Reflections on MLK Conference

MLK50_Video

I had the privilege to attend the “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop” Conference put on by ERLC and TGC.

It was a truly wonderful and challenging event.There were several thousands of us. A very mixed group. Most of the speakers were minorities. As it should be. I wanted to write down a couple of unpolished thoughts in reflection on the event.

1. Churches talking about racial justice is not an incursion into politics. It is a broadly Christian and narrowly Gospel issue (creation and redemption).

I was taken aback the first time someone suggested to me that concerns about racism are really just politics. Red vs Blue. Republicans vs Democrats.

It was rightly pointed out at the conference that there is an inconsistency on the parts of some on this point. Some would say: the church must address issues like abortion and gay marriage (that clearly have political implications), but then say the church should not talk about race. Do we see the inconsistency in this?

2. Some whites have struggled to see how truly devastating slavery and Jim Crow were (and are) to the black community.

We may not really understand the lasting impact these have had. I have heard it said that slavery and Jim Crow happened a long time ago, so whatever those things were, they are long in the past. Many of the black speakers pointed out that this isn’t true. These racial realities psychologically devastated the black community and the effects are felt even to this day.

It makes sense that the damage would linger too. Essentially blacks were mistreated through slavery and Jim Crow by whites for close to 350 years in this country. Is it reasonable to think generations and centuries of damage, bitterness, and suspicion could heal in a mere 50 years on its own? This is why expecting the black community simply to fix itself is simply too much to ask. Not to mention it’s just not how Christians do things. We believe in repentance: we fix what we break.

My take: imagine the parable of the Good Samaritan, but with a twist. Imagine that after the robbers brutalized the man, they had a change of heart and said, “We are really sorry for doing that, we will never do that to you again.” But after the robbers apologized, they just walked away and left the man in a heap alongside the road. Clearly that would be wrong. They need to bear the fruit of repentance by repairing the damage that they have done.

But that is essentially what the white community has done with the black community. We brutalized the black community physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually for 350 years and one day realized we were wrong to do that, and but then we just walked away not realizing we created a mess that we now need to clean up. The problem is we preach personal responsibility to them, when if we practiced what we preached we would realize we have a responsibility to rebuild trust and repair a people group that we have completely devastated.

3. A tired black church

This is the one that breaks my heart the most. A theme of the conference was a black church that is battling cynicism towards evangelicals. They are weary of seeing us run to Fox News for advice on racial issues instead of taking seriously their personal testimony and experience.

4. Family needs to trump politics

Russell Moore pointed out that there may need to be mortification of sin by white evangelicals before racial unity can happen in the Church. Among the things he said may need mortification is our politics.

What I took that to mean (and it was repeated later on) is that we need to remember that if we are Christians then Jesus has to have the final word on our approach to social issues. This means what our black brothers and sisters in Christ tell us must have more credibility than our favorite political pundits.

My personal opinion is that Christian character is much more important than having a ‘take’ on every issue coming down the pike. Have the humility and discipline to listen. Have the love to care about people to whom you may have no biological relationship. That’s how Jesus wins.

5. The way of the cross for white pastors

A few speakers made the point that white pastors must speak on this issue even if it gets them fired. The speakers are right. To not talk about this is cheap grace. But in being rejected by men, they will be identifying with Christ in his sufferings and with his suffering church.

6. A battle that will be won, the only question is… us

The cross and resurrection guarantee the success of racial reconciliation. It will happen. That is the eschatological hope of Christianity. The only question is whether history will show us to be hindrances to it or helps.

Will history remember evangelicals the way we remember Southern Presbyterians? Time will tell, but future generations will note what we did not have the courage to do.

7. Just listen

If all of this seems crazy or deeply wrong, just start by building some relationships with black people. Listen to them. Take them seriously. Give them the right to narrate their own life experience. See where that gets you. I really do think it will get you to no1-6 on this list, because I think these only seem like wrong ideas when we basically live in a cultural vacuum.

 

 

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Thoughts on a Response to C.S. Lewis and “Spilled Milk”

I was recently doing some study for a membership class at church, and I came across this critique of C.S. Lewis’s “spilled milk” argument against atheism:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2016/03/23/c-s-lewis-and-the-argument-from-spilled-milk

I appreciated the post because it did make me think, and at least for my own personal processing of the argument, I wanted to offer a brief response. I’m not really taking up the cudgels against the author. This is for me (and I suppose any who read my posts).

First, thoughtful as the post is, I’m not sure it has grasped the point Lewis was making. I would appeal to these paragraphs for proof of the confusion.

Suppose you did spill a jug of milk, and suppose that somehow, inexplicably, it did produce a map of London….Would it ultimately matter that you cannot explain how the map appeared? Would that have any bearing on the usability of the map itself?

Well… yes it would matter, because this isn’t actually about milk or maps, it’s about rightly namely the universe that we live in. Asking why we have minds that work is actually another way into the question of whether there is a God and for what purpose did he make us. Lewis’s whole argument is that atheism has no ability to account for the origins of the mind, but Christianity does and therefore Christianity is a more probable account of the universe. So, yes it does matter (a lot) how we explain the origins of the mind.

Second, to say, as this post seems to, that ‘my experience of rationality tells me it is reliable’ is actually a viciously circular argument. It assumes the conclusion, rather than proving it. To overturn Lewis’s argument, you have to provide a competing, compelling, and coherent account for the (metaphysical) origins of the mind in an atheistic universe. That is the only way. Until such a time as that happens, uncomfortable as it may be, atheists must live with Lewis’s problem.

Third:

But hold on a second. If you can’t trust your own thinking, and if you therefore cannot trust the arguments leading to atheism, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that you similarly cannot trust the arguments that led to a belief in God? Why does the inexplicability of human cognition invalidate arguments for atheism, but not also invalidate arguments for the existence of God?
Here again, I wonder if Mr. Carter has missed the point of Lewis’s argument. Lewis is not arguing that nobody can trust human reason. He is saying that apart from a proper accounting of where reason comes from, atheism has no logical basis for trusting it. This is why saying: “who cares where it comes from, it works” really misses the point.Also, the appeal to experience (which is a circular argument) doesn’t address the crux of Lewis’s point which is how do you know that your mind isn’t lying to you? Again, a metaphysical account of where they came from and why we have them would be very useful here.

And that argument does not apply to Lewis because he can supply such an account for the origins of human reasoning. Because atheism hasn’t provided a coherent account, it has a different set of problems to deal with.

Finally:
Lewis was a man of literature, and clearly not a man of science. If he had studied biology, he would have understood that the selective pressures of evolution are not completely random, even if the process of mutation is. There is an illusory appearance of intelligence produced by the forces of natural selection whereby living things develop capabilities which give them advantages over their environment. In the case of higher mammals like ourselves, we have developed advantageous cognitive abilities which, very much like that analogous map of London, have gotten us places where we want to go.

True enough; Lewis was a man of literature, and not a man of science. He was also not a theologian (which is why he gets himself into trouble in theology too, sometimes). But in his defense, he did believe in evolution, so I don’t think he would’ve felt brushed back by these comments about biology. If anything, such observations about science would’ve made him hammer his point more. How do you account for such a rational, coherent, progressing evolutionary process in an undesigned, atheistic universe?

The block quote is fascinating to me precisely because it illustrates the failure of atheism to grasp what it needs to do to establish itself as a credible philosophy. Appealing to science and evolution is not it. In fact, logic would show us as much. A-theism (no-God-ism) is a metaphysical claim. Evolution is not a metaphysical claim, it is a scientific theory. So, appealing to evolution to vindicate atheism doesn’t make sense.

Atheism’s issues are metaphysical. That is what Lewis is arguing in the illustration. Atheism will always be stuck explaining how a meaningless, undesigned, uncared for universe could somehow ‘just happen to produce’: 1) meaning that isn’t us lying to ourselves over and over again, 2) morals that we should care about and treat as universal to everyone, 3) reliable scientific laws that came from nowhere but somehow happen again and again for billions of years and do not appear to be disappearing as suddenly as they came, and 4) unseen laws of logic and rationality that also happen again and again and are here just as firmly as the scientific laws are. This is the battlefield that atheism stands or falls on, not science.

And I would say that answering, “I don’t know where these things come from, but they are just here, so let’s go with it” (in addition to be a circular argument) is a curiously weak answer from a philosophy that has always insisted it is more concerned for logical precision and a humble, intellectual curiosity than any religious worldview. At least in this case, it seems like Lewis the Christian was more curious about the origins of human logic than an atheist was.

 

Don’t Treat People Like Projects

If you treat people like projects for you to improve, then when they don’t want to participate in that project you will inevitably treat them as a waste of time or you will feel threatened by them–because all you are seeing in them is something that needs fixing.

But the Bible instead calls us simply to love our neighbor as ourselves. This changes the motive to intervene. Our interest in people’s growth becomes selfless because it is based on love, instead of a “need to fix” them. It changes how we intervene.

It means ‘I want to help them, but I love them even without improvement, and I love them even if the pace of improvement is considerably slower or different from what “I” wanted.’

That is giving up control. It re-humanizes people so that we treat them like people and not just ‘projects.’

Thomas Watson “Uses” of Shorter Catechism 3-4

There is a God

I. Because there is a God, atheism is reproved

II. Because there is a God, he will deal righteously, and give just rewards to men.

III. Because there is a God, woe to all who have this God against them.

IV. Let us firmly believe in him

V. Let us labor to get an interest in him.

VI. Let us serve and worship him as God.

God is a Spirit

I. If God be a Spirit, then he is impassable and cannot be hurt

II. If God be a Spirit,  it shows the folly of those who worship him by pictures.

III. If God be a Spirit, the more spiritual we grow, the more we become like God.

IV. If God be a Spirit, the worship which God desires most is spiritual.

V. Let us pray to God, that as he is a Spirit, so he will give us of his Spirit.

VI. As God is a Spirit, so the rewards he gives are spiritual.

God is Infinite

I. It condemns those who make more than the Godhead infinite (like the humanity of Christ in the Supper)

II. If God be infinite, then it is certain he can govern all things in his own person, and needs no proxies or deputies.

III. If God is infinite in his omnipresence, then see the greatness and immensity of God.

IV. If God be infinite, filling heaven and earth, see what a full portion the saints have.

V. If God be infinite, he is everywhere present–this is sad to the wicked.

VI. If God be infinite, then Christians can walk with God.

VII. If God be infinite in his glorious essence, learn to admire where you cannot fathom.

The Knowledge of God

I. If God is infinite in knowledge, then how unlike him are those who do not know him or his ways.

II. If God is a God of knowledge, then hypocrisy and secret sin is folly.

III. If God is a God of infinite knowledge, then we should always feel as under his omniscient eye.

IV. If God is a God of infinite knowledge, then study sincerity. Be what you seem.

V. If God is a God of infinite knowledge, there is comfort to believers when we exercise in private acts of worship, God sees and is pleased. There is also comfort to believers weighed down by sin, God can see grace in us, even when we can’t see it in ourselves. For the church, God sees all the plots against it, and can make them fail.

Thomas Watson, “Uses” for Shorter Catechism #2

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

USES:

  1. We see the goodness of God in giving us the Scriptures.
  2. If it is inspired of God, it reproves those who ignore parts of Scripture, who replace Scripture with ‘secret messages’ from the Spirit, who never read it, who twist its meaning.
  3. If it is inspired by God, let us read it, prize it, believe it, love it, conform to it, contend for it, be thankful for it, adore God’s grace revealed in it.

Thomas Watson, BD, 26-38.