Refusing to Serve: Moral Dimensions of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Recently, a Colorado appeals court ruled that baker Jack Phillips—owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver—does not have a right to refuse service for a gay wedding.  The legal reasoning in this case, which affirmed previous rulings, is now the topic of much debate, and many more cases like it are sure to follow, with some perhaps being appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Setting the legal issues aside, what are we to say about the moral stance of the baker in this case?  Was Mr. Phillips morally justified in refusing to serve this same-sex couple?  A Christian pastor recently posed this question to me:  Assuming that same-sex marriage is inappropriate for moral-theological reasons, does a Christian baker such as Phillips have a duty to refuse to serve for a same-sex wedding?  The pastor went on to explain that he strongly affirms the traditional view of marriage as the union between one man and one woman and that, therefore, same-sex unions are immoral.  Yet, he was not convinced that Phillips would necessarily be doing anything wrong by serving the couple.  After all, the pastor said, he’s just doing his job.  Why not simply take the approach that he will serve whoever asks.  After all, Jesus says, “give to the one who asks you” (Mt. 5:42; Lk. 6:30).

In response, one might note that Jesus’ maxim here is not intended to be unqualified.  Thus, for example, presumably Jesus would not want you to strictly abide by this instruction when an inebriated friend asks you for the keys to his car so he can drive himself home.  Similarly, one might say that a business owner should not refuse anyone service unless doing so would constitute support for an immoral act.

The problem with this general qualification, the pastor pointed out, is that, as American consumers, it is virtually unavoidable to indirectly support immoral systems and policies, such as manufacturing sweat shops or environmentally hazardous practices, via our clothing and food purchases.  So how is this any different?

This is a common response to the situation, but I think it confuses the issue by comparing a clear case of problematic moral complicity with less clear “gray area” cases.  To make my point, I countered with a hypothetical case of my own:  Suppose a Christian baker is approached by members of NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association) with a request to bake cakes for one of their meetings.  Since the baker believes, for theological reasons, that pedophilia is immoral, he refuses to serve them.  The pastor thought this would be reasonable.  And he said the same regarding another scenario I presented where a similar request is made by a Skinhead group.

So the question is this:  Is the Denver baker case more like these scenarios or is it more like cases of inadvertent support of sweatshops and other injustices through one’s purchases?

In response, I would note, first, that in many of the latter cases, we should likewise refuse to lend our support through our purchases, because it constitutes moral complicity with an immoral act.  However, it can be difficult to know when such support is significant enough to warrant our refusal to make certain purchases on those grounds.  Thus, we may want to consider two relevant moral criteria:  1) how significant is the immoral conduct in question?  And (2) how direct would be one’s support of the immoral conduct, if one acted on the request?  The reason most of us would grant that a baker is morally justified in refusing service to NAMBLA and the Skinheads is that such service would directly support these organizations, and the immoral aims of these groups are highly significant–pedophilia and ethnic hatred are serious moral crimes.

So let’s apply these questions to the Denver baker case.  Does Phillips have grounds for thinking that same-sex unions are significantly immoral?  As a Christian who takes seriously both Scripture and the unified voice of nearly two millennia of theological history, he certainly seems to.  And would the requested service directly support this conduct?  Again, the answer is yes—at least as directly as the same service would support NAMBLA and the Skinheads in the parallel cases.

So whatever legal fate might befall Mr. Phillips for refusing to serve a gay wedding, his choice is morally appropriate, given the traditional Christian sexual ethic.  However one might want to quibble with that traditional doctrine or shift focus to the political-legal dimensions of the case, Phillips’ actions are morally coherent and warranted.  Active complicity with an immoral act is wrong, and the refusal to be so complicit is morally justified.


My Latest Flatulence Research

One of my scholarly interests is flatulence.  That’s right, farts.  Well, to be precise, not farts simpliciter so much as the humor associated with passing gas.  My latest piece pertaining to the subject, entitled “From the Sumerians to Shakespeare to Twain: Why Fart Jokes Never Get Old,” was published today in The Conversation.

If you’re not familiar with The Conversation, it is a really cool web magazine, essentially the same format as a traditional news magazine (with news reports, commentaries, arts & culture pieces, etc.).  However, all of the content is written by scholars with expertise in the areas they write about, as opposed to having staff journalists with no expertise on a given topic attempting to summarize information they gather from scholars and other experts.  The Conversation has a very rigorous editorial process, too, which is refreshing.

The editors at The Conversation asked me to write this piece after seeing an article of mine in the journal Think, entitled “Why Flatulence is Funny.”  In this article I explore in depth the question that I briefly address toward the end of my Conversation article, namely why it is that farts are funny.

Also, you’ll be interested to know that my precious status as an international authority on the topic was secured with this report last year in the Helsingin Sanomat, which is the largest newspaper in Helsinki, Finland.  (You’ll want to read this one very carefully.)

So if you ever hear anyone call me a crap scholar, please correct them.  I’m actually a fart scholar.  There’s a substantive difference . . . so to speak.


Parenting a Flesh-Eating Virus

Ah, the joys of parenting. Ever-changing, ever-challenging, ever-pulling-the-rug-out-from-under-one’s feet. I once compared my children to endlessly mutating viruses, changing and adapting just when I think I have them figured out. But I recently realized that comparing them to pathogens isn’t really a fair analogy. Deadly viruses, however destructive, are generally much neater creatures and will eventually kill you off in a gesture of mercy. Not so with children.

Maybe this is summer fever talking. Maybe too many afternoons spent squinting into baseball sideline sunshine or too many hours shuttling kids from one sleepover to another have addled my brain. Or maybe I have just seen the light, but whatever the reason, I have made a monumental discovery this summer with regards to my offspring. They are the worst roommates. Ever.

Nearly two decades ago, Jim and I said yes to a lifelong commitment of compromise and mutual self-sacrifice. At the time, I thought marriage was about the big stuff, sharing values and worldviews, all the “in sickness and in health” business. And of course, it is. It’s pretty hard to be annoyed with someone for leaving their socks on the floor, again, when they have run off with the mailman to join a tree worshipping cult in Uganda. But once you settle in for the long haul, marriage is really about figuring out how to make yourself as non-irritating as possible while hoping your partner will do the same. If both spouses are all in, it’s a pretty good gig. For us, it’s about diversifying responsibilities and everyone pulling their weight. “I’ll make the food most nights. You do the dishes. I’ll do the laundry when there is no more clean underwear. You mow the yard before the neighbors start to complain. You make most of the money and I will attempt, and fail, to balance the check book on a semi-annual basis.” A flawed system, but it works. That is, it did work, until we were overrun by children.

Now here is the part where you say “But Amy, you chose to bring these beings into this world. Surely you understood the commitment you were making.” Show me someone who says they understood the demands of being a parent before becoming one and went through with it anyway, and I will show you a pants-on-fire liar. Of course, you have a grasp of the general concept, but having a general understanding of parenthood is a lot like understanding sex; you can read about it all you want, but the experience is an entirely different matter. Sure, you might understand the basics, but parenting is the gift that just keeps on giving. Like the gift of hosting a parasite.

When they were little, my expectations of my kids were pretty low. Anyone who can’t manage to get a cheerio in his mouth in under five minutes shouldn’t be expected to contribute all that much to the overall running of the household. But I now have four partially grown human beings who have no trouble shoveling copious amounts of food into their gaping maws and yet somehow they can’t manage to put a spoon into the dishwasher. Never in my wildest of wild dreams or nightmares would I have imagined parenting young people could be this maddening. It isn’t the sleep-deprived madness of the early years which is such a paradoxical mixture of soft snuggly wonder and tear-inducing disaster that only an infinitely creative and comical God could have come up with it. It is an insanity of a much more subtle and sinister nature.

To illustrate, imagine a seemingly rational person who lives in your house. A person whom you provide with not only shelter but clothing and food as well. You not only give this person a great deal of your financial resources but also your emotional resources. You love this person, care for this person, listen to this person when they try to explain the plot of a very complex TV show mostly using sound effects and phrases like “you know.” Now imagine that you approach this person, cautiously and respectfully requesting that they put away the clothes which you have not only purchased for them but which you have recently laundered and folded as well. Any normal person would assume that this well-looked-after dependent would gratefully receive the clothes and perform the chore in a calm manner. Well, normal person, guess again. In this case, the dependent is much more likely to: (a) act as if you are a mere figment of his imagination and proceed along his merry, computer game-playing way or (b) act as if you have just asked him to create a life-sized replica of the Great Wall of China using bricks made of his own sweat and tears.

Obviously, people have been complaining about their near children since Moses forgot to put his staff in the closet. But here is the mind-blowing, guilt-freeing, deeply unburdening revelation I had this summer while picking up yet another wet swimsuit off the bathroom floor: I am responsible for being my children’s teacher in life, for guiding them in the matters of right and wrong. I am not legally or morally obligated to like them all the time.

And when they, say, leave a lunchbox full of leftovers in their closet all summer long as a surprise for me to find, not liking them is probably rather good for me. It’s all part of growing up. My not so little viruses are eating away at the selfish flesh of my heart, the part of me that wants everything to be easy and tidy and not smell like gym socks on steroids. I am slowly becoming immune to impatience and frustration as the kids, hopefully, grow in responsibility and sensitivity to others. We are slowly making progress, very slowly, as in Chinese-water-torture slow, but progress nonetheless.


Planned Parenthood and the Banality of Evil

Another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling fetal tissue was released today.  You can view it here.  The video features a taped conversation with Mary Gatter, President of the Planned Parenthood Medical Director’s Council, recorded incognito by people with the Center for Medical Progress.  (In case you missed last week’s video, featuring Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, you can check it out here).

I was as floored by this new video as I was by the one last week.  Both are excellent examples of what Hannah Arendt (in her study of Adolf Eichmann and the Nazi death camps) called the “banality of evil.”  This is the idea that many horribly wicked acts are performed not with malicious or sadistic intent so much as a blithe adherence to routine procedure within an institutional structure or political system which enables or perhaps even arranges for such evil.  Edward Herman sums it up this way:  “Arendt’s thesis was that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.”

That seems like an apt description of Nucatola, Gatter, and presumably other operatives for Planned Parenthood—an organization that we all help to fund with our tax dollars.


Book Blurbs

I will confess to two things: I am terribly behind on my book reading goal for the year. During the first half of the year, for reasons only known to the nether regions of my subconscious, I could not make myself read more than a few pages a day. The warmer weather of summer has revived my desire to read. Either that or all the long hours sitting at baseball practices with no other option available. While I am now reading, this leads to my second confession. Apparently summer has also brought on a desire to stay within the lighter genres. No Tolstoy or Rand for me this year, sir. So with those disclaimers, I offer you my latest book blurbs.

The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, The Horse and His Boy, and The Final Battle by C.S. Lewis: Seriously, how does he do it? Books that go down as smooth and refreshing as a frosty chocolate milkshake on a hot day, but with bits of nutrition blended in so naturally

Getty Images
Getty Images

one can hardly believe they are good for you. These definitely make my desert island book list. The Bible, Lewis, Austen, and pizza and I could settle in quite nicely, thank you very much. And maybe a milkshake machine if one is feeling generous.

Until the Beginning by Amy Plum: Not sure how many words would be too many to be considered wasted in reviewing this book. I have probably already spent more than it deserves. This comes from one who does not look down her nose at well-written juvenile fiction. This is the sequel to Plum’s book After the End, which I didn’t love but found at least intriguing, I am only glad to know there will not be a third in the series.

The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck: This too was a disappointment. I am a Beck fan, more the man than the writer, but still have found his books enlightening and good discussion fodder. I was curious to learn more about his background and Beck has made no secret of the biographical nature of this novel. I listened to this one (please don’t tell Goodreads) and have noticed that flawed dialogue can seem more so when read aloud so maybe that was part of the problem. Nevertheless, an interesting book but one I was glad to be done with. Will stick with his non-fiction from now on.

7 Events that Made America America by Larry Schweikart: I know nothing about this author. Picked up this audiobook at random from the library. Fascinating book. Loses me at times with the thickness of its analysis but keeps it light enough for me to understand. Love the 51eMFZI3xRL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_long view perspective on the political impact of such seemingly non-related events as Eisenhower’s heart attack and government regulation of food and the 1963 Beatles-led British invasion and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. For anyone interested in politics, particularly those with a conservative interpretation of our constitution, this is a great read.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan C. Bradley:  I have read all the books in this series and will continue to do so. Bradley’s Flavia du Luce feels like the quirky girl next door. Glad to know her but equally glad not to be legally responsible for her person or liable for her often ill-advised attempts at crime solving. The author must be a bit quirky himself to have pulled this unique British young lady of the early 1950’s out of his mature, Canadian brain. Would love to sit down to a cup of tea with him sometime, after first checking to be sure it wasn’t poisoned.

The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn:  Jim has been urging me to read this book, and I have picked it up a few times only to put it down again, annoyed by the poor quality of writing and the ridiculously contrived plot. But in deference to his persistence, I am finally reading it. I say Cahn should have gone with a straight non-fiction presentation of his prophetic insights into the events of the last decade but it certainly opens one’s eyes to one strongly plausible interpretation of 9/11 and beyond. I didn’t need convincing that God is behind all history including our own nation’s, but Cahn lays out biblical connections to current events that are quite compelling. I hesitate to be more enthusiastic for fear of being associated with the pop-prophecy crowd, but whatever your perspective on Cahn’s analysis, I don’t see how any American Christian could deny his call for repentance both as individuals and as a nation.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo: Don’t really think of myself as a person in need of instruction when it comes to decluttering but rather someone imprisoned in a house with five pack rats. I hoped to gain some insights into how best to help them along the path of enlightenment and perhaps save myself a few hundred hours of covertly throwing away all their junk. Little did I know, this book would cause me to reflect more deeply on how I relate to the objects with which I fill my life. Go pick up a copy and call the thrift store to let them know you’re coming. But if you have any good stuff, I call first dibs.


Post-Obergefell: What Might be Next for LGBT Activists and Marriage Traditionalists

Now that LGBT dreams of “marriage equality” have been fulfilled with last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, what comes next for LGBT activists?  In this New York Times piece, Jodi Kantor reports a “twinge of loss” that comes with this historic victory for their cause.  After all, theirs is a community that has defined itself in terms of its oppression and thus as an “outsider culture.”  While Kantor’s article merely contemplates this question, I think it is worth considering the likely next step for the LGBT activists: counter-oppression.  As we have seen over the last several decades, with each victory in the legislatures and courts, LGBT activists have only more aggressively sought further legal changes in their favor.  Should we expect them to proceed any differently now?  On the contrary, I think it is more realistic to expect that with the backing of federal law, they will be emboldened to ensure that their “oppressors” (i.e., proponents of traditional marriage) be made the new “outsider culture,” even if this must be done by force.

Hints of this direction appeared in another New York Times article a couple months back, this one authored by Frank Bruni.  In this op-ed, Bruni quotes gay philanthropist Mitchell Gold as proposing that church leaders should be made to “take homosexuality off the sin list.”  Bizarre as this suggestion is, Bruni declares that “his commandment is worthy — and warranted.  All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense.”

From www.cathnewsusa.com
From www.cathnewsusa.com

Perhaps this will be the next rallying point for LGBT activists—to fight for censorship of those who would question the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships.  If achieved, this would entail severe proscribing of religious freedom.  Perhaps this is why four of the Supreme Court justices issued such dire warnings in their dissenting opinions in the Obergefell case, announcing the dangers this decision represents for religious traditionalists, with Judge Scalia even calling the decision “a threat to democracy.”  Strong, chilling words.

In a Time Magazine piece in response to the Supreme Court ruling, Rod Dreher has suggested that Christians “must now learn to live as exiles in our own country.”  What this amounts to, says Dreher, is taking the “Benedict Option,” as described by Alasdair MacIntyre in his prescient 1982 book After Virtue.  In other words, we must essentially go underground in order to preserve the values of our community.  The trouble is, of course, that things are very different for 21st century U.S. Christians than they were for 6th century Benedictines.  Socially, economically, and technologically, we are too entangled to achieve anything like a true Benedict Option.  To paraphrase the great boxer Joe Louis, we can run but we can’t hide.

What this means is that if LGBT counter-oppression is coming, we’ll simply have to face it—with as much courage and integrity as we can manage.  For many, such courageous resolve will be too demanding.  And this will undoubtedly mean a sudden realization that, well, the sexual pluralists were right after all.  For 4000 years of Judeo-Christian history all of the greatest ethicists and theologians in our tradition were mistaken about same-sex relationships, as are the overwhelming majority of orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims today.  With this admission, the forbidden conviction will be “off the sin list,” just as ordered, and gone will be any worries about persecution from legal authorities.

For others who stand firm, this may mean loss of jobs, the death of businesses, the end of educational institutions, jail time or even worse.  There is, after all, a price to be paid for certain convictions in a culture where the “oppressed” become the oppressors.  And where decades, even centuries of suffering under the tyrannical rule of a majority opinion can justify imposing even greater suffering on those who persist as proponents of that same opinion when it has become, at last, a vulnerable minority view.  Or so some may reason.  All for the sake of “justice,” of course.


The Rethinking Hell Conference

Last weekend’s Rethinking Hell conference at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena went extremely well.  Greg Stump, Christopher Date, et al. did a superb job organizing and directing it.  Those in attendance represented the spectrum of Christian views on the issue: traditionalists, universalists, and conditional immortalists.  I was one of six plenary speakers, three of whom (including me) affirm conditional immortalism.

For those not aware, the three views are as follows.  Traditionalists maintain that the damned suffer eternal conscious torment in hell.  Universalists believe that, though some may suffer in hell for some indeterminate length of time, everyone is ultimately restored to fellowship

Greg Stump, David Instone-Brewer, Jim Spiegel, Oliver Crisp, Jerry Walls, and Robin Parry
Greg Stump, David Instone-Brewer, Jim Spiegel, Oliver Crisp, Jerry Walls, and Robin Parry

with God.  And conditional immortalists maintain that the damned suffer for a finite period in hell and are ultimately annihilated (hence the term “annihilationism” that is sometimes applied to conditionalists).

For more information resources on conditionalism, check out the Rethinking Hell website.

The plenary speakers featured traditionalists Oliver Crisp and Jerry Walls, universalist Robin Parry, and conditionalists David Instone-Brewer, Christopher Date, and myself.  All of their presentations were very good and generated substantive discussion with the audience.  And I greatly enjoyed the discussion with them in between the sessions.

Jerry Walls is especially enjoyable to engage with, as he is a zealous Arminian and strong critic of Calvinists (like me) and anyone who shows sympathy with Roman Catholicism (like me).  But we do agree on much more than we disagree about, especially when it comes to moral and social issues.

Future Rethinking Hell conferences are tentatively planned for the United Kingdom and Australia.  And there is also talk of regional Rethinking Hell conferences.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out the Rethinking Hell podcasts and consider joining the Rethinking Hell Facebook Group.


Dolezal, Social Constructionism, and the Loss of Meaning

There has been quite a stir over last week’s revelation that Spokane, Washington NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal had lied about her race.  Yesterday, Dolezal resigned from her post.  Check out her Today Show interview this morning with Matt Lauer.

What you see in this interview is a reductio ad absurdum of social constructionism—the view that human beings actually construct reality via language.

As I watched the interview, noting the ways that Dolezal has decided to revise the meanings of various terms for her own purposes, I wondered, why should we think we understand what she means by any of the words she is using?  Might she be redefining every single term she uses, in fact?  Maybe so, for all we know.  So the entire conversation becomes meaningless.

This is what happens when we decide that terms and concepts are completely open to redefinition.  Human communication becomes impossible.

Thursday jumped loudly over the moon.

Chorgle epp yot yiggle snood, de freem ort lop ding wid.

2 + 2 = 5


The Darkness Before the Dawn (Eschatologically Speaking)

In the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Jesus describes the hardships of the church in the “last days”:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “. . . what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

The timing of the events described in this passage is a matter of considerable scholarly debate.  Some interpret this passage as describing events that have (at least mostly) already occurred, and other commentators see the “great distress” described there as still (at least largely) in the future, just preceding his return to earth to usher in his Kingdom.  I’m inclined to a version of the latter view that life on Earth will be characterized by extreme suffering—worse than ever on this planet, in fact—just prior to Christ’s return.  That is, things

Greek icon of Second Coming, c.1700 (Wikipedia)
Greek icon of Second Coming, c.1700 (Wikipedia)

will get really bad just before they get really good.  Moreover, as I read this and other relevant biblical passages, Christians will not be exempt from the suffering (via some sort of “rapture’) but will experience awful tribulation and persecution in the final days.

If this is correct, then it raises an interesting question.  Why has God ordained human history to end this way?  Why write the narrative in such a way that the dawn of Christ’s eternal reign is preceded by extreme, perhaps unprecedented human—and especially Christian—suffering?  One answer, with which I’m sympathetic, appeals to theological aesthetics.  There is something beautiful in the passage from darkness to light.  Even when we’re not making such an aesthetic judgment about this pattern in human life, we nonetheless often make the observation that “its always darkest just before the dawn.”  The beauty of this pattern is evident in many contexts, from the triumph of an inventor after many failures to a sports team that rallies in the final minutes to prevail against adversity.  And, in the case of Jesus’ preferred metaphor, childbirth is one of the most vivid illustrations of this.  Perhaps no other human experience is marked by such excruciating pain followed by so much joy.  And here lies a major aspect of the beauty of the experience.  Similarly, one might say, the story of human history is more beautiful overall because the “birth pangs” of extreme human suffering will be swallowed up in the joy of Christ’s return and our “birth” into his blessed Kingdom.

All of this is right, I think, but there is another theological dimension here that I think is relevant, and this concerns the unity of Christ and his church.  A recurrent biblical theme is that the church—understood as the collection of Christ’s faithful followers—is in some mystical sense the “body of Christ.”  The Apostle Paul makes several references to this metaphor (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12-15; Col. 1:24).  Now to take seriously our deep metaphysical union with Christ is, therefore, to take seriously the notion that we must suffer with him.  As the Apostle Paul says, “if we share in his sufferings [then] we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17).  Thus, for the church to be fully redeemed, we must be fully united with Christ, and this entails sharing in his experience of suffering and death as well as resurrection.  As Paul elsewhere says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11).  Peter echoes this theme as well when he says, “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13).

This much is not particularly controversial biblically speaking, notwithstanding the contemporary American aversion to the biblical notion that Christians must suffer and that God actually ordains this for us (e.g., 1 Peter 1:5-7; James 1:2-4, etc.).  But what if the parallel goes even farther than the pattern of the church’s suffering on Earth followed by resurrection into eternal glory?  Perhaps even the narrative structure of the “life” of the Christian church parallels that of Jesus’ earthly life.  As we know, Jesus’ hardest days were toward the end of his time on earth.  No doubt, he faced all sorts of trials throughout his entire life, but his betrayal, unjust trial and condemnation, brutal pre-crucifixion torture and mockery, culminating in a hideous protracted crucifixion were surely the worst experiences of his life.  And all of this was followed by the triumphant joy of his resurrection.  So if we assume a parallel narrative structure between the life of Christ and the life of his “body” that is his church, then we should actually expect that worldwide Christian suffering will grow increasingly extreme in the last days prior to the second coming of Christ.

Thus, on this view, the tribulation of the church in the last days constitutes a sort of historical recapitulation of the life of Christ on earth—Jesus’s “passion week” writ large in the form of his suffering corporate body, the church.  Just as Christ was unjustly persecuted during his last days on earth, his bride—the worldwide Christian community—is persecuted during the last days of her 2000-year “lifetime.”  And like her Savior, the church suffers horribly only to be overjoyed upon her resurrection.  Hallelujah.


Recent Articles on Religious Belief and (the lack of) Intelligence

Recently, Touchstone published an article of mine entitled “Dumb Sheep” in which I address the common accusation (at least among atheists and religious skeptics) that Christians are less intelligent than non-religious folks.

Coincidentally, shortly after this was published a former student of mine named Ryan Woods alerted me to a recent publication of his entitled “The Skeptic’s Smart-Person Problem,” which appeared in Marginalia.  This is a tremendous piece, which is as enjoyable to read from a stylistic standpoint as it is informative about the issues he discusses.

While I’m at it, let me recommend a couple other recent articles relevant to this theme.  Here is Paul Miller’s Review of Mark Noll’s contemporary classic The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  Two decades after its publication, Noll’s book is still worth reflecting on.  And here is a piece by Andrew Byers’ entitled  “Is Christianity Anti-Intellectual” from Relevant Magazine.