Freedom Has Its Requirements

As they say, freedom isn’t free.

The times we are in require serious thinking about freedom, a freedom that moves beyond sheer libertinism. With freedom there comes a yoke, the yoke of virtue. Only good men can prosper from freedom and only good men can produce it.

Os Guinness is here interviewed by Al Mohler concerning his new book, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. Sloppy thinking about freedom gets many a Christian into a mess. Theologically, free grace cannot mean freedom to sin, yet many professing Christians so believe. They don’t quite say it like that, but that is the conclusion. Grace’s nature is not to produce holiness but simply forgiveness. What a paltry and ghostly, not to say ghastly, version of the Christian faith. As a pastor, sometimes I think I have heard it all, but I never cease to be amazed at the conclusion some church people draw from grace. They absolutely see no need for holiness nor the imperative of it. Holiness is simply not related in any direct way to the Gospel of grace.

It is not merely the simple who make such a slip. It comes in all kinds of sophisticated guises. I have previously expressed my concern about the New Calvinism and its flirtation with antinomianism, the cutting of the cord that links justification to sanctification as if salvation was complete in the act of imputation of the righteousness of Christ alone. This strain of Christianity is all too sterile and undramatic. It simply makes Christianity a state of affairs rather than a walk with God.

But, to my broader concern, at the political and cultural level I conclude that too many Americans think they are being good American simply by saying “live and let live.”  They face the same project Socrates faced in Greece in 400 BC, how to produce a man who is capable of sustaining freedom without collapsing society into a cauldron of libertinism. Freedom alone does not make us good and a good man is required for a good society. There must be something else. What is that something else?

This is what is on the mind and heart of Os Guinness. He is one of Evangelicalism’s leading cultural analysts who brings to the table a breadth of sources and a depth of intellect, as well as a heart that breathes the air of affection for the things of God. I recommend this program to you, as well as all the writings of this time tested one-man-think-tank.

Winsome Words 4/28/13

When the Christian trusts, he is happy; when he doubts, he is miserable. When the believer looks to his Master and relies upon him, he can sing; when he doubts his Master, he can only groan. What miserable wretches the most faithful Christians are when they once begin doubting and fearing! It is a trade I never like to meddle with, because it never pays the expenses, and never brings in any profit —the trade of doubting.  CH Spurgeon

Christian Bloggers Strangely Absent on the Marathon Bombers

I have more than a handful of Christian bloggers at my Netvibes aggregator. If I can, I spend significant time perusing the blogs for current topics and issues as well as to fuel my thinking on longer term subjects of interest I mean to preach or write about.

They are mostly missing in action when it comes to the Marathon bombers and Muslim terrorists. That is, except for those who are from the Reformed camp. This more muscular kind of theology is more ready than most to wrestle issues to the ground, take no prisoners and offer no apologies. Try on Albert Mohler for size. The topic hasn’t been concocted yet that he is not ready to comment upon.

But most of the bloggers I visit are strangely AWOL. There are many minefields on this subject, and I am sure they don’t want to land on one. That’s my best interpretation. But it does occur to me that their usual version of spirituality might not be up to the heavy lifting one has to lean into on this one. Or that they just aren’t interested.

I have been getting the usual “chipper” (as John Piper calls it) emails from Christian leaders as if nothing much has happened in our country, as if there has been no death and destruction, as if there is no war being waged, as if there is no penetrating evil at the door. How can this be? Where is the grief? Where is the sympathy for families and communities? Where is the concern for righteousness? Where is the real dealing with cloud and rain, bullets and bombs, civilization and barbarity?

Perhaps in such instances our communities need more than a bit of cheering up, or the promise that Jesus will meet your financial needs or land you that perfect home. Perhaps we need more than bromides and balms. Maybe we need to believe courageous things and do strong deeds. Maybe we need to raise the bar from comforting those who already have so much to calling brothers and sisters to the city’s walls to bring protection to the innocent and the vulnerable. And maybe our leaders have an instinct that either their version of Christianity has nothing to add at a time like this or that Christians have a right not to listen to their usual formulas.

It was at such a time as this that Augustine wrote The City of God, a muscular work that fortified the church while the Roman Empire gasped its last breath. In our time, too, barbarians are at the gate. Have you been reading about Dr. Kermit Gosnell as of late and the butchery he ran? For a long time you had to search hard to find his name in the media though a few courageous Christians who were pointing others to the breach in the walls of city his acts were making. Have you been reading about the US cultural giveaway that is handing a society long cultivated and  watered by the blood of patriots to the disinterested and even alien elements that have no intent to participate in our cultural project? Have you been reading about a culture drowning in drug abuse, child neglect, financial desperation, generational illiteracy and marriage disaster? The answer is not much, even if you are reading Christian blogs. There are no alarms sounding, no drums vibrating, no voices rising. Business as usual

Christians who do care about such things are being shamed by their own pastors and leaders into silence. They are told that we don’t want to be perceived as bigots, prejudiced, angry or anything else that will keep people from coming to our churches. Guess what!! People aren’t coming to our churches already. Why? It could be that the one thing we do not offer them is the beauty of holiness and righteousness and zeal that God’s healing purity roll across the globe. Maybe the culture needs to see a church disturbed by the viruses to which our culture has lost its immunity. Maybe people will want a righteous King who stands against the tide of evil and restores hope to cultural disintegration.

My guess is that many of our popular bloggers can’t get their minds and hearts around this one. They have not much to say, not much to offer. Because maybe our world is realizing that it needs more than hallmark card Christianity which is only good on birthdays and in funeral homes but cannot handle the darkness in between.

Winsome Words 4/15/13

“The paints of piety are like the withdrawal symptoms when an addict goes clean and sober.  God does not cause pain; sin causes pain.  But the juxtaposition of God and sin also causes pain.”

“The surgeon who does not cut out the cancer is not kind but cruel.  The God of mere kindness whom we long for, the Grandfather God who leaves us alone to enjoy ourselves rather than the Father God who constantly interrupts us and interferes with our lives is really not kind but cruel.  (He is also non-existent!)  The ‘cruel’ God of the Bible is a God of battles.  He fights a spiritual war for us against the demons of sin in us.  This God is not cruel but kind, as kind as he can possibly be.  The sword he comes to us with (Mt. 10:34) is a surgeon’s scalpel, and this Surgeon’s hands are covered with his own blood.”

             Peter Kreeft

Winsome Words 4/14/13

Blaise Pascal:

“It is true that there is something painful in beginning to practice piety, but this pain does not arise from the beginnings of piety within us, but from the impiety that is still there….  We only suffer in so far as our natural vice resists supernatural grace, but it would be very wrong to impute this violence to God, who draws us to him, instead of attributing it to the world which holds us back.  It is like a child snatched by its mother from the arms of robbers….  The cruellest war that God can wage on men in this life is to leave them without the war he came to bring.  ‘I came not to send peace but a sword,’ he said.  …Before his coming the world lived in false peace.”

An Interesting Review of Rob Bell’s New Book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God

No, I have not read Bell’s new book. I am going to. I wouldn’t consider myself a Bell fan, but Bell stands for one who has been inside the Evangelical subculture and struggles with its issues, both the things it has put together and the things it hasn’t. I tend to listen to people like that. It’s not because I struggle that much myself. I do struggle, for sure, but have found Evangelicalism comfortably my home. But at times it has been push and shove. I am particularly sensitive to Evangelicalism’s aversion to the mystical and its “all answers on board” demeanor. I am also somewhat rebuffed by its “the truth will set you free” understanding of the Christian life. It is decidedly a mental construct of the Christian life and feels like rational cognitive therapy. “Here is the truth – do it.” The complexities of the inner world are realities that do not get a lot of press in my camp. Bell might have gone off the reservation (I have no final judgment on this one). But the things he struggles with are struggles that come from my side of the track.

Here is a review of Bell’s recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

A Debate You Can Listen to About Same-Sex Marriage: Maggie Gallagher Debating Same-Sex Marriage With John Corvino on C-Span

Here is the debate carried on C-Span’s Book TV. Maggie Gallagher argues for the traditional definition of marriage and John Corvino the revisionist position. They together authored the book, Debating Same Sex Marriage. The conversation is irenic and intellectual. You can actually listen to it without feeling anger. However, no one should stay calm when it is understood what is up for grabs in this debate.

Gallagher is also the author of  Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution is Killing Family, Marriage, and Sex and What We Can Do about It, a book she wrote while still an atheist. She eventually found that, in her opinion, the Roman Catholic Church was the only institution of any weight which supported her views on the sanctity of marriage. This led to her ultimate conversion to Christianity. This is an interesting twist. Rather than becoming a Christian and then shaping her view of marriage, she became a Christian in large measure because they agreed with her views of marriage as an atheist. It continues to be the case that many of her arguments for the traditional definition of marriage are not tied to “God says so” school of thought. This makes her a harder target for her opponents to squeeze into a box.