The Real Meaning of Easter

Easter, or better, the Paschal celebration, is nearly upon us. What is the real meaning of Easter? Christian people in our churches often have a distorted understanding of eschatology. The common idea that has been communicated by our classical hymnody and much preaching and teaching in our churches is that when you die, you go to heaven. And that is true, as far as it goes. But that does not go far enough.

In the world of the New Testament age, there were three basic ideas about what happens when a person dies. The Epicureans and their ilk held the view that when you die, that is it. You are dead. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and that is it. Like the old song says, “Is that all there is? Then let's start dancing.” On the other hand those who followed the Platonist or the Stoic teachings believed that people have an eternal soul, one that existed before we were born and that will continue to exist after we die. At death, that soul goes some place, though there was disagreement among them about exactly where the soul went. People who still held some commitment to the old Greek and Roman myths thought the soul went to the underworld, while Plato had taught that it goes back to “god” or to the world of the Forms.

Many (but not all) Jews believed that in some sense, when we die, we go to God, since there are passages in the Old Testament that hint at that (Psalm 23:6), but even more, that at some future point, there will be a resurrection of the body. Daniel 12:1-3 teaches that this is the case, and Jews in the period between the Old and New Testaments had incorporated that revelation into their theology, or at least most of them had. Therefore, they expected that at some point in the future, the Day of the Lord would come, and he would rescue them from their enemies, raise the dead, and God would rule the world in righteousness.

Enter Jesus. On several occasions, especially late on his ministry, Jesus predicted his imminent death and subsequent resurrection (see esp. Mark 8-10). The disciples would have known about resurrection, but his words baffled them, since they had been taught that this would only happen at the end of the age. Jesus knew, and the NT writers would later make explicit, that in some sense Jesus was inaugurating a new age. His bodily resurrection bright about the age of the Kingdom of God as a possible reality in our lives. And his resurrection demonstrates what the eventual future is for all of the saved. Not an eternity in a bodiless existence in heaven, but an embodied existence in a resurrected body living forever in the presence of the Lord on a renewed earth (Revelation 21-22).

What is the meaning of Easter? It is that all of those who trust in Christ as Savior will one day rise from their graves, will receive glorified bodies no longer subject to sin or corruption, and they will dwell on the renewed earth, serving the Lord with gladness through all eternity. Think about that between now and March 31.

For an excellent treatment of this subject, go here:

Chad Brand

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Electric Cars and their Environmental Impact

We have all heard about how environmentally friendly electric cars are. The federal government is giving $7,500 tax credits for those who buy them. They are the wave of the future, and everyone who really cares for the environment will buy an electric car, will recycle their trash, and will Go Green! in every way.

On the subjects of electric, cars, environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg has just published an article in the Wall Street Journal with some very “inconvenient” facts. Carbon emissions are of course the real evil monster in the whole debate over cars and climate change. OK, so, let's assume for the moment that carbon dioxide is bad for the planet (something in no way proven). But let's just take that assumption as valid. The Journal of Industrial Technology and the MIT Technology Review (hardly right-wing PACs) have warned that those who own electric cars should not drive them too many miles, and have also confirmed that a great deal of CO2 emissions are involved in the manufacturing of the batteries for these vehicles and in the constant charging of the batteries.

These vehicles are regularly touted as “emission-free.” The fact is, that if electric cars are driven 50,000 miles, they will on the average emit 15 ounces of CO2 per mile (in part due to the lithium battery pollution) while gasoline powered cars will emit on the average 12 ounces per mile.

Now, who's the environmentalist?

Check out the article here:

Green Cars Have a Dirty Little Secret

 

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“Lincoln” : Realpolitik and the Thirteenth Amendment

Today my wife Tina and I, along with several friends from Magoffin County, KY, had the chance to see Spielberg’s new film on Lincoln. Movies like this often garner mixed reviews from both critics and casual film goers, so I was not sure what to expect. I am something of a Civil War buff (though I do actually study other things), so it was fascinating to see how the famous film-maker handled this subject, and the conversation after the film was also very enlightening.

I have to say that I was skeptical about Daniel-Day Lewis as the great president. Could the star of Last of the Mohicans and Gangs of New York pull off such a different kind of role? Well, he did, and he did so spectacularly. No, he did not look exactly like Lincoln, and no, he did not look quite as haggard as the real Lincoln of 1865, but he played the role with all of the home-spun humor, the occasional verbal malapropisms, and the passion for his country that the sources have given us as characteristic of the real man. The ambiguity of home life, with his difficult wife and the strained relationship with son Robert, are handled with great sensitivity but are also presented in all their stark reality.

There were some problems with the film. At the start of the film the president is shown talking with some soldiers, two of whom are black, and who claim to have been at Gettysburg.  There were blacks at Gettysburg with the Confederate army, but the United States Colored Troops (a regiment of black Union soldiers) was not at Gettysburg. Also, toward the end of the film, as a sort of penultimate climax, after the Thirteenth Amendment is ratified by the House, Thaddeus Stevens is pictured going home to his mistress, who is black, to let her read the amendment and rejoice with his after his long struggle for emancipation. Thaddeus Stevens did have a quadroon housekeeper named Lydia Hamilton Smith. Stevens never married and there were rumors about some sort of relationship between him and Smith, but no historical evidence has ever been produced proving this claim. It makes a nice little flourish to the story, but responsible historical scholarship would probably have dictated leaving that out.

The film demonstrates in no uncertain terms the absolutely crucial need for passing the Thirteenth Amendment. Teaching history, I have found that students often do not understand this. They assume that, since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863, that emancipation was a fait accompli. Not so! Spielberg brings this out vividly. The Proclamation was an Executive Order that was applied to a war-time situation. Slaves were “freed” in order to encourage them to abandon their masters and flee to the North. This would have two effects. One, it would make them candidates to serve in the Union Army and thus help the Northern cause. But even more than that, it would eliminate their crucial role in helping the Southern economy in farming and other necessary tasks while the vast majority of the white work force was at war. The film does not bring out these latter two issues, but it does make clear that the Proclamation would have little force in the South once a truce had been effected. Only a duly prosecuted law, and in this case an amendment to the Constitution, could make that happen. Without this amendment, all of the bloodshed of the war, while it would end in the restoration of the Union, would not have accomplished the other aim–the emancipation of the slaves, and with that the reaffirmation of the Founding Fathers’ clarion cry, that “All men are created equal.” In the long run, if the Civil War was about anything, it was about that. Even the restoration of the Union was really about renewing and reapplying that conviction to a new generation.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film was the detailed presentation of the give-and-take in governmental wrangling. Lies and half-truths were bandied about on both sides in the debate over this very important issue. Lincoln is shown at times to be something of a fascist (in the original meaning of that word), as he suspends habeas corpus to prevent the secession of Maryland, he withholds important information from his cabinet and Congress, he uses back alley and strong-arm tactics to get his way. Thaddeus Stevens makes compromises with his earlier more hard-line abolition position. Men change their votes with the promise of lucrative positions once they leave office. To the viewer who thought such politics was invented by FDR or LBJ, this film may be something of a revelation. The fact is, some of that has been around ever since there was government. Remember what Augustine taught us: government is itself one of the effects of the Fall. No Fall, no government.

We all enjoyed the film very much. Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal of Steven was brilliant, and Lewis’s Lincoln is unforgettable. If you have not yet seen the film, go see it. See it on the big screen. You will have a deeper sense of why it is that “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Chad Brand

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The Crisis of Biblical Interpretation and the Civil War

[Today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a defining and very important document, whatever the reasons that President Lincoln had for publishing it. In commemoration of that, the following is an excerpt (minus the footnotes) of a short section of the forthcoming book, Seeking the City, by Tom Pratt and me. It deals with what Mark Noll has called the "Theological Crisis of the Civil War," but includes my own elaborations beyond Noll's own exposition.]

For decades by 1860, the year of Lincoln’s election, preachers in America had debated whether or not the Bible encouraged or even condoned slavery. The issue is complicated, and we deal with the hermeneutical and biblical questions on slavery elsewhere in this book, but the point is that preachers and theologians in the 19th century came to differing conclusions, with some noting that the Bible allows slavery and others that it did not. For American Protestants at mid-century, what the Bible articulated as truth was truth. The “evangelical community” in America had always emphasized the fact that “the Bible is the Word of God in a cognitive, propositional, factual sense.” “If the Bible was God’s revealed word to humanity, then it was the duty of Christians to heed carefully every aspect of that revelation.” Even when German scholarship was calling those things into question, and the British began a slow drift of following in their steps, American evangelicals were holding firm. Not all American churchmen, of course. The Puritan Congregationalists had begun the drift into Unitarianism in the latter third of the 18th century, and the German scholarship was encouraging some of them to continue that trend. Edward Everett was the first American scholar to earn a Ph.D. in a German university, and in 1820 he brought German biblical criticism to Harvard. By 1852 Horace Bushnell was calling for a new understanding of the Bible that brings it into alliance with poetry, and that to take it literally or to believe in its infallibility is a mistake. Bushnell called for a rejection of the “old theology” (orthodoxy) and the substitution of a new theology in which the Bible is mined only for its images and in which Trinitarianism and orthodox Christology are replaced with an “instrumental” view. It is stunning to imagine that the denomination that claimed John Cotton and Jonathan Edwards would be the first in America to slide into liberalism! But Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists, the three largest denominations in 1850, were committed to the inspiration of the Bible, “from Genesis to maps.”

The slavery conflict began to change all of that. By 1860 some few American elites were abandoning the Bible as a source for knowledge, truth, and morality. Some of the first such Americans included jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., elite literati like William Dean Howells, and politicians like William Henry Trescot. William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist we have cited previously in our study, was not quite so negative toward the Bible as those men, but he made it clear that “to say that everything in the Bible is to be believed, simply because it is found in that volume, is . . . absurd and pernicious.” This conviction allowed Garrison to discard texts from the Bible that seemed to promote slavery as a benign, or at least as a neutral matter. No one would ever accuse Garrison of being either benign or neutral toward slavery! In 1860 and 1861 American Christian people were forced to decide what they believed the Bible taught about slavery. Even though the war early on was not a war for abolition but for restoring Union, no Southerners and few Northerners could retain an attitude of neutrality to what many believed to be the cause of the war that was killing its boys, and eventually its civilians.

The problem was for them, the question, “How do you know who’s right on the question of slavery in the Bible.” Equally scholarly people stood on both sides of that hermeneutical question, North and South, Baptist and Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic. James Henry Thornwell, Southern Presbyterian, had written, “The Scriptures not only fail to condemn slavery, they as distinctly sanction it as any other condition of man. The Church was formally organized in the family of a slaveholder [Abraham].” This was the theological crisis. “The theological crisis of the Civil War was that while voluntary reliance on the Bible had contributed greatly to the creation of American national culture, that same voluntary reliance on Scripture led only to deadlock over what should be done about slavery.” The failure to find a solution would lead many of the denominations in America in the next decades to begin to doubt the intrinsic authority of Scripture, doubts which were flying over Europe already, but doubts that would have a new twist in the American context because of the Civil War.

A secondary issue on the biblical question of slavery is that the discussions of it were often not well nuanced, on either side. Southerners who defended slavery on the grounds that it was allowed in the Old Testament, failed to note that biblical slavery was not race based. In the Old Testament also, slavery was generally not life-long servitude, but was only temporary. Abolitionists also failed to be nuanced, arguing that New Testament salvation demands abolition, but forgetting Paul’s words to Philemon. In the heat of battle, many words were uttered, but there was often a lack of clear thinking on the matter on both sides of the debate. That was the theological crisis over Scripture that was raised, and as we shall see in a bit, that lingered on after the war and created a crisis of authority in the major Christian denominations. In fact it may have been the defining epistemological issue in the distinctly American denominations in the years after the war.

[We are grateful that the war resolved slavery, even if it did not resolve the black-white issue. That would linger on for another century in terms of the legal battle and is still with us today in the wickedness of men's hearts. As the great nineteenth century scholar Philip Schaff once noted, "This war may resolve the slavery issue, but it will not resolve the negro issue." Only the Lord can do that. Happy New Year!]

Chad Owen Brand

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Bilbo is not a Killer

OK. I was unable to see The Hobbit (TH) the first week it was out due to sick family, Christmas, etc. But last night we went to the theater and watched the 3D version. Because of my life-long romance with Tolkien’s writings several of my friends wanted my thoughts on the film. If you have not seen it, you ought to stop reading here and watch the film first, since I do not wish to influence your own opinion one way or the other. If you are not prepared to spend five minutes reading a review, you should also stop here. Here are my thoughts.

First, my positive evaluation. Peter Jackson worked his usual cinemagraphic magic in the production of the film. The 48-frame per second film process has apparently put some people off, but I actually liked it. It did at times make the film look surreal, but you expect a little surreal with the subject like this, to a degree (more on that later). The sets and the photography were, as anticipated, breathtaking. I like Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. He played Bilbo very believably and seems to have imbibed the spirit of the character from the book. The Dwarves comport themselves in a manner similar to Tolkien’s treatment of them, with just the right combination of bluster and buffoonery, of bravery and naivete.

There were some truly magnificent scenes, although they were the scenes that were a bit away from the action, so to speak. The “Unexpected Party” was one of the best, though it was perhaps a bit over the top in the athletic way that Thorin’s company cleaned up after dinner. Another good scene was the encounter with the Trolls. It departed from the book in both dialogue and the way the encounter ended (somewhat), but you can forgive some license in such matters. I imagine Peter Jackson thought the original dialogue was a little too out of date for a modern audience. C’est la vie! The other great scene was the encounter between Bilbo and Gollum and the “Riddle Game.” It was nearly intact from Tolkien and it played out pretty much as it has in my mind the over thirty times I have read it.

I could offer a few other affirmative comments. The way Jackson filled in the pre-history at the beginning of the film with the account of Smaug’s conquest, the battle at Moria and the subsequent history of the pilgrim wanderings of the Dwarves is related in a way different from the telling in the original, but it was effective. Also the council at Rivendell between Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Saruman is never related directly in either TH or Lord of the Rings (LOTR), but there is an allusion to some exchange of information between these persons in LOTR, so I thought that it worked OK.

That is the positive. You may want to stop reading here.

There was several aspects of the film that simply did not work at all. One of the most obvious (to me) was Radagast. The Brown wizard does not appear at all in TH (though he is named by Gandalf when he first meets Beorn), and gets only a few lines of dialogue and one or two other mentions in LOTR. But here he is a major character. Not only that, he is a buffoon. LOTR does not present him in an especially positive light, but it does not depict a fool with bird feces running down his hair and beard. (He apparently keeps a couple of small birds under his cap and has not the sense to let them out to do their business.) Further, when he shows up to inform Gandalf about the Necromancer, he gets enlisted in an attempt to divert the Orcs away from the fleeing Company. He does so by driving a sleigh led by giant rabbits. Now TH has a few outlandish animals such as those that serve Beorn, so I am not going to get worked up about the rabbits (who do not appear in TH), but Radagast, who is supposed to be diverting the Orcs and Wargs, keeps leading them back to the Company, thus requiring Elrond and a company of Elves to provide the rescue. Again, forget the fact that none of this is in TH; the whole scene was an erratic distraction and added perhaps only to provide one more action scene in a film already glutted with more action than is found in the entirety of TH. And remember, this is but the first installment of a three-part series.

Since I have brought up Radagast, let me address his new information that he gives to Gandalf. In the film, Radagast makes an excursion to Dol Guldur where he discovers the Ringwraiths gathering and the presence of another sinister being, the Necromancer, whom we learn in LOTR is actually the return of Sauron, who had supposedly been destroyed 3,000 years before. Radagast finds there a Morgul blade that he gives to Gandalf as evidence. Anyone who is remotely familiar with the map of Middle Earth (I mean, even if you have only glanced at it for a few seconds) will know that this is patently impossible, since Radagast lives somewhere between 100 and 150 leagues from Dol Guldur. Even with those speedy hares on the front of his sleigh, such a journey would take many days, perhaps weeks, even at rabbit-warp! Even in Middle Earth the laws of physics have some application!

Did I mention the laws of physics? Enter the goblin cavern with me. I could address several issues here, such as the comical Great Goblin (he is not a comedic figure in TH) or the sheer ineptitude of the Goblin warriors who do not inflict a single serious wound on the Dwarves, but I will only mention one issue. There are several significant falls on the part of the Company in this scene, including one where the Dwarves and Gandalf plummet somewhere between 100 and 200 feet down into a chasm on a wooden platform, but somehow the platform remains intact, none of them falls from the platform, and none of them is hurt when they hit bottom. Again, this is an alternative universe (or something like that), but the laws of physics seem to apply to everyone in this world except the heroes. It just gets a little trying at times.

What of the Morgul knife that Radagast discovered? He gave to it Gandalf, who then at the “little council” with Elrond and company in Rivendell produces it as proof that the Morgul Lord whose body is supposed to be buried in a grave unassailable, has somehow returned. That is not the story that Tolkien gave. The Ringwraiths wandered in shadows after the first fall of Sauron; they were not buried in some secure cemetery guarded by the ghosts of Elves past. The point is, why change the story when it serves no purpose? This part of the narrative added nothing to the overall story line.

There was much added violence to this account in comparison to TH. I imagine that this was to reconnect with audiences of the previous three films, films in which there were plenty of battle scenes. I understand that. But it detracts from the actual story of TH which is less of an account of an eschatological war (which LOTR was) than the story of a simple Hobbit who finds the courage and ingenuity to do things that no one, except Gandalf, would have thought possible. But it is here that the film goes most terribly awry.

Bilbo is pictured throughout TH and LOTR as a simple Hobbit who found the strength to do remarkable things. He has flaws, but they are common flaws. He is forced to steal for food when in the dungeon of the Wood-elves, but that is understandable. He perpetrates some immoral actions, such as lying to Gandalf and the Dwarves and later becomes possessive of the Ring, but this is attributed to the influence of the Ring on him. He is in a war, but he is untainted by the war. Most importantly, Bilbo never kills anyone. It is not that killing in war is wrong. Far from it. But in TH that task was reserved for Dwarves, Elves, Wizards, Men. Bilbo never killed anyone, not in the entire story. But in Peter Jackson’s The Unexpected Journey (TUJ), Bilbo kills an Orc in the final battle scene. It was brave, justifiable, and climactic. He saved Thorin’s life. But it was unnecessary and, contrary to the other changes from TH to TUJ, it really does change the whole narrative. It makes the Bilbo from the final few pages of TH a different Hobbit. That Hobbit was still a little naive, still a little homespun, a little “ridiculous,” to use Tolkien’s term from LOTR, but his hands had not been stained with blood, even if it were only Orc blood.

Some people ought never to have to go to war. Women, children, the mentally infirm, and Bilbo Baggins (though not all the other Hobbits) remind us that there is a corner of the world of humanity (or Hobbitry) that ought never to be tainted by the most awful, even if necessary, demand of taking someone’s else’s life to preserve freedom and liberty. Let Bilbo do his mission in TH, an important one, but he should not have had his hands stained in that way.

My thoughts. Go see the film.

Chad Owen Brand

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Is it a Sin not to Preach on Sin?

My father-in-law early on was not altogether proud to have a preacher in the family, but on one occasion when I told him that I was on my way out to preach, he urged me, “Well, give ‘em hell.” I tried to retort that this was not really what I was supposed to do. On later reflection, though, it seemed to me that I certainly was intended to give them, or at least display to them, hell. And in showing them hell, the preacher must show them the road to hell—the pathway of un-repented sin. Preachers must preach on sin.

Of course, there are great temptations not to preach on sin(!) Brian McLaren tells us that this is not the way to reach Gen-Xers. Robert Schuller told us this was not the way to reach Boomers. Harry Fosdick told us this was not the way to reach Moderns. I am sure we could find such sentiments all through history, and the reason is that we do not like to be told that we are sinners, and so, preachers who preach on sin take the chance of alienating their congregations, or at least some members of their congregations. Here is the problem with that fear—at a certain level the task of preaching is precisely to alienate. We are to expose the sinfulness of the congregation by preaching the gospel, and such gospel preaching includes preaching on sin. If we are unwilling to do that, then we are, in A. W. Tozer’s words, “water-boys of the pulpit.” Let me explain what I do mean by alienation, and what I don’t mean by it.

Both Paul and Jesus begin their gospel presentations with a discussion of sin. After a few introductory words and a preliminary consideration or two, Paul spends two and a half chapters at the opening of Romans discussing the sinfulness of humanity—all humanity. And of course, he does so eloquently and passionately. These words are endemic to the gospel itself, since, in telling the gospel story we have, presumably, to tell why Jesus ever came to die on the cross in the first place. Without sin, there is no beautiful manger scene (and of course, it was not all that beautiful, anyway); without sin, there is no healing of the sick or raising of the dead; without sin there is no Sermon on the Mount. Here is the point: sin is the context in which all of those things took place, and so, we cannot preach the gospel without preaching on sin. In other words, you cannot tell people about their best life today until you remind them first of their worse life yesterday (or today).

Paul is not alone in this. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, after some preliminaries, expounded on the sinfulness of humanity—all humanity. In Matthew 5 beginning in verse 21, Jesus, in this wonderful inaugural message in Matthew, in which the gospel is explained with great clarity, expounds on six commandments and the ways in which the Jews were, on the one hand, misunderstanding them, and, on the other hand, breaking them. I have space here to elaborate on only the first two. Jesus addresses the laws against murder and adultery. He makes it clear that the common understanding of those laws is superficial, and in his truly authoritative fashion, he says, “Amen I say to you that you shall not live in a state of settled anger with your brother; Amen I say to you that you must not stare at your sister to lust.” Those two sins indict the entire human race. And this is something that was obvious even to pagans. In Greek mythology Ares, the god of war, was romantically linked to Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. War and sex. Anger and Lust. They seem opposite, since anger pushes the other away while lust lures the other close, but they are actually very similar. At the root of each lies the ego. “I have decided you are unworthy. I have decided to want you.” They are different in content but similar in intent. Even the Greeks knew there was a link between these illnesses, and that even their gods were infected with the disease. Of course, by the time the Greeks were anesthetized by the Romans, they no longer cared.

So, for Jesus, as well as for Paul, an explication of sin is an essential, a non-negotiable part of the gospel proclamation.

How deeply this infection runs in modern culture! So, do we simply let the disease take its toll, or do we do something about it? Let me tell you—their momma is not going to do anything about it in many cases. In a day when Baptist septuagenarians are shacking up, just who is going to try to keep the fox out of the hen house? Well, if no one else will do it, then the pastor gets the call. And he should. And he better.

The preacher must declare that un-repented sin itself is alienation. The unrepentant sinner is alienated from God—either as a non-believer or as a believer under discipline from the Lord. The unbeliever, even the one in my church or your church on Sunday morning, stands in danger of hell-fire, as Edwards reminded us in his famous sermon. Curiously, in Jesus’ even more famous sermon, after discussing the sins of anger and lust, he said exactly the same thing. “If you do not deal with your sins of anger and lust, you are in danger of hell-fire.” Let me tell you something, fellow pastor, your members will not all faint if you occasionally use the word “hell” from the pulpit. (Well, not all of them!) I know the word was probably over-cooked at one time in history, but under-cooking is no more palatable than over-cooking.

So, we preach on alienation, but not in order to alienate. We preach on alienation in order to reconcile. So, when you preach on sin, do it with tears in your eyes and not a flash of anger. (Don’t preach against anger angrily.) When you preach on sin and alienation, do it recognizing your own sinfulness and alienation. Admit that you, too, have been where they are, and that you are not the expert come here to lecture them on getting their lives right. You are simply the one who got out of the mire before they did, so that you could throw them a rope of rescue. But when you preach on sin, make it clear that this is a crucial moment. With both anger and lust, Jesus said, “Do something now! This is not the time to mull it over. Get out now, or you may be in hell by morning.” Preachers need to remind themselves of that, too.

Chad Owen Brand

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Francis Schaeffer and Postmodernism

For me, the ‘Seventies were virtually bookended by Francis Schaeffer. I read The God Who Is There for the first time in 1972 and my intellectual life was transformed. Though I struggled with some of the ideas in the book and at times I wished the author might have given a bit more background material to explain his assessments, I had the overwhelming sense that I had crossed over into a new world. Then in 1978 I spent ten successive Thursday nights going to a church in Ft. Worth, Texas, to view the successive installments of the film series, “How Should We Then Live?” At the time it was a tour de force in Christian film production, and it convinced me that it was possible not only to make a credible case for Christianity, but that it might also be done in an attractive and compelling format.

Schaeffer was the first apologist I ever read, and his impact on my thinking was profound. But he is more than that. Hegel reminded us that the Owl of Minerva flies at dusk, and if this is so, then one might surmise that the real jolt of Schaeffer’s work would not be felt until after he was gone. I personally believe this to be the case. As helpful as he was as a teacher to me when I was eighteen years old, now I read him as a prophet.
Schaeffer was one of the first evangelical thinkers to take note of rising postmodernity, though that term was not au courant in his time, and to recognize it for what it was, not what it claimed to be. His criticisms of Samuel Beckett and Mondrian, for example, show that though these postmodern cultural icons claim to be critiquing any possibility for objective truth claims, the fact is that they offer their own tacit affirmations about truth.

He labored as an evangelist. Schaeffer’s work might be seen as the reverse of the strategy exercised by postmodern critics such as Herbert Marcuse and Theodore Adorno in the early ‘Sixties. These members of the Frankfurt School launched a very caustic critique of all claims to knowledge and truth that stood in the heritage of classical antiquity, of the Christian worldview, or even of modernity. However it may seem to the casual reader of books like One-Dimensional Man, though, the goal of these iconoclasts was not the rejection of outmoded forms of discourse so that marginalized speech might finally have its place in cultural life. These men had political ends in view—they wanted to take over the state. In order to do that, of course, they needed to gain a mass following. Knowing that it was highly unlikely that their intellectual concerns would find a sympathetic hearing among either the working class or the bourgeoisie, these left-wing intellectuals turned to university students to obtain a pool of disciples. Marcuse and company knew full well that their stance of negativity toward prevailing institutions and truth claims would find a ready hearing among the disaffected youth of the (mostly) middle class. The result was the student protest movement in places such as Paris, Columbia University, and Berkeley.

Schaeffer’s work was an antidote to all of this in two ways. First, in his radical demythologizing of the (post)modern and existentialist myths, Schaeffer lifted the lid off of prevailing ideologies and demonstrated that non-Christians cannot give a unified account of reality. This is especially true of the intellectual traditions of the last century, in which thinking persons, under the spell of Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard, have slipped below the “line of despair.” Feeling self-conscious about the disarray in their worldview, such persons have thrown a blanket over the chaos to hide it from view, and then have assumed a Protean stance, like James Cagney standing atop a burning building and crying, “I’m on top of the world.” American youth in particular had fallen prey to the notion that nihilism was innocuous, a sort of playful exercise. Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra all made hit recordings of the song, “Mack the Knife,” a song about a serial murderer, sung to a sprightly tune, putting a sort of happy face on nihilism. (The full version of the song, from Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera” is more explicit than the American version.) Schaeffer sought to remove the blanket and let the daylight come streaming in to reveal the fractured character of these newly canonical epistemologies. Without diminishing the lure of relativism and nihilism or downplaying the genuine angst of young people in the contemporary world, Francis Schaeffer displayed the vacuity of the postmodern and existentialist “cures.” For me, reading Camus, Nietzsche, and Kafka through the decade of the ‘Seventies, Schaeffer’s sermons kept ringing back: “These men have fallen below the line of despair—they are of no final help to you.”

Second, Schaeffer wanted to tell these young persons who have been steeped in Marcuse, Sartre, and Nietzsche that they do not have to sell their souls to the devil of a fractured metaphysic. The answer to the human condition lies not in nihilism, but in the Infinite-Personal God of biblical revelation. This God seeks a relationship with humans through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Though the church has often obscured the essence of the faith through its traditions, biblical Christianity understood in terms of the Reformation traditions provides the real solution to the human dilemma. We can know that this message is true both because it rings true in our lives and because it is presented in a Book that is absolutely trustworthy. Again, though my own approach to apologetics may not be completely Schaeferrian any more, his approach helped me work through issues related to presuppositionalism, evidentialism, and the classical approach.

Francis Schaeffer the prophet points us the way through the maze of postmodernity. Like other prophets to postmodernity, such as Solzhenitsyn and Alvin Gouldner, he reminds us that the advocates of existentialism and postmodernism are not disinterested, objective observers of the contemporary situation. They rather have adopted a discourse of radical suspicion for the purposes of transforming the moral condition of this world into something more fitting with their own rejection of Judeo-Christian values. Further, in their defense of marginalized discourses, though they appear to be the Robin Hoods of postmodern culture, taking from the bourgeoisie and their intellectual hired guns, in fact, beneath the mask they really are the Sheriff of Nottingham, with political goals of their own. Postmodernity is a power play by humanistic intellectuals for the purposes of intellectuals, and we ought not to be deluded into thinking otherwise.

Chad Owen Brand

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The Crucial Importance of Limited Government in Our Day

John Locke on Limited Government

“A limited government is one that levies just enough taxes to provide for national defense and police protection and otherwise stays out of people’s affairs.”

“The free society is an experiment not a guarantee.”
Michael Novak

The notion of limited government in early thinkers such as Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Calvin is clear, but in the last three thinkers the notion is tied to a symbiosis between church and State that was problematic to many. Even in Calvin’s day a group of Christians began to emerge all over Western Europe who sought to unravel the relationship between these two institutions by protesting the one common element in European society that linked church and State—infant baptism. Their basic argument was that infant baptism was an unbiblical idea, but their secondary concern was that since all European governments required christening within the first thirty days of a child’s life, that it had, in effect, become the single practice that knitted church and State together in such a way that the rejection of the authority of one necessarily implied the rejection of the authority of the other.
Social expectations, legal enactments and
interpersonal relationships all built on this
foundation. So to deny that the paedo-baptism
of all was legitimate and to insist on a later baptism of
only a few could not be simply a personal decision
with the goal of pursuing greater spiritual fidelity.
It inevitably also entailed a stinging indictment of
the Christian faith of the others and of the
legitimacy of the civil state.
Forming an alternative church was thus tantamount to sedition. This would have to unravel before further progress could be made in developing a notion of limited government for the world of the future. The one man, along with these scattered Anabaptists, who did most to effect divorce between church and State was John Locke.
In 1665, England sent a diplomatic mission to Cleves—a Prussian city, a Lutheran city. One member of the delegation was a young scholar who had written treatises defending the authority of government over all areas of life, and especially over religion. He had accepted the view promoted by the Tudors of the previous century and the Stuarts (and the French Bourbon kings) of his own time that any kind of religious dissent was dangerous and threatened to undermine society. In Cleves, the young John Locke (1632-1704) found a city in which several Protestant faiths existed peacefully alongside Roman Catholicism. As he put it, “They quietly permit one another to choose their way to heaven.” Locke’s world was transformed overnight.
This visit to Cleves brought about a paradigm shift in Locke’s thinking. “Over the next few years it gradually dawned on the young scholar that religious dissent is not the cause of political conflict over religion. Rather, the outlawing of religious dissent is the cause of political conflict over religion.” Locke would make a major contribution in the development of a philosophical commitment to religious liberty in England and the Western world, as well as to the nature of government in general.
Toleration of religious opinion was nothing new. The Romans, as we have shown, tolerated the religious views of the provinces, after a fashion. The Dutch had been tolerant of religious diversity, all the while having a State Church that was, successively, Roman Catholic and then Reformed. They even had a term for it: “Go Dutch.” To “Go Dutch” meant to “go the easy way,” that is, the tolerant way, since the Dutch allowed Jews, Anabaptists and other movements the freedom to live and practice their faith in the Low Countries. Locke now saw that real religious liberty, not mere toleration, was one of the lynchpins to an overall commitment to limited government in general.
Locke’s more general political theory, seen especially in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, was founded on his belief in the social contract and in his view of human nature. Locke was convinced that men would recognize the need for a social contract with one another in order to secure their own peace and safety. The state of nature is potentially a state of war (Hobbes would say that it is a state of war), so Locke argued that reasonable men would avoid this at any cost. “To avoid this state of war (wherein there is no appeal but to heaven, and wherein every the least difference is apt to end, where there is no authority to decide between the contenders) is one great reason of men’s putting themselves into society, and quitting the state of nature: for where there is an authority, a power on earth, from which relief can be had by appeal, there the continuance of the state of war is excluded, and the controversy is decided by that power.” In other words, they would freely form the social contract because they would know that this is the only reasonable way to live.
Having made the social contract, what ought persons in society together to do with it? Locke next made the point that all men have been given the property that belongs to them, and that none should take it from them. “Everyman has a property all his own: that property is his own person. This nobody has a right to but himself. The labor of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.” Once we have removed something legitimately (generally through labor or purchase) from the state of nature, it belongs to us. “The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his consent. . . . For I have truly no property if anyone can by right take from me what he pleases against my consent.” This applies as much to government as it does to seizure by any individual.
What kind of government would be best suited to these ends? In his First Treatise of Civil Government Locke had refuted the ideas of Sir Robert Filmer, whose book Patriarchy had argued for divine right kingship and that the citizens of England should see themselves as the “children” of the king. (Remember that King Charles II did believe in divine right kingship.) The Second Treatise gives one chapter to refuting these notions again (chapter 6), rejecting the idea that an “absolute prince” or “czar” or “grand seignior” ought to be recognized. He then, in a style reminiscent of Aristotle, surveys various forms of government, including “perfect democracy,” “oligarchy,” and monarchy, concluding that none of them really fits in with the pattern of the kind of just government he has been describing. Rather, Locke opts for the notion of “commonwealth.” This form of government would have as its highest and most important branch of government the legislative. “The legislative is not only the supreme power of the commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have placed it.” Then again, he states, “In a constituted commonwealth there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate.” Neither the executive nor the judicial can trump the legislative or act contrary to it. The role of the executive is to stand as the proxy for the legislative when it is not in session and always to comport its actions in a manner consistent with that which has been laid out by the legislative, the true and most immediate representatives of the people themselves.
This is limited government. Though Locke believed that his ideas were consistent with New Testament teaching on governance (but not with the Old Testament, and he accused Calvin of appealing more to that part of the Bible ), these ideas were not solely dependent on any part of the Bible, but rather were derived from a rational consideration of the human condition as such. Further, though this set of convictions had not been held by the Protestant Reformers, they set the stage for it. Luther’s emphasis on vocation and on the priesthood of all believers set the stage for a new form of individualism. Calvin’s political theology and his emphasis on such matters as fundamental law, natural rights, contract and consent of the people were part of Locke’s lexicon. As we noted elsewhere, “Modern Democracy is the child of the Reformation, not of the Reformers.” Locke is thus the person who brings about a confluence between both the Reformation tradition and the Enlightenment. His view on limited government is, perhaps, the best expression of that. What we need to understand more than anything out of his treatment is that the role of the legislative ought to be supreme. That is not the way it is in America today.

Chad Owen Brand

This is an excerpt from an essay that will soon appear at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.

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How We Lost the Election

[The following is a guest blog, written by my daughter, Sandra Bradford. You can follow her on Twitter at @SandraLenay.]

America has changed. We cannot put the total blame on Obama or the Democrats or even the media without taking some of the blame for ourselves. We do not live in the same America as my grandparents and we do not face the same issues they did. The America we live in, its citizens who voted for an Obama second term, are for the most part largely uneducated about the Republican and Democratic parties. Twitter users were calling us racists, white supremacists, evil rich people, oppressors, and the language gets a lot more colorful from there. These are the terms liberals have put upon us, and instead of proving them wrong, we turned the other cheek in hopes that the public will find the truth. As times have grown harder in our country, the public has grown more outraged and hate has seeded its way into our political parties and in this 2012 election that seed sprouted into a flourishing ugly reality and we failed to inform the public of who we are.

In some ways, the Democrats have out-smarted us. When the country began federal funding, spending, subsidizing and adding department after department, it began to transform this country. Policies that we know have ruined our country, in some cases, were put there not because the law makers thought they would help us prosper but because they would help us fail and the government would be there to pick up the victims. When the public depends on the government for their livelihood, the poster boy of that government (Obama) becomes the public’s favorite celebrity.

The original issues of Republican vs. Democrat have been lost in the debates and in the media; instead they have been replaced, strategically, by the Democrats to issues that the government has no business making federal arguments in the first place. Issues like abortion, birth control, healthcare, and gay marriage have highlighted the race. We have lost sight of the fundamental issues of big government vs. limited government and the left loves this. Democrats don’t make arguments about the fundamental beliefs of the Republican party because they know the typical American citizen is ignorant of the true differences between the two parties, and we have allowed them to shy away from this by entertaining the new issues that they have indoctrinated in the American public. Democrats know, simply, that public ignorance is their bliss. If every citizen were informed about the real issues and beliefs of liberal vs. conservative, they would be free to choose what they perceive to be the best choice for America, but we have failed to educate them and the Democrats just sit back and take it in. These fundamental doctrines are no longer taught in school and they certainly are no longer discussed in the media, so what is left? Social arguments.
Our founding fathers would have never wanted the issues of abortion, birth control, etc. in a federal government debate because these type of issues were meant to be debated on a state level. Democrats have taken advantage of the uninformed majority and we have done nothing to stop them. We have not educated the public. They say we want to take away a woman’s right to choose and we defend our stance. Are these things that need to be talked about? Yes. Are they serious issues facing our country? Yes. But why are we talking about them on such a large scale? Romney meant to fire up his base by stating he will defund Planned Parenthood when he forgot about the most important thing. His base is on his side, it is the uninformed that were more fired up about this because we did not explain. It should not be federally funded because government should not use the money it has to either take from our taxes or borrow from other countries to grow more government. We must use that money for what the federal government was meant to do when it was founded by our fathers. We didn’t talk about this; instead we threw our religious values in their face in an America that has become so secular. Forgetting the uninformed was like a Christmas gift to the democrats because they were then free to tell them that Republicans want to take away their rights to their own body, which created an uproar. In a country where fundamental political differences are no longer taught in school or talked about by either party, how can we be surprised when the uninformed youth pick a side based on issues that federal government should have no say in anyway?
You who are so surprised that a 7.9% unemployed public would pick the president for a second term, you are forgetting that the new America does not know the policies that have brought us to this state or how to interpret them. We put so much blame on Obama and damn him for blaming it all on Bush, but in only doing this, we helped him to be re-elected. The average uninformed American citizen does not know why unemployment is so high, they simply know that we are struggling. Instead of informing them on how America has lost so many jobs, Republicans threw statistics and percentages at them and told them Obama is a failure, and that Romney has a plan.
We in many ways insulted them by saying how horrible it is that they are on food stamps and forgot to tell them why food stamps should be a last resort. We preached against government dependency while those who have known nothing else don’t understand that America was not built to support them but to create the culture and environment for them to succeed and prosper on their own. We didn’t explain that to them, so when we damn entitlements with no history lesson for the uninformed, we make it so easy for the left to tell them that we don’t want to help them, we want to leave them on the street to suffer, and we want to take food out of their mouths. When Romney spoke of the 47%, he was both right and wrong. He was right in the sense that there is a vast majority of citizens who use entitlements, and they think they should. He was wrong in the sense that most of these people are not vicious moochers who want to lie on the couch all day and watch soap operas, while the tax payer pays for their survival. Yes, some do take advantage in this way, but not most. Most of that 47% simply do not know the true purpose of the federal government. They do not know that those entitlements are there for the truly needy and that it is meant to be in most cases, temporary. Our government has grown so big over the years, that these entitlements are seen by most of the public as “the new normal” and most of this 47% view it as a benefit to being an American citizen. They think this way because nobody has informed them of the truth. Our failure to articulate this 47% statement to the public made it so easy for the left to use it against us and make Republicans look like haters of the poor and that we cannot relate to their struggle.
America is not the same, my friends. The people, like me, who did not live in the Reagan era, do not understand the fundamental responsibility of federal government. I spent the last two years educating myself because I wanted to understand the right path for our country but I am in a small group of exceptions. My generation and the one before me are generally uninformed of the fundamental differences of our political parties and we conservatives have taken that for granted while the liberals have thrived upon it. Go back and listen to the great speeches of Ronald Reagan. Not only does he inspire, he informs.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

“Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”

“Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but the Democrats believe every day is April 15.”

“The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much. To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.”

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

” Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.”

“All of us should remember that the Federal Government is not some mysterious institution comprised of buildings, files, and paper. The people are the government. What we create we ought to be able to control.”

“We are learning that the way to prosperity is not more bureaucracy and redistribution of wealth but less government and more freedom for the entrepreneur and for the creativity of the individual.”

“The historian Edward Gibbon wrote about ancient Athens, the first democracy and the fountainhead of Western culture. He wrote that when the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.”
These are just a few examples. When was the last time you heard something like this from a Republican speaking on national TV to the public? When we stopped informing, educating, and inspiring, and instead assumed that the public was educated in conservatism vs. liberalism, republic vs. socialism, Republican values vs. Democratic values, we lost the people, and thus lost the election. And today as we are all pleading, scratching our heads and wondering how America voted for socialism, I tell you that they do not know what that is or how to thrive by restoring America.

Sandra Bradford, via Chad Owen Brand

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Where “Non-Discrimination” of LGBT Has Brought Us

The Blaze has just reported on Evergreen State College in Washington state, a school that has a non-discrimination policy, following state mandates that transgendered persons cannot be discriminated against. In other words, persons who have a set of genitalia belonging to one gender, but who perceive themselves to be the opposite gender, must be allowed to use campus facilities restricted to that gender. At Evergreen the uproar is over 45-year old wo/man Colleen Francis. Francis is a man who sees himself as a woman, and who therefore uses the women’s restrooms and locker room. Though there has been an outcry over this from parents, spokesman Jason Wettstein has defended the school’s decision, saying, “State law doesn’t allow us to ignore gender identity disorder as one of the protected classes… therefore the transgendered individual has the right to use our facilities, including the locker rooms.”

Now, this would be bad enough if only college age females were subject to sharing their locker room with this man, but the school rents its sports facilities out to local high schools. So, one campus source gave this report: “In late September a parent called the police after her daughter walked into the locker room and observed a naked man using the sauna.  According to the police report obtained by Campus Reform, the transgendered man in question, 45-year-old student Colleen Francis, was ‘sitting with her legs open with her male genitalia showing’ with girls as young as six years old present.” Dads at home would not think of showing their genitalia to their six-year old daughters for the sake of protecting them from things they ought not to be made conscious of at their tender age. But that protection apparently breaks down if they attend a sporting event at a local college.

What is behind this? What has allowed such an egregious sort of display to be allowed, nay, demanded? It is the whole series of laws that has rendered LGBT persons to be treated as a minority, and that, therefore, they cannot be “discriminated against” by barring them from going wherever they wish. If a non-”transgendered’ male wandered into the locker room, he would be subject to arrest. But not Colleen Francis. He, in fact, raised the specter of anti-discrimination laws by offering this: “This is not 1959 Alabama. We don’t call the police for drinking from the wrong water fountain.”

Unbelievable! This man does not even have the decency to recognize that parents don’t want their six-year old daughters to be subject to the perverted display of his body parts.

What needs to happen here? We need to turn the page back and realize, in light of this very example, the sort of example many of us warned would happen while “anti-discrimination” legislation for these persons was being passed, that laws are passed to protect the innocent. There is nothing innocent about what is happening at Evergreen State College. What else? Parents whose children are considering which college to attend ought to vote with their feet and their checkbooks en masse against schools like this. Money talks; it might even make a lot of noise at some voting booths in the near future.

Chad Owen Brand

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