Category Archives: Being Intellectually Virtuous

Tyler Perry and Chris Brown

imagesDuring this morning’s news broadcast, my wife and I watched a story about airlines beginning to use music videos in order to explain flight safety rules in a manner that holds more passengers’ attention. While this is an interesting happening, it is no more newsworthy than a report of Kerry Washington announcing her pregnancy. It is not as if Washington was as barren as John the Baptist’s mother, or as much a virgin as Mary. Stories like the Scandal star’s gestation and airline safety videos should not ask for us to give to them our intelligent mental focus.

Such also is true for the report of Tyler Perry laying his hands on Bishop T. D. Jakes at Megafest in September. While a critical thinking venue like The Front Porch has given an solid theological perspective on the event, and Jet Magazine reported that Jakes has giving time to defending Perry’s actions, I do not find the story to be worth the continuing attention it has garnished. Laying on of hands and Pentecostals go together like burgers and fries.

On the other hand, if Tyler Perry could lay praying hands on singer Chris Brown, that would be worthy of attention. A few days ago, Brown was arrested in DC for hitting a man who attempted to jump into a picture with Brown. The spoiled musician reportedly blurted a homosexual slur before hitting the fan. In DC Superior Court, Brown’s assault charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, and he was released without bail.

This was not the first fisticuff incident for Brown. His rap sheet includes the 2009 physical attack on then-girlfriend, recording artist Rihanna, leaving her with bruises to the face that required hospitalization. When Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts asked Brown about the incident in a 2011 interview, Brown left the interview early, and threw an object at one of the station’s windows.

Then there was that 2012 brawl with Drake and his entourage at a nightclub in New York City. In January of this year, Brown decided to pummel singer Frank Ocean outside of a recording studio in West Hollywood. Supposedly Brown also threated to shoot Ocean, and hurled a homosexual slur at him. Shall we add that recently Brown gloated in saying he had his first sexual experience at 8 years of age, wearing it as a badge contributing to his self-proclaimed prowess in the bedroom?

Brown is a man who needs help. He is an immature entertainment star with larger than life narcissistic tendencies – which themselves are fueled by throngs of fans who overlook his childish capers, and by an ex-girlfriend who has returned to the abuser despite his ongoing pattern of destructive behavior. His antics reveal a sinful man lacking the power of God in his life. We need to put the pause button on buying his CDs and concert tickets, trying to grab a celebrity photo-op with him, and (ladies) fantasizing about a date with him. Instead, we should introduce Chris to the meek and lowly Christ who died for sinners and has risen again.

So Perry laying hands on Bishop T. D. Jakes, with the result that a man already associated with the church falls as one slain by the Spirit, is unimpressive. However, if Tyler Perry could lay hands on Chris Brown, exorcise Brown’s egotism, put Brown on a path of wisdom and self-control, and get Brown to shout “Hallelujer” like Madea, that would be news to me.

 

Holy Scandal

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“‘And you shall not commit adultery.” (Dt. 5:20)

The Lord’s Day 41 (Week 41) lesson in the Heidelberg Catechism states,

Q. What does the seventh commandment teach us?

A. That God condemns all unchastity,

and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it

and live decent and chaste lives,

within or outside of the holy state of marriage.

Q. Does God, in this commandment,
forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?

A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul,

and God wants both to be kept clean and holy.

That is why God forbids

all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires,

and whatever may incite someone to them.

While sitting with my children to discuss the commandment and the catechism yesterday, I noted these words from Starr Meade:

“The catechism reminds us that God forbids adultery. A husband commits adultery when he treats a woman who isn’t his wife in the special way he should treat only his wife. A wife commits adultery when she treats a man who isn’t her husband in the special was she should only treat her husband. The catechism calls adultery ‘scandalous.’ The catechism was written hundreds of years ago. Back then, adultery was scandalous. When a married person left the marriage or turned to a new lover, everyone in the community was shocked. They all thought it was a terribly bad thing to do. Sadly, in our time, adultery is accepted. People stay married to one person for only as long as they enjoy being with that person. Then they move on to someone else, or they go back to being single.

To the people of God, adultery should still be scandalous. The people of God should still think of adultery as terribly wrong, because that’s how God thinks of it.”

Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism [Phillipsburgh, MJ: P&R Publishing, 2013]: 208.  (See also, Kevin DeYoung “Swords for the Fight Against Lust,” The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism [Chicago: Moody, 2010]: 193-197.)

We have lost the scandalous nature of scandals.

 

 

What Fyodor Dostoyevsky Can Teach Us about the Christian Life

Over at Justin Taylor’s blog:

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David Powlison talks about the role Dostoyevsky’s works can play in helping us understand sin and sanctification:

And here is J. I. Packer:

Dostoyevsky is to me both the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time. His plots and characters pinpoint the sublimity, perversity, meanness, and misery of fallen human adulthood in an archetypal way matched only by Aeschylus and Shakespeare, while his dramatic vision of God’s amazing grace and of the agonies, Christ’s and ours, that accompany salvation, has a range and depth that only Dante and Bunyan come anywhere near. . . . [H]is constant theme is the nightmare quality of unredeemed existence and the heartbreaking glory of the incarnation, whereby all human hurts came to find their place in the living and dying of Christ the risen Redeemer.

The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works (Orbis, 2004) vii.

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I agree (and would add Jane Austen, Ralph Ellison, and C. S. Lewis as my co-favorite story writers). I previously noted Dostoevsky’s Christian Hedonism.

Jim Hamilton had this small note.

Peter Leithart on Dostoevsky is good, too, of course.

99 must-reads on income inequality, by John D. Sutter, CNN

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John Sutter writes,

Earlier this week, I asked readers of this column to submit ideas for a list of “99 must-reads on income inequality.” When I put out that call, I hedged a bit, saying 99 was my goal, for symbolic, we-are-the-99% type reasons, but that a smaller number would be just fine, too. Well, I underestimated you. Within 24 hours of the query, I’d collected more than 100 distinct books, films, YouTube clips, websites and documentaries on this topic.

You can read the whole list here. It is worth the read. I hope to go through several of the items listed. 

Another item needed on the list: Aliens in the Promised Land

 

Harold Dean Trulear: “Young black men are created in the image of God, too”

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In following as much as I can on the nation’s reactions to the Zimmerman trial verdict, I missed this opinion piece by Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, professor at Howard University School of Divinity. Trulear writes,

In addition to the calls for a conversation on race, there must be a parallel public discussion of the meaning of justice. Each of us must turn to our religious traditions for definitions of justice which reflect our sacred texts and belief systems. We cannot afford to engage serious issues of public justice solely based on popular, uncritical definitions, regardless of the side which they emerge. And there exist other religious resources in our traditions which need to be applied.

One critical tenet for me is the “image of God.”

Read the full opinion here.

 

Some Revelations of Racial Regress (Three Weeks Later)

imagesThree weeks ago, I submitted the following post for consideration to a popular blog site. However, before they could make a decision on the post, the Zimmerman Trial concluded. I asked the site to withdraw the submission in light of the end of the trial. I have closed the comments.

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Paula Deen’s self-justified use of the N-word, combined with the SCOTUS (U.S. Supreme Court) non-decision on Affirmative Action in college admissions, calls for a double-take concerning where we are heading on race in America. When you add to these the SCOTUS decision on the Voting Rights Act and the George Zimmerman trial, then racial progress in the U.S. looks like it is sitting on a powder keg. Consider:

1.  The political achievement of an African American President seems to be more about ideology than race. Although he was born at the tail end of the Boomer era, President Obama is the political offspring of the 1960’s liberals. If he were not as liberal as he is toward the dismantling of traditional marriage and the safeguarding of abortion, I suspect he would not have the favorable poll ratings he currently enjoys. His favor is not a commentary on our progress on race as much as it is a commentary on our regress on morality. A lowering of morality will accept any racial identity.

2.  The justification of use of the N-word by Paula Deen seems to reveal that economics makes it virtually impossible to eliminate race-based social stratification and animadversion. That is, if Paula Deen thought that she would lose business by her comments, she probably would not have attempted to justify them as suitable. Apparently she assumed that enough of her consumers shared her views on race that her label would be accepted even if she revealed it to be the face of a racist corporate owner. Certainly the consumers she had in mind were not African American. If we had known she harbored such racial sentiments, my family and I would not have patronized Deen’s The Lady and Sons restaurant on a recent visit to Savannah, Georgia.

3.  The complexities of the Zimmerman trial seem to reveal that African Americans need to make a greater assault toward countering negative stereotypes. Zimmerman is not the nation’s only racial profiler. Sadly, I am one of millions of Americans who is shocked and pleased to hear an African American professional athlete use the King’s English in a post-game interview. Also, I am one who is grateful to see an articulate African American speaking into a microphone on the nightly news. Yet this reveals that I am expecting – as are many others – a different experience.

           Similarly, in the recent AT&T, “Faster is Better” commercials, as one of my friends noticed, an African American girl says, “castses” instead of “casts,” and an African American boy acts like a buffoon while doing “two things at once,” as if his multitasking could not involve an intelligent and poised discussion. AT&T gives prominent roles to two minority children, but does not give them exalted roles; instead it gives stereotypical roles. If such stereotypes are expected and acceptable, what might happen when a hooded, unidentified African American teen, walking at night in a gated community, is sighted by a neighborhood watch figure with legal permission to stand his ground? I am not justifying Zimmerman’s actions, for I think he erred in acting on the stereotype, and in pursuing Martin when he was told not to do so. For this much he is guilty of Second Degree Manslaughter in the least, even if both Zimmerman and Martin acted in self-defense in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s initial errors.

As a parent, I have told my children with the greatest seriousness, “When you walk into a store, the camera is on you. You cannot run down aisles loudly and rudely as children of other ethnicities might be permitted to do, and you cannot touch anything.” When you do not touch items on the shelf in a store, the accusation of theft will be impossible even where stereotypes abound, and you will be working toward negating the stereotype.

4.  The SCOTUS decision reveals a naiveté about racial discrimination that harms future racial progress in the country. Greater than the issue of legal criteria for judging states’ oversight by the government is the issue of the evil in peoples’ hearts. Please, do not deceive yourself for one moment by quoting to me, “You cannot legislate morality.” A society cannot change the intents and motives of individuals, but we can codify right and wrong so that we can restrain evil and incentivize the good. Without legislation, we leave institutional change to the morality of each citizen — morality that often degrades when obtaining positions of power are at stake. I suspect a greater number of minorities will witness challenges both in being able to vote, and in making sure cast votes are counted in upcoming elections.

In all, the racial challenges in the country reveal that many hearts need a change that will promote a focus on the dignity of all people, and not simply one’s own race, ethnicity, or country. Such change will not come from education, legislation, or adjudication alone, for educators, legislators, and judges simply are people in academic, governmental, and legal roles: They suffer from racial blind spots and ethnic favoritism common to all of us. Real change must come from an influence external to every one of us.

I have witnessed Christ changing the hearts of many who are racist or ethnocentric, for Christ offers the power to see oneself humbly and others as greater than oneself (Phil. 2:3-4). His power gives life over death to all indiscriminant of race, class, gender, or social status (Gal. 3:26-29). Such power comes because Christ both died on the Cross in order to conquer sin and its curse – including racism-related sins – and rose again with power over death and all things (Gal. 3:13; Mt. 28:16-20). Obedience to the preaching of this Gospel would affect racial progress all over the globe.

Recommended: The Obamas and a (Post) Racial America? (Oxford)

Re-blog from Kevin DeYoung: Why the Arguments for Gay Marriage Are Persuasive

Why the Arguments for Gay Marriage Are Persuasive (from Kevin DeYoung’s blog).

I should have re-bloged this post the day it came out:

Why the Arguments for Gay Marriage Are Persuasive

With two landmark gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court we are already seeing a flurry of articles, posts, tweets, and status updates about the triumph it will be when America finally embraces equality for all and allows homosexuals to love each other. These tweets and posts and articles perfectly capture the reason why the arguments for gay marriage have become so persuasive so fast. Given the assumptions and patterns of thinking our culture has embraced in the last fifty years, the case for gay marriage is relatively easy to make and the case against it makes increasingly little sense.

I don’t think the arguments for gay marriage are biblically faithfully, logically persuasive, or good for human flourishing in the long run, but they are almost impossible to overcome with most Americans, especially in younger generations. By and large, people don’t support gay marriage because they’ve done a lot of reading and soul searching, just like people didn’t oppose it on high flying intellectual grounds either. For a long time, homosexuality seemed weird or gross. Now it seems normal. More than that, it fits in perfectly with the dominant themes and narratives shared in our culture. Gay marriage is the logical conclusion to a long argument, which means convincing people it’s a bad idea requires overturning some of our most cherished values and most powerful ideologies.

Think of all the ways gay marriage fits in with our cultural mood and assumptions.

1. It’s about progress. Linking the pro-gay agenda with civil rights and women’s rights was very intentional, and it was a masterstroke. To be against gay marriage, therefore, is to be against enlightenment and progress. It puts you on the “wrong side of history.” Of course, most people forget that lots of discarded ideas were once hailed as the inevitable march of progress. Just look at Communism or eugenics or phrenology or the Volt. But people aren’t interested in the complexities of history. We only know we don’t want to be like the nincompoops who thought the sun revolved around the earth and that slavery was okay.

2. It’s about love. When gay marriage is presented as nothing but the open embrace of human love, it’s hard to mount a defense. Who could possibly be against love? But hidden in this simple reasoning is the cultural assumption that sexual intercourse is necessarily the highest, and perhaps the only truly fulfilling, expression of love. It’s assumed that love is always self-affirming and never self-denying. It’s assumed that our loves never require redirection. Most damagingly, our culture (largely because of heterosexual sins) has come to understand marriage as nothing but the state sanctioning of romantic love. The propagation and rearing of children do not come into play. The role in incentivizing socially beneficial behavior is not in the public eye. People think of marriage as nothing more than the commitment (of whatever duration) which romantic couples make to each other.

3. It’s about rights. It’s not by accident the movement is called the gay rights movement. And I don’t deny that many gays and lesbians feel their fundamental human rights are at stake in the controversy over marriage. But the lofty talk of rights blurs an important distinction. Do consenting adults have the right to enter a contract of their choosing? It depends. Businesses don’t have a right to contract for collusion. Adults don’t have a right to enter into a contract that harms the public good. And even if you think these examples are beside the point, the fact remains that no law prohibits homosexuals (or any two adults) from making promises to each other, from holding a ceremony, from entering into a covenant with each other. The question is whether the government should bestow upon that contract the name of marriage with all the rights and privileges thereto.

4. It’s about equality. Recently, I saw a prominent Christian blogger tweet that she was for gay marriage because part of loving our neighbor is desiring they get equal justice under the law. Few words in the American lexicon elicit such broad support as “equality.” No one wants to be for unequal treatment under the law. But the issue before the Supreme Court is not equality, but whether two laws–one voted in by the people of California and the other approved by our democratically elected officials–should be struck down. Equal treatment under the law means the law is applied the same to everyone. Gay marriage proponents desire to change the law so that marriage becomes something entirely different. Surveys often pose the question “Should it be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to marry?” That makes it sound like we are criminalizing people for commitments they make. The real issue, however, is whether the state has a vested interest in sanctioning, promoting, and privileging certain relational arrangements. Is it unjust for the state not to recognize as marriage your group of four friends, close cousins, or an office suite just because they want their commitments to be called marriage?

5. It’s about tolerance. Increasingly, those who oppose gay marriage are not just considered wrong or mistaken or even benighted. They are anti-gay haters. As one minister put it, gay marriage will eventually triumph because love is stronger than hate. Another headline rang out that “discrimination is on trial” as the Supreme Court hears arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. The stark contrast is clear: either you support gay marriage or you are a bigot and a hater. It’s no wonder young people are tacking hard to left on this issue. They don’t want to be insensitive, close-minded, or intolerant. The notion that thoughtful, sincere, well-meaning, compassionate people might oppose gay marriage is a fleeting thought.

So what can be done? The momentum, the media, the slogans, the meta-stories all seem to be on the other side. Now what?

For starters, churches and pastors and Christian parents can prepare their families both intellectually and psychologically for the opposition that is sure to come. Conservative Christians have more kids; make sure they know what the Bible says and know how to think.

We should also remember that the church’s mission in life is not to defeat gay marriage. While too many Christians have already retreated, there may be others who reckon that everything hangs in the balance on this one issue. Let’s keep preaching, persevering, pursuing joy, and praying for conversions. Christians should care about the issue, and then carry on.

And if we are interested in being persuasive outside of our own churches, we’ll have to do several things better.

1) We need to go back several steps in each argument. We’ll never get a hearing on this issue, or a dozen others issues, unless we trace out the assumptions behind the assumptions behind the arguments behind the conclusions.

2) We need more courage. The days of social acceptability for evangelicals, let alone privilege, are fading fast in many parts of the country. If we aren’t prepared to be counter-cultural we aren’t ready to be Christians. And we need courage not only to say what the Bible says, but to dare say what almost no one will say–that gay sex is unnatural and harmful to the body, that abandoning gender distinctions will be catastrophic for our society and for children, and that monogamy and exclusivity is often understood differently in the gay community.

3) We need more creativity. Statements and petitions and manifestos have their place, but what we really need is more than words and documents. We need artists and journalists and movie makers and story tellers and spoken word artists and comedians and actors and rappers and musicians who are galvanized by the truth to sing and speak and share in such a way that makes sin look strange and righteousness look normal.

4) We need a both-and approach. In the months ahead I imagine we’ll see Christians wrestle with whether the best way forward is to form new arguments that appeal to people where they’re at, or whether we simply need to keep preaching the truth and trust God to give some people the ears to hear. I’m convinced we need to do both. Let’s keep preaching, teaching, and laboring for faithful churches. Let’s be fruitful and multiply. Let’s train our kids in the way they should go. Let’s keep sharing the good news and praying for revival. And let’s also find ways to make the truth plausible in a lost world. Not only the truth about marriage, but the truth about life and sex and creation and beauty and family and freedom and a hundred other things humans tend to forget on this side of Adam. The cultural assumptions in our day are not on our side, but if the last 50 years has shown us anything, it’s that those assumptions can change more quickly than we think.