Evangelicals, Elites, and Alternative Facts

Molly Worthen, a reputable scholar of American evangelicalism who teaches at the estimable University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, suggests in a recent New York Times article that evangelicals have been leery of “fake news” for a long time now.

She’s more right than she knows.

Worthen points to the usual suspects, rationalist defences of Biblical inerrancy and seven-day creation, and adds to them a brief mention of theologian Cornelius Van Til, who posited a great gulf fixed between the Christian (= true) view of things and every other (world)view.

Van Til and his arch neo-Calvinist philosophy would be utterly unfamiliar to the vast majority of North American evangelicals. But his extreme and rather theoretical division of (Christian) truth on one side and what “the world” says on the other side is not just the oversimplification of fundamentalism. I suggest that such a dichotomy reflects much of evangelicals’ actual experience over the last century or so of North American culture.

For during this time, all “right-thinking” people just “knew” that…

…the Bible was not only to be studied “just like any other book” (Benjamin Jowett) but with a strong anti-supernaturalist bias against both the miraculous in its accounts and any divine involvement in its composition;

…not only are science and religion fundamentally antagonistic, largely because “Darwin has disproved the Bible,” but, paradoxically, Christianity is also responsible for justifying the scientific and technological despoliation of the earth by granting license (in Genesis 1) to human beings to use, and abuse, the planet as we see fit (Lynn White, Jr., Peter Singer, et al.);

…cohabitation before marriage is the best way to produce happier, stronger marriages, and then, if things don’t work out, divorce can be good for everyone, parents and children alike;

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Some Tenebrae Musings

As the time for Tenebrae (Latin “darkness”) services has come again, one thinks of the shrinking circle of light in the Passion narrative of John’s Gospel.

In John 12, Jesus holds forth to Passover crowds: “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” He sheds his light on all Israel, but then…

“After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”

How awful. The Light of the World departed. Deliberately. Leaving them to their own choices, their own judgment: “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'”

And John gives Jesus a coda at the end of chapter 12: “Then Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge.'”

The pool of light then shrinks drastically as, in John 13, it extends only within the Upper Room at the Last Supper. It shrinks still further in that chapter, as one disciple goes out into the night to perform his dark act of betrayal.

Finally, in chapter 17, the light shrinks to a single spotlight at centre stage, as Jesus prays to his Father on behalf of his own.

That narrow light will stay on Jesus until it is extinguished on the Cross.

Tenebrae today, Wednesday, anticipates Maundy Thursday. And that New Mandate, the New Commandment, is at the heart of John’s rendition of the Last Supper.

That Supper begins with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, setting them a shocking, indelible example of mutual service. That Supper ends with Jesus’s “high priestly prayer” that the disciples remain faithful to the mission and remain one in fellowship.

The foot-washing service at the start of the Supper is the foundation for the prayer at the end of it: Only if the disciples are willing to serve each other in the humblest way will they stay on message and stick together. If they become too stiff-necked to bend over and wash another’s feet, they will fall away from their mission and from each other, no longer Christ-centred, no longer Christ-like, no longer Christian.

Instead, Jesus commands them to love each other—not just “as you love yourself,” a standard already too high—but “as I have loved you,” a patently impossible standard. But that is the model of the Master to be emulated by the disciples, and only the giving of the Holy Spirit will allow them even to approximate it.

And approximate it they had better, for only if they love each other conspicuously as Jesus loved them will “everyone know that you are my disciples” (13:35)—that is, will see in them the reality of the Gospel of Jesus they are charged to preach.

Mission and fellowship: Jesus’s last prayer for his own. The circle of his teaching and example has shrunk to this bright core.

Many of us Christians have been willing to sacrifice one for the other: In the name of faithfulness to the cause, we have ruthlessly cut loose fellow Christians. In the name of unity, we have willingly compromised our message and our ministry.

What God has joined together, however, let none of us put asunder. These are Jesus’s last words to his disciples, so we can assume he chose them with utmost care. As we Christians gather world-wide in local groups to celebrate Easter Weekend, may we do so with fresh commitment: to each other in loving service and to the mission in determined faithfulness.

May we, that is, really look like we really are disciples of Jesus Christ, walking together in the Light and welcoming the world into it.

Should Muslims Pray in School? Should Muslims Even Go to School?

Canadian society faced another challenge this past month as a school district in suburban Toronto wrestled with the accommodation of Muslim prayers on Fridays even as critics called for suspension of all such religious services on school grounds.

School board trustees veered back and forth between addressing fears that student sermons would cross over into hate speech and addressing opposite fears that school authorities would presume to censor students.

A compromise solution was passed to allow students to write their own sermons, but they had to be submitted in advance to the principal, and a teacher would continue to monitor the prayer time. But the trustees have asked staff to come up with a policy that will please at least more of the unhappy people in Peel District.

Many Canadians might feel that we’re going back to the future. Didn’t we wrestle with school prayer a generation ago, and decide, from coast to coast to coast, to take it out of public schools? Are our new Muslim neighbours threatening now to turn back the clock on progressive Canada?

Yes, no, and no.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]