What I Read Online – 02/15/2011 (a.m.)

15 Feb
    • In 1999 two psychologists of Cornell University (David Dunning and Justin Kruger) put forward the hypothesis that people of lower competency in an activity tend to overconfidence.   This overconfidence comes from the inability to do a particular task while at the same time recognising their level of incompetence.   On the other hand those with sufficient competence to undertake the task, tend to lack confidence because they are aware of their own deficiencies, especially in comparison with others.    
    • “Are the new Atheists suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect?”
    • Many Christians have written against The God Delusion, but being believers their viewpoint gets little airspace in public media or debate – being discounted with “of course they would disagree”.   Writers, with as much academic credibility as Prof Dawkins, such as the Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox or biologist turned theologian Prof. Alistair McGrath have published helpful criticisms of the new atheism.  Prof. McGrath, who earned doctorates from Oxford University in both biology and Divinity, turned from atheism to Christianity through his ‘discovery of the philosophy of science’ and his investigation of ‘what Christianity really was’.  He has written a helpful little book called The Dawkins Delusion. (SPCK)
    • And that brings us back to the Dunning-Kruger effect that the less competent you are the more confident you are likely to be.   To launch out on a world-wide campaign on subjects over which you know little and have researched less – to say nothing of intentionally not studying because you do not believe – is less than acceptable as genuine public debate or academic discussion, to say nothing of failing in the art of war.  
    • With the Christian man who has betrayed the marriage bond, however, there is a difference.  That is where I would see the position of an abusive or adulterous husband or pastor (as opposed to one who simply struggles, as surely most men do, with the sins of anger and lust) as being fundamentally different. I might speak disrespectfully to my wife at some point, and that is unacceptable; but if I do it repeatedly as a means of belittling her, or if I strike her with my hand, then a fundamental bond has been broken.   Further, in the case of illicit sex, one who has joined his body to that of another who is not his wife has committed a sin of special heinousness; and that has permanent consequences, both in the marriage and the church.  The sin does not put the person beyond the range of the forgiveness of God, but it disqualifies him from ever again meeting the criteria Paul sets forth for office-bearing in the church. I may be forgiven; but I will always be the man who beat his wife or cheated on her.  My relationship with my wife is permanently changed; and my public reputation is permanently damaged.
    • Still, I want to suggest that the Great Heresy has more significance than simply ruling out of office certain men because of certain post-conversion actions.  We might hate to acknowledge it, but Christian forgiveness should never be confused with the possibility of second chances.  Forgiveness with God is absolute, and no matter how heinous the crime, God’s grace is never withheld from those who look to him for mercy.  Yet actions here on earth always have consequences.  We do people no favours by pretending otherwise.  The gospel is not about how you can beat your wife to a pulp on Tuesday and make love to her on Wednesday as if nothing had happened.  That is teaching of a kind which is so ruthlessly propagated in a myriad of sitcoms and movies.  In these, casual violence and illicit sex never seem to have any real or lasting impact on anybody, as if they were as inconsequential as one’s choice of breakfast cereal or brand of coffee.   On the contrary: God may forgive; but we must understand that part of the inherent tragedy of the fallen human condition is that we still live with the consequences of our sin.  
    • It is vital that the gospel is not confused with sentimental second chances.  This is important, both pastorally and theologically.  Pastorally, it should make us compassionate towards those who struggle with the hangover of previous actions.   It allows us to understand why the Christian who lived a homosexual lifestyle before conversion may continue to wrestle with such tendencies till the day he dies.  Grace is not a wiping of the slate in the sense that one return to the start and begins all over again with a blank sheet.  Rather, it is divine forgiveness despite who we have been and what we still are.  That is very good news.
    • On the other side of the balance sheet, however, this should lead us to have a high view of Christian behaviour.  We must not confuse forgiveness with the idea of the past simply disappearing as if it had never happened.   The gospel is not a magic bullet which continually returns us to Year Zero in every aspect of our lives.
    • There is a difference between, on the one hand, forgiveness and restoration to fellowship, and, on the other, going back to the way things were.   Some actions so fundamentally change relationships, reputations, and even personalities that there is no going back.  We lie to our people if we tell them otherwise.
    • Theologically, the insidious sentimentality of the gospel-as-limitless-second-chances brigade is also subversive of a biblical understanding of exactly who God is and what salvation looks like.  Remember: as Christ was hanging from the cross, the Disney redemptionists, the pragmatists, and the sentimental were out in force.  Indeed, the religious leaders, the soldiers, and the first thief all called out to Christ and told him that, if he was truly king and messiah, he should immediately come down from the cross.  They could only conceive of a gospel that simply wiped the slate clean and that ignored the consequences of human actions.  Only the second thief understood the real point of what was happening that day: he saw clearly that Christ’s kingdom was not be inaugurated in glorious and stubborn defiance of death, but rather by going through death and utterly subverting its power.  Interestingly enough, he also rebuked his dying colleague, pointing out that, yes, he did deserve to die; that, humanly speaking, there was to be no second chance for him; and that this was only right and just.
    • So please, let us take seriously Paul’s teaching about the need for Christian character, and the sometimes permanent social and ecclesiastical consequences of sinful behaviour among Christians.  
    • Inasmuch as the pastoral vocation is no longer seen as a theological vocation, pastors no longer bring a strong theological presence to their local parishes. The net effect (particularly in the evangelical tradition in which I reside) is a truncated understanding of theology and its import among the laity. Theology has largely left the local church.
    • The real reason, however, that I hate “accountability groups” is because the primary (almost exclusive, in my experience) focus is always on our sin, not on our Savior. Because of this, these groups breed self-righteousness, guilt, and the almost irresistible temptation to pretend–to be less than honest. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in “accountability groups” where there has been little to no attention given to the gospel whatsoever. There’s no reminder of what Christ has done for our sin–”cleansing us from its guilt and power”–and the resources that are already ours by virtue of our union with him.  These groups engender a “do more, try harder” moralism that robs us of the joy and freedom Jesus paid dearly to secure for us. They start with the narcissistic presupposition that Christianity is all about cleaning up and getting better–it’s all about personal improvement.
    • Ironically, when we (or our “friends”) focus mostly on our need to get better we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my guilt over God’s grace makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. Real Christian growth, according to Jeremiah Bourroughs (1600-1646), “comes not so much from our struggling and endeavors and resolutions, as it comes flowing to us from our union with him.”
    • The accountability I need, therefore, is the kind that corrects my natural  tendency to focus on me–my obedience (or lack thereof), my performance (good or bad), my holiness–instead of on Christ and his obedience, performance, and holiness for me. We all possess a natural proclivity to turn God’s good news announcement that we’ve been set free into a narcissistic program of self-improvement. We need to be held accountable for that (grin)!
    • One reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we are cleansed from our sins. In other words, ongoing failure in sanctification (the slow process of change into Christlikeness) is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel. If we lack the comfort and assurance that his love and cleansing are meant to supply, our failures will handcuff us to yesterday’s sins, and we won’t have faith or courage to fight against them, or the love for God that’s meant to empower this war. If we fail to remember our justification, redemption, and reconciliation, we’ll struggle in our sanctification.
      • So what does this look like in marriage? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

        1. Worship God as Creator. Look at your spouse as an artistic creation of God. He designed every trait and talent your spouse possesses. Seeing your spouse in this light will help you treat him or her with the respect God’s creation deserves.
        2. Worship God as sovereign. He brought you and your spouse together through unforeseen circumstances. You bring different backgrounds and experiences into the marriage that should work together, not serve as points of conflict or ridicule.
        3. Worship God as Savior. It doesn’t take long to realize that you have married a sinner. As you reflect on God’s saving grace for you, you will be reminded that your spouse is not the only sinner in the room in need of redemption. This will allow you to be more graceful and forgiving toward your spouse and encourage their growth and redemption

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Posted by on 15/02/2011 in Current Issues


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