last 100+ years. And why do I do that? It is because classical education stands contrary to the idea that each generation can independently come up with the best ideas, and purports instead that we stand taller when we are sitting on the shoulders of the wisdom of the ages. Once again, this is not to say that the political wisdom of the ages is infallible (you know me better than that).

It is to say that if I have a choice between trusting the ideas in a document that I can trace back to 2,000+ years of political concepts that have been tested and refined, sharpened by the best political minds in history, I am going to inherently look to it over modern ideas. The ideas in the D of I are a great place to refer to in any discussion.

Add to that the huge body of evidence that testifies to the strong faith and biblical worldview that many of our founding fathers had, such as James Madison, philosophical architect of many of our founding documents (of course two exceptions are Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who did not claim to be evangelical Christians, but had a biblical worldview in many ways.) This, my friend, is why I refer to our founding documents in any political discussion. They are a great place to reference.

If you were starting a business, to whom would you refer to for advice: an 18 year old college freshman who had just passed his first business class, or a man who had successfully run a business for the last 60 years. Is the older man infallible? No, I never said that. Only scripture is infallible but it purposely does not exist to settle our political disputes. However, the older man is a more trustworthy reference than the college freshman. The college freshman doubtless has a lot of “good” ideas about how he’s going to run things when he’s in charge. The problems is, his ideas have not been tested.

Our founding documents did not come to us Isaac Newton-style. James Madison was not sitting under a tree one day when an apple hit him on the head and he suddenly said: “I know, how about we form a republic?” The ideas contained in the D of I and our Constitution have a very traceable history—so traceable that many lines are direct quotes from history. For example, John Locke penned “life, liberty, and property” which we changed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We have no reason to believe that had our FF’s not had a rigorous classical education, that they could have given us anything near to the brilliance and foresight of our founding documents. Only through the intense study of what ideas have been successful since Plato’s Republic on, (the Magna Carta, John Locke ideas about natural law, the British parliament, etc), as well as being informed by the Bible’s clear view of the nature of man, were we handed these documents. That, my friends, is the reason I refer to them.

Next important point that I feel was highly undervalued because of the multitude of opinions making themselves heard: secession does not necessarily entail anarchy, but dissolving the bonds between that a more local government has with a more centralized government. This is certainly what our founding fathers had in mind. When we are told in scripture to obey the government God has put over us, that certainly precludes any form of anarchy or even some extreme forms of libertarianism from being biblical (Romans 13:5,6). But it does not mean that any foreign usurping power may claim rights over any local government, and that any local government must bow before the outside, centralized claims.

The Jews certainly gave testimony to this understanding in their constant prayer to throw off the yoke of the Romans in favor of an independent, local Jewish gov’t. The Jews understood the authority of the elders who stood in the city gates, and that not everyone who came along could claim rights over their instituted government. Furthermore, the northern kingdom seceded from the southern kingdom because of the overbearing, usurping, power-hungry, madness of young King Rehoboam, who refused to listen to the wisdom of the ages in favor of the “young up-starts” counsel (1 Kings 12).

If one wants to disagree with this point, please understand what you are arguing for. If you are to interpret Paul’s exhortation to obey your government to give all claims to power as absolute, you are saying that if someone were to rise to power in the U.N. and declare himself Supreme Emperor of every nation in the world, that scripture would demand that we pay him our allegiance without a fight. Whether or not a fight would be prudent can’t easily be determined in hypothetical situations, so I’m not going there. I’m only trying to establish the biblical right for a people to throw off foreign usurping powers when they deem it wise.

To disagree with this point is also to say that India was in the wrong when declaring independence from Britain, and that Imperialism must never be dissolved by the people.

I used an absurd example of the U.N. to point to exactly what our FF’s had in mind in the D of I—that anarchy does not have to be a necessary consequence of one group of people dissolving its political bonds to another. Blockheads will always rise up and insist that anarchy (or extreme libertarianism) is provided to them by our founding documents, but coming up with political philosophies that are blockhead-proof is an exercise in futility, and is not recommended for those with day jobs. I’m sticking to my principles knowing full well that abuses will come. But if the unstable can twist scripture, we surely can’t pretend to come up with a political philosophy that someone isn’t going to misconstrue.

Once again, I am not crying for secession right now (a-hem, you know who you are), only trying to reiterate the need for the people to understand their rights when faced with tyranny.

I belabor this point because of the power that a legitimate threat can hold on an overreaching government. As long as the people have a firm understanding of their God-given rights of secession, they can keep tyranny at bay for a time. I am not speaking of empty threats, here, which we all know hold no power over anyone. In order for a threat to have power, it must have legitimacy. My five year old has gone for months now without a spanking, only because after 4 years, she has finally learned that the threat is very legitimate. She now rarely needs a reminder of who’s in charge.

Likewise, a society made up of people that are firm in their resolve to secede when tyranny reaches a fever pitch, can hold such tyranny at bay for a long time. Of course they may not be able to do it forever with threats alone. But it will buy the society some time.

And now the question of confusion and schism was brought to the table. Isn’t a society that embraces the ideas put forth in the D of I opening the door to secession for any reason? Who’s to say when it is legitimate to secede? What if every individual decides to secede from every local government and become a law unto themselves?

These are legitimate concerns and they were not outside the foresight of our FF’s. James Madison, in article 10 of the Federalist Papers, writes that factions (or diverse thinking) in such areas are a necessary evil of freedom.

In other words, liberty is untidy—a messy and complicated endeavor. Totalitarianism, however, is airtight and squeaky clean. Totalitarianism requires no thought or wisdom on the peoples’ part whatsoever. They mindlessly obey whatever the government says and never have to weigh such sticky situations like when the evils of a usurping government outweigh the evils of secession.

But liberty requires much from its people—it requires a biblical worldview from us, which tells us that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It requires a robust education from us—a classical education which introduces its pupils to the best that has been thought and said throughout the ages. It requires its people to have an understanding of history. News flash: nations can avoid many pitfalls by studying the rise and fall of previous empires.

The question of “who’s to say when one should secede?” is a question that wants a tidy, succinct answer, that can be neatly plastered onto all situations. But only totalitarianism (the belief that gov’t’s power is absolute) will give you that kind of answer. All liberty can answer to your question of “who’s to say” is that a people must seek the path of wisdom through the means God has provided us: revelation through His inspired word, the abundance of counselors, the annals of history, prayer with humility, and personal life experience, to name of few.

Because liberty and the power of secession are complicated does not mean we should question their legitimacy. Because they require much wisdom and discretion from their people and are open to abuses, does not mean the alternative, totalitarianism, is better.

To those members of my family who disagree with me: I love you. You’re wrong, but I love you ;)

[Crazy lady steps down from soapbox and exits…]

Monday, December 17, 2012

These Are Your Idols

Every act of national tragedy is an opportunity for national repentance. This is because, in God’s economy, the murderer is not just defiled by innocent bloodshed, but a land is defiled as well. (Ezekiel 36:18) There is only one way to cleanse a defiled land and that is through repentance.

But the heart has become so sick, the eye so dark, that the word defiled does not even mean anything to this culture. Children of the Enlightenment get out their science textbooks and want to explain that blood decomposes into dirt and in a few years, you can’t tell the difference in the soil.

But the land is defiled because God remembers—because the blood of Abel cries out from the ground. (Genesis 4:10)

Likewise, the blood of first and second graders cries out of the ground to our nation.

And we have plenty to repent of. Go sit in the movie theater and watch the previews of some of the movies that are coming out. Prior to watching the Hobbit, I was assaulted by previews for a movie about a Satanic family, a disturbing Zombie movie, a movie about aliens taking over people's bodies, and the most horrific and graphic video games imaginable to man. I don’t see how our culture could become anymore depraved. The evil was palpable.

Prior to watching those previews, I kept thinking to myself: how could a person bring themselves to shoot a tiny little first grader? After a few minutes of being exposed to the insidious depravity that is surrounding American youth culture, I understood how someone’s humanity could be so corrupted. And what is doing the corrupting.

Of course I’m not saying we need to repent in movies and T.V. per se. But we need to repent of the gross glorification of violence and evil.

But before our nation can repent of embracing violence, we first have to repent of our nation’s abandonment of absolute truth. That is the only path to national sanity.

Why will you still be struck down?
    Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
    and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
    there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
    and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
    or softened with oil. Isaiah 1:5,6

This is the state of America’s soul. We are a people walking around with gaping open lesions on our souls, sores that are infected and untreated. We pass the infection to those we come into contact with. Puss oozes from our wounds. We walk around like everything is fine, ignoring the stench of our rotting flesh.

Repentance is the only health-giving ointment. Repentance and turning to life is the only path to mental health. Wounds will always exist in this fallen world, but repentance binds them up and cleans out the infection, so they begin to heal clean. Repentance covers the wounds so that infection doesn’t spread to others.

Personal repentance is a daily reality to many Christians, but we need national repentance. So often in scripture God addresses nations, and people rise and fall together. We are interconnected—a foreign concept to a nation of radical individualists, but a biblical concept nonetheless.

2 Chronicles 7:14
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Of course, repentance must begin in the household of God, in the churchgoers, whose lives look so very much like the world.

And, in this day and age, a refresher on what even is repentance is necessary: repentance has very little to do with saying, “I’m sorry” to God. It has everything to do with a radical lifestyle shift. True “I’m sorry” is only repentance when the idols find themselves on the curve, or in a burn pit. When the dark zombie/vampire literature is no longer welcome in our living rooms, when the snide, sacrilegious, TV shows are no longer welcome on our TVs, when the violent R rated movies make no money, when the trash dumps are piled high of Satan-glorifying video games (America, there are your idols!) and when all of the above is replaced by the scripture being read as families sit together in living rooms, where each family member’s face is not being illuminated by the blue glow of a smart phone or a laptop, but scripture is read and digested and talked about and families pray—when that happens we will know what repentance looks like. It is not legalism, but choosing life over darkness. It is choice we make everyday, to come into the light, or to reap the consequences of a culture who lives for idols.

God have mercy on our nation and grant us repentance!

Side note: some may ask why I would rail against our violent culture and then see a movie like The Hobbit, which contains much violence. This is a good question—one that must be asked. It is also one that needs to be answered in a more thoughtful way than Christian sub-culturalists rolling their eyes and saying: “Because it’s Tolkein, like duh.”

A piggy back to this question would be: why should we trash these violent video games and novels and sit sweetly in our living rooms only to open our Bibles and be confronted with horrific violence all over again in the pages of scripture. This is a question that I could write pages about and is hard to summarize briefly, but I’ll give it a try. In both Tolkein and the Bible, evil is something that is always overcome by good. Violence is not glorified, but a reality to be defeated. When Gandalf hands Bilbo his first sword, and Bilbo quakes in his shoes at the thought of ever having to kill something, Gandalf says to him: “I hope that you never have to use it.” That is the simplest way I can describe the difference. But that’s not to say that our violence-obsessed culture has not left its mark on Tolkein’s literature while making it into a movie, and one final note: THE BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN THE MOVIE, ALWAYS!