Principles of Modern Thought: Just Being a Person

This is the final post in a series on Stephen Clark’s five principles that guide modern thought. The principles are listed below along with links to the previous posts.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”-“This principle has two common formulations. The first formulation rejects personal subordination as a sign of immaturity and incompetence…To treat adults as subordinate in anything other than a functional relationship is to treat them as a deficient person. Thus a ‘full person’ is someone who is free from personal subordination, and is subject only to the bureaucratic forms of social control used in a technological society.

The second formulation of this principle of being a ‘full person’ grows from the ‘romantic’ reaction to a functional society. The formulation states that all human beings should be considered primarily as ‘persons,’ that is, as unique, individual centers of intentionality. To treat someone in terms of a social or a functional role is to treat that individual as an object rather than a person. For example, to treat a woman a particular way simply because she is a woman is to treat her as thing.

The scripture also teaches that each person has value, but the ideal of treating each individual person as a ‘full person’ is not presented in the New Testament. Instead, it allows for personal subordination of adults and various social roles. In fact, one’s status as a ‘full person’ is less exalted than one’s status as a son or daughter of God or as a Christian father or a Christian mother.

This principle is trickier to grasp than the previous four. But the idea is that you are just a person or to use more common language, simply a human being.  To treat someone a certain way based on role, age, ethnic identity, gender, etc. is to make them less than a real person.

There is a reason why Christians follow this principle so easily: There is an element of truth to it. As Clark says, “Each person has value.” Kindness is due to all of God’s image bearers. In a sinful, fallen world people often get abused for being a different race. Women have been treated poorly simply for being women. Abuses like these Christians should avoid. All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they are humans.

However, there is no such thing as just a person. There is no “individual center of intentionality” divorced from all the other aspects of who I am. There is no me outside of my particular circumstances and relationships. I do not exist as an idea. I exist as a white, middle aged, American, male, pastor with ten children, and one wife. If someone treated me like a black, older, African-American woman they would be doing me a disservice and they would be lying about reality. To treat a woman as just a person without reference to her being female is to lie about who she is. If you treat an elderly man like he is fifteen you are lying about reality. The transgender movement is built on this idea. You are not male or female, black or white, young or old. You are just a “person.” Therefore this “person” can be male or female. This “person” can change races by trying to become more black or more white. This “person” can be fifty, but act seventeen because age does not define you. All distinctions are blurred and lost. Reality is what you make of it.

The Scriptures paint a different picture. All men bear God’s image. They are to be treated with respect and dignity. However, there are also distinctions that must be observed.  In fact, to treat a person with respect is to observe these Biblical distinctions. For example, husbands are treat their wives differently than their male friends. Why? She is a woman and she is a your wife. Respect for a seventeen year old grocery store clerk will not be the same as respect for a sixty-five year old CEO. Being kind to the single mother next door will not look the same as being kind to my grandfather. I should treat my ruling elders differently than I treat my wife. We do not get to define our existence. We do not get to say that treating me differently than others is a denial of my right to be a full person. As creatures we must submit to the Creator who made us a certain way, at a certain time in history with certain obligations to those around us based on who they are.  What is ironic about the “full-person” idea is that it ultimately hurts the weak, such as women and children. In our desire to express fully our own “person hood” we trample on the weak around us.

One Great Purpose

Baptism 1

Here is quote from Samuel Miller in his excellent little book, “Infant Baptism.”

The truth is, one great purpose for which the church was instituted, is to watch over and train up children in the knowledge and fear of God, and thus to , “prepare a seed to serve him, who should be accounted to the Lord for a generation.” And I will venture to say, that that system of religion which does not embrace children in its ecclesiastical provisions and in its covenant engagements, is most materially defective. Infants may not receive any apparent benefit from baptism, at the moment in which the ordinance is administered…still the benefits of this ordinance, when faithfully applied by ministers, and faithfully received by parents, are abundant-nay, great and important in every way. When children are baptized, they are thereby recognized as belonging to the visible church of God. They are, as it were, solemnly entered as scholars or disciples in the school of Christ. They are brought into a situation, in which they not only may be trained up for God, but in which their parents are  bound so to train them up; and the church is bound to see that they be so trained, as that the Lord’s claim to them shall ever be recognized and maintained.

In a word, by baptism, when the administrators and recipients are both faithful to their respective trusts, children are brought into a situation in which all the means of grace, all the privileges pertaining to Christ’s covenant family, in a word, all that is comprehended under the broad and precious import of the term Christian education,  is secured to them in the most ample manner. Let parents think of this, when they come to present their children in this holy ordinance. And let children lay this to heart, when they come to years in which they are capable of remembering and realizing their solemn responsibility.

This is why churches should be in the business of training up children through various means most notably through Christian schools, including children in worship, and catechism classes.  All churches cannot do all these things. But the church, as well as the parents, have the solemn duty to train the children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Principles of Modern Thought: Authenticity

This is the fourth post in series on Stephen Clark’s five principles of modern thought. The list is below along with links to the previous posts.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

Here is what Clark says about the principle of authenticity:

The Principle of Authenticity-“It states that each individual should express his or her true feelings and preferences at all times so that one’s ‘authentic’ personality might develop and be seen. Closely related to the principle of authenticity is the notion that each person should express his or her unique personality and gifts as fully as possible. The ideals of authenticity and uniqueness lead to a dislike for the type of social structure taught in scripture. To accept a role which does not fit one’s feelings or preferences would be inauthentic.

While scriptural teaching allows for individual differences it does not idealize them, since sin finds authentic and unique expression in the lives of most people.”

Authenticity has been mocked more and more lately, which is a good thing. Yet the central idea holds on with vehemence in our culture. Dress, sexual identity, job choice, education, spouses, are all often chosen based on what makes a person feel authentic, whatever that means. The key, as with the other three principles is that of individualism. We have a right to express ourselves in “authentic” ways. No one can fence us in or put us in a box. There is a real “me” that must come out and you cannot stop it. I have a right to be me.

Biblical structure, order, submission, and obedience reject the absoluteness of this idea. You may have dreams, desires, personality traits, giftings, that cannot be developed without breaking God’s commands or that are outside of God’s providence for you. The idea of women preaching and having authority is, in part, rooted in this idea of authenticity. A woman has the gift of teaching. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to express that gifting? Often authenticity is just an excuse for selfishness and a refusal to submit to God’s Word. Authenticity does not equal righteousness. For a Christian the question is not, “Am I expressing the true me?”  Rather it is, “Am I conforming to Christ and His revealed Word?”

Principles of Modern Thought: Full Potential

Here is the third post in a series on Stephen Clark’s five guiding principles of modern thought. The list with links to the previous posts can be found below.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

Here is Clark’s description of the third principle that drives modern thinking:

The Principle of Developing Full Potential or Achieving Self-Fulfillment-“This an individualistic principle closely related to the principle of freedom. Self-fulfillment and full potential become ideals under conditions of little social cohesion where each individual feels the need to watch out for himself…It emphasizes gifts and abilities rather than personal relationships.

A principle of self-fulfillment cannot be found in scripture. The scriptural teaching presumes a cohesive communal lifestyle and sets forth an ideal of servanthood. The scripture allows Christians to seek reward, but the criterion for action is love, that is, laying down one’s life for the Lord and the brothers and sisters.”

The thought here is that anything or anyone that prevents me from achieving what I think is my full potential is restricting  my freedom and ultimately harming me. People and things exist to give me fulfillment and make me happy.

Perhaps no principle on this list is as thoroughly rejected by Scripture as this one. The Christian life is one of love and service that is focused on giving of our life, time, money, and energy to others. A principle of achieving full potential runs hard against that truth. It is impossible to live like Christ and still be focused on achieving your full potential. Yet because this is the air that we breath we still function this way. Popular Christian preachers make millions promising people that if they come to Christ he will help them fulfill their potential. On a more day to day level, we assume that if I am not becoming who I think I ought to be then something has gone wrong.  How many “Christian” men have left their wives because they felt held back by them? How many college children reject their parent’s faith because it keeps them from “stretching their wings?” How many pastors have stopped preaching the hard truths of service and sacrifice so their people will be happy and feel fulfilled? How many young men enter the job force expecting it to help them fulfill their potential? How many young ladies bear children for the same, ungodly reason? The Christian life is one of service. The minute we make our personal satisfaction and fulfillment the goal then have abandoned the narrow path.

I would add that when we follow Christ we will ultimately find happiness and satisfaction. We were made for God and in him we will be filled. But that satisfaction comes from the well-done at the end. And that well-done comes from living for Christ, dying to self and serving others. It does not come from putting our own personal fulfillment at the center of our existence.

Principles of Modern Thought: Freedom

This is the second post in a series on Stephen Clark’s list of guiding principles of for modern thought. Here is the list with a link to the first post.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

Here is Clark’s second principle that guides modern thought.

The Principle of Freedom-“Each individual should guide his or her own life and make his or her own decisions independent of the thoughts or interference of others. This principle considers all forms of social control other than state-authorized bureaucratic or educational forms as morally wrong, and it regards them as forms of oppression or domination. Personal subordination is evil and degrading. Underlying this Liberal principle of freedom is an individualistic notion that the highest good resides in the greatest degree of personal autonomy and freedom of movement.

Scripture also teaches a principle of liberty, but is the liberty to be sons and daughters of God and freedom from that opposes this status-especially the world, the flesh, the devil, and sin. The type of freedom scripture describes is compatible with a strong commitment to a body of people and with the acceptance of personal subordination. In fact, scripture sees corporate commitment and personal subordination as aids to freedom.”

A couple notes on this principle:

First, state control seems at odd with this principle, but Clark understood that state control would not be seen as restricting freedom. Clark wrote this 35 years ago. The state would set itself up as the guarantor of freedom. Isn’t it strange that we all cry for freedom and person autonomy, yet we send our children to state run schools that have a state approved curriculum administered by state approved teachers? Even those of us who do not do that must usually be “state approved” in some way. How odd that a people who value personal autonomy allow their sons and daughters to be shaped for years by the state? Clark understood that we all serve someone.

Second, here is why many forms of libertarianism are modern through and through . Supreme value is placed on personal autonomy.

Third, here is one of the roots of post modern relativism. Who are you to restrict my freedom, especially in moral areas? Who are you to tell to me what I can and cannot do? This flows easily from the first principle of equality. If all men are to be treated equally then they should have freedom to do as they please. Restriction, for the modern, equals inferiority. So if you take away my personal freedoms you are not treating me as a equal.

Fourth, freedom for the Christian is always freedom from sin, never freedom to be whoever we want to be. A Christian teacher who says that Christ came to set you free must carefully explain what he means. The modern mind naturally drifts towards freedom meaning “no restrictions on my life.”

Fifth, in the Christian life subordination is part of our freedom in Christ. A Christian wife is not enslaved to her marriage or her husband. She is free. The modern mind has a hard time grasping this. But Ephesians 5 is particularly strong in this area. Freedom means freedom to obey. Slaves are free to obey. Wives are free to submit. Children are free to obey. Freedom does not mean I escape from obligations and responsibilities to God’s Word.

Principles of Modern Thought: Equality

Stephen Clark lists five guiding principles of modern thought. The list was written over 35 years ago. Looking back one can see that Clark may not have been a prophet, but he was correct. How did we get to a place where sodomite marriage is fine, abortion is fine, women go into combat, and the rejection of one’s God given status as a man or a woman is a right? This list gives you the blocks that build the modern mind.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

Clark is not a fan of these five principles Here is how he closes the section:

These five ethical principles exert a powerful influence over Christian discussions of men’s and women’s roles. Yet none of them are intrinsically Christian principles and none of them derive from a Christian ethical system.

I am going to address these in five posts.  With each of these Clark gives the modern idea and then follows with the correct Scriptural principle. Here is what Clark says about the equality:

The Principle of Equality-This principle states that all individuals should be treated identically, except for differences in ability or interest…Sometimes the principle of equality is phrased as an attack on anything that would make one person be regarded as ‘inferior’ to another. This principle militates against social roles ascribed according to age and sex and also against personal subordination.

Scripture also teaches a principle of equality, but it is a principle of equal care for all members of the body. The scriptural principle is compatible with social roles and personal authority. It is not based on the individualizing of people for a functional society, but is instead based upon a communal life and personal relationships.”

The idea in the modern principle of equality is that no one should be made to feel inferior to anyone else in any area. People may choose different jobs, roles, etc. but that is simply choices they are making. No one is superior to anyone else.  We just make different choices.  Even Clark’s idea that people are treated differently based on “ability” has fallen by the wayside in many places. There are several things to note about this principle:

First, equality as defined by moderns naturally leads to sodomy, transgenderism, and the rejection of male/female roles, among other things. All “roles” become choices we make based on what we enjoy and like, not based on any inherent, built in standard. So a person might be fine with my wife bearing children, but they would not be fine with me saying, “Having children is the normal, God-ordained, path for women.” A person might be fine with men leading my church, but they would be upset with me saying, “Men must lead the church.” Each person is equal and what they end up doing is based in the individual’s choice, not in any divine law. It also means we can move in and out of “roles.”

Second, modern equality means you forcefully eradicate anything that makes one person “inferior” to another. The goal is to destroy all positions of authority or empty them of their power.  Egalitarianism is militant.  It is not content to let others believe in hierarchy while it rejects it. For a while, it pretended to get along, but the goal has always been to drive out by force anything that smacks of inequality. We cannot all just get along. Egalitarians know this better than many conservative Christians.

Third, a plain reading of Scripture beginning in Genesis 1 shows how unbiblical modern equality is. A plain reading of nature shows how unnatural it is. Hierarchy in every area of life is inescapable. The question is will the superiors be held to a standard of righteousness or not. But if you say all men are equal in all ways then you end with no one having any obligations or duties to anyone else. After all, we are equals. Therefore I owe you neither the honor due a superior nor the kindness due an inferior.

Fourth, there is an equality in Scripture, but that equality does not eradicate power, authority, hierarchy, male/female roles, etc.  Just because all men are saved the same way, by faith in Jesus Christ and all humans are made in the image of God does not make all men and women androgynous, equal in wealth, power, authority, background, knowledge, age, and experience.

Davenant on Rewards for Good Works

RewardsHere is John Davenant’s explanation of how Christians should view rewards. This can be found in his commentary on Colossians.

We conclude, therefore, that a reward to good works is proposed by God, and that it ought to be regarded by us,

  1. That hence we may learn the will and munificence [generosity] of God.
  2. That we may exercise hope and faith by fixing our view upon it.
  3. That hence we may be excited to cheerfulness in good works.

But we ought not to regard and look to the reward;

  1. So as to be unwilling to serve God if there is no reward.
  2. So as to set the blessedness itself as our end in loving God.
  3. So as to infer any merit in our good works from the reward being proposed.

A couple of notes on this.

It is wonderful that Davenant’s first point is rewards point us to God’s generosity and desire for us His people. Rewards are proof that God is a generous, giving God, the overflowing fountain of all good.  Rewards first cause us to praise God and not to praise our virtue.

And of course rewards should motivate us to cheerfully and hopefully work. Too often Christians question of the value of focusing on rewards as we labor for Christ. But Christ promises rewards for those who work and strive. The Scriptures teach this from start to finish. Rewards should drive us to persevere in good deeds.

But Davenant also warns against some dangers with the focus on rewards. Most obvious is the last one, where our works  become a foundation for our salvation. The more works we do the more saved we are. This is explicitly taught in the Roman Catholic system, but it is easy for Protestants to buy into it as well.

The next danger, working up the list, is that rewards become the end instead of God Himself. The goal is always and forever commune with the Lord. Rewards are a byproduct of that goal, but not the ultimate goal.

Finally, there is the danger of refusing to work unless we see the reward.

These last two dangers are often seen in an over-realized eschatology where rewards become the end and those rewards are to be found in this life.  Many health and wealth teacher make the basic error of trying to make the not yet into the already by saying that God rewards us here and now. God does reward us at times in this life. But the great, lasting, and perfect rewards will only be found in the next life. If we expect to do good deeds here and God to reward us quickly, immediately, and in this life, we will often be disappointed.