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February 2008

February 29, 2008

Os Guinness is the author of nearly twenty books, the most recent of which is The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on it. Guinness was kind enough to answer several questions I posed to him after the publication of this latest title. This has already been posted on Discerning Reader, but I wanted to post it here to be sure you were able to read it. Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the interview, the book, or the topic in general. The topic we spoke about is somewhat foreign to me (pun intended), as it focuses on the United States. This interview was unique in that it was a Canadian interviewing a Brit about America. Read on…

The thesis of your book is that the challenge of living with our deepest differences—that is, our religiously grounded—differences, is one of the world’s great issues today. The book’s subtitle is “And why our future depends on it.” What is at stake as we look to recover civility in America first and then in the rest of the world?

Two things are at stake in the issue of re-forging a civil public square. The primary issue is the freedom of followers of Christ to be faithful to him in every area of our lives, including our freedom to enter and engage public life. The secondary issue is the health and viability of the American republic. I am a great admirer of this country, but as a European the second issue is obviously secondary. I trust it is secondary too for Americans who love their country, but love Christ first and foremost.

But let me make clear that I am arguing for a civility that is far more than nice manners. I am talking of re-forging a ‘civil public square’ as opposed to the present extremes of a ‘naked public square’ on one side and a ‘sacred public square’ on the other. I am not saying that the issues at stake in the culture wars are unimportant - they are very important - but that the way we are fighting them is wrong and also destructive to freedom in the long run.

Take the simple fact that Europe is the most secular continent in the world, and much of this secularity is in direct reaction to yesterday’s corrupt state churches. The U.S. never had this problem because of the genius of the First Amendment - until recently that is. Yet over the last generation, as the culture wars have intensified and in direct reaction to the perceived extremism of the religious right, we have seen a mounting American equivalent of the European repudiation of all religion, at least among the educated classes (for example, the new atheists). If this reaction hardens in concrete, it spells disaster for Christians and for the U.S.

In the past did other nations look to the United States as the model for living together despite deep differences? Do they continue to do this today? Why do you feel the United States is uniquely able to model civility?

The framers described the United States as a ‘novus ordo seclorum,’ or new order of the ages. More recently it has been described as ‘the first new nation’ in the sense that the U.S. wrestled with many of the key issues of the modern world from the beginning. In the past, most other nations dismissed this claim as American self-congratulation and irrelevant to them. What did the First Amendment mean, for instance, to nations that were happy with their established church? That complacency has been shattered in the last generation. Other nations are now wrestling with issues such as immigration and exploding religious diversity, but without models such as the melting pot and principles such as freedom of conscience. The English and the Dutch, for example, being liberal and tolerant, took immediately to ‘multiculturalism,’ only to breed enclaves of home-bred terrorism. The sad irony, however, is that just as many in the rest of the world begin to appreciate what the U.S. has been wrestling with, mostly successfully, for 200 years, they look across the Atlantic and the U.S. is not doing so well today - for instance, in the endless recently culture-warring.

Are both secularists and those who hold to a religion contributing equally to the breakdown of civility? Or is the breakdown coming more from one side than the other?

It depends who you are talking to. Each side in the culture wars naturally thinks the other is far worse, if not the sole source of the problem. Looked at over thirty years, a rather even balance sheet can be drawn up. At the moment, though, the forces of the ‘sacred public square’ are showing signs of weakening, whereas the forces of the ‘naked public square’ represent the greater danger, above all in the way that ‘civil liberty’ is repeatedly trumping ‘religious liberty.’ For the founders, these liberties were twins and their relationship needed to be negotiated carefully. Today the homosexual movement is using the first to rout the second. All religious believers will be the losers as well as the republic.

Some people, when thinking of a plurality of religions, immediately think of relativism. How is a proper understanding of the difference between pluralism and relativism necessary to restore civility?

The fear of the ‘P word’ (pluralism) has generally been a feature of fundamentalism or the religious right, but it is based on a misunderstanding. Pluralism is simply a social fact and one that is inescapable. We live in a world where, because of travel, the media, and immigration, it is now said that ‘everyone is now everywhere.’ Relativism, on the other hand, is a philosophical conclusion and one with which Christians disagree strongly - the idea that there is no absolute truth and everything is depends on your perspective.” We Christians should come to terms with the fact of pluralism, but we should stoutly resist relativism. Sadly, statistics show that whereas the early church remained absolutely faithful to Christ in a highly pluralistic situation, modern Christians have surrendered to relativism to an appalling extent - especially among the younger generation and among the Emergent Church.

James Madison famously objected to the word “tolerance” in the draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and succeeded in changing tolerance to free exercise. How is the concept of free exercise relevant to the case for civility?

Tolerance is infinitely better than its opposite - intolerance . But it has two weaknesses. First, it is a grant and not a right, and therefore it is patronizing and condescending in essence. It is always the strong tolerating the weak, the majority the minority, and the government the citizens. Second, it has softened and become squishy over time, so that it easily flip-flops into intolerance (under the PC guise, of course, of supposed ‘tolerance’).

Free exercise, by contrast, is a positive right, based on freedom of conscience, which includes behavior as well as belief. Today, free exercise has to be contrasted not just with ‘tolerance’ but with purely negative, and therefore inadequate, notions such as ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes.’ Freedom will never be guaranteed by law alone (as opposed to the civil ‘habits of the heart’) or by negative notions such as hate speech.

In the book you make several mentions of the great English reformer William Wilberforce. As we have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery—a triumph engineered by Wilberforce—what can we learn from him?

There are scores of lessons we can learn from Wilberforce, but take just one: his civility. As a follower of the way of Jesus, he loved his enemies and always refused to demonize them. At one time he was the most vilified man in the world, but while he never minced words in speaking about the evils of slavery, he was always gracious, generous, modest, funny, witty, and genuinely loving toward his enemies. When one of his worst enemies died, he at once saw to it anonymously that his widow was cared for adequately. Compare this with the religious right’s demonizing of its foes. The latter is not so much uncivil as unChristian.

The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus’ harsh language against others, and particularly the religious leaders. Can we look to Him as a model of civility?

Jesus is famous for his harsh denunciations of the legalism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and others. Here he is in the tradition of the prophets, such as Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah, and there are times when we must be outspoken too - above all on behalf of the oppressed and in opposition to evil. But as his followers, we are also called to love our enemies, to forgive without limit, to speak the truth with love, and to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us ‘with gentleness and respect.’

Put differently, we have deep Christian reasons for a different style of public speech that are different from mere civility. And we always need to remember that civility is not a matter of being nice or squeamish about differences. It is a republican virtue and a democratic necessity that is a habit of the heart that knows how to deal with real differences with robust civility.

What can the person on the street, the average American, do to restore civility to America?

The U.S. is at a stage when the culture wars and the extremism are so bitter and entrenched that it will take a leader of the stature and courage of Lincoln to stand above it and call for a better way. But we must not sit and wait passively. First, we can pray. Second, we can ourselves show a better way - loving our enemies, speaking truth with love, and so on. And third, we can say No to incivility of all kinds and call for a better way - challenging speakers, cancelling subscriptions, and calling for leadership that addresses the ‘better angels’ of our
fellow citizens, rather than addressing fear and hatred.

As you look to the forthcoming Presidential election do you see a leader who inspires you as a potential leader who can match this moment?

A congressman came to me recently and said, ‘America is in decline, and many of our leaders are in denial. What can we do?’ Whether or not you agree with him, there is a widespread sense that the U.S. lacks leadership and that almost no one is addressing the deepest issues we are facing. But as a visitor to this country, I am not going to comment on the current election. That is your privilege and responsibility.

And finally, who should read this book? What are your hopes for this book and how will you know if it has been a success?

Of all the books I have written for the public square, this is the timeliest and most constructive. I hope it will be read by thoughtful citizens and thoughtful Christians. But not having any ‘platform’ or mailing list, and not being in one or other of the polarized camps, it is easy for a book like mine to fall silently like a leaf in the forest. I will know it is a success if some leader and some group step forward and champion the vision, and set in motion a serious sustained effort to re-forge a civil public square. But whether I succeed or not, the issue I raise in the book is a ‘standing or falling’ issue for Christians in America and for the American republic too. If the problem is not resolved, and so far there are not many alternative solutions being proposed, America will soon decline. Make no mistake. This is an issue that demands resolution or the future of the republic is in question. It is that simple and that serious.

Remember where I began. The issue of restoring civility to American public life is not a primary issue for Christians. For me, there are two more important issues. One is the reformation of the church and the restoration of integrity to Christian belief and behavior, and the other is the restoration of credibility to the way we share the Gospel to the educated classes. Civility is far less important than these two grand issues, which are a matter of faithfulness to Christ. But a civil public square is also important because it affects our freedom and ability to bring faith into public life, and therefore to be salt and light in the whole of society as we are called to be.

Click here to Read my review of The Case for Civility

February 29, 2008
Friday February 29, 2008 T4G4Free
They’re giving away some free passes for Together for the Gospel. Visit the site to find out how you can win.
New @ Matthias Media
Matthias Media is constantly adding great new content to their archives. Click the link to see some new articles you’ll want to look at.
Gerry Can Finally Leave Town
A touching story from Mark Altrogge.
No Country for Old Glory
Lisa Fabrizio reflects on the Oscars: “after the attack, the brave liberals in Hollywood made no movies about the War on Terror for fear of alienating our enemies, while ensuing years saw the release of films concerning our efforts in Iraq, which were stamped with their formulaic views of war, gleaned through their Vietnam binoculars.”
February 28, 2008

Roy Halladay is the kind of athlete that other players just want to be around. For many years now he has served as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff and he is consistently one of the top players in the game. He has achieved his success not only by having innate talent, but also (and primarily, I’m sure!) by working very, very hard. He drives himself relentlessly, training both his body and his mind so he can do his absolute best all the time. He expects no less. Other players on the team love to spend time with him. Just being near him and observing how he trains himself is valuable for other players. Many of the Jays would testify that being near him, watching him and copying him has made them better athletes. That’s often the way it is, isn’t it? Solomon knew this and said, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” We become like those around us.

I’ve been asked to speak a couple of times in the next few weeks on the book of Acts and I’ve been reading the book in my times of Bible study. Acts has long been my favorite New Testament book. I love it for its history, describing the earliest days of the church, and its theology, showing how early Christians began to work out Christian theology. There is something pure and inspiring in the early church and its something we’ve been trying to recapture ever since.

Whenever I read through Acts there are certain stories, passages or phrases that stop me every time. One of these is in the fourth chapter. Acts 4:13 reads like this: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Hauled before the Jewish Council, John and Peter were asked by what power they had healed a lame beggar. Peter, though only a fisherman in a time of great rhetoric, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and went straight to the cross and to the gospel, speaking boldly and confidently. This left the religious authorities perplexed. How was it that ordinary, uneducated, common men could know so much and do so many great things. How could they speak with such authority? It seems it was right here that one of them had a little burst of inspiration and suddenly recognized that these men were two of Jesus’ disciples. They had gotten rid of Jesus, but now here were His followers, healing in His name and teaching men about their Master. Here they were speaking on behalf of Jesus. Matthew Henry says, “When they understood that they had been with Jesus, had been conversant with him, attendant on him, and trained up under him, they knew what to impute their boldness to; nay, their boldness in divine things was enough to show with whom they had had their education.” The authorities looked at these men and realized they had been with Jesus. This explained their behavior. Suddenly it all made sense. They weren’t happy.

I find that phrase such a challenge and such an inspiration. “They had been with Jesus.” It is inspiring to know that the source of the disciples’ boldness and confidence was not anything in themselves, but was a direct result of the time they had spent with Jesus. By living with Him and communing with Him, they became like Him. It was inevitable. For three years they sat at His feet, followed Him from town to town, and acted as His deputies. For three years He trained them and for three years they became increasingly like Him. They walked with the wise and became wise.

It is easy to be jealous of those disciples. There isn’t much most Christians wouldn’t give to be able to spend three years with Jesus. We can only imagine how that would change us, mold us, shape us. But there is reason to rejoice, nonetheless. God has given us His Word that we might learn to live as He would have us live. The Bible is perfectly sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We, too, can be with Jesus by communing with Him in the Word. And this is the challenge for us. If we wish to be like Jesus, we need first to be with Jesus. Listen to Matthew Henry once more. “Those that have been with Jesus, in converse and communion with him, have been attending on his word, praying in his name, and celebrating the memorials of his death and resurrection, should conduct themselves, in every thing, so that those who converse with them may take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus; and this makes them so holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and cheerful; this has raised them so much above this world, and filled them with another. One may know that they have been in the mount by the shining of their faces.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones says something similar. “May we all learn the lesson of this old incident. Let us meet with this Jesus and listen to Him, and soon we, too, will become phenomena. We will become men and women who are enigmas to everybody else.”

Have you met with Jesus? This is the challenge for us. We are to study the Word and to learn from it, immersing ourselves in it, so that people will look at us and hear us speak and see and hear something other-worldly. They will only be able to conclude, “They have been with Jesus!”

February 28, 2008
Thursday February 28, 2008 Theology Bleeds
Theology bleeds as an interesting emphasis at SBTS. “In the end, demonic powers don’t tremble before denominational programs or bureaucratic public relations campaigns. What they fear is something more ancient, more mysterious, and more personal.”
Last Leg Out
Here’s a great entry by a Inland Mission pilot. “Of all the challenges I’ve encountered flying in Africa, some of the scariest things I’ve done have been tailwind takeoffs. … Because an airplane, once its wheels leave the kiss of the earth, becomes one with the wind, and moves accordingly. The trees, on the other hand, stay right where they are.”
God’s Princess
Matthias Media takes on the princess language so common in the church today.
February 27, 2008

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. CarsonI try not to make a habit of posting book reviews two days in a row, but in this case I felt this book was so special that I needed to bring your attention to it.

February 27, 2008
Wednesday February 27, 2008 Prince Caspain Photos
NarniaWeb has published a few high-res photos from the forthcoming movie of “Prince Caspian” (set to release in just a couple of months.
My Interview with Os Guinness
Yesterday, over at Discerning Reader, I posted an interview I did with Os Guinness (to accompany my review of his latest book, “The Case for Civility.”).
What to Do When You’re Robbed
Mark Altrogge explains.
Interview with Tim Keller
First things has an interesting interview with Tim Keller about his new book.
February 26, 2008

Christ the Lord: The Road to CanaAnne Rice has undergone a radical transformation. A bestselling author, whose novels have sold over 100 million copies, she recently returned to the Roman Catholic faith of her youth, and in so doing abandoned her former subject matter (vampires) and turned instead to a series of books dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ. The first book in Rice’s series, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (released in the fall of 2005) was critically acclaimed and sold well. The movie rights for the book and its sequels were recently purchased by L.A.-based Good News Holdings which is run by Christian pollster George Barna. He will attempt to bring them to the big screen. Where the first book covered Jesus’ childhood, the second volume seeks to find a story in the “lost years” that fall between His birth and the beginning of His public ministry.

February 26, 2008
Tuesday February 26, 2008 Five Rules for Choosing a Commentary
Chad at “The Road To Emmaus” has a helpful little article on how to choose commentaries.
America’s Changing Religious Landscape
Dr. Mohler summarizes a long report by “The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life” on the changing religious landscape within America.
Things that Offend Muslims
This is an interesting site that maintains a list of things that offend Muslims (obviously these are primarily more radical Muslims). He maintains the list is a warning that our tolerance may soon lead to intolerance.
Here is Love
Thabiti posted a link to this video, “of a Korean strings quartet, featuring a traditional Korean kayagum, playing the beautiful Welsh hymn, Here Is Love.”