Sunday, February 9, 2014

Discipling Nations

Youth With A Mission is one of the most influential missions organizations in the world. It has enabled thousands of God’s people to build his kingdom. So when YWAM’s founder and chairman Loren Cunningham commissions a book to explain what YWAM is about and challenge the church to move in the same direction, one can be sure that the result will be a book that reflects the thinking of some of the best minds and hearts in evangelicaldom. To write this book Cunningham chose Darrow Miller, whom he says
is not an intellectual; he is a Christian who is busy making a difference worldwide, and committed seeing the minds of Christians renewed by God’s truth in order to more correctly and effectively reflect and initiate His truth into every realm of society, and thereby “disciple the nations” – which is the key to solving the world’s problems.
So Brother Miller is a heart, a mind, and two hands passionately engaged in furthering the kingdom of God on earth. He makes many good points in the book: ideas do have consequences, one’s view of God will indeed dictate how one treats one’s neighbor, Christ alone can save us from sin, and God has commanded us not only to call individuals to repentance but also to build godly communities. I was especially impressed by his point that when the Bible says that God is by nature love (1 John 4:8), it necessarily follows that God be both unity and diversity: three in one and one in three. But for whatever reason, when Brother Miller describes the community he thinks the church should be building, he pours gasoline on the fire he’s trying to extinguish and shuts off the water and fire retardant foam.
One justly relegated to nobodyhood like me needs to think twice before accusing a man of his stature of grievous error, but I think the job needs to be done, so here goes.
The following charts are taken with cosmetic modification from “One, Yet Many: The Nature of Community,” the chapter of Discipling Nations (Seattle: YWAM, 2001) in which Brother Miller applies the doctrine of the Trinity to human interaction at all levels. His thesis is that because God is both one God and three persons, human society must balance the individual component and the relational component. To emphasize the many to the exclusion of the one is to fall into polytheism, pantheism, and postmodernism, all of which go hand-in-hand with the idea that there is no objective truth, everyone has to come up with his own construct and supporting narrative, and the individual is swallowed up in the family, tribal, or national collective. So far, so good, methinks. He runs into trouble when he says that to emphasize the one at the expense of the many is to fall into libertarianism and anarchy.
If he had said libertinism and chaos, respectively, this post would be much shorter. But I think he has chosen his labels carefully; if so, he totally misunderstands libertarianism and anarchism, and he places entirely too much faith in 1990s-style conservatism and democracy, which had failed miserably before he first wrote the book and have failed spectacularly in the almost two decades since. These misconceptions still plague evangelicalism, so while I will leave it to others to critique his view of the dangers of viewing God and society in terms of “The Many,” I will give a shot at clearing up those under the other two headings.
Take a look at the first chart.

The Many
The One and Many
The One

Time Frame
Concept of Equality
To the conqueror the spoils
USA welfare socialism
The Body of Christ
Western consumerism
Enslavement to envy
Service to God and man
Enslavement to Self

To start with, I defy anyone to read the writings of respected libertarian authors – whether agnostics like Eric Peters and Butler Shaffer, or even overt atheists like Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, and Ayn Rand, to say nothing of Christians like Catholics Joseph Sobran, Lew Rockwell, and Thomas Woods, or Protestants Gary North, William Anderson, John Whitehead, Becky Akers, William Grigg, and Laurence Vance (yes, I realize I’m taking all the merchandise from one shelf) – and build a successful case that all or even any of them base their view of community on greed, which I define as the desire to acquire by means of violence or deceit what belongs to another.
While the libertarian focus is indeed on rights, because we view the community as having no identity apart from that of each individual who comprises that community, we conclude that the community has only those rights that inhere to the individuals that comprise it. That is, the community, the tribe, and the state per se have no rights that supersede the rights of its individual members. William Grigg and Eric Peters in particular attack the idea that agents of the community have rights and privileges the rest of us lack, reiterating that police and other government agents grievously abuse “Mundanes” solely “because they can.”
Because most individuals cannot live at a decent material level without interaction with others, and because libertarian ethics preclude violence and deceit against people and their property, the only way libertarians see anyone making a decent living is through serving their neighbors. A Christian would add that this can truly flow only from love for and service to God, but bereaved survivors of “collateral damage” inflicted by Christians in the US military and their sympathizers hier im Heimat might dispute that point.
At any rate, the libertarian ideal that people and their property (i.e., what is properly theirs, having been acquired through peaceful means) is a far cry from “to the conqueror go the spoils,” a term overtly associated with the democracy Brother Miller equates with liberty.
The Many
The One and Many
The One
Freedom within limits
Unrestrained freedom
No freedom
Freedom based on the rule of law
No law
Moral freedom
Natural freedom
Fascism (right)
Marxism (left)
Free markets

The first problem with this chart is the red herring of “unrestrained freedom.” If I am free to take your property through violence or deceit, your freedom to enjoy your property is ipso facto restrained, so it is impossible for a society of totally unrestrained freedom to exist, and the claim that this is what we are after is thus false. The same is true of a society with “no law.” A person who wants unrestrained freedom for himself at the expense of others’ freedom – or who wants laws to restrain others but not him – is, as noted before, a libertine, not a libertarian.
 As for the “anarchy” and “anarchism” entries, this is simply the pro-“democracy” pot calling the kettle black. As noted earlier, the “spoils system” is an integral part of democracy: if you can get fifty percent of the vote plus one, you can make anything the law. It is democracies (Israel, the US, and Sweden, among others) that spend tax money on abortions, prohibit parents from educating their children at home (Germany and Singapore), and forbid the propagation of the gospel (Israel again). As anyone from farmers to doctors to holistic practitioners to educators to wannabe lemonade stand proprietors can tell you, the US is a democracy, but it is not a free market: further, it is precisely because it is a democracy that it is not a free market.
Libertarianism is different from democracy precisely because it defines moral freedom as freedom based on the rule of law, freedom within the limits of the non-aggression principle that forbids violation of people or their property through either violence or deceit. Is that really less biblical than the “three wolves and a deer planning lunch” principle of democracy? Given the tendency for those with the privilege of enforcing democratic law to abuse that privilege, is the idea of no one having such privileges – i.e., anarchy – really unjust?
The Many
The One and Many
The One
Individuals in community
Economic equality (numerical)
Equality before God and the law
Maximum personal freedom
Group advancement
My individual rights
No personal responsibility
(Class responsibility)
Personal responsibilities to myself and my community
Limited personal responsibility and NO social responsibility

I’m not sure what this last chart is supposed to show. I know of no libertarian or anarchist who is a nationalist. Because we do not believe that any community of any size has any identity apart from the sum of the identities of its members, and in view of the evils done by all nations at all times, we tend to identify ourselves more with those who share our ethical system than with those who send their taxes to the same address. While most US Christians are proud to fly the flag of Barack Obama, which is to say the flag of, Planned Parenthood, the Super Bowl, General Motors, the United Nations, extrajudicial lethal drone strikes, helicopter gunship diplomacy, Big Pharma, and the War on Drugs, every libertarian anarchist I know considers it the flag of chaos, not justice. These are people who want to be responsible for their own lives and of those with whom they choose to interact; they have no desire to be a burden to the community, though they are willing to help out those less fortunate than they. Unlike “conservatives” and Progressives, they want to mind their own affairs and leave others in peace.
Not every good thing in the world originates from the church. In Genesis 4:19–24 we see that it is the sons of the wicked Lamech who become the “father of all those who play the lyre and pipe,” which God commands us to use in worship (Ps 33:2; 150:4), and “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron,” also associated with worship (Josh 6:19). God promised to give his people “great and good cities that [they] did not build,  and houses full of all good things that [they] did not fill, and cisterns that [they] did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that [they] did not plant” (Deut 6:10–11). I’m uneasy that the libertarian anarchist view of society comes from the writings of non- and sometimes anti-Christians. But I find the idea so compatible with the greatest commands in Scripture – to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do for others what we would have them do for us, to honor those who benefit us, to treat all people’s tangible and intangible assets as sacred – that I cannot understand why Christians react to it with such hostility, unless it be that they consider themselves privileged to dispose of their neighbors’ assets as they see fit, whether to educate their own children, lower their own transportation expenses, or keep their neighbors from defiling themselves.
Jesus does call us to disciple the nations, to bring them into conformity with the message that God entered a world in rebellion against him in the person of Jesus Christ, who paid for the sins of his people and commands those whose sins he has forgiven to repent, believe the good news, and live lives worthy of his name. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life, and no ethical system that excludes Jesus can give eternal life. While there are instances of God sending those known as notorious sinners out with the good news (Mark 5; John 4), he did so after their lives could be expected to reflect a radical change in their hearts. Our lives will affect our audience’s reaction to our message (1 Cor 14:23). If we proclaim and live out a democratic society based on power and privilege, rational observers will consider our message nonsense at best. On the other hand, if we build a community of mutual service to others and regard all others as sacred, I think the world, or at least the men of peace who will become important to our mission (Luke 10:5–9), will want to listen.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Islamic Republic of America – Why Not?

“Why not you?”

This was the question Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s father asked him years ago. Apparently no one, especially young Russell himself, would have thought then that a little guy like him would end up leading his team to a Super Bowl championship. Yet a bazillion variables later, there he was, a confessing Christian glorifying God, however briefly, on worldwide TV for giving him what he needed to get the job done.

After watching the Super Bowl, I find myself asking why not an Islamic Republic of America, or essentially the same thing under another name? When I first came to Christ in 1973, my pastor could say with a straight face that he lived in “Christian America.” Yet this was twenty years after Bishop Fulton Sheen (according to James Dobson, whom I trust on this one) said that no society had ever reached the level of degeneracy America was at then – in the 1950s – and recovered.

I would have to doubt the santiy of anyone who watched the same Super Bowl I watched and thinks we live in a Christian America now.

A couple of weeks before the game, I had an e-mail exchange with a Muslim client, either a postmodern feminist or a pretty good imitation of one. When I asked why she insists on paying for my work the same day I deliver it instead of waiting until I consult with my bookkeeper to make sure I’ve got the bill right, she said – I’m pasting in her response here – ‘we have a quote by prophet Muhammad peace be [upon] him that says: “Give the worker his wages before his sweat dries away.”’

A few days later, my wife was regaling me with the woes of the adjunct faculty at the college where she teaches. It seems that they never know when they will be paid, and the first payday often comes late in the semester. Almost without thinking, I interrupted her: “That wouldn’t happen under Sharia law.”

It wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – happen under Mosaic law either, but who, even in churches, pays attention to that anymore?

Fast forward to the Super Bowl. My Seahawks won. Whoopee.

More importantly, though, American pop culture was on display during the ads. People with millions of bucks to throw around not only bought air time and paid for the ads to be produced, they did market surveys to make sure the ads they put on would appeal to the viewers.

And what did they conclude the viewers would want to see? Well, there was support for the military, not only surrounding the singing of the national anthem, but also by a beer company. There was a nationalist hymn presented by a cola company. Then there was a visual of men standing at urinals and a middle school–aged girl speculating that they might someday “have rainbows coming out their butts.” There was a visual joke with enhanced audio about flatulence. But the topper for me was a nod and wink to casual fellatio that no middle schooler could miss.

Fellatio? On worldwide TV? Where kids could see it? How so?

My feminist Muslim client to the rescue with the answer. Her latest paper was a discussion of hip-hop music from a feminist perspective, complete with samples from two big-name hip-hoppers of misogynist lyrics about fellatio. I then remembered that when Glenn Beck first got on the radio in Philadelphia he was decrying the apparently common practice of fellatio on school buses.

Well hey, silly me, if they're doing it on tax-subsidized buses and listening to songs about it, why not joke about it during the Super Bowl?

I came to the conclusion a while back that I grew up as one of what C. S. Lewis called “men without chests,” people missing the uniquely human characteristic of compassion. I wince when I think of how I almost didn’t kiss my mother goodbye when I knew it was probably the last time I’d ever see her and how, despite my desire never to do so, I regarded the female personality as simply one of many hurdles to overcome on my way to a girl’s really valuable tangible assets. I've come to hate the culture that produced me, even as I tap my feet to the music I used to dance to.

What will happen to the kids who grew up thinking casual fellatio was such a good idea when they realize they've been had? Will they turn to a church that celebrates the militarism and nationalism of the Super Bowl? A newsletter from a Christian organization I admire laments that three quarters of Christian children in the US chuck their faith after high school. If we can't keep our own kids, how can we expect to draw anyone else's?

Or will the next generation turn to something outside the church that stands apart from our degenerate culture? Why not Islam?

My client expressed no love for the misogyny of the hip-hop culture. Whether or not she puts misogynist hip-hoppers in the same basket with the militarism that lauds “heroes” who kill Muslim women and children in the Dar al-Islam from their air-conditioned battle stations in the US, I suspect she has even less love for the latter. I certainly would not want to invite her to a church that flies the flag that flew over the Super Bowl ads.

Few people would have predicted Russell Wilson’s success when he was a kid, and maybe it will be the Super Bowl culture, Millennial style, whose work brings about a truly Christian America – they can’t do much worse than we did.

But I think we’ve been trying that strategy for decades and have little good to show for it. Maybe we should try a little more “come out from among them, says the Lord, and be separate; do not touch the unclean thing.” I don’t know of many Christians who accept the kind of misogyny exemplified by casual fellatio, but I know of far too much acceptance of the kind of misogyny exemplified by the bombing of innocent women. Maybe repenting of that sin would be a good place to start.