The Caging of God

Nat Hentoff said that “Fiction is sometimes more real than fact … it can tell you more than facts.” What follows is a fictional conversation.

Conference Speaker: Thank you for attending the “Lived Experience and Racial Reconciliation” conference. I’ll be available for more discussion about the journey of creating a culture of diverse justice in your church.

Cherry: Your talk left me with a question.

Conference Speaker: What kind of question?

Cherry: Mainly about your emphasis on lived experience.

Conference Speaker: Yes, it’s so important to empathize with each person—each minority’s—lived experience. It’s the path to racial reconciliation.

Cherry: How so?

Conference Speaker: Since oppressed groups have special access to injustice, sharing their hard-earned understanding is the only way privileged groups will be awakened to the injustice all around them.

Cherry: What do you mean by hard-earned understanding?

Conference Speaker: A black kid learns when he is growing up that to stay out of trouble he has to be on his best behavior. That’s a truth that the abstract rationality of Western society doesn’t have access to.  

Cherry: What is the problem with rationality?

Conference Speaker: It’s not just rationality, but all the hegemonic categories of Western civilization that blind white people—history, philosophy, logic, theology, and mathematics.

Cherry: What’s the problem with those things?

Conference Speaker: Within Western civilization, they have combined to create invisible systems of oppression. The social location of oppressed groups gives them the ability to see through the unjust structures.

Cherry: In your talk, you also said you believe the Bible is the true Word of God.

Conference Speaker: That’s correct.

Cherry: The way you combine lived experience with belief in the Bible raises a question. 

Conference Speaker: What question?

Cherry: Is there a difference between the subject and the object?

Conference Speaker: I don’t see how that relates?

Cherry: Humor me. Does the objective truth of Scripture hold authority over the subjective experience of man?

Conference Speaker: It depends.

Cherry: Depends on what?

Conference Speaker: Since the Bible was written from the perspective of the marginalized, that means marginalized persons read the Bible’s description as their own experience.

Cherry: What does that mean?

Conference Speaker: They can step inside the text better than a privileged person.

Cherry: Wait, do you see a difference between the acquisition of knowledge and the content of it?

Conference Speaker: For a black person in America, there is little difference, as far as I see it.

Cherry: You know a tree exists because you touch, see, and smell it. Does that mean you are the tree?

Conference Speaker: That’s nonsense.

Cherry: Why?

Conference Speaker: Because I’m a person and it’s a tree. Just because I see a tree doesn’t erase the distinction that exists between the tree and me. 

Cherry: So, there is a difference between the subject and the object?

Conference Speaker: God is not like a tree. He is immaterial, as are people’s feelings and lived experiences, which combine into the category of personal knowledge. God and I have a relationship in the context of my lived experience.

Cherry: Is a person’s personal knowledge of God derived from subjective experiences or delivered to them by revelation?

Conference Speaker: It’s both.

Cherry: If that’s the case, which is first, objective reality or the subjective conditions of knowledge?

Conference Speaker: God gave humans five senses for a reason. All personal knowledge begins with the activity of the human mind. Think of it like this: Each person is a flashlight. Their life takes them into different experiences, shining a light on the different injustices in the world. God gave the oppressed groups the biggest flashlights because they are surrounded by more darkness of oppression. For example, oppressed Moses saw the truth of God’s promises, but Pharaoh didn’t. Since God gave oppressed people more insight, we must listen to the experiences their life has illuminated. How else will we correct injustice?

Cherry: It sounds like your supreme authority is lived experience rather than the Bible.

Conference Speaker: We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Lived experience is only a secondary tool of analysis. My church’s doctrinal statement says, “We believe the Scriptures, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, are the inspired Word of God and are therefore without error in their original writings. These writings alone constitute the verbally inspired Word of God, which is utterly authoritative and free from error. The Scripture is sufficient for all that God requires for us to believe and do.” I’ve signed the doctrinal statement and say to you that I believe it.

Cherry: What should define racism and diversity? The Bible or lived experience?

Conference Speaker: Racism is simply evil. And God mandates diversity. Revelation 5:9 tells us that the blood of Christ “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Each local church is disobeying God when they don’t match the diversity of their local community.

Cherry: Is racism the root of ethnic divisions in the local church?

Conference Speaker: Yes. Minorities feel internalized oppression that makes them never want to darken the door of a white church. It’s the responsibility of white churches to take the first steps.

Cherry: Could it be that heavenizing earth looks different than every single congregation looking like a Crayola box?

Conference Speaker: What do you mean?

Cherry: If Revelation 5:9 is mandating diversity in the church, maybe fulfillment is found in the Church Universal, in which case the mandated diversity has already been accomplished.

Conference Speaker: The divisions in the church are because of racism and that is a social sin that the church needs to correct.

Cherry: Are issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class framed by Scripture or lived experience?

Conference Speaker: Scripture, of course, but the Bible was written a long time ago in a vastly different culture. The meaning doesn’t change, but how the meaning is contextualized does change.

Cherry: Doesn’t this mean you are imposing meaning on the text?

Conference Speaker: No, of course not. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. It just means that words have no meaning apart from context.

Cherry: Whose context?

Conference Speaker: The only way a person can read the Bible is from their lived experience. And the Bible is only true if it is interpreted rightly—in light of that lived experience.

Cherry: If meaning is derived from the personal story of the reader, then what is normative about the Bible?

Conference Speaker: Everything! The Bible is inerrant and infallible. Here, let me show you the inerrancy statement from my church’s website.

Cherry: No, thanks. Is the reality outside the person allowed to have any constraints on lived experience?

Conference Speaker: Comparing external and internal realities is like comparing apples and oranges. The lived experience of the oppressed is their internal reality. The truth of lived experienced is inexplicable if God doesn’t exist.

Cherry: How so?

Conference Speaker: The knowledge of God is accessible through lived experience.

Cherry: It sounds like you are conferring divinity on lived experience when you relocate authority to the subjective experience from the external objective source of Scripture. This is an unraveling epistemology.

Conference Speaker: How so?

Cherry: What if the lived experience of one oppressed person says another’s lived experience is a lie? Is it still true?

Conference Speaker: It just means the one person’s flashlight is lighting up different kinds of things than the other persons. Listen, it sounds like we don’t disagree on anything. The problem is that you are preoccupied with intellectual categories. I’m not a seminary professor. There are too many regular people in the world that are lonely and alienated, and too many minorities abused and under-served, to have the luxury to dwell on abstract philosophy. When I attend a racial reconciliation meeting in my town and listen to the experiences of the oppressed, my responsibility is to listen, not try to make someone’s personal truth thread the needle of Western theology. All I know is that God doesn’t stand outside of human experience. God is too compassionate to impose limitations on the meaning of the deeply felt experiences of minorities.

Cherry: Unless there is a clear distinction between the object and the subject, you simultaneously diminish God and heighten the self. When one’s lived experience determines meaning and morality, then the self is fulfilling the role of God, and the confounded chaos roars. It belittles the transcendence of Christianity if the narrative of truth is shaped by the self. Not only does God lose His meaning, but so does human experience.

Conference Speaker: It sound’s like you haven’t been reading the right books. Maybe you should start with Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.

Cherry: Christians must include in their cultural analysis something that Critical Theory, in its essence, excludes: That the God of the Bible exists and the Bible is His Word. Yet, there are many Christians at this conference who see the atheistic presuppositions of lived experience as no pause to immersion in “social justice” as a legitimate Christian category. The church is the people of God, which means it is the office of the church to belong to God. The church’s awareness of this office is dependent on the belief that God stands outside any lived experience, and in some cases against it. The problem isn’t just that the objective melts into the subjective, but that transcendence disappears into immanence. When this happens, God is just a tool to satisfy the fond impertinence of the narrative of grievance. All human experience must submit to transcendence. Better to think of lived experience as the caging of God.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


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A New Vision for Virtue in Public Things

Despite a surge of political interest in Protestant intellectual life, there is still a fundamental misunderstanding about how to bring Christian influence to bear on politics. For those Christians who are interested in transforming society, the main stock notion seems to be a deluge of “thinkpieces” critiquing our sinful culture. There is currently a flood of websites and articles explaining the downgrade of modern America. Such articles are necessary, fine and dandy, even, since Christians need to learn to think Christianly about all of life. The problem is that the entirety of political engagement for Christians has become nothing but voting and reading articles about how politics is corrupt. What has this created? A bunch of intelligent Christians doomed to the dismal drudge of perpetual complaining within a fundamentally passive role.

There is the mistaken notion that complaining about how society has turned looney will somehow fix it. Christians have narrowed their course into the well-worn path that leads to the echo chamber of grumbling. The problem is that it’s a path to nowhere: no change, no Christian influence, no sanctifying the civitas. Yes, pastors must preach the Word of God. Yes, the church must administer the sacraments. Yes, ministers must disciple congregants. But reform that doesn’t eventually burst into law and institutions will remain merely a private affair. Some orthodoxy or other will prevail over our politicians. It doesn’t honor the Lord when the church willingly becomes the Groom of the Stole to godless and wicked authorities who demand our obedience.

We need a new vision for the church to influence politics, a vision that can startle the faithful into a solid imagination of political clout. There will always be aspiring Christian authors writing thinkpieces in search of a book deal. They can write their articles and we can read them. But what if the next group of smart and talented Christians blazed a different path? What if the Lord assembled the right cluster of panurgic people with work ethic, talent, and patience, absent an ego while seizing a shared vision? It starts with several motivated and gifted individuals who are willing to build and collaborate.

What are they building? What is the new vision? It starts with remembering that all culture-making is local. If politicians cannot be watched locally, they cannot be watched at all. We live in North Alabama, where is found the city of Huntsville. There is a mayor and a city council. There are meetings and hearings, votes and decisions, all of which affect all of us. What happened at the recent city council meeting? What do you know about the local officials you voted for in the most recent election? During election season, why does one commissioner have more signs than another? Where did he get the money to buy 10x more signs than his opponent?

There is currently no good source of information about Huntsville politics. There is no good way to examine the record of local politicians running for reelection. What if a team of committed Christians became the source of that information? They attend city council meetings (in person or virtually), take notes, organize the information, and disclose it. They track all the votes of city council members and catalog them so their real record can be easily examined. Word starts to spread that if you want the low-down on city politics, you go to this website.

If the Lord can send watchers down from heaven (Dan. 4: 13, 17, 23), why can’t he send watchers from the church to city hall? Respect is not gained through the honors of high office, but through providing useful and organized information. Imagine a website that helpfully documents what that name on a campaign sign actually says at meetings. Imagine a website that becomes the go-to place for information about Huntsville politics. Imagine, then, that this website starts writing editorials that subtly guide the conversation. Imagine during the voting season they make a reliable voter guide for Christians based on the accumulated information.[1] Imagine the website has enough influence that local candidates need their endorsement and mayoral candidates wouldn’t refuse an interview request.

The vision is to create an organization that becomes the central hub for information for local citizens, especially Christians. This means, first, watching, learning, and chronicling. Then it means addressing policies and practices, building key alliances, writing with intelligence, engaging with charity, and speaking with informed conviction and rhetorical artfulness.

The goal is to influence on a local, practical level, because, as Matt Carpenter has written, “The rulers of Huntsville, Alabama should honor God in the way they rule. They should act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. They should remember that Jesus Christ rules over them as king and they will give an account to Him one day for how they ruled. Because we love our city and seek its peace, the church should remind our city fathers of these things, whether they want to hear it or not. But the church as an institution does not bear the responsibility of forming and trying to implement a detailed political agenda. Trying to do so risks compromising the mission of the church and turning Scripture into a political manifesto.”[2]

Trinity Reformed Church will help get this mission off the ground by providing vision casting, organizing, funding, and recruiting. But eventually, the organization needs to stand on its own two feet as an institution separate from the church. The vision is for the long term. It might take several years of work before any meaningful influence is noticed. But this is how substantial change happens, through intentional and persevering institutional resistance. We are looking for five people who are committed to getting this vision off the ground. Five people who are good writers, sharp thinkers, joyful servants, and wise as serpents. Five assiduous people with august levity who are willing to start something small and see it grow gradually. And hopefully, five people is just the beginning of a small army of watchers, who aren’t just watching but are DOING SOMETHING more than just grumbling about politics.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Jason Cherry at office@trinityreformedkirk.com.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] Unfortunately, most “Christian” voter guides are made by nameless, faceless people who have little knowledge of the local scene and are just as beholden to some special interest group as those they beckon we vote against.

[2] https://trinityreformedkirk.com/2021/09/06/theocracy-the-christian-hope/

Baptists and Baptism: What Will it Take to Achieve Catholicity?

Introduction

Joe Rigney should be commended for his recent article about baptism. If you are unfamiliar with Rigney, he is one of the most insightful Baptist authors currently producing content. His books The Things of Earth and Lewis on the Christian Life are especially good. Rigney’s article is concerned with trying to relieve the tension of how Christians with baptistic convictions relate to paedobaptist individuals and churches. It took courage for Rigney to write this article and he is already taking criticism from his fellow Baptists who are intent on maintaining the illegitimacy of infant baptism.

Catholicity

One of the convictions of Trinity Reformed Church (TRC) is catholicity. It means that even though we are paedobaptists by confession and conviction, we are committed to getting along with other Christians. Some sincere and genuine Christians baptize their infants. This is called paedobaptism. Some sincere and genuine Christians don’t baptize their children until there is a profession of faith. This is called credobaptism. At TRC, we do our best to not divide over the credo vs paedobaptism issue.In practice, it means that credobaptists are not treated as second-class Christians. For those who desire to delay the baptism of their children until there is a confession of faith, the TRC session defers to the head of household, while maintaining our paedobaptist conviction. So, just like Rigney may be disparaged by fellow Baptists for his article, TRC is disparaged by fellow Presbyterians for our catholicity.

As paedobaptists, we disagree with Rigney’s credobaptism. The point of reviewing his article is not to argue the baptism issue point for point, as such, though a few remonstrances will be fitfully made (If you are interested in an introduction to the doctrine of infant baptism, click here).

Rigney’s Argument

For credobaptists to forge a policy of mutual recognition of baptism with paedobaptists is like threading a needle. The difficulty is that the typical Baptist definition of baptism includes four elements: (1) water; (2) in the triune name; (3) by immersion; (4) after repentance and faith in Christ. Rigney says, “Essentially all Christians regard the first two elements as essential for a baptism to be valid. Many Baptists regard the third element as important, but not essential.” Regarding the fourth element, Baptists “believe that baptism should be applied only to professing believers.”

Rigney’s solution is to say that “while water and the triune name are essential to baptism, the other two elements are important for the proper administration of baptism, but not essential for the validity of baptism.” This means that even though paedobaptists differ from Baptists regarding #3 and #4, infant baptism is still a “valid baptism.” Rigney concludes by saying, “Paedobaptisms, then, may be regarded as valid but improper baptisms.” Here, Rigney’s needle-threading differs from the typical Baptist stance, which denies “that paedobaptisms are baptisms at all.”

Clarifications

Two elements of Rigney’s article need clarifications, not because Rigney explicitly contradicts these points, but simply as a matter of ameliorating the emphasis. First, Rigney says that “the practice of baptizing the children of believers in infancy” is done “in anticipation of their profession of faith in Christ.” While paedobaptists certainly anticipate a covenant child’s profession of faith, that’s not the only reason the covenant sign is administered to them. Abraham, Moses, and David administered the covenant sign to their children because the promise was to them and their children (Gen. 17:7-14; Dt. 29:9-15, 2 Sam. 22:51), which means the children are included in the covenant. Since Peter echoes this same language in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:39), he echoes the same meaning of Abraham, Moses, and David. Indeed, the Pentecost crowd of Jews, whose ancestors had administered the covenant sign to children for thousands of years, would have no alternative but to conclude that the children of Christians are also baptized because they are included in the covenant.  

The second clarification comes concerning Rigney’s distinction between the visible and invisible church. While Rigney’s definitions are copacetic, it should be underlined that the rise of the category of the “invisible” church didn’t come about because of Baptist theology in the early church.[1] Rather, it came about because of the widespread nominalism at the time of Constantine. Before Constantine, when Christianity was unpopular and illegal, a Christian was a baptized person who was a member of the church and lived as Jesus commanded. After Constantine, people took the name “Christian” without submission to the commands of Christ or the Church. So the “invisible” Church was thought to be the “real Christians,” the church within the church.[2] 

Recommendations

It is more difficult for credobaptist churches to practice catholicity than paedobaptist churches (for reasons that will be explained at the end of this article). So, here are four stasis points that Baptists need to resolve before mutual recognition of baptism can happen in a Baptist church.

First, the matter of agreement

Rigney says, “we don’t believe that rightly understanding and applying baptism is essential for someone to be a true Christian. We regard sincere, Christ-loving paedobaptists as our brothers and sisters, and we want to celebrate our common confession of faith in the triune God and our salvation in Jesus Christ.” This needs elaboration. Since neither side claims baptism justifies (with only a few exceptions in each camp); since neither side denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith; since neither side claims to baptize only those who never fall away (Rigney admits that credo-Baptists can “undermine” their baptism); and since neither side says baptism works ex opera operato (which means the saving effect of the sacraments is derived by the power of the completed sacrament), there can be a charitable mutual recognition of baptism.

Second, the matter of disagreement

There is a way to disagree while recognizing the biblical plausibility of the other side. While I’m convinced credobaptists are mistaken, I understand how they arrive at their conclusion—indeed, I was a Baptist for many years—and admit it is biblically plausible. Credobaptists are wrestling with Scripture and trying to submit to their biblical convictions. Those are our kind of people. Those are the people paedobaptists should want to hang out with. Likewise, credobaptists need to see that paedobaptists have a plausible biblical argument. They are wrestling with Scripture and trying to submit to their convictions. In a day when the church is embattled, when many are changing the faith to accommodate canceling services and woke-ism, we can’t afford to divide into sects. We should do what we can to remain in fellowship with Christians who submit their convictions to the Word of God.

One of the practical ways to exercise catholicity on baptism is to evaluate each of the relevant questions according to the logic of the other side’s position. This changes people from a posture of constant critique—point by point—each time it comes up, to a position of cooperative catholicity. For example, Rigney makes a statement that is true from the logic of credobaptism but not from the logic of paedobaptism. He says, “Moreover, since a right administration of the ordinances is a necessary mark of a true church, such a position seems to deny that paedobaptist churches are churches at all, since they fail to baptize their members. And because they fail to baptize their members, it would seem that they are likewise unable to eat the Lord’s Supper, since the family meal requires the presence of a proper family.” The trouble here is that according to the logic of paedobaptists, they do baptize all those who are part of the covenant because the covenant is for you and your seed.

Third, the matter of mode   

Many Baptists think immersion is the only legitimate form of baptism. But for Baptists to work toward the mutual recognition of baptism requires them to see “sprinkling and pouring” as legitimate options for baptism. If they want to call it “true but irregular,”—as Rigney does—that is a start in the right direction. 

Fourth, the matter of a credible profession of faith

Rigney says, “Guided by biblically informed prudence, then, we might regard all valid baptisms — including those that are improper with respect to mode and timing — as sufficient prerequisites for church membership, provided there is a credible profession of faith.” For Baptists, a lot hinges on the issue of a “credible” profession of faith. The trouble with defining a “credible” profession of faith is illustrated when credobaptist churches are filled with five-year-olds who believe as much as a five-year-old can believe, yet they are denied baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Before Baptists can recognize the legitimacy of paedobaptism, they need to get their own house in order and stop delaying baptism long after faith. This requires reevaluating their high standards defining a credible profession of faith. A good place to start reexamining these questions is by reading the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, which tells the history of how the American evangelical definition of “credible” conversion came about. 

Conclusion

Currently, it is easier for paedobaptists to practice the mutual recognition of baptism toward credobaptists than vice versa. The reason is that paedobaptists are willing to baptize someone on a profession of faith, whether it is a child of Christian parents who was previously denied the covenant sign or a pagan responding to the gospel in faith. In the first scenario, while paedobaptists think it improper for Christians to keep covenant children from the covenant sign (imagine Abraham denying Isaac the covenant sign), they don’t think baptizing the child after professing faith is unauthorized. In the second scenario, unbelievers raised outside the church who come to faith need to be baptized as soon as they come to faith. This is modeled throughout the book of Acts.  Practically speaking, this means (A) a credobaptist can exist in an ecumenically minded paedobaptist church much easier than (B) a paedobaptist can exist in an ecumenically minded credobaptist church. In situation (A), credobaptists are permitted to have a baptism according to their conviction, assuming the church is willing to baptize by immersion (which we are at TRC). In situation (B), paedobaptists are not permitted to have a baptism according to their conviction.

Baptist churches will never have the ecumenical potential of a Presbyterian church. But, by acknowledging the validity of infant baptism, Baptists can distinguish themselves from their Anabaptist forbearers. Rigney’s article is an important first step for Baptists. Once Baptists resolve the four issues listed above, they will be able to, as Rigney says, “duly honor both the Baptist impulse and the catholicity impulse.”

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] Again, to be clear, Rigney doesn’t claim that it did.

[2] Peter Leithart, Against Christianity (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2003), 129.

White Man’s Backlash

It was all predictable. The whole mise en scene of Black Lives Matter and the woke propaganda invited the not altogether worthy spectacle of the inevitable backlash—virtually creating the racism it claims to stand against. The overreaction makes different claims, each rich in noxious argot:[1] Personal identity is found in ethnicity; culture building is inhibited by immigrants, it’s not sinful to have a mixed marriage but you ought not to do it, white people have a common culture, favor your race above the foreigner, ethnic separations are best, white people should proudly act white, people should use skin tone to identify “their people,” flourishing is dependent on keeping ethnic tribes, cultural repair happens with the love of father and fatherland, racial unity is the key to national harmony, build white identity in your children and marry within your tribe.

Some Christians are tempted to caress the contours of these ideas. To avoid the baggage of preexisting labels, we’ll create our own and call it White Man’s Backlash (WMB). While overreactions are part of the ebb and flow of ideas, on this matter, Christians should directly examine WMB as part of the record of its dissolution in the church.

WMB seems biblically close and far away all at the same time. It is certainly virtuous to love your family, your people, and your place. Honoring one’s father and mother is biblical. Devotion to the land of your fathers is a natural extension of the fifth commandment. But WMB doesn’t just argue for subsidiarity, which is a wholly biblical principle.[2] WMB inclines toward race-based loyalties, which is antithetical to a gospel that has torn down all racial divisions of hostility (Eph. 2:14). Such things distort Scripture and reek of vainglory, which is not only sinful but actively opposed by God (Prov. 8:13; Pt. 5:5). Paul scolded the Corinthians for their factions (1 Cor. 3:3; 11:17-22) and berated Peter for not eating with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14).

It’s precisely when an idea frees itself from the immediate governance of the Word of God that theology transforms into an ideology, which means the person transforms from a theologian to an ideologue. An ideologue plucks a concept and absolutizes it, failing to see, in this case, that the entire Word of God is co-extensive. Ideologues fail because they require only a very particular embodiment of a biblical concept that, in reality, has diffuse application. 

The Bible has quite a lot to say on why God’s people shouldn’t sort themselves based on ethnicity. Boaz, a landowner from the tribe of Judah (Ruth 4:18-20), married Ruth, a Moabite (Ruth 1:4). Salmon, an ancestor of David (1 Chron. 2:11), married Rahab, a prostitute from Jericho (Mt. 1:5) who feared Israel’s God. Bathsheba the Israelite (2 Sam. 11:3) married Uriah, a Hittite (2 Sam. 23:39), who fought for Israel. In the logic of race-based loyalty, none of these marriages or cross-national allegiances would be allowed. Ruth, for example, would have been returned to Moab, to her kind, and Rahab would have stood with her compatriots rather than with God. Yet each is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy to emphasize that Jesus is the “Son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1) who has come to save not just Jews but all those who have the faith of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).

It’s the kinship of faith rather than genes that unites God’s people. Israel was commanded to “not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Dt. 22:21) and “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Dt. 23:9). Jesus declared that those that do the will of God are his true family (Mark 3:31-35). He also taught his disciples that their love and devotion to Christ must be more than their love for parents and sisters (Luke 14:26). So, while it is true that Christians have certain creational responsibilities because of their family and nation, those are subservient to the ecclesiastical (Eph. 2:19) and heavenly (Phil. 3:20) responsibilities where it doesn’t matter if you are Greek or Jew (Col. 3:11) because you are united not by the blood of kin but the blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9).

Acts 17:26 has been clumsily used for centuries to justify enforcing racial partitions. It reads, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” The mistake is to assume this means that the boundaries of nations are changeless and inert. The point is something very different, as F.F. Bruce explains, “The Creator of all things in general is the Creator of mankind in particular. The Athenians might pride themselves on being autochthonous—sprung from the soil of their native Attica—but this pride was ill founded. All mankind was one in origin—all created by God and all descended from one common ancestor.” Paul is rebuking the ethnic loyalties prevalent in Greece, reminding them that God’s creative prerogative was to make a barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free all from one blood, Christ’s blood.  

So, when it comes to WMB, we must be careful that we are not drawing from a tradition in a way that makes us part of the tradition. True enough, as Edward Gibbons observed, there may be insights available from those whose bigotry is accompanied by erudition, diligence, and veracity. But, identifying with such a one is not sufficient preparation for crafting a Christian position. The church has resources aplenty theologically, historically, ethically, philosophically, and politically that there is no need to cruise on a cracked carriage. Let them have their feeble reactionem. We have Christ, which means we can set ourselves outside WMB and stake a distinctively Christian position. This ensures that no genetic relationship exists between Christians and WMB and that Christians don’t get wrongly christened as racists perforce.

To call WMB an overreaction is not to say it was thought up on the morning after George Floyd’s death. WMB is a contextualized recovery of some of the most nuanced elements in the grievous history of racialist thought. While it’s possible to partially reject and partially recover an idea, that’s not what’s happening when Christians #WhiteBoySummer, which signals implicit faith in the whole, intentional or not.

The current experience of living in America, where the Left is achieving heightened levels of insanity, forces Christians to choose between an increasing number of possible reactions. The internet is a marketplace to shop for a new subculture. You read something here, latch on to something there, and post your discoveries on social media. In the process, you are not only making decisions about how to act but are remaking the core of what you think about yourself. It’s lost on people that they are transforming their very selves, sleepwalking their way to a new center, divesting themselves of the heart of the gospel, oblivious to the fact that race-based fealty is idolatry; the idolatry of skin color.

WMB is not the best way to oppose woke-ism. There is a distinction between Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations” and the globalist dream of borderless globalism. And Christians have all the resources necessary to make that distinction without WMB. The Left may be obsessed with race. They may force it into every conversation, put it on every form, and interpret all of life through its lens. But that doesn’t mean Christians have to fall for it. We can speak clear and honest truth about the race-hustlers, but we must demarcate the right areas.

Just as it is a mistake to artificially diversify the church to match the local demographics, it is also a mistake to have a garrison mentality with a group based on the amount of melanin in the skin. And, of course, garrisons these days are identified on the internet with hashtags. The great danger is that WMB will unwittingly lead to a frontal lobotomy where the person cannot remember the heart of the gospel, namely, that the gospel doesn’t work like WMB, and thankfully so, since the grace of God goes far beyond the border of Israel (Mal. 1:5). Jesus’ blood is thicker than blood. WMB is not the recovery of the raw vitality of nature. It’s the burial of the gospel.

You could water the flowers with a jug of water that has only several drops of herbicide in it and they might survive. But why risk it when you could sprinkle them with pure water?

Bibliography

F.F. Bruce, Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979).

Jarislav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 18 – 40.

David F. Wells, Losing our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 85f.


[1] https://shotgunwildatheart.wordpress.com/category/kinism/

https://web.archive.org/web/*/littlegeneva

[2] Subsidiarity says that responsibility falls to the smallest possible unit. In application it means we should prioritize the smallest possible unit. We have one type of obligation to our family (1 Timothy 5:8) and another to our local church (Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 13:7, 17), and another to the magistrates of our local government (Romans 13:1ff).


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

This World and the Next

Introduction

In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau criticizes Christians with these words, “Christianity is an entirely spiritual religion, occupied solely with heavenly things; the Christian’s country is not of this world. He does his duty, certainly, but does it with a deep lack of interest in whether the work he has put in has produced good or bad results.”[1] Rousseau makes three claims about Christians. First, a Christian’s country is heaven. Second, Christians are occupied entirely with heaven. Third, Christians are not interested in things on earth. 

The first claim is true since Paul says “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Speaking of the Old Testament saints as our model, Hebrews says, “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). But Rousseau’s second and third claims are false. Christianity is not entirely a spiritual religion, which is seen when you consider that Christianity puts the redeemed into a sequence of three places. (A) It begins with physical life on earth, which is ended by death, (B) at which point the body and spirit separate and the disembodied spirit is in heaven with God until Christ’s Second Coming, (C) where body and soul are reunited to live in the new heavens and new earth with resurrected bodies.

The Redeemed Sequence

The above sequence needs further explanation. Since death is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23) it’s appointed for all to die because all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Christians are not excepted from death but the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:55). For all people “in Christ,” death is the beginning of eschatological glory.

In Philippians 1:21 Paul says that “to die is gain.” Why is it gain? Verse 23 says, “I am hard pressed between the two [living or dying]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” So, when a Christian dies, what happens? They are instantly “with Christ.” Their body returns to dust and sees corruption, but the soul is immortal and neither sleeps nor dies (1 Cor. 15:42-44). The spirit goes to be “with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). This is why Revelation 14:13 pronounces a blessing on “the dead who died in the Lord from now on.” The Westminster Larger Catechism 86 describes this condition as “the commencement of communion in glory with Christ.”

It’s not that the soul is eternal, as the Platonists argue, because the soul has a beginning and is thus subject to time. It’s that in redemption, God gives the redeemed immortality (Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15: 53-54; 2 Tim. 1:10). The Nicene Creed concludes by saying we “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

When Christ comes those who are alive will be “caught up together” with Christ (1 Thess. 4:17), who returns with all those saints who have previously died (1 Thess. 4:14). At that point, body and soul are reunited such that “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51b – 53). Then comes the final judgment where humans will be judged per what they have done in thought, word, and deed (Rev. 20:12). The righteous will go into everlasting life in the new heavens and new earth and the wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9).

Should Christians care about this world?

Back to Rousseau’s charge. How can we expect believers longing for the next world to care about the common good of this world? For Augustine, the answer lay in virtue. Without a transcendently defined virtue to strain for, society is ordered without a mind to the true highest good of human life. G.K. Chesterton put it this way, “We must be fond of another world (real or imaginary) in order to have something to change it to.”[2] C.S. Lewis said, “Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.”[3] Civil life is a mockery when God is not given his due, which is the recipe for how to contort virtues into vices.

So, the only way to build this world is to long for God’s world—the new heavens and new earth. What is the new heaven and earth? It is the true temple that fills the whole creation (Rev. 21:1-3, 10; 21:22). The new Jerusalem comes to earth (Rev. 21:2) where “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Rev. 21:3). When you work backward from verse three you see that the tabernacle of verse 3 (“the dwelling place of God”) is the same as the city of verse 2, which is identical to the new creation of verse 1. This informs our understanding of taking dominion of the world for Christ the King, which is to fill the whole earth with the knowledge of God (Is. 11:9).

Heaven or the New Heavens and Earth?

Life on earth now is the first step of the sequence. Life on the new creation is the third step of the sequence. Longing to transform this world into God’s temple may diminish the second step of the sequence, even though Paul describes it as “far better” than the first step (Phil. 1:23). Should Christians long for the second step of the sequence, that time when our disembodied spirit is present with Christ? Isn’t heaven just an otherworldly, Platonic, gnostic, intermediate state? Since the new heavens and earth are the once for all final destination, shouldn’t we long for that rather than heaven?

Paul was not wrong when he expressed an earnest desire to depart from this life and be with the Lord (Phi. 1:19-21; 2 Cor. 5:5-8). Neither was Peter wrong when he used the hope of heaven to encourage God’s people, saying they were begotten “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Neither was the angel wrong when he testified to John about the glory and happiness of the intermediate state, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors …’” (Rev. 14:13).

Neither was John Calvin wrong when he wrote, “If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort?” In the same section of the Institutes, he says, “No man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection.”[4] Neither was the Westminster Confession of Faith wrong when it spoke of the Christian’s life after death, “Their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory.”[5] Expressions like this can be found throughout the history of the church.[6]

The witness of Scripture and the wisdom of our fathers teaches that the intermediate state is a blessed one. Yet, those who have a fixed eye on the new heavens and earth may feel squishy using the phrase “going to heaven” since heaven is not the final destination. Perhaps it’s because we’ve adopted modern, ethereal definitions of the word “heaven” and dispensed with the more robust, ancient definition.

The modern ideas of heaven are as an ill-defined space beyond the clouds where spirits maintain airy existence while waiting for the resurrection. But in ancient cosmology, the heavens were a place of life where the stars and heavenly hosts sing praises to God (Job 38:7, Luke 2:13-14). The book of Revelation is filled with images of beauty, praise, and glory that resonates to God from angels and saints before the final resurrection. And it doesn’t stop there. Scripture not only describes what they do, we’re told in Hebrews 12:22-24 that we have come unto “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” Since the heavenly entourage is already our privilege in this life (though we can’t see it with our physical eyes) how much better will we be able to enjoy that status after we come into “the presence of the Lord”?

Scripture provides brief glimpses of saints in the intermediate state. For example, when Moses and Elijah joined Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, Luke specifically says that they—not just Jesus—appeared “in glory” (Luke 9:30-31). While we don’t know precisely what this means, they certainly appeared in a greater, more majestic state than they were in their earthly lives. If Moses and Elijah enjoyed this status before the completed work of Christ, what more can departed saints hope for after His victory?

Conclusions

While it’s not the final glory of the new heavens and new earth, the words of Paul, Peter, Luke, and John about the intermediate state should be enough to fill the heart of any believer with hope at the prospect of death. Christians no longer should look at death as a powerful enemy. Rather, death is a good, though slightly contrarian, friend who ushers Christians from this mortal life to the throne of God, which Jesus calls heaven.[7] From there, the souls of the saints wait for Christ’s Second Coming, where body and soul are reunited in resurrection glory. Rousseau’s mistake is when he frames it as this world or the next. In truth, it is this world and the next and the next. Rousseau’s vision means that people should be a citizen and nothing but a citizen. The Christian vision means people are more than earthly citizens, which is the only faithful way to live on God’s earth.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Matt Carpenter is the Associate Pastor at Trinity Reformed Church. He taught history for fifteen years and has served in pastoral ministry for eleven years. He is married to Amanda and they have four children: Phoebe, Simeon, Emmaline, and Olivia. In his spare time he enjoys cooking, reading, hiking, and fishing. 


[1] Rousseau goes on to say, “Provided he has nothing to reproach himself with, it doesn’t matter much to him whether things go well or ill here below. If the state prospers he hardly dares to share in the public happiness, for fear he may become puffed up with pride in his country’s glory; if the state goes downhill, he blesses the hand of God that is hard upon His people.”

[2] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 106.

[3] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 150.

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 10, Section 5.

[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, 32:1.

[6] See Augustine, City of God, Book 13:2. John Chrysostom, Homily 41 on I Corinthians.

[7] Acts 7:49, Matthew 5:34, Revelation 4:1-6, Hebrews 8:1, Psalm 11:4

Covenant Renewal Worship: The Benediction

Introduction: The Gesture Jitters

The benediction is the capstone of covenant renewal worship. A benediction—from the Latin words bene and dicere, meaning “good word”—is merely an “utterance of blessing.”[1] It is the final pronouncement of blessing that we are given before returning to our work in God’s world.  However, there is much confusion in the Church today about the nature and purpose of the benediction. Indeed, we are often tempted to think about it merely as a glorified goodbye, a pious “peace out.” Further, the entire hand-opening drama of the benediction can feel strange. We typically associate such behavior with the emotionally driven culture of worship in the broader Evangelical or Pentecostal wings of the Church. As such, we are right to be leery. What, then, is the benediction, and why do we do it with outstretched hands?

Three Reminders

In order to get to the specifics of the benediction, we must remember three more general things about worship: first, God is enthroned on the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3). Though it has been said many times around TRC, it is worth repeating that during the in-person worship of God’s people on Sunday morning, our King meets with us in a particular and special way that He does not on other days of the week.[2] His presence is always with us; but when we gather as the covenant community to renew and reinforce our covenant with the Lord, certain promises—or rather, a certain promise—is given to us—namely, that God will be there (Gen. 3:8; 4:16; Exod. 33:14-15; Deut. 4:37; Deut. 12:7, 18; 14:23, 26; 15:20; Judges 18:6; 2 Kings 13:23; 17:18-23; Ezek. 48:35; Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4; 11:18ff; Heb. 12:18-24; Rev. 4-5).

Second, God serves us on Sundays (Ps. 50). Though this statement may chafe against our self-determining sensibilities, it is nevertheless true that we gather not primarily to give but to receive from God. Jonathan Edwards somewhere says that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that made it necessary; the same may be said of worship. All we bring with us on Sunday morning is the dull-heartedness that makes being called into worship necessary, the transgression that makes confession necessary, the needs that make the prayers necessary, the uncleanness that makes baptism necessary, and the hunger that makes the Supper necessary. We cannot offer anything to God that He has not given us first, including our love, our time, our money, and our worship. But the good news is that God is the eternal giver, the Father who delights to give us all things in Christ (Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor. 3:21; 1 Peter 1:3). Week-in and week-out, we gather not to serve but to be served, offering only the fruit of our lips, the words of thanksgiving, as the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15; Eph. 5:20; Col. 1:12).

Third, God made us with bodies (Ps. 8). We must resist the perennial trap to gnosticize the faith, making it seem as if the body is useless and evil while only the spirit is useful and good. This heresy is directly repudiated by Scripture (Cf. 1 John 1:1-5; John 1:1-14; Luke 24:39; Col. 1:19; Philip. 2:5-8), and it was the bane of the Church’s earliest apologists. Even if we claim to repudiate this ancient heresy, we can still (ironically) embody this tendency to dis-embody our faith by denying that what we do with our bodies directly affects our soul. We are, however, integrated selves—bodies and souls inseparably and reciprocally dependent on each other. TRC’s anti-gnostic theology is most evident not merely when we confess in the words of Nicaea that God is the Creator of all that is visible and invisible, that the Son of God took on flesh, or that baptism grants the remission of sins but when we join ourselves publicly to church membership, kneel for confession, and stand for God’s Word.

With these three crucial things in mind, we can move on to note that the benediction is merely the extension and consummation of these ideas. In the benediction, we are blessed by God as His final word to us before going back out into His world as His ambassadors. We see as much when we turn to Scripture.

To the Text

First, we can see the importance of the benediction pattern in the covenant-making and covenant-renewing passages throughout Scripture. After God creates the world and places Adam and Eve in the Eden, He consummates His creation by blessing humanity before commissioning them and taking His rest (Gen. 1:28). When God re-creates the world in the days of Noah, the pattern of benediction and commission is repeated on Mount Ararat (Gen. 9:1). God pronounces a three-fold benediction while making his covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Under the Mosaic covenant, the sacrificial offerings ended with a benediction, often referred to as the Aaronic blessing, which Aaron would perform in front of the Tabernacle (Lev. 9:22-24; Num. 6:22-27). When David desires to bless God with a house of Cedar to dwell in on Mount Zion, God flips the script and pronounces an eternally secure blessing over David and his offspring (1 Sam. 7). Later, Solomon blesses the Lord of Heaven and Earth and His people Israel for keeping steadfast love—covenant love—to David his father, and all of Israel’s generations from Abraham onward (1 Kings 8:12-66). After sealing the New Covenant in His blood, the Lord Christ pronounces a benediction over his apostles immediately before His ascension (Luke 24:50). From beginning to end, God has been on a mission to bless humanity. This mission is, of course, fulfilled in the Church, the new humanity in Christ. In Jesus Christ, we are graciously blessed (Gal. 3:9; Eph. 1:3-6; Rev. 20:6). To be in Christ is to live and move and have your being in eternal benediction. 

Second, in each of these benedictions and other general pronunciations of blessing, the physical sign that attends and communicates the Spirit-wrought blessings in each of these scenes is always lifted hands. Aaron, at the door of the tent of meeting, lifts his hands to bless the congregation of Israel, newly married to Yahweh her Warrior-King (Lev. 9:22). After Ezra reads the Law before the people in their covenant renewal, everyone raises their hands during the blessing (Neh. 8:6). And our Lord’s final word and deed on earth, in fulfillment of these other passages, raised his hands to bless his disciples before his ascension (Luke 24:50). This sets a precedent for us—namely, that the pronouncement of a benediction and the raising of hands are correlative events. In each case, a covenant is confirmed with the uplifted hands of blessing. In Scripture, lifting hands and pronouncing a blessing, even when not mentioned together are synechdochically related—where one is present, the other is implied. We should not expect to have an apostolic footnote with hand-raising instructions every time an epistle ends with, “Now may the God of peace . . .” Indeed, the posture of lifted hands is the biblically assumed position of blessing.

Conclusion

Thus, when we hear the benediction, we are not to think of an elevated farewell, and we are not to raise our palms to say, “This feels right.” This over-sentimentalizes and over-personalizes this moment of objective offer-and-response of the good favor of the Father. Rather, we are to lift out hands to accept the blessing of the Father that is grounded in the work of the Son and made presently potent in the Spirit through the person of the minister. The benediction and its attendant hand-raising gesture is a thoroughly biblical practice, and it is the natural flow of the covenant renewal service as presented throughout redemptive history.


Gage Crowder teaches literature and Bible at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. In addition to his studies at Birmingham Theological Seminary, he is a contributing member of the Huntsville Literary Association and the Academy of Philosophy and Letters. His poetry and prose can be found in the The LegendPoem Magazine, the Birmingham Arts Journal, Panoply and elsewhere.


Here are some of our other articles about Covenant Renewal Worship


[1]See “Benediction” in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 20 vols. (Oxford, ENG: Clarendon Press), 2:109.

 

[2]“Let us know and be fully persuaded, that wherever the faithful, who worship him purely and in due form, according to the appointment of his word, are assembled together to engage in the solemn acts of religious worship, he is graciously present, and presides in the midst of them.” John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 122.

Dude Remix

With the Obergefell decision in June of 2015, the sodomy lobby got everything it wanted. What next? It used to be LGB rights. Now it’s LGBT rights and the “T” isn’t like anything that came previously. Before Obergefell, transgenderism was fittingly arcane. Needing a new cause, the activists mobilized their money, resources, and sophistic attempts to legitimize transgenderism. Younger people are proving particularly vulnerable to the agitprop. The friction and abrasion of the transgender newspeak breaks through the barrier of young people’s untaught prejudice, blowing up the citadel of Natural Revelation and common sense until people accept the separation of gender and sex as ordinary as a porn habit. With rebellion thus sugarcoated, the activists have been drugging the public mind.

Transgenderism is best thought of as a stubborn cult. The idea that gender is unrelated to biological sex is the non-negotiable starting assumption. Gender, we are told, is that deeply held, internal sense of the self—how people think of themselves. Biological sex, we are told, is that external category “assigned at birth,”[1] the mere material substance that can be marooned if it contradicts the inner sense of self. But transgenderism is far more than a hair-brained theory about gender and sex, it’s an all-encompassing belief system that subordinates nature to the subjective desire for open-ended limitlessness.

The immediate precondition for transgenderism was twentieth-century existentialism, which stressed that since existence preceded essence, people create meaning. Each subject must seize the experience of their existence and look within to discover the authentic self. Freud taught that a person is their sexual desires, which means that the authentic self is an inner sexual perversion. The French existential philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir rejected the oppressive limits of a God-governed and law-constrained cosmic order. Camus argued that true freedom only comes when people accept the absurd. Rather than yielding to the telos of God, people invent their telos. Transgenderism shares with existentialism this same vision of moral irresponsibility that leaves behind the possibility of transcendent limitations.

What is the spiritual danger of disdaining the limits imposed by embodied existence? How is the soul damaged when it is alienated from the ordered telos of nature? Carl Trueman uses the illustration that 200 years ago if a person went to the doctor and said they are a woman trapped in a man’s body, the doctor would have said, “That’s a problem of your mind and we need to bring your mind into conformity with your body.” If a person goes to the doctor today and says the same thing, the doctor says, “That’s a problem with your body and we need to bring your body into conformity with your mind.” Think of the difference. For the person 200 years ago, what was the ground of identity? The body—that which was received from God. For the person today, what is the ground of identity? The self—that which each person creates on their own. This is metaphysical rebellion—a theological ambition to overcome the authority of nature.

It’s a fool’s errand to overcome, replace, and reconfigure biological bounds. There is wisdom in submitting to limits—children to parents, students to teachers, and each person to the body God gave. Each time someone goes to sleep at the end of an exhausting day, they are submitting to their body. God, in His wisdom, gave humans a body that requires sleep. Roughly one-third of life is spent in the purely helpless state of sleep, perhaps as a daily reminder that we are dependent creatures. God, in His wisdom, gave humans a body that requires food. If a person spends one-hour eating every day and lives to be eighty years old, that is 29,200 hours spent eating, not counting the time spent preparing to eat. Sleeping and eating are examples of submitting to the body God allotted. Accepting biological sex is also part of the act of submitting, acknowledging that the soul is tied to the body God gave each person, male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27).

What is the relationship between soul and body? Are they two things independent from each other? Or is there a psychosomatic unity such that the soul is dependent on the body? In other words, is the “self” insulated from biology? The entire transgender gravamen hinges on this question. If body and soul are intrinsically linked in one person, and if biological sex is innate, then it is unnatural for the sexuality of the mind to contradict the sexuality of the body.

Human life involves bodily reality, which is to say that each person must live within the vassalage of their incarnation. All true faithfulness begins with receiving the flesh. Without this insistence upon the body—an agreement between body and mind—it can be no more than a half-life. Divorcing body and mind is at root a resistance to incarnation as if a person can be separate from what they are. To live without submitting to the body is instinctive anarchy—a life without rules. Sagacity requires taking the universal dogmas for granted. G.K. Chesterton said, “If you choose to lump all flowers together, lilies and dahlias and tulips and chrysanthemums and call them all daisies, you will find that you have spoiled the very fine word daisy.” Likewise, men are one kind of person and women another. If you call a person of the male sex a woman, you have, first, rejected universal dogma; second, destroyed the essential meaning of embodied life; third, spoiled two very fine words, man and woman;

Secular biology fails before it begins. The textbook diagram of a person is a picture with arms, legs, and lungs. This, we are told, is a human being, reduced to a merely scientific and medical definition. But God’s image-bearers are body and soul to the degree that a body without a soul is not a human being. Anatomy is a material model, a physical structure that, if it is a real human being, has a matching internal reality stamped on the soul. If the body is male, the spirit has the mind to match.

During Jesus’ three-year earthly ministry, he challenged faulty descriptions of Israel’s law, land, and calling. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the formula, “You’ve heard it said but I say to you,” offering proper meaning for murder, adultery, and righteousness. Not only was it a rebuttal of the Pharisaical mislabeling of the world, but it was an injunction that the church must classify the world with the right words. Only then will our message resemble the purposeful order of God’s world. Language must be mobilized to intentionally raise some walls like God did when he separated the light from the dark and waters above from the waters below. God’s people must give things their proper names, like Adam when he named the animals. Until we faithfully use language within the covenant community, we will never be prepared to go outside the walls and transform the culture.

Too many Christians stand on the boat and watch the wind and the waves, yet touch neither a sail nor a pump, expecting to continue the trip as deadhead passengers, carried through the storm to a safe landing where they are snug, dry, and right side up. Faithfulness is more than looking at the storm and doing nothing. Because the metaphysical revolt happens through language, Christians can’t call boys Caitlin and girls Elliot. Neither can we use “them” as a singular pronoun, lest we are implicated in the theology of rebellion. Our job is to be apostles of the obvious, which starts by using Christian vocabulary. It’s murder rather than “women’s reproductive freedom.” It’s sodomy rather than “gay.” It’s oppression rather than “progress.” It’s archetypes rather than “stereotypes.”

The impulse to reject the body, mutilate it, or overcome it, is as insane as trying to live by never eating or sleeping. Human beings are the image-bearers of God, and this includes the human body. There are specific expectations tied to biological sex, not just within the walls of the house, but even in worship. First Corinthians 11:2-16, for all its complexity, establishes a distinction between men and women during worship. “Nature itself” teaches us that women worship as women (as under authority) and men worship as men (without any self-glory).

And so it is that the human body is a divine directive of moral responsibility for all of life. To accept the body is to accept the duty as we receive it: bounded by space and time and limited by biological design. There is a cost to getting human nature wrong. When a human being is nothing more than physical parts, then doctors and scientists become the high priests of human existence. But those leading the transgender craze get human nature wrong ontologically, anthropologically, and metaphysically. A person with the XY chromosome is a man, no matter what surgery was performed or puberty-blocking hormones were prescribed. To say otherwise is not only a lie, but a lie that can’t be sustained sine die. Lies involve two parties, those who tell the lies and those who believe them. The transgender movement is a social contagion that has contacted many people. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of sexual confusion and sin. But the sin of transgenderism is not beyond the power of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the only true remedy for sexual brokenness.

Bibliography

Ryan Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York; Encounter Books, 2018), Chapter 3.

G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (Pantianos Classics, Orig. 1910), 49.

Peter Kreeft, The Best Things in Life: A Contemporary Socrates Looks at Power, Pleasure, Truth, & the Good Life (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1984), 129f.

Peter Leithart, Against Christianity (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 52-55.

Ahmari Sohrab, The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos (New York: Convergent, 2021), 241-245.

C.R. Wiley, The Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter That Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2017), 93.

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/06/transgenderism-escaping-limits

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] We should point out that the language of gender “assigned at birth” is, from a metaphysical perspective, pure hooey. In truth, gender is determined at fertilization and is based upon the chromosomes inherited from the father (in the sperm) and mother (in the egg) and fused together to form a zygote. The sex is determined at that moment and the chromosomes determined the production of the sex organs.

Violence and the Secular Society

Introduction

While it is true that gun violence is impossible without guns, it is not true that the only explanation for school shootings is guns. The thought leaders have settled on one main theory to explain mass shootings, a theory hemmed in by a narrow corridor of acceptable opinion and prevailing fads. It’s tempting to join the mob and explain it all away with the obganiating bromide of “Blame the guns!” But, as Chesterton said, “The powers of this world are now not trusted simply because they are not trustworthy.” So we are left with the question: What is it about American secular culture that forms children who go on suicidal killing sprees?

There are endless statistics about mass shootings that can’t be referenced here.[1] There are also many whys and wherefores, so we must step back if we are to see that the tower is leaning. To start naming the reasons for sin need not imply that there is a limit to those reasons.[2] But four interrelated and unavoidable features of modern American secular society contribute to repeated mass episodes of violence; four things that are seldom talked about by the prestige press. These tendencies have existed in American society for many decades and undergird the reason secular society is ripe for repeatable episodes of mass shootings.

Four Features of Secular Society

Autonomy

It’s false freedom when a nation is full of public law and empty of private morality. It used to be the ideal of American society that everyone could pursue their selfish ends up to the limit of the law. Now those selfish ends are pursued far past the law. A free society with only legal boundaries can never be fully just. People will everywhere perpetuate injustice in the name of autonomy, conflating freedom-for-good with a license-for-evil. When people use their autonomy to flatter the baser nature, the intelligentsia has no explanation but to get rid of the second amendment.

The solution isn’t to get rid of individual freedoms, but to see them in light of and subservient to God’s freedom to create, define and prescribe. The Bill of Rights doesn’t work in a godless society because humans aren’t good on their own. In God’s world, freedom requires dependence on God. Only God is free to exercise autonomy in every way and every direction. Humans are not intended to create the moral scales but to receive God’s and keep their thumbs off.


Evolution

In government schools, the science classroom and school shootings are united. If humans, like cockroaches, are evolved from goo, then there exist no natural or moral constraints on behavior. Nietzsche admitted it more freely than most in the book, Beyond Good and Evil, where he argues for an alternative morality, namely, one where everything is permissible. This is the case because, as he argues in The Twilight of the Idols, God is dead, by which he means that nobody believes in God anymore. Given his premise, Nietzsche is correct. IF God is dead (as he presumes), then there is no objective truth. The human soul, with all its will, reason, love, and purpose is not real if God does not exist. How then shall we live? This is the question he answers in Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Eternal Return. He argues that most people are weaklings. It is those who live by the supreme virtue of “master morality” that become the Superman by affirming the meaninglessness of life. In the Will to Power, Nietzsche argues that the meaning of life is the will to power, which is naked self-affirmation and egotism. While Nietzsche formulated the logical outcome of Darwinism, school shooters put it into application as consistently as Stalin and Hitler.

The Soviets and Nazis were as enthusiastically committed to Darwinism as the American public school system. The vision of unbound human rule led to the Soviet Gulags, the Nazi death camps, and American school shootings. The problem with school shooters is they were listening during science class. The materialistic atheist has no basis upon which to appeal to moral absolutes. They have no warrant to assert that it is wrong to misrepresent and lie about lab results.[3] And, they have no basis upon which to assert that it is wrong for one person to pull out a gun and shoot another person. On what basis can a Darwinist appeal to objective morality? They may claim that morals are good and necessary, but apart from an absolute standard, namely, an Absolute Personal God, they cannot justify objective morals. The high school student who is listening in biology class begins to intuit, like Nietzsche, that morality is mankind’s worst weakness. This creates a spiritual malaise that leads to the next feature of American secular society. 


Dehumanization

Mass murder is the situation where a violent person thinks so little of human life that they shoot people like they might shoot zombies in a video game. It’s a brutalized and dehumanized view of human beings. Three common aspects of modern secular society contribute to the overall problem of dehumanization.

The first is abortion, that murderous blight in modern America that justifies killing in the name of living, namely, that women have a right to not have a child because giving birth might deprive the mother of a lifestyle of her choosing. In effect, the child dies for his mother’s medicine, and in so doing abortion dehumanizes all human life (Prov. 1:18). Abortion is the killing of a living human embryo or fetus, which belongs to the species homo sapiens. Abortion cannot be compared to a miscarriage because abortion is the specific intention to kill a living fetus. In abortion, that which was alive before is deliberately killed—human life is turned to death.

Abortion cannot be justified on the issue of viability, as if killing the unborn baby is permissible when survival is impossible outside the mother’s womb. The lack of viability does not make the human embryo less human or less alive. Rather, it classifies embryos as the weakest and most vulnerable human group in all of society, and thus most in need of protection. A society that has killed 62 million of its weakest members in the last fifty years is living amid tortured moral logic that isn’t just barbarizing unborn humans, but dehumanizing all human life. This is how you get people who cry when children are shot inside a school but not when they are killed inside a womb?[4]

The second aspect of modern society that dehumanizes life is pornography, that ubiquitous presence in modern life that debases all involved parties. Nine out of ten boys have watched pornography before turning eighteen, and many of those regularly.[5] More than 100 million viewers visit Pornhub each day. Those who consume porn are exploiting real people and digging a hole of degradation in their souls. Boys who watch pornography are left with a notion of personhood so warped as to think that females are only for sex or violence. Pornography trains boys to objectify and devalue women in a way that is amplified across all of life and culture. The reason pornography is addictive is that it takes possession of the whole person—physically and spiritually—such that all power of moral action is practically paralyzed.

Pornography also skews knowledge. The Apostle Paul says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-5). One of the characteristics of heathens who don’t know God is sexual immorality. A society characterized by porneia doesn’t know God and deserves God’s wrath.

Pitirim Sorokin, the Russian-American sociologist who invented the Social Cycle Theory, points out that harnessing the human sexual drive was the first achievement of civilization. Most people living today have no idea how long it took civilization to restrain the lustful impulses of man. Yet the moral parameters of civilization are undone through pornography, which in Scripture is associated with idolatry (Acts 15:19f, 29; 21:25). Since repentance is turning to God from idols (1 Thess. 1:9), having the right knowledge requires breaking off all association with dehumanizing idolatry, including pornography.

The third aspect of modern society that dehumanizes life is the environmentalism movement, which has as its controlling assumption that humans are a malignant scourge upon the planet.[6]As Christians, we also have controlling assumptions, for instance, that human beings do not exist by evolutionary fluke, but by God’s creative behest. Human beings are supposed to be on earth, use the earth, and enjoy the earth.

A primary point of the earth is human habitation.[7] A key part of human habitation is eating. Jesus says to Peter in Acts 10:9-16, to kill and eat. Consider the cow, that cud-chewing beast of the field. For humans to eat beef requires that they raise cattle. From time to time, cows will release putrid air bubbles filled with methane and carbon monoxide. This combination of gas not only stinketh but, we are told, harms the environment. Should we pass regulations that restrict this? The answer is no. Why not? Because from the Christian perspective humans are to (A) Conserve the earth, and (B) Enjoy the earth. The mistake of environmentalists is when they absolutize “A” and call for the reversal of “B” through arguments for no growth or degrowth.[8] This is an anti-human wing of the environmental movement that elevates the earth higher than human beings, thus spreading a dehumanizing lacquer over American culture.

Families

Since the time of Karl Marx, the Left has been on a mission to destroy the traditional elements of society, which is why Marx called for the abolishment of God, the abolition of organized religion, and the abolition of the family. This element of the Marxist dream is being realized in the United States. The overwhelming majority of school shooters come from broken families.[9] The first question ought to be, “Where is their daddy?” The pre-condition for unchecked moral depravity is when children are deprived of a two-parent home, deprived of a father, and deprived of learning a work ethic, skills, and virtues. There are moral consequences when the family is broken, and when 40% of children are born out of wedlock,[10] that has a sweeping effect on the culture.

God’s purpose for marriage is that children are raised with two parents in the home who form the first social context for life. If there is no father in the home, then no subsequent level of society can fully correct it. It doesn’t matter how much money is spent or what legislation is passed. There is no substitute for the family. Restrictive gun laws can’t correct what is lacking if there is no father in the home.[11] Politicians can’t remediate what is lost through a bi-partisan bill. Single parents do the best they can, but God’s design is that children are raised by a loving and attentive father and mother who are married to each other.

It is impossible to fully understand the repeated episodes of mass violence in society without talking about the destruction of the family. There is no greater threat to children’s moral and spiritual integrity than a broken home. Though a seventeen-year-old is responsible for his actions, society can be judged by the sort of children it produces. Violence in the secular society won’t be alleviated outside of the context of intact families teaching children to harness their grievances, forgive wrongdoers, and function in society.

Conclusion

Lady Gaga, Harvard, Disney, and big tech are the current culture-shapers. Yet they don’t have the moral, theological, or practical equipment necessary to recommend a solution for how to transform a society such as ours. Celebrities race to their microphones and platforms to call for change. Indeed, change is needed, just not the sort of change they have in mind. These four bitter trends are a sign of one overarching brooding truth, namely, the failure of secular materialism. History will keep repeating itself until there is a change, a revival where people in large numbers repent of secular materialism and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And that repentance means laying siege to the cultural calamities of autonomy, evolution, dehumanization, and broken families.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] The U.S. has many more mass shootings than most every other country, even though those nations are just as godless. Most perpetrators are suicidal, either killing themselves or arranging for death by cop.

[2] Many social trends of American culture contribute to America’s most violent sins: Identity politics, media hypocrisy, reality television, gangster rap music, and celebrity high-horsing just to name a few.

[3] http://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/05/scientific-regress

[4] John Murdock recently wrote, “The remains of five children recently found killed at an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., prompted no media outcry among mainstream outlets. These young ones made the mistake of being killed—potentially illegally, even under today’s laws—at an abortion clinic rather than at a schoolhouse.”

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2022/06/uvalde-abortion-and-the-limits-of-compassion

[5] http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV169.pdf

[6] Leftists and those in the scientific community increasingly refer to the current historical epic as Anthropocene, the age of man. They see this as a problem because human needs and wants leads to cities, houses, and cars, which require the use of fossil fuels, which, we are told, is destroying the planet.

[7] More specifically, humans are given the task to multiply and take dominion. The multiply task is carried out by women (all children are born from a woman) and the dominion task is mainly carried out by men. Environmentalism destroys the creation mandate for both men and women, wishing women to stop multiplying and men to stop taking dominion.

[8] https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/growth-vs-the-climate

http://degrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Victor_Growth-Degrowth-and-Climate-Change.pdf

[9] https://www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family/commentary/the-crisis-fatherless-shooters

[10] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_13-508.pdf

[11] See the book by Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People. Also see The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies by Scott Yenor.

Why Do Christians Worship on Sundays?

It’s not a matter of Bible trivia or historical oddities. It’s a matter of redemption. The conundrum can be stated simply. God commanded Israel to “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). This meant the seventh day of the week—Saturday. But Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. Why do Christians do this? Are we disobeying the fourth commandment?

God formed Adam on the sixth day of creation, which was a Friday. God then rested on the seventh day, giving Adam and his posterity a day of rest on Saturday. Adam did not work his first full day on earth. He didn’t even show up at the office and pretend to work. He took a sun-soaked nap instead. As he napped, he soaked in more than the sun. He practiced laying aside his works to allow God to work in him. This is the first Adam’s creation story—and not just Adam’s creation story but all those in Adam. Later, when Adam ate of the tree and disobeyed the Lord (Gen. 3:1-6), all those in Adam died (1 Cor. 15:22a). But as Christians know, this isn’t the end of the story.

The second Adam came to earth to make all those in Christ alive (1 Cor. 15:22b). “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). How did the last Adam—Jesus Christ—give life? The paradox of the gospel is that life comes through death. But not just death. Death and resurrection. The cross of Calvary and the empty tomb are the new creation. Resurrection day—Sunday!—is the Sabbath of the new world. Those who rest in that receive redemption.

Since God made man to participate in the life of the eternal God and since the Sabbath points to the eternal life that comes through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Adam’s Sabbath rest looks forward to Christ’s Sabbath rest. After the Exodus, the Sabbath rest also commemorated the redemption of God’s people from the hands of Pharoah. This also looks forward to Christ’s Sabbath rest, which means the chief job of the OT Sabbath was to foreshadow. Saint Paul’s exact words are that the Sabbath is “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). For Old Testament Israel, this shadow was only dimly appreciated. For the church, Christ’s resurrection validates the accomplishments of his death. All those in Christ now drink of the cup of the covenant of Christ’s blood (Lk. 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:23-32). In so doing they participate in the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).

This is why the early church began worshipping on Sunday, because it was resurrection day, what John refers to as “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Every Sunday is resurrection day. It’s the day the church gathers “in one place” (Acts 2:1) to “break bread” (Acts 20:7), collect an offering (1 Cor. 16:1-20), and meet with the Lord (Mt. 28:1-10; Lk. 24:13-49; John 20:1, 19, 26).

The Old Testament observance of the Sabbath pointed to the future reality accomplished by Jesus Christ, which adjusts Christian obligations to the Sabbath, something that Isaiah prophesied about (Is. 66:22-23). The Sabbath was originally tied to God’s act of creation. The only thing that could change the day is a new creation, a regeneration, a resurrection (Heb. 4:10).

Romans 14:5 says “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” This speaks to the controversy between Jewish and Gentile Christians over observing the Saturday Sabbath. John Frame explains:

“Paul and other believers hoped initially that the Jews as a body could be won to Christ. Had that taken place, all Jews would have worshipped Jesus on the first day. But, in God’s providence, the mass conversion did not take place. Like Jesus, Paul attended the synagogue services and presented the gospel there (e.g., Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:1, 10). But the number of Jewish converts was a disappointment, which brought much agony to Paul (Rom. 9:1-3). The hostile response to the Jews led him to take the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 13:42-48; 18:6; 28:28). So the churches outside Israel became increasingly Gentile churches, churches made up of people who had not historically kept the Jewish Sabbath. Further, Jewish Christians were either expelled from the synagogues or left voluntarily. So Christianity became less a sect of Judaism, more a faith independent of Judaism. The Lord’s Day became, increasingly, the main time of worship for believers, and observance among them of the seventh-day Sabbath declined.”[1]

The Church Fathers confirm both the biblical testimony and Frame’s historical summary when they wrote about how Christians in the early church gathered to celebrate the resurrection on the first day of the week.[2] And thus so do we, in accordance with Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him (Ex. 20:8, 10-11; Is. 56:2-7), which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week (Gen. 2:2-3; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7), which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-10; Mt. 5:17-18).”

It’s not just that the Lord’s Day is for the sake of weekdays. It’s also not the case that the weekdays are for the sake of the Lord’s Day. It’s only when they are self-consciously and mutually reinforcing that the church will further the Kingship of the Lord on earth. Why? Because it’s not enough to merely contemplate the Lord. Rather, Kingdom-living has to be nurtured in a life of devotion and ritual, in the dimension of time, on the Lord’s Day. If we cannot properly honor Christ on the Lord’s Day, how can we expect the Kingdom to be spread to the other days of the week? And if not spread to the other days of the week, how will the Lordship of Christ spread to the whole earth? And so it’s not just important that you know why Christians worship on Sunday. You must treat each Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

Here are some of our other articles about Covenant Renewal Worship

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ; P & R, 2008), 563.

[2] G.W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1961), “Kyriakos.”

The Authenticity Ethos Versus Biblical Christianity

Introduction

The ubiquitous expectation in modern life is to “be true to oneself,” which means the foremost concern and superseding moral imperative is the cultivation of the self.[1] This self-creation assumes that people have the liberty to form their judgments, even when aligned against the Nature of Things. It’s the liberty to ignore the Lawgiver and Judge; to ignore the unchosen obligations of life; to take up any religion or none at all while imagining oneself to be an impartial critic of the Bible. The authenticity ethos is the right to self-define and then unveil at a time of my choosing. Rather than building an alternative to the authenticity deliramentum, evangelicals have made a truce with it.

For modern evangelicals, authenticity equals transparency. And since evangelical theology emphasizes brokenness rather than victory—“none of us are perfect” rather than “be holy because I am holy”—transparency means revealing sin. In other words, since ongoing sin is the evangelical reality more real than others, the squalid side of life is thought to be more genuine than the holy side.

The language of “authenticity” is itself misleading. It should be that “authentic” refers to rightly aligning oneself with objective reality. But the new notion of authenticity is grounded in the self rather than the metaphysical truth of the Universe. It’s a project of aligning oneself with the imagined or desired outcome. Evangelicals don’t just have a truce with authenticity; it is the fundamental premise of modern evangelical theology, as illustrated in evangelical preaching and music.

This is seen, first, in evangelical preaching (EP). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that Christ came to save sinners. Saving sinners refers to salvation. Salvation implies saved from and saved to. What does “EP” say you are saved from? Failure before man. The message is that through Christ you are unconditionally loved, so no matter your failures, shame, or embarrassments, Jesus loves you. You are saved from failure before man. You are saved from not measuring up to the person more talented than you. You are saved from feeling bad about yourself. You are saved from the guy one cubicle over who personally slighted you. What does “EP” say you are saved to? Freedom to feel no failure before man, freedom to feel like who you are is enough, and freedom to boost your self-esteem. This is why EP requires that the preacher exposit himself and reveal his psychological weaknesses as illustrations of “the Gospel.”

This is seen, second, in evangelical songs. Consider Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song, “He Will Hold Me Fast.” The lyrics of the song, as such, are not inaccurate. But it embodies the authenticity ethos where weakness is authentic and Christians barely stumble across the finish line. The first lines of the song are:

When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast

Of course, Christ will indeed hold his people when the tempter tempts and believers fear, but by emphasizing the authenticity ethos the implication is that the Christian life is for people feebly holding on in the face of fear and temptation, that fear and temptation are the genuine realities of life, and people just weather the storm until Christ just barely pulls them through. The Gospel is thus domesticated to accommodate the new ethic of authenticity.

Confusion

The authenticity ethos found in modern evangelicalism confuses four things.

First, it confuses honesty

When people start with the assumption that feelings aren’t evil because feelings are honest, then expressing real feelings feels honest. In contrast, self-control over whatever feelings happen at the moment feels dishonest. And since honesty is a virtue, that means expressing feelings is a virtue. In this way, the authenticity ethos privileges “emotivism,” as Alisdair MacIntyre called it.[2] Evangelical emotivism assumes there is no way to secure agreement on theological, political, or ethical matters. So, confessionalism is regarded as fraudulent arrogance for failing to feature uncertainty and failing to allow each person’s preferences about theology, politics, and ethics to suffice.

The reason the authenticity ethos confuses honesty is that every virtue is something we are responsible for (Rev. 20:12). Furthermore, emotions are easy but virtues are not (Mt. 7:12-23). Unfettered emotional release is much too easy to be a virtue. Besides, honest feelings don’t lie about their object. A child might feel authentic anger and resentment toward their parents. But as Peter Kreeft has said, “Honesty with feelings means asking whether they are true.”[3]

Second, it confuses community

The gospel of authenticity says that the more planned and liturgical something is, the more artificial it is. This helps explain the devaluing of the Lord’s Day worship service. If authenticity is revealing sin, then the authentic life is living as part of the world. Living in sin is more genuine than consecrating oneself to the Lord.

The authenticity ethos fails to see that biblical community is impossible without Sunday worship services. Covenant Renewal Worship renews biblical fellowship in at least three ways. First, the weakest members see themselves as part of the whole church, not just as tag-alongers. It does the weak members well when the one who is high experiences what it’s like to be low at the foot of the cross. Second, the church is separated from the temptations and sins of the world. After all, it’s hard to view pornography on your phone while on your knees confessing sin alongside God’s people. Third, the quarreling members’ otherwise intractable conflict resolves as they unite at the Lord’s Table, remembering that they have one faith, one Lord, and one baptism.

Third, it confuses cognizance

When people think it’s virtuous to say what they think, they assume something false, namely, that they have mastered what they think. Part of the reason people struggle to master their tongue (James 3:7-8) is that they struggle to master their thoughts. The meaning and actions of one’s life are a person’s real thoughts, and the final meaning of life isn’t known until reviewed by Christ the Judge on judgment day. This is reflected in C.S. Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces, when Orual says, “Lightly men talk of saying what they mean … I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?” Until that day when the word is dug out of us, pray the Spirit conforms you to the Scriptures, prayers, and confessions of the church.

Fourth, it confuses righteousness

In the authenticity ethos, there is a distinction between inner authentic emotions and obedience to external moral standards. Authenticity is thought to be righteousness itself because it reveals a certain identity and complexity, at once factual and mysterious. And so it is that sexuality is obligated to be faithful to inner desires rather than to biblical moral expectations. Pastors are authentic when they reveal the raw elements of their own life. Churches are authentic when they feature the “weakness” and “messiness” of life and how Christ someone makes the harum-scarum life look beautiful. Congregants don’t confess sin on God’s terms, but imperfections on their own terms. The primary result is that people are sheltered from correction, making sanctification impossible.

Christianity, no doubt, has room for acknowledging weakness before God (2 Cor. 12:9). But the difference is that the Christian confession of weakness happens conjointly with confessing sin for the purpose of transformation. The gospel of authenticity says “I accept you as you are.” The gospel of Christ says, “I will transform you.” The first requires the mere confession of weakness, the second also requires Spirit-wrought repentance from sin. 

The authenticity ethos is a trendy way to embody the chic piety of self-definition. This is problematic for Christians for two reasons. First, God hands out the definitions, not people. Second, when people hand out the definitions, they conform to the canons of sinful nature. This is how a Roman Catholic priest can come out as gay and receive a standing ovation in the name of authenticity. Had he declared his commitment to fighting against the dishonorable, unnatural desires (Rom. 1:26), he would have received the anti-ovation of heckling jeers.

Conclusion

The authenticity ethos thrives when the objective reality of Christ’s victory is diminished by the subjective feeling of imperfection; when the supreme reality is moodiness rather than God, the cross, and the Gospel. In contrast to the authenticity ethos, the great truth of the world is the objective reality of Christ’s victory. This is particularly emphasized in the book of Revelation, where the Christ, the Faithful and True One, goes forth unto victory, riding the white horse, robed with the garment sprinkled with blood, and leading the armies of heaven (Rev. 19:11-16). Make no mistake, God sees the tears and fears (Rev. 7:17; 21:4). Yet the final victory is assured (Rev. 15:2), the faithful’s blood avenged (Rev. 19:2), and our Savior reigning (Rev. 5:7-8).

Why is it wrong for Christians to practice “authenticity?” Because that’s not the reason Christ died on the cross. He didn’t die so people could have self-expression. He died to create a society of human beings who have died to the self and been united by the Spirit, with the Son, to the Father into a heavenly city equipped to invade the earthly city.


[1] Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 270.

[2] Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 19.

[3] Peter Kreeft, The Best Things in Life: A Contemporary Socrates Looks at Power, Pleasure, Truth, and the Good Life (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP, 1984), 105.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.