Monthly Archives: January 2009

 

Jan

31

2009

Trevin Wax|3:11 am CT

The Gospel is for Now because it's for Later

“If we proclaim a gospel that focuses only on the private experience of the individual and the heavenly benefits for the next life, then we should not be surprised to see people dismissing the importance of good works in this life within the context of the Church.”

- a quote from my forthcoming book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals

 
 

Jan

30

2009

Trevin Wax|3:11 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Demian Farnworth interviews me about my thoughts on abortion, anarchy, and antinomianism. Gotta love the alliteration!

15 Pro-life truths from John Piper

Audio: Albert Mohler’s Q&A on abortion today

An interesting comparison of Billy Graham’s inaugural prayers throughout the years. There’s a definite trend from “evangelistic” to “ecumenical”

It’s official. Narnia has a new home with 20th Century Fox. The Dawn Treader will sail after all!

Doug Wilson takes N.T. Wright (and others) to task for not devoting proportionate attention to the subject of hell. One of the reasons I enjoy Doug Wilson’s blog is the creative way he sometimes makes points, like this one about displaying a real loss of proportion. “Well, other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Jimmy Draper reviews a book by Alan Hirsch. Ed Stetzer is grinning.

An interview with Timothy Beals - author of a new book from Crossway that gives us a topical listing of Jesus’ words in Scripture. If you ever wonder where the “red letters” phenomenon came from, check out the interview.

Bradley Cochran is starting up a new ministry for kingdom work in the city. Check out the website Urban Glory: Illuminating the City of God in the Cities of Man.

Top Post this Week at Kingdom People: Being Pro-Life in a Culture of Death: An Interview with Russell Moore

 
 

Jan

29

2009

Trevin Wax|3:34 am CT

Is Religion Necessary to Society? My Take on the Pope's Debate with Habermas

habermas1Yesterday, I summarized the brief debate between Jurgen Habermas and Pope Benedict XVI regarding the role of reason and religion in secular society. (The two papers are included in the book The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion.) Today, I’d like to follow up with a few comments about this dialogue.

My Take on the Habermas/Ratzinger Debate

It is surprising to see Benedict and Habermas finding common ground on the role of religion in secular society. Both of them see the need for religion and reason to listen and learn from one another.

But despite the similarities in their practical solutions, there are several substantive differences in their outlooks which should not be overlooked.

Reason’s False Sense of Superiority

First, Benedict is right to point out that it is unfair to speak only of pathologies of religion without considering the danger of “pathologies of reason.” This tendency for reason to be unaware of its limitations is demonstrated in Habermas’ essay.

Consider Habermas’ proposal that we translate religious concepts into the language of secular principles. Surely some good can come from such a proposal.

But it is clearly one-sided for Habermas to see the need for religion to be translated into secular terms without ever advocating that secular principles be translated into religious terminology. His view presupposes the superiority of rationalism over religion, and this sense of secular superiority is demonstrated by his view that religious principles should shed their religious connotations in order to better suit secular society.

The example that Habermas uses is the religious concept of “the image of God in man” being spoken of as “the identical dignity of all men that deserves unconditional respect” (45). It is true that this kind of conversion from sacred to secular terms can be helpful to some extent.

But this kind of conceptual conversion cannot avoid “emptying” religious concepts of their significance. Indeed, the equation of “the image of God in man” with “human dignity” translates the horizontal aspect of the “divine image” teaching quite well. But the secular form does not grapple with the God in whose image we are made.

When Christians affirm that human beings are created in the image of God, they are indeed speaking of the dignity and worth of all human life, but they are also affirming something about God. When religious language is translated into rationalist, secular terms, it is inevitable that the religious teachings will be emptied of their vertical dimension. Thus, the translation process advocated by Habermas subjugates religiosity to rationalism.

Can Secularism Sustain Itself?

Secondly, it is encouraging to read that Habermas believes religion can serve as a support for secular democracy. This affirmation is a move in the right direction in that it notices a certain pragmatic value in religion – religion’s power to sustain the solidarity of the citizenry.

But Habermas never addresses the current crisis taking place in non-religious Europe. European birth rates are falling in secular societies, as citizens apparently cannot find sufficient reasons to put family and children ahead of their own self-interests. This rampant individualism is causing secular society to crumble before our eyes.

Habermas is right to recognize the role that religion can play in supporting and sustaining democracy, but he fails to see that the presence of religion is a necessity for society. Religion provides the impetus for self-sacrifice and personal communication that marriage and family need in order for society to survive.

The Need for non-Western Resources

Benedict hints at a solution to this weakness in Habermas’ view by encouraging secular society to look to non-Western sources for renewal and strengthening. The narrow vision of many secularists inclines them to see secular society as the pinnacle of human flourishing.

Benedict points out the complementary relationship between reason and faith found outside the West and advocates a more inclusive view that is open to learning from non-Western societies.

Conclusion

The Dialectics of Secularization features an engaging debate by two world-renowned scholars on the role of reason and religion in secular democracy. Though Habermas and Benedict address the subject from different angles, both men demonstrate a willingness to see reason and religion in complementary, rather than competing roles.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Jan

28

2009

Trevin Wax|3:24 am CT

The Pope vs. Habermas: Reason & Religion in Secular Society

Many people may wonder why a small book like The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion matters. After all, the authors, Jürgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), discuss the nature of ethics in secular society by appealing to highly sophisticated arguments that include long sentences packed with meaning.

But these kinds of discussions, which usually take place in the upper echelons of society, publicize thoughts and concepts which eventually yield wide-ranging implications for the rest of society. The Dialectics of Secularization is comprised of two papers presented in January 2004 concerning “the pre-political moral foundations of a free state.” In these papers, Jürgen Habermas and Pope Benedict XVI reflect on the basis for ethics in society.

Today, I wish to briefly summarize the main themes of the Habermas / Ratzinger dialogue. Tomorrow, I will interact with some of the authors’ suggestions.

What Habermas Thinks

Habermas begins by asking if a democratic constitutional state can “renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence” (21). He wonders whether or not there is a way to provide justification for political rule that does not find its grounding in religious categories.

Against those who see religion as necessary to sustain the constitutional system, Habermas argues that “systems of law can be legitimated only in a self-referential manner, that is, on the basis of legal procedures born of democratic procedures” (27). In other words, legitimacy comes from legality.

Habermas recognizes that solidarity among the citizenry is needed for secular society to sustain itself. But religious or metaphysical traditions need not be the providers of this solidarity (29). Instead, the democratic process itself can serve as the “uniting bond” that mobilizes the participation of its citizens (32). Likewise, patriotism can sustain solidarity once the principles of justice enshrined in the law have time to penetrate the culture’s ethics (33-34).

Habermas warns about external threats to secular society. Once citizens act in isolation based solely upon self-interest, they use their subjective rights against one another. As the markets and the power of bureaucracy continue to weaken social solidarity, Habermas recognizes the need for a bridge to certain religious traditions (42).

Habermas sees philosophy and theology as intertwined. He believes philosophy can translate religious terms into secular principles without completely emptying them of their substance. Now that societal solidarity appears to be under threat, Habermas recommends that the constitutional state “deal carefully with all the cultural sources that nourish its citizens’ consciousness of norms and their solidarity” (46).

Believers and unbelievers must work together, expecting dissent and disagreement, while affirming the right of both to make contributions (whether in secularized or religious language) to public debates (50-51).

What Pope Benedict Thinks

Pope Benedict XVI (hereafter “Benedict”) begins his lecture by showing how we now find ourselves on the threshold of seeing the formation of a global community and a new era of human capabilities. Despite recent advances in technology and scientific discovery, Benedict is troubled by the dissolution of ethical certainties regarding “the good,” and he believes that science cannot offer adequate answers about the existence and purpose of man (55-57).

Benedict spends a good deal of time reflecting on the relationship between power and law. “It is the specific task of politics to apply the criterion of the law to power, thereby structuring the use of power in a meaningful manner,” he writes (58).

But how does the law come to be? How can the law keep from becoming a mere benefit of those who are already in power? Benedict believes there are “self-subsistent values that flow from the essence of what it is to be a man, and therefore inviolable” (61).

Today, new developments are forcing us to grapple with issues concerning the use and abuse of power. The onset of terrorist activity (with religious fanaticism as one of its sources) has proven that it no longer takes a large-scale war to greatly impact the culture.

Likewise, our current capability to create humans raises questions about the ethical dimension of turning human beings into mere products. The invention of the atomic bomb and the arrival of test-tube babies should cause us to “doubt the reliability of reason” (65). But who or what can regulate human reason?

Benedict focuses on human rights and includes within that phrase “a doctrine of human obligations and of human limitations” (71). He counters Habermas’ belief that strict rationality is sufficient to bind people together. Instead, he appeals to the Christian understanding of reality as providing a powerful impetus for human rights in the world. He points out the weakness of the rationalist view, evidenced by its inability to demonstrate its foundational principles in contexts outside the West (76).

Despite the differences between Benedict and Habermas, both men advocate the adoption of similar practices. Benedict readily admits that there are “pathologies in religion” among the fanatical extremes of religious groups. These pathologies need reason to purify and structure them. But on the flip side, he believes there are pathologies of reason too, and religion can serve as a guardian that keeps reason within its proper limits. Benedict hopes that Western culture will listen and accept a “genuine relatedness” to other cultures (78-79).

Tomorrow, I will interact with the arguments of Habermas and Benedict…

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Jan

27

2009

Trevin Wax|3:47 am CT

Being Pro-Life in a Culture of Death: An Interview with Russ Moore

moorerussellaToday, I have the privilege of posting an interview with Dr. Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Moore is a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church and the author of two books, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches. I highly recommend my readers take a look at the transcript of a sermon Dr. Moore preached in chapel in late 2008: “Joseph is a Single-Issue Evangelical“.

Trevin Wax: What kind of setbacks should pro-life citizens expect now that we have elected Barack Obama, a strong supporter of abortion on demand?

Russell Moore: Pro-life Americans can expect a radical abortion rights agenda from Barack Obama. This is not an accusation because this is precisely what President Obama promised in his campaign for the presidency.

Not only will Supreme Court Justices be strongly supportive of the legal framework behind Roe v. Wade, but President Obama and the new Congress will also support expansive funding of abortion in North America, and through foreign aid, abroad. By year’s end, we should see abortions taking place regularly on American military bases all around the world.

Trevin Wax: Statistics show that younger generations tend to be more pro-life than their parents. You have stated that this commitment to pro-life principles is more theoretical than realistic because abortion rights is now deeply embedded in our cultural ethos. Are you saying that younger generations are less committed to the pro-life cause than they think?

Russell Moore: I do not take great comfort in opinion polls stating that younger generations are more pro-life than their parents. I believe that this is largely because the abortion issue is off the table in many ways politically.

Few people realistically expect that abortion will be made illegal. So pronouncing one to be pro-life these days is more akin to a person speculating what side of the Spanish Civil War he would take rather than a person articulating a deeply-held view on a matter of current import.

Trevin Wax: Should evangelicals appeal to Scripture in their arguments against abortion when they debate in the public sphere? Or should they argue from moral and logical positions instead (e.g. Francis Beckwith)?

Russell Moore: Yes, I believe evangelicals should appeal to Scripture in their arguments against abortion. This does not mean that such arguments should be limited to biblical appeals. After all, the pro-life position on abortion rights is demonstrable from human biology, yes.

Nonetheless, there are biblical reasons why evangelicals and Roman Catholics hold to the personhood of vulnerable unborn babies. We should not be hesitant to say why we believe such things, even as we join with others of good will in articulating our opposition to the killing of the unborn.

We should gladly join hands with atheist pro-lifers such as the Village Voice journalist Nat Hentoff or with Mormon or Hindu pro-life citizens. We also should articulate that we believe this is so important precisely because we serve a King who has told us that we will be judged on the basis on how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

Trevin Wax: Should evangelicals should join hands with pro-choice politicians committed to reducing the number of abortions? In other words, is there room for us to work toward reduction of abortions instead of just working toward elimination of abortion?

Russell Moore: I do not believe at all that pro-life Christians should join hands with pro-abortion politicians speaking of “reducing the number of abortions.” This is akin to civil rights activists joining hands with pro-lynching vigilantes in the early twentieth-century America to “reduce the number of lynchings” through better funding of segregated African-American school systems.

The issue at hand is not simply the number of abortions, although that number is atrocious. The key issue is that the personhood of the unborn is denied. That cannot be ameliorated simply by more federal spending and certainly will not be reduced by “comprehensive sex education” as many of the pro-abortion activists are advocating.

Trevin Wax: Do you believe that in the next ten years evangelical commitment to the pro-life cause will increase or decrease?

Russell Moore: I believe that evangelical commitment to the pro-life cause will neither increase nor decrease because all orthodox Christians believe in the personhood of all human beings, born or unborn. This was a distinctive of the church from its earliest beginnings in the Roman Empire, attested to by extra-biblical, non-Christian sources as well as by the Scriptures themselves.

Trevin Wax: How can the typical evangelical church be committed in practical ways to the pro-life movement?

Russell Moore: Evangelical churches can be committed to the pro-life cause in the following ways:

First, we must teach our people that the Romans 13 responsibility given to the state weighs upon every citizen in a democratic republic. Those who vote for candidates who tell them up front that they are committed to denying the protection of the unborn will be held accountable at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This means that abortion, for Christians, is not a political issue or even a “moral issue.” It is a theological and spiritual issue.

This articulation though is not enough. Christian churches must, as our Lord’s brother James commanded us, care for the widows and orphans in their distress. This means that God calls Christian families to adopt unwanted children. It means also that Christian families and churches are to shelter unwed mothers and pregnant women who find themselves in a time of crisis.

There are various ways that a church may follow this calling but it is not optional for any church to obediently respond to Jesus in these ways.

 
 

Jan

26

2009

Trevin Wax|3:35 am CT

Do You Have Jesus' Eyes?

anointing

“Do you see this woman?”
- Jesus to Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:44 )

The sight before his eyes was too much to take in. A notorious sinful woman was anointing Jesus with oil. Simon the Pharisee could not help but pass judgment both on Christ and the woman.

Jesus’ pointed question revealed Simon’s self-righteous spirit. “Do you see this woman?” Practically, He said, “Are we looking at the same woman?” and then gave a list of reasons why the sinful woman was actually in a better position spiritually than Simon!

Oh, Simon had all the religious rules down, but the sinful woman had come to Christ in true worship and devotion. Jesus saw her heart.

We cannot see into people’s hearts. But having eyes like Jesus will at least cause us to not judge others based solely upon what they wear or where they’ve been or what they’ve done.

He asks us pointedly, “Do you see them?” Do we see the lost the way that Jesus sees them? We can easily look at an unsaved person who has come to church and reflect on all their apparent unrighteousness, but Jesus looks at the same person and sees someone who has come to worship. We look at the way a person worships and may consider it strange and distracting, but Jesus sees this woman’s tears flowing down onto his feet, tears coming from a sincere heart.

Today Christ asks us, “Do you see that person the way I do? Do you realize that I died for them too?” When you see a neighbor trapped in a life of sin, what is your reaction? Does your heart fill with compassion because they are like “sheep without a shepherd” as did Jesus’ heart?

As followers of Christ, our prayer should be that He would give us His eyes, those eyes that pierce through the hardened heart, eyes that see the good beyond the sin’s ugly stain, eyes that see the life broken and ruined by iniquity and the restoration brought by an ugly cross. Ultimately, it’s the cross of Christ that shifts our focus and changes our vision.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Jan

25

2009

 
 

Jan

24

2009

Trevin Wax|3:08 am CT

There's a New World Coming…

“… Salvation is not just about a new you, but a new world – a world in which you have been chosen to play a part. We trust in the God who has promised this new world, and we long eagerly for the day when Christ will return. Jesus instructs us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ In other words, Lord, bring the rule of heaven here!

- a quote from my forthcoming book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals

 
 

Jan

23

2009

Trevin Wax|3:26 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Denny Burk reflects on President Bush’s last speech to the nation.

Ted Olsen compiles and summarizes a number of evangelical responses to the presidential inauguration.

Dear President Obama, your pen poked out my eye

Are book lovers killing books?

Wyman Richardson reviews Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio

One of my favorite authors, Mike Wittmer, asks some good questions about N.T. Wright’s view of justification explained in my recent interview.

David Zimmerman’s take on American Idol‘s first week.

Why Disney dumped Narnia.

News  about a possible merger between New City Church (pastored by Tullian Tchividjian) and Coral Ridge.

Check out an interesting exchange of ideas between myself and Christine Wicker, author of The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. You can see our discussion in the comments on this book review.

If you are a student at Southern Seminary and have ever dreamed of studying in the UK, you should check out the seminary’s UK Study Tour for this summer.

Top Post of the Week at Kingdom People: Echoes of Babel – Our New National Sin

 
 

Jan

22

2009

Trevin Wax|3:18 am CT

Losing God – A Book about Doubt & Depression

Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and DepressionIf you believe that depression always has a spiritual cause and can only be treated by spiritual means, then you will not like this book. But you are probably one of the people who could best benefit from this book. Matt Rogers’ Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression (IVP, 2008) is a first-person testimony of a four-year journey through doubt and depression.

At the center of Matt’s depression is a personal struggle to the love the sovereign God described in Romans 9. He writes:

“Fear burned in me again as I stood in the bookstore. What little confidence I had awakened to that morning drained away, and all the questions came back. Am I hardened against Christ? Has God himself hardened me that he might show his wrath in me? Does this mean there is no hope for me, that God truly does not love me?” (44)

Matt questions at times, but ultimately upholds a strong view of God’s sovereignty. He maintains a healthy tension between human free will and God’s sovereign choice. And he quotes Tozer, appealing to mystery over certainty as to how these two work together.

But Matt’s story gives us a glimpse of what can happen when an overemphasis on God as the Just Judge leads to incessant introspection. Give a Puritan book to someone with a propensity toward depression, and you might unintentionally lead them to paralyzing introspection that robs them of joyful service. Too much self-examination can be dangerous (not to mention self-centered), and Matt’s story is a testimony to the fact that introspection can sometimes heighten depressive tendencies.

Losing God is a powerful story. Do not expect an abbreviated tale of superficial suffering and quick deliverance. In fact, three-fourths of the book go by without almost any sign of hope. Yet Losing God does deliver hope – and that hope is found within the context of the body of Christ.

Matt’s testimony is helpful because it shines light on both what is good and what is bad in much of evangelicalism today. Consider his portrayal of the church: 

“One Sunday was particularly bitter. My mind had been seething all morning, and the music minister was bouncing up and down and grinning from ear to ear at the song in his heart as he led the church through hymn after hymn. I stood mumbling the lyrics and thinking, If this guy gets any happier, he’s going to float out the back door.” (104)

Matt admits that at times he could hardly stand the “cheerful songs of Christian bliss that were salt in my open wounds” (75). This statement should lead us to ask some questions about the typical, upbeat worship music in most churches today.

Is there any room for lament? For questioning? For silence? Why is that so many songs out of God’s hymnbook (the Psalms) would seem out of place in our worship?

Yet despite the failings of the church, Matt ultimately finds mentoring, relationships, companionship, strength, and encouragement in the body of Christ. It is in the church that Matt finds deliverance. It is in the church that he finds the Jesus he truly loves. 

Losing God never turns to medicine as the primary answer for depression. Matt came out of his four-year period of darkness without medication, yet he believes there are more than just spiritual causes of depression. A vicious cycle takes place - spiritual causes can lead to a depressive state, and a depressive mental state can accentuate spiritual problems.

In the end, Matt recognizes that there are complex issues involved in depression. Simplistic answers and solutions do not fit every case. For those of us who have never struggled with severe doubt or depression, Matt’s book helps us understand those who do.

At the end of the book, Matt offers hope to those struggling with depression and doubt. He gives steps toward healing and encourages people to find community. What I love most about Losing God is that Matt’s story is not about someone who finds deliverance through willpower, medicine, or black-and-white theological answers. It’s the story of a man who finds grace within the family of God.

written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2009 Kingdom People Blog.