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Month: April 2016

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 4–“Subjectivizing Morality” (Part 7)

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 4–“Subjectivizing Morality” (Part 7)

We now continue with our walk through of The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory. In this post, I’m going to take a look at chapter 4, “Subjectivizing Morality.”

Unintended ReformationIf chapter 2 was about truth claims, and chapter 3 was about political control, chapter 4 is now about morality itself. The first thing to realize is that in Medieval Europe, one of the main focuses of the Church was to impress upon people the importance of practicing the virtues. To do that, one must first acknowledge “what is good”? And in order to do that, one had to have an understanding of purpose. That’s where Aristotle comes in. In his philosophy, Aristotle emphasized the notion of teleology: i.e. final causes. Everything in creation has a purpose—and therefore, when it comes to morality, “what is good” means whatever most closely gets to that purpose. The problem with humans, though, is that they are naturally ruled by their passions and impulses that distract them from their purpose and from the good. Therefore, it was important to practice the virtues and exercise discipline in order to bring one’s passions under control.

As was true in ancient Greece, so also was true within the Christian worldview: ethics and politics were inseparable from each other: what is “good” for the individual is linked to what is “good” for society. Medieval scholars like Thomas Aquinas essentially took Plato’s and Aristotle’s teleology and “Christianized” it, showing how what they proposed in theory was fulfilled in Christ and the Kingdom of God.

But here’s the thing to remember: the Medieval Church realized that without teleology, there can be no moral human good. “What is good” is that which fulfills one’s human purpose. But if you deny purpose, then there is no way to say what is and what is not moral.

Enter Machiavelli
MachiavelliNow, shortly before the Reformation began, there were already forces at work that were challenging this notion of teleology and the belief that ethics and politics were inseparable. Machiavelli’s political theory essentially said that yes, political rulers need to “play along” with the Church, but sometimes, for the sake of gaining political power, it was just going to be necessary to “do what you’ve gotta do.” Simply put, morality should not dictate how a ruler rules. “Ethics” was just something a ruler could manipulate to get and maintain political power.

And Now, How the Reformation Screwed Up Morality!
Let’s get to the point: remember, the Reformers rejected Church Tradition outright, and when they did, they appealed to local political authorities for protection. This led to two things:

  1. By rejecting Church Tradition, the Reformers rejected the very metaphysical basis for ethics that the Catholic Church had established. This meant that the rival claims of what the Bible meant lead to rival claims as to what constituted “the Christian good.”
  2. By appealing to political leaders for protection, the Reformers opened the door to the concept that the “highest good” constituted human desires and rights protected by the state. Slowly but surely, the notion that the “highest good” was for a human being to practice the virtues and control his desires for the common good faded away, only to be replaced with the notion that the “highest good” was for the state to protect my right to desiring and pursuing whatever I want.

Gregory finds this problematic. He writes,
Without the virtues there could be no sustained community, which meant no common good and thus no individual good and no salvation: this was the moral logic of medieval Christianity. Virtuous actions were rational because they simultaneously fostered individual and communal flourishing; they were also actions consonant with God’s natural law, if it were understood to mean that good must always be sought and evil avoided” (192).

Medieval VirtuesMedieval Christianity viewed the purpose of human beings as to imitate the life of Christ and live as a community and as the Body of Christ, thus being “the moral community of the church.” But the Reformation ultimately did away with that notion when it rejected Church Tradition.

Shortly before the Reformation, Catholic theologian Erasmus wrote in the preface to his translation of the New Testament, If we seek a model for living, why is another pattern more important for us than Christ himself?” For Erasmus the purpose of education and the purpose for exposing people to Scripture was to give them access to “the font of virtues,” so that Christians could, as Gregory puts it, “move from knowledge to practice” (199).

Yet from the very dawn of the Reformation, the Reformers were arguing over what Scripture meant, and were willing to act rather unvirtuous toward each other. Gregory points out that “Luther and Zwingli agreed on fourteen of the fifteen articles of faith at the Marburg Colloquy in early October 1529, but their abiding disagreement on eucharistic doctrine was not therefore a matter of secondary significance” (205).

Translation? Even though Luther and Zwingli agreed  on virtually everything, their disagreement over whether or not the bread and wine were the literal body and blood of Christ gave them reason enough to essentially call each other Satan. So much for patterning one’s life after the imitation of Christ.

A Different View of the Virtues
This brings us to the heart of the “faith vs. works” debate actually. Up until the Reformation, Christian Tradition taught that the practice of the virtues had a sanctifying effect on the life of the Christian: God saves you by grace, but then you respond to God by practicing the virtues, imitating Christ, and by doing so, grow up in Christ—and in a sense “take part” in your salvation. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Like in marriage, when you devote yourself to God, you hone your will and desires in the pursuit of growing in that relationship, and by doing so, you grow up (within the Church) into the fullness of Christ. Simply put, human beings were sinful, but they still had the ability to respond to God and choose to direct their will toward the virtues and “the good.”

Beast of BurdenThe Reformers, though, said, “Not so fast!” Why? Because they taught that the human will was completely bad: human beings couldn’t respond to God, and couldn’t be virtuous—they were, as Calvin said, “snow covered dung.” And Gregory points out, “Luther said, the human will was like a beast of burden, ridden either by Satan or by God, and utterly unable itself to choose between them” (208). Simply put, the Reformers completely and utterly rejected the notion of human free will. Therefore, virtuous behavior couldn’t contribute to one’s salvation—it had to be a consequence of salvation.

As Gregory says again, Protestants, “…denied the free, rational exercise of the virtues in pursuit of the good any place in disciplining the passions and redirecting untutored human desires. Twisted human wills retained no orientation toward the good, so there was nothing to tutor” (208).

Do you see the problem? Traditionally, “what is good” was understood whatever was directed toward one’s purpose and end. The Church taught that human beings, though sinful, were still nevertheless free to respond to God and choose to direct their behavior to what God’s purpose for them was. But the Reformers rejected the very notion that it was possible to direct one’s actions toward God’s purpose. By denying free will, they were denying the ability to be moral altogether. “Salvation” come to be seen as solely what God did in the individual—a completely individualized notion of salvation. “Morality” in terms of practicing virtues for the common good, and seeing that as contributing to the salvation of God’s creation was rejected.

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident (But They Aren’t!)
Let’s now fast forward to Enlightenment-influenced America. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” right? But wait, are truths like liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equal rights, really “self-evident?”

Without the traditional Christian concept of morality being linked to both one’s individual salvation as well as to the salvation of God’s Church, and ultimately His creation—without this notion of morality being linked to God’s purposes for human beings living in community—if salvation is seen as solely as “God saving my individual soul, and I play absolutely no part in anything—then is moral behavior really “self-evident”? The answer is, “No.”

Throughout most of Christian history, morality was seen as acts of “denying yourself” for “the good of others.” By doing so, one contributed to restoring the image of God among His people. Not only were individuals created in God’s image, but the Church as a whole, living as a Christ-imitating community, was made in God’s image. And morality was always seen in light of that. But the Reformers completely individualized salvation, with no concept of the universal Church, and hence any talk of morality as rooted in anything went out the window.

The best one could do was say, as Jefferson did, “Hey, it’s just obvious what is morally true!” But it isn’t, not without some understanding of human teleology. Now, the fact is, for most of American history, even though people just assumed that moral truth was “self-evident,” in reality, their sense of morality was still rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. But over time, things have changed, and as Gregory argues, for the past 50 years or so, cracks in the moral foundation of America have become obvious, namely in the area of how we understand reason and freedom. Here’s what I mean…

Natural Rights is Nonsense
By rejecting Church Tradition, and historical Christianity’s teaching on morals, virtues, and human teleology, the Reformers severed morality from the metaphysical bearings Church Tradition provided. Eventually, because the Reformers immediately set about attacking each other for two centuries, Enlightenment thinkers thought it would be best to (1) regulate “faith” to the private sphere, (2) champion reason as the determiner of all truth and morality, and (3) proclaim that everyone had the freedom to do anything they wanted (you know, as long as it didn’t hurt the rights of others to do whatever they wanted). When combined with the growing secularism of our culture, as well as the recurring claims that “science” has disproven God, the result is that any concept of morality has gone out the window.

Gregory writes, “Natural rights is simple nonsense…rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts” (224). In other words, if we take our moral cues from nature, and it is assumed that nature is all there is, then claiming morality or rights of any kind is absurd—nature provides no metaphysical basis for morality and human rights. Gregory writes,

“Once metaphysical naturalism and scientism are assumed, ‘taking rights seriously’ is beside the point. All the seriousness in the world, cannot conjure them into existence. One cannot have them, because there is simply nothing of the sort to be had. If human beings are no different in principle from any other living organism…then there simply is no basis for any rights, human or otherwise” (225).

If the concept of ethics and morality is to mean anything, it has to be rooted in something other than nature. Ethics and morality must have a teleology to mean anything, and the traditional Christian teaching involving the virtues, how they are inseparable from every area of life, and how they play a part in the salvation of the world, provides that metaphysical soil in which ethics and morality can take root and grow.

Nietzsche was right, if nature is all there is, then it is best we just own up to the fact that “there are no moral facts whatsoever” (228).

At the end of chapter 4, Gregory says the following:
“In medieval Christianity, not only politics but also economics was inseparable from ethics. Just as politics and ethics were radically reconfigured in the makings of modernity, so was economic behavior severed from traditional morality. Avarice in medieval Christendom was one of the seven deadly sins, a vice seen to damage both individuals and the common good. But after the Reformation era, acquisitiveness regarded as virtuous self-interest provided ideological legitimation for the triumph of the industrious and industrial revolutions.  Unable to agree about the Christian good, contentious Catholics and Protestants would demonstrate their supra-confessional eagerness to pursue material goods” (234).

That is a sad, but true analysis of modern, so-called “Christian” America. There seems to be no agreement about what “the Christian good” is anymore, so let’s make sure we get the economy back in high gear, so we can have enough money to buy all the stuff we want.

That’s what subjectivizing morality looks like in 21st century America.

Final Note: I don’t want to sound too much “doom and gloom.” I realize that there is plenty self-giving, truly Christ-like morality being practiced every day by millions of people. But that sort of imitation of Christ is going on despite the overall trend we see in our country today.



Answers in Genesis Reviews “God’s Not Dead 2”–Welcome to Bizarro World (Spoiler Alert: AiG Doesn’t Think We Should Emphasize the Historical Jesus)

Answers in Genesis Reviews “God’s Not Dead 2”–Welcome to Bizarro World (Spoiler Alert: AiG Doesn’t Think We Should Emphasize the Historical Jesus)

Today I’m taking a break from my summary/analysis of  The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory, in order to share the movie review of “God’s Not Dead 2” by the folks at Answers in Genesis. To get straight to the point, the 4,300 word review, written by Roger Patterson, struck me as quite bizarre.

GodsNotDead2Now, as with any movie review, Patterson commented on what he felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the story, the character development, and subplots. In that respect, the vast majority of the review is largely bland. And, being that the review was coming from Answers in Genesis, it should come as no surprise that by the end of the review Patterson essentially gave the movie a “thumbs up,” and said the wise Christian can use it as an opportunity to have Christ-centered conversations with other Christians.”

That being said, despite the approval of the movie as a whole, the Answers in Genesis review wasn’t wholly positive…and that was just the first shock. I assumed the review was going to recommend the movie be nominated for “Best Picture,” but in actuality, it was quite critical of the movie on a number of points. It is both the criticisms and the rationale for those criticisms that struck me as bizarre. In fact, I think that the Answers in Genesis review of “God’s Not Dead 2” actually gives us a better glimpse into Answers in Genesis than it does the actual movie.

So without further ado, let’s “review” AiG’s review of GND2…

Introductory Comments
After first describing the movie as one that clearly showed the “battle lines between the raging atheists and the peaceful Christians in both the protestors seen outside the courtroom and the soft-spoken teacher facing the hateful ACLU lawyer,” Patterson makes it clear that he liked GDN2 much better than the original GND. Why? Because he felt that in the first movie there were “evolutionary ideas that colored the apologetics message,” and thankfully they were absent in GND2. If you’re wondering, “What were the evolutionary ideas in the first movie?” I think I can tell you: in the first movie, Josh Wheaton (the kid who debated the atheist professor) seemed to accept the Big Bang theory, the reality of evolution, and the old age of the earth. In fact, he actually used those things to make an argument for the existence of God.

Needless to say, Patterson and AiG did not like that. In fact, in his review of GND, Patterson criticized the movie on precisely this point: instead of appealing the “Word of God as his foundation” Wheaton “chose to appeal to reason—the reason of fallen men and women whose minds are blinded by the god of this age.” Translation? “GND didn’t hold to our young earth creationist claims, so we didn’t like it. It tried to make a rational case for the existence of God, so we didn’t like it. All claims should be based solely on the Bible…as interpreted by us.”

Well, fortunately, none of that “evolutionary stuff” was in GND2. Not only that, but Patterson felt that GND2 held to a “higher view of God,” and he was happy that the movie talked about sin more, and it emphasized prayer. And that was why he recommended GND2.

Don’t Argue That Jesus was a Historical Figure!
After discussing thematic issues, things like plot and character development, Patterson then turned his attention to what he considered one of the most disappointing aspects of the movie:

“The disappointing turning point in the film comes when Grace realizes that she doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as God or that the Bible is His Word to win the case—she only has to get the jury to think she presented Jesus as a historical figure from a historical document.”

GodsNotDead3In Patterson’s view, her decision to argue that Jesus was a historical figure, and that it was therefore appropriate to mention historical figures in history class, was a turning down the wrong road. Sure, that might have been a good argument in court, but Patterson felt that arguing Jesus was a provable historical figure somehow diminished him as God, and the Bible as His Word.

Don’t Wrap the Bible Up in the Stars and Stripes!
That struck me as bizarre. But there was more to come. Patterson then took issue with a statement in the movie that “the right to believe is a fundamental right.” Patterson actually correctly states that although religious liberty is something we enjoy in America, that we should not confuse that with our identity as Christians—many Christians worldwide do not enjoy religious liberty. Great…that is true.

But then Patterson said, “Wrapping our Bibles in the Stars and Stripes is not the way to advance the kingdom of God—preaching the gospel is.” Now, the bizarre thing is not in this statement itself, for the statement is actually true. The bizarre thing is that this statement is coming from Answers in Genesis. In the book I am writing, I discuss how Ken Ham regularly decries the moral decay in American society, and how he links it to evolution, and taking prayer out of public schools. His entire “battle plan” in the supposed “culture wars” is to (A) convince people Genesis 1-11 is literal history, (B) then that will get them to submit to the authority of the Bible, and (C) that will make it possible to re-establish biblical morality in America and make America a Christian nation again.

In short, the very way Patterson says is not the way to advance the Kingdom of God, is the entire basis for the Answers in Genesis organization.

But Back to the Bible, and that Whole “History” Thing…Welcome to Bizarro World
Patterson had a few more criticisms of the movie. For one, he was upset that the movie didn’t say that God was the author of Scripture. The way the movie talked about the human authors (i.e. the author of Matthew) made Patterson uncomfortable. That being said, Patterson was relieved that the movie did reference the accounts of Scripture, and didn’t use the word “story.” Answers in Genesis doesn’t like that word—in their mind, it diminishes Scripture.

Given that, I was altogether surprised that Patterson chose to drastically expand on his earlier criticism regarding Grace Wesley’s decision to argue that Jesus was a historical figure. In response to the testimony regarding the historical reliability of the Bible, Patterson said,

“As the Christian expert apologists present their testimonies to the court, the Bible becomes a mere historical document—one that can be examined and judged to be true based on various rational criteria. In the courtroom, the Bible is just a book.”

Sure, those Christian experts probably view the Bible as God’s Word, but they’re just arguing for its historical reliability in court. This, Patterson says, “presents a schizophrenic view of the Bible in the film.” The Christian experts say the Bible is historically trustworthy, sure—but upon what are they making that judgment? Answer: human reasoning—and for AiG, human reason is wrong, fallen, and bad. Therefore, part of Patterson’s criticism of the movie is that “the Jesus presented in the courtroom scenes is a Jesus who can be understood by appealing to man’s reasoning.” Patterson feels that this, in fact, denies the role of the Holy Spirit.

Patterson continues:
“In the courtroom, we can determine the attributes of this Jesus by appealing to reasonable scholars and historical sources—even atheist scholars. His existence is considered to be indisputable, and his life can be reconstructed by examining history—we can prove this Jesus by relying only on ‘historical sources.’”

And again:
“For a Christian to approach Jesus and the Bible in such a way is to offer a tacit acknowledgement that the Bible really isn’t the Word of God. It communicates that the Bible isn’t really reliable unless, using your own autonomous reasoning, you agree that it is. It places man in a positon of judgment over God’s Word, telling God whether He was right or not. Is that really what we want to do—invite people to judge Jesus based solely on historical details found in mere historic documents?”

I was flabbergasted: Patterson apparently thinks arguing for the historical reliability of the gospels is tantamount to saying “the Bible really isn’t the Word of God.” WHAT?  Patterson does not think we should “invite people to judge Jesus based solely on historical details found in mere historical documents.” WHAT???

Now obviously, as I said in my review of the movie, there is more to faith in Christ than simply mental assertion that he existed. But my gosh, the historicity of the life of Jesus is important! If the gospels are not historically reliable, then their historical claims are suspect. The heart and soul of the Gospel is the claim that the resurrection of Jesus happened within history. And yet here is Patterson and Answers in Genesis, actually criticizing the attempts in the movie to argue that Jesus was a historical figure!

How in the world could Patterson say this? Here’s the answer: “This approach tends to deny the effects of sin on humanity, telling the unbeliever that he can determine what is true and false about Jesus by simply allowing his own thinking to be his guide.”

Let me explain. What Patterson said is a reflection of what I would consider to be extreme Calvinism. He’s reflecting the belief that one of the effects of sin is that man’s ability to reason is completely obliterated. This is why Calvinism teach predestination: their starting point is that man is 100% dead in his sins, and his ability to reason is 100% corrupt, therefore it is impossible for man to choose God or understand Him at all. Therefore, any salvation that happens has to be 100% completely God’s doing—i.e. predestination.

Answers in Genesis Says, “The Historicity of Jesus and the Bible is Folly”
To be clear, Patterson is saying that if you try to make a reasonable argument that Jesus was a historical figure, and that the gospels are historically reliable, then you are making an appeal to human reason…but human reason is worthless, so why bother trying to argue for the historicity of Jesus? He even said, “If we base our arguments for the existence of Jesus on the mere historical evidence and people believe He existed, we should not be surprised if they go on to deny His existence later when someone presents a more convincing argument.”

There you have it: historical evidence is pretty worthless, so don’t bother. Just tell people the Bible is God’s Word—God is the author, ignore the work of the human authors. As Patterson stated, “We don’t have to present Jesus as a mere man or the Bible as a mere history book to win the skeptic or defend ourselves in a court case. In fact, to think our wise words and forensic techniques can do so is folly.”

I’m sorry, I just don’t get that. Patterson and AiG aren’t just saying that historical facts about Jesus aren’t enough; they are saying that making the historical case for the existence of Jesus is folly—the equivalent of putting “man’s reason” over God’s Word. 

This, shockingly, is denying the historicity of Jesus. It is a modern form of Docetism. And what makes this even more bizarre is that this argument is coming from…Answers in Genesis: a young earth creationist organization entirely devoted to trying to prove the universe is 6,000 years old, because Genesis 1-11 must be literal history if it is to be considered true.

This is an organization that repeatedly states that if Genesis 1-11 isn’t historical, then the Gospel itself is undermined. They have a website, blog posts, a museum, and now even a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark—all in the attempt to argue that Genesis 1-11 is historical.

…but making reasonable arguments about the historical reliability of the gospels and Jesus as a historical figure—no, let’s not to that. That’s folly, that’s elevating man’s reason over God’s Word.

park-map_webWhat can you say to that? Methinks if Ken Ham would have built a compound, rather than a museum, Evangelicals would see him in a much clearer light.

Here it is, short and sweet: Answers in Genesis places more importance on the historicity of Genesis 1-11 than on the life of Christ. That is the supreme irony, for it is a matter of fact and history that the genre of Genesis 1-11 isn’t history; and it is a matter of fact and history that the gospels are ancient historical biographies.

If this movie review doesn’t reveal Answers in Genesis for the completely backward, and decidedly unchristian, organization it is, I don’t know what does.

The Unintended Reformation (Part 6): The Government Wants to Control Religion! (Well, not really, but we seem to really want it to…)

The Unintended Reformation (Part 6): The Government Wants to Control Religion! (Well, not really, but we seem to really want it to…)

In my last post, I commented on chapter three of The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory, in which he traced the historical development of Church/State relations. I left off with the Founding Fathers and the first amendment.

That is where I will pick things up…

Founding FathersSo, the Founding Fathers stated in the first amendment to the United States Constitution that the government wasn’t to establish any particular religion or denomination, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof. To be clear, the purpose of the first amendment was certainly not to disallow religious faith or morals to have a say in, and have an impact on, public policy and decisions. In this respect the whole “separation of Church and State” idea (which Thomas Jefferson penned in a personal letter to a Baptist congregation, to assure them that the government was never going to interfere with their religious practices) that is used nowadays to try to religious displays on public land—that was never the intention of the first amendment.

The First Amendment and Religious Flourishing
Brad Gregory points out that the first amendment ended up doing was something quite extraordinary: it actually allowed faith and religion to flourish. Alexis de Tocqueville, upon visiting the United States from France, was amazed that even though the American people were “all different in the worship they offer to the Creator,” they “all agree concerning the duties of men to one another…and…all preach the same morality in the name of God” (169). He further noted that even though religion never directly intervened in the United States government, it “should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions” (169).

Imagine that. If the government doesn’t try to force a particular religious denomination or confession on people, if the government decides not to kill people over their particular understanding of baptism, the Eucharist, or the issue of “faith vs. works,” if the government doesn’t muzzle the religious yearnings and faith of people, those very people freely choose to live out their faith, and allow those moral sentiments to shape their lives.

This happened because people soon realized that, despite their denominational differences, they all shared the same fundamental Christian worldview when it came to morality.

Oh, But Eventually Things Change…the Creeping Secular Age
Over time, though, things eventually change. It is here on this point that Brad Gregory provides what I feel is an astoundingly illuminating insight:

“But what would happen if churches and families, precisely because awash no longer in a sea of faith but plunged into an ocean of capitalism, consumerism, advertising, self-interest, and popular culture, failed any longer to generate virtues conducive to the flourishing of a democratic society?” (174)

“This is the unintended situation in which Americans find themselves today. Freedom of religion protected society from religion and so has secularized society of religion. In this sense we are living, it would seem, whether or not one happens to be a religious believer and regardless of one’s particular beliefs, in what Charles Taylor has called ‘a secular age.’” (174)

Simply put, the reason why American democracy was able to work so well for such a long time was that, despite setting up the government to be “secular,” the very basis for morality and society was still nevertheless deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview that everyone shared, despite denominational differences. Gradually, as religious expression was slowly regulated more and more to the private sphere, though, religious and moral sentiments had less and less of an influence and impact on the “secular society,” and other things began to influence it even more.

Rachel Held EvansJust think of the kind of society we live in today. Religion and faith are reduced to simply things that, if they give you a sense of self-fulfillment and worth, are fine if done in your private life—but their “value” is measured in terms of how they benefit YOU, and make YOU feel good. Simply put, religion has been put on par with buying that Lexus, building that retirement account, getting the latest iphone, and giving yourself a Royal Caribbean cruise. Everything in our society has become an advertisement to sell you something that will give you a sense of self-fulfillment. Simply put, over time, that’s where secularism leads a society—to where religion itself becomes just another commodity to be consumed.

But if that’s the case, then religion, or in this case, Christianity, is no longer the influencer and shaper of values. When it is reduced to just another commodity to be used in the privacy of your own home, then that means something else is the shaper of society’s values.

Welcome to the Religion of Moral Therapeutic Deism
Joel Osteen 2Moral Therapeutic Deism—that’s what Brad Gregory calls the popular religious faith of “Christian” America. Christianity in America today, Gregory says, “remains superficially strong by comparison with Western Europe, but it is a mile wide and an inch deep” (175). It’s Christian in name, but it holds to no specific religious tradition (i.e. think non-denominational, or emergent church), and the focus of this “brand” of Christianity really is personal happiness, tolerant of any and everything, and just being nice.

And Finally, There are the Culture Wars, and More Involvement from the Courts
At the same time, we find we are living very much in a post-Christian culture, or at least one in which Christianity is having less and less of an influence than it did before. Because of that, there is bound to be tensions and “culture wars.” Because of this, there are more and more court cases involving the first amendment, and the American justice system is caught in the middle. To put it simply, the Founding Fathers put the first amendment in because they didn’t want to have the government deal with religion.

Remember, the first amendment basically says, “We in the government won’t endorse any religious faith, so you are free to pursue any faith tradition you see fit—leave us out of it!” But now, all we as a society are doing is appealing to the secular government in matters involving religion. As Gregory puts it, the American courts now are:

“forced to do just what Madison wanted Congress to avoid, namely to pronounce on substantive matters in the ‘free exercise’ of religion. Judges determine what privileges and exemptions specific religions will or will not enjoy, which religious holidays will receive stat approbation, what public expressions of religion are permissible and in which contexts, which branch of a church gets the ecclesiastical property following a schism, and indeed, even what constitutes a religion, ‘subordinating every particular religion to the supreme interests of the nation’” (175).

supremecourt1picYes, despite the intentions of the Founding Fathers, we have to admit that in our modern society, we now have subordinated religion and the practice of religious faith to the will of the secular courts. Whether it be praying with high school football teams before games, or whether or not to bake a cake for a gay wedding, or whether or not the elderly nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor have to provide contraception in their health care coverage—you can probably name other instances—the fact is, religious faith, if it ever takes even a step out in the public square, has been made subservient to the whims of the government.

Now, in case that last comment makes some “liberals” upset with me, here’s something that might agitate some “conservatives.” Gregory points out that, ironically, ever since WWII, the largely secular European states—with their universal health care and quality access to education for all children—actually reflect more Christian hospitality and love toward the “least of these” than supposedly “Christian” America in these areas, where inner city schools are horrid, and where a vast amount of people object to Obamacare, not on the grounds that it might balloon the federal budget (and to be fair, that is a valid concern), but on the grounds that by seeking to help the poor, it will require the rich to pay more in taxes…and why can’t those poor people just get jobs anyway?

Here’s the Point
The point of the last to paragraphs, and the third chapter of Gregory’s book, is not just to rile up people on the political Left and political Right. The point is to highlight a very real problem in our secular age. In ancient Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Catholic Middle Ages, and up to the early part of Christianity in the modern age, politics and morality were viewed as inseparable, and Christianity provided the over-arching worldview that passed on morals, values, and virtues, to not just the everyday people in the street, but also to the rulers.

Those in power were taught they had the moral duty to care for “the least of these” in society; they were told that to abuse their power was wrong (yes, some still did, but when they did, they admitted that it was wrong). And everyday people were taught to look after the welfare of each other. Simply put, the Christian ethic of “love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” provided moral guidance in everyday life and in politics.

Once religion and politics were split apart, though, things were bound to change. Yes, the reason why the Enlightenment thinkers wanted to separate religion and politics was because the Reformation had given Europe a couple hundred years of using political power to attack any religious view one didn’t agree with. But that “First Amendment split” between religion and politics eventually meant that the moral guidance Christianity provided society would wane, and other forces of self-interest and consumerism would take its place. And, because we are in the midst of such an upheaval of societal values, we are turning to the government and court system to literally, legislate morality.  And when a society does that, it’s just asking for tyranny. “The Left” wants the government to legislate what they feel is moral—often along the lines of visions of a Marxist utopia; whereas “the Right” wants the government to legislate what they feel is moral—often veering much too close to Dominionist theology.

Well then, all this talk about legislating morality gets us to chapter four of The Unintended Reformation. That should be interesting…


The Unintended Reformation (Part 5): Chapter 3–Controlling the Churches: From Luther to Jefferson in Five Easy Steps

The Unintended Reformation (Part 5): Chapter 3–Controlling the Churches: From Luther to Jefferson in Five Easy Steps

Unintended ReformationIn my last post, I covered chapter 2 of Brad Gregory’s book, The Unintended Reformation, in which he traced a historical line from the Reformation to the 19th century that showed how the Reformer’s rejection of the entirety of Church Tradition, and their adherence to “Sola Scriptura,” actually had the unintended consequence of leading to the credo of the Modern Age, “Sola Ratio.”

In chapter 3, Gregory once again traces a historical line from the Reformation to the Modern Age. In this chapter, though, Gregory shows yet another unintended consequence of the Reformation: the ever increasing power of the secular state. So, once again, let’s take it point by point.

Step #1: The Medieval Christian Worldview
The Medieval Christian worldview obviously did not have any kind of notion of “separation of Church and State.” With that, I have to just make one quick side comment: chances are, when you just read the previous description of the Medieval world, upon reading “there was no separation of Church and State,” your initial reaction was something like, “Oh my gosh! How horrible! That sounds like something out of the Taliban!”

Well, that knee-jerk reaction that just assumes that any and all mixing of “religion” with “public society” is brutal and bad, shows how deeply ingrained the modern, secular worldview is within our society. Of course it is—it is the very worldview that defines the modern world, complete with all its assumptions that the “Church” and “State” have to be separate, because when they’re not, you have a Christian Taliban running the country.

Well, that being said, it might surprise you that in Medieval Europe, there was no “Christian Taliban” running wild. Of course, just like every society throughout time, there was violence, and problems, and constant conflict on some level. But, for all its clear faults, the Catholic Church played an extremely positive and pivotal role in Europe during the Middle Ages: it essentially rebuilt Europe out of the ruins of the old pagan world that had collapsed under its own weight.

Medieval EuropeThe Catholic Church, because it was pretty much the only organization left standing after Western Europe collapsed, became the de facto center for administration, and the Pope, originally a religious leader of the Church of Rome, became a de facto political leader who helped restructure and rebuild Europe. A key step in that process was to evangelize the pagan rulers of Europe and try to get them to stop fighting with each other. Once rulers became Christians, the Catholic Church was able to then guide them in building a more civil and Christian society.

Now, this is not to say that everything was great, and that every pope was a paragon of Christian virtue. Quite the opposite—there was a lot of corruption, to be sure. Nevertheless, while many popes were living it up in Rome, thousands of unnamed monks and priests worked in anonymity throughout Europe, slowly, over centuries, shaping that culture to reflect more Christ-like values. Consequently, as Gregory points out, for Medieval society, the Gospel was not just “religion,” it was the heart and soul of their society that taught people to live in their society in a certain way. The heads of state were Christian, and it was impressed upon them that they had a duty before God to rule their realms in a Christ-like way.

Step #2: Papal Corruption, and Appeals to “Secular” Leaders
The ultimate failure of the Medieval world, though, was that the more the Church got involved in the day to day politics of Europe, the more it became corrupt. As Gregory said, “by the fourteenth century, the more the church lengthened its bureaucratic reach and influence, the less did it look like the kingdom” (139). And indeed, that really was the main reason that led to the Reformation: Luther was horrified that a corrupt and immoral man like Pope Leo X would dare censure him for simply trying to properly interpret Scripture.

Well, as soon as the Catholic Church started bearing down on Luther, he had to go somewhere for help—and that somewhere was to the local rulers of the various realms around Germany. It was, after all, Friedrich of Saxony who sheltered Luther after Leo X excommunicated him in 1521. Eventually, in his attempt to combat the Pope, Luther and his fellow Reformers made constant appeals to the nobility throughout Europe, and sure enough, a number of nobles were won over to the Reformers’ cause.

MachiavelliNow, this wasn’t always done out of pure and godly reasons. Another guy named Niccolo Machiavelli had written a little book entitled The Prince in 1513 that encouraged rulers to feign piety in order to gain political power. And this is pretty much what ended up happening: the Reformers needed protection from the Pope, so they appealed to local nobles, who were all too happy to offer their protection to Lutherans, Calvinists, and once this starting happening, Catholics had to appeal to local rulers as well, and so yes, political leaders even offered their protection to Catholics too.

This was a monumental turn of events. As Gregory points out, once this happened, church leaders—be they Lutheran, Calvinist, or Catholic—couldn’t really dictate to the secular authorities anymore what was to be considered proper or moral: tick your protector off, and he might just turn back to Catholicism, and you’ll be in trouble. As Gregory states, pretty soon, “Churches were entirely subordinate and dependent institutions” (154).

Step #3: It’s All About That Basic Doctrine (No Treble)!
So what was the distinguishing feature between Catholics and Lutherans…and Calvinists, etc.? Doctrine, of course. As the Reformers where churning out publications challenging Catholic doctrine on virtually everything, and most notably “faith vs. works,” the Catholic Church called for the Council of Trent (1545-1563) in which it clarified its own position on a variety of doctrinal issues, and further drawing lines in the stand between the various strands of Reformation thinking.

What this meant is that almost overnight “what one mentally adhered to” became defined as “belief,” and “how one lived your life” was just seen as the consequence of that aforementioned “belief.” Is that confusing? Let me try to simply it:

  • Before the Reformation, “Christian belief” was synonymous with “Christian faith,” and the Christian faith was seen as an indivisible union of (a) what you thought and (b) how you acted.
  • After the Reformation, “Christian faith” became defined as solely in terms of (a) what you thought about certain theological claims, and that was considered “Christian belief,” whereas (b) how you acted was a different matter. How you acted was a consequence and reflection of your “Christian faith/belief—what you thought;” it wasn’t seen as an actual part of your Christian faith itself, or at least not as important as “believing” (i.e. holding mental adherence to) the correct doctrines.

Step #4: The Wars of Religion
With that now in place, the logical outgrowth was for political leaders to go to war with each other over matters of “faith”—i.e. over differences on specific points of doctrine, because after all, getting your doctrine absolutely correct was considered much more important than, let’s say, loving your enemies and praying for them! How could Calvinists accept Anabaptists as Christian brothers when the Anabaptists were advocating adult baptism? Clearly, there’s only one thing you can do with people like that: execute them by…you guessed it…drowning.

Religious-Divisions-of-Europe-1555-ADThese “Wars of Religion” lasted for over a century. Quite honestly, I doubt very much that these political rulers who engaged in these wars really were doing it because they had deep convictions over baptism, or any other doctrinal point. Think Machiavelli here: use religion to gain political power. And that’s what many of these political rulers did: they took advantage of the religious schisms, and even promoted them, as a means to gain more power for themselves.

Step #5: The Enlightenment, and the Idea of Separation of Church and State
HobbesDuring this time, there was a philosopher in England named Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), famous for his book, Leviathan—a work that argued for the necessity of an absolute secular government to enforce the social contract who would exercise full power over all religious institutions. There’s more to it than just that, but it will do for now. Gregory points out that Hobbes had rejected the idea (that had been at the heart of Medieval society for centuries) that a ruler’s principal obligation was to protect and promote God’s truth as the foundation that made possible shared Christian life in fidelity to Jesus’s commands” (162).

Hey, that might have been fine and dandy when there was a unified Catholic worldview throughout Europe, but thanks to the Reformation, there was no longer any commonly accepted understanding of Christian truth—and for the past 100 years, countless people throughout Europe had been slaughtered because of it. Therefore, Hobbes’ reaction was understandable: “Get religion out of politics!”

Eventually, when it came to the American Revolution and the founding of the United States, many of the Founders were thoroughly Enlightenment thinkers in this regard. Yes, many were Christians, some were Deists, but virtually all of them wanted a clean break from all the religiously-inspired political violence that had plagued Europe for the previous 200 years. And so, thus came the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Genius: the government won’t officially endorse or promote Catholicism, or Lutheranism, or Calvinism, or Baptists, or anything else; and at the same time it won’t prohibit any exercise of religious faith—as long as everyone can agree on the secular laws to run society, religion can be just something between you and your priest or pastor at your local church.

Well, technically, that’s not totally right. The First Amendment was clear: the federal government couldn’t endorse or prohibit any religion; but individual state governments could affiliate themselves with any denomination they chose. Over time, that went away as well, and “religion” became more and more a solely private affair…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit.

The point here is that what the Founding Fathers did was essentially find the answer to the problem that had been plaguing Europe for 200 years: Sola Scriptura had led to institutionalized confessional regimes, which had led to the “wars of religion.” The Constitutional answer was, “Let’s just not have our government promote any one confession—let’s have a purely secular and pluralistic State…that way, leaders won’t be killing each other (as well as mass amounts of people) over religious differences!”

Given everything that had happened, that was a pretty ingenious idea. That’s enough for now, though. I’ll finish chapter 3 of The Unintended Reformation tomorrow. That First Amendment really was ingenious…but there are problems with it. That’s for tomorrow.

The Unintended Reformation (Part 4): How We Got From Luther to Marx in Seven Steps–Appeals to Reason Gone Wild

The Unintended Reformation (Part 4): How We Got From Luther to Marx in Seven Steps–Appeals to Reason Gone Wild

Unintended ReformationIn this post I am going to crystalize Brad Gregory’s historical overview from the time of the Reformation to today in seven simple steps. For this is what he does in “Relativizing Doctrines,” in chapter 2 of his book The Unintended Reformation. So hang on tight…there’s a lot of ground to cover, and we’re going to break the speed limit.

Step 1: Medieval Christendom, circa 1500 AD
Gregory’s first point is that although medieval Europe held to a common identity in terms of Catholic doctrinal, devotional, and institutional terms, it was nevertheless quite robust in its diversity and customs. Anyone who has ever read Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales can attest to this: the general worldview was certainly one of Catholic Christianity, but Europe was not monolith in is customs and practices. There was quite the diversity in religious and cultural expression.

Step 2: The Reformers’ Rejection of the Institution Itself
What Luther and other reformers like Zwingli and Calvin ended up doing wasn’t just condemning a particular teaching or practice of the Catholic Church (although it could be said that what sparked the Reformation was Luther’s objection to the selling of indulgences). They ended up rejecting the very concept of church authority altogether. As Gregory puts it, “All Protestant reformers came to believe that the established church was no longer the church established by Jesus” (86).

Martin-Luther1The Reformers came to the conviction that Roman Catholicism, even at its best, was a perversion of Christianity. Any abuses or instances of immorality they saw “were seen as symptomatic signs of a flawed foundation, namely false and dangerous doctrines—that is, mistaken truth claims” (86). Or in other words, the reason there was sin in the Catholic Church was because the Catholic Church got their religious doctrine wrong. The Reformers thus set about trying to get back to the original Church by making sure they got their doctrine right.

Step 3: What Do You Put in Place of Church Authority? The Bible!
Alright then, if one completely rejects over 1,000 years of Church Tradition, what does one put in its place? The Reformers’ answer was their battle cry, “Sola Scriptura.” Yes, I know, if you’ve grown up within Protestantism, it is tempting to jump to the conclusion that if one questions “Sola Scriptura,” that one is suggesting to get rid of “Scriptura.” We have to be clear: the problem with the Reformation wasn’t its focus on the Bible; it was its insistence that the Bible alone was sufficient for determining and clarifying Christian doctrine and practice.

We know this is a problem because history has proven that it is impossible and not true. The problem started with the very way the Reformers presented the Bible. Luther called the Bible “nothing less than divine law,” and Karlstadt stated, “all preachers should always state that their doctrine is not their own, but God’s…. They can discover nothing out of their own heads. If the Bible is at an end, then their competence is also at an end” (87). Zwingli said that Scripture, “teaches itself on its own” (87).

Do you see the problem? The Reformers, by taking a meat cleaver and radically divided “God’s Word” with “man’s word,” essentially rejected any human interpretation or teaching of Scripture as being in opposition to Scripture. But the thing is, it is impossible to understand the Bible unless one interprets it. Karlstadt’s comments are dangerous because they are blurring the line between personal insights and God Himself. Karlstadt was essentially telling preachers, “What you say from the pulpit isn’t coming from you, it’s God,” the end result being, if you question what the preacher says, you are questioning God.

ZwingliSimilarly, contrary to what Zwingli said, Scripture does not teach itself on its own. I taught Bible in Christian schools for 16 years, and there were many times when a student would comment on a verse or Bible passage and state what he thought it meant, and I would have to say, “Actually, that’s not what it means,” and then explain to him the larger context so we could understand that verse better. But if that kid had been living back in the 16th century and had listened to Zwingli, that kid might have responded, “Oh I don’t have to listen to you—you’re just giving human opinion. I’m being taught directly from Scripture—that snake really talked; I don’t care about ancient Near Eastern context!”

Gregory puts it this way: “The reformers who rejected the Roman church distinguished sharply between God’s word and merely human writings and opinions. They insisted that Christians not presumptuously proffer their own views or impose their own ideas on the Bible, but rather submit themselves to God’s unadorned teachings. Zwingli criticized anyone who comes to scripture with his ‘own opinion and forwardness and forces scripture to agree with it.’ …Luther concurred, in a treatise defending the adoration of the Eucharist from 1523: ‘This is not Christian teaching, when I bring an opinion to scripture and compel scripture to follow it, but rather, on the contrary, when I first have got straight what scripture teaches and then compel my opinion to accord with it’ (88).”

The upshot of all this is simple: (A) the Reformers distinguished between “God’s Word” and “man’s word,” (B) the Reformers then insisted on rejecting human opinion and submitting to God’s Word, and then (C) the Reformers went about giving their opinion as to what God’s Word meant—but they refused to acknowledge it was their own opinion. They insisted that their opinion was God’s Word.

Step 4: Splintering and Schism Within the House of God
This is the key point to get. Gregory points out that because of the Reformer’s cry of “Sola Scriptura,” and their refusal to acknowledge that their own opinions and interpretations of Scripture were, in fact, their own opinions and interpretations, the result…not over time, but immediately, was the instantaneous splintering into rival denominations and “confessions.” Gregory correctly points out that it is misleading to think that there ever was a point in the early Reformation “when anti-Roman Christians had agreed among themselves about what scripture said and God taught” (91).

sola-scriptura-alert-bible-alone-errorSimply put, there never was “a unified Protestant front.” Luther appealed to his individual conscience over Church Tradition, had claimed it was “Sola Scriptura,” and soon everyone was doing the same thing—claiming “Sola Scriptura” and proceeding to beat up everyone who didn’t agree with their own interpretation and opinion.

And they differed on a lot: the Bible, specific doctrines in regards to the sacraments, grace, works, the whole “predestination vs. free will” debate, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the list can go on. All of a sudden, every single minor point of disagreement became a major point of disagreement over which the Reformers were willing to split the Church apart.

Step 5: Appeals to the Holy Spirit, and Looking to Political Authorities to Keep the Peace
The fall out of the various Reformers all making different doctrinal claims, and claiming that their interpretation was based on the authority of Scripture happened immediately. As Gregory points out, wheels of all this were put in motion by Luther at Leipzig in 1519, when he said he’d oppose anyone—popes, councils, or Church Fathers—if he deemed them in opposition to the authority of Scripture and divine law. Of course, he failed to see that in reality he was opposing them because their interpretation of Scripture conflicted with his interpretation of Scripture.

Other Reformers like Zwingli, Bucer and Calvin followed suit. A Gregory puts it: “the fathers and ecclesiastical tradition were criticized and rejected or simply ignored wherever they failed to corroborate a given reformer’s interpretation of scripture” (96).

And the problem was that each given Reformer didn’t acknowledge that his particular interpretation of Scripture was, in fact, his particular interpretation. Instead, each Reformer had to make an appeal to something else to support his claim that he was right about Scripture—and that claim was to the Holy Spirit. Consequently, you had this sort of dynamic at work: Zwingli, for example would write, “I know for certain that God teaches me, because I have experienced it,” whereas Luther would respond with, “Beware of Zwingli and avoid his books as the hellish poison of Satan, for the man is completely perverted and has completely lost Christ” (98).

Wow…so the Reformers ended up (A) rejecting Church Tradition and (B) claiming “Sola Scriptura,” but when they started disagreeing with each other over any given doctrine or passage in “Sola Scriptura,” each one started (C) claiming illumination of the Holy Spirit, which really didn’t solve anything, because every other Reformer was claiming the same thing, yet coming to different conclusions; therefore, the only logical conclusion was that (D) the other guy is from Satan!

And as soon as that happens, you’re going to have conflict on the rise. So what the Reformers did to try to cut that conflict off at the pass was to make appeals to their local political authorities to enforce by law their particular doctrinal confessions. The end result was that throughout Europe various cities, territories and states would declare themselves “Lutheran,” or “Calvinist,” or “Catholic,” etc., and the political authorities of that given realm would treat anyone who didn’t subscribe to that particular doctrinal confession as a criminal.

But that didn’t really solve anything. In reality, it escalated the conflict, and pretty much over the next century or so “religious wars” broke out all over Europe. Calvinists literally killed Anabaptists, because Anabaptists believed in adult baptism, for example.

Step 6: Reactions to the Religious Wars
The reactions to all this can be generalized in two ways. On one side, there was the rise of “spiritualist Protestants,” who decided the answer to the conflicts was to abandon doctrine altogether, or at least relativize them, and instead focus on a brand of Christianity that emphasized emotional appeals to “feeling” the presence of God. They essentially said, “Doctrines and theology just tear people apart; just sit back, worship, and feel!”

OsteenYes, this brand of Christianity is still alive and well in America, whether it be Joel Osteen, the TBN Network, or the sappy Christian worship music that longs to be held in Jesus’ arms and walk with him on the beach.

The other reaction can be seen in the development of the Enlightenment. The medieval Church said the Bible should be understood within the larger life and Tradition of the Church; Luther rejected that, and said the basis of Christianity was “Sola Scriptura”…as understood by his own reason…which he denied was his own reason, but instead claimed was the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This lead to over a century of hostilities and conflict throughout Europe.

Enter the Enlightenment thinkers: the problem wasn’t reason, but rather religions and the Bible itself. As Gregory puts it, “The real way out of the early modern Christian controversies concerning the answers to the Life Questions, it was and by some is still alleged, was not a Band-Aid, but an amputation: an unblinking, uncompromising application of reason along by modern philosophy and science” (112).

If the Reformers’ credo was “Sola Scriptura,” the credo of modern philosophy became “Sola Ratio”: Reason alone—complete autonomous reason—divorced from the confines of religion and faith, would be the key to happiness. From Descartes, to Hegel, to Emerson and beyond, “Sola Ratio”—philosophy as science—was the way out of the religious conflicts the Reformers had brought about.

Hence, faith, religion, and appeals to the spiritual world as a means of shaping society were seen as oppressive. Rationality and the material world alone needed to be the focus. Eventually, by the time the 19th century rolled around, men like Marx and Nietzsche were savaging even philosophy, for it was all abstract interpretation. As Marx said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it” (121).

Step 7: Welcome to Philosophical Materialism
Karl MarxAnd this is where modern “philosophical materialism” takes center stage. The problem, though, is that the philosophical materialist doesn’t see he is a philosophical materialist, for he rejects the validity of philosophy itself. Marx’s starting point was the assumption that the material world is all that exists. He then went about arguing that science and reason should shape society for its own good. But he failed to acknowledge that his assumption that the material world was all that existed was itself a philosophical assumption.

Ironically, this wasn’t too far different than the Reformers, who assumed “Sola Scriptura,” but who failed to acknowledge they were bringing their own opinions, interpretations and biases to their reading of Scripture.  As Gregory said, and it’s equally true for Marx as it was for the Reformers, “…reason ‘alone’ is never without assumptions and a starting point, which are always vulnerable to critique and subversion because they are never self-evident” (123).

Get your head around that one.

In any case, to sum up this chapter, we can say that it was Luther’s (and other Reformers’) reliance on their own reason, and their divorcing of their reason from Church Tradition in the interpretation of Scripture, that led to the religious wars of the 16th and 17 centuries. The Enlightenment thinkers, in reaction to so much conflict, took things one step further: divorce reason from not only Church Tradition, but from Scripture and religion altogether.

Welcome to the Modern World…thanks Martin.

In the next post, we’ll look at how Gregory’s discussion of how secular authorities took control of the churches during the Reformation.


God’s Not Dead 2, Pat Boone, and the Fall Out from SNL’s Parody Skit, “God’s A Boob Man”

God’s Not Dead 2, Pat Boone, and the Fall Out from SNL’s Parody Skit, “God’s A Boob Man”

God is a Boob ManLast weekend on Saturday Night Live, there was a skit that was a parody of the movie God’s Not Dead 2. What was shown was a mock “trailer” of a fictional movie called, God is a Boob Man, and the fictional storyline was that of a Christian baker being taken to court because she didn’t want to back a wedding cake for a gay couple. You can watch the skit here:

Now, In This Corner…
The reaction to the skit was rather predictable. It is those predictable reactions that I want to comment on in this post. On one side of the spectrum, Pat Boone, who played a role in God’s Not Dead 2, voiced his displeasure with the parody. Here is what he said:

“God has a sense of humor. Why else would he invent the porcupine and the giraffe? Something can be devilishly funny, but this skit is diabolical. God has only one real enemy—Satan. Satan ridicules faith, and they’re taking Satan’s side. They’re also ridiculing me and the film, telling impressionable young people not to see it because it’s ridiculous. Then they throw in that the lawyer is Jewish to make the Christian look even worse, but it’s just anti-Semitic.”

Boone said he used to love SNL, but that recently it had just gotten crass and filthy.

And In the Other Corner…
On the other side, columnists like Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News wrote an article, savaging Pat Boone’s comments. He accused Boone of being “an Obama birther who denies the existence of racism.” He said “Boone is a genuine idiot. Every time he opens his mouth, he reveals the foolishness of blind faith.” And, in reaction to Boone joke about God creating porcupines and giraffes, Kuntzman accused Boone of being a creationist.

Simply put, the piece was quite mean-spirited to say the least.

So Joel, What Did You Think About SNL’S Parody?
Let me say up front that overall I thought the skit was funny. I didn’t care too much for the “God is a Boob Man” line, but the whole premise of the parody up to that point was clever. It satirized the segment of Evangelicalism that really believes the persecution narrative in God’s Not Dead 2; it satirized militant homosexuals who are making a big deal about baking gay wedding cakes; it satirized public officials who would rather make a big deal and enforce legislation about gay wedding cakes (and, sorry if this offends anyone on both sides, transgender bathrooms), than address real problems in society.

The whole thing is a spoof and parody of, not just God’s Not Dead 2, but of our current society as a whole. Of course, given the current state of our society, not too many people are going to get that. All they’ll see is, “SNL is making fun of Christians”—and they are. They’re just making fun of a lot more people as well.

Now, About Those Predictable Reactions…
Now, let me say that I see where Pat Boone is coming from. For the most part, I’ve started not watching SNL over the past few years too, because I see most of the skits as crass, stupid, uncreative, and just not funny. There certainly are no Dana Carveys, Mike Meyers, Will Ferrells, Chris Farleys in the current cast.

And as I said before, the “God is a boob man” line irritated me too, not because I’m fearful of some “gay agenda,” but simply because, as a Christian, I revere God and don’t appreciate what I view as anything that belittles God. For that matter, though, there are a number of Christian “worship songs” that treat God as every woman’s dream date, and sound more like a “One Direction” song, with the word “God” inserted for “Baby”—that’s offensive to me too. One of the best satires on that front was an old South Park episode in which Cartman put together a Christian rock band. His strategy for song writing was to take pop tune love songs, cross out “baby,” and insert the word “Jesus”—and voila, you have your stereotypical modern Christian “worship song.” The episode was funny because (sadly) it actually was true.

At the same time, I found Kuntzman’s comments to be just as, if not more so, angry, hostile and petty as Boone’s. No, that’s not right—I disagreed with Boone that the skit was “diabolical,” but his comments did not come across as angry, hostile or petty at all. Kuntzman’s comments, on the other hand, were just angry, hostile, and petty.

About Pat Boone
For all his reputation for being the “white-shoed, goody-two-shoes” Pat Boone, Boone is actually a well-grounded, worldly-wise guy. About twenty years ago he even put out an album entitled, In a Metal Mood, in which he crooned (in his signature Pat Boone style) a number of heavy metal covers. It was quite funny—and the conservative Evangelical community went nuts. They hated it and condemned him for going over to the dark side. Here he is, singing “Paradise City” by Guns and Roses…enjoy!

Even in his comments about the SNL parody, he didn’t just object to the way Christians were portrayed; he said homosexuals should be offended that the homosexual community is depicted as being all militant. He said,

“If I were in the homosexual community, or if I were Jewish, I would be just as irate as being presented fallaciously and ridiculously as the militant homosexuals are in the parody because they are demanding things that would embarrass any responsible homosexual, and I know quite a few. They would not like to be presented as being so idiotic as trying to prove in court that God is gay. That presents them in a horrible light and a very bigoted light.”

To that, I would like to say to Pat Boone, though, “Yes, that’s the point—the whole thing is purposely ridiculous. I don’t think most homosexuals care about the ‘baking the gay wedding cake’ either. By the same token, I don’t believe all ACLU lawyers are ‘money-grubbing liberal Jews.’”

The problem with God’s Not Dead 2 is that the way it portrays public schools, principals, public school administrators, and the courts is the exact same ridiculous way this parody portrayed gays, Jews, and Christians. The only difference is that the SNL parody is a parody—it is meant and understood to be ridiculous. God’s Not Dead 2, on the other hand, isn’t trying to be a parody—it really thinks public schools are out to get Christian teachers.

…and that’s why so many people are offended by God’s Not Dead 2. And herein lies the disconnect. Boone said that he saw the movie as really being about one thing: “It’s only theme is to present the concept that God is alive, God is real.” It seems that Boone really doesn’t see how God’s Not Dead 2 could offend anyone. After all, there really are instances of groups like the ACLU taking Christians to court over certain things, right? The Little Sisters of the Poor are being forced to included contraception and abortion coverage in their health care plans, right?

To that, I’d say, of course. There will always be hostility toward Christians. There will always be guys like Dan Barker, whose group Freedom From Religion Foundation actively looks for instances where they can take Christians to court. He objects to the government making a Mother Teresa stamp; he took a small restaurant owner to court because she gave a 15% discount to people who prayed before their meals.

But the thing is, common sense usually prevails. People can see that Dan Barker is a snipping troll—even that liberal show The Daily Show can see that! The fact is, those isolated incidents of “angry atheists” or “militant homosexuals” (or whoever) trying to attack Christians are just that…isolated incidents. They do not consist of nation-wide “persecution” of Christians. That is what Boone and the makers of the movie aren’t getting. He isn’t being militant, or even paranoid for that matter. He’s just being tone deaf. He sees God’s Not Dead 2 as saying nothing more than, “God is alive.” He’s failing to see that it’s also giving a very false view of the country, by taking isolated incidents of hostility toward Christians and claiming that there is some sort of organized nation-wide effort to, in fact, persecute Christians.

About Kuntzman
Kuntzman’s comments on the other hand are quite telling. In his savaging of Boone, Kuntzman even threw in racism and young-earth creationism. His comments pretty clearly reveal that to him (as well to many others), Christians are…racist, homophobic, young-earth creationists, nut jobs with a persecution complex. And he comes across as really hostile and angry about it.

Simply put, he is showing himself to be the very thing that many Christians are afraid of. In its short-sighted and naïve way, God’s Not Dead 2 was saying, “Hey, many Evangelicals are concerned over recent legal attempts that seem to target Christian belief and practice.” And again—yes, there really have been real instances of this. But in reaction to this, they hear guys like Kuntzman come back with, “Christians are gun-toting, racist, homophobes who want to deny civil rights to transgendered people, and who have a persecution complex!” (Yes, I’m being over the top and somewhat hyperbolic here). His reaction, therefore, actually reinforces those fears many Evangelicals have.

So what do you think is going to happen? Perhaps a God’s Not Dead 3 movie, that perpetuates this back and forth fear? I hope not.

Here’s the Point
There will always be people who are hostile toward Christians. There will always be attempts to try to depict Christianity as backward, anti-intellectual, and anti-everything. This has been the over-arching narrative of history ever since the Enlightenment—and it’s utterly false, and needs to be shown for what it is: Enlightenment propaganda that was put out by the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and friends with the expressed purpose of destroying Christianity.

But Christians (and I’m thinking “Evangelicals” here more than anything) can’t continue to be so naïve and fearful of “the world.” The movie, as well-intentioned as it may be, perpetuates a false narrative, and it makes it nearly impossible to actually address the very real challenges in our society when it comes to balancing civil rights and religious liberty. It makes people who are “sort of” hostile to Christianity even more hostile to Christianity. And that in turn gets displayed on social media, which in turn frightened already fearful Evangelicals a little bit more…and so on and so on.

There’s a smart way and a foolish way to deal with perceived threats to religious liberty. Ironically, John Stewart on The Daily Show is much better at exposing the hatefulness of some Christian opponents than the makers of God’s Not Dead 2.

Pat Boone seems like a good guy…a bit too sensitive on over the SNL skit, and perhaps a bit tone deaf to how the movie offends some people, but he’s a human being. Give him a break. Engage him on the issues and debate and talk civilly about. Don’t go the Kuntzman route, and use Boone’s comment to launch into your own petty tirade about every perceived evil under the sun.

The Unintended Reformation (Part 3): Church Tradition, the Reformation, Philosophical Naturalism, and the Quirky Thing About Science

The Unintended Reformation (Part 3): Church Tradition, the Reformation, Philosophical Naturalism, and the Quirky Thing About Science

Unintended ReformationIn my last post, I discussed how Brad Gregory, in his book The Unintended Reformation, began to make the argument that our current secular society, complete with its assumption that “science and reason” deal with the real world and “religion and faith” deal with private feelings, is actually an outgrowth of the Reformation’s battle cry, “Sola Scriptura.”

What had happened was that when the Reformers cried, “Sola Scriptura,” they ended up throwing out over 1,000 years of Church Tradition and insight regarding, not just how to read Scripture, but how to understand the world. Therefore, what the Reformers ended up doing was relying on their own autonomous reason in order to understand Scripture. Not surprisingly, the Reformers came to different conclusions about what the Scriptures said.

Eventually (and granted, this is quite over-generalized), by the time of the Enlightenment, the prevailing view came to be that the problem wasn’t autonomous reason, but rather religious faith. After all, Catholics and Protestants (and Protestants and Protestants) were going to war with each other over disagreements about religion—so let’s just admit religion in public is the problem. Regulate it to private belief and subjective opinion, but let science and reason rule the public sphere…at least, that’s what Enlightenment thinkers said.

Yes, those Enlightenment Thinkers, and Their Rejection of the Reformation Mess
So, as Gregory points out, by the time Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Spinoza, and Hume came to their conclusions regarding religion, how miracles don’t happen, and how the Bible isn’t historically reliable, they were rejecting a mess that the Reformers in the previous century had made.

Here’s what I mean. In medieval Europe, far from being “the dark ages,” the Catholic Church was the driver of innovation, education, philosophy, and science (which was called at the time, “natural philosophy”). Monasteries revolutionized technology in order to run their farms and orchards better; the Church began the university system throughout Europe, and it was in those universities that students got a truly liberal arts education: literature, philosophy, the sciences, and of course Scripture.

This is not to imply that it was some sort of “golden age,” for there never is any such thing. But it is to say the Catholic Church, building on the centuries of Church Tradition and the examples of the early Church Fathers, held to a sacramental view of the world. They saw everything in the world as being able to be redeemed and used for the glory of God. That’s why early Christian thinkers like Origen, Augustine, and Justin Martyr interacted with Greek philosophy; that’s why Thomas Aquinas essentially “Christianized” the philosophy of Aristotle. They embraced learning and discovery, and sought to take whatever they discovered and use it to further understand God and His creation.

This mentality extended to the realm of the natural sciences. Modern science would have never come about, had it not been for the sacramental worldview medieval Christianity impressed upon the numerous monks, priests, nuns, and scholars of the time. They believed God was a creative, good, loving, and rational being, and therefore it was possible to study nature—nature, like God, was expected to make sense and be orderly. Therefore, the use of reason and empirical observation was encouraged within the medieval Catholic Church, but it was always used within the larger framework of their sacramental worldview. Or simply put, the assumption wasn’t that reason and faith were antithetical; it was they were inseparable.

The Reformers blew that worldview apart by. They rejected Church Tradition and the sacramental worldview it developed, and instead of using reason in conjunction with the faith and worldview developed in the history of the Church, they attempted to use their autonomous reason to define what that faith was, without any reference to the history of the Church, dependent solely on each and every Reformer’s personal opinion and bias. And that led to a whole lot of fighting over religious points of doctrine.

Philosophical Naturalism in Today’s World
Therefore, given the hostility and strife that the Reformation brought about, Enlightenment thinkers concluded it was best to regulate “faith” to the private sphere, and let science and reason determine truth in the public sphere. After all, science was discovering some pretty amazing stuff—let’s go with that!

The problem, though, is that for as amazing as the natural sciences are, for as much as they can figure out about the natural world, they are simply unable to provide a sufficient and well thought out worldview. Philosophical naturalism is the belief that the natural world is all there is to reality, and that therefore there is no spiritual world or God. That belief, though, is not in itself rooted in empirical observation or any of the natural sciences. Simply put, philosophical naturalism isn’t rooted in science—it is rooted in a metaphysical assumption, namely that if it can’t be empirically observed using the scientific method, then it isn’t real. It begins with the assumption, a belief that cannot be scientifically demonstrated, that the natural world is all that exists.

And once that assumption takes root, then “faith” is also assumed to be not really real, and is thus regulated to the emotions and feeling—purely subjective, with no objective reality or value. Sadly, even many Evangelical Christians have accepted this regulation of faith to pure emotion—just listen to virtually every modern Christian pop song or modern Christian worship “experience”—all geared toward evoking emotion and feeling with vapid and hollow lyrics that would make the boys of One Direction proud…but I digress.

The Quirky Thing About Science, Though
At the end of his discussion in the first chapter, Gregory comments on a few interesting points regarding science in general, and evolutionary theory in particular. In regards to evolutionary theory and the creation accounts in the Bible, Gregory says the following:

“…evolutionary biology certainly undermines any literalist reading of the creation accounts in Genesis. Patristic writers from the third through sixth century already knew not to interpret them so naively” (66). And later, “Without question, the findings of science falsify some religious truth claims, such as those of young-earth creationists. Anyone who cares about truth should reject such views as false” (70).

Gregory’s insights (as well as many others in his book) helped me see just what the problem with the young earth creationist movement is: their insistence to read the creation accounts “literally” flies in the face of the way the early Church Fathers read and interpreted them. That should not be surprising though, for the young earth creationist movement is one of the unintended consequences of the Reformation: it reads and interprets the Bible solely on what they think it should be, without any consideration of how the historical Church has taught about it. Despite their claims to be upholding “Sola Scriptura,” young earth creationists are really upholding, “Sola-Henry Morris” and “Sola-Ken Ham.”

On the other end of the spectrum, another thing Gregory points out is that a major problem with scientists who are philosophical naturalists is their inability to grasp what science cannot discover, and their foolish assumption that science can, indeed, explain everything. This mentality is what leads men like Dawkins to actually claim that since they can explain genetic mutations that allow for evolution to take place, that that somehow “proves” there is no God. Like I said before, such a jump from point A (i.e. genetic mutations) to point B (i.e. there is no God) is mystifying at best.

Such an assumption, Gregory states, also makes it impossible for people “to see how a traditional Christian, Jewish, or Muslim conception of God is compatible with all the findings of evolutionary biology” (67). Simply put, since all three religions conceive of God as being transcendent over creation, and not a part of it, it is completely logical to view evolution as simply the mechanism and process by which God creates and sustains His creation. It is only (a) the literalistic reading of Genesis 1-2, and (b) the assumption that God is part of the natural order that is in conflict with the findings of evolutionary theory—and both are not supported or held in the historical Christian faith and Church Tradition.

Finally, Gregory points out that, ironically, the more we discover about the natural world through science, the more mysterious and incomprehensible the natural world becomes. He points out, for example, that despite the validity of both quantum theory and the general theory of relativity, scientists have no idea how to combine the two. Gregory quotes theoretical physicist Brian Greene: “as they are currently formulated, general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right,’ even though they are the ‘two foundational pillars upon which modern physics rests.” (68).

Translation? We know quantum theory is true; we know general relativity is true—but they can’t both be right…nature is more complex and mysterious than ever! Gregory then adds, “The more we learn about reality at every scale from the subatomic to the cosmological, the more unexpectedly complex and strangely bizarre does it become, with no end to this trajectory in sight” (69).

As a Christian, that excites me, not in some simplistic way that says, “Ha! God exists in the places science can’t figure out!” No—it says to me that science and scientific discovery, not only has the ability to discover amazing things about the universe, but at the very same time, it bears witness to the transcendence and mystery of God Himself.

Or to put it in Orthodox theology language: science is helping us understand God’s energies at a much more profound and deeper level, while at the same time bearing witness to the fact that God’s essence is beyond what our finite and rational minds can grasp. It is precisely this Christian teaching of the difference between God’s energies and God’s essence that makes it possible for Christians to embrace science, in full knowledge of its limitations, and to give glory to God for it.

Young earth creationists, having rejected Church Tradition, can’t do this, and therefore see modern science and evolutionary theory as of the devil, lies spoken by the serpent.

And, at the same time, many modern scientists who hold to philosophical naturalism are, as Gregory points out, woefully ignorant of Christian theology as well, and are thus “unaware of how disputable…their own philosophical assumptions [are]” (70).

Conclusion Thus Far
Yes, that’s quite a lot to chew on. Savor the flavor and think about it. Then come back next time for my analysis of Gregory’s second chapter, “Revitalizing Doctrines,” which takes a close look at the Reformation itself.

The Unintended Reformation (Part 2): How Did We Get So Secular, and Why Is Luther to Blame?

The Unintended Reformation (Part 2): How Did We Get So Secular, and Why Is Luther to Blame?

Unintended ReformationSo how did the Protestant Reformation lead to our current secularized culture? How did Luther’s famous “Sola Scriptura” lead to legal battles over Christmas crèches and prayer in public schools, the creation/evolution controversy, Bill Maher, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Ken Ham?

Well, in reality, Luther’s “Sola Scriptura” didn’t directly lead us to where we are today, in a rather secularized, post-Christian society. But, as Brad Gregory argues in his book, The Unintended Reformation, the Protestant Reformation set a number of things in motion that got us to where we are today in the Western world. No doubt Luther and Calvin would be shocked to find that their attempts to bring about a truly Christian society based on the “Bible alone” would have led to this…but here we are.

And Where Exactly is “Here We Are?”
As I stated in my previous post on The Unintended Reformation, our current modern Western worldview can be summed up as the view that assumes “science” and “faith” are in conflict, and that “religion” should be kept out of public life. Indeed, as Gregory points out, such has been the dominant view in the West for over the past hundred years or so. Like German philosopher Max Weber (1864-1920) once stated “No one today in his heart of hearts is in doubt that science is antithetical to religion, whether or not he admits it to himself” (26).

The problem with such a view, of course, is that it is not true. If it were, scientists like John Polkinghorne, Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins (the list can go on) would not be Christians. Simply put, contrary to modern Western assumptions, modern science and religious faith are not antithetical to each other. As Gregory points out, to make such an assumption is to make a basic category mistake. Here’s why.

The natural sciences explain the phenomena and processes of the natural world, while the Christian view of God is that He is radically different from the natural universe, and that He actually created it, wholly distinct from Himself. Therefore, to think that the natural sciences disprove the existence of God is to radically misunderstand what science is and what its limitations are. Simply put, science studies the material universe, but God Himself isn’t part of the material universe.

Therefore, when men like Richard Dawkins say, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist,” not only is he wrong, he is mispresenting what science can and cannot address. To say, “I can rationally understand how nature works” does not (and indeed cannot) lead you to the conclusion, “therefore God doesn’t exist.” For the sake of argument, even if God doesn’t exist, understanding photosynthesis, fertilization, or evolution doesn’t get you to that conclusion.

This mentality, though, is unique to the modern world. It’s the assumption that unless one can understand something rationally, that “something” cannot exist. Yet the Christian claim about God has always been that, although we can rationally understand the workings of nature (i.e. science) and contemplate things like purpose and meaning (i.e. philosophy), and although those rational endeavors might be able to tell us something about God’s actions in the world, even the smartest scientist or most brilliant philosopher will never be able to rationally understand God Himself.

God, being eternal, is ultimately incomprehensible to creatures bound by time. God, being beyond nature, is ultimately incomprehensible to creatures bound by nature. It is not that belief in God is irrational, it’s that any rational understanding of God is limited to what we experience in time, space, and nature. It’s what the Orthodox Church essentially says when it states we can know God through His energies (i.e. manifestations within the world), but we will never fully know God’s essence, because He is ultimately beyond our finite understanding.

The modern world doesn’t get this though, because the starting point and assumption in the modern world is that the only kind of knowledge and reality is that which consists of empirical observation and reason. And since “God” cannot be empirically observed within the world of nature, therefore He cannot be really “real.” Therefore, belief in God can be some “emotional” thing, but “faith” deals with something isn’t real, and that’s why it needs to be kept within the confines of your private life. It shouldn’t interfere with the real world of public life.

Or simply put, let “science and reason” deal with “the real world,” and let “faith and religion” deal with feelings, emotions, and whatever gives you comfort.

And It’s the Fault of Luther and Zwingli
So if that’s the modern worldview of today’s culture, Gregory argues that what started us down the path that has gotten us to this point was the conflicts that came about as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Simply put, the doctrinal disagreements between, not only Protestants and Catholics, but even between Protestants and other Protestants, became so volatile and hostile that they “…had the unintended effect of sidelining explicitly Christian claims about God in relationship to the natural world. This left only empirical observation and philosophical speculation as supra-confessional means of investigating and theorizing that relationship” (40).

In other words, Reformers like Luther and Zwingli spent so much time savaging each other for each’s particular understanding of the bread and the wine during communion, and were so busy condemning anything that even hinted at “Catholic,” that they failed to realize that what they had actually done was completely jettison over 1,000 years of Church Tradition that had provided the basic worldview and intellectual framework for Christianity.

This is precisely the unintended consequence of claiming “Sola Scriptura.”  Yes, to question that might seem blasphemous to Protestants’ ears, but Gregory makes a convincing case.

Martin-Luther1Basically, what the Protestant Reformation did was this: by claiming “Sola Scriptura,” Luther basically rejected the entire history of Church practice, theology, and insight. He claimed that all he (and anyone) needed was the Bible and his own reason. He said he didn’t need the history and insights of the Church or past Christians—all he needed was his Bible and his brain. Pretty soon, all other Protestant Reformers said the same thing…and they immediately starting disagreeing with each other on virtually everything!

Simply put, when the Reformers relied on their reason alone to interpret and make sense of Scripture, their reason led to disagreements, schisms, violence, and yes, a whole bunch of killing. As Gregory puts it: “…reason alone yielded wildly divergent and incompatible ideas about God and his relationship to the natural world” (50).

And the thing was, great Medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas knew this, and warned about the dangers of relying on one’s own reason alone: it simply isn’t enough. For over 1,000 years great Christians philosophers, theologians and Church Fathers had built an intellectual Christian framework that was able to interact with Greek philosophy, encourage the study of the natural world, and proclaim a sacramental understanding of the world—and the Reformers had basically thrown it all out the window, and had declared “Sola Scriptura!”

sola-scriptura-alert-bible-alone-errorBut it can never be “Sola Scriptura.” Anytime you read Scripture, you have to interpret it. Church history, theology, and teaching provide you with the historical framework and context to better understand and interact with Scripture. The Reformers essentially rejected all that…and that lies at the root of the problem that The Unintended Reformation discusses.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not going to say the Reformation was all bad. A lot of great things came about because of it. But, as with any Christian movement, denomination, or Church, nothing is ever going to be perfect, so the best thing is to acknowledge the flaws and mistakes that become obvious. And as far as the Reformation goes, completely rejecting Church Tradition was a pretty big mistake.

In any case, that’s the basic premise of the book. I know this post might have seemed somewhat rambling, and for that I apologize. Tomorrow I plan to write a short post, wrapping up chapter 1, in which I discuss Gregory’s take on the assumptions of modern science, and its relationship to evolution, the Christian faith, and yes, even young earth creationism.

Adventures in Young Earth Creationist Logic…Ken Ham and “impossibility” of evolution (but let’s not consider his own claims!)

Adventures in Young Earth Creationist Logic…Ken Ham and “impossibility” of evolution (but let’s not consider his own claims!)

Today, Ken Ham posted a short article on his blog, entitled “It’s Confirmed: A Snake is a Snake!” The gist of the article is simple: scientists have studied the fossilized remains of a supposedly 10 million year old snake. After 10 million years, a snake is still a snake, therefore evolution isn’t true…because a snake is still a snake, even after supposedly 10 million years.

Ham then basically says, “You see? Rock layers don’t show millions of years. All that stuff is the remains of Noah’s flood–all those fossils are the dead things that got buried in the flood!”

That’s it–end of article.

Hold Up There, Speedy Gonzalez!
Ark EncounterWait a second, let’s consider something, namely Ham’s own claims. He claims that from an original 1,000 “kinds” of animals that came off of Noah’s ark a mere 4,000 years ago, those original 1,000 “kinds” changed and (let’s just say it) essentially evolved into the over 500,000 different kinds of species of land animals we have today. And so…

…for the sake of argument, let’s assume what Ken Ham says in this article is true, and that evolution is suspect because organisms haven’t changed all that much over millions of years.

If that’s the case–if organisms haven’t changed much over 10 million years–then how can Ham claim that 1,000 original “kinds” from Noah’s ark were able to transform and change into the current 500,000 species of land animals over the course of a mere 4,000 years? To put Ham’s claim into perspective, here’s what would need to happen for that kind of  “hyper-evolution on anabolic steroids” to take place:

Dog Kinds
Taken from The Natural Historian’s Post “Ken Ham’s Biblical Evolution? I Have a Book that says Otherwise.”

The original “dog kind” would have to breed so much, so fast, that within the first seven years after coming off the ark, that original “dog kind” would have to produce so many generations, that there would be enough genetic mutations to cause the emergence of beagles. And then those beagles would have to breed so much, so fast, that those beagles would have to produce so many generations that there would be enough genetic mutations to cause the emergence of, let’s say, foxes. And then those foxes would have to breed so much, so fast…well, you get the idea…coyotes, dingos, poodles, Siberian Huskies–any and all varieties of what Ham considers part of “dog kind.”

That kind of “hyper-evolution on anabolic steroids” would have to have constantly happened for 4,000 years straight, up to the present day, in order for those supposedly “original 1,000 kind” to have produced the current 500,000 species of land animals we have today.

So Basically, Here’s You’re Problem, Mr. Ham
Ken Ham’s conundrum should be obvious: if he is correct in claiming (and that is a big “if”) that (a) since a snake is still a snake after supposedly 10 million years, then (b) evolution isn’t true because organisms don’t change…

…then how can he turn around and claim that organisms do indeed change–quite drastically, even–over the span of a mere 4,000 years, despite absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support his claims of “hyper-evolution on anabolic steroids”?

He can’t have it both ways: he can’t claim “evolution isn’t true because organisms don’t change, even after 10 million years,” and then turn around and say, “But 1,000 kinds came out of Noah’s ark and totally transformed and changed drastically over the past 4,000 years!”

KindsThink about that if you go and visit Ham’s “Ark Encounter” and see all the fanciful “kinds” of animals that he has put in his exhibit: animals that have never existed, but that Ham assumed might have been like, if indeed there were an “original 1,000 kinds” of land animals from which the current 500,000 species of land animals descended over the past 4,000 years.

It’s totally alright to question evolutionary theory. If you’re not convinced, that’s fine. But let’s be honest, Ken Ham’s claims of “animal kinds” and drastic change over 4,000 years aren’t just not convincing, they are outright impossible…complete fiction…not true…yes, the equivalent to believing mythical beasts actually exist.

The Unintended Reformation (i.e. Why Luther and Calvin should be blamed for the ACLU) (Part 1)

The Unintended Reformation (i.e. Why Luther and Calvin should be blamed for the ACLU) (Part 1)

Unintended Reformation

For the next week or so, I am going to provide you with a bit of a history lesson that, trust me, you’ll be glad you learned. If you are like me, and find yourself looking in bewilderment at so many things in our society, from the insanity of the current presidential election, the growing secularism in our culture, and to the growing paranoia of that secularization in so many churches these days, you might have asked yourself at one point or another, “What the heck has happened?”

If you have asked that question, congratulations. You are ready to embark on a historical journey to figure out how we as a modern society have gotten to this point.

Welcome to Worldview, Boys and Girls!
If you want to truly understand the worldview dynamics of our current age, you have to go back to where “the modern age” really began—that time when the world witnessed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution all happening virtually at the same time. Those three monumental events have shaped our modern age so thoroughly, that most people today don’t even realize there was ever a time when people viewed the world any other way.

During my time as a Worldview teacher, I taught a 12th grade course on the history of Western philosophical thought, as well as an 11th grade course on the basics of Church history. Now, my specialty is Biblical Studies, so when I found myself teaching these classes, I was learning a lot of this stuff right along with the students. I ended up doing a lot of outside reading and research so that I would be able to give my students a clear, understandable overview of these topics. There was one book in particular that I read that was simply was a game-changer.

That book was The Unintended Reformation: How A Religious Revolution Secularized Society by Brad Gregory, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. It is a 600-page slog that shows the unintended consequences of the Reformation—but, my oh my, what an illuminating slog it is! Reading the book was like climbing Mount Everest: long, slow, and difficult, but oh so worth it, once you see the view.

And so, over the next week or so, I want to go through The Unintended Reformation, and highlight the main arguments of this very challenging and insightful book.

The Main Thesis of the Book
To get the ball rolling, there is one thing that needs to be clarified. It is something most people already know. Our modern world, the “modern worldview” of secular states in the West, if you will, is one that essentially sees “religion” as a private matter that should be kept clearly distinct from public life. It is a worldview that looks to science and objective reason, as opposed to subjective faith, as the surest means of ascertaining truth. It assumes that there is a “war” between science and religion, and therefore it holds the concept of “separation of Church and State” almost sacred (well, not really “sacred,” because that would imply “religion,” and we don’t want that impacting our public discourse!).

That, in a nutshell, is the worldview of modern Western states: (1) science and religion are kept separate, (2) science and reason is the way to get a grasp on truth, and let’s add (3) despite the exclusion of faith in public life, there still is an expectation that citizens should behavior morally.

So, what gave rise to the modern secular state? Brad Gregory’s answer may shock you…the emergence of the modern secular state is an unintended consequence of the Protestant Reformation. Or, to be a bit cheeky about it, if you are horrified by the likes of Richard Dawkins, the ACLU, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and no prayer in public schools—then blame Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Now obviously, the book is not saying that Luther and Calvin’s goal when they launched the Protestant Reformation was to help establish godless secular states. Remember, the book’s title is The Unintended Reformation—simply put, Luther and Calvin wouldn’t have seen this coming, but nevertheless, what we see and experience today in the modern Western world can be traced back to the decisions and rhetoric of the early Reformers of the Protestant Reformation.

Before we take that trip back into history, we will first cover Gregory’s first chapter, “Excluding God,” in which he takes a look at almost “idolitrazation” of science and the scientific method in the modern secular state. If that sounds interesting, then check back soon for my next installment.

In all seriousness, the reason why I want to take a few posts to talk about this book is because I feel it is vitally important for any Christian to understand the “historical flow” of certain events that have gotten us to where we are today. A lot of good things came out of the Reformation, but we have to acknowledge that there have also been a few catastrophic things as well. This book, as well as my next few posts, discusses these very things. I for one, don’t like calling it the Protestant Reformation. I was a veritable Protestant Revolution…and it was quite frankly, a revolt against the very Tradition and history of the Church.  If that sounds a bit provocative, I hope you check back to read the next few posts. I think they will be illuminating.

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