A Call To Prayer for the Supreme Court

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on what may be the most important case in our lifetimes. It will consider whether to change the legal definition of marriage for the entire country with a ruling expected in June.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of this case. As the title of my latest book indicates, As Goes the Family, So Goes the Nation. Well, as goes marriage, so goes the family. If the court decides to change the definition of marriage, it will have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences, and they will not be happy ones for our nation.

Supreme_Court_US_2010So I urge you to set aside significant time between now and Tuesday to pray. Please consider inviting others in your family and church to pray as well. Pray specifically for Justice Anthony Kennedy, as his will likely be the swing vote either for or against this momentous change.

Why is This Important?

God Himself created marriage. He established it before the Fall (Gen. 2:15-25), and Jesus affirmed it (Mark 10:5-9).  He defined marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman as husband and wife, in order to provide a stable and nurturing environment for any children produced though their comprehensive union.

What God has defined, we redefine at our peril. As Cecil B. DeMille wisely warned: “We cannot break [God’s laws]. We can only break ourselves against them.” If we redefine marriage in our laws, we will inevitably pay a high price of brokenness and pain; particularly, our children will pay the price. David Blakenhorn asks some very important questions:

Do you think that every child deserves his mother and father, with adoption available for those children whose natural parents cannot care for them? Do you suspect that fathers and mothers are different from one another? Do you imagine that biological ties matter to children?

He goes on:

Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and a father, accountable to the child and to each other … For healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other.

Why is this important? Maggie Gallagher answers directly: “Sex makes babies. Society needs babies. Babies deserve mothers and fathers.”

God’s laws are not arbitrary. They exist for our good—for the health and flourishing of all peoples and all communities, and particularly for the most vulnerable.

The new, secularized definition of marriage that may well be enshrined as the law of the land in June has no concern for children or future generations. In fact, it is devoid of procreation altogether. According to the new definition, marriage is a relationship characterized by strong emotional feelings and sexual desire along with an intention to live together, enjoying the same government-granted recognition and privileges that have historically accompanied traditional marriage.

If the Supreme Court redefines marriage along these lines, we must assume that any relationship that more or less fits this new definition can claim a “right” to marriage. To withhold this right from any claimant will be viewed as unequal treatment and a violation of basic human rights. At the moment, the focus is on same-sex couples, but once redefined, there will be no legal basis for why it should stop there, and it won’t.

How Did We Get Here?

The redefinition of marriage is something I’ve written on before. It is a fruit of a long process of secularization within our culture—the logical result of a society that has largely chosen to ignore God, or believe that He doesn’t exist. Jeremy Rifkin defined the spirit of our age very powerfully:

We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of preexisting cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world, and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. (Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny: A New Word—A New World, New York: Viking Press, 1983, 244).

If this is your starting point, you will inevitably redefine everything that was formerly defined within the framework of a Biblical worldview—including freedom, human dignity, sexuality, gender, marriage, and much else besides. This is where we find ourselves. These concepts have already largely been redefined within a secular framework. This secular worldview is now dominant in our most important cultural institutions: the media, government, business, and academia. It has divided the church, and it is now becoming dominant among everyday Americans at an alarming speed.

It’s hard now to believe, but between 1998 and 2012, 31 states passed laws (many were citizen initiatives) protecting the historic one-man, one-woman definition of marriage in their state constitutions.  26 of these state laws were later deemed unconstitutional on appeal. In response, states appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which will hear arguments on Tuesday.

Make no mistake, if the Supreme Court agrees to change the definition of marriage for the entire country, it will be by judicial fiat, effectively overruling the citizens in a majority of our states.

The law is a powerful teacher. If changed, the new definition of marriage will be taught as good, right and true in countless ways. Those who resist by upholding the historic, biblical definition of marriage will face an uncertain future. We’ve already witnessed an alarming campaign to strip legal protection from those who dissent on religious grounds, with states compelling Christian businesses to provide services to same-sex wedding ceremonies under threat of crippling lawsuits. Speak up, or act on your archaic beliefs about marriage in the workplace, and you may find yourself out of a job, as Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla discovered. You may even be forced to shut down your business due to mob harassment and death threats, as the owners of Memories Pizza discovered.

So let us pray. God is on the throne. We have no reason for despair. Let us do all we can to build strong marriages and strong families. Let us love our neighbors—especially those who have set themselves to oppose us. Let us continue to speak up for God’s definition of marriage, and for why it matters, particularly to our children, and for the good of our communities.

In the memorable words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– Scott Allen

  
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Jihadists or Atheists: Which the Bigger Threat to Religious Freedom? part 2

religious freedom threatenedIn part 1 we suggested that religious freedom is under assault by the new atheists. “Surrender your freedom of religion and conscience or we will crush you!”

Consider recent developments surrounding the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The response of the new orthodoxy, manifested by the LGBT lobby and their friends, was swift and powerful. Frank Bruni’s April 3 article in the Sunday Review of the New York Times is a case in point. Bruni is an openly homosexual journalist and op-ed writer for the Times. (The bold face type in the following excerpts from Bruni’s article represent my emphasis.)

… the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

For Bruni, the Bible is a man-made book that can easily conformed to the prevailing wisdom of the day. No sacred text can be allowed to challenge any chosen lifestyle of the LGBT community.

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

This statement is breathtaking. He seeks to redefine freedom of religion as “freeing religions and religious people from prejudice.” Only theists are prejudiced. A-theists, on the other hand, are objective and rational.

Even more stunning, people of faith need to give up their faith and “rightly bow to the enlightenment of modernity.” Modernity is enlightened! Those who do not acknowledge modernity are stuck in the dark ages. What is their obligation? To rightly bow. To grovel before modern sensibilities.

Bruni is calling for nothing less than tyranny. He exposes arrogance behind the atheistic fundamentalists and their militant operatives in the LGBT community.

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy — and warranted. All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.

“Church leaders must be made”? Their God-given freedom of religion, of conscience, of speech, must be purged? As writer Ana Marie Cox put it recently on MSNBC, talking about the Indiana RFRA story, “you’re going to have to force people to do things they don’t want to do.” What is this if not bullying and coercion?

As if to anticipate objection, Bruni doubles down. Gold’s “commandment” is both “warranted” and “worthy.” Really? On what grounds? On the grounds that the culture has shifted! Darwinian ideology breathes all through this post-modern world. Debate over truth is squashed. There’s no place for discussion. Arbitrary absolutes have been established among the elites of the Darwinian ideology. It’s time to bow down.

Some defend, not religious freedom, but freedom from religion

The baker Bruni is referencing, the individual giving such offense to the LGBT community, is Jack Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado. Ambassador Ken Blackwell picks up the story:

When [Phillips] declined two gay men’s order to bake a cake celebrating gay marriage (though the men were welcome to buy any of the premade cakes off the shelf), they officially complained that Mr. Phillips violated Colorado’s civil-rights law. A court ruled against him, ordering him and his employees to undergo government-approved “tolerance training,” and also ordering him to bake cakes celebrating gay marriage for anyone who asks. If he refuses, he can go to jail—put behind bars—for contempt of court. (Go here for more.)

religious freedom stamped outIn the 60s and 70s on campuses all over the US, students were demanding free speech. Today, the same demonstrators hold power in academia, communications, business and politics, and they are stifling free speech. The “anarchists” of the 60’s are the new tyrants of the early 21st century.

  • You must tolerate our behaviors in the public square …
  • You must affirm the rightness of our position …
  • You must smother your conscience …
  • You must surrender your freedom of religion and speech …
  • You must submit to “tolerance training” (in Mao’s China they called the same thing “re-education camps”)
  • You must make wedding cakes on demand …

… or we will crush you.

An earlier generation of atheists accepted a level playing field. They supported religious freedom, believing their ideas could win the day in any fair exchange. Not so with today’s militant atheists. They do not want freedom of religion, they insist on freedom from religion (except their own secular religion). They want to fundamentally redefine the nation. They want their religion to dominate the market place of ideas. They want to exchange the pluralism established by Judeo-Christian revelation with a state-sponsored religion of Darwinian ideology.

Which brings us back to the global assault on religious freedom

Which brings us back to the beginning, i.e. the global assault on religious freedom. Militant secularists have some things in common with militant jihadists.

When the Prophet Mohammad lived in Mecca, he sought to persuade Christians and Jews to the correctness of his ideas. Failing that, he moved to Medina and adopted a strategy of forced conversions. Today’s atheists have “moved from Mecca to Medina.” They have shifted from persuasion through argument to coercion through threat and intimidation. Like jihadists, the new atheists are militant. They demand conversion to their ideology (dhimmi). Jihadists offer a third choice: death. Militant atheists offer, instead, prison and loss of business and property.

Will we bow or will we remain free? The choice is ours! The choice will be made in these moments, by this generation. Do you want your children to live free?

We should begin with prayer for our nation and its churches. But we must not stop there. We need to move from feeling good about our faith to thinking well of our faith. We need to begin to out think secular atheists. We need to challenge them in the realm of ideas and ideals by our words, attitudes and lives. And yes, we need the courage of “that baker” Jack Phillips and “that florist” Barronelle Stutzman who are willing to lose their business and property and go to jail to remain free.

Orthodox Christians who love Jesus and are committed to honoring him as Lord and King are waking up to a different world. They are finding themselves on someone’s “enemies” list. These opponents are seeking out ways to bring Christians to heel. This not a fight we wanted or sought. We didn’t look for it, yet it has come. How do we respond?

It’s tempting to ignore these realities, to go on with our lives as if they didn’t exist. But this new world will not go away. No, we must see this as an opportunity—an assignment—to put our faith into practice by “loving our enemies and praying for those that persecute us.” We must walk in Holy-Spirit empowered love in the face of hostility and hatred. Such love glorifies Christ and reveals Him in a powerful way. It is perhaps the most potent weapon we can wield.

Who are those people in your life whom you find yourself in conflict with over this issue? What can you do today to serve them and love them?  Remember, the fundamental principle of militant Islam is “submit” or be crushed. The fundamental principle of Darwinian naturalism is “survival of the fittest.” The fundamental principle of Christ’s Kingdom is sacrificial service—to our neighbors, and even to our enemies. Our symbol is the cross of Christ.

  • Darrow Miller

[i] https://prospect.org/article/last-word-4

[ii] Quoted on page 6 of What if Jesus Had Never Been Born by Dr. James Kennedy

For a full treatment of these themes see my book – Emancipating the World: A Christian Response to Radical Islam and Fundamentalist Atheism.

See these related posts:

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM in America: Will it Survive?

Erosion of TRUTH: Could America Become a Source of Terror?

In Defense of Religious Freedom

 

  
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Jihadists or New Atheists: Which the Bigger Threat to Religious Freedom?

We are witnessing an oppressive assault on religious freedom both here and abroad. The attack is coming from religious fundamentalists, jihadists in the East and secularists in the West.

We cannot read or watch international news without seeing the persecution of Christians

  • by ISIS in Syria and Iraq,
  • by Boko Haram in Nigeria,
  • by Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan,
  • by Al Shabaab in Kenya.

It’s true that jihadists kill more fellow Muslims (for not being religious enough) than adherents of any other religion. It is also true that they are waging a war against Jews and Christians. If jihadists offer Christians a choice—and often they don’t—it is to convert to Islam, surrender and live under Sharia, or die. The alternative to either conversion or death is dhimmi – Arabic for a “pact of protection.” This protection is offered to the “people of the book (Jews and Christistians).” It requires loyalty to the Islamist’s  government, obedience to Sharia law and the payment of an “outsiders” tax known as jizya.

Atheists’ assault on religious freedom

In the West, the “new atheists” are pushing Darwinian ideology to fill the void of Judeo-Christian theism, the once prevailing, now retreating worldview. Never mind that Judeo-Christian theism’s pursuit of truth (see John 8:31-32) laid the foundation for religious freedom and pluralistic society. In the US, Judeo-Christian theism birthed first amendment freedoms: “Congress shall make no religious freedom enshrined in US constitutionlaw respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The establishment clause prohibits the government from instituting a state religion or preferring one religion over another. The complementary free expression clause guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly.

Both clauses are being usurped today. The New Atheists seek to establish a national religion based on the assumptions of naturalism. Call it what they will—secular humanism, Darwinism, atheism, secular materialism, naturalism—whatever the title, these elites want to establish atheistic faith as the state religion. Correspondingly, they want to crush free expression.

The foundations have shifted; Darwinian ideology has replaced truth with power, has abandoned “liberty and justice for all” for “survival of the fittest.”

Robert B. Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, revealed this new mind.

The great conflict of the 21st century may be between the West and terrorism. But terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The underlying battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics.[i]

Reich believes modernism is defined by “science, reason, and logic.” He fails to note that the science, reason and logic he embraces are based on naturalistic assumptions. He contrasts this with a straw man, i.e. “truth [that] is revealed solely through scripture and religious dogma.” Orthodox Christians would argue that God has revealed himself through the books of creation (general revelation) and scripture (special revelation). Reason and science are an integral part of revelation.

Reich goes on to say that “Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism is not the only danger we face.” For Reich, the danger more profound than terrorism is Judeo-Christian theism.

We see the same sentiment from an earlier fascist. Herman Rauschning, once a member of the Nazi Party, recorded that Adolf Hitler said, in a private conversation, “Historically speaking, the Christian religion is nothing but a Jewish sect. … After the destruction of Judaism, the extinction of Christian slave morals must follow logically … . Ah, the God of the deserts, that crazed, stupid, vengeful Asiatic despot with his power to make laws!”[ii]

Hitler objected to God’s “power to make laws.” Yet given that a moral God created a moral universe, we live in his “house” and are guided to life by his “house rules.” Those who would live without restraints must get rid of the “crazed God of the desert.”

Here in North America we cannot read the news without seeing fundamentalist atheists forcing others to bend the knee to their modern orthodoxy. Here are four examples.

  • Darwinian science has been deemed true science. Scientists who challenge naturalism on scientific grounds, on the basis of Intelligent Design for example, often have difficulty getting tenured faculty positions because they refuse to subscribe to the new orthodoxy.
  • The pro-abortionists oppose both science and life. Science has affirmed that a woman carries human life in her womb. The new orthodoxy, captured in the Affordable Care Act, demands that religious conscience be suppressed. People of faith, and their institutions, must support abortion.
  • The “global-warming industry” insists the debate is over. They claim a “consensus” on man-made global warming. No further discussion is needed.
  • The militant wing of the LGBT community insists that their lifestyle choices trumps the first amendment free-expression clause.

Increasingly, this orthodoxy faces the Christian with a choice: submit or face a lawsuit (and the threat of losing your business, your employment, and even your home). Surrender your freedom of religion and conscience or we will crush you.

Surrender your religious freedom or pay the consequences

Rod Dreher illustrates this in his April 3, 2015 piece, “The Post-Indiana Future for Christians,” in which he quotes from a conversation he had with a “law professor at one of the country’s elite law schools.” The professor is afraid to speak openly about his convictions that differ than those of the establishment. He needs to “keep his head down.” In the future people will need to live “underground.”

religious freedom affected Boy ScoutsIn California right now, judges can’t belong to the Boy Scouts now. Who knows if in the future, lawyers won’t be able to belong to churches that are considered hate groups?” he said. “It’s certainly true that a lot of law firms will not now hire people who worked on cases defending those on the traditional marriage side. It’s going to close some professional doors. I certainly wouldn’t write about this stuff in my work, not if I wanted to have a chance at tenure. There’s a question among Christian law professors right now: do you write about these issues and risk tenure? This really does distort your scholarship. Christianity could make a distinct contribution to legal discussions, but it’s simply too risky to say what you really think.

… to be continued

  • Darrow Miller

See these related posts:

Is Christian Freedom Disappearing in Canada?

Do You Want Political Correctness or Freedom of Speech?

A Secularist Inquisition: Houston and Freedom of Religion

 

  
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Singapore: The Fruit of Virtuous Leadership

It’s fashionable to consider “overpopulation” as a blight on a nation’s economic prospects. Ever since Malthus, elites have soberly warned us that too many people on too little land guarantees hunger and poverty.

The recent death of Lee Kuan Yew is a fitting occasion to point out how mistaken the Malthusians are.

Start with too little land.

Yew was prime minister of a nation just 25 miles long with virtually no natural resources. In fact this country has to import water and dirt! It buys water from its mainland neighbor, as well as boat loads of landfill to dump along its shoreline to expand its size. Surely here’s a case of “too little land.”

How about too many people?

The 4.4 million people of this nation live on 241 square miles. That’s 18,652 people per square mile. Compare this population density with that of Brazil (62 p/sm), the USA (83 p/sm), or the famously “overpopulated” China (368 p/sm) or India (953 p/sm)!

Too little land, too many people. So, if there’s anything to the Malthusian premise, we should expect to find hunger and poverty in this land.

What if I were to tell you that this country, in 2013, was the third richest in the world based on per capita GDP of $78,762 (in international dollars). For comparison, the USA was number 10 with a per capita GDP of $53,001.

What if I were to tell you that this country was Singapore?

Singapore is considered a modern economic miracle, and the father of this miracle was Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died March 23, 2015. The day after Lee’s death, Ferdinando Giugliano wrote a tribute in The World, the Financial Times’ blog.

Singapore GDPWhen Lee came to power in 1959, Singapore was an impoverished third-world country. Giugliano writes: “[When] Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700 per year. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.” (For more, see Giugliano’s article, “Singapore’s economic miracle uncovered.”)

In Dr. Thomas Sowell’s tribute to Lee Kuan Yew, he writes “Today, Singapore has a per capita gross domestic product more than 50 percent higher than that of the United Kingdom and a crime rate a small fraction of that in England. A 2010 study showed more patents and patent applications from the small city-state of Singapore than from Russia. Few places in the world can match Singapore for cleanliness and orderliness.”

Lee was a complex man. He could well be described as a benevolent dictator. Politically, he ruled with an iron fist. And yet he genuinely cared for the citizens of Singapore, perhaps caring more for the interests of the citizens of his nation than he did even for himself.

Lee’s maid of 40 years, Madam Ouyang, witnessed the prime minister at home with his family and his household staff. She said that “Mr. Lee had no airs about him and was friendly and humble to the servants.” “Humble to the servants!” What can this mean? Could a dictator have a servant’s heart?

Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew

“Lee Kuan Yew” by Robert D. Ward

I was recently in Singapore, and my friend, James, drove me by Prime Minister Lee’s home. James told me that Lee had lived in this modest home for decades and that the furnishings were 40 years old. For the prime minister of such a prosperous country, Lee lived simply. Madam Ouyang described the simplicity of his tastes: his typical breakfast was a glass of Ovaltine, two eggs and two pieces of toast. While he could be described as a powerful leader, he did not accrue the power for himself or to enrich his family.

In 1963, at the time of Singapore’s independence from British colonial rule, corruption was a way of life in Singapore as it was in all of Asia. It is reported that Prime Minister Lee was personally incorruptible. He understood that if Singapore was to develop it needed to stamp out corruption. And the prime minister led the fight. At times he had to arrest friends and members of his own party to show that corruption would not be tolerated.

Singapore is known as the least corrupt country in Asia

Singapore is known as the least corrupt country in Asia. In 1995, when Transparency International published their the first edition of the Corruption Perception Index, Singapore—with New Zealand, Denmark and Norway—was among the least corrupt nations in the world. And that’s in the same neighborhood with China and Indonesia, known as among the most corrupt nations in the world.

Prime Minister Lee’s tough but humble leadership not only succeeded in greatly reducing corruption, it also set Singapore on the path to be one of the most economically prosperous nations in the world. Lee astutely used Singapore’s geographic location and world-class deep-water port to become a hub for trade in Asia. My Singaporean friend, businessman James Teo, insightfully summarized that while Singapore had no resources of her own, she learned how to create wealth out of the Singaporean minds, by managing the vast resources of other nations.

The story of Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew demonstrates that a nation both resource poor and economically poor can be lifted out of material poverty in a generation or two. Consider the potential of a nation like the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. Here is a nation fabulously rich in natural resources.

Nations that are still mired in poverty can find hope in the miracle of Singapore. This model shows how a nation can move from economic rags to riches in a short period of time. It shows that the key resources of a nation are not “in the ground” but in the minds of her people. It is human creativity and ingenuity that is the true source of flourishing. And it shows the importance of overthrowing the culture of corruption that is so often prevalent in impoverished nations.

So we want to pay tribute to the man who led Singapore from poverty to riches, from impotence to influence.

– Darrow Miller

See these posts on related subjects:

Exploding the Myth of Overpopulation

Is it Immoral to Have Children?

What is Metaphysical Capital and Do You Have Any?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  
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Culture: Where the Physical and Spiritual Converge

God made humankind to be culture makers, and it matters a great deal what kind of culture we create. Whatever our vocation, whatever domain we are called to, as Christians our work is ultimately to create kingdom culture—culture that reflects the true nature and character of God.

Our charge as creators of culture has been called both the creation mandate and the cultural mandate. It is found in the creation narrative in Genesis 1:26–28,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

At the height of his creative activity, God said, “Let us make man in our image.”

With these words man’s identity is established. Man is made imago Dei—in the image of God. Man was made to rule in God’s stead as vice regent. Or to use a different figure, man was made the steward of God’s household. What God had made was perfect, but it was not finished yet. God is the primary creator; humankind, to use J.R.R. Tolkien’s words, is a “secondary creator.” culture is what humans make from God's creationGod made primary creation. Humankind is to make a secondary creation—culture—that reveals and glorifies the Primary Creator and reflects the primary creation. Human beings are to fill the earth with image bearers of God who will, in turn, develop the earth. Like an acorn, creation from the hand of God was perfect and complete in itself, but the potential had to be released by the man and the woman. The acorn is to be nurtured into a mighty oak. God also said, “Let them rule.” With these words man’s purpose is established.

Culture: Worship Externalized

Why are the Genesis scriptures referred to as the cultural mandate? What does it mean to create culture? And what is culture, anyway?

Theologian Henry Van Til states it very clearly and concisely: “Culture is religion externalized.”[i] At its heart, a culture is a manifestation of a people’s cult, i.e. their civic religion. It is a reflection of the god they worship. This understanding stands in contrast to the modern materialist’s assumption that culture is a reflection of a people’s race, or the sum total of their way of living, or their heritage. St. Augustine’s understanding of the nature of culture illuminates the importance of this distinction. According to Augustine, culture is not a reflection of a people’s race, ethnicity, folklore, politics, language, or heritage. Rather it is an outworking of a people’s creed. In other words, culture is the temporal manifestation of a people’s faith. If a culture begins to change, it is not because of fads, fashions, or the passing of time, it is because of a shift in worldview—it is because of a change of faith. Thus, race, ethnicity, folklore, politics, language, or heritage are simply expressions of a deeper paradigm rooted in the covenantal and spiritual matrix of a community’s church and the integrity of its witness.

Augustine spent so much of his life and ministry critiquing the pagan philosophies of the world and exposing the aberrant theologies of the church because he understood only too well that those things matter not only in the realm of eternity determining the spiritual destiny of masses of humanity but also in the realm of the here and now determining the temporal destiny of whole civilizations.

Augustine recognized that a people’s dominant worldview inevitably shapes their world. He understood that culture is a manifestation of man’s worship. It is a reflection of the nature and character of the one worshiped. Or to put it a little differently, culture is a manifestation of a people’s worldview.

The Taliban in Afghanistan created a society that reflected their worship. Likewise, the USA’s popular culture is a reflection of the materialistic ideals of a secular belief system. The modern concept of anthropology, as derived from materialistic thought, sees culture as neutral. In the materialistic paradigm, there is no God; therefore there is no objective truth, everything is relative. This set of assumptions offers no platform or standard by which one person or culture can critique another. No one culture culture is seen as better than another. As such, every culture is valued for what it is. When we see culture as neutral, we are reluctant to critique it. Thus we can’t distinguish between the death camps of Nazi Germany, the hospitals of Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity, or the pop culture of contemporary America.

Derived from worship, culture is anything but neutral. Culture stands at the convergence of the spiritual and physical realms. In fact, it can be said that the spiritual realm influences the physical realm at the level of culture. Just as ideas have consequences, so does our worship. The cult leads to the culture. This, in turn, determines the kinds of societies and nations we will build. This is clearly illustrated in society. If a people worships a deity who is capricious and can be bribed, as in Eastern animism, a culture of corruption is established in which bribery is a part of everyday life. This manifests itself in business, in economics, in government, and in judicial systems that are filled with corruption. The result? The material and spiritual impoverishment of a nation.

culture is the work of humans– from Darrow Miller’s book, LifeWork: Toward a Biblical Theology of What You Do Every Day

[i] Quoted in David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1999), 15.

 

Related posts:

The Cultural Mandate and The Great Commission

Imitating the First Artist: The Place of Beauty and Creativity in God’s Design

Why Cities Should Reflect the New Jerusalem

  
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Vision and Technology Turned Desolation Into Abundance

Abundance can come from the most unlikely places.

In the 27 years I worked for a relief and development organization, I heard two clear messages too often:

  • From impoverished indigenous peoples the message was, “We have no resources, we are poor and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
  • I heard the poverty fighters tell those poor communities, “You are poor, there’s nothing you can do about it, but we will help you. We have resources to give you. This is how you will get out of poverty.”

The impoverished Mennonite refugees who settled the “green hell” of the Paraguayan Gran Chaco have a very different story to tell.

Gran Chaco became place of abundance and beauty

“Chaco Boreal Paraguay”. Licensed under CC BY 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

When the first wave of Mennonites arrived in the 1920s, the 250,000 square miles of the Chaco could not sustain 500 indigenous people. Today, not quite a century later, the same land supports 10,000 Indians and 23,000 Mennonites.  What brought about this difference? The key part of the answer is that the Mennonites had a different vision for the land than did the indigenous inhabitants. The latter thought nothing could change; they considered themselves ruled by their history. The Mennonites, on the other hand, had a God-given vision of what this wasteland could become. They believed they could transform the Chaco and change history. And they did.

But in addition to a different vision for the land, the Mennonites understood that science and technology could be harnessed to literally change the conditions of the Chaco, to make the land flourish so as not only to provide a better life for them but also to support more inhabitants.

Edgar Stoesz describes the conditions of the land and the refugees that settled there:

These were agricultural communities dependent on what they could grow with the hot sun overhead. Rainfall was sufficient, although not necessarily at the opportune time. The bush and tall grass showed that the soil was fertile, but the grass was bitter and the cattle would not eat it. The farmers wondered what to plant and when, where to get the seed, and how to till the soil when all they had were human hands and unpredictable oxen pulling improvised implements.

Compounding their predicament was the fact that, while some had experience with farming the steppes of Russia or the prairies of Canada, they knew little about farming in the tropics. Many of their members were not even farmers.[1]

The ecology of the Chaco was relatively unique and very different from anything the Mennonites had experienced previously.  To survive in this land, the Mennonites needed to cultivate a strong desire to learn, to become, in fact, lifelong learners. It was not enough simply to learn to read and write. They needed to continue to experiment with new crops and new agricultural techniques. They needed to do research and learn from others. They needed to discover the secrets that would make this unique ecology flourish. They became good experimental learners and within thirty years had transformed the green hell into a paradise.

In addition to being inquisitive, they were practical. They had to be pragmatic to survive. They needed to ask, not “What is ideal?” but “What will work?” When they had an idea, they would create an experiment on a small plot of ground. If the experiment succeeded they would expand the plot into a demonstration so their indigenous neighbors and other Mennonites could learn the lessons of the researchers.

As they found sweeter grasses to replace the bitter native pastures, they introduced more productive cows that could thrive in the new grasslands. Within a couple of generations the Mennonites were producing fully half of Paraguay’s milk needs. After that they began producing beef of a quality fit for export to Europe.

In addition to growing more and more foodstuffs, the men and women in the colonies began to experiment with storing the increased abundance of food. They began experimenting with cooking and preserving food. This ensured a year-round food supply for the growing population of the Chaco.

One woman, Myrtle Unruh, developed a cookbook to help improve the nutrition of Chaco families. This Paraguanian Mennonite cookbook,  known in English as “Fed by Mama,” was wholistic in nature. Its intent was to nourish both the body and the soul. After decades of deprivation, hardship, and death of large numbers of the settlers, Myrtle’s goal was restore to health the soul and the body.

Mennonite vision and work led to abundance in the Gran Chaco

“Sorghum linea 14 Alto Paraguay” by D.Broadbent

The visionary leaders of the Chaco began to replace ox and hand cultivation of the land with the mechanical power of tractors. This allowed for the cultivation of more land with less back-breaking and health-ravaging manual work. As they learned from their research and experimentation, the colonies began to broadcast hundreds of radio programs to spread their knowledge throughout the Chaco. In addition they started two agricultural vocational schools and a significant agricultural extension service that served the colonies as well as the indigenous communities.

The Mennonites not only excelled in the pragmatic work of farming, they evidenced a growing sense of the need to bring beauty to the land. Tree and rose nurseries were established to transform the homesteads into beautiful gardens that nurtured the soul.

The indigenous and Mennonite farmers have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination in transforming the wasteland into a garden. The land has prospered, benefiting those who live there as well as the nation of Paraguay, the nations of the Southern Cone of South America and Europe as well. As unlikely as it seems, the once desolate land is now the breadbasket of Paraguay.

If the Chaco can be transformed, there is virtually no land in the world that cannot be made to flourish with the right vision, inquisitive minds, and hard work.

  • Darrow Miller

Related posts:

A Wasteland Transformed To a Garden

The Church and Development in Paraguay’s “Green Hell”

Community: The Engine of Mennonite Economic Development

Commerce, Roads, and Mennonite Obedience to the Cultural Mandate

[1] Edgar Stoesz, Like a Mustard Seed pg. 157

  
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Wisdom Sustains the Universe Through Human Obedience

Jesus spoke of a property owner who met with his servants before leaving on a journey.

I’m going away for awhile. I want you to look after my property while I’m gone. He gave money to each servant in proportion to his estimate of their ability. Put this money to work while I’m gone, he said.

When he returned, he called his servants together to give account of what they had done with the money.

I doubled your money, the first servant said. And the second. But the third said, I was afraid of you so I hid your money. Here it is.

The owner commended the first two servants, but he indicted the third. You should have at least invested my money and earned some interest. (see Matthew 25:14-27)

The point of the story? We will be held accountable to steward what God has entrusted to us. You have gifts, talents, abilities, a bounty of (divinely placed) human capital. You are to be a wise steward of that capital.

Everyone is a steward; the only question is will you be a wise steward or a foolish one?

A gifted artist I know has not painted for 20 years. Every time I see her I ask, “Have you started painting again?” Her answer is always “No.” Finally I asked, “Why are you not painting? You paint such beautiful things!” She said, “Because painting is not spiritual.” She had a dualistic mentality that only spiritual things are worth doing. When she said that I cried inside. Think of all the beauty robbed from the earth and art not available for people to enjoy because she has not painted for two decades.

The fact is, God governs the universe by human obedience. The faithful response of human stewards is one of three ways God governs his creation (the other two being by his laws and ordinances and by miracles).

wisdom sustains universe through human obedienceGod created us and gave us the ability and responsibility to steward the creation. While God governs directly through his laws and ordinances, and through miracles, human beings govern by delegated authority, i.e. through wisdom. Wisdom sustains the universe through human obedience and creative expression.

God intends us to be wise stewards of our own lives, of our relationships with others, and of the rest of creation. God wants humans to flourish. He made us for a purpose. He intends that purpose to be fulfilled in our lives.

This carries many implications:

  1. Human work is a creation gift from God. He expects us to engage in the development of the creation.
  2. God, as Creator, can intervene in all aspects of the creation.
  3. If we govern like God, if we imitate him, we will govern with wisdom.
  4. When we govern according to God’s ordinances good things naturally result.

Today we see profound brokenness everywhere: the evil of slavery (including sex slavery), caste systems, tribalism, sexism, and religious and political persecution. Many communities face natural evils such as drought, disease, and hunger. All these are examples of the brokenness that comes from human folly. And we are called to speak truth to the lies behind these problems. By the application of creation wisdom we are to bring healing to the brokenness in the world. We will be held accountable for our stewardship.

Wisdom Leads to the Consummation of the Universe

We often speak of “human history” as if it were about us. History is God’s story. Humans have a part in it because God created humans and loves humans. From our perspective human history is about us. The stories of families and tribes, of wandering nomads, of the development of agriculture and technology, the accumulation of power into ruling clans, the rise of nations, the clash of kings in battles … all these stories of human triumphs and travails leave us with the impression that we are at the center of the story. This impression is profoundly mistaken. History is God’s story. He is taking it where he will. And the end of history will be the consummation of all that God has purposed.

wisdom sustains universe through human obedience

The end of wisdom is the Divine Glory. Wisdom created the universe, sustains the universe and calls people to engage in HIStory and to contribute to the consummation of  history. As we explore creation and the created order, we see more and more of God’s glory. God has revealed himself all around us. He has hidden things for us to discover(see Proverbs 25:2).  He has places for us to explore. He has imagined things that we might create through our own imagination and creativity. We are the “discovers,” “explorers,” and the “creators!”  Wise humans will come to understand the creation ordinances (discover God’s thoughts after him) and know the One who is wisdom so their lives and governments will be rightly ordered.

David Scott summarizes: “Through scholarship, humankind discovers God’s design and forms this knowledge into an imitation of God’s design in the disciplines of the arts and sciences.” Man’s (secondary) creation may be summed up in a word: culture.

As secondary creators, humans are a picture of the Primary Creator and His Creation. As man creates culture, God is glorified and the earth is filled with the knowledge of God. The things made for God’s glory will be “transposed up” to become masterpieces in the City of God.  This circle of creation, discovery, imitation, and glory is the circle of knowledge.

God is the source of wisdom. Wisdom comes from him. But he has not kept it to himself. To the humble man he shows his secrets, the wonders of his wisdom. An ancient psalmist reflected on this powerful truth:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise,
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

From a forthcoming book by Darrow Miller and Gary Brumbelow 

Related posts:

The Christian View of Creation

The Roots of the Global Economic Crisis

The Cultural Mandate and The Great Commission

  
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We Can Rebel But We Can’t Escape the Consequences of Rebellion

“God gave them over,” Romans 1:24.

“God gave them over,” Romans 1:26.

“God gave them over,” Romans 1:28.

I have read the apostle Paul’s words hundreds of times over the years. I have studied and taught from Romans 1. But as I read Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Finding Truth, I saw these words as if for the first time.

Richard Weaver’s famous phrase, “Ideas Have Consequences,” (in his book by the same title) is one of the driving concepts behind the work of the Disciple Nations Alliance. What Weaver argues in his book is nothing new. It is a reformulation of Paul’s argument in Romans 1.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul argues that:

  • consequences of rebellion built into creationTruth is revealed through creation (Romans 1:19). God reveals truth to man internally–we are made in the image of God, and in the external world, the rest of the created order.
  • From this revelation we can know that God exists and can know something of his nature (v. 20).
  • This revelation is so clear that human beings are without excuse (v. 20b) when they deny God’s existence.
  • Even though truth is clearly revealed, human beings SUPPRESS the truth (vs. 18).
  • Rather than have an intimate relationship with their Creator, human beings would rather have a smaller god of their own making, a god they can have dominion over. So they EXCHANGED the glory of God for things that God had made. They worship things from the created order (vs. 23). We see this in pagan humanism – man as the center of the universe, and in pagan animism – the worship of nature.
  • Thinking themselves wise for denying God, they in fact are fools (vs. 22).

And what are the consequences of this foolishness? “God gave them over.” The Greek term, paradidomi, means “to hand over to or to convey something to someone, particularly a right or an authority – ‘to give over, to hand over.’”[1]

In this, God did not abandon humans as if they were nothing. Rather, he is affirming human significance. Even when humans live in rebellion against God we are not nothing. We are still “something!” God is affirming the free moral agency of humans.

As human beings we are free to rebel against God. But we are not free from the consequences of rebellion. God’s “giving us over” affirms our significance and dignity. We are not children whose misbehavior is overlooked by an indulgent divine grandfather. God will allow us to receive the consequences of rebellion, the natural fruit our ideas.

As Nancy Pearcey puts it, God allows people “to play out the negative consequences of their idolatrous choices.” Pearcey writes that this “divine strategy” is seen throughout scripture. It is as if God says, “Okay, have it your way and see for yourself how destructive it is.”

We cannot change reality. If we refuse to accept reality, we can only seek to deny it or flee from it. But, reality works! When our lives go crashing into walls that we deny or do not see, we get bruised and broken.

To flourish as human beings is to worship the living God and to wisely live within the framework of the universe that he has created.

  • Darrow Miller

[1] Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd Edition, Edited by J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida.  Copyright © 1988 by the United Bible Societies, New York, NY 10023. Used by permission.

See these related posts:

Creation Laws: Wisdom Sustains the Universe

Poverty: The Fruit of Neglected Wisdom

Gaining Wisdom in a World of Folly

  
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More from Christian Overman on Contextualization

Christian OvermanRecently we published a post by our friend Christian Overman about the importance of context. Here’s a follow up on the same subject worthy of your consideration.

 

 

The Basic Problem of the Christians

Francis Schaeffer wrote in A Christian Manifesto: “The basic problem of the Christians…is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

Contextualization is a way of seeing that brings greater understanding and meaning to things than the things have in themselves. For followers of Christ, ultimate contextualization is about viewing all things in the context of the greatest larger “total:” the biblical world-and-life view.

Students contextualize academic disciplines when they view them in the context of something much larger than the academic disciplines themselves. When plants are viewed in the context of a biblical world-and-life view, they take on greater meaning, significance and purpose than plants have by themselves. George Washington Carver got this.

Post continues at Worldview Matters

  
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The Most Historically Significant Sculpture You’ve Never Seen

A renewal of the founding principles of the US is past due; no big headline there. But we’ve come to a pretty turn of things when the “largest solid granite sculpture in the U.S.”—a magnificent tribute to our Pilgrim founders—is virtually invisible, and at the same time, the anchor of a major news program is clueless about a fundamental tenet of the US Declaration of Independence.

National Monument to the ForefathersThe sculpture is the National Monument to the Forefathers. At 81 feet tall, it features the statue of Faith (which alone weighs 180 tons). And yet, seemingly, few Americans know anything about it.

The news anchor is Chris Cuomo, co-host of the “New Day” show at CNN. More about that below.

Darrow taught recently at Rivendell Sanctuary where he saw the documentary “Monumental” by Kirk Cameron/ @KirkCameron. The film relates the story of the Pilgrims coming to the US, and includes a description of a monument that was built to celebrate the Pilgrim principles and convictions upon which the US was founded. (Click here to see more photos and information about this amazing sculpture.)

The experience of seeing the film and learning about the sculpture triggered an interesting exchange of emails in the DNA circles (an edited summary of which follows):

DARROW: I have lived a long time, and consider myself well educated and I had never heard of this sculpture. How could something so significant be so hidden?

ELIZABETH YOUMANS (DNA friend, founder and president of Chrysalis International): I used Gov. William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation as a textbook for teaching Christian character in my graduate courses. I was told by the Dean of Education that I was “too biblical” in my courses (in a Christian graduate school) and that most Christian educators didn’t care much for my inclusion of the Pilgrims in my Character Development course! He told me they said the reading was “too difficult” and not relevant to today’s Christian!

Of Plimoth Plantation reads like an extension of the book of Acts and has influenced my thought and teaching for many years.

SCOTT ALLEN (DNA president): I have not heard of this monument either.

How could it be so hidden? Because at the time that you (and I) were taught US history Darrow, we were not taught to revere God or honor the virtues enshrined on this monument. We were taught that the founders were deists and secularists. We were taught to be ashamed of the Pilgrims.

I was largely taught that the Pilgrims were oppressors of native peoples, and dangerous religious fanatics who burned witches. They were pharisaical legalists who made women caught in adultery wear scarlet letters. The only positive: They did host a nice Thanksgiving meal at one point.

Years after I graduated from college I finally read Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation and wondered how I could have ever missed this beautifully written, moving account of the courageous sacrifices made by our American forbears in my studies of history (my degree was in history)! This book revealed to me the seed of our American constitutional form of government.

If you’ve never heard of the National Monument to the Forefathers … you’re in good company. Thanks, Kirk Cameron, for exposing this wonderful piece of American history to our view.

Which brings us to the cable news host story, another indication of pathetic ignorance (or worse) of the founding principles of the US.

You may have seen the recent news about an exchange between Chris Cuomo and Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. In the conversation, they came to another fundamental aspect of US history. Their back-and-forth captures the core of our current cultural conflict.

Moore, of course, has been in the news recently because of his conviction that the federal government does not have standing to force a state to recognize same-sex “marriage” and his accompanying refusal to stand down in the matter. At issue is the provenance of our rights as human beings.

Here’s their exchange, excerpted from the CNN broadcast (as reported at Brietbart):

MOORE: … our rights contained in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution, they come from God. It’s clearly stated –

CUOMO: Our laws do not come from God, your honor, and you know that. They come from man.

MOORE: Let me ask you one question, Chris. Is the Declaration of Independence law?

CUOMO: You would call it organic law as a basis for future laws off of it?

MOORE: I would call it the organic law because the United States code calls it organic law. It is organic law because the law of this country calls it the organic law. [The term “organic law of this country”] means “where our rights come from.” And if they come from there, men can’t take it away.

CUOMO: Our rights do not come from God. That’s your faith. That’s my faith, but not our country. Our laws come from the collective agreement and compromise.

MOORE: It’s not a matter of faith, sir. It’s a matter of organic law, which states, ‘We hold these truths to be held equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’[1] And the only role of government is stated in the next sentence is to secure those rights for us. The government starts taking those rights away from us, then it’s not securing and it is defiling the whole purpose of government.

A person claiming that “our rights come from man and not from God” is speaking either in ignorance or arrogance. But we can be thankful for public figures like Judge Moore, who have the temerity to challenge such folly, and the scholarship to know whereof they speak.

Thank you, Justice Moore.

The trees that have grown to obscure the National Monument to the Forefathers in the 126 years since its construction comprise a metaphor for the cultural lies which hide truth from our view.

As Elizabeth Youmans put it, “We must labor to keep alive God’s testimony in the founding of America throughout our generations that He might be glorified and that our youth might know of His mighty Hand of Providence in the founding of this nation!”

  • Gary Brumbelow

[1] An attentive reader points out that Justice Moore left out the bolded text: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”

 

Related posts:

EUPRAXIA: Education for Skills is Not Enough

TECHNOLOGIA: The Most Powerful Concept of Education You Never Heard Of!

A Secularist Inquisition: Houston and Freedom of Religion

  
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