The Manhattan Declaration

I’ve been arguing (not on-line) that the lines of distinction between Christians, and between Christians and the rest of the world are going to be dramatically re-drawn within the next two decades.  Modernity, Postmodernity, and Decadence in the West (yes, I mean that geographically) have dealt Christianity a series of troublesome blows.  These blows have the Roman Catholic church off-balance and reeling, and have broken to splinters the already fractured Protestant churches.  Oprah-Winfrey-spiritualism, church scandals, inventive readings of Scripture, and hot-button issues like homosexuality and female clergy have not just divided Christians from each other, but also made strange bed-fellows of Christians across denominations and traditions.

A couple years ago the Russian bishop Hilarion Alfeyev raised a call among the clergy in Western Europe to  unite against the rising tide of Postmodernism.  We need to be aware that we have one of the most important things in common; a common enemy.

With this in mind, I think we all need to take The Manhattan Declaration seriously. We’re all very used pointless and vacuous ecumenical statements and joint declarations.  The fact of the matter is that the parties that makes such declarations are never really any closer to unity after their declarations than before.  The Manhattan Declaration is different, largely because the goal isn’t ecumenical reconciliation.  It is survival.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the threatening future that awaits us Christians.  Lawsuits about the use of “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money, while disheartening, are in themselves rather innocuous.  It is very likely that soon local, state, and federal government will be leveraged against Christians committed to staying faithful to Holy  Scriptures and Apostolic teaching.

Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Basil, two of our most sensible and uncompromising Orthodox hierarchs, have signed the Declaration; reason enough to take it seriously.

The harrowing fact is that society sees traditional Christianity as a tyrant that has done nothing but start wars and stall progress.  (For a rebuttal to this, check out DBH’s new book.) Like the villagers in Beauty and the Beast they are incited against something true for reasons that are false.  They are not yet at the gates, but they’re reaching for their pitchforks.

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Josh McDowell and Christian Solutions

I spent my day off with my Godsister Courtney and my Godson Christopher on a trip down to Tyler, TX.  We were charged to set up and man a table for a fantastic Christian summer conference at a Josh McDowell event at a  local Christian School/ church.  It’s not the first time that I’ve heard apologetics events like these, and not the first time I’ve heard one from McDowell.  I, like many other fine-arts oriented Christians, believe that “beauty will save the world”, and that there are strong limitations to Christian apologetics.

The Christian Apologetic mission is not limited because it is wrong, but because it’s a solution that often fits the problem it tries to face the way defensive driving classes fit speeding.  Information of this kind can influence behavior people are ambivalent about, but it will not change your life.

As a sophomore in High School I took a class called “Apologetics”, and for our main text we used McDowell’s A Ready Defense.  Though later on I would find some issues treated a little simply, for the most part the book was wonderfully helpful.  Truth be told, I believe that book saved me a lot of grief because it helped me to think through some issues and provided me with some credible reasons to believe Christianity was true.

It was not enough to save me from doubt and anxiety.  This was because my anxiety, like most people’s, didn’t have to do with the exact number of texts that attest to the historicity of Holy Scripture, or textual variances in certain manuscripts. No amount of McDowell or William Lane Craig can give to the human soul what Chesterton’s Orthodoxy or Lewis’ Till We Have Faces can.  These books do more than testify to the historical veracity of Christ, they reflect the One who is Truth and Beauty in their very makeup. The human being craves more than just information, and needs much more than the facts in order to mature and make good decisions.  Plato reminds us that there is a great discrepancy between knowledge and information, and what McDowell wanted to do — self admittedly– was to dispense information to the mass of Christian youths.

After McDowell’s apologetics greatest hits, he dedicated a session to sex and love.  You might think, as I did, that the information gushing was now likely to slow down and leave room for fatherly wisdom.  This was not the case;  McDowell started delivering the important statistics that teens are not usually told: how the number of STD’s has increased by hundreds of percents over the past decades, how condoms are only 70% effective, etc.  Certainly this is good to know, but does it solve the problem?

And this is what Courtney and I talked about in the car on the way back: what is this event, and those like it, trying to fix?  We might surmise that  this particular segment was trying to combat sexual activity among teens.  It would be naïve to think that this kind of solution would be greatly effective; keeping say, 50% of the teens in the crowd that would otherwise be fornicating with their serious significant other from doing so.  Certainly it is good, but is it a solution?

I don’t think it is a good solution because I don’t think the problem is the right one to treat.  The goal of stopping kids from having sex is a bad goal.  I say this not because I’m ambivalent about premarital sex or about teen health, but because such a goal cannot but come across as unwarranted policing.  To put my point into contrast, why not give skin cancer the same treatment we give STD’s?  It’s a problem that is easily cured by self-control, and knowing the risk may help temper kids vanity as they decided whether to join the rest of sunbathing crowd.  The answer is that there is much more to sex than health risks and divine commands.  Sex is a meaningful and precious thing, and its misuse is sorrowful; like spray paint on the Sistine Chapel.

The reason McDowell, and the others like him, grab a microphone and fill an auditorium with their young’uns is because they love them (however generally and abstractly) and want to see their lives develop into something wonderful.  Instead of calling the problem “teen sex” the problem is “helping awaken kids to the Good Life”.  Abstinence is just a part of living a meaningful and beautiful life.

That is why I shuddered when McDowell tried to separate “love” from “sex” for the young crowd.  He was trying to help those who think that they must sleep with the person they love, and he thought the thing to do here is to make sure that the definition of “sex” and “love” did not overlap.  That’s why he said,

We call sex ‘making love’ but that is really a misnomer.  Love and sex are two VERY different things.  It is not ‘making love’.  It’s just getting it on!

I contend that the single greatest threat to our children is the withdrawal  of meaninglessness from their lives. Stealing meaning from sex by divorcing it from love is a recipe for disaster, even if it successfully keeps teens abstinent.  What kind of marriage do we want for our kids?  If sex is a rather meaningless activity that, by the way we should only engage in within the bounds of marriage while consider the significant health issues involved, then what human activity is meaningful?

I’m sure that if you asked any of the kids, parents, or teachers  in the audience if you thought that was what McDowell was driving at they would rush to his defense.  And they are right to do so insofar as he is not intending to further an agenda of meaninglessness.  However, statements like this have significant impact as part of the “dreadful tide” that mounts against the souls of this culture.

Add “Sex is just getting it on” to “Food is just fuel” as innocuous slogans that rot away a generations ability to find meaning, joy, and happiness in life.

“Naive” and “Death By Church”

One of the things I’ve been tracking is the current Christian trend of hating religion and religious establishments.  Sometimes is takes rather hostile and aggressive tones (Derek Webb for example) while other times it takes the form of well meaning Christian encouragement and empathy. I say “encouragement and empathy”, because I’m not really sure what to make of books like Mike Erre’s Death By Church, and other such books.  Regardless of its goal and genre, Death By Church is certainly not pleased with institutionalized Christianity.  If anything it is organized Christianity that plays the part of the Big Bad Wolf as the Christian Red Riding Hood takes the Gospel to the mission field of Grandmother’s house.  But why is this, and how can it be that getting Red Riding Hoods together in a way that makes you file your taxes so often — apparently — creates an anti- Gospel monster?

Personally, I don’t think that it does; or at least that this happens automatically.  I think that there is a very common trendy perception that it does, and the straw man has been scotch-taped onto the real thing.  It’s a part-for-the-whole error, where the sins of the few create the perceived identity for the whole.  More importantly, this trendy habit created by kitsch universalists of the Hollywood variety has not only caught on but picked up steam in the Protestant world.  This is sad, though unsurprising, considering that this habit of mitigating the possibility of  the Church being the present body of believers who are being actively guided and corrected by Christ their Head through the Holy Spirit.  For many, and this includes Protestants, maturity looks like critiquing, and there’s a certain enthusiasm and self-satisfaction that criticism breeds.

Trust me.  As witnessed by this blog, I know the fruits of criticism well.

It certainly is not the case that there is nothing to criticize.  Erre’s shots are moderately delivered at just targets.  For him, Death By Church is a sign of love for the people of God. It is addressed to the church as a kind of warning sign.  This is where the confusion kicks in: that the mean Church is the thing killing the poor innocent Church.  Oh yeah, because the Church (institutional) is not the Church (invisible)?

All of this to say: hating religion and the institutional church (even if I don’t think it is the Church Christ Instituted) makes me sad.  Really, really sad.  It hit me again today when I was listening to the new album from one of my favorite bands, Sleeping at Last.  The song is called “Naive“, and as most S@L songs do, it tries to end hopefully.  I’ve posted the lyrics after the jump. Continue reading ““Naive” and “Death By Church””