Machen Day 2016: Before Jimmy and Bunk

My father, who died in 1915 at the age of eighty-eight, and my mother, who died in 1931 at the age of eighty-two, were both Christians; from them I learned what Christianity is and how it differs from certain modern substitutes. I also learned that Christian conviction can go hand in hand with a broad outlook upon life and with the pursuit of learning.

My father was a lawyer, whose practice had been one of the best in the State of Maryland. But the success which he attained at the bar did not serve in the slightest to make him narrow in his interests. All his life he was a tremendous reader, and reading to him was never a task. I suppose it never occurred to him to read merely from a sense of duty; he read because he loved to read. He would probably have been greatly amused if anyone had called him a “scholar”; yet his knowledge of Latin and Greek and English and French literature (to say nothing of Italian, which he took up for the fun of it when he was well over eighty and was thus in a period of life which in other men might be regarded as old age) would put our professional scholars to shame. . . .

He was a profoundly Christian man, who had read widely and meditated earnestly upon the really great things of our holy faith. His Christian experience was not of the emotional or pietistical type, but was a quiet stream whose waters ran deep. He did not adopt that “Touch not, taste not, handle not” attitude toward the good things or the wonders of God’s world which too often today causes earnest Christian people to consecrate to God only an impoverished man, but in his case true learning and true piety went hand in hand. Every Sunday morning and Sunday night, and on Wednesday night, he was in his place in church, and a similar faithfulness characterized all his service as an elder in the Presbyterian church. At that time the Protestant churches had not yet become political lobbies, and Presbyterian elders were chosen not because they were “outstanding me [or women] in the community,” but because they were men of God. I love to think of that old Presbyterian session in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. It is a refreshing memory in these days of ruthless and heartless machinery in the church. God grant that the memory may some day become actuality again and that the old Christian virtues may be revived! (J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity in Conflict,” Selected Shorter Writings, 548, 549)

All Roads Lead to Trump

Detroit native, Tim LaHaye, died on Monday at the age of 90. Did his Left Behind novel series prepare the way for Donald Trump? Here‘s one reason for thinking so:

“Left Behind” follows a group of Americans through the days after the Rapture — which occurs shortly after an Israeli botanist wins the Nobel Prize for devising a way to grow crops in the desert, thereby making Israel a self-sustained trading partner with its neighbors and bringing peace to the Middle East. In the series that follows, the Antichrist, a charismatic young Romanian leader named Nicolae Carpathia, works through the United Nations’ machinery to consolidate currency and erase national borders. Eventually all are brought together under the Mark of Loyalty, a biochip inserted into the hand or forehead that allows one to purchase food, and a tattoo — the Mark of the Beast.

“Left Behind” was well-timed. In 1995, with the Cold War ended, the USSR effectively dissolved and the Berlin Wall down — and well past the expiration date for “Late, Great Planet Earth’s” predictions about the 1980s — the average conservative evangelical in the pew was less worried about Russia and the bomb and more concerned about a twofold threat: apostasy and liberalizing trends in the church as well as the loss of national sovereignty through the United Nations.

Blogging is Essential to Being a Christian

That is a conclusion that someone could possible draw from a recent Pew Research Center poll on Christianity in the United States:

The survey shows a clear link between what people see as essential to their faith and their self-reported day-to-day behavior. Simply put, those who believe that behaving in a particular way or performing certain actions are key elements of their faith are much more likely to say they actually perform those actions on a regular basis.

For example, among Christians who say that working to help the poor is essential to what being Christian means to them, about six-in-ten say they donated time, money or goods to help the poor in the past week. By comparison, fewer Christians who do not see helping the poor as central to their religious identity say they worked to help the poor during the previous week (42%).

The same pattern is seen in the survey’s questions about interpersonal interactions, health and social consciousness. Relatively few Christians see living a healthy lifestyle, buying from companies that pay fair wages or protecting the environment as key elements of their faith. But those who do see these things as essential to what it means to be a Christian are more likely than others to say they live a healthy lifestyle (by exercising, for example), consider how a company treats its employees and the environment when making purchasing decisions, or attempt to recycle or reduce waste as much as possible.

Is this circularity (which rivals the motives of credibility) merely a problem of Protestant subjectivity? I don’t think so:

Three-quarters of Catholics say they look to their own conscience “a great deal” for guidance on difficult moral questions. Far fewer Catholics say they look a great deal to the Catholic Church’s teachings (21%), the Bible (15%) or the pope (11%) for guidance on difficult moral questions.

Perhaps most discouraging is how poorly Sabbath observance fares, a weekly activity that winds up ordering all the days so that ceasing from work is possible:

To help explore this question, the survey asked U.S. adults whether each of a series of 16 beliefs and behaviors is “essential,” “important but not essential,” or “not important” to what their religion means to them, personally.

Among Christians, believing in God tops the list, with fully 86% saying belief in God is “essential” to their Christian identity. In addition, roughly seven-in-ten Christians say being grateful for what they have (71%), forgiving those who have wronged them (69%) and always being honest (67%) are essential to being Christian. Far fewer say that attending religious services (35%), dressing modestly (26%), working to protect the environment (22%) or resting on the Sabbath (18%) are essential to what being Christian means to them, personally.

Hearing the Word of God read and preached in the public assembly of the saints? Forget about it.

The Gypsy Curse

“May you get everything you want.”

Some Calvinists have a special attachment to the original Westminster Confession:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (23.3)

2kers point out that U.S. Presbyterians had good reasons for revising that affirmation, reasons like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or James Madison (Virginians all) having jurisdiction over church assemblies.

For some, though, it takes Donald Trump to recognize what 2kers have long understood:

It would be one thing for Trump to disagree with Moore. That would be totally fine and appropriate. But Trump does more than that here. Trump criticizes Moore not for bad views but for being a bad evangelical!

The problem with this is obvious. Do Americans really want a president who thinks it a part of his job description to pontificate about who is and isn’t a good evangelical? Or a good Catholic? Or a good Muslim? Or a good Jew? This is totally outside the norms and traditions of the presidency.

Presidents are fine to have convictions, religious or otherwise. But to single out a political opponent and to define him as an unfaithful evangelical simply because he opposes the Trump candidacy is an absurd and dangerous precedent.

Deep down, everyone understands 2k. Sometimes they even recommend it.

Blame Trump on Sunday School

Stay with me.

It looks like evangelicals who go to church don’t support Donald Trump:

Across all the states, the March 15 elections showed that, on average, a super-majority of 60 percent of evangelicals voted for someone other than Trump. Furthermore, there continues to be strong evidence that the more religious a voter is, the less likely they are to support Donald Trump. For example, in Missouri exit polls, which tracked church attendance, Trump performed much worse than Ted Cruz. Of those who attend religious services “more than once a week,” Cruz garnered 56 percent of the vote, outpacing Trump by a full 26 percentage points. Among those who attend religious services once a week, Cruz earned 50 percent of the vote, which was a full 17 points above Trump.

In contrast, with those who only attend services “a few” times a year, Trump won 48 percent of the vote to Cruz’s 29 percent. If Missouri’s numbers are indicative of voters in other states, then Trump does much worse among those who actually take their faith seriously enough to attend religious services consistently.

So, who is responsible for nurturing evangelicals who don’t go to church (and vote for Trump)? Sunday school is.

Church leaders sensed that Boomer parents wanted the one hour break from their kids—that they wanted to focus on their own spiritual life for an hour away from the distraction of their children. And, again, we assumed, reasonably so, that worship targeted to adult boomers would not be all that engaging for kids. So dynamic Sunday school programs were created to engage the kids at their level in their language while their parents were in worship. In fact, some churches didn’t (and don’t) allow kids into big people worship at all.

The result: Many of these innovated congregations had a positive, significant impact on the lives of disenfranchised Boomers and their kids. Many saw their congregations and their children’s ministries grow exponentially. The evangelism imperative to reconnect with Boomers seemed to work.

But there was (and is) one huge unintended consequence: We have raised the largest unchurched generation in the history of our country.

Admittedly, there are many reasons why each generation in our culture is increasingly distanced from the church. Some have to do with societal shifts that have nothing to do with the church. Some have to do with the inability of the church to articulate the Gospel in compelling ways.

But perhaps one of the reasons has to do with the Sunday School shift…as we shifted kids out of the main worship experience, en-culturated them in their own program, and robbed them of any touch points with the rest of the body of Christ. Another way of saying it: by segregating our kids out of worship, we never assimilated them into the life of the congregation. They had no touch points. They had no experience. They had no connection with the main worship service—its liturgy, its music, its space, its environment, and its adults. It was a foreign place to them. And so…once they finished with the kids/or youth program, they left the church.

In other words, parents who forced their kids to sit through boring church services and eat broccoli at Sunday dinner reared people who vote — wait for it — for Ted Cruz.

Doh!

Would You Let Your Wife Teach in Public Schools?

As one of our regulars here suggested off-line, Tim Challies should sound so nuanced about movies (or stop slandering actors and actresses):

However, if we were to begin again today, I am quite sure we would not enroll our children in public schools. What concerns me is that our decision would not be based on conviction but fear, fear generated by statements we have heard from others about public schools and, in particular, about public school teachers. Over the years we have encountered hundreds of statements about the dangers of such teachers. We have been assured that public schools are the breeding ground for every kind of social evil, that they are the lair of predatory teachers, that they are full of tenured and unionized employees who care nothing for children. We have heard that public school teachers care only for ideology, that they will allow no leeway for Christian beliefs, that they will do their utmost to undermine the hard training of parents who attempt to raise their children with biblical ideals. In many Christian circles, public school teachers are made out to be the enemies of the faith.

Our experience of public school teachers has been far different and far more positive. And I don’t think we are the exception, not from what I’ve heard when speaking to people in my church, in my city, in my family, and even as I’ve spoken to many of you at conferences or churches or events. Of course some have had bad experiences, but not all. Not nearly all.

So in some spheres, the antithesis doesn’t go all the way down. It does in movies that show skin, supposedly. But imagine if Challies could concede that some films and tv shows that reveal flesh are “far different” from merely being about lust and “far more positive” in their portrayals of characters and social contexts. What if my experience of movies has not been all bad? That despite all the skin-avoiders say about “dirty” movies, these films and shows are about far more than lust, sex, adultery?

In other words, if you can entertain shades of gray with public education — one of the great sins for a certain strand of Calvinism — why not with television and film production? Conflicted minds want to know.

How To Talk About Sex (in public)

Conor Friedersdorf (via Noah Millman) suggested a way for Christians to talk to non-Christians about the value of sexual restraint:

Let’s imagine a private, residential college in purple America. It was once an explicitly Christian institution, and while now avowedly secular, the faculty still has a few beloved old-timers who retain a sense that part of their job is moral education. There is also a Christian pastor who lives on campus, runs a campus ministry for Christian students, and sits on a collegiate interfaith counsel. Each year, he plays a role in freshmen orientation—initially, to introduce himself to the students and invite any who are interested to join his ministry; and later, as one voice among many in a half-day session on sex and sexuality. He has 15 minutes to share whatever thoughts he has with the freshmen, who’ve already learned where to get free condoms and been counseled in consent and sexual assault. This is the only time he’ll have the whole class as a captive audience until graduation.

What should he say?

Should he say that abstinence is the only acceptable method for preventing unwanted pregnancy, because premarital sex is always wrong and contraception violates natural law by subverting God’s design of the human form? Should he say that while gays and lesbians are as loved by God as anyone and their desires are not themselves sinful, acting on them is immoral? Should he say that gay students should think about a vocation besides marriage, because the institution is inherently procreative and always will be? Or that students who never accept Jesus as their personal savior may be consigning themselves to eternity in hell? Should he say that anyone who aborts a pregnancy is murdering an innocent human? Or that the weight of tradition should cause students to look askance at masturbation? These are all beliefs a particular traditionalist Christian might well hold. You can imagine why he might feel impelled to speak them aloud—to “stay true” to his beliefs, despite their present unpopularity, or to facilitate what he regards as the potential saving of as many student souls as possible.

Should he say that you should imagine your future wife going to one of these parties and thinking of how to encourage men to show her respect?

Here’s part of what Friedersdorf came up with:

Some students will become depressed after hooking up with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the emotional intimacy they sought. Does that fact affect you? How? There’s always a chance that sexual intercourse will result in a sexually transmitted disease or the creation of a new life. What does that imply, if anything, about your own sexual behavior as you try to be good to one another?

There are so many situations you’ll face—so many more questions I could pose.

I don’t pretend that confronting these situations with the question, “How can I be good to others?” will lead all of you to the same answers, let alone to my answers, though I hope that you’ll keep your hearts open to the possibility. But if you really wrestle with that question in every situation that involves sex, romantic intimacy, dating, hooking up, whatever you kids call it these days—instead of thoughtlessly acting in whatever way most people seem to be acting—you’re much more likely to do right by others, much more likely to be proud of yourselves, and much less likely to remember your time here without the regrets that haunt some people, people who look back at their younger selves ashamed of how they hurt others. You’ll also bring about a community with fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer sexual assaults, less depression—just by trying your very hardest to be good to one another!

Can you imagine a chaplain talking like this to students at a Christian college? Of course, not (unless it’s Boston College — ahem).

But can you really imagine Christians talking to other Christians about movies — MOVIES!?! — the way Samuel D. James does (via Tim Challies)?

The first thing I should clarify about my original blog is what I did, and did not, intend to communicate. My aim was to help Christians affirm their conscientious objections to watching simulated sexual acts by offering some substantive reasons why, in my opinion, violence and profanity are not similarly problematic. I was not trying to argue that all sexual content in movies demands the same response from everyone, nor was I making a case that all movies that contain it are equally problematic. There is, of course, a significant difference between talking about the sexuality of a James Bond film and that of 50 Shades of Grey, just like there’s a difference between the violence of The Exorcist and The Human Centipede. My conviction is not that all these films are equivalent or that Christians must treat them as such, but that a consistent ethic of avoiding explicit sexuality in any film is not hypocritical, unrealistic, or even particularly “legalistic.”

The reason I think this is a point worth making is that when most Christians ask about sex in movies, they’re not asking about whether they should walk out of the theater when it comes on, or if they should leave the party or close their eyes or only watch with their spouse and fast forward. Those might be important questions, but in the majority of cases that’s not what is being asked. What is being asked is, “Is it even worth trying to avoid?” And, “Don’t I have Christian freedom to watch if I’m resisting the temptation to lust?” My blog was specifically directed not toward the details but toward the larger point that, yes, for the Christian, avoiding a dramatic encounter with the erotic outside of the marriage covenant IS realistic and IS spiritually wise.

Why can’t Christians talk about sex in public in ways that suggest they’ve read narrative of David and Bathsheba and the Song of Solomon and don’t think those parts of the Bible are dirty?