Have We All Gone Mad?

As fall creeps in on us the TV is filled with ads for the new movies coming to our local cinemas.  Yesterday I saw one for the newest addition to our American culture–the assassin as hero.  This is, by my count, the third motion picture this year to glorify people who kill other people for a living.  Adding in television series’ that feature blow-em-up, shoot-em-down and then go out for a beer after work story lines, we seem to be a people entertained by violence–the more the better.  If we add in the gratuitous sex scenes and the elevation of perversion to a positive good–well, back to my title–have we all gone stark raving mad?

What is behind this degeneration of our culture?  Why is there no serious “push-back” from people against our glorification of what we have called sin for thousands of years?  What has caused our people to be enamored of things which were either shunned or at least disliked by virtually everyone not too many years ago?

I have a tentative answer for that, but it’s only tentative.  I believe we have become too individualistic in this country.  We have too much democracy, too many “rights”, and not enough community.  When I was in college I was a convinced libertarian.  I borrowed my motto from a 19th century English woman whose name I now forget–I don’t care what people do as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses.  While that position modified as I grew older, and modified even more as I became a better Christian, it still fit in with a lot of my opinions.  I have even voted Libertarian in several presidential elections.  But I now see how wrong I was.

Society functions best when there are constraints on individual behavior such that good is promoted and evil is denounced.   In this country we have experimented with removing those constraints and the results are horrible.  Looking for statistics that indicate 21st century America is a just and good society is like looking for snallygasters–you can’t find them.  Forty percent of babies are born out of wedlock.  Half of all marriages end in divorce.  Nearly half of the American people pay no federal income tax, essentially riding free on the national train.  Our desires for the novel and the new are all consuming.  Millions of babies have been murdered in abortion mills.  Celebrities have more followers than Christianity.  You all know how this can go on.

In the book of Hebrews the author tells us we are not to cease to meet together–in other words we’re not to cease going to Church.  But I believe we can extend that idea a bit–we are not to cease to see ourselves as part of a larger community that has interests extending beyond our personally perceived well being.  We have thrown aside all reason and inherited attachments to the seasoned and the accepted and replaced them with our own “feelings” and desires.  We have become people whose inner sinfulness now knows no external boundaries.  The America our ancestors sought to build is gone and I have no idea how to put that rabbit back in the hat.  I suspect it’s too late for that.

But I do know this–no matter how degenerate our culture becomes, the Church of Jesus Christ will prevail.  He has promised that not even the gates of hell could overcome the Church.  Hard times are coming for the Church.  We must put aside all thoughts of America being a Christian country.  It’s not and it won’t be.  We must be ready for persecution, for it is coming.  And we must believe the promises of God that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Laughing in the Heavens

My readings this morning included Psalm 2.  The psalmist touches on something that is important for Christians to remember–God will always have His way, no matter the vigor with which people oppose Him.  I thought I’d share some thoughts about this psalm.

The Western world is a mess.  If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t been looking.  Of course the great problem with the world is sin–believing that we can do a better job than God in the ordering of creation.  Mocking the Lord will always get a laugh on television and holding His people up to ridicule will always find its way into the editorial pages of our major newspapers (and not a few minor ones too).

But look how God responds to those who despise Him and His people.  “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” (v.4)  The mighty of this world, the powerful men and women, the cultural leaders, the haters of all things holy–God does not try to make excuses to them or explain His will.  He does not call on His people to alter what has been taught amongst them from time immemorial, He does not bend to the fashions of the world and seek to seem relevant in the eyes of secularists.  No friends, God laughs at them for He knows who is in control of the universe.

The next time someone attacks your faith or attempts to tell you God is simply a myth we have created to make ourselves feel safer–well, you can just smile at them because you know exactly what God thinks of them and what that will mean in the long run.

Oh, and in case you’re unsure about God’s victory, you can believe it because I looked in the back of the Book, and He wins.

Marketing God’s Word

I suppose you could say that this is kind of a rant.  I frequently receive catalogs from a major seller of Christian books and Bibles. Over the years I’ve bought quite a few things from them and I appreciate their work.  But the latest catalog sort of set my teeth on edge–and it wasn’t about the number of Amish romance books on display–although I may rant about those sometime soon.  No this rant is about the Bibles they’re selling.

The Bible is the Bible and while there are competing translations–ESV, NKJ, NASB, NRSV, etc.–there shouldn’t be much else separating them.  The Word is the Word, after all.  But you can never underestimate the ability of marketers to differentiate their product from their competitors product.  With the Bible we not only find study Bibles with notes by people of differing theological positions, we also find Bibles prepared especially for children, teens, women, men, people in recovery, people who like horses (really I can’t make this stuff up), and just about every other subgroup of Americans you can find.

I’ve begun to find all of this really irritating.  The focus of Bible readers should be on the Word of God proclaimed therein–not on anything else.  If you like horses and want to read about them–read Black Beauty. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s nature and His salvific work through Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sins at Calvary.  It is to bring people to faith in Christ.  Every time we add something alien to that task to the pages of Scripture we diminish that purpose and obscure the Word.

Unfortunately the Church today is far too willing to accept the marketing of trinkets and trash in the name of living a Christian life, when what is really needed is not a mimicking of the culture around us but a turning toward the unadorned Word.  Had God wanted additions to His Word, I dare say He would have had the writers of Scripture add them in the original autographs.

Why We’re Crumbling

I’ve noted before that the culture we inhabit is collapsing around us, like a line of dominoes that, when the first one is pushed, all the rest fall in their turn.  Now as a Christian I am not worried at all about the future.  God’s plans can neither be altered or ruined by anything people do.  Before time began God had everything worked out and His promises to His chosen people will be kept with 100% certainty.  But it’s still worth our time to consider what is going on around us and get a feel for how we are to survive until Jesus comes again.

I recently re-read an article written by Dr. David Wells 20 years ago.  Dr. Wells is a distinguished academic who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and has written quite extensively about religion and culture.  In the article at hand he quoted a number of rather scary statistics about American attitudes–statistics which today would probably be even more concerning than they were then.  I won’t spend time on them, but I do want to begin with a quote from this article that is both true and horrifying–“we [the West] have lost our ability to discern between, or even talk meaningfully about, Good and Evil.”  If you don’t believe in moral absolutes (and two thirds of Americans say they do not) then nothing is either intrinsically right or wrong.  In other words, whoever has the most guns gets to decide what is moral, and no one has the right to say otherwise unless they can amass more weapons.  One way to think about the results of this amoral view of the world would be to ponder what it would mean about who was right or wrong in World War II.  If two thirds of Americans were consistent in their thought they would have to say that the Nazis weren’t wrong, they were just different we can’t judge their moral standing.

Now of course very few people would say that out loud.  It would not be politic to do so.  But if what we have believed about marriage for thousands of years can be overwhelmed in just a decade, how long do we have to wait for the overcoming of our repugnance at the existence of death camps?  A culture based wholly on the idea that people should be allowed to do whatever comes to mind is a culture that won’t last very long.

Dr. Wells argues that our inherited culture could be divided into 3 realms–law on one side; freedom on the other; and, occupying the middle what we could call truth and character.  The Constitution of the United States deals with law and freedom, what we are not to do and what we are protected from.  But critical to our culture has been the middle ground where such things as personal honesty, moral obligation, civic duty, social responsibility, and such other personal and civic traits.  It is the place where what has been called “obedience to the unenforceable” takes place.  Without a functioning middle law must, of necessity, take on a greater role in the culture.  If people won’t act right on their own, they must be made to act right.  But the problem is that we no longer have any sense of what is right or what is wrong.

This situation is fraught with difficulties for Christians.  We have always been called to stand against the culture, to speak words of peace where there is war, love where there is hate, acceptance where there is bigotry.  But as the middle ground grows smaller and the law and freedom larger, Christians will be more outside the cultural mainstream than ever before.

Now maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe the Church needs the strength that comes from being constantly opposed.  I don’t know.  But I do know this, whether America follows Rome down the rabbit hole of history or not, whether this culture survives this century or not, our only hope is Jesus Christ.  As things are trending today, our influence on the culture is declining.  But a culture without an “obedience to the unenforceable” won’t last too long.  The Kingdom of God, however, now that’s forever.