Does Bad Theology Help Create Ravi Zachariases? A Reflection on the Evangelical Subculture

Let me follow up a bit on my last post. This post will focus on Ravi Zacharias’s situation more pointedly. As most know by now, after an independent (from Ravi’s ministry RZIM) investigation, RZ was found to have engaged in hundreds of illicit relationships over the decades; some of them were literal rapes. True, ‘let the one who has no sin cast the first stone,’ but that shouldn’t be appealed to in order to relativize the gravitas of Ravi’s heinous actions. Clearly, we are all sinners; Martin Luther’s emphasis on the simul justus et peccator should be appreciated by all. Even as Christians destined for eschatological bliss we are all, yet, inhabitants in these damned (but redeemed) bodies of death. Even though, as Christians, those in union with Christ, we are freely justified in and through the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ, we still sin; and we often sin fiercely. Our sobering reality calls for a deep lifestyle of vigilance; one where mortification and vivification are the staples of our existence in Jesus Christ. The vigilance we are called to is charged to us by God Himself. The triune God exhorts us to ‘be holy, as He is Holy.’ As the Apostle Paul notes our aim ought to be ‘perfection.’ So, while the Christian strives for completion and beatific vision in Christ, we are chastened by the reality, as John the theologian notes, that we still sin, those who say we don’t are liars. Zacharias was just like us, and yet in his case he started down a path that ultimately led to a lifestyle of raucous sin.

What I want to address, though, and I only really made this connection as I reflected further on my last post, is the connection between the evangelical subculture RZ inhabited, and how that may have helped cultivate his double-life. My ‘insight’ is theological on this. As I underscored in my last post, but maybe only implicitly, I maintain that the way the Christian thinks God will determine all subsequent things; inclusive of the Christian life, and the subculture created out of that (and for that). For American evangelicals (which I am one, loosely), our background is draped in pietism and revivalism. Both of these nodes are largely fueled by a serious turn-to-the-subject modus operandi. In other words, both pietism and revivalism are rooted in an abstract understanding of the believer’s relationship to God; we might call it a voluntary view. In this approach to God the focal point starts in and from a soteriologically abstract place, insofar as the relationship starts when the would-be Christian decides to convert. What this entails, as a prius, is the idea that the whole Christian life is contingent on the individual’s autonomous decision to finally be for God rather than against Him. If this is the case, as the Christian builds on this premise, they end up in a place, ethically, and every other way, wherein the Gospel is what they decide to make of it. In other words, in this conversionist understanding the Christian life remains a purely voluntary endeavor that gains its traction in and through the willing and thus will-power of the individual Christian. As such, such Christians are doomed to lives of rank failure. A proper understanding on a God-world relation avoids placing this sort of unlivable burden on the Christian. But unfortunately many millions of Christians, particularly in the American West, have attempted to bear the brunt of this burden all the days of their weary lives; most fail. I would contend that at the most basic of levels Ravi Zacharias lived under this sort of burdensome, and principled pietistic way (think of Keswick spirituality) of Christian living. His so-called spiritual formation blossomed under these conditions, rather than genuinely Christ conditioned ones.

What I am suggesting is obviously just my own personal thesis. And I am not contending that if Zacharias was an Evangelical Calvinist, under the Torrancean-Barthian terms we focus on, that he would have elided the heinous missteps that led to his destructive lifestyle. Indeed, Barth himself failed in similar ways with Charlotte Von Kirschbaum (although on a scale, not with the same amplitude). But my broader point is this: the Christian needs the best theological foot-forward as possible. We don’t want to enliven sub-cultures with erroneous theological premises which lead to performance based, in-turned ghettos that almost necessarily set people up for fails. We want to operate from theological premises wherein Christ is the principled center. Not the center in a piously asserted way, but the center wherein He, indeed, leavens the theological bread all the way through and completely. We want to build theological cultures, ecclesial cultures, wherein we always already think from the antecedent above of God’s “pre-timed” life for us; as He freely elected to be for us in the humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the best and most fertile ground for Christian flourishing; ground that is given to us, not ground that we take through our “choice.” The best life we can live now flows from the kerygmatic reality that God is our before and after, and in this and out of this before and after the Christian comes to have capacity to live for God, in the now, even as God has always already and eternally lived for us in His choice to be with us and in us en Christo. Maybe if Ravi had this sort of theological altitude to live from, maybe if he inhabited the culture this reality constructed, maybe he wouldn’t have slipped into the double life he lived until the day of his death; we will never know this of course.

I offer some of these inklings only as a way for me to process this sad scenario in the sorts of ways I like to do that; in Christ concentrated, and theological ways. Maybe thinking like this will end up helping others in the development of their own Christian life within the communio sanctorum; I know thinking like this has helped me in my walk as a Christian. May God have mercy on us all (kyrie eleison)! May God show grace and mercy to the victims of Zacharias’s manipulations; He will. May evangelicals, in the main, come to repent of any type of bad theology that might lend itself towards the development and sustenance of ecclesial subcultures that help to enable people like RZ et al. (all of us). Unfortunately, I haven’t even seen any theologically driven responses to this situation; but that is only par for the course in the evangelical subculture. This saddens me immensely. There are many good and genuine people in the evangelical world, but they have been sold a bill of goods, often times, when it comes to their theological methods and materials. I think this has real life consequences. Once again kyrie eleison.

A Little On Ravi Zacharias: But in Critique of Christian Apologetics and its Evangelical Culture

With Ravi Zacharias in the news, at least in the Christian world, I thought sharing some of my thoughts on apologetics culture and apologetics in general might be apropos. This post will not be about Ravi, per se, but instead I will use his vocation as an ‘apologist’ as a springboard into a discussion about Christian apologetics, and how I think they are typically theologically damaging.

Zacharias was a sinner, like all of us. Not all sins are equal, per se. They are before God in the sense that he has dealt with them eternally through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but sins, in their existential acts clearly have range. Zacharias’s sexual immorality was of a sort that was not only immoral before God and humanity, but was also criminal. He now stands before God for these many episodes of egregious sinful acts; but God is ultimately gracious. Be all of this as it may, Zacharias was known as a cultural commentator, and Christian apologist. As a Christian apologist one of his mainstays was to argue for the existence of God; this is the mainstay of all Christian apologists. They all attempt to counter their atheistic and agnostic counterparts by demonstrating through a cadre of veritable ‘proofs’ that God exists. I have a problem with this though; particularly as a Christian. I will admit that the argument from contingence, with reference to God’s existence, is hyper-compelling, in regard to, at the very minimum, demonstrating that the cosmos, the universe as a whole, requires a Creator-God. This particular argument, in my view, though, is a very Christian Dogmatic and theological argument; in other words, it flows quite organically from the Patristic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. In this sense, I find this ‘proof’ to be compelling insofar that it finds its ground in an antecedent and revelational source; namely in and from God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Some might argue that this is how Thomas Aquinas’s ‘5 Proofs for the existence of God,’ in his Prima Pars, functions; viz. as an ultimately theological offering that is grounded in revelation, and not speculation. I beg to differ on that, but that will have to be considered at a later time.

I have a concern with the notion of God that Christian apologists ‘prove,’ precisely because, in my view, he becomes contingent not on the finitude of the cosmos, per se, but instead on the wit and capaciousness of said apologist. In other words, the god that can be proven by anyone of us is No-God at all; this-God is only really a projection from our collective wits and speculations about the type of being required in order to construct the universe as we personally experience it, both individually and collectively. The Christian, by definition, does not start where so-called Christian apologists start in their quest to prove God; the Christian notion of God starts and is only grounded in their Lord’s reality as revealed to them in Jesus Christ. The Christian does not reason to God anterior to their relationship with Him as their Lord and Savior; indeed, the Christian way is just the inverse. The Christian, again, only knows God as God of God in and through the God revealed in the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. We know God as Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit insofar that the Son came for the sins of the world. Insofar that the Son came for the sins of the world, indeed, to elevate humanity and creation itself to the altitudes the triune God had always already envisioned; it is in this in-so-far that the Christian comes to have capacity to know that God “exists.” They come to know God exists as they come into union with Christ, and as a result participate in Christ and thus the triune Life. It is in His Self-revelation that the Christian gains the capacity to epistemically know God; it is as the ontology of God accommodates Godself with the ontology of humanity, in the intersection of the hypostatic union, that a theological epistemology is formed in such a way that the Christian now has capacity to think God from a center in Himself, in Christ. As Thomas Torrance might say at this juncture, the Christian now has the epistemic capacity to participate in the ‘depth dimension’ of the living God who is necessarily and scandalously triune.

The God of contemporary apologists in the 20th and 21st centuries does not come with this depth. When we can discursively reason our way to God in a way that is abstract from God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ, what kind of god have we connived? And yet this sort of speculative modality dominates evangelical apologetics culture. The god proven in this sphere is really nothing more than a philosophical monad. This god has no Lordly purchase in the lives of those who submit to Him. The only purchase arrived at by submitting to this god must be self-generated through a hyper-piety that must rise to some sort of rarified occasion of worshipping some-god it feels obliged to venerate; but only after this god has been first self-generated by the intellection of a “properly” motivated human cadre of thinkers and desirers. It is ironic to me, because what I am referring to, in general, is the god of so-called “classical-theism” (which itself is a contemporary designation in an attempt to classify how the orthodox of yesteryear, and presently, have thought God). The god of classical theism, in the main, the god proven by apologetical efforts, in interesting ways, is rather modern; insofar that modernity is entailed by a ‘turn-to-the-subject.’ It isn’t hard to imagine how Friedrich Schleiermacher et al. came to a place, a very pietistic place, wherein he attempted to think God from the subject; wherein he attempted to think his way to an antecedent object known as God. Yet, even for Schleiermacher God is only an object of veneration wherein the human knower might know God by an antecedent human activity of ‘feeling’ a ‘sense of dependence’ on this God. My point is not to get too reductionistic, it is only to highlight the idea that no matter what period we find ourselves in, vis-à-vis theological development, there almost always seems to be this inner-drivenness to concoct a conception of God from a turn-to-the-self rather than a turn-to-God’s Self-revelation as the principled basis for thinking God through and through.

I am against apologetic’s culture. It has destroyed more “Christian” lives than it has saved, in my view.   

Collapsing the Risen Jesus into Mini-Me jesuses: Why Modern Humans Fear the Truth

Modern philosophy, modern humankind is afraid of the Truth, according to Hegel. It’s because modern humanity is oriented by a turn-to-the-subjectivism. Of course, this fear has an antecedent source that transcends all periodization (cf. Gen. 3); it is humanity’s lapsed fear that an external reality (extra nos) will confront them in all their ‘godness,’ and tell them that they are No-God; and that the gods they worship are just self-projections of their deepest and most innate desires. Hegel, of course, was working between the antinomies set forth by Kant et al. wherein there is a rupture between the subjectivity of the phenomenal, and the objectivity of the noumenal. Hegel’s was an attempt to broach this dualistic impasse by thinking noumenal and phenomenal worlds together into a dialectic relief mediated by his notion of Geist (or spirit). But I don’t want to go down that rabbit trail too much, instead I simply want to highlight a thought that Michael Gillespie has, as he develops Hegel’s thought, more broadly, and in the process underscores how and why modern people fear the truth. In a nutshell: they don’t want their self-constructed worlds disrupted by something or someOne they didn’t have a hand in developing:

Why then does modern philosophy fear the truth that provides the basis for such a reconciliation? One might assume that this fear is the result of the real or perceived danger that religion and religious zeal or fanaticism pose to social and political peace. Hegel, however, discounts such an interpretation. The real danger to man lies not in the fanaticism of religion but in the fanaticism of revolutionary freedom and the tyranny of nature in bourgeois society. Modern philosophy fears the truth in Hegel’s view not because the truth is dangerous but because the truth upsets the world of satisfaction, i.e., the real of subjectivism that finds everywhere and always only what it wants to find, the world in which all standards are established by the individual himself, the world governed by unfettered natural desire or the emptiness of the categorical imperative and public opinion. Modern philosophy fears the truth in Hegel’s view because the truth means absolute knowledge and hence absolute standards that cannot be overturned by the caprice of passions and opinions. Modern philosophy is thus perhaps distraught by the lack of a real ground, but it fears an absolute science more than the abyss of diremption and alienation. Modern philosophy thus remains fundamentally subjectivistic and relativistic.[1]

More theologically we could cast what Gillespie is describing, under the Hegelian mantle that he is, as an intellectual Pelagianism. It is the desire of human beings to be the masters’ of their universes and destinies. Even in so-called collectivist communities, like we ostensibly find among the disenfranchised who make-up neo-Marxist communios, ultimately, the vision people have is driven by an inner-self-constructed reality that the individual, even in collectivist mode, constructs ex nihilo out of their own fertile imaginations. This is the stuff of critical theory. The idea that human beings have the ontological and noetic capacities to discern what went wrong, and how to fix it; without recourse to an ‘absolute’ notion of truth—and definitely without recourse to the living and Triune God. Ironically, as Gillespie has argued in another one of his books—Theological Origins of Modernity—all that humanity has done, which Christians know from Genesis 3, is methodologically collapse the attributes of the Christian God into themselves. Ultimately, they haven’t constructed anything, they have simply attempted to rip-off God’s glory, and attribute that glory to themselves. It is out of this vacuum, this rupture wherein the modern person has humorously, but tragically thought themselves the standard of all that is right and holy in the cosmos. The point: they haven’t imagined anything, they have simply stolen the material God genuinely constructed ex nihilo, and attempted to recreate a world out of that matter—this is natural theology.

All the chaos we see in the world can be explained by this intellectual (and spiritual) phenomena. It is the world attempting to be their own particularized jesus christs, motivated by the belief that they, by themselves, even in collection, can construct a situation wherein they, in themselves (in se), are the telos (purpose) of all that is and will be. It is an immanentization of God’s extra-eschatological life, fortified by the belief that humanity and the gates of hell were able to prevail against the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the source of the anarchy, and chaos we see attempting to disjoint the world as we thought we knew it. Don’t worry though, an Antichrist is on its way.

Now the serpent was shrewder than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like God, knowing  good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. –Genesis 3.1-7, NET

 

[1] Michael Allen Gillespie, Hegel, Heidegger, and the Ground of History (Chicago&London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 67-8.

Q and Qanons: An American Gnosticism:: Comparing Q and Gnosticism and Contrasting with Historic Christianity

Until about six months ago I hadn’t paid attention to the Q phenomenon. Once the world took a turn for the crazy I started paying attention to Q and the so-called Qanons (Qanons are followers of Q who attempt to decode the various Q drops that show up on 8kun). I read Q’s drops, and have watched various videos made by Master Qanons. Personally, I think Q hits on some real life themes, like: systemic child sex trafficking that takes place at the highest levels of society (think Epstein, Maxwell, and associates); the idea that there is a movement catalyzed by Trump to counter this pedophiliac system; that the Occult is part-and-parcel for some of those associated with this pedophiliac activity (as I referred to here); that the mainstream media, owned by 6 corporations with the same globalist agenda, is part of this satanic cabal (you know, the Illuminati); so on and so forth. I have no problem believing any of that because all of that is out in the open; they aren’t even hiding anymore. The only people who won’t see that are those who don’t want to see that. But Q doesn’t stop there. It has an eschatology, and metaphysical schema; i.e. an ‘end-times’ theory, and sense of the supernatural that either comports with a deistic (impersonal) conception of God; or typically a more New Age monistic understanding of reality where humanity simply needs to self-actualize the universal energy embedded within each human being.

In this post I will attempt to sketch some parallels I see between ancient Gnosticism, and the Q belief system. I will focus, in particular on the correlation between secret knowledge; the decoding of that knowledge; the concept of ‘awakening’; and the idea that humanity’s ultimate goal/telos is to return to a status of ‘light’ from whence they had originally fallen. These are all component parts of both antique Gnosticism, and the contemporaneous phenomenon of Q that has currently swept over a particular demographic in Americana. To start let’s open with a summary of Q and Qanon offered by investigative journalist, Adrienne LaFrance:

If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight.

You know all this because you believe in Q.[1]

I think this is an accurate assessment of Q, in general; despite the fact that LaFrance ultimately repudiates the Q system as a tinhat formed cabal of belief that only quacks, and societal outliers would be prone towards. As you read her article in toto she, in some depth, gets into various elements of the Q revelational system; how it works; and what the various prophecies, made by Q, look like. She also gets into the coding system that Q has used since its inception, and the way Qanons have attempted to map and decode these codes; it is known as the Q Map, and it is like a flow chart that attempts to string together all the various Q drops in hopes of bringing clarity to Q’s various revelations about ‘the Plan.’ Yes, this is another motto of Q, it has many; three that stand out to me are: ‘trust the plan,’ ‘trust humanity,’ ‘where we go one we go all’ ( WWG1WGA). In reduction, as you read her article (and it largely comports with my experience with the Q community): Q is an American cult of belief, that looks to a deified agent (or agents) who has inner-secret-knowledge, who they believe is communicating with them in a way that will ‘awaken’ them (another hot word for Qanons) to the deep (dualistic) reality that stands behind the world. These revelations, ostensibly provided by Q, appeals to an inherent capacity embedded within each human being (like a divine spark) that simply (maybe ‘Socratically’) needs to be triggered, or awakened, by Q (a ‘redeemer’ figure). This awakening, through this revealed or secret knowledge, as the Qanons are re-sparked, will lead them back to a primal starting point, in themselves, which will allow them to be ‘digital soldiers,’ fighting the darkness (the demonic, even) overcoming it with the knowledge of the light that they have received from Q; their ‘redeemer’ figure. The ultimate hope for Qanons (and this is their eschatology), is that Trump, with their help, will defeat the darkness, and usher in a world of peace and security like the world has never known before (sounds like how the New Testament describes the coming of the Antichrist). Many, those deep into the Q mythology, maintain that John F. Kennedy, jr. faked his death, and that he is working alongside Trump to ‘drain the swamp,’ and usher in this new world of light and tranquility; a world that will initially be led by JFK, jr, as Trump will at that point step aside (this would be part of the metaphysical, and ‘redeemer’ mythology I was referring to earlier).

Now, in light of what I just described let me refer us to Ronald Nash, and his succinct description of classical Gnosticism. You will almost immediately begin to notice the parallels between Q and Gnosticism (of course these parallels only work if my sketch, along with LaFrance’s more developed treatment on Q is accurate—which I think it is). Nash writes (at length):

One of the more obvious beliefs of Gnosticism it its fundamental dualism. In the myth of the Gnostic Redeemer, this dualism is apparent in the conflict between the two worlds (light and darkness), the two superhuman forces (the good god of light and the demons of darkness), and the two parts to human beings (a good soul imprisoned in an evil body). God, spirit, and light are diametrically opposed to demons, matter, and darkness. The idea of the inherent evil of matter, it is impossible that he could have anything to do with bringing such a world into existence. Hence, the Gnostics reasoned, he did not. The material world must be the work either of evil demons (as noted in our account of the myth) or, in some versions, of a second and inferior god, akin to Plato’s Demiurge, whom heretical Christian Gnostics viewed as the Yahweh of the Old Testament.[2]

Before proceeding further with Nash’s sketch, let’s stop for a moment and make a qualification. Q and Qanons certainly operate with a dualistic concept of light versus darkness, but it is not framed by this idea of the material world being evil. Instead Q mythology often collapses this struggle of light and darkness into the immanent frame; in other words, they collapse the metaphysical reality of light, into the material reality where they believe this conflict will finally be resolved. With this sort of modification in mind, let’s continue on with Nash:

Human beings belong to both worlds—the spiritual world of the divine light and the material world of darkness. Human souls are sparks of the divine light that have become entrapped in matter. Unconscious of their divine origin and destiny but still impelled by a subconscious longing for the heavenly light from which they had fallen, these “pneumatics” (as they were called) were impelled to seek deliverance from their bondage of matter. The basic question of human existence is how to achieve deliverance from matter and finally return to the world of light and the god of that world.

Several things are necessary if human beings are to experience this redemption. For one thing, they need to be awakened from their slumber and reminded of their heavenly origin. The basic means by which humans attain salvation from the evil of matter is a special knowledge (gnosis) that they cannot attain themselves but only receive as a divine gift. This gnosis is not intellectual knowledge or philosophical speculation but a revelation from the good god. But it is not a knowledge that just anyone may obtain; it is a secret or esoteric knowledge made available only to those for whom it can be a means of salvation. “In some cases [gnōsis] is no more than a crude magical knowledge of spells and passwords, for to know the name of a god gives power over the owner of the name. In other cases, gnōsis meant an elevated mystical experience, a vision of the divine, a knowledge received by revelation from God Himself.” As explained by Gnostic specialist Hans Jonas,

The goal of gnostic striving is the release of the “inner man” from the bonds of the world and his return to his native realm of light. The necessary condition for this is that he know about the trans-mundane God and about himself, that is, about his divine origin as well as his present situation, and accordingly also about the nature of the world which determines this situation.[3]

Clearly there is not a one-for-one correlation between every aspect of ancient Gnosticism (developed in the 2nd Century, AD), but there is enough correlation between them that I think understanding some of the basic lineaments of Gnosticism proper allows it to be instructive towards the way we attempt to think about Q. Their shared emphases are: 1) a Redeemer figure (Q), 2) secret revelation needing to be decoded and understood by the ‘elect’ (Qanons), 3) salvation attained as the light aspect of the person is awakened by the Redeemer’s revelation, 4) and ultimate salvation as light returns to the source and all is made whole. I find these parallels to be instructive; and more than simply incidental.

The ultimate problem I have with Q, taken to its logical conclusion, is that just like with the original Gnosticism[s],  it is a riff and perversion of orthodox Christian teaching. It takes some elements, even basic elements, from Christian teaching and grammar, and remodels this teaching into a newfangled superstructure that ultimately has no correlation with what Christian teaching actually entails. The Christian hope is not secret; the Christian conception of revelation is personal, and is grounded in Jesus Christ and the triune God. Christians reject the concept of an inherent capacity latent within the individual that simply needs to be ‘awakened’; indeed, orthodox Christian teaching is directly counter to that. For orthodox Christians, we maintain, according to Scripture, that we are ‘dead in our trespasses and sins,’ and that outwith Jesus ‘becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,’ we have no hope of eternal life or salvation.

When Q followers attempt to soften the themes of their own belief system, in order to make it more comportable with Christian teaching, they aren’t sufficiently appreciating how fundamentally distinct Q is from historic orthodox Christianity. Qanons, the Christian ones, will often attempt to bring the Q doctrine into line, or at least not in antagonism with Christian teaching. But when Q is deified, and it surely is, just at this point Q no longer is compatible with the Sacra Doctrina of historic and biblical Christian teaching.

For my money: I can recognize that Q has alerted people to various themes present in the broader culture and society, but that is as far as Q can go for me. None of the themes Q has alerted people to, though, are new to Q; except for Q’s claim that there is ‘a plan.’ But I had heard of such ‘plans’ long before Q came on the scene. My point: Q is not required in order to recognize that the world is up against a demonic hoard present in the highest echelons of government, entertainment, and mundane life the world over. This is what the cross of Jesus Christ has been bearing witness to ever since the beginning. I look to Jesus Christ as the Savior this world needs, and I trust His plan. I would challenge any Christian Q proponents out there to really think all of these things through. In my view, adherence to Q can be rather deleterious to your Christian walk. Q is indeed representative of a belief system, and its correlation is not with historic orthodox Christianity, but rather, with an orthodox Gnosticism that is at cross-purposes with the Evangel of the risen Christ.

 

[1] Adrienne LaFrance, “The Prophecies of Q: American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase,” The Atlantic (June 2020).

[2] Ronald H. Nash, Christianity&the Hellenstic World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 220.

[3] Ibid., 220-21.

A Riposte to Craig Carter’s Twitter-Sized Understanding of Karl Barth

I’ve been having a little exchange with Craig Carter on Twitter. He clearly has great animus towards Karl Barth; which he has been verbalizing pretty frequently for at least the last few weeks on his feed. My latest little volley with him occurred as a result of my response to this originating tweet from him:

In reply to Bruce McCormack’s Barthian critique of classical theism as not beginning with Christ, Michael Allen writes: “The creeds do not begin with the second paragraph – the Bible does not begin with the apostles – and the economy does not begin with the incarnation.”[1]

I retweeted the above with the following superscription:

Allen’s thinking merely represents his theory of salvation history. The problem is that the NT problematizes his theory to the breaking point. As Christians we read the OT in light of the NT. Ie In the Beginning was the Word (Jn 1.1) / In the Beginning God created (Gn 1.1). Etc.[2]

And then Carter responded thusly to me:

Nothing you have said even demonstrates an understanding of Allen’s point, let alone constitutes an adequate response.[3]

He made the further troubling tweet:

Barth has a changing deity who evolves by election. The tradition say “No.”[4]

I responded by retweeting the above with the following superscription:

What rubbish! Maybe some people shouldn’t comment on things they don’t have expertise on. This is patently false, and any good primer on Barth’s theology dispels this sort of assertion with ease.[5]

I provided some other responses, and then he responded in kind with the following tweets:

At some pt, you are going to have to accept that Barthianism is dead. No church has accepted his revision of Ref. theol. It is kept alive today in the acad, not the ch, not even in Lib. Prot’ism. Pannenberg, Jenson & co. take KB’s thot to its logical destiny & it’s a dead end.[6]

Well, there is a little problem with claiming to be a Protestant while rejecting the confessions of the Protestant Churches. That is the definition of a liberal. When you can affirm 2LC or the 3 Forms of Unity or the WCF or the 39 Art or Augsburg let me know.[7]

Let me attempt to respond in broad terms to the plethora of topics covered in this veritable tweet-storm.

Bobby’s Genius Responses

Carter’s originating tweet, with reference to Michael Allen, and his almost dilettante level response to my response to him needs further explication. As gestured in my tweet response: theory of revelation and history has everything to do with making an intelligible response to Allen’s assertion contra Bruce McCormack’s rightful emphasis on Christ as the Key to EVERYTHING. This is why I assert that Carter’s response to me is almost at ‘dilettante level.’ Allen’s riposte to McCormack’s Barth pivots on the idea that the ‘progressive’ and linear order of the Bible, from the ‘Old’ to the ‘New’ ought to be the methodological order for how the theologian engages in the theological task. In other words, there is an a priori commitment to the idea that theology ought to be done from the abstract oneness of God (in the OT, ostensibly) to the concreteness of the threeness of God (as disclosed in the NT). This is the practice that Katherine Sonderegger likewise endorses all throughout her Systematic Theology, Volume 1, contra Barth. This is also the way most of the Reformed Confessions, particularly, the Belgic, Dordt [not a ‘confession,’ per se], and the Westminster Confession of the Faith parse God. At a methodological level, at one vector or another, all of the folks and confessions we are considering start with an abstract conception of God’s oneness, and then move to His threeness (all things I have critiqued here and here and elsewhere). And they base this sort of prolegomenon on what they take to be the organic order of the canonical text of Holy Scripture (again, from the OT to the NT understood in linear and progressive fashion). This is what stands behind Allen’s critique of McCormack’s Barth; i.e. the antecedent of God prior to the consequent; the immanent of God prior to the economic. Which is why I focused on a theory of history-revelation in my tweet. Which is also why if anyone doesn’t understand what’s going on with the Allen critique, it isn’t me, but Carter.

But my contention is that a genuinely Christian theology starts with Christ; that seems to make the most immediate sense. As Christians we come to appreciate the Old Testament for what it is, not by getting into a DeLorean and transporting ‘back to the future,’ as it were; no, we appreciate the Old Testament for what it is because of our prior relationship with Jesus Christ. It is as we receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Rm 8.9), and declare that Jesus is Lord (cf. I Cor 12.3) that any of this matters to us; that the Old Testament comes to figure brightly in our lives, because along with Jesus we recognize that these all testify to and of Him (cf. Jn 5.39; Lk 24.25-27). Along with the Evangelist we reread the OT in light of the NT witness in Christ. We see this, hermeneutically unfolded most pointedly when John rereads Genesis 1.1 in John 1.1; he reifies the first Moses’s account in light of the second Moses, and understands that God’s life is deeply eschatological even as it looks back to the protology of the Word found in Genesis. In other words, the NT witness informs the Christian that God’s relation to the world is ‘apocalyptic’ in orientation, disrupting what appears to be a rather natural affair of things (in regard to the way history appears to the naked eye or phenomenologically) with the blinding reality and in-breaking of creations’ rightful and always already reality as understood as the advent of Jesus Christ. So, I contend, that the Christian way of thinking about a God-world relation (which is what Allen is most definitely referring to in his critique of McCormack) starts in the economy of God’s life in Christ, and in stratified mode, works its way back to the inner life of God (think TF Torrance’s stratified knowledge of God from the evangelical to the theological or from the economic to the immanent). Without further development, I also have Philip Ziegler’s[8] work on apocalyptic theology in mind; Carter and Allen would do well to internalize the insights being articulated there.

As far as Carter’s assertion that Barth has a ‘changing deity who evolves by election,’ I mean this seems very uninformed. Has Carter never heard of the so called ‘Barth Wars’ or ‘Companion Controversy?’ This is the internecine controversy that has been taking place, primarily, between the Princetonian Barth theologians: George Hunsinger (Paul Molnar is on this side) and Bruce McCormack. Hunsinger argues that McCormack’s ‘revisionist’ understanding of Barth does indeed fall prey to the sort of claim that Carter is making tout court contra Barth simpliciter. Hunsinger offers an alternative (to McCormack’s) reading of Barth; a reading Hunsinger identifies as the ‘textual Barth.’ Even in all of this, when we read McCormack’s constructive proposal in regard to Barth’s doctrine of election vis-à-vis a doctrine of God, I think, it can be maintained, on the McCormack side, that his offering does not collapse God’s being into creation; but this requires a hard emphasis on a doctrine of Divine Freedom that most seem to ignore when considering BLM’s proposal. I’m not necessarily persuaded by BLM’s proposal, or that he gets Barth right (he knows that he is moving beyond Barth’s own words, but believes that he is working within the spirit of Barth’s logic), per se. But be that as it may, even within these knotty circles, among those who know Barth best, Barth himself does not offer a doctrine of God that is a ‘changing deity who evolves by election,’ as Carter recklessly asserts.

Is ‘Barthianism’ dead, as Carter proclaims? Of course not! Is it purely an academic thing? Nein. I’m not an academic, proper; I’m simply a dude out here on the streets, living in the byways and highways of the eclectically formed church catholic, who is living in the ‘mundane’ and simplicity of the everydayman of the unelite in the church and world. The only churches that have outright rejected Barth’s theology are the ones that Carter laughably claims to be the only true Protestant ones; the ones who are absolutely in submission to the magisteria of the various confessions and creeds of the Reformed (and Lutheran) churches. But of course, this is all historically dubious! Even in the history and development of the Westminster Confession of Faith there were plenty who opposed it, and this in the Reformed churches of that time (see the work of Janice Knight and Ron Frost for example; not to mention the work Myk and I have done in our books). Even so, it is an unbelievable claim to assert that to be genuinely Protestant one must be in conformity to the Reformed confessions as superordinate even to Scripture (in function). What of the Radical Reformation; or those who dissented to something like the WCF; or other strands that have developed in the Reformed world that see the WCF as simply a regional document with no force other than the sort that is ad hocly imposed in the way that Carter is attempting to do that? Interesting, isn’t it: to follow the ecclesio-logic of Carter, we might as well all be back in the care of the Pope! This is not the Protestant way; it may be for some, but not those of us who operate in and from the spirit of the Reformed faith originated by Martin Luther.

Conclusion

There is always more to say, but in short: Carter seems out of touch with what Barth actually teaches; and more, with how Barth scholarship has been developing even over the last decade in the Anglophone world. What irks me most is that he simply buys into and then reinforces (by his stature, for those who are overly impressed by such things) the well-worn caricature of Barth; viz. that Barth is simply a Liberal theologian who has become amenable to some evangelical thinkers. All Carter is doing is resurrecting the Van Tillian and Henryian caricaturing of Barth; neither of these figures understood Barth’s theology, and now neither does Carter. I would suggest that people look elsewhere to get an accurate reading of Barth, Carter is not a reliable guide in this environ.

[1] Carter, T1.

[2] Grow, T2.

[3] Carter, T3.

[4] Carter, T4.

[5] Grow, T5.

[6] Carter, T6.

[7] Carter, T7.

[8] The work on so called ‘apocalyptic theology’ started even earlier than Ziegler in the work that Nate Kerr produced some years ago.

‘Let God Be True, And Every Man A Liar’: In Response to the evangelicals Exiting Christ for the Agnostic Beyond

For some reason atheism has come onto my radar in the last few days; of no doing of my own (like I wasn’t thinking this out). Young people I know (like college aged) have been struggling with these issues as they are confronted with the broader constellations of ideas out in the ‘big world.’ But not just this demographic, although they end up being related, there have been a slew of now former evangelical “leaders” deconstructing their faith; and either becoming exvangelicals, or more starkly, straight up agnostics and atheists. In fact, I just came across two more former evangelicals, who are popular Youtubers, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal; they have a very substantial following among evangelicals—or they did (you can listen to their respective stories here and here). I want to focus on this aspect of new atheism or new agnosticism for the remainder of this post; i.e. the abandonment of Christ by evangelical leaders, and then those who follow them from the pews and narthexes peppered about in the Western ecclesial enclave.

The McLaughlin and Neal duo, along with someone like Josh Harris (who kissed Christianity goodbye), and worship song writer, Derek Webb, among others all share something in common with me; they are all GenXrs. I’m not sure that the age demographic has anything to do with it, but it has given such folks ample time to have grown up in the evangelical church, and experience it at substantial levels. These folks, in my estimation, all have something else in common: they seem to be largely abandoning the evangelical Church, for atheism/agnosticism, or something a little more via media, like progressive or exvangelicalism represents, because of what they have come to experience as the Church. In other words, they seem to be fed up with the sub-culture they have been groomed in their whole lives. They seem to be sick of gimmicky Christianity, and so they opt out for a more authentic form of what they have already been living, in the name of Christ, as they perceive it in the broader more genteel culture of the world. They seem to be seeing the values that Christ brought to and for the world being iterated and lived out by those who have ‘no religion,’ and this seems like a more authentic and simple way to live their lives. At this point I am having a hard time disagreeing with them. Like them, I have grown up in the evangelical sub-culture my whole life; the son of a Baptist pastor; groomed in the linguistics and practices that are all too idiosyncratic to that form of Christian existence. An existence that seems to only get that much shallower and paler, as it attempts to be relevant to the world at large; as it perceives what that is. These now former leaders, and parishioners, have grown weary of that; they’ve come to think that if this is who God is, they’d rather find another god whose sensibilities are consistent with the purported and current cultural sensibilities that apparently are open, compassionate, non-condemning, and tolerant of others. So, they seem to perceive that the values the Church supposedly stands for are in fact better acted-out outwith the Church; and even more importantly, without the personal God revealed in Jesus Christ.[1]

All the names noted above have something else in common: they are all either atheists or agnostics. They all reject the idea that Jesus was God in flesh, and the only and exclusive way to have contact with the personal and triune God of eternal life. They believe that if there is a living God that he is more like a deistic impersonal reality; for others, they are more open to the idea that God does probably exist, but that he relates to us in a pluralistic way that honors our own particular religious and cultural contexts; and without the mediation of Jesus Christ. If this sounds like Enlightenment Rationalism, or maybe Romanticism, or straight up Deism, or even like a generous Atheism; it’s all of the above, at some level. These folks want the moralistic therapeutic Deity they were raised on without the sub-cultural entailments that came with in their evangelical contexts. They want Jesus’s value and ideational impact without Jesus; they want to think that an abstract humanity, turned-to-the-subject, can deliver the goods that Jesus Himself first delivered as He came as fulfillment to the promises made about Him in the Old Testament.

But as Karl Barth presciently, as usual, noted about atheism, or other belief systems that would stand-in for the reality of Jesus Christ:

Theology is one among those human undertakings traditionally described as “sciences.” Not only the natural sciences are “sciences.” Humanistic sciences also seek to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence. The word “theology” seems to signify a special science, a very special science, whose task is to apprehend, understand, and speak of “God.”

But many things can be meant by the word “God.” For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies. There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world view that is not dedicated to some such divinity. Every world view, even that disclosed in the Swiss and American national anthems, presupposes a divinity interpreted in one way or another and worshiped to some degree, whether wholeheartedly or superficially. There is no philosophy that is not to some extent also theology. Not only does this fact apply to philosophers who desire to affirm — or who, at least, are ready to admit— that divinity, in a positive sense, is the essence of truth and power of some kind of highest principle; but the same truth is valid even for thinkers denying such a divinity, for such a denial would in practice merely consist in transferring an identical dignity and function to another object. Such an alternative object might be “nature,” creativity, or an unconscious and amorphous will to life. It might also be “reason,” progress, or even a redeeming nothingness into which man would be destined to disappear. Even such apparently “godless” theologies are theologies.[2]

Many of the “unbelievers” we have been tacitly engaging with would probably affirm what Barth is noting; or maybe not, it depends. But the point is, is that the God of Christian reality is not simply “replacable” by claiming some sort of critical high ground that stands anterior to the claims of the Christian God revealed and asserted in the risen Christ. Has Immanuel Kant taught such folks nothing?! There are no neutral observers, but only actors in the lived reality of the concrete world. This, ironically, implicates the metaphysical naturalism many of the folks under discussion appeal to as the alternative to the enfleshed reality of Christianity in the bodily risen and ascended Christ. Such folks are still doing theology, they are dogmatically committed to various self-constructed ontologies, and subsequent epistemologies that leaves them dwelling in the scandal of particularity as much as anyone else. It’s just that the Christian reality, in the priestly humanity of Jesus Christ, says that this God before [us] entered into this scandal which causes those of us entrenched in our own self-constructed particularities to stumble. This is the ultimate reality that those abandoning ‘the faith’ still haven’t come to terms with; it’s the original message of the kerygma: viz. that Jesus is Lord, and we are not / that God is God, and we are not. In order to appreciate this at an intellectual level, which is how many of these folks are attempting to elide the Christianity reality, they must recognize what only God can for them; i.e. that God alone knows our hearts. They must come to ‘bow the knee’ to the reality that it isn’t just that we are finite, but that in our finity we are also blinded by the love of self rather than enlightened and enflamed by the love of God in Christ.

In the end, I think Kara Slade has said it best:

I persist in thinking Nietzsche was the last interesting atheist because he actually understood what Christianity is about: lifting up the weak, the poor, the sick…a new world where the last is first and the first last. The morality of the Magnificat and not the Ubermensch.[3]

Her point takes us back to an earlier point I was making: you cannot say that you affirm the values of Christ as the basis for critiquing the reality of Jesus Christ; this in logic is called petitio principii. Yet, this is what almost all of the folks I have mentioned in this post are attempting to do. They have inherited a Christian value system, full of conceptual and moral riches, in a particular ecclesial context that they believe is incoherent with those values. At this level I’d have to concur with them. But despite the gimmickry of much of the evangelical church sub-culture, despite the hypocrisy of those who inhabit that sub-culture, it is not possible to have Christ, or His values, in abstraction from Him or His body. It is a constant temptation, and has been for unbelievers in the West for millennia, to think that we can create our own ‘way’; but all that ends up happening is that the unbeliever lives in an anti and parasitic reality that attempts to suckle itself off the milk that only comes from the nipple of God’s Holy Word attested to in Holy Scripture. I pray God may deliver those who have been seduced into believing that the inner-sanctum of their own navels (in community) represents the true Holy of Holies. As Martin Luther would exclaim: ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar!’

[1] This is the most ironic aspect of this, since as Charles Taylor (Secular Age), Michael Gillespie (Theological Origins of Modernity), Tom Holland (Dominion) et al. have all pointed out, the ‘values’ these former evangelicals say they have found appealing out in the broader culture, are all values bequeathed to the broader culture by the coming of Jesus Christ.

[2] Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 3-4.

[3] Kara Slade, Twitter Post: February 16th, 2020, accessed 02-18-2020.

The SBC, Enemies Within The Church, and the Discernment Ministers: Discerning the Discerners

Let me offer a brief word on so called ‘discernment bloggers.’ Discernment blogging is still alive and well, it used to be bigger about a decade ago; but it’s still operative in various corners of the ethernet. Discernment bloggers are typically of a fundamentalist caste, often hyper-fundamentalist. Their primary modes is to sniff out “liberalism-creep” wherever it may or may not be. They still operate out of that turn of the 19th and 20th century fundy-fear wherein the belief that dominates is that the evil liberals are attempting to break into the evangelical churches through whatever means they might find access to. So, for the rest of this post I will engage with an example of this that I just ran across.

Phil Johnson, executive director of John MacArthur’s radio ministry Grace To You, and editor of most of JMac’s books has been a spearhead for discernment blogging as far back as 2004 or 05 (when I came across him). He still maintains his team blog called Pyromaniacs; although it is pretty much dormant these days. Nevertheless, Phil is still very active on Twitter; and I follow him. He just shared a link to a podcast done by a guy named Jon Harris; a self-loathing graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Phil commends Harris’s podcast (which can be watched here) as Harris is engaging with what he, Phil, and many others of their ilk take to be liberal drift currently underway in the Southern Baptist Convention; according to their lights. Now, I’m not associated with the SBC in any way; although I am Baptist in orientation (but Conservative Baptist by trade). Nevertheless, I have many contacts on social media and in real life who indeed are Southern Baptist. And so, it is interesting to see the impact this sort of “discernment” is having in this arena, and among these contacts.

Harris’s podcast, and Johnson’s recommendation of it, have to do with what is called Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and its current movement into the SBC. They see a seepage of CRTI into the Southern Baptist seminaries; particularly at its flagship where Al Mohler is the president. In the podcast, Jon Harris engages with a video produced by an online group called Enemies Within: The Church. EWTC is in the process of producing a documentary that will be an attempt to shine a light on what they take to be the erosion of the evangelical churches in toto; indeed, they see CRTI as the primary means by which the liberals are penetrating the churches. They write in description of their motive and documentary the following (in full):

Enemies Within: The Church is an educational, historical, and evidence-based movie experience that provokes a passionate return to orthodox Christian faithfulness across the western world. As is necessary for such a wonderful turn toward Christ, the movie heralds a clarion call for Christians to turn away from popular, yet errant beliefs held in contradiction to carefully interpreted Holy Scriptures. But Enemies Within: The Church is much more than a mere movie. It is also an invitation for believers to employ a proven Biblical recipe capable of producing restored strength and blessing for all who answer.

Specifically, the movie encourages the Church to cleanse itself from contamination imposed by cultural Marxism and a heretical teaching known as “The Social Justice Gospel.” By hearing the exchanges between the movie’s host and experts interviewed around the world, viewers are provided with a bright light shining upon truths formerly hidden behind the white noise of shallow pop-culture. In the end, the audience is pointed toward a hope-filled and practical action plan that produces solutions found only in and through the royal Law of Christ.

The movie elucidates the fact that every single problem faced by western civilization is, ultimately, a theological problem, and every solution to every problem is a theological absolute. It answers the question: “What happened to living, powerful, transformative, nation-shaking Christianity?”

The documentary reminds its audience that during the twentieth century, the twin evils of communism and fascism were responsible for the slaughter of nearly 200 million people. Both forces attempted (and were often successful) to co-opt Christianity to serve their goals. Filmmakers Judd Saul, Trevor Loudon, Curtis Bowers, and movie host, Pastor Cary Gordon, of Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, Iowa, show that the Marxists are still actively and successfully pursuing this goal in a church near you at this very moment.

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus intentionally warns: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep amid wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In John 8:44, Jesus refers to the devil as the “Father of Lies.” Leaning upon empirical, unassailable evidences, this documentary film reveals the subversive ideas, persons, and organizations who are clearly shown as active participants in efforts to undermine the Christian Church and systematically destroy its foundations from within.

The production team of Enemies Within: The Church is faithfully committed to working within the Biblical parameters of such important duties, as commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18:15-20, echoed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, and in Ephesians 5:1-15.[1]

They clearly are taking their work seriously, and have assembled a team of guys with the experience to pull off a professional looking and sounding documentary. They have funders, and are in the process of raising more monies to fund their project.

In the short video produced by them, that Harris engages with, they go after a young new professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary named, Walter Strickland. Strickland is a black gentleman, and teaches in the area of theology; while also serving as the Vice President of Diversity at SBTS. In the video they offer select examples from various interviews that Strickland has done, in order to prove their case. In the clips of Strickland, they cross reference what he is saying with clips of the ostensible founder of Black Theology, James Cone. The clips they share of Strickland have him saying that he is a serious student of all of Cone’s works. As he lists many of them, they then cut away to Cone as he explains these same books; then they also post quotes from some of Cone’s work along with another black liberation theologian named: Roberts. By stringing these various clips together, the viewer is led to believe that Strickland is an uncritical and even flaming follower of Cone in every way. Beyond this, they also offer a short vignette on Mohler’s righthand man named, Matt Hall. They offer a clip from him where he seems to be claiming that simply because he is white, that he can’t help but be a racist and white supremacist; that is, under the conditions set forth by CRT. EWTC believes they have presented an air tight case for demonstrating, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Strickland, Hall, Mohler, and the SBTS et al. are all willing proponents of CRTI. Thus, the further implication of this is that SBC (under Mohler’s leadership), and SBTS (and the other seminaries) have given themselves over to a full-fledged theological liberalism; of a heretical hue.

Harris calls Cone, and by implication, Strickland, Hall et al. heretics. Indeed, this is why these discerners are so amped up. They believe that in order to be accepted by the broader culture that these leaders in the SBC have sought the praise of men rather than God. But I see no evidence of this; not even after I watched EWTC’s video, or after listening to Harris’s podcast. At the moment it simply seems to be a witch hunt, and an attempt to find some sort of controversy in order to rile up the base that these discernment men see as their flock.

My post here is an attempt to discern the self-proclaimed discerners. None of these guys seem to actually understand what actual progressive theology entails. They are confusing some in the SBC for progressives, when mutatis mutandis, those in the SBC couldn’t be further from the progressives/liberals. I am quite conservative socially, and most of these guys in the SBC by comparison make me look like a progressive. I only note that, to underscore how off point these discernment ministries/bloggers are. They are constructing a boogeyman where there is only an attempt on some of these SBCr’s part to attempt to engage critically with the broader culture.

Maybe SBC is awry. I am not a fan, per se, of Critical Race Theory or Intersectionality, and see them as unnecessary ‘tools’ in order to engage with the culture. I recognize that these discernment folks have the same sort of concern. But what is driving them is ill-founded precisely because they don’t seem to have the ability to more critically discern what in fact is afoot in the SBC in actuality. I just don’t see the SBC sliding into liberalism because they are okay with using CRTI as an analytical tool; which is what they have recently said at their convention. Do I think there are better ways to engage with the culture, more theologically rich ways that elide the intellectual problems that I think come with CRTI? Yes.

But my whole point in this post is to discern a problem I see with the discernment people out there. If it wasn’t this issue, they would have some other reason for finding liberalism in the evangelical churches; other than their own local churches (where they are the leaders). They have made an idol out of finding their identity in sniffing out liberalism even if it isn’t present. They look to their origin story in the formation of Fundamentalism in the early 20th century, and attempt to keep that spirit alive. They are of the mind that liberalism is always waiting to pounce, and they are the ones to find it and crush it. And it is true, progressivism would like nothing else but to take over the world. But the SBC isn’t even close to that world. I don’t see it in Strickland, or any of these others. But the discerners traffic in sensationalism, and that’s what they’re in the process of constructing currently.

[1] Enemies Within: The Church, Synopsis, accessed 08-14-2019.

ET, UFOs, and the Paranormal: A Christian’s Perspective

This will be sort of a different post from the normal themes I cover. But I wanted to quickly address it because I came across someone on my FaceBook feed who is reading a scholarly work (an OUP title) on Aliens, UFOs, and Christian theology. So, yes, this post will be on Aliens or “Extra-Terrestrials,” you know, ET silly, and how I navigate this question as a Christian.

Really, for me, this is a rather easy question to answer: I do not believe there is other intelligent life out there in outer space. The reason I do not think there is is because the Creator of the Universe (just one) became human in order to redeem the peak of his creation, us. The Creator of all reality, visible and invisible, assumed flesh, human flesh, in order to set the Cosmos to rights (cf. Rom. 8) with us as its priests, as we participate in His priesthood for us. The presumption seems to be that if there is ET ‘out there’ that they are even of a higher species than the human species; that they are more intelligent, and more advanced on the evolutionary scale than we are. Indeed, much speculation about ET is tied into a sort of hopeful monster thesis about the origins of life on earth; but we can leave that to the side for this post. In light of the incarnation I find it hard to believe that there is in fact ET out in the universe.

But there are unidentifiable happenings that happen even in our observable atmosphere. The Apostle Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience . . . . .” We know, as Christians (at least some of us Christians affirm this) that the devil and his cohorts are “personally” and actively involved in the affairs of this earth (cf. Eph 6.10ff); indeed, the Apostle Paul says we are in a battle with them. This is how I view so called ET activity—not to mention the so called ‘paranormal’—I believe what people are seeing and experiencing (I’ve even experienced some of this directly and in confrontation) is demonic activity cloaked in popular mythos in order to keep people distracted and ‘a-mused’ so they look away from Christ rather than to Him. While the modern person lives in a disenchanted world, this doesn’t mean they want to; as such, there is an appetite, particularly in the West, for paranormal and ET encounters that people are enamored by. For the pagan they have no canonical witness or framework through which to accurately exegete what they are seeing and experiencing out there; so they let Hollywood do that for them. But for the Christian we do know that there are demonic hordes active in the world that will do whatever it takes to slander and belittle the name and power of Jesus Christ. This is what I see going on with so called UFOs, ET, and the paranormal.

Much more could be written, but I just wanted to drop a quick word and offer my perspective on these things.

‘The Love of Many Has Grown Cold’: Bowing the Knee to the Lord Jesus as Our Life and Witness

This world is descending quickly; further and further into the abyss of chaos and destruction. It doesn’t seem to me, that what counts as Christianity today, in our Western enclaves of evangelicalism, has the capacity to cope with what’s going on anymore. It has lost any fortitude to stand in the power of God in Christ just as it has traded its birthright, won by the person and work of Christ, for the pottage of slop that the world has offered it in exchange. The pottage is filled with a God who looks nothing like the One we see in Jesus Christ, instead it looks like the person we stare at in the mirror every morning we wake up.

I was just involved in a thread yesterday, on Facebook, where I was ruthlessly belittled and vitriolically attacked simply because I offered an alternative position to the one that was being advocated for via satire. The audience in this group of people are largely “conservative evangelicals,” and yet their ‘love has grown very cold’; if in fact they’ve ever had that love. So, that’s one thing, but on the other hand we just are waking up to the horrific reality of the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shooter is a self-proclaimed eco-fascist who would like nothing more, but to start a race and arms civil-war in the United States (thus triggering a global conflict); with the goal of thrusting us further into the cesspool this world currently lives in, even if it attempts to gloss it over through the various idolatrous facades we have available to us.

As you might be able to tell I am rather agitated. I am at a total loss. I am fully disillusioned by not only the chaos currently present in the world system, but in the chaos that is present in the evangelical churches. People are not being taught Christ and Him crucified; they are not being taught that Jesus is LORD, that Jesus is Lord and they are not! People have no fortification in themselves, because they seemingly are not being taught that God in Christ, the One who alone has an indestructible Life, is the esse or source of their life; and thus they simply cave into the most primal instincts of their fallen nature as they require resource to face the evil in the world out there; and the evil ‘in there,’ in their hearts. The Church is seemingly in full-on idolatry mode and have fallen for their fallen-selves rather than the One who has raised them from the dead in His new humanity. If Christians don’t know this, how are they to live this; how are they to be salt and light in a world that is in a flaming relationship with the devil himself? Christians, in the main, just as anyone, experience the fall-out that is currently ravaging this world; but if they cannot recognize the Shepherd’s voice among the many hirelings, then all they will really have left is their own voice who they will and do mistake for the Shepherd’s.

I am thoroughly agitated at the moment; and for good reason! Jesus say’s in Luke ‘will I really find faith on the earth when I return?’ Probably not. It doesn’t seem as if people understand that their voices only matter insofar as they are bearing witness to the reality of the living Savior; social media has falsely inflated the importance of all our voices. We have no voice without Christ’s! This is what Barth so eloquently fleshes out for us as he talks about the reality of the Church, and our reality in it; in Christ. He writes:

A second meaning of the description of the Church as Christ’s body is undoubtedly this: that the repetition of the incarnation of the Word of God in the historical existence of the Church excludes at once any possible autonomy in that existence. The Church lives with Christ as the body with its head. This means that the Church is what it is, because in consequence of what human nature and kind became in Jesus Christ, human nature and kind are made obedient to the eternal Word of the Father and are upheld by that Word. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (fellowship) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10.16f)? In and by this participation the Church lives. It lives by the fact that within it as the circumference nothing happens except a real repetition of what has happened in its midst, in Jesus Christ, to men and for men. It lives by growing up to him who is the head, Christ (Eph. 4.15), i.e. by receiving its whole existence, comfort and direction from Him and only from Him. He is always the subject of the Church. “What believest thou concerning the holy, universal, Christian Church? That the Son of God out of the whole human race gathereth, guardeth and sustaineth for himself an unworldly Church unto eternal life, by his spirit and word in unity with true faith from the beginning of the world unto the end, and that I am and shall eternally remain a living member of the same” (Heid. Cat. qu. 54). Our Lord Jesus Christ does not give us some instructions, like some-one teaching the alphabet to a child, and then gives him to a more excellent teacher. Our Lord does not speak to us in half-measures, but in complete perfection, such that both in life and death, he makes us persist in that which we have from Him, and to renounce that which comes from men. For there is no mixing without corruption . . . It is necessary that the Church be fortified such that Jesus Christ our head always has preeminence. For one wished to exalt men that Jesus Christ was thereby obscured, that would be a fearful construction, and which would bring only ruin and confusion. And in fact, if a man were to become as large as a pillar in this temple, and his head was like a fist, and it was concealed within his shoulders, that would be a monster. It would be much better that he keep the measure common to all (Calvin, Serm. on Gal. 1.11f, 1557; C. R. Calv. 50, 329 f.). “Asketh thou what the Christian Church thou must seek, not that it lie at Rome or at St. James or at Nuremberg or at Wittenberg or among countryfolk, townsfolk or nobility, but it saith, ‘the government shall be upon His shoulders’ … that a right Christian and true member of the Churches is he who believeth that he sitteth upon Christ’s shoulders, that is, that all his sins are hung on Christ’s neck, so that his heart saith, I known no other comfort save that all my sins and misdeeds are laid upon His shoulders. Therefore those who lie on Christ’s shoulders and let themselves be carried by Him, are called and are the Church and proper Christians” (Luther, Pred. üb. Jes. 9. 1 f., 1532. E.A. 6, 59 f.). Therefore, the right order of confession requires that the Church be subordinated to the Trinity, just as a house is to its dweller and the temple to God and state to its founder . . . Therefore neither the whole, nor any part of it should wish to be worshipped instead of God, nor should anything be God which belongs to the temple of God which was built by the gods, which the unmade God made (Augustine, Enchir. 56).[1]

If the Church, and its individual members (I Cor. 12.27) cannot come to terms with the reality that Jesus is Lord, and they are not, then we can count on our ‘love growing cold’ to the point that we seemingly are starting to see in our social-media culture. If Jesus were to come right now (please, Lord!), would He really find faith in His churches? In my experience the answer, in the main, is a resounding NO!

If Christians don’t realize that the source of their life is Christ, then how are they supposed to bear witness to this reality in the world; or even in the Church at large? The love of many has grown cold indeed. People have conflated the simplicity of the true Christ with a different Jesus (II Cor. 11) and called Him Lord. There is no love available there; only self-aggrandizement and the exaltation of the naveled-self as Lord. There is no power for “Christians” living under these sorts of anti-Christ terms, and as such there is no light to shed on the darkness we are plunging further and further into each day. The Church is to have a leavening effect on the culture; in this world system. It cannot nor will not till it starts to live in repentant-living; she isn’t, and probably won’t unfortunately. There is a corresponding relationship between the love of many growing cold, and the darkness we see on the rise as a result.

Pastors are responsible for proclaiming Christ and Him crucified to their congregants; this is a weighty responsibility for which there is stricter judgment coming. Pastors, and those of us who ‘teach,’ are responsible before God for the souls of those under our care. There is a general failure underway, especially in the evangelical churches, such that any ‘power of God’ we might participate in and with through Christ is absent. The absence of power in the Churches to live holy and bold lives before God in Christ, are directly corollary with our unwillingness to recognize that Jesus is Lord; in our unwillingness to live in obedience to Him.

My experience yesterday on Facebook, and now this shooting in New Zealand (not equating them, per se) has only illustrated to me once more how urgent things are! There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency among the people of God. The churches seem to be stagnating with no real power in the world at large; or even in their own homes and personal lives. There seems to be a lack of living into and for the ‘Great Commission’ that our Lord has commanded we follow Him in as He seeks to save the least and the lost. Lord! Maranatha

[1] Barth, CD I/2 §16, 14-5 [italics mine — these are the Latin phrases in their English translation].

Hell’s Darkness Quenched Not By the Apologists But the Christian Dogmaticians

Do you ever read atheist or agnostic authors and start to feel the existential weight of their unbelief? Do you ever follow out the ‘feeling’ that arises when you do that; particularly as you do so as a Christian? I do. Indeed, I just have been experiencing this sensation once again. I am in the process of reading Terry Eagleton (again); he is not even close to being a militant atheist; if anything he is a
soft atheist or searching agnostic. Nonetheless, he operates with machinations that are at overt odds with the Christian reality; particularly when it comes to who Jesus Christ claimed to be. So, just by way of old wounds I have a space to ‘feel’ the angst and utter hopelessness that this sort of agony of thought (ought) to produce; you know: ‘dark night of the soul’ sort of stuff.

My antidote to this sort of stuff, in years past, was to refer to the myriad of evangelical apologists out there; you know: William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland et al. But this isn’t all that satisfactory. The reason this isn’t ultimately satisfactory for me is because they aren’t defending the sort of God I already have a personal and dialogical relationship with. They, instead, are defending the god of the philosophers; the same god most atheists are rejecting. In that sense, if that was the god I was feeling angst about, I suppose what they write would offer assuage. But that’s not the God I know. So what I’ve come to recognize over the years is that there is a misidentification, not just by the atheists, but also by most of the Christian apologists, when it comes to the god they are arguing about.

Because of this, what brings me refreshment—after feeling the loss that someone like Eagleton inhabits, even if he doesn’t ‘feel’ the same loss, currently—is not to go to the “apologists,” but instead it is to go to the Christian Dogmaticians of the church. This is an interesting combine, really, because many of the apologists I am referring to would also refer to some of these church fathers when they are engaging in their defense of God. But again, I think there is a misidentification taking place on various fronts here. The apologists are mostly using the thoughts of some of these church fathers (whether these are patristic, mediaeval, post reformed orthodox, orthodox Lutheran etc.) in abstract ways; abstract in the sense that they are often disregarding the subtleties present in the thought of these various fathers. In other words, the fathers (and mothers) are typically writing for the edification of the church; not attempting to ‘defend’ say, the existence of God. The appeal in the fathers, often at best, is an aesthetic, not analytic one. As such, there is a depth dimension present in their writings that already requires a prior commitment to God’s Divine Revelation; something atheists and agnostics repudiate. In this vein, the fathers have the resource and access to the heavenlies to speak things into my heart that the apologists do not.

The antidote that works best for me these days—an antidote for curing the feeling of hell’s darkness—is not the apologists (who typically push me into this feeling of loss), but the fathers. When I read the fathers there is an encouragement that bears witness with my spirit, such that Jesus comes to be magnified; and God glorified. This is not to say that the fathers all have equal value, but instead to recognize that when I read sound Christian theological reflection there is a fire rekindled that is often quenched when engaging with the atheists (or even the apologists).