Category Archives: Culture

Christians Not Welcome?

“Oxford college bans ‘harmful’ Christian Union from freshers’ fair” is the headline for the following Telegraph report:

An Oxford College has banned the Christian Union from its freshers’ fair on the grounds that it would be “alienating” for students of other religions, and constitute a “micro-aggression”.

The organiser of Balliol’s fair argued Christianity’s historic use as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism” meant that students might feel “unwelcome” in their new college if the Christian Union had a stall.

Freddy Potts, vice-president of Balliol’s Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, said that if a representative from the Christian Union (CU) attended the fair, it could cause “potential harm” to freshers.

Mr Potts, writing on behalf of the JCR’s welfare committee, told the CU representative at Balliol, that their “sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students”.

[…]

“Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

He said that barring the Christian Union from the fair “may be a way of helping to avoid making any students feel initially unwelcome within Balliol”.

This is appalling and hypocritical on multiple levels; I’ll highlight only one. Note that the Christian Union is being excluded not because of anything specific to that organization, but because of supposed problems with Christianity. The very presence of representatives of the Christian faith at the freshers’ fair is deemed hazardous because it might ‘alienate’ new students and make them feel ‘unwelcome’.

Does it not occur to the JCR committee that some of these incoming students will be Christians, and that the exclusion of the Christian Union for the reasons they give might alienate those Christian students and make them “feel initially unwelcome”?

Just as intolerance is promoted in the name of tolerance, so exclusion is practiced in the name of inclusion. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of ‘secular spaces’!

Warfield Lectures: Anthropology & Transgenderism

Last October I had the great privilege of delivering the Fifth Annual B. B. Warfield Lectures at the invitation of Erskine Seminary and First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. Edited versions of those two lectures have now been published in RTS’s online journal, Reformed Faith & Practice:

  1. What Are We? Three Views on Human Nature
  2. Transgenderism: A Christian Perspective

The first lecture is to some degree setup for the second, but each one is self-standing.

When Harry Wants To Be Called ‘Sally’

Transgender IconThe Nashville Statement was published this week, and the (over)reaction to it has been entirely predictable. It’s a fine summary of the biblical Christian position on human sexuality, and (while I might quibble with the wording here and there) I agree with all of its affirmations and denials. What the statement doesn’t do (by design) is answer all of the tricky questions that arise for Christians now living in a culture that by and large repudiates the claims of the Nashville Statement. Truth notwithstanding, the tide is flooding the plain and we’ll soon be up to our necks.

It’s not unfair to say that the Nashville Statement answers easy questions. What does the Bible actually say about natural sexual distinctions and proper sexual relationships? The harder questions concern matters of Christian practice as we engage with the shifting culture around us and grapple with the impact it has on the lives of real people.

I’ve given several presentations on the topic of transgenderism over the last two years, one of which will be published as an article in the forthcoming issue of RTS’s journal, Reformed Faith & Practice. On every occasion, one particular question has been asked during the Q&A session:

How should we deal with people who claim to be transgender and ask us to use different names and pronouns to refer to them, which they claim correctly reflect their true ‘gender identity’?

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T. S. Eliot on Reading for Amusement

Some insight from Eliot’s essay “Religion and Literature” (1935):

Now what we get, as we gradually grow up and read more and more, and read a greater diversity of authors, is a variety of views of life. But what people commonly assume, I suspect, is that we gain this experience of other men’s views of life only by “improving reading.” This, it is supposed, is a reward we get by applying ourselves to Shakespeare, and Dante, and Goethe, and Emerson, and Carlyle, and dozens of other respectable writers. The rest of our reading for amusement is merely killing time. But I incline to come to the alarming conclusion that it is just the literature that we read for “amusement,” or “purely for pleasure” that may have the greatest and least suspected influence upon us. It is the literature which we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us. Hence it is that the influence of popular novelists, and of popular plays of contemporary life, requires to be scrutinized most closely. And it is chiefly contemporary literature that the majority of people ever read in this attitude of “purely for pleasure,” of pure passivity.

The relation to my subject of what I have been saying should now be a little more apparent. Though we may read literature merely for pleasure, of “entertainment” or of “aesthetic enjoyment,” this reading never affects simply a sort of special sense: it affects our moral and religious existence. And I say that while individual modern writers of eminence can be improving, contemporary literature as a whole tends to be degrading. And that even the effect of the better writers, in an age like ours, may be degrading to some readers; for we must remember that what a writer does to people is not necessarily what he intends to do. It may be only what people are capable of having done to them. People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced. A writer like D. H. Lawrence may be in his effect either beneficial or pernicious. I am not sure that I have not had some pernicious influence myself.

One can only imagine what Eliot would have concluded about the influence of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos on our “moral and religious existence.”

Thinking Biblically About Transgenderism

A short lunchtime presentation to the RTS Charlotte students, followed by Q&A.

Postman’s Prescience

Neil Postman, writing three decades ago, in Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin Books, 1986):

In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action. Of course, in any communication environment, input (what one is informed about) always exceeds output (the possibilities of action based on information). But the situation created by telegraphy, and then exacerbated by later technologies, made the relationship between information and action both abstract and remote. For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.

You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha’is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them. You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into—what else?—another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing. (pp. 68-69)

Also:

Prior to the 1984 presidential elections, the two candidates confronted each other on television in what were called “debates.” These events were not in the least like the Lincoln-Douglas debates or anything else that goes by the name. Each candidate was given five minutes to address such questions as, What is (or would be) your policy in Central America? His opposite number was then given one minute for a rebuttal. In such circumstances, complexity, documentation and logic can play no role, and, indeed, on several occasions syntax itself was abandoned entirely. It is no matter. The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with “giving off” impressions, which is what television does best. Post-debate commentary largely avoided any evaluation of the candidates’ ideas, since there were none to evaluate. Instead, the debates were conceived as boxing matches, the relevant question being, Who KO’d whom? The answer was determined by the “style” of the men—how they looked, fixed their gaze, smiled, and delivered one-liners. In the second debate, President Reagan got off a swell one-liner when asked a question about his age. The following day, several newspapers indicated that Ron had KO’d Fritz with his joke. Thus, the leader of the free world is chosen by the people in the Age of Television. (p. 97)

How far things have come since 1986!

Does Christianity Really Work?

The novelty of the New Atheism lies not in the originality or rigor of its arguments against God and religion, but in the moral indignation of its advocates. Religious beliefs in general, and Christian doctrines in particular, are criticized not merely as false and irrational but as immoral and harmful. Richard Dawkins once characterized Roman Catholicism as “a disease of the mind which has a particular epidemiology similar to that of a virus.” Sam Harris has on numerous occasions expressed his concern that “fundamentalist Christianity” is hindering scientific and moral progress (which, in his mind, are much the same thing). The late Christopher Hitchens famously opined, with characteristic hyperbole, that “religion poisons everything.”

Does Christianity Really Work?William Edgar begs to differ. In his latest book Does Christianity Really Work? (the first volume in the new Christian Focus apologetics series The Big Ten) Edgar argues that the teachings and practices of biblical Christianity have been an undeniable force for good in the world, despite the serious failings of those who have professed to be followers of Christ. Furthermore, the Christian faith offers the moral and spiritual resources to overcome every trial and temptation that the world can throw at us. Edgar highlights the significant role Christianity has played in peace-making efforts around the world, in social reform through the centuries, and in the development and provision of health care. He also reflects with pastoral wisdom on more ‘existential’ issues: the quandary of unanswered prayer, the problem of those who “fall away” from the faith, and the challenges presented by “besetting sins” such as pornography use and drug addiction.

Christianity may tell a great story and make big promises, but can it actually deliver the goods in practice? Does it really work? While honest about the failures of the Christian church and the realities of life in a broken world, Edgar’s book nevertheless offers a persuasive answer in the affirmative.

Endorsements

Dr. Edgar offers to all a Christianity of logic, truth and transcendence—an ultimate balm that will both heal and protect against the harsh realities of life. He does not hesitate to confront the difficult questions that challenge our faith in times of doubt while also giving his readers a vision of a society transformed by Christian leadership. — Al Sikes, Former Chairman, FCC, and author of Culture Leads Leaders Follow

From now on, when skeptics ask, ‘Where in the world has Christianity done any good,’ we have a powerful and convincing reply in my friend, William Edgar’s newest book. Bill debunks myths and blows the dust off of little known historical facts about the impact of the Gospel in a hurting world, giving the reader a solid grasp on the positive influence of Christian principles during the darkest of times. Best of all, Does Christianity Really Work? is a guide to us as we promote
peace, joy, and justice in our broken world. For our times and all times, I highly recommend this remarkable book. — Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

William Edgar addresses one of the main questions that sceptics and seekers have about Christianity—does it actually work? Looking at some issues from a positive perspective (the good that Christianity has done, and continues to do) and others from a negative (the alleged harm it is supposed to have brought), Edgar gives reasoned, evidenced and clear answers. This is a good primer for the seeker or the sceptic. — David Robertson, Pastor, St Peter’s Free Church of Scotland, Dundee, and Trustee of SOLAS, Centre for Public Christianity

A Non-Vote Is Not a Vote

One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.

In the first place, the claim itself is inaccurate. If there are only two candidates, A and B, and Oscar doesn’t vote for A, that could mean one of two things:

(1) Oscar votes for B rather than A.

(2) Oscar votes for neither A nor B.

Clearly these aren’t equivalent, because (1) hinders A’s chances of winning more than (2) does.

But it’s worse than that: the reasoning here is incoherent, because if a non-vote for A is a vote for B, then by parity of reasoning a non-vote for B is a vote for A, from which it follows that not voting for either candidate is voting for both candidates. On the most charitable interpretation, that simply means not voting at all would be neutral with respect to the candidates: it wouldn’t favor either of them. On a less charitable interpretation, it’s just a nonsensical conclusion.

Perhaps there are some good reasons for conservatives to cast their vote for the Republican presidential ticket in 2016, but this isn’t one of them.

Addendum: I should add that the same incoherence afflicts another popular argument, namely, that not voting would “allow Hillary to win”. If a non-vote for A would allow B to win, then equally a non-vote for B would allow A to win, in which case not voting for either candidate would allow both candidates to win, which is absurd. (Actually, the conclusion in this case could be interpreted somewhat more charitably: not voting would allow either candidate to win. But again this just highlights the neutrality of a non-vote.)

Why Campus Ministry Is So Challenging

Christian evangelistic ministry on college and university campuses is incredibly important, but also extremely challenging. Why is that? Is it because college students are typically smarter and better educated than the average person, so that campus ministers have be equipped to deal with serious intellectual objections to the Christian faith?

Generally, no. It’s challenging mainly because too many college students have had their God-given minds so warped by relativism and postmodern anti-realism (the view that ‘reality’ is defined by how we choose to think and speak about the world) that they will cheerfully deny what’s plainly obvious for the sake of political correctness.

Further evidence of the problem appeared in my Twitter feed this morning:

I’d love to think this is a spoof, but it isn’t. (Sadly, despite what the students in the video suggest, I can’t make something true merely by wishing or thinking that it’s true!) Behold the rotten fruit of the sexual revolution and its repudiation of a biblical worldview.

Prophets, Precogs, and the Purposes of God

[I wrote this article back in 2002 for the now-defunct UK website Facing the Challenge. Reposted here, with minor edits, for posterity.]

Minority ReportWhat would you do if you were accused of a murder you had not committed… yet?

So runs the tagline for Minority Report, the latest action-thriller-cum-futuristic-noir from director Steven Spielberg. Intriguing though the question may be, it is by no means the only conundrum raised by this equally entertaining and thought-provoking film. As The Matrix did to a lesser degree, Minority Report touches on a host of age-old ethical and metaphysical puzzles — some raised explicitly, others apparent only on later reflection — but in an imaginative, contemporary, and stylish manner.

Are we free to determine our futures or are we destined by fate? If you know in advance that someone will perform a certain action at a certain time, can that person then be acting freely? Could it ever be just to punish a person for a crime they didn’t commit, yet surely would have committed had others not intervened to prevent it? Is a crimeless society thereby a virtuous one? When are privacy and freedom more valuable than safety? Where does justice end and vengeance begin? Is it ever justifiable to treat human beings (even abnormal ones) as means rather than ends?

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