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Vote 2008: Ranking the Issues

Not too long ago, my fellow SBC Witness contributor Nathan Akin wrote a provacative post titled Vote 2008: How Would You Vote if Both Candidates are Pro-Choice? In that post, Nathan made it clear that he could not, in good conscience, vote for a political candidate who is pro-abortion. That post generated some interesting comments, though regrettably not as many as it should have.

To piggyback on Nathan's earlier post, I want to raise a question: as we approach the 2008 primary season, how would you rank the issues? In other words, in your opinion what are the five or ten most important issues at stake in 2008, and in what order would you rank those issues? I ask this question assuming that none of us agree 100% with any political candidate, thus making it necessary for us to have some type of personal grid we use to assess candidates and make a reasoned decision.

Please note that this post is about political issues, not things like a candidate's character, religion, electability, etc. While those may be legitimate things to take into consideration, please focus specifically on how you rate the actual issues that are being debated by the candidates.

Christian Books and Christian Retail

Let me set the stage. You are an executive at a major Christian book publisher. The mother of one of the most recognized and influential Southern Baptists comes to you with a book proposal. She wants to publish a book on parenting. You think, “should we publish this book?” It seems like a no-brainer question, right? The author will have instant name recognition, and the book will probably top the CBA‘s bestsellers list if you publish it. The only problem is that the author of this book is Lynne Spears, the mother of Britney Spears. The publisher is Thomas Nelson.

Now, I do not want to criticize Thomas Nelson too severely here. They have published edifying works that I have on my bookshelves. They have published authors that I love and respect–people like John MacArthur and Wayne Mack. And to be honest, I commend them for rethinking and delaying the publication of Lynne Spears’s book. I do wonder, however, why they considered it in the first place. I am certain that they are not the only Christian publisher that would have seriously considered publishing it. None should have, though.

Also, I’m not trying to go all TMZ on another member of the Spears family. I’m just saying that as my wife and I are preparing to become parents, this potential work would not make the short-list for books that I would want to read in order to make sure I raise my child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And without having read it, I am still confident that I would not recommend it if I were still selling books. Contrary to popular belief, you can judge many books by their covers (trust me, I can send you a list), and you can usually judge them based upon what you know of the author.

I love the Christian book industry. I really do. This is not meant to be a polemic against it, but a caution for it.

I worked in the field for several years at one of the finest Christian bookstores in America, and I had the privilege of working for one of the kindest, most connected, and well respected guys in the industry. I loved working there because the company represented much of what is right in the industry. The way the owner of this store treated his employees and customers put the “Christian” in “Christian Retail.”

As much as I enjoyed my time in the industry, I also saw some things that just made me shake my head. At one point, I worked keying in orders for books. For months, I poured over every page of every catalog we received from every Christian publisher. I read descriptions of books and often thought, “how is that edifying in the least?”

And that question is the crux of the issue. Christian publishers should–SHOULD–exist primarily for edification. Should they still make a profit? Absolutely. But their purpose should primarily be that of edification, and I will daresay that the bulk of what makes it to Christian retail stores fails that test. A book on parenting by the mother of the poster-child for wayward behavior likely doesn’t meet that criteria, and plenty of others that make it to the shelves fail that test as well.

Christian publishers and retailers have an obligation to God, and to their customers, to ask this question before all others. Before they even consider whether or not the book will sell, they need to ask, “will it edify?”

n.b. Before the Witness boys start sending me a bunch of emails questioning my manhood for reading People on a regular basis, let me alleviate your fears. Someone forwarded me the link. A hat tip to that person. You know who you are :)

Tim Challies on the Death of Shame

Tim writes:

Over the past few years, Aileen and I have continually returned to the question of why so many young people these days seem unwilling or unable to grow up. It is a question that has confused us, especially as we look to many of the young people we know. There was a time when young people seemed eager to grow up, to mature, and to head out into the world to make their mark on it. Or that is how we remember it (we were, after all, married at 21 and parents by 23). But those people now seem to be the exception more than the rule. More and more, it seems, young people (and increasingly older young people) are choosing to stay home, to stay in colleges, to earn a second or third or fourth degree. They are, it seems, refusing to grow up.
To help our thinking on this issue, I’ve been reading The Death of the Grown-up, a fascinating book by Diana West and one that seeks to answer the question of “Where have all the grown-ups gone?” The book’s subtitle is “How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.” I suppose that says it all. West has studied this phenomenon and has determined that it is one that is going to have serious repercussions. The lines between child and adult are growing increasingly blurry. I hope to write a review of the book next week.
One section of the book that has caught my attention deals with the notion of “shame.” Shame is a bit of a tricky concept, I think, as it seems to me to be both negative and positive. The Bible makes it clear that, in their innocence, before they invited sin into the world, Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed.” Written after the fact and written at a time when people could hardly conceive of nakedness as being anything but shameful, these words are clearly meant to make people think and to consider a world without shame. Shame, after all, in at least one of its forms, is product of guilt. Shame comes about as we realize our guilt or our inadequacy. Shame comes as we compare ourselves to a better standard or even as we compare ourselves to another standard (which is, more often than not, other people). So while it is a product of sin and a necessity only in an imperfect world, it is also a gift, of sorts. Shame is an aspect of God’s common grace that keeps us from expressing ourselves in ways that would otherwise result in serious consequences.
But shame is becoming increasingly foreign in our culture. We hear of the way teens act these days—with 13 year old girls propositioning their male friends and dispensing sexual favors on the school bus; with men and boys alike proudly discussing just how much pornography they consume; with the sexual preferences of movie stars being discussed in the evening news; with commercials for sexual enhancers constantly playing on television. Where has shame gone?
West traces the decline of shame to the death of the notion of obscenity, especially in the world of art. “By the time the courts, in effect, declared obscenity was dead, they had killed something vital to a healthy society: the faculty of judgment that attempts to distinguish between what is obscene and what is not obscene—the avowedly ‘grown-up’ sensibility of an outmoded authority figure who had long relied on a proven hierarchy of taste and knowledge until it was quite suddenly leveled. From this leveling came another casualty: society’s capacity, society’s willingness, to make even basic distinctions between trash and art.”
This has led to all manner of offensive, vulgar art being paraded in front of us, even if that art is just plain bad. The question is not, as it should be, “is it good art?” Rather, people simply cry “censorship” and allow anything to be displayed, no matter how vulgar, no matter how devoid of artistic merit. We can no longer distinguish between trash and art. Exempting art from censorship laws, effectively concluding that there is no such thing as obscenity, has had consequences.
“Once the law balked at recognizing obscenity, the populace began to doubt the very basis for shame. With no legal, institutional support for consensus, little wonder the bottom fell out from under morality.” As obscenity became a thing of the past, so too did it’s necessary consequence: shame. Shame is increasingly missing from our culture. We do things, watch things, enjoy things, participate in things that at any other time and in any other place would be considered shameful. Politicians show little remorse, little shame, when their dirty sexual deeds are exposed. Parents cavort with children, acting like children. “Shamelessness sheds light on why it is that American matrons are more likely to host sex-toy parties than Tupperware parties; why the Major Leagues showcase Viagra ads at home plate; why a presidential fund-raiser for GOP candidates includes a well-endowing—that is, contributing—porn star and pornographer; and why at grocery store checkouts shoppers can check out “hot sex tips” along with a loaf of bread. We have all learned—or at least we have all been taught—that the mental blush is superceded by the genital tingle.”
The paradox is something Christians know well. “Less restraint doesn’t necessarily deliver greater freedom.” It should be not surprising that the “land of the free” is also the land with more laws than just about any other nation in the world. With rules comes freedom—not with a lack of restraint. Humans being what we are, we rely on rules to keep us acting within the bounds of morality and within the bounds of shame. When these rules are tossed out and when shame disappears, so too does our willingness to restrain ourselves. With no concept of obscenity there is no shame; with no shame, anything goes. “In a shameless culture…self restraint is continually undermined.”
“By the twenty-first century, shame and embarrassment have zero association with sexuality—or so we are endlessly, numbingly instructed—and, correspondingly, an infantile lack of behavioral restraint may be observed in everything from freak dancing, to ‘super-size’ eating, to McMansion-building. Without the concept of obscenity, without reason for shame, the ‘self’ in self-control sees no greater, larger, socially significant point in holding back.”
What has happened to shame? Well, it appears that shame has been put to death. “Culturally speaking, obscenity is all but legally obsolete, and shame is a kind of secular sin—a symptom of ‘hang-ups,’ of repression, of inhibition, of liberty lost.”
The only thing our society tells us to be ashamed of, it seems, is shame itself.

Andrew Fuller on Contemporary Progressive Baptists

Many progressive Baptists in the American South, who normally prefer to be called moderates, have argued for many years that the sine qua non of the Baptist tradition is religious freedom, particularly embodied in the right to private interpretation of spiritual matters. This aberrant view of Christian freedom, which is typically linked to a perversion of the priesthood of all believers and "soul competency," has been used to justify progressive views on a number of issues. A recent example will suffice.

Just this past month the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina excluded the Myers Park Baptist Church of Charlotte from convention membership (read about it here). Myers Park has been openly supportive of the homosexual agenda, and for years unrepentant homosexuals have been allowed into the church's membership and have served in leadership positions. The members of this church have argued that homosexuals should not be treated as spiritual outcasts, noting that Jesus accepted outcasts and loved all people. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that Jesus did so uncritically, which of course redefines the nature of the gospel itself. But Myers Park, like many progressive churches, argues that it should have the right to read Scripture in any manner they wish without fear of any recrimination from other Baptist churches. In other words, Myers Park is arguing that their private interpretation of Scripture is an inherent right that trumps any sense of inter-church accountability.

Since there is nothing new under the sun, it should surprise no one that the arguments used by progressive Baptists are not novel. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, there were Christians in England that similarly argued for the right of unfettered private interpretation. Andrew Fuller offered some thoughts on these moral and theological libertarians, and his words are just as relevant 200 years later. Please note I have retained the original spelling and fonts.

The right of private judgment in matters of religion appears to be THE RIGHT WHICH EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS TO THINK AND TO AVOW HIS THOUGHTS ON THOSE SUBJECTS, WITHOUT BEING LIABLE TO ANY CIVIL INCONVENIENCE ON THAT ACCOUNT….But of late the subject has taken another turn, and men have pleaded not only an exemption from civil penalties on account of their religious principles, in which the very essence of persecution consists, but also that they are not subject to the control of a religious society with which they stand connected for any tenets which they may think proper to avow. The right of private judgment now frequently assumed, is a right in every individual who may become a member of a Christian church to think and avow his thoughts, be they what they may, without being subject to exclusion of admonition, or the ill opinion of his brethren, on that account. Any thing that is consistent with this is thought to be consistent to spiritual tyranny, and repugnant to that "liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." But this appears to be highly extravagant, and is what no man can claim as a right. The following considerations are submitted to the reader.

First, The supposed right of the individual is contrary to the principles on which Christian churches were originally founded….Hence it appears that admonishing or excluding from the primitive church those who held pernicious errors was not reckoned to be subversive of the right of private judgment; and the churches being exhorted to such discipline by the apostles was exercising no dominion over their faith.

Secondly, Not only is this supposed right of private judgment inconsistent with apostolic practice, but it is also contrary to reason and the fitness of all things….A community must entirely renounce the name of a Christian church before it can act upon the principle here contended for; and those who entirely reject Christianity ought, nevertheless, to be admitted or retained in fellowship, if they choose it; seeing they have only exercised the right of private judgment!

To say that no person is better or worse in a moral view, whatever be his principles, is to say that principles themselves have no influence on the heart and life; and that amounts to the same thing as their being of no importance. But if so, all those scriptures which represent truth as a means of sanctification ought to be discarded; and all the labours of good men to discover truth, and of the apostles to disseminate it–yea, and those of the Son of God himself, who came into the world to bear witness to the truth–were totally in vain.

[From "An Inquiry into the Right of Private Judgment in Matters of Religion," in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, vol. III, pp. 447-49.]

The Mission of Today’s Church

We at SBC Witness try to keep readers updated on new books related to Southern Baptists, but I have to confess we are a tad behind recently. Some interesting works have been published in the last few months, and some more are on the way. I hope to post about some of them in the next few days.

This post is dedicated to another great "newish" book from B&H Academic. The Mission of Today's Church: Baptist Leaders Look at Modern Faith Issues (B&H, 2007) is a collection of essays edited by theologian Stan Norman. The chapters include the following contributions:

"Ten Mandates for Southern Baptists" – Daniel L. Akin 

"Between Scylla and Charybdis: Reflections on the Baptist Way" – Charles S. Kelley

"The Church, Worship, and the Lord’s Supper" – David S. Dockery

"Three Views of the Church’s Mission in the Black Community" – James Jenkins

"Explaining the Gospel to Kids" – Charles L. Quarles

"The Missional Nature of the Church and the Future of Southern Baptist Convention Churches" – Ed Stetzer

"Together We Grow: Congregational Polity as a Means of Corporate Sanctification" – R. Stanton Norman

"Congregational Polity and Its Strategic Limitations" – Jerry Sutton

"Being Salt and Light in a Post-Christian Culture" – Barret Duke

"Cooperation among Southern Baptist Churches as Set Forth in Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message" - Jim Richards

"Toward a Theology of Cooperation" – Chad Owen Brand

"Salvation and the Sovereignty of God: The Great Commission a the Expression of the Divine Will" – Kenneth D. Keathley

This one is well worth taking a look at. I would also heartily recommend Norman's books More than Just a Name and The Baptist Way, both of which are also published by B&H (I have used the latter in my Baptist History and Identity classes).

Redefining the Fairytale: Which One of Us is Supposed to be Rescued?

 sleeping beautyMy wife and I went to see the new Disney movie "Enchanted" (which at the time was the #1 movie in America). The concept of the movie is that cartoon fairytale characters would stumble into real life in New York City. While the crossing of fairytale characters into real life provided the promised comedy, it also provided something I did not expect, the redefining of the classic fairytale along modern cultural lines. Who knew that gender identity issues would show up in a Disney fairytale? Did you know that the damsel in distress can also be the sword-wielding heroine?

 Here's the basic story: Giselle is a pretty maiden who lives in the fairytale land of "Andalasia." She meets her handsome Prince Edward who sweeps her off her feet and prepares to marry her. Yet, Edward's evil step-mother, Queen Narissa knows this union will remove her from the throne, so she sends Giselle into the real world. In NYC she meets Robert. Robert is a single dad with a young daughter who was abandoned in the past by his wife. Robert has been jaded by his abandonment, so he believes that fairytale notions of love are wrong and things must be taken really slow. Robert wants to ask his longtime girlfriend Nancy to marry him, but his encounters with Giselle quickly cause him to fall for her. Prince Edward heads into NYC to rescue his damsel. This causes Queen Narissa to come to NYC as a dragon to kill Giselle and make sure she never takes the throne…

 There were several scenes that caught my attention. Early on in the movie when attempting to tell his young daughter that he intends to become engaged Robert tries to smooth this conversation over by giving his daughter a gift. She wanted a fairytale book, but instead she received a book about "strong" women like Rosa Parks, Golda Meir, etc. Robert tells his daughter that fairy tales are not real and that he wants his daughter to grow up to be like these women. He says that his girlfriend Nancy is like these women. Almost immediately I was able to guess the conclusion to the movie… Could it be that the damsel will become the hero?

 My fears were realized. When the evil step-mother comes to NYC she turns into a fierce dragon who seeks to kill Giselle. When Robert attempts to stand in the way to protect and rescue his maiden Giselle, the dragon grabs him and begins to climb a NYC skyscraper. Giselle grabs a sword and pursues to which the dragon replies, "what an unusual twist to our story." The dragon then looks at Robert in her hand and says, "That must make you our damsel in distress." Admittedly Giselle does not end up slaying the dragon. She causes the dragon to fall and uses the sword to keep Robert from plummeting to his death. But there is a redefinition of the classic fairytale roles. The fragile maiden in need of rescue has now become the strong sword-wielding heroine, and the leading man has become the damsel in distress in need of rescue. This may be Disney's way of telling women they can "have it all." You can be both the princess who is swept off her feet by a man and the heroine who rescues that man.

 This redefinition is perfectly in keeping with the current cultural trends that confuse gender identity, roles in marriage, and seek to present an egalitarian view of life. My biggest problem with this redefinition is that it corrupts a biblical view of marriage, and a corrupted view of marriage is a corrupted view of the gospel. Peter Leithart says that "G. K. Chesterton was fond of pointing out that there is often more good theology and ethics in fairy tales than in some thick books of theology. In 'Sleeping Beauty,' we have a wonderful picture of the work of Christ on behalf of His church. In Walt Disney's animated version of that tale, Prince Philip climbs a jagged black mountain, cuts through deadly thorns with his sword, and grapples with the dragon-witch to rescue his beloved. A more fitting picture of Jesus' work can hardly be imagined. Jesus appears in the Gospels not as an Oriental guru — a proto-Gandhian proclaiming love and nonviolence — but as a princely Lover, passionately willing to suffer all things to rescue His Bride from her captor (Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power, p. 35)." This prince crushes the head of the dragon and rescues His bride (Eph. 5).

 Though teaching young girls and young boys that there could be valuable lessons to learn from the classic fairy tales certainly has its pitfalls. There are dangers in our girls and boys expecting a fairy tale version of emotional love, "being swept off your feet," looking for "prince charming," etc. Yet, if put in the appropriate context the classic fairytale is certainly touching on something that is true of the way a man should fight for and protect his bride. This should be taught to our young boys and girls because it is biblical.

      My wife and I have a beautiful 16 month old little girl named "Maddy," and we talk often about ways we can train her right now to be feminine. We do not seek to raise her to be fiercely independent. We do seek to raise her as a woman who expects to be taken care of by a man. We talk about how we will deal differently with boys if God blesses us with them. We will let our little boys fall down and pick themselves back up, learn to be tough, learn to be leaders, independent, etc. When Maddy falls down we pick her up, wipe away her tears, tell her it is ok, etc. We will train our boys to take care of women and treat them with respect. We will train our little girls to expect a man to be respectful to them and take care of them. We do this because we believe that marriage roles are a picture of the Gospel. Tom Ascol said at the Building Bridges Conference, "Marriage is to put the Gospel on display. It is a living parable of what God has done in Christ in saving sinners. Husbands, wives you have a role to play in this drama! Wives you get to live the role of the one who gets rescued. Husband you get to live the role of the one who got murdered in doing the rescue." Given this biblical picture it is not surprising that Hollywood wants to redefine the classic fairytale so that the roles are reversed. My fear is that the church is doing it too. Could it be that earlier Disney knew more about gender roles than the contemporary church?
      I pray for my daughter even now that she will find a man who will love her and take care of her the way that Christ loves and protects His church. I also pray daily that she will find the Man who scaled the Black Hill "Calvary", took on the thorns, wielded His sword, and cut off the dragon's head while suffocating to death on the cross. He did that to rescue His Bride and present her clean and blameless. May that TRUE adventure story never be redefined!