Defending the Faith

This is a follow up to Post-Kantian “Reality”, which in some ways, I found enormously disconcerting. Many Christians today find themselves overwhelmingly discouraged; they are not alone. Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, (1692-1752) was quoted as saying,

It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much a subject for enquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious.

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Unbeknownst to Bishop Butler a revival of rarely seen proportions was about to break out in Scotland and northern England (the location of the Diocese of Durham). The Cambuslang Revival resulted in such large-scale conversion that by 1751 in Glasgow, for example, one out of every three people was a regular participant in church life. Just when, as a contemporary of the Cambuslang Revival wrote:

Many Christians were tempted to think that the Holy Spirit’s mighty operations upon the souls of men, by the preaching of the gospel, belonged only to the first ages of Christianity.[1]

the Lord broke out amongst His people (maranatha!!!) and stayed the tide of Deism which had previously seemed to be inexorably advancing.

Just so, when it seems there is no hope of the Church embracing Christ’s truth as it often does these days, we must cling to the reality that God and His Church have been here before.

It is helpful to remember that this is not the first time the Church has faced a situation where people embraced a fluid view of gender. It was a key tenet of ancient Gnosticism—that mystical blending of ideas from various backgrounds into an aspiration for secret knowledge and enlightenment….

The response of Irenaeus in the second century was to write his book Against Heresies. In this he outlined different parts of Gnostic belief in detail, and countered them by laying out the big picture plot-line of the Bible….

Irenaeus was aware, more so than any of his predecessors, that the plot-line of the Bible has a cumulative weight of persuasiveness. All views of the universe which differ from the Bible are implicitly telling a different story—it just so happened that Gnostics were literally rewriting and editing versions of the Bible to fit their philosophies. A vital part of our response to Queer theory must be to take every opportunity to educate people in the plot-line of the Bible. This means not only giving people Bible overviews, but also helping them see how each part relates to the whole—and how the exercise of so understanding scripture actually has real life implications for issues such as gender, sexuality and identity.[2]

I find it exhilarating that there truly is no new heresy. God has responded to these same old attacks before. Their new dress is no obstacle for the Architect of the Cosmos.

What needs to be done? We must re-learn the narrative of the Bible; it is the meta-narrative of the world. We must be captured by and formed by the story that is God’s redemptive action in the world.

There is much that Christians ministers can learn from engaging with Queer writers. We ought to be humbled by the scale of their achievements in the face of considerable opposition. Queer writers have persistently campaigned politically and sacrificially for the furtherance of their visions. Foucault modeled this. When speaking to a homosexual group he returned the 2,000 Francs payment saying, ‘A gay man does not need payment to speak to other gays.’ The immense cultural impact of Queer theory is testimony to the practical and social changes that can be wrought by academic work. The insight of gay/lesbian activists in perceiving their need for intellectual underpinnings to their political ventures is one Christians would do well to learn from. We once had a similar tradition, which like Queer theory, saw all of life as a unified reality to be seen through a common lens.[3]

We must unlearn our idolatrous perceptions of God. We must be willing to face persecution to insist on the truth. We must be willing to lean on God’s sovereignty to direct the course of history. The resistance we will find most discouraging will come from within the Church itself.

…I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

– Matthew 16:18b

[1] Arthur Fawcett, The Cambusland Revival: The Scottish Evangelical Revival of the Eighteenth Century (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971)

[2] Peter Sanlon, Plastic People: How Queer Theory is Changing Us (London: The Latimer Trust, 2010), 36-37

[3] Ibid, 35.

Post-Kantian “Reality”

There is probably a remarkably small audience interested in what I’m about to post, but the importance of this information cannot be overemphasized.

Few people have read the writings of [Immanuel] Kant; nonetheless his philosophical views underpin much of modern culture’s discourse. Not only does this background help explain Judith Butler’s presentation of gender as performative linguistic discourse, it also explains why her writing (and that of other Queer theorists and the gay/lesbian movement generally) is so reluctant to make appeals to ontological realities.

That is, Butler represents a narrative in which traditional Christian gender ethics is portrayed as naive and unintelligible because it bases itself upon some sort of appeal to an ontological reality e.g. A man ought not to seek to become a woman because he was born a physical man; or homosexual acts are immoral because God designed sex to function between a male and female. Both of the preceding statements are making an appeal to some sort of ontological reality, from which implications are then drawn. Such ontological based claims are resisted by Queer writers such as Butler. They are presented as totalising, enslaving and heterosexist frameworks of thought.

Rather than appealing to ontology, Queer theorists prefer to utilise the rhetoric of autonomy, slavery and freedom. They identify their movement with other groups who have sought freedom from repression, such as women or slaves. Most gay/lesbian activists are so resistant to ontological claims, that even when one comes along which may be a support to their cause, they will feel uncomfortable with it and eventually reject it. The most notable example of this was the ‘gay gene’ theory. Many Queer writers now say that even were a ‘gay gene’ demonstrated, they would not want to use it as par of their defence of their lifestyle. It would limit their freedom too much, and conflict with a presentation of homosexuality as a free choice….

The influence of Kant together with the remarkable political and cultural success of apparently non-ontologically based appeals to freedom, has made many Christians doubt the validity of their more ontologically grounded ethics system. Certainly, presenting ontologically based claims, to a person gripped by a system of thought which is influenced by Kant, will be ineffective. This is surely part of the reason that clear and frequent re-statement of traditional Christian teaching on gender related issues tends to not result in many people actually changing their views. Rather than giving up on our ontologically based ethics, or merely repeating our views ineffectually, we ought to expose the fact that writers such as Judith Butler are in fact themselves making ontologically based arguments.[1]

Some readers may need a refresher on what “ontological” means…ontology is the study of that which exists; the study of being. If something is “ontological” it is an evident reality, a tangible truth. The fact that I am is an ontological reality; that I own a Honda Accord is an ontological reality. I was born male; I have brown hair; these are ontological realities.

Consider this:

Prior to Kant [1724-1804] philosophers sought continually to push back the boundaries of that which is known about the world. After Kant, what is known is merely the categories of our own thinking….

An often overlooked point is that both pre- and post-Kantian philosophy was human-centred; the difference was that while each pre-Kantian thinker put himself as the centre of the world, each post-Kantian thinker put himself at the centre of his or her own world. Before Kant, knowledge was assumed to lead to an appreciation of ontological realities. After Kant, with the mind hermetically sealed off from reality, the suggestion that something previously thought to be ontological (like gender), was actually merely linguistic or a category of thought, began to make sense.[2]

If the reality that simply is can be questioned than there truly is no absolute truth, but simply that which is your truth. The irony of all this is that the homosexual agenda’s search for freedom to exercise a perception of reality that justifies their chosen behavior simultaneously prevents those of a different opinion from exercising a freedom to disagree!

Irving’s parody is prescient [referring to a scene from John Irving’s The Cider House Rules]. It captures the oppressive sensation that Butler’s ideology creates in those who are heterosexual. She favours freedom for homosexuality, but frames her argument in such a way as to deny heterosexual identity real dignity. She is claiming to have a better, more accurate knowledge of what goes on inside a person than anybody who says they are not homosexual. In Butler’s world of genders formed by discourse, the homosexual discourse reigns. We see the cultural outworking of this in television shows where the gay man is thought to have some valuable insight into a topic, simply because he is gay. Homosexuality is not only given preferential treatment as a lifestyle; it is though to flow from deeper, more accurate self-understanding than heterosexuality.

In the end, Butler’s conception of freedom is an absolute freedom which forces itself upon people who may not want it, or may not realise they want it. As such it is a freedom which enslaves…. Butler builds on half-truths, and plays with concepts in a way that aims to subvert what she sees as the heterosexist oppressive regime of modern society…. The vision for society Butler offers is precisely the kind of oppressive system which she so passionately speaks against. She has Queered freedom into a system of thought which equates to freedom for all who agree with her, but how will the dissenters be viewed?[3]

The frightening reality is that this innate human longing for freedom is being misused by several powerful propagandist movements today. I will move from the homosexual agenda to other causes in a subsequent post.

But before we leave this particular topic, a final comment from Peter Sanlon is warranted:

The remarkable thing is that the argumentation made thereafter by Butler is identical in form to that put by traditional Christians. The only substantive difference is that the ontological reality she bases her argument upon is an unstable repressed homosexual desire, and the Christian bases their argument upon God’s physical creation of a gendered person.

Thus Judith Butler’s vision of gender is only as convincing as Freud’s view of melancholic gender….

Christians have no reason to fear using arguments which make appeals to a basis in ontology. Not only do Queer writers such as Judith Butler do so, the ontological realities appealed to by Christians are far more verifiable than Freud’s theories. In a post-Kantian word, we would do well to point these things out to those who portray traditional Christian appeals to ontological realities as repressive or philosophically passé.[4]

[1] Peter Sanlon, Plastic People: How Queer Theory is Changing Us (London: The Latimer Trust, 2010) pp 25-27.

[2] Ibid, 25.

[3] Ibid, 24.

[4] Ibid, 28.

Mature Christianity

J.I. Packer comments on mature evangelicals, but in many ways his comments apply more broadly to Christians in general.

Immature evangelicals have sometimes settled for a euphoric, man-centred pietism, concerned only with possessing and spreading the peace and joy of ‘knowing Christ as my personal Saviour’ (sadly, these precious words are nowadays a cant phrase), and never appreciating God’s revealed concern for truth and righteousness in church and community. Maturer evangelicals, however, have always recognized that though personal conversion is the starting-point, Christians must learn a biblical God-centredness and seek after ‘holiness to the Lord’ in all departments of the church’s worship, witness and work and in every activity and relationship of human life.*

Would that this understanding would permeate American churches!

*J.I. Packer, “A Kind of Noah’s Ark? The Anglican Commitment to Comprehensiveness” (1981) in J.I. Packer & N.T. Wright, Anglican Evangelical Identity: Yesterday and Today (London: The Latimer Trust, 2008) p. 126.

Doing a Double-take

Have you ever been reading a book, and all of a sudden you stop short and think, “Whoah, wait…what did that just say?!” Well, I had one of those moments this morning, I was reading a book by Taylor Marshall titled The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origin of Catholic Christianity, when screeech, on went the brakes, and I jammed my eye transmission in reverse:

Just after that, I recognized someone in the waiting room. It was Mr. Smith from St. Andrew’s. Now I understood why I had been called upon to pray with a Jewish woman–she was married to an Episcopalian. Up until now, I had not known that his wife was Jewish. He was nervous about her surgery and we talked for a while until the rabbi returned to the waiting room. Mr. Smith formally introduced me to the rabbi, and we shared an interesting conversation about how some Jews bend their knees and raise up on their toes when they pray.
    Then the rabbi asked Mr. Smith a very unusual question. "What is the Hebrew name of Joanna’s mother?"
    The husband thought about it for a moment. "Gee, I don’t know. Why do you ask?"
    "Well, I was going to ask Joanna the name of her mother, but she was already asleep by the time I found her."
    "Why would you need to know her mother’s name?" asked her husband.
        The rabbi explained, "We Jews believe that if someone is suffering and you invoke the name of his or her mother in prayer, God will be more merciful in granting your prayer for that person."

Now what about that! I’m not exactly sure what to do with this. Has anyone else out there heard of this from the Jewish side of things, or have a source for where this practice originated?

Semper Reformanda

You may have heard the phrase “reformed and always reforming” or perhaps just “always reforming,” the english translation of semper reformanda. This phrase comes from a book by Dutch Reformer Jodocus van Lodenstein, who in his 1674 devotional wrote:

The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.

Note however, that the verb is passive—the church is always being reformed, not always reforming—there’s a big difference. Who is the source of action? The Church or God?

If the Church is reforming we’ll get revisionist policies placed upon us by individually motivated malcontents wanting humanism rather than biblical values. If the Church is being reformed by God and His Word, this is an entirely different thing.

I recently posted another quote from N.T. Wright relating to how we ought to respect but not canonize tradition, and the following is a suitable follow up, reflecting the need to, as Rob Bell says, “repaint the Christian faith” for each generation.

In writing as I have, I have been aware of one great need and one great danger. The need…is for the Biblical Gospel to be rethought creatively by every generation of Christians, not to undercut what we already know (though we too need to be semper reformanda) but to develop and mature our understanding of it. God has yet more light—much more—to break out of his holy word. When we find ourselves in an Identity Problem perhaps the most appropriate thing to do is to pray, and work, for that fresh light: to read the Bible as a new book with new things to say – which will at the same time be to go back to its original meaning, to re-emphasize old truths, basic certainties, but often with delicate nuances and emphases we had missed because we had ignored them, which will challenge us to reform ourselves afresh, as we traditionally insist that every one else should do.

The danger, to which Dr. Packer alludes, is that we should apparently add to the Gospel and so in fact subtract from it.[1]

[1] N.T. Wright, “The Evangelical Anglican Identity: The Connection Between Bible, Gospel & Church” in J.I. Packer & N.T. Wright, Anglican Evangelical Identity: Yesterday and Today (London: The Latimer Trust, 2008), 116.

The Psychology of Little Girls

(not a technical analysis)

Elorah brought me a hairband today and asked if I would put her hair in a ponytail. After doing so, she proceeded to prance around the house saying,

I’m a girl, I’m a girl, woo-hoo, I’m a g-i-r-r-l!

Ethan, on the other hand, would run around the house—full-tilt—proclaiming:

I’m a ninja! I’m a ninja!