What’s Wrong with the World

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The peace of the city

The prophet Jeremiah gave the following message to those who would be exiled from their land:

[S]eek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jeremiah 29:7

This post by Russell Moore has a great many things wrong with it, but one of the central things wrong with it is that Moore does not understand that we should seek the peace of the city in which God has placed us.

But before I get started on the many strikes against Russell Moore's post, let me mention one possibly true thing he was trying to get at that could have been said better. As it happens, it has been said better here by Ed Stetzer. That is simply that the recent Pew survey results have been confusingly reported, cum misplaced glee, by the MSM and that they should not be taken to signal the demise of Christianity in America.

Stetzer actually has an argument for his thesis that the majority of the demise in self-identified Christians between 2007 and 2014 came from those previously nominally Christian rather than deeply committed. He argues as follows:

--A different survey (Gallup) shows that weekly religious attendance as a percentage of population has remained remarkably stable.
--The absolute number of evangelicals in the U.S. is growing, according to the Pew survey.
--The percentage of evangelicals in the population dropped very little, according to the Pew survey. (Stetzer says mistakenly "nine percentage points" when he should say "nine tenths of a percent.")
--When the phrase "or born again" is thrown into the mix, the percentage of Americans who self-identify as "evangelical or born again" actually went up by about 1% in the same time period during which the overall number of self-identified Christians was dropping.

Stetzer makes an interesting case. It appears that Catholicism and mainline Protestantism have sustained the biggest drop in self-identified members during this time period, and unfortunately there is the "cradle Catholic" phenomenon to be contended with there, not to mention the nominal Christians in the mainline Protestant denominations.

So Stetzer may well be right that what the survey shows, for the most part, is people shifting from being nominal Christians to being self-identified as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular.

That being said, Moore is not satisfied with making this statement. Nor is he satisfied with making this statement and then saying that some good may come of the situation. He does much more, and much worse.

Strike 1

Thus Moore:

[T]he number of Americans who identify as Christians has reached an all-time low, and is falling. I think this is perhaps bad news for America, but it is good news for the church.
Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction.

Moore starts right off on the wrong foot (first quotation) by making a false dichotomy between what is bad news for America and what is good news for the church. The entire post will follow the same trend: Hey, America may be going to hell in a handbasket, but that's actually good for the church, don't you know, because it will clarify things, or make Christians stronger and more sincere, or weed out the Pharisees, or something. Let America go to hell in a handbasket. The church will emerge better off than ever before.

This is pernicious foolishness, and it is unbiblical to boot. Scripture never countenances this sort of contrast, not to say clash, between the good, just, moral, stable society and the good of the people of God. To the contrary. The message from Jeremiah was that the good of the city in which the people of God dwell conduces to the good of the people of God. Nor is this connection merely an Old Testament phenomenon. In a similar vein, St. Paul writes,

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:1-4)

Paul says that we are to pray for those in authority so that we (Christians) may lead a quiet and peaceable life. God may and often does bring good out of persecution, but, contra Moore's implication in his reference to the book of Acts, by no means does Paul imply that we should therefore pray for persecution! From the historical fact that Christianity grew originally under conditions of persecution it by no means follows that we should prefer a society in which Christianity is despised and persecuted.

God may bring good out of societal collapse, but by no means does that mean that we should welcome "bad news for America." Notice, too, how seamlessly the Apostle Paul moves from praying for those in authority to desire for the peace of the church to God's desire for the salvation of souls! Here is no implication that souls are more likely to be saved out of a debauched, corrupt, violent society. (More on that later.)

Strike 2

The lead editor of the report tells The New York Times that secularization—mainly in terms of those who identify as “nones” or with no specific religious affiliation—isn’t isolated to the progressive Northeast and Pacific Northwest. He notes, “The change is taking place all over, including the Bible Belt.”

This is precisely what several of us have been saying for years. Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall. For much of the twentieth century, especially in the South and parts of the Midwest, one had to at least claim to be a Christian to be “normal.” During the Cold War, that meant distinguishing oneself from atheistic Communism. At other times, it has meant seeing churchgoing as a way to be seen as a good parent, a good neighbor, and a regular person. It took courage to be an atheist, because explicit unbelief meant social marginalization. Rising rates of secularization, along with individualism, means that those days are over—and good riddance to them.

Again, this means some bad things for the American social compact. In the Bible Belt of, say, the 1940s, there were people who didn’t, for example, divorce, even though they wanted out of their marriages. In many of these cases, the motive wasn’t obedience to Jesus’ command on marriage but instead because they knew that a divorce would marginalize them from their communities. In that sense, their “traditional family values” were motivated by the same thing that motivated the religious leaders who rejected Jesus—fear of being “put out of the synagogue.” Now, to be sure, that kept some children in intact families. But that’s hardly revival.

(Notice how many paragraphs I quoted there. By all means go and read the whole thing. I have no doubt that Moore's passionate defenders will say that I am "cherry-picking" or "taking him out of context." On the contrary, the context is part of the problem!)

So Moore is gloating over the fall of muddle-headed but not fully-committed self-identified Christianity. "Let it fall!" he cries with glee. "Good riddance to those days!" Better for people to say that they are atheists or have no religious affiliation than for them to say that they are Christians if they aren't, in Moore's view, real, deeply committed Christians.

Then he momentarily admits that this is actually bad for American society, and he instances rising divorce rates. But he has an answer to that, too: The people long ago who didn't divorce because of social pressure were not-divorcing (a sort of hypocritical non-act-act, he implies) for the wrong reasons. They weren't refraining from divorce because they loved Jesus, so...er...something.

So, what, precisely, Dr. Moore? So it would have been better if they had identified themselves as non-Christians and gotten a divorce? That would be just a pietistic version of what free thinkers and progressives said long ago while attacking marriage, only their god was romantic Love. They said that it was hypocritical to remain married if you didn't really do it because you love each other, so better to divorce if you "want out of your marriage." Moore skates very close indeed to implying that it is hypocritical to remain married if you don't do it because you love Jesus, so better to divorce if you "want out of your marriage" and aren't staying in it for the purest of religious motives. No, he doesn't quite come out and say that (and I'm sure his defenders will become apoplectic that I am "putting words in his mouth"), but it is extremely difficult to interpret in any other way his shouts of "Let it fall!" and "Good riddance!" followed by this very example with its unpleasant insinuations that everybody who refrained from divorce even in part as a result of social pressure was just a Pharisee whose self-restraint was without any spiritual value.

Moore pauses in his flight to damn with faint praise: The pressure not to divorce kept some children in intact families, but that, he sniffs, was "hardly revival."

What, then? Is revival the only thing worth striving for or valuing? For that matter, are we closer to revival in a land of rampant divorce and rising numbers of self-identified atheists?

Again, pernicious nonsense.

Strike 3

Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end—even if that end is “traditional family values”—is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
Either way, a Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That’s because it’s, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain.

"Incognito atheists." What a cool phrase! My tablets! My stylus! Gotta get that one down before it goes!

But is it really accurate, even if we accept Stetzer's interpretation of the recent Pew report, to characterize nominal Christians in general as atheists?

Even at the most basic, propositional level, obviously not. There is no doubt that most nominal Christians are not atheists at all. They probably believe in the existence of God, for example. Their religion may be a silly form of "therapeutic deism," but that just ain't the same thing as atheism, and it doesn't help our clarity of thinking to call it "incognito atheism."

Beyond that, both here and in the previously quoted paragraphs we see Moore's simplistic approach to that complex thing called human nature. Moore fails to show an understanding of what real people are like and of the multifaceted ways in which God works in the human spirit. According to Moore's dashing metaphors, either you are totally committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and do everything (e.g., staying in an unhappy marriage) entirely for the love of Christ or else you are an incognito atheist, a Pharisee, and an idolater. (I gather Moore's motto is, "If you're going to mix metaphors, mix them boldly.")

But that isn't what real human beings are like. Every single human being is a mixture of motives, some higher, some lower, and it simply is not true that everything that is not done for the purest motives is bad, debased, and idolatrous. Nowhere in the entire Bible do we find this sort of white-hot, pietistic over-simplification. On the contrary, the entirety of Israelite culture was deliberately built on the principle of putting social pressure on people to conform to the Law of God. When Paul tells the Corinthians to cut off fellowship with the man who is having a sexual relationship with his father's wife (I Corinthians 5), he obviously intends that the social pressure will help to bring the man both to repentance and to right behavior. When parents raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they are constantly applying the tools of social approval and disapproval (at that smallest level of society--the family) to influence and to teach. The razor-sharp distinction Moore wants to draw between social influences to do the right thing and pure religious motives simply does not exist, and it doesn't look like God ever intended it to exist.

Strike 4

We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America. Again, that’s good news. The gospel comes to sinners, not to the righteous. It is easier to speak a gospel to the lost than it is to speak a gospel to the kind-of-saved. And what those honest atheists grapple with, is what every sinner grapples with, burdened consciences that point to judgment. Our calling is to bear witness.

We don’t have Mayberry anymore, if we ever did. Good. Mayberry leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah does. But Christianity didn’t come from Mayberry in the first place, but from a Roman Empire hostile to the core to the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah.

To return to the previous point, Moore does not actually know that we don't have more atheists in America. It actually looks like we do, and there is a strong suspicion of unfalsifiability in Moore's declamations. Apparently no matter what the statistics say, Moore is going to declare that we don't have more atheists in America, because all the people calling themselves atheists now would have been atheists anyway, only dishonest. How he knows this I can't imagine.

But even worse than that is Moore's starry-eyed portrayal in these paragraphs of deeply conflicted, conscience-haunted, ripe-for-the-gospel atheists. For smug complacency and inoculation to the gospel, an atheist can beat all the denizens of Mayberry put together, and all the more so in the Internet age. The biblical phrase "hardness of heart" might have been made for most of the atheists of our own day and age. And a few other biblical phrases, too, like "given over to a reprobate mind." Sin makes you stupid, and the more people are encouraged to identify their freedom to sin with their very selves, the more their minds will be darkened, their eyes blinded, and their hearts turned away from the Word of God. Moore is a fool if he thinks that we are better off even in terms of the effectiveness of evangelism confronting a country filled with out-and-proud atheists rather than with nominal Christians.

To be sure, the nominal Christian often creates his own barriers to evangelization, and anyone raised Baptist, as I was, has heard about those barriers from his mother's knee: Such a person may believe he is a Christian when he has no real commitment to Christ. He may believe that he will go to heaven merely because he is a nice person. He may not recognize his need for forgiveness of sins. He may need some disastrous personal tragedy to jar him into acknowledging his need for a real relationship with God.

All this is true, or at least may be in particular cases. On the other hand (there's that complexity of human nature again), some nominal Christians gradually recognize their need for a deeper commitment. Some hear a sermon and are inspired. Some are brought to salvation by the influence of a friend. Some draw nigh unto God through the deepening maturity that comes through parenthood or through the natural trials of old age. And so on and so forth.

And several of those barriers set up by the nominal Christian can be found in the atheist in spades. Does an atheist recognize his need of divine forgiveness? Does an atheist think that he deserves to go to hell? Merely stating that you don't believe in God does not make you noble because you are so "honest." Indeed, atheism often involves a great deal of intellectual dodging and weaving to get around the evidence for Christianity.

And then we come to this howler, of a piece with the rest of the post:

Mayberry leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah does.

To which I answer firmly, even in some (hopefully righteous) anger: No, Dr. Moore, it does not.

In Gomorrah, they slaughter infants in the womb in their millions, pressure the doctors to stifle their consciences and participate, and teach everyone that this is a woman's right.

In Gomorrah, they pretend to turn little boys into little girls and little girls into little boys.

In Gomorrah, they take the infant hands of the children from the time they are able to toddle and carefully walk them down the road to hell until they are old enough to think that this is the only normal way and to walk it of their own will.

In Gomorrah, if any happen to escape the indoctrinators at younger ages and make it to college while still headed for heaven, the wolves circle round with blandishments, bribery, and bullying to head them off into the wide road that leads to destruction.

In Gomorrah, the number and weight of the millstones needed to hang about the necks of those who cause the little ones to stumble is so great that a mountain would be insufficient to provide the raw materials.

I defy Moore or anyone else to find similar, true things to say about "Mayberry," or the society it stands for. Imperfect, yes, but I daresay if you looked hard enough you could even find fifty righteous men.

No, Mayberry does not lead to hell as surely as does Gomorrah.

Again, Moore's approach here is unbiblical. The Bible tells us that we are to abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good. (Romans 12:9) The Bible says to examine all things carefully and to hold fast to that which is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21) The Bible says to think on those things which are pure and of good report and that have virtue. (Philippians 4:8) But Moore, in his sneering derogation of what he calls the "almost Christianity" of the "Bible belt" and "Mayberry," apparently in the name of some strange notion of theological purity, instead drags down what is good to the level of what is evil.

The theology on display here is seriously misguided and could with some fairness be called a form of Manichaeism. The things of this world, including those culture war issues that make Gomorrah what it is, are treated as existing in a sealed box where they do not touch the purely spiritual issue of "being saved." The attacks on nature, the subversion of conscience, the pressure to conform to all manner of evil, the careful training in calling evil good, the drive to approve of and even participate in the murder of the helpless, the predatory nature of pornography, the full acceptance of divorce--all of this Moore tacitly treats as if it couldn't possibly damn anyone's immortal soul to hell. Hence he can dismiss the relative absence of these things in an older version of our society and the pressure in that society to live in a way that is (as it happens) more in conformity with the will of God as nothing better than a backdrop for bourgeois smugness and hell-bound Phariseeism and cry, "Good riddance to those days!"

All sincere Christians want to declare triumphantly that all will be well in the end. The Bible certainly does tell us that all things will be put under the feet of Jesus Christ and that God will be all in all. The Bible also tells us that the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's church. But reaching that conclusion by deprecating the good of the city and saying "Good" about the destruction of our surrounding society is dangerously foolish. It saps the will of God's people to fight for and cleave to what is good. It encourages millenials in their contempt for the virtues of their parents and in an arrogant certainty that the virtuous old men they knew were really just hypocrites. It blinds the eyes of Christians to many ways in which the prince of this world seeks to devour the souls of men.

Jesus Christ leads his church onward through the night by ways we cannot see. But at this point, I'm afraid he is leading it despite the influence of Russell Moore rather than because of it.

Related entry here. See also here and here.

Comments (30)

Better for people to say that they are atheists or have no religious affiliation than for them to say that they are Christians if they aren't, in Moore's view, real, deeply committed Christians.

I've observed that some of the evangelical churches around my area take a salesman like view of converting people. They feel like once they've gotten someone in the door and they've said the sinner's prayer, the sale is done. The person doesn't have to conform any of their views beyond the basics.

I believe in one video, I saw Mark Driscoll basically tell the women in his congregation that they can reject God's plan for Christian marriage, but they just won't like the results. The implication was that they could insist upon egalitarianism, embrace abortion, etc. but they'd just get a lot of friction in their lives. The emphasis was on "your life won't work nearly as well," not "your life will be in defiance of God's will" (with the implication of sin that comes with that).

So there is a great deal of truth here that one might be genuinely better off not claiming Jesus as Lord if the way it's presented is that there comes little obligation to conform one's views. At least then, the presentation can be made that if you wish to be a Christian you have to eventually hold the views the church has advocated through most of its history.

I'm torn because I see both sides, but there is a serious problem in a lot of metropolitan churches with churches fearing that standing with tradition will marginalize them. Ironically, the main appeal of Islam to its Western converts is that it is unapologetically counter-culture. If the average urban Christian had an attitude closer to a 3rd century Christian on social issues and lived accordingly, it would be shockingly counter-cultural while still holding the same values.

If anything, Mike, Moore's argument would tend to _confirm_ that salesman-like view of Christianity. After all, if there is nothing very laudable about a society in which people live their lives according to God's plan unless they do it *entirely because* they love God, and if our being in Gomorrah has no connection with the loss of souls, then that would seem to mean that getting people saved is entirely divorced (pun intended) from the way that people are taught in our culture to live their lives! See my comments in the post on Manichaeism and the hermetic division between culture and "being saved."

Notice that Moore does _not_ say that the problem in the Mayberry he sneers at was that people claimed Jesus as Lord but lived like the devil or believed they had no obligation to conform their views or life choices to Christian values. On the contrary, his complaint is that they _did_ conform their lives and moral beliefs and choices to Christian standards, but he judges their hearts and says that they did so because of "social disapproval" and as "Pharisees" and therefore that we should cheer the demise of that society even though it was more moral than our own.

Moore's piece is awful, and this is an excellent critique. One bit that resonated strongly with me was your comment that people are a mixture of pure and selfish motives. Specifically, I was fascinated (with horror) at Moore's suggestion that we're better off divorcing than staying in a marriage for any reason other than the love of Jesus, because I have frequently shared that the first year of our marriage was so difficult and stressful that there were several times when I wanted to storm off and return to my parents' house. In fact, I chuckled reading this because the very thing I've said to people is, "I'd like to say that I've stayed committed to our marriage through the difficult times because of the purity of my heart and because I love Jesus and because I love David, but there have been times--especially in the beginning-- that my 'faithfulness' simply has been due to sheer stubbornness and pride." Then, I add, "But I believe that this is a part of how God can continue to work good in us and for us even in the midst of our sinfulness and hypocrisy. I'm grateful to see how over the years the goodness and love and commitment begin to flow more naturally out of the transformed places in my heart rather than my own wish to be good or to be thought of as good." In my experience, this kind of openness has proven encouraging to new couples. And I do think it's a more accurate picture of what sanctification is like.

Whether we're talking of marriage or another aspect of life, such unrealistic expectations of total purity in our motives would seem to lead to the kind of self-condemnation and self-loathing that is more anti-Christian than all the mixed motives of the most lukewarm of cultural Christians.

David French takes a more positive view:


Marie, thanks very much for that insight. The idea that God _uses_ social pressure (social pressure to do the right thing) for good is, I gather, foreign to a certain type of theological background. It almost makes me wonder if there is in such theology some kind of leftover 19th century Romanticism--that everything we do must involve a particular kind of "honesty about feelings" and "living what you really are inside." But that type of Romanticism is in a very real sense what led to the sexual revolution.

Both Moore and the review I think fail in various ways. E.g., divorce, unfaithfulness, rebelliousness, etc.inrease as employment demands not only moving long distances but being absent from spouse and children not to mention extended family, owing to the location and demands of work, advancement, long commuting, etc. One could make a biblical case for having one's vine, fig tree, and family plus ample extended family (aka clan) at hand 24x7. And (perhaps apart from college grads on average), there's a huge trend toward co-habitation not so much for lack of morality as for dread of marriage in view of its scariness today.
And I should mention greed and fraud. I've not heard any preacher (in real life or via media) mention the effect on billions worldwide of what bankers and so on did already this century. And I failed to mention the growth of "nones" caused by Christian leaders who demand a 6000-year-old universe, claim that 9/11 was caused by homosexuality, deny climate change and especially caused by humans, etc.

What's wrong with Russell Moore? He really has been seriously confused about these issues for a long time now. Your piece is just excellent Lydia. I'm just amazed at his historical ignorance:

"But Christianity didn’t come from Mayberry in the first place, but from a Roman Empire hostile to the core to the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah."

While this is true, Moore ignores what the Christians were trying to do -- give witness to the Empire to transform it into a more compassionate and just place to live. There is a reason Christians were persecuted -- they were a threat to core Roman ideas about what kind of life was valuable, what sexuality was all about, what God demanded of his people, etc. Christians weren't happy remaining as a persecuted people -- they wanted to transform the Empire into "Mayberry" (to use Moore's metaphor) and did so over hundreds of years until we had a Christian Europe that eventually spread the faith around the world. You can't do this when society is collapsing around you!

Joe Carter took a more positive view:


Mind you, I don't think we should rest on our fading laurels.

Steve, right, I take Joe Carter to be saying something similar to Ed Stetzer about these statistics.

(In case anyone wonders, I'm deliberately ignoring James Pakala's all-over-the-map comment, which has no clear substance and does not constitute any sort of serious critique of what I wrote.)

Jeff S., you're so right that Moore has been confused about these things for quite some time. He really seems to relish scolding the religious right. And what he says seems to resonate sometimes even with people who ought to know better.

I do think there are some serious theological issues that lie behind the rhetoric he has picked up. In some ways it is a particularly literalistic, theological interpretation of the scriptural statement that "all our righteousness is as filthy rags." I believe it may even be stated in the 39 Articles (!) that any good acts that do not flow from regeneration "have the character of sin"!

If one really takes that theology literally, then it is in a weird sense logical to let the culture go to hell. The only people whose self-sacrifice, self-control, kindness, honesty, vow-keeping, etc., really matter are those who are doing it for Jesus. Moreover, if they are "truly regenerate" then, the idea seems to be, this transformation will follow _automatically_. So cultural influences and cultural trends really don't matter much either way. When they are good, they can't help anyone to get to heaven. And when they are bad, they won't actually help anyone to go to hell. So let's remember that good works really aren't all that good and just concentrate on getting people regenerated.

No, again, Moore doesn't _say_ that. But his entire rhetorical roll (and I really believe he writes these things more on a rhetorical roll than on the basis of anything remotely resembling careful, systematic thought) is based on reaching out to *that theological background* in his presumed audience. And it apparently worked for the most part, judging by the many "amens" in the comment section. (Though there were a few dissenters. My favorite was the commenter who said that Moore reminded him of a football player who does a victory dance in the opponents' end zone.)

Well, Lydia, you left a huge smoking crater where Russell Moore was standing; but he has only his own reckless insouciance to blame for drawing that artillery fire.

I do think there are some serious theological issues that lie behind the rhetoric he has picked up. In some ways it is a particularly literalistic, theological interpretation of the scriptural statement that "all our righteousness is as filthy rags." I believe it may even be stated in the 39 Articles (!) that any good acts that do not flow from regeneration "have the character of sin"!

What I am getting is that Moore is saying - or at least implying, though perhaps he hasn't thought it all the way through - is that it is BETTER for society not to reflect Christianity, because then you can never tell if you neighbor holds Christianity and imitates it through and through because they are regenerated, or because it is the cultural thing to do.

And since this holds always and everywhere, according to his thesis it is bad for society to be Christian outwardly.

Aside from the nonsensical result that even if society consists almost entirely of Christians regenerated in Christ it STILL should not be outwardly Christian, this ignores the reality that for many people the pathway to that total Christian regeneration lies in being proselytized WITH AND THROUGH CULTURE. That is to say, if the only model of becoming a Christian is that of hearing the Word as an adult - after first being and living as a pagan for decades - and then receiving the call to Christ with fruitfulness, then (as historical evidence shows) relatively few will receive that call. Because UNLIKE being called to Christ through the presentation of the Word by parents to their children, hearing it through apostle missionaries preaching in opposition to a whole culture never reaches the majority. But then, if a whole culture is in opposition to Christ, then each member thereof when he hears the Word proposed must not only receive it but ALSO revise and reform all his habits and customs to reflect Christ, and not only revise and reform his motives for doing decently upright acts. Which is much harder and much more liable to fail over time.

Which also leads to another outrageous result: as society, so the family. (Or, to reverse that: the family is the basic unit of society, so as goes the family, so goes society). If Moore thinks it is better for society to not be outwardly Christian, then so also he should say the same for the family. It doesn't matter in his approach, that the parents are true Christians: if the family mores (including all going to church on Sunday, daily prayer in the home, etc) hides members who are not actually regenerated in Christ, well then DITCH THAT FAMILY CULTURE. Because those acts are evil.

Tony, it's interesting that you should say that about the family, for a couple of reasons. One, as I noted in the main post, is that "social pressure" always works at the family level, and parents know this. And no sensible parent thinks that it's a *bad* thing that his child behaves well (in part, or some days, entirely) because Mom and Dad want him to.

The second interesting thing is that some Christian parenting books have actually tried to take up that entire issue. Now, I admit that I haven't read them. I've just read the blurbs and talked to some people who advocate the approach, but I was always somewhat puzzled by it. The approach is known as "shepherding your child's heart." The claim as best I understand it is that we parents are doing it wrong if we tell children to say, "Thank you" and "Please" and not to hit their brothers and sisters, etc., because we say so, because we will disapprove, or even because they will be punished. This, it is said, is creating children who are hypocrites and Pharisees. You are *instead* supposed to find a way to change your children's hearts so that they don't _want_ to hit their siblings, be rude, etc.

Now, I'm all in favor of this concept, to the extent that it can be done. As a parent I strive all the time to mold my children's real, internal characters. Of course I want them genuinely to love their siblings. But the fact remains that there are many, many times when you say, "Stop bickering or you will be punished." And times when there is no alternative. Moreover, it isn't clear that there is a hard and fast distinction between "training their hearts" to love their siblings and forcing them to sit still and stop teasing their siblings. Behavior also molds character. Sometimes these things actually work from the outside in. Moreover, the serious discussions (which I do as well) of what God wants, what Scripture says, _why_ you should treat your sibling kindly, and so forth, work better with some children than with others.

Anyway, all this to say that there actually has been some attempt in the evangelical community to take the, "Don't use social pressure to get people to behave well, because that's teaching hypocrisy instead of acting for the love of God" concept all the way down to the level of the family. My own suspicion is that, like most clever-sounding ideas, that concept works only to the extent that it is heavily modified by parental common sense.

"Mayberry leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah does."

I guess he would say this too: Aristotle leads to hell just as surely as worshipping Satan does.

I don't know if Moore would say that, but I actually had a prof. at Bible college who said, and I quote, "Aristotle invented the law of non-contradiction, and Aristotle died and went to hell." This was apropos of arguing that we must not try to resolve apparent contradictions in theological statements in Scripture. So many fallacies, so little time.

This was apropos of arguing that we must not try to resolve apparent contradictions in theological statements in Scripture.

Sounds like a Calvinist. I've yet to meet a Calvinist who can explain how double predestination and moral culpability can coexist, let alone how God is not the author of sin, since according to Calvinism, Satan should not have had the individual freedom to wreck God's creation so thoroughly without God having a role in it.

how God is not the author of sin

**Based on their view of divine sovereignty.

I'm tempted to rise to the defense of Calvinism, but I'm pretty sure that would lead rather far off-topic. I'll just say that Jonathan Edwards, B.B. Warfield, Francis Turretin, and Calvin himself had no inclination whatsoever to throw out the law of non-contradiction, or to argue for that in such a ridiculous way. Whether the guy was a Calvinist or not, what he said is flat contrary to the whole tradition of Reformed orthodoxy.

and Aristotle died and went to hell.

Wait a minute. Admittedly I am rather thin on what some of these Protestants claim, but let me ask: How does he know? Abraham died and didn't go to hell - because of his faith in the Christ to come. So also with Moses. These points all Christians believe. HOW DOES HE KNOW Aristotle didn't believe in the Christ to come? What proof would he have?

Sorry, I know that's off topic, but golly, I guess if you feel like ditching the principle of non-contradiction you can go anywhere you want. (Not to mention the fact that Aristotle didn't invent the principle any more than Newton invented gravity).

I would rather take my chances in Mayberry.

Agree with everything you wrote Lydia. Not a big fan of Moore and other establishment SBC guys. But I do find it frustrating that I meet people whom identify as Christian (mostly at my secular college) but do not hold to any orthodox Christian doctrine. If you ask them w they will say that they don’t go to church, they are Universalists, they don’t believe the Bible is authoritative and that they don’t belie Jesus is God or in the trinity etc. I find that what they mean by calling themselves “Christian” is that they are not atheists.

The most frustrating thing is that I asks these people why they call themselves Christian when they don’t hold to any Christian doctrine they get offended that they should have to believe certain things in order to be considered a Christian! They think that they can believe anything they want and still call themselves Christian. I do think that it would be better for Christianity these kinds of “Christians” were atheists if only so people don’t mistake them for actual Christians. These are probably the people you hear saying “Well, I believe homosexuality and abortion are okay and _I’m_ a Christian”.

Tony, I think you've managed to aim your critique at the only reasonable part of that very unreasonable statement.

Scripture describes a general darkness of spiritual ignorance covering the pagan nations, and this is overwhelmingly confirmed by secular history. The only religious truth we find among the pagans is what can be known by natural light. Knowledge of specially revealed truth is conspicuously absent. It would be highly implausible to claim that Aristotle believed in the Christ to come. That is all the "proof" we need to say that Aristotle did not believe in the Christ to come. (As Aristotle himself explained, it would be a mistake to require mathematical proof of a historical claim.)

But your final parenthetical remark is spot on.

I do think that it would be better for Christianity these kinds of “Christians” were atheists if only so people don’t mistake them for actual Christians. These are probably the people you hear saying “Well, I believe homosexuality and abortion are okay and _I’m_ a Christian

If the choice for the church is a legion of people with such heterodox views or the same people being atheists, for the church it is better that they exist on the outside. Having met quite a few such people in college and elsewhere myself, I'm inclined to believe that their proclamation of Christianity when they don't really mean it on any meaningful level is probably more harmful for them than just admitting a lack of belief.

Well, first of all, to be strictly accurate, the people Rachael describes are probably theists, not atheists. Maybe deists. But atheists literally don't believe that God exists, and they apparently do, though they don't believe that God is triune or any other distinctively Christian doctrine. We shouldn't give in to the sloppy thinking according to which anybody who isn't a Christian is an atheist!

Second, it doesn't sound like these are the kind of people Moore is inveighing against, because he is specifically talking about how bad it is for people to do the right things for the (allegedly) "wrong" reason, and my impression is that the people Rachael has met aren't planning to do the right things! In other words, they are pro-abortion, would probably pay for a girlfriend's abortion, would divorce lightly, are sleeping around, etc. I get no impression that they are "living like Mayberry." So what we have in their case is *just* intellectual confusion on the meaning of the term "Christian" without even any lifestyle that follows a sort of "cultural Christianity" and to that degree adds to the stability and goodness of society.

Finally, nothing I have said has anything to do with *church membership*. I have never been saying that your local church should have members who refuse to affirm the Trinity or the deity of Jesus Christ, even if they are living good, "Christian" lives. If I believed that, I'd be saying that good, clean-cut Mormons would all be good candidates for membership in the local Catholic, Baptist, etc., church!

So in that sense, sure, better for them to be "on the outside" no matter what their lifestyle. But of course better still for them to be brought to know Jesus.

By the way, there is a good, thoughtful, dissenting comment on the post that I want to quote:

Moore wrote, “It is easier to speak a gospel to the lost than it is to speak a gospel to the kind-of-saved.” This has been the exact opposite of my experience. When I was in the Marine Corps I met many nominal Christians. I could readily converse with them about issues of faith, and I had several conversations calling them to repentance, conversations I believe had some impact in their life. Not once was I able to have a meaningful conversation with an atheist or a Muslim in the exact same setting. They immediately shut down the conversation when talking about God.

This is by someone named Ty Taylor. (Can't find a permalink for his comment. The rest of it is good as well.)

Right, Christopher, I also think it highly likely that Aristotle died and went to hell. For that matter, even Dante, who was deeply Catholic and sympathetic to noble paganism and called him "master of those who know," believed that he died and went to hell, though Dante put him in a rather nice circle thereof.

But Tony's question ("How did the professor know Aristotle died and went to hell?") does give me the opportunity to emphasize again the soteriological issues circling around both Moore's article and my old professor's silly statement about Aristotle: There is in both of them an excessively rigid view that some things *don't have anything at all* to do with salvation and that other things have *everything to do* with salvation. The former include nobility of character and sanity of understanding. The latter include believing precisely the right theology and receiving Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. On a certain type of soteriology, you aren't in any sense being saved progressively. You are saved at one point in time that divides your life like a knife between pre-salvation and post-salvation. Once that knife-cut has occurred, you can never be damned. And what brings about that knife cut is a combination of right belief with personal commitment to Christ. Now, on that view, the value of both true philosophy (such as the law of non-contradiction!) and sanity and moral cleanness in society become much less important, or important only instrumentally as they contribute to having more people make that crucial and permanently-saving "decision for Christ." Even deconversion becomes less important, because the deconvert either "wasn't really saved in the first place" or else God is going to drag him to heaven because he accepted Jesus when he was seven!

Now, I think that one can argue persuasively that *even conceived instrumentally*, Mayberry is more likely to result in genuine "decisions for Christ" than Gomorrah! But one can see how cultural engagement takes on a different importance depending on one's point-in-time-salvation soteriology.

Lydia you are right, they certainly aren't "living like Mayberry." And you are probably right that it is just intellectual confusion on the meaning of the term "Christian". Although I find it baffling that these people can’t seem to understand, even after I explain it, that you actually have to subscribe to certain beliefs in order to call yourself a Christian—words having meanings! Maybe there all so postmodern they don't understand...

I would have to disagree here. His formula may be a little screwy, but Christians are today living in a society that is fundamentally, at its core, ANTI-CHRISTIAN. I have said from the start, our ultimate loyalty is to God and His Word. Secondarily, we may have loyalty to our nation, but nation is NOT the same thing as country or state. The Modern state is the enemy of Christendom, so perhaps he has a point and doesn't realize it. If Western countries implode, that may create the conditions that would allow for the preferable state (a Christian government) to be formed.

He thinks we've lost some of the fat, some of the fairweather Christians who were keeping us 'moderate'. I tend to agree. Be honest, the kind of dirt who have turned away from God after knowing Him to pursue their selfish desires and ideologies, do you really think they add to the church, or prevent it from fulfilling its true purpose which is to minister to those who can actually be reached and return Christianity to its rightful place in society.

May, may, may. Empty conjecture, Mark Citadel. Here's what we _know_. Gomorrah is turning kids away from God in droves. Never mind for the moment the alleged fat cats whom you are pleased to call "dirt" (for crying out loud). Think of the kids who are being taught by GLSEN in the public schools from kindergarten on up and who are experimenting with every manner of filth by middle school and hooking up in college, having been well-taught all along, and then ask whether more souls are going to heaven in Gomorrah than in Mayberry. I rest my case.

Moore can go pound sand. His nonsense makes me quite angry, actually.

But in fact, I'm not going to set aside indefinitely this despicable name-calling against all the decent, muddled people of yore--Pharisees, fairweather friends, even dirt!

No doubt Moore would be the first person to yell "don't judge" about AIDS sufferers, for example. (He has an article called "Jesus Has AIDS.") But when it comes to nominal Christians of past decades, he (and Mark Citadel) are only too happy to judge.

So, here, let us say, is an honest, decent, humble man in the year 1955. He goes to a mainline Protestant church and hasn't really heard the gospel. He thinks he's going to heaven because of his good works. He has been tempted to leave his shrewish wife but knows he would be socially ostracized if he did and quietly sticks with her partly for that reason. He isn't deeply committed to Jesus and doesn't know what that would look like, because he has never been taught. He doesn't use pornography and has been raised (more social influence rather than love of Jesus!) to think it is filth and unworthy of a decent man.

To call such a man "dirt" is contemptible. To say that he is a mere Pharisee is stupid and shallow. To say that "we would be better without him" is to show a breathtaking contempt for the value of his soul and the value _to_ his soul of the self-restraint induced by his social circumstances.

In 2015 such a man would probably be a compulsive porn user and would have been encouraged by his colleagues to divorce his b--- of a wife. He would be much more likely to have launched into a variety of soul-destroying activities, hardened his heart, called himself an atheist, and never repented. And that's _better_ because his double in 1955 didn't really know and love Jesus and do what he did for that motive? This guy is a fairweather friend whom we should be glad to see driven out of our churches?

I'm simply appalled at this entire way of thinking and talking.

Aristotle died and went to hell

We can safely say that Aristotle died.

In 2015 such a man would probably be a compulsive porn user and would have been encouraged by his colleagues to divorce his b--- of a wife. He would be much more likely to have launched into a variety of soul-destroying activities, hardened his heart, called himself an atheist, and never repented. And that's _better_ because his double in 1955 didn't really know and love Jesus and do what he did for that motive? This guy is a fairweather friend whom we should be glad to see driven out of our churches?

In 2015, there's a whole "u go grrrrl" industry behind encouraging women to believe that they can divorce their ordinary husband and find a new fabulous life as a divorcee. The culture is saturated with encouragement toward rebellion, divorce and other things in women. The fruits of tearing down Mayberry are readily observed in my generation: 45% of all millennial mothers are unwed. It's also no coincidence that the number of self-identifying Christians in my generation has also collapsed.

What Moore expects is impossible. Even "true Christians" are morally imperfect, flawed beings incapable of consistently forming correct motivations. Jesus doesn't even set the requirement that obedience to God's will be done out of pure love; various verses such as the parable of the talents make it clear that simply respect for God's will and/or a desire to advance God's interests in line with God's law are sufficient to please God.

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