Border Patrol with Big Green Letters

Joe Carter wants us to be cautious about attributing “cultural Marxism” to AN NEE BODEE!!

Over the past decade online culture and political tribalism have combined to bring ideas once relegated to the margins into the mainstream. We can add the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.

A prime example is the term “cultural Marxism,” which is included in Earnest’s grievances for which “every Jew is responsible.” … When those on the political right make claims about the people at the Frankfurt School conspired to bring down Western culture or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether they recognize it or not—using the redefined and racialized meaning given by Lind.*** Of course most Christians who uses terms like cultural Marxism are not kinist. Many of them are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin. Yet it’s disconcerting when conservative Christians use language that originated from a racist worldview perpetuated by anti-Semites.****

. . .Because the term CM has become tainted its continued use by Christians undermines our ability to warn about the dangers of concepts like Critical Theory. We should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing. Doing so will help us to be better communicate what intend in a loving manner.

At Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zubatov is not so sure:

A short tour through some notable landmarks should suffice to show how 19th-century Marxism evolved into 20th-century “cultural Marxism” and the culture war of our present day: . . .

It is a short step from Gramsci’s “hegemony” to the now-ubiquitous toxic memes of “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “white fragility” and “whiteness.” It is a short step from his and Marcuse’s reconceptualization of the role of radical intellectuals to our sensationalized and politicized media outlets playing the part of a self-styled progressive vanguard riling up the allegedly oppressed and turning their incoherent rage loose on the rest of us. …It is a short step from the Marxist and cultural Marxist premise that ideas are, at their core, expressions of power to rampant, divisive identity politics and the routine judging of people and their cultural contributions based on their race, gender, sexuality and religion — precisely the kinds of judgments that the high ideals of liberal universalism and the foremost thinkers of the Civil Rights Era thought to be foul plays in the game. And it is a short step from this collection of reductive and simplistic conceptions of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” to public shaming, forced resignations and all manner of institutional and corporate policy dictated by enraged Twitter mobs, the sexual McCarthyism of #MeToo’s excesses, and the incessant, resounding, comically misdirected and increasingly hollow cries of “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe” and more that have yet to be invented to demonize all those with whom the brittle hordes partaking in such calumnies happen to disagree.

Whatever the merits of phrases like cultural Marxism, I do find it peculiar that Joe Carter has not objected to pet categories by the Gospel Allies’ most celebrated members.

For instance, is Christian hedonism a very good way to describe sanctification?

What about Gospel Ecosystem? Why wouldn’t something like — well — church or communion work? And what’s up with using organic metaphors for urban locales? (Wendell would not approve.)

Can we produce a gospel city movement? No. A movement is the result of two sets of factors. Take for example, a garden. A garden flourishes because of the skill and diligence of the gardener and the condition of the soil and the weather. The first set of factors—-gardening—-is the way we humanly contribute to the movement. This encompasses a self-sustaining, naturally growing set of ministries and networks, which we will look at in more detail below.

If we “should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing,” why are some celebrity pastors immune?

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Was Victoria Osteen Channeling Jonathan Edwards?

I was not planning to write about this since discussing the Osteens is like mistaking Bill O’Reilly for Michael Oakeshott. But I am intrigued by the experimental Calvinist response to Pastorette Osteen’s remarks on the importance of experiencing happiness in worship. The issue is conceivably whether we pit God’s glory with our experience in worship. And sure enough, the experimental Calvinists echo Pastorette Osteen. Ligon Duncan reminds us that even the famous first answer of the Shorter Catechism (an experimental Calvinist product) combines God’s glory with our enjoyment:

The Reformed steadfastly affirm that the fundamental purpose of human existence is God’s glory, but we refuse to pit God’s glory and human happiness against one another (as Ms. Osteen, perhaps unwittingly does in her misguided exhortation). The very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this. “What is man’s chief end?,” it asks. The resounding answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, our chief and highest purpose, goal and end in life is God’s glory. That is what we live for. Whereas many of our contemporaries think that God is the chief means to our highest end (happiness), the Reformed do not believe that God is a means to an end, he is The End. He is the reason and aspiration for which we exist. There is no ultimate happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment and joy apart from him.

BUT, the Reformed do not believe that God’s glory and our joy stand in opposition. We do not believe that those two things are in contradiction. Indeed, we believe that they are inseparable. The Reformed believe that it is impossible to pursue God’s glory without our own souls being blessed with everlasting good. We think that our fullest joy cannot be realized or experienced apart from the pursuit of God’s glory.

That is John Piper’s cue:

Christian Hedonism teaches that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be in some measure a pursuit of happiness. And the happiness, which makes up an essential part of all virtue, is the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of the glory of God. Therefore, if we try to deny or mortify or abandon the impulse to pursue this hapiness, we set ourselves against the good of man and the glory of God. Rather we should seek to stir up our desire for this delight until it is white hot and insatiable on the earth.

And then Piper chimes in with Edwards:

Self-love, taken in the most extensive sense, and love to God are not things properly capable of being compared one with another; for they are not opposites or things entirely distinct, but one enters into the nature of the other. . . Self-love is only a capacity of enjoying or taking delight in anything. Now surely ’tis improper to say that our love to God is superior to our general capacity of delighting in anything. (Miscellanies, #530, p.202)

I am not saying that Piper, Duncan, and Edwards are wrong because they echo Pastorette Osteen. But it is striking to see how many people reacted negatively (Christian and not) to Osteen’s video and how experimental Calvinists are less inclined to pounce.

Now in the world of Reformed Protestant objections to Lutheranism, it is also striking to see how the funny Lutheran guy (thanks to our New Jerusalem correspondent) responds to the Osteen comment:

In their sermons and books, both Joel and Victoria Osteen give full-throated endorsement to the prosperity gospel, a theology which states that those enduring hardships, poverty, and sickness have only their lack of faith and confidence to blame for their suffering. There are, of course, some enormous theological problems with this Christianized version of “The Secret,” where you obtain God’s blessings by speaking them into existence. The first is that it has no basis in the Scriptures and conveniently ignores all of the words that Jesus speaks about the question of suffering, the cost of discipleship, and the blessedness of persecution. The second is that it offers nothing but despair to those who are faithfully enduring the crosses Christ has given them to bear. And the third is that such a doctrine simply doesn’t square with the lives of those who were the first to tell us about God’s blessings in Christ (self-promotion alert).

So is it bad for Victoria Osteen to encourage us to think of God as the “Treat Yo Self” Tom Haverford to our name-it-and-claim-it Donna Meagle? Most definitely. But surely it’s a few notches lower on the pole of theological indefensibility than speaking words that, one, say the exact opposite of what the Bible says; two, belittle suffering Christians with the insensitivity a man horking down a hot fudge sundae three inches from the face of a starving child; and, three, imply that St. Peter, St. Paul, and even Jesus Himself must have been really lousy Christians who couldn’t unlock God’s potential blessings.

In other words, the funny Lutheran guy sees here a version of the prosperity gospel. And so my point is whether we should see the prosperity gospel also at work in experimental Calvinism — as in the happier, the more you’re experiencing God’s presence, or the more holy you are, the more pious and spiritually successful you are. And lo and behold, along comes Mark Jones to confirm the point:

I am of the view that powerful preaching, by a minister who labours week-in, week-out, with his flock has a strong correlation to his own godliness. I think Robert Murray M’Cheyne was right to say, “a holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” A man who has been broken – who really does preach with “fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3) – is a man people will listen to week-in, week-out. There’s a reason God “breaks” his servants: he wants them to preach as broken men, not as those who strut around like peacocks. There’s a reason old, seasoned ministers have a massive advantage over young ministers. And it’s a good reason – they speak with a type of wisdom that comes from many years of ministry. Personally, I rarely listen to preachers under the age of 45 – with apologies to my friends who are ministers under 45 (you know who you are).

In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul writes the following to Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

A plain reading of the text leaves us with little doubt that personal holiness and perseverance in holiness are means (along with teaching true doctrine) that God uses in the salvation and sanctification of Christ’s bride. What a thought, for ministers, that watching ourselves and our teaching has eternal consequences for us and our people. That’s why, if you desire to be a minister, you’re either called or mad, though hopefully not both!

And there you have it — making the world safe for celebrity pastors (how else do we explain their success or their joy?).

Does Christianity Make Me Less Human?

I finished a seminar yesterday on the Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk. I presented to class his speech upon receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature (2006). (In addition to being a great writer, Pamuk is great for thinking about differences between East and West, secularism and religion, political Islam and secular Turkey, by the way, not to mention that his thoughts about the Muslim notion of huzun resonates with Christian ideas of suffering.) His speech concludes this way, on why he writes:

I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can’t do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life’s beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can’t quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.

Now if I were a good New Calvinist, I could go Strunk-and-White on Pamuk and say simply and tersely, “I write to glorify God”? Or is it possible to talk about all the human reasons for our work and add the glory of God to them? It seems to me that for as admirable as theocentricity is in worship, it doesn’t make for very interesting or complicated human beings.