18 September 2005

Bookworm Fundamentalist?

"Many young fundamentalists are seeking to distance themselves from their predecessors. The title itself, 'young fundamentalists,' suggests the phobia of being counted with the militant separatists who have borne the fundamentalist title before. Suddenly it is not enough to be described simply as a fundamentalist. They now need an adjective to precede the noun. Deja vu." Chris Anderson, "The Young Fundamentalists, Deja Vu", The Ohio Bible Fellowship Visitor, May 2005.


I suppose this paragraph warrants an explanation of "Bookworm Fundamentalist." Here is the main reason I feel like "it is not enough to be described simply as a fundamentalist."

Blogger.com represents people of vastly different backgrounds. It strikes me as staggeringly unlikely that a normal passerby in blogdom will see "fundamentalist" and think, "This fellow is willing to do 'battle royal for the gospel.'" I find the exclamation "Egads--A jihadist!" much more probable. As a Baptist I believe in the separation of church and state and in soul liberty. I never want to imply to my readers that I am willing to harm anyone to coerce their compliance to the Christian gospel.

So why have I chosen "bookworm" as my adjective?

(1) Christian Fundamentalism as a movement represents surprisingly diverse points of view. When a Christian happens upon my blog and sees the word "fundamentalist," what comes into his mind? Some may think instinctively of those who call themselves fundamentalists but have a disdain for the exegesis of the Scriptures in the originals languages and for the systematization of the Scriptures into a consistent theology. This seems to be the kind of fundamentalist addressed in Phil Johnson's criticism of our movement. Fundamentalists ought to be ashamed that a movement intended to defend orthodoxy has been so willing to tolerate theological ignorance and aberrance within its ranks. I never want to imply to my readers that I am the kind of fundamentalist who does not "look up the verse."

(2) "Bookworm" is a term of derision employed to remind me to try with all I've got not to take myself too seriously. Kids in my neighborhood use to call me "Housefly" because I liked to stay in the house and read rather than go outside and play. I am fond of the name, but unfortunately "Housefly Fundamentalist" doesn't cut it.

But here's what I don't mean by "bookworm."

(1) I don't mean that I am not militant. Kevin Bauder had a nice working definition of militant on his blog recently. "Militancy is the recognition that Christian fellowship depends upon shared truth. Where the gospel is not shared in its entirety, no Christian fellowship exists at all, and should not be pretended. Among Christians, fellowship is not possible where we do not share aspects of the whole counsel of God (obversely, it does wherever we do share aspects of the whole counsel of God). Militancy is largely the attitude of being willing to state plainly what we do or do not share, where we can or cannot fellowship, and why." Complementarily Dr. McCune has indicated that the word "passionate" may help some people get to the idea behind militant. If this is militant, enlist me today!

(2) I don't mean that I am not concerned about the experiential and practical sides of Christianity. Religious apostasy is not confined to bad theology. It can represent itself both in lack of zeal for God and in lack obedience to his commands.

(3) I don't mean that I am after academic credibility from the outside world. The Scriptures are clear that those who tell themselves that there isn't a God are "fools" (Psalm 14:1), or, to use Greg Bahnsen's rendering, "stupid-heads." The academic community only avoids blithering idiocy when it self-contradictorily and self-deceivingly assumes the Christian worldview. I pray that a day does not come when such fools accept me as wise. For in that day I will have lost my struggle to glory in the Lord alone, and I will have proven myself "disqualified for the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:27).

So I do feel the need to add an adjective, but in doing so I hope that I have not undermined the noun.

14 September 2005

"Enemies of the State?"

Hannah Beech contributed a gripping article in the September 19 issue of Time magazine entitled "Enemies of the State?" The article recounts the story of Li Juan, a rural Chinese woman, who was attacked by government officials recently. The officials, in trying to enforce a "one-child policy," forcefully performed an abortion on Li Juan. Hannah Beech goes on to explain that the Chinese federal government has tried to stop both forced abortion and forced sterilization, but the reform has not reached rural areas like Li Juan's. One brave man, named Chen Guangcheng, who was not allowed by the federal government to study law because he is blind, has gone to the federal courts about these atrocities. Despite violent harrassment from regional goverments, he is continuing to bring the case before Beijing courts. Beech concludes the article with the story of Hu Bingmei who has been permanently disabled by a botched, and forced, sterilization procedure.

A number of things struck me about this article. These regional governments are committing atrocities. It would be difficult to overstate the depth of violent depravity which reigns in the hearts of the people who do these things. Also one cannot write about these events without cheapening, in some way, the pain these women are feeling. I cannot imagine what they are going through. On the other hand, the bravery of Chen is brilliantly admirable. Common grace has made a real hero out of this man. He has been discriminated against; he has been put down by society; but his attitude is not one of self-pity or even one of revenge. He works within the system that unjustly discriminated against him to help alleviate a deeper and more important injustice.

I have not commented much on politics in this blog, and I intend to keep it that way, but I also found it difficult to resist reflection on the way abortion is defended in the West. For instance, the stark evil of these acts serves to point out the real weight of the argument of overpopulation. I am not a sociologist, and I do not pretend to understand the problem of overpopulation, but this is not the answer.

These events also serve to point up the fallacy of the argument that no one should be forced to take care of another person. The argument, as I have heard it, is that the constitution nowhere obligates one individual to care for the life of another. Pregancy would have to be an exception to that rule, pro-choice advocates say. But the Chinese government is only doing under the Communist system what Westerners allow mothers to do under individualistic democracy. The government does not wish to care for the life of the child, so it eliminates the unwanted liability.

In the end the Western reaction to what is happening in China shows a gross inconsistency on our part. When the woman does not want her child, abortion is a choice. When she does want the child, abortion is an atrocity. Is the autonomous will of the individual mother so godlike that it can determine the personhood of her own offspring? If human autonomy is that powerful, then one wonders what objection can be offered against those officials who would choose to eliminate liabilities to the state by murdering other people's children.

01 September 2005

How Diversity Magnifies the Glory of God

The thoughts expressed in these four paragraphs from Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper have been prominent in my thoughts for the past few days. In showing the beauty of ethnic diversity, Piper also points out a diversity in beauty which seems to have been neglected in some constructions of the Christian view of beauty.

"1. First, there is a beauty and power of praise that comes from unity in diversity that is greater than that which comes from unity alone. Psalm 96:3-4 connects the evangelizing of the peoples with the quality of praise that God deserves. 'Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.' Notice the word 'for.' The extraordinary greatness of the praise that the Lord should receive is the ground and impetus of our mission to the nations.

"I infer from this that the beauty and power of praise that will come to the Lord from the diversity of the nations are greater than the beauty and power that would come to him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturally uniform. The reason for this can be seen in the analogy of a choir. More depth and beauty is felt from a choir that sings in parts than from a choir that sings only in unison. Unity in diversity is more beautiful and more powerful than the unity of uniformity. This carries over to the untold differences that exist between the peoples of the world. When their diversity unites in worship to God, the beauty of their praise will echo the depth and greatness of God's beauty far more than if the redeemed were from only a few different groups.

"2. Second, the fame and greatness and worth of an object of beauty increases in proportion to the diversity of those who recognize its beauty. If a work of art is regarded as great among a small and likeminded group of people but not by anyone else, the art is probably not truly great. Its qualities are such that it does not appeal to the deep universals in our hearts but only to provincial biases. But if a work of art continues to win more and more admirers not only across cultures but also across decades and centuries, then its greatness is irresistibly manifested.

"Thus, when Paul says, 'Praise the Lord all you nations, and let all the peoples extol him' (Rom. 15:11, author's translation), he is saying that there is something about God that is so universally praiseworthy and so profoundly beautiful and so comprehensively worthy and so deeply satisfying that God will find passionate admireres in every diverse people group in the world. His true greatness will be manifest in the breadth of the diversity of those who perceive and cherish his beauty. His excellence will be shown to be higher and deeper than the parochial preferences that make us happy most of the time. His appeal will be to the deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul. Thus the diversity of the source of admiration will testify to his incomparable glory" (p. 198-199).

After reading through these paragraphs again, I am also delighted to see the balance Piper strikes here. He implies throughout a diversity in Christian beauty, but he does not allow that beauty is altogether a personal or cultural matter. The beauty of God is the objective standard; God appeals to the "deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul," while Mona Lisa may only appeal to the Western version of such capacities. God is what beauty is, and he has implanted "deep universals" in our constitution as image-bearers whereby we inevitably recognize this beauty at some level (though in our pervasive depravity we suppress and hate this beauty if left to ourselves).