Why do teenage boys start cussing?

Do you remember when you were 13 or 14 years old and your friends started cussing? At first, it was like they were test driving a car. Not a new luxury vehicle, but a hail-damaged Yugo that was missing its front fender. Six months ago, they weren’t cussing. But now they are. Why the change? It’s a fascinating thing. Why do teenagers begin cussing? Especially teenage boys.[1]

To cuss is to use language that is profane, crude, vulgar, obscene, or curst.[2] Profanity is that which devalues the sacred. The word ‘profane’ comes from the Latin profanus which means “outside the temple, not sacred.” That which is profane doesn’t respect religious practice. It’s turning the sacred into the secular, dragging the high down low, putting the queen in a Dodgers hat rather than a crown. Words like “damn” and “hell” are important realities that reflect a sacred order, which is why it is profane when they are used in a way that belittles the weightiness of damnation or hell. 

Crudeness mocks the pure. The word ‘crude’ comes from the Latin crudus which means “raw, rough.” Course joking is often sexual, mocking the marital bed. Crudeness perverts what God has made smooth, turning it rough.

Vulgarity exalts the ordinary. The word ‘vulgar’ comes from the Latin vulgaris which means “common.” Ordinary language is appropriate when the grease monkeys are installing a new flux capacitor, but not when they are sharing their condolences with the widow in the receiving line. The sin of vulgarity happens when the common is used in the wrong setting.

Obscenity lauds evil. The word “obscene” comes from the Latin obscaenus which means “ill-omened or abominable.” It is that which is offensive to public decency. It is promoting evil in the public square for praise, for example, depicting adultery as something commendable.

Cursing wishes affliction upon another person. The Hebrew word for curse is ʾārar. It is an appeal to God to inflict injury on someone. In the Bible, it is the opposite of blessing. God pronounces curses in response to sin (Num. 5:21; Dt. 29:19f) as a judgment (Is. 24:6). Paul tells Christians to “bless and do not curse” because vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:14, 19). Yet Paul announces a curse upon unbelievers, saying, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” The imprecator Psalms also contain curses against God’s enemies (Psalm 5, 17, 59, 70, 71, 74, etc.), which suggests cursing does have discriminate use.

We know that bad words should not be part of the ordinary language of Christians. Paul wrote, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Also, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place” (Eph. 5:4). Elsewhere, “put away … obscene talk from your mouth (Col. 3:8). It’s rather straightforward even if there are biblical exceptions to using foul language.[3]

If we are going to train our children for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7), we need to understand why teenagers, even Christian teenagers, begin cussing. Consider three reasons that are far from exhaustive.

First, to appear macho

Take a moment to reflect on Richard Millhouse Nixon. In the American memory, Nixon is a cartoon monster replete with arms and torso that are out of proportion to the rest of his body. This monstrous image is largely derived from the White House recordings where Nixon said some monstrous things, including anti-Semitic slurs. He also cussed a lot. When you compare the Nixon tapes to those of his predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, you find that Johnson also cussed a lot.

Part of the reason Nixon cusses so much is that he admired LBJ. He thought LBJ was a manly politician and Nixon aspired to be as much. When LBJ cussed it was clear he knew what he was doing. He knew how to drop a high-powered “S” bomb for maximum effect while lacing the rest of his speech with a scatter-bombing of hells and damns. Cussing was natural to LBJ. He was a crude, macho guy. A brute, as the historians tell us. And like most brutes, he was good at cussing.

When Nixon cusses it sounds awkward. Samuel Clemens might say of Nixon, he had the right words but the wrong tune.  Deep in his heart, Nixon was a shy, introverted intellectual. But Nixon looked at LBJ—the long-time Senate majority leader, then Vice-President, and finally President—as someone who was winning at American politics. Nixon felt like if he was going to win in the beltway, he needed to be macho like LBJ and JFK. He saw how they played dirty and got away with it. This is where Nixon gets himself in trouble, trying to be something he is not. All his swearing and profanity was an attempt to appear macho. It was the attempt to exaggerate his manliness and assertiveness.

It’s the macho conceit to think that cussing demonstrates maturity, manliness, and might. When boys become teenagers, they want to appear to be independent and masculine. Still in their salad days—green from lack of experience—they think shortcuts work. Cussing seems like a shortcut to masculine respect, signaling that they have more freedom and fewer boundaries. But there is no shortcut to maturity. Growing into maturity happens by seeking responsibility—showing up to work on time, turning in assignments on time, mowing the lawn, bringing interesting questions to the dinner table, and befriending the new kid. Responsibility is not the gloomy albatross it’s made out to be. It’s the ‘hopeful position’ because it says that immaturity can be corrected. Personal responsibility not only honors the Lord but wins the respect of others. But, as Richard Nixon learned, when you cuss to appear macho, it’s hard for people to respect you.

Second, to mimic what they think is cool

We mimic those we admire. As children grow up, they tend to pattern themselves after those people who impress them. Children imitate their behavior and reproduce their speech. When children are young their family is their entire world of meaning, so they mimic their parents and siblings. As they grow up and gain a sense of the larger world around them, their mimetic focus shifts to creative people who are known for pioneering accomplishments and challenging the status quo.

Societally, it was once the case that the lower class admired the learning and style of the upper class. As the proletariat has gained affluence, the upper and middle class have come to admire the unrefined manner of the lower class. Arnold Toynbee and Christopher Dawson have studied this phenomenon in application to art. The mark of culture’s decline is when crude art is seen as progress. Think, for example, about how many more middle-class teenagers sing along with the profanity and sexually explicit lyrics of a rap song than those who listen to Bach or Vivaldi.[4]

The same is true of ordinary speech. The vernacular of the lower class was once a plobby sound. Now it’s an imitated one. Historian Will Durant has commented on how the upper class now tries to imitate proletariat speech by using “language that used to be confined to the gutter.” This pattern has seeped into popular entertainment and made it a verbal mudscape of profuse profanity. Yet teenagers don’t see themselves as mimicking the culture of ugliness. They see themselves as mimicking the avant-garde.

Third, to explore their Christian freedom

Imagine a young Christian has started to grasp that Jesus paid it all, that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8f), that we were saved to freedom, brothers (Gal. 5:13)! They start thinking that this freedom in Christ means that God doesn’t care about fringe moral issues—of course, they reason, foul language is among the fringiest of them all since language is just a social construct and bad words are just linguistic taboos that are ever-changing. They think that with these changes there is a new intellectual openness to foul language such that if we don’t embrace bad words, we might not be taken seriously.[5] Besides, so many young Christians now use foul language.[6] What’s the harm?

The harm is that Christian freedom is not about freedom to sin. Christian freedom doesn’t allow us to neglect righteousness, peace, and joy in favor of adapting to the customs of Canaan. Christian freedom means that by faith in Christ we are free from the guilt of sin (Rom. 8:1), free from the power of sin (1 Cor. 15:56f), and free from the fear of death (1 Cor. 15:55). It is true that by faith in Christ we are free from the law as a way to justification. But freedom ought not to be turned into license (Gal. 5:13-26).

Young Christians often memorize 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” There may be great glee in the first part of the verse. In isolation, the opening phrase empowers young people. But when Paul’s instruction is taken on the whole, it implies that young people who don’t set the prescribed standard in speech will be looked down upon. 


When you ask questions about what the ordinary use of foul language means, it boils down to rebellion. Cussing is rebellion (Ps. 12), which makes it folly. Wisdom writes her songs and folly writes hers. We need to make it the business of life to be in the grip of the right songs. Young men in particular are told that “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Prov. 4:7). In the book of wisdom, we also read this:

“Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (Prov. 4:24)

“A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech” (Prov. 6:12)

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Prov. 8:13)

Application Activity

When you have the kids around the dinner table, explain the difference between profanity, crudeness, vulgarity, obscenity, and cursing. Have them come up with their own examples. Then ask them how taking the Lord’s name in vain is profane, crude, vulgar, obscene, and curst.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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] This is not an essay over whether profanity is permissible or not. If that topic interests you, it is easy to find many articles addressing that topic.

[2] https://theopolisinstitute.com/how-to-use-bad-words/

[3] It is true that in Philippians 3:8 the Apostle Paul used off-color language to shock the Philippians when he said skybalon, which means dung. It is also true that in Galatians 5:12 Paul wished some would emasculate themselves. Ezekiel used obscenities to get people’s attention. Therefore, there are limited contexts in which foul language may be used for effect.

[4] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway, 1990), 269.

[5] https://stevehickey.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/the-cussing-pastor-do-we-have-to-swear-to-reach-people/

[6] https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/09/swearing-as-the-new-intellectualism

What to do when your boss encourages you to support the moral revolution

This article was originally published at The Theopolis Institute and can be found by clicking here.

Many Christians find themselves working for businesses or corporations that encourage compliance with the moral revolution. Perhaps their company wants them to participate in gay pride month. Perhaps they require employees to use the preferred gender pronouns of their co-workers. Or maybe they require them to sign a statement affirming critical race theory, homosexuality, or some other perversion.

The question then becomes, how are Christians to faithfully respond to employers who are pressuring employees to abandon their convictions. Many Christians know it is wrong to capitulate to such requests but might have difficulty articulating why or formulating a strategy to do so. We acknowledge that every situation is different and should be handled differently. Nevertheless, there are several principles on how to faithfully approach the issue.

First, we must register a protest at some level.

God does not expect his people to be swayed by conventional wisdom, mobs, or groupthink. God’s exact words were, “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:2).  When you hide from the mob, they are going to find you eventually. When they do you will have to either comply with their demands or not. Eventually, Christians will be forced to show their cards or compromise.  T.S. Eliot warned that the subtle pressure of intellectual conformity was a bigger threat than outright persecution.[1] The nature of the current moral revolution is that the mob isn’t satisfied until everyone conforms, indeed until everyone celebrates their cause.

That being said, that doesn’t mean we should be more zealous than the situation calls for. There may be some cases where it is wise to keep your head down and mind your own business for a time, especially if you aren’t being forced to lie or to sin. For example, imagine your company periodically sends you so-called “social justice” propaganda emails that make no claim on you. For the most part, you can delete these emails with silent disgust. But you should begin formulating a plan. The emails may be phase one of a larger operation.

Second, we must prepare to speak the truth.

The time will likely come where we need to speak the truth, recognizing that the chips may not fall where we prefer. We should be prepared and ready to make the best arguments for our position, spoken in love. For more on this point see our companion article One Little Word Shall Fell Him.

Third, we are being asked to submit to a religious view.

Some might think it’s best to hide out as long as possible in hopes that the mob will trample someone else. The problem with this is that the new notions of inclusion and diversity are not neutral. Not everything is included. Real diversity is not desired. Rousseau made it clear in The Social Contract that Christians are welcome in society only as long as they submit to the General Will—as long as they subordinate the opinions of God to the opinions of the majority. He thought that Christianity was most contrary to the “social spirit.” This is how inclusion excludes other religions and all with a straight face. Pluralism and Christianity’s faith claims are not compatible. The moral revolution is trying to sacralize a new order.

Fourth, we need a strategy to register our disapproval

It’s hard to be the oddball, so begin by discussing your concerns with your closest coworkers. From there seek out co-workers that acknowledge the moral bankruptcy of the moral revolution. Find a group of like-minded employees, band together, and fearlessly stand on your convictions in a winsome and joyful way. This may mean writing a thoughtful email, though sending an email to the top will likely be less impactful than first sending it to your immediate supervisor. It might also mean calling a meeting to voice your unified opposition.

At The New York Times, 150 out of 1200 employees demanded that Donald McNeil be fired. Why? Because he used the N-word in describing why not to use the N-word.[2] The voices of a mere 12% of employees caused a man to get fired. This can happen in your company too, but in which direction? What if you organized the other 1,050 people to push back? They wouldn’t all join you, but many would. One of the felicities of this approach is that principled obstreperousness would be put in the right direction.

Fifth, we shouldn’t do this alone

A church that swallows up self-sufficiency in favor of mutual dependence (i.e. the hand needs the foot and the foot needs the eye) can be a powerful force. For the church to become what sociologists call a “deviant subculture,” it needs to support church members when they register disagreement at their job. The church needs to see that one of the best ways to subvert the poisonous values of society is for Christians to offer resistance when their company joins the moral revolution. When Christians resist, they demystify the moral revolution and help others see evil for what it is.

But voicing displeasure with the cultural revolution may put you in the crosshairs of your company. Since you risk losing your job, the church should have your back. No Christian should feel like he is fighting this battle alone. Christians should know in advance that the church will be there to provide for them. And if it ever comes to it, Christians should know that if they are thrown in jail for speaking against evil, the church will care for their wife and kids, provide legal aid, and visit them often. We know that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). The faithful should not suffer alone.

Sixth, we must make backup plans

There is a risk that you’ll lose your job if you resist.[3] This is the primary reason Christians keep silent. So, we must begin formulating backup plans and asking the question, “What will I do if I lose my job?” But more than making backup plans, we need to be proactive and create alternatives. What would it look like if more Christians became entrepreneurs? What if local churches offered training on entrepreneurship? This would give more Christians the opportunity to take risks and speak out, or to proactively pull out of corporations and government jobs. In other words, it would enable Christians to become antifragile.[4] It’s not that every Christian should abandon corporate America or their government job. Corporate America has culture-shaping power and we need Christians in those jobs, fighting the fight of faith. But neither can Christians allow their moral conscience to go silent because they fear losing their job.

Seventh, we must see that the enemy isn’t always as strong as we perceive him to be

The powerful forces of corporations and government look terrifying and unbeatable. In truth, they are often brittle. When Daniel prayed in defiance of King Darius’ order (notice that Daniel prayed with windows open for all to see, Dan. 6:10), the King reversed (Dan. 6:26) the irrevocable law (Dan. 6:12) after seeing Daniels’s faithfulness to Yahweh. Daniel’s resistance exposed the impotence of the King’s wicked requirements. While it’s not always the case that the merest resistance will reverse unrighteous decrees, the resistance of Daniel is a biblical example that gives us hope that enemies will crumble when we are faithful.[5] 

The economist and financial researcher Jerry Bowyer has provided a model for what resistance can look like. He has attended several virtual shareholders’ meetings for large corporations and challenged their progressive stances. Most of the corporations ignored or dismissed his questions. But what if an entire block of shareholders and employees were asking these questions? The questions Bowyer suggests asking are, “Why in the world would large publicly traded companies endorse such divisive legislation that is clearly incompatible with the sincerely held beliefs of half of the country? Is it mainstream to force girls to compete in sports with athletes who identify as females, but are, biologically, boys? Is it mainstream to force shelters for battered women to accept biologically male applicants? Is it mainstream to compel churches into accepting new gender ideologies in their hiring practices?”[6]

Eighth, we need to understand why many corporations support the moral revolution

The reason is fear. Sasha Issenberg has admitted that those advancing the revolution shame corporations to coerce them to comply.[7] Those in the moral revolution threaten boycotts and bad publicity if the company refuses to meet their demands. So, companies give public signals that they are obedient to the whim of the revolution, signals such as encouraging their employees to support gay pride month.[8]

While companies are afraid of the woke tidal wave, the majority of Americans don’t want corporations involved in politics.[9] What happens when big business antagonizes most of the country, their shareholders, and a block of their employees. Well, if all those people are silent, nothing happens. But if a block of those people intelligently resists, then King Darius may reverse course. Never forget that the convictions of your faith and what you do with those convictions influence the direction history takes.

[1] T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Toward the Definition of Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Harvest Books, 1940), 18.

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/02/12/donald-mcneil-new-york-times-fallout/

[3] For example James Damore of Google was fired for merely suggesting there are non-sexists reasons why there are more men than women in STEM jobs.


[4] Nassim Nicholas Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (New York: Random House, 2012).

[5] https://soundcloud.com/user-812874628/episode-440-daniel-chapter-6-part-1-series-on-the-prophets

[6] https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/05/a-shareholder-asks-some-inconvenient-questions/

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/05/opinion/gay-marriage-boycotts.html

[8] https://hbr.org/2020/02/how-do-consumers-feel-when-companies-get-political

[9] https://scottrasmussen.com/59-believe-companies-taking-political-positions-adds-to-divisiveness-in-america/


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

C.S. Lewis on the Christian Household

There is a lot of talk about the household in Christian circles these days, much of it good (On this note, we heartily recommend C.R. Wiley’s two books, Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos. Also check out Matt Carpenter’s recent interview with C.R. Wiley by clicking here).

C.S. Lewis, too, shared some thoughts about the Christian household, thoughts which I will now paraphrase for your reading edification.[1] At the very least, it might spark some interesting conversation on the topic. Consider this paraphrase both an announcement and an exhortation. The announcement is that we will preach a summer series on the household (the information for that series can be found at the end of this blog post). The exhortation comes from Lewis, which is broken into four parts.

Part One

It is not the case that living in a “monogamous family life” (in other words, the nuclear family) will automatically make one “holy and happy.” There are many “dangers” that are obscured by the “sentimental illusion” of family life, that neglect the fact that things can go wrong. “Domesticity is not a passport to heaven on earth but an arduous vocation—a sea full of hidden rocks and perilous ice shores only to be navigated by one who uses a celestial chart.” So the first thing to keep in mind, says Lewis, is that the family, like every other institution involving humans, “needs redemption.”

Part Two

In part two Lewis says that the need for “conversion or sanctification of family life … must … mean something more than the preservation of ‘love’ in the sense of natural affection.” Lewis issues this warning because the love of “natural affection” demands sympathy before giving it. Lewis calls the “greed to be loved” a “fearful thing.” When this is the type of love exchanged in the household, it produces “incessant resentment.” The household must have a higher love.

Part Three

Next Lewis comments on the common maxim about a home life that “It is there that we appear as we really are: it is there that we can fling aside the disguises and be ourselves.” This invites a common pitfall. When we are at home, we do appear as we are, which is the very thing that should trouble us. Outside the home, we behave with “ordinary courtesy.” Inside the home, we interrupt, talk “confident nonsense about subjects of which” we “are totally ignorant,” and otherwise trample “on all the restraints which civilized humanity has found indispensable for tolerable social intercourse.” At home, Lewis says, we behave with “downright rudeness … selfishness, slovenliness, incivility—even brutality.” The freedom to indulge in this way is the reason many want to go home.

Part Four

Lewis’ fourth point responds to the question, If a person can’t be comfortable and unguarded at home, where can he? Lewis’s answer is “there is nowhere this side of heaven where one can safely … be ourselves.” His point is that until you are a fully glorified son of God, it isn’t lawful to be yourself. There is just too much sin left in yourself. It’s not that there are no differences between home life and public life. But the difference is not that at home you can be yourself. The real difference is that home life “has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult.”

If you find these observations helpful, you can read the full essay in C.S. Lewis’s book God in the Dock.

An Overview of our Summer Sermon Series

June 13The Household: Introduction and Overview
June 20The Household: The Noonday Woman
June 27The Household: Rehabilitating Submission
July 4The Household: Christian Men
July 11The Household: Singles

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 282-286.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

Difficult to Believe: An Introduction to Summer Sunday School

We live in a day and age where it is difficult to believe. For many Christians, maybe even for you, faith is fragile and feels outdated and immature. The Christian worldview is continually bombarded with a tornado of objections to Christianity, seeking to destroy our faith and offer competing claims for best understanding the world. In this type of world, people of faith fight against doubts. While God patiently and lovingly endures faithful doubting (Mark 9:24), he wishes for his people to have the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb. 6:11).

Yet the enemy seems intent on making it difficult to believe. There are many challenges to the Christian faith. Some are physical—like the draw of two-second carnal pleasures. Some are intellectual, like the rise of modern science. Those who are seduced by scientism usually abandon the faith not because of scientific evidence, per se, or because of the consistency or coherence that science provides. Charles Taylor explains scientific-based deconversion happens because of the appeal of science in general. People report that they turn from faith in Jesus to faith in science because they think of the Christian faith as immature and scientific thinking as mature. They become convinced that science is the stance of maturity, courage, and manliness, over against the childish immature fears and sentimentality of the Christian faith. Abandoning the faith is growing up and facing reality.[1]

It is because of this all-too-common deconversion pattern that we have invited Bijan Nemati to teach our Summer Sunday School. Bijan Nemati is a member at Trinity Reformed Church and a physicist at UAH. He was born in Iran and came to the US at the time of the Islamic revolution. He converted from Islam to Christianity while getting his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Washington. His scientific work includes the study of elementary particles using accelerators, and the development of advanced instruments to study exoplanets (planets around other stars). He worked on space telescopes at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for about twenty years before coming to UAH four years ago, where he continues in the same work. He is currently part of the team building NASA’s Roman Space Telescope (to be launched in 2025). He has been giving talks on the scientific evidence for a created universe for the past twenty years.  

The church has tremendous intellectual resources to respond to the world’s objections. In our Summer Sunday School, we desire to teach that Jesus Christ is the Truth, which means, the best explanation for the world and human experience is in a robust understanding of the Christian worldview that is founded in Scripture. We also wish to show, especially to those young doubters, that the church does have rich resources to respond to the intellectual challenges of the world. More than that, we wish to show that it is Christianity that is consistent, coherent, and intellectually satisfying; it is Christianity that speaks the truth that corresponds to the raw emotions of life and offers the true (and best) explanation for human existence.

Our Summer Sunday School Schedule is as follows:

June 6 – Rob Hadding (special guest teacher)

June 13 – We’re now discovering all these planets around other stars.  Eventually, we’re going to find life in one of them. Won’t such a discovery show the Earth and mankind are nothing special?

June 20 – Stephen Hawking said, “because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.” Hasn’t physics made creation unnecessary?

June 27 – Over the last 170 years, we have learned an enormous amount about how evolution works. Isn’t it outdated to still hold to the idea of the special creation of life?

July 4 – Aren’t truth claims nothing but rationalizations of economic and class interest?

[1] James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 76-77.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

A New Podcast

Our very own Matt Carpenter has started a podcast called “The Good Life” that we heartily recommend to you.

Each episode emphasizes one of four areas that make a good life: pursuing God, loving our neighbor, growing in wisdom, and being a good steward of our gifts.

There are many descriptions of a good life, as you can see when you check out the number of podcasts named “The Good Life.” But only God can define a good life, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” 

In the first episode, Matt interviewed Rory Groves, author of the book Durable Trades, along with his wife Becca. In the second episode, Matt interviewed the pastor and author Chris Wiley, author of the book Man of the House.  

The podcast can be found HERE.

Review of Anthony Bradley’s Article on Critical Race Theory

Recently Anthony Bradley published an article at Mere Orthodoxy entitled “Critical Race Theory Isn’t a Threat for Presbyterians.” Bradley argues that the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) doesn’t need a statement or counter-statement to Critical Race Theory (CRT) because in a “confessional denomination, such a statement, or counter-statements, would be unnecessary.” Instead, the PCA (and presumably all confessional Presbyterians) can rely on “the Bible, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the Presbyterian tradition, and covenant theology.” Therefore they can “eat the meat and spit out the bones” of Critical Race Theory (CRT).

One wonders how people will know what meat to eat and what bones to spit out without a statement or counter-statement. Indeed, Bradley’s article itself is a sort of statement about CRT, or a counter-statement to the fact that “six Southern Baptist seminary presidents signed a statement declaring Critical Race Theory to be incompatible to the non-binding doctrinal standards of their denomination.” Bradley later says that when armed with the resources of Reformed Theology, Christians can “propose something even better to account for what we see in the world today on the intersection of America’s racial history with contemporary culture.” Again, one wonders how this proposal is made public without a “statement, or counter-statement.”

Bradley’s article does a commendable job concisely defining CRT. He points to the work of Antonio de la Garza and Kent Ono who explains that “Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an intellectual movement that seeks to understand how white supremacy as a legal, cultural, and political condition is reproduced and maintained, primarily in the US context.” But more than “seek to understand,” Bradley rightly points out the CRT seeks to “centralize the issue of race” in historical interpretation. He also rightly points out that CRT is, well, critical. That is, it scrutinizes how white supremacy is a normalized, assumed, and irrevocable part of America’s past and present.

Bradley then says, “One can (and should) learn what one can from it while rejecting what is wrong … it is not an account we must accept or reject wholesale.” In this, Bradley seeks a centrist view that neither embraces CRT as a complete doctrine, as do the progressives, nor rejects CRT in its entirety, as do the secular conservatives.

This is a common tact in evangelicalism today, namely, to try and find the good and redeemable things in all ideas, even un-Christian ones. The impulse isn’t all wrong. We certainly don’t want to live with a hyper-critical spirit. Sometimes there are redeemable qualities in bad ideas. I, for one, have learned a lot from the monastic tradition, even as I think the Desert Father’s retreat from the world badly missed the mark.

Bradley then interacts with CRT. He starts with the issue of racism in America: Does it exist in American history? Does it exist now? This, we should point out, is an acceptable place to start interacting with CRT, since so much of the theory is built on the premise that the United States is systemically racist even still. On the question of whether or not systemic racism exists now, Bradley says, “it depends.” We need to make a “case-by-case basis.” He admits that white supremacy doesn’t explain everything that is wrong with America. He admits that white supremacy doesn’t explain all statistical disparities between the races. But then he says, “CRT can be and is useful in some limited contexts for identifying where race may be a variable.” He later says, “CRT may have a certain limited usefulness in pointing out analytical blind spots in examining the role of race in American life.”

Bradley’s main thesis is that Christians should “eat the meat and spit out the bones” of CRT. In other words, Christians should find those things in CRT that have limited usefulness. But he never explains why. So I’ll ask it: Why must Christians do backbends to publicly identify that which is useful in CRT, a theory crafted by those who hate the God of the Bible? His article never specifically says what the meat of CRT is. He never says specifically what true things CRT provides.

Bradley says, “CRT simply wants to dismantle racism in an attempt to achieve cosmic salvation from their perception of the worst of all evils. For CRT, anti-racism will set us free.” Later, Bradley says, “Dismantling racism will not rid the world of the evils CRT seeks to purge … It might be helpful in identifying some aspects of some forms of evil.” In this Bradley assumes that CRT merely wants to dismantle racism. In reality, they have, as Carl Trueman says, created “a creedal language and liturgy.”[1] Words like racism have new meanings. Trueman explains that CRT is filled “with orthodox words (‘white privilege,’ ‘systemic racism’) and prescribed actions (raising the fist, taking the knee). To deviate from the forms is to deviate from the faith. Certain words are heretical (‘non-racist,’ ‘all lives matter’). The slogan ‘silence is violence’ is a potent rhetorical weapon. To fail to participate in the liturgy is to reject the antiracism the liturgy purports to represent—something only a racist would do.”

It is not the case that “CRT simply wants to dismantle racism.” Rather, they seek to redefine racism. Consider some of the new vocabularies of CRT.[2] First, the term “anti-racism.” This does not mean someone is against racism. Rather, this is when someone is committed to actively dismantling systems and institutions that produce whiteness. Second, the term “racism.” This doesn’t mean that you look down upon people of another race (hate) and look upon people of your race as superior (pride). Rather, this now means power plus prejudice. In CRT, only majority groups can be racist because racism is impossible apart from power. Third, the term “white fragility.” This is a term unique to CRT. It refers to a posture of defensiveness, anxiety, and anger exhibited by whites in response to discussions of race.[3] Fourth, the term “White privilege.” This refers to a set of unearned advantages that whites experience relative to non-whites, by virtue of their skin color. It also implies that privilege of any kind is wrong. In Scripture, however, the existence of privilege is not sin. Someone may either righteously or wickedly use their privilege. Fifth, the term “whiteness.” This refers to a set of normative privileges granted to white-skinned individuals and groups which is “invisible” to those privileged by it. CRT views whiteness as a problem that needs to be overcome. So it’s the case that CRT is a system that doesn’t simply want to dismantle racism. They are seeking to redefine the entire conversation. It employs duplicitous language. Bradley seems to take it at face value that CRT wants to dismantle racism, not acknowledging that CRT activists have taken their erasers to the dictionary.

Bradley says, “CRT is a reductionistic theory of human evil and suffering. It is precisely for this reason that CRT is not a threat to the PCA! It is woefully inadequate to explain the nature of reality and to offer non-coercive solutions. That is, CRT is not good enough.” It is certainly true that CRT is not good enough to explain reality. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a threat. CRT isn’t just a problem of misinterpreting reality. It is an attempt to redefine it. Consider an example. CRT explains the statistical disparities between blacks and whites by citing racism. In so doing, it fails to account for the disaster that happens when marriage is destroyed and children are raised in single-parent homes.

Economist Glen Loury has argued that marriage is supposed to be the first social context for a child’s life. As Christians, we would add that God’s purpose for marriage is that children are raised with two parents in the home. If the nuclear family is broken, then no subsequent level of society can fully correct it, no matter how pure the motivations are and how much government money is spent. On the issue of statistical disparities between whites and blacks, Christians need to be clear that if the family is broken, it doesn’t matter what government program is passed and how much money is spent.[4] There is no substitute for the family. Glenn Loury makes the point that if you’re going to talk about racial inequality, you have to start by talking about the destruction of the black family.[5] It’s not possible to remediate what’s lost if marriage and family and kinship and community are not intact. It is within the nuclear family structure that children learn to tame their impulses, improve cognitive skills, learn social skills and develop emotional self-control. In other words, it is through home-training that children learn to function in society. The Christian worldview understands that both white and black children born to single mothers have significant hurdles compared with those children born in a two-parent family. Yet CRT deems it racist and bigoted to say that racial inequalities will not be alleviated until there is a return to a culture in which children are born to married couples who stay married and invest their energies in those children.[6]

Bradley says that Christian theology allows us to freely “acknowledge evil where it exists … We are free to protest and invest by unlocking the goodness of creation, blessing our neighbors, and fighting evil.” Christians would all agree to this. In fact, this is why it is essential to oppose CRT, root and branch, whenever we encounter it. It carries on its front a semblance of justice which is false. Good Christians who love justice are deceived.

Bradley wants to acknowledge the helpful parts of CRT and spit out the vices. The error with this strategy is that the vices Bradley wishes to eradicate from CRT are essential features of it. Consider the way CRT sorts people into groups. Each group is divided into Marx’s categories: bourgeoisie and proletariat. Yet critical theory goes beyond the economic groups of Marx, expanding this to include the powerful or oppressed; the advantaged or disadvantaged, and the privileged or discriminated against.

PrivilegedDiscriminated against

CRT studies these groups to find and challenge power structures, which shape the relationships between groups. Sorting people into groups creates divisions between the powerful and oppressed, an analytical technique innovated by Marx and applied in the courts of tyrants.

Thrasymachus, the Greek philosopher, wrongly defined justice as “the interest of the stronger.” Carl Trueman helpfully explains that “Critical theory, whatever form it takes, relies on the concept of false consciousness—the notion that the oppressors control society so completely that the oppressed believe their own interests are served by the status quo…. this allows every piece of evidence that might refute one’s ­theory to be transformed into further evidence of how deep and comprehensive the problem of oppression is.” CRT tries to make minorities the strongest by, as Bradley admits, centralizing “the issue of race.”

The problem is that this isn’t justice. Carl Trueman, again, says, “when that framework flattens our moral judgment and erases distinctions, makes ‘the system’ the culprit, and guards its assertions with a self-certifying account of what must be affirmed, the scene is set not for Christian reconciliation but for cultural intimidation, as all dissent is denounced as racist.” CRT is an analytical framework to analyze institutions and culture. Its purpose is to divide the world into white oppressors and non-white victims. The ultimate goal of the theory’s proponents is to remake society so that the victim class eventually displaces the oppressors and becomes the new ruling class.[7] Within this framework, “white privilege” and its unearned benefits become responsible for economic and social disparities in minority communities.

CRT advances a narrative of blame that declares white America guilty for the plight of blacks. In CRT, there is no way out for whites when it comes to race. For example, Derrick Bell says racism has a permanence to it. Robin DiAngelo teaches people that, “The question is no longer did racism take place, but how did racism manifest in this situation?” All of the core critical race theory texts say that racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society. Critical race theory assumes that racism is permanent and affects every aspect of society, including political, economic, social, and religious institutions.

Blaming the abstract “system” with no hope of forgiveness is decidedly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the good news of Christ, reconciliation happens through individual confession, repentance, and forgiveness. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) teaches that the Gospel pattern of forgiveness should be carried out in our daily lives. The point of the parable is that if we claim to be forgiven by Jesus, yet still have an unforgiving spirit, then that proves that we have never tasted the forgiveness of Jesus in the first place. Reconciliation is impossible when repentant individuals are denied forgiveness and kept forever on the hamster wheel of guilt.

And so we return to our question: Why must Christians do backbends to publicly identify something useful in CRT, a theory crafted by those who hate the God of the Bible? And if it is the case, as Bradley says, that Christians armed with the resources of Reformed theology can propose something even better than CRT, why must we affirm something—anything—about CRT?

Rather than being “an excellent oil, which shall not break my hand” (Psalm 141:5), CRT is a hot oil that burns it. Racism exists. We don’t deny that. The point is that Christians don’t need CRT to point out that racism can infect social structures, economic systems, and legal codes. The fact that CRT is unneeded is proven by Bradley’s article. While he calls on Christians to “eat the meat and spit out the bones,” not once does he explicitly identify what meat CRT provides to the Christian worldview. So then why does he insist that Christians should “learn what one can from it”? Addison Meeke, wisely speaking about race relations, says “We do harm to the name of Christianity by trying to please people or be politically correct.”[8]

Bradley tells us to eat the meat and spit out the bones. But first, we must ask if the buffet set before us is food or poison. Failing to differentiate the two is a disaster. Adhering to CRT is not the way to fight for justice. Bradley says, “It might be helpful in identifying some aspects of some forms of evil.” My question is: What specifically does it help identify that the Christian worldview can’t do on its own?

The closest agreement Bradley himself has with CRT is when he says, “There is racism in America and, at times, that racism can take on structural forms.” But he doesn’t tell us where exactly structural racism is found. His statement is a mere abstraction. In the end, Bradley leaves the door open that CRT may be slightly helpful, but he gives no specific examples of how CRT is helpful. Bradley says, “One can (and should) learn what one can from it while rejecting what is wrong.” But he gives no specific examples of what true things are learned from CRT that can’t also be learned without CRT. Bradley says we should approach CRT in a way “that discerns true insights.” What true insights does CRT provide? Bradley doesn’t expressly say. He does say this, “CRT can be and is useful in some limited contexts for identifying where race may be a variable.” But, again, why do Christians need CRT to identify race as a variable in injustice?

He says that “The social sciences are simply attempting to provide replacement narratives” for Christianity. In this statement, he seems to imply that CRT is a replacement narrative for Christianity. This is a savage blow to his claim that CRT is “not an account we must accept or reject wholesale.” If CRT is a replacement narrative for Christianity, don’t we have an obligation to reject it wholesale? Why do we need it?

The church needs leaders and members who are not deceived by the pretensions of justice which usher in the cruelty of divisions, resentment, and rioting. To use CRT in the church, or to adapt it to the Christian worldview, is to dilute the truth. I truly appreciate the critique Bradley makes of CRT, along with his belief in the rich resources of the Reformed Protestant tradition. But he proves too much. It is precisely because of the Christian critique of CRT and the depth of the Christian worldview that CRT is unneeded in the church.

[1] https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/02/evangelicals-and-race-theory?fbclid=IwAR2EYdQNc2b4tqduO6T1NFTb0EpCN7MOKfBs9hOTQzYRdHapnBsHXFKz5Ng

[2] https://shenviapologetics.com/an-antiracism-glossary/

[3] Carl Trueman says, “Critical race theory is extremely ­seductive. Who wants to be guilty of standing on the side of the oppressors rather than in solidarity with the victims of injustice? The theory is likewise hard to oppose, since it denies the legitimacy of arguments that call it into question. The he-who-is-not-­with-us-is-against-us rhetoric ensures that even tentative reservations will sound, well, racist. How many of us want to identify ourselves as not “­antiracist”? Who wants to appear to deny that black lives matter?”

[4] See the book by Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People: From State to Civil Society (Washington D.C.: AEI Press, 1996). Also see the Thomas Sowell book, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality (New York: William Morrow, 1984) for an economist’s explanation for why more than just race explains statistical disparities.

[5] https://www.manhattan-institute.org/why-does-racial-inequality-persist

[6] Consider, further, what Lawrence Mead ably points out in his recent paper “Poverty and Culture.” “Attempts to attribute long term poverty to social barriers, such as racial discrimination or lack of jobs, have failed. Some scholars now attribute poverty to culture in the sense that many poor become disillusioned and no longer seek to advance themselves. More plausible is cultural difference. The United States has an individualist culture, derived from Europe, where most people seek to achieve personal goals. Racial minorities, however, all come from non-Western cultures where most people seek to adjust to outside conditions rather than seeking change….These differences best explain why minorities—especially blacks and Hispanics—typically respond only weakly to chances to get ahead through education and work, and also why crime and other social problems run high in low-income areas….The black middle class has converted to an individualist style and thus advanced, but most blacks have not.”

[7] BLM co-founder is rather transparent about this goal in her book The Purpose of Power: How we Come Together When we Fall Apart (New York: One World, 2020).

[8] https://decisionmagazine.com/the-stated-goals-of-black-lives-matter-are-anti-christian/

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

One Little Word Shall Fell Him

Comedian Roy Rogers used to say that he only knew what he read in the papers. Well, if you’ve been reading the paper lately, or the online paper, there is a decided trend against Christianity. For a few recent examples click here, here, here, and here.

What are we to do? Chesterton once warned that if the right idea becomes less powerful then the wrong idea becomes too powerful. Right and wrong mean true and false. That which is true is communicated through words, as is that which is false.

The message of this essay is simple. Christians can do the job of making the right ideas more powerful by refusing to conform to society’s newspeak. This requires that we speak the Christian conscience rather than conform to the vocabulary of the moral revolution.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

Reader’s of George Orwell know that “newspeak” refers to the language of Oceania, the totalitarian nation that is the setting of his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a restricted vocabulary designed to restrict the individual’s concept of reality. When the main character, Winston Smith, is sent to a re-education camp, he has to learn doublethink, also designed to defy reality, as seen by the three slogans of—”War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’”

John 18:37

So it’s not just that Christians should speak the truth, but that they should speak the truth about those things that are no longer deemed acceptable by those who do the deeming. Norm Chomsky—admittedly not one of the church’s favorite thinkers—explained that “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow lively debate within that spectrum.” For example, it’s acceptable to debate whether or not the next Covid stimulus bill should be $1.2 trillion or $2.1 trillion. It’s not acceptable to ask, “What if we balanced the budget and opened the economy back up?” (Now, you at home come up with your own examples, maybe as a family discussion at the dinner table. Everyone thinks of one thing that is acceptable to debate in 2021 and one thing that is outside the permitted spectrum).

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.”

Ephesians 6:14

Language means things and implies things such that a difference in semantics matters. Language shapes beliefs. If inaccurate language is used, then that weakens the church’s ability to speak in a distinctively Christian way. Why? Because over time, the words we use and the categories we accept change the way we think. Once we accept the terms of certain language, we have changed our beliefs to match the words. In his book The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity, Charles Taylor argues against the Darwinists who say that language merely vocalizes thought processes. Taylor argues that language does more. Language creates thought. As Taylor puts it, language development is constitutive of thought, not merely descriptive of already existing thought.

George Lakoff, a professor in cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, explains that people possess “frames.” These frames shape the way people see the world. Once a frame is solidified in the neural circuitry, certain languages, images, and ideas come. The point is that differences in language, even minor differences, really do shape people’s thoughts and their interpretation of their experiences. Language creates plausibility.[1]

Many Christians, no doubt, find it easier to just play along with newspeak. Maybe they wonder why Christians don’t just adopt the secular worldview and somehow make it Christian by baptizing secular language in a few bible verses. They may say, “What’s the harm if we adapt our language to the newspeak?” The harm is this doesn’t make the worldview Christian or biblical.

Other Christians, not willing to conform to newspeak, may default to silence, thinking this is the path of least resistance. True that may be, but only in the short run. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn confesses that when the communists came to arrest him for not being a communist, he kept silent because there were too few people present to make any difference. He thought there weren’t enough people present to justify speaking up. Later, in prison, after comparing notes with the others who didn’t speak up, he came to regret his silence. If he had cried out to the few that could hear him, and if the millions of others that were unjustly dragged off to the Gulags had cried out to the few that could hear them, then millions of people would have heard the truth about what the communists were doing.[2]

Likewise, too many Christians today think it’s not worth it to speak up. After all, they don’t have a platform. Only a few people would hear them anyway. They think it’s the job of the preacher with a book deal to speak up. But if every Christian started telling the truth about reality—that we have a Creator who ordered the universe, that there is a biological difference between boys and girls, that the Supreme Court doesn’t have authority to redefine marriage, that legislation is not a substitute for the nuclear family,[3] that a gentle answer turns away wrath—then millions would hear the truth. C.S. Lewis, talking about encounters between Christians and non-Christians, wrote “there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colours if we are to be true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away.”[4]

“Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

1 Corinthians 5:8

On the surface, it may seem as if newspeak just gets the masses merely repeating new catchphrases, words that are, as C.S. Lewis once said, all smudge and blur. But if language shapes beliefs, and beliefs shape expectations, and expectations shape experiences, then it is more than just a surface-level problem. When one starts speaking the new vocabulary, it’s difficult to disentangle from what’s being said. George Orwell explains, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”[5]

So I encourage you to speak the Christian conscience, to tell the truth, to use terms and categories as God has given them to us in the Bible. When we are in a conversation with people who use newspeak, our default shouldn’t be to keep quiet. There are times where we should speak up and say, “That’s not what that word means. I refuse to use that term. I refuse to organize my thoughts with those categories. I can’t share those assumptions, and I don’t think you should either.”

[1] George Lakoff, The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014).

[2] Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 18.

[3] See the book by Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People: From State to Civil Society.

[4] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 262.

[5] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” The collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angos, Vol. 4, ed. 1 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, 1968), 127-140.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

Six Principles of Christian Fasting

NOTE: This blog post is based on teaching notes from the sermon on 4.18.21. If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, click here.

First, fasting is a matter of Christian freedom

The NT says little about fasting. Aside from this passage in Mark (and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke), there are only a few other passages that talk about it. Perhaps this is why Calvin warns against thinking of fasting as a work commanded by God. Fasting is a matter of Christian freedom, not an obligation. There is an assumption that Christians will fast (“they will fast” Mark 2:20), but not a command.

In practice, what does it mean to say that fasting is a matter of Christian freedom?

Fasting can be used as an expression of repentance, but repentance doesn’t require fasting. Fasting can be used as preparation for prayer, but prayer doesn’t require fasting. Fasting can be used to deepen devotion to God, but devotion to God doesn’t require fasting.

And so we say this:

On some occasions fasting is appropriate and on other occasions, it is not appropriate. When Jesus is present, the wedding feast is happening, and so fasting on that occasion is inappropriate. But when Jesus is absent, fasting may be desirable, though, the rarity of fasting references in the NT means it is not necessarily a regular Christian practice. Yet, we have to restate that Jesus does assume Christians will fast. Thus, if after 40 years of being a Christian you discover you have never fasted, that may be a spiritual shortcoming and you should engage in self-examination on the matter.

Second, fasting is for times of yearning and aching and longing

We were told, in Mark 2:20, that the time to fast is when our Christ is gone. That time is now. And as we eagerly await the Second Coming of Christ, we live in a broken and sinful world. Sin remains in our lives and our world. And so our hearts will yearn and ache for certain things, as we wait for the Lord. In particular, our hearts will yearn and ache for the manifestation of Christ’s victory to be seen on earth now. When you find your heart longing for this, fasting is appropriate.

Third, eating or not eating is nonessential in itself

Don’t get me wrong, the most basic definition of fasting is to go without food. To be more precise, fasting can occur in three ways: by eating no food for a period of time, by eating lesser quality of foods for a period of time, or by eating a smaller quantity of food for a period of time

In each of those three cases, fasting has occurred. But the point isn’t the lack of food. Fasting is an activity of frugality and sobriety. Fasting withdraws us from our normal regiment of eating IN ORDER TO intensify our love, dependence, and satisfaction in Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:3-6; Col. 2:16; 1 Cor. 8:8).  In other words, fasting should get to the heart, not just the body. In fasting, you are depriving the body to intensify the heart’s commitment to the Lord decisive victory. This leads to our next principle of fasting.

Fourth, fasting is feasting

Fasting is designed to intensify the focus of our faith on what Christ accomplished and on what he will accomplish. And so, fasting is a spiritual feast on what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection in application to the thing the Christian conscience is burdened to pray for. Our physical hunger awakens a taste for God and for what God has given in Jesus Christ, the bread of life.

Fifth, fasting is part of disciplining the body

1 Cor. 9:26-27 — “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control.”

Do you have a problem with self-control over your body?

Perhaps the sin of lust repeatedly takes control of your body. Perhaps you are wasteful with how you spend your money. Perhaps your tongue says more than it should.

Do you have a problem living aimlessly?

Does figuring out what to watch next on Netflix take up a lot of your time? Do hours of your week disappear into the activity of scrolling? The Christian life is meant to fervently counteract the modern problem of aimlessness, the modern problem of lack of discipline, the modern problem of no self-control. If you find yourself running aimlessly or undisciplined or lacking self-control, then realize that God has given us fasting as a way to train your body, cultivate your soul, and discipline your life. It may be unpopular in evangelicalism to say this, but apparently, the NT regards some ascetic habits as useful weapons in the fight of faith. Fasting is one such weapon.

Sixth, fasting is not about willpower

Willpower-fasting is precisely the thing Jesus is criticizing. If your fasting stirs up your spiritual pride more than it stirs up confidence in the Lord, you are guilty of willpower-fasting.

The entire point of fasting is to remind us of the feebleness of our body, to remind us of our brokenness, to remind us of our spiritual poverty, so that we may look to Christ and his sweet mercy. Unless fasting creates an inner commitment to the Lord, it is of little value. Indeed, Calvin calls such willpower-fasting “useless.” We must be greatly warned against using fasting as an outward signal of holiness. God does not esteem fasting as such. In other words, God does not esteem fasting for the sake of fasting. The design is that it would renew and intensify our trust in the decisive victory Christ won in application to the particular thing our Christian conscience is burdened to pray for.  

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

Partial Bibliography:

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. 2 vols. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.

Piper, John. A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Wheaton, ILL: Crossway, 1997.

Questions This Dad has for the State University Recruiter who has Come for my Child

In your experience, are Christian students more likely to win unbelievers to Christ or lose Christ altogether?

Will my child be taught critical theory at your school?

Do your professors teach that life accidentally sprang from non-life in a primordial pond of goo while also thinking those that disagree are stone-agers that need a course correction?

Does your college think my child’s Christian school is bigoted and regressive?

Does your college think my family’s church is bigoted and regressive?

During the average four-year undergraduate program, how many undergraduate classes are taught by graduate students, rather than a professor, as the main instructor? (HT DF)

Jesus said when students are fully trained, they will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40). Do your teachers model the Christ-life for their students?

Will my child be taught that gender identity is separate from biological sex?

Is the intellectual climate one where Christian ideas are an option or one where those with Christian ideas are put to shame?

In your estimate, out of every 100 Christian students that arrive on your campus, how many leave as Christians?

How do you handle a situation where a sophomore shows up at the campus clinic seeking an abortion?

Is the environment fostered at your school one where sex is viewed as a beautiful gift from God when expressed within a marriage between one man and one woman?

Would you describe the culture of your school as that of “simple faith” in the God of the Bible or “simple hate” of the God of the Bible?

Would you characterize the outlook of your professors as secular, Christian, or something else?

Will my child be taught that two men can marry and that those who disagree are hateful bigots?

How are professors reviewed annually? What role does research funding have in that review process? (HT DF)

How many sexual assaults are reported on your campus each year?

Have you found that most students who arrive on campus as Christians are salt and light, meaning they subtly sow seeds that counteract the spirit of the age?

Are guest speakers of a conservative or Christian worldview welcomed on campus or are they opposed by a shouting army of students?

John Dewey said the goal of government-run schools should be to separate students from the prejudices of their parents. Do you agree?

What is the full cost of tuition, room, board, and books for a four-year degree?

What is the percentage break down of how tuition money is allocated to the following groups:  professors, athletics, administrators, diversity officers, and equity bureaucrats? (HT DF)

What is the average amount of student loan debt students graduate with?

Would your school hire a professor who was a member of my church’s denomination?

How would you compare the number of students who stop attending church with the number of students that start attending church?

How many hands do you need to count the number of students who graduated from your school last year without having sex outside of marriage?

Is white supremacy defined as a person raised in a family with two loving parents?

Do your professors tend to oppose Christianity in a private, hushed voice, or with open, hostile rhetoric?

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.

Fuddled Worship: Why Virtual Worship is no Substitute for In-Person Worship

This is a companion article to “Why Haven’t we Canceled Worship Services?” which can be found by clicking here.

American Christians of recent vintage are eager to live as if the fourth commandment no longer applies—adopting a Lord’s Day theology revolving around the question of how much activity Christians can get away with on any given Sunday. This has become the enabling doctrine for the notion that virtual worship is a sufficient substitute for in-person worship.

Virtual worship is when churches use online video and/or audio streams to allow the church to go through the rudiments of worship over the internet. Sometimes the church’s worship band and pastor live stream themselves on the church stage singing songs and preaching a sermon. Sometimes they record the songs, prayers, and sermon ahead of time and provide a link for members to access. Beginning in the year 2020, many churches decided to substitute virtual worship services for in-person worship to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

It is our conviction that these two things—the virtual and the in-person worship service—are not the same thing, and the church must no longer pretend that two things, so different, can be substituted for each other. The chief difference is that of real presence. In-person worship has a live preacher, preaching to a live congregation. There is the real presence of the body of Christ singing together—singing to one another. There are the real elements of bread and wine which are real participation in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).

When a church member attends an in-person service, the elders are in charge of the service, including the songs that are sung and how many, the prayers that are prayed and how many, the sermon that is preached and how long. When church members stay home for virtual worship, they seize control over the service. They now control exactly what is viewed. They can skip things if they get bored. They can more easily check their phone for the news flash. They can turn down the volume or openly consult the wife about afternoon plans. They can put their dog on their lap and wonder what he is thinking.

The church member is now in control. Why? Because they have removed themselves from the work of attending church. They didn’t have to get dressed or arrive on time. They didn’t have to smile at their friends when they greeted each other. They didn’t have to sit up straight in the chair or wait until the service is complete to get lunch. In sum, they have removed themselves from the formality of attending worship on the Lord’s Day. They’ve cut the cost and the inconvenience and the hassle of attending church.

At its best, virtual worship is an approximation of the real thing. It is fuddled worship, which tricks people into thinking they are worshiping with the people of God, when in fact they are watching other people worship. In evangelicalism, many worship services are little more than songs, a prayer, and a sermon. Songs can be played on Spotify. Prayers can be heard via recording, as can a sermon. And so, the sheep can be forgiven for confusing a “virtual service” for the real thing. Some of the confusion amounts to thinking that worship is more about the transfer of information than the transformation of the person. It is decidedly the latter (Rom. 12:2), which requires the work of the Holy Spirit among the real presence of God’s people and God’s minister. The praise and prayer of the Lord’s Day are to occur “before those who fear him” (Ps. 22:25). Lord’s Day worship is a transformative experience rather than a middleman of knowledge.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes said, “Particular visible churches under visible pastors . . . now are God’s tabernacle.” Because church is a physical assembly of people, it’s not something that can be replicated at home. We were told to use the Lord’s Day to stir one another up to love and good deeds. We were told to assemble to encourage one another (Heb. 10:24-25). This isn’t fulfilled when talking brains log on and commence data transfer. Elijah gets strength when he learns there are still 7,000 people in Israel who worship the Lord (1 Kings 19:3 – 18). David finds shelter only “in the midst of the congregation” (Ps. 22:22). He later proclaims “the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation” (Ps. 40:9). The physical gathering is where faithfulness to God is passed down “to another generation” (Ps. 71:18). God’s people are specifically warned against concealing their worship and praise from the congregation (Ps. 40:10).

Virtual worship cannot be substituted for in-person worship unless the core remains unchanged. And since the core of worship—the assumption of corporate worship—is the real presence of God’s people, virtual worship is an unsuitable substitute for in-person worship, even in the times of the coronavirus. Think of how many Bible passages don’t make sense if we can substitute virtual for physical worship. The pages of Scripture primarily emphasize the corporate aspect of worship. Psalm 27 doesn’t make sense unless it is physical. As David looks around him, he sees several reasons to wait confidently for God’s deliverance. One reason is that he is surrounded by the people of God with whom he offers shouts of joy. How many “virtual worshipers” are filled with inexpressible joy as they cue up the next Spotify song?

In the Old Covenant, the sacrificial offerings were the central part of Israel’s temple worship, something that occurred physically, in the presence of the people (Leviticus 9). In the New Covenant, we approach God’s throne through Christ’s sacrifice. We take the physical elements of the bread and wine and physically eat and drink them (Luke 22:14-23). By faith we have union with Christ and present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), kneeling before God among the people of God (Ps. 95:6).

During corporate worship, the church is supposed to address and admonish “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). There are two duties required when singing with the congregation. One is to make a “melody” to the Lord. The other is to address “one another.” This means that not only is there a duty to God, but a duty to the church. Obligations abound vertically and horizontally. Worship extends to the entire Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit. Encouragement extends to the entire body—hands, feet, and unpresentable parts. The first praises God. The second gives courage to the saints. Neither can be replicated on Zoom. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith’s instructions about worship also assumes that Lord’s Day worship is a physical gathering,  “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear,(r) the sound preaching(s) and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence;(t) singing of psalms with grace in the heart;(u) as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God” (WCF, 21:5).

Since eternal rest with God is our future, the Lord’s Day, which points to our eternal future, is not optional. Sunday worship is not only the result of salvation, it is the ongoing means of grace that forms the soul in preparation for eternity. Just like a husband and wife aren’t supposed to be apart for long, but “come together again so that Satan may not tempt you” (1 Cor. 7:5), so too Christ and his bride are supposed to gather the first day of the week to renew the covenant and halt Satan’s devices.

When Christians mutually agree to not physically gather for Lord’s Day worship, when they mutually agree to disobey God’s instructions to physically gather for worship, they are saying to one another that they don’t prioritize worship enough to gather in the face of a physical threat. It says that the elders and deacons don’t prioritize worship enough to assemble the flock. They are satisfied to allow the substitute of “virtual worship services” to carry on. What are the people in the church to conclude? They are told to conclude that staying home is “loving your neighbor.” Instead, questions arise. How is keeping people from the physical assembly loving? Do all groups, institutions, and religions have a lukewarm commitment to their own things? Why are the race rioters so committed to their ideas that they refuse to stay home, but the church isn’t? Why do rioters take their ideas more seriously than Christians? Do I want to stake my identity with a group that isn’t committed to their own ideas? Why don’t they care enough about their central activity to keep doing it?

The church is being watched by not just those inside, but also those outside the church. When the church stops physically gathering for Sunday worship, the watchers see that Christians are compliant with restrictions that forbid gathering. Many in the world see the restrictions as proper and the Christians who comply as humane. But even then, what do they see? They see that Christians would rather be humane—in whatever way the world defines it—than assembled for worship. In this they learn something false about Christianity: that complying with the world’s definitions is more important than gathering for public worship.

The primary task of the church is to worship God. The church, not just individuals, is to do this, which necessarily means the church must be physically and corporately gathered. Mark Jones writes, “The most important thing a Christian can do is worship God together with the body of Christ. We come together each Lord’s Day as a unified army, fighting the Lord’s battles in different ways, knowing that God is fighting with us and for us.”[1] Gathering physically testifies that the church is worth preserving. The Greek word for church—ekklesia—means congregation or assembly, which denotes if the church fails to assemble, the church won’t be the church. We worship as much as we believe, and in so far as we don’t gather to worship Jesus, we can’t much hope for persevering belief.

[1] Faith, Hope, and Love, pg 189 (Crossway, Wheaton, ILL.; 2017).

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. 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.