Truth in the Trenches: Current Status – and where I am now

It has been a while since I have put down anything in Truth in the Trenches, so I thought a status report was in order, before it is thought this blog has been abandoned. Last September I was in an automobile accident, and it has left me recovering from a TBI, which complicates a life already busy between work, school, and family. These factors, alone, left me little time to write, at least in ways I consider to be worthwhile, Truth in the Trenches is still a part of my long term plans, as an apologist. Nevertheless, part of that plan means the development and change of Truth in the Trenches, which has never been very successful. This does not mean I am giving up, it means I need to realistically evaluate how to use this platform, and how to rebuild it so that the effort that goes into writing has a return on its investment. I also believe I am going to need to seek out volunteers for help with marketing and some of the technical aspects of production. While, precise plans (other than using a podcast format of some type as a central part of the Truth in the Trenches), are still being thought out. Until then, I post as time and mental resources allow, which is, unfortunately, means posting somewhat irregularly.

But, this is a good time to look at where I was when I started in apologetics and where I am now; Truth in the Trenches has undergone some revolutions in my approaches, and it is worthwhile to spell that out.

Where I was

My first foray into apologetics was with an e-mailed monthly newsletter, while I was working on becoming a pastor. It was a response to a documentary that I had realized was both based in poor scholarship, but excellent story telling skills. The documentary was ultimately a flop, but it was the burr under my saddle. I took a hiatus to pastor, and I was run out of the church by a women’s Bible study that was motivated largely by conspiracy theories, which led to my turning a corner; that incident was the start of several years of struggling with the problem of suffering. When the Lord brought me through that valley, I started blogging on apologetics in earnest. Truth in the Trenches may not be a big ministry, but it was the ministry I had, and I came to realize that whatever it’s size or scope, God would judge me on my faithfulness, not whether I was successful in this world (and this trite claim is far easier to swallow in the abstract when it is someone else’s faithfulness and your own preconceived notions of success). I have thought of Truth in the Trenches in those terms ever since. William Carey described himself as God’s plodder, I move forward in the light of the promise, “we will reap if we faint not.”

When I first got into apologetics, my background was in NT studies. In school, I focused on Paul more than the gospels, and my studies were very narrowly focused on exegetical details and refining my exegetical technique, along with New Testament Theology. I had read very few apologists in college, it was not an important discipline in that setting, instead I read NT scholars, but I was always interested in questions involving New Testament introduction, an interest that goes back to my first experience with intellectual doubt about the truth of the faith as a fourteen year old. During this time, I also wanted to test my arguments, so I began to get involved with debates on various facebook groups, and joined several facebook apologetics groups.

Where I am

Debating Atheists, I came to realize that atheists don’t care so much about evidence, the issues come down to their premises. That is, you can type all day about the historicity of Acts, but if someone treats Hume’s argument as a premise, then all of that work is meaningless to convincing that person. This was the dilemma that ultimately led to my pursuit of a PhD in worldview and Apologetics. My first choice was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and there were two practical reasons for this, first, I live within a few hours of Louisville, which means I can use the library and facilities quite easily, but I also was impressed by Al Mohler and the Southern Resurgence; thankfully my application was successful.

I am still, at my core, an evidentialist, that is, if you are looking for a formal defense of Christianity the evidence of the resurrection is the place I like to start. But, I’ve always been a wide reader, and between that, and a principle I use in theory selection, a bit of a theological eclectic. This applies to my approach to apologetics. If my “academic” answers to questions of the faith are New Testament evidences, there is a need to meet people where they are, and so I try to add an element of “cultural apologetics” into my discussions. Some people consider the classical approach to apologetics to have two steps, first proving that God exists, then proving it is the God of Christianity. But, I think the apologetics of the day need to recognize we live in an increasingly non-rational culture, and many of the objections today are rooted in cultural and political dogmas. We live in a day when the ethical discussions are broken, perhaps beyond repair, if rationality is considered important in ethics. We live in a day of competing worldviews, and this competition includes questions of how to interpret evidence, and what is evidence. Cultural apologetics, in a sense bypasses therefore ethical theory discussions, to point towards the “Word of God written on their hearts,” though recognizing this aspect of our conscience can be burned out with a hot iron. The evidence of the New Testament is good, people come to know Jesus Christ because of that approach, but often after years of study and examination. The point of combining this with cultural apologetics is to provide a reason for atheists to question their premises and actually examine the evidence.

Other concerns

I have two other major concerns with apologetics that I try to incorporate into my approach, the first is the tendency in some areas to change the faith to make it more palatable to unbelievers, this change involves two major doctrinal deviations from orthodox Christian belief, notably in discussions of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, and the second is the adoption of a heresy known as Pelegianism, particularly in the denial of the fall and the depravity of mankind; one of the central tenets of progressivism is the belief that human beings are basically good, Christians believe what is natural to man is to do what is morally evil and repugnant to God. Both are issues of worldview and are a move away from Christianity within the church.

My other concern is the tendency to separate our intellectual and spiritual lives into sealed compartments; that is, the apologist must not only view his activity as intellectual, but as spiritual and as a spiritual exercise, within a framework of spiritual warfare. So these are some of the themes I have been and will continue to discuss.

It’s too Easy Being Green

Christopher Hitchens begins his book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” with an anecdote from his school days, alleging that his teacher made a very basic mistake, arguing that God did not make the world green because it was restful to our eyes, but rather our eyes were adjusted to the green in the world.[1] I’ve noted in the past that Hitchen’s fact checking in this particular work is inadequate,[2] and he appears to be outright deceptive in his discussion of slavery,[3] and yet, in this opening section, Hitchens also seems to have not thought out the implications of his own theory.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a deer in a meadow, munching on the foliage, enjoying the sun, being soothed by the tall, green grass and suddenly the wolf eats you due to your inattention. As moderns we have these romantic notions of the forest, made possible by parks where we can visit, enjoy nature, and not worry about wolves and bears who might think we look delicious. Nature, however, is far more cruel, and this cruelty is supposedly the driving force in the innovation of biological species, at least according to Darwin.  What Hitchens misses is, in the Darwinian world he believes is responsible for everything, the result should be the opposite; green should not be a color we find soothing, it should be a color that makes us alert, wary of predators and danger, along with brown, black, and every other natural color.

In fact, our very romance of nature, the forest, the cycle of life and the food chain is counter-intuitive. If, in fact, we are merely the product of Darwinian natural selection winnowing the results of random mutations, we should be glad to live in controlled cities away from all the animals that see humans as food; in fact, we should be cheering on the destruction of the polar bear, realizing this makes the artic a safer place for mankind to eventually live. And yet, we cannot resist at some level the call of nature, and the need to preserve animal life. We carry within us a romantic ideal of nature that only makes sense if there was some ideal from which it is derived and for which we were designed, a nature where we aren’t simply a hunter or prey. In a way, Genesis makes much more sense of our intuitive view of man’s place in the world than does Darwin’s theory, which we are forced to applaud in the science classroom, but to avoid and hate in the ethics class.

[1]Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, (New York: Twelve, 2007), 1-3.

[2]https://truthinthetrenches.org/2017/03/02/hitchens-is-not-profound-how-atheism-has-fallen/

 

[3]https://truthinthetrenches.org/2017/03/15/christopher-hitchens-is-a-liar-christianity-and-slavery/

Government: An Insufficient Savior

Venturing into politics is dangerous these days. I’m more of a political idealist than a true partisan. This puts me in stark contrast to the average American, who seems to be more attached to a party and seems to express their political ideas on the basis of feelings rather than thought, and the feelings being discussed are moving from frustration to rage. Consider, for example, the raw emotion we saw after the last election. I’ve seen elections where my candidate lost, I’ve seen candidates win that I thought were bad for the country. Yet, I’ve never seen an absolute meltdown like what the aftermath of the election of 2016 by many on the left. Talk radio hosts and conservatives made fun of the response by many millennials, and these reactions are dangerous, and ultimately religious.

There is a lot of debate about how to define what is or is not a religion. One of the major themes in religious epistemology is defining religions westetn atheistic systems of thought (such as Marxism or Nazism) are often defined with terms such as “Pseudo-religion,” to preserve religion solely to our traditional use of the word. Whether or not we should preserve this dichotomy,[1] moderns seem to view government rather than God as their hope of salvation. Whether one believes in some version of socialism, or one is an ardent supporter of extreme libertarianism such as expressed by Ayn Rand, the post-modernist increasingly views utopia as a future heaven, and dystopia as a future hell.

 

This trend is the reverse of past political religions; the ancient roman cults praised the current Ceasar, while vying for power, the Nazi’s intentionally created a messianic aura for Hitler, changing the slogan Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Gott (One people, one reich, one God) into Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer. Yet today, we have reached the place where we can no longer view our leaders realistically; Trump must be Emmanuel Goldstein, the symbolic enemy of the state in 1984, by modern estimations similar things are true of Winston Churchill. We are often disappointed when we realize that our leaders (and our governments) are made of men with the same kinds of character we have. In short, if utopia forms the progressive or libertarian search for salvation, then this pursuit is ultimately futile.

 

Take, as a case in point, the current opioid epidemic. Problems with narcotics have plagued nations for several centuries. Numerous different approaches have been taken, from the various wars on drugs in various countries to more permissive approaches. None has succeeded. Some policies, it is argued, have softened the attendant harms of addiction (such as imprisonment), but not the harm that opium addiction is, in and of itself, and even attendant harms (such as, for example, accidental overdoses) can’t be claimed to have been eliminated anywhere. Nor can we argue that our war on opiates has failed because insufficient money has been spent on the programs, they have not. Corporations (in an attempt to prevent injuries, and attendant rises in their insurance rates) and civil governments spend astronomical amounts of money to deal with problems related to addicts. Whatever else government might be able to do, what Government cannot change is the human heart of someone who is willing to sacrifice everything for a drug hazed escape from the pains of this life.

 

Nor has government ever been free of scandal or the abuse of power. In my more than thirty years I have seen both parties embroiled in various scandals, sometimes these are real and sometimes these are drummed up (and both parties are guilty of misrepresenting their opponents from time to time in the media). Throughout our history, the process itself has been compromised numerous times; voter intimidation has existed from the era of Jim Crow by the KKK through the Black Panther voter intimidation case in Philadelphia. Voter fraud and voter registration fraud does not start with Acorn, it was perfected in the city machines run by men like “Boss Tweed” in New York during the nineteenth century. False news isn’t a new idea either; the founders in the early years of the republic found the press was willing to make things up for political advantage and circulation. Concerns about money in politics and bribery go back to the spoils system of Andrew Jackson. Government, in short, is perverted by the same forces that pervert private industry, churches, and institutions of higher learning: they are perverted by our humanity. The problems of our government come down to the problems that dwell in ourselves.

 

Utopia is the salvation and eschatological hope of modern progressives, dreams of utopia go back to Plato’s Republic, and yet that dream fails, oftentimes (such as in the former Marxist states associated with the Soviet Union, Chavez’s Venezuela) in brutal totalitarianism. The human need and yearnings simply cannot be met by human institutions, despite centuries of attempts. In the end, like all substitutes for the living God it leaves us wanting.

 

[1] Personally, I disagree with this assessment, I think Atheism (or better, “philosophical naturalism,” since the rejection by the west of the existence of God is based in a larger set of positive beliefs) is a religion. The argument that it isn’t a religion creates unnecessary categories and books on religion sometimes include chapters on atheism, but must do so with persistent hemming and hawing. Treating Naturalism as if it is not a religion the point of differentiation is somewhat dependent on Western structures; many religions view what the westerner will consider the “supernatural” as being a part of nature. In a sense, then, this is somewhat self-referentially absurd in ways similar to Christians who claim Christianity isn’t a religion, along with similar statements by some Hindus,  Buddhists, etc. Confucianism is, interestingly in a similar category.

Sexual Assault and Moral Absolutes

A lot has happened since Harvey Weinstein’s activities have become more universally understood. I had a number of articles in mind, which I so far have not written, often because of changes in the story. Some of them are on politics, and this issue among others revealing the political process as forming political religions (something I will likely write about later, progressive atheism seems to have a political eschatology and the idea that government or communities can solve our real problems appears to the modern idolatry of our time; sadly an idolatry to which church members are not immune). Some openly advocate making this a political issue, with twitter messages arguing that the conviction of innocent men is acceptable if it hurts patriarchy.[1] Similarly, there are serious ethical questions that need to be asked about society in general; these include questions about the new mood itself, we see for example, little differentiation between types of activity (what would qualify as a misdemeanor in most states is not distinguished from felonious behavior). Similarly, victim groups are treated not all alike. Men accusing George Takei[2] or long running accusations of pedophilia in Hollywood by actors like Corey Feldmann have not had the same reception as those raised by female actors, and were not really part of the #metoo movement. This is actually a long running issue, issues involving sexual assault against men is often not given the same treatment in the press as sexual assault against women, and yet this is also a substantial problem in our growing brave new world. There are epistemological questions (such as the question of evidence) particularly when it comes to college campuses where men are filing (and winning) lawsuits against their former schools for claims of harassment against unproven allegations that they committed sexual assault. Not only are there questions about the burden of proof, however, we are also faced with a sea of uncertainties as to the boundaries of this brave new world of sexual indulgence; for example, at what point in our “enlightened,” “liberated” society, is an advance by a man merely unwanted, and when is it harassment? There is also the question of guilt and expiation, these are the unforgiveable crimes to many millennials and feminists; there are, in some quarters, the quest for the pound of flesh that is reminiscent of the quests that led to the great terrors in revolutionary France or the concentration camps of Siberia in past societies.

Yet these themes aren’t new, similar discussions happened after allegations by Juanita Broadrick,  Kathleen Wiley or the Duke rape case, and some of these questions transcend the question of sexual assault, itself. Yet, they also show something of the intellectual bankruptcy of the post-modern age that we live in, and how the world is required to constantly borrow from a Christian worldview in defiance of their own professed view of man as a product of chance and natural selection.

According to the prevailing opinion, man developed from primates, who in turned developed from “lower” animals through the action of millions of years of random mutations, and those mutations being filtered through the process of natural selection. This process is not a kind one, nature is brutal in ways that civilized man has largely forgotten; the weak die, sometimes in the teeth and claws of other predators, other times from an inability to procure food, or by the inability to compete with stronger members of the same species. Only those who through a combination of luck and “fitness” are able to pass their genes on to the next generation. For man, the key to survival was the development of his brain as a superior processing machine (no discussion of the software, or “soul” of that machine is needed, or wanted). This process, the atheist will argue explains not only the development of biological species but of social and ethical conventions as well; societies similarly evolve to ensure the survival of the group which in turn ensures the survival of the groups genes. This, in a sense, is similar to the classical utilitarian ethic (which seeks, as Bentley and Mills noted, the greatest happiness for the greatest number of individuals). Ethics are the creation of society, they do not come from an external source such as God.

The problem with this approach is that so often, they establish on the one hand that ethics evolved with mankind, and yet all too often they reject any hint that modern societies should adopt social Darwinism. In biology class we are safe to sagely say the dinosaurs were not fit to inhabit a world of changing climate conditions after a meteor strike, but in ethics, we must save the polar bears who are not fit inhabit a world of changing climate conditions caused by human use of fossil fuels. Man, to the biologist is an animal, without any special dignity, but not to the sociologist.  This case in point is proven in recent reactions to sexual assault and harassment.

Sexual activity in the Darwinist world is about procreation; the fact that the process is pleasurable is merely an incentive to engage in activity that perpetuates the species. Thus, in ancient times, a man might compete with other men for mates from the biological drive to ensure that their genes would enter the next generation and this process ensured that weaker males did not weaken the species as a whole—or at least, if moderns were consistently Darwinian that is what they would argue. Yet, this is not what is discussed, the polygamy and sexual assault of the past is never put forward as a “species survival strategy,” it becomes the origins of the feminist bogeyman of “patriarchy;” the idea of morality as a survival strategy is chauvinistic, archaic and not acceptable (despite beginning in a time when, according to Darwinians, passing on the genes of weaker males might not be a good idea, and women would be benefited by being taken from weaker males who could offer fewer resources and less protection).

Nor are appeals to societal mores admissible in this case. In the atheist theory of the development of ethics, society becomes the final arbiter of right and wrong, (thus engraining not the principles of a constitutional republic, but the mob rule of the less stable forms of democracy). There is no division in this view between natural rights and civil rights; both the right to the freedom of speech and the right to a trial by jury are equally within a societies prerogative to extend or remove. Thus, we are told, we cannot to judge non-democratic societies, such as many in the Middle East, that do not recognize basic human rights. It does not matter that Middle Eastern countries support, or turn a blind eye, to female genital mutilation, that is just their way, and our criticisms are just an example of Islamaphobia. Similarly, we are not to judge the past, as we indulge in the fantasy of the myth of progress. Yet, this is not the spirit we see in the modern mood. You see, as these allegations are brought forward, past societies are criticized for being on the wrong side of this issue; society is the final arbiter of morality, except apparently when it isn’t.

In short, the modern tells us that modern evolution has created a subjective approach to morality; ethical absolutes do not exist. And yet, as the recent press has shown us, we cannot live consistently with a belief that moral absolutes do not exist. The biologist might content himself by noting that this is just some type of illusion, created by our societies, connected to our herd instincts, arguing such instincts are simply stronger than our ability to overcome them. Yet, if this is the case, it raises serious questions about man’s ability to make ethical judgments, and the modern rejection of social Darwinism is untrustworthy. Or, perhaps there is a God who made us, who gave us an ability to make moral judgments (albeit a capability damaged in the fall), and we treat things as moral absolutes because, in point of fact, moral absolutes do exist.

 

[1]https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/columnist-false-sex-accusations-against-men-are-the-price-of-undoing-the-pa Re-accessed 22-january

[2]https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2017/11/11/george-takei-richard-dreyfuss-and-gary-goddard-accused-of-sexual-misconduct/?utm_term=.639d2e8c6155 re-accessed 22-Jan

Roy Moore and the Christian Witness

               Sometimes as I get older, the world appears to have tilted off of its access. We live with hypocrisy at the highest levels. I have started an article on Roy Moore on three separate occasions, and on each, the news shifted, or the piece didn’t seem right. Back in November, I feared that the Republicans, who typically have refused to protect or defend party members against whom there is substantial evidence of wrong doing, would change that policy in the Trump era, as so much of his behavior was excused during the election. Moore may be proving me right. Both political parties, of course, have had their fair share of those engaging in sexually abusive behavior; both parties have also had members accused of molesting congressional pages. The thing about monsters is they camodlage themselves, they are good at appearing to be safe and righteous. If we back away from the political opportunism of the moment, the question is never which party some particular bad apple is a member of, it is how they handle evidence of crimes and misbehavior.

Scripture tells us, in the mouth of two or three witnesses, let every word be established. This is a principle of Old Testament jurisprudence, but it is also one that the New Testament expands into an epistemic virtue, and we find it particularly used by Paul. We annul it at our peril. In the case of Roy Moore, we have numerous witnesses who have claimed that they were sexually assaulted by these two men, at this point; it is epistemically unjustifiable, it is madness and perhaps intentional folly to argue that this is some type of conspiracy against judge Moore, when there is no evidence of a conspiracy. Conspiracy theories are the last refuge of intellectual desperation. Yes, I understand why the timing seems suspicious with Moore, but that isn’t very good evidence they are all lying–and to maintain Moore is innocent, that is what must be believed. At this point, unless Moore has some means of impeaching these witnesses, then we should not be supporting him, not only because he damages the Republican party, but because he damages so much more the cause of Christ. Moore came into the public spotlight by positioning himself as a defender of the faith, if we maintain him now when he appears guilty of serious hypocrisy, then it is the faith that will be tarnished with him. It is time we remove our hands from him.

           There were, last November, many arguments about the comparative moral compasses of candidate Clinton and then presidential candidate Trump, but when the comparison between the two major parties is between the one who has the moral compass of Hugh Hefner and Bill Clinton, versus a candidate who resembles Warren Harding and Richard Nixon, something is truly amiss in the first place, and it is difficult to argue either major party has any moral high ground. Many Christians cited the abortion issue, and I have a certain affinity with that argument; anyone who is pro-abortion, in my mind is morally unqualified to hold office, voting for a pro-abortion candidate is like voting for Mao or Stalin, and this is not an exaggeration for effect. Abortion in this country has caused the death of millions of innocent children, it is a horror show, but there comes a point where the lesser of two evils is still evil enough that abstaining seems to be a proper measure. Many others will argue if the progressive agenda moves on unchecked, the country itself may not survive. This is not a political blog, but I am conservative and I do understand the value of this line of reasoning, but if the best we could offer last time around was Trump V Hillary, and if it truly takes voting for Moore to save the country, perhaps we are past saving, or at least past deserving such a lifeline. And perhaps, the United States is not failing because of poor decisions in the halls of congress, perhaps those poor decisions are themselves judgments of God on the nation.

             Do we think our hope is found in politics? Have we forgotten that we are not to put our faith in men? Do we really think God needs us to behave as if we are blind?  My hope ultimately isn’t found in Republicans, it is founded in Jesup work on the cross and it”s impact on the church and on my life.

          In a sense, with someone that Christians have trusted such as Moore, one is rightfully troubled, but we also have an understanding of the situation the world doesn’t have; we are warned that Satan would send wolves into the sheep, and the church has always been plagued by those who knew how to play the part with ulterior motives. Unfortunately, while we are on the “man is basically evil” side of the philosophical fence, we often forget our principles for a naieve, “it couldn’t happen in the church,” when real world human evil comes to the surface. But now we know, and history will judge us for what we do. Do we really need to stock Washington with Republican versions of the Clinton ethic? Do we need our children to think that this is the way Christians should treat women? Does the church of Christ need to overcome yet another case of sexual misconduct we are unwilling to step forward and deal with? I will when I get time discuss these matters in light of society, but we must remove the log in our own eye first. In 1992, we stated that someone with Clinton’s ethics was not fit for office, we were right then, we would therefore be wise to remain right, today.

Sexual Abuse, Promiscuity and Fundamentalism

With the Weinstein scandal in full bloom, and as the scandal settles into a phase where it is still in the news, and at the same time with a lack of new angles I anticipate that questions about Fundamentalism and the scandals surrounding my alma mater, Bob Jones University and other Fundamentalist icons. If that doesn’t happen, well I’m a Christian apologist and someone has to answer for the very real, but all too human messes that some fundamentalists have made. I say some, because one of the various serious problems scandals have is that all too often the innocent are tarred with the guilty, and when it comes to Fundamentalism, the most bellicose men get the most attention.

 

There have been a number of high profiled cases of sexual abuse or scandals about Fundamentalism lately. These issues are  Among them:

  • Jack Shoep, the successor of Jack Hyles, to many a Fundamentalist icon, pled guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. Jack Hyles daughter, Linda, afterwards referred to him as a cult leader, confirmed stories of adultery that had surrounded Hyles in the last few years before his death, the multiple adulteries of Hyles son, Jack Hyles Junior, and the number of sexual predators found at Hyles-Anderson college.
  • Bill Gothard, a noted teacher associated with Fundamentalism resigned in disgrace over accusations of sexual impropriety though the precise nature of the actions aren’t very clear. Bill Gothard’s brother had previously been accused of seducing women from Gothard’s ministry. I read about five pages of Gothard’s manual for basic use in college, and basically dismissed his as being rather ignorant, and I’ve never quite figured out how he built a ministry in the first place.
  • Accusations of physical abuse of children have been made in relationship to Lester Roloff’s ministry with children, Hephzibah house and other related ministries. I will be forced to say little of this scandal because, quite frankly I know very little about them. Most of what I know of Roloff are second and third hand anecdotes, most of which are unflattering. I knew a woman at BJU that was planning to work at Hebhzibah house, but never anyone who had actual experience at the place.
  • And of course, there are modern questions about my Alma Mater, BJU along with other schools for their handling of sexual abuse and counseling. This often very quickly gets tied to specific issues involving BJU’s other issues.

 

Fundamentalism in General

First, let’s deal with Fundamentalism as a whole, the term is a difficult one to define in any useful sense these days. Fundamentalism is a historic Christian movement is a reaction and rejection of theological liberalism, but often groups described in the press as “fundamentalists” have no connection to this movement. For example, primitive movements in the Mountains are occasionally described as being fundamentalists, but these movements actually predate the fundamentalist movement by fifty or sixty years. Similarly, some historians such as Martin Marty, who tend to use the term for groups that aren’t even Christian (one even sees it to describe “New Atheists”) but the problem with this approach is it ultimately can become a practice in cherry-picking groups that fit the conclusions you want to reach. Thus, in some senses, a number of pastors of Fundamentalist churches I have known may not actually fit the popular portrayal of a fundamentalist, but Operation rescue, a group not affiliated with historic fundamentalism does (at least according to a PBS special). The definition is also muddied by internal issues, when Jerry Fallwell founded Moral Majority, many fundamentalists (including Bob Jones Junior) claimed he wasn’t a fundamentalist (ironically perhaps to the generally held way that fundamentalism is viewed in public life). Secondarily, the what constitutes the fundamentals of the faith has also become an issue within historic fundamentalism, some groups, particularly among Independent Baptist groups tend to have created a relatively new tradition that they use to judge fundamentalism, leading to increasingly fractious fundamentalists and frankly many of the more moderate Fundamentalist parishioners and pastors moving into Southern Baptist Churches or the Presbyterians Churches of America, including myself. This means, in a sense, many of the pastors forty years ago who did not fit the stereotype of fundamentalists might not feel so comfortable in IFB circles today.

 

BJU and the Schools

Let’s start with the charges at BJU and other schools associated with the IFB movement. Whatever the hype might be from the news media, the BJU scandal is actually the least serious scandal, though one of the farthest reaching ones. It is the least serious because, to my knowledge at least, no credible accusation has been leveled against a senior member of BJU’s administration or a member of faculty of committing sexual harassment or sexual assault. That doesn’t mean issues have not existed, but if they do, very few people know about them. BJU is essentially accused, if you really understand the issue of two things, first, problems in the way they counsel past problems of sexual abuse, and in this they are dealing with issues related to nouthetic counseling, and second, of failing to properly report problems of sexual abuse.

 

Nouthetic Counseling

The issue of nouthetic counseling is a big one, and will probably be something I will write on in the future. I would agree that the counsel given at BJU was often bad, but I don’t think the problem is one of ill intent, but poorly worked out theology. Jay Adams book Competent to Counsel began the movement by noting that there were really two types of issues, physical problems and spiritual ones (pertaining thus to the body and the soul), so far, I agree with him, but the problem is while this is a sound basis to begin with, the development from this basis is faulty. The general assumption is that if some physical problem is not fully understood, it doesn’t exist, so therefore the problem must be sin. The problem with this is that it seems to conflict with some of Jesus’s teachings as found in Matthew 7. We know far less about the body than we think we do, when I was young, preachers told congregation members ulcers were a sign of worry, we now know that ulcers are also caused by bacteria. This of course is not the usual reason why BJU’s counseling is discussed, usually its discussed because BJU rejects the APA’s techniques, and it is a long-standing criticism of fundamentalism. People have criticized Fundamentalists for rejecting the assured results of psychology because the Fundamentalists criticized Freud in the twenties and thirties, as evidence that they were anti-intellectuals. Of course, since modern psychology as pretty much abandoned Freud as well, one wonders why Fundamentalists of that era are not being applauded for being ahead of their time; sometimes you just can’t win when it comes to an established stereotype.

Similarly, Adams book, Competent to Counsel was based on the failure of the secular techniques to relieve people’s problems, and this is a long-standing issue in Psychology. As Christians we should be skeptical of the claims of the American Psychological Association because they embrace Physicalism (a denial of the existence of the soul) and because this leads them to Determinism (the belief that human beings do not have freewill). These factors create significant problem in the way they interpret data.  Nouthentic counseling may have hits failures, but there are not, to my knowledge, any issues of nouthetic counselors engaging in the horrors of electroshock therapy or the engaging in ethically questionable research, the same cannot be said for the American Psychological association.

Infiltration

The second issue is sadly one so many forget about Fundamentalism, sadly is that we are affected by the culture outside of us, and we are men of our times. The thing people forget about pedophiles and many sexual abusers is that they are extremely good at manipulating circumstances and they learn how to assimilate into groups that given the access to victims, and they are often very good at manipulating people into believing in their innocence. We were fooled, so were many others. BJU should have notified the authorities in many cases, they appear to be making changes in this area. But in this sense, BJU is in the same rut not only with many other Christian groups, but many secular organizations as well. Christian leaders were often worried about false accusations, many people will immediately state false accusations don’t happen, or happen very rarely (only two percent of the time), but researching this article I found that this is certainly false, there are studies as low as 8% (meaning more than 1 in 20 rape accusations is false) to as high as 40% (meaning 2 out of 5 rape accusations are false), this is a rather broad range, which means we really don’t know). But while the fears of false accusations are justified, the response of BJU and others was not a rational response. After all, institutions reporting allegations of sexual abuse are doing just that, meaning they are reporting that an allegation has been made, college deans and university presents are not really in a position to investigate the truth or error of those allegations; that is a job for the police. For the person falsely accused, the best hope that man has is that the police will disprove the allegations (or at the least, prove a lack of evidence for the accusation). For the real victim of a crime, of course, prosecution of an abuser is a matter of justice.

These problems, however, are not unique to Christian schools or Fundamentalist ones. Public colleges have had their scandals as well, and in fact create other fears that fundamentalists might have. Currently there are a number of colleges that facing lawsuits by those who have been accused of sexual assault, and have faced disciplinary actions, but the authorities have found insufficient evidence for prosecution (or in some cases, have dismissed the charges completely). This is not to exonerate BJU or any other institution from a failure to report an alleged crime, rather as I said, fundamentalists are men of their times, this states nothing about the truth or error of the gospel. But schools in general are being awakened to what is happening on their campuses, and things are changing in our churches as they are in society in general.

 

Lester Roloff, Bill Gothard, Jack Hyles, and Jack Shoep

As to the rest, well, I can discuss defects in their theology, as I’ve noted in the past there is a game among some to claim that certain issues come down to theology, and it is often asserted that these issues are proof about things such as dispensationalism, premillenialism, etc. While there are, I believe, defects in the approaches many of these men take toward practical sanctification (namely that these fundamentalists believe sanctification is primarily human centered, largely coming from Finney although in places it resembles the latter Keswick movement), the claims on theology are vastly overstated. The truth is human beings are human, and men fail. Paul warned us that fierce wolves would arise amongst the sheep, this certainly describes Hyles and Gothard. The word for Gothard, Hyles, Schoep and Roloff is hypocrite, because their lives do not conform to the creeds they espoused. Some will immediately argue that Roloff clearly is consistent with Fundamentalist doctrine, but his view, and that ascribed to Hepzibah house, miss completely the centrality of the work of Christ in the life of the believer.  That is, their approach to issues of behavior was closer to the practice of Behaviorist psychologists than to the Biblical view of life.

This is not an apology for Fundamentalists; Fundmentalism was a rather diverse movement, and the moderate fundamentalists are being chased away from the movement by those the devotees of these men, but then, this is the truth of Church history, a group or movement is formed, God uses it until it gets to big for it’s britches and then God uses someone else. My concern isn’t defending any movement, but with God and His Word.  To argue this somehow disproves evangelicalism, one would need to assert their lives actually do conform to the principles of Evangelical theology.

Mothers with Empty Arms

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye

 And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

 Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I a king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say you know I might have changed it all.

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Garth Brooks, The Dance

 

I’ve not written much on the problem of evil, it’s something I and my wife understand, our lives have been touched by pains, disappoints, loss, as have we all. The problem of course is I’m a student of the New Testament, a theologian, and a thinker, as an apologist writing about facts and presenting arguments is something I understand, but explaining or addressing feelings, well the dozens of times I’ve tried to start an article, it never went well.

October is infant and pregnancy loss awareness month (as apparently is April), and I’m a husband of a wife who has suffered from at least two lost pregnancies, and the father of at least two children that did not arrive into this world. We experienced the joy of expectation and found those hopes dashed as the ultrasounds took place. There are a number of women suffering from infertility, sometimes suffering without speaking, sometimes, like my wife, not wanting to speak, those empty arms being a bitter pill and sometimes very little is needed to remind someone of that aching heart. The hardest thing my wife has ever endured was losing her babies, the hardest thing I have ever endured was crying with her, holding her while methotrexate was used to save her life because of an ectopic pregnancy and trying to take care of her while I too mourned my lost little ones. This was after a pastorate had turned dreams to dust, and I cried out that naracisstic prayer we all pray, “why me, Lord,” or worse, in the recesses of my mind to cry out “it’s not fair.”

The theological answer is clear, of course, which is why the problem of evil is such a modern phenomenon developed in a culture that was nominally Christian enough that they had an expectation of God, but no actual understanding of God’s justice. Modern’s reject God because they believe He must be some cosmic Santa Claus, failing to realize that He is a just judge. The Christian answer is ultimately one of justice and freewill, far from the millennials starry-eyed belief that justice is an attempt to build Utopia, a Christian view of justice must always reconcile with the fact that we are a fallen race who no longer deserves the beauties of this world. Nor can we object to God’s allowing the fall because we ourselves have joined into sin willingly, it is no good to just blame Adam when our depraved wills have chosen to follow in his footsteps. Whatever else we might say of the problem of evil, we must begin from the standpoint that the atheist cannot make his case until he can prove man deserves better; I personally think this case cannot be made unless we choose to be ignorant of human history.

Of course, for the woman who has lost a child, or is struggling with infertility, this is a cold comfort, there is really a distinction between the problem of evil and the problem of suffering, the one asking why bad things happen, the latter asking why bad things happen to me. But then again, perhaps they are not so separate after all; we perceive them to be different because of the heaviness of our tears. To understand suffering, we ultimately need to understand that God is both just and loving, and if we are redeemed there is an “already-not yet” dynamic to our lives under the sun. We are already heirs of God, but we have not yet come into the fullness of our inheritance. We are already redeemed from sin, and yet the old man of sin still lives within us. We are positionally righteous before God through Christ’s sacrifice of His own body; Jesus being the Sacrifice for sin and the Priest offering that Sacrifice, but my life is still imperfect in it’s obedience to Him. We are freed from the cares of this life for the next, and yet we still suffer greatly. We are never promised that suffering will end in this life.

The key to our suffering, however, is that, as believers, the meaning of suffering changes, it is neither pointless nor eternal (no matter how it feels). For the lost, the suffering is a warning of what will come if they continue down a path that rejects the God who made them, but for the believer, it’s different. Our suffering, even in loss has a purpose. I can find solace, for example, in the fact that I believe my children have been spared all the pains of this life—and I am persuaded the pains of this life far outweigh the pleasures, the pleasures being reminders of lost Eden.  But I also have found that He which has begun a good work in me is completing that work. My wife and I are closer through our trials than we would have been without them. I have been forced to depend on Him in ways I never could have imagined; at times, just to get through the day. In college, I tried to be Spock, though I was passionate about the faith, I could only experience many parts of the Bible from the analytical processes of my mind, that now seems both foreign, vain and quite frankly misses much of the point. The saccharine substitutes so freely used by our society are shown to be a pale imitation of the joys in Him; we can no longer be satisfied with distractions and diversions. If the suffering brings us down, it also lifts us up, it reminds us that this life is temporary, but that there is something eternal, and life is more than the accumulation of things and accolades. It sharpens my desire to write and present an offering to Him. In short, if the suffering of the lost is hopeless, the suffering of the believer produces fruit, and we have the hope of looking to a day when that suffering will end. Garth Brooks is wrong, our lives are never left to chance, for the believer, God will always take our straw, and make it into something of value, if we will trust Him.

I know this isn’t the help many want, I understand the desire to scream out about the unfairness of it all. I’ve been there. But I also have learned that screaming at God for causing our pain is to miss the very same God who is the only one that can bring meaning to our pain. To forget Him in trials is to give up the strength that brings us through that suffering. If we are stuck for the moment in the fallen world, with its reminders of our lost innocence, we know also that He is suffering with us, and has already suffered for us. Joy will come, or at least peace, for me it was from a song by the Greenes.

You aren’t alone, we are in it with you, And if it is hope, never give up on our God, Mandy’s last pregnancy happened after she gave up, and her arms are no longer empty, and my heart is now full, though I often ask God to make sure my babies with Him are getting hugs. Joy can come in the morning.