Glimpses into the Progressive Psyche (3)

obfuscationThe Centrality of Obfuscation

The Encounter

I found myself in an ongoing discussion with a group of Christians where theology was an important component.  At one point I stated my views under the heading of “Reformed Theology.”  Another member challenged me to define with clarity and specificity just what I meant by this phrase.  I was very happy to oblige, seeing this as an opportunity to engage at a deeper theological level.  So, I spent quite some time crafting a fairly comprehensive, detailed response.

I sent this note to the group, but was disappointed by the lack of response, particularly by the instigator.  However, since they could have read the note and thought. “ok, that makes sense,” I let it drop without further comment.

Later on this same person stated views under the heading of “Progressive Christianity.”  I thought that this might be an opportunity to reopen the theological discussion, so asked them to define this term just as they had previously challenged me to define mine.  Their response was both unexpected and confusing, being along the lines of “no, let’s not confuse people.”  Add thus it ended there.

The Implications

I remained perplexed by this outcome.  Something just seemed so off.  This person is a highly skilled, persuasive communicator, and they know it.  Thus, the idea that their explanation of Progressive Christianity would cause “confusion” was preposterous.  And, why had they shown such enthusiasm for defining terms for me but become so unenthusiastic when the same thing was asked of them?

This encounter caused me to more carefully observe the way that Progressive Christians approached debate.  And, what I eventually discovered was deeply troubling, for they appeared to avoid debate on the merits, particularly if the topic was the Biblical justification for their position.  If I insisted, all too often the next step was deflection, usually centering on questioning of my motives or even directly my character.  If I yet persisted there would eventually emerge a highly selective, contorted exegesis on Scripture’s teaching.  And, if I pressed on, a hard refusal to acknowledge that any other passages of Scripture than those that they has selected had any relevance to their position.

With regard to the careful selectivity that obfuscates Scripture’s actual teaching, the Presbytery of Chicago’s Rationale in support of gay marriage is a prime example (emphasis added).

My issue with this statement [by the Presbytery of Chicago] is not that it is untrue. Rather, I contend that it is so incomplete and shallow that it distorts the true nature of Christ’s relationship to people “on the margins.”

Contemporary Western culture has decided that “love and compassion” towards people “on the margins” means in practice utter non-judgment. That is, the objects of this “love and compassion” are to be affirmed and accepted in all that they believe and do within the context of their marginalized status.

The following three Scriptural examples of Christ’s actual engagement with people on the margins will suffice to show how erroneous is this belief.

These three examples make it crystal clear that, though the Rational statement is technically true, it utterly fails to capture the completeness and depth of Scripture’s testimony on this issue. Thus, I believe the authors to be in error when they imply that Christ’s “love and compassion” means affirmation and acceptance (in this case, the affirmation and acceptance of same gender marriage) of marginalized people’s behavior or beliefs.

With regard to the refusal to acknowledge Scripture’s testimony if it violates their predetermined position, after my exhaustive analysis of the Rationale record in support if gay marriage I concluded:

For, it’s no longer the case that Scripture is interpreted with “the freedom to decide which portions of the Bible are inspired and which are not.” No, based on the Rationale record provided by Presbyteries in support of same-gender marriage, Scripture itself is found to be utterly irrelevant to their deliberations.

An example of how Scripture is twisted to support the partisan political Progressive position on immigration can be found via the use of Leviticus 19:33-34.  After a careful examination of the issue I concluded:

Based on this information I conclude that a “sojourner” is something very different from the formulation of the Rev. Parsons, that being someone “who find themselves within our borders.”   That is, a sojourner is someone who has entered into an explicit and bi-directional relationship with a community “not inherently his own.”  Thus, someone who illegally sneaked into a community and attempted to reside without any mutual agreement on the nature of their relationship would not be considered to be a “sojourner,” but rather an interloper.

Finally, the end result of this strategy of obfuscation is a loss of trust in the credibility of their positions.

If there’s only one thing that I’ve learned in this recent work, it’s this:

Don’t take what is said by the PCUSA elite at face value.  Rather, look for the inconsistencies and omissions that can, over time, be leveraged to smuggle false, foreign ideas into Christianity.

This statement will likely cause discomfort in some readers.  However, given the PCUSA’s recent record, how can we possibly avoid such a conclusion?

What a sorry state of affairs we have reached.

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Glimpses into the Progressive Psyche (2)

Pres-Chicago-CAREA Quiet Conversation over Lunch

Background

While I served as a Commissioner to the Presbytery of Chicago I had began to voice opposition to their theology and actions.  One of my first significant statements in this area, “Thoughts About the PCUSA: Investigating Boundaries of Division,” was publicly released in May of 2012.  I have republished this paper under the title “Honoring Christ in our Relationships” on this blog site.  The paper explores the theological foundations for the Presbytery’s behavior concerning continuing controversy over the PCUSA’s decision to ordain practicing homosexuals.

In it I propose the theory that it is postmodernism intersecting with Christian theology that accounts for their behavior.  If you examine my early posts you will see that I describe those with whom I am contending as “Postmodern Christians.”  However, due to this discussion  I am now certain that it is something else with which I am contending.  A description of the encounter that set me straight on this issue follows.

The Encounter

A senior leader in the Presbytery sat down next to me at a luncheon.  I don’t recall most of the conversation, but near the end he paused and said something to the effect of “You realize that this is a Progressive Presbytery.”  The entire conversation was pleasant and friendly.  I think he was trying to point out that I was kidding myself if I thought that my views were going to make a difference in the Presbytery’s direction.  And, he was certainly right about that.

But the real impact of this comment was to correct a misconception on my part in another area.  Up to that point I had been thinking about the Presbytery’s behavior in strictly theological terms.  I thus was considering the impact of postmodernism on Christian theology, resulting in the concept of postmodern Christians.

His comment made me realize that the true center of the Presbytery’s identity is political Progressivism.  Yes, postmodernism played a significant role, but it was not at the center. This insight caused me to move to the concept of Progressive Christianity.

Of course, the realization that the Presbytery was driven by a secular and often godless human ideology increased my sense of alienation.  I have explored this sad situation in many posts.

Glimpses into the Progressive Psyche (1)

 

chasm

The great divide.

Opening Thoughts

I suspect that many Americans are currently living in a state of bewilderment.  I don’t know if someone who is thirty is as affected as someone in their fifties or older.  For myself (in the second age group), the nation in which I am now living bears scant relationship to that in which I grew up.  This is certainly true from the technological perspective, but that has been the case for almost every generation that has participated in the American experience.

The primary cause of this bewilderment is the state of the American psyche.  The closest analogy that I can come up with is that we began experiencing a sort of cultural nervous breakdown in the 1990s followed by a profound schizophrenic break after 9/11.  Of course I’m not here discussing the state of each individual’s psyche.  Rather, it’s the general cultural milieu that presses in upon our individual psyches, pressuring them to move in specific directions.  Thus, this definition of schizophrenia (Google Dictionary) for an individual also applies well to our contemporary collective behavior as a political culture.

a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

We are currently a nation splintered into contending groups who appear to have lost the ability to communicate, let alone cooperate, with each other.  These groups can often (there are numerous exceptions) be be roughly divided into two primary camps.

The first is populated by people who tend to define themselves by associations and interests outside the realm of politics.  To them, though politics may be an important part of life, other domains like faith, family, neighbors, sports, etc. have clear priority.  Although there is no agreed name for this group, I’ll refer to them as the “commoners”  This is justified not by any presumption of lower ability or value, but rather by the fact that they see themselves as part of a common heritage and culture.  Thus, they have appreciation for the nation and those through whom it was formed and maintained.  If there is a central organizing principle for this camp it is opposition to the idea that the nation must be “fundamentally transformed” in order for it to be valued.

The second camp draws in people who see themselves as intellectually, morally and ideologically superior to such an extent that they are the natural leaders of our nation.  These people value academic degrees, career success, political power and personal accomplishment above virtually everything else.  Although the largest and most vocal component of this group is the Progressives, it is clear that there are also many members of the Conservative intelligentsia and political class who see themselves this way.  For obvious reasons I will cal this group the “elite.”

While the elite are by definition much smaller in numbers than are the commoners, many people yet look to the elite as their political guides and/or are influenced by them through various forms of education and media.  Thus, the elite wield significant democratic power.  They wield overwhelming institutional power, having taken over virtually all educational, entertainment, government bureaucratic, news, legal and international organizations, among others.

One key differentiation between the elite and the commoners is that the elite consciously know who they are and carefully control who gets to be a member.  Commoners generally don’t see themselves in terms of group identity, so are far more amorphous.

Much of what I have done in this blog traces back to this distinction between the above described groups.  Clearly, I see myself as a member of the commoners (although my high interest in politics is a deviation). One of my goals is to give voice to their issues and perspectives.

However, it is at the personal level that our current cultural disorder creates the greatest pain.  For example, when families split or valued relationships are ended over political disagreements. It is also occasionally at the personal level that important insights can be obtained into the psyches of those with whom we disagree.  I have had numerous personal interactions with members of the Progressive group that rise to this level, which I will share in following posts.

One final point.  The Progressive individuals with whom these interactions occurred were sometimes of a special type.  That is, they tended to see themselves as enforcers of Progressive orthodoxy.  Therefore, they were far more aggressive and vocal than are most in the elite group.  In me they came up against someone who not only rejected their right to enforce, but also aggressively argued for an alternative.  Perhaps we are two sides of the same coin.  That’s for each reader to decide for themselves. Regardless, I hope that some light will be shed on our current crisis through discussion of these personal interactions.

21st Century Pearls of Wisdom (2)

The Continuing Moral Growth of a Political Giant

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Bill Clinton, credibly accused sexual predator by multiple women for over 30 years

Bill Clinton’s accusers have been seeking some sort of justice for almost 30 years.  Their stories have not wavered over time, in some cases they have witnesses who saw them immediately after the sexual assault.  In all cases they were subjected to vicious personal attacks by members of Mr. Clinton’s staff (including in the White House), led by his wife, Hillary Clinton.

And yet, when the #MeToo train left the station she jumped on board.  Her’s is a level of shameless hypocrisy that can be reached only by living a morally wretched life.

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What Hillary Clinton said after living a life in which she enabled and protected her husband’s sexual predation by shaming and silencing any woman who credibly accused him of sexual harassment, assault and rape.

Even in the #MeToo world the stories of Bill Clinton’s victims barely register in the Progressive conscience.  A few Progressives have voiced mild remorse, but these comments have gone nowhere.

It is within this context that Bill Clinton made the following comment in a PBS interview on June 7 regarding former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (emphasis added).

“I think the norms have really changed in terms of, what you can do to somebody against their will, how much you can crowd their space, make them miserable at work,”

As with all statements by this credibly accused sexual predator, it is equal parts falsity and special pleading.  Anyone over the age of 50 knows from personal experience that sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape were just as illegal and culturally forbidden in the 1990’s as they are now.  Anyone under 50 would have to be a moron to believe that just thirty years ago the United States consisted of cave men dragging women around by their hair.

What has changed is we now know that many of the oh so Progressive men who inhabit our oh so Progressive elite institutions (i.e., the news media, Hollywood, academia, politics, etc.) have been dragging women around by their hair behind closed doors for decades.  And everyone knew, but until recently no-one talked, including the women who were being victimized.

But, what can be expected when the most visible Progressive politician of the 1990’s is slavishly protected from the consequences of his vile actions?  The standard was then set that, as long as a man says and supports the Progressive politically correct things in public, in private they can behave as sexual predators with impunity.

And women should not only accept this as normal, but willingly participate.  As was said without shame in 1998 by elite journalist Nina D. Burleigh on the public record (asterisks added):

I would be happy to give him [President Clinton] a bl***ob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.

And then we wonder how elite Progressive institutions became cesspits of sexual predation.

The loss of moral authority by Progressives has occurred for many reasons.  But this particular situation stands out as demonstrating the rank hypocrisy and vile corruption that hides under the do-gooder facade of Progressive institutions.

Mr. Clinton appears to think that by his clever words we can be fooled into believing he has grown morally.  And he also appears to believe that we can be convinced to accept his vile behavior in the 1980s and 1990s because “norms have really changed” since then.  False and false.

This was an admission of guilt camouflaged as a moral advancement.

This is pure deception as practiced by the elite Progressive movement’s standard-bearer and tar-baby.

If you want insight into what Progressive elites are actually doing in private look at what they in public are accusing their opponents of doing.

21st Century Pearls of Wisdom (1)

At some point in the 21st century an elite group believes that they achieved what can only be described as moral perfection.  From that perch of pristine perfection they proceeded to pronounce pearls of wisdom that cause me to ponder…

ABC News Puts Children in Their Place

How can we oh so self-absorbed, important adults remember to not leave our child in the car to die a slow and terrible death?  It’s hard, but there is practical advice that can prevent this unintended complication from occurring.  Here’s what ABC News suggests:

Leave a purse or important item you will need in the backseat (something like your phone, a purse, or even a shoe)

Child-Car2

We didn’t have the benefit of wisdom like this while raising our kids. It’s amazing that they survived!

The fact that “advice” like this is apparently given without the slightest sense that it points to a deep moral and spiritual failure is utterly shocking.  But there it is.

Thanks ABC News, what would we do without you!

Christian Hymns (3)

O Thou in Whose PresenceO Thou in Whose Presence My Soul Takes Delight

… by Joseph Swain (1791).

Additional background on the hymn can be found here and a beautiful rendition here (by Fernando Ortega).

This hymn comes from the Baptists.  There is a Reformed section of the Baptist church.  I don’t know if this hymn came from that theological perspective, but the beauty of thought regarding our Savior nevertheless has made it one of my favorites.

O Thou, in Whose presence my soul takes delight
On Whom in affliction I call
My comfort by day and my song in the night
My hope, my salvation, my all

These are the words of a sinful creature who knows full well that it is only by Jesus Christ that he has been saved.  The response is to delight in Christ and to call upon Him in humble trust when under the weight of affliction.  There is nothing of true lasting value outside of Christ, though through His grace all that is of worldly value arises.

Where dost thou, dear Shepherd, resort with thy sheep?
“To feed them in pastures of love”
Say, why in the valley of death should I weep
Or alone in this wilderness roam?

Note that the sorrows of this world are not ignored, but rather placed within context of Christ’s love and care. Yes, this present world is a fallen wilderness within a valley of death.  But, in Christ, we are yet led to pastures of love within which we are fed by God’s Word and protected by His mercies.

O why should I wander an alien from Thee
Or cry in the desert for bread?
Thy foes will rejoice when my sorrows they see
And smile at the tears I have shed

Yes, there are indeed evildoers aplenty who’s life purpose is to obtain the worldly power by which they can rain down affliction on anyone they choose.  These people rejoice in the suffering that they cause.  And, in the depths of stupidity that only evil can attain imagine that they are humanitarians seeking a better future.  In the meantime they appear to prosper and thereby tempt others to fall into the same evil trap.

He looks, and ten thousands of angels rejoice
And myriads wait for His word
He speaks and eternity, filled with His voice,
Reechoes the praise of the Lord

The ultimate answer to the power of human wickedness is Christ’s infinite power of love.  This verse conveys both the magnitude and beauty of Christ’s power better than any other of which I’m aware.

Dear Shepherd, I hear and will follow Thy call
I know the sweet sound of Thy voice
Restore and defend me, for Thou art my all
And in Thee I will ever rejoice

The penitent sinner calls out to his Savior, trusting that He will hear and respond.  We rejoice in Christ now as only a shadow of what will be experienced in eternity.

Amen.

Christian Hymns (2)

Hymn-Mighty-FortressA Mighty Fortress is Our God

… by Martin Luther, c. 1529.

The great Reformer Martin Luther didn’t write these lyrics as a theoretical exercise.  For Luther had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521.  The typical punishment for this offense was to be burned at the stake.  Luther thus lived under the most practical threat of death, which was only prevented by the protection of local rulers.

The lyrics are inspired by Psalm 46.  Additional background for the hymn can be found here, and a performance here by Chris Rice.

1

A mighty Fortress is our God,

A Bulwark never failing;

Our Helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

The “flood of mortal ills” rolls on and on.  Yes, in some places and times it appears to ebb, but it always returns with terrible force.  We are never free from the ills of this mortal life, be they physical, emotional, social or cultural.  Sin infests everything that we think, and do.

Yet, Luther sees that there is an evil power that exacerbates our fallen state.  It sees in our weaknesses an opportunity to achieve ends far worse than we could attain on our own.  This is also what the Apostle Paul saw when he spoke of “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12b).

2

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth His Name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

No man can stand against this spiritual force of evil.  In our fallen state we are unable to recognize evil and unwilling to oppose it.  It is only because of Jesus Christ’s intervention on our behalf that the truth of our need can be seen.  And, it is only by the saving act of Christ that we can be redeemed and renewed so as to cooperate in the battle against the evil that lives within us and in the world around us.  Yes, we cooperate because we are “in Christ.”  But it is Christ and Christ alone who “must win the battle.”

3

And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

If Christ is on our side then we need not fear anyone or anything.  For, it is not our own will but the will of God Himself that truth will triumph through us.

The people who see only worldly power are skilled and relentless about obtaining it.  They thus appear to hold all the levers of worldly power, and have no qualms about using them with “cruel hate.”  But they have utterly failed to reckon with the one God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — Who yet reigns.  Although their evil is bent to serve His purposes, yet when His justice arrives they will be utterly devastated.  Their power is so insubstantial that “one little word” fells them.

4

That word above all earthly powers,

No thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through Him who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

God’s truth abideth still,

His Kingdom is forever.

That Word is The Word, Jesus Christ.  Yes, the powers of evil may successfully conspire to take our families, goods and even our very lives from us.  But any victory by evil is only a temporary way station on the road to God’s ultimate truth and justice.  The “Spirit and the gifts” from God provide all that we need to fight on until the end of this mortal life is attained.  But for the Christian that end is actually the beginning of life eternal, lived in God’s perfect truth and worshiping in His Kingdom forever.

Amen

Christian Hymns (1)

Hymn-Fathers-World

This is My Father’s World

… by Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901.

“This is My Father’s World” has the honor of being the first hymn in this series.  I give it this honor not because it contains the greatest theological insight, nor because it packs the greatest emotional wallop.  Rather, it’s because of the pure simplicity of thought placed within a beautiful tune.  And, because of its surprising shift between verses two and three that suddenly contrasts the beauty of God’s creation with the fallen state of our existence within context of God’s providence.  It is the most emotionally encouraging hymn ever written.

Additional background on the hymn can be found here and a beautiful rendition here (by Fernando Ortega).

1

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–

His hand the wonders wrought.

We are called to “listen” for God’s good work in creation, a rather surprising perspective given that it is the sense of sight that is far more commonly associated with this topic.  By so doing we are called to experience the beauty of creation at a deeper spiritual level, in which the surface beauty becomes only a thin veil covering God’s purposes.

2

This is my Father’s world:

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

We continue to listen as God conveys His truth through creation’s song.  All there offers up worship and praise to the Creator.

Now, the profound and unexpected turn occurs.

3

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong

Seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The battle is not done:

Jesus who died shall be satisfied,

And earth and Heav’n be one.

What began as a beauteous celebration of God’s character as revealed by creation concludes with a meditation on the nature of our fallen state.  Yes, superimposed upon creation is a terrible power that distorts and attempts to destroy God’s purposes.  It has been there since time immemorial, and appears to hold all the levers of worldly power.

But sin and death has no real power in God’s world.  Though we mere mortals must live in its shadow, we yet can know with certainty that it has been defeated in the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord.  We therefore can fight the battle against evil with confidence that the victory has already been won.  And, that in the end, God will combine heaven and earth into that eternal perfection that we threw away in the fall.

It is this move from simple celebration of God’s creation to a contemplation on His response to our sin that raises this hymn from the realm of simple beauty to that of profound power to encourage and renew.

Amen

Christian Hymns

Hynms-Church

Opening Thoughts

I have long thought that there is a wondrous but underappreciated reservoir of Christian beauty and wisdom in our classic hymns.  Therefore, I will occasionally turn my attention to information about and meditations on this topic.