Friday, January 22, 2010

I support the 2010 March For Life

TODAY is the annual pro-life rally at the mall in Washington D.C, the March For Life. This year is the first year where those who cannot be physically there can be "present" virtually through signing up to have a symbol of them displayed on the mall with the other ralliers. Why yes, there is a cardboard cutout for me out there!

What's more awesome about this year is that the rally is livecasted on the Americans United For Life website. By going cyber, the pro-life message is going global. People who respect life and are pro-family and have consciences can feel united with other pro-life people all over the world. That, my friends, is beautiful.

I wonder how many protest marches and rallies must go on before our US legislators and Supreme Court justices realize that it is just as wrong to take a life while she is in the womb as when she is out of the womb. No civilization is remotely just when it approves the killing of the next generation of its own citizens. This sanctioning is so close to the eating of our own offspring that anyone who can't see it must not be right in the head, if you know what I mean. That is why this is my symbol for the abortion supporters: The Ouroboros

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are Christians as anti-intellectual as ever?

Today's younger Christians (under-40) are are more educated than ever in history. The vast majority are college educated (many through graduate school), and because of their tech savviness, are more exposed to different philosophies, worldviews, and political and religious thought than any generation past. In fact, most of these younger Christians have come to believe that they are more educated, objective, and intellectually superior to their parents' generation and their grandparents' generation. Particularly in America, many think that they are certainly superior to the generations before the Enlightenment.

Previous generations of Christians have been characterized as anti-intellectual, unwilling to enter the academic arena or read books challenging Christian suppositions. They eschewed serious discussion over competing worldviews and took a dim view of higher education in the liberal arts and sciences. They thought that real spiritual history began with the Pilgrims (slight sarcasm there).

But younger Christians are better now. Why? Because we know so much more, that's why.

But is this true? Even with all these degree letters swirling around our names like some badge of honor, ask most young Christians how well they actually know their own convictions compared to previous generations. Ask how much Scripture they actually read on a regular basis. Ask how many books they have read.

Have they read books by G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon? I could go on ad infinitum, but I'll stop there for brevity's sake.

Most have not. More than most have not. At the end of the day, while we believe that we have more intellectually distinguished knowledge of the world and of faith, I fear that we do not. Most of us can name the companies that have dropped their ads using Tiger Woods (and the ones that haven't). But most of us cannot name the 10 Commandments nor articulate an objective reason why the Christian faith should be believed among religions of the world.

If asked why not, most young people would say that they haven't the time nor the interest. That excuse doesn't sound much different today than it did in yesteryear. So has anything really changed?

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's Yours is Ours: Thoughts on the Christian Collective and Socialism as Policy

It's an election year, and I feel like mulling over the oft-asked question "How should Christians think about politics?" Since politics is much too broad an issue on which to focus one singular post, I'll start by narrowing down a particular issue that perhaps hasn't received enough attention among believers of late: Biblical Christian community vs. the American way-of-life.

A YouTube video tangentially touched on this subject, and a friend of mine from church obliged me a comment on the prospect of socialism existing here in the U.S. She said:

"I really wish people would stop the fear-mongering, like the quick flashes of the old Soviet Union flag, other socialist and Communist images in the video, and the menacing music. Fear-mongering promotes hatred and hostility rather than respectful dialogue in which both/all parties can learn from each other and promotes consensus. No elected official is trying to turn the US into a Communist state or even a socialist one.

That said, there is nothing inherently evil about socialism. Communism definitely is inherently evil (denial of God, mindless submission to leaders, suppression of human rights, etc.) - it's an ideology. But socialism is merely another economic system and is in itself spiritually neutral. It flies in the face of our American sensibilities of "every man for himself," but it's actually more in line with the first century church where "they had everything in common" (Acts 2:44)."

I find the point in the second paragraph the most interesting and something that I have pondered at least once or twice before myself. In all practical respects, the early church in Jerusalem did live communally and had a touch of socialist redistribution of wealth in the believers' day-to-day.

"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." (Acts 2:44-45)

So, is this a model for Christian life today, not just in America, but everywhere? Can it be? Should it be? If it is, then it cannot be merely spiritually neutral, can it? Specifically, if we see it institutionally implemented as a transformation of society from a non-socialist status quo to one that is, should we not embrace it as a move toward that higher biblical living that we should all strive to achieve?

Before anyone objects, I'll just name an incomplete list of issues that have ushered us to this point in America: state and federal welfare programs, minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, COBRA, the National School Lunch Program, WIC, and state and federal unemployment benefits. We are also almost at the point of adding national socialized medicine to this list. Given the mandate from God Himself to exercise compassion, charity, and to care for the poor, it seems the consistent thing to do as a Christian is to support such programs in the effort to obey, or so it seems of late. As analysts continue to dissect the voting patterns of the younger generation of Christians going to the polls, they so far have corroborated what my friend Matthew Lee Anderson has said about those in the younger Evangelical segment. Younger Christian voters do tend to favor the establishment and expansion of government programs which have the stated purpose in assisting the poor financially. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis finally intertwine in idyllic unity as far as this generation is concerned. The leap, therefore, into endorsing a socialist economic system would be nothing more than taking the next step in realizing a piece of heaven on earth. It seems logical that all believers should do likewise, as maintained by many self-professed Christian Socialists. Indeed, the leaders of churches steeped in liberation theology have long preached just such a message, have they not?

Is it really that simple? Some problems with such a proposition should come to mind. The Kingdom-minded who would like to see the advancement of a socialized economy for the sake of the poor should remember objections leveled at other efforts to bring some Jesus into public life, one of which is the doctrine of the separation of Church and State. Parents who have longed for the ability to send their children to superior private or parochial schools (vs. failing public schools) but cannot afford the tuition have thus far been denied vouchers on the grounds that the possible choice of schools includes those administered by religious entities. Not many who support socialism also support school choice, seeing as the latter is more a feature of a free-market system than socialism.

The limitations that socialism brings on society also pose a conflict for the Christian worldview. As with communism, socialism necessarily strips the individuality of persons and replaces it with a category or class in order to address needs through a system. The Marxist ideal of the classless society is not only unrealized but flatly contradicted as socialism must work by taking from one class to give to another. Indeed, the State defines the nature and level of compassion the needy require and determines the manner of aid distribution. Everything is quantified, even down to the worth of a human being. By contrast, the Christian worldview upholds the humanity and distinction of each human person of first importance in regarding his needs and leaves full discretion to the Christian Body on how best to exercise charity. If Christians intend for the government to render financial assistance to the poor, then when it does not on the basis of some discriminatory policy, the sacrifice for living under socialism will have been futile.

There are more limitations to socialism, but I will simply point out one additional. Socialism has always failed and left in its wake the same financial need, hunger, and poverty that it was implemented to fix, if not more. As a system, it is one that consumes and never generates the resources and wealth that it seeks to redistribute to the poor. Contrast the results with that of the U.S. record of charitable giving for all entities both public and private. In the current non-socialist system, the high wealth generation that exists has allowed Americans to fund relief work on a global scale unmatched by any other country in the world. For Christians, the command is to minister to the poor actually, not potentially. Therefore, believers should think carefully about the kind of amelioration to the poor in which to invest support.

But what about that Jerusalem Church? Its unofficial socialist-like economy did serve a definite good, but before Christians today go viral with the idea, the situation in which the Jerusalem Church found herself bears due consideration. First, the sharing of possessions and food served as rescue from a consequence of belief in Jesus Christ: persecution. Jews that embraced Jesus as the Messiah inevitably faced being disowned and homeless by their families and the greater Jewish community. To avert starvation, those with resources shared what they had to care for destitute brothers and sisters in the faith. Second, we find this specific activity in Acts 2 and nowhere else in the experiences of the other New Testament churches, particularly in the Gentile world where believers could live independent of the Jewish community for sustenance. The motivation of the Jerusalem Christians to implement communal life came about through necessity, not as a model for any ideal style of godly living. Third, the overarching point of Acts 2 starting in verse 40 is to highlight the unity and the Pentecostal movement of God within Jerusalem to bring the believers into faith in Jesus Christ. Given the narrative context of the scripture in question, the Christian reader should be careful not to make an 'is' into an 'ought' from them.

Even without this poring over actuality and context, I cannot help but sense a violation of some subtle grounding principle as believers judge what obedience to God really means in service to the poor. In Matt. 25, with eternal judgment on the line, Jesus explicitly places the believer under personal moral obligation to show compassion and make a difference toward the poor, hungry, and imprisoned. By saying it this way, He undercuts substitutions to third party providers. Why? Such substitutions often result in diminished impact and dependence on a third party. And when it fails, obedience fails, while the moral mandate remains unchanged and unfulfilled.

Christians naturally live in a collective called the Church. In it, believers have the greatest ability to copy their Jerusalem ancestors with the same values and benefits. The Jerusalem Church demonstrated the greatest amount of discretion in a collective moved by God to serve their own. Socialism has shown never to be a simple expansion of this communal life. Socialism in the contemporary sense substitutes the values of the Church for the values of the State. Believers today need to consider what surrendering this discretion to socialism would mean to the actual ability to embody the faith. In the end, the decision is a classic one for Christians living in two Cities about what must one give up to live fully in one City or the other.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy 2010

This year, I'd like to start the blog by offering up a New Year's prayer:

Dear Lord of Heaven and Earth,
I submit and commit my thoughts to Your plan and approval. May you make this year one in which my thoughts and my words reflect the truth of Your Word, nature, and glory. May I speak with the wisdom only You can supply. May everything be done according to Your will on earth as it is in heaven, and that includes cyberland as well.

May believers take seriously and use wisely the gift of communication in the time we are given this year. Bless all You allow to hear and understand the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria