Thursday, February 20, 2014

Man "Tries Out" Atheism for a Year, Loses Job as Christian Professor at Christian University: Man, World Shocked.

"Hey man, if you think Christian pastors should be expected to be Christians and pastors, it seems like you're a little narrow-minded."

So said my friend Nathan Camp as we were discussing the mindblowing idiocy that is this article and the rest of the secular reaction to this pastor and professor who's "trying out" atheism. In case you haven't heard about any of this, James did a great article over at Evangelical Outpost outlining the subject, appropriately titled "Lord, I believe, but I'll give up my belief."

Basically, a (now former) pastor and professor at Azusa Pacific University made the public decision to live "without God" for a year. He will not pray, he will not read the Bible, he will not go to church, he will not actively trust in God's will: In short, he will not talk to God, he will not think of God, and he will not join people who gather for those purposes.

And after publicly declaring to do all of this, he is somehow shocked when he loses his two jobs teaching at Christian schools. After signing and affirming a Statement of Faith at Asuza Pacific, he is somehow surprised to find that disavowing that same statement comes with consequences: Indeed, his initial reaction is "But lots of other people probably doubt it too!"

 And he sees this reaction as affirming that there is a problem with the Church, since they crucify those on "an honest and intellectual spiritual journey."

Gah. I got a sour taste in my mouth just now. That is so gross, so inherently dishonest, that it's making me physically ill.

I've written of a similar phenomenon before: Of people being "vulnerable," and deflecting any and all criticism as an unjust attack. But this is even worse than that, because he wants to live without God for a year, and he wants this to be a big, dramatic moment, but at the same time, he wants to also live as a Christian.

He wants to live like an atheist? Fine. He can do his thing. But guess what? Azusa Pacific isn't going to let an atheist be a professor there. In fact, they have a Doctrinal Statement, that he signed, that affirms that he's not going to pull crap like that. And yet, when he publicly declares that he's going to live like an atheist, he somehow wants them to ignore it?

How seriously is he really taking this, if he doesn't expect his freaking employer to take it seriously?

Is there any other field where someone could disavow all central foundations of that field, and still expect to be trusted to teach that field accurately? If a mathematician "gave up math" and got fired, would he be surprised? If a teacher decided they were going to "give up education," would he protest the injustice of it?

But even more depressing than his reaction, is the reaction of the atheist community. After all, how dare APU enforce that document that he signed of his own free will? How dare the Christian school disallow a publicly-proclaimed "atheist for a year" from teaching? It's's too sad. It's too depressing. It's too dumb. It's pointless to say anything more, because anyone who's actually thinking like that has just decided that any stick is good enough to beat Christianity with.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Was CS Lewis a Calvinist?

Everybody wants a piece of CS Lewis. His "anti-brand" of Mere Christianity has the power to run amok over denominational lines, leaving awesome in its wake. It's not surprising, then, that Calvinism has recently tried to score a slice of Lewis pie. What is surprising, though, is the willingness to take statements out of context (or ignore them entirely) in order to make their case stick.

The case has been most popularly (and most recently) put by Doug Wilson here.

At the very beginning, he asserts his thesis: While Lewis may not be a "modern" Calvinist (whatever that means), while he may not use the "language and jargon" of modern Calvinism (whatever that means), "There are a number of indications that show that he understood the essential teachings of the Reformation and he signed off on them."

His position is, first of all, incredibly vague. What does Calvinism look like, in his view? What are the "essential teachings"? Is he willing to abandon TULIP in order to bring Lewis into the Calvinist camp (as one friend of mine was willing to do?). What is Wilson's Calvinism that Lewis holds to?

Then he moves into his arguments, and the very first Lewis quote is one where Ransom, in Perelandra, discovers that "Predestination and freedom were apparently identical." It's definitely a good quote, but also pretty confusing (as Wilson admits when he laughingly refuses/declines to clarify what, exactly, the quote means). That confusion doesn't stop Wilson, though: while someone else might admit that this could be used to argue for either Calvinism or a more free-will-oriented position. Wilson doesn't even admit the possibility of an alternate interpretation.

Such is the problem with many of his examples. Some are stronger (Jill in The Silver Chair, for instance), but the rest are so weak as to be non-existent. It's not even worth it to go through piece by piece (is it really necessary to point out that Aslan only undragons Eustace after Eustace explicitly agrees to allow him to?). But the thing is, we don't have to go through every example, because Wilson, in either the most ignorant or the most dishonest move of the entire video, completely and utterly ignores The Great Divorce.  Let's take a look, shall we?

"Time is the very lens through which ye see--small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope--something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality."

So far, so good, right? If this were all it was, no doubt Wilson would be only too happy to claim it as further evidence that Lewis embraced the truth that freedom and predestination co-oexist (a truth that apparently only Calvinists hold to, according to Wilson?). But Lewis isn't done yet: not by a long shot.

"Every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination, which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two."

In all honesty, we could drop this right here, and I believe that no self-respecting Calvinist would dare to maintain Lewis' Calvinism in the face of this. But we'll go on, because there's one more argument that I've heard before.

"But what if Lewis is talking about some "straw-man" version of Predestination? What if this isn't the actual Calvinist version?"

To which I say: Make up your darn mind.

Wilson states at the very beginning of his argument that "[Lewis]understood the essential teachings of the Reformation and he signed off on them."

So which is it? Does Lewis not understand the essential teachings, and so we can write this off as an incorrect understanding of Predestination?

Or (as seems more likely), does he indeed understand the essential teachings, attribute a certain level of truth to them, but also recognizes that Freedom is the "deeper truth"?

Wilson can't have it both ways. He can't approve one reading when it suits him, and another when it doesn't. He can't claim that Lewis knows exactly what he's talking about one moment, but talking out of ignorance the next. That's not how this works.

There's one more way out of the net, which Wilson tries to keep open and which I've had argued to me before. That you can ditch TULIP, ditch all the confining language of today's Calvinism, and spread the net so wide that Lewis fits perfectly into it. At it's absolute best, this move destroys Calvinism and makes the term meaningless.

Calvinism has to mean something. No matter how you reduce it, no matter how you explain the "jargon" and the "language" and the partisanship of it, it has to mean something, and not just anything, about the relationship between predestination and free will. It either means something, or it means nothing. And if it means something--if it means anything--then it means that predestination is "the deeper truth." Calvinists can sidestep the issue, they can claim harmony, they can do whatever the heck they want--the fact remains that at some point, they have to say that Predestination is first and has priority.

If it doesn't mean that, then it means nothing. And if it does mean that, then it means that Lewis was not Calvinist, in any sense of the word.

THE END: Of course, there's a lot more to say. It's not as though the non-Calvinist Lewis rests solely on The Great Divorce. In the last volume of Lewis' letters, he claims "It is plain from Scripture that, in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite." Note the "in whatever sense" there...quite a far cry from Wilson's claim that Lewis necessarily upheld fundamental reformed teaching!

And then there's his claim in Perelandra, that God makes plans that humans have the power of upsetting: I've written more about it here. This theme is repeated again in That Hideous Strength, where Merlin laments that "It was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child...[but] be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed." This is hardly the God who cannot help but be sovereign over each and every detail of existence!

It's ignorant, at the very best, to argue for a Calvinist Lewis. At worst, it represents an intentional misrepresentation of either Lewis or Calvinism (or both). I've written this to provide an antidote to Wilson's video, because I do not believe the Church is served by either ignorance or falsehood.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"My Drunk Kitchen," the Effects of Sin, and Conscientious Entertainment

Back when I was heavily involved in the rap debacle, one thing that always infuriated me was the deep-seated assumption that those who defended rap did so because we wanted to remain "willfully ignorant" of the legitimate sinfulness of rap music. Their argument was that we didn't want music to have moral meaning, because then we would see that rap music was sinful.

It's an ugly, arrogant, condescending argument that serves no purpose other than to make the other people feel superior. However, there is a kernel of truth in I discovered when I was watching "My Drunk Kitchen" with Anna on Youtube.

My Drunk Kitchen is a Youtube show which stars a young woman. Every week, she gets drunk and "cooks" things (in the four episodes I watched, I think the results were edible twice). It's a really funny show. I had fun watching it with Anna. Until I told Anna that I didn't think we should watch it anymore, and we had a Discussion.

I didn't want to have the Discussion. I had pondered it one night after watching an episode. Should we be watching a show built around drunkenness? I prayed about it, thought about it some more, and went to sleep.

I thought about it some more. And some more. And I wondered if I was being too legalistic, if I was being too strict, if it really mattered what we watched...after all, she didn't claim Christianity, so why should I care if she got drunk regularly? Does it really matter?

I think it does, and that's what I told Anna when we Discussed it. It matters for a few reasons.

First, it matters because the Bible is fairly clear that while drinking alcohol is not a sin, drunkenness is. Paul speaks against it repeatedly, never treating it with the nod and wink (or outright approval) that our culture views it with today. It seems fairly clear that regularly and purposely getting drunk is a sin.

Secondly, this is not a show which happens, occasionally, to include drunkenness "accidentally", as it were. This isn't a show in which other things happen, and drunkenness is occasionally one of those things. This show is actually constructed around the drunkenness. Without it, it wouldn't even be the same show: It'd just be "My Kitchen."

Thirdly, as Christians, we believe that sin actively harms the sinner. Sin actively draws a person away from God, who is not just their Creator but the one who sustains them as well. In fact, God is their entire reason for being and for continuing to be. God is their ultimate Purpose. And sin draws them away from that. Sin denies a person of their purpose, draws them away from the very source of their being. Sin harms the sinner.*

Finally, it matters because Youtubers measure their success by views. Each view directly equals a tangible measure of support towards whatever you're watching. And in this case, the thing we were actively and tangibly supporting was a show constructed around a person unwittingly harming themselves through sin. Each view was an active encouragement for her to do it again, to once again harm herself and draw herself further away from her Creator.

So we don't watch it anymore. And I think that was the right call.

One last thing: It's probably impossible to use the word "sin" so many times without seeming "judgmental." I do not condemn her. I throw no stones. I simply acknowledge that 1) the Bible states that drunkenness is a sin, and that 2) sin actively harms the person engaging in it. And because of those two things, I do not wish to actively support and encourage someone to harm themselves in that manner.

I'd love any thoughts on this. Comment away!

*Obviously, I can't let this good an opportunity for quoting Karl Barth to pass me by: Barth describes the effect of sin on humanity thusly:

"...the man who has made himself quite impossible in his created being as man, who has cut the ground from under his feet, who has lost his whole raison d’Ă©tre [reason for existence]. What place has he before God when he has shown himself to be so utterly unworthy of that for which he was created by God, so utterly inept, so utterly unsuitable? When he has eliminated himself? What place is there for his being, his being as man, when he has denied his goal, and therefore his beginning and meaning, and when he confronts God in this negation? Despising the dignity with which God invested him, he has obviously forfeited the right which God gave and ascribed to him as the creature of God."

Of course, Barth here is talking about sin in general, but I think it's quite in keeping with his line of thought to apply it to individual sins as they happen.