A Black-And-White Proposal: Farewell To Fuzzy Thinking

Donald Miller raises the banner for “fuzzy thinking” in a recent blog post entitled, “The Problem with Black-and-White Thinking” (re-posted on relevantmagazine.com).  His main thought: “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  Additionally, he holds that this kind of thinking stunts our “ability to find truth.”

DEFENDING THE GOOD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

Miller admits that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  He also admits the existence of absolute truth.  So Miller does not advocate full-fledged relativism.  For this, we can be thankful.  In fact, even though his posting is loaded with difficulties, Miller does include some helpful suggestions worth considering:

First, Miller suggests, “Disengage your ego from your ideas.”  This point is well taken because many times a particular view is so tied to one’s ego that it becomes virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction.

Second, Miller encourages, “Understand there is much you don’t understand.”  He rightly adds, “We begin to think in black-and-white when we assume we know everything.”  While he does not press the point of Christian humility (as he should – pardon the black- and white thinking), it seems to be a part of his overall argument.

Third, Miller seems to argue in essence, that charity and grace ought to be a part of conversations and even arguments.  This implied pointer ought to be a part of daily life, where conversations and arguments produce more light than heat and stimulate deeper thinking about a given subject.

DISMANTLING THE BAD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

There are four problems that emerge, including unwarranted assumptions that must be dismantled.

Black-and-White Thinking Demonizes the Opposition

Miller advances the common notion that black-and-white thinking is polarizing; a bad thing. Again, “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  He adds, “… We begin to believe whatever thought-camp we subscribe to is morally good and the other morally bad, thus demonizing a threatening position.”

But this is not necessarily the case.  One can advance a dogmatic view but do so in a humble, yet decisive way.  After gaining a hearing with the philosophers in Athens, Paul presents an argument that could be construed as black-and-white:  “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, ESV).

Paul does polarize his audience.  Notice their response.  “Now then they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.  But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this'” (Acts 17:32).  The polarization that occurs is a necessary part of proclaiming the gospel message.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, ESV).

Jesus employs a similar strategy when he confronts the Jews in John 8:  “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (v. 47, ESV).  Jesus does not demonize his hearers.  He merely tells them the truth.  Again, polarizing – but necessary.

These Jews maintained, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you can say, ‘You will become free?'” (John 8:33, ESV).  Jesus polarizes his Jewish audience when he says,”Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, ESV).  Oh, the horror of polarization!  But Jesus does not leave them without hope.  He adds, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

I would argue that when people are polarized, this can prove to be very helpful. When a truth claim is presented, one either accepts or rejects the claim.  If one accepts the claim but disagrees, thoughtful dialogue may continue.  So instead of “stunting progressive thought” and “stunting our ability to think and find truth” as Miller claims, black-and-white thinking can actually lead to the discovery of truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes Arrogance

Miller continues in his diatribe against black-and-white thinking:  “It [black-and-white thinking] allows us to feel intelligent without understanding, and once we are intelligent, we feel superior.  People who don’t agree with us are just dumb.”  Honestly, Miller’s charge may prove quite accurate at times.  It is true that black-and-white thinking may lead to arrogant behavior and a haughty spirit.  But this does not have to be the case.  One can embrace and promote a dogmatic view and do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility.  This much is demanded in the Scripture.

Scripture instructs believers to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience with one another (Col. 3:12).  Additionally, God’s Word instructs believers to speak in a way that demonstrates gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:16).  Paul admonishes Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a).  In other words, there is a place for admonition (which by the way requires black-and-white thinking).  But the admonition must be laced with gentleness and kindness.

For instance, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).  What is Jesus saying here?  He graciously tells his listeners that if they reject his lordship, they will walk in darkness.  Again, he polarizes his audience but speaks the truth in love.  There is no hint of arrogance.  Indeed, this is the sinless Son of God! Jesus adds, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

It is simply naive to automatically assume that black-and-white thinking inevitably leads to arrogance.  Christ-followers, then, must make truth claims with boldness and humility.  Recognizing the danger of pride and arrogance, they must season their words with grace and gentleness.  They must be winsome in their approach to communicating the truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Discourages Open Dialogue

This point is implied when Miller encourages people to walk away from a conversation that becomes characterized as black-and-white.  He says, “When the conversation becomes about defending one’s identity, it’s time to politely move on.”  He goes on to say that “these discussions go nowhere and don’t help me find truth.”  Miller unfairly draws a conclusion that black-and-white arguments result in “defending one’s identity.”  This is certainly a possibility – but is not inevitable.

A few years ago, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off their own set on The View when the conversation got heated with Bill O’Reilly.  They walked away from a black-and-white conversation as Miller encourages.  O’Reilly who was and is usually unashamedly black-and-white was construed as an uncaring and insensitive person, based on some comments he made about the 911 attacks.  Some would argue that Miller’s prediction came to pass; that O’Reilly’s strong stand was tied to his identity.   The fact is that when Goldberg and Behar made their exit, the dialogue stopped – and became even more heated and controversial.  Moreover, O’Reilly was not the only person on the set who promoted black-and-white thinking!

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes the Impossibility of Certainty

Built into the framework of Miller’s argument is at the very least, an implicit suspicion of certainty.  Since Miller admits the existence of absolute truth and since he rejects relativism, he must embrace that some truth is certain.   But where will this suspicion of certainty lead in the long run?

Some progressive-types may be tempted to hop on the postmodern bandwagon and condemn “certainty” as a worn out product of the Enlightenment (a position that is amusing because it is dripping with so much certainty!)

I am less concerned with Don Miller at this point.  He’s too smart to make absolute statements against absolute truth.  What concerns me is what some will do with his antipathy to black-and-white thinking. What concerns me deeply are those who take the next step into uncertainty because they have not examined the logic (or irrationality) of their presuppositions.  What concerns me is that full-fledged relativism is just around the corner.

John Piper sums up the essence of relativism: “No one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, or beautiful and ugly, can preempt any other standard.  No standard is valid for everyone” (Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, 98).  This relativistic way of thinking is knocking on the door of the church and in some cases has already barged in.

DISTURBING ELEMENTS OF FUZZY THINKING

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Real World

Fuzzy thinking will not fly when it comes to raising children: “Please be home by 10:00 p.m. or feel free to do whatever you want.”  Fuzzy thinking will not fly when a police officer stops you for speeding.  Fuzzy thinking doesn’t work very well at the bank.  It doesn’t work on the basketball court. And it certainly does not fare well on the operating table.  Fuzzy thinking will always lead to a bad grade in philosophy class (and every other course).  Fuzzy thinking cannot stand up to the brutal reality of absolute truth.

Fuzzy thinking didn’t work for Jesus either.  Imagine the difficulty in pointing sinners to the Father in John 14 if Jesus had employed fuzzy thinking.  He would have been forced to say, “I am one of the many ways to the Father.  Everyone gets to heaven so long as their motives are right.”  But instead, Jesus speaks in absolute, black-and-white terms: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).  He not only makes an absolute truth claim concerning his identity; he utilizes a universal negative and makes it clear that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus utilizes black-and-white thinking throughout his ministry.  Notice his absolute truth claims:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV).

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, ESV).

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Pyre

If fuzzy thinking does not work in the real world, then it certainly does not work in the midst of persecution.  The martyrs of historic Christianity lived and died because of black-and-white thinking.

On his way to martyrdom, Ignatius wrote seven black-and-white letters that have proven to be very valuable documents to help our understanding of early Christianity.

When Polycarp faced execution for his Christian faith, the judge promised a quick release if Polycarp swore allegiance to the Emperor and vowed to curse Christ.  Polycarp responded, ““For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil.  How could I curse my King, who saved me?”

When the judge threatened him with burning him alive, Polycarp simply answered that the fire that was about to be lit would only last a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never go out.  After Polycarp was tied to the post in the pyre, he looked up and prayed out loud: “Lord Sovereign God . . . I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ . . . For this . . . I bless and glorify you” (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity – Volume I, 39-48).

And consider the example of William Tyndale.  Tyndale courageously opposed anyone who quenched the work of the Spirit or despised God’s Word.   Again, Spirit enabled black-and-white thinking fueled his resolve.

One time a clergyman told Tyndale, “We are better without God’s laws than the pope’s.”  Tyndale’s black-and-white thinking prompted a decisive response: “I defy the Pope and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy who drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself.”

Ignatius, Polycarp, and Tyndale held fast to the good (1 Thes. 5:21).  John MacArthur describes this imperative as “a militant, defensive, protective stance against anything that undermines the truth or does violence to it in any way.  We must hold the true securely; defend it zealously; preserve it from all threats.  To placate the enemies of truth or lower our guard is to violate this command.”

Fuzzy Thinking Minimizes the Role of Reason and Logic

Miller argues that black-and-white thinking would never make it “through the door of an undergraduate course in logic.”  Much to the contrary, the law of non-contradiction teaches us that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

Ron Nash reminds us, “The presence of contradiction is always a sign of error.  Hence, we have a right to expect a conceptual system to be logically consistent, both in its parts (its individual propositions) and in the whole.  A conceptual system is in obvious trouble if it fails to hang together logically” (Worldviews in Conflict, 55).

In other words, every worldview needs to be subjected to the law of non-contradiction.  When a contradiction emerges, the worldview must be abandoned.  Without black-and-white thinking, this worldview test passes by the wayside and discernment vanishes.

The root of this discussion concerning black-and-white thinking is tied to the formation of a worldview.   And in order for a worldview to be plausible, it must be able to be lived out in the real world.  Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “We must be able to live consistently with our theory” (The God Who is There, 121).

So in the final analysis, black-and-white thinking is not problematic.  Indeed, black-and-white thinking is not only philosophically tenable; it is an essential part of living the Christian life.  Without black-and-white thinking, it would be impossible to choose between two competing alternatives.  Without black-and-white thinking, theological and philosophical assertions would all receive equal acclaim, which is to say that truth at the end of the day is a matter of personal preference.

Whenever someone begins to back away from absolutes, reason and logic suddenly become unwelcome in the house of irrationality; a house that is destined to collapse under its own weight.  Peter Kreeft demonstrates the importance of logic: “If an argument has nothing but clear terms, true premises, and valid logic, its conclusion must be true” (Socratic Logic, 32).  Fuzzy thinking, however, tends to minimize the role of reason and logic, which at the end of the day proves not only unrealistic, but irrational.

Additionally, fuzzy thinking militates against the Law of the Excluded Middle.  James Nance and Douglas Wilson define this law: “Any statement is either true or false … it excludes the possibility of a truth value falling somewhere in the middle of truth or false” (Introductory Logic, xi).

Here’s the funny thing.  I am quite certain that Miller embraces these philosophical laws.  The problem is when he discourages black-and-white thinking, he unwittingly begins to whittle away at laws of logic which flow from the nature of God.  The downhill descent eventually leads to full-blown relativism.  Again, I am not concerned so much with Miller.  I am convinced that he would never go this route.  I am concerned, however, with those who are convinced by his arguments against black-and-white thinking.

DETERMINING A PROPOSAL REGARDING  BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING

Donald Miller focuses on the so-called problems of black-and-white thinking.  I argue that Christian testimony and gospel witness will begin to erode to the degree that black-and-white thinking deteriorates.  Indeed, the essence of the gospel will erode to the degree we embrace fuzzy thinking.  Therefore, I submit the following proposal:

1. Black-and-White Thinking Should be Encouraged – Not Discouraged

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged on biblical, philosophical, and practical grounds.  Sometimes, such thinking is criticized as “hair-splitting.”  Yet this black-and-white “hair-splitting” was indispensable as Athanasius challenged the arch-heretic, Arius.  This kind of thinking was a necessary part of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity and affirming the two natures of Christ; i.e. fully God and fully man.

Black-and-white thinking led to the formation of the major creeds and catechisms including the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged.  For whenever black-and-white thinking is discouraged, the net result is theological error and irrationality.

2. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Christian Epistemology

Francis Schaeffer warned the church in 1968:  “We are fundamentally affected by a new way of looking at truth.  This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem facing America today” (The God Who Is There, 6).  In other words, “absolutes imply antithesis.”  The working antithesis is that God exists objectively (in antithesis) to his not existing.

The loss of antithesis (or repudiating black-and-white thinking) in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.

So Christians must rise above the level of despair and affirm a Christ-saturated epistemology.  They recognize that truth is a unified whole.  They understand that there is no disparity between faith and reason.  In other words, faith and reason are not out of contact with each other.  They embrace what Nancy Pearcey refers to as “total truth.”

3. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Healthy Christian Living

Christ-followers who recognize that truth is unified understand this fundamental reality:  They know that black-and-white thinking is essential to the Christian life.  They recognize real good and real evil: “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Prov. 4:26-27, ESV).

Because Christians understand that “absolutes imply antithesis” they speak and live in terms of black-and-white:

“Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.  Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.  Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered” (Prov. 11:19-21).

“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit” (Prov. 12:17).

4. There Should Be No Dichotomy Between Bold, Black-and-White Convictions and a Gracious Offering of Truth Claims

For instance, Jesus proclaims a series of woes on the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  His black-and-white thinking is actually stunning.  Yet at the end of chapter 23, we find him lamenting over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (v. 37).

5. Black-and-White Truth Claims Should be Set Forth With Decisive Humility

On the one hand, Christ-followers must maintain their commitment to absolute truth claims.  They must do so vigorously and decisively.  They must boldly proclaim the truth in the marketplace of ideas.  And they must point to Christ, who is the essence of truth, apart from whom, knowledge is impossible.

On the other hand, Christ-followers must believe, proclaim, and defend black-and-white truth with Spirit-enabled humility: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2b, ESV).  They must passionately proclaim truth “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love …” (Eph. 4:2, ESV).  And they must teach and defend the truth and embrace the framework of 2 Timothy 2:24.  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …”

SUMMARY

I hear what Don Miller is saying and I suspect that he’s concerned with Christ-followers who demonstrate less than loving behavior.  He would be right to be concerned.  Indeed, Christ is the most loving person that ever existed or will ever exist.  But Christ was also a black-and-white thinker.  The prophets were black-and-white thinkers.  The apostles were black-and-white thinkers.  And the martyrs were black-and-white thinkers.

Miller’s position could be construed to mean something like this: “We need less truth and more love and grace.”  I am quite confident that this is not his intention.  Similarly, my position could be construed to promote the following: “We need less love and more truth.”  Of course, this is not my argument either.  Rather, as Christians, we are called to both!  We are called to speak the truth – and we are called to engage in this ministry of proclamation with love, gentleness, and humility.

The funny thing is that Miller uses black-and-white thinking to argue against black-and-white thinking.  So at worst, his argument is self-refuting.  At best, perhaps there is hope for the future because, in the final analysis, Miller embraces black-and-white thinking after all!

If Miller is concerned primarily with the promotion of personal opinions, fine.  If he is concerned with soliciting dogmatic statements in gray areas that concern cultural matters like music and one’s choice of the best Italian restaurant, I have no quarrel.  But when it comes to matters of eternal significance, black-and-white thinking is essential.

We live in a world of absolutes.  And absolutes demand humble and decisive proclamation.  May Christians continue to proclaim and defend black-and-white propositional truth to the glory of Jesus Christ.  My black-and-white proposal: Farewell to fuzzy thinking!

“I know that truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.” – John Hus, Czech reformer, black-and-white thinker and martyr (1412)

Veritas et Lux!

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Responsibility of the Church in Post-Modern Culture – Part 8

Francis Schaeffer has an extremely high view of the church and great expectations as any Christian should.  He details some solemn responsibilities that the church of Jesus Christ must consider.

We Must Adhere to the New Testament Boundaries for the Local Church

Schaeffer’s primary assertion is that Scripture mandates eight specific norms for the New Testament church (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 51-60).  The first norm: Local congregations are to exist and should be made up of Christians.   Schaeffer would have clearly opposed the so-called seeker sensitive movement that is so prevalent in the church today.  While he believed that the church ought to evangelize the lost, he would have had real problems with the present day fascination of catering to the non-believer.

Second, Dr. Schaeffer believed these congregations ought to meet in a special way on the first day of the week.  He clearly has Sunday as the specific meeting day in mind, although I am inclined to think that Schaeffer would be comfortable with the new trend toward Saturday evening services and the like.  The critical issue for him was that the church met regularly each week.

Third, the church should have elders who have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.

Fourth, there should also be deacons responsible for the community of the church in the area of material things.

Fifth, Schaeffer strongly believed that these elders and deacons should be qualified in accordance with the Pauline standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

The sixth norm is that the church must engage in church discipline.  Schaeffer goes to great lengths to show the necessity and benefits of church discipline in accordance with the principle set forth by Jesus in Mathew 18.  Schaeffer explains, “The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an ameba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world.  There is to be a sharp edge.  There is to be a distinction between one side and the other – between the world and the church, and between those who are in the church and those who are not” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).  He writes in no uncertain terms: “For a church not to have discipline in life and doctrine means that it is not a New Testament church on the basis of the New Testament norms” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).

Finally, Schaeffer declares that a vital mark of the church is the administration of two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

These seven norms are non-negotiable principles in the thinking and ecclesiology of Francis Schaeffer.  These norms are commanded by God.  Any church that fails to engage in even one of these crucial norms forfeits the right to be called a true church.  However, Dr. Schaeffer believes there are many areas in which the church is left free.  There is a form and there is also a freedom.  “It is my thesis that as we cannot bind men morally except where the Scripture clearly commands (beyond that we can only give advice), similarly anything the New Testament does not command concerning church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place” (The Church At The End of The Twentieth Century, 59-60).

In many ways, Francis Schaeffer may be considered very conservative in his approach to “doing church.”  But in other ways, he is a bit of a radical.  His views on form and freedom leave room for creativity, spontaneity and a wide variety of ministry options.

The Puritanical Genius of Mike Pence

A recent Washington Post article revealed some fascinating tidbits about Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen. At the top of the list, was Pence’s proclamation in 2002 that, “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.”1 The article revealed what many Americans have learned in recent months about Mike and Karen Pence, namely, that these people fear God and take their wedding vows seriously.

One would think that such a story would not draw much press or criticism. Think again, as the liberal media pounced on Pence and sought to portray his views as Puritanical and out of step with the modern milieu. Such views are better relegated to the stone age, at least in the minds of “cultured” people.

For example, Jessica Valenti writes that Pence’s position is “all a part of his deeply retrograde worldview.”2 Writing with deep sarcasm, Valenti considers the values of Pence to militate against the tenor of the times: “It’s an insulting view of men, a limiting role for women – we’re there to either entice or domesticate – and an archaic take on gender roles more generally.”3

Valenti accuses Pence of being a “misogynist,” a truly bizarre accusation, especially in light of the honor that the Vice President pays to his wife. This egalitarian banter is both unfair and unproductive, putting words in Pence’s mouth and making judgments which are simply untrue. And these ridiculous accusations are light-years away from anything that resembles graciousness. So much for left-wing tolerance.

While the liberal media wastes precious time and ink, attacking the Vice President with straw man arguments, perhaps there are some lessons to learn for the rest of us. What kind of wisdom does Vice President Pence possess that other men could learn from? How can we learn from the Puritanical genius of Mike Pence?

He Understands the Power of the Flesh

The Vice President is well aware what Scripture says about the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The Bible clearly states that people of faith battle indwelling sin; this sin is smoldering in the heart of every person and will make the best of every opportunity. It will strike when we least expect it. The apostle Paul, a man who penned much of the New Testament, was aware of the diabolical nature and strategy of sin: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:18-20, ESV).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his keen awareness of the power of the flesh and the wisdom to steer clear from this ominous monster, no matter what the cost.

He Upholds the Sanctity of Marriage

The Vice President made a vow of faithfulness to his wife, Karen. Unlike some men in our culture, Mike Pence intends on making good on those vows. The standards that guide his life honor both his wife and honor his God. These standards demonstrate a rock-solid allegiance to Karen and help him love her in a sacrificial way, as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). These standards place his marriage above the expectations of the world. Such a stance will no doubt draw the ire of his detractors but his aim is to please his Savior, not the attention of worldly people (Acts 5:29).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his deep understanding of his marriage vows and commitment to keep his word.

He Undermines Any Attempts to Question His Character

When the Vice President chooses to live above reproach, as we have recently learned, he short-circuits anyone who would seek to destroy him or cast a dark shadow on his life and reputation. Of course, anyone can cast stones and make spurious claims. But the wisdom of Pence helps protect him from any unsubstantiated claims. Such wise living is consistent with biblical principles and sound judgment, for “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:16, ESV).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his wisdom to avoid any situations that might do harm to his personal life or marriage.

He Underscores the Value of Integrity

The former congressman, J.C. Watts once opined, “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.” Vice President Pence understands the importance of integrity and demonstrates this valuable virtue in the way he lives his daily life and in the way he leads. He understands that integrity takes a lifetime to build but can be destroyed in a moment.

The Bible unveils the importance of integrity which supports the values that Mr. Pence embraces:

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” (Psalm 25:21, ESV)

“He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,” (Proverbs 2:7, ESV)

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9, ESV)

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” (Proverbs 11:3, ESV)

“Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.” (Proverbs 28:18, ESV)

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence involves living a life that is marked by integrity.

Final Thoughts

We have seen that some people consider the worldview of Mike Pence to be “retrograde.” Such criticism argues that his values are a negative influence on our culture and that his views move us in the wrong direction. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The worldview that Pence promotes helps advance a cause that all Americans should cherish – one that values faithfulness, honesty, and integrity.

J.I. Packer compares the New England Puritans to “California’s Redwoods”4 which tower above the earth and demand the attention of onlookers. Packer says, “The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God.”5Mike Pence is not a Puritan in the strict sense and never claimed to be one. Yet the Puritans would be proud of his values as he cherishes. They would commend Pence for his influence on people in the executive branch. And they would compliment him for the example he sets forth for the American people

God made a promise to Solomon that we would do well to remember: “And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules,” (1 Kings 9:4, ESV)

The wisdom that the Vice President displays in maintaining proper relationships and boundaries is consistent with 1 Kings 9:4. This kind of wisdom is desperately needed at the highest levels of the federal government. But it is also needed across America – in our classrooms, board rooms, court rooms, sanctuaries, and media outlets.

When the dust settles, the Vice President may be battered and bruised by the liberal press.  He may bear the marks of unjust persecution.  But his strong values and commitment to purity will help preserve a strong marriage.  He will stand side-by-side with his treasured bride and enjoy the benefits of a clean conscience.

Americans should pray for Mr. Pence and ask God to enable him to walk with integrity before his God. We should pray that God protects his marriage and family. We should pray for God to grant much wisdom as he serves our nation in the days ahead. We as Americans should be thankful for the Puritanical genius of Vice President Mike Pence.

  1. See Ashley Parker, Karen Pence is the Vice President’s “Prayer Warrior,” Gut Check and Shield (Washington Post, 28 March, 2017).
  2. Jessica Valenti, The Real Reason Mike Pence Refuses to Dine Alone with Women (Alternet, 31 March, 2017).
  3. Ibid.
  4. J.I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life(Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 11.
  5. Ibid, 15.

Truth Unhinged in Edinburgh Square

My wife and I recently spent five days in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there is much to commend in this very beautiful city, it did not take long to realize that God is no longer welcome for many of the inhabitants there.

On the last evening in Edinburgh, I watched a young street preacher proclaiming the gospel from a makeshift podium on Royal Mile Street, which stands in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral. Here, the mighty John Knox wielded the mighty sword of God’s Word, which brought reformation to Scotland in the sixteenth century. Knox prayed, “Give me Scotland or I will die,” demonstrating his great love for God and his countrymen.

However, the days of the Reformation are long gone in Scotland. The scoffs of the crowd which were directed at the street preacher bore witness to that:

“Who created God?” one man shouted. “What about the holocaust?” another queried. “Who wrote the Bible?” questioned one of the street performers. “How could anyone believe in a talking serpent?” “Where did evil come from?” “What about the dinosaurs?” “What about the other religions?” And, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?”

These emotionally charged questions were all hurled at the street preacher who merely sought to proclaim the simple message of the gospel.

I stood and prayed for the young man who heralded the truth. I asked God to soften the hearts of this angry mob. In the midst of my petition, the thought struck me, This is the same kind of crowd that Noah encountered. These are the same kinds of people who spewed their venom at Jeremiah and Jonah. And these are the kinds of people who hurled their hate against the New Testament apostles.

Nothing has changed. There is nothing new under the sun. The hearts of men are continuously evil (Gen. 6:5). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). Ever since the fall of man, sinful people continually suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18).

Every person carries a bag full of presuppositions. Atheism, evolution, immorality, homosexuality, and relativism. These are only a few of the presuppositions that I saw in the Edinburgh square. The people who embrace these worldviews are unwitting worshippers. They worship the false god of success. They worship the false god of autonomy. Or they worship the false god of another religion.

The angry mob who squared off against the preacher in Edinburgh willingly exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The Bible says unregenerate people realize that God exists; yet they refuse to acknowledge him: “For although they knew God, they did not honor God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).

And so I watched a tragic scene unfold on Royal Mile Street in Edinburgh. I watched a frenzied mob reject the truth from a “voice in the wilderness.” I gazed upon a group of worshippers who willingly turned from the God of the Bible to a god of their own making.

A few thoughts echoed in my mind and pressed against my heart as I stood on Royal Mile Street in the heart of Edinburgh:

First, the unbelieving world who preaches “tolerance” fails to be tolerant when the truth is proclaimed. Tolerance is only a virtue when it lines up with a worldview that rejects God, turns from his law, and marginalizes his Word. The “tolerance mantra” is a smokescreen, in the final analysis. Anyone who repudiates the truth claims of Scripture is tolerated. But anyone who embraces the propositional truth of God’s Word is cast aside and criticized.

Second, followers of Jesus Christ are called to faithfully proclaim the truth. Most will be unwilling to stand on a makeshift platform and herald the gospel to a hostile crowd. But how many of us could utter the claims of Christ over a cup of coffee? How many of us could share the love of Christ in the workplace? Who among us could challenge the pagan mind with the gospel truth in the marketplace of ideas? Paul understood this mandate to faithfully proclaim the truth: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15).

Third, when the truth is faithfully proclaimed, the unbelieving world will invariably become offended. The Edinburgh preacher recognized this reality when he stepped upon his makeshift platform. He realized that he would be opposed. He realized that he would be scoffed at. And he realized that the crowd would laugh. Scripture warns us that in the last days, people will not put up with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3). The Bible says people will “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Tragically, we will not only find these kinds of people in the public square; we will also find them in the church.

In his book, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day, John Leonard argues that people have stopped listening to the gospel “because we want to share it in the least inconvenient, least costly way. We want to save dirty people at a distance.” Leonard has touched upon an important truth. And we can certainly do a much better job of sharing the gospel up-close. But the real reason for their resistance to the truth is a rocky, stubborn, and unbelieving, sinful heart! Our task is to faithfully share the truth and trust the Holy Spirit to soften hearts and effectually draw sinners to the Savior (John 6:44).

Finally, bold proclamation invites persecution. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Yet Scripture reminds us, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, ESV) The promise of persecution should not hinder our passion to proclaim the truth. Rather, this reality should embolden our efforts to wield the mighty sword of truth!

Was the angry mob who ridiculed the preacher a fair representation of the feelings of the Scottish people? Were their harsh words and cackling laughs an accurate portrait of the people living in Edinburgh? Since I only met a handful of people in our brief stay, I cannot answer this question with any clarity. However, the Word of God informs us that what I saw on that cold winter afternoon is representative of the unbelieving world.

When truth is unhinged, we will face an intolerant audience. When truth is unhinged, the unbelieving world will be offended which will prompt persecution. But when truth is unhinged, some will hear and respond. Some will be cut to the quick. Hearts will be softened. Minds will be sharpened. For the truth of God’s Word will unlock the most resistant and callous heart. Truth unhinged will transform lives as God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed.

ON FIRE FOR CHRIST: Remembering John Rogers (February 4, 1555)

The smell of burning flesh hung in the air.  The villagers turned their heads and gasped.  Stray dogs fled.  The man’s wife wept bitterly.  His children watched inThe_Burning_of_Master_John_Rogers horror and the smell burned their nostrils.  The stench was a vivid reminder of who sat on the throne.  Mary Tudor ruled with ironclad authority.  Her subjects were obligated to obey.  Any dissenters would pay the ultimate price.  The world would remember her as “Bloody Mary.”

The day was February 4, 1555.  The man roped to the pyre was known well in the British village – a man of humble origins.  A man with bold ambitions and simple obedience to match.  A man who dared to challenge the throne with two simple acts – preaching the Word of God and printing the Matthews-Tyndale Bible.  His name was John Rogers.  Pastor, father, martyr.  He was the first Christ-follower to pay the ultimate price of death during Mary’s bloody reign of terror.  He was the first of hundreds who would die at the hands of this blood-thirst tyrant.

John Rogers stands in a long parade of God-centered men; men who preached the truth, confronted sin, lived uncompromising lives, and finished strong.  Like Rogers, some were martyred.  Others died of old age or were tormented with disease.  Those who participate in this Christ-exalting parade still have something to say.  Their courage emboldens us.  Their lives inspire us.  Their theology instructs us.  Their devotion moves us to action.2014-02-03 08.41.07

February 4, 2017 marks the anniversary of Roger’s brave march to the pyre.  Over 460 years later, the world is a very different place.  Yet the persecution of Christ-followers has not decreased.  It has increased.  As people committed to the sovereign reign of Jesus stand for truth,  righteousness, and justice – the persecution will grow steadily.  As Christians take a stand against homosexual marriage, abortion, human trafficking, and pornography – the persecution will escalate.  Tolerance is the popular buzzword, yet fidelity to God’s Word will not be tolerated by many in this world.  John Rogers is a reminder to stand firm in the face of adversity.  His picture is glued to the flyleaf of my preaching Bible and beckons me to boldly declare the truth of God’s Word – unashamed, unhindered, and resolute – on fire for Christ!

Semper Reformanda!

No Fear – Tony Perkins (2016)

no-fearTony Perkins, No Fear New York: Waterbrook, 2015, 187 pp. $8.92

God’s Word is clear: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”” (Joshua 1:9, ESV). In the pages of the New Testament, we are told, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Yet, we find ourselves in troubling times. The church is drowning in compromise and the culture applauds when believers cave in.

Believers who are unwilling to acquiesce to the demands of the world will be met with fierce persecution and be marginalized emotionally and even physically.

These times demand believers who are both firm in character but also minister to lost people with biblical fidelity. No Fear by Tony Perkins is the perfect book for Christ-followers who need encouragement in a day filled with compromise. Perkins makes a solid contribution in this work as he presents real-life stories of Christ-followers who endured persecution because of their strong stand for truth and the claims of the gospel.

The true stories that Perkins presents are linked to biblical stories that help drive home the point of each chapter. The writing is clear and compelling and is geared to a younger audience. Surely, these short and readable chapters will provide a wealth of inspiration to Christians who need a boost of encouragement as they brave the storms of adversity.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Responsibility of the Church in Post-Modern Culture – Part 8

Francis Schaeffer has an extremely high view of the church and great expectations as any Christian should.  He details some solemn responsibilities that the church of Jesus Christ must consider.

We Must Adhere to the New Testament Boundaries for the Local Church

Schaeffer’s primary assertion is that Scripture mandates eight specific norms for the New Testament church (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 51-60).  The first norm: Local congregations are to exist and should be made up of Christians.   Schaeffer would have clearly opposed the so-called seeker sensitive movement that is so prevalent in the church today.  While he believed that the church ought to evangelize the lost, he would have had real problems with the present day fascination of catering to the non-believer.

Second, Dr. Schaeffer believed these congregations ought to meet in a special way on the first day of the week.  He clearly has Sunday as the specific meeting day in mind, although I am inclined to think that Schaeffer would be comfortable with the new trend toward Saturday evening services and the like.  The critical issue for him was that the church met regularly each week.

Third, the church should have elders who have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.

Fourth, there should also be deacons responsible for the community of the church in the area of material things.

Fifth, Schaeffer strongly believed that these elders and deacons should be qualified in accordance with the Pauline standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

The sixth norm is that the church must engage in church discipline.  Schaeffer goes to great lengths to show the necessity and benefits of church discipline in accordance with the principle set forth by Jesus in Mathew 18.  Schaeffer explains, “The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an ameba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world.  There is to be a sharp edge.  There is to be a distinction between one side and the other – between the world and the church, and between those who are in the church and those who are not” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).  He writes in no uncertain terms: “For a church not to have discipline in life and doctrine means that it is not a New Testament church on the basis of the New Testament norms” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).

Finally, Schaeffer declares that a vital mark of the church is the administration of two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

These seven norms are non-negotiable principles in the thinking and ecclesiology of Francis Schaeffer.  These norms are commanded by God.  Any church that fails to engage in even one of these crucial norms forfeits the right to be called a true church.  However, Dr. Schaeffer believes there are many areas in which the church is left free.  There is a form and there is also a freedom.  “It is my thesis that as we cannot bind men morally except where the Scripture clearly commands (beyond that we can only give advice), similarly anything the New Testament does not command concerning church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place” (The Church At The End of The Twentieth Century, 59-60).

In many ways, Francis Schaeffer may be considered very conservative in his approach to “doing church.”  But in other ways, he is a bit of a radical.  His views on form and freedom leave room for creativity, spontaneity and a wide variety of ministry options.