Pastors and Power

Richard Baxter saw, hundreds of years ago, the dangers of cozying up to political power. Ministers of the gospel, if they aren’t careful, will not only sacrifice original thought but also Biblical truth in order to avoid being ostracized, mocked, or disagreed with. Social media has made this quite apparent in the current year. For instance, as the pro-life position has become more and more subject to mockery, less and less Christians are publicly affirming it. I can think of two anti-political pastors (Greg Boyd and Josh Porter) who are “anti-political” as an expression of theology. So, they don’t really talk much about opposing abortion (as a matter of principle one should stay out of politics), but both were happy to engage in making fun of Trump and his voters on Twitter. I suspect that these strategies are more to appeal to people of a left-leaning political slant. And in fact, I’ve known many pastors personally who have taken a similar approach to ministry: mocking openly anybody in their churches that the political left finds distasteful.

Sadly, most positions are held by most people as a matter of tribalism rather than as a matter of truth. This state of affairs ought not be, but it is. As an aside, tribalism is a human default. The prime difference between the Christian and non-Christian tribes is that our chieftain (Jesus) commands us to put truth as our top loyalty (he is the Truth). So there’s a sense in which Christians should have the most disagreements (as seeking the truth entails argument) and the most unity (as we applaud the honest search for truth). Anyway, here is Baxter’s prescient commentary on our own time:

I would not have any to be contentious with those that govern them, nor to be disobedient to any of their lawful commands. But it is not the least reproach upon the Ministry, that the most of them for worldly advantage still suit themselves with the party that is most likely to suit their ends. If they look for secular advantages, they suit themselves to the Secular power; if for the air of Ecclesiastical applause, then do they suit themselves to the party of Ecclesiastics that is most in credit. This is not a private, but an epedemical malady. In Constantine’s days, how prevalent were the orthodox! In Constantius’s days, they almost all turned Arians, so that there were very few bishops at all that did not apostatize or betray the truth; even of the same men that had been in the Council of Nice. And when not only Liberius, but great Osius himself fell, who had been the president, or chief in so many orthodox Councils, what better could be expected from weaker men! Were it not for secular advantage, or ecclesiastic faction and applause, how could it come to pass, that Ministers in all the countries in the world, are either all, or almost all, of that religion and way that is in most credit, and most consistent with their worldly interest?Among the Greeks, they are all of the Greek profession: and among the Abassines, the Nestorians, the Maronites, the Jacobites, the Ministers generally go one way. And among the Papists, they are almost all Papists. In Saxony, Sweden, Denmark, &c. almost all Lutherans: in Holland, France, Scotland, almost all Calvinists. It is strange that they should be all in the right in one country, and all in the wrong in another, if carnal advantages and reputation did not sway much: when men fall upon a conscientious search, the variety of intellectual capacities causeth unavoidably a great variety of conceits about some hard and lower things: but let the prince, and the stream of men in credit go one way, and you shall have the generality of ministers too often change their religion with the Prince in this land. Not all, as our Martyrology can witness, but the most. I purposely forbear to mention any latter change. If the Rulers of an University should be corrupt, who have the disposal of preferments, how much might they do with the most of the students, where mere arguments would not take! And the same tractable distemper doth so often follow them into the Ministry, that it occasioneth the enemies to say, that reputation and preferment is our religion, and our reward.[1]

References

[1] Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 14 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 198–199.

Jordan Peterson and the Psychology of Redemption

Psychology of God Belief

In his excellent talk on the psychology of redemption in Christianity, Dr. Jordan Peterson explains how the Christian vision of God creates balance in the people’s minds. It does do by allowing for them to pursue an ideal without treating their own personal interpretations or reductions of that ideal as absolute in themselves. How? Because God is beyond our understanding, except as the highest possible good.

A New Testament Theological Take

What Peterson’s take might mean for the Christian is that our vision of God provides an ideal to pursue. But what idea? Primarily, it is that of the virtue revealed in Jesus and his teachings. Secondly, it is the Old Testament, interpreted through Christ. Finally, the virtue evident through the study of nature. But, since God and even the highest human character possible are ultimately incomprehensible, conversations with truth-telling as the goal must occur so that we can make the course corrections necessary to attain to the ideal. This is why Paul can say that he presses onward toward the goal, but also that he does not think he has attained to the goal of perfect participation in God or in the character of Jesus Christ.

The Jordan Peterson Video:

Here’s my own take on that concept:

Here are some of the relevant passages of Scripture:

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (26) Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (27) And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (28) And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, (29) yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (30) But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (31) Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (32) For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (34) “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (4) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (13) So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, (2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (4) having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

 

Philippians 3:12-14 ESV Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Brain, the Body, and Christian Spirituality

Spiritual growth happens in the body.

For many of us, the idea that the brain is the locus of the mind seems obvious. But less obvious is the notion that the body is the locus of the brain. But perhaps even less obvious is that the whole body, including the brain, is the mind. Scott Adams writes:

I am sure you have noticed that your mental state is deeply influenced by diet, exercise, sleep, sex, stress, and lots more. And I’m sure you make some effort to do those things the right way when you can. But if you think those actions are influencing only how you feel, and not your actual thoughts, you don’t understand the basic nature of human beings. And this is the key takeaway:

The source of your thoughts is your body, not your brain.
When I am not feeling good, I don’t ask my brain to fix things on its own. I manipulate my environment until my thoughts change. That’s because I see my body as the user interface to my brain. I don’t let my brain think whatever it randomly wants to think. I constrain it to productive thoughts by manipulating my environment.

Similarly, the Bible teaches that the whole of the human body should be conceived of as the locus of spiritual growth:

Romans 6:13-19 ESV Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (14) For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (15) What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (16) Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (17) But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (18) and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (19) I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The answer to the question of spiritual growth lies, uncomfortably for many of us, precisely in our conception, treatment, and use of our bodies. Why is this? Because while each of us experiences the self in a somewhat disintegrated fashion, each of us is, indeed, a single person. So there is no spiritual growth without attendance to the body.