Skip to content

Christians

Values Clarification

Share

I’ve been through half a dozen values clarification sessions in my life. I never liked them. For one thing, I never thought they helped clarify anyone’s values. Typically, the group is presented with a hypothetical scenario requiring the sacrifice of one or more members to guarantee survival of those that remain. Because the scenarios are always hypothetical, they always lack the real detail of a genuine situation. They force you to make decisions based on stereotypes when a real situation would require a much more complete and nuanced understanding. In addition, since no one really dies, the entire process is overlaid with a sense of academic curiosity that I find repugnant. We sit in our group calmly rationalizing the relative value of this or that human being based on gender, race, age, occupation, general knowledge, or usefulness to the group all the while knowing full well that the value of each one is incalculable. The values that become clarified are the values of those who devise the experiments.

God seldom asks or answers hypothetical questions. He has a way of asking very pointed and practical questions: Where are you? Did you eat the fruit I told you not to eat? Where is your brother? What do you see? Is the maker of the eye unable to see? Do you want to be well? What do you want?

One of the classic questions aimed like an arrow at Christians is this: What about those who have never heard of Christ? Are they condemned because of their ignorance? Behind such questions is a silent accusation of injustice. If God requires faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, then those who have no opportunity to hear of Jesus certainly cannot believe in him and must be condemned. This certainly seems unfair. Why would a just God condemn those who have not heard along with those who have willfully rejected Jesus?

The Apostle Paul tackles these question in the book of Romans. He makes clear that there is no such thing as simple ignorance. Instead, Paul says that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” He claims that “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The visible and tangible world testifies to the invisible God. Of course, there are many today who claim that nothing can be known of God—not even whether he exists—based on examination of the natural world. But such claims are based on an incomplete epistemology, one that tends to emphasize method and ignore the knowing subject. Besides, Paul says of those who persist in godlessness that “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” They become unable to know God through his handiwork.

Nevertheless, Paul tells us that we will be judged according to what we have done, not according to what propositions we have given mental assent to. Those born under the Law—Jews—will be judged by the Law. Those who do not have the Law will be judged without the Law. Paul’s position is that everyone—with or without the Law—has done things they know they should not have done. They have acted from selfishness, meanness, cowardice, or malice. Those without the Law will be judged by their own guilt and by their hypocrisy, since they have condemned in others what they themselves have done. This fact, that none of us lives up to our own standards to say nothing of the standards of others, is an important clue about our human nature. Something in us demands perfection, and we are not up to it. What is this something, and where does it come from?

So there are no innocents undeserving of condemnation. Yes, there are some who are ignorant of Christ, but their ignorance is culpable, and they will be judged according to what they know, not according what they do not know. But what of you, O Accuser? If you are really concerned about those who do not yet know Christ, are you spending yourself as Paul did to bring the knowledge of the gospel to them? Or do you seek to divert God’s attention from your own sin by accusing him of injustice? There are some who have not heard Christ, but you have heard. What will you do with what you have heard?

Clarify this.

Read this post on my blog.
Share

Uncompromised Faith

Share

I’ve been reading S. Michael Craven’s newsletters for a long time now. He takes on thorny and contentious issues in Christianity and writes about them with thoughtful clarity and compassion. His first book, Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity, shows the same intelligence and passion I have come to expect from his other writings. Despite tackling hot-button issues that usually inspire strident rhetoric—for example, homosexuality and same-sex marriage—Craven almost always presents well-reasoned arguments without shrillness. Even when he sinks to ad hominem attacks, such as linking Carl Jung to Hitler and the Nazis, he forgoes lurid and inflammatory language. He writes about Jung’s pseudo-scientific spirituality:

The popularity of the Volkish movement, with its foundational concept of an Aryan elite, actually may have contributed to the preconditions necessary for the rise of Nazism in Germany. One scholar wrote, “By 1933 the German right was captured by Volkish ideas. It was a trend in German thought that became so strong that millions accepted it as the only solution to Germany’s problems.” Jung was regarded as an important proponent of Volkish thinking, a connection that many followers of Jung have worked hard to conceal, for obvious reasons.

It’s hard to find a Christian writer today who can write any kind of cultural critique without invoking the Nazis. They are to us what demons were to Jesus’ contemporaries. At least Craven sticks to references that have a plausible connection.

Craven identifies three isms—modernism, postmodernism, and consumerism—that in his view have most hindered the spread of the gospel and the effectiveness of the church in America. His book is unconcerned with the global impact of efforts in the American church to spread the gospel beyond the United States; he instead tackles the obvious decline in Christian influence in the public sphere in America. He does not mean political influence but cultural influence. The Christian right may have a stranglehold on the Republican party, but Christianity—right or left—certainly has little influence in Hollywood or Wall Street.

The book is long on critique but short on solutions. Craven identifies the cultural and ideological trends that have most harmed the effectiveness of the church, but he offers little as an effective strategy for combating those trends. Nevertheless, he provides a good start, and those who give serious thought to where the American church will be in 40 years should read this book. For the United States has been overtaken by a modern form of paganism, characterized by a diffuse belief in an impersonal God, confidence in progress, suspicion of history, and radical self-reliance.

Craven is not alone in his judgment that America is becoming increasingly pagan. Eccentric art critic Dave Hickey writes in a recent article,

Citizens of ancient Rome made sacrifices at the temple of the god most likely to find them a mate or cure erectile dysfunction. We Americans conflate the shops of Rome with its temples. We shop for dreams in galleries and boutiques–and every cent we pay for an object that exceeds its utility may be taken as a pagan sacrifice to the power of that specific object to lend us some assistance.

No wonder Craven calls consumerism idolatry. In America where do we turn in a time of crisis? What will save us from an economic tailspin? Shopping! When the politicos and pundits tells us our salvation will come when we break out the credit cards and cash and head to the nearest retail outlet, then we know we are no longer a nation that trusts in God, despite what it says on our currency. An earlier generation would have repented (or at least been urged to repent) of avarice. But now avarice, no longer a vice, is our greatest virtue—as long as it’s a democratic avarice and not elitist like those AIG bigwigs who reaped obscene windfalls after gutting their own company.

The promise of the subtitle is that readers would learn to overcome their culturalized Christianity. The book certainly helps with recognizing how our culture has not only influenced but actually subverted the message of the gospel, but it does little to help us overcome this subversion. For that we may have to wait for a prophet with more fire in his belly.

Share

Christians On Sudan

Share

The New York Times today published two editorials, both by notable Christian leaders and both concerned with the imminent arrest of Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The first, by Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, criticizes African leaders for their unwillingness to denounce Bashir. Instead, they have petitioned the United Nations Security Council to have the proceedings of the International Criminal Court suspended. “[R]ather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.” Desmond Tutu clearly favors bringing Bashir to justice and sees peace as dependent on justice. “There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice,” he writes.

The second piece is by the president and chief executive of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham. Graham argues that peace must take precedence over justice. He tells of meeting with Bashir and winning concessions that have saved lives and resulted in improved conditions in southern Sudan and Darfur. Graham fears that if Bashir is brought to justice, then someone worse will take his place and the situation in Sudan and Darfur will deteriorate even more.

In this instance I have to agree with Desmond Tutu. It’s hard to imagine things getting really worse in southern Sudan and Darfur, and any head of state who comes after Bashir is bound to take into consideration the fate of his predecessor before pursuing policies that would be even more detestable to the watching world. Moreover, it appears that justice is what the victims themselves want. For more, see Nicholas D. Kristof’s blogs about Sudan and Darfur.

Share