Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

In every evangelical church in America today, there stands a cross. Two beams of wood, set perpendicular to each other, sometimes stylized, sometimes bare, as iconic a representation of Christianity as ever there was. It is a sanitary symbol, one that softly encourages us to remember that Jesus died for our sins, but not quite enough to bring us face to face with the full, gruesome reality entailed by that startling proposition. If it did, I'm not sure we'd sprinkle it across our jewelry and t-shirts as liberally as we do. That cross is bare, and, in a sense, rightfully so. Christ is risen indeed, and the fact that he came off that cross, that he rose victorious, is the only reason we are justified. If Christ has not been raised, then we are still in our sins.

But before the resurrection, there must be the gore of the cross. I've often wondered what would happen if those empty crosses were replaced with crucifixes. Perhaps that'd be much too Catholic for our Protestant sensibilities. But before there can be a theology of hope, there must be a theology of suffering. Easter is coming, but Good Friday must come first.

"In spite of that, we call this Friday good"

The Christian faith is built upon a scandal and an offense. Hegel summarized the cross well, “God is dead,” and now we must deal with the crushing blow of such a proposition. Friedrich Nietzsche realized the import of those words and saw the blood on his own hands. “We have killed him – you and I,” his madman says, and then asks:

Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?

The God in whom we live move and have our being, and by whom all things consist, is killed – surely, in his absence, there is nothing left to cling to. We ask why, and are in good company to do so. Here we have the Word by whom all things were made and in whom we live, move, and have our being, the infinite, transcendent, and glorious God who crossed over into a finite reality. The paradox of that movement has caused many a philosopher's head to spin. “God is infinite, and the devil is limited,” Gottfried Leibniz says, “The good may and does go to infinity, while evil has its bounds.” Surely the mere incursion of the infinite into finitude is enough to retrieve all evils and bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Isn't that what his Apostles thought, after all?

But then, Christ does something that even those closest to him could not understand. Rather than summoning legions of angels to his aid, he walks the Via Dolorosa, suffers himself to be nailed to a tree, and dies. “Here we are faced by the night of the real, ultimate and inexplicable absence of God,” the theologian Hans Iwand writes. “Here God is non-God. Here is the triumph of death, the enemy, the non-church, the lawless state, the blasphemer, the soldiers. Here Satan triumphs over God.”

The great conqueror of sin, of whom it was prophesied that he would crush the head of the serpent, suffers death at that hands of the devil. Iwand continues:

Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must be at an end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.

If the infinite becoming finite were a paradox too great to bear, how much more the infinite becoming nothing? God with man is now abiding, now suffering, now dying – forsaken, emptied, alienated, tasting of nothing – and this God does so out of love, desiring to reconcile to himself a creation that has spurned and rejected him, that he who is the self-sufficient, immortal, immutable ground of being takes on that which is corruptible – indeed, already corrupted – surely it is such a scandal as to make one lose one's mind over!

No, before there can be an ascension, there must be a descent. Before life, there comes death, before glorification, humiliation. “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” Christ asks us.

But that's not the end of the story. It may be Good Friday, but Easter Sunday is coming. Christ's death is followed by resurrection; his descent into hell followed by ascension into heaven. In tasting death, he defeated death, that we may now say, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?”

Grotesque passion, gruesome love,
sin abolished in thy blood.
Divine empathy, can it be?
Holiness defiled for me –
its desecration, my purity?

By Nick Barden

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Ivory Cubicle | The God Hypothesis

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Pensmore Dialogue on Science and Faith at Patrick Henry College. The theme was “The Return of the God Hypothesis.” I thought the title apt, considering some of the recent developments in academia over the past couple of decades – the intelligence design resurgence of the '90s, atheist Antony Flew's dramatic conversion to theism in 2004, or, more recently, atheist Thomas Nagel's 2012 book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. The times are changing, as Oxford professor Vince Vitale's recent video pointed out, and talk of God is steadily gaining wider acceptance in university halls.

A Return to Intelligence

But back to the dialogues. The talks covered a variety of topics, and featuring both old-earth and young-earth lecturers. I've noticed a lot of commonality between both schools of thought, however. A lot of the intelligent design arguments on both sides break down into two major categories – scientific and philosophical.

The first may seem a bit intimidating to those not versed in the literature, especially when there's the weight of scientific consensus bearing down on you. These arguments can cover a lot of ground – whether discussing the fine-tuning of the universe, difficulties with cellular development under an evolutionary paradigm, the suitability of our location in the universe for observation and scientific experimentation, etc – and are usually used to make an inferential argument for the existence of God: “given these arguments, it is likely that God exists” (or, in softer variants, “it is likely that the universe was made by a creative intelligence”). They are subject to observation, testing, and the scientific method.

The second category of arguments, the philosophical, are a bit more enjoyable, for me, at anyrate, as they're a bit more accessible and open to spirited debate and abstract reasoning (as opposed to citing volumes of scientific studies). These arguments at times involve putting limits on scientific observation, shutting down any overly audacious scientist every time he makes the leap in logic from his observations to the conclusion “therefore, there is no God.” This is a perpetual leap in logic made by materialists committed to an empirical worldview – the more they understand about the universe, the less they need God, as if figuring out the blueprints for a building negates the need for a builder – and many an intelligent design philosopher is happy to smack them down every time they make the leap.

Perhaps even more fascinating are the philosophy of science arguments. The classical model of science, prior to the modern understanding which developed during the enlightenment, was based on a fuller, Aristotelian understanding of science, one which included a concept of purpose and form in its analysis, rather than the reductionistic way in which scientists after the Enlightenment frequently conduct their analysis. Many have touted the successes of the modern way of doing science, but it seems that scientific observation stands a lot to gain by allowing for an intelligent creator with a purpose for everything he created.

Anyways, this column has, essentially, been a big pitch to get you to check it out for yourself. Here's the website, the lectures will be coming out on DVD soon, until then, check out keynote speaker John Lennox's debate with famed atheist Richard Dawkins.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

GenJ's 2016 Presidential Straw Poll Results and Part 2

The voting in the first ever Generation Joshua Straw Poll has closed!

No candidate received more than 20% of the votes. The top two were separated by only 2 votes; first was Rand Paul with 68 votes (19.71%) and second was Rick Santorum with 66 votes (19.13%). The third place went to Mike Huckabee with 35 votes (10.14%). The full results are listed at the bottom of this post.

Because no candidate received a majority of the votes, we are conducting a runoff with all the candidates who received more than 20 votes. Please select which of the remaining candidates you would support in the 2016 Presidential Election!

Which of the following candidates do you support for president in 2016?
Marco Rubio0%
Ben Carson0%
Ted Cruz0%
Mike Huckabee0%
Rick Santorum0%
Rand Paul0%

Full Straw Poll Results
Candidate Votes Percentage
Rand Paul 68 19.71%
Rick Santorum 66 19.13%
Mike Huckabee 35 10.14%
Ted Cruz 33 9.57%
Ben Carson 30 8.70%
Marco Rubio 25 7.25%
Scott Walker 18 5.22%
Other* 16 4.64%
Bobby Jindal 9 2.61%
Chris Christie 7 2.03%
Mike Pence 7 2.03%
Rick Perry 6 1.74%
Sarah Palin 6 1.74%
Susana Martinez 4 1.16%
Jon Huntsman 3 0.87%
Tim Pawlenty 2 0.58%
Joe Biden 1 0.29%
Newt Gingrich 1 0.29%
*Paul Ryan received 3 write-in votes. He was the only write-in candidate to receive more than 1 vote.

The Ivory Cubicle | Assorted Reflections on Noah, God's Not Dead, and Sharknado 2

So according to my news feed the other day, a couple of Christian movies, or movies with Christian overtones, have been released recently. If my news feed is any indication, they are simultaneously the greatest films to have been released this year, the spawn of the pit, a compelling presentation of the gospel, an embarrassment to Christians everywhere, a product of a commercialized Christian subculture, a product of new age mysticism, and so forth.

And then I came across this brilliant piece of satire (see picture), which I think speaks for itself.

Salvation Pragmatism

The discussion surrounding the releases of Noah and God’s Not Dead has, frankly, been a travesty. If my doctrine of the fall wasn’t informed by some robust Protestant doctrine of total depravity, I might be tempted to weep for humanity. As is, I’m perfectly content to sit back and assume a grouchy old conservative disposition towards the whole thing, insisting that though the world actually is going to hell in a handbasket, it has been since the beginning of time anyways, so it’s not anything to get our knickers in a twist over.

Nonetheless, there remains a problem in evangelicalism that a number of folks have recently been picking up on and which seems to be afflicting us during this conversation.

There seems to be an unspoken rule of evangelicalism that one may not question those who get results. This has the unfortunate effect of immunizing a given pastor/movie/book/tract from zealous doctrinal, literary, or film criticism necessary to ensure that such a work or ministry is up to standards of Christian excellence. “At least the gospel’s being preached,” the refrain goes. “He’s reaching people.” “People are getting saved.” And so on. The chief point of evangelism, after all, is to get people saved, right?

Well, all right, so there’s this verse in Scripture that kind of defines the entirety of the Christian’s call to evangelism. It’s called the Great Commission. Let’s take a look, shall we?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Make disciples, baptize them, teach them, and make sure they have a get-out-of-hell-free-card. Which of these is not like the others?

Christ seems to have a little bit different of an emphasis here. His call to us emphasized teaching and discipleship, not number of people saved or the mentality that “it doesn’t matter how the gospel is being preached, just as long as it’s preached.” Now, the preaching of the gospel is essential for that, and the Book of Acts even gives us some statistics on Church growth. That’s great. But does anyone remember Christ’s parable about the seed that fell on stony ground? He never meant for our evangelism to be wholly focused on number of prayers prayed or people baptized.

I’ve heard a leading Christian apologist say something to the effect of “there is absolutely nothing in the world that matters more than getting people saved.” It sounds good, but there’s a bit of a problem there. There is absolutely nothing in the world that we can do in order to get people saved. Salvation is entirely a work of God, and if he deigns to use you to accomplish that, so be it (Calvinists and Arminians alike agree on this point). I suggest that this apologist could use a higher view of the sovereignty of God, especially when his imperative to get as many people saved as possible runs smack up against the Biblical picture of a healthy Christian life – “what does the Lord require you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

I would suggest that “the gospel being preached” in a manner which contains significant error in Christian doctrine or in a medium which fails to adhere to an accepted standard of excellence in literature, film, or philosophy actually damages the cause of Christ more than it advances it. If a person has an incredible conversion experience, but leaves because the Church cannot give them robust doctrine and a healthy Christian spirituality, then their loss is even more of a condemnation of the Church than their previous state of unbelief.

As for these two films, I haven’t seen it, so I will withhold my opinion until it is informed. But let’s all agree to take the conversation a bit deeper, shall we?

Posted by Nick Barden

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Ivory Cubicle | Education: What Is It Good For?

A cocky student in Seattle who thought she could take cheating to the next level unwittingly fell victim to an online sting operation. According to the Atlantic, the student posted an ad on Craigslist, looking for a tall, college-aged brunette to take a math placement test in her place. A tall and brunette college professor, who was also a member of a Facebook teacher group, responded.

For the next month, the undercover teacher kept up a correspondence with the student, who soon asked the teacher to take the entire online class for her. Upon finally being confronted, the student gave reasons for desiring to cheat – “math is def not my strong suit.”

Apparently, this isn't an isolated a case. Last December, Forbes ran an article about a man who offered to pay $40,000 to someone willing to attend Harvard for him. With online courses becoming more popular, colleges have been employing software to identify students' typing speed and style to ensure that they are the ones taking the test.

What's the Point?

Well, I'd say “heck yes!” to anyone offering to pay my way through Harvard (all ethical considerations aside). I'm coming to realize, however, that I'm not exactly in the majority. Academic rigor has been on the decline in major universities (though perhaps not to the extent we've been told before), being a “party school” is a point of pride, and many an anecdote is passed around about a professor at some college canceling a test right before handing out professor evaluations to his students. No wonder the blogosphere tends to have a steady stream of articles popping up asking “is college worth it?”

Of course, the question “is college worth it?” has also bought into the reductionistic “money talks” method of evaluating education – how much money did you pay, what kind of jobs do you get, and do you ultimately profit in the long run?

Behind the scenes, there's still the American dream for success that so many of us have heard so often, “go to college, get a degree, get a high-paying job, make money, and retire.” Indeed. Some of us members of this younger generation have called shenanigans on the whole operation, preferring instead to choose the simple, raw, and hipster Etsy-and-coffee-shop-barista kind of life over the Lexus, Rolex, and 4000-sq.-ft.-house living of our parents' generation. We crave meaning, go to poetry slams (or at least watch them online), drink over-priced coffee, do arts and crafts, and move to Portland. Okay, maybe not so much the latter. But we've discovered that quality of life is not directly proportional to quantity of money.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees eye-to-eye on this point. The pragmatic decree to “get a diploma and get a job” is still the ruling paradigm, even in primary education, as Common Core standards are slashing traditional English curricula for “informational texts.” Why? Because when it comes to the perennial economic problem of weighing tangible goods (such as jobs) with intangible goods (such as proper literary sensibilities), the pragmatist American spirit won't hesitate to put the soul on the chopping block.

Which brings us to the main point. Education. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing?

Not exactly. See, there's a twin purpose to education, and the American pragmatist spirit only picks up on half of that. Scratch that, it only picks up on half-of-a-half of that. The modern American “get a diploma” approach, which supposedly emphasizes the practical money-making skills acquired in a college education, has lately placed more value on the piece of paper than the actual skills represented by it. Oh, you went to a party school, got wasted every weekend, showed up hungover on Mondays, and passed because your professor gave everyone an A on the final? Never mind, your piece of paper says “Bachelor of Science,” so you'll be fine.

But the ritual of exchanging a piece of paper for a job still hints at one function of education. Education is supposed to prepare a student to launch into society and become a productive member therein. Colleges, nominally, have done this, giving a diploma as a recognition of such an accomplishment and certifying that the student is prepared to enter into a mutually beneficial work arrangement for whichever employer sees fit to hire him. There are many tangible benefits, then, for the person who finds himself successfully educated.

The intangible benefits, however, are perhaps more fundamental. Plato talks of education as the turning of the soul towards the Good, that light which illuminates the truths of the immaterial plane and orders the soul in accordance with it. The Renaissance humanists picked up on this, emphasizing the importance of the liberal arts in ordering society, for order in society mirrors order in the soul. The liberal arts, with an emphasis on literature, philosophy, music, and so forth, emerged to train free men as the custodians of their society. The well-ordered soul does not need external compulsion.

The educated man works in the day and reads Cicero in the evening, quotes his Shakespeare, and is capable of moral-reasoning, self-government, and a life of peace. He is a man of all seasons, knowing the time to speak and to keep silent, to laugh and to weep, to labor and to rest. He has been taught to think, and by learning how to think, is rendered even the more useful in whatever employment he may find himself. He recognizes, then, that education is something worth pursuing in its own right, not merely something to check off the list to get to some place better.

Posted by Nick Barden
Image: The School of Athens by Raphael (1509-1510).

I know there are a lot of folks looking at making a decision on whether to go to college or not. Here are some helpful resources put out by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative higher education organization, about choosing the right college and building your own core curriculum.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Ivory Cubicle | How to Tell a Libertarian from a Conservative (When There's No Cannabis Involved)

In the truly horrible coverage of the aftermath of CPAC, the popular American blogo-media have once again demonstrated their inability to grasp the most basic concepts of political theory. We're told that Rand Paul won on a wave of libertarian support, despite conservative opposition, pointing to the vast divide between the libertarian belief in limited government and the heavy-handed conservative belief in authoritarian social policies.

Excuse me while I relieve myself of the insides of my stomach. It seems that most of the talking heads couldn't tell a libertarian from a conservative if he was hitting him over the head with a cannabis-stickered “420”-stenciled Gary Johnson sign.

The Conservative Trainwreck?

All right, I get it. Conservatism's a mess in the United States, haphazardly pasted together by a number of factions each desiring mutually inconsistent policy proposals: a smaller government (for free love and cheap cannabis), a big freakin' military (and a dozen and a half wars to boot -- maybe even a glass parking lot in the Middle East), or heavy handed social policies (recriminalizing sodomy and instituting the death penalty for gays). Thus, “conservatism,” if so it can meaningfully be called, is at war with itself, with some factions favoring a drastic reduction of government while others feature its rapid expansion. The libertarian wing, staunch defenders of limited government, stand in stark opposition to the big bad social conservatives who want the government Bible-thumping all up in your bedroom.

But on this side of reality, conservatism has always championed limited government. It's just that the conservative and libertarian arguments for limited government have always been substantially different. If conservatism is like a pair of swans, with elegant heart-craned necks representing that properly ordered love of God, family, community, and country, then libertarians are the squawking, honking geese outside my window, defiling my lake with their filth. They look precisely the same (to anyone with terrible eyesight).

The libertarian principle for limited government can be found in their name -- “liberty” (with scare quotes, perhaps “libertine” is a better word). The libertarian case for limited government stands on the shallow assertion of “my rights,” to which I am entitled and which grant me the right to do whatever I please insofar as I'm not harming anyone else (because marijuana, Ayn Rand, and free love). The liberty which they masquerade under is not genuine liberty, it is license, and it divorces government from the natural moral order which governs all of reality.

The conservative principle for limited government, on the other hand, is based on a concept of ordered liberty, with rights emanating from a robust philosophy of human nature. Human beings are possessed with will, their societies are based on certain customs, habits, and institutions peculiar to the particular culture they inhabit. As such, virtue cannot be coerced by government, as our dear liberal friends would wish, but must emerge organically from the voluntary choices of free citizens.

The libertarian, then, would paint their faces blue and run into the fray like a slightly younger and more deranged Mel Gibson yelling “FREEEEEEDOM!” Useful, perhaps, but nobody really wants a Scotsman on the throne. I'd much rather have a person that respects an ordered liberty based on eternal principles of justice than someone who ascribes to the pragmatically utilitarian harm principle.

No matter. Rand Paul tells us he wants limited government, therefore, he's a libertarian. QED. Forget the fact that he quoted Montesquieu (sumptuary laws, anyone?) or James Madison, that defender of moral license and free self-expression (oh wait). Nope, the libertarians are finally getting their limited government, much to the chagrin of those heavy-handed moralizing social conservatives...

Posted by Nick Barden
(All opinions expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Generation Joshua).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

GenJ's 2016 Presidential Straw Poll

GenJ is running a straw poll about the 2016 presidential election! Vote for who you want to be our next president! The straw poll will be open until March 31. We will release the results on the blog and in our weekly update.

UPDATE: Well, at less than an hour in, someone decided to vote for Rand Paul 55 times. As a result the coding has been modified and the tally reset. Please be aware that the vote is designed to be once per person, be honorable. - Joel Grewe

Who do you support for president in 2016?
Marco Rubio0%
Rand Paul0%
Ted Cruz0%
Joe Biden0%
Hillary Clinton0%
Martin O'Malley0%
Chris Christie0%
Jon Huntsman0%
Rick Santorum0%
Rick Perry0%
Ben Carson0%
Scott Walker0%
Mike Huckabee0%
Bobby Jindal0%
Mike Pence0%
Susana Martinez0%
John Kerry0%
Newt Gingrich0%
Sarah Palin0%
Tim Pawlenty0%
Bob McDonnell0%
Other: (Please specify)0%