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.

Marriage Without Sex?

Recently I got in a conversation on social media about the necessity of sex to consummate marriage. Is it a marriage if the couple never sleeps together? It has been the almost universal opinion of the church for two-thousand years that if a couple does not sleep together, it is not a marriage. Even more recently, my wife had a friend get married, but the husband refused to sleep with her. She went to the state and got the marriage annulled. Note she did not get a divorce. Why? She was never married to begin with. My thoughts on this issue were spurred by this quote from Jim Newheiser’s book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: 

A marriage is valid when a covenant of companionship is made between a man and a woman who present themselves forward to the community as being married…While sexual union is ordinarily part of marriage, a couple can be truly married without physically consummating the marriage.

Can a couple be married in heart only and not also in body? A blog post is insufficient to answer this question. But here is a basic outline why without sex there is no marriage.

Continue reading

The Beauty Myth

Broken Face

Last week I posted from Dr. Schaumburg’s book Undefiled one indicator of the sexual problems here in America. Here is another problem he has encountered regularly in his thirty plus years of counseling. He calls it “the beauty myth.”

For men and women, “beauty” has become nearly synonymous with “sexy.” The beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection, holds women in bondage to hopelessness, self-consciousness, and self-hatred. It intertwines sexuality and beauty to create the idea that a woman must be “beautiful” to be sexual and desirable in a relationship. Women say they “feel sexier” when they lose weight, but female sexual pleasure doesn’t multiply with weight loss.  Compared with sexual sin, the obsession with beauty  may seem like a minor issue. In reality, the impossible-to-achieve desire to secure an external “flawless beauty” destroys a woman’s sexuality and spirituality.

The “pornography of beauty” reshapes female sexuality. You see this in everyday magazine ads and in women’s magazines. Users of Photoshop have taken the picture of a three hundred pound woman in lingerie and turned her into a sex goddess. There is little that is real about such an image, but men and women will worship it. The image altering software easily creates the perfect hair, skin, and figure. The message is clear: “Look like that if you want to fee like that.” 

Why does a woman go under the knife for numerous facelifts in a desperate attempt to look younger? Why are girls much more self-conscious about their appearance today? Why did my mother, in her early nineties, still dye her hair? The beauty myth has obscured what is truly beautiful in a woman…Today we are easily duped into thinking that external beauty is all there is to woman.

More and more women believe they must have that face and look to have their needs met. Like sexual pornography, the pornography of beauty is based on a myth and both types of porn make a woman an object. If a man’s image and understanding of sexuality is distorted by pornography, I suggest there is a parallel effect on a woman’s image and her understanding of sexuality in the beauty myth.

Unfortunately, the beauty myth is winning the battle against sexual purity. In reality the ads don’t sell sex; instead they sell discontent, shame, and guilt. A woman will say, “I hate my body, my hips, my thighs, and my stomach.” This is at the core a deep sexual shame, which is destructive both relationally and spiritually. And this focus on external beauty is in direct contradiction to what Scripture teaches-that authentic beauty come from inside a person:

Do not let your adorning be external-the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hope in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (I Peter 3:3-6)

Signs of Sexual Rot: Diminished Masculinity & Femininity

Gender Roles 1

If you are looking for a book that will help you counsel someone with sexual problems or work through your own sexual problems then I would recommend Dr. Harry Schaumburg’s Undefiled.   Dr. Schaumburg at the time of this book (2009) had counseled almost 1,500 couples and has been counseling over thirty years with eighteen years devoted exclusively to sexual issues.  In one of the early chapters of the book he discusses how prevalent sexual sin is in the church.  He says that some research puts the number of church members watching porn at 50%. One mission organization told him that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicated a problem with porn. One seminary professor said we no longer ask, are you using porn. But rather how bad is it? Dr. Schaumburg closes with this statement, “This rot in the church must be addressed or the devastation will be incalculable.” He then gives nine indicators of the problem. I will quote the first here and give the other eight in an subsequent post. Why quote the first one in full? It gets at one of the roots of our sexual malaise: rejection of created ordered and a failure to rejoice that men are men and women are women. Here are the two paragraphs under that indicator.  Continue reading

Where is the Gospel?

Apostle Paul.jpgEvery week at our church we pray for leaders and those in authority. I Timothy 2:1-2 commands the church to do so:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

God’s people are supposed to pray for their civil leaders as well as other leaders, such as police chiefs, majors, city councilmen/women, etc.  Therefore it was interesting to read that Katelyn Beaty, editor at large at Christianity Today, had started praying for the removal of President Trump from office.  On August 16th, following the Charlottesville, VA protests, she wrote this on Facebook.  Continue reading

Is the Church Supposed to be a Persecuted Minority?

Different Person

The idea of Jesus as a persecuted minority and therefore the founder of a persecuted minority group, i.e. the Church, has become common currency in theological circles. The basic idea has been around in different forms for a long time in ideas such as the remnant, some Reformation era Anabaptists, and die-hard dispensationalists. But recently minority groups have used this idea to put themselves in the same category as Christ and to defend their particular cause.  We are told that if we care about the Gospel and follow in Christ’s footsteps then we will have compassion on and help minorities. Therefore I found this section of Andrew Fulford’s book, Jesus and Pacifism, helpful.  He is talking about the command in Matthew 16:24 to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. First he says,

Dr. Yoder [a pacifist] argued that this command was essentially a command to be a faithful minority community under persecution. [Fulford footnotes Yoder’s The Original Revolution and The Politics of Jesus]

Yoder does not mean what many current social justice warriors mean. But his perspective fits in nicely with SJW thinking. Yoder views the command through a political lens. Taking up your cross means you are willing to be associated with those on the edges and fringes of society,  those currently defined as weak, maligned, and persecuted. Fulford goes on to explain the command differently using Jesus’ own words and the context. He then says this:

In sum, this command requires nothing more of us than the Greatest Commandment does. To be commanded to serve God with everything one has, means being willing to obey him even to  the point of death…And this was not merely a teaching on this part; Jesus practiced what he preached. The cross was of course the means by the Lord himself would choose to lay down his life in order to obey his Father…When the Lord commands us to not just to pick up a cross, but to follow him while doing so, we can see what he means. He calls us to make the exact same choice he did: to accept death from the hands of God if providence gives us no choice between it and sin. It means, in essence, to be willing to give up everything and to endure anything rather than disobey God. His command goes to the very heart of the problem with the human condition. From the first sin, human beings have been choosing sin for the sake of some lesser good rather than obedience to their Creator. Jesus calls us to finally do what we were made to do, serve God above all things.

Fulford then discusses II Corinthians 4:5-18 and Paul’s description of his own sufferings. Here is the concluding paragraph.

Paul’s reflections on these themes are profound, and warrant many books dedicated to them entirely. But the important point for our purposes here is to note: for the apostle joining in the sufferings of Christ was not simply about being a persecuted minority in society. It was about enduring the effects of the curse; it was about accepting death in all its forms (literal and figurative) from the hand of God, and living in a certain hope that one day we will be redeemed from it, just as Christ has been. Refusing to take up the cross is not essentially about the minority’s temptation to take political and social power; refusing the cross is essentially repeating the sin of the Garden. Rejecting one’s cross is an action rooted in distrust of God’s goodness, leading to an attempt to minimize our pain and maximize our happiness by making moral compromises and breaking God’s commands.

Taking up our cross is not about whatever particular social justice cause we are currently pushing. It is not about a refusal to take up positions of power, as Anabaptists often interpret it. It is not even about our daily struggles with life in general. It is about belief in God and obedience to his commands no matter the cost. Most days that will look normal. On a few days it will be extraordinary.

One might argue that this is just one passage. There are other passages that make it clear Christians should care about minorities. Certainly there are passages to debate and discuss, but in the end we would probably end up at the same place. Minority status, however that is defined, is not a virtue in the Christian faith. Trust in God and obedience is.

Nowhere to Hide

Question-Marks-1024x600.jpg

Earlier this month, Eugene Peterson, a former pastor and prominent Christian author, who has written numerous books including The Message, was asked about same-sex marriage in an interview. In that interview he said he would be fine with performing a same-sex marriage. When word got out there was an uproar. He quickly retracted the statement, but of the retraction one friend said:

Peterson’s retraction was not clear, Biblical, or faithful to Christ especially when there is so much confusion and false teaching on homosexuality. Al Mohler wrote a piece outlining the situation, but it is his final three points that I want to repost here. They are worth pondering as all of us will eventually be forced to answer the question, “What do you think about same sex marriage, homosexuality, and gender?”

Consider these lessons from Eugene Peterson’s ordeal.

First, there is nowhere to hide. Every pastor, every Christian leader, every author  — even every believer — will have to answer the question. The question cannot simply be about same-sex marriage. The question is about whether or not the believer is willing to declare and defend God’s revealed plan for human sexuality and gender as clearly revealed in the Bible.

Second, you had better have your answer ready. Evasive, wandering, and inconclusive answers will be seen for what they are. Those who have fled for security to the house of evasion must know that the structure has crumbled. It always does.

Third, if you will stand for the Bible’s clear teachings on sexuality and gender, you had better be ready to answer the same way over and over and over again. The question will come back again and again, in hopes that you have finally decided to “get on the right side of history.” Faithfulness requires consistency — that “long obedience in the same direction.”

That is what it means to be a disciple of Christ, as Eugene Peterson has now taught us—in more ways than one.

If someone asks what you believe about same-sex marriage, sodomy, and gender are you ready to give the Biblical answer? If they ask again will you give the same answer? If they ask during an interview that will be published will you give the same answer? If your boss asks during Gay Pride Month will you give the same answer? Or will you evade, wiggle around, refuse to be clear, put it off to another day,  or act embarrassed about the Scripture’s teaching?  If you don’t know what the Bible teaches, figure it out. If you know, but don’t have the backbone to say it out loud, then you better grow one. Because one day the mic will be in front of you.