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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I’m not a “Christian” Writer: Revisiting the Secular/Sacred Split


A couple of weeks ago I wrote several posts encouraging Christians to stop investing in what I termed ‘top-down’ approaches to cultural transformation.  Instead, I argued that cultures are transformed from the ‘bottom-up.’  Only when virtue is cultivated, faith is engendered, and the hearts of the people are changed, shall we see true cultural transformation.  Today I’d like to examine another facet of the problem of cultural transformation which is intimately related with the above issue: the so called secular/sacred split.

The late Francis Schaeffer often spoke about modern man’s unfortunate tendency to compartmentalize life—that is to separate, or segregate, the various fields of knowledge and human experience into non-overlapping boxes.  We see this problem among the various academic disciplines which are often taught as if they were completely isolated subject matters.  Consequentially, many scientists fail to understand the philosophical underpinnings of their discipline, many artists and musicians know absolutely nothing about the scientific aspect of their work, and so on and so forth.  When we become so specialized that we fail to see the intimate connection points between the various fields of knowledge we have fallen victim to this harmful form of compartmentalization.

The secular/sacred split is somewhat similar to this.  Evangelical Christians often segregate the things they perceive to be ‘secular’ and the things they perceive to be ‘sacred’—and act as if there are some things which are ‘spiritual activities’ and others which are simply neutral or ‘non-Christian.”  For instance, many would consider going to church on Sunday morning a ‘sacred’ activity—in contrast, few Christians would consider going to eat at McDonald’s ‘sacred.’  Now, I’m not arguing that these activities are one and the same (clearly there are huge differences); however, there is a problem when we fail to see the sacred aspect of even the most mundane parts of our life, like going to McDonald’s.  We are still Christians when we go to McDonald’s, we are still called to live out our faith at McDonald’s, to honor God at McDonald’s, to respect and love people at McDonald’s . . .

This split happens in other more subtle ways too.  For instance, Evangelicals have created their own subculture by attaching the label ‘Christian’ to art, music, film, and literature.   For many Evangelicals music, to use an obvious example, is ‘secular’ unless we attach the descriptor ‘Christian’ to it—hence, we now have Contemporary Christian Music.  The same has happened with all of the above categories—we now have Christian Fiction, Christian Movies, and Christian Artists.  We’ve created our very own subpar, subculture.

When I was a teenager I used to be proud of the fact that I didn’t listen to ‘secular’ music.  I would tell my friends that I only listened to ‘Christian’ music.  The truth is, however, music is neither secular nor Christian—people are.  That is to say, people can be Christians not music (although, I would add that music, by nature, is a great good, in virtue of the fact that God created it).  Christ calls people, like you and me, to help redeem the culture through living out our faith in the culture.

To redeem a culture, to transform it from the bottom-up, we have to break through the secular/sacred split and allow our faith to penetrate every aspect of our being.  This takes far more than merely “Christianizing” the arts and sciences—that is, duplicating what the general culture is doing, badly, and attaching pithy scripture verses to it to make it sound spiritual.  Rather, it takes Christians approaching their individual vocations with the heart and mind of Christ.  It means striving for excellence, striving to attain virtue, and striving for truth in all that we do.  Most importantly, it involves doing this in the general culture.

A Christian who is a musician should not, by default, assume the only way he can pursue his vocation is by writing and performing “worship” music.  Rather, he should strive, first and foremost, to be a good musician.  He should seek to cultivate virtue through his music.  He should think about and theorize about music through the lens of the Christian worldview, he should develop his skills and abilities (striving for excellence), and honor God through the work of his hands (or mouth if you sing or play a wind instrument).  He should conduct business honorably—with honesty and fairness.  He should use his music to support the weak and less fortunate.  Music can be, and should be, sacred even when we don’t sing the words “Jesus loves you.”  And this is true of all of the arts and sciences.

Christians should be on the New-York Times Bestsellers list, not as “Christian Authors,” but as authors who are Christians.  Their faith should be evident in the quality and depth of their work, in the nobility and justness of their business practices, in the way they treat others and use the money they make, etc…  Christians should be at the top of their academic field, not because they are “Christian Biologists,” or “Christian Psychologists,” or “Christian Philosophers,” but because they strive for excellence in all they do, live lives of holiness and virtue, and bring their faith to bare on every decision they make or theory they propound.  Christians who are artists should strive to have their work on display in the world’s top galleries–not merely paint quaint landscapes to be sold as household decorative items at Lifeway Christian Bookstore.

If we truly want to transform our culture we’re going to have to break free from our subculture—tear down the divide—and allow the Holy Spirit to use us as a source of renewal and life.

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.

Mystic Mondays: On Humility


Pride lies at the heart of nearly all of the devisions we find in the Church.  We Christians are often too quick to judge those who differ from us and place far to much stock in our own vain opinions.  We blatantly ignore the One who binds us together as one body, the creator and savior of the universe, our Lord, who commands us to be humble, and opt, instead, to cast a critical and unrelenting eye on anyone we meet whose theology deviates from our own in only the slightest degree.  Quite frankly, we Christians tend to think far more of ourselves, and of our own private interpretations and opinions, than we should.  We suffer from a deplorable, and often vehement, lack of humility–I invite you to mediate on the profound words of Thomas A Kempis in the eighth chapter of his master work The Imitation of Christ:

“Do not consider yourself better than others, for you may be worse in God’s sight.  Do not be proud of your good works, for often what pleases us displeases God, Whose judgments differ from the judgment of humans.  Whatever goodness or virtue is in you, believe that your neighbor has better qualities; in this way you will preserve humility.

It will not hurt you to consider yourself worse than others, even if this is not really so; bu it will hurt greatly if you prefer yourself above another, although that person might be a great sinner.  A humble person is a peaceful person; but the hearts of the proud are full of envy and resentment.”

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.