Hey hey, it’s the 400-year old debate, back again. For some people this topic is terribly new and exciting, and for others you’d rather watch paint dry. For an elect few though (couldn’t resist), the conversation just doesn’t get old. Anyway, wherever you are and whatever your interest level, here’s a chart I recently made for a friend that summarizes the central points of each school of thought. I did my very best to be fair to both sides, limiting argumentation and giving no supporting Bible verses.
Here’s a link to the chart as a free resource for you.
If you’re a strong representative from either side and feel like I didn’t throw up your set very well, just pray for my salvation.
This article by JD Greear was shared with me by a coworker. Amazing presentation of what the gospel is (and what it is not).
I ran across a New York Times article this week by David Brooks entitled “How People Change.” This is a fascinating little op-ed piece that reflects what gospel-centered people already know—you cannot change a person by telling them to ‘be better.’
Brooks talks about a now infamous email that British father Nick Crews sent to his adult children, berating them for their poor life choices. The email, which was recently released to the public by one of Crews’ daughters, has been colloquially termed the “Crews Missile.” The term fits, as the tone of the email is downright scathing. “If it wasn’t for [my grandchildren],” Crews writes, “I would not be too concerned as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashed from one cock-up to the next. . . . I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.”
As Brooks comments, the email has been received by many with delight. “Many parents are apparently delighted that someone finally had the gumption to give at least one set of overprivileged slackers a well-deserved kick in the pants.” The problem, though, is that people don’t change by being told that they don’t measure up. Tirades like this might be emotionally satisfying, but they aren’t effective.
As Brooks writes, “People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape.” Or to use theological language, we don’t keep on sinning because we don’t know what’s right. We keep on sinning because we love sin.
Not surprisingly, Brooks doesn’t end his article with a gospel proclamation. At least not completely. But he does close by reminding his readers that the most effective way to engender change is not by “bludgeoning bad behavior” but by “changing the underlying context.” In many ways, this is what the gospel does. The gospel is not a message to “go and do,” but a message that salvation has already been done. The underlying context has been changed. We are changed not by being told what we need to do for God, but by hearing the news about what He has done for us.
One of the most famous poems of all time is called “Invictus”, written by William Ernest Henley in 1875. It has been quoted endlessly; you will probably recognize a few phrases. The poem, written in simple English with an alternate-rhyming pattern, is extremely powerful. It captures something common about the human condition, and if you read it slowly and without distraction, it will be nearly impossible for you not to feel something darkly magnetic about these words.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
At first reading, it’s hard not to be drawn in by these “inspiring” words. They’re captivating. I really mean it when I say that the poem really does capture a desire felt by all mankind. Unfortunately that desire, which at first seems so noble and beautiful – to be the captain of your own soul – is the same kind of unbridled pride which overtook Adam and Eve and resulted in the Fall of the entire human race. (Yes, it is that heavy, and yes that is exactly what “Invictus” is describing). A little background information will go a long way.
William Ernest Henley did not have a pleasant life by anyone’s standards. At the age of 12 he was diagnosed with a unique form of tuberculosis that spread throughout his body. To extend his life at the age of 17, doctors amputated his left leg below the knee. His upper body continued to grow while his lower body withered, and he developed painful abscesses in his joints. He suffered his entire life, and being unable to cope with his circumstances, developed an intense hatred and irreverence toward anything sacred – especially God. Capturing his inability to deal with his plight, “Invictus” is the outpouring of Henley’s hostility and pride against the Divine. The words of the poem itself reveal how completely broken and tortured Henley’s life was:
- He felt “covered by night” that’s “black as the Pit,” but still describes his own soul is “unconquerable.”
- He claimed that despite his circumstances (which he says “chance” is responsible for), “he has not winced or cried aloud.” (But what is the poem itself, if not a desperate cry from a tormented man lying in the confines of a hospital bed?)
- The meaning of “unbowed” is obvious – Henley refused to pray or acknowledge the existence of God in any way. His allowance of “the gods” in the first stanza only serves as self-centered praise.
- The “strait gate” is a clear, unashamed reference to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14. Equally clear is that “the scroll” refers to the Bible (or more directly, God’s impending judgment as described in the Bible). Henley spit directly in the face of the loving God of the universe, claiming that he himself would command his own destiny.
Suffice it to say that “Invictus” (which is Latin for “unconquered”) is nothing but Henley’s declaration of independence from God. It is an empty praise chorus to human pride. This pride is within us all; it is the root of all sin. We all wrongfully desire to be the master of our own fate, much to our own destruction. But as Paul wrote to the Philippians, one day “every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And it brings me no joy whatsoever to say that William Ernest Henley is now acutely aware of exactly who the Captain is.
Many years ago, Dorothea Day wrote a response to “Invictus” called “My Captain.” Day’s version, of course, owes its framework to Henley’s original work, but it remains unique in its own regard and is a perfect conclusion to this post.
Out of the night that dazzles me
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.
I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate:
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
John Piper tweeted a link to an article I thought was interesting enough to re-post. The link went to a subscription page (which nobody enjoys), so I thought I would be nice and copy and paste the text of the article here to make it easy. So, here goes.
By the way, the article is short and to-the-point, so for a little background context, know that the following is a woman writing about the focus of a godly marriage being God, not the spouse. Not exactly the normal subject matter on my blog, but, again, I thought it was well-done.
A name change is God’s gift for the remains of the day | Andrée Seu Peterson
When nothing else was working my true love said to me, “Andrée, ultimately I’m not that important to you.” It was the last resort in a drawn out drama and it did the trick. Stunned like a wailing child by a well-placed swat, I straightened up and surveyed the new terrain.
The corollary was immediately apparent, of course—that I was not ultimately that important to him either. This partnership we were embarking on was for a little while. Steve Jobs gave death its grudging due at Stanford’s graduation day in 2005: “Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. … You are already naked.”
Here is wisdom: “The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing” (1 Corinthians 7:29-30).
David takes me by the hand and says that we can have a thing much better. Sick dependency is darkness that appears as light. Come into the truth with me, he says; the first step is the hardest one, but no one who has ventured into the land of light wants to return from whence he came. You will love me better when you love God more. Choose God over me and you will have us both; choose me over God and you’ll be left with neither.
That’s how David talks.
C.S. Lewis writes of the hours before his wife’s death: “How long, how tranquilly, how nourishingly, we talked together that last night! And yet, not quite together. There’s a limit to the ‘one flesh.’ You can’t really share someone else’s weakness, or fear or pain. … We were setting out on different roads. This cold truth, this terrible traffic regulation (‘You, Madam, to the right—you, Sir, to the left’)” (A Grief Observed).
Left, right. My love and I will each go to our own reward. Assigned seating, you know.
Perspective: I am not the mother of his children. I am not his springtime romance. I am not his summer fantasy. Lord willing, I will be the friend of his old age. We will close this earthly chapter side by side. He is counselor, lover, companion, and friend. But not Counselor, Lover, Companion, and Friend.
There will be two in a field; one will be taken and the other left. Two will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the other left. In our case, both will be taken (Hooray!), whether separately or together, and that’s sweet. What a motley crew we will be then—David, Y, M, me, and others, all greeting one another like old pals. David said if he goes second he will say to God upon arrival, “Hey, where you got Andrée?”
Well, maybe not first thing upon arrival.
Our choir teacher in elementary school said that if you want to hit a high note, you must aim just a shade higher than the note. The Lord saw the secret desires of my heart, that all I ever wanted was a man to pull my faith upward, to stretch it just a little more. Call me Hagar: “She called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me'” (Genesis 16:13).
So now I am changing my last name to Peterson for the remains of the day. And I consider myself the most blessed of women. There is a time and a season for all things, and this is my season to rejoice. We have our instructions about that: “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13).
Lewis ends his quite short book about his quite short marriage with the anecdote of Joy Davidman’s last words. He writes: “She said not to me but to the chaplain, ‘I am at peace with God.’ She smiled, but not at me.”
The original article can be found here.
Postmodernism is not an easily contained idea, and there is no sufficient single definition for it (postmodernists would approve of that). But we have to start somewhere. I’ll do my best to describe a postmodern worldview in the next two paragraphs. And just a heads up, our culture is saturated by what I’m about to describe – even in the Bible belt.
Postmodernism’s central belief is that there is no absolute truth – that is, there are no everlasting, abiding facts that are true for all people at all times. A postmodernist doesn’t care about what is actually true, because there is no truth to be discovered; there is only “truth” to be created. Life is more about what you think it means than what it actually means. It’s all about an individual’s interpretation of an object, event, or text. An object, event, or text (or whatever) carries no significance except what a person gives it by interpretation. It doesn’t matter what life means, it’s more about what the individual thinks it means. It doesn’t matter what a text says, it’s more about what the individual thinks it says. There is no independent, trustworthy and truthful meaning to anything – the meaning is relative to whoever is doing the interpreting or experiencing. There is no universal truth; each individual makes up their own “truth” and constructs their own reality. Everything is relative. What your own personal “truth” is depends on what your circumstances are and what you decide upon. (If this sounds similar to the existentialism of the 60s, you’re right on. There is nothing new under the sun, only endless re-packagings.)
In this line of thinking, even morality is considered to be relative – a cultural development that is different for everyone, having evolved over time. A postmodern view of morality is that there is no such thing as universal, absolute right and wrong – just things that are considered to be right and wrong by our evolved moral conscience. Therefore, each individual culture (and even each individual person) constructs their own morality according to their preferences. What is right and wrong simply depends on what you want. It’s all relative, and it’s all about the individual (…To say that I’m opposed to this worldview is like saying Michael Jordan has held a basketball once before).
Therefore to a postmodernist, for anyone to claim that there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong is viewed as trying to govern someone else’s life. Trying to stop diversity. Trying to elevate your worldview over everyone else’s. Trying to make everyone like you, and hating anyone who isn’t. Saying your way is better.
That is why postmodernism (and a postmodern worldview is the default worldview, I assure you) hates Christianity. Christianity claims that there is absolute truth – established by God himself. There is absolute right and wrong, written on the hearts of all people and evidenced in their general behavior (Romans 2:15). Jesus did not say that he is a truth; he said that he is the truth (John 14:6). Claims to supremacy like the ones Jesus made drive a postmodernist insane. They cannot fathom that there is a Name above all other names. You see, with the postmodern relativist movement, tolerance has moved from believing that all people are created equal to believing that all ideas are created equal. Thinking your ideas, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, etc. are correct and others’ are not is considered bigotry. As postmodernists would have it, it is necessary not only to believe that all people are created equal, but you must also believe others’ ideas to be equal to your own (never mind that they are often mutually exclusive). To say that you have correct knowledge is to, in effect, say that people who disagree with you do not, which is unallowable in this way of thinking. Claiming that the Bible contains absolute truth and authority over all people is unthinkable. In a postmodern worldview, tolerance/diversity is God. In a Christian worldview, God is God.
All that being said, let’s be clear. Tolerance and diversity are blessings directly from God. They should be celebrated! The fact that we are different from one another in skin color, language, and many other ways displays the creativity of God. While the paragraphs above are pretty severe toward postmodern thinking, they are meant only to equip Western-hemisphere Christians to spot the slippery subject that they are swimming in daily (postmodernism, of course). None of this knowledge should spark arrogance. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Christians are directed to love non-Christians just as God himself does – with equal intensity for all.
So why go on offense against postmodernism in the first place? Ah, here’s that distinction again – there is a difference between people and ideas. I don’t love postmodernISM, in fact I hate it. I think that it is deceitful and a humanistic, arrogant ideal. But postmodernISTS, on the other hand, I do love because they are people who are loved by God. An ‘ism’ is an idea which one can either ally himself with or set himself against; an ‘ist’ is a person, a priceless creation of God for whom he sent his Son to die (John 3:16).
The fact remains: it is of the utmost importance that the church set itself against empty ideas/false teachings (2 Peter 2:1). But never should it ever set itself against people. The church is not anti-gay, anti-postmodernist, anti-alcoholic, anti-drug addict, or anything of the sort. The church of Jesus Christ is not anti-anybody. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick, after all (Matthew 9:12).
If you are a Christian, love people who have a different worldview than you, even as you seek to portray that Christ is the absolute truth of the universe. Oppose ideas without opposing people. Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Disagree without being disagreeable, and hold to building on a firm foundation (Matthew 7:25). If you are a postmodernist (and maybe you didn’t realize you were), then without the slightest hint of condescension I tell you that I hope you see the emptiness and self-centeredness of trying to create or interpret your own personal reality. Deep down, there is a longing for truth – real, concrete truth. The good news is that it exists in a person – King Jesus, who loves you and is patient with both you and I. And when we know him, we will know the truth…
…and the truth shall set us free (John 8:32).
During some required reading I found the following illustration. It is a quotation from elsewhere, and I’ve never read the book it comes from (or even heard of its author, unfortunately), but it caught my eye. It’s a well-done look at the idea of propitiation – the act in which Christ turns away the wrath of God from the church.
Here ya go:
I see myself at the Last Judgment, and, as at an earthly trial, my identity has to be established before the proceedings begin. But there is an interruption. The Supreme Judge has hardly put to me the question, “Who are you?” before my satanic accuser breaks in and answers for me, “Who is he, you ask? I will tell you. He is the one who has done such and such, and has failed to do such and such. He has ignored the plight of his neighbors because he himself was always the neighbor. He has been silent when he ought to have confessed. The gifts you have given him have not made him humble but proud.” He goes on for a long time in this strain. But then the counsel for the defense interrupts; he is the exalted Son of God.
“O Father and Judge,” he says, “the prosecutor has spoken the truth. This man has all these things behind him. But the accusation is without substance. For he no longer is what he has behind him.” And although he who sits on the bench knows very well what Christ is saying, for the sake of the audience he asks, “Who is he then if he is no longer what he has behind him?”
To this Christ replies, “He has become my disciple and believed me that you have met him in me and want to be his father, as you are mine. Hence I have canceled his past and nailed the accusation to my cross [Colossians 2:14]. Who is he then, you ask? He is the one who has accepted me and thus gained the right of sonship that you have promised. Look upon him, then, as you look upon me; he is my brother and your son.”
This is the story of our identity.
–Helmut Thielicke in “Being Human…Becoming Human”
All praise to the One who turns away the wrath which would take an eternity to be made complete.
You don’t need a degree in musical theory to appreciate this clip. You don’t need to understand the terms crescendo, falsetto, or riff. You definitely don’t need HD video, which is a good thing since this clip is 16 years old and of horrible quality. But despite musical ignorance, poor video quality, and Wyclef Jean shouting indistinguishable Haitian phrases in the background, the voice of Lauryn Hill cuts through the air like a whip – and all you need are ears to hear.
The singing starts at 0:32. The real singing starts at 1:12. (Open link in new window for better video.)
I don’t know the state of Lauryn Hill’s heart before God. I don’t know why her professional career was so short-lived, or what her personal struggles are today. I don’t know whether she has placed her trust in Jesus Christ.
But I know that one night in 1996 she sang about him. And not halfway, either.