Blog Archives

Men without Ears

In 1943, C.S. Lewis published his short, apologetic work, The Abolition of Man, in which he tackles “The Green Book,” a new text being used in the British educational system, one that elevates observational science over the arts and moral norms. Lewis’ premise is ultimately that the educational system was producing “men without chests” — people who used reason and their passions without the constraints of moral virtue.

The Abolition of Man was written 75 years ago and time has been the judge of Lewis’ fears and predictions. And while the point of this reflection is not to go on a long diatribe about the state of the American educational system, if the violence present in the schools today is any indication of the moral standards of student bodies, then it is a pretty clear indication of Lewis’ insights into the consequences of a bad educational model. And, by violence, I am not simply referring to school shootings and stabbings, though that is a heinous crime, I am also talking about the violence in the hallways — bullying, verbal abuse of other students and teachers, and a general lack of respect for authority amongst the student body.

My concern this morning is to suggest that we have entered a stage beyond Lewis’ prediction of men without chests. We have also created heads without ears. Many people complain that in our world today the art of debate has been abandoned. Well-crafted argumentation has been replaced simply by arguments, most of which seem to be built on an ad hominem approach.

Truly, this is not a new thing. Ad hominem and the use of other logical fallacies are techniques that Arthur Schopenhauer suggested, for example, in his work entitled, The Art of Controversy. Further, it was the method of the Sophists in the 5th century B.C. Of course, it is arguments like these to which great thinkers like Socrates and Plato objected. Yet, today, thoughtless gibes seem to be the approach that people commonly take — a brief survey of recent presidential debates is a good indication of that reality. And, I am not convinced that audiences of these supposed debates really desire to hear competing ideas weighed out, I think that most only desire to have what they already believe echoed back to them in clever and novel ways: arguments rather than carefully discussed reasons.

And that brings me to ears. Ears are the organ by which we hear things. And, in principle, it is that which we hear in a conversation that ought to cause our minds to reason and understand the position of the other person. If you say, “I think we ought to do X rather than Y,” that is merely an opinion. But, if you say, “I think we ought to do X rather than Y, because of A, B, and C,” then that is a different matter altogether. Then we can carefully evaluate reasons “A, B, and C” to confirm that they are legitimate and pertinent to the question at hand. In addition, when I respond, “No, we need to do Y, because of reasons J, K, and L” then we have data and principles to discuss. As Sherlock Holmes often quipped to John Watson, “I cannot make bricks without straw!”

The problem is that it takes time and energy to come up with reasons for your position and to be able to defend those reasons in a thoughtful way. It also requires that we sincerely listen to one another, rather than using the time when the other person is talking to come up with our next attack.

Interestingly, Jesus teaches in parables precisely because people “hear but do not understand” and “see but never perceive” (Matthew 13:14). Such is seen as a judgment of God upon the unbeliever that they will remain blind and deaf to matters of spiritual truth. Yet, have we created a society that elevates this spiritual blindness and deafness? Have we created a society where we no longer can even hear the ideas of others in a meaningful way. We use our mouths then to spout off our thoughts, but without reasoned dialogue and an exchange if ideas, every man does what is right in his own eyes and we are left with chaos.

And, if a culture ceases to value its chests (moral virtue) and its ears (the exchange and deliberation of other ideas than our own), that what is it that is left? Anarchy? There is no question, if you have spent much time around this blog, that I have strong opinions. And, as a Christian pastor, there are certain presuppositions that I have that are fundamental to the way I think and evaluate ideas. At the same time, I have most enjoyed those rare, deep conversations with those from whom I differ, that have been held in respectful ways, carefully evaluating reasons for positions and not seeking to attack the person for holding said opinions. Given that said conversations do still happen in rare circumstances, I wonder (and pray) that the art of debate may one day be revived in our land.

Am I Missing Something?

Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.

It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:

 

1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.

Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.

One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.

Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

 

2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”

As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!

This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.

When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?

 

3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.

And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?

Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.

 

The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.