What Should Christians Think About “Black Lives Matter”? Part 2

In my previous post I raised the question of whether or not Christians should support Black Lives Matter (BLM). “Black lives matter” is a true statement in and of itself, and ending police brutality is a righteous goal at face value. But the framework and goals of the movement go far beyond the basic meaning of the expression, and these incited a threefold concern:

1. The moral positions and goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.
2. The cultural Marxism behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
3. The redefinition of racism by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The first concern was examined in my previous post, as the Black Lives Matter movement explicitly identifies some of their goals to be the normalization of transgenderism and homosexuality, and the abolition of the nuclear family. This post will tackle the second concern: the cultural Marxism behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We Are Trained Marxists.”

The Marxism behind Black Lives Matter is not mere speculation or name-calling. Several years ago a question was raised as to whether or not the founders of Black Lives Matter had an operating framework—that is, is there any method to what they are doing, or are they just throwing down tracks as they go? Do they have a blue print that determines their activity? Is there a system that informs and influences their goals? To which co-founder Patrisse Cullors assured the questioner, “We are trained Marxists.” They are not Black rights activists who just happen to hold a certain political persuasion, but rather, that persuasion informs and shapes their activism.

This is easy to observe. For example, the Black Lives Matter chapter in Washington DC commits itself to “creating the conditions for Black Liberation through the abolition of systems and institutions of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.” The Black Lives Matter organization is a member of Movement for Black Lives (MBL), a coalition which calls for “a radical and sustainable redistribution of wealth” to ensure “collective ownership, not merely access.” They seek to end private education and the private ownership of land and water resources. They demand universal health care, including full coverage for transitioning “Black trans folks” who are trying to “free themselves from the cages of their bodies”, as well as “full reproductive services” (presumably including abortion). These demands require not just government funding, but a “mandate that the wealthy residents pay for a portion of their services.” Those are explicitly Marxist goals. To gain a better understanding of this operating framework, let’s consider the nature and aims of Marxism, how those aims are being applied today, and why this is problematic.

What is Marxism?

Karl Marx was a 19th century German philosopher, economist, and political theorist, among other things. Marx divided humanity into two groups: the oppressors (the have’s) and the oppressed (the have not’s). In his own day he called the oppressors the bourgeoisie and the oppressed the proletariat. Marx saw everything in terms of power, so any disparities between the groups was always an exertion of the bourgeoisie’s power over the proletariat. That some people had more than others was only ever an unjust hierarchy accomplished by exploitation. If there was any difference in wealth or status, it was always due to one group exerting unjust power over the other. Equality of opportunity was not plausible because certain factors always gave one group an unfair advantage (i.e. power) over another, so equality of outcome was the goal. The only way to ensure this outcome was to eradicate all privatization. Marx predicted that the final and inevitable epoch of history was one where all disparities were done away with and humanity entered into the collectivist state—communism.

Contrary to Marx’s ideals, communism was the catastrophic failure of the 20th century. It resulted in unprecedented totalitarianism and death tolls estimated between 65 million to 100 million, if not more. Its most graphic actualization occurred in the Soviet Union. There was zero toleration for any freedom of thought. Citizens could only read and listen to material produced by the state. Schools were state-run and children were forced to join communist youth organizations. Workers could not negotiate their salaries, and extra labor could be demanded with no additional pay. Churches were shut down (Marx had called religion “the opium of the masses”). Authors and artists were forced to depict the state—the great arbiter of equality, after all—in a glorified light. City residents had no control over where they lived. Government-produced housing conditions were subpar, especially in contrast to homes produced by the free market in other Western nations. Citizens were encouraged to report their dissenting neighbors. Agriculture came to a stand-still, and famine killed millions of people. The secret police terrorized citizens even suspected of disloyalty to the state, hauled millions off to labor camps, and executed countless others.

It should be noted that these were not incidental or isolated to Russia. Other nations like China, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela tried their own versions of communism, with similarly devastating results. While we rightly lament the evils of 20th century fascism, we’re quick to forget the even more extensive horrors of Marxism. Ideas have consequences, and Marxist ideas can only be ensured when accompanied by a totalitarian hand.

What is Cultural Marxism?

Marx believed that communism was destined to replace capitalism on the world scene. He was wrong. And where his ideals were implemented, as detailed above, they ended in catastrophic failure. Why? Because, it was realized, Marx’s primarily economic theories did not account for the many social issues that also factor into disparities.Certain groups use language and ideas to exert institutional hierarchy over other social groups. Even if the economic field was kept level, a collectivist utopia couldn’t exist as long as certain groups held more cultural power than others. So in the first half of the 20th century an attempt was made to achieve Marx’s original goals through more comprehensive means. This movement expanded his ideas from an economic level to a social level.

This movement was called the Frankfurt School, a group originating in the 1920’s and 30’s who applied Marx’s theories to social research in order to identify and change systems of “oppression.” The Frankfurt School produced the philosophy known as Critical Theory, which has led to an abundance of schools today such as critical race theory, feminist theory, gender theory, and queer theory. In Marx’s original system, the oppressors had economic capital; in Critical Theory, the oppressors had social capital. Whichever groups hold the largest influence on society are seen as exerting control—that is, power and exploitation—over all other groups. In classical Marxism, humanity was divided into the basic groups of oppressor and oppressed based on material factors, such as means of production. Critical Theory preserves that basic categorization, but on the basis of factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If you belong to a group that has traditionally held cultural prominence, you are an oppressor. If you belong to a group that has traditionally been culturally marginalized, then you are oppressed. Your categorization depends on your group identity.

Of course, not everyone neatly falls into one of these two categories. The same person may be an “oppressor” in some areas (e.g. white) but “oppressed” in others (e.g. female, lesbian). The grading system for these complexities is called intersectionality. The goal of intersectionality is to examine various aspects of a person’s identity in order to compare their privileges on one hand and their disadvantages on the other. A person’s victimhood can be determined by which categories of disadvantage (i.e. oppression) overlap—or, “intersect”, and hence the name of the theory. A black man can be considered oppressed. But a black, lesbian woman has more notches of victimhood that intersect, and therefore she is even more oppressed. So Marx’s original ideas about the the bourgeoisie exerting economic power over the proletariat was expanded to include an endless bevy of social factors. Given this shift, the name of the ideology as it exists today can rightly be called cultural Marxism.

Similar Themes and Structures.

Like classical Marxism, cultural Marxism is not interested in equal opportunity. It requires nothing less than equal results. Just as Marx believed that all material disparities were the product of unjust exploitation, cultural Marxists hold that all social disparities (representation, influential voices, etc.) are also the products of exploitation. Marx believed the only inevitable way to overcome this was through revolution—tearing down the whole system itself. The means of production had to be seized and equally distributed, including any and all factors that could give one person an economic advantage. This accounts for cultural Marxism’s fixation on dismantling Western civilization, as the historical ideas of a predominantly white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered society are perceived to be nothing more than unjust abuses of power. Societal capital (the “means of production”) has to be seized and equally distributed. And like economic Marxism, the proposed solution is to tear down the entire system and eradicate any means that provide a cultural advantage. This is where the expression “social justice” comes from—there must be an equal distribution of social opportunities and privilege, or else an injustice has supposedly occurred.

Like classical Marxism, cultural Marxism does not identity a person’s virtue by personal conduct but by group identity. In Marx’s day, even a rich factory owner who treated his employees fairly would still be a guilty “oppressor” by the very nature of the group he belonged to. Even if you didn’t actually mistreat anyone, your advantaged position within the system made you corporately guilty of oppression. Cultural Marxism, and Critical Theory in particular, likewise considers people on an advantaged spectrum (white, male, etc.) to be complicit “oppressors” regardless of individual behavior. Simply by belonging to your group, you share in corporate guilt. If you have benefited from the oppressive system in any way, you’re complicit in the exploitation of the oppressed. This is the reason behind the widespread insistence that white people are racist whether they realize it or not (which I’ll address more in the next post). The only way to be free of this guilt is to confess, renounce your privilege, and surrender societal capital to the other groups. If you question this methodology, even in the most humble or rationalistic way possible, it’s only because you’re trying to preserve the power of your group.

This explains why one group can be considered “racist” and another cannot—it all comes down to which group is perceived to be in power. Racism, it is now claimed, is a one-way street, only capable of being transmitted from the cultural oppressors to the culturally oppressed. This explains why a riotous mob can be justified for anarchy and the destruction of personal property, while a group that questions the mob is villainous—because the mob is an oppressed people group rightly resisting social injustice, while those disagreeing with the mob are simply trying to assert their privilege and power.

This also answers the question I raised in my last post: what on earth does the value of Black lives have to do with the normalization of transgenderism, homosexuality, and the destruction of the nuclear family, as Black Lives Matter seeks to do? Because for a cultural Marxist this is not principally about stopping unjust treatment of Black persons. It’s about tearing down an entire system that is supposedly oppressive of anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual, etc. and redistributing the societal capital. From this perspective, racial and sexual marginalization go hand-in-hand. You can’t try to liberate one without liberating the other. This mission is ultimately one of tearing down all the perceived power groups of Western civilization. As I previously wrote, “The emphasis on black lives is a Trojan horse, and in its belly is an army of larger priorities being sneaked through the gate. These priorities are not limited to race. They are far-reaching, and will revolutionize every sphere of government and culture.”

Weaknesses
.

The reasons for Marxism’s failure in the 20th century—and why we ought be averse to it’s resurrected forms—should be obvious: it is an impossible, self-defeating system. It’s impossible because if disparity is only ever the result of exploitative power structures, then the potential claims of victimhood are limitless. I can look around my own little world—at my family, friends, neighbors, co-workers—and if I detect any benefit in their life that I do not possess, I can cry, “Oppression!” But when everything becomes oppression, nothing really is. Furthermore, this would require me to suddenly reconsider those same friends and neighbors as villainous—not on the basis of how they’ve actually treated me, but on the basis of their group identity and whether their economic or social capital is higher than my own. This wreaks havoc on meaningful relationships in two ways. First, because the slightest difference in outcome between me and someone else creates a looming suspicion of injustice. Second, because we judge others not on the basis of actual conduct but by group identity (as I’ll discuss in my next post, this is actually the crux of the very racism that is supposedly meant to be overthrown).

It’s an impossible system because the tentative “advantages” that give one group “power” over another are also limitless. For example, one person might have more loving parents or receive a larger inheritance than another. One person might be physically stronger than another, have a greater mental capacity than another, or possess a skill or interest in a more lucrative field. The myriad of other social factors you would need to account for is dizzying. Who were their friend groups? How big was their family? Did they grow up in the country or in the city? What were the values of their local culture? What kind of businesses operated in their community? What were their school teachers’ strengths and weaknesses in comparison to every other teacher in every other school? These factors, and countless others, can all impact a person’s experience and success. In order to ensure that no tentative advantages exist, you would need to control every micro factor that could ever potentially give someone a one-up.

Diversity—whether it be a diversity of family, culture, ideas, pursuits, lifestyles, or location—is not a plausible concept when economic and/or social equity is the end goal, because any kind of diversity will always produce variable outcomes. You can have diversity, or you can have equity. But you can’t have both. No equal result can be guaranteed unless all persons are cookie-cutter copies of one another in every sphere of life, or unless a strong hand domineers the result.

Marx knew this. Which is why he taught that children should be raised by the state, because some parents might raise their children better than others, creating an unfair advantage for the children from better homes. He also believed that the estates of dead persons should be handled by the government rather than passed on to children, because that would create an unfair advantage for the offspring whose parents left more. Marx also popularized the expression, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” That is, while each person was required to give the fullness of what they had to offer (strength, intelligence, skill sets, etc.), no one would receive more than what they needed in return. This was meant to ensure that a disparity of ability did not produce a disparity of result. The diversity of people resulted in a diversity of results, so people either had to all be made the same, or their diverse results had to be controlled by a heavy hand. You would need an all-encompassing force to account for, and manipulate, the countless factors that could provide every person from every conceivable demographic an advantage over every other person. The state would need to control every minuscule detail of society to ensure that no privileges—and therefore no hierarchies—exist.

And that brings us to why this is a self-defeating system. It’s self-defeating because such thorough micro-managing would require a heavier hierarchy than the initial one you’re trying to overthrow. This was the point made in George Orwell’s classic novella, Animal Farm. In the beginning of the story the farm animals drive out their oppressive master, Mr. Jones, and establish a communistic society in which “All animals are equal.” As the plot progresses, the pigs expand their power and become more oppressive than the original villain they overthrew, yet do so in the name of ensuring everyone else’s equality. By the end of the story, the maxim has been changed to, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” In order to eliminate and ensure the non-existence of all hierarchies, you need an authoritative hand—the ultimate hierarchy.

There are many complex factors that determine a person’s development and advantage/disadvantage. The demands of groups like Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives (the coalition to which BLM belongs) require that control be exerted over all such advantageous factors. The only way to ensure the erasure of all “privilege” is to micromanage these factors. This is an impossible task that will only result in a bloated, intrusive, and ultimately ineffective big brother—an explicit hierarchy far bigger than all the subtle ones you were trying to overthrow in the first place. For who determines what is and is not “advantageous”? And who regulates those things? The strong hand of a group with ultimate privilege. So the only way to accomplish your goal is to proliferate the very problem you’re trying to solve.

Incompatibility with Christianity.

All this should warrant a rejection of Marxism from anyone. It is not only ineffective, but detrimental. For Christians, however, there an additional objection to be made, and that is its contradiction with a biblical worldview. Neil Shenvi did a fantastic presentation on this very topic that, if you have about an hour to listen, I cannot recommend enough. He points out that the metanarrative of critical theory diverges sharply from the metanarrative of Scripture. It has a fundamentally different view of creation, sin, redemption, and restoration. It is also man-centered, viewing all the above categories chiefly in reference to humanity and not in reference to God. Let’s briefly consider them.

Creation and Sin.

Christianity understands humans to be creatures made in the image of God, and sin as a transgression of the creature against the Creator. Marxism understands humans to be rival social groups, and sin as one group subjugating the other. The essence of sin is oppression. This is expressed in explicitly theological terms, with racism now referred to as America’s “original sin”, including in a bestselling book by Christian activist Jim Wallis. “Original sin” is a Christian doctrine. It refers to the sinful nature we inherit from Adam; we are innately born with a corrupted moral disposition. As American schoolbooks in the 17th and 18th centuries put it, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” This is a loaded term, now reapplied to forms of oppression. And like the biblical doctrine of original sin, we are said to be intrinsically born bearing the guilt of oppression. While Christians should be the first to agree that genuine oppression is sinful, we understand it to be a result and category of sin, not its essence. In the Christian worldview the essence of sin is man’s rebellion against God. Sin is transgressing His laws and person. Sin is first and foremost a vertical problem. In Marxism, it is chiefly a horizontal one.

Redemption.

If sin is the problem, then what is the solution? Since Christianity chiefly understands sin as estrangement from God, redemption comes through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ whereby we are reconciled to God. The benefits of this redemption are received through repentance and faith. Since cultural Marxism chiefly understands sin as social injustice, they prescribe awareness and activism. Terms such as “educate yourself” are used to call awareness to ideas like systemic racism. The oppressor group must silently listen and learn. To be “woke” is to become alert to societal inequity, using the imagery of a sleeping person now awake (such as the 2016 documentary about the Black Lives Matter movement, entitled “Stay Woke”.) This is enlightenment, a born-again, scales-falling-off-your-eyes kind of experience where I once was blind but now I see. This must include an awareness and renouncing of one’s own privilege—akin to a sacramental act of penance—and a pronouncement of solidarity with the oppressed group as an ally.

But you can’t just be enlightened on the issues; you must speak and act on behalf of the goals of cultural Marxism. To do otherwise is to be complicit in the system of oppression because, after all, silence is violence. So awareness must lead to activism. Activism is the equivalent of evangelism, and all non-believers are threatened with damnation—that is, getting “cancelled.” Your only hope is to renounce your privilege and, like the apostle Paul, join the marginalized cause you once persecuted (even if you didn’t know it).

Restoration.

What is the desired end? What is the teleos, the end game, the eschatological hope? For Christianity, it is God’s restoration of the fallen created order in a new heaven and earth. For cultural Marxism it is equality of result and the reversal of power structures. In contrast to the biblical teaching of a divine recreation, Marxism holds out the dream of man-made utopia on earth. In each of these categories, the Marxist metanarrative shifts the emphasis from the divine to humanity. Sin is not primarily something against God, but against man. Redemption and restoration are not accomplished by God, but by man. Man occupies the chief seat of the Marxist worldview.

Conclusion.

In summary, Black Lives Matter is a self-identified Marxist organization—Marxism is their framework and operating system. Karl Marx taught that humanity could be fundamentally divided into oppressor and oppressed groups, and he called for a radical redistribution of economic capital. The 20th century saw this system of communism wreak unprecedented devastation in places like the Soviet Union. Starting in the 1920’s and 30’s, proponents of Critical Theory called for Marxism to be extended to social factors and not just economic ones. Critical Theory, or cultural Marxism, does not see people as individuals but as members of groups. A person’s innocence or guilt depends on their group identification. Its aim is to tear down any group that has more perceived social influence than any other group—to create total cultural equity. Although done in the name of dismantling hierarchies, this equity actually requires the most absolute kind of hierarchy, one that is far-reaching enough to control every conceivable social aspect. This is an impossible task, and one that inevitably leads to totalitarianism. Finally, Marxism views categories like sin, redemption and restoration in radically different terms than biblical Christianity. It is thoroughly man-centered rather than God-centered.

Marxism has proven disastrous results time and time again. Enlarging its scope from the economic to the social will not help—if anything, that will broaden the scope of its disaster. A repackaged bad idea is still a bad idea. We know how this plays out. To have those consequences before us, and try it again anyway, makes us bigger fools than the fools who first tried it. Although movements like Black Lives Matter may initially appeal to Christian compassion, we must love God and others with both our hearts and our minds. Not only is the Marxist worldview incompatible with Christianity, but it does greater harm than good by creating the ultimate hierarchical oppression. If we love our neighbors, and our Black neighbors in particular, then we would do well to steer clear and seek other solutions.

What Should Christians Think About “Black Lives Matter”?

blacklivesmatterHow do we practice compassion and discernment? How do we sympathize without giving total agreement? How do we challenge a response to evil without appearing in league with the original evil itself? How do we call out sin without compromising with the sin of a group that is also calling out the first sin? Those are the questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past several weeks, and questions that I hope Christians will consider when it comes to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Many Christians engaging this topic may be tempted to deal with it in one of two ways: try to undercut all the talking points (including the ones we should agree on), or capitulate to all the talking points (including the ones we should disagree on). This can lead us to either reject certain words and phrases wholesale, or climb on board with the way those words and phrases are being (mis)used. I would contest that both are erroneous, and I would contest that this is what’s happened with the phrase “Black lives matter.” When taken as three words put together to make a sentence, we should agree with the basic message communicated. But when those words are informed and applied by a worldview antithetical to Christianity, divergence is necessary. This is a difficult tightrope to walk.

But walk it we must. We should never fall prey to a false dichotomy, as that will inevitably lead us to excuse error on either pole. We must never soften, excuse, or ignore actual racism when it appears. If our moral compass is determined only by whether or not we fear conceding too much ground to the liberals, we need to re-examine our operating system. But we also should not compromise other morally urgent issues for the “greater good” of anti-racism; racism is a sin, but it is not the sin before which all others may be excused. Excusing racism or supporting the Black Lives Matter movement en totum are not the only two options on the table.

So what do we make of Black Lives Matter? I hope to address that humbly, realizing that my voice is one drop in an ocean. I hope to address it graciously, realizing that this is a very personal issue for many people. And I hope to address it with conviction, with the knee always bent to Christ and the revelation of His Word above all kingdoms of man.

Black Lives Matter: The Statement.

“Black lives matter” not an incorrect statement. At face value it’s a right and necessary one. Christians should be the first to declare and defend this theological, anthropological, spiritual, and moral truth, especially given the history of how black lives have not been valued in our national history (even recent history). Whether black or white, young or old, born or unborn, we affirm that every human being possesses intrinsic worth as God’s image bearer. This uniquely Christian concept is precisely what led to our Western understanding of civil rights in the first place.

In response to the expression “Black lives matter”, you’ve undoubtedly seen counter statements such as “All lives matter,” or “Blue lives matter.” Unfortunately these retorts miss the heart of what’s being said. “Black lives matter” does not say or imply that black lives matter more than other lives. In fact, the official Black Lives Matter website says, “We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.”

I have two sons. I love them equally. Both their lives matter. However, if one of them falls and scrapes his knee, then I direct a particular sort of attention to that son because he has been hurt in a way that the other son has not. If black lives are disproportionately being harmed, then saying “Black lives matter” is simply a way of directing attention to a demographic that is suffering in a unique way. Another way to express it might go something along the lines of, “Black lives matter too.” I find no reason to reject this line of thinking.

As another example, when we advocate for the lives of unborn children (and we must), are we thus implying that children already born aren’t worth saving? Of course not. Because we recognize that between born and unborn children, the unborn face a particular sort of threat. So it’s perfectly appropriate to focus on the threat to that demographic. In the same way, if there is indeed a threat to black lives that’s different than what might be faced by other groups, then it’s perfectly appropriate to focus on that threat. Nothing in that logic implies that black lives matter more, and unless such a thing is said or implied, I would contest that “All lives matter” is a cheap retort that exhibits an unfortunate misunderstanding of what’s actually being said.

However, that does not mean there are no concerns. And there are some big ones. But the expression itself, “Black lives matter,” is not one of them. I think there are far bigger fish to fry in this discussion, and nitpicking a harmless catchphrase is a distraction from those bigger points—missing the forest for the trees, if you will. So while the expression itself is right and good, I would strongly suggest keeping your distance. Why? Because it’s more than an expression. It’s an entire movement with a worldview and a goal. And a closer inspection of these factors reveals that these are incompatible with biblical teaching.

Over the next few posts I would like to present the following three concerns:
1. The moral positions and goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.
2. The cultural Marxism behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
3. The redefinition of racism by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The rest of this post will focus on Point 1. Points 2 and 3 will be covered in future posts. In many ways these points are all tied together, but I will attempt to give ample clarity to each. So now I turn my attention to the first concern: the moral positions and goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter: More Than a Statement.

“Black lives matter” is not just a slogan. It’s a legal entity called “Black Lives Matters Global Network Foundation, Inc.”, and the force behind the popular hashtag and worldwide BLM movement. It’s much more than a statement about the value of black lives—it’s an ideology with a mission.

If you go to the official Black Lives Matter website you will find a “What We Believe” page (akin to a Statement of Faith you might see on a church’s website). “What We Believe” is always an important category because it reveals the core expression of a group’s values. The content of these statements cannot be considered secondary details, nor do they allow for varied nuances within the group’s leadership. It identifies the unified principles that makes them who they are. It is their operating basis. If you do not stand on the same platform, you have no real fellowship.

And the beliefs of Black Lives Matter make it abundantly clear that their mission eclipses what any professing Christian of any skin color should endorse. Here are several statements found on their website:

We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.

We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence…

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).

These are not minor issues. These are not cut-and-pasted statements from various individuals at various times. Nor are these diverse viewpoints within the BLM community. These are the chief dogmatic values at the top of the movement itself, enshrined in the fabric of their belief system. These reveal part of the movement’s overarching goals.

The first and second listed statements affirm transgender claims, promotes those voices, and express the desire to “dismantle cisgender privilege.” In other words, they would like to eradicate the idea that it is normative and/or advantageous for your identified gender to align with your biological sex. Identifying as transgender is not just something people should be personally free to do, but is a viable and commendable identity worthy of promotion. Part of the BLM mission is to eliminate the fixed categories of male and female.

The last listed statement endorses the LGBTQ lifestyle and advocates liberty from “heteronormative thinking”—that is, from the idea that heterosexuality is the ideal standard. Sexual orientation should not be understood in limited terms, and it most certainly should not be stated in moral terms. They would like to eradicate the idea that is normative and/or advantageous for the members of one sex to only be attracted to the opposite sex. Homosexuality is not just something people should be personally free to do, but is a viable and commendable practice worthy of promotion. Part of the BLM mission is to equalize sexual preferences.

I’ve chosen to deal with the third listed statement last because I find it the most intriguing: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.” The term “nuclear family” describes the basic social unit of a father, mother, and their children. “Nuclear” comes from the term “nucleus”, which is the central core of something. This rejection of the traditional family model isn’t surprising, given their other expressed views on gender and sexuality. But they go further than simply dismantling the identities of the two parents involved. They reject the idea that a family is its own social unit, and instead, they state the goal of being “extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children.” In other words, the family is not the most basic form of community, and children are to be primarily raised by the “village” rather than a father and mother. Their goal for the family is not autonomy—it is collectivism. And don’t miss the expression “Western-prescribed”; the traditional family unit of a father, mother, and children is regarded as nothing more than an inflicted doctrine of Western innovation that must be eliminated.

Again, these are not secondary beliefs held by a few scattered members. These are at the core of what the movement expressly wishes to accomplish. Black Lives Matter, the force behind the hashtag, has prioritized the fluidity of gender, all forms of sexual expression, and the destruction of the basic family unit. These are some of the cardinal doctrines of their mission statement. They are critical components in the movement’s orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

You might wonder why these topics are pertinent to skin color? Because the worldview behind Black Lives Matter is not strictly about black lives. It’s about tearing down all the perceived power groups of Western civilization by means of political and social Marxism (which I’ll address in my next post). While the concern for black lives is what most well-meaning Christians see, they may not realize there is a loaded ideology behind it. The emphasis on black lives is a Trojan horse, and in its belly is an army of larger priorities being sneaked through the gate. These priorities are not limited to race. They are far-reaching, and will revolutionize every sphere of government and culture.

But for Christians who take seriously what Scripture says about sex, marriage and family, these cannot be brushed aside as minor issues. Our creation as male and female in the image of God, and the sexual union in which the family unit is formed and nourished, stand at the heart of God’s design for mankind. While certain occasions permit the swallowing of meat and spitting out bones, that becomes very difficult when the meat itself is laced with poison.

I concur with the words of Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who put it this way on his daily radio program:

“The point is that the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ right now when put together mean more than the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ and even more than the sentence. The sentence as an English sentence taken alone is profoundly true, and Christians would affirm it. But as the sentence is now a part of our national conversation and vocabulary, it doesn’t mean simply what the three words put together in sentence structure mean…

We affirm the sentence enthusiastically, unhesitatingly. But the sentence right now is no longer just a sentence, it is a movement, it is a platform, it is a message. And that platform turns out to include many points that are antithetical to biblical Christianity.”

We must stand against racism whenever it rears its hellish head. And we must affirm that black lives do matter, and stand against any actual injustice to the value of black lives. Our Christian obligation requires nothing less. But that must never come at the expense of Christian unfaithfulness in other areas. We must stay away from any movement that would have us do so.

Principles for Christian Debate

Debate

In our current cultural climate, maintaining decency in controversial conversations is no easy task. Emotions run high. Everything is partisan. We are always one off-handed comment away from anger, insult, and in some cases, fractured relationships. This is especially challenging for Christians, who are called to both conviction and kindness. How can we achieve this balance? As is often the case when it comes to practical living, the book of Proverbs offers some wisdom:

20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. 21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness… 23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. 24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:20-21, 23-24)

Here are three things that this passage challenged me to think about:

1) A matter should be discerned in the heart (vs. 21, 23). Before a word is spoken or a comment is typed, it should be given careful consideration. The heart is the factory where all outward conduct originates. It is in the heart where discernment should be used to contemplate what sort of speech will follow. One chapter earlier we read, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Proverbs 15:28).

This consideration involves two parts. The first is how the topic lines up with God’s truth. Our thought process must always be rooted in trust and obedience to the Lord (vs. 20). Second, we should consider how to graciously articulate that truth to others (vs. 23). Don’t speak irrationally or impulsively.

2) The discernment of the heart should overflow into words of wisdom (vs. 23). When the time does come to respond, we must do so with both “sweetness of speech” (vs. 21) and “speech” that is “judicious” (vs. 23). Our words should be both a honeycomb (vs. 24) and a sword, oiled with grace but sharpened with truth. Nothing dissuades people from the truth like a nasty attitude, but nothing distorts the truth like people-pleasing.

3) Our words should also possess “persuasiveness” (vs. 21, 23). Although we must understand that we will not always change someone’s mind, we should choose our words with the intention of doing so rather than just virtue signaling or trying to dominate a fight. This requires a presentation of accurate and convincing arguments. We should not fling out uninformed rhetoric or unfair mischaracterizations. We should seek to persuade others with both a gracious disposition and intelligent evidence and logic. Our position should be substantial in both conduct and content.

Whether we’re discussing religion, politics, or any of the diverse cultural issues we face on a daily basis, these proverbs will help us be more effective in our witness to the truth.

 

Identity Politics Shouldn’t Dictate Your Virtue

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When I heard that a group of white supremacists had assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, my first instinct was skepticism. “A large, visible gathering of actual racists? The media is obviously exaggerating again. I’m sure it’s just a bunch of mislabeled conservatives who are sick of political correctne—Oh. Wait. They are white supremacists. They are professing Nazis. They are KKK members.”

I admit, I didn’t want to believe it. The media is so dramatic and lopsided these days, and with more and more conservatives being unfairly labeled “fascists” and “neo-Nazis,” acknowledging the reality of the situation in Charlottesville would feel like a concession to the left. I could not have that. Peter has whined about a “wolf” for so long that I couldn’t stand the thought that there might actually be one. But after reading multiple sources, listening to various news reports, and watching actual videos from the protest, I had to not only admit the truth of the present situation but also repent for allowing identity politics to cloud my judgment of right and wrong.

What is identity politics? It’s when people of a certain race, religion or social background form an unswerving political alliance based on their common interests. It’s when every event or story must be filtered through that group’s particular agenda rather than absolute truth or morality. It’s self-seeking subjectivism on a tribal level. The right and the left have been devolving into identity politics for quite some time, and the tragedy in Charlottesville has exposed both sides more than ever. For Christians, this can be confusing. If we speak out against white racism, we fear sounding like liberals. If we fail to agree with all leftist logic, we fear sounding like defenders of racism. Which side do we choose?

The problem is found precisely in that false dilemma—that we must choose a “side.” As Erick Erickson points out, “The country seems headed down a path between right wing authoritarianism and leftwing totalitarianism. Those of us who want nothing to do with either should be willing to call out both sides.”

THE SIN OF RACISM.

Like myself, many conservatives may try to tone down the story or shift the blame. I was reading the headlines of a popular “alt-right” news site yesterday, and I got the gist that they were angrier about liberal reactions to Charlottesville than they were saddened by what actually happened there. Such excuses are probably not the results of conviction or deep thought, but attempts to keep the liberals from “winning.”

The press might be wrong about a lot of things, but our anger at them must not prevent us from calling out evil for what it is. Christians, in particular, must be first to affirm the dignity of all people made in the image of God, and the worldwide gospel call to every tribe, tongue and color. Racism is an affront to the image of God, the finished work of Christ, and a hindrance to the church’s commission (cf. Mt. 28:19).

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Albert Mohler and Timothy Keller both posted fantastic pieces that I recommend every Christian read. Mohler, writing from Germany in the shadow of the Third Reich’s memory, says: “Seen from Berlin, the news from Charlottesville is alarming. Seen as a Christian, the images are heartbreaking. The ideology of racial superiority is an evil anti-gospel that leads to eternal death.” Keller, meanwhile, warned against identity politics: “Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, ‘But on the other hand.’ The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, ‘See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.’ The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.”

We cannot refrain from speaking out against injustice for fear that it will make our own platform look weak. The truth of God’s Word is the strongest platform you can stand on.

SIN IS SIN, NO MATTER WHO DOES IT.

On the other side of the political coin, the left’s reaction to Charlottesville has been nothing short of a collective hernia. When President Trump denounced “hatred, bigotry, and violence—on many sides,” he was accused of refusing to call out white supremacists by name. Even when he issued a follow-up statement clarifying, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups,” it was too little, too late. Swarms of protestors met him outside Trump Tower on Monday night, waving signs and chanting “New York hates you!” A CNN commentator even went so far as to say he’s unfit to be human. Regardless of what the President actually said, the left is more concerned with feeding the theory that Donald Trump is the hellish light who’s summoned all fascist cockroaches to the surface. Trump could personally shoot James Fields in the head, and that still would not be enough to get him off the hook. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the left’s story, that Trump and his White House (pun intended) staff of neo-Nazis are out to breed hatred and prejudice. Acknowledging that he legitimately denounced racism would be like getting water in their gun powder. If Donald Trump is not an evil, minority-hating, slave-driving racist, then the entire liberal story about him and the Republican Party falls apart.

This determination has perhaps blinded many to the reality that, yes, there was unnecessary violence coming from both sides in Charlottesville. Both sides were looking for a fight, and we should be saddened that they both got one. The counter-protestors did not kill anyone, while the supremacists did (which conservatives must admit, because remember, we shouldn’t be trying to defend the supremacists anyway), but the left must also admit that both sides raised havoc with force.

What the white supremacists did in Charlottesville is evil, and without excuse. But so were the Black Lives Matter riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and London, where people were beaten, stores were looted, and cars and buildings were torched. James Fields is a murderer and a terrorist, and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But so was Micah Xavier Johnson, a sniper who responded to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by shooting and killing five police officers in July 2016. To deny, soften, or sidestep any of these, on either side, is to play identity politics, and it is a moral failure. We can, and should, affirm all instances of evil without worrying whether it makes “our side” look bad or not.

ABHOR WHAT IS EVIL, WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP, OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.

Am I just trying to insult everyone? Am I intentionally trying to have zero Facebook friends left by tomorrow morning? Not at all. I hope that the church can act and react beyond what’s expected of 21st century American conservatives or liberals, and be a truthful, biblical, convictional, compassionate voice. We need to practice the commands of Romans 12:9-21: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The two sides in this country, which are splitting further and further apart every day, have each written their own script that we’re supposed to recite and act out. But I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to stay Kingdom-minded. The problem with claiming allegiance to a party or ideology, rather than moral principles, is that you must make every event and news story support your “side,” and you must make sure that the “other side” is never, ever right. When that happens, you just might end up defending people and actions that should never, ever be defended.

THE LORD’S SIDE.

In Joshua 5, as Joshua is overlooking Jericho and contemplating the battle to come, he saw “a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (vs. 13). This figure is identified as the commander of the army of the Lord, and commentators debate whether this is a pre-incarnate Christ or an angelic captain. Either way, he means business. So Joshua, still strategizing for war, immediately asks: “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He wants to know what side this commander is on. Which side do you identify with, Israel or Jericho? Are you with us, or our enemies?

The commander’s short, grammatically humorous response must have been confusing and perhaps disappointing to Joshua: “No.” Whose side was he on? No. Whose campaign did he pick? No. “But,” the figure clarified, “I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (vs. 14). In other words, his business was to do God’s business. His agenda was not any particular race or empire. He was there to carry out God’s goodness and God’s justice.

Christians must be the same way in our cultural involvement. It is not our business to promote any race or party above another, but to always seek the goodness and justice of God in every situation. Even if that means not conforming to a certain group’s identity. We cannot let the fog of platforms and agendas cloud our morality.

Racism and violence are never acceptable, regardless of the culprit’s skin color or political affiliation. If you denounced the Black Lives Matter riots, you should be the first to condemn what happened in Charlottesville. And if you’re angered about what happened in Charlottesville, you should carefully reconsider any Black Lives Matter or “antifa” movement that involves vandalism and violence. If we’re raging against one on social media but ignoring (or even justifying) the other, we’re guilty of identity politics, and hypocrisy, and we need to repent.

As citizens of this world, we must be ready to recognize wrongdoing regardless of whose “side” it seems to help or hinder. And as citizens of heaven, the church must be ready to preach that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and may be justified by grace alone through faith alone in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

Soli Deo Gloria!

How to Avoid Apostasy? Belong to a Good Church.

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“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

One of the recurring themes in the book of Hebrews is the caution against apostasy. Believers are admonished over and over again to guard themselves, to persevere, and to not abandon the faith (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). These “warning passages” confront us with the reality of our own weakness and remind us that the new birth is not a one-time prayer or easy-believism. The Christian life is a daily war.

Christ freed us from the dungeon of death and set us on a pilgrimage to the homeland we forgot about. But our former captor, bitter and scheming, is still trying to drag us back into chains every step of the way. Although Scripture elsewhere assures us that God will preserve His true church until the end, Hebrews makes it clear that many who claim to profess the name of Jesus can, and have, and will, abandon the journey.

This results from what Hebrews 3:12 calls “an evil, unbelieving heart”, which causes us to “fall away from the living God.” “Evil” and “unbelieving” are connected here. Unbelief isn’t a simple disbelief in the existence of God but a lack of trust in the promises of God, particularly those found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust and obedience are knitted together. A lack of trust in God produces a lack of obedience to God. Back when our enemy first sought to enslave mankind, he provoked rebellion by getting our first parents to doubt what God said (Gen. 3:1-6). That is the sequence of the serpent’s seduction. Doubt what God promises, and we neglect what God commands.

Fortunately, the author follows up the warning with the solution. Christ has divine means by which He guards and sanctifies His church, and the text encourages us to stay aligned with those means. Hebrews isn’t meant to leave us in a state of eternal uncertainty. It’s meant to challenge us, and then equip us with the tools we need to be victorious.

So what are these tools? How do we keep our faith strong and vibrant? Verse 14 provides the answer: we need to be reminded, rewashed, and refreshed in this faith “every day.” A body without food becomes sick. A building without upkeep falls into disrepair. A flower with no water or sunshine will shrivel up and die. Our faith, likewise, must be nurtured on a regular basis.

And the conduit of this nurturing is found in the author’s charge to “exhort one another” (vs. 14). Faith is more than just me and Jesus walking together down the beach. It’s more than a one-on-one dinner date with divinity. Faith in Christ puts us in the context of a community, the people of God, and it’s through the corporate community that each individual is kept strong.

The perseverance of our faith is tethered to our involvement with the people of God, the church. The church is where the gospel is preached, praises are sung, prayer is offered, the sacraments are received, discipline is administered, and confession is made. Each of these resharpens our focus on the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, and brings us into closer relation to Him both corporately and individually. Through preaching, the truth of Jesus is taught. Through worship, the beauty of Jesus is adored. Through prayer, the intercession and provision of Jesus is pleaded. Through the sacraments, the gospel of Jesus is dramatized and the presence of Jesus is manifest. Through discipline and confession, the people of Jesus are kept from straying towards the cliffs of apostasy and rerouted back onto the straight and narrow.

Through the ministry of the church, the Holy Spirit continually immerses us in “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude :3). It keeps us grounded. It keeps us strengthened. It keeps our hearts from straying into unbelief and sin. As long as it is called “today”, which is every day until Christ returns, we must “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25)

If you want to avoid apostasy, join a biblical church. Be involved. Regularly participate in its services, outreaches, events, Bible studies, and home fellowships. Be a part of the beauty and blessing that is the local church so that you will not “fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).

MTV’s Gender-Neutral Award is Actually Disrespectful to Women.

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Emma Watson and Asia Kate Dillon at the MTV Awards.

Emma Watson made headlines last weekend by receiving the first gender-neutral acting award at the MTV Awards for her performance in Disney’s live-action adaption of Beauty and the Beast. The win is being called “historic” because it’s the first major movie award to combine “best actor” and “best actress” into one category.

Many on the right are upset about this, while many on the left may think the right is overreacting. What’s the problem? Does everything have to always be divided into male and female? There are many awards that could be given to a man or a woman, and these awards have been around for years without controversy. We conservatives should certainly be careful to avoid hallucinating liberal boogeymen (sorry, or boogeywomen; wait, is it boogeyperson?) in every closet. We shouldn’t be oversensitive to politically correct oversensitivity.

But in this case the boogeyman seems pretty real. For starters, the award was presented to Ms. Watson by gender-neutral nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon. That’s a huge statement in and of itself. Asia was a symbol, a manifestation, of MTV’s agenda. Simply merging “best actor” and “best actress” into one may not seem like a big deal, but having someone who doesn’t identify as male or female present this “historic” award makes the motivation rather obvious.

Then came Ms. Watson’s acceptance speech, which confirmed exactly what’s at the heart of the issue: “The first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience. MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone. But to me it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”

Ms. Watson’s comments imply that it’s unfair to judge male and female performers separately, and that a gender-neutral award will tear down some wall to create a more level playing field. If you think separate awards exist because of gender inequality, that would be true. This new award would be a monumental defiance of cultural injustice.

But inequality is not why separate categories exist. The distinction of male and female awards doesn’t degrade anyone the way racially segregated bathrooms and water fountains used to. It’s not meant to prioritize one over the other, but to uphold both as valuable in their own right. It actually shows a greater appreciation for men and women, not less.

Ms. Watson is an outspoken feminist, which supposedly means she believes in gender equality. But modern feminism goes further than that by assuming the only way to have equality is to eliminate all distinction. Modern feminism isn’t about women’s dignity—it’s about erasing all lines of difference between men and women. That’s the opposite of women’s dignity. That insinuates women don’t have value unless they’re exactly like men. If you think having “male” and “female” categories is automatically sexist, that means you don’t think each sex has inherent value in and of itself. So even though this new award is being applauded as a female victory, perhaps MTV is actually robbing actresses of what makes them, and their performances, so special.

To some degree, a movie or TV role should be judged in light of the performer’s sex. And that’s not a bad thing. When an actor portrays a character they must utilize their own unique experiences and tap into the unique experiences of that character. Those experiences are usually different for men and women, and that’s due precisely to the fact that men and women are different. Their feelings, reactions, struggles, and triumphs, as well as those of the character they’re portraying, are directly related to whether they’re male or female. That’s not something to be despised, but applauded.  “Diversity” used to mean the recognition of a group’s uniqueness, value and contribution. Not anymore. Now it means we must all be the same.

Ms. Watson said an award “that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience”, and she’s right. It says a lot. Unfortunately, in this case, it actually cheapens the human experience by downplaying the unique experiences of men and women. If progressivism is trying to make gender “equal” it’s doing so by making male and female equally meaningless and equally worthless.

Instead of trying to downplay the distinction between men and women, we should be able to recognize, appreciate and celebrate it. Does every award need to be divided into male or female categories? Not at all. But in some cases it certainly gives validation to the stories and skills of both.

Zerubbabel: A Picture of Christ

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The Bible is full of names most of us would instantly recognize, like Noah, Moses, David, Mary, or Peter. But here’s one person you probably won’t hear about in Sunday school anytime soon: Zerubbabel. I know, I know, that name doesn’t exactly conjure up images of divine heroism, but Zerubbabel actually plays quite an important role in the overarching story of redemption. His historical contribution, his bloodline, and his salvific foreshadowing all make this man with the zany name quite the herald of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Kingly Descendent of David

In 2 Samuel 7:12-16 God promised King David that one of his own descendants would be the special, Messianic ruler of God’s kingdom. Almost five hundred years later that royal line was jeopardized when Babylon captured Jerusalem and hauled off King Jehoiachin, David’s offspring, into captivity (2 Ki. 24:15). It would have been customary for the king of Babylon to kill Jehoiachin as a sign of victory, but for some reason, he didn’t. He threw him in prison instead, and for decades the flame of God’s covenant seemed ready to be snuffed out at any moment. Finally, after thirty seven years of imprisonment, Jehoiachin was mysteriously freed by the new king of Babylon. He was treated kindly, he was given a place of honor, and he was taken care of for the rest of life (2 Ki. 25:27-30).

Jehoiachin went on to have a son named Shealtiel, and Shealtiel had a son named, you guessed it, Zerubbabel. He was living proof that God would not let the Davidic line go extinct. In Zerubbabel’s blood he carried not just the royalty of Israel, but the hope of the entire world. After King Cyrus allowed Israel to return to their homeland, Zerubbabel was leading the way. The prophet Zechariah proclaimed that God would use Zerubbabel to lay low the mountains (Zech. 4:6-8), while the prophet Haggai announced that God would vanquish the kingdoms of the world and Zerubbabel was the “signet ring”, the chosen sign, of this promise (Hag. 2:21-23). Zerubbabel carried the torch of God’s covenant. God was about to do a great work in Israel, one that would ripple through all mankind, and He would use Zerubbabel to play a vital part.

Many years later, when the promised King of kings was finally born, the Gospel writers provided the genealogies of both His biological mother and legal father, both of whom were descended from David. And there on both sides, smack dab in the middle of the Messianic family tree, blazes a name we should now be very familiar with: Zerubbabel (Mt. 1:12-13; Lk. 3:27).

Leading the Exiles

God’s people had been dispersed through Babylon, and then Medo-Persia. Their sin had resulted in captivity. Their rebellion against the law of God had separated them from the land, city and temple that God had promised as a reward for their obedience. They were no longer a people. They were slaves. But in God’s perfect timing He raised up Zerubbabel to lead them back to the Promised Land (Ezra 2:2; 3:1-2). He was the conquering hero who led the captives back into their heritage as God’s people.

Similarly, all mankind has broken God’s law (Rom. 3:9-20), has been banished from the land of paradise (Gen. 3:23-24), and has gone into the captivity of sin and Satan (Jn. 8:34; Titus 3:3). We are not a people (1 Pet. 2:10), but a fractured, scattered, desolate race of rebels who are cut off from the presence and holiness of God. But in God’s perfect timing (Gal. 4:4) He sent the offspring of Zerubbabel, Jesus Christ, to free the captives (Lk. 4:18), reassemble them as a people (1 Pet. 2:10), and lead them as a conquering hero (Eph. 4:8) away from the spiritual whoredom of Babylon (Rev. 17:4-6) and into the freedom of the true Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22).

Rebuilding the Temple

The first priority of Zerubbabel’s mission was to rebuild the temple that had been smashed to pieces (Ezra 3:8; 5:2; Hag. 1:1-11). That was where God’s holiness dwelled, where sin was atoned for, and where men met with God. But this new temple couldn’t measure up to the glory of Solomon’s original temple (Ezra 3:12-13; Hag. 2:2-3), so God promised that another, better temple was still to come (Hag. 2:6-9).

Jesus also came to repair the temple, the middle ground between man and God. But He surpassed Zerubbabel by establishing the true temple that had been promised: Himself. In His broken body, Christ offered a once-and-for-all sacrifice to atone for the sins of men by shedding His own blood (Heb. 9:11-14). The pierced, slaughtered temple was raised again in His resurrection (Jn. 2:19-21) so that man can once again fellowship with the Creator through the living temple of the risen Christ. For all eternity, the earthly temple is done away with and is replaced by Jesus Himself, mediating God’s glory and God’s presence to us (Rev. 21:22).

Protecting the Purity of God’s People

In Ezra 4, as Israel began to work on the temple, they were approached by the people who had taken up residency in the land during their captivity. These residents seemed friendly at first, professing to worship the God of Israel and offering to help build the temple (Ezra 4:2). Yet Zerubbabel quickly declined the offer and ran them off (4:3). Why the harsh response?

Because even though these inhabitants had indeed learned to worship the Lord (2 Ki. 17:24-28), they had also continued in their former idolatry (2 Ki. 17:29-41). They didn’t repent of their false religion and turn to the living God; they simply incorporated Him into their diet as one of many gods. If Zerubbabel had accepted their offer, he would have put Israel into an alliance with the very idolatry, paganism and false doctrine that had gotten them exiled in the first place. By driving them away, Zerubbabel protected the flock of God from spiritual and moral compromise.

Similarly, Jesus is the great Shepherd who drives away the wolves in sheepskin. The church has been historically bombarded with an onslaught of teachers, sects, cults and religions that try to claim an alliance with Christianity. Jesus is the one who not only builds His church but protects it from the volleys of hell (Mt. 16:18). It’s through His lordship, teaching, Spirit, doctrine, and discipline that all imposters are called out and chased away (Acts 8:18-23; 20:28-30; Rom. 16:17-19; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Jude :4-23) in order to present the church to Himself as a pure and spotless bride (Eph. 5:25-27).

When we read about Zerubbabel in the Old Testament we’re not just learning a dry history lesson; we’re seeing a picture of God’s story for mankind—our own story—which finds its climax in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the descendent of David who brings back the rebellious exiles, who establishes the temple where the sacrifice is made to reconcile God and man, and who protects His people until the very end. He is our King, our Savior, our Mediator, and our Shepherd.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Four Reasons to Stay Out of ‘The Shack.’

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If you’re reading this, you probably already have an opinion about The Shack, the film adaption of William P. Young’s best-selling novel of the same name that hit theaters last weekend. Most Christians I know fall into one of three categories: they think it’s inspirational and they love it; they think it’s heretical and they hate it; or they think it’s a flawed yet potentially edifying story that we shouldn’t be too quick to endorse or condemn.

I’m going to admit up front that I haven’t seen the movie and I don’t plan to. I’ve seen enough trailers, clips, and reviews to know that it’s a pretty faithful adaption of the book, and that is not a good thing. I read the book and I think it’s dangerously wrong about many things, four of which I’d like to elaborate on here.

#1. It Gets God Wrong.

The Shack’s initial problem is its initial premise: a man named Mack has a personal encounter with all three members of the Holy Trinity, with God the Father as a matronly African-American woman named “Papa,” God the Son as a middle-eastern handyman, still called Jesus, and God the Spirit as a gentle Asian woman named “Sarayu.” All gender arguments aside, this portrayal of the Godhead is deeply problematic.

God is spirit (John 4:24). He is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). To see Him with mortal eyes would be instant death (Ex. 33:20), and no human has ever done it (1 Jn. 4:12). He does not have a physical, material body like we do, nor can He be contained within any spatial radius (1 Kings 8:27). It is inappropriate, irreverent and impossible to portray Him as a man, woman, beast, or object.

This is a basic doctrine, and God warned against violating it in the second commandment by forbidding the making and worshipping of images (Ex. 20:4-5). Although this specifically forbids the worship of false, graven gods, it also forbids the casting of God Himself into any material form. We see this application in the story of the golden calf, when Israel molded an idol but believed by worshipping its image they were actually worshipping the Lord (Ex. 32:4-6). This was a blasphemous insult to God.

There is only one true, accurate and acceptable image of God and that is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), His Son, Jesus Christ. In Him alone does the deity dwell bodily (Col. 2:9). In Him alone can the radiance of God’s glory be tangibly seen and felt (Heb. 1:3). No mortal can see the Father except by seeing Jesus (Jn. 14:8-9). Although no man has ever seen God the Father, He is made known through the incarnate image of God the Son (Jn. 1:18). Even when prophets in the Old Testament saw visions of God (Isa. 6:1; Ez. 1:26-28), the New Testament reveals that they were actually seeing the image of the invisible God, Jesus Himself (Jn. 12:41).

God the Son is the only visual by which God has revealed Himself to man. He is the infinite taking on the finite. No one on this side of eternity can accurately depict the mystery of the Godhead in all its fullness or precision, and we’re commanded to not even try. To portray God the Father or God the Spirit undercuts the significance of Jesus and disobeys God’s own commandment about Himself. What you end up with is a confused and confusing depiction that oversimplifies and misrepresents the incomprehensible reality of the triune God.

#2. It Gets Suffering Wrong.

In this story, God is a helpless bystander limited by human freedom. He (or is it she?) weeps and grieves over the pain in the world, yet can’t really do anything except try to make some good out of it. Fallen mankind is driving the train and God is stuck laying down the tracks as we barge along, trying to ensure a safe destination without intruding on our free will.

This seems well-intentioned, but it comes up short. The Book of Job offers a very different view of suffering: that all things are given and taken away by God (Job 1:20-21), that God does no evil in His dealings with mankind (Job 1:22), and that God’s purposes can never be thwarted (Job 42:2). The rest of Scripture teaches that God is actively involved in every aspect of creation (Ps. 104:5-30; Mt. 10:29-30), that He is the one writing history (Ex. 9:16; Prov. 16:33; 19:21; 20:1; Isa. 14:24; Dan. 2:21; 4:35; Acts 4:27-28; Jam. 4:13-15), that He ordains everything that comes to pass including tragedy (Gen. 45:7-8; Isa. 45:7), yet without being the author of sin (Jam. 1:13), and that He has predestined every detail for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28-30).

In an attempt to display God’s goodness, The Shack tosses out God’s sovereignty. It tries to offer comfort by saying that suffering is never God’s plan or intention, but for those who experience constant suffering that’s actually quite disheartening. That would mean God is removed from the majority of our experiences in this life, and all He can really do is give us a pat on the back and tell us to hang in there. But the Bible teaches something better: that even suffering falls beneath the reign of God’s dominion, and every little thing that He brings to pass serves His holy, perfect purpose, even if we can’t understand it right now. He is Lord even over our deepest pain. The child of God, living in a world of tribulation, can trustingly proclaim along with King David, “Behold, here I am, let Him do to me what seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:26).

#3. It Gets Sin (and therefore salvation) Wrong.

The Shack makes light of sin when Papa states, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

This contradicts Scripture’s constant warnings against the wrath of God. This wrath isn’t passive, but active. God doesn’t just sit back and leave us to our own sad choice, but He will eternally inflict sinners with punishment for their cosmic treason (Mt. 13:42; 25:41; Lk. 12:5; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 2:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 3:6; Heb. 10:26-27; Jam. 3:6; Jude 1:7; Rev. 20:11-15). Certainly it is an act of judgment when God hands someone over to their own devices, and the results are always tragic. But The Shack takes this idea too far by suggesting that no future judgment will be required outside of sin’s natural consequences within this world.

If that were true, then there wasn’t a whole lot riding on Christ’s death. If an eternity of divine punishment was not at stake, then Jesus was not actually our “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 4:10), He did not give His life “as a ransom” (Mk. 10:45), and He did not need to be “pierced for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5). If wrath and judgment are non-existent, Christ’s bloody death at Calvary doesn’t do much of anything. When you downplay sin, you downplay the Savior.

Once again, in an attempt to soften the blow and administer comfort, The Shack actually removes the very foundation of hope we so desperately need. If God doesn’t punish sinners, then no one needed to be punished in our place. If no one needed to be punished in our place, then Christ’s death was for nothing. And if Christ’s death was for nothing, then the entire foundation of our faith falls apart. By trying to highlight God’s love, The Shack actually eradicates its greatest triumph.

#4. It Gets Scripture Wrong.

At one point the book observes, “In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.”

The Shack assumes that deriving our understanding of God chiefly from Scripture is a bad thing. It limits Him. Puts Him in a box. Instead, our knowledge of Him should come through personal, subjective experiences and the Bible should be read through the filter of those experiences rather than vice versa. Throughout the book, God makes remarks that catch Mack by surprise precisely because they contradict many traditional biblical teachings. The point is that God works in unconventional ways that defy our religious limitations, specifically the limitations of a dry, impersonal Bible.

That’s a tragic view of God’s word. In direct contrast, Scripture describes itself as “living and active”, sharper than a sword and piercing to the deepest parts of a man (Heb. 4:12). Every jot and tittle is the breath of God, beneficial for all areas of life (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It never fails to accomplish God’s grand purpose (Isa. 55:10-11). It’s eternally enduring (Mt. 24:35). It indwells us (Col. 3:16). It’s more delightful than riches (Ps. 119:14), it’s a wellspring of wonder (Ps. 119:19), it gives life to the soul (Ps. 119:28), and it’s sweeter than honey (Ps. 119:103). The Bible is presented as a vibrant, dynamic channel of intimacy with God. It’s spoken about as though it were a living, engaging, relational being. If we want to encounter God, we encounter Him through the power of His revealed Word. He’s in every line of every page.

By trying to take God out of the objective, theological box of Scripture, The Shack puts Him in the foggy box of subjectivism. Instead of the clarity we’re given in Scripture, God is actually reduced to an imprecise mystery that we can only discover through an esoteric encounter. In an attempt to free God, The Shack binds Him. In attempt to bring Him closer, The Shack makes Him more distant than ever.

I’m not interested in ripping apart The Shack’s author, readers, or viewers. It’s a heartfelt attempt to deal with the question we all wrestle with at some point: how do you reconcile the reality of evil with the goodness of God? Many people who appreciate the story (including the author himself) have been bruised by this fallen world and they desperately seek answers. I have no desire to insult or ridicule them.

But I am concerned with making sure we get the right answer to that question, and from the right source. We must redirect our opinions and sentiments to be in line with what God has revealed about Himself. When we do, we find that the triune God in all His sovereign, wonderful, terrifying, transcendent holiness is far better than any softened-down version we can create for a novel. The Shack may warm our hearts, but a God-honoring story must do more than that—it must fill our hearts with truth. Comfort is only valuable when it’s rooted in truth, and the truth of God’s word is better than any emotionally-charged tale we can concoct.

How aliens and grammar made me appreciate the Bible.

arrival

Last week my wife and I watched Arrival, a critically-acclaimed sci-fi drama about a group of people trying to communicate with aliens. Okay, I admit, that doesn’t sound like a very riveting synopsis. If you want an alien blockbuster with lots of explosions, go rent the new Independence Day sequel. But Arrival is a smart, well-crafted film with a few surprises along the way, and the whole bit about people trying to talk with aliens is actually what makes the story so profound.

Why? Because language matters. That’s true no matter who you are or what you believe, but Christians should believe it more than anyone. Our entire religion is hinged on it. Our eternal hope is predicated on the faith that God has truly and accurately communicated Himself to us through His word. And that need for accurate communication is what drives the whole plot of Arrival.

The story centers on Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams), a linguist who is recruited by the U.S. Army to communicate with one of the twelve UFO’s that have landed at various spots across the globe. The process is slow and frustrating. How do you begin to understand the linguistic basics of a species that is literally from another world?

At one point in the film Banks and her physicist partner Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) trade jabs about which is more central to human civilization: language or science? The whole thrust of the film seems to side with Banks. After all, the humans and aliens are both intelligent life forms who have cultivated science to great benefit, but science can’t produce a meaningful exchange between the two species—only language can do that. The gap between the two sides is unbreachable as long as a language barrier exists. This reminds us of the necessity of communication, of the transmission of meaning from one party to another. Without an exchange of some kind between two sides there is no possibility of moving forward in a relational sense.

Banks tries talking to the aliens, but the noise is just babble to them. The aliens write out their language, but it looks like gibberish to the humans. There cannot be just hollow sounds or random symbols—there must be a clear, comprehensible sharing of ideas. So what do they do? They learn to understand the meaning behind the sounds and symbols. They must grasp the structure of the other’s language and then communicate at their level, in their terms, in a way they can understand. This is the only way to bridge the relational gap between the two foreign parties.

But what if we took the same idea and swapped aliens with God? Since the beginning of time man has wrestled with how to have meaningful interaction with the divine. How can we communicate with someone so foreign to us, so “otherly”? Like Banks and Donnelly, countless men and women have felt confused and frustrated in their attempts to reach up to heaven. Without real communication between man and God, you’re left with two alien sides staring at each other and no relationship to show for it.

Arrival reminded me that if indeed God exists, and if we are to know Him who is so other-worldly, there would need to be some bridging of the language barrier between our two sides. If He is a spiritual, infinite Being, how could we know the mind of someone so unlike us unless there was a clear impartation of information from one side to the other? As the apostle Paul pointed out, “Who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).

Just as the aliens in Arrival are concealed behind a wall of fog in their spaceship, God often feels hidden. Perhaps general revelation allows a peak or an outline, but there seems no way to truly see Him, know Him, or have a meaningful point of contact with Him. As the Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin supposedly said of his experience in outer space, “I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.” God is an incomprehensible mystery. So He would have to talk down to us. He would have to communicate with us in our terms and in a way we could understand. He would have to express the truth about Himself within the limited framework of our language and our comprehension. We cannot ascend to God, so He would have to descend to us. We cannot find Him, so He must reveal Himself to us.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what the Bible claims to be. Our knowledge of God doesn’t come through sensationalism, emotionalism, or mystical spirituality. It comes to us by God transmitting truth about Himself through words. Paul went on to make the point, “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?…So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?” (1 Cor. 14:7-9) That’s why Scripture refers to itself over and over again as the word of God—not the energy of God or the force of God, but the clear and specific articulation of God’s communication through language. The word makes it possible to bridge the relational gap between man and God. Language matters.

The Bible is God’s self-revelation, communing with us through human authors and in human terms to explain Himself at our level. We can understand God because God has spoken our tongue and made Himself understandable. That doesn’t mean we can know everything there is to know about God, but it does mean that He’s articulated to us everything we need to know and everything He desires us to know, and He’s done it in way that is clear and comprehensible. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

Arrival was a great piece of filmmaking, but it was more than that. It was a reminder to me that language matters, and that God uses language to meaningfully communicate with us every time we open His word. If we neglect Scripture, God will continue to feel like an alien hidden behind a foggy wall of uncertainty. But when we trust in His self-disclosure we can know who He is, what He is like, what He has done, what He expects, and how we can enjoy a meaningful relation to Him through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Lady Gaga, the Super Bowl, and when postmodern progressivism shoots itself in the foot.

halftime

Lady Gaga dropping in on Super Bowl 51.

It seems like everything is a political controversy these days. Even sports. Prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl, reporters kept baiting Tom Brady on his support for Donald Trump. Then, prior to her halftime performance, it was speculated that Lady Gaga would use her worldwide platform to make a political statement against Donald Trump (à la Meryl Streep).

Fortunately, Brady didn’t bite and Gaga didn’t lecture. Both did what they’re paid to do—entertain—and both did it exceptionally well (I don’t understand or care for Lady Gaga’s, shall we say, artistic vision, but there’s no denying she has immense talent). It was nice to enjoy football and music without political controversy.

But if the controversy doesn’t come to you, then you go to the controversy. Many on the left are now criticizing Lady Gaga precisely because she didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to criticize the President in front of the entire planet. As Mitchell Sunderland at Complex lamented, “She failed us.” It was, in the minds of many, a wasted platform from which she could have spoken up on what they consider to be an important cause.

Curiously, the liberal worldview is known for its secular postmodernism. Religious authority is oppressive and bad. Truth and morality are not absolutes. Whatever feels good for you is good for you. If something makes you happy you should pursue it and no one should tell you otherwise. After all, we’re temporary, material beings and nothing more, and we must enjoy life while we can. It’s a worldview that promotes moral autonomy, the pursuit of pleasure above all else, and the rejection of objective right and wrong.

But then you come to the Super Bowl halftime show. And suddenly you must have indoctrination. You must have conviction. If you are an entertainer you must use your platform to preach “truth” before the whole world. The gods of political liberalism must be appeased, or else. They demand your allegiance.

A worldview that rejects enforcing absolutes on everyone is criticizing one of its own for not preaching right and wrong to the whole world. A worldview that cries for freedom from religious authority is commanding its adherents to visibly profess faith at every opportunity. Do you see the disconnect?

If we’re just matter in motion, the product of neural-chemical reactions in the brain, then there’s no true higher cause. And if there’s no true higher cause, then one opinion doesn’t deserve to be preached to the world any more than another. The only truth is that there’s no absolute truth. So at the end of the day progressivism cannot consistently hold to its own worldview while also espousing that worldview with any real conviction or urgency.

So when progressives criticize Lady Gaga for just performing and not seizing the opportunity to speak against Donald Trump, they betray their own worldview. If enforcing your beliefs on others is the unpardonable sin, and if right and wrong are purely a matter of personal preference, then why would you expect pop singers to hammer their audience with a liberal profession of faith every chance they get? The outrage at Lady Gaga contradicts everything progressivism claims to believe. So perhaps there is such a thing as right and wrong, and perhaps it’s not always bad to express that to others. Perhaps truth does exist, and it should be shared.

Granted, the divide between conservative and liberal definitions of truth has never been larger. But only one side has an objective basis for believing in truth, and in the end only one side can make any sort of demanding truth claims without contradicting itself. Once we realize that life is more than meaningless matter in a temporary pursuit of pleasure, and once we realize that there is good and evil in this world, and once we realize that there is truth worth standing up for, then secular progressivism is left dangling like Lady Gaga over the arena, without a leg to stand on. When objective, worthwhile truth has the homefield advantage, we find ourselves on God’s turf.