The Gospel in an Abortion Culture
Thursday, January 19, 2012, 12:14 PM

As the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision approaches,  most Christians recognize, and rightly so, the loss of millions of  unborn human lives. What we often forget is the second casualty of an  abortion culture: the consciences of countless men and women.

Too often, pastors and church leaders assume that, when talking about  abortion, their invisible debating partner is the “pro-choice”  television commentator or politician. Not so. Many of the people  endangered by the abortion culture aren’t even pro-choice.

In your congregation this Sunday, and in the neighborhoods around you right now, there are women vulnerable to abortionist propaganda, not  because they reject the church but because they’re afraid they ‘ll lose the church. Pregnant young women are scared they will scandalize church  people when they start to show, so they keep it secret. Parents are  fearful their pregnant daughter, or their son’s pregnant girlfriend,  will prompt the rest of the congregation to see them as bad families.

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Touchstone and The City
Thursday, December 29, 2011, 10:26 AM

Several with Touchstone ties have articles in the new issue of The City, a journal of faith and culture published by Houston Baptist University.

Former senior editor Wilfred McClay has an article on the relationship between religion and politics. Frequent Touchstone contributor Louis Markos contributes a review article on the theistic foundations of morality. Mere Comments bloggers Jordan Ballor and Hunter Baker are featured as well. And I have a piece on why "dominion" isn't as scary as the media would have us believe.

The issue highlights a fascinating interview with Touchstone senior editor Robert P. George on various issues. My favorite part is Professor George's commentary on what American exceptionalism means for a nation of immigrants. He notes when his great grandparents arrived in this country Woodrow Wilson was the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, and now he is. This has implications, he asserts, for what it means to speak of an American "creed."

You can read the entire issue here.



God, Freedom, and “The Adjustment Bureau”
Tuesday, March 8, 2011, 4:46 PM

If you view the trailer for the film “The Adjustment Bureau,” you might wonder if you’ve seen this movie before. You have, kind of. The thriller follows the same narrative pathways as such previous films as “The Matrix,” “The Truman Show,” and “Inception.” Of course, Hollywood never makes the same movie only once, if that movie makes money, so this is hardly surprising. The question is why do movies about escaping from an illusory universe, of recapturing the humanity of free will, seem to resonate with filmmakers and moviegoers?

The film opens with David Norris (played by Matt Damon), a charismatic but troubled young Democratic nominee for United States Senate losing his race to represent New York. On his way to his concession speech, he meets, by chance, Elise Sellas, an aspiring ballerina, who sparks an almost immediate attraction. After the second chance meeting, the politician discovers that his chance meetings with this woman are being subverted by a group of strange fedora-wearing officials, an “adjustment bureau.”

These beings are charged with “adjusting” Norris’s life to fit “The Plan,” a blueprint to which every event from which bus he takes to whether he spills coffee on his shirt, should conform. A relationship with Elise doesn’t fit “The Plan,” of course, and so the rest of the film is about the lovers escaping the plan for the sake of freedom. Along the way, there’s all the requisite chases, car crashes, and heart-pounding music.

As these films tend to be, to varying degrees, “The Adjustment Bureau” is trembling with theology. At one point, Norris asks one of the bureau officials whether he is an angel. The man replies that they have been known as such, and by other names as well. The blueprint to which the officials are trying to “adjust” Norris to is authored by an unseen being referred to as “The Chairman,” whose ways, we are told, are mysterious. As the protagonists seek to outrun the Chairman’s minions, they see behind the illusion to what is really going on: “We are being chased.”

At first glance, the film seems to be a secular science fiction rendering of the old Christian debate about the interplay between divine sovereignty and human freedom, a debate that extends back at least as far as Augustine and Pelagius and continues right now in faculty lounges, church business meetings, and Facebook forums between Christians who differ on these issues.

It would seem to be a deconstruction of what evangelical theologian Gregory Boyd calls the “meticulous blueprint” model of Christian determinism, a model he (along with many others) believes depersonalizes human beings and turns them into a pawn in some cosmic machine.

As the film progressed, though, I wondered if the theology here were more primal than this intramural debate over free will. The argument in the storyline seemed to be less a protest against meticulous providence than a protest against the limits of creatureliness. It seemed to be a retelling of the Eden story, with some sympathy for the Devil.

Yes, Norris is enraged by the fact that his life is programmed, but, more than that, he is outraged because he cannot have what he wants: a forbidden love. Norris is told that loving Elise will have catastrophic consequences for his life, and for hers. But, in the end, the chasing forces of providence are fought back when the lovers kiss. They taste of the forbidden fruit, and they do not surely die.

Instead, David and Elise find the freedom they’ve craved, as the Chairman rewrites The Plan. David and Elise get to this point through the direction of a rebel official (angel?) who shows them how they can regain the chairmanship of their own lives.

Again, we’ve seen this movie before. Why does the idea of constricted freedom, of living in an illusory universe, seem to grip the artistic imagination these days? Why would philosophical debates about determinism and libertarianism seem relevant to a self-consciously post-Christian film culture? It could be that the rage is against Augustinian theology, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough of that out there to prompt a revolt. I wonder if instead there is a primal human instinct to rebel against a different Chairman, a different Blueprint?

In the beginning pages of Scripture, we are introduced to a cryptic hyper-intelligent snake (Gen. 3:1), a being later identified as the chief of a race of rebel beings engaged in guerilla warfare against God and his image-bearers.

These beings have been called “Watchers” and “demons” and “devils.” Some have even called them “gods.” Humanity, the gospel tells us, is enslaved to these “principalities and powers” through the accusation of judgment. They govern humanity by driving us along by our desires, desires that feel to us as though they are here simply by chance (Eph. 2:2-3).

Moreover, it is not just, in the Christian story, God who has a plan for our lives. In the biblical unveiling, the satanic powers are at work in the air around us, and they are specific to whatever it takes to destroy each of us. The foolish son in Proverbs 7 received step-by-step everything he wanted. Everything, from the adulteress’s desire for him to her husband’s coincidental out-of-town journey, all fell into place. It must have felt like serendipity. How could this be wrong, we wonder, when everything is fitting together perfectly? But, what if something wicked is just ahead of us, opening those doors for us, right down to the chambers of hell?

“The Adjustment Bureau” might prompt questions of freedom and sovereignty, but it really won’t further a good in-house discussion between Christians. The questions are more first-order than these debates.

This film might, though, prompt us to see in our neighbors a sense of helplessness, a sense of captivity, and a rage that, just maybe, is misdirected toward God. And, perhaps, the film will spur us to wonder whether our neighbors are feeling something of what is true for all of us, apart from the liberating power of the devil-defeating Cross: We are being chased.



Robert George and Cornel West in Dialogue
Thursday, December 16, 2010, 1:45 PM

You won't want to miss this video dialogue between Touchstone senior editor Robert P. George and his colleague Cornel West.  

George and West discuss the life of the mind, the ground of a true democracy, how to withstand the corrupting temptations of greed and power, and whether the Left is on the wrong side of history on abortion. 

This video is a good example of a conservative and a progressive in civil, respectful, and yet thoughtful and convictional conversation. 



Mere Christianity Meets Twitter
Thursday, December 16, 2010, 12:02 PM

Touchstone has now entered the Twitterverse. For those of you who have Twitter accounts, follow us @touchstonemag. So far as I know, I'm the only senior editor on Twitter (@drmoore), though I'm hoping that will change. 



Esolen to Parents: Don’t Kill Your Child’s Imagination
Thursday, December 9, 2010, 7:19 PM

Just today I received a copy of my Touchstone editorial colleague Anthony Esolen’s newest book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI). I’ve only skimmed through it, mind you, but even that quick a glance has prompted several “Amens” from this Baptist.

In the book, Tony deals with issues ranging from letting children be outside to giving them unsupervised time to think and play. From the title of a chapter I haven’t flipped through yet (on the shallow and the banal), I’m quite sure he deals with the question of…shiver…video games.

This is a great book to give as a gift to parents or grandparents in your life, or as a wedding present for a young couple just starting out. I look forward to sitting down and reading it carefully.

Get a copy today. Don’t wait for the movie. Or the video game.



“Get Low” and the Gospel
Monday, September 13, 2010, 1:25 PM

On Sunday afternoons, typically, the adrenaline of the morning's

activity crashes in, and I'm left with the stillness of a week's worth

of exhaustion. This past Sunday the house was especially quiet, with

everyone else napping (something I can't do well). Without the energy

to read or write, I slipped off to my neighborhood movie theater to,

like Walker Percy's Binx Bolling, just to "be" for a while. As the

closing credits of Get Low filed by, I realized I hadn't expected a near encounter with the gospel.

Get Low is the story of a mysterious hermit (played with

brilliance by Robert Duvall) who hires a funeral director (Bill Murray)

and his associate to carry out a "funeral party" for him. The catch is

that this memorial service is to be held before the hermit is actually

dead, in order that he would be there to hear all the stories folks

would tell about him.

I was first struck by the fact that this was one of the very few

contemporary films I've seen that portrays positively either the clergy

(two of them, in this movie) or funeral directors (well, at least one

of the two). But that was not the most impressive part of the movie. I

was jarred by the guilt that throbbed through the whole of it.

I'll try not to spoil the plot for you, except to say that the

hermit turns out to be a hermit for a reason. There is something wicked

back there in his past. And that's what the funeral party is about. He

wants to hear the stories others have of him (knowing they'll be awful)

because he is fearful of telling the story that only he knows about

himself.

Get Low is not a "Christian movie." The point of view is

decidedly non-Christian, as is most of the mode of discourse. And

that's just the point. The film portrays something the Christian

Scriptures insist to be true. Guilt isn't something society foists upon

us. There's something primal, something real, in the guilty conscience.

The apostolic preaching confirms what human experience already

affirms, a moral law is embedded in the human conscience. The

conscience is not simply a kind of internal prompt for good behavior.

It is instead a foretaste of judgment, of the Day when every secret is

unearthed.

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the

law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not

have the law," the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome. "They show

that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their

conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or

even excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God judges

the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 2:14-16).

Get Low portrays where we all are, apart from Christ. Our

conscience shows us who we really are, cut off from our only source of

life and unable to get back to it past the watching angel's fiery

sword. That kind of guilt is enslaving. Like the protagonist in the

film, we want somehow to explain our actions, or to assemble a cloud of

witnesses who can explain it for us, without admitting our culpability.

We want to live through judgment (which is, after all, what a living

funeral is) so that we can reassure ourselves that the end result of

our choices isn't quite the horror we fear it to be.

Get Low ought to prompt us to sympathy for those around us,

in our neighborhoods and sometimes in our own homes. They are in

captivity, the gospel tells us, to "lifelong slavery" to the one who by

his accusation has the power of death, the devil (Heb. 2:14-15).

In the movie, the hermit exiles himself. In his forty year (forty

years? Was this accidental?) isolation, he sought to make up for his

past. He sacrificed family and friends; he did thankless good deeds,

even constructing a church. But, through it all, he denies himself what

the Christian preachers tell him he needs: confession of sin before

God. In fact, in a chilling scene, the hermit denies that he has

wronged God at all.

That's where Get Low leaves us just this side of Golgotha.

The hermit confesses his sin, but his confession is, it seems, just

short of repentance. His sin is unveiled. The context is explained.

Through forgiveness, human relationships are restored. And then,

finally, there's what the film portrays as the (atoning?) release of

death.

But the conscience won't leave us alone that easily. We know that

our death can't wipe away our sin. Our exile doesn't end there. It's

only just begun. Without the shedding of blood, of a blood we cannot

draw from our own guilty veins, there is no remission of sin. We need

more than explanation, confession, restoration. We need crucifixion,

burial, resurrection. We need to be born all over again.

Get Low isn't Christian, but it's Christ-haunted. In an often

animalistic culture, it reminds us that even the Gentiles know that

guilt is real, and that it burns. It also reminds us that, no matter

how deep the exile, where there is still a conscience there is still

the God who put it there.

That's not the good news, but its a step toward acknowledging the

bad. It's not the whole truth, but it's the truth, the (almost) gospel

truth.



The Christ of the Folded Napkin
Friday, April 9, 2010, 10:24 AM

My friend and fellow Touchstone senior editor Patrick Henry Reardon wrote something that prompted me to shut down my computer and pray.

In his "Pastoral Ponderings" email, Reardon noted the Apostle John's

mention in his resurrection account that the kerchief which had been on

Jesus' face "not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place

by itself" (John 20:7). Reardon writes:

"That instant of the Resurrection of Jesus was the most

decisive moment in the history of the world. It was the event of

deepest importance for every human being who ever lived. It was the

supreme kairos. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled in that moment, and the existence of the human race took on an utterly new meaning.

"What, however, was the first thing Jesus did when the Resurrection

life came surging into His body? The simplest and plainest thing

imaginable: He reached up, pulled the kerchief from His face, folded

it, and set it aside, as though it had been a napkin used at breakfast."

Reardon concludes by writing this:

"The universal Christ, the eternal Word in whom all

things subsist, was still the same Jesus, to whom an act of elementary

neatness came naturally. He spontaneously did what He would likely have

done in any case, much as another man might unconsciously scratch his

ear, or yet another look around for a stick to whack the weeds with as

he walked along.

"The risen Lord was the same Jesus His friends had always known. He

had just returned from the realm of hell, where He trampled down death

by death. He was on the point of going forth as a giant to run His

course. He was about to begin appearing to His disciples, providing

them with many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days,

and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."

"Nonetheless, He was still the same person, whose instinctive habits

remained identical. First, He took a moment to fold the kerchief He had

used, and only then did He stride out to change the direction of

history and transform the lives of human beings."

I'm not sure I've ever given any thought to the face kerchief in

that empty tomb before. But this word prompted me to pray, and to thank

God for a Messiah who is not just Christ but Jesus. He is a Person, with practices and habits. He can be known.

Praise God for the Christ of the folded napkin.



Cremation and a New Kind of Christianity
Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 2:05 PM

“As hellfire receded, there advanced the literal fires of the crematorium.”

So writes Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch in the concluding chapter of his massive Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. The

history ends with a chapter on “culture wars,” the ways Christianity is

experiencing change and tumult as it enters the twenty-first century.

In the conclusion, MacCulloch traces out many of the controversies one

might expect: from the challenges to Orthodoxy in a post-Soviet world

to the Anglican sexual debates to the American fights over abortion and

secularism and liberalism.

One of the primary changes in Christianity the historian sees,

however, would probably surprise most Americans as being a “culture

war” issue at all: cremation and burial.

Increasing rates of cremation in the West, MacCulloch writes, are

surprising because cremation “is the abandonment of a key aspect of

Christian practice since its early days.” MacCulloch demonstrates that

a primary feature of the early Christian church was as “burial club.”

He shows how “universally archaeologists are able to detect the spread

of Christian culture through the ancient and early medieval world by

the excavation of corpse burials oriented east-west.”

The historian also shows the roots of contemporary cremation in

protest against historic creedal Christianity, including, in its modern

form, by Italian liberal nationalists.

MacCulloch, no conservative, establishes that the unanimous voice of

the church, in every sector, was for burial over against cremation, and

concludes the traditionalist case (that cremation is a pagan practice

inconsistent with historic Christianity) is “unanswerable.”

For MacCulloch, there are several implications of the skyrocketing

cremation rates. The first is that the theological and doxological

claims against it, once held with unanimity, are not even discussed by

cremation proponents. Arguments instead focus on public health, cost

(and I would add the American evangelical response: “why not?”).

“The removal of a corpse’s final parting from a church, which is a

community place of worship, a setting for all aspects of Christian

life, to a crematorium, a specialized and often rather depressingly

clinical office room for dealing with death” is a liturgical evolution

of massive proportions, MacCulloch suggests.

Moreover, he argues, cremation also has profound doctrinal implications.

“Death is not so much distanced as sanitized and domesticated, made

part of the spectrum of consumer choice in a consumer society,” he

writes. “The Church is robbed of what was once one of its strongest

cards, its power to pronounce and give public liturgical shape to loss

and bewilderment at the apparent lack of pattern in the brief span of

human life.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’ve written here in Touchstone and here in Christianity Today about why I oppose (with the twenty centuries of the great cloud of witnesses) the practice of cremation, and here (again in Touchstone)

about why burial is so essential to Christian witness.  I’m not

interested (right now) in re-debating that. I just find it interesting

that this new history marks out the cremation move as a significant

shift. I agree.

Sometimes the “culture wars” that really matter aren’t the ones

you’re screaming about with unbelievers in the public square; they’re

the ones in which you’ve already surrendered, and never even noticed.



Lessons for Girls from Twilight
Wednesday, December 9, 2009, 4:09 PM

Jordan Buckley over the Resurgence commented on my earlier post on the Twilight vampire series linking to this interesting article from Wired magazine about unfortunate lessons girls learn from New Moon and the rest of the Twilight books and movies.

These start with:

1.) If a boy is aloof, stand-offish, ignores you or is just plain

rude, it is because he is secretly in love with you — and you are the

point of his existence.

These "lessons" move on to darker, abuse-enabling themes, such as:

7.) It is extremely romantic to put yourself in dangerous situations

in order to see your ex-boyfriend again. It’s even more romantic to

remember the sound of his voice when he yelled at you.

I don't think this is unique (at all) to the Twilight series,

but this is an area to which we ought to pay more attention. It's also

an area where Christians and some feminists can agree, at least on

diagnosing the problem.

Images given to our girls and young women often mask a pagan and

predatory patriarchy, one in which female worth is seen satanically in

terms of sexual availability and attractiveness to men.

The answer isn't just to "deconstruct" these images. The answer

means providing a compelling counter-narrative about the glory of

womanhood.


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