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.

Similar Liturgical Practices Do Not Create Unity

The fact that two churches are going through the same liturgical actions does not mean there is unity. What someone thinks they are doing matters greatly. When a Roman Catholic celebrates the Mass they and the priest are doing something very different from what a Presbyterian pastor and his congregation are doing even though there is bread, wine, prayer, etc. Therefore unity cannot be built solely around doing the same liturgical actions.We must believe we are doing the same things and be doing them for the same reasons. When one group says,

The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. (Roman Catholic Catechism, 1376)


The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

“[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.” [Quote from the Council of Trent] [RCC, 1366]

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.”[Another quote from the Council of Trent, RCC 1367]

The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. the Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering. [RCC, 1368]

And the other groups says:

Do then the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ?

A: Not at all: but as the water in baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, neither is the washing away of sin itself, being only the sign and confirmation thereof appointed of God; so the bread in the Lord’s supper is not changed into the very body of Christ; though agreeably to the nature and properties of sacraments, it is called the body of Christ Jesus.

Why then does Christ call the bread “his body”, and the cup “his blood”, or “the new covenant in his blood”; and Paul the “communion of body and blood of Christ”?

A: Christ speaks thus, not without great reason, namely, not only thereby to teach us, that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink, whereby our souls are fed to eternal life;  but more especially by these visible signs and pledges to assure us, that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood by the operation of the Holy Spirit as we receive by the mouths of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of him;  and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours, as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.

What difference is there between the Lord’s supper and the popish mass?

A: The Lord’s supper testifies to us, that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross; and, that we by the Holy Spirit are grafted into Christ,  who, according to his human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven, at the right hand of God his Father,  and will there be worshipped by us.  But the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry. [Heidelberg Catechism Questions 78-80]


In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect. [Westminster Confession of Faith, 23:3]

The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.[Westminster Confession of Faith, 23:5]

That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.[Westminster Confession of Faith, 23:6]

…There is not unity in any meaningful sense. Two churches having a minister, bread, wine, prayers, and the Word during the Lord’s Supper does not mean there is unity. We must also believe we are doing the same thing.

Book Review: We Cannot Be Silent

We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and WrongWe Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really, really good book. Almost five stars, but not quite.

What I liked:
Mohler’s analysis of how divorce and birth control paved the way for same-sex marriage. Heterosexuals wanted sexual freedom first. While he does not believe all uses of birth control are sinful, it was encouraging to find contraceptives being talked about so negatively by such a mainstream evangelical.

His chapter on how the homosexual strategy was put in place. Where we are today was not random. Men and women worked to get us here with a specific strategy that focused on changing culture, not laws.

His section on how sexual liberty has overtaken religious liberty. Mohler is well read and understands that there must be a moral compass to guide any society. For us that compass is absolute sexual freedom. A man’s freedom to sleep with another man trumps a church’s freedom in who they hire. An eye opening chapter.

His chapter on hard questions. While I did not agree with all his answers, the range of questions and how carefully he answered them was both inspiring and terrifying. They were good reminders of the wisdom necessary for pastors moving forward.

What I did not like:
Too much use of the term “human flourishing.” It felt forced.

Too much apologizing. Mohler was more balanced in this area than many, but it still felt like a “Christians have really screwed a lot of this up” theme at times.

His statement that children would be better in a same-sex home than in foster care.

His statement that “the confessing church is always a moral minority.”

Some of the answers to his hard questions I did not find entirely satisfactory. However, this was a very helpful portion of the book.

There is no clear call to pull kids out of public school. He hints at in places, but it would have been a good “hard question” to answer: “Should I pull my kids out of public school” or “Should I send my child to a secular college or liberal Christian college?”

Still despite some minor disagreements the book is excellent. Mohler is wise, pastoral, bold, knowledgeable, and balanced. I highly recommend the book.

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Book Review: Bible Delight

Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God: Psalm 119 for the Bible Teacher and HearerBible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God: Psalm 119 for the Bible Teacher and Hearer by Christopher Ash
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful devotional commentary on Psalm 119 that is broken up into 22 chapters covering each section of the psalm. The author gives his own translation, which I always enjoy. The book is full of wisdom and practical application. Perhaps the most striking thing is the author does not become boring despite many of the themes repeated throughout the psalm. It would be helpful for anyone preaching on Psalm 119 or just for regular devotional study.

The more I read Christopher Ash, the more I like him.

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Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A riff off of Kipling’s, The Jungle Book, where instead of a boy growing up among animals, he grows up among ghosts. It is dark and scary at points, but I did not find it too much so. A junior high kid should be just fine reading it. There are many stories that weave together into one big story. Gaiman keeps the reader’s attention with details and plot movements, but the book is not breakneck pace. There are moments of great danger and great peace. Bod, the boy in story, slowly learns and matures, as we all do in one way or another.

The back of my edition contains Gaiman’s speech for winning the Newbery Medal. In that speech he says he set out to write a book about childhood, but he ended up writing a book about parenting. That is truly the case. The book is a good reminder that all parents must set their kids loose at some point to make their way in the world. We cannot keep them behind fences forever, no matter how scary the world might be.

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