5/7/18

On Remaining Humble in Modern Academia

By: Jonathan Harris

After reading Richard Weaver’s monumental work Ideas Have Consequences last semester I was struck with one characterization of the “ideal man” that has since been shaping the way I look at my own academic future. For a young seminary student like myself pursuing “Christ-likeness” was a given, but my eyes were never fully open to what that meant in relation to my academic career and my identity in connection with it. Let me explain.

Weaver roughly traces the concept of the ideal man from the time of Plato up through the modern age by focusing on three different characters: the philosopher/theologian, the gentleman, and the specialist. Simply stated, the philosopher/theologian ought to be the ideal man, not because he is the smartest, but because he is the wisest. He is the wisest because he understands the connections which exist between fields of study and in knowing such connections has a more direct understanding of the immaterial eternal world of ideals and principles. The gentleman who replaced the philosopher/theologian retained the noble moral code of the previous station without the other-worldly glow. In short, he was the man of tradition defending the world passed on to him, but without a transcendent standard to be self-conscious of. While it was the case that the vast majority of gentleman drew their precepts from religion, it was not a requirement to be religious in order to attain to the status. The gentleman gave way to the specialist as modernity waxed. This is the world we currently live in. If you’ve ever seen someone dressed up in a lab coat trying to sell you the newest invention or medicine you are witnessing the elevation of the specialist. The specialist understands his limited narrow field of study and that is about all he is expected to comprehend. Those in society elevate the specialist because he is the “best” in his field. Not all of this is wrong in every way, but there is a fundamental deceptive element to it, and it relates directly to Christ-likeness, academia, and humility.

You see, the specialist is in danger of catching a disease all men are prone to, but not all men are exposed to, at least not to the same degree. Call it a bad case of having a “big head.” The Apostle Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 8:1. “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” Of course knowledge itself is not the problem, otherwise the Apostle’s reference to the “gift of knowledge” (12:8), or his multiple positive uses of the same term (i.e. 11:3) in the same epistle would make little sense. It is best to understand the warning as one of motivation and not education. It is the soil in which the seeds of knowledge are planted that prove to make the field inhospitable to the ideal of love. Academics is incapable of corrupting a heart, but a heart is capable of corrupting academics, and the heart of the classical philosopher/theologian has a much different purpose than the heart of the modern specialist.

The specialist approaches his field with an eye toward efficiency and success as chief virtues, and prestige and security as chief rewards. His is a world of competition against an ever shrinking group of participants the higher he climbs and the narrower his field becomes. To state it in a  vulgar way, the ivory tower has become the world where the nerds are finally able to gain the illusion of out-competing the jocks. I say “illusion”, because the nerds have simply found a field in which the jocks and most others simply do not compete for reasons usually having to do with pursuing other more traditional life goals.

Now, it is not wrong to pursue higher education. If it were, I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world. It is the way education is pursued, viewed, and used. The philosopher/theologian pursues education the way a loving man pursues his wife. He is not studying her to manipulate her. He does not view her like a stepping stone toward greater personal success. He does not use her strengths to boost his career. He pursues her because he loves her. He wants to know her because he cares about her. Romance is relational, and so is wisdom. The philosopher/theologian has a soul captivated with the mysteries of the divine and dives into the deep end knowing he will never explore the depths of the sea of learning as long as he lives. No academic program can contain it. It is a pursuit which never ends. The result of such a pursuit is a humble well-rounded man of wisdom. He knows he has merely scratched the surface. He knows his place is that of the passive observer attempting to comprehend principles set in place by someone far greater than him. He does not manipulate the world around him but uses the wisdom he obtains to faithfully occupy whatever station he possesses. If the philosopher/theologian has any responsibility it can be summarized with one word: duty.

The beauty of the philosopher/theologian is that any person is capable of being one. Academic accolades are not required, just a love for truth. Understanding one’s role as an inheritor of a tradition, culture, and religion are prerequisites however. The specialist often has a hard time seeing beyond his own nose because he has set out to make a way for himself solely based upon his alleged ability in one or two narrow areas. Take that away from him and he’s done for. This is why so often professors at academic institutions can exude an ere of arrogance. It must be understood by everyone they surround themselves with that they are important because of their expertise. Thus they are in danger of becoming insecure one trick ponies. Truth is not their pursuit. Domination in their field is. Not so for the philosopher/theologian who primarily sees himself as part of a faith, a heritage, and a family. Take his academic status from him and his pride is not hurt. He probably has a trade he knows a thing or two about. He may have even inherited it from his father. He knows his family and faith will continue well after he’s gone. His faith, hope, and love are rooted in heavenly institutions.

So what does this all have to do with Jesus? It’s quite simple really. He was the ideal man. But He was also the ideal philosopher/theologian. He worked for thirty years as a carpenter before he pursued his ministry calling. He bypassed the prestigious centers of education and instead “increased in wisdom and stature” through conversing with older religious leaders in a Socratic sort of way. He found his strength through His connection with God and upheld the tradition of His faith and people perfectly. His wisdom knew no limitation making Him the most profound speaker on every subject he chose to address. Finally, he fulfilled his heavenly and highest duty while being knowingly humiliated. His actions flowed from His character. He was the Savior of the world, as his name suggests, even before his ultimate duty was fulfilled. His identity was and still is secure in the eyes of heaven whether or not any recognition is afforded him on earth. 

As a young man with a strong connection to the academy, my goal and struggle is to keep the person of Jesus in mind as I pursue the next steps in my education and career. Part of this process is avoiding Weaver’s “specialist,” while embracing his, “philosopher/theologian.” My identity is not found in “what I do.” My function in a narrow field is not my source of worth. My goal is not the approval of men in the same field.

One of Richard Weaver’s interesting observations about the South is that it is in this region that modernity has been resisted for the longest period of time in the Western world. The echoes of the pre-modern world of the philosopher/theologian and certainly the gentleman still exist in pockets here. One such pocket is represented by the Abbeville Institute. I have had the privilege of attending one of the organization’s summer schools and one of their summits and have formed relationships with many of the faculty. I recently wrote Dr. Clyde Wilson who I met at an Abbeville event to gain his advise on remaining humble in graduate school. It is with our exchange that I close this contemplation.

Dr. Wilson,

After visiting the university you recommended me to over the weekend with my wife I am pleased to inform you that Dr. Smith offered me a position as a Graduate Assistant. I do believe I will accept his offer. Thank you once again for writing the kind recommendation.

The main reason I'm writing you is to ask a question about humility. You see, my wife and I were discussing how down to earth Dr. Roberts and Smith were when we had lunch with them. Dr. Roberts is a dean and Dr. Smith the head of an entire department at the largest Christian university in the world. Yet, there we were dipping French fries in ketchup at Five Guys and talking about the most common things one could imagine. They were approachable and accessible. I commented that they would be just as happy at a Nascar track as they are sitting in their ivory towers- perhaps happier.

Then it occurred to me that the professors at Abbeville are without a doubt the most humble group of academics, and perhaps men, I've ever met in my entire academic experience. To use yourself as an example- I've been slowly making my way through "Defending Dixie," and I've been simply amazed at your insight and use of the English language, yet you were humble enough to ask me about myself and listen to what I had to say---a 28 year old with an undergraduate degree---while eating Banana pudding at Marice's.

A few years ago I had the displeasure of meeting without a doubt the most arrogant group of men I have ever witnessed in my entire life. They inhabited the graduate history department at the University of Albany. I will spare you the story of the their condescension toward me, but it was quite potent. The seminary I attend is a great deal better, but still I find that many of the professors love to hear the sound of themselves talk, and are not capable of admitting they may not know something when it is clear they don't.

How is it that you remain as humble as you do after having the academic profession that you've had? How is it that this general kindness and humility seems to be common among the Abbeville professors? Is it a Christian/Southern influence? I'm asking because as I reach higher levels of learning I want to remain humble myself and not fall into the trap of arrogance most academics inevitably fall into.

-Jon

Dear Jon,

I find your message deeply interesting and gratifying.  Would you mind if I shared it with a few Abbeville Scholars?  They would be pleased at the evidence of their good works.

There is not the slightest danger that you will ever be like the bad professors that you describe, and for many reasons.

To explain them fully would require major study of English and German social, intellectual, and cultural history back into the Middle Ages.  You have DEFENDING DIXIE.  In my pieces "Scratching the Fleas"  and "The Yankee Problem" I make a stab at the margins of the problem.

These people have no religion, no culture, and no vocation.  You are guilty of none of these things.  All they have is their status which they cling to rigidly.  Without their status they would be nobody---just one more average cipher among the millions in modern urban society.

No religion?  Obviously they have no conception of a higher purpose of life, either as individuals and in their view of humanity.

No culture?  They lack any visceral inward connection with Western civilization such as has been for long been possessed by any uneducated farm boy or worker. Probably your good Welsh name is helpful in this regard.

No vocation?  Unlike you, they have no drive to understand life and our great cultural heritage, no devotion to learning.  They have merely picked out some niche of "expertise" that will give them status in a bureaucratic, soulless society.

Another reason that you can never be like them is that your career will be a struggle that will depend on ability, effort, and the small help that we can give you.  There will be no comfortable bureaucratic niche for you.

Thanks for your kind remarks about us Abbevilleans. We are not status conscious.  More importantly, we are civilized Christian men who feel an obligation to mentor the young to carry on a great tradition.  Those other people regard talented young people not as a blessing but as a threat.

Hope this helps.

As ever, Clyde

4/16/18

The gospel of "justice," a new way to preach "circumcision?"

By: Kenny Steier 

Over the past 2 weeks many at The Gospel Coalition’s MLK50 conference, and the Together 4 the Gospel Conference have been postulating the need for "racial reconciliation" in the church and "social justice," and calling them "gospel issues". Many of these statements have come from men whom I’ve reaped great benefit and encouragement from listening to. I still respect and certainly still love them in Christ, but I’ve become greatly concerned. What’s been troubling is their subversion of the Word to make the gospel say something more than it actually does thereby making their goals a Christian requirement.

Let me be clear; I detest racial prejudice, and seek to have it rectified when I see it. When I do hear about churches causing division on account of the color of someone’s sin I get sad and angry, for that is entirely against what scripture teaches. The Lord makes this very clear to Peter in Acts 10:34-35 “So Peter opened his mouth and said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” If we show partiality by either giving someone more esteem or less esteem and care based on their ethnicity, we’re in sin. Another helpful example is in 1 Samuel 16:7 where the Lord says to Samuel when he’s going to anoint the new king of Israel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” These verses fly in the face of certain preachers who say that white people need to repent of their racist sins. Such a sweeping judgement of millions of people based on the color of their skin is clearly unbiblical. What they would be correct and justified in doing is to call out
specific instances of racism in the church. These do exist on both sides of the color spectrum in the church; real hurts have been given and received that should be dealt with. However, the perpetrators of the sin are the ones who need to repent and seek forgiveness, merely sharing a sin color does not mean that the guilt is also shared. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”- (John 7:24)


So how exactly has the Bible been used incorrectly? In order to substantiate his claim that “My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice,” Thabiti Anyabwile, writing for The Gospel Coalition, justifies his remark by citing Titus 1 where Paul is talks about the Cretans.
One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Titus 1:12-14).
The error he commits is missing that Paul is describing a cultural problem, not an ethnic/racial one. He was instructing Titus on how to establish solid leadership over them so that they would not be led astray by false doctrine. Their tendency of believing in fantastic things and myths is not necessarily an inborn and innate trait of being born a Crete. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see the apostles urging the brethren to apologize for sins their tribe had committed to another one. There would be no end to the confessing. The Lord recognizes that we humans have a sinful tendency to hold onto to hurts, and to make sinfully prejudiced categorizations of other people groups. The apostles counteract that tendency. Paul does so very clearly in Colossians 3:10-11.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
The NT does not deny the existence of ethnic diversity, but it certainly speaks to how we often treat it incorrectly, so Paul in a sense is saying “You know all those problems you guys have with each other because of your differences? Forget about them. You’re new creations in Christ, and are of one body in Him. Your citizenship and identity in Him greatly exceed any identification you previously held to.” The clarity of Paul’s words makes it shocking that men who can so skillfully exigete God’s Word mess up in an area that seems so cut and dry.

One article I found particularly disturbing was a confession piece by Paul Tripp in which he lamented how he’d been preaching an imbalanced gospel all these years. Preaching the gospel of grace, but not the gospel of justice. “By God’s grace, I have become deeply persuaded that we cannot celebrate the gospel of God’s grace without being a committed ambassador of the gospel of his justice as well.” Now here’s the thing, the author gets so much right in this article:


Of course, God would have never have participated in such a negotiation, because he is a perfectly holy God! And if he had, there would have been no need for the penalty-bearing, forgiveness-granting, and acceptance-resulting sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Think with me for a moment. Grace is never permissive. Grace never calls wrong right. If wrong were not wrong, there would be no need for grace. Forgiveness always assumes some offense against moral law.

That means we cannot celebrate and proclaim the message of God’s grace while we do what God would never do—close our eyes to the injustice around us. We cannot be comfortable with exegeting his mercy for all people without being an advocate for his justice for all people.
These are all true, and there are other grand truths of God the author puts very eloquently in that article. Of course the Christian ought to be for justice, because God is just, and we’re made in His image! Regrettably, here we find some very big inconsistencies that are concerning. The author talks about being committed to God’s “gospel of justice.” This makes no sense biblically speaking. ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good news’ God’s justice is punishment for our sins. We stand condemned before Him, and our sins earn us an eternity in Hell. God’s justice is the bad news part of the gospel! The good news is that if we’re in Christ, we’re spared that, and get to spend an eternity with Him because of His grace! Being a “committed ambassador of the gospel of his justice” is a bizarre thing to say. “Good news everyone! You’re all going to Hell!” I don’t think that’s what he intends, but biblically speaking, that is what that would mean. So lets overlook that poor phrasing of what I believe the author is really getting at which he states in the article with this “The cross forbids me to close my eyes to any form of injustice, whether personal, corporate, governmental, ecclesiastical, or systemic.” He never describes what being an ambassador of justice looks like. He talks about how he and his wife grew closer and had their eyes opened to some racist struggles black people in his church faced, yet he never mentions how he brought justice into it.

Another problem is where he says:

How can we stand for justice when we have let prejudice separate us? How can we understand the travail of others who we are never with, never see, and never hear? How can we stand for justice when, because of prejudice, there are those we will minister to, but whose leadership we wouldn’t serve under, for no other apparent reason than race? How can we advocate for the family when we are a broken and divided spiritual family?
Again no specific examples are given, and he uses a lot of generalizations. Now, I surely recognize that there are some churches, on both sides of the melanin spectrum which have people who struggle or give-in to racism in word or perhaps deed. These churches need a gospel-reformation. But he says things like “our churches” and “But to whose leadership we wouldn’t serve under.” Are there people like this? Yes, and maybe the author really was like this, but it’s fallacious of him to lump me in with his sin just because we look alike. For a lot of these allegations, he may speak for himself. I wonder if he’s even committed what he’s claiming to repent of, and if he just hasn’t been guilt-tripped into it. Justice after salvation is upholding God’s judgement without regard for someone’s background. What I see here is “because their background is this, then we must do X.” Don’t get me wrong, it is right to come alongside our brothers and sisters who have suffered! (Mourn with those who mourn) And we should do so regardless of their skin color. God does not show favoritism, and neither should we.

I truly believe that the gospel unites, and that when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers with it. The big issue here is that these preachers have been trying to make this racial reconciliation and social justice a part of the gospel, when they aren’t. The gospel naturally accomplishes this thing, it is it's fruits. I look at my church as an example of this. It’s pretty diverse, and we don’t preach racial reconciliation or social justice, we preach the gospel. God reconciling man to himself through Jesus. All men are sinners, God shows no partiality in whom he saves. We all love talking about how great God is, His gospel, and living according to His Word so that as 1 Peter 1:15-16 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” No, we’re not perfect, but there’s definitely a oneness in Christ that was accomplished through the gospel, not diversity for its own sake. I pray that these leaders would return to that basic and wonderful truth that the apostles preached, and would turn from what really seems like a new way of preaching circumcision.

4/15/18

When should racism be preached against?

By: Jonathan Harris

Some have rightfully asked, in light of the recent controversies over neo-Marxism at Together for the Gospel and MLK 50, “When is it right to preach about racism?” Here are some helpful thoughts.

1) First to clarify- the current controversy is not over “racism,” at least not in the way it is being portrayed by those on the left side of this issue. James White, Doug Wilson, Phil Johnson, and Todd Friel etc. deeply believe that it is sinful for someone to be devalued by others because of the level of pigmentation in their skin. They are NOT contending that the sin of pride as manifested in racism should be silenced from church discussions. They are reacting to a false gospel disguised as “anti-racism.” The false (neo-Marxist) gospel is the issue. Thabiti Anyabwile, David Platt, and Russell Moore on the other hand are comfortable painting “white,” “evangelicals,” or “reformed” people, as the case may be, as bearing the stain of the sin of racism due to their group identification. If either side is in danger of slipping into racism it is not those on the right.

“Ok, even if the current controversy isn’t over ‘racism,’ shouldn’t the church do something to address the topic?” The answer is of course, “Yes.”

2) The sin of pride, as it manifests itself in ethnic superiority, should be addressed when the Bible speaks on the issue (i.e. when a pastor happens to be preaching through a text that directly addresses the topic). Part of the problem plaguing the left is poor exegisis. Those who would have a conniptions if they were ever associated with theonomists, are perfectly fine using texts from the Old Testament that contain the word “justice,” and reading into that word a meaning previously only associated with socialist politicians. The allegedly “anti-racist” sermons being preached have next to no exegesis supporting their applications. When exegesis was offered up, for example by James White in his walk-through of Collosians 3, it was mocked and dismissed by Thabiti Anyabwile without any attempted alternative interpretation.

Moral of story- if you’re going to preach on anti-racism, MAKE SURE the text you’re using supports anti-racism. If it does not, you probably are not preaching on the topic you think you are.

3) Another time to preach against racism, provided the text supports the message, is when there is a sin that needs to be corrected within the church. The logical next question would be, “What constitutes evidence that Christians are engaging in devaluing other images of God due to skin pigmentation?” So far it has been suggested by the “racial reconciliationists,” that the failure of “white” people in the church to adequately stand against slavery, segregation, Donald Trump, and police brutality are evidence enough that the church must address racism. David Platt went so far as to suggest that the ratio of white to black people at Together for the Gospel was evidence that the church has a problem with racism. This is usually where heart strings are pulled and things get emotional.        

    •    It is true that horrible situations have occurred, and individuals professing Christ have at times been on the wrong side of these situations. That being said, what is the solution? The gospel would indicate repentance, forgiveness, and moving on. The “racial reconciliationists” demand more—racial quotas, perpetual corporate apologies for ‘privilege,’ and a whole host of policies that are more consistent with identity politics than with anything resembling Christian reconciliation.

    •    The demand of those on the left in the neo-Marxist controversy is that apologies be made for past sins. Underlying this demand is the assumption that those with “white” skin are complicit in sins they never committed (nor did their ancestors in many cases) simply because they have “white” skin. (To give a very quick example- about 5% of Southern whites owned slaves, and it was probably a similar percentage of Northerners engaged in the nefarious “triangle trade.” Even if the Bible taught that slavery was a sin, “white” people at the time, many of whom were involved in progressive or immediate abolitionism, cannot be held responsible for being born into a culture in which slavery existed. Their great-great-great-great-great grandchildren less so.) By this logic every Christian who does not actively campaign to enforce immigration law is guilty of the crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

    •    Oftentimes, the sins referenced are not sins at all. It is not a sin to vote for Donald Trump. It is not a sin to belong to an organization more white people happened to have joined than black people. It is not a sin to live in the suburbs. It is not a sin believe the welfare state should be systematically dismantled. It is not a sin to support respecting the American Flag, or oppose the destruction of Confederate and colonial monuments. It is not a sin to be born into a middle class family. etc. etc.

Moral of story- if you are going to use Scripture to correct a sin, MAKE SURE it is actually sin you are correcting. Conversely, if their is an ailment you want to address (for example- poverty, family breakdown, etc. in certain communities), and there is a sin(s) causing the ailment, make sure you correctly identify the sin which is at the root! To misdiagnose a problem, and forcefully place a burden of sin on those who are not directly responsible for the problem, does NOT help those you think you might be helping. For example, if family breakdown in inner city communities can be tied more directly to fathers disregarding their responsibility in those communities, and government welfare policy encouraging such sin, preach against the ACTUAL issues from the passages that address them.

4) Racism should be preached against when it is a paramount not necessarily when it is peripheral. There’s an old Lutheran quote which states:
If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.
The Together for the Gospel Conference was held a few miles from an abortion mill where I’d like to note, if national statistics prove to be true, three times as many black children are being murdered as compared with white children. California is contemplating making conversion therapy a punishable offense. This means pastors who attempt to help those formerly living homosexual and lesbian lifestyles could be punished as criminals. Senator Cory Booker, while Together for the Gospel was taking place, grilled Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo for his Christian beliefs on homosexual perversion. I could go on, but you get the point. When you see certain Christians expending so much energy on issues that, if they are problems today are peripheral, while expending so little energy on the issues that will eventually take away the church’s ability to preach the gospel freely, you have to wonder what’s going on?

James White, Doug Wilson, Phil Johnson, and Todd Friel know what’s going on, and they refuse to go along. That’s why they have been verbally attacked.

To summarize:

It is right to preach against racism when the text of Scripture addresses it, or when there is a sin that needs to be corrected in the church, or the church needs to be warned against wrong cultural practices that are paramount. None of these criteria seem to apply well at all to those who fancy themselves as leading the charge against racism in the church at MLK 50 or Together for the Gospel
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