The Nature of the Cure Tells the Nature of the Disease

Recently I’ve been listening to Victor Shepherd‘s lectures from a class called “Theology of the Human Person.” I’ve never taken a class from Shepherd, who teaches at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, but Regent College sells some of his lectures through Regent Audio. I’ve listened to a series of his lectures on historical theology, and another lecture on Calvin and predestination, and have enjoyed them a great deal.

Here is a quote from Theology of the Human Person, on how people gain knowledge of sin:

A knowledge of redemption alone generates a knowledge of sin. An apprehension of the cure acquaints you with the nature and scope of the disease. The cure defines the ailment. Reconciliation highlights the nature and the fact of alienation….

Can sinners, of themselves, know themselves to be sinners? No. Only the grace of redemption acquaints us with the fact that we are sinners. Sinners of themselves can know themselves to be guilty, self-alienated, fed up, frustrated, lethal—but sin by definition is a defective relationship with God. Who is the God with whom we are defectively related? And how do we know that we are defectively related to him? All of this has to be revealed to us. This is not naturally knowable….

If the cure discloses the nature of the disease, we ought never to preach on sin without preaching of sin forgiven. We ought never to preach on estrangement without preaching on estrangement overcome in Christ. Because only the overcoming of estrangement acquaints us with the nature of the estrangement. I think that in church, we have preached many times on sin, and very lamely, and too lately, gotten around to sin forgiven. We left people in a worse condition than ever, and we made them bigger and better moralists.

If you preach on sin without preaching on sin forgiven you’re going to fall into the moralistic trap.If you think that the moral person is any closer to the kingdom than the immoral person, then you think that the Pharisee is going to go into the kingdom ahead of the [tax collector]. Jesus says the harlots and the tax collectors go into the kingdom first because the one thing they have is no illusion about the fact that they’re moral. Moral people always manage to convince themselves that they’re not sinners.

Book Review: Uncle Sam’s Plantation by Star Parker

Star Parker argues in this book that poverty is too complicated to be fixed by government programs. Parker herself was once poor and took advantage of welfare programs, but she climbed out of poverty through hard work and determination. The two great heroes of this book are freedom and personal responsibility, and the two great villains are what Parker calls liberalism and moral relativism.

I found Parker’s telling of her own story to be inspiring, and there were some parts of the book that I agreed with. On the whole, however, I didn’t care for this book. Here’s why:

1. Parker is not civil toward those with whom she disagrees. In fact, she treats them with disdain. She calls the practice of repeating a lie over and over until it is believed a “time-honored liberal tactic” (56). She rails against “liberal ideologues in the halls of power” (105) and “mainstream media elites” (173). She says that on the Left, “facts will never get in the way of ideology” (187). I think that the lack of civility between disagreeing parties is a major problem, and Parker’s language does not help. I was tired of it well before the end of the book.

2. Parker relies too much on rhetoric to make some of her points. I agree with her that moral relativism is a problem, but does moral relativism really lead to plane hijackings (41)? I think there was a lot wrong with the worldview of the 9/11 hijackers, but I would argue that moral relativism was not the primary issue.

3. Parker could have used a better copy editor. There are too many examples of typos and mangled sentences to list here.

4. At the basic level, Parker is arguing for moralism, not Christianity. She talks about “biblical truths” and “absolute guidelines” (98). She talks about “faith” and “ethics” (129) and an “absolute moral code” (134). She talks about “moral and spiritual” solutions (165). She says that the Old Testament law was about family, property and ownership, and “being concerned about building your own and not what your neighbor has” (223).

This, as a Christian, was what disappointed me most about this book. If Parker is to be believed, being a Christian is about being a good person and following rules. This is a mistake that a lot of people make, but it is still a mistake. Parker never mentions Jesus’ death on the cross, never mentions forgiveness of sins, never mentions grace and mercy, never mentions the resurrection, and never mentions that the Old Testament law was about God’s holiness. Parker seems to think that the solution to poverty is moralism: people behaving better. I think that morality is better than immorality, but please let’s not confuse being a good moral person with genuine Christianity.

If you are conservative and you are interested in feeling good about being conservative, then this is the book for you (it got blurbs from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity). If you are liberal, Parker’s characterizations of your position will probably make you angry. If you are a Christian who is genuinely interested in finding out how you and your church can help the poor, don’t bother reading this book. One book I’ve read recently that I’d recommend instead is Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller.

Note: Thanks to Thomas Nelson for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review. And clearly, I didn’t.