A Baby vs. the World

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A Baby vs. the World

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A Christmas message came to my mind a few years ago as I stood shivering in the autumn chill at the grave side of Father Jerzy Popieluszko. Jerzy was a young pastor who once delivered the dynamic messages that stirred the Polish people to overthrow their Communist oppressors.

His theme was always the same: The Christian is called to defend the truth and overcome evil with good.

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Rediscovering Truth

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Rediscovering Truth

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“Truth. Love. Together” Begins Today

JOHN STONESTREET  WITH DAVID CARLSON

In February, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of three female high school track athletes who are being forced to compete against biological males. During the oral arguments, the presiding judge demanded that ADF attorneys refer to the biologically male athletes as females, and to do otherwise would not be “consistent with science” or “human decency.”

Of course, as ADF attorneys noted, the entire case is based on whether it’s a fact that biological males are males, and whether a chosen gender identity is consistent with science or reality. ADF has called for the judge’s recusal, and rightly so since, at least in this case, he’s not capable of adjudication, only activism.

Francis Schaeffer and Chuck Colson were among the loudest prophetic voices of decades past, warning of the loss of what Schaeffer often called “true truth,” the idea that truth is objective and, to a large degree, knowable.

When a federal judge announces that affirming observable biological reality is “indecent,” it demonstrates that more than our views about gender have changed. The basic definition of truth has changed. In other words, the most basic conflict in our culture is not just what is considered to be truth and what is not, but what we mean by truth in the first place.

The classic definition is that truth refers to that which corresponds to reality. For decades now, beginning among intellectual elites and then shaping the academy and now various segments of culture, the correspondence theory of truth has been challenged by another definition: that truth is nothing more than a social construct, or views imposed on us by previous generations and those in power.

As the comments of this judge make clear, this new definition of truth is now largely taken for granted, not just in universities but across different segments of our culture. How this happened is important to understand.

At a very simple but hopefully not simplistic level, humans can look to three resources in seeking knowledge: revelation, reason, and experience. By revelation, I mean we can know something because “God said it.” By reason, I mean that through our intellects and logic, we can arrive at truth. By experience, I mean we can know because of what we’ve been through, or what we feel or know to be true.

Throughout history, different religions and philosophies would emphasize one or more of these over the others. For example, religions that believed in God would prioritize revelation. Classic Greek thought often prioritized reason, as did the ideas of the secular Enlightenment.

The Christian worldview teaches that God has revealed Himself through His creation, in His Word, and ultimately in Jesus Christ. By revelation, we know that as Image Bearers of God living in His orderly universe, our reason and intellect can grasp certain truths about the universe. In this view, knowledge is nothing less than what astronomer Johannes Kepler described as “…thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

In the decades since the Enlightenment, and especially into the 20th century, as scientific discovery and technological innovation exploded, reason became elevated as the central and definitive means of knowing truth. Skepticism about the supernatural led to a cynical distrust of revelation.

There’s so much more to this story than I have space for here, but the violence and bloodshed of the twentieth century, especially among those nations and cultures considered most scientifically advanced, damaged trust in reason. If revelation was a myth and pure reason a catastrophe, what’s left? Experience.

This is largely where we are today, where both revelation and reason are secondary, and even expected to serve our own internal sense of reality. Experiences may not be questioned. And so, here we are, with judges who insist that males are females, governors who call abortion “life sustaining,” and with politicians claiming their own facts.

It’s easy in such a situation for Christians to miss the deeper aspects of the real challenges we face, but it’s not simply this issue over here or that battle of ideas over there. The struggle of our time is, at its most basic level, a struggle to define reality. That’s why, as a friend of mine says, we so often find ourselves using the same vocabulary but not the same dictionary.

The battle for hearts and minds is quite often the battle over the definition of words. Defining truth is as essential as defending it.

The opening module of our Truth, Love, Together virtual event is all about recapturing a Christian vision of Truth, one that is, ultimately grounded in the person of Jesus Christ. This first module is entitled “What Is Truth?” Os Guinness opens the module in a session called, “The Roots of the Present Crisis.” Dr. Sean McDowell follows with “What Happened to Truth?” and Abdu Murray’s session is about “Loving Truth in a Post-Truth World.” After all, if truth is grounded in the person of Christ, our proper response must be to not only know truth, but love truth. And, in a special bonus session, Natasha Crain speaks on “Teaching Your Kids Truth in a Noisy World.”

Over 8,500 people have already registered for this free, weekly on-demand, online event.

Come to Conference.ColsonCenter.org to register today.


The Problem with (Mis)remembering the Holocaust

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The Problem with (Mis)remembering the Holocaust

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The Banality of Evil

01/27/2020 JOHN STONESTREET  WITH DAVID CARLSON

Today, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Nazi death camp known as Auschwitz, the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.¹

The millions who each year visit Auschwitz, as well as the Holocaust museums in Jerusalem, Washington D.C., and elsewhere become witnesses to an era of almost unimaginable cruelty.

They, and we, are told to “never forget.” And we shouldn’t. But, it is crucial not only that we remember, but how we remember.

Last week, in the online magazine TLS, Nikolaus Wachsmann reflected on the plea of camp victim Zalman Gradowski that future generations would “form an image” of the “hell” of Auschwitz.

“But,” Wachsmann writes, “the Auschwitz of popular imagination often bears little relation to the Auschwitz Gradowski had lived and died in. As a global emblem of evil, the camp has become unmoored from its actuality.”

For example, Wachsmann relates that “It is often said . . . that Auschwitz was a different planet, so alien that even birds did not sing there.” But that’s not true. The camp’s surroundings were “rich in wildlife.” So rich, in fact, “that employees of IG Farben, the German firm that enslaved thousands of prisoners, went birding together, while a trained ornithologist among the SS guards meticulously surveyed the local species… for scholarly publications.”

In other words, there is a very real human tendency to mis-remember the grave evils of history: to imagine that they happened in a different world; to think that those who perpetuated such evil, or those who scandalously remained silent and complicit, were somehow different kinds of people than we are.

Exacerbating this tendency is the modern illusion of moral evolution. That somehow we are more enlightened and tolerant than they, having moved on from the bigotry of our human past.

That moral chronological snobbery is not only wrong, it’s dangerous, creating a blind spot to the evils and horrors of which we are capable.

In his 1993 Templeton Prize address, Chuck Colson described the realization that came to Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur at the trial of Adolf Eichmann:

“Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man  . . . who had presided over the slaughter of millions. The court was hushed as a victim confronted a butcher. Then suddenly Dinur began to sob and collapsed to the floor. Not out of anger or bitterness. As he explained later in an interview, what struck him at that instant was a terrifying realization. ‘I was afraid about myself,’ Dinur said. ‘I saw that I am capable to do this . . . Exactly like he.’”

Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote about the Eichmann Trial in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. She found Eichmann neither “perverted nor sadistic,” but “terrifyingly normal.” She called this the “banality of evil.”

Hidden evil flourishes. Throughout history, evil has often hidden in plain sight, enabled by its terrifying normalness and the moral blind spots we self-inflict. And it continues today… Consider how the world is mostly silent as China sends Muslim Uighurs to concentration camps.

Or, why the voices of so many victims of sexual abuse in Hollywood, in corporate America, in homes, and churches are only now, decades later, being heard? Just last Friday, hundreds of thousands of people marched, for the 47th time, to draw attention to the government-subsidized slaughter of millions of pre-born babies.

Hans Scholl, who, along with his sister Sophie, was executed in 1943 for founding an anti-Nazi student group called the White Rose, once described his struggle to understand evil. Marveling at the beauty of the German landscape he wrote in a line reminiscent of the Psalmist, “Does God take us for fools, that he should light up the world for us with such consummate beauty . . . And nothing, on the other hand, but rapine and murder?”

Then Scholl asked a question we should all ask: How ought we respond to evil? “Should one go off and build a little house with flowers outside the windows … and extol and thank God and turn one’s back on the world and its filth? Isn’t seclusion a form of treachery of desertion? I’m weak and puny, but I want to do what is right.”

In Christ, God entered the world in order to confront, and ultimately defeat, evil. He calls us to confront evil as well, but let’s be clear: The world Christ entered was this world. The evil He confronts is the evil we too are capable of. As we remember, let’s be sure to remember that.

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Resources:

Being in Auschwitz Nikolaus Wachsmann | TLS | January 24, 2020

What did Hannah Arendt really mean by the banality of evil? Thomas White | Aeon | April 23, 2018

The Enduring Revolution Charles W. Colson | Comment | September 2, 1993

What Christians are For, What Christians Are Against

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What Christians are For, What Christians Are Against

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Faithfulness to Christ in 2020

JOHN STONESTREET  | 01/02/2020

An oft-repeated but, in my view, ultimately misguided self-critique by Christians, is that we are better known for what we are against than what we are for.  I fully agree with the spirit of the comment. As Chuck Colson liked to say, Christians should not just resist the bad stuff but always propose a better way.

Today, however, that statement is too often used as a way of saying Christians should be more positive, as if Christians should be known for what we are for, and not known for what we are against. But Christians just can’t choose between those approaches. To put it bluntly, Christian faithfulness in a culture like ours demands that we be against many things even as we embrace the hope of the invading Kingdom of God. Otherwise, we will only offer the world a sort of moral confusion.

Case in point: Just before Christmas, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli suggested that, given the conclusion of the impeachment hearings in the U.S. House, Christians should support the removal of President Trump from office, either by impeachment or in the next election.

So much has been said and written about Galli’s piece already, I’ll only focus on his two main and most problematic points: First, that supporting the removal of Trump from office is a mark of Christian faithfulness, and second, to not support his removal would harm the reputation of Christ and Christians. In other words, Christians should be against the president.

It’s always a weighty thing to bind the conscience of other Christians, and it should only be done with clarity and discernment. This piece, unfortunately, displayed neither.

Moral clarity today demands we be both for personal integrity in our leaders as well as for the conscience protections of citizens. It demands that we stand against the taking of innocent, preborn life and, at the same time, for civility and strong character. Moral clarity in our time requires being against the mistreatment of people on Twitter and, even more so, against the sexual experimentation on children by radical ideologues.

This is the moral complexity of the world we live in. It’s for us what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the tempest of the living.” So we must be very careful before we demand all Christians adhere to our conscience, especially if by doing so, their consciences are made complicit in not sufficiently standing against the grave evils of our day.

At the same time, Gospel faithfulness cannot be delivered by mere political calculation. To stand against the evils of our day, we need not overlook, or much less, justify the moral failings of our leaders. Whenever we do that, we become, as Chuck Colson warned in his own Christianity Today article more than twenty years ago, “just another political interest group.”

Simply put, we must be clear about what we are for, and what we are against.

And, most importantly, the tough decisions that Gospel faithfulness demands of Christians, especially in this cultural moment, cannot be made based on a concern for reputation. After all, we would only need to join the choruses of support for abortion and the sexual confusion of children if we wish to improve our social standing, or at least we should lower the volume of our moral outcry, as far too many Christians have. That, of course, is an abdication of our responsibility to God and His truth.

As Chuck so clearly exhorted, “Our task is to serve as society’s conscience, seeing all of life from God’s perspective and interpreting that vision in prudential terms for our fellow citizens. We don’t seek power; we seek a society where government promotes justice in all spheres of society and protects the public good.”

That task has not changed, nor is it simply a political one. In all of life, in every sphere of society, the challenge and the opportunity to proclaim Christ and promote what is true and good remains.

Especially now, as Paul prayed for the church at Philippi, Christian love requires knowledge and discernment. We’ll need that kind of clarity and courage to call balls and strikes and, to mix metaphors, to walk and chew gum at the same time. We’ll have to be clear about what we are against, and we’ll have to be clear about what we are for. Christ is our King. His causes are our causes.

So, let’s be known as people who are for the proclamation of the Gospel. Let’s be for truth and for goodness and for beauty. Let’s be against the taking of innocent life and the sexual exploitation of children. Let’s be for those ideas that align with God’s general and special revelation, and against those ideas that confuse self-determination for freedom. Let’s be against covering up sin, and for God’s good gift of repentance. Let’s be for the freedom only found in Christ and against all attempts by political or corporate forces to bind our conscience. Let’s be ruthlessly against ideas that dehumanize, and at the same time fiercely for those being dehumanized.

We can be appropriately for and appropriately against, but only if our love is shaped by knowledge and discernment. We will often find ourselves, in the New Year and beyond, against the world. But when we are, let it be because we are actually for the world, empowered by and in service to the One whose world it is.

 


Resources:

 

Evangelicals Are Not an Interest Group

Charles Colson | Christianity Today | October 5, 1998

Trump Should Be Removed from Office

Mark Galli | Christianity Today | December 19, 2019

A Response to Christianity Today’s Call for the Removal of Trump From Office

Michael Brown | The Stream | December 20, 2019