Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

friendship

July 12, 2009

While our church focuses its teaching on verse-by-verse exposition, through the summer we often break for short topical series. This summer Julian (the associate pastor (is that his job title? Something like that) at our church) is preaching a series on spiritual friendship, looking at friendship in the light of the church’s core values.

At his blog he has been posting some great quotes from Hugh Black’s book Friendship, published by Joshua Press. I have blatantly stolen a few favorites and am printing them here for your benefit.

*****

‘The very existence of the church as a body of believers is due to this necessity of our nature, which demands opportunity for the interchange of Christian sentiment. The deeper the feeling, the greater is the joy of sharing it with another. There is a strange felicity, a wondrous enchantment, which comes from true intimacy of heart, and close communion of soul, and the result is more than mere fleeting joy. When it is shared in the deepest thoughts and highest aspirations, when it is built on a common faith, and lives by a common hope, it brings perfect peace. No friendship has done its work until it reaches the supremest satisfaction of spiritual communion.’

*

‘We cannot live a self-centred life, without feeling that we are missing the true glory of life. We were made for social intercourse, if only that the highest qualities of our nature might have an opportunity for development. The joy, which a true friendship gives, reveals the existence of the want of it, perhaps previously unfelt. It is a sin against ourselves to let our affections wither. This sense of incompleteness is an argument in favour of its possible satisfaction; our need is an argument for its fulfillment. Our hearts demand love, as truly as our bodies demand food.’

*

The world thinks we idealize our friend, and tells us that love is proverbially blind. Not so: it is only love that sees…. We only see what dull eyes never see at all. If we wonder what another man sees in his friend, it should be the wonder of humility, not the supercilious wonder of pride. He sees something which we are not permitted to witness. Beneath and amongst what looks only like worthless slag, there may glitter the pure gold of a fair character. That anybody in the world should be got to love us, and to see in us not what colder eyes see, not even what we are but what we may be, should of itself make us humble and gentle in our criticism of others’ friendships. Our friends see the best in us, and by that very fact call forth the best from us.

*

There is nothing so important as the choice of friendship; for it both reflects character and affects it. A man is known by the company he keeps. This is an infallible test; for his thoughts, and desires, and ambitions, and loves are revealed here. He gravitates naturally to his congenial sphere. And it affects character; for it is the atmosphere he breathes. It enters into his blood and makes the circuit of his veins. All love assimilates to what it loves. A man is moulded into likeness of the lives that come nearest him.

*

Friends should be chosen by a higher principle of selection than any worldly one, of pleasure, or usefulness, or by weak submission to the evil influences of our lot. They should be chosen for character, for goodness, for truth and trustworthiness, because they have sympathy with us in our best thoughts and holiest aspirations, because they have community of mind in the things of the soul. All other connections are fleeting and imperfect from the nature of the case.

April 07, 2008

In my experience there is usually one of the spouses in a marriage that handles the majority of the doctoring and nursing duties. There is one who has the medical knowledge and who knows what to do when a child or spouse is injured or maybe just plain under the weather. There is one who can clean up vomit without having to don a hazmat suit. For my marriage, this person is most definitely Aileen. She is the one who is always the first to notice the signs of sickness in our children. I may think they are acting perfectly normal, but she notices something almost indiscernible and declares that they are in the early stages of a cold or flu. Though I usually protest that nothing is wrong, more often than not time bears out the fact that she is right…again.

Aileen has a remedy for everything. Somehow she has learned how to treat any ailment. Some of these treatments make perfect sense to me; others, well, not so much. One that continues to confuse me is putting a hot cloth on something that is infected. If one of us has some weird skin thing going on, Aileen will put heat on it and insist that this draws the infection to the surface. I remain skeptical, though who am I, really, to challenge her? I looked it up online and the plethora of medical sites out there seem to agree that there is something to this theory. Maybe it is more than an old fable or wives’ tale that has been handed down to her. Heat draws out the infection.

Lone Rangers Are Dead Rangers

I thought of this principle while sitting with the men of my church last Wednesday night. No, none of the men there had a huge blight on his face or anything unsightly like that. We’ve been reading through Josh Harris’ Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) and came to the chapter dealing with accountability and the kind of friendship that asks the tough questions. We talked together for quite some time about the kind of relationship that allows for deep and probing questions—the kind of relationship that offers a real level of accountability. We soon came to see that almost all of us desire to be in this kind of relationship—one where we can speak with other Christian men and have them both challenge us to put sin aside and preach the gospel to us in those times where we’ve committed that sin yet again. This is not just accountability that focuses on sexual sins, but on all kinds of sin and transgression. But though it seems that all of us felt we could benefit from this kind of relationship, I believe that very few of us actually are.

And this has been my experience and my observation. It’s interesting to me that Christian men are hesitant to seek out this kind of relationship (and here I implicate myself as much as any man). Men want these relationships but very few are actually in them. I’m quite convinced that the main reason, or at least one of the main reasons, is that as men we are convinced that we would be the one who was imposing on others. I’d be glad to talk to a friend if he called me at midnight in the throes of a crisis. But I would never think of calling another if I was the one experiencing crisis. I would be glad to help a friend who truly desired a measure of accountability, but it would not occur to me to impose upon another if I needed accountability. Everyone is busy; why would I want to be a bother? And yet the other men are thinking the same. Maybe it’s time for us to lay aside pride and let other men into our lives.

Applying the Heat

According to Alan Medinger (quoted in Harris’ book) an accountability relationship is “one in which a Christian gives permission to another believer to look into his life for purposes of questioning, challenging, admonishing, advising, encouraging and otherwise providing input in ways that will help the individual live according to the Christian principles they both hold.” These relationships are one in which Christians apply heat to each others lives. They ask tough questions, probing questions, potentially humiliating questions, in order to find evidence of sin. Because we often have trouble seeing the sin in our own lives, we ask others to seek it out on our behalf.

Drawing Out the Infection

Too many accountability relationships end there. They are incomplete, ending with sin or with sympathy. Confession is necessary and we may well sympathize with one another as we discuss sins that are common to all men. But we cannot and must not end there. Instead we must take those sins to the cross. My pastor gave the wise advice Wednesday night that we must be prepared not only to look each other in the eyes to ask about sin, but also to look each other in the eyes and preach Jesus. We need more than confession and sympathy—we need the cross of Jesus Christ; we need the gospel so we can draw out that infection. We need to admonish, challenge, advise and always preach the gospel. As Harris says, “The most important thing we can do for each other when we talk about sin and temptation is to remind each other of God’s provision for our sin—the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

This is the kind of friends, the kind of brothers, we need to be. We need to be brothers who will ask the difficult questions—who will apply the heat—so that we can help one another draw out the infection.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).”

August 23, 2005

This is the second article in a series that examines various doctrinal and societal challenges the evangelical church must face early in the 21st Century. Previously we examined the dangerous doctrine of Open Theism. Today we will examine relativism. Future articles will examine the Emerging Church, ecumenism, postmodernism, and a variety of other topics.

Relativism is a challenge every Christian must face, for it forms the very foundation for the morality (or lack thereof) of our culture. We live in a pluralist society in which many religions and worldviews co-exist. Society dictates that the way for these divergent views to happily co-exist is to encourage tolerance and relativism, where we do not seek after the blacks and whites or wrongs and rights, but instead allow truth to be whatever the individual chooses for it to be. As people of the Book, we are beholden to a system of absolutes; a system of objective, God-given truth. This truth underlies everything we believe in. Thus we must stand strong against the relativism that is in our schools, our worldplaces and perhaps even our churches.

A Definition

Relativism is the view that truth is relative to a particular context and is not absolute. Truth varies from people to people, time to time, culture to culture and there are no absolutes. Truth is determined or created rather than discovered or determined.

The Challenge

“Baseball is a fun sport.” If I say those words am I making a statement about baseball or about myself? While it may seem that I am stating an objective truth about baseball, the fact is that I am really making a statement about myself. The meaning behind my words is “I believe baseball is a fun sport.” This is how we determine whether a statement is objective or subjective: does it state a fact about the subject or the speaker? Does it state a fact about baseball or about me? A subjective statement is an opinion, attitude or belief. “Baseball is a fun sport” is a true statement, but it a subjectively true statement - it is true to me, but may not be true to another person.

My wife does not like baseball. When she says, “Baseball is a boring sport” that statement is also true, even though it is in direct contradiction to what I said. It is true because it is also a subjective statement. The meaning apparent behind her words is “I do not enjoy baseball.” This is an opinion. Thus she and I can state contradictory truths, but they can both be right because of their subjective nature.

“The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.” When we look at this statement we will see that it is not a statement of opinion, attitude or belief, but a statement of fact. It is an objective truth. The statement says nothing about me, but tells something about baseball. The truth of this statement does not depend on my beliefs. The truth of this statement is there to be recognized or discovered rather than determined or created by myself. If my wife were to say, “the Blue Jays did not win the World Series in 1993” we would have a contradiction in apparently objective facts. Only one of these statements can be true. It is impossible for two opposing objective facts to be true. In this case, only a small amount of research would be necessary to prove which of these two statements is correct. We would also learn why Mitch Williams can never again show his face in Philadelphia and why Joe Carter never has to buy a beer in Toronto, but that is a whole different story.

Problems often arise when a person treats a subjective statement as if it were objective (or an objective statement as if it were subjective). We know this as the “subjectivist fallacy” or the “relativist fallacy.” The European Society for General Semantics defines this as follows: “The Relativist Fallacy is committed when a person rejects a claim by asserting that the claim might be true for others but is not for him/her.” It takes the following form:

  • Claim c is presented.
  • Person p asserts that c may be true for others but is not true for him/her.
  • Therefore p is justified in rejecting c.

We might see this fallacy in action if I were to say to Aileen, “baseball is a fun sport and you are stupid if you don’t enjoy it.” I have taken a subjective belief or opinion and attempted to make it objective or normative. Most people will immediately recognize this problem and see if for what it is, even if they don’t know of a fancy term to describe it.

It should be noted that the distinction between subjective and objective is not always perfectly clear. For example, consider beauty. Are there objective standards of beauty or is it truly “in the eye of the beholder?” This does not prove that objective and subjective standards do not exist, but only that there are sometimes difficulties in distinguishing which is which.

So where does morality fit in? Is morality objective or is it subjective? Is it a fact or an opinion? This is where Christianity differs from culture. Our society teaches that morality is subjective - what is good or bad for you may differ from what is good or bad for me. The Bible, on the other hand, indicates that there are standards of morality that are given for all people at all times. Moral relativism asserts that there are no objective standards of morality that apply to all people at all times. Instead, all morality is consigned to the sphere of the subjective. Morality is not a collection of truths to be recognized or discovered, but to be determined or created by the individual.

It is possible for a Christian and a relativist to have the same belief, but they will be built on different foundations. When I say “abortion is wrong” I am in fact saying “abortion is always wrong because it violates an objective standard of morality.” A moral relativist who believes abortion if wrong is actually saying, “I do not like abortion because I feel it is wrong.”

The crux of the matter is that for a moral relativist, conflicting moral judgments, such as “abortion is wrong” and “a woman has the right to choose” can both be true in the same way that opinions about baseball can both be true.

Consider the following statements made by the umpires at a baseball game:

Umpire 1: I call ‘em as I see ‘em.
Umpire 2: I call ‘em as they are.
Umpire 3: They ain’t nothing ‘till I call ‘em.

We will conveniently set aside the first umpire and look at the second and third. Umpire number two has an objective view. He understands his job as determining whether a pitch fits the criteria of ball or strike. He makes his judgment accordingly and calls them as they already are. The third umpire is a relativist who believes that in an objective sense a pitch is neither a strike or a ball. His opinion is the determining factor. He calls them as he creates them. Now let me ask: if you were a baseball player would you prefer the second or the third umpire? Clearly, if all umpires were like this one, the game would be impossible to play. Neither the batter nor the pitcher would have any sense of what made a ball or a strike. We can now see that this metaphor can be extended to moral relativists. Like this umpire, a relativist does not believe any action as being objectively good or bad.

The Downfall of Relativism

The great irony and the great failure of relativism is that almost no relativist is completely or even predominantly consistent in his worldview. Need proof? Break into his house and steal his television. When you do that he will be more than willing to call the police and inform them that you have committed an action which is intolerable. You may plead that in your view of morality theft is not wrong, but he will still demand that you are arrested and that his television is returned. The justice system will agree with him.

Our society is adamant that particular actions are wrong. At the top of the list is intolerance. Intolerance is regarded as the greatest of evils. Interestingly and ironically, the basis for tolerance, which is disagreement (after all, tolerance presupposes a respect for other beliefs despite objective disagreement) is undercut in our society. Further evils are slavery, rape, molestation and any other actions that infringe on the rights of the individual. But logically, relativists cannot condemn these actions simply because they cannot do so without expressing some level of objective morality.

Another confusion arises when relativists not only condemn actions of which they disapprove, but when they commend actions of which they approve. To be consistent with their beliefs they have no right to impose their beliefs on others. Relativists are only too happy to accept humanitarian awards, but with no objective standard of right or wrong, moral commendation has no place. It is illogical and even wrong.

Dealing With Relativism

In their book Relativism, Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith provide several helpful pointers for dealing with relavists. First, they suggest showing the contradictions inherent in relativism, for in practice, this position is self-refuting. One effective tactic, then, is to show people that many of their positions depend on some type of absolute stance. They suggest the best way of dealing with the charge of “don’t force your morality on me,” is to simply ask “why not?” What gives him the right to impose his morality on you when you are not able to do the same to him? Second, they suggest pressing the person’s hot button. Find that person’s pet issue and relativize it to undermine his position. Third, force the tolerance issue. Force the person to examine why he cannot tolerate what he perceives as your intolerance. And fourth, have a ready defense. Know the issues and know the best ways to defend your position while casting doubts on the relativist’s position.

Conclusion

Relativism is an irrational, inconsistent view which many tacitly accept, but which few adhere to with any consistency. Indeed, it is nearly impossible for a person to be a consistent relativist. Interestingly, those who hold strongest to this view are condemned by society as sociopaths - people who care only for themselves. Yet when we look at people who believe in absolutes, we see that the one who held strongest to objective truth was Jesus Christ. One system leads to the worst of human depravity, the other to the pinnacle of godliness.

Resources

Relativism by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith.

Relativism by Paul Chamberlain.

Much of this article was drawn from “Talking About Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly” by Paul Chamberlain and “Relativism” by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith. You can generally assume that whatever is good and worthwhile in this article is drawn from the books, whereas I take full responsibility for whatever is illogical and obnoxious.

January 13, 2004

Every month or so I like to drop by George Barna’s site to read his updates, which are generally published every two weeks or so. In case you are not familiar with Barna Research Group, it “is a full-service marketing research company located in Ventura, California. BRG has been providing information and analysis regarding cultural trends and the Christian Church since 1984.” Essentially he does surveys and polls of the Christian community or of the wider community but with a Christian theme.

In December he wrote about the results of a survey about worldviews. Allow me to quote a portion of the article which can be found in full here.

The research indicated that everyone has a worldview, but relatively few people have a biblical worldview - even among devoutly religious people. The survey discovered that only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life. The numbers were even lower among other religious classifications: Protestants (7%), adults who attend mainline Protestant churches (2%) and Catholics (less than one-half of 1%). The denominations that produced the highest proportions of adults with a biblical worldview were non-denominational Protestant churches (13%), Pentecostal churches (10%) and Baptist churches (8%).

Among the most prevalent alternative worldviews was postmodernism, which seemed to be the dominant perspective among the two youngest generations (i.e., the Busters and Mosaics).

For the purposes of the research, a biblical worldview was defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

It makes you wonder what churches are doing if they are not teaching their people the basics of Christianity. God as all-powerful and all-knowing Creator, Satan’s existence, the Bible’s accuracy…these are not radical new teachings and they are certainly not advanced teachings. They simply form the basis of a basic understanding of the Christian faith!

Of further interest are the results of not having a Biblical worldview. “One of the most striking insights from the research was the influence of such a way of thinking upon people’s behavior. Adults with a biblical worldview possessed radically different views on morality, held divergent religious beliefs, and demonstrated vastly different lifestyle choices.” You can read more about that at Barna’s site.

Now I would like to know what the specific questions are that the researchers asked of people. It is possible that they phrased the questions in such a way that people did not understand. From what I have seen of Barna’s work in the past, though, I suspect this is not the case.

Regardless, the results of this research is shocking. It shows that in many ways these days the church is little different than the world.