Tag Archives: Piety

How does church appear to someone raised in a non-Christian home?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there

My friend Wes posted an article about how communication is set up in the church, and why it’s not effective at equipping Christians to defend their worldview in hostile environments. The article describes what I encountered in church, after I was raised in a non-Christian home and become a Christian on my own by reading the New Testament. The view presented in the essay is how I viewed the church, and is probably how most outsiders view church. I think it explains why young people leave the church in droves once they move out of their parents’ houses.

The author writes:

On the Internet, one soon discovers that many respected church leaders are quite unable to deal directly with opposing viewpoints. In fact, many of them can’t even manage meaningful engagement with other voices. Their tweets may be entirely one-way conversations. They talk at their audiences. They can talk about other voices, but fail to talk to them, let alone with them. Their representations of opposing viewpoints reveal little direct exposure to the viewpoints in question.

[…]Around this point, it can start to dawn on one that many church leaders have only been trained in forms of discourse such as the sermon and, to a much lesser extent, the essay. Both forms privilege a single voice—their voice—and don’t provide a natural space for response, questioning, and challenge. Their opinions have been assumed to be superior to opposing viewpoints, but have never been demonstrated to be so. While they may have spoken or written about opposing voices, they are quite unaccustomed to speaking or writing to them (not to mention listening to or being cross-examined by them). There are benefits to the fact that the sermon is a form of discourse that doesn’t invite interruption or talking back, but not when this is the only form of discourse its practitioners are adept in.

Many church leaders have been raised and trained in ideologically homogenous cultures or contexts that discouraged oppositional discourse. Many have been protected from hostile perspectives that might unsettle their faith. Throughout, their theological opinions and voices have been given a privileged status, immune from challenge. Nominal challenges could be brushed off by a reassertion of the monologue. They were safe to speak about and habitually misrepresent other voices to their hearers and readers, without needing to worry about those voices ever enjoying the power to answer them back. Many of the more widely read members of their congregations may have had an inkling of the weakness of their positions in the past: the Internet just makes it more apparent.

One of my friends who comments here as “Wintery’s Friend” actually did his M. Div, and I think it was he who told me that his seminary had dropped the lone course in apologetics that had been part of the curriculum. Now seminary grads don’t learn any opposing views. They just pre-suppose that the Bible is true in the same way that Mormons pre-suppose their Bible is true. It’s a Mormon epistemology that’s been adopted by Christian seminarians.

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If one’s opinion has never been subjected to and tried by rigorous cross-examination, it probably isn’t worth much. If one lacks the capacity to keep a level head when one’s views are challenged, one’s voice will be of limited use in most real world situations, where dialogue and dispute is the norm and where we have to think in conversation with people who disagree with us.

The teachers of the Church provide the members of the Church with a model for their own thinking. The teacher of the Church does not just teach others what to believe, but also how to believe, and the process by which one arrives at a theological position. This is one reason why it is crucial that teachers ‘show their working’ on a regular basis. When teaching from a biblical text, for instance, the teacher isn’t just teaching the meaning of that particular text, but how Scripture should be approached and interpreted more generally. An essential part of the teaching that the members of any church need is that of dealing with opposing viewpoints. One way or another, every church provides such teaching. However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that opposing voices are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.

You can imagine that the first questions that you’ll be asked by a non-Christian co-worker would be things like “why think God exists?” and “why think the Bible is history rather than legend?”. What I’ve learned from listening to pastors is that very few are equipped to answer those questions. Most just assume that God exists and that the Bible is inerrant. And they don’t show their work, because they haven’t done the work. Moreover, they actively oppose apologetics as “divisive” and “prideful”. And so their flocks can attend church for 20 years and never learn a single useful piece of information that can be used in a real-world discussion. If you’re wondering why kids raised in married Christian homes start getting drunk and shacking up with atheists the minute they hit college, then look at the pastors who mocked their honest questions instead of preparing to answer them with evidence.

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I believe that there are various problems in the Church that are exacerbated by this. Where they are led by voices that can’t cope with difference or challenge, churches will tend to become fissiparous echo chambers, where people are discouraged from thinking critically about what leaders are saying and doing. The integrity of the Church’s theological conversation will not be tested through criticism and challenge. Churches that are led by such leaders will habitually develop polarized oppositions with their critics.

Unfortunately, in conservative churches, pious church leaders like Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Denny Burk, etc. oppose the use of evidence in apologetics, especially scientific and historical evidence. They don’t like the idea that humans can consider evidence rationally, and make a decision – even though Jesus regularly presents evidence to people who don’t believe in him in the Bible, and expects them to respond to it. The approach of pious Christian leaders to Christian teaching is to parrot Bible verses and hope that it has a magical effect of compelling faith in unbelievers. I call this the magic-words view of the Bible. For example, these pastors would not use peer-reviewed evidence from the social sciences when discussing moral issues like premarital sex, they would just cite the Bible’s teaching on it – to non-Christians!

I don’t know about you, but I think that a peer-reviewed paper on the dangers of premarital promiscuity has far more weight than something like this from Denny Burk:

If the Bible is the word of God, then it merely needs to be proclaimed. It has intrinsic power that cannot be nullified by the most hardened of skeptics. For that reason, we can have confidence in proclaiming it to anyone. And we can say “the Bible tells me so” without blushing.

That’s just fideism, and it’s the majority view among conservative church leaders. If you had to pick a single passage that explained the decline of Bible-based Christianity in America, you couldn’t find a better passage. What’s most surprising is that this fideistic view of Christianity is not even Biblical. The Biblical view of faith is that faith is trust in God, based on evidence. This is why Jesus offered his own resurrection as evidence to a generation of unbelievers. His miracles were also evidence offered to unbelievers. And the Old Testament is filled with examples of people like Isaiah presenting evidence to unbelievers. The fideist view sounds more like the Mormon “burning of the bosom” view.

I think the Mormon / fideist camp is just imposing their own man-made views onto the text in order to get out of the hard work of having to actually study and prepare to have debates with non-Christians. The motivation is laziness, and piety is just how they dress up their laziness to make it seem positive. Unfortunately, the product of this pious laziness is ignorance, and ignorance costs young people their faith. It doesn’t seem to bother these pastors at all that they can’t have meaningful engagements with non-Christians, or that they don’t equip young Christians to defend themselves. They’re oblivious to the world outside of the church doors.

In conclusion, we really need to stop giving respect to fideist pastors, if we expect to train up a generation of young Christians who are able to retain their faith and have an influence. We would never accept Mormon fideism as a sign of competence in any other real-world area of our lives, e.g. – auto repair, software engineering, surgery or tax law. We shouldn’t accept Mormon fideism as a sign of competence in teaching the Bible, either.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Wayne Grudem responds to Christians who think law and policy are less important than piety

Trump surrounded by prominent evangelicals: Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo
Trump and his evangelicals: VP Mike Pence (L) and Sec. of State Mike Pompeo (R)

Laura send me this amazing article from the Christian Post, written by famous evangelical theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem. He was responding to a blue state pastor named John Piper. Piper has made a name for himself by emphasizing emotions, piety and “Christian hedonism”. Let’s take a look at what Wayne Grudem had to say about Christians who support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Here’s the intro:

[John Piper] and I have reached different conclusions about this year’s presidential election. His October 22 article, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin,” explained why he thought it would be wrong for him to support either candidate in this election.

Here is Grudem’s summary of Piper’s argument:

1. The personal sins of a leader can be as harmful to persons and to nations as morally evil laws.

2. Christians communicate a falsehood when we act as if policies and laws are more precious than being a certain kind of person.

3. The horrible sin of pride leads people to other sins, including defending abortion, and therefore voting for a clearly boastful candidate might also be indirectly supporting abortion.

4. Voting for either candidate would compromise a person’s Christian witness

I covered point 1 in a previous post. Below, we’ll cover points 2-4.

Here’s part of his response to point 2:

A presidential election is not deciding what is most important in all of life, which is certainly our relationship with Christ. Paul writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil. 3:8). A presidential election is simply choosing the leaders of our government. In such a situation, the primary purpose is to decide what kind of government we will have, and in that situation policies and laws are not the only consideration, but they are the most important consideration.

Here’s part of his response to point 3:

I do not think that “arrogance and boasting” are the primary motivations that lead people to support abortion rights. I think rather the primary motive is rebellion against God’s commands that forbid sex outside of marriage between a man and woman. The motive is a desire for sexual freedom without the responsibility of raising children. As for doctors who perform abortions, I think the primary motivation is greed.

Piper refers to James 4:1-2 to show that support for his statement that “child-killing” comes from “self-absorbed arrogance and boasting.” But these verses specifically speak about coveting, not boasting, that leads to murder: “You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:2).

Here’s part of his response to point 4:

[I]f all evangelical Christians followed Piper’s example and decided to write in someone else’s name instead of voting for either Trump or Biden. The result would be an overwhelming landslide victory for Biden, because the largest single bloc of Trump supporters is evangelical Christians. In 2016, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, while 16% voted for Clinton and 4% didn’t vote for president or voted for some other candidate. If that 4% of “vote for neither one” evangelical voters had been 5% or 6%, Hillary Clinton would have been president.

So, if Trump loses the evangelical bloc, Biden wins. In fact, if a significant number of Christians decide not to vote for either Trump or Biden, the result will not be some ideal third-party president. It will be a Biden presidency which (in my opinion) will bring great harm to the nation.

This is really important. If you are going to share Grudem’s post on social media, cut and paste this above your link – this is the most important part:

I differ with my friend John Piper about the results of a second term for President Trump. In Trump second term, I look forward to the appointment of more originalist judges (who will interpret the laws and not make new laws on their own), further legal restrictions on abortion, greater protections for religious freedom and freedom of conscience, lower taxes, fewer government regulations, a rapidly growing economy, low unemployment rates (especially significant for ethnic minorities), increased prosperity for people at every income level, additional history-making agreements between Israel and additional Arab nations, a clearheaded recognition of the economic, military, and information threat from China, a high value placed on human freedom and on personal accountability for committing crimes, increasing numbers of children eligible for taxpayer-supported school choice, a secure border followed by a comprehensive reform of our immigration system, and an increase in police presence in high crime neighborhoods, with a resulting decrease in crime.

That seems to me to be likely, given Trump’s first term actions.

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On the other hand, if evangelicals stay away from voting for either Biden or Trump, then then under a Biden presidency I would expect the appointment of hundreds of judges who take the law in their own hands and even consider themselves to be above the original meaning of the Constitution, laws that allow abortion up to the moment of birth and even after, the use of tax money to pay for abortions and gender reassignment surgery, the crippling of our economy with ever-increasing government control and ever-increasing taxes, increased unemployment, a weaker military unable to counter the increasing aggressiveness of China in the world’s oceans, a Jimmy Carter-like foreign policy of appeasement, abandoning Israel to fend for itself in the Middle East, adding additional seats to make a liberal majority on the Supreme Court, draconian laws that compel artistic professionals to affirm the validity of same-sex marriage even when contrary to their consciences, a reinstatement of the Obama-era guidelines that required schools to allow biological males to use girls bathrooms, locker rooms and showers and to allow them to compete in women’s sports, a massive increase in energy costs, ever-increasing restrictions on police forces, leading to an increase in crime, and the proliferation of violence and intimidation to nullify freedom of speech (in practice) for those who disagree with the liberal political agenda, open borders, sanctuary cities, and a complete federal takeover of our healthcare system.

I definitely think that Wayne Grudem’s article showed a greater knowledge of what’s going on in the real world than John Piper’s article. We ought to be concerned about what our lives will really be like under the laws and policies of the next president. It doesn’t matter how voting makes us feel, or how voting makes us look to others.

Wayne Grudem responds to Christians who think arrogance is worse than infanticide

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Trump, Pence and Pompeo champion religious freedom at the United Nations

Laura send me this amazing article from the Christian Post, written by famous evangelical theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem. He was responding to a blue state pastor named John Piper. Piper has made a name for himself by emphasizing emotions, piety and “Christian hedonism”. Let’s take a look at what Wayne Grudem had to say about Christians who support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Here’s the intro:

[John Piper] and I have reached different conclusions about this year’s presidential election. His October 22 article, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin,” explained why he thought it would be wrong for him to support either candidate in this election.

Here is Grudem’s summary of Piper’s argument:

1. The personal sins of a leader can be as harmful to persons and to nations as morally evil laws.

2. Christians communicate a falsehood when we act as if policies and laws are more precious than being a certain kind of person.

3. The horrible sin of pride leads people to other sins, including defending abortion, and therefore voting for a clearly boastful candidate might also be indirectly supporting abortion.

4. Voting for either candidate would compromise a person’s Christian witness

I have a friend in my office, Scott, who has exactly these views. He is pro-life and pro-family, but he thinks voting for Trump’s policies would be wrong, because of Trump’s past moral failings.

Here’s part of his response to point 1:

Americans are perfectly free to say, “Trump’s boastfulness offends me and I don’t want to act that way myself.” But if laws are passed (and upheld by the courts) that enforce the LGBT agenda, no creative professional like a cake decorator (or photographer or florist) will be free to say, “I believe same-sex marriage is morally wrong, and I won’t use my artistic talent to decorate a cake celebrating same-sex marriage.” No high school girl will be free to say, “I won’t undress and change clothes for my gym class because there are boys in the locker room who claim to be girls.” No Christian adoption agency will be free to say, “We will not place children with same-sex couples.”

And if Democrats gain control of our government and the Supreme Court, and enact their desired policies, no Christian taxpayer will be free to say, “I refuse to pay that portion of my taxes that the government is using to pay for abortions.” No business owner will be free to say, “I will not buy medical insurance for my employees that pays for abortions and sex-change surgeries.” There will be only two choices: violate your conscience or else be driven to bankruptcy or go to jail.

Trump’s first four years not a parade of immoral actions:

[A]fter his nearly four years in office, I would add that he has shown remarkable courage of his convictions, faithfulness to his campaign promises, steadfastness of purpose in spite of an astoundingly hostile press, incredible energy in the performance of his job, dignity and even eloquence in many formal speeches and ceremonies at home and abroad, respect and appreciation for his wife Melania and his sons and daughters, and a wide-ranging understanding of the hundreds of different issues that every president faces. In contrast to his past life, during his term in office there is not been even a hint of any sexual impropriety. He is sometimes boastful but on a number of occasions I have seen him publicly give credit to many other people for things that have been accomplished. And I think he has shown mature and wise judgment in a variety of situations that he has faced as president.

Biden’s character not exemplary:

It is easy to compare President Trump with a hypothetical “perfect” president and to conclude that he falls short, but that is not our choice. If Trump is not reelected, we will have President Biden, with an entirely different set of character flaws. The multiple allegations that Vice President Biden used his government office and influence to enrich members of his own family with millions of dollars from China, Russia, and Ukraine should be of deep concern, because using government power to enrich one’s own family is the consistent characteristic of corrupt leaders in many countries of the world.

Conservative Christians occupy prominent positions in Trump’s Cabinet, and they make many decisions that affect voters:

Donald Trump is not the only person we are voting for. It is remarkable that the Trump administration has elevated so many self-professing evangelical Christians – far more than any in my lifetime – into positions of high influence in our government. They also provide role models for Americans. To vote for Trump as president is also to vote for Mike Pence as vice president, Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, Russell Vought as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and numerous others. In addition, Trump has appointed numerous deeply committed Roman Catholics to various positions, the most recent being Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The character of these leaders is also a role model for the nation.

We will look at responses to the points 2-4 in  another post.

For my part, I think that if Trump’s character was going to be a major factor, it would all have come out in his first term. Instead, we’ve seen him act in a way that is friendly to evangelical Christians. I don’t expect him to write systematic theology or do philosophical apologetics or discover a new example of cosmic fine-tuning. He doesn’t have to be a Christian in order to push for laws and policies that allow me to run my Christian life-plan. I need to be able to earn money without compromising my values, and spend it on the Christian causes I care about. I need to be protected from people like Antifa and gay rights extremists, who don’t seem to be at all concerned about moving from angry words to property damage to actual violence against those who disagree with them.

By the way, if you want a good review of Trump’s achievements in different areas: economy, job creation, immigration, foreign policy, national security, defense, deregulation, agriculture, law and justice, energy and environment, transparency and accountability, health care, social programs, infrastructure and technology, education and veterans, you can find all that right here.

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