The Woman and the Pastor

I just read Revelation 12-18 this afternoon, and the identity of the woman in Revelation 17-18 suddenly makes so much more sense in light of the West’s complete moral collapse. Bostock v. Clayton County is the final domino in a chain that has made me now fully realize the scope of the task for faithful pastors in the 21st century.

To read people argue, in confident legal prose, that discrimination “because of … sex” and discrimination “because of … sexual orientation” are analgous is astonishing, in a deceptive way. You get so caught up in parsing the intent of the actors and considering the legal arguments that you forget just how morally bankrupt this discussion even is. There is no longer even a pretense of a foundation to anchor morality and ethics in the public square. As I wrote in my discussion of the Obergefell decision, once a culture dynamites its objective foundation for values all that’s left to anchor us to morality is inertia. 

Well, the inertia has indeed toppled the crumbling edifice with Bostock. The decision isn’t so awful, in and of itself. It’s awful because it signals that sanity has fallen. Once and for all, it has gone.

I knew this before, but I didn’t know it before.

The Church no longer has any common point of cultural contact left with the world. When the Church speaks the mystery of the faith to outsiders, it now speaks a foreign and hateful language. This means the Church’s job is not simply to explain the Christian faith to the world. It is that, but it’s more than that.

The Church’s task, more than ever, is now to explain and interpret reality to the world. God’s reality. This will take educated, well-read ministers who understand history in a deep and meaningful way.

  • Not in a social media meme kinda way.
  • Not in a “I watch Tucker on Fox, and he’s right!” kinda way.
  • Not in a “Watch Ben Shapiro DESTROY the libs” kinda way.

I mean real history. Real engagement with big ideas and big thinkers. A real sense of human history, and mistakes of the past. We’ll need pastors who understand culture. Who pay attention to what’s happening in the world and can interpret it for the Church and for the world. I’m actually thinking a graduate degree in liberal studies/humanities may be more important than a PhD.

Os Guinness has written that the West is a “cut-flower” civilization, in the sense that it’s like a withering flower ripped from the Christian worldview, slowly dying in a vase on the countertop.

No longer.

Now, the West is a dead flower civilization. Now, the Church must be the institution that stands in the gap, shakes it head sadly, and patiently and winsomely explains the facts of reality to a very confused world. 

Carl Trueman wrote a few days ago:

If Christians do not understand the wider context, then they will continue to underestimate the true depth of the cultural problem, be perplexed at the speed of apparent change, and be disturbed by new developments. And that will make it very hard to navigate this world as both good citizens and good stewards of the gospel.

Who is equal to this task? My goodness, who can be equal to this task? When I read the transcript of oral arguments from Bostock, I feel overwhelmed. What tortured combination of forces have combined to produce the kind of moral confusion and rebellion against God that we see in those pages? It’s too much. No one person is equipped to interpret this kind of madness for the Church.

I am more well-read than many pastors. That may be hubris, but I suspect not. I am overwhelmed by the task. I feel unequal to it. There’s so much!

The woman in Revelation 17-18 represents man in community apart from God. Like a chameleon, she’s taken many different forms over the years. But, she is organized society without God. In the West, she’s secular humanism. But, I know even as I write this that it’s not quite right. It’s a religion of sorts, but one I have trouble getting my arms around. It seems to combine a narcissism unique to this digital age, abysmal ignorance of just about everything, a “God as divine butler” theology among professing Christians, critical race theory, intersectionality, and hatred of God … all combined into one toxic casserole. I don’t know what to call it.

This is why I feel overwhelmed. I almost wish I were not so bookish, so I’d be content with memes on social media and wouldn’t appreciate the depth of the challenges that lay ahead. I do know, however, that the Lord destroys the woman in Revelation 18, and returns triumphantly in the next chapter. That’s nice!

May God help the Church in the 21st century in the West; especially its elders. Especially me.

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There are 43 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, Tyler, for this helpful analysis.  Yours is a well considered perspective.  I think you understand the current situation very well.  My only recommendation would be to resist the spirit of pessimism.  Yup, its bad, really, really bad.  But all according with God's perfect design and infallible control.  Our God reigns!  Christ shall have dominion, and we are privileged to partner with Him in what He is doing presently, and reign with Him when He brings it all to final consummation.

G. N. Barkman

WallyMorris's picture

Just for information: University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN has recently hired Pete Buttigieg to teach at the school. A Catholic university using a practicing homosexual to teach its students.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

M. Osborne's picture

@Wally: As part of my program at Westminster in Philly, I needed to take 2 classes at another institution, preferably one outside the Westminster worldview, so I wound up at nearby (Catholic) Villanova for two classes. The teacher was perfectly OK with homosexual practice, homosexual marriage, etc. So were many of the students in the graduate ethics courses I took, one of whom went to Liberty undergrad and is now known as a kinda-conservative homosexual magazine writer; and an older homosexual Quaker literature teacher from NJ. My most theologically conservative counterpart in the classes was Eastern Orthodox. Catholicism is not at all unified on fundamental points of doctrine and ethics.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

WallyMorris's picture

M. Osborne wrote:

@Wally: As part of my program at Westminster in Philly, I needed to take 2 classes at another institution, preferably one outside the Westminster worldview, so I wound up at nearby (Catholic) Villanova for two classes. The teacher was perfectly OK with homosexual practice, homosexual marriage, etc. So were many of the students in the graduate ethics courses I took, one of whom went to Liberty undergrad and is now known as a kinda-conservative homosexual magazine writer; and an older homosexual Quaker literature teacher from NJ. My most theologically conservative counterpart in the classes was Eastern Orthodox. Catholicism is not at all unified on fundamental points of doctrine and ethics.

Thanks for the info. Yes, I know the Catholic inconsistency. Just giving an illustration of the problem.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

T Howard's picture

Quote:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

If this is Paul's description of people who profess to be Christians "in the last days," what do you expect from people who've rejected Christianity altogether? I don't understand why conservative Christian pundits are "shocked, shocked to find that cultural disintegration is going on in here!" The modern Christian church is almost as worldly as its surrounding culture. The modern Christian church has tolerated and excused sexually immoral, pugnacious, abusive, and arrogant men as pastors. It has replaced preaching the Bible with meeting felt needs. It has stopped catechizing its children and teens and replaced biblical literacy with nerf wars and sleep overs. If most churches in America closed their doors today, there would be very little difference in society.

Face it, we are salt that has lost its savor. We're no longer seasoning the world. We're now being trampled under foot. Not until our churches become counter cultural will we begin to make an impact on our society.

But, that will take courage, faithfulness, determination, and suffering. These are qualities the modern American church knows very little about.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't see Bostock as particularly significant, myself. But I agree that pastors need to be more broadly educated. It's not enough to be a specialist in the Scriptures and theology (though many are not even that); to be effective, pastors need to understand the times, the culture, and the legitimacy/importance/nature of all the disciplines their congregations are involved in. The reason this is so important (besides the unity of truth) is that you can't apply Scripture well to what you don't understand.

Certainly we need more believers (and pastors) educated at least basically in constitutional law... and political philosophy in general.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

T Howard's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I don't see Bostock as particularly significant, myself. But I agree that pastors need to be more broadly educated. It's not enough to be a specialist in the Scriptures and theology (though many are not even that); to be effective, pastors need to understand the times, the culture, and the legitimacy/importance/nature of all the disciplines their congregations are involved in. The reason this is so important (besides the unity of truth) is that you can't apply Scripture well to what you don't understand.

Certainly we need more believers (and pastors) educated at least basically in constitutional law... and political philosophy in general.

Interesting perspective, Aaron. I don't see Paul commanding Timothy to spend time learning how to exegete the culture. I do see him commanding Timothy to spend time learning and teaching others how to exegete Scripture. Yes, we as believers are to "walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." But, the issue with the church and many pastors is that they've spent a lot of time exegeting the culture, but they are less skilled in exegeting the Scriptures. The best evidence for that is the dumbing down of the MDiv program in many evangelical seminaries. Many see learning and using the original languages as superfluous. "That's why we have Bible software like Logos," they remark. As a result, many pastors are not well equipped to rightly handle the Word of God. Sure, these pastors can be relevant, hip, and worldly-wise, but they can't exegete a passage of Scripture.

Simply stated, many pastors are failing at their primary task given to them by God:

Quote:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding "Catholic" educational institutions, it's been a proverb among traditionalist Catholics--generally those who take the Vatican's word on birth control and abortion seriously, to draw a picture--that there is sadly little Catholicism at the historically Catholic colleges and universities.  For that matter, even non-traditionalist Catholics often scratch their heads at the antics at Notre Dame and such, if my interactions with them are any indication.

Regarding the need--or lack thereof--of pastors to "exegete the culture", as Tom says, it's worth noting that Paul does at times quote the Greek philosophers and "Oral Toral" texts, and (see Acts 16) he occasionally uses Roman law quite deftly.  For that matter, if pastors are indeed going to do the right thing and learn the ancient languages to a degree, that also means that they are going from time to time to be confronted with how the ancient pagans used words--Paul was after all following the culture that had given rise to Homer and the like.  And then you've got the fact that from Augustine on, the history of the Church is intertwined with imperial Rome--if you're going to understand the New Testament and Church fathers in context, you've got to understand some of that.

And do the central point--that the whore of Babylon is indeed simply the spirit of our age--let's just say I'm chewing on that one.  Certainly the fact that the kings of the earth prostitute themselves with her would seem to indicate that whatever she is, she's popular.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Regarding "Catholic" educational institutions, it's been a proverb among traditionalist Catholics--generally those who take the Vatican's word on birth control and abortion seriously, to draw a picture--that there is sadly little Catholicism at the historically Catholic colleges and universities.  For that matter, even non-traditionalist Catholics often scratch their heads at the antics at Notre Dame and such, if my interactions with them are any indication.

I received my MBA from the University of Dayton, a nationally ranked Marianist Catholic institution. They are full-on LGBTQ inclusive.

Quote:
Regarding the need--or lack thereof--of pastors to "exegete the culture", as Tom says, it's worth noting that Paul does at times quote the Greek philosophers and "Oral Toral" texts, and (see Acts 16) he occasionally uses Roman law quite deftly.  For that matter, if pastors are indeed going to do the right thing and learn the ancient languages to a degree, that also means that they are going from time to time to be confronted with how the ancient pagans used words--Paul was after all following the culture that had given rise to Homer and the like.  And then you've got the fact that from Augustine on, the history of the Church is intertwined with imperial Rome--if you're going to understand the New Testament and Church fathers in context, you've got to understand some of that.

As I've mentioned a couple times in other posts, for the past year and a half I've been reading through what some consider to be the primary works of the Western literary canon. I began with Homer last January. I'm currently finishing up Plutarch's Lives and Moralia. So far I've read the major works of Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Menander, "Longinus," Callimachus, Theocritus, and "Aesop." Once I finish Plutarch and read Lucian, I will have completed the ancient and Hellenistic Greek authors in the canon. My goal is to read through the primary works through Dante. One thing that is glaringly obvious to me after reading these authors is that human depravity hasn't changed much in 2,600 years. The immorality, decadence, and lawlessness that are celebrated today in our society were celebrated more openly 2,600 years ago in Athens, Greece. Thus, if you want to exegete the culture, all you have to do is be a student of history and "know thyself."

Again, I'm not sure why we're surprised at the current state of our society. What I'm surprised by is the appalling lack of character, integrity, courage, faithfulness, and preparedness of men who regularly stand in our pulpits.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I almost posted my follow-up piece, "Explaining Reality to the World," on SI instead of this one. But, this other piece offers some more thoughts about understanding our culture.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Interesting perspective, Aaron. I don't see Paul commanding Timothy to spend time learning how to exegete the culture. I do see him commanding Timothy to spend time learning and teaching others how to exegete Scripture. Yes, we as believers are to "walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." But, the issue with the church and many pastors is that they've spent a lot of time exegeting the culture, but they are less skilled in exegeting the Scriptures. 

On the first part of that, 2 things: (1) unless one takes the position that biblical preaching and teaching consists only of explaining the text--and that without reference to daily experience where we live--application is part of it. And you can't apply a Scripture you understand to a situation you do not understand. This is logical necessity. The passage also does not instruct Timothy to inhale regularly... or take care of his voice. But you can't preach or teach without doing both of those.

(2) Where does it say spend time teaching others "to exegete Scripture" or, more to the point, "only to exegete Scripture"?

Both NT and OT are full of principles that are communicated with a clear expectation that they ought to be applied. 

But the need to understand the culture and apply Scripture to it is pretty obvious if one does some systematic theology. And how does one obey 2 Cor. 10:5, for example, without knowledge of some "thoughts" to make "captive"? The "test all things" of  1 Thess. 5:21 can be read as applying only to prophecy (count me skeptical on that point), but Phil 1:9-10 can't be read that narrowly. A statement like "approve the things that are excellent" has no meaning without knowledge of what to apply it to.

On the second part...

But, the issue with the church and many pastors is that they've spent a lot of time exegeting the culture, but they are less skilled in exegeting the Scriptures. 

This has not been my experience. I know it happens, but not in the circles I grew up in or have served in all my life.

Anyway, I'm not saying "neglect the Scriptures to better understand the culture." I'm saying "Understand the Scriptures and don't neglect understanding how to apply them."

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

M. Osborne's picture

T. Howard wrote:

I don't see Paul commanding Timothy to spend time learning how to exegete the culture.

Vern Poythress says that "meaning" includes sense, import / significance, and application; and the implication is that without application, you don't fully understand the meaning. Example:

"Thou shalt not steal."

  • Sense: Don't take what doesn't belong to you.
  • Significance: doctrines re: God's creation, Providence, blessing, in which the idea of "property" lives.
  • Application (for a farmer): Don't take your neighbor's chickens. 

If a farmer agreed with "don't take what doesn't belong to you" but thought it was OK to take the neighbor's chickens, we'd say the farmer was missing something about the meaning.

Anyway...that said: Francis Schaeffer said that he observed that men graduating from seminary were great with the answers, but had no idea what the questions were. I think that's another way of saying that you don't fully grasp the meaning of Scripture itself until you can match it up with real-world applications, compare it and contrast it with alternative ideas, etc. Romans 10 came alive for me when I started sharing the gospel with Roman Catholic friends many years ago, because I saw Paul's description of Jews going about "establishing their own righteousness" played out before my eyes.

 

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

T Howard's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Interesting perspective, Aaron. I don't see Paul commanding Timothy to spend time learning how to exegete the culture. I do see him commanding Timothy to spend time learning and teaching others how to exegete Scripture. Yes, we as believers are to "walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." But, the issue with the church and many pastors is that they've spent a lot of time exegeting the culture, but they are less skilled in exegeting the Scriptures. 

On the first part of that, 2 things: (1) unless one takes the position that biblical preaching and teaching consists only of explaining the text--and that without reference to daily experience where we live--application is part of it. And you can't apply a Scripture you understand to a situation you do not understand. This is logical necessity. The passage also does not instruct Timothy to inhale regularly... or take care of his voice. But you can't preach or teach without doing both of those.

Aaron, I'm not arguing against the appropriate application of Scripture. Of course, we need to apply Scripture. Any pastor who is shepherding his people well (i.e. being involved in their lives) and understands his own human depravity should be able to appropriately apply the Scriptures in his preaching. However, what I'm arguing against is the constant drumbeat we hear for pastors to be and do everything other than preaching God's Word well. More pointedly, a pastor doesn't need to understand constitutional law or political philosophy to fulfill God's command for him to rightly handle the word of truth and to preach the Word. A pastor doesn't need to spend time studying the latest agricultural trends and methodologies to be able to apply God's Word to the farmers in his congregation. Etc. Our church leaders and congregants have lost their savor not because they aren't relevant but because they aren't holy and because they don't understand God's Word (Hosea 4:6).

Quote:
(2) Where does it say spend time teaching others "to exegete Scripture" or, more to the point, "only to exegete Scripture"?

Both NT and OT are full of principles that are communicated with a clear expectation that they ought to be applied. 

But the need to understand the culture and apply Scripture to it is pretty obvious if one does some systematic theology. And how does one obey 2 Cor. 10:5, for example, without knowledge of some "thoughts" to make "captive"? The "test all things" of  1 Thess. 5:21 can be read as applying only to prophecy (count me skeptical on that point), but Phil 1:9-10 can't be read that narrowly. A statement like "approve the things that are excellent" has no meaning without knowledge of what to apply it to.

Again, I'm not arguing against appropriate application of Scripture. To answer your question though, 2 Timothy 2:1-2, is Paul's command to Timothy to pass on what he has learned from Paul. What did Timothy learn from Paul? How to rightly understand and proclaim what the Scriptures teach, particularly as it relates to the person and work of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Quote:
On the second part...

But, the issue with the church and many pastors is that they've spent a lot of time exegeting the culture, but they are less skilled in exegeting the Scriptures. 

This has not been my experience. I know it happens, but not in the circles I grew up in or have served in all my life.

Anyway, I'm not saying "neglect the Scriptures to better understand the culture." I'm saying "Understand the Scriptures and don't neglect understanding how to apply them."

My comments are regarding the broader evangelical landscape, even the conservative evangelical landscape. There is always a pull for churches to be "more relevant" and to meet felt needs. What that usually results in is a deemphasis on the preaching and teaching of God's Word as well as a dumbing down of biblical literacy among our people.

T Howard's picture

M. Osborne wrote:
Anyway...that said: Francis Schaeffer said that he observed that men graduating from seminary were great with the answers, but had no idea what the questions were. I think that's another way of saying that you don't fully grasp the meaning of Scripture itself until you can match it up with real-world applications, compare it and contrast it with alternative ideas, etc.

And, how did all of Schaeffer's philosophizing help him apply Scripture to how he led his family?

Bert Perry's picture

We might wonder whether Schaeffer's problem was philosophy, or whether it was celebrity drawing him away from what was most important.  I lean towards the latter--big responsibilities with a lot of people leading people to fail in what's most important.  I see it with a fair number of pastor's kids.

Back to the topic of the ancients and philosophy, though, while I'm way behind Tom in terms of what I've read--I've got Homer's big works in translation, Aesop, and a smattering of other works--I agree with what he says about human nature/sin not changing terribly much, but I'd add that if we want to understand history (and hence the Scriptures), it sure helps to understand a bit of what the ancients did and thought.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

M. Osborne's picture

T. Howard wrote:

And, how did all of Schaeffer's philosophizing help him apply Scripture to how he led his family?

I'd say the gap between knowing better and doing better is a different kind of gap altogether; and that theology, biblical exegesis, and philosophy can all fall into the "knowing better" bucket when there's still a hole in the "doing better" bucket. I'd also say that the gap between knowing better and doing better is something that the local church is better equipped to address; public discussions can generally address public writings and on-paper statments, and don't have good access to day-to-day decisions. So I'm aware of the problems with Schaeffer that you're talking about, and I can make general guesses about the problem (like Bert did), but can't get closer than that.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
Back to the topic of the ancients and philosophy, though, while I'm way behind Tom in terms of what I've read--I've got Homer's big works in translation, Aesop, and a smattering of other works--I agree with what he says about human nature/sin not changing terribly much, but I'd add that if we want to understand history (and hence the Scriptures), it sure helps to understand a bit of what the ancients did and thought.

Bert, I agree it's helpful to understand what the ancients did and thought because that is the cultural / historical milieu of the New Testament as well as the foundation of our Western civilization. As I've been reading through the ancient and Hellenistic Greeks, I've noted many times various passages that provide helpful context to what we read in our Old or New Testaments. For example, Herodotus is a gold mine for understanding the cultural / historical context behind much of the exhilic and post-exhilic OT prophets. Plutarch provides fascinating details and the broader cultural / historical context of the intertestimental period up through the first century AD. He was in his 20s when Paul was writing his epistles.

Now, must a pastor read and be conversant with all these ancient and Hellenistic Greek authors in order to be a good pastor or preacher? No. Most pastors wouldn't have time to read through them all in addition to being conversant in constitutional law, political philosophy, horticulture, agriculture, etc. etc. as Aaron has suggested they should be.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

M. Osborne wrote:

I'd say the gap between knowing better and doing better is a different kind of gap altogether; and that theology, biblical exegesis, and philosophy can all fall into the "knowing better" bucket when there's still a hole in the "doing better" bucket. 

I agree with this.  The "knowing better" bucket is still quite useful as Jesus stated in Matthew 23:1-3:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice."

Just as the Pharisees knew what to do without doing it, and the Jews in Jesus' day could learn from them, we can still learn from people like Schaeffer even if they didn't always properly apply what they knew.

Dave Barnhart

T Howard's picture

Brothers, my point in bringing up Schaeffer's family issues is not to disparage the man or his legacy. My point is that all his philosophy and cultural understanding did not make him a better parent. In other words, he didn't need to deeply understand philosophy and the surrounding culture to simply apply and obey what God's Word says about leading his family well.

I believe the same principle is true for pastors. Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be. Aaron writes, "to be effective, pastors need to understand the times, the culture, and the legitimacy/importance/nature of all the disciplines [emphasis mine] their congregations are involved in." Do you understand how exhausting and impossible this task would be for the average pastor? It's like we've become gnostics in the belief that Scripture alone is not enough to address our and our congregation's problems. No, to be effective pastors, we need to be able to understand all the disciplines our congregation is involved in and then find a way to make the Bible relevant to these disciplines.

Really?

Brothers, just preach the Word. Spend your time learning to live out and rightly handle God's Word, and in so doing, the Holy Spirit will unleash the power of God's Word in the hearts and lives of your congregation.

Paul wrote:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Preach the Word.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

However, what I'm arguing against is the constant drumbeat we hear for pastors to be and do everything other than preaching God's Word well. More pointedly, a pastor doesn't need to understand constitutional law or political philosophy to fulfill God's command for him to rightly handle the word of truth and to preach the Word. 

Again, this has not been my experience. The generalization here is that there is an emphasis problem somewhere. Where? There has been more of an anti-intellectualism and insularity problem in the orbit I've been in all my life... which is not mainstream evangelicalism. It's been biblical fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism.

Aaron writes, "to be effective, pastors need to understand the times, the culture, and the legitimacy/importance/nature of all the disciplines [emphasis mine] their congregations are involved in." Do you understand how exhausting and impossible this task would be for the average pastor? It's like we've become gnostics in the belief that Scripture alone is not enough to address our and our congregation's problems.

It's called a liberal arts education; it's nothing new, and it's not all that hard. Christian pastors did it for centuries, and many still do, fortunately. But for various reasons, we decided at some point (Romanticism+Modernism?) that pastors only needed to (a) have their hearts right and (b) be specialists in preaching Scripture. 

And gnosticism was all about secret knowledge, not about knowing your world and bringing Scripture to bear on on all of life.

On 2 Cor. 2:1-5...

  • Paul doesn't indicate that he approached every congregation the way he did Corinth. Cf. Acts 17, for example, and his rhetorical methods in Acts 18:4 & 19.
  • He is referring here mostly to classical rhetoric. He had those skills but didn't want to use them in Corinth... probably because he understood the culture in Corinth.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

T Howard wrote:

Brothers, my point in bringing up Schaeffer's family issues is not to disparage the man or his legacy. My point is that all his philosophy and cultural understanding did not make him a better parent. In other words, he didn't need to deeply understand philosophy and the surrounding culture to simply apply and obey what God's Word says about leading his family well.

The Bible also tells us to "get wisdom."  This is all over the Proverbs, but notably in 4:5 and 4:7.  Now, you could easily ask about Solomon (the wisest man): did his wisdom help him become a better family man?  Not completely, given his issues with wives/concubines, and how his son turned out.  You would also be on solid ground questioning if wisdom made him a better king or person.  Certainly in some areas, but it's clear he had major failings there as well.  So what should we conclude?  Wisdom is useless?  I think it's clear that wisdom itself does not lead to salvation, but it will certainly help us as part of our sanctification to become better Christians.

That leads to the following question: does all wisdom need to come directly from scripture?  It certainly begins there, but I think you'd have a hard time arguing that we need no wisdom that doesn't come from the scriptures.  Even if wisdom, knowledge and understanding do not in any way come before or replace the scriptures, it's also clear that we need them as the Bible tells us we should seek them.  As Aaron already pointed out, it's anti-intellectualism that has been prevalent in fundamental circles.  Please preserve me from the "pastor" who eschews any higher education and tells us that the Bible is all he needs to lead a congregation.  I will in no way despise those who do all they can with what they have, even when it isn't much.  However, not taking advantage of learning because it is "not necessary" is almost criminal in a Christian leader.  While God chose to use unlearned fishermen like Peter, James, and John, just as much as he used someone like Paul, he also gave them 3 years of training at the feet of his Son.

Dave Barnhart

TylerR's picture

Editor

Understanding culture is apologetics. It's knowing who the enemy is, so you can contextualize the Gospel appropriately. John understood the proto-gnostics. Augustine understood Pelagius. He also understood his contemporary culture (City of God). Irenaeus understood gnosticism and wrote about it.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

Aaron wrote:
...To be effective, pastors need to understand the times, the culture, and the legitimacy/importance/nature of all the disciplines [emphasis mine] their congregations are involved in.

Aaron qualifies this statement later by adding,

Aaron wrote:
It's called a liberal arts education; it's nothing new, and it's not all that hard.

Aaron, if that is all you mean by saying a pastor needs to understand all the disciplines represented in their congregation, then I would agree that a liberal arts education can be tremendously helpful. However, I enjoyed a liberal arts education (BA in English) along with an MBA and an MDiv, and I can't claim to understand all the disciplines represented in our congregation of over 300+ adults. Maybe I just need to check out some books from the library regarding computer coding, plumbing, real estate investing, human anatomy, pharmacology, firefighting, physics, engineering, piloting a corporate jet, etc. But, I don't think that will make me a more effective pastor / elder.

Per Aaron's and Dave's comments, I agree that we should not promote anti-intellectualism in our pulpits. Yes, we should seek (and apply) wisdom filtered through the lens of Scripture. But, based on my experience, anti-intellectualism hinders a pastor's understanding of Scripture more than his understanding of his culture. In other words, the anti-intellectual pastor will not learn or study the original languages. He cannot not read and interact with exegetical commentaries. He cannot exegete Scripture properly but often spiritualizes or allegorizes the text. He's fine with his four main tools: his Bible, J Vernon McGee, Matthew Henry, and maybe a Strong's Concordance. That, my friends, is more troubling to me than his unfamiliarity with critical race theory or intersectionality.

That being said, I agree with my friend Tyler that we need to understand our culture. My only pushback is that if we're actually obeying Scripture by living in our culture and engaging our culture on a regular basis, we'll already have a good understanding of our culture. We shouldn't need to take a sociology class at our local community college to understand our neighbor or be a more effective pastor. Now, if the pastor rarely interacts with his unsaved neighbors and only spends time around believers and watching Fox News, I can understand the cultural disconnect that Tyler is trying to solve.

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, one thing that comes to mind regarding a liberal arts education is that there are at least two definitions.  First, you've got the classical definition; grammar (especially Latin or Greek), dialectic/logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, music.  You can quibble on some of the tools--whether dialectic ought to remain with Aristotle, or whether modern innovations ought to be taught as well, whether Latin or other languages ought to be used, and the like--but the basic idea wasn't that one understood a wide variety of subjects, but rather that one could, if one desired, approach any subject with the tools provided.

Next, you've got the modern definition, which can be phrased as either "a bit of this and a bit of that", or even "subjects not clearly in the sciences, engineering, medicine, or other professions."  You were taught, most likely, predominantly along the lines of the modern definition, as was I.  

Aaron, on the flip side, is arguing, I believe, more for the classical definition, and if indeed the seven liberal arts do teach a man how to think on any subject, we ought to find that all else the same, the classically trained pastor will far outshine the one who is not.

Granted, you've got all kinds of things that can go this way and that in the equation; some men tend to achieve classical education without ever opening their Latin or logic, others get through Henle and cannot argue their way out of a cardboard box.  No doubt.  But that noted, it's generally helpful.

(side note; sometimes I think it is a tall order to expect many fundagelical pastors to read and apply Matthew Henry....)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I just saw today that SBTS offers a PhD in Christian Philosophy. Now that's a degree that looks intriguing ... !

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

In Tyler's linked article, he provides a list of challenges in how to explain reality to the world.

The first challenge, he says, is providing the world with a redemptive historical framework. The second challenge is helping the world view reality through a covenantal context. The third challenge is to understand how the world views reality (i.e. know thine enemy) compared and contrasted to how Scripture describes reality (i.e. theology). The fourth challenge is cultivating the desire and ability to do primary research regarding ever evolving cultural phenomena and movements. The fifth challenge is remaining committed and faithful to this task despite opposition.

In addition to Tyler's challenges, I would add finding time to do the primary research while still maintaining a full shepherding / preaching / teaching schedule. It may not be a lack of willingness or ability in the pastor, but an issue of prioritization. That is why you rely on trusted teachers and thought leaders who have already done the primary research and formed considered opinions on these issues instead of enrolling in a community college sociology class yourself. You just don't have the time to do so with all your other responsibilities.

So, in this situation, I believe it's best for the pastor to prioritize his study of the Scriptures instead reading sociology textbooks or reading primary literature on critical race theory.

Thoughts?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Long post... I hope readers can be patient and wade through it. I'm not claiming genius here but hoping to be better understood.

However, I enjoyed a liberal arts education (BA in English) along with an MBA and an MDiv, and I can't claim to understand all the disciplines represented in our congregation of over 300+ adults. Maybe I just need to check out some books from the library regarding computer coding, plumbing, real estate investing,

I think I haven't been very clear.

By "understand" and "disciplines" I don't mean "comprehensive knowledge" and "vocations."

What I see as frequently missing in fundamentalist-heritage education, integration of the fields of knowledge. I still don't know if the biblical counseling movement contributed to or simply surfed on the wave of anti-integrationism, but I do know that there has been a lot of antipathy toward developing and learning how to fit all the forms of study and life-work that don't fit under what we usually think of as "ministry" together with sound biblical theology.

In my days at BJU, there was a lot of energy going into the concept of liberal arts education, and on the whole, it did OK. But the "preacher boys" as they were called back then, were not educated the same way as the rest of the majors. In my own case, it wasn't clear to me if school teaching or pastoral ministry was where my path should go, so I majored in Bible Education. It was a hybrid degree, a mashup from the School of Education and the School of Religion, almost a double major. What it did for me was expose me to a much broader education than I would have gotten as a Bible Major. So I attended most of what all the "preacher boys" attended, but also most of what the education majors attended.

I didn't know at the time how much I would appreciate that later in life!

A huge factor for me, from a worldview development standpoint, was all the School of Education work in Christian philosophy of education, much of which involved integrating academic studies like science, history, math, the arts into Christian theology. I'd already been reading Schaeffer and Lewis and others in high school, but this area of study was like an intellectual revolution for me... several times over. Then seminary deepened, expanded, and tweaked (and regrettably, on some points, reversed--temporarily) parts of that.

Anyway, absolutely every college level student preparing for ministry should study how math, science, the arts, history, etc. all fit into a Christian worldview and the importance of all these areas of study and work in Christian living. They should all get philosophy of education, because it forces you to think through components of worldview you'd otherwise very easily never get around to thinking about.

Another major formative component of that degree work at BJU was the emphasis on life-long learning as broadly as possible. Maybe it was more taught than caught. I don't know. But we need ministry leaders that take an interest in so much more than their preaching. The result, at least potentially, is far better informed preaching.

In this day and age they also need a couple semesters of ethics and civics/political philosophy, which ought to include the basics of what the first amendment means.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joel Shaffer's picture

THoward, I'm responding to your posts from the past few days, not your post today.  I will eventually catch up.  As much as I agree that preacher’s main job is to preach the word, I am very concerned by the lack of knowledge or tools about the cultural shifts and socio-political thoughts by fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.  Even a person as spirit-led, godly, educated, doctrinally correct, and influential as Dr. Voddie Baucham can wrongly misapply God’s truth to the culture.

Voddie Baucham's video about "Cultural Marxism" proves my point.   He rightly realizes that the underlying foundations of critical theory, critical race theory, intersectionality, and etc...what people refer to as Cultural Marxism is anti-Biblical, but because he lacks knowledge and the tools to work through political philosophy, it leads him to falsely label certain people of Cultural Marxism, including President Obama. What's even more ironic is that Voddie rightly warns his audience not to assume that Christians who believe in Social Justice and Systemic Racism are espousing Cultural Marxism, but he still misapplies cultural Marxism with his example of Obama.  

From Obama’s books, speeches, and philosophy of governing, its much easier to prove that Obama was a Christian Realist, attempting to apply Reinhold Niehbur's political and social thinking (which was influenced by Neo-Orthodox Theology) in his governing.  We see this time and time again with him, whether it be Obama referencing Niebuhr's two-fold test of toleration at the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast or structuring his Nobel Prize speech around Niebuhr's consideration of the problem of Christian realism in foreign policy or even when he unveiled his stimulus package, Obama placed the entire work in a context of Niebuhr’s Christian realism. This should not surprise us because, on many many occasions, Obama told the world who his favorite philosopher was (Reinhold Niebuhr) Yet populist talking head media conservatives that are not well-versed in political philosophy chose attempted to link him to Jeremiah Wright, to Saul Alinsky, or any other radical Marxist or Anarchist in order to create a false strawman to crush. Voddie demonstrated his shallow understanding of political philosophy when he also joined the chorus of conservative populism in attempting to frame Obama’s political thought as cultural Marxism.  

This does not mean that Obama was basing his political philosophy on a foundational Christian Worldview. From my readings on Christian Realism (mainly through the eyes of Carl Henry), Christian Realism minimizes individual sin in favor of the corporate nature of sin and primarily relies on the state to keep the corruption within the current systems in check. Also, because Niebuhr’s Christian realism was not based on Revelation but rather emphasized mystery, paradox, and the dialectical, Henry attacked Niebuhr’s dialectical approach as a “playground of paradox and mysticism, but not of clear concepts.”  Therefore, Christian realism will often allow secular pragmatism to shape its political philosophy and political aims with unholy legislative coercion rather than the certainty of Revelation and Natural Law that an evangelical Socio-political philosophy should be based on.  So while Obama’s foundational political philosophy was not shaped by cultural Marxism, his Christian realism was potentially just as dangerous.  

There is a difference between Obama’s Christian realism and those who are more in the Cultural Marxism camp that is looking to dismantle the corrupt systems of oppression (such as dismantling police departments, or replace free-market capitalism with government-controlled socialism, or disrupt the nuclear family, and etc….).  Dr. Henry wrote significantly against those who advocated for social change through a revolutionary and liberation socio-political philosophy. He would place those pushing a cultural Marxism agenda in the Revolutionary socio-political action category. For Further Reading of Henry on the different strategies of social change, check out, “Aspects of Christian Social Ethics" and "A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration.”  If you want to go deeper into how He dealt with Liberation Theology and other Marxist-Influenced Ideologies, read “God, Revelation, and Authority," Vol 4, Thesis 14 (chapters 23-25). By the way, Henry labeled what he felt was the most Biblical view of social change as "Regeneration."

This is my main beef with the Founders Groups, groups associated with them and pastors who go to their conferences and rail against social justice, critical race theory, and etc... They rightly realize the secular onslaught of sociological and anthropological ideologies are anti-Biblical and anti-Christian, but because they aren’t well-versed in these disciplines and because they’ve ignored the discipline of Christian social ethics (especially the books and articles from the architect of 20th-century evangelicalism, Dr. Carl Henry), they frequently accuse the wrong people of the wrong ideology.  For instance, I've seen multiple people such as John MacArthur accuse Dr. Anthony Bradley of espousing Critical Race Theory, Cultural Marxism, and etc... But if they read Bradley deeper, they'd see he is influenced by his Kuyperian Neo-Calvinist Theology and the socio-political thought of Christian Personalism. There are things to critique him from, but it definitely isn't cultural Marxism, CRT, and etc.... 

Even though Henry's work is dated, my opinion is that reading Henry would give some assistance to pastors to “explain and interpret reality to the world. God’s reality” as Tyler states.

T Howard's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

THoward, I'm responding to your posts from the past few days, not your post today.  I will eventually catch up.  As much as I agree that preacher’s main job is to preach the word, I am very concerned by the lack of knowledge or tools about the cultural shifts and socio-political thoughts by fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.  Even a person as spirit-led, godly, educated, doctrinally correct, and influential as Dr. Voddie Baucham can wrongly misapply God’s truth to the culture.

Joel, your beef with Baucham is basically that he identified Obama as a social marxist instead of as a Christian Realist? You believe he can properly identify, enumerate, and warn his congregation about the dangers of social marxism, but he mistakenly links that philosophy with Obama and others because he's not nuanced enough in his understanding of political philosophy? In the mean time, he is faithfully preaching the Word and fulfilling his God-ordained role to shepherd his people?

Brother, I think you're expecting too much from Baucham as a pastor. Now, perhaps because he is a public figure within conservative evangelicalism speaking out on this issue, he should be more careful and nuanced in his understanding of political philosophy. I give you that. But, as a pastor, he's doing what God has commanded him to do. In other words, God is not going to hold Baucham accountable as a pastor for his lack of nuance and understanding of political philosophy. He won't hold any of us accountable for that.

Please understand, I'm not advocating anti-intellectualism when I say these things. Nor am I saying a liberal arts education isn't helpful. All I'm saying is that the pastor needs to focus on the main thing, and that's not spending time reading sociology textbooks, understanding the nuances of political philosophy, or learning how to fly a commercial jet. This is especially true when many pastors are already deficient in their ability to understand and exegete Scripture because their theological education was deficient.

So, yes, I agree. A "both and" situation would be ideal. However, in reality, a pastor has to prioritize his time, energy, and focus. My point is his priority should be on preaching the Word and shepherding his people.

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