Poverty and Wealth

Don Closson examines the arguments in Ronald Nash’s book Poverty and Wealth: Why Socialism Doesn’t Work and concludes that capitalism is compatible with biblical ethics.

It’s disheartening to meet young Christians who are convinced of the immorality of capitalism and the free market system. Sincere Christians often quote the second chapter of Acts which describes how the church in Jerusalem held all things in common as proof that socialism or collectivism is more biblical than the free market. Sometimes they use the Marxist critique that “poor nations are poor because rich nations oppress them.” It’s unusual to meet students who wholeheartedly endorses capitalism. They recognize that it works well enough to make the U.S. the richest nation on earth, but it’s not something to be proud of or openly endorse.

download-podcastThere continues to be a heated debate in our country over which economic system is the most just and best able to weather the inevitable economic ups and downs in today’s complex worldwide economy. Christians wonder if capitalism is inherently incompatible with Christian ethics. Is it driven by greed and self-interest alone? Does it thrive on oppression? Does it conflict with a biblical view of human nature?

Ronald Nash’s book Poverty and Wealth: Why Socialism Doesn’t Work{1} faces these questions head on and concludes that free market capitalism leads to abundance and political freedom because it is based on the laws of economics and the truth about human nature. Social and economic programs that ignore these laws will inevitably cause more harm than good. Even more importantly, Nash argues that capitalism is compatible with biblical ethics. He writes,

Capitalism is quite simply the most moral system, the most effective system, and the most equitable system of economic exchange. When capitalism, the system of free economic exchange, is described fairly, there can be no question that it, rather than socialism or interventionism, comes closer to matching the demands of the Biblical ethic.{2}

In order to understand Dr. Nash’s point we will define some basic economic concepts and compare capitalism with socialism and interventionism. Neither Dr. Nash’s book nor I question the intentions of Christians who have accepted Marxist solutions, but we do question their wisdom. In the words of Dr. Nash,

“Unfortunately, many Christians act as though the only thing that counts is intention. But when good intentions are not wedded to sound theory, especially sound economic theory, good intentions can often result in actions that produce consequences directly opposite to those we planned.”

Even the acceptance of free markets by China and Eastern Europe have not swayed the true believer of Marxist thinking. Our young people will encounter a Marxist critique of capitalism and the free market system at some point in their education. As parents we owe it to our children to have an answer to their certain questions.

The Market System

The market system is the set of rules that creates a voluntary system of exchange resulting in the price, selection, and quantity of products that are made and sold in an economy. Those who support capitalism believe that both parties benefit from the voluntary exchange of goods and services. Marxists, on the other hand, often argue that the free market system results in a win/lose relationship. What are the rules that define a free market system and what role should government play in maintaining it?

The rules of a free market system are simple. First, people should not be coerced into making economic exchanges. This means that they should be free from force, fraud, or theft. Another rule is that people must honor their contracts to buy or sell with another party. Just as local government provides for the traffic signals in a town, government is responsible for enforcing the basic rules of the free market. Traffic signals create order out of potential chaos on our roads. Likewise, the rules of the free market system create order out of potential economic chaos. But in neither case do the rules tell people where to go or what to trade. Both systems are neutral to an individual’s personal goals.

The decentralized actions of producers and consumers encourage the production of a vast array of products at prices that people are willing to pay. These goods and services are produced, not because someone is forced to, but because they know that by satisfying needs they can earn an income and satisfy their own desires. Free market capitalism is based on this principle of mutual accommodation. The market also encourages the efficient use of resources. Price is a factor of demand for a product and the scarcity of its components. It is the market which takes into account an almost infinite number of decisions and variables to make goods available at the best possible price. Profits and losses within the market encourage producers to move into or out of the production of a given item. Inefficient production or over-production of an item will result in losses sufficient enough to change a producer’s behavior.

Government is necessary for enforcing the basic rules of a free market economy. Its interest should be to make sure that justice prevails, and to ensure the common good. This includes the right to own and exchange property, the enforcement of contracts, as well as laws forbidding the use of force, fraud, and theft. If the government itself begins to intervene beyond this role, it becomes a detriment to the market and can itself become the source of injustice. A system based on, or highly influenced, by government coercion cannot be called a free market system.

Capitalism vs. Socialism

A former president of the Evangelical Theological Society has written that capitalism violates “the basic ethical principles of Christianity” and that there is an essential political and economic dimension to the Kingdom of God which capitalism defiles. This thinking has the effect of placing supporters of capitalism among the heretics and against the Kingdom of God. Does capitalism really violate the gospel message and a biblical worldview? Does socialism offer the only righteous means for creating and distributing wealth?

Capitalism argues that individuals have the right to make decisions about what they own. This not only assumes the right to own property, but to exchange what one owns for something else, and to be free from force in the form of fraud, theft, or the violation of a contract. The moral base of “thou shalt not steal” and “thou shalt not lie” are essential to the success of a capitalistic system. In fact, these basic rules of capitalism are very similar to an Old Testament view of righteousness which focused on the completion of covenant agreements. God is considered a righteous God partially because He fulfills His covenants with His creation.

Marxists love to point to examples like the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos in order to criticize capitalism. This corrupt regime can surely be criticized, but not as an example of capitalism. It is representative of what might be called an interventionist economy. There are three general types of economies: capitalist, interventionist, and socialist. Capitalism and socialism are at the two ends of the continuum with interventionism in the middle. The two opposites represent two possible means of exchange. Capitalism is defined by its advocacy of free or peaceful exchange, allowing individual choice regarding the use of personal property. Socialism is defined by centralized planning, using force to get individuals to conform to its decisions. A system becomes less capitalistic and more interventionist as more and more economic decisions are coerced by the government. It becomes socialistic when basic needs are met only by the government, forcing people to deal with it exclusively. The ideal of capitalism is freedom; the ideal of socialism is forced compliance with government planning.

Critics of capitalism condemn economic systems in which interest groups use the power of government to intervene on their behalf, forcing consumers via taxes or mandates to spend their money or use their talents in a way they would not freely choose. But this isn’t capitalism; it’s interventionism, and unfortunately a pretty good description of where the U.S. is headed.

Economic Systems and Human Nature

Is capitalism the primary cause of world poverty? Although the Bible does teach that exploitation is one cause of poverty, it also teaches that it results from indigence and sloth as well as accidents, injuries, and illness. When the prophet Amos condemned the Jews for forcing the poor to give them grain, for taking bribes, and depriving the oppressed justice, he was highlighting violations of free market capitalism as well.

Some believe that capitalism is built on greed, which the Bible condemns. However, the Bible does teach a certain level of self-interest. For example, 1 Timothy 5:8 is critical of anyone who does not provide for the needs of his family. And although selfishness exists in capitalistic countries, it is not inherent to the system; it is inherent to humanity. Either we allow people to make choices based on their own self-interest and moral virtue, or we turn those decisions over to a central government. Could it be naïve to think that government officials will use wealth in a morally superior way to those outside of government? History teaches that when power is centralized it has the tendency to be abused.

In a non-coercive free market environment, those who serve the needs of others will prosper. As long as the rule of law prevails and the government isn’t allowed to stack the deck for one particular group against another, the market protects us from the greed of others. The free market is by definition one place where coercion is not possible.

Socialists contend that competition is another evil of capitalism, but is competition itself an evil? We can agree that using force, fraud, or theft to compete is morally wrong, but can we really say that all competition is wrong? Scarcity demands competition; as long as resources are limited we will find some competitive means for allocating them. Socialist societies use long waiting lines and bureaucratic red tape to dole out limited goods, and competition is intense for political positions that result in material gain.

There are only two ways to resolve conflict that results from scarcity. One is by force, the other is by free market competition. Non-violent free market competition has helped to alleviate the effects of scarcity by stirring people to high levels of excellence in manufacturing and services. Socialist countries are not usually known for the quantity or quality of their goods and services.

Economist Walter Williams notes that “Capitalism has a strong bias toward serving the common man. . . . Political allocation of resources, regardless of its stated purpose, is strongly biased in favor of the elite.”{3} Maybe that is why the elite have such disdain for capitalism.

Critiquing Socialism

Highly collectivist economies are not known for producing what people need at a price they can afford. In the 1920s, economist Ludwig von Mises showed why central planners can never replace the market: they are unable to gather the necessary information to plan accurately. The market system provides incentives to both producers and buyers that are missing in socialistic countries. Under socialism “rewards are not related to effort and commercial risk-taking, but to party membership, bureaucratic status, political fiat and corruption.”{4} Sociologist Peter Burger writes, “Simply put, Socialist equality is shared poverty by serfs, coupled with the monopolization of both privilege and power by a small (increasingly hereditary) aristocracy.”{5}

One evangelical writer contends that Marxism has “a deep compassion for people. Unlike present political systems—big business, even the Church—it [Marxism] does not seem to have any particular vested interests to defend.”{6} In other words, only Marxists really care about people. However, history has not been kind to Marxist collectivism. Some of the worst human rights records have been accumulated by Marxist regimes in the U.S.S.R., China, Cambodia, North Korea and Cuba. I find it hard to imagine that the millions who died at the hands of Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, or the Khmer Rouge were very impressed by the compassion of their nation’s Marxist leaders.

But what about the example in Acts of all Christians sharing their goods in common or of Barnabas selling his property for the good of other believers? What some people miss is that both of these examples are of individuals making free moral choices to use their property for the good of others. They are making free market decisions regarding their possessions. This can only occur when individuals have the freedom to use their possessions to help others. If all economic decisions are made by centralized planners, moral choice is removed and the option to act upon personal moral convictions is reduced.

Living within a capitalistic society allows believers to exercise their personal responsibility to provide for the poor and less fortunate. This has resulted in remarkable examples of philanthropy in America and other capitalistic nations. In fact, no other people on earth have given as much to other nations as have Americans.

A properly functioning market system is an effective tool against oppression and corruption because it promotes the rule of law for all citizens. However, a strong moral system is necessary to keep it from being controlled by special interests. There are too many examples of economies that have been shaped for the benefit of a few. Christ’s advocacy for the poor should make us a strong moral barrier to this kind of corruption.

Notes

1. Ronald H. Nash, Poverty and Wealth: Why Socialism Doesn’t Work (Dallas: Probe Books, 1986).
2. Ibid., 80.
3. Ibid., 75.
4. Ibid., 87.
5. Ibid.
6 . Andrew Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 45, quoted in Nash, Poverty and Wealth, 191.

© 2009 Probe Ministries


Kingdom Singleness

Renea McKenzie takes a look at two books providing thoughtful responses to being Christian and single.

While studying at L’Abri Fellowship, I encountered two books that really made an impression upon me for the simple reason that, of all the many books I come across in my years of work with students, my studies, and my personal reading, I had never seen even the likes of anything like them. I’m speaking of Laura Smit’s Loves Me, Loves Me Not and Lauren Winner’s Real Sex. These two books contain what’s desperately missing in the “Christian living” section of our bookstores, particularly for singles.

A Theology of Romance

Download the Podcast I really appreciate and highly recommend Laura Smit’s book, Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love.{1} It isn’t your typical book on singles and romance. Right away, the subtitle lets you know this book is special because while there are countless books on mutual love and our moral responsibilities as Christian lovers, hardly anyone writes about our responsibility toward virtue when feelings are not mutual. Smit begins with a “theology of romance” in which she details God’s nature as love, God’s creational plans both in Eden and in the New Heaven and the New Earth, sin’s effect on those plans, and finally, virtuous and vicious romance, how sin twists God’s intentions for love and how we can be virtuous by shaping our romantic lives to God’s plans. This framework is centered on New Testament teachings on marriage and family and singleness, teachings many Christians, myself included up to now, have been successfully avoiding.

Smit notes the importance of pouring a new understanding of marriage and family into new wineskins. In Matthew chapter 19, Jesus makes this astonishing statement: “For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (v. 12). And shortly after that, in response to the Sadducees, Jesus declares, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30).

Jesus also asserts that the way we think about family changes when he enters the scene. Jesus is teaching and his biological family interrupts him, expecting that they deserve more of Jesus’ attention than the crowd. And it was natural for them to expect this. But again, Jesus turns social expectation on its head, responding, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matt. 12:48-50).

Jesus seems to be saying marriage is not ultimate; only the union between Christ and his Church is ultimate. He is also saying our biological families are not ultimate; only the family of faith is ultimate. Saying all this about marriage and family was a big deal. In Jesus’ day, everyone’s number one loyalty was to his or her biological family, people who were married were higher on the social ladder than those who were not, and couples who had children (well, sons) were even higher. Jesus came and changed our primary loyalties, and he declared that the only members of society who are valuable to God’s kingdom are those who do God’s will, regardless of their social status.

By looking into these passages of Scripture, Smit is asking us to consider: Should Jesus’ teachings change the emphasis American Christians place on marriage and family? Why do most unmarried Christians feel social pressure from the church to get married and start a family? They also feel excluded from congregations whose messages and activities have a biological family focus instead of a spiritual family focus. How then can we change our focus and the ways in which we interact with one another so that we are following in Jesus’ revolutionary footsteps?

A Theology of Romance Gets Personal

Smit suggests that not only will the way we think about (and consequently our behavior toward) others change, but so will the way we think about our own lives. To give you an example of how we, the Christian culture in America, think about marriage, specifically the expectations we have regarding marriage in our own lives, let me share with you this story.

Several weeks ago, I was subbing in AWANA, and the third through fifth grade girls were asked what they foresaw in their future. Every girl there stated, rather confidently, “I’m going to go to college then get married.” What a wonderful vision for one’s future! What’s interesting is that each child had the same vision for her future, which simply speaks to the fact that marriage is socially expected for church girls (and boys too as a matter of fact). It’s what Christians consider normal and the “natural thing to do.” Again, marriage is wonderful. The question is, are we limiting ourselves, and our daughters, and ultimately, Christ and the Church, when we consume this view of marriage and personhood wholesale? Is it a limited vision rather than a Kingdom-vision?

To give you a clearer picture of what I mean by “Kingdom-vision,” let’s look directly at Smit. She notes:

Our primary loyalties shift when we come into contact with Jesus. Whereas in the Old Testament the family was one’s primary loyalty, Jesus redefines this, saying, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50). Jesus is our family now and the community of faith is our primary social commitment. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39). Jesus insists that his followers live sacrificial lives that will make little sense in the eyes of the world.{2}

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Think for a moment about the political implications for the Religious Right. Marriage and family concerns wouldn’t cease to exist, but would rather exist within a broader context, under a farther-reaching banner. What might such a banner look like? Let’s look again at Smit. She posits:

If all Christians everywhere were to take [seriously Jesus’ teaching that marriage is not ultimate], stop getting married, and stop having children, perhaps the church would start to grow through evangelism rather than through procreation. In this case, the church would be a blessing to the nations, just as we are supposed to be, with most of our nurturing energy going outside our own community. Finally, if we actually converted everyone in the world, and everyone in the world then embraced continent singleness so that no children were being born (a rather unlikely scenario), wouldn’t that mean it was time for Jesus to come again? All Christians are supposed to be longing for his second coming and doing everything possible to bring it about.{3}

Wow! What a bold statement! Well, don’t worry, in the very next lines she says,

I do not believe that all Christians need to be single [or stop having children], but all Christians must come to terms with Jesus’ teaching that marriage is not ultimate. Taking [this] teaching seriously will change how we think about the possibility of marriage in our own life and how we treat people around us—particularly within the church—who are single.{4}

I think it important to note that throughout her entire book, Smit never once devalues marriage or children—particularly within the church. And that is part of the point. Jesus came and demolished value hierarchies society had placed upon people. The apostle Paul states that this is to be the case particularly within the church: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Marriage and children and sex and singlehood and abstinence and romance each offer valuable life-pictures that teach the church about who God is and our relationship with him.

With that in mind, we are now ready to consider the romantic lives of unmarried folk with nuance. Smit’s book challenges Christians to govern our romantic relationships with a Kingdom-perspective, reminding us to readjust our ingrown eyeballs: to look up toward God and out toward others. How do we do that when we’re in love with someone who doesn’t love us back?

The Ethics of Unrequited Love

Loves Me, Loves Me Not helps us learn how to behave virtuously in loving someone who does not return our romantic affection. It also helps us to behave virtuously toward someone who cares romantically for us, when we desire only friendship for him or her. Smit encourages her readers to consider true Christian charity in these situations and whether or not charity—or we might use the word agape—supports or rejects society’s scripts for such roles. Whether we realize it or not, our society has our lines and stage directions all laid out. From film and literature alike we know how to behave if we find our love rejected. We will hold on to our rejected love by continuing to pursue until resignation is absolutely necessary; in which case, we resign to martyrdom upon the cross of love, sometimes in a gallon of ice cream and sappy movies, sometimes quite literally, leaving our legacy behind on the suicide note. Or, we simply move on. It is their loss, and undoubtedly there is someone out there who is more deserving of us.

Certainly both scenarios can be true. Sometimes we ought to continue to pursue and not give up too quickly; sometimes our love is misplaced upon someone undeserving and we must recognize the fact and move on. But motives matter. That is Smit’s point.

How do we counter our ingrained selfish patterns and social scripts when we love someone who doesn’t love us back? I’m not going to give away the whole book; I’m hoping you’ll pick up your own copy. But I will pass on one practical tip from Smit: we must desist from wanting to posses the other person. Now, that sounds creepy in the restraining order kind of way; and you’re thinking, I don’t do that. But we all do it. We do it when we create a whole imaginary life with our crush—where we go on dates, how we sit together in church, how he kisses me hello, how she makes my friends envious. We also get possessive of our crush when we allow our hurt and jealousy to win over our charity (love) for him or her. Because if I didn’t think he and his affections were (or ought to be) mine I wouldn’t be jealous that, in reality, he’s interested in another girl. But the truth is he’s a person, not an object; and as a person he is free to be interested in whomever he chooses. And if I really love him as a person rather than lust after him as an object, I will honor, value, and even celebrate that freedom. Not that at times it won’t be painful; it will be.

What about when someone loves us and we don’t return their romantic feelings? What’s easiest is to simply ignore that person. Don’t return his calls. Pretend you didn’t see her. Flirt with someone else right in front of her. Tell him you have to wash your hair. It’s much more difficult to actually continue to be that person’s friend, behaving in Christian love toward him or her, considering them to be better than yourself. Part of the reason this path is more difficult is because it makes you all the more attractive and difficult to get over, and it’s easier to convince ourselves that we’re doing the other person a favor by being a jerk.

Sometimes it is appropriate and necessary and loving to give the other person his space or to stop returning her phone calls. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I wish God designed our relationships to be governed by clear-cut, black and white formulas: do this, get this result . . . always. But he didn’t. God designed our relationships to be governed by faith. So we have to work hard to live counter-cultural lives, acting out according to God’s script rather than what’s socially expected of us. Smit’s exhortation to consider what motivates our behavior is key. Are we responding lovingly or selfishly? And while motives cannot always be wholly separated or distinguished in such a clear-cut way, God always honors the search.

Smit has in Loves Me, Loves Me Not some very powerful exhortations for the church that I appreciate on two levels: one, she forces readers to think seriously about New Testament teachings on marriage, family, and singleness; and two, she gives singles in the church a voice, in part simply by writing a book that addresses the lives of unmarried folk in a thought-provoking, holistic, and meaningful way. If my brief look into the book has sparked your interest, and if you want the specific, and I think rather good, suggestions Smit makes as to how we can pursue loving virtue in our relationships, be sure to pick up a copy of this singular book.

Why We Need Another Book about Sex

Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God and, recently, Mudhouse Sabbath, put out a book in 2005 titled Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity.{5} And that’s exactly what Winner designs to do: talk about sex in a realistic fashion, from a biblical worldview, that allows us to get past various myths, including the highly eroticized and romanticized beliefs about sex we frequently absorb from both the world and the church.

You’re familiar, no doubt, with the statistics on Christian sexuality. We don’t stand out as very different in our sexual behavior, which means our basic beliefs and ideas about sex must not be that different either. If all those books in the “Christian living” section of the bookstore aren’t helping us develop ideas regarding our sexuality that differ from social norms, if they aren’t helping us believe that what the Bible has to say about sex is relevant and true, something isn’t right. So what makes Winner different? Real Sex offers an alternative to the magazine-like “Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity” by stretching beyond spoon-fed “dos and don’ts” derived from proof-texted Scripture, and instead presents the case for sex within marriage from a holistic, biblical view of who we are and how we relate in the world sexually.

From the creation-fall-redemption narrative presented in the arc of the gospel, Winner posits that an important part of who we are is that we are embodied, and the main way in which we relate in the world sexually is communal. Chapter three is aptly titled “Communal Sex: Or, Why Your Neighbor Has Any Business Asking You What You Did Last Night,” and helps remind us that community is a part of the creational order; we were created in and for community. And though we have fallen from God’s original order for creation, he has, throughout history, made a way for his people to live redeemed, creational lives. When Jesus Christ came embodied to earth, he came as the Way, finally making it possible for those who believe to no longer live under compulsion of the fallen, distorted patterns of the flesh, but rather in habits redeemed and restored to God’s creational intent. Winner reminds us that Scripture flies in the face of our over-individualized, over-privatized American way, exhorting the community of the faith to be intimately involved in one another’s lives. She puts it this way:

The Bible tells us to intrude—or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what’s going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals. But we are called nonetheless to transform seemingly private matters into communal matters (53).{6}

Already we’re presented with a meaty alternative to the false views of sex, or we could say, unreal sex propagated in force by our surrounding culture. The next two chapters speak truth against the lies about sex we hear both from our culture and our churches. These chapters give readers an opportunity to take a step outside of their everyday, cultural surroundings and consider them. Opening up the conversation of sex and our sexuality to the whole of Scripture and to our Christian communities is like opening the windows of a dark room. By this light we see the lies our culture tells about sex, and we can work together to begin rejecting such ideologies, establishing a core understanding of human sexuality that, in fact, stands apart; we can develop beliefs and habits of a sacred sexuality. Winner points out that society tells lies, like “sex can be wholly separated from procreation” (64), cohabitation is a good practice-run (68), modesty doesn’t matter (71), and “good sex can’t happen in the humdrum routine of marriage” (77).

Of those four statements, which strikes you as most dangerous? We might think it’s the prolific idea of shacking up; and in fact, the church is usually pretty clear on its position regarding premarital sex. However, I would like to suggest that a subtle distortion is always more dangerous than an obvious one. Winner agrees; she states,

Too often we assume that contemporary American sexual life is a one-dimensional world of licentious prurience. Yet it may be more important for contemporary Christian ethics to constructively engage secular romanticism than to righteously denounce sexual libertinism. It is, after all, pretty easy for us Christians to distinguish ourselves from the sex-is-recreation ethic. The real question is not whether we can counter the message that sex is just like racquetball, but whether we can also articulate a Christian alternative to the regnant ideal of sex as an otherworldly, illicit romance, an escape from quotidian, domestic life (80).

Sex isn’t meaningful because it’s an erotic escape from everyday realities. Rather, sex is meaningful because it’s real (81). And while romance is certainly appropriate, even important, as part of sustaining love, if it serves merely to compartmentalize our lives rather than integrate them, our lives will be less, not more, fulfilling.

Getting Real

This next chapter is perhaps where we get a bit more personal: “Straight Talk II: Lies the Church Tells about Sex.” In an effort to do right and protect the biblical ethic of sex within marriage, and with honorable intentions, “the church tells a few fibs of its own” (85). Winner chooses to discuss four of these fibs: “premarital sex is guaranteed to make you feel lousy” (85), “women don’t really want to have sex anyway” (90), “bodies (and sex) are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant” (93), and finally, that good sex is all about technique, a secular myth that we can, and should, Christianize (97).

I can’t talk about all of these ideas (and I wouldn’t want to give away the whole book!), but I do want to address a couple of them. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Doesn’t premarital sex make you feel lousy, full of guilt and regret? And if it doesn’t, shouldn’t it?” It’s possible there’s more truth in the second thought than the first one because, let’s face it, sex feels good, even sinful sex. If it didn’t, premarital (and extramarital) sex would certainly be a lot easier to avoid. We wouldn’t need Winner’s book, or any other book, not to mention the community of faith, the Bible, or the Holy Spirit for that matter; at least, not insofar as we need them for our journey toward right-living (89). “What the church means to say,” posits Winner, “is that premarital sex is bad for us, even if it happens to feel great” (90).

But at least we’ve come to recognize that sex in marriage feels great and should feel great. And while it seems we may never be able to fully shake Gnostic parasites from the gospel, I believe churches have generally come to embrace marital sex as good. However, the message from the pulpit can still be a bit confusing, especially for women. Winner notes a study of teenage girls which shows the “strongest predictor of teenage virginity” isn’t church involvement or the youth group, but team sports (18). That may seem obscure, but athletics teaches girls (and boys) something about bodies being good, not to mention useful—for other purposes than sex. This is a message we are not communicating well.

What should we do? Have more church sports leagues? Perhaps. But, maybe not. We can, however, change the language we use when we talk about sex and modesty. Personally, as a woman who grew up constantly hearing from youth group and other parachurch media that my body was the vehicle of lust and destruction for young men everywhere, it took lots of time to unlearn negative associations about my body and become comfortable in my own skin, though perhaps less time than others; I played sports. The way we talk about sex and modesty in the church isn’t only damaging to women. To suggest that men simply can’t help themselves is to suggest that men are less than human, or that they can experience the fruit of the Spirit in all areas but lust. It is essentially degrading to men to imply that men are animals and women are angels, that somehow women are morally superior to men and therefore responsible for them (73). Certainly we are responsible to one another as brothers and sisters, but responsible for is another thing entirely.

The last few chapters of Winner’s book touch on topics such as kissing, pornography, and masturbation, and dish out practical—and I think rather good—ideas to guide us in practicing chastity within our caring, Christian communities. Winner reunites chastity with the other spiritual disciplines, and talks about what marriage, children, sex, and singleness teach the church, and why each is important in God’s economy, an economy of repentance and forgiveness. Placing sexual purity back within a story that’s bigger than itself makes the issue of chastity important, rather than indifferent; and gives it meaning by giving it context.

Notes

1. Laura Smit, Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).
2. Smit, Loves Me, 65.
3. Ibid., 71.
4. Ibid.
5. Lauren Winner, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005).
6. Page numbers in the text refer to Winner, Real Sex.

© 2009 Probe Ministries


Gen-Z: The Generation That Ends Christian Influence in America?

In order to grow the number of Gen-Z Christians, we need an understanding of ways to build bridges from their pluralistic, secular worldview to seriously contemplating the unique grace of God. Steve Cable draws upon the wisdom of two pastors who are making a real difference in the lives of young adults to address this important topic.

What Are Gen-Zs Like?

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In this article we look beyond the Millennials to consider the latest generation and what they tell us about the future of Evangelicals in America. Gen-Z is the generation born between 1995 and 2010. This year, half of the Gen-Z generation are 18 or older. By the time they are all at least 18, the Millennials and Gen-Zs will make up almost 50% of the adult population. We will consider how this generation compares with previous generations. We want to understand this generation to truly communicate the good news of the gospel to them; to help them “to walk in a manner worth of the Lord.”{1}

In their book, So the Next Generation Will Know{2}, Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace identified some key traits common among Gen-Zs. They are:

  1. Digital Multitaskers – “spending nearly every waking hour interacting with . . . digital technology,” often while watching television
  2. Impatient – quickly moving from thing to thing with an attention span of around 8 seconds
  3. Fluid – constantly blurring the lines; making truth, genders, and family structures personal choices
  4. Lonely – swamped in social media where personal relationships are minimized while personal troubles follow them everywhere. Sean points to “the availability of endless counterfeits that claim to be able to fill their hearts with meaning.”{3}
  5. Individualistic – individual feelings more important than facts while judging the choices of others is avoided. As James White points out in Meet Generation Z{4}, “the ability to find whatever they’re after without the help of intermediaries . . . has made them more independent. . . . Like no other generation before, Gen-Z faces a widening chasm between wisdom and information.”{5}

Most importantly, most of these young Americans are thoroughly secular with little exposure to Christian theology. As White opines, “They are lost. They are not simply living in and being shaped by a post-Christian cultural context. They do not even have a memory of the gospel. . . . They have endless amounts of information but little wisdom, and virtually no mentors.”{6}

As they enter adulthood, the culture around them will not encourage them to consider the claims of Christ.  In fact, the Millennials going before them are already seen leaving any Christian background behind as they age into their thirties.

Gen-Z: How Are They Trending?

What can we truly know about the religious thinking of Gen-Zs age 11 to 25? Pew Research surveyed teens and their parents giving us a glimpse into both{7}.

They found one third of American teens are religiously Unaffiliated.{8} In contrast, their parents were less than one quarter Unaffiliated. Another Pew survey{9} found more than half of young adult Gen-Zs are unaffiliated.  This group is easily the largest religious group among Gen-Zs.

Teens attend church services with their parents, but lag behind in other areas. Less than one fourth of teens consider religion very important. And on an absolute belief in God and praying daily, the teens trail their parents significantly.

Using an index of religious commitment{10}, almost half of the parents but only one third of teens rated high. In fact, almost half of teenagers with parents who rated high did not rate high themselves.{11}

Perhaps the minds of teenagers are mush. Their views will firm up as they age. In reality, older Gen-Zs and Millennials also trail older adults by more than 20 points in believing in God and praying daily.{12} Also, church attendance drops dramatically among these young adults who are no longer attending with parents.

If religion were important to teens, they would look to religious teaching and beliefs to help make decisions about what is right and wrong. But less than one third of teens affiliated with a religion turned to its teachings to make such decisions.

As George Barna reports,{13} “The faith gap between Millennials and their predecessors is the widest intergenerational difference identified at any time in the last seven decades.” It seems that Gen-Z will increase this gap.

Gen-Z: Worldview and Apologetics

Why have the Unaffiliated been growing dramatically over the last 25 years while doctrinally consistent Christians have been declining? At one level, we recognize the watered-down gospel taught in many churches encourages people to pursue other things and not waste time on church. That may have been the primary issue at one time. But in this decade, we are seeing a real reduction in the number of Evangelicals as well. The self-professed Evangelicals{14} among those ages 18 to 29 has reduced from 29% down to 20%, a reduction of almost one third.

One major driver is the dominant worldview of our young adult society. The worldview promoted by our schools, media, and entertainment industry has changed from a Christian inspired worldview to a worldview which is secular and specifically anti-Christian. As James White observes, “It’s simply a cultural reality that people in a post-Christian world are genuinely
incredulous that anyone would think like a Christian—or at least, what it means in their minds to think like a Christian.”{15}

Almost all Gen-Zs have been brought up hearing the worldview of Scientism espoused. This worldview teaches “that all that can be known within nature is that which can be empirically verified . . . If something cannot be examined in a tangible, scientific manner, it is not simply unknowable, it is meaningless.”{16} At the same time, most Gen-Zs have not even been exposed to an Evangelical Christian worldview. Consequently, apologetics is critical for opening their minds to hear the truth of the gospel. Many of them need to understand that the basic tenets of a Christian worldview can be true before they will consider whether these tenets are true for them. Answering questions such as: “Could there be a creator of this universe?” and “Could that creator possibly be involved in this world which has so much pain and suffering?” is a starting point to opening their minds to a Christian view.

Encouraging Gen-Zs to understand the tenets of their worldview and comparing them to a Christian worldview begins the process of introducing them to the gospel. As White points out, “I have found that discussing the awe and wonder of the universe, openly raising the many questions surrounding the universe and then positing the existence of God, is one of the most valuable approaches that can be pursued.”{17} The Christian worldview is coherent, comprehensive and compelling as it explains why our world is the way it is and how its trajectory may be corrected into one that honors our Creator and lifts up people to a new level of life.

Gen-Z: Removing the Isolation of Faith

What will it take to reach Gen-Z? James White says, “. . . the primary reason Gen-Z disconnects from the church is our failure to equip them with a biblical worldview that empowers them to understand and navigate today’s culture.”{18} If we want to equip Gen-Zs to embrace faith, we must directly discuss worldview issues with them.

The challenge is exacerbated as most Gen-Zs are taught a redefined tolerance: to not only accept classmates with different worldviews, e.g. Muslims and the Unaffiliated, but to believe that it is as true for them as your parents’ worldview is for them. As Sean McDowell states, “Gen-Zs are exposed to more competing worldviews—and at an earlier age—than any generation in history.”{19}

The new tolerance leads directly to a pluralistic view of salvation. Christ stated, “No one comes to the Father except through me,”{20} and Peter preached that “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven . . . by which we must be saved.”{21} Yet the survey of American teens{22} finds less than one third believe that only one religion is true, broken up into two-thirds of Evangelicals and less than one-third of Mainlines and Catholics.

Compounding these issues is the growing practice of limiting the impact of religious beliefs on real life. Sean points out, “The biggest challenge in teaching worldview to young people is the way our increasingly secular culture fosters the compartmentalization of faith.”{23} We need to help them see how a consistent Christian worldview applies to all issues. It is foolish to segregate your spiritual beliefs from your life decisions.

As an example, many Gen-Zs are enamored by a socialist view that the government should provide everything we need, equally distributing goods and services to all. Those who work hard and excel will have their productivity redistributed equally. It sounds like a possibly good approach and yet it has destroyed the economies of many countries including Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela. It fails because it is based on a worldview that “assumes greed comes from inequality in the distribution of material goods in society.”{24} In contrast, the Bible is clear that greed is part of the fallenness of the human heart. As a result, any centralized function with no competition discourages productivity and becomes an inefficient bureaucracy.

Reaching Gen-Zs

Today, most Gen-Zs move into adulthood with little exposure to the gospel. The majority are either Unaffiliated, another religion, or have a nominal Christian background. Current surveys find that 98% of young Americans do not have a Christian worldview.{25}

This sobering data does not mean giving up on reaching Gen-Z. But if we are not intentional about it, we are not going to stem the tide. As James White observes, “What is killing the church today is (focusing) on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed, and growing. The mission . . . must be about those who have not crossed the line of faith.”

And Sean McDowell points out that we need “to teach the difference between subjective and objective truth claims and make sure they understand that Christianity falls in the latter category.”{26}

Sean encourages a focus on relationships saying, “Relationships are the runway on which truth lands. Take the time to listen with empathy, monitor from a place of wisdom, and demonstrate your concern.”{27} White agrees, saying, “If we want (them) to know the faith, we have to teach, model and incarnate truth in our relationship with them.”{28} From a place of relationship, we can address challenges keeping them from truly hearing the gospel.

One key challenge is the role of media. As Sean notes, “Media shapes their beliefs, and it also shapes the orientation of their hearts.”{29} To counter this pervasive influence, he suggests engaging them in a skeptic’s blog. Help them consider 1) what claim is being made, 2) is the claim relevant if true, and 3) decide how to investigate the claim.{30} By learning to investigate claims, they are examining the truth of the gospel. We should never fear the gospel coming up short when looking for the truth.

Key ways White’s church is connecting with the Unaffiliated include:

  1. Rethinking evangelism around Paul’s message in Athens. Tantalizing those with no background to search for truth in Christ.
  2. Teaching the grace/truth dynamic in quick segments consistent with their learning styles.
  3. Being cultural missionaries – learning from those who have not been Christians.
  4. Cultivating a culture of invitation by creating tools to invite friends all the time.

If we focus on growing the number of Gen-Z Christians, we could change the trajectory of American faith. If we devote ourselves to prayer, the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and reaching the lost in America rather than continuing church as usual, God can use us to turn the tide.

Notes
1. Colossians 1:9.
2. Josh McDowell and J. Warner Wallace, So the Next Generation Will Know, 2019, David C. Cook.
3. McDowell and Wallace, p. 66.
4. James White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, Baker Books, 2017.
5. White, p. 44.
6. White, p. 64-65.
7. Pew Research Center, U.S. Teens Take After Their Parents Religiously, Attend Services Together and Enjoy Family Rituals, September 10, 2020.
8. These are people who self-identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. In previous surveys, we referred to them as the Nones. Calling them the “unaffiliated” helps us avoid the confusion between “Nones” and “nuns.”
9. Call out Pew survey from 2019.
10. The index of religious commitment looks at the answers to questions on church attendance, belief in God, prayer, and importance of religion and rates a respondents commitment from high to low based on their answers.
General Social Survey, 2018.
11. 42% of the teenagers with parents with a high index had a medium or low index.
12. General Social Survey, 2018
13. American Worldview Inventory 2020, Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University.
14. Pew Research surveys 2007, 2014, 2019.
15. White, p. 130.
16. White, p. 141.
17. White, p. 139.
18. White, p. 80.
19. McDowell and Wallace, p. 81.
20. John 14:6b.
21. Acts 4:12.
22. Pew Research Center, U.S. Teens.
23. McDowell and Wallace, p. 87.
24. Ibid, p. 93.
25. American Worldview Inventory 2020.
26. McDowell and Wallace, p. 113.
27. McDowell and Wallace, p. 78.
28. White, p. 64.
29. McDowell and Wallace, p. 164.
30. Ibid, p. 173-4.

©2021 Probe Ministries


Socialism and Society

Kerby Anderson provides an overview of the popularity of socialist ideas in America from a biblical perspective.

Socialism is more popular today than anyone would have predicted a few years ago. A significant number of socialist characters can be found in Congress. Universities have many professors who are promoting socialism. And more young people than ever believe socialism is superior to capitalism.

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Why is socialism so appealing to so many Americans? Young people are drawn to the siren song of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Part of the reason is that it appeals to their sense of fairness. Another reason is that it promises lots of free stuff.

Free college tuition and student loan forgiveness are examples. The millennial generation (Generation Y) and the iGen generation (Generation Z) have lots of student debt. They see the need but forget that someone would have to pay for this new massive entitlement. And they rarely stop and think about why someone who didn’t go to college and took a blue-collar job should pay for their university education. These may be the most educated generations in history, but they don’t seem to spend too much time reflecting on what they supposedly learned in economics.

The cost of some of these policies is enormous. Just covering the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities is estimated at $70 billion a year. One study of the cost of government-run health care (called “Medicare for All”) was estimated to cost $32 trillion during the first ten years. Some estimate the cost of the “Green New Deal” to be $93 trillion. We can certainly debate how accurate some of those estimates are, but we can’t ignore that they would be very expensive once these programs are implemented.

There is some evidence that the popularity of socialism is waning. A post-election survey done by the Cultural Research Center shows a significant decline in support for socialism. George Barna believes that another reason for this decline is the aggressive marketing of a government-driven culture that show young and old what socialism in America would really be like.

He found that the most precipitous decline in support for socialism was among Americans ages 30 to 49. Just a decade ago, they were the demographic I often pointed to as those who supported socialism more than capitalism. That has changed significantly.

Socialism is less popular even for Americans who are age 50 years or older. In the past, they have been the group most consistent in their support of capitalism. But even in this group, there was an eight percentage-point decline of support for socialism.

The demographic groups with the least support for socialism were Christians who had a biblical worldview and what George Barna calls SAGE Cons (Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians). But there are still a small percentage of them who support socialism. That is why I also address whether the Bible teaches socialism.

The Promise of Socialism

In order to understand the appeal of socialism, we need to make a clear distinction between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism is an economic system in which there is private property and the means of production are privately owned. In capitalism, there is a limited role for government. Socialism is an economic system in which there is public or state ownership of the means of production, and the primary focus is on providing an equality of outcomes. In socialism, the state is all-important and involved in central planning.

Often when young people are surveyed about socialism, the pollster does not provide a definition. If you merely believe socialism means more equality in society, then you can see why so many choose socialism over capitalism. Also, young people under the age of 30 are probably the least likely to associate socialism with Soviet-style repression. Instead, they may have in their minds the current government push toward European socialism and find that more attractive.

There is also an important philosophical reason for the popularity of socialism. When Karl Marx first proposed the concepts of socialism and communism, he enjoyed an intellectual advantage. He could talk about the problems with capitalism the modern world was going through as they were adapting to the difficult process of industrialization. He could contrast the reality of capitalism with the utopian ideal of socialism.

Utopian visions will always win out over the harsh reality of the world. But we now have the terrible record of socialism. Unfortunately, socialism’s death toll never quite gets factored into any equation. The late columnist Joseph Sobran said: “It makes no difference that socialism’s actual record is terribly bloody; socialism is forever judged by its promises and supposed possibilities, while capitalism is judged by its worst cases.”{1}

Dinesh D’Souza reminds us that many countries have tried socialism and all failed. The first socialist experiment was the Soviet Union, then came lots of countries in eastern Europe (Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and East Germany). Add to that countries in
Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, and China) and countries in South America (Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela) and Africa (Angola, Ghana, Tanzania, Benin, Mali, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). By his count, there are 25 failed experiments in socialism.{2}

The typical answer to these failures is that each of these wasn’t done correctly. The failure of these socialist experiments was a failure of implementation. But this time, they say, we will get it right. Believing in socialism apparently mean never having to say you’re sorry.

In the next section we will look at the argument that democratic socialism is the ideal we should pursue. We should ignore this list of socialist failures and focus on socialism in the Scandinavian countries.

A Different Kind of Socialism

Proponents of socialism not only argue that it was not implemented correctly in the past but also argue that what they are proposing is “democratic socialism.” They usually point to the Scandinavian countries as examples.

Anders Hagstrom in one of his videos asks, “What does socialism mean to [people such as actor and comedian Jim Carrey]?” He says that conversations about socialism often go like this: “A liberal says we should be socialist. A conservative points to Venezuela, and says socialism doesn’t work. A liberal says, What about Sweden and Norway? The conservative then points out
that those countries aren’t actually socialist.”{3}

He says that even if we accept the comment by liberals, there is a problem. “Nordic countries have tiny populations of less than 10 million. And copying and pasting their policies to a country of 330 million isn’t going to work.” These Nordic countries were successful before they adopted the redistributive policies they have now. Here’s a reality check: if Sweden were to join the U.S. as a state, Sweden would be poorer than all but 12 states.

Hagstrom also explains that the policies of true socialists like Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez go far beyond what the Nordic countries have. For example, Bernie Sanders wants a planned economy. None of the Nordic states have this. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to abolish profit. None of the Nordic countries have done that. And both of them want a universal minimum wage. None of the Nordic states have that.

There’s another problem with the argument. These countries aren’t socialist. John Stossel in one of his videos interviewed a prominent Swedish historian.{4} Johan Norberg makes it clear that “Sweden is not socialist—because the government doesn’t own the means of production. To see
that, you have to go to Venezuela or Cuba or North Korea.” He does admit that the country did have something that resembled socialism a few decades ago. The government heavily taxed the citizens and spent heavily. That was not a good period in Swedish history, especially for the economy.

Yet even with the high Swedish taxes, there was simply not enough money to fund Sweden’s huge welfare state. Norberg explains that “People couldn’t get the pension that they thought they depended on for the future.” At this point, the Swedish people had enough and began to reduce the size and scope of the government.

John Stossel says, “They cut public spending, privatized the national rail network, abolished certain government monopolies, eliminated inheritance taxes and sold state-owned businesses like the maker of Absolut vodka.” While it is true that Sweden does have a larger welfare state than the US and higher taxes than the US, there are many other areas where Sweden is actually more free market.

Socialism and Equality

One of the moral arguments for socialism is that it creates a society with more social and economic equality. Proponents want us to consider the fairness argument when applied to a free market. How fair is it that basketball star Lebron James makes more than $37 million when a social
worker starting out only makes about $30,000? Even more extreme is the estimate that Jeff Bezos makes more than $320 million a day while the average Amazon salary is around $35,000 a year.

Of course, this is what happens in a free society where people with different skills, different abilities, and different motivations are allowed to participate in a free market. You will get inequality, but you also have a free society where people can use their gifts to pursue their
calling and still receive a good income.

We don’t have to guess what will happen in a socialist economy because we have lots of historical examples. In a desire to bring equality, socialism doesn’t bring people up out of poverty. Instead, it drives them into poverty. Consider two test cases (Germany and Korea).

After World War II, Germany was divided into two countries: West Germany was capitalist, while East Germany was socialist. Throughout the time they were divided, there was a striking difference between the two countries. When the two countries were reunified, the GDP of East Germany was a
third of the GDP of West Germany.

An even better example is North and South Korea, because it lasted longer and continues to this day. South Korea is now more than 20 times richer than North Korea. Of course, people in South Korea are also freer than North Korea. They are also taller and live about 12 years longer than people in North Korea.{5}

By contrast, capitalism provides every person a chance to influence the society. In his book, United States of Socialism, Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t ignore the issue of justice but actually embraces it. Capitalism, he says, “far more than socialism, reflects the will of the people and expresses democratic consent.”{6} A consumer is like a voter. As a citizen, we get to vote in an election every two to four years. But a consumer gets to vote every day with his or her dollar bills. That money represents the time and effort put in to get those dollar bills.

The free market provides you a level of popular participation and democratic consent that politics can never provide. You get to vote every day with your dollars and send economic signals to people and companies providing goods and services. Essentially, capitalism, like democracy, is a clear form of social justice.

The Bible and Socialism

Perhaps you have heard some Christians argue that the Bible actually supports socialism. The book of Acts seems to approve of socialism. In Acts 4, we find a statement that the believers in Jerusalem “had all things in common.” It also says that those who possessed land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds to the apostles’ feet. They distributed these gifts to anyone in need. This looks like socialism to many who are already predisposed to believe it should be the economic system of choice.

First, we need to realize that this practice was only done in Jerusalem. As you read through the rest of the book of Acts and read the letters of Paul and Peter, you see that most believers in other parts of the Roman world had private property and possessions. Paul calls upon them to give voluntarily to the work of ministry.

Second, the word voluntary applies not only to Christians in other parts of the world, but it also was a voluntary act by the believers in Jerusalem to give sacrificially to each other in the midst of persecution. This one passage in the book of Act is not a mandate for socialism.

If you keep reading in the book of Acts, you can also see that the believers in Jerusalem owned the property before they voluntarily gave the proceeds to the apostles. The next chapter (Acts 5) clearly teaches that. When Peter confronted Ananias, he clearly stated that: “While it remained, was it not your own? After it was sold, was it not in your own control?”

Owning property contradicts one of the fundamental principles of socialism. In the Communist Manifesto, “the abolition of property” is a major item in the plan for moving from capitalism to socialism and eventually to communism.

By contrast, the Ten Commandments assume private property. The eighth commandment forbidding stealing and the tenth commandment about coveting both assume that people have private property rights.

In fact, we can use biblical principles to evaluate economic systems like capitalism and socialism. Although the Bible does not endorse a particular system, it does have key principles about human nature, private property rights, and the role of government. These can be used to evaluate economic systems like socialism and communism.

Socialism is still a popular idea, especially among young people. Recent polls along with various books about capitalism and socialism illustrate the need for us to discuss and explain the differences between capitalism and socialism. Socialism may sound appealing until you begin to look at the devastating impact it has had on countries that travel down the road of greater governmental control.

Notes

1. Joseph Sobran quoted by Robert Knight, “Bernie’s siren song of socialism,” Washington Times. September 13, 2015, www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/13/robert-knight-bernie-sanders-siren-song-of-sociali/
2. Dinesh D’Souza, United States of Socialism, New York: All Points Books, 2020, 3.
3. Anders Hagstrom, “When you are forced to argue socialism with a liberal,” www.facebook.com/watch/?v=234493017230024.
4. John Stossel, “Sweden is not a socialist success,” www.facebook.com/watch/?v=407319650027595.
5. Ibid., 5.
6. Ibid., 186.

©2021 Probe Ministries


A Christian Worldview Appraisal of Gun Control and the Second Amendment

Steve Cable examines the Second Amendment from a biblical perspective.

In today’s America, the Second Amendment invokes intense arguments regarding its meaning and application. Events like the Newton school, the Aurora movie theater, and the Tucson shopping center shootings bring sorrow to our minds and prayers to our lips. Some say the way to prevent these tragedies is to remove the right for individuals to own and carry firearms. Others argue that firearms carried by responsible individuals could have prevented much, if not all, the carnage of these mass shootings.

download-podcastAny discussion of the Second Amendment should begin by making sure we are familiar with the wording and the original meaning of this part of our Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Although we can reasonably assume the authors of the Bill of Rights and the people of that day felt that this was an unambiguous statement, it is not the case today.

Some believe that the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” creates an individual constitutional right. This view is referred to as the “individual right theory,”{1} that legislative bodies are precluded from prohibiting firearm possession. Others argue that the phrase “a well-regulated Militia” means that it was only intended to restrict Congress from legislating away a state’s right of self-defense. This view is called the “collective rights theory.”{2}

In all likelihood, the authors intentionally combined these two thoughts. The states could not muster a militia of their people unless the people were allowed to keep arms. This view is supported by people involved in crafting and/or approving the Bill of Rights. Samuel Adams wrote, “The said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to . . . prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.”{3} Similarly, Noah Webster wrote, “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in American cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be on any pretense, raised in the United States.”{4}

Does a Christian worldview provide guidance for our views on the Second Amendment?  The Bible does not talk about guns, but does it provide instruction on this issue?  In 1 Peter, we learn that governments bear the sword to implement justice. Under our Constitution, we, the people, are ultimately the ones who bear the sword to ensure justice.

The Second Amendment: Why Was It Added?

As discussed above, those responsible for the Second Amendment intended to ensure individuals could bear firearms legally. What concerns led to this original amendment to our constitution?

To understand, we should review the context for the introduction of the Bill of Rights. When the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification in 1787, two groups formed around adding a bill of rights to the Constitution, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists supported the Constitution as written, believing that any attempt to list certain rights as remaining with individuals or states would be interpreted as making other rights subject to the federal government. The Anti-Federalists believed it was important to clearly state key fundamental rights over which the federal government would have no jurisdiction. Neither group was arguing against any of the Bill of Rights, but rather whether it was more effective to be silent or to list them explicitly.

The Federalists, who had the majority of delegates to the convention, were wrong in assuming that most people would agree with their hands-off approach. This situation led to many of the states ratifying the Constitution with the stipulation that a bill of rights be added. The right to bear arms was a common component of these stipulations. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, “The advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation . . . forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition  . . . The several kingdoms of Europe . . . are afraid to trust the people with arms.”{5}

When the first Congress met, James Madison presented a bill of rights before the members of the House. The first Congress converted these into twelve amendments which were sent back to the states for ratification in September of 1789. The language which would become the Second Amendment was essentially unchanged from that offered by Madison. On March 1, 1792, Thomas Jefferson announced the ratification of the United States Bill of Rights.

In Romans, Paul wrote, “But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for (governing authorities) do not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”{6} However, if government officials hold all power, those who would control us will seek that power by taking over the government. In our constitutional system, the people are the ultimate governing authorities and thus are given the right to bear arms to protect the nation against those who would take over for the practice of evil.

The Second Amendment: How Is It Applied Today?

As noted previously, two different thoughts arose in interpreting the Second Amendment, namely the “individual rights theory” and the “collective rights theory.” Which view is supported by the Supreme Court?

In the most recent ruling of 2008, the court ruled the amendment confers an individual right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense. It also determined that the clause concerning a well-regulated militia does not limit the part which clearly states an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. Thus, the Court affirmed the “individual rights theory” of interpretation.

Remember, the framers of the Second Amendment were aware that guns held by individuals could be used for criminal activity. They felt that protecting individual liberty was more important than trying to create a perfectly safe environment. However, it should not be interpreted that everyone should have equal access to firearms. The Court has supported laws which 1) restrict those with mental problems or a criminal background in acquiring guns and 2) limit general access to specific types of weapons for mass destruction.

The difficult question is, when does the government cross the line into the realm of interfering with a person’s rights? First, what is meant by arms; does it include tanks, RPGs, etc.?  Second, what could legally preclude a person’s right to bear arms? What type of personality or personality disorder makes it dangerous to others for you to carry a gun?

On the first question, the answer is not defined by what is needed for hunting or protection from thieves. From the perspective of the Founding Fathers, it needs to be weapons such that if a sufficient number of people possess them, the government is unable through the force of an army to impose any unconstitutional burdens upon the people. The Court’s position is that rifles and handguns are sufficient and that the government has the right to control other types of weapons.

The second question is equally difficult: how does one determine who is sane enough to have the right to bear arms? The Court has allowed this to be defined in terms of mental deficiencies, mental problems and a criminal background.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we are told to pray for those in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life with all godliness and dignity. Our Constitution indicates that we are to take up arms as necessary to protect a government supporting godliness and dignity. It is reasonable to preclude those without a sane concept of a quiet and peaceful life from accessing firearms, which would always be a small minority of the populace.

The Second Amendment: Should It Be Ignored?

To this point, we have laid out the history and the status of our right to bear arms. We have three possible responses: 1) accept and obey this law, 2) ignore it as counter to God’s greater law, or 3) work to repeal the law. Let us first consider the question, “Is this a law that we should ignore?”

As spelled out in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, Christians are to uphold the laws of our land. Although no specific governmental system is promoted in the New Testament, we appreciate a system that protects our ability to worship God consistent with 1 Timothy 2:1-2. We support protecting the individual religious freedom offered by this country. At the same time, we want to limit robbery, murder and mayhem. How do these potentially conflicting desires relate to our view of the Second Amendment?

Remember, its underlying purpose is to ensure that our freedoms as individuals and as states are never trampled on by the federal government or others. The framers of the Constitution were worried about the tendency of large governments to attempt to consolidate their power at the expense of freedom. As Christians, we should desire to live in a society where we are free to worship God and share our faith with others.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, we see that we should pray for such a society because “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  As citizens of this nation, the Second Amendment makes it clear that we have a responsibility to protect our rights from those who would attempt to abuse their position, to maintain our freedoms including our freedom to live godly lives and share Christ freely.

In 2 Peter 2:13-14, we are to submit “for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” whether to a king or his representatives. Within our structure of government, we submit to our Constitution and its principles. The Second Amendment calls for us (if needed) to be armed and ready as individuals to participate in a state militia or, in the absence of a militia, to act as individuals to protect our liberty. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that this also confers an individual right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes.

Clearly, the right to bear arms as defined in our Constitution and explained by Supreme Court rulings is not counter to biblical teaching. Therefore, we are to act in accordance with this amendment to our Constitution. Whether we should try to repeal this law is discussed below.

The Second Amendment: Should It Be Repealed?

If the Second Amendment creates more harm than good, we can support repealing it. The main argument for this position is that guns are used by some to harm the innocent. If guns are freely available to the citizenry, does the harm done outweigh the value envisioned by the Second Amendment?

Many innocent people have been killed by deranged individuals and criminals with guns; at the same time, we cannot remember a time when American citizens were called to the streets to protect our Constitution. Have we reached a point where the nature of today’s weapons and our society make the Second Amendment a detriment?

One group argues that if private ownership was illegal and strictly enforced, it would severely limit gun violence. An opposing view believes the problem is actually worsened by the lack of gun ownership by the public. If more law abiding citizens were armed and prepared to respond, the number of people killed would drop due to the deterrent effect.

What is the problem with repealing the Second Amendment? To have no guns among the citizenry, the government must be very proactive in removing guns from society as a whole. Guns must be removed from those not inclined to obey— a very difficult task as evidenced by the prevalence of alcohol during Prohibition. If accomplished, the government must assume unprecedented powers which may be fine as long as the Constitutional is not usurped. But if a future government decides to do so, there will be nothing to stop it.

Swords were used to kill people in Jesus’ day. Did Jesus rail against the presence of swords and demand that no one but soldiers should carry them? No, in fact, he told His disciples that he who had no sword should buy one because of the troubled days ahead.{7} Peter was carrying his sword in the garden when Jesus was arrested.{8} While Jesus kept Peter from interfering with His arrest, Jesus did not use that situation to initiate a “sword control” campaign.

Perhaps a more sensible way to control gun violence would be to encourage law-abiding citizens to carry weapons, particularly in public areas. This approach creates a deterrent against the insane, the criminal, and a future government gone amok.

According to Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3, in the last days, swords will be beaten into plowshares and nations will no longer lift up the sword against other nations. We are clearly not in those last days now. Keeping the Second Amendment in place highlights our commitment to a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” while we wait for Christ’s bodily return.

Notes

1. Second Amendment, Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment
2. Ibid.
3. Philip Mulivor, Proclaiming Liberty: What Patriots and Heroes Really Said about the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Brightman Press, New York, 2011 quoting Samuel Adams, Amendment introduced on 6 Feb. 1788 in the Massachusetts ratifying convention, qtd. In Debates and Proceeding in the Cnvention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Held in the Year 1788
4. Ibid., Noah Webster, “An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution.” Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States Published During Its Discussion by the People 1787-1788.
5. Ibid., James Madison, “Paper 46,” The Federalist Papers.
6. Romans 13:4
7. Luke 22:35-38
8. John 18:10

©2015 Probe Ministries


Realignment of America

We are witnessing some dramatic changes in this country. The U.S. is experiencing various kinds of realignment: marriage and cohabitation, geography, political and economic.

In this article I want to talk about the realignment of America. We are witnessing some dramatic changes in this country. Some are political changes; some are economic changes; and some are geographic changes. If you are building a business, planting a church, or just trying to understand some of these fundamental changes, you need to pay attention to these changes in America.

download-podcastFirst, we need to understand the times in which we are living. 1 Chronicles 12:32 says that the sons of Issachar were “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.” Likewise we need to understand our time with knowledge of what we as Christians should do.

Second, we should also plan for the future. Isaiah 32:8 says that “the noble man devises noble plans, and by noble plans he stands.” You, your family, and your church should have plans for the future based upon some of the things we will be discussing.

Proverbs 16:9 says “the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” So we should not only plan for the future, but commit those plans to the Lord and be sensitive to His leading in our lives.

One place where we see a dramatic shift in both attitudes and behavior is marriage. America is in the midst of redefining marriage. Some of these redefinitions are taking place in the legislatures and courtrooms. But marriage is also being redefined through cohabitation.

Over the last few decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has documented the increasing percentage of people who fit into the category of “adults living alone.” These are often lumped into a larger category of “non-family households.” Within this larger category are singles that are living alone as well as a growing number of unmarried, cohabiting couples that are “living together.” The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2000 there were nearly ten million Americans living with an unmarried opposite-sex partner and another 1.2 million Americans living with a same-sex partner.

These numbers are unprecedented. It is estimated that during most of the 1960s and 1970s, only about a half a million Americans were living together. And by 1980, that number was just 1.5 million.{1} Now that number is more than twelve million.

Cohabiting couples are also changing the nature of marriage. Researchers estimate that half of Americans will cohabit at one time or another prior to marriage. And this arrangement often includes children. The traditional stereotype of two young, childless people living together is not completely accurate; currently, some forty percent of cohabiting relationships involve children.{2}

Marriage may not yet be in the endangered species list, but many more couples are choosing to live together rather than get married. This is just one example of the realignment of America.

Geographic Realignment

Another realignment in America is geographic realignment. If you haven’t noticed, people move around quite a bit. And I am not just talking about your neighbors who drove off the other day in a U-Haul truck. I am talking about the realignment of America.

I think we have all heard that the U.S. population is flowing from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt. But Michael Barone in an article in The Wall Street Journal explains that the trends are a bit more complex than that.{3} Let’s start with what he calls the “Coastal Megalopolises” (New York, Los Angeles, Miami, etc.). Here you find that Americans are moving out and immigrants are moving in with a low net population growth.

Contrast this with what he called “the Interior Boomtowns.” Their population has grown eighteen percent in six years. And this means that the nation’s center of gravity is shifting. Dallas is now larger than San Francisco, Houston is larger than Boston, Charlotte is now larger than Milwaukee.

Another section would be the old Rust Belt. The six metro areas (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Rochester) have lost population since 2000. And you also have “the Static Cities.” These eighteen metropolitan areas have little immigrant inflow and little domestic inflow or outflow.

The political impact of this realignment is significant. Many of the metro areas voted in significant proportions for John Kerry in 2004 while the Interior Boomtowns voted for George W. Bush. But there is more at stake than just the presidential election.

In less than two years we will have another census, and that will determine congressional districts. House seats and electoral votes will shift from New York, New Jersey, and Illinois to Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada.

That is why Michael Barone says in another column that it is time to throw out the old electoral maps.{4} The old maps with red states and blue states served us well for the last two presidential elections, but there is good evidence that it is now out-of-date. In 2000 and 2004, the Republicans nominated the same man, and the Democrats nominated men with similar views and backgrounds. All of that has changed in 2008.

It is clear that some of the states that went Democratic in 2004 may be available to Republicans. And it is also clear that some of the states that went Republican that same year are possibilities for the Democrats. And let’s not forget the surge of new voters coming into the electoral process that are potentially available to either candidate.

Social scientists say: “Demography is destiny.” That is a simple way of saying that demographic changes alter our future. But you don’t have to be a social scientist to see the impact. We all know that people move around, and that changes the political landscape.

Political Realignment

In addition to marriage and geographical realignment, political realignment is also taking place due to differences in fertility. Does fertility affect voting patterns? Apparently it does much more than we realize. And this has been a topic of discussion for both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

Arthur Brooks wrote about the “Fertility Gap” in a column in The Wall Street Journal.{5} He said: “Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They’re not having enough of them . . . and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result.”

Brooks noted that “…if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids.” That is a “fertility gap” of forty-one percent.

We know that about eighty percent of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote essentially the same way as their parents. Brooks says that this “fertility gap” therefore “translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections.” He also points out that over the past thirty years this gap has not been below twenty percent which he says explains to a large extent the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns.

Brooks also points out that the fertility gap “doesn’t budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race—or even religion.” Even if all these factors are identical between a liberal and a conservative, “the liberal will still be 19 percentage points more likely to be childless than the conservative.” This fertility gap is real and will no doubt affect politics for many years to come.

So what could this mean for future presidential elections? Consider the key swing state of Ohio which is currently split fifty-fifty between left and right. If current patterns continue, Brooks estimates that Ohio will swing to the right and by 2012 will be fifty-four percent to forty-six percent. By 2020, it will be solidly conservative by a margin of fifty-nine percent to forty-one percent.

Now look at the state of California that tilts in favor of liberals by fifty-five percent to forty-five percent. By the year 2020, it will be swing conservative by a percentage of fifty-four percent to forty-six percent. The reason is due to the “fertility gap.”

Of course most people vote for politicians, personalities, and issues, not parties. But the general trend of the “fertility gap” cannot be ignored especially if Democrats continue to appeal to liberals and Republicans to conservatives.

Economic Realignment

Earlier we talked about political and geographical realignment in America. It turns out that some of that realignment is due to economic factors.

A recent survey by United Van Lines uncovers some interesting patterns of movement in America.{6} An average of twenty thousand Americans relocate across state lines each day for a record eight million Americans each year. The general pattern is for people to move from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. But the details are even more interesting than the general trends.

The survey found that the most reliable indicator of movement was income tax. People tend to move from states with high income-tax rates to states with little or no income taxes. Families are leaving Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Now consider the eight states that have no income tax (Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming). Every one of these states gained in net domestic migrants. And each one except Florida (which has sky-high property taxes) “ranked in the top 12 of destination states.”

In order to see the phenomenon in action, compare North Dakota to South Dakota. Both states are essentially the same in terms of geography and climate. But they couldn’t be more different in terms of migration. North Dakota lost a greater percentage of citizens than any other state except Michigan. South Dakota ranked in the top twelve states in terms of net domestic migration. People are moving out of North Dakota, but they are moving to South Dakota in droves. North Dakota has an income tax. South Dakota does not.

For many years now, demographers have noted the flight of upper income, educated families from California. California is the only Pacific Coast state to lose migrant population in 2007. One of the major reasons is the fact that California has the highest state income tax in the nation. So now more than one and a half million Californians have left the state in the last ten years.

So where are many of these people going? They are moving to neighboring Nevada, which has no income tax. “High income Californians can buy a house in Las Vegas for the amount they save in three or four years by not paying California income taxes.”

An old adage says high taxes don’t redistribute income, they redistribute people. Once again we see the realignment of America. People vote with their feet, and it seems that taxes are one of the reasons they leave one state for another state.

Income Realignment

I would like to conclude by looking once again at economic statistics, but this time focus on family income. If you turn on a television or open a newspaper, and you are certain to hear or read someone say that the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. But would it surprise you to know that other governmental data says just the opposite?

The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau does seem to indicate that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. But these numbers do not reflect the economic improvement of individuals and families.

Data from the Internal Revenue Service does show this movement. It shows that people in the bottom fifth have nearly doubled their income in the last ten years. It also shows that the top one percent saw their incomes decline by twenty-six percent.{7}

Why do these two set of governmental statistics differ? It turns out that the IRS tracks people over time. After all, people don’t stay in the same income brackets throughout their lives. Millions of people move from one bracket to another.

The IRS tracks people each year and thus reflects real changes to real people while the Census Bureau merely creates the illusion of tracking people. The best way to follow people is to actually follow people. That’s what the IRS statistics do, and so they are more accurate.

What about the claims that family income has stagnated? First, we need to make a distinction between household income and per capita income. Household or family income can remain essentially unchanged for a decade while per capita income is increasing.

The reason is simple: the number of people per household and per family is declining. If annual household income is $60,000, the per capita income for a family of six would be $10,000 but for a family of three would be $20,000.

The difference in the number of people also affects economic statistics for different ethnic groups. Hispanics have higher household incomes than African-Americans. But blacks have higher individual incomes than Hispanics. The reason for the different is family size.

Second, we should also take a second look at the statistics that say income has stagnated. If we go back to the IRS numbers, we find that the average taxpayer’s real income has increased by twenty-four percent in the last decade.

The point to all of this is that economic statistics can sometimes be misleading. They may be true but they lead to misleading conclusions.

As we’ve seen, there have been some dramatic shifts in the social, political, economic, and geographic nature of this country. A wise and discerning Christian will pay attention to this realignment and make wise plans for the future. Isaiah 32:8 says that “the noble man devises noble plans, and by noble plans he stands.” As Christians we need to wisely plan for the future.

Notes

1. U. S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P20-537; America’s Families and Living Arrangements: March 2000 and earlier reports.
2. Larry L. Bumpass, James A. Sweet, and Andrew Cherlin, “The Role of Cohabitation in the Declining Rates of Marriage,” Journal of Marriage and Family 53 (1991), 926.
3. Michael Barone, “The Realignment of America,” The Wall Street Journal, 8 May, 2007.
4. Michael Barone, “Throw Out the Old Electoral Maps in 2008,” Townhall.com, 1 March 2008.
5. Arthur C. Brooks, “The Fertility Gap,” The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2006.
6. “States of Opportunity,” The Wall Street Journal, 12 February 2008.
7. Thomas Sowell, “Income Confusion,” Townhall.com, 21 November 2007.

© 2008 Probe Ministries


The Liberal Mind

Kerby Anderson tries to understand the liberal mind from a biblical perspective. What are the assumptions the liberals make? How do those assumptions square with the Bible?

As we begin this discussion, I want to make a clear distinction between the terms “liberal” and “leftist.” We often use the terms interchangeably but there is an important difference.

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Dennis Prager wrote about this and even described those differences in a PragerU video.{1} His argument is that traditional liberalism has far more in common with conservatism than it does with leftism. Here are some examples he uses to make his point.

Liberals and leftists have a different view of race. The traditional liberal position on race is that the color of one’s skin is insignificant. By contrast, leftists argue that the notion that race is insignificant is itself racist. Liberals were committed to racial integration and would have rejected the idea of separate black dormitories and separate black graduations on university campuses.

Nationalism is another difference. Dennis Prager says that liberals always deeply believed in the nation-state. Leftists, on the other hand, oppose nationalism and promote class solidarity.

Superman comics illustrate the point. When the writers of Superman were liberal, Superman was not only an American but also one who fought for “Truth, justice, and the American way.” The left-wing writers of Superman comics had Superman announce a few years ago that he was going to speak before the United Nations and inform them that he was renouncing his American citizenship.

Perhaps the best example is free speech. American liberals agree with the statement: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” Leftists today are leading a nationwide suppression of free speech everywhere from the college campuses to the Big Tech companies.

Capitalism and the free enterprise system would be yet another example. Dennis Prager says, “Liberals have always been pro capitalism,” though they often wanted government “to play a bigger role” in the economy. Leftists oppose capitalism and are eagerly promoting socialism.

Liberals have had a love of Western civilization and taught it at most universities. They were promoters of the liberal arts and fine arts. In fact, one of the most revered liberals in American history was President Franklin Roosevelt who talked about the need to protect Western Civilization and even Christian civilization.

Today Western Civilization classes are rarely if ever taught in the university. That’s because leftists don’t believe Western Civilization is superior to any other civilization. Leftists label people who attempt to defend western values as racist and accuse them of promoting white supremacy. And attempts to promote religious liberty are dismissed as thinly disguised attacks on the LGBT community.

In conclusion, liberals and leftists are very different.

Ethics and a Belief in Right and Wrong

The philosophical foundation for most liberal perspectives is secularism. If you don’t believe in God and the Bible, then you certainly don’t believe in biblical absolutes or even moral absolutes. Dostoyevsky put it this way: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.”

Even atheists admit that a view of God affects human behavior. Richard Dawkins recently expressed his fear that the removal of religion would be a bad idea for society because it would give people “license to do really bad things.”

He likens the idea of God to surveillance, or as he puts it, the “divine spy camera in the sky.”{2} People generally tend to do the right thing when someone is watching them. They tend to do bad things when no one is watching. He goes go on to add that the “Great Spy Camera theory” isn’t a good reason for him to believe in God.

It is also worth mentioning that more and more young people aren’t making decisions about right and wrong based on logic but instead based on feelings. I began to notice this decades ago. College students making a statement or challenging a conclusion used to say “I think” as they started a sentence.” Then I started to see more and more of them say “I feel” at the
start of a sentence. They wouldn’t use reason to discuss an issue. Instead, they would use emotion and talk about how they felt about a particular issue.

The liberal mind also has a very different foundation for discussing right and wrong. Dennis Prager recently admitted that he had been wrong. All of his life, he has said that the left’s moral compass is broken. But he has concluded that “in order to have a broken moral compass, you need to have a moral compass to begin with. But the left doesn’t have one.”{3}

He doesn’t mean that conclusion as an attack. It is merely an observation that the left doesn’t really think in terms of good and evil. We assume that other people think that way because we think that way. But that is not how most of the people on the left perceive the world.

Karl Marx is a good example. He divided the world by economic class (the worker and the owner). One group was exploiting the other group. Good and evil aren’t really relevant when you are thinking in terms of class struggle. Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, operated “beyond good and evil.”

To the Marxists, “there is no such thing as a universal good or universal evil.” Those of us who perceive the world from a Judeo-Christian worldview see ethics as relevant to the moral standard, not the person or their social status.

A biblical view of ethics and morality begins with the reality that God exists and that He has revealed to us moral principles we are to apply to our lives and society. Those absolute moral principles are tied to God’s character and thus unchanging.

A Naïve View of Human Nature

In this article we are talking about the liberal mind, while often making a distinction between liberals and the left. When it comes to the proper view of human nature, both groups have a naïve and inaccurate view.

You can discover this for yourself by asking a simple question: Do you believe people are basically good? You will get an affirmative answer from most people in America because we live in a civilized society. We don’t have to deal with the level of corruption or terror that is a daily life in so many other countries in the world.

But if you press the question, you will begin to see how liberals have difficulty explaining the holocaust and Muslim terrorism. Because the liberal mind starts with the assumption that people are basically good. After all, that is what so many secular philosophers and psychologists have been saying for centuries. Two world wars and other wars during the 20th century should have caused most people to reject the idea that people are basically good.

The Bible teaches just the opposite. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This statement about the deceitfulness of our heart may seem extreme until we realize that Jesus also taught that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

This naïve view of human nature should concern all of us. Young people, two generations after Auschwitz, believe people are basically good. One reason is biblical illiteracy. Another reason is historical illiteracy. A recent survey found two thirds of young people did not know six million died in the Holocaust and nearly half could not name one of the Nazi death camps.{4}

This naïve view of human nature may also explain another phenomenon we have discussed before. One of the untruths described in the book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is the belief that the battle for truth is “us versus them.”{5} If you think that people are basically good and you have to confront someone who disagrees with you, then they must be a bad person. They aren’t just wrong. They are evil.

Tribalism has been with us for centuries. That is nothing new about people joining and defending a tribe. But that has become more intense because of the rhetoric on university campuses and the comments spreading through social media. We don’t have to live this way, but the forces in society are making the divisions in society worse by the day.

A biblical perspective starts with the teaching that all are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and thus have value and dignity. But all of us have a sin nature (Romans 5:12). We should interact with others who disagree with us with humility (Ephesians 4:2) and grace (Colossians 4:6).

Big Government

We will now look at why liberals and the left promote big government. The simple answer relates to our discussion above about human nature. If you believe that people are basically good, then it is easy to assume that political leaders and bureaucrats will want to do the best for the citizens.

Christians agree that government is necessary and that it is one of the institutions ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). There is a role for government to set the rules of governing and to resolve internal disputes through a legal system. Government is not God. But for people who don’t believe in God, then the state often becomes God.

Friedrich Hayek wrote about this drive toward big government and the bureaucratic state in his classic book, The Road to Serfdom. He argued in his book that “the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.”{6}

The character of citizens is changed because they yield their will and decision-making to a more powerful government. They may have done so willingly in order to have a welfare state. Or they may have done so unwillingly because a dictator has taken control of the reins of power. Either way, Hayek argues, their character has been altered because the control over every detail of economic life is ultimately control of life itself.

Friedrich Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom to warn us that sometimes the road can be paved with good intentions. Most government officials and bureaucrats write laws, rules, and regulations with every good intention. They desire to make the world a better place by preventing catastrophe and by encouraging positive actions from their citizens. But in their desire to control and direct every aspect of life, they take us down the road to serfdom.

He argued that people who enter into government and run powerful bureaucracies are often people who enjoy running not only the bureaucracy but also the lives of its citizens. In making uniform rules from a distance, they deprive the local communities of the freedom to apply their own knowledge and wisdom to their unique situations. A government seeking to be a benevolent god, usually morphs into a malevolent tyrant.

The liberal mind is all too willing to allow political leaders and bureaucrats to make decisions for the public. But that willingness is based on two flawed assumptions. First, human beings are not God and thus government leaders will certainly make flawed decisions that negatively affect the affairs of its citizens. Second, liberals do not believe we have a sin
nature (Romans 3:23), and that includes government leaders. Even the best of them will not always be wise, compassionate, and altruistic. This is why the founders of this country established checks and balances in government to limit the impact of sinful behavior.

Tolerance?

If there is one attitude that you would think would be synonymous with the liberal mind, it would be tolerance. That may have been true in the past. Liberalism championed the idea of free thought and free speech. That is no longer the case.

Liberals have been developing a zero-tolerance culture. In some ways, that has been a positive change. We no longer tolerate racism. We no longer tolerate sexism. Certain statements, certain jokes, and certain attitudes have been deemed off-limits.

The problem is that the politically correct culture of the left moved the lines quickly to begin to attack just about any view or value contrary to the liberal mind. Stray at all from the accepted limits of leftist thinking and you will earn labels like racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic.

Quickly the zero-tolerance culture became the cancel culture. It is not enough to merely label an opponent with a smear, the left demands that an “enemy” lose their social standing and even their job and livelihood for deviating from what is acceptable thought. A mendacious social media mob will make sure that you pay a heavy penalty for contradicting the fundamental truths of the liberal mind.

One phenomenon that promotes this intolerance is the use of smears and negative labels. For example, patriotism and pride in your country is called xenophobia. Acknowledging the innate differences between males and females is labelled sexist. Promoting the idea that we are all of one race (the human race) and that all lives matter is called racist. Questioning whether we should redefine traditional marriage is deemed homophobic. Arguing that very young children should not undergo sex assignment surgery is called transphobia. Pointing out that most terrorist attacks come from Muslim terrorists is labelled Islamophobic.

Should Christians be tolerant? The answer is yes, we should be tolerant, but that word has been redefined in society to argue that we should accept every person’s behavior. The Bible does not permit that. That is why I like to use the word civility. Essentially, that is the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Civility requires humility. A civil person acknowledges that he or she does not possess all wisdom and knowledge. That means we should listen to others and consider the possibility that they might be right, and we could be wrong. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” We can disagree with other without being disagreeable. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

This is an important principle as we try to understand the liberal mind and work to build bridges to others in our society.

Notes

1. Dennis Prager, Left or Liberal?, https://www.prageru.com/video/left-or-liberal/.
2. David Sanderson, “Ending religion is a bad idea, says Richard Dawkins,” The Times, October 5, 2019, www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ending-religion-is-a-bad-idea-says-richard-dawkins-sqqdbmcpq
3. Dennis Prager, “The Left’s Moral Compass Isn’t Broken,” September 15, 2020, townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/2020/09/15/the-lefts-moral-compass-isnt-broken-n2576225.
4. Ryan Miller, “Almost two-thirds of millennials, Gen Z don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, survey finds,” USA Today, September 16, 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/09/16/holocaust-history-millennials-gen-z-cant-name-concentration-camps/5792448002/.
5. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, et al., The Coddling of the American Mind: How
Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
. New York City: Penguin Press, 2018, probe.org/coddling-of-the-american-mind/.
6. F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents, the Definitive Edition, ed. Bruce Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 48.

©2020 Probe Ministries


Loneliness and the Lockdown

Kerby Anderson looks at the isolation and longing for human contact that has become endemic even before the pandemic.

America was already facing a crisis of loneliness, and then the coronavirus pandemic hit. People sheltering at home had even less human contact. That made the crisis of loneliness even worse. The best thing people could do to protect themselves from the virus was to isolate themselves. But that is not the best thing they could do for their physical or mental health.

download-podcastA study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad found that loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Another study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that social isolation in older adults increased their risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, high cholesterol, diabetes, and poor health in general.{1}

More than a quarter century ago (1994), I wrote a book (Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope) making a number of predictions for the future. Chapter eight set forth the case for a coming crisis of loneliness.{2} Years earlier Philip Slater wrote about The Pursuit of Loneliness. The US Census Bureau documented the increasing number of adults living alone. Dan Kiley talked about living together loneliness in one of his books. Roberta Hestenes coined the term “crowded loneliness.” The trend was there for anyone to see if they began reading some of the sociological literature.

In the last few years, many authors have written about the crisis of loneliness. Robert Putnam wrote about it in his famous book, Bowling Alone.{3} He argues that people need to be connected in order for our society to function effectively. Putnam concludes, “Social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.” Senator Ben Sasse, in his book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal, laments that our traditional tribes and social connectedness are in collapse.{4}

Living Alone

The reasons are simple: demographics and social isolation. More people are living alone than in previous generations, and those living with another person will still feel the nagging pangs of loneliness.

In previous centuries where extended families dominated the social landscape, a sizable proportion of adults living alone was unthinkable. And even in this century, adults living alone have usually been found near the beginning (singles) and end (widows) of adult life. But these periods of living alone are now longer due to lifestyle choices on the front end and advances in modern medicine on the back end.

People have been postponing marriage and thus extending the number of years of being single. Moreover, their parents are (and presumably they will be) living longer, thereby increasing the number of years one adult will be living alone. Yet the increase in the number of adults living alone originates from more than just changes at the beginning and end of adult life. Increasing numbers are living most of their adult lives alone.

In the 1950s, about one in every ten households had only one person in them. These were primarily widows. But today, due to the three D’s of social statistics (death, divorce, and deferred marriage), more than a third of all households is a single person household.

In the past, gender differences have been significant in determining the number of adults living alone. For example, young single households are more likely to be men, since women marry younger. On the other hand, old single households are more likely to be women, because women live longer than men. While these trends still hold true, the gender distinctions are blurring as both sexes are likely to reject traditional attitudes toward marriage.

Marriage Patterns

The post-war baby boom created a generation that did not made the trip to the altar in the same percentage as their parents. In 1946, the parents of the baby boom set an all-time record of 2,291,000 marriages. This record was not broken during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when millions of boomers entered the marriage-prone years. Finally, in 1979, the record that had lasted 33 years was finally broken when the children of the baby boom made 2,317,000 marriages.

The post-war generations are not only marrying less; they are also marrying later. The median age for first marriage for women in 1960 was 20 and for men it was 22. Today the median age for women is 27 and for men it is 29.

Another reason for a crisis in loneliness is marital stability. Not only are these generations marrying less and marrying later; they also stay married less than their parents. When the divorce rate shot up in the sixties and seventies, the increase did not come from empty nesters finally filing for divorce after sending their children into the world. Instead, it came from young couples divorcing before they even had children. That trend has continued into the 21st century.

The crisis of loneliness will affect more than just the increasing number of people living alone. While the increase in adults living alone is staggering and unprecedented, these numbers are fractional compared with the number in relationships that leave them feeling very much alone.

Commitment is a foreign concept to many of the millions of cohabiting couples. These fluid and highly mobile situations form more often out of convenience and demonstrate little of the commitment necessary to make a relationship work. These relationships are transitory and form and dissolve with alarming frequency. Anyone looking for intimacy and commitment will not find them in these relationships.

Commitment is also a problem in marriages. Spawned in the streams of sexual freedom and multiple lifestyle options, the current generations appear less committed to making marriage work than previous generations. Marriages, which are supposed to be the source of stability and
intimacy, often produce uncertainty and isolation.

Living-Together Loneliness

Psychologist Dan Kiley coined the term “living-together loneliness,” or LTL, to describe this phenomenon. He has estimated that 10 to 20 million people (primarily women) suffer from “living together loneliness.”{5}

LTL is an affliction of the individual, not the relationship, though that may be troubled too. Instead, Dan Kiley believes LTL has more to do with two issues: the changing roles of men and women and the crisis of expectations. In the last few decades, especially following the rise of the modern feminist movement, expectations that men have of women and that women have of men have been significantly altered. When these expectations do not match reality, disappointment (and eventually loneliness) sets in. Dan Kiley first noted this phenomenon among his female patients. He began to realize that loneliness comes in two varieties. The first is the loneliness felt by single, shy people who have no friends. The second is more elusive because it involves the person in a relationship who nevertheless feels isolated and very much alone.

To determine if a woman is a victim of LTL, Kiley employed a variation of an “uncoupled loneliness” scale devised by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles. For example, an LTL woman would agree with the following propositions: (1) I can’t turn to him when I feel bad, (2) I feel left out of his life, (3) I feel isolated from him, even when he’s in the same room, (4) I am unhappy being shut off from him, (5) No one really knows me well.

Women may soon find that loneliness has become a part of their lives whether they are living alone or “in a relationship,” because loneliness is more a state of mind than it is a social situation. People who find themselves trapped in a relationship may be lonelier than a person living alone. The fundamental issue is whether they reach out and develop strong relationship bonds.

Crowded Loneliness

Loneliness, it turns out, is not just a problem of the individual. Loneliness is endemic to our modern, urban society. In rural communities, although the farmhouses are far apart, community is usually very strong. Yet in our urban and suburban communities today, people are physically very
close to each other but emotionally very distant from each other. Close proximity does not translate into close community.

Dr. Roberta Hestenes at Eastern College has referred to this as “crowded loneliness.” She observed that “we are seeing the breakdown of natural community network groups in neighborhoods like relatives.” We don’t know how to reach out and touch people, and this produces the phenomenon of crowded loneliness.

Another reason for social isolation is the American desire for privacy. Though many desire to have greater community and even long for a greater intimacy with others, they will choose privacy even if it means a nagging loneliness. Ralph Keyes, in his book We the Lonely People, says that above all else Americans value mobility, privacy, and convenience. These three values make developing a sense of community almost impossible. In his book A Nation of Strangers, Vance Packard argued that the mobility of American society contributed to social isolation and loneliness. He described five forms of uprooting that were creating greater distances between people.

First is the uprooting of people who move again and again. An old Carole King song asked the question, “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” At the time when Packard wrote the book, he estimated that the average American would move about 14 times in his lifetime. By contrast, he
estimated that the average Japanese would move five times.

The second is the uprooting that occurs when communities undergo upheaval. The accelerated population growth along with urban renewal and flight to the suburbs have been disruptive to previously stable communities.

Third, there is the uprooting from housing changes within communities. The proliferation of multiple-dwelling units in urban areas crowd people together who frequently live side by side in anonymity.

Fourth is the increasing isolation due to work schedules. When continuous-operation plants and offices dominate an area’s economy, neighbors remain strangers.

Fifth, there is the accelerating fragmentation of the family. The steady rise in the number of broken families and the segmentation of the older population from the younger heightens social isolation. In a very real sense, a crisis in relationships precipitates a crisis in loneliness.

Taken together, these various aspects of loneliness paint a chilling picture of loneliness in the 21st century. But they also present a strategic opportunity for the church. Loneliness will be on the increase in this century due to technology and social isolation. Christians have an opportunity to minister to people cut off from normal, healthy relationships.

The Bible addresses this crisis of loneliness. David called out to the Lord because he was “lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). Jeremiah lamented that he “sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation” (Jeremiah 15:17). And Jesus experienced loneliness on the cross, when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

The local church should provide opportunities for outreach and fellowship in their communities. Individual Christians must reach out to lonely people and become their friends. We must help a lost, lonely world realize that their best friend of all is Jesus Christ.

Notes

1. Joanne Silberner, “In a time of distancing due to coronavirus, the health threat of loneliness,” looms, STAT, March 28, 2020.
2. Kerby Anderson, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope (Chicago: Moody, 1994), chapter eight.
3. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (NY: Touchstone, 2001).
4. Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2018).
5. Dan Kiley, Living Together, Feeling Alone: Healing Your Hidden Loneliness (NY: Prentice-Hall, 1989).

©2020 Probe Ministries


The Rise of the Nones – Reaching the Lost in Today’s America

Steve Cable addresses James White’s book The Rise of the Nones in view of Probe’s research about the church.

The Rise of the NonesProbe Ministries is committed to updating you on the status of Christianity in America. In this article, we consider James White’s book, The Rise of the Nones, Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.{1} His book addresses a critical topic since the fastest-growing religious group of our
time is those who check “none” or “none of the above” on religious survey questions.

download-podcastLet’s begin by reviewing some observations about Christianity in America.

From the 1930’s{2} into the early 1990’s the percentage of nones in America{3} was less than 8%. But by 2012, the number had grown to 20% of all adults and appears to be increasing. Even more alarming, among those between the ages of 18 and 30 the percentage grew by a factor of three, from 11% in 1990 to nearly 32% in 2012.

Another study reported Protestantism is no longer the majority in the U.S., dropping from 66% in the 1960’s down to 48% in 2012.

The nones tend to consider themselves to be liberal or moderate politically, in favor of abortion and same-sex marriage being legal, and seldom if ever attend religious services. For the most part, they are not atheists and are not necessarily hostile toward religious institutions. However, among those who believe in
“nothing in particular,” 88% are not even looking for a specific faith or religion.

One report concludes, “The challenge to Christianity . . . does not come from other religions, but from a rejection of all forms of organized religions. They’re not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they are not thinking about it at all.”{4} In fact, the 2011 Baylor survey found that 44% of Americans said they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and a Lifeway survey found that nearly half of Americans said they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

As White notes, these changes in attitude come in the wake of a second major attack on traditional Christian beliefs. The first set of attacks consisted of:

1. Copernicus attacking the existence of God

2. Darwin attacking God’s involvement in creation, and

3. Freud attacking our very concept of a creator God.

The second storm of attacks focuses on perceptions of how Christians think in three important areas.

1. An over entanglement with politics linked to anti-gay, sexual conservatism, and abrasiveness

2. Hateful aggression that has the church talking in ways that have stolen God’s reputation, and

3. An obsession with greed seen in televangelist transgressions and mega-pastor materialism, causing distrust of the church.

These perceptions, whether true or not, create an environment where there is no benefit in the public mind to self-identifying with a Christian religious denomination.

Living in a Post-Christian America

A 2013 Barna study{5} shows America rapidly moving into a post-Christian status. Their survey-based study came to this conclusion: over 48% of young adults are post-Christian, and “The influence of post-Christian trends is likely to increase and is a significant factor among today’s youngest Americans.”{6}

White suggests this trend is the result of “three deep and fast-moving cultural currents: secularization, privatization, and pluralization.”{7}

Secularization

Secularization teaches the secular world is reality and our thoughts about the spiritual world are fantasy. White states: “We seem quite content to accept the idea of faith being privately engaging but culturally irrelevant.”{8} In a society which is not affirming of public religious faith, it is much more difficult to hold a vibrant, personal faith.

Privatization

Privatization creates a chasm between the public and private spheres of life, trivializing Christian faith to the realm of opinion. Nancy Pearcy saw this, saying, “The most pervasive thought pattern of our times is the two-realm view of truth.”{9} In it, the first and public realm is secular truth that states, “Humans are machines.” The second and private realm of spirituality states, “Moral and humane ideals have no basis in truth, as defined by scientific naturalism. But we affirm them anyway.”{10}

Pluralization

Pluralization tells us all religions are equal in their lack of ultimate truth and their ability to deliver eternity. Rather speaking the truth of Christ, our post-modern ethic tells us we can each have our own truth. As reported in our book, Cultural Captives{11}, about 70% of evangelical, emerging adults
are pluralists. Pluralism results in making your own suit out of patches of different fabrics and patterns and expecting everyone else to act as if it were seamless.

White sums up today’s situation this way: “They forgot that their God was . . . radically other than man . . . They committed religion functionally to making the world better in human terms and intellectually to modes of knowing God fitted only for understanding this world.”{12}

This combination of secularization, privatization and pluralization has led to a mishmash of “bad religion” overtaking much of mainstream Christianity. The underlying basis of the belief systems of nones is that there is a lot of truth to go around. In this post-modern world, it is considered futile to search for absolute truth. Instead, we create our own truth from the facts at hand and as necessary despite the facts. Of course, this creates the false (yet seemingly desirable) attribute that neither we, nor anyone else, have to recognize we are sinners anymore. With no wrong, we feel no need for the ultimate source of truth, namely God.

If You Build It, They Won’t Come

We’ve been considering the beliefs and thinking of the nones. Can we reach them with the gospel, causing them to genuinely consider the case for Christ?

We are not going to reach them by doing more of the same. Statistics indicate that we are not doing a good job of reaching the nones.

As James White notes, “The very people who say they want unchurched people to . . . find Jesus resist the most basic . . . issues related to building a relationship with someone apart from Christ, . . . and inviting them to an open, winsome, and compelling front door so they can come and see.”{13}

Paul had to change his approach when addressing Greeks in Athens. In the same way, we need to understand how to speak to the culture we want to penetrate.

In the 1960’s, a non-believer was likely to have a working knowledge of Christianity. They needed to personally respond to the offer of salvation, not just intellectually agree to its validity. This situation made revivals and door-to-door visitation excellent tools to reach lost people.

Today, we face a different dynamic among the nones. “The goal is not simply knowing how to articulate the means of coming to Christ; it is learning how to facilitate and enable the person to progress from [little knowledge of Christ], to where he or she is able to even consider accepting Christ.”{14}

The rise of the nones calls for a new strategy for effectiveness. Today, cause should be the leading edge of our connection with many of the nones, in terms of both arresting their attention and enlisting their participation.

Up through the 1980s, many unchurched would respond for salvation and then be incorporated into the church and there become drawn to Christian causes. From 1990 through the 2000s, unchurched people most often needed to experience fellowship in the body before they were ready to respond to the gospel. Today, we have nones who are first attracted to the causes addressed by Christians. Becoming involved in those causes, they are attracted to the community of believers and gradually they become ready to respond to the gospel.

We need to be aware of how these can be used to offer the good news in a way that can penetrate through the cultural fog. White puts it this way, “Even if it takes a while to get to talking about Christ, (our church members) get there. And they do it with integrity and . . . credibility. . . Later I’ve seen those nones enfolded into our community and before long . . .  the waters of baptism.”{15}

Relating to nones may be outside your comfort zone, but God has called us to step out to share His love.

Combining Grace and Truth in a Christian Mind

Every day we are on mission to the unchurched around us. James White suggests ways we can communicate in a way that the nones can understand.

We need to take to heart the three primary tasks of any missionary to an unfamiliar culture. First, learn how to communicate with the people we are trying to reach. Second, become sensitized to the new culture to operate effectively within it. Third, “translate the gospel into its own cultural context so that it can be heard, understood, and appropriated.”{16}

The growth of the nones comes largely from Mainline Protestants and Catholics, right in the squishy middle where there is little emphasis on the truth of God’s word. How can we confront them with truth in a loving way?

The gospel of John tells us, “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”{17} Jesus brought the free gift of grace grounded in eternal truth. As we translate the gospel in today’s cultural context for the nones, this combination needs to shine through our message. What does it look like to balance grace and truth?

• If we are communicating no grace and no truth, we are following the example of Hinduism.

• If we are high on grace – but lacking in truth, we give license to virtually any lifestyle and
perspective, affirming today’s new definition of tolerance.

• On the other hand, “truth without grace: this is the worst of legalism . . . – what many nones
believe to be the hallmark of the Christian faith.” The real representative of dogma without grace is Islam.” In a survey among 750 Muslims who had converted to Christianity, they said that as Muslims, they could never be certain of their forgiveness and salvation as Christians can.

• Grace is the distinctive message of Christianity but never remove it from the truth of the high cost Christ paid. Jesus challenged the religious thought of the day with the truth of God’s standard. Recognizing we cannot achieve that standard, we are run to the grace of God by faith.

To communicate the truth, we need to respond to the new questions nones are asking of any faith. As White points out, “I do not encounter very many people who ask questions that classical apologetics trained us to answer . . . Instead, the new questions have to do with significance and meaning.” Questions such as, “So, what?” and “Is this God of yours really that good?”

We need to be prepared to “give a defense for the hope that is within us” in ways that the nones around us can resonate with, such as described in our article The Apologetics of Peter on our website.

Opening the Front Door to Nones

The nones desperately need the truth of Jesus, yet it is a challenge to effectively reach them. “Reaching out to a group of people who have given up on the church, . . .  we must renew our own commitment to the very thing they have rejected – the church.”{18} The fact that some in today’s culture have problems with today’s church does not mean that God intends to abandon it.

The church needs to grasp its mandate “to engage in the process of ‘counter-secularization’. . . There are often disparaging quips made about organized religion, but there was nothing disorganized about the biblical model.”{19} We all have a role to play in making our church a force for the gospel in our community.

It must be clear to those outside that we approach our task with civility and unity. Our individual actions are not sufficient to bring down the domain of darkness. Jesus told us that if those who encounter the church can sense the unity holding us together they will be drawn to its message.

How will the nones come into contact with the unity of Christ? It will most likely be through interaction with a church acting as the church. As White points out, “If the church has a “front door,” and it clearly does, why shouldn’t it be . . . strategically developed for optimal impact for . . . all nones who may venture inside?”{20} Surveys indicate that 82 percent of unchurched people would come to church this weekend if they were invited by a friend.

One way we have a chance to interact with nones is when they expose their children to a church experience. Children’s ministry is not something to occupy our children while we have church, but is instead a key part of our outreach to the lost nones in our community. “What you do with their children could be a
deal breaker.”

In today’s culture, we cannot overemphasize the deep need for visual communication. Almost everyone is attuned to visually receiving information and meaning. By incorporating visual arts in our church mainstream, “it has a way of sneaking past the defenses of the heart. And nones need a lot snuck past them.”{21}

We need to keep evangelism at the forefront. “This is no time to wave the flag of social ministry and justice issues so single-mindedly in the name of cultural acceptance and the hip factor that it becomes our collective substitute for the clear articulation of the gospel.”{22}

White clearly states our goal, “Our only hope and the heart of the Great Commission, is to stem the tide by turning the nones into wons.”{23}

Notes

1. James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, Baker Books, 2014.
2. Katherine Bindley, “Religion Among Americans Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report,” Huffington Post, March 1, 2012.
3. General Social Survey conducted over multiple years by the National Opinion Research Center and accessed through the Association of Religion Data Archives, www.TheARDA.com.
4. ARIS, “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population”, Trinity College, commons.trincoll.edu/aris/fiiles/2011/08/NONES_08.pdf.
5. Barna Group, How Post-Christian is America?, 2013, barna.org/barna-update/culture/608-hpca.
6. Ibid.
7. White p. 46.
8. White p. 47.
9. Ibid, p. 121.
10. Ibid p. 109.
11. Stephen Cable, Cultural Captives: The Beliefs and Behavior of American Young Adults, 2012, p. 60.
12. James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America, Johns Hopkins Press, 1985.
13. White, p. 83.
14. White, p. 93.
15. White, p. 108.
16 White, p. 114.
17. John 1:15.
18. White, p. 155.
19. White, p. 169.
20. White, p. 152.
21. White, p. 163.
22 White, p. 180.
23. White, p. 181.

©2016 Probe Ministries


Coddling of the American Mind

Drawing on the book The Coddling of the American Mind, Kerby Anderson examines the insanity on college campuses where students cannot handle ideas and people they disagree with.

In this article we will talk about what is happening on college campuses, and even focus on why it is happening. Much of the material is taken from the book, The Coddling of the American Mind.{1}

download-podcastGreg Lukianoff was trying to solve a puzzle and sat down with Jonathan Haidt. Greg was a first amendment lawyer working with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He was trying to figure out why students (who used to support free speech on campus) were now working to prevent speakers from coming on campus and triggered by words or phrases used by professors.

Greg also noticed something else. He has suffered from bouts of depression and noticed some striking similarities with some of the comments by students. He found in his treatment that sometimes he and others would engage in “catastrophizing” and assuming the worst outcome. He was seeing these distorted and irrational thought patterns in students.

After a lengthy discussion they decided to write an article about it for The Atlantic with the title, “Arguing Towards Misery: How Campuses Teach Cognitive Distortions.” The editor suggested the more provocative title, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The piece from The Atlantic was one of the most viewed articles of all time and was then expanded to this book.

That book used the same title: The Coddling of the American Mind. Jonathan was on Point of View last year to talk about the book. The authors believe that these significant psychological changes that have taken place in the minds of students explain much of the campus insanity we see on campus today.

They point out that two terms rose from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that are now thought as a kind of violence. Trigger warnings are an alert the professors now must use if they may be discussing a topic that might generate a strong emotional response.

Before we talk about some of the insight in the book, it is worth mentioning that though there is a psychological component to all of this insanity, there is also an ideological component. When the original article appeared, Heather MacDonald asked if “risk-adverse child-rearing is merely the source of the problem. For example, why aren’t heterosexual white males demanding safe spaces?”{2} They all had the same sort of parents who probably coddled many of them.

It would probably be best to say that the mixture of psychological deficits also with the liberal, progressive ideological ideas promoted on campus have given us the insanity we see today. We have had liberal teaching on campuses for a century, but the problem has become worse in the last decade because of the psychological issues described in the book, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Three Untruths (Part 1)

The book can easily be summarized in three untruths that make up the first three chapters of the book. The first is the “Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker.” Nietzsche’s original aphorism was, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The younger generation has turned this idea on its head.

It is true that some things are fragile (like china teacups), while other things are resilient (and can withstand shocks). But they also note that some things are antifragile. In other words, they actually require stressors and challenges to grow. Our muscles are like that. Our immune system is like that. And university education is supposed to be like that. Students are supposed to be challenged by new ideas, not locked away in “safe spaces.”

Unfortunately, most young people have been protected by a culture that promotes what they refer to as “safetyism.” It has become a cult of safety that is obsessed with eliminating threats (whether real or imagined) to the point where fragility becomes expected and routine. And while this is true for the millennial generation (also called Generation Y), it is even truer for the iGen generation (also called Generation Z) who are even more obsessed with safety.

Part of the problem in these untruths is what they call “concept creep.” Safety used to mean to be safe from physical threats. But that has expanded to the idea that safety must also include emotional comfort. In order to provide that comfort, professors and students a few years ago introduced the idea of creating “safe spaces” for students. And in order to keep those students emotionally safe in the classroom, professors must issue “trigger warnings” so these students don’t experience trauma during a classroom lecture or discussion.

The second untruth is the “Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings.” You can get yourself in some difficult circumstances quickly if you always trust your emotions. It is easy in this world to get frustrated, discouraged, and even depressed. Psychologists have found that certain patients can get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs cause powerful negative feelings. We are seeing that on college campuses today.

Psychologists describe “the cognitive triad” of depression. These are: “I’m no good” and “My world is bleak” and “My future is hopeless.” Psychologists have effective ways of helping someone break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. But very few adults (parents, professors, administrators) are working to correct mistaken ideas.

Three Untruths (Part 2)

In a college classroom, students are apt to make some sweeping generalization and engage in simplistic labeling of the lecture or reading material. In that case, we would hope that a professor would move the discussion by asking questions or even challenging the assertion.

Instead, many professors and colleges go along with the student comments. In fact, many even argue that any perceived slight adds up to what today are called “microaggressions.” In many cases, slights may be unintentional and actually wholly formed from the listener’s interpretation.

Here is how it develops. First, you prevent certain topics from being discussed in class. Next, you prevent certain speakers from coming to campus because they might present a perspective that aggrieved students believe should not be discussed. In the book is a chart illustrating how many speakers have been disinvited from universities. Five years ago, the line jumps up significantly.

The third untruth follows from that assumption. It is the “Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People.” The authors argue that “the human mind is prepared for tribalism.” They even provide psychological research demonstrating that. But that doesn’t mean we have to live that way. In fact, conditions in society can turn tribalism up, down, or off. Certain conflicts can turn tribalism up and make them more attentive to signs about which team a person may be on. Peace and prosperity usually turn tribalism down.

Unfortunately, in the university community, distinctions between groups are not downplayed but emphasized. Distinctions defined by race, gender, and sexual preference are given prominence. Mix that with the identity politics we see in society, and you generate the conflict we see almost every day in America.

The authors make an important distinction between two kinds of identity politics. Martin Luther King, Jr. epitomized what could be called “common-humanity identity politics.” He addressed the evil of racism by appealing to the shared morals of Americans using the unifying language of religion.

That is different from what we find on college campuses today that could be called “common-enemy identity politics.” It attempts to identify a common enemy as a way to enlarge and motivate your tribe. Their slogan sounds like this: Our battle for identity and survival is a battle between good people and bad people. We’re the good guys and need to defeat the bad guys.

An Example: Evergreen State College

One good example of how these untruths play out can be found at what happened on a college campus in Olympia, Washington. The entire story is described in chapter five but also is featured prominently in the opening chapter of the book No Safe Spaces and in the movie with the same title.

Just a few years ago, Evergreen State College was probably best known as the alma mater for rapper Macklemore and Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons. That all changed with an email biology professor Bret Weinstein sent.

In the past, the school had a tradition known as the “National Day of Absence.” Usually, minority faculty and students leave the campus for a day to make a statement. But in 2017, the college wanted to change things and wanted white students and faculty to stay away from campus.

Professor Weinstein argued in an email that there is a difference between letting people be absent and telling people “to go away.” And he added that he would show up for work. When he did, he was confronted by a mob of students. When the administration tried to appease the demonstrators, things got worse.

Weinstein has described himself as a political progressive and left-leaning libertarian. But his liberal commitments did not protect him from the student mob. The campus police warned him about a potential danger. The next morning, as he rode his bike into town, he saw protesters poised along his route tapping into their phones. He rode to the campus police department and was abruptly told: “You’re not safe on campus, and you’re not safe anywhere in town on your bicycle.” Weinstein and his wife eventually resigned and finally received a financial settlement from the
university.

The Evergreen students and faculty displayed each of the three great untruths. The Untruth of Fragility (What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker) came from a faculty member who supported the protesters and addressed some of her faculty colleagues in an angry monologue. She warned, “I am too tired. This [blank] is literally going to kill me.” A student at a large town hall meeting verbalized her anxiety and illustrated the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning (Always trust your feelings). She expressed, “I want to cry. I can’t tell you how fast my heart is beating. I am shaking in my boots.”

And the whole episode illustrates the Untruth of Us Versus Them (Life is a battle between good people and evil people). The students and faculty engaged in common-enemy identity politics by labeling a politically progressive college and liberal professors as examples of white supremacy. One student (who refused to join the protest) later testified to the college trustees, “If you offer any kind of alternative viewpoint, you’re the enemy.”

What Can We Do?

The book, The Coddling of the American Mind, identifies many disturbing trends on college campuses that are beginning to spill over into society. What can we do to stem the tide?

Obviously, the long-term solution to the insanity on campus and in society is to pray for revival in the church and spiritual awakening in America. But there are some practical things that must be done immediately.

First, college administrators must get control of their campus. The riots at some of these universities resulted in violence and property destruction. Often the campus police and even the local police failed to take action. Sadly, the university administration rarely took action afterwards.

Some form of deterrence would have prevented future actions on the University of California, Berkeley campus. Instead, the inaction established a precedent that likely allowed the conflict at Middlebury College. Students not only shut down the lecture, but they assaulted one of the campus professors. Once again, no significant action was taken against the students and outside agitators. The problem will get worse if there is no deterrence.

Second, professors must get control of their classrooms. Students cannot be allowed to determine what subjects cannot be taught and what topics cannot be discussed. The authors of this book are concerned about the tendency to encourage students to develop extra-thin skins just before they enter into the real world. Employers aren’t going to care too much about their feelings. Students don’t have the right not to be offended.

Third, we need to educate this generation about free speech. One poll done by the Brookings Institute discovered that nearly half (44%) of all college students believe that hate speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment. And since many students label just about anything they don’t like as hate speech, you can see why we have this behavior on college campuses. More than half (51%) of college students think they have a right to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. A smaller percentage (19%) of college students think it is acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.

Finally, the adults need to make their voice heard. We pay for public universities through our tax dollars. Parents send their kids off to some of these schools. We should not tolerate the insanity taking place on many college campuses today.

The authors have identified certain concerns that colleges and universities need to address. They remind us how hostile the academic world has become, not only to traditional Christian values, but also to mere common sense. We need to pray for what is taking place in the college environment.

Notes

1. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, et al., The Coddling of the American Mind: How
Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.
New York City: Penguin Press, 2018.
2. www.thecollegefix.com/heres-the-9-best-takeaways-from-heather-mac-donalds-new-diversity-delusion-book/

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