Thursday, January 29, 2009

We're Getting our Comeuppance for the Church's Compromise in the Culture Wars pt. 6

Culture transmits its values from one generation to the next with symbols laden with meaning. Lesslie Newbigin explains:

[O]ne must include in culture, and as fundamental to any culture, a set of beliefs, experiences, and practices that seek to grasp and express the ultimate nature of things, that which give shape and meaning to life, that which claims final loyalty.

A culture, especially formed from the absolute truth of God in Scripture, knows the necessity of preserving itself for posterity. The nature of God revealed through His creation and Words do not change in meaning. In the sights and sounds and sentences, we apprehend the message God expects men to inculcate into their lives and their descendants. This culture has used biblical criteria to shape its convictions and their communication. It has restrained its symbols to those manifested by God's revelation and reflective of the transcendent character of God.

Not any symbol or meaning or value will satisfy a culture regulated by a Divine standard. The Apostle Paul wrote under inspiration in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

A culture which responds to the purposes of God must respect and obey the imperatives that God gives. If God commands men to think on certain things, then those things can be comprehended. Therefore, men can and should know what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. If God is expecting men to think on what is lovely, then men can know what lovely is. In other words, loveliness is not subjective, but objective.

Once those symbols and values have been discerned, they shouldn't be changed. At best and at worst, they should be honed to demonstrate even more the resplendent nature of God. A God-honoring people will be careful and circumspect to protect what is right and best. They will do this by rejecting other cultures with a set of different symbols that communicate different values. By the character of God, this culture is superior to others and should be judged as such. As the greater it should reject the lesser.

God gave a culture to Old Testament Israel that He expected her to preserve for proceeding generations. He gave her a means by which to convey and protect it. As a nation, Israel was to contrast with those around her. She was their example. Her way was right, because it was God's way. The differences between Israel's culture and the others were found all the way down to the clothes that she wore, keeping the distinctions between her and them. God expects the same distinctiveness from the church and from the nation who would love Him.

Fleshed out in history, we should pay close attention to the culture in history at the juncture of its subservience to the Bible. This points to the reformation in Germany and England and their music, art, and literature. The Spirit of God wasn't silent in these periods. He was working through men with spiritual capacity to discern what is true and good and beautiful. Even cultural neutralists use these periods as a standard to judge excellence in music, art, and literature. With further analysis, we see the poetry of this culture to mirror in style and often substance that of David in his psalms.

The culture transformed by biblical thinking was changed through subtle steps of cultural syncretism reminiscent of Israel's compromise with the Canaanites. The Philistines and others came with their own symbols deep in meaning. Association with and then acceptance of a different culture formed a new one without the distinctions God required. As we trace the histories of Germany, England, and the United States we witness the same trends in acceptance of new cultures.

A new way of life was not immediately accepted. The old culture eroded. New cultures with different values than the old synthesized with the old to form a new. The process started over. With toleration as the chief ethic, new cultures were allowed and then welcomed. Judgment was reproved. The cultural diffusion violated the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. God was no longer represented. Ways not reflective of Him were indulged and then propagated.

What has become unacceptable is criticism, except of intolerance. Nobody's opinion is denied. The river has become polluted from every imaginable source. It will never supply the pure water it once did, unless we are willing to stop throwing everything into it. We must guard the river for the resources it provides. Without it, we are in greater danger than we might think. J. Gresham Machen gave this warning in 1913:

Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labor is also necessary. And that labor is being neglected. The Church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.

Machen argued that by not standing up to the change in culture, we were already championing the worst enemy of the gospel. It wasn't just a matter of taste, but an issue of eternity.

As we have chosen cultural relativism as a societal norm, that is, that any culture goes, but especially the one that will please self, society has dumbed itself down to the lowest common denominator. David Wells (No Place for Truth, p. 148) writes:

Accountability, for example, dies when the self is thought to be accountable only to itself, and in its place there has arisen an ethic that resolves everything into a simple proposition: what's right is what feels good. This in turn dictates that the pursuit of affluence as a means to self-fulfillment holds the key to life.

Robert Bellah (Habits of the Heart, pp. 77-78) in his study on modern individualism adds to this: "[U]tility replaces duty; self-expression unseats authority. 'Being good' becomes 'feeling good.'"

THE COMPROMISE

Loss of Distinct Roles

T. S. Eliot in his Notes on the Definition of Culture wrote:

The primary channel of transmission of culture is the family: no man wholly escapes from the kind, or wholly surpasses the degree of culture which he acquired from his early environment.

Dad and mom inculcate a culture into their children. To change a culture at a root level, you break up the family in its most foundational sense by destroying the roles of the man and the woman. One distinction of a scriptural culture are distinct roles for the man and the woman that complement one another (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23-32). The diminishing of the distinctions between the roles alters the culture.

We've got major problems because of the disappearance of the male role. Rampant divorce. Crime. Boys lethargic in school. Lack of spiritual leadership. Young men don't know what they're supposed to do. Marriage itself is on the decrease. Single men wandering the landscape, listlessly not knowing what to do. And homosexuality of many types is on the rise. The fatherless home is statistically the greatest cause of social ills in America.

For the most part, evangelicals don't like what they see happening, and they're reacting to it. Mark Driscoll in Seattle thinks it's ridding the church of "the boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus" (1) and encouraging a tattoo. He's proud to say at his church, Mar's Hill, that "their favorite movie isn’t 'Amazing Grace' or 'The Chronicles of Narnia' — it’s 'Fight Club.'" Mark Driscoll is one of the most popular evangelicals in America and he believes that, among other strategies just like it, this is the way to deal with the lack of masculinity in today's churches. Evangelicals, like John Piper, have contributed to a huge volume entitled Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and have begun The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Many mainstream evangelicals belong to this council---they see an obvious need. Evangelicals strongly oppose multiplying homosexuality across the land, being pushed by the media and even the government.

How has the church helped us get there? I believe that there are many ways that churches have helped hurry along the demise of the roles of men and women in culture---their own day cares for their working women (Titus 2:3-5), the loss of male oversight of single, unmarried women (1 Corinthians 7:36-38), the multiplying number of single men wandering around without commitment to marriage and family among packs of unmarried singles who "hang out" together (Psalm 128; Proverbs 31:10; 1 Timothy 3:4; 5:11, 14), men with long shaggy hair and women with a butch hair-cut (1 Corinthians 11:14-15), music that makes men sing like women and women like men (1 Corinthians 6:9), and women speaking out and doing the business of the church (1 Corinthians 14:29-35).

Scripture highlights the calamity of role reversal or confusion right at the beginning when Eve asserts herself above Adam's headship. We got the fall out of role reversal. We know for sure that this was not what God intended (1 Timothy 2:12-15; 1 Corinthians 11:3). So we know this is very serious, yet the Bible gives very few explicit texts on this subject. So what it does say we should pay attention to. And what does it say is important regarding role distinctiveness? If we think reversal and confusion should stop, we should look at what Scripture says. Right? God knows more about this than we do. Doesn't He?

Sexuality is learned behavior. Certainly we were designed female for male, Eve for Adam. We have distinct roles. But even though we have physical and even psychological differences, the way that boys learn to be men and girls learn to be women is by what they see, by watching. God knows that. He made us. Society knew that too. That's why it exploded over even subtle alterations in female fashion.

Here is what God said in His Word, an explicit statement of His moral law, for the role distinction in dress. It is very clear. Very specific. The plain meaning has also been the historic meaning. It is Deuteronomy 22:5.

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.


It doesn't say that the garment is an abomination or that the activity is an abomination. The person is an abomination. This is the only time in Scripture that a person is an abomination unto the LORD for doing something. Why? Because it attacks or rebels against God's design. At a root level, God is our Creator (Rom 1:25). He wants recognition of that by the acknowledgment of His design. It is also another way that those roles are preserved. Appearance is the primary way that roles are taught. This is why we have a gigantic passage in the New Testament that also deals with this issue (1 Cor 11:3-16).

My experience has been that people don't care any more what Deuteronomy 22:5 says, when at one time it was the normal practice of not only churches, but society. America practiced Deuteronomy 22:5. Society itself frowned on not practicing this. They knew not doing so was "against nature" (Rom 1:26). As people began disregarding this text, the world reacted. Then the world accepted. Christians reacted too. Even when the world accepted, Christians still reacted. Now Christians accept. Not only do they accept, but now the Christians who still preach Deuteronomy 22:5 are the ones that are not accepted, even by other Christians. They are embarrassing to them. They are marked and treated with inferiority, the offscouring of the earth; well, like Christians. The world still knows what this means, because now we've moved one step further toward the male skirt.

Look back up at Deuteronomy 22:5 and let's see just what it says. It doesn't say "men should look like men and women should look like women." It says nothing about transvestism or Canaanite worship, some of the new inventions to avoid practicing the text. It says nothing about women putting on military gear. It doesn't say, "they both wore robes," because it isn't about removing distinctions. What it does say is that a man should not ever have on the woman's article and that the woman should not wear the male garment. It assumes that there is a male item of clothing designated to differentiate him from the woman, as well as a female item designated to differentiate her from the man.

Today, when I ask what the male article of clothing is, if the person isn't thinking, he'll say, "pants." But then he's got to stop, because women wear pants too. In other words, our culture has eliminated the male garment. There is none. The woman still has the skirt or the dress. The man has nothing. When the man lost his pants (no pun intended), he lost his role. He lost the male uniform. Everyone wears pants, so no one wears the pants. When the world did away with the male garment, Christians protested. When women started wearing pants, Christians opposed it. When Christian women started wearing pants, it wasn't because a group of godly women got together and prayed about it and sought God's will. No. It was a matter of rebellion and then the church went along with the world on this one. It's been so long since most churches practiced this, that it doesn't even seem like a biblical teaching any more.

The biggest argument that I hear is: "the Bible doesn't say anything about pants and skirts." There. They're done. That's the extent of their deep exegesis and application. What we have here is total capitulation by Christians to the world, changing the culture. Now we're debating whether homosexuals should be able to be married or not. We've gotten our comeuppance folks.

(1) Where are the cultural neutralists when you need them---no outcry about Driscoll's stated observations that music has meaning. Some music, according to him, can be feminine and some can be masculine. He thinks that "Christian" music being feminine is a big problem. How can we get meaning out of music when it is amoral and neutral? Ooops. Where in the Bible do we find that music can communicate something feminine or masculine? Isn't this taking man's traditions and making them into the commandments of God? Of course, the reason why Driscoll doesn't get called on this is because he is suitably worldly and secular enough to get his credentials on music, so forget the inconsistency here. What this example does show, however, is how stupid the concept of music neutrality is. I think everyone knows it's wrong; they just don't want to give up their self-gratification, some of which they call "worship."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We're Getting our Comeuppance for the Church's Compromise in the Culture Wars pt. 5

After Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he cursed the man:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Adam still had all the same responsibilities God intended, but now with much more difficulty as punishment for sin. God still wanted man to obey all those initial commands in Genesis 1:28---He never rescinded them---"be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion." However, sin and its curse do not lend themselves toward man's self-denial and subservience. Romans 1:25 describes the direction of man under the curse---he changes "the truth of God into a lie, and worship[s] and serve[s] the creature more than the Creator." He puts his own interests above God.

I write in my book Sound Music or Sounding Brass (p. 37):

In the evil pre-flood society after Cain (Genesis 4-6), Lamech lead the Cainites into open rebellion against God. God told them to replenish the earth, and yet they built a city. They had as a goal to live comfortably and conveniently in sin under the curse. God gave the standard of "one man, one wife," but Lamech took two wives, Adah and Zillah. The sons of Lamech helped in making life easier for wicked living in a cursed society.

Under the curse of sin, instead of repentance and then glory of God, man thinks about the easy life, the one that will be the best for him. He wants to alleviate difficulty and pain. Rather than pleasing God, He thinks of His own pleasure. Rather than mastering what God had said, he becomes his own master. Sin will end man's life, but instead of thinking of numbering those days and living for eternity, he tries to make something of himself and his life on earth. Rather than taking his punishment, he lives to avoid it, attempting to build his own garden for his own pleasure.

The Bible becomes a record of two different cultures---one righteous and the other wicked. One about God and the other about man himself and the environment in which he lives. The first is vertical and the other horizontal. Scripture calls for a wide chasm between the two, which is described in many different ways, including light and darkness, truth and error, and righteousness and unrighteousness. God has given us a book, the Bible, and a Person, the Holy Spirit, and a new nature to discern.

Culture Isn't Neutral


Culture itself isn't neutral. We can judge it. Raymond Williams in The Society of Culture says that culture is a "signifying system through which . . . . a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored. . . ." (p. 13, emphasis his). Human action is meaning based. We have a wink and twitch of the eye and we know the difference. Clifford Geertz defines culture as "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life" (The Interpretation of Cultures, p. 89). Leslie Newbigin writes (Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, p. 3):

Central to culture is language. The language of a people provides the means by which they express their way of perceiving things and of coping with them. Around that center one would have to group their visual and musical arts, their technologies, their law, and their social and political organization.

Since culture transmits meaning, the meaning can and should be judged. Not all meaning pleases God.

We get the superior standard for judgment from the revelation of God in creation, in the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, as manifested in ages of conviction about absolutes, truth, virtue, and beauty. Based on scriptural criteria, we decide that Thomas Jefferson is a more significant thinker than a headhunter from Borneo or than Bruce Springsteen. T. S. Eliot in sorting through these things in 1948 put down this vital thought in his Notes Toward the Definition of Culture:

The important question that we can ask is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilization with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own.

We know the nature of God through the Bible, so we know perfection. We see His creation, so we know His standard. Our art, music, and literature should reflect His nature as manifested through His special and general revelation. Without the higher purpose of God, men are Eliot's Hollow Men wandering the earth aimlessly, ending in a whimper.

The Enablers of the Slide

David Wells writes in God in the Wasteland (p. 35):

It is ironic that there are those in the church who view culture as mostly neutral and mostly harmless, even though they have a compelling Christian reason to think otherwise, while there are those in society who recognize that culture is laden with values, many of which are injurious to human well-being, even though they have no compelling religious or ideological reason to come to this conclusion.

Concerning his own take on culture, he says in No Place for Truth (p. 11):

Yet I would be remiss if I failed to point out that while the angle from which I approach culture may be commonplace among some of its interpreters, it is not common among evangelicals. Evangelicals are antimodern only across a narrow front; I write from a position that is antimodern across the entire front. It is only where assumptions in culture directly and obviously contradict articles of faith that most evangelicals become aroused and rise up to battle "secular humanism"; aside from these specific matters, they tend to view culture as neutral and harmless. More than that, they often view culture as a partner amenable to bein coopted in the cause of celebrating Christian truth. I cannot share that naivete; indeed, I consider it dangerous. Culture is laden with values, many of which work to rearrange the substance of faith, even when they are mediated to us through teh benefits that the modern world also bestows upon us.

Wells, in my opinion, falls short in telling us exactly what he's talking about. I think he leaves that for us to figure out on our own. From all the rest of his books, I believe it is safe to say that he does refer to music, art, technology, and all the ways meaning is conveyed in a civilization. I'm guessing that he leaves out the details, so he can stay in good favor in evangelical circles. If it really is as serious as he says, he should give specific examples of what he is talking about. Wells is one of the few evangelicals to say anything about these things, but then he does the great disservice of continuing his cozy relationships with major violators.

I'm going to name a few who have aided the slide: Rick Warren, John Piper, Ron Hamilton, Joel Osteen, Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, and Jack Schaap, not necessarily in that order, and in no way is that list all-inclusive. Some are far worse than others, but they're all a part. Evangelicals, including almost all fundamentalists, have caved on the culture. Many of them hate what they see happening, but they are actually enablers of the cultural downfall.

A ravine separates one culture, God's, from all the others, which really are all one culture, the world's. Richard Lints writes in The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (p. 104): "It is easy to think of culture in the abstract, as if it were some entity far removed from the concrete life of ordinary people." It isn't. Culture contains the symbols by which we understand meaning. The world had rebelled against God. The church has accepted it, even welcomed it into the church with its self-centered shallowness.

Next time I'm going to talk about this has happened and then continues.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Judging Heroes

I have presidents I like and dislike. I like Reagan. I dislike Carter. I like Coolidge. I dislike Wilson. I like Teddy Roosevelt, but I dislike Franklin Roosevelt. These are all white, Anglo-Saxon men and I like some, dislike others, and have my own criteria by which I judge whether I like them or not.

I think some people are heroes and some people are not. It takes a little more for me to call someone a hero than it does to say that I like him. I think certain men are heroic. To be a hero, I believe someone must show courage and exemplify character. I'm no hero, but I believe we have heroes in American history. Some men do heroic deeds without themselves being a hero. I see George Washington as a hero. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain did a heroic deed at Gettysburg by defending Little Round Top.

Most of you reading this know that some people think that Charles Manson or Che Guevera or even Osama bin Laden are all heroes. Since there is so much varying opinion today, we are going to disagree on who is a hero and who is not. I believe that Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver were heroes, but that Martin Luther King, Jr. and W. E. B Du Bois were not. The legacy of Washington and Carver was courage and character. Every Sunday evening at Tuskegee, Booker T. would give a talk to the students and faculty after they arrived back from church. In a Sunday evening talk during the 1913-14 school year, he said:
I suspect that each one of your parents would like to know that you are learning to read your Bible; not only to read it because you have to, but to read it every day in the year because you have learned to love the Bible; because you have learned day by day to make its teachings a part of you. . . . Each one of you, in beginning your school year, should have a Bible, and you should make that Bible a part of your school life, a part of your very nature, and always, no matter how busy the day may be, no matter how many mistakes, no matter how many failures you make in other directions, do not fail to find a few minutes to study or read your Bible.
Read this letter that Booker T. Washington wrote in 1909.

What about Martin Luther King, Jr? Consider his dealing with the deity of Christ in one of his papers. He denies the deity of Christ.

If you read this writing about the Divine Sonship of Christ and the virgin birth of Christ from the papers of King, you see that he denied both.

Here in his papers you can read what King said about salvation, that it wasn't found in any one church, teaching universalism.

And then consider this page concerning the teaching of W. E. B. Du Bois, who stole the attention and hearts of black Americans in the early twentieth century, who was not adverse to godless, Russian communism as it came about. Read the last paragraph here to get a handful of Du Bois.

Again, compare that to what Booker T. Washington writes here about work in one of his Sunday evening talks.

If someone told me that he didn't think that Lincoln was a hero. I wouldn't be offended, especially if he had some reasons. People are welcome to that opinion. I shouldn't be judged a racist if I don't think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a hero. He could have even done a heroic deed or two without being judged a hero. His good friend, and fellow civil rights leader, Ralph Abernathy, in his autobiography said King was a serial philanderer. I think that may have been the least of his bad influences. The liberation theology, the denial of the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection, the liberalism and universalism, spreading these and making them acceptable to thousands and millions, making some twice the children of hell they once were---all that moves someone out of the hero category.

I choose to appreciate the influence of men that are heroes to me: Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. I believe that if their policies were followed, instead of those of Du Bois, during the early twentieth century, a Martin Luther King wouldn't even have been necessary. Not only that, but many of the spiritual, cultural, and social problems endemic to the African-American community, would not even be existent. Equality would not just exist politically, but also in reality. On top of that, and most importantly, think of the ground that would be far more ripe for evangelism in the United States. A black president may have been elected 40 years ago.

I believe that in many cases the hero talk about certain men over others is nothing more than pandering to the intoleristas. It enables problems to continue. Ironically, it isn't heroic. It certainly isn't difficult, because it's politically correct. It goes with the flow of society and culture. It isn't what people really need to hear. We need to be honest about who the heroes are and why problems exist. It does matter who our heroes are.

Monday, January 12, 2009

You Know You're Fat When

I do work out several times a week, so I'm not in terrible shape. But I do need to lose some weight. We were getting a lot of pictures taken in relations to my parents' anniversary and so I kept looking at myself. This reminded me of the weight. We walked in the ocean and when I bent over to put my shoes back on, that reminded me too. It made me think of a possible category of jokes: "You Know You're Fat When...." I caught myself thinking of a few that were easy to get right off the top of my head.

You know you're fat when you bend over to tie your shoes and you can't breathe.

You know you're fat when you get out of your chair and lift the table up with your belly.

You know you're fat when someone asks if you're allergic to bee stings.

You know you're fat when you laugh and your double chins applaud.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big 50: Dad and Mom


Yesterday my parents had been married for 50 years. On Monday, I was getting in the church van and my dad walked to the window, and he told me he didn't want us doing anything for them, that he would be leaving early Friday and going somewhere, that he had someplace reserved. I said somewhat indifferently: "OK." My brother Kris, his wife and their four children, and my sister Kim, her husband and their seven children, all flew in Thursday. My mom wasn't feeling up to leaving anywhere, so they were going out to eat as a fill-in with us. My family pulled up in the limo and knocked on the door to their little apartment. Each family member gave her a pink rose. They had their first limo ride ever. We arrived at the church building. They walked in to a dressed up auditorium of tables, decorated for their 50th anniversary. People clapped, they got pictures, and they sat down. Then I announced there was a special guest and my sister walked out, followed about every thirty seconds by a grandchild and finally her husband Bart. They were shocked! That wasn't all. I announced one more special guest. My brother walks out. They were doubly surprised. Then all the grandchildren and finally his wife Gretchen.

Everyone hugged. Lots of tears and emotion. People clapped. Then there was a tremendous tri-tip steak meal, prepared by our church. We had a cake-cutting. My brother's daughter, Maddy, wrote a poem for them. The ladies sang. We had a violin duet from two of my daughters, Julia and Natalie, very nice, the Lover's Waltz, accompanied by my son on the piano. I gave a powerpoint presentation of their life. We closed with the whole family, 21 of them, singing "Lord, Keep Our Home."

Anyone reading who had a part, thank you. If you sent a card to them, thank you. We had a great time. Everyone is leaving on Tuesday, so we have a few more days.

Friday, January 02, 2009

We're Getting our Comeuppance for the Church's Compromise in the Culture Wars pt. 4

"Culture" began as an agricultural term, speaking of what was done to soil in preparation for planting. As it related to a person, someone could prepare and lift his soul, his intellect and spirit, by cultivating his engagement with art, music, and literature. The term has developed into a designation of the collective way of life of a particular people. Culture represents a set of standards, those at least normal for those people, by which beliefs, meaning, behavior, and morality are carried along to succeeding generations.

We should judge culture. We should examine those markers which direct a people's shared pathway. A culture can't obliterate sinfulness, but it can make types of behavior more embarrassing or difficult. It can move to the forefront those examples it wishes to emulate and reproduce. It can encourage the higher and nobler expressions of men according to the image of God in man and the excellence of God's creative work. The greater the culture, the greater its appreciation of the higher ideals in human achievements. The character of a people's accomplishments then reflect the attributes of God.

Modern American culture has set its compass in a trajectory downward, descending from the coordinates that once guided its course. What once repulsed is now admired. What was before shunned is today celebrated. It no longer forces out of sight the public displays it once scorned. From the reaches outside and above its people, our culture has retreated into the people themselves, individual self becoming the gauge for the collective life of Americans.

This series has examined various ways that our culture has arrived at its comeuppance. I recognized the demise of meaning, the undoing of understanding, and then the erosion of discernment. People in this culture behave as though they got something, very much like the society described in Romans 1. God judges by turning them over to their own lusts. They think they're getting something, when all they've got is getting gotten. What else have they gotten?

The Misrepresentation of Achievement

The United States grew out of a quality of individualism arising out of the individual's fellowship with God. Individualism wasn't focused on the person himself, but on the individual responsibility to God and neighbor. Modeled after the scriptural prototype, Americans organized in the smallest self-sustaining unit, the home. Men led their families based upon individual conscience and personal relationship with God. Their individual connection with God pertained to a larger group—the church. Alexis De Tocqueville wrote of this in Democracy in America:
In the United States, on the seventh day of every week, the trading and working life of the nation seems suspended ; all noises cease; a deep tranquillity, say rather the solemn calm of meditation, succeeds the turmoil of the week, and the soul resumes possession and contemplation of itself. Upon this day, the marts of traffic are deserted; every member of the community, accompanied by his children, goes to church, where he listens to strange language, which would seem unsuited to his ear. He is told of the countless evils caused by pride and covetousness; he is reminded of the necessity of checking his desires, of the finer pleasures which belong to virtue alone, and of the true happiness which attends it. On his return home, he does not turn to the ledgers of his business, but he opens the book of Holy Scripture; there he meets with sublime and affecting descriptions of the greatness and goodness of the Creator, of the infinite magnificence of the handiwork of God, and of the lofty destinies of man, his duties, and his immortal privileges.
The character hatched from these incubators fleshed itself out in the larger good of community. An early American citizen was directed by something greater on the inside than what was outside, a trait which David Riesman, in The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character, describes: "[H]e would rather be right than be president." He was willing to stand alone because his inner strength, so that he lived not by the approval or disapproval of others.

At one time, men were judged by their character and their work. Now they are evaluated by their standing with others. When men no longer look to values of the past nor to an inner core of character, they turn outward to see what others are like for a source of direction. A people that has prided itself on its individualism conforms to everybody else. The expectations of the past induce a sense of insecurity to which men now look to the crowd for alleviation. Even if he does not derive satisfaction from seeking a feeling of belonging from public gatherings, he finds it in his escape into movies and television. The internet has fed this compulsion even more by creating associations that require nothing in the way of virtue or productivity.

Achievement has been replaced by success not in the historic usage of the word. Success now means notoriety, reaching a kind of celebrity that marks acceptance. Television has aided this substitution of real achievement with fake success, not in brainwashing people, although it does that too, but in providing the means by which people can identify what to get along with. It also produces a consumer mentality in its audience. It gives them what they want, an experience they can feel. This is how advertising gets paid. And then the television show makers and their executives get the faux acceptance of entertainment. They pleased a crowd looking for pleasure.

By making achievement about acceptance and conforming to the crowd, the parties involved get rewarded for participation. This is television, radio, and now internet news today, something to repeat to someone at the water cooler to authenticate your involvement. The more preposterous or strange that it is, the more likely you are to repeat it. And so some of the most eccentric people, the people that have contributed the least to the progress of mankind make the news the most. And this new paradigm has come full circle in children's competitions, where everyone gets a trophy just for playing, even if they were regularly late for practice and didn't work hard after they arrived. You want everyone to have a happy experience. The trophy is proof that they did, akin to the scarecrow receiving a diploma.

The Proof of Misrepresentation

We see proof of the misrepresentation of achievement everywhere. The best singer doesn't need a good voice, just a skin tight costume and a willingness to touch him or her self. Music doesn't need a melody. You can make an entire career of growling out bad poetry, clipping off syllables or consonants. What's most important is this: are people watching? Accessibility is key. The poetry must be elementary and rudimentary. Form is personal and free-flowing. Your art expresses self, in touch with whatever emotion or mood or rage the "artist" happens to be having at that moment and takes out on a canvass. Even if the painting tries to look like something, it must have some popular wrinkle that will brand it for this unique niche. Schools won't educate on right or wrong but instead encourage the exploration of diverse human relations. The illiteracy rate rises, the graffiti-sullied, windowless buildings crumble, and rebellion thrives.

In no place have we seen the new paradigm in achievement revealed more than in the United States presidential election. The candidates travel the country for years making promises to the people, knowing that they'll be judged by what kind of benefits they're willing to impart. Photogenic surpasses virtuous. Smooth eclipses ethical. Voters elect someone they like. It doesn't matter if he campaigns on the right to kill the innocent unborn. His past might announce infidelity, indiscretion, and dishonesty. People are more interested in what they're going to get.

Misrepresentation in the Church

The world expects the same and even more of its philosophy of attainment from the church. Churches have eagerly conformed. Church leaders make attracting a crowd the highest priority. Rather than inspiring, influencing, or leading men to higher achievement, they condone and validate their instincts and feelings. They take advantage of consumerism by offering the same incentives as the world. Not every church accommodates the world's ideals to the same degree, but many eat at its trough. A system of doctrine has been replaced by cheap programs, techniques, and methods.

David Wells in No Place for Truth calls these church leaders "the new disablers." In this case, they've disabled true achievement. They have reduced the church to the services its offers and the good feelings it can generate. The man of God has become a manager and administrator, a professional, depriving the church of the transcendence that God expects of its people and work in fitting with the nature of God. The world of God's truth has been minimized to the practical procedures necessary to satisfy a population that functions the same on all the other days leading up to Sunday. Lessened from this is the ability of these leaders to exegete Scripture and expound theology in a way that will form the moral character of a people. The new world of church theology and practice have disengaged from each other with the program offering a surrogate religion separate from the Words of the Bible.

The new kind of corporate-pastor has diminished the preaching and practice of the church. Achievement in the church, like the world, has become about meeting the needs of religious consumers who look to the churches to meet them. In many cases, the message has been packaged in a way that the listener cannot distinguish it from his normal means of reception. Television producers market programs to an audience. The world uses music to promote its stories and products. The church offers its own brand but using very similar methods. In so doing the church enables consumerism and helps trap its participants in lower instincts away from high spiritual achievement. This reorients the church around self and alters its biblical function.

What Causes Misrepresentation

God commanded man to subdue and have dominion over the earth. Paul admonished men to work and provide for their own. Out of obedience to those commands came new inventions and machinery, fueling an industrial revolution. Most Americans lived on farms or rural communities. With industrialization, a majority of people moved to cities where factories churned out new products. Every aspect of American social structure changed to fit the new economy. The thoughtful, literate culture witnessed by De Tocqueville was gone. The wealth of the nation increased, technology advanced, and a clearer division formed between the secular and the spiritual.

The secular embraced the changes in American culture. With more mass production, more people could own devices that promised to make life more comfortable and happy. New means of marketing those products targeted carnal desires of men, encouraging impulsiveness. The time spent in household chores shrunk. A scheduled work shift left after work hours and weekends with free time for recreation and entertainment. On came theater, sports, clubs, radio, popular novels and then music, then movies, and finally television. Christians stood against modernity and church leaders preached against the changes from modernity. Churches taught separation from the world. They saw the idolatry, covetousness, materialism, lust, greed, and then spiritual indifference that modernism bred.

A major shift in representation of achievement transpired. Before the movement of modernization in America, men were valued according to their virtues and ethics. Objective standards of beauty existed outside of man's carnal instincts and desires. With the massive adjustment, outcomes were judged by how much pleasure they aroused. The Great Depression brought a trial of American discretion and sensibility. Americans chose a leader who promised the easiest way for the most people. The people and what they produced were now assessed based upon their contribution to man's pleasure and happiness. They were not required to advance the nobility or character of man in the image of God.

Television came along to take modernity to a new level. The goal of television is to sell advertising. They can charge higher prices for advertisements if more people watch the program they're sponsoring. The people who produce television shows already raise the percentages for self-centeredness. The programs they like are already morally lower than the average of the population. They play to the lowest common denominator of their audience to increase viewers, their carnal desires. They aim for pleasure. They fascinate by displaying behavior with which most people have no experience. Television programming does not elevate the human spirit to a higher standard of achievement. It finds a way to bring in the biggest audience by giving people what they want to watch.

Movie makers get their money directly from the people at the ticket window. The highest grossing films do not usually even reach the highest quality of film-making. What they have in common is that they are fun to watch. The movies that make the most money, the blockbusters, have certain aspects in common in their storyline. Screenwriter and screenwriting instructor, John Ruby, writes about the blockbuster:
Blockbuster techniques simply allow you to be more attuned to the popular audience you must serve if you want to sell your material. . . . The hero is almost always a rogue, charmer or trickster character. . . . Invariably, the trickster uses his ability with words to accomplish a scam. A scam is a plan that involves deception.
Movies are not made to elevate a standard of achievement or influence toward higher human ideals. Both the audience and the producer put themselves first.

Very few evangelicals oppose the modernity that has changed how achievement is defined. They protest only when culture contradicts a very basic doctrine or encourages some blatantly godless practice. Besides that, they either see culture as neutral or a partner to adopt for their own purposes. For that reason, they have done little to separate themselves from it. There are numbers of ways that churches have cooped a new definition of achievement—size, budget, and buildings. They show how important numbers are by how they get them. Christ said, deny self, but they present a message of ease and self-gratification with their music and dress. They promote attendance with promotional give-aways. They design their buildings like theaters and the cadence and style of their sermons like stand-up comedians.

Rather than elevate discourse, a standard evangelical blog laces its speech with popular youthful expressions ("dude," "chill out") and references to popular culture. Instead of raising the discourse of people, they dumb down the conversation, which might also explain their acceptance of the shallow language translations of Scripture. Some of the same ones angry about the degradation of the emergent movement have bridged the gap for those more extreme comrades. Fundamentalists have been different, but mainly in degree. They focus their worldly strategies to get their numbers from a different demographic.

Should we separate from those who refuse to stop misrepresenting achievement? I hesitate to quote a man like David Wells, because he continues to fellowship with those who are part of the problem. However, he has given an accurate assessment of it. He writes:
It is our capacity to wrench ourselves free from the subjective preoccupation of our modernized culture (the same sort of liberation that converted pagans had to find in the early centuries of Christian life) and to occupy ourselves instead with the objective interests of the biblical.
How serious is subjective preoccupation unseating the objective interests of the biblical? When men do not understand true accomplishment, how can they aspire to attain? We do great damage in blurring the mark toward which we are to press. If we want it to stop, we must penalize those who confuse the point of human existence.

Our understanding of achievement should be regulated by scriptural analysis. In this God must be emulated and obeyed in both precept and principle.