Archive for April, 2015

Egalitarianism That Oppresses

Equal SignThe Christian gospel is egalitarian in its effect. In the words of the apostle Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, Paul argues, divisions between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, and males and females have been broken down. Social strata have no bearing in the economy of God’s salvation.

It is important to note that the locus of Paul’s egalitarianism is explicitly and specifically redemptive. In other words, Paul is not arguing that all societal differences between people should disappear. Rather, he is claiming that such differences have no bearing on whether or not Christ saves a person.

When Paul penned Galatians 3:28, the egalitarianism of which he spoke was nothing short of radical and, I would hasten to add, good. I am concerned, however, that Paul’s redemptive egalitarianism has been coopted by another kind of egalitarianism – one that is not so good.

In his book, To Change The World, James Davison Hunter speaks of a populism that:

…is often transformed into an oppressive egalitarianism that will suffer no distinction between higher and lower or better and worse. At its worse, it can take form as “tyranny of the majority” that will recognize no authority, nor hierarchy of value or quality or significance.[1]

Though it seems oxymoronic to speak of an “oppressive egalitarianism,” this is where, culturally, I fear we have arrived.

With the rise of postmodernity, Paul’s redemptive egalitarianism was traded for an ethical egalitarianism that eschewed distinctions between right and wrong, higher and lower, better and worse. Of course, such a refusal to place an ethical stake in the ground inevitably undermines traditional, historical, biblical morality. But it was this ethical egalitarianism, free from the nagging and wagging finger of traditional ethical commitments, that paved the way for another kind of egalitarianism – the populous egalitarianism of today that picks and chooses new ethical standards by simple majority vote (with a little front-end help, of course, from elite opinion leaders who not only shape, but sometimes shoehorn, certain elements of public policy). This is why serious ethical issues are regularly framed as little more than political squabbles with nothing more than polling data needed to solve them. This is what Hunter means when he speaks of the “tyranny of the majority.”

What happens to those who do not share the ethical sentiments of the majority? They are ridiculed and caricatured. They are philosophically discredited, even if by logically dubious means, and intellectually castigated. They become victims of an “oppressive egalitarianism.”

In the apostle Paul’s redemptive egalitarianism, egalitarianism is a gift, granted by Christ’s work on the cross. In today’s populous egalitarianism, egalitarianism is a locus of power – a way to oppress transcendent, historical ethical commitments with the fickle ethical commitments of the masses. Populist ethics, however, are never far from social chaos. After all, no matter what “we the people” may want ethically, transcendence has a funny way of eventually getting its way.

A populous egalitarianism that battles transcendent ethics is doomed to fail. Conversely, a redemptive egalitarianism that saves people regardless of their social standing is a promise from God. And, as such, it is destined to emerge victorious.

Let’s make sure we’re on the right side of the right kind of egalitarianism.

_______________________________

[1] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 94.

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April 27, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Common Question: How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Last weekend at the church where I served, we talked about Jesus’ audacious claim that faith in Him and Him alone is the way to salvation. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The truth that salvation is through faith in Christ alone raises a perennial theological question – one that, once again, came to my attention in an email I received after last weekend’s services:  If people can be saved only by faith in Christ, how were those people who lived before Christ saved?

At the heart of this question lies an assumption – that people before who lived before Christ were somehow saved in a different way than those who lived after Him. The apostle Paul, however, would beg to differ. He points to one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament, Abraham, and specifically asks the question, “How was Abraham saved?” His answer is unmistakably clear:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul announces, “Here is how Abraham, perhaps the most famous character in the Old Testament, was saved: by faith.” How does Paul know this? Genesis 15:6, of course: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Importantly, Paul says that God “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” In other words, before Jesus came to save sinners, God announced that Jesus would come to save sinners.  For example, the prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus’ advent, speaks of a servant who will be sent by God to take away the sins of the world:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

So how were people saved, forgiven, and made righteous before Jesus? By believing that Jesus would come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. How are people saved, forgiven, and made righteous now? By believing that Jesus has come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. In other words, people both before Jesus had come and now that Jesus has come are saved in the same way. They are saved by Jesus.

Oftentimes, people harbor a misconception that people who lived before Christ were saved by following God’s Law while people living after Christ’s advent are now saved through faith in Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. People have always and only been saved by Jesus Christ and His work, even as Jesus Himself says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” God’s gospel has always been the only plan for our salvation.

If your life is anything like mine, plans are constantly changing. While writing this blog, I had to move an appointment because things on my calendar changed. Last week, as I was coming home from a trip to Dallas with some friends, we got a flat tire and plans, due to circumstances beyond our control, changed – we got home later than we expected.  Plans are constantly changing. And oftentimes, it can be frustrating.

The promise of the gospel is that even if our plans change, God’s plans are sure and certain. The plan for our salvation always was, is, and will continue to be Jesus. There’s no need to look for another plan.

April 20, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: The Sad Story of Rolling Stone

Credit: Rappler.com

My mother used to tell me that two wrongs don’t make a right. Nowhere has this recently proven to be more true than in the case of a Rolling Stone cover article by Sabrina Erdely about the brutal gang rape of a young woman, identified only as Jackie, at the University of Virginia. The article received national attention for its gruesome detail, but aroused enough skepticism that an independent police investigation into Jackie’s story was launched. Ultimately, the investigators were unable to verify the details Jackie’s story as she described them them to Rolling Stone. Indeed, to some extent, her story appears to be misleading, if not out-and-out fabricated. Rolling Stone, embarrassed by their release of such a questionable article, commissioned the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to conduct an investigation as to what went wrong with its reporting. How could the magazine be fooled into running a potentially false story? The investigators found that the article was:

…a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all.[1]

The report continues:

The editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault. Social scientists, psychologists and trauma specialists who support rape survivors have impressed upon journalists the need to respect the autonomy of victims, to avoid re-traumatizing them and to understand that rape survivors are as reliable in their testimony as other crime victims. These insights clearly influenced Erdely, Woods and Dana. “Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting,” Woods said. “We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice.”

This is a story of two wrongs. First, there is the societal ill of rape, which sadly happens way too often on college campuses, often without those who perpetrate the assault being appropriately disciplined. But second, there are also the journalistic lapses in judgment by Rolling Stone, who apparently was so desperate to tell a sensational story that they checked not only their good sense, but their common sense, at the door. When these two wrongs came together, they didn’t make anything right. Instead, they just made a mess.

In reality, there is probably a third wrong here – that of deceit. Insofar as Jackie fabricated, misrepresented, or embellished what happened to her, she did a grave disservice to victims of rape all over the world. If she did tell the truth, I pray that comes to light – and quickly – so that she and Rolling Stone can be exonerated. If she did not tell the truth, I pray she is moved to confess her lies and apologize. There’s plenty of real sexual horror in our world. We don’t need to make up more of it.

Sadly, this whole, sordid affair is nothing less than a bit of empirical evidence of the depths of humanity’s depravity. The horrible reality of rape; the drive of a magazine to be so titillating that it forgets to be truthful; the mysterious and twisted desire of a young lady to tell a horrific story that could be false – there is no shortage of human folly on display here.

One of Jackie’s friends, Ryan Duffin, in an interview with New York Magazine, explained that though he wants to believe Jackie’s story, he has finally decided, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, because whether this one incident is true, there’s still a huge problem with sexual assault in the United States.”[2]

I would beg to differ. I think the truthfulness of Jackie’s story does matter. It matters because one sin can never be solved another sin. Rape cannot be solved by deceit. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

My prayer is that any remaining wrongs in this story come to light so they can be corrected, amended, and, ultimately, forgiven. For all that’s gone wrong with this story, that’s the only hope for something to come out of this that’s right.

_________________________________

[1] Sheila Coronel, Steve Koll, and Derek Kravitz, “Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report,” Rolling Stone (4.5.2015).

[2] Margaret Hartmann, “Everything We Know About the UVA Rape Case [Updated],” New York Magazine (4.6.15).

April 13, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why I Agree With Tim Cook

Credit:  ABC News

Credit: ABC News

I agree with Tim Cook.

When the CEO of Apple writes, “Discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” I agree. Discrimination in its civil rights sense of, ironically, indiscriminately hating a whole group of people simply because of a particular characteristic, practice, or belief is unacceptable. When Cook says, “This is about how we treat each other as human beings,” I agree.[1]  Treating each other without so much as a modicum of dignity and understanding is inexcusable.

I agree with Tim Cook. But I don’t think Tim Cook agrees with me.

In what has become the latest kerfuffle over religious rights and gay rights, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 568, stating:

A state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.

Almost immediately, a furor erupted. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Calls to boycott Indiana dominated Twitter on Friday. Tourism officials in Indianapolis fielded an onslaught of questions from convention planners … Even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis and is planning to host more than 100,000 basketball fans next weekend, expressed concerns about what the law means.[2]

At the root of this riot is a concern that this bill’s protection against government actions that “substantially burden a person right to the exercise of religion” could lead to public accommodations refusing to serve LGBT people because their owners may have ethical convictions that conflict with the convictions of many in the LGBT community. One thinks of the Oregon baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple for their wedding and the Washington florist who refused to sell flower arrangements to another same-sex couple for their wedding.

The New York Times pulled no punches in its disdain for Indiana’s bill, publishing and op-ed piece by its editorial board titled, “In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry.” And, as with Tim Cook, I can say that I agree with the editorial board of The New York Times insofar as I abhor the thought of religion being used to mask bigotry.

But at the same time I agree with them, I still don’t think they agree with me. Here’s why.

Tim Cook and The New York Times editorial board have taken up a moral crusade against bigotry. And I am happy to join them. Bigotry is wrong. But where they have one moral concern, I have two. Because at the same time I despise bigotry, I am also heartbroken by shifting social mores on human sexuality. Like bigotry, for me, the twisting of human sexuality is a moral issue that is tearing at the fabric of both our society and our souls. Lust is hurting us. Pornography is hurting us. Affairs are hurting us. Domineering husbands who demand sex from their wives are hurting us. And yes, sex outside of the context of marriages between husbands and wives is hurting us.

But to operate – even when I’m doing business – under such Christian conviction does not automatically equate to discrimination. And to say that I think something is wrong in a loving, thoughtful, and gentle way does not ineluctably constitute bigotry.  In many ways, Christian conviction has proven itself an an indispensable blessing to business.  Christian commitments to faithfulness, honesty, integrity, graciousness, and generosity can have amazingly positive impacts in cutthroat corporate cultures.  Why would we not surmise that a loving commitment to some sort of sexual morality might not have a similar impact?  This is where I think Tim Cook and the editorial board of The New York Times get things wrong – not in their moral repulsion at discrimination and bigotry, but in their use of the terms.

It is true that Christian conviction has sometimes been twisted toward bigoted ends. I think of the man in Colorado who marched into a bakery and ordered cakes with slogans like “God hates gays” written on them. When the bakery refused to make the cakes, he filed a lawsuit. That is not living by Christian conviction. That’s being a jerk. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m simply trying to make the case that at the same time the likes of Tim Cook, The New York Times editorial board, and, for that matter, many Christians around the world believe that bigotry is a moral issue that needs to be addressed and confronted, many Christians around the world also believe that shifting ethics on human sexuality is a moral issue that needs to be addressed. I think it’s only fair and right to hear them out – and to refrain from labeling them as bigots. I also think it’s only decent to respect their consciences – especially when their consciences express themselves in love – even when they’re running public accommodations.

So let’s make a deal: let’s stand against bigotry together while respecting each others’ differences in conscience.  Who knows? The result might just be a deeper understanding of each other and a deeper love for each other. And I hope those are two morals on which we can all agree.

_______________________

[1] Tim Cook, “Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous,” The Washington Post (3.9.2015).

[2] Mark Peters and Jack Nicas, “Indiana Religious Freedom Law Sparks Fury,” The Wall Street Journal (3.27.2015).

April 6, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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