Russell and Duenes

Archive for November 2011

Christian Education and the Cultural Presumption of Scientific Materialism

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In my recently bygone teaching days, I used to ride the mantra that we needed Christians primarily in the marketplace, turning out work as good if not better than our secular counterparts. Toward that end, my unending drive to convince Christians of the absolute necessity of Christian education for Christian children is borne of the notion that Christ is most honored and the gospel is best spread when society is suffused with Christians who have learned the value of thinking well and doing excellent work as an offering to the Lord. When this happens, then the influence of the gospel upon the culture will be profound. However, we are not currently having the kind of cultural influence we’d like. Rather, there is a presumption in our culture that “scientific materialism” is true, which is to say, we live our day-to-day lives as though God has nothing to do with the running and sustaining of the universe. This has infected Christians and non-Christians alike. But what is the antidote to this unbiblical presumption? C.S. Lewis gives a profound answer, which answer should also be the central focus of every Christian school on the planet:

The difficulty we are up against is this: We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication.

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us.

It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. It’s Christianity would be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. (“Christian Apologetics,” from God in the Dock)

This should be our aim and goal. Of course Christians will not always be the “best and brightest” in a culture, but we certainly shouldn’t take the view, dominant in our culture for over a hundred years now, that we’ll leave the “secular” vocations and interests to, well, the secularists, and we Christians will settle for writing “little books about Christianity.” This must end, and I submit that one of the main ways to end it is robust, historical Christian education.

-D

 

Written by Michael Duenes

November 22, 2011 at 9:38 am

Posted in Duenes, Education

We Need Someone to Thank

with 16 comments

“I want to thank the basketball gods for allowing Coach to be here for this moment.” – Coach K

I believe that one of the most unassailable evidences that God exists is the near universal human need to give thanks. And if one ceases to believe in any kind of transcendent God, then one will likely invest thanks in some lesser, non-existent god, as Coach K did when he became the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in NCAA Division I history. Wanting to thank someone, anyone, for the grace of having Bobby Knight there to witness the achievement, Coach K thanked “the basketball gods.”

If there truly is no God, then there is no one to thank for anything, for no one actually did anything. As Douglas Wilson has pointed out: “One of the principle failings in atheism is that it leaves us with no one to thank for the countless blessings we encounter daily. This extends from trivial things, like the pleasure we get from pulling our socks up, to more amazing gifts, like food, and music, and marriage” If atheism is true, then all that is ever happening and all that has ever happened is the mere combining of atoms and molecules in various random, accidental ways, leading to fully deterministic actions and ends. There is no “Mother Earth”, no “basketball gods”, no “force”, no nothing of any transcendent, sovereign nature. And if this is true, from whence comes the deep, deep human impulse to give thanks? And from whence comes our great despising of those who are ungrateful and arrogant? What a powerful emotional blessing is lost when we give up having someone to genuinely thank. It is a loss so hurtful that most people don’t give up gratitude, even when they give up the ultimate Giver of everything.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth in their wickedness…For although they knew God, they neither honored him as God, nor were they thankful.” (Rom. 1)

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 17, 2011 at 6:28 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections, Sports

When You Are No Longer a Christian, You Have Duty to Stop Making a Living as One

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I have an acquaintance who has abandoned every crucial doctrine of apostolic Christianity. He no longer believes in the trustworthiness and reliability of the Scriptures, nor does he believe the Scriptures are in any way inspired by God. He thinks the New Testament is nothing more than fabricated Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, written with the intention of creating a novel religious community. Jesus was nothing more than a Jewish “wisdom teacher,” with no divine nature, and he was killed, buried in a shallow grave, and is still there. His death on the cross, if it happened, saved no one, because it was not a sacrifice properly offered up to God. The resurrection, in his mind, is a hoax, so of course he has jettisoned belief in biblical ethics on a whole host of issues, most notably in approving sexual behavior the Bible clearly calls sin.

But this isn’t the most disgruntling thing he has done. Had he rejected such doctrines, and decided that, having done so, he is no longer a Christian, and therefore can no longer remain a Christian minister with any integrity, then he would at least be honorable in following the implications of his convictions. But he has not done this. When I last had contact with him, he remained a “minister” in the PCUSA denomination and passed himself off as such. Under the cloak of being a Christian, he attempted to inculcate his false beliefs to people, such as myself, who he knew still held to orthodox Christianity. He is free to do this, of course, but it is no virtue to do it while one claims to be a minister of Christ.

This fact was brought home to me by something that C.S. Lewis wrote,

I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests, but as honest men. There is a danger here of clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue.

Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come to their unorthodox opinions honestly.  In defence of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. Thus they come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of another. (God in the Dock, “Christian Apologetics”)

Having been a Bible teacher at a Bible-believing Christian school, I know the danger of thinking that I can have a “special professional conscience” at work, while believing something else in my personal life. It is indeed a burden, and one that I did not take lightly. I wanted to have integrity about my beliefs, but I understood that, if one day my beliefs crossed a certain boundary, I would need to find another line of profession. And this remains true even though I am no longer employed as a Bible teacher. The fact that we have so many within Christendom who no longer hold to the “faith that was once-for-all delivered to the saints,” while continuing to serve in the church as if they did, is a cancer and a scourge. We do well to heed Lewis’ words, frightful as they may be.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Everything Has to Do With Morality

with 13 comments

“Not everything that is a sin is a crime.”

This statement is sometimes taken to mean that the law and morality have little, if any, connection with each other. In a British case, Queen v. Dudley and Stephens [1881-85] All E.R. 61 (Q.B. 1884), the court said, “Though the law and morality are not the same, and many things may be immoral which are not necessarily illegal, yet the absolute divorce of law from morality would be of fatal consequence.” (LLoyd L. Weinreb, Criminal Law [New York: Foundation Press, 2003], 246-7)

I had occasion to discuss this issue with some fellow law students as we were considering the Criminal Law issue of “Failure to Act.” Under this doctrine, a defendant is not guilty of criminal homicide if he or she lets another person die where the defendant had no “legal duty” to act. So, for example, if I’m walking down the street one day and I see a kid run out into the street after his ball, where he then gets hit by a car and is thrown 50 feet down the road, where he now lies bleeding, calling out to me for help, and I do nothing, I will be guilty of…nothing legally. Why? Because the law says I have no legal duty to act in behalf of that child. I may have a moral duty to help the kid, but the law says I have no legal duty. But does this mean that in this instance, the law and morality are distinct?

I say no, because for the law to take the position it does, namely, no legal duty, is itself a moral position, fraught with moral consequences. Simply because the law does not require me to act righteously does not mean it had ceased to take a moral stance. Rather, the law is taking a certain moral position, namely, that failure to help a child to whom I have no relation who is bleeding and dying in the street will not bring criminal sanctions. The law takes this view based on a certain conception of “the good,” both for the the individual walking down the street, for the child, and for the society as a whole, But one cannot talk about “the good” without getting into conceptions of morality. That’s because God exists, and he is a morally perfect being, and he created a moral universe. Which means that there is not a speck of moral neutrality anywhere within it. Absolutely everything, at every moment, within our universe is either honoring and worshipping the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, or else dishonoring and defaming him. This may be happening through specific actions done in faith or the lack of it, or through morally acceptable actions done without faith. As St. Paul writes, “Whatever does not come from faith is sin.” This is a radical statement. As Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on judgment day for every careless word they utter.”

So let’s take an area of law where most people would argue there’s no moral implication at all, say, jaywalking. Is jaywalking an issue of morality? Is the law concerning itself with morality when prohibiting jaywalking, or is it merely promoting a certain kind of efficiency that helps society run? I would argue that the laws against jaywalking are inextricably bound up with morality. How so? Well, let’s assume the “efficiency” argument. What is “efficiency?” Why is efficiency good? Who says so? Good for whom? What is “good?” What is “bad?” Ah, we are again discussing issues of morality, because discussion of “the good” assumes this.

Or take another example. We recently read a Contracts case where a strip-mining operation made a contract with a landowner. The strip-mining company promised that, once they finished their mining, they would make remedial improvements to the property, to return it to the condition it was in prior to their mining efforts. The company breached. They saw that the cost to them of doing the remedial work would be roughly $30,000. But the value of the land after they would have done the remedial work would only be worth about $300 more than before they got there. So they made a choice, an economic choice, which is, of course, a moral choice. They said, “We ain’t keeping our promise.” The landowners sued, saying that they wanted the $30,000 that the improvements to the land would cost. The court ruled against them, holding that it would be “unconscionable” to give the landowners $30,000 when their land would only be improved to a value of $300 more. So the landowners got $300 and land that was full of the scars of strip-mining. Was the court merely making an economic efficiency judgment here? Were they leaving morality out of it? I can’t see how. They were saying to the company, in essence, “Keeping the promise you made in your contract doesn’t matter all that much. Indeed, we’ll reward you for breaching.” Is this efficient? Efficient for whom? Why it is such efficiency good? Might it not be good? Who says so? You see how all streams lead to the same place. Examples could be multiplied.

Why do I go on about this? Because I think it is so vitally important to a biblical worldview. God made a spiritual, moral universe. It is suffused with moral knowledge, which God has graciously given us access to. There can be no dualism between that which is moral and that which is non-moral. What is morally upright is that which is Godward. What is morally perverse is that which is godless. The fact that we don’t consider some sins to be crimes is based on morality. Why is adultery not a crime under our legal system? Was it ever? Has it ever been under any legal system? Did we decide to decriminalize adultery based on something other than morality, some conception of “the good society?” When legislatures make laws, are they doing so in order to advance some notion about what will make life “good” or “better?” Aren’t notions of good or better grounded in some conception of who we are as human beings and what our obligations are toward one another and the planet on which we live? Aren’t these conceptions we have the warp and woof of morality? When courts rule on our our laws, don’t they too reason based on what they take to be “good” and “right?” Isn’t human life protected in the myriad ways that our law protects it because we have some moral view about what human life is, some notion of “rights,” with which President Jefferson said we are “endowed by our Creator?”

The Scriptures command us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God.” They tell us one day every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This tells us that there will not be then, and there is not now, any neutral space within the universe. We may find that this “cramps our style.” We may think that this is “suffocating,” or that it is unworkable. But it is what we were created for, to honor Christ in absolutely everything, and to live as though everything will be brought into conformity with the will of God. This is what it means to live in a universe where everything has to do with morality, with spiritual reality.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm