Monday, May 3, 2021

The Heart Cannot Exult in what the Mind Rejects

"The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects." 

This is increasingly my top-of-the-page, bold-letter way to summarize and express what I mean by apologetics  — one of those words with as many different meanings as there are readers.  It doesn’t mean to apologize, nor does it require an annoyingly persistent young man who knows he’s right on issue X, and he won’t stop until you know it, too.  The word comes from the Greek apologia, and it means to “make a defense.”  It comes from classic biblical texts like 1 Peter 3:15, “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”  Paul defends himself in Acts 22:1 in regards to charges made against him, and he defends the gospel in Philippians 1:7,17, and several other places.  It was used in ancient Greece in law courts for the same purpose.  There’s a gaggle of books on the subject if you’re interested, a history of it here, or different approaches here.   But the point, as I see it, is to clear a path for the heart to rejoice (exult).  “Exalt” works, too — “to esteem highly” or “glorify.” 

To understand, just try this exercise.  Make yourself (genuinely) excited about getting gifts from Santa Claus.   Excited? Is your heart exulting yet? Well, why not?

The answer is obvious: the heart can not exult in what the mind rejects.  You can pretend.  You can watch Santa movies, get yourself hyped up by singing Santa songs, but your heart cannot truly rejoice in Santa because your mind knows he’s a lie.  

And so it goes with the True and Living God.  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).  The modern university is filled with young people whose minds reject their creator.  Some of them do so intentionally and explicitly.  They google atheists’ arguments, and a rare few even read some books written by them. But for most students (perhaps nearly all), it's just the air they breathe. And you don’t usually think about what you're breathing.  In profession, most SDSU students are Christians (~95% according to our super-scientific polls), but most are practical atheists, living as though there is no God.  

Regarding my path clearing analogy...Classically, apologetics serves both as branch chopping and as constructive gravel packing.  The branch chopping part is the responsive, defensive part.  A student might have a problem with theodicy (the problem of evil in a world where God is all good and all powerful), and the loving duty of the young Christian is to chop that branch down, removing said objection of the existence of evil from their mind (as a recent Equipper recently asked me about).  The gravel packing part comes in a more positive form, in which fresh and persuasive reasons are given for right and proper beliefs.  The branches are chopped down, and the new path is painstakingly laid down.  

Lest you think I’m waxing poetic, I really do believe this is (or can be) vital work.  The Santa Claus thing is no mere rhetorical flair.  Students really are raised in a secular, godless worldview (by and large).  Students think they’re being asked to do something special and uniquely religious when it comes to faith and devotion to the Lord.  “It’s fine, insofar as you’re personally helped or encouraged by that sort of thing.” In reality, of course, everyone believes something about ultimate reality, what professor James Sire calls “prime reality”, or the thing from which everything else comes.  But students don’t know this, and in my experience, in lieu of reasonable, thoughtful, beautiful and persuasive Christian thinking, the most common MO is to fill that (large) gap with entertainment/emotionalism.  That’s an important rabbit trail, but suffice it to say that the modern church-growth/megachurch/youth-culture might instead say “the heart cannot exult in what the mood lights and emotionally-moving music don’t jin up enough”.  

Don’t get me wrong.  God made our emotions, and they’re good when they’re followers and not leaders.  I believe “worship” can be (and perhaps often enough, should be) immensely emotional.  My point is simply this: eventually, the vacuousness of most students’ faith is felt and revealed, and no memory of those moving worship services will stem the tide of doubt and skepticism that a lifetime of secular education has been pouring in.  Do I exaggerate?  Is this a favorite soup box of mine? Am I merely hyping up something for good newsletter fodder?  Well, I’m convinced ‘no’; it certainly is; and I sure hope not...respectively.   

So I want to leave you with just a couple of practical things after reflecting on all of this.  Our mission statement here for our college ministry starts off, “to equip college students to humbly proclaim, explain and defend the gospel…”.  Lots (most or all?) college ministries have an evangelistic center of their mission.  I’m not saying we don’t or shouldn’t, but I think what we understand “evangelistic” to mean is quite important, and often distorted.  It’s common enough to think of an event, like a Crusade, or a student going couch to couch in the student union and asking, “Can I have just a couple minutes of your time to talk about Jesus?”  Must I qualify again?  Well I will. I think that random evangelism can be just swell, and though I’m no historian or missiologist, I know that people get saved and greatly challenged by such encounters.  However, if the evangelist’s faith is hardly less shallow than the potential proselyte, then it's but by the grace of God for their faith to grow much deeper (Matt 13:20-21 soil).  It’s always grace, of course, but there are dire warnings about not building with straw or other pathetic “ministry” materials (1 Corinthians 3:1-15). It is the one who hears “and understands it” that both survives and thrives in grace (Matthew 13:23).  

At a minimum, I want to be both the kind of gospel laborer and lead a kind of gospel ministry that equips students to understand their faith deeply and rejoices deeper still.  I want to equip them to embrace the truth of the gospel with their minds so that they can further exult in God with their hearts.  It’s not a 100% one-directional thing, but we are transformed “by the renewal of our minds” by beholding the true God rightly (Romans 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18; this goes way beyond merely proving God exists, by the way).  

To the practical things I mentioned, I’m hoping to light a fire under some students toward starting a Christian journal on campus.  I’ve had a few conversations with some people who lead these across the country, and they’ve seen great fruit.  I’ll just leave you with the link .  I’m hopeful this could scratch a major intellectual itch in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike at our campus.  

“The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects” is a great line (to which I credit Stephen Meyer, a favorite author and scientist).  Understanding apologetics as a means towards rejoicing might sound like a broad definition, so broad as to be not much more than “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”  I think we can get more specific, but at the same time, I’m alright with that.  Jesus summarized the Bible with a shorter statement: love God, love neighbor.  I think the battle of the mind over truth is a vital and costly fight, and I’m hoping to fight it well (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  Would you pray for us, that God would enable us to do so?

ps.  If this blog sounds familiar, it's because I was re-reading a past newsletter, and thought "huh...that's really good, I'd like to post that again!"  :) What can I can, my past self struck a chord with my present self, I guess.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

"I am a woman trapped in a man's body."

“I am a woman trapped in a man's body.”  What explains THAT?


Apparently, yesterday was #transgenderdayofvisibility, as the hashtag lords have spoken.

 There’s a great deal to be said on the transgender issue, including the (not unimportant) political angle, such as CNN’s recent “report” that declared, “​It's not possible to know a person's gender identity at birth, and there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth.”  

What I’m most interested in (here) is what would explain the two VERY different reactions to such a statement as that (and other comparable ones).  One reaction from my “progressive” friends is “Amen” (so to speak).  They, often enough, continue with something like “…all you hateful, bigoted transphobes who are “against” trans people ought to be ashamed of yourselves.  All these legislations do is “…permit discrimination against trans people.”  Disagreement and opposition to a statement like CNN’s, in other words, is nothing but pure, ignorant hatred.  

Other’s reactions amount to “What color is the sky in the world in which you live?  No one “assigns” sex at birth, and even if we did, we’d know exactly how to do it in virtually every case since the dawn of time.”  Not an unreasonable reaction, of course.  It’s one in which I agree. But my question is this: how do we have such different reactions?  It’s like oil and water on a hot day…it’s like yin and yang…it’s like a super nova vs a black hole.  I don’t know what, but those reactions ARE like people from different worlds.  

What explains that?

  Well, I just happen to have the answer!  Or, rather, Carl R. Trueman has the answer.  I just finished he masterfully clear, concise, scholarly-yet-accessible book “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” (add subtitle which doesn’t actually help understand the book).  

He sets the stage of the book very helpfully with the following:

“The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.’ My grandfather died in 1994, less than thirty years ago, and yet, had he ever heard that sentence uttered in his presence, I have little doubt that he would have burst out laughing and considered it a piece of incoherent gibberish. And yet today it is a sentence that many in our society regard s not only meaningful but so significant that to deny it or question is in some way is to reveal oneself as stupid, immoral, or subject to yet another irrational phobia.  And those who think of it as meaningful are not restricted to the veterans of college seminars or queer theory or French poststructuralism.  They are ordinary people with little or no direct knowledge of the critical postmodern philosophizes whose advocates swagger along the corridors of our most hallowed centers of learning.  … In short, to move from the commonplace thinking of my grandfather’s world to that of today demands a host of key shifts in popular beliefs in these and other areas.  It is the story of those shifts…that I seek to address in subsequent chapters.”

And address it he does!  With vigor, wit, precision, historical, philosophical and theological insight that is necessary to get thru the otherwise often incomprehensibleness of the modern transgender movement (ala his grandpa’s reaction, which I think is still shared by many).

He adds, “At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction: the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph - the normalization of transgenderism - cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understand the nature of human selfhood."

“Understanding”.  A simple concept, and one which you think everyone could agree is a great goal before we start lobbing accusations and claims around.  You’d be wrong.  Virtually no-one is actually interested in true understanding.  

So, the whole post is basically nothing but one long commendation to read Trueman’s book.  I would suggest that any thinking christian in the 21st century basically needs to have a working understanding of what is going on in our culture.  I have a hunch that no other resource will be as helpful for many years to come, then Carl Trueman’s “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self”.

The first chapter or two can be listened to here for free.  You can purchase it via Amazon, or less discriminating and censorious places like Crossway (same link).  

Here is Neil Shenvi’s *EXCELLENT* review/summary, “Liquid Souls”. 

Here’s Shenvi's conclusion (though I’d suggest reading the whole review, it’s not long): 
“In summary, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is crucial reading for all Christians and especially Christian pastors trying to understand the underlying assumptions at work in the culture around us. I will say loudly what Trueman says softly: *THESE IDEAS ARE DEADLY* [my emphasis]. They are grounded in a denial of human nature, they are predicated upon an understanding of reality that views God’s commands as evil and oppressive, and they sow seeds of misery, fragility, and discord wherever they go. Those are the Tweetable bullet points. But if you want depth (and you should want depth), read the book.”

Other books for this #transgenderdayofvisibility should include: 

“When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” by Ryan T. Anderson.  Excellent and very narrowed on this issue. 

“Love Thy Body” - by Nancey Pearcey, which has a couple chapters on transgenderism, as well as a broader approach.  It is super duper as well. 

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters” by Abigail Shrier.  I have not read this yet, though I’ve listened to a few interview of hers, and she’s very helpful.  I actually disagree with her on a handful of rather significant points, but I think her main thrust is extremely necessary right now.  And given how dangerous it is to say such things in this climate, the more people with the guts to do so, the merrier.