A Ruthlessly Honest Assessment about the Grief We Face!
If you want a fascinating yet historically accurate view of reality that speaks to our modern moment, may I suggest you consider notable atheist, Tom Holland’s massive shift in opinion about Christianity’s place in the world and the need to recover it.
Jonathan Van Maren writes of Holland’s shift,
“While studying the ancient world, Holland writes, he realized something. Simply, the ancients were cruel, and their values utterly foreign to him. The Spartans routinely murdered "imperfect" children. The bodies of slaves were treated like outlets for the physical pleasure of those with power. Infanticide was common. The poor and the weak had no rights. How did we get from there to here?
It was Christianity, Holland writes. Christianity revolutionized sex and marriage, demanding that men control themselves and prohibiting all forms of rape. Christianity confined sexuality within monogamy. (It is ironic, Holland notes, that these are now the very standards for which Christianity is derided.) Christianity elevated women. In short, Christianity utterly transformed the world.
For what it is worth, I believe Holland gets it! (For further reading from Holland himself, check out this article from 2016.)
So what does this have to do with my “Ruthlessly Honest Assessment” I wish to make? Let me suggest Tom Holland makes assessments about the nature of reality that are critically imperative and helpful for this very moment we face.
We all agree that these are not easy times yet it saddens and slightly angers me to see how people reduce the slaughter of innocent children down to 2-3 polity issues. In turn, they anathematize those who hold to opposing policies than theirs, making sad declarations like “you don’t love or care for the protection of our children” or “you love your guns more than children” or “you don’t care about the time honored values and rights of our nation.” These anecdotal creeds are simply a way to deflect blame away from ourselves and on to someone else! "THEY ARE THE PROBLEM!" to simplify the common refrain.
Truth be told, I find that most people I speak with have views that are much more nuanced. We would do well to see the vast range of perspectives that exist BETWEEN the bookends of the cultural rhetoric. This mess is way bigger than the reductionistic rhetoric employed to discredit our cultural enemies. It's not so much that "THEY" are the problem as much as it is "WE" who are the problem.
In the end, we must all recognize that virtually EVERYONE desires a meaningful solution to the tragic circumstances we have faced over past 2-3 decades. I, for one, am just as enraged and depressed by the current deluge of circumstances that we face as anyone.
Please entertain my personal assessments:
- As a father and husband, I want what every other red blooded father wants for his kids. I want a safe school system that actually educates our kids instread of simply provides “free” childcare. I want to see the end of the senseless slaughter of innocent children in every possible way. (Yes, this includes both INSIDE and OUTSIDE the womb.) I send my kids and my wife into public schools everyday...and frankly it is terrifying. There are problems I want to addressed in public education but I am not going to reduce the issues we face as a need to “throw out” public education all together. You are free to disagree with me.
- As a Southern Baptist Pastor, I want our church to participate in a denomination that protects (to the best of our ability) women and children from abusers and predators instead of shoveling it under the carpet via a loop hole called "local church autonomy". The reality is you can BOTH protect local church autonomy AND have meaningful associationalism that calls churches to account for the theology and practice (or non-practice) of leaders and members in their churches. No, associations cannot discipline a pastor or member of an autonomous church but they can disfellowship a church that neglects the duties demanded of them in the Scriptures. Many Baptist associations historically understood this fact. Consider the historic Philadelphia Association. They set up clear bench marks on what it meant to participate as churches together in the same association. I suggest we start there and rediscover the well worn path of healthy Baptist congregationlism & polity that sets higher standards on membership and church discipline as well establishing clearer standards for church associationalism.
- As an American, I want to protect our treasured values of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as well as see ALL of our bill of rights preserved. They have served us well. We have to think about the nature of modern firearms but we must also consider why the right to bear arms existed in the first place. It was NOT for personal protection but from governmental tyranny. We must also know that those rights of freedom, fairness and equality came NOT on the backs of self interested patriots or those consumed with identity politics RATHER those whom selflessly gave their lives to build a more perfect union for future generations. Sadly, some of those rights have been wickedly applied to some and withheld from others. We want and need to continue to address those disparities where that is still a problem. Nonetheless, I wish to honor the ambitions of our forefathers (warts and all) as a citizen of this great nation so that as many people experience them in a meaningful way as possible. We can and should evaluate policies and procedures in light of the treasured values and freedoms we are guaranteed as US Citizens but we must remember that evil is not interested in policies and procedures. Evil is not sitting around waiting for us to close the policy gap they have been exploiting. Evil is interested only in creating fear and terror and no rule of law usually stops them from attempting to carry out their heinous actions.
- Lastly but MOST IMPORTANTLY…as a Christian, I want to see my friends and neighbors know that my God is not interested in the fainting and powerless self interests, politics and policies of mankind. Rather He draws close to the sinner, the bereaved, the suffer and all who realize their inability to fix themselves or the world in which they inhabit. The arrogance that lies behind much of our issues today is the fact that humanity chooses over and over again in trying to fix our problems without God’s aid. That is a foolhardy game and it will never work. The good news is that God has provided a way of redemption from the mess we have made and continue to make. That Good News is Jesus! Yes, I said it... right now, as much as any time in history, we need the Gospel! More of mankind’s fleeting attempts to fix things leads on to continued heart break.
So yes, I like most of you want change and believe we should seek change. But what Holland rightly understands is that the world left to its own devices is a barbarian place. Behind that barbarianism is the reality of sin which was ushered in through humanity's first parents’ disobedience and continues to be perpetuated by their prodigy (every people in all place…FYI...you and me). The problems we face in these atrocities of our time have way deeper roots than we realize. This means our modern problems are much deeper than mere short term policy changes that actually do little to change the issues we face long term. (I don't intend to suggest that policy change is not part of process of change ...of course policies matter but it’s usually not as black or white because we understand water mixed with dirt will always create mud).
Rather, our essential problem is a historical and global rebellion against God and a desire to lives apart from God’s good rule and therefore subjecting the world to repeated barbarianism of our own making. A world that continues to reject the good rule of God is subject to the same cycle of sin and death and will so until Jesus returns. Read history and prove me wrong. Holland rightly understands human history as barbian without restraint. The Christian knows that impulse is due to deeply rooted sin that exists in every human heart! In the end, what we must realize is that mankind's problem has a deeply spiritual and innate moral problem at its root.
Holland, in some measure, understands this but I fear many Christians do not. We forget the Gospel hope we have and are called to bring to to our neighbors in this suffering. We presume that the Gospel is NOT ENOUGH! We presume to bring the Gospel to light is too light and fluffy and that it's not earthy enough!
Friends, forgive me but...THAT IS COMPLETE BULL! The Gospel is enough precisely because it is griddy and earthly. Our Savior lived among us and endured the same mess we face but overcame death to bring real life. The Christian need not get outraged by the times because we know that even with policy change and new laws, the change we long for is short term. The Christian need not think lightly of our Gospel need in the most depressing and difficult times we face! We must remain resolute in bringing Good News to our ourselves and our world.
Holland, a "Christian atheist" (whatever that is) understands that a society with no moral center cannot stand. The Christian should be in hearty agreement with this ideal. We know that the moral center we need arises from God alone. But lest someone misunderstands, the recovery of some form of the nuclear family and sexual ethics in our nation that may have served previous generations is NOT the ultimate salvation we need though it is certainly critical!
Christianity is not a message of social change but a message that exposes that mankind can’t make themselves clean, pure, or moral enough to fix themselves or this world. We need an alien antidote/righteousness for our unrighteousness. That alien antidote is the Son of God who was sent from the Father to live in flesh and in time. He gave himself as the righteous sacrifice to atone (pay for) our sin debt. That is the entirety of the Biblical witness!
Christianity is a message about a people called into redemption but also called out to declare this Good News to anyone who is willing to hear and receive this Good News. What Christians did in the 1st and 2nd centuries was not so much a clever infiltration into society with their morales but rather a gritty and sturdy presence in the places they lived and by doing so, showed forth a better way anchored in the Gospel of Jesus.
May I suggest that the better way THEN is still the better way NOW? Its not an easy way and it will take way more than mere short term policy change or mere spiritual talk to get where we need to be. It will require repentance and faith (Again, let the reader understand). In my mind, the church will need to first recover our mission and witness…then and only then extend that witness by spreading out into the highways and byways to bring this good news to all people.
I'm sure this sounds incredibly arrogant or even too simplistic to many. Fair enough. But might I argue that it is not arrogant to say you don’t have the earthly answers needed for the complex issues we face? Rather, it is quite arrogant to presume you do have the answers and please permit my directness…God despises the arrogant. We should distinguish arrogance from confidence. Arrogance and confidence are not the same thing. I’m campaigning for a renewed confidence in the God who created all things. An from that place, move into the world to pursue a sturdy vision of Justice and righteousness.
As for the charge of being too simplistic. I am ok embracing that label. I am simply choosing to be confident in who God has revealed Himself to the world. That is as simple and yet as essential as it gets. So yes, let me invite to join me on that simple path…not an easy path mind you…but a simple & essential one. A path that recognizes and rests in a God who created and sovereignly rules over all things and has set in motion a great story of redemption for all those who seek to find refuge in Him. That invitation is open to anyone who wishes to walk that well worn path with me.
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