There is no “Us or Them”


“We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them”

– Gungor

Last year Gungor released a delightfully dark, lyrically deep, and musically sophisticated album entitled I Am Mountain. Michael Gungor, the band’s founder and front man, also wrote an honest and insightful blog exploring his doubts about biblical literalism and fundamentalism. As a result, they were heavily criticized and even anathematized by many conservative evangelicals (Cf. Ken Ham, Q90 FM Radio, & Al Mohler).

On a personal note, I was living in Wake Forest at the time the controversy broke out and very disappointed when, at the last minute, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary canceled a Gungor concert I had been planning to attend for six months.

Gungor recently released a new song entitled “Us for Them” (which is embedded above). I find the song both moving and inspiring; especially in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston and the backlash regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. Nevertheless, I suspect, it will only embroil Gungor in even more controversy.

The reason for this is simple: it calls for us to love unconditionally. 

Rejecting the Either/Or

Gungor’s song decries our fallen tendency to divid people into categories (e.g., white/black, cool/uncool, rich/poor, educated/ignorant, gay/straight, etc.), to stigmatize and judge, and to segregate and hate. This is the either/or that Gungor rejects and which fuels their declamation against those who would “define us”. Many, however, will misunderstand the message. They will, instead, interpret it as an attack on objective truth.

After all, one might argue that, to reject the either/or distinction is to violate the law of non-contradiction; literally to say that A is both A and Not-A at the same time and in the same sense. If this is true,”Us for Them” advocates the logically absurd and is, ultimately, a misguided call for us to embrace moral relativism.

To interpret the song in this way, however, would be misguided. For Gungor is not attacking the laws of logic, nor are they denying the possibility of objective truth. They are, in fact, doing the exact opposite. They are affirming the objective existence of the God who is love and who loves all men unconditionally; and calling for us to follow His example. 

Two Ways of Viewing Humanity

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of viewing humanity. The first way denies that human beings have an essential nature–i.e., a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is merely a random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is contingent upon the vacillating whims of society and individuals.

The second way affirms human beings have an essential nature–i.e., that there is a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is more than a mere random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is an objective feature of reality. This means that what it is to be human does not depend upon accidental features of individual human beings (e.g., the color of your skin, your social status, your sexual orientation, etc.).

Christianity views humanity in the second way.  It maintains people are essentially good, in as much as they are made in the image and likeness of God. For the Christian, all human beings are intrinsically valuable and worthy of love in spite of their accidental properties. This means that you are valuable, you have dignity and worth, and are lovable, in spite of the way you look, the level of your IQ, or the things you’ve done.

It is the second way of viewing humanity, through the eyes of Christ, that Gungor’s new song champions. As such it stands squarely against those who define and judge other human beings in terms of some accidental feature of their existence. It is, thus, opposed to any worldview that would cause us to hate another human being due to their race, age, religion, or sexual orientation.

“Our Only War is Love”

To reject the either/or–i.e. humanities fallen tendency to divid, categorize, and judge others based upon accidental features of their existence–is to call for us to love one anther as Jesus does: unconditionally.

To embrace the way of love is literally to wage war on our fallen dispositions and against the fallen world system. It is to stare in the face of ISIS with open arms, as Jesus did on the cross: praying for the very people who murdered him.  It is to look at all of humanity, regardless of their sins, and to see the very image of God; to see that there is no “us or them.”

It seems appropriate to close with these words from St. Maximus the Confessor:

“For him who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christians and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all”

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The Real Battle for Marriage


The real battle for marriage is not taking place in the political arena.  It’s not being waged on the street corner with ‘colorful’ signs and bull-horns.  It’s not occurring at your favorite chicken restaurant  with a side of waffle fries.  The real battle for marriage is being waged on an entirely different front: our homes.

With every broken promise and broken heart, every adulterous wife and lecherous  husband, every abusive or neglectful parent, every struggling single mom, every distant and removed father, every argument or divorce . . . there you will find the real battle for marriage taking place.  Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the majority of young people are rejecting the traditional definition of marriage?  Certainly, there are many factors which are contributing to this trend–one of them being the overarching influence of Secular Humanistic, Nihilistic, thinking in our universities and in the popular media–but I’d like to focus on one factor which is often downplayed by Evangelicals.  The factor to which I refer is the uncomfortable reality that there are very few examples of stable, long-lasting, healthy, heterosexual, marriages for young people to look up to.

It’s one thing to talk about how the ‘traditional’ conception of marriage is of God’s design and will lead to true intimacy, fulfillment, and joy.  It’s quite another thing to demonstrate the truth of this proposition.  Conservative Evangelical Christians, along with the rest of the population, have pretty much failed to model the very institution they claim to be the foundation of society (just take one look at the average divorce rate among Evangelical Christians).

Hence, while Evangelicals scream for traditional marriage, young people often go most of their lives without ever seeing a good example of a traditional marriage.  Whether it is logical or not, when the people ardently in favor of a position fail to exemplify their own ideals, it becomes harder to see why their position is important or even preferable.  Evangelicals are like the mother who punishes her children for saying a curse word right after calling the driver who just cut her off on the highway an “F-ing idiot!”  In light of such hypocrisy, we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover young people fail to see why a seemingly ‘rigid, restrictive, outdated, ineffective, outmoded, socially contrived institution’ like traditional marriage is desirable.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing Christians scream, and watching them hold signs, and attend rallies, and sign petitions in order to defend traditional marriage.  When are we going to start taking marriage and the family seriously?  When are we going to practice what we so ardently preach?  Where are the godly men, unwaveringly committed to one woman, actively engaged with their children, giving of themselves to their families as Christ gives of Himself to the Church?  Where are the godly women, remaining true to their husbands, in the good times and the bad, pouring their hearts and souls  into their marriages and into their children?

Instead of waging a hopeless ‘culture war‘ built around the naive idea that we can transform our culture from the top down, I have another idea.  Why don’t we start demonstrating traditional marriage?  Why don’t we spend as much, if not more, energy building, cultivating and nurturing successful, loving marriages so that the world might see God’s design in action?  After all, actions speak louder than words.

The Failure of Evangelicalism: How Evangelicals are Killing Their Own Religion


To anyone who isn’t a stalwart conservative or burying one’s head in the sand, it’s quite clear that the Evangelical community is facing a drastic shift in direction. I would contend that while the shift was inevitable, it’s not a good shift. It’s trending towards a more liberal theology, a more anti-intellectual philosophy masquerading as intellectual, and growing in incredulity towards anything traditional or ancient. I’ve lamented it many times before, but it seems to be a growing problem, specifically for the younger generation.

What really hit me was yesterday when I was looking for books on deep theology concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation. It dawned on me that I couldn’t go to a Lifeway or other typical Christian bookstore (ones that are generally associated with evangelicalism). Instead, in order to find the books I needed I had to go to a store that caters to Eastern Orthodox. Once there, I looked for what I needed and of all the books I looked through, not a single evangelical author was available. This is not due to the bookstore bias against evangelicals (they had plenty of books by evangelicals and even supported some of these books…in the spirituality department), but because in order to find a qualified theologian on the Trinity who isn’t neo-orthodox or liberal you have to turn to the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics. In fact, the last great intellectual thinker for evangelicals who wasn’t neo-orthodox or liberal would be Francis Schaeffer, but even he claimed to be more of an evangelist than an academic (though there’s no denying that he was influential for many in the evangelical tradition). Likewise, this isn’t to say that there are no orthodox evangelical thinkers in the world of theology, merely that the most authoritative voices for the conservative movement tend to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Certainly there are some great minds in the evangelical church, but these minds are usually geared towards apologetics (which tends to be weaker among the Orthodox), and many of these great evangelical philosophers are extremely weak when it comes to theology. Why is this? I would contend that because evangelicals have had either a fearful view of the patristics (or at least an apathetic view of the patristics), so fearful that they’ve avoided reading this essential material. For many evangelicals, Christianity apparently began around the time of the Reformation, thus ignoring a wealth of historical teachings that we need to pay attention to. When we abandon our history and tradition we begin to seek anything that is new; but truth is immortal and ancient, truth is without time, truth is before our existence, so we should never need to find anything new, for whatever is new is not truthful.

But this is merely the intellectual side of the faith. On the existential side of faith (which is a different side of the same coin), all three branches are failing, but evangelicals are failing the hardest (or so it seems). Why is it that evangelicals are trending towards a more watered-down faith? Along with the anti-intellectualism running rampant in evangelical circles (conservative and liberal), there’s an apathetic approach to holiness. Holiness seems to be a list of rules rather than a lifestyle we live. For conservatives, holiness is a matter of avoiding drugs, avoiding sex before marriage, avoided alcohol, avoiding certain types of music, avoiding saying the wrong words, and is purely individualistic and internalized. For the more “progressive” branch of evangelicals, holiness is about avoiding oppressing the poor, avoiding oppressing anyone perceived as oppressed, avoiding making absolute statements (for absolute statements are absolutely wrong), and looks more towards the community and how we act in it to determine how holy we are.

In both cases, both sides are right and wrong. The “emergent ethic of holiness” is really just an overreaction to the conservative ethic that we’ve seen for so many years. While we should be personally holy, which means abstention from certain actions, being holy is also contingent upon how we act towards our fellow humans, specifically those who are economically oppressed or oppressed by their status in life.

The failure of Evangelicalism is two-fold; it is an intellectual crisis and an existential crisis. We cannot reach the minds of a young generation, nor can we reach the hearts of a young generation. We’re still stuck offering simple platitudes of the faith, avoiding the deeper issues of the faith and casting such teachings to seminary (where many seminarians are beginning to fail to understand these essential doctrines). At the same time, we’re holding “prayer drives” thinking that if we pray for someone that it’s enough, even though the Bible says such an attitude is wrong. James 1:22-25 reads:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

He goes on in 2:15-17 to write,

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When our churches raise money for bigger and better sanctuaries (or “worship centers” if your church wants to be cool), when our churches create ministries that cater to members rather than asking members to cater to those in need, when our churches become more concerned with the size of the church rather than the heart of the church, is it any wonder that young people are abandoning the evangelical church in droves? When they see people bicker over how to best fix a broken clock in the sanctuary, do we really expect them to stay? If we aren’t putting our beliefs into practice, then what value do our beliefs really hold to us?

If evangelicalism is to survive, then it must grab hold of the ancient faith that it has abandoned and begin to practice it as well. It must lose its love of numbers, it must abandon all hope of having a megachurch, and instead focus on truly helping people in the neighborhood who need help.

We need pastors to start preaching sermons on the Trinity and how the Trinity applies to our lives. Same with the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and other essential doctrines in the faith. We need churches that tell the members, “We don’t have a ministry to help you, but we have ministries you can help.” Will this cause our numbers to take a nose-dive? Absolutely. But that is what is needed; we need to lose some excess weight. If evangelicalism is to survive, then its adherents must begin to live like Christ, otherwise it will quickly die out. And if it can’t follow Christ both in thought and deed, then it is a death I welcome with open arms.

Liberal Protestantism and the Rise of Religious Anti-Intellectualism or Whenever You Point Your Finger there are Three Fingers Pointing Back


It’s popular, these days, to bash fundamentalists for being “anti-intellectual”–I’ve read entire books dedicated to explaining how evangelicals are responsible for dumbing down Americans.  My purpose today is not to refute these claims (after all, most of them are true); but, merely, to point out that the grass is not all that greener on the other side.  By the other side, of course, I mean Liberal Protestantism (with all of its modern manifestations).

Friedrich Schleiermacher is acknowledged by virtually everyone as being the “father of Liberal Protestantism.”  According to Roger E. Olson, he was the, “first professional Protestant theologian to call for sweeping changes in Protestant orthodoxy to encounter and come to terms with the Zeitgeist of modernity.”  The key phrase here is that he was the first to call for, “sweeping changes.”  He was not the first Protestant to respond to the challenges of modernity (there were, in fact, other Christians attempting to do this).  What makes Schleiermacher significant is the solution he brought to the table.  In his famous work, On Religion: Addresses in Response to Its Cultured Critics, Schleiermacher outlined this position; and, in Olson’s words, “laid the foundation for liberal theology to come.”

In his book Schleiermacher argued that, “the essence of religion lies not in rational proofs of the existence of God, supernaturally revealed dogmas or churchly rituals and formalities, but in a ‘fundamental, distinct, and integrative element of human life and culture’–the feeling (Gefuhl) of being utterly dependent on something infinite that manifests itself in and through finite things.”  In other words, he insisted that religion is epitomized by feelings rather than rationality.  In his mind, Christianity did not deal with concrete objective truths–it simply expressed an overarching feeling of dependency shared by all human beings.

Olson explains that Gefuhl is, “the distinctly human awareness of something infinite beyond the self on which the self is dependent for everything,” and that, “Christianity has its own unique form of Gefuhl, which Schleiermacher believed to be its highest form.”  Christianity, therefore, is merely the best of the various human attempts to express Gefuhl.

Albrecht Ritschl later built upon Schleiermacher’s ideas and is perhaps the most influential of the two progenitors of Liberal Protestantism.  Ritschl set out to, as Olson puts it, “disentangle Christianity from science.”  By “science,” he meant any objective discipline whose stock-in-trade was “facts.”  Essentially, Ritschl advocated a form of moderate scientism in which only scientific claims could be counted as knowledge.

As Olson explains:  “Ritschl believed and argued that religious propositions, including Christian doctrines, must be understood as completely different from scientific ones.  Science deals with facts and speaks the language of assertions of facts.  Religion deals with values and speaks the language of judgments of value.”  By judgments or values Ritschl did not mean objective truths about reality; but, subjective opinions or feelings that individuals hold–which may or may not be true.

My point is this:  if anti-intellectualism is characterized by an uncritical, blind, dogmatic allegiance to one narrow set of propositions, or, as uplifting feelings and emotion above reason, then Liberal Protestantism has, in deed, fostered a form of religious anti-intellectualism.  Both Schleiermacher and Ritschl docilely embraced the entailments of modernity with little to no criticism (as do their followers today).  Their mindless acceptation of the “death of metaphysics” (via Hume and Kant) and scientism has led to a complete intellectual retreat–culminating in the removal of religion from the sphere of knowledge and rationality.  If Christianity, as they argued (and as many still argue), is merely a set of subjective emotions or values it can hardly be viewed as an intellectual pursuit.

Consequentially, it is extremely rare to find Liberal Protestants who are Christian intellectuals.  This is because Christian intellectualism entails the belief that Christianity can function as a rational enterprise–that Christian beliefs fall within the realm of knowledge and reason and not just subjectivity.  Furthermore, Christian intellectuals, being intellectual, are inclined to question the philosophical viability of modernism and challenge its basic presuppositions–something Liberal Protestants seem incapable of doing.

The conclusion, of course, is this:  one should clear the anti-intellectual log out of their own eye before attempting to clear the anti-intellectual speck out of another’s.