Christian Charity, Mission and Compassion Reconsidered (5)

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This figure shows the utter failure of public education in large U.S. cities.  Note that the displayed percentages are of students who are not proficient in reading.

What Should be Done?

I certainly don’t expect Progressive individuals and organizations to embrace conservative ideas for welfare reform.  However, even this position doesn’t preclude the finding of common ground.  For example, the Progressive community could say something like this:

“While we believe that conservative ideas on welfare reform are fundamentally flawed, we yet agree that the current set of welfare policies has not achieved their intended results.  In fact, on numerous key measures of well-being the beneficiaries of welfare have significantly digressed over the past decades.  Therefore, we will support an open discussion on what has gone wrong and why.  From there we will support an open debate on the reforms necessary to correct past mistakes and increase the likelihood of future success.”

The tragic truth is that virtually no one finds this imagined statement by our Progressive elites to be in the slightest credible.  This is because their power rests on the false assumption of their intellectual and moral superiority. Thus they cannot survive if they ever admit to have been wrong.  Not surprisingly then, what we have observed is retreat into reactionary positions from which any criticism of the Welfare State or proposal for welfare/education reform is viciously attacked.  When “welfare reform” was passed in the 1990s the Progressive community pulled out all the stops to retard and ultimately reverse this initiative.  The Progressive community continues to be opposed to “school choice” even though a majority of disadvantaged parents support it.

In the 1960s and 70s Mainline denominational leadership tied itself to the secular Progressive movement as the vehicle for positive social change.  We can legitimately debate the wisdom of this decision within context of what was known at that time.  However, from the 1980s on it has become progressively more clear that the Great Society and associated policies have had the opposite effect of those claimed to be intended by their supporters.

We Mainline Christians must seriously ask ourselves what we really are accomplishing by our continuing support of these destructive social policies.  If we want an endless supply of people in poor and oppressed communities as recipients of our charity then by all means continue on.  In that direction lies the continued affirmation of a godless elite class who value us only to the extent that we slavishly uphold their power and follow their political line.  In that case Jesus’ words should burn in our souls.

1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

Matthew 6:1, 2 (NIV)

If we want to actually improve the lives of the people trapped in these communities then we must open our hearts and minds to the concept of reforms that challenge the current Progressive orthodoxy.  In that direction lies suffering, as we will be subjected to the full force of hatred that holds current policies in place.  We will be called terrible names.  Our motives will be attacked.  Our Christian faith will be denigrated.  Everything will be done that can be to make the world consider us pariahs.  But if we reject their power to destroy we may actually through God’s grace find new paths that lead towards renewal and hope.

18“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:18-27 (ESV)

 

Christian Charity, Mission and Compassion Reconsidered (4)

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Commentary

I suppose some might contend that I’ve placed my thumb on the scales in describing the two cases of this series’ previous post.  After all, they may argue, don’t the Christian organizations who operate within the Case 1 framework also work to resolve the “root causes” of poverty and oppression?  If you limit this critique to intentions then I may be able to agree.  However, if we insist on results then there can be only strong disagreement.

I have already discussed this conflict between “intentions” and “results” in detail (see here for definitions and here for commentary).  Note that the intentions of the Christian organizations in Case 1 and Case 2 were initially identical.  What differentiates them is their response to observing actual results over a significant time period.

The Great Society legislation that created what we now call the Welfare State was passed in the mid-1960s.  At the time the stated intention was to end poverty and racism through aggressively expanded government action and new programs.  Not surprisingly there was significant, though ultimately ineffective, opposition to this set of policies.  However, there can be no doubt that the intentions behind the Great Society by most supporters were very good.

Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Therefore, when in 1965 a report titled The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, which has become  known as the Moynihan Report was issued by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon B. Johnson, the the resulting firestorm was understandable. A “resounding cry of outrage” occurred because Mr. Moynihan dared to challenge the then Progressive party line that it was only “the system” that stood between the black community and full equality in American society.  For this sin Mr. Moynihan was hounded out of the Johnson Administration.

In context of what was known in 1965 we may be able to forgive Progressives for being so politically protective of a new set of government policies.  After all, if they were successful then the twin evils of poverty and racism would have been defeated.

By, say, 1995, there could be no credible doubt that the Great Society had not just failed, but had condemned its intended beneficiaries to multigenerational dependence, poverty and hopelessness.  This is why, though dishonestly said, President Clinton felt obliged in 1996 to say that “the era of big government is over” and sign Welfare Reform into law.

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Amy Wax and Larry Alexander

However, any reform of the Welfare State was anathema to the Progressive movement.  Therefore, a coalition of Progressive groups, definitely including many Christian organizations, opposed and eventually overturned these reforms.  Thus by 2017, when two tenured professors (Amy Wax and Larry Alexander) published an article titled “Paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture” there was a powerful Progressive response to destroy their careers and very persons.

In context of what has been known since at least the mid-1990’s this Progressive response is unforgivable (from a political as opposed to a religious perspective).  What Professors Wax and Alexander said was motivated by the tragic results of the Welfare State policies.  What they proposed were ideas to recover the social and cultural capital that had been destroyed by the Welfare State.  It’s legitimate to disagree with their proposals.  In the best case that disagreement would be accompanied by counter-proposals seeking the same better ends.  It’s utterly corrupt in every sense of the word to seek the destruction of people who see the suffering of the Welfare State’s supposed beneficiaries and offer reforms to improve their lives, all while maintaining the very policies that led to the catastrophe.

Make no mistake, this entrenched, vicious coalition of Progressives, including many Christian organizations, is absolutely committed to preventing even the smallest reforms to the Welfare State.  And this commitment exists in spite of well over 50 years of failure.  I simply ask, are these the actions of people who are committed to results that demonstrably raise others out of poverty?  Or are they the actions of people who are content for the supposed beneficiaries of their compassion to fall ever deeper into hopelessness, violence, and despair?  I contend that almost 60 years on it is utterly credible to conclude the latter.

Christian Charity, Mission and Compassion Reconsidered (3)

mind-experiment

A Mind Experiment

In order to explore the true nature of what we want to accomplish, consider the following two theoretical cases.

Case 1

A Christian organization identifies a group of people who are undeniably oppressed and impoverished.  They therefore develop support programs that minister to the individual members, families and organizations within this group.  Over a significant time period (i.e., decades) wonderful supportive spiritual, personal, financial and organizational relationships are developed.  Much that is good from a Christian perspective has clearly been accomplished.

However, over that same time period, although good is done, the overall environment in which this impoverished group lives not only doesn’t improve, but in many respects gets demonstrably worse.  For example, crime, including murder, increases.  Schools utterly fail to provide even the most basic educational value to students.  Family life remains utterly chaotic.

The Christian organization is aware of this situation, but refuses to ask why it has occurred, let alone do anything about it.  They rather continue their programs and ministries with only minor modifications.  Beyond this, in their political action they oppose any proposals to significantly change the schools, public safety, personal / family incentives and economics.  They thus, in effect, behave as reactionaries who deem the current policies and resulting environment to be the best that can be practically obtained.

Case 2

This case begins exactly like the first.  However, after a long period of time, say twenty years, leaders in the Christian organization begin to ask serious questions.  While they rejoice in the good that has been accomplished, they also mourn the fact that this impoverished group’s situation has demonstrably grown worse.  They begin to contemplate the tragic fact that, under the current set of social policies, the impoverishment (spiritual, educational, personal safety, economic, etc.) of this group will not be improved in any foreseeable timeframe.  Thus, in effect, the current social policies ensure that there will be an unending supply of victims to whom their Christian good works can be delivered.

Thus, if being kind to victims of impoverishment and oppression is the ultimate end of Christian compassion then this is a perfectly acceptable outcome.  But these leaders reject this ultimate end.  Rather, they conclude that the true ultimate end should be a situation in which this victim group no longer suffers under impoverishment and oppression at all.  In this end they would no longer need the support of Christian charity but would rather take their place in society as peers rather than supplicants.  Then the Christian organization, perhaps enriched by the contributions of this past impoverished group, could move on to other issues that appear most urgent.

But in order to pursue this new and better ultimate end the Christian leaders realize that they will have to confront the power interests that support the status quo.  The realize that their ideas for reform, such as rebuilding of marriage and the family, will be met by accusations of evil motivation.  Powerful political and social organizations will oppose reform of the schools, and will stoop low to attack the reformers.  Anything that smacks of economic self-sufficiency will be denounced as greed even though a massive structure of bureaucrats earn a good living by doling out endless goods, services and money that breed hopelessness and dependency.

 

Christian Charity, Mission and Compassion Reconsidered (2)

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What Do We Really Want to Accomplish?

This is the core question that I have been asking.

We as limited, frail beings can never be absolutely certain that any action will have the intended results.  Were we to honestly review our actions as parents, congregants, children, friends, citizens and colleagues we would have to admit that many of our actions, though intended to advance the good, actually had decidedly mixed and even the opposite effect.  In many cases the actual effects didn’t become clear for months, years or decades after the fact.  It is so easy therefore to neglect the issue of actual consequences given these experiences.  Better, we imagine, to just follow our best intentions and hope for the best.

But then enters in the issue of sin.  If we are willing to admit (and many people aren’t) that we are corrupted by sin then even our intentions can’t be confidently assumed to be good.  Thus, we come to the terrible, humbling realization that our supposed good intentions may actually be bad intentions dressed up in our imaginations as good.  This thought is too scandalous for many people, including Christians, to accept.  Yes, they are happy to claim that others are motivated by evil intentions, but they are not willing to accept the same possibility for themselves.   Oh, they may intellectually claim to accept the fault of, say, “white privilege,” but by their selfless willingness to claim this sin they simultaneously are raised above it by their demonstration of a “higher consciousness.”

Given these fraught issues it’s easy to understand why busy, distracted people will dispense with the complexity and settle on good intentions as their moral guide.  But here lies the road to Hell.  It is thus because this guide creates massive opportunity for manipulation and deceit.  Note first that by accepting a superficial guide for their actions the people in question have telegraphed their vulnerability to exploitation.  And, by limiting their moral reasoning to only that which occurs before any results occur these same people can be deceived indefinitely.  Finally, use of a self-centered metric for merit makes people prone to seek the approval of others, particularly those others who occupy positions of power and prestige.

wolf-among-sheepIn this fallen world there is no shortage of wolves who are happy to prey on this population of good intenders.  Unfortunately the Christian Church is not immune to this evil.

The tragic truth is that, if we claim good intentions as our moral guide, then what we primarily want to accomplish is to feel good about ourselves.  Thus the people whom we claim to care for can easily become of secondary importance.  Worst of all, the actual results of our efforts can become virtually irrelevant.

But we can take precautions that reduce our vulnerability to this temptation that are both practical and effective, though requiring a bit more seriousness, patience and effort.

Christian Charity, Mission and Compassion Reconsidered (1)

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By what metrics should Christians measure the success or failure of their charity, mission and compassion?

Introduction

It is long past time for Christians, particularly those who find themselves in Mainline Denominations, to reconsider their responsibilities with regard to charity, mission and compassion.  For generations we have operated under the unexamined assumption that these Christian duties are best accomplished by the giving of material resources to the poor and oppressed.  This assumption has driven both public policy and in person charitable efforts.

But at some point the question “Is it working?” must be asked and honestly answered if our goal is to truly benefit the poor and oppressed.  And before that, we must determine the metrics by which we measure progress or lack thereof.

religion-politicsI began to indirectly raise these questions in a 2017 series of posts titled Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics.  My primary goal was to examine the almost complete overlap of partisan Progressivism with Mainline political action.  However, in the fifth post of this series I introduced the specific case of Chicago, and pointed out that from the perspectives of crime and education Progressive public policies had not just failed, but had created an apparently permanent underclass.  I closed this post with the following comments.

These catastrophic failures, despite the incessant insistence on their benevolence by Progressives, Christian or otherwise, forces us to wonder about the relationship between intentions and results.  That is, if someone does things or supports policies because of “good intentions,” is that sufficient in and of itself as an act of charity?  Or, does their moral responsibility extend to the realm of demonstrable results?  These two philosophies lead to very different attitudes towards how best to help the poor, with corresponding differences in practical policies.

From there I examined in some detail the differences between “intentions based” and “results based” charitable philosophies, including two specific case studies.  In the ninth and final series post I introduced and discussed the concept of “moral hazard” within context of Mainline Progressive politics and associated charitable activities.  A useful definition for this term is:

Moral hazard is a situation where somebody has the opportunity to take advantage of somebody else by taking risks that the other will pay for. The idea is that people might ignore the moral implications of their choices: instead of doing what is right, they do what benefits them the most.

A year later I again picked up this line of inquiry, this time within the context of Socialism (Questions for Socialists, four posts total).  This is deeply relevant, as it is by this ideology that the Progressive Left, most definitely including many in Mainline Christian denominations, propose to deliver their vision of utopia.

VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ-REMAINS

A Thought Experiment

Let’s imagine that there is a group of people who self-identify as protectors of the world’s poor and oppressed.  Members of this group continually boast about their good intentions for and practical expertise in improving the lot of humanity.  However, as a practical matter, we all know that what is said is not always what is actually in the heart.  Therefore, there is need for a means by which to determine if these people really care first and foremost about improving the lot of the poor and oppressed.

Let’s assume that in a specific nation the ideology and associated means by which these people propose to improve the world are embraced and implemented.  And, that the leadership of this group publicly and forcefully voice their support.

But something goes terribly wrong, and rather than the expected advance towards utopia the country descends into poverty, chaos, violence and starvation.  The fact of this utter failure is unavoidable and undeniable.  Thus, the leaders of this group must decide how to respond.

Response #1

It turns out that these leaders do indeed care first and foremost about the plight of the poor and oppressed.  Therefore, they enter into a state of public repentance followed by a ground-up reassessment of their ideology to determine what went wrong.  Although they may not (or may) throw out all of their ideology, they do honestly look into where it has led to the policies that resulted in such terrible human suffering.  After this process they reengage in the public debate, admitting their failures and seeking to advance updated solutions that they honestly believe will lead to improved human well-being.

Response #2

It turns out that these leaders didn’t really care about the plight of the poor and oppressed.  What they were really doing was to use their pretense of virtue to obtain the power by which to arbitrarily and capriciously rule over others.  Therefore, they fall silent for a time and then begin making up excuses for this humanitarian catastrophe.  These excuses place the blame everywhere but on the ideology and policies that they use in their advance towards worldly power.  They never acknowledge that they had previously supported this practical application of their ideology in a specific country, hoping that it will all be forgotten.

They also, over time, have built a predictable track record of support followed by silence followed by excuses as their ideology repeatedly fails miserably to deliver the promised results.  And yet they continue pretending to be the morally superior elite whom we should follow with unquestioning obedience.

It is from here that I intend to begin a reconsideration of our Christian responsibilities with regard to charity, mission and compassion.

iBooks Publish Announcement: A Denomination’s Debacle

I have published my fourth eBook on iBooks.  If you have an iOS device then you can use this link to access.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found on my blog using this link.

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A Denomination’s Debacle

This book is an indictment of the leadership elite who have driven the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PCUSA, into an utter debacle.

The most visible aspect of this debacle is the unprecedented loss of membership and churches that occurred between 2011 and 2017. Over that time span the PCUSA experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches, which is almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches. But these numbers don’t capture the human cost in broken trust, lost faith and shattered relationships that has occurred behind the scenes.

What remains is a denomination dominated by a post-Christian elite who use their power to advance a social gospel that is virtually indistinguishable from the secular Progressive political project. To some readers this charge against the PCUSA leadership will seem to be not just extraordinary, but also unbelievable. This book contains the extraordinary evidence that justifies the charge.

Preface Excerpt

The reader may well ask why I feel compelled to tell this story. I do so for three reasons.

First, the elite denominational leadership has obtained this end under the cloak of purposeful deception. This deception is not found in their policy and theological positions. No, they have aggressively advanced their cause with general honesty. The deception is that they claim to have been doing so as a legitimate expression of orthodox Reformed Christianity. By so doing they have preyed with premeditation and malice upon the trust of the denomination’s parishioners. We will never recover from this spell unless the truth is exposed.

Second, there are still many faithful members and churches in the PCUSA. However, unless they fully understand the forces arrayed against them they will likely eventually succumb. Only if they understand that their presence in the denomination is as a light shining in the darkness can they be protected from the apostasy and heresy that surrounds them. That understanding is what sustained the Apostles and early Christians as they proclaimed the Gospel as isolated individuals and churches in the pagan Roman Empire. The challenge we face is far less extreme. Yet, if we prioritize the comfort and peace of our lives over our responsibilities as followers of Christ even the small courage required will elude us.

Finally, the forces that have corrupted the PCUSA act upon our general culture and thus are not unique to this denomination. Therefore, we can expect that other churches and denominations are struggling under the same theological onslaught as has laid the PCUSA low. Thus this book attempts to explain these forces and how a corrupt leadership can by deception and seduction smuggle false theology into an otherwise orthodox Christian fellowship.

Table of Contents

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The Silence of the Lambs (6)

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Image and caption of the BBC report quoted below.

A Timely and Tragic Confirmation

For anyone who suspected that I’ve been exaggerating or am being overly-dramatic about Christian persecution note that none other than the government of the United Kingdom has confirmed my position.  In fact, their commentary on this issue is significantly more extreme than has been mine thus far.  Here’t the BBC report titled: Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels‘ (emphasis added):

The review, led by the Bishop of Truro the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, estimated that one in three people suffer from religious persecution.
Christians were the most persecuted religious group, it found.  Mr Hunt said he felt that “political correctness” had played a part in the issue not being confronted.

The interim report said the main impact of “genocidal acts against Christians is exodus” and that Christianity faced being “wiped out” from parts of the Middle East.
It warned the religion “is at risk of disappearing” in some parts of the world, pointing to figures which claimed Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population, while in Iraq they had fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000.
“Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity,” the Bishop wrote.

The report itself has this to say about Christian persecution in the Middle East.

Regional Focus: Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

The persecution of Christians is perhaps at its most virulent in the region of the birthplace of Christianity – the Middle East & North Africa (MENA for short). As mentioned earlier, forms of persecution ranging from routine discrimination in education, employment and social life up to genocidal attacks against Christian communities have led to a significant exodus of Christian believers from this region since the turn of the century.

Regional Focus: South Asia

To the east of the MENA region lie countries with a diversity of majority religions. In nearly all of these there is routine discrimination against Christians which has crossed over into outright persecution in recent years.

Numerous other regional areas are covered, each with its own unique set of religious, cultural and ideological issues that lead to varying levels of Christian persecution.

christian-persecution-1Note that this report also supports my contention that “political correctness” is a key reason that Christians in the West have abandoned their brothers and sisters in Christ to their fates.    Let’s be clear: if true this means that Christians in the West value their own social standing far higher than the actual lives of Christians throughout the world.  I believe that this is at least in part true, and that it is a shameful consequence of our purposeful ignorance and selfish need for social affirmation by a godless secular culture.

The Silence of the Lambs (4)

Religious Hatred Here and There

How can we place the following statistics on worldwide Christian persecution into perspective?

  • 3,066 killed;
  • 1,252 abducted;
  • 1,020 raped or sexually harassed;
  • 793 churches attacked or destroyed.

After all, aren’t we in the United States bombarded with media reports claiming that, particularly in the “Age of Trump,” our society is saturated with religious hatred that manifests itself in hate crimes?  Were that claim found to be true then we would have no moral right to point our finger at others.

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2017 FBI Hate Crime Data

It turns out that, so concerned is our federal government about the occurrence of hate crimes that the FBI has been directed to collect and publish data in this area.  The FBI publishes this data on an annual basis, the most recent year being 2017.  Thus it is easy to find and assess the level of hate crimes across many years and for many groups including religious, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, etc.

The following figure shows the total number of murders, rapes and arsons identified as motivated by hate against Muslims in the United Stated between 2008 and 2017. Note that so unheard of is abduction motivated by hate that there is no category for this crime.

FBI-Hate-Muslims

The results are likely surprising to some readers.  Please keep in mind that these are results across our entire nation of 320 million inhabitants.  Some of my observations are:

  • The hate crime statistics against Muslims are identical between the year of Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” Presidential campaign and Trump’s 2016 “make America great again” campaign (i.e. 0 murders, 0 rapes and 5 arsons);
  • In the ten years covered not a single rape occurred against a Muslim due to hate in the entire United States;
  • In the ten years covered six murders occurred against a Muslim due to hate in the entire United States, which is well less than one per year on average;
  • In the first year of Trump’s Presidency there were zero murders, rapes and arsons against Muslims due to hate, a result that never occurred during Obama’s Presidency.

What can we conclude but that, in spite of massive Progressive propaganda to the contrary, the United States is an exceedingly tolerant country?  Yes, we are deluged with accusations of Islamophobia, but the actual hate crime data shows the opposite.  The reason for this falsehood’s persistence is that any criticism of the Muslim faith or of some Muslim individuals and organizations is attributed to Islamophobia.  In other words, the Progressives have placed Muslims outside the realm of criticism by designating any concern about their religion or behavior as a kind of mental illness.

And yet Progressives criticize, mock, condemn and yes, hate Christians on a massive scale without being accused of “Christaphobia.”  I must ask, from the Progressive multicultural perspective are only Western Civilization, Christianity and Judaism capable of sin?  Were we to examine the history of Islam, Hinduism, etc. would we find only sweetness and light in their past and present?  Are the past and present for all countries and ethnic groups outside of Western Civilization beyond reproach, beyond criticism?  The apparent Progressive multiculturalist answer is YES!

So, when we note that thousands of Christians are murdered, abducted and raped throughout the world because of their faith we in the United Stated do have moral standing to care and criticize.  For, if the religious tolerance that exists in the United States were replicated throughout the world the number of hate crimes against all people for all reasons would be massively reduced.

Yes, we are far from perfect.  Yes, we sin in a many ways.  Yes there are many and deep reasons to criticize our nation.  But for goodness sake, why can’t we acknowledge and celebrate that a level of tolerance has been achieved here that enables human flourishing at a remarkable level?

We can and must.  For to do otherwise is to become complicit in the Progressive multiculturalist lie that only the West, Christianity and Judaism are capable of sin.  All other religious, ethnic and country peoples are presumed to be either incapable of or justified in their sinful acts.  We Christians have doubly no excuse for supporting this lie.

as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)

Am I saying that because Western Civilization is more tolerant then it must be more righteous than all others?  Not at all.  For the righteousness of which the Apostle Paul speaks is the perfect righteousness demanded by God.  As is well said by R.C. Sproul:

Good is a relative term. It is defined against some standard. If we establish what that standard is, we can congratulate ourselves and take comfort in our attainment of it. But if God establishes the standard, and His standard includes outward behavior (that our actions conform perfectly to His law) and internal motivation (that all our acts proceed from a heart that loves Him perfectly), then we quickly see that our pretended “goodness” is no goodness at all. We then understand what Augustine was getting at when he said that man’s best works are nothing more than “splendid vices.”

There are aspects of Western Civilization in which we are far worse than others, with abortion being a particularly shameful and stark example.  But there are other areas, such as religious tolerance, where we have achieved far better results.  We must not denigrate our successes because in other areas we have failed.

Thus we should in clear conscience and loud voice speak up for out brothers and sisters in Christ who are experiencing brutal persecution.  While so doing we must also look at ourselves and recognize that there is great sin at work in the West as well.  But it is inherently unjust and unsustainable to apply one standard to ourselves and another to anyone else.

iBooks Publish Announcement: God’s Acts of Providence

I have published my third eBook on iBooks.  If you have an iOS device then you can use this link to access.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found on my blog using this link.

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God’s Acts of Providence

The Christian doctrines associated with God’s providential acts have fallen so out of favor that their rehabilitation seems unlikely.  And yet if these doctrines are found to be true then there is no alternative but to make the attempt.  I am here seeking to reintroduce providential doctrine through examination of its practical working out in the lives of frail human flesh and blood.  By so doing they can be transformed from stiff, abstract concepts into humane, living precepts through which we can grow more deeply in love with the Triune God.  We can also begin to recapture the Christian confidence that no matter the darkness our great God is yet in control, working out His plan to ultimately redeem this fallen world.  And that God has chosen in sovereign mercy to incorporate our lives and associated wills into this great work of redemption.

Full Preface

The Christian doctrines associated with God’s providential acts have fallen so out of favor that their rehabilitation seems unlikely.  And yet if these doctrines are found to be true then there is no alternative but to make the attempt.  As I believe that they are indeed true, this work seeks to rediscover and reinstate these doctrines within Christian belief.

However, it will be difficult to deliver a compelling case if no account is taken as to just why these doctrines have fallen into disfavor.  The reason assumed by many orthodox Reformed believers is that they so bruise human pride that they fall onto deaf ears.  While there is great truth in this explanation it falls far short of completeness.

A second, and equally debilitating problem is the way that Reformed theologians have discussed these doctrines.  Far too often there is such an overwhelming emphasis placed on God’s sovereignty that we frail humans seem to disappear.  Christian believers are thus abandoned to figure out for themselves how they fit into God’s providential economy.  And, particularly in this case, the lack of clear, compelling theological guidance leaves believers vulnerable to the siren song of works-based salvation theology.

Finally, there is a temptation towards pride for those who have accepted the orthodox Reformed doctrinal positions.  That being, they come to believe that their minority status is a consequence of their intellectual achievement of having discerned God’s truth in Scripture.  Yes, the temptation of pride is universal.  However, for the orthodox Reformed it is particularly discrediting.  This is because the central consequences for humans who have been saved only by God’s mercy are humility and thankfulness.  So, when Christians see the exact opposite the result is usually rejection.

How then to rediscover and explain God’s acts of providence?  The only authoritative resource from which to work is God’s Word.  However, to simply reexamine the relevant Bible verses in isolation would surely be a superfluous exercise.

But there is another way.  If God’s providential engagement is true, then we would expect to find evidence of its operation deeply embedded throughout all Scripture.  That is, although there are indeed many passages that explicitly teach providential doctrines, they should also be revealed by God’s character as He engages with the world in general, and human beings in particular.

I have found this to be true, and here am seeking to reintroduce providential doctrine through detailed, sustained examination of its practical working out in the lives of frail human flesh and blood.  Although there are dozens of compelling cases I have chosen three:

  1. Abraham and Sarah (The Chief End of Man)
  2. The birth of Christ’s Church (The Church Invisible)
  3. The creation of the Apostle Paul (Effectual Calling)

Clearly much of the material in these stories is not directly related to providence.  However, the providential engagement of God undergirds the narratives and regularly breaks out into clear view.

By this means I contend that the argument can be advanced inoculated from the temptations previously discussed.  For example it is virtually impossible to lose sight of the human side of these engagements when the protagonists are so deeply, humanely and intimately treated.  Nor are we likely to fall into elitism when confronted with the harsh realities and heroic faith exhibited by these humble servants of God.

But the primary advantage is the opportunity to observe these admittedly difficult doctrines being weaved into the lives of real people.  By so doing they can be transformed from stiff, abstract concepts into humane, living precepts through which we can grow more deeply in love with the Triune God.  We can also begin to recapture the Christian confidence that no matter the darkness or danger our great God is yet in control, working out His plan to ultimately redeem this fallen world.  And that God has chosen in sovereign mercy to incorporate our lives and associated wills into this great work of redemption.

In Meditations on God’s Providence I will explicitly discuss doctrine.  My hope is that this meditation will be organically supported by the previous three examinations of the relationships between God and His chosen people.

Only the reader can judge the extent of my success.  However, even though I will surely fall far short of the mark, it’s my hope that others with greater knowledge and skill will recognize an alternative strategy by which core Christian doctrines can be reintroduced, explained and integrated into Christian life.

Make no mistake, the need for this work is great and growing.

Building a Caring Christian Community

Christ_Healing_the_Mother_of_Simon_Peter_s_Wife_by_John_Bridges

Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-In-Law, by John Bridges

Recently a friend whose family has experienced long term health challenges voiced disappointment with the ensuing lack of social support.  Wrapped within this disappointment was a negative critique of religion.

They have without doubt experienced terrible pain and loneliness throughout their ordeal.  There are no adequate words that can bring comfort to such a situation.  But I did attempt to provide my understanding of the Christian community’s challenge and response to situations such as theirs.


One thing that comes to mind is that my Christian faith is built on a tragic understanding of the human condition.  That is, I understand human beings to be spiritually and morally fallen creatures who can only be redeemed by an unmerited act of grace by a merciful God.  Given our fallenness, we Christians see ourselves to be in need of spiritual and moral regeneration that occurs only partially in this life.  Thus we seek to build Christian communities in which the acts of mercy and giving that you found so wanting are taught and encouraged.  It takes decades, even generations, for these lessons to grow into the new lives and new cultures that conform more closely with Christ’s character.

This tragic viewpoint doesn’t excuse moral failure.  Rather, it seeks to honestly face up to the nature of the challenge when we seek to build more caring, giving people and communities.  We also know that even the most faithful Christian communities will yet be burdened by jealousy, selfishness, dishonesty and many other faults.  We thus will always fall short of the ideal to which we aspire.

My Christian faith doesn’t immediately make me more moral than all non-Christians and I am not a Christian because of any inherent moral superiority.  Rather, I am a Christian because God through Christ has made known to me his love and mercy. He calls me to respond in thankfulness and faithfulness to this saving act in my life.


I have tried to be a supportive friend in this case and am occasionally useful in this regard to others.  But I am exceedingly thankful for Christians who have devoted themselves to that great calling of mercy towards and comfort to those suffering illness.