Thursday, June 12, 2008

Doctrine, Denominations, and Deceptive Devotion

Summer time is here. It's a time when denominational meetings occur (including my own, as well as the former name brand). Denominations are still important today - though more as missional networks and accountability groups, rather than bureaucracies. Denominations allow Christians of similar conviction and habit to work together with less friction than we would otherwise. They allow for some measure of distinctive theological and ecclesiological habitus to shape a people into God's multi-faceted family. However, we can all come back to the table as the Christian family so long as there is a strong family resemblance. In the church, we call that family resemblance orthodoxy (in early times called the rule of faith).

Some people who have rejected that ancient family resemblance will try to play the Pharisee card on people who question their place at the decision making table. They say "Doctrine divides" (even within denominations, where it's supposed to serve as a unifying principle). Most of the time, they hit the evangelical achilles heel of pietistic devotion by saying that we're all about the same Jesus. (See false-teacher Joel Osteen fall for that one on the Mormon question.) All of this posturing falls apart if you press the case with this Jesus approving something they don't like - which shows that he's just a figment of their imagination.

In light of the foregoing habits of some, I'd like to provide a timely quote from one of the greatest expositors of the 20th century.

You cannot separate what a man believes from what he is. For this reason doctrine is vitally important. Certain people say ignorantly, "I do not believe in doctrine; I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; I am saved, I am a Christian, and nothing else matters". To speak in that way is to court disaster, and for this reason, the New Testament itself warns us against this very danger.

We are to guard ourselves against being "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine", for if your doctrine goes astray your life will soon suffer as well.

So it behoves us to study the doctrines in order that we may safeguard ourselves against certain erroneous and heretical teachings that are as rife and as common in the world today as they were in the days of the early Church.

--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Exposition of Ephesians

Monday, June 09, 2008

More on Compassion and Conservatism

Last week, I blogged about a book by Peter Schweizer, Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less … And Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals.

That subtitle is a mouthful, but it's a serious description of the book's 212 pages. Schweizer's purpose was to investigate the link (and even probe causality) between one's caring behaviors/attitudes and one's basic ideology ("conservative" or "liberal / progressive" - as self-reported within the current American context). This weekend past, I received a note from Focus on the Family's Citizenlink that gave even more distilled info. Here are some more stats, followed by highlights from their interview (highlights are mine - my comments are in different font):

  • Young conservatives are more likely to volunteer for a charity, any kind of charity, than young liberals — although young liberals are more likely to say they have attended a protest rally.
  • Fifty-nine percent of those who describe themselves as “very liberal” think it’s wrong to cheat on your spouse, compared to 86 percent of those who self-identify as “very conservative.”

The data come from a treasure trove of scientific surveys that have been out there for years, but never really gone through in this way. Schweizer's conclusion after mining it: “Liberalism … allows one to claim the moral high ground on just about any issue while in effect ‘outsourcing’ your personal responsibility for doing something about it to the government.”

This is one of my main issues with current liberalism - it's not liberating at all. Instead, it seeks to make us slaves to the government. And they say that conservatives are the ones trying to push morality on the masses....

CitizenLink talked with him this week about the book and the reactions he expects it will get from both sides of the ideological aisle.

If we both stay really quiet for a minute, I’m sure we can hear liberals howling over the revelations in this book. How do you think the Jesse Jacksons and Nancy Pelosis and Bill Clintons of the world are going to react to Makers and Takers?

Well, I hope they don’t react by seeing it as a personal attack. Because what I really clearly try to emphasize is that this is a book about ideas and the consequences of ideas. I don’t think the world is divided between bad people and good people. I think we all have fallen short of the glory of God, and we’re all flawed. I do think ideas have consequences, though, and the real culprit here are modern liberal ideas, which tend to encourage some of the worst in us.

For the record, I have never successfully been able to convince a liberal that my stance against abortion or homosexual acts is not a personal attack on them.
You document well how conservatives, especially social conservatives, get a lot of grief for the stands we take in the culture. . . In writing the book, are you trying to encourage folks who are constantly subject to the barrage that “you’re rotten, you’re horrible, you’re evil”?

Absolutely. What I wanted to try to do was quantify, as best as I could, the benefits of holding on to your traditional values and conservative attitudes toward family and toward life. Conservatives have certainly argued, over the years, the benefits of it, but this is the first time we’ve been able to quantify it.

So, yeah, one of the reasons I wrote the book is because I want people to take comfort and say, “You know what, if you believe these traditional belief systems, you’re headed in the right direction, because the research supports the benefits of embracing this kind of belief system.”

I'm a burkean conservative at heart. I'm not against change, but I am against the chronological fallacy.

But what, if anything, did you dig up in the data that surprised you?

There were two things. No. 1, the whole honesty question. That really surprised me, though I guess it shouldn’t have because it does make sense that if you believe in relative truth, honesty is kind of a subjective thing. But to actually see the data difference in the way in which conservatives and liberals embrace whether honesty is important, that really did surprise me.

Ever notice how libs get testy if you try to make them be up-front about their blogging identity?

The second thing was the whole issue of families. I was a little bit surprised in the research about family structure, about how liberals are less trusting of siblings, that they’re less close to their parents. Again, that’s maybe something I should not have been surprised by.

This may be part of the key to the South's conservative impulse. We're all about families - even our dysfunctional ones. It's important to know "who your people are" because it contextualizes you. It can be used to constrain, so caution is enjoined. But this makes sense - even from a social science / systems theory approach.
All of us know liberals. How do we use the information in this book to help us navigate those relationships?

The first thing to do is to give them the empirical evidence and make clear that these are surveys and studies that have been done by academics. And show that, look, there is a pattern that exists here in behavior. And then really step back and say, “Why do you think this pattern, this gap between liberals and conservatives on these issues, is true?”

There are studies in the book about how conservatives are more reflective in terms of responsibility and they think about larger-picture issues. And that’s one of the things that really handicaps modern liberalism. Conservatives believe there are things larger than themselves; for many people, it’s faith in God. But modern liberalism really is about self. And I think that really does affect and influence perspective and the manner in which people look at these issues.

Modern liberals do have this notion and this sense that they have a moral superiority. And conservatives are so used to being beaten down that they have the reaction you had. What I hope we can do now that this information has been analyzed is to keep it out there. We need to keep pushing it and encouraging people to look at it. And I think eventually the public square will be forced to address these issues.

Unlike many people in my camp, I think liberals - at least of the religious variety I regularly interact with - want to be "good" and they want to be kind and compassionate. I'm just afraid that the tools being given in the modern liberal arts and theological curriculum (including the zeitgeist of postmodern culture at large) is just inadequate to the task. Similarly, I think religious libs want to connect people with God in order to transform them into caring people. However, if the base assumptions of your ideological approach are wrapped up in the therapeutic self, how can you overcome that?

To learn more about Peter Schweizer and Makers and Takers, visit his Web site.