Review of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

Radical by David Platt (who is pastor of a large church in Birmingham, AL and has a doctorate from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is a book which, unfortunately, is needed. I say “unfortunately” because Radical is a call to American Christians to follow Jesus with their whole lives, and not to confuse pursuit of the American Dream of wealth, comfort and self-sufficiency with Christian discipleship. If American Christians were radical disciples of Jesus, this book would not be necessary. But there is a widespread collusion among Christians in this country that being a follower of Christ need not be radical. As Platt puts it, “[W]e look around, and everyone else has nice cars, nice homes, and lifestyles characterized by luxuries, so we accept that this must be the norm for Christians. We may get convicted about our way of living when we look at the Bible, but then when we look at one another, we assume it must be okay because everyone else lives this way” (205-6).

There has been such a need for books like this for such a long time that you could almost say there is a genre of “costly discipleship” books: books that insist that following Christ is more of a life-changing commitment than is commonly thought. Platt makes reference to one of the most famous books in this genre, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, in the opening pages of this book.

These books are valuable, but there is a danger in reading them. The danger is that in reading them we are convicted by how far away from a truly sacrificial life of discipleship we are, and we become paralyzed either by guilt or by not knowing where to begin. Platt is not interested in paralyzing people, and the last chapter of this book is where he really shows a pastoral heart. He urges readers to begin their journey toward radical discipleship by undertaking a one-year experiment involving five components: pray for the entire world; read through the entire Word; sacrifice your money for a specific purpose; spend your time in another context; commit your life to a multiplying community. Honestly, these steps, by themselves, are not all that radical. The point, I think, is to get people to start somewhere. He even says that beginning by spending 2 percent of our time in a different context could lead to giving 98 percent of our time in a different context (203). Platt wants to get Christians on the road to understanding the radical demands – and radical rewards – of following Jesus. I am thankful for this book, and will seek to follow through on some of the commitments that Platt suggests.

Why American flags in churches are a bad idea

In the church that I grew up attending, every Sunday there was an American flag on a staff to the speaker’s right, and a Christian flag on a staff to the speaker’s left.

I didn’t think anything of it. That was just the way it was, and that was the way it was in just about all the other churches that I visited. It wasn’t until later that I came to believe that it was idolatrous.

“Idolatry” is a strong word, and I don’t use it lightly. What convinced me that displaying the American flag in its customary place of prominence in a church was this section of the Flag Code:

When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience. (italics added)

Displaying the American flag represents allegiance to the United States. Displaying the Christian flag represents allegiance to Jesus Christ. Placing the symbol of allegiance to the United States in a superior place to the symbol of allegiance to Jesus Christ is idolatry, because the Bible tells Christians that Jesus is Lord of all (Ps. 72:8-11; Php. 2:9-11; Rev. 12:5, 19:5). It also says that civil government is a servant of God, and not the other way around (Rom. 13:4; Jer. 25:9). It also says that when God and civil authority are in conflict, that it is God who must be obeyed (Acts 5:29; 1 Ki. 21:2-3).

Many Christians think that there is no conflict between giving honor to the United States and giving honor to God. Personally, I don’t think that there is a problem with giving honor to the United States in the proper context. I have no problem with saying the Pledge of Allegiance, because there is no other country in the world to which I have greater allegiance. I sing the National Anthem at baseball games.

The Flag Code insists that the United States flag must be in the place of highest prominence wherever it is displayed. This means, in my opinion, that it should not be displayed in a place where Jesus Christ is worshiped, because to do so is idolatry.

Stuff Christians Like

Mary and I went to Lake Chelan over Memorial Day weekend, and on the drive we listened to the audiobook of Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff. It is a book spun off of the Web site of the same name, which in turn is a Christian version of Stuff White People Like, a Web site (and book) by Christian Lander. I first heard about the Web site almost two years ago from my friend Tony, who told me about #124: The kid that makes out with girls from other youth groups. When I saw that the book was a free download from christianaudio.com (sadly, this has now expired, though they have a new free download each month), I got it right away.

Mary and I both loved it. For one thing, this is what an audiobook ought to be: it is read by the author, and includes explanatory (and often humorous) asides that are not included in the print version. Acuff is a pastor’s kid/copywriter who lives in Atlanta and understands the North American evangelical subculture. For example, he understands how ironic it is that one thing that Christians like – making their own version of something that is popular in wider culture – is the very thing that he is doing.

Wander over to the site and check it out. If you are taking a road trip with me in the future, we can listen to the book. Otherwise, you can buy the audiobook or print version (which I’m told has neat diagrams).

Before I go, I wanted to direct you to one of my favorites: #269: Understanding how metrosexual your worship leader is (a handy guide).

John Stott on Social Justice

This Lent, I have been reading John Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ, to focus on what Jesus’ death means. I found this quote in the last section of the book, called “Living Under the Cross.” In light of the recent conflict between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis on the meaning of “social justice,” and how it relates to the Gospel, I thought I would share it.

[A]s we have repeatedly noted throughout this book, the cross is a revelation of God’s justice as well as of his love. That is why the community of the cross should concern itself with social justice as well as with loving philanthropy. It is never enough to have pity on the victims of injustice, if we do nothing to change the unjust situation itself. Good Samaritans will always be needed to succour those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands. Just so Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures which inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices which spoil God’s world and demean his creatures. Injustice must bring pain to the God whose justice flared brightly at the cross; it should bring pain to God’s people too. Contemporary injustices take many forms. They are international (the invasion and annexation of foreign territory), political (the subjugation of minorities), legal (the punishment of untried and unsentenced citizens), racial (the humiliating discrimination against people on the ground of race or colour), economic (the toleration of gross North-South inequality and of the traumas of poverty and unemployment), sexual (the oppression of women), educational (the denial of equal opportunity for all) or religious (the failure to take the gospel to the nations). Love and justice combine to oppose all these situations. If we love people, we shall be concerned to secure their basic rights as human beings, which is also the concern of justice. The community of the cross, which has truly absorbed the message of the cross, will always be motivated to action by the demands of justice and love. (292-3)

December 2009: Books Read

1. What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question by Po Bronson. Since I have been thinking a lot lately about the question from this book’s title, it jumped out at me when I was at the library one day. Bronson, an author who was asking himself that very question in 2002, set out to interview scores of people who were wondering what to do with their lives.

The subtitle is not entirely reflective of what the book is about. Not that many people Bronson interviewed had actually decided what they were going to do with their lives, or had started doing it. Several people knew what they wanted to do, or had a vague sense of it, but were unable to go out and do it for various reasons: doubts, insecurities that go back to their family of origin, etc. Nevertheless, I found this book to be worth reading simply because of the sheer breadth of stories Bronson told. The book is made up entirely of people’s stories, and this made it hard to put down. At times, Bronson would philosophize about what he was learning from hearing all these stories, and one of these philosophical moments stuck with me. It was the idea that everyone has an “inner circle,” a table of people in their head that they are trying to please or keep up with. Sometimes this is a good thing, but other times it is a bad thing, as in the case of the inner-city schoolteacher who found his job fulfilling – but was always comparing himself to his rich, jet-setting classmates at Yale.

This book is a lot different from other books about guidance that I have read. The reason for this is that other books I’ve read are written from a Christian perspective, and talk about being called and a Caller (God). Bronson, who is not a Christian, does not use this language, but I thought he did talk about calling in an indirect way. Here is a paragraph from his summing-up chapter, addressing the question, “What do people really want?”:

They want to find work they’re passionate about. Offering benefits and incentives are mere compromises. Educating people is important but not enough – far too many of our most educated people are operating at quarter-speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing too little to the productive engine of modern civilization, still feeling like observers, like they haven’t come close to living up to their potential. Our guidance needs to be better. We need to encourage people to find their sweet spot. Productivity explodes when people love what they do. We’re sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity, which we could tap into if we got all the square pegs in the square holes and round pegs in round holes. It’s not something we can measure with statistics, but it’s a huge economic issue. It’s a great natural resource that we’re ignoring. (363-4)

I don’t know that I’d recommend it for anyone who is looking for what to do with their life, but I did enjoy it because I enjoy hearing about people’s stories.

2. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. When I was in high school and college, I was a Philip Yancey junkie. The first book that I read by him was What’s So Amazing About Grace? This was followed quickly by The Jesus I Never Knew, The Bible Jesus Read, and Reaching for the Invisible God. The first two are still two of my all-time favorite books on Jesus and the Christian life. The latter two were good, but not incredible. After reading those four, I got away from Philip Yancey for a while. Every now and then, I would pick up one of his newer books in a bookstore, leaf through it, and decide that the subject matter wasn’t compelling enough for me to get it.

Then I came across this book, which did have a compelling subject matter to me, and furthermore, was being sold for $2 at the library. So I bought it early this fall, and started reading it in October.

Reading it was like getting acquainted with an old friend. Yancey has always included personal anecdotes and demonstrates a wide range of reading in his writing, and those traits were evident throughout this book. He also evinces a humility that says he doesn’t have it all together when it comes to his subject. This attitude is good, but it is found throughout the book and I started to find it repetitive by the end.

I love Yancey’s writing style, anecdotes and humility, but to me the book lacked a compelling organization. Of course it had chapters and those chapters were grouped into sections, but I put the book down for several days at a time because I just wasn’t that interested to see what came next. I’m glad to have read it, but it doesn’t rank up there with the first two of Yancey’s books that I read.

3. Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh. I was interested in this book from the first time I heard about it earlier this year. It is on a huge subject – so huge that it’s surprising that no one seems to have written an entire book about it. I was also interested in it because I am an introvert, and I have spent a lot of time in the church.

The book did not disappoint. McHugh starts off with the problem: we live in a culture that is geared toward extroversion, and this is also the case in many churches. How do we make it so that introverts can thrive in the church? I loved this book, especially the chapters on introverted leadership and evangelism (no, they’re not oxymorons).

This book was needed by the church, and needed by me personally. As a person who has felt called to ministry in the church since my college days, but who has also felt a persistent sense of inferiority because of my introverted personality, I needed the encouragement that this book provided. In the past, I leaned heavily on the writings of Eugene Peterson to assure me that introverts could be pastors. Now, I can lean on this book as well.

4. A Guide to Biblical Prophecy: A Balanced and Biblical Assessment of the Nature of Prophecy in the Bible, edited by Carl Armerding and Ward Gasque. I picked this up at a used book store a year ago for two reasons: I wanted to learn more about the nature of biblical prophecy, and I trusted Armerding and Gasque, who are both retired professors from Regent College, where I went to grad school.

As mentioned above, though, Armerding and Gasque are editors of this volume, not writers. It contains 16 articles from 16 different authors, ranging in subject matter from the Old Testament (“Messianic Prophecies in the Old Testament”) to the New Testament (“The Millennium”) to the historical (“Nineteenth-Century Roots of Contemporary Prophetic Interpretation”). I thought it was an interesting and helpful volume, but because of its nature as a collection of essays, it wasn’t comprehensive. If you are looking for a passage-by-passage guide to prophecy in the Bible, this isn’t it.

5. Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation by Darrell Johnson. I’ve been reading this book slowly throughout the fall as my small group has been making its way through the book of Revelation (note: there is no “s” at the end). I read the last few chapters this week to help prepare for the class on Revelation I’m teaching at church starting in January, and also so I could include it on the list of books I read this year.

This book is exactly what the subtitle says it is: an expository journey through the book of Revelation. Johnson preached through the book in 1999, and then turned that series of sermons into this book in 2004. It is called Discipleship on the Edge because Johnson insists throughout the book that Revelation is not a “crystal ball” (as many interpreters would have us believe), but rather it is a discipleship document. It is meant to encourage (and challenge) Christian believers who are facing (or about to face) persecution by pulling back the curtain and showing what is really going on. I sometimes wished that there were a little bit more detail, but this is not a commentary. Each chapter, not surprisingly, reads like a sermon, and includes application of each text to our lives. I would recommend it, primarily because Johnson focuses on Jesus rather than on predicting catastrophic events.

Truth Project 12: Community & Involvement (God Cares, Do I?)

Now we have reached the final “tour” of the Truth Project, on Community.

Del begins by quoting Matthew 22:33-40, wherein a Pharisee asks Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law is. Jesus responds (referring to Deut. 6:4-9), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Del also quotes a similar passage from Luke 10:25-29, in which the Pharisee, wanting to “justify himself,” asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

Then Del takes us back through the “spheres” that he has introduced in the last several tours: God, the family, the church, the state, the general economic model and the labor sphere, saying that God has stamped his divine image on each one. Then he says that the sphere of community looks a little different because it doesn’t have any “authority” roles, but only “responsibility” roles. He says maybe this is why we neglect this sphere, because there’s no power in it.

Returning to the passage in Luke, Del says that the Pharisee, in asking who his neighbor was, was looking for a checklist. Instead, Jesus told him what we think of as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Del calls it the “Story of the Good Neighbor.” In telling the story, Jesus didn’t answer the Pharisee’s question; he responded with what the man needed to hear. “He said what a neighbor was, and told him to go be a neighbor.” Del draws the “sphere” of community on the board, with Christ at the top, the neighbor below and to the right, and the needy below.

Del quotes a series of passages from the Old Testament (1 Sam. 2:8, Job 5:11, Ps. 12:5, Ps. 72:4, 138:6, 12:5) and sums them all up by saying that “God has a deep heart for the needy.” Then he asks, “Who are the needy?” It’s the poor, orphans, widows, the sick and prisoners, but it’s also outcasts, the unpopular, the neglected, the left out, the homely, the last and others. Del tells two stories to illustrate how the needy are everywhere: the first is of a girl who everyone made fun of when Del was in school, and the second is of his first school dance, where Del’s dad called his attention to the fact that there were girls whom no one was asking to dance.

Del then quotes another series of Bible passages, and ends by asking, “What other gods have a heart for the lowly?” This causes him to focus on the nature of God. He quotes Matt. 11:28-9, and says that for him, it was easy to think of God as powerful but the idea that God was humble was foreign. This is hard to miss in Jesus, though. At the Last Supper, he washed his disciples’ feet, and in John 14:4-9, he says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

But Del hastens to point out that humility is not timidity. He read a book about Jesus once called Man of Steel and Velvet. This is what Jesus is like.

Then Del plays two videos. The first is of Fr. Robert Sirico, who says that Christian charity is different from philanthropy because of its view of the person as sacred. He quotes C.S. Lewis as saying, “You’ve never met a mere mortal.”

The second video is of Flash, a tattoo artist who has made several appearances in previous video segments. In previous segments, he has come across as rough-edged and hostile to Christianity, but in this one he tells his story of abandonment and abuse, of pain and rejection by the church. He says, “I’ve only met a few Christians who act like what they say they are.”

Del then asks why we are not involved. Sometimes it’s because we don’t care. But if you want to follow Jesus, you must get involved. If we don’t engage the culture, he says, how are we going to understand where people are coming from, their needs? “We have a serious credibility gap.”

Then Del turns to the book of Jonah, in which God calls the prophet to go to Nineveh and prophesy but he runs away. Del says the focus of the story is on Nineveh. God cared about it and wanted to save it. “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Del asks, “Do you think God’s not concerned with our culture?”

Del says that we are called to transform culture. He says that Christianity changed the world through involvement. He points to the British anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce as an example. He points to five characteristics that Wilberforce had that we can learn from:

1. HIs whole life was animated by a deeply held, personal faith in Jesus Christ.
2. He had a deep sense of calling that grew into conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realms of his secular responsibility.
3. He was committed to the strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working together in chosen ventures.
4. He believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral beliefs to change culture through sustained public persuasion.
5. He was willing to pay a steep cost for his courageous public stands and was persistent in pursuing his life task.

There have been many Christians like him, Del says, and we are in good company. So what do we do? What is the next step? Del says that he has no clue. He isn’t going to advise people on what to do. But he does know the one who does: God.

I thought that this was a great “tour” to end on. It would be easy for people to go through this whole curriculum and say, “Well, now I have a Christian worldview. Good for me,” instead of actually having it change the way they live. I liked the way that the title frames the question: “God Cares, do I?” God is not content to sit comfortably in church and scoff at the world; should I be?

I also thought that the video of Flash was very powerful. As noted above, he comes across as being pretty rough around the edges, and in earlier tours he said some harsh and disturbing things. It was important to see the story behind who he is, and show that he is a human, made in God’s image, who God calls us to love and respect.

And finally, I think on the one hand that Wilberforce is a great example of Christian cultural involvement, and on the other it was wise for Del to refrain from saying what people should do next. They should look for God to call them to what he wants them to do.

There are just a few nitpicky things about this tour to point out. The first is that Del again bases a “sphere” on God’s internal relationships, saying that “He stamped that divine image on each [sphere].” I’ve already mentioned a couple of times, especially in Tour 7: Sociology, that I think this is a mistake and unbiblical. We can say that God wants our relationships to be a certain way, but I don’t think there’s enough biblical warrant to say that he wants our relationships in these “spheres” to look like the Trinity.

Second, I liked that Del came across in this tour as concerned about where people are coming from. But I wonder whether this is enough to counteract the scoffing and dismissive tone he adopts elsewhere in the Truth Project. For example, in tour 10, he scoffs at people at Harvard, saying, “I’m not even sure they know what [truth] means.” In an earlier tour, he scoffs at his college philosophy professor, dismissing him by saying, “How foolish!” Del appears conflicted. On the one hand, he seems to have a real heart for people, and knows that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). On the other, he seems at times to get carried away into an “Us vs. Them” mentality. I wonder which Del watchers of the Truth Project will listen to more?

Finally, Del says that “we’re called to transform culture.” I don’t think this is the best way to frame things. Culture is a big thing (within our society, you could even speak of several different cultures), and transforming it is really out of our control (I get this idea from Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making, which I read recently). Even making laws can’t transform culture; laws are downstream from culture. Instead of talking about “transforming culture,” I would be more partial to the language of “being faithful” – listening to God’s call, and following him as faithfully as we can. We can make culture, but we can leave the culture transforming up to him.

Rock Garden

For those of you who, like me, spend too much time on the Internet looking for (free, if possible) sermons and lectures to put on your MP3 player, let me put you on to a good source.

Rikk Watts is a professor of New Testament at Regent College, where I went to school. Every two weeks during the school year, he gives evening talks at a young adult gathering called The Rock Garden at New Life Community Church in Burnaby, BC. The talks that he has given dating back to 2001 are available at no charge at the Rock Garden Web site (UPDATE 8/9/13: I checked the link that used to be here, and found that it no longer points to the Rock Garden site, so I removed it. I am not sure whether these talks are available online anymore). I was often busy on Sunday nights during my time at Regent, so I only went to the Rock Garden once, but I have greatly benefited from listening to the lectures and sermons available on the site.

I should also mention that Regent has lots of classes and lectures available at regentaudio.com. It is wonderful that they record so much (and I have purchased a few classes and stand-alone lectures myself), but unfortunately for sermon and lecture gluttons like myself, you have to pay for it.

Truth Project 10: The American Experiment (Stepping Stones) – Summary

I’m going to warn you right now that this might be one of the longer entries in this series of reviews of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project. What follows is my summary of the tour, and since the summary is so long, I will post my response separately.

Tour ten of The Truth Project begins with Del issuing a disclaimer (much like he did before tour five). He says that he has three rules: we are not here to deify America, we are not here to deify the founding fathers, and the third is that we will not cast stones at the unbeliever.

He begins the session proper with a question: what should the state (“the King”) look like? Whoever he is, he must see himself in relation to God. Del says that we are looking at America not because he (Del) is an American, but because he thinks that those who founded it had a comprehensive biblical worldview. The founders were sinful people like anyone else, but “I’m convinced,” Del says, “they tried to lay down biblical principles in the founding of this country.”

Del then looks at education in America. He says that there is a great hatred for America within “liberal academia.” It is a country that people love to love and love to hate. He shows the difference in American education between the time that the states were colonies and now. The second best-selling book in the colonies (behind the Bible) was the New England Primer, which contained Bible lessons and catechisms. Now, Del quotes educational reformer John Dewey as saying that faith in God is outmoded and there is no natural law and no absolutes. Del also notes that at their foundings Harvard, Princeton and Columbia were all explicitly Christian, but now none of them are. He then quotes several “founders” (I’ll explain later why I put this in quotes) on education: Gouverneur Morris, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster. They were all of the opinion that religion (specifically, Christianity) is of foremost importance for education of young people. He also cites Article 3 of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance to this effect.

Del then asks, “How do we reconcile these statements with the idea that America was founded as a secular country?” Del himself was taught this, and he tells the story of how he came to change his mind. He worked in Washington, D.C. in the early ’90s, and while he was there he got to know more about the murals that decorate the walls in the Capitol. One is of Christopher Columbus, the second is of the baptism of Pocahontas, and the third is of the Pilgrims on the ship Speedwell. All three of these are religious, Del says, and profoundly Christian. Del then quotes Revelation 2:5, which is Jesus speaking to the church of Ephesus:

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Del explains this quote by saying, “When Jesus removes his lampstand from a place, that church, that nation, becomes very dark.”

His transitional moment, he says, came on a Saturday morning when he attended an event where someone dressed as George Washington reenacted his farewell address from 1796:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…

Del then quotes John Adams and Benjamin Rush to bolster the same point made by Washington: religion and morality are the foundations of freedom (Adams) and of republican government (Rush). He returns to Washington’s Farewell Address to make the point that morality can’t be maintained without religion. He cites Charles Carroll, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry in quick succession to reinforce this claim. He also cites Rush again to show that it is not just religion in general, but Christianity:

Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy.

Del then turns to Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, to argue that religion and politics, at the beginning, were closely tied to one another in America:

The Americans combine the notions and Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive one without the other.

Del interjects that this is no longer true; we are taught that religion and politics don’t mix. He then cites Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, John Adams and Daniel Webster to the effect that laws are inadequate to govern people who are not already governed internally. Here is Adams:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

“The foundation of this country is not the Constitution,” Del says. “It is much deeper than that.” He doesn’t say exactly what it is, but one can reasonably assume that he means religion (specifically Christianity) and morality.

Del revisits Romans 13 (which he looked at in the previous tour, on the role of the state), saying that the role of the state is to punish evil and condone good. This means that the state must know the basis for calling something good or evil. What do the founding documents of the United States say about the basis of calling something good or evil? Del quotes the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…

The rights of man do not come from the state, but from the Creator, Del says. He quotes the Declaration again:

… and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitles them…

Del says that he has heard the term “Nature’s God” is a Deistic term. He claims that it is not, and quotes Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634):

The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction… the moral law, called also the law of nature.

He also quotes William Blackstone, an English jurist who wrote an influential treatise on the common law called Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.

Del says that “laws of nature” is a legal term that comes from Coke and Blackstone. However, Del says, something has happened in the concept of law in America, as a result of the theory of evolution. Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859. In 1869, Charles Eliot was appointed president of Harvard. In 1870, he appointed his friend Christopher Columbus Langdell as the head of Harvard Law School. Eliot and Langdell both believed that evolution was true. Langdell, Del says (supporting this with a quote), approached law the same way evolution is approached in biology. Law is, said John Chipman Gray, one of Langdell’s colleagues in changing the view of law in America

a living thing, with a continuous history, sloughing off the old, taking on the new.

This new legal philosophy was called legal positivism, which Del defines as “the claim that the state is the ultimate authority for creating, interpreting and enforcing law. All legal truth is based on the decision of the state.” Del quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as a proponent of this view of the law.

Del then quotes Noah Webster to the effect that it is important for people in political office to “rule in the fear of God.” Del says that virtually all of the constitutions of the early states had religious tests for office – that is, they had to make a statement before taking office that they were Christians or at least believed in God. He cites the original Delaware state constitution as an example. He says they did this because people wanted to make sure that if they gave the power of the sword to the civil magistrate, they wanted to make sure that he bore that power under the authority of God.

Going back to the larger story, Del cites the “first Constitution of the United States,” the Constitution of the New England Federation from 1643. It says

Whereas we all came to these parts of America with the same end and aim, namely, to advance the kingdome of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to injoy the liberties of the Gospell thereof with purities and peace, and for the preserving and propagating the truth and liberties of the gospell…

Del thinks it is because of these roots that it is now in vogue to hate America. He has Fr. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute, talk about how we got to this point. Sirico says that Judaism and Christianity invented Western civilization, and asks, How did we lose control? and How are we going to re-insinuate ourselves into it?

Del says that when he was young he was taught to believe, in contrast to Sirico, what Bishop Paul O’Brien says, that the United States was started by pagans and Deists. Del says that it was a Deist, though “not in the modern sense of the term” who stood up at the Constitutional Convention on June 28, 1787 and proposed that the delegates have someone (a clergyman) pray for them and their deliberations every morning. Del responds, “That’s one of your least religious founders. A pagan? I don’t think so!”

Del then quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn as saying about Russia in the 20th century: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened,” and Del applies this to the United States. He also applies these three passages from the Bible to the United States:

When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. – Hosea 13:6

Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonousb snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 8:10-20

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

After quoting Hosea 13:6, Del says, “The warning is to us.” After quoting 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, he says, “It is you and I that must go before the Lord.”

Del ends with the metaphor of light and darkness. It is very interesting, so I will quote it in full:

Darkness doesn’t overtake light; light overtakes darkness. Why this rise of hatred for America? Why is this historic revisionism going on? If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. If you do not have a heart for her , if you don’t have a passion for her, you can learn all you want about Christian worldview… but you won’t do diddly doo for her. [Quotes Revelation 2:5] If Jesus removes the lampstand, we will become a dark nation like many who have fallen before us.”

The above is just my summary of tour 10. Since I thought it was very important to include many parts of Del’s argument, it is long. So I will stop there, and leave my response to this tour until the next post.

Update: My response is posted here. And just to warn you, I probably disagreed with Del on this tour more than any other tour of the Truth Project.

Truth Project 8: Unio Mystica (Am I Alone?)

In the eighth tour of the Truth Project, Del (the presenter) looks at the mystical union between God and humans. He begins by talking about mysteries, saying how much he loved Hardy Boys books when he was a kid, and referring to Ephesians 5:31-32, which says that the mystery of marriage “is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” God, Del says, have given us a mystery and has also written the end of that mystery.

Much of the early part of this tour consists of laying a biblical foundation for the doctrine of the mystical union between God and humans. Del cites Colossians 1:27, John 15:5, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, and John 14:16-17, all in the interest of showing that “the God of the universe dwelling inside us is the greatest mystery.” God has invited us into the Godhead.

Another aspect of this mystery is that the church is the body of Christ, and God is interested on oneness in that body (1 Corinthians 12:27, Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 10:17). There is another aspect, which Del calls the “Mystery of Christ.” Citing Romans 16:25-26, Ephesians 1:9-10, 3:6 and especially Galatians 3:28-29, Del says that this mystery is that there are no racial barriers in Christ, no economic or class barriers, and no gender barriers. God wants his church to be united in him and with one another (John 17:20-23). This, Del says, is why you see so many “one another” commands in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Peter 1:22, Galatians 6:2, James 5:16), especially “Love one another” (John 13:34-35).

After setting forth what our relationship with Christ and one another ought to be, Del looks at the pathologies that keep us from intimacy, fellowship and unity. The major pathology that Del mentions is our hunger for significance, for people to notice us. God has given us this hunger, but it needs to be satisfied within the covenant relationships God gives. Del gives a few biblical examples of how this hunger can become a pathology, like Saul’s jealousy of David and Jesus warning people to not do their “acts of righteousness” to be praised by others (Matthew 6:1-4). What keeps us from intimacy, Del says, is that we abandon God and prostitute ourselves. Our greatest desire should be for God (Psalm 42:1-2).

Overall, I liked this tour. There was a lot of scripture quoted in it, which for a Christian worldview curriculum like the Truth Project is very good. I had never seen the various mysteries mentioned in the New Testament rolled up into one the way Del did it. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I had just never seen it before.

Even though the title of the tour could appear individualistic (“I” rather than “we”), I found that the tour itself was not particularly individualistic.

I also liked that Del, in addition to telling about what God wants for us, talked about those pathologies that keep us from being what God wants us to be. If he had ended after the first part of the tour, viewers would have been left with the issue of how the church all too often doesn’t look how it is meant to look. As it is, we can see that God intends for his people to be united to him, but we fail to be what we are meant to be. The fault lies with us and our pathologies, rather than with God.

This was one of my favorite tours of the Truth Project. It lacked some of the things that have caused me to have a mixed reaction to several other tours. For one thing, it was saturated with scripture, and Del did not go farther than scripture warranted. It also did not include negative comments about people with differing worldviews, or who have other opinions. All in all, a very good tour.