Monthly Archives: January 2009
“If we proclaim a gospel that focuses only on the private experience of the individual and the heavenly benefits for the next life, then we should not be surprised to see people dismissing the importance of good works in this life within the context of the Church.”
– a quote from my forthcoming book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
Yesterday, I summarized the brief debate between Jurgen Habermas and Pope Benedict XVI regarding the role of reason and religion in secular society. (The two papers are included in the book The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion.) Today, I’d like to follow up with a few comments about this dialogue.
My Take on the Habermas/Ratzinger Debate
It is surprising to see Benedict and Habermas finding common ground on the role of religion in secular society. Both of them see the need for religion and reason to listen and learn from one another.
But despite the similarities in their practical solutions, there are several substantive differences in their outlooks which should not be overlooked.
Reason’s False Sense of Superiority
First, Benedict is right to point out that it is unfair to speak only of pathologies of religion without considering the danger of “pathologies of reason.” This tendency for reason to be unaware of its limitations is demonstrated in Habermas’ essay.
Consider Habermas’ proposal that we translate religious concepts into the language of secular principles. Surely some good can come from such a proposal.
But it is clearly one-sided for Habermas to see the need for religion to be translated into secular terms without ever advocating that secular principles be translated into religious terminology. His view presupposes the superiority of rationalism over religion, and this sense of secular superiority is demonstrated by his view that religious principles should shed their religious connotations in order to better suit secular society.
The example that Habermas uses is the …
Many people may wonder why a small book like The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion matters. After all, the authors, Jürgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), discuss the nature of ethics in secular society by appealing to highly sophisticated arguments that include long sentences packed with meaning.
But these kinds of discussions, which usually take place in the upper echelons of society, publicize thoughts and concepts which eventually yield wide-ranging implications for the rest of society. The Dialectics of Secularization is comprised of two papers presented in January 2004 concerning “the pre-political moral foundations of a free state.” In these papers, Jürgen Habermas and Pope Benedict XVI reflect on the basis for ethics in society.
Today, I wish to briefly summarize the main themes of the Habermas / Ratzinger dialogue. Tomorrow, I will interact with some of the authors’ suggestions.
What Habermas Thinks
Habermas begins by asking if a democratic constitutional state can “renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence” (21). He wonders whether or not there is a way to provide justification for political rule that does not find its grounding in religious categories.
Against those who see religion as necessary to sustain the constitutional system, Habermas argues that “systems of law can be legitimated only in a self-referential manner, that is, on the basis of legal procedures born of democratic procedures” (27). In other words, legitimacy comes from legality.
Habermas recognizes that solidarity among the citizenry is needed for secular society to sustain itself. But religious …
Today, I have the privilege of posting an interview with Dr. Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Moore is a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church and the author of two books, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches. I highly recommend my readers take a look at the transcript of a sermon Dr. Moore preached in chapel in late 2008: “Joseph is a Single-Issue Evangelical“.
Trevin Wax: What kind of setbacks should pro-life citizens expect now that we have elected Barack Obama, a strong supporter of abortion on demand?
Russell Moore: Pro-life Americans can expect a radical abortion rights agenda from Barack Obama. This is not an accusation because this is precisely what President Obama promised in his campaign for the presidency.
Not only will Supreme Court Justices be strongly supportive of the legal framework behind Roe v. Wade, but President Obama and the new Congress will also support expansive funding of abortion in North America, and through foreign aid, abroad. By year’s end, we should see abortions taking place regularly on American military bases all around the world.
Trevin Wax: Statistics show that younger generations tend to be more pro-life than their parents. You have stated that this commitment to pro-life principles is more theoretical than realistic because abortion rights is now deeply embedded in our cultural ethos. Are you saying that younger generations are less committed …
“Do you see this woman?”
- Jesus to Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:44 )
The sight before his eyes was too much to take in. A notorious sinful woman was anointing Jesus with oil. Simon the Pharisee could not help but pass judgment both on Christ and the woman.
Jesus’ pointed question revealed Simon’s self-righteous spirit. “Do you see this woman?” Practically, He said, “Are we looking at the same woman?” and then gave a list of reasons why the sinful woman was actually in a better position spiritually than Simon!
Oh, Simon had all the religious rules down, but the sinful woman had come to Christ in true worship and devotion. Jesus saw her heart.
We cannot see into people’s hearts. But having eyes like Jesus will at least cause us to not judge others based solely upon what they wear or where they’ve been or what they’ve done.
He asks us pointedly, “Do you see them?” Do we see the lost the way that Jesus sees them? We can easily look at an unsaved person who has come to church and reflect on all their apparent unrighteousness, but Jesus looks at the same person and sees someone who has come to worship. We look at the way a person worships and may consider it strange and distracting, but Jesus sees this woman’s tears flowing down onto his feet, tears coming from a sincere heart.
Today Christ asks us, “Do you see that person the way I do? Do you realize that I died for them too?” When you see …
“… Salvation is not just about a new you, but a new world – a world in which you have been chosen to play a part. We trust in the God who has promised this new world, and we long eagerly for the day when Christ will return. Jesus instructs us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ In other words, Lord, bring the rule of heaven here!”
– a quote from my forthcoming book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
Denny Burk reflects on President Bush’s last speech to the nation.
Ted Olsen compiles and summarizes a number of evangelical responses to the presidential inauguration.
Dear President Obama, your pen poked out my eye…
Wyman Richardson reviews Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio
David Zimmerman’s take on American Idol‘s first week.
Check out an interesting exchange of ideas between myself and Christine Wicker, author of The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. You can see our discussion in the comments on this book review.
If you are a student at Southern Seminary and have ever dreamed of studying in the UK, you should check out the seminary’s UK Study Tour for this summer.
Top Post of the Week at Kingdom People: Echoes of Babel – Our New National Sin
If you believe that depression always has a spiritual cause and can only be treated by spiritual means, then you will not like this book. But you are probably one of the people who could best benefit from this book. Matt Rogers’ Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression (IVP, 2008) is a first-person testimony of a four-year journey through doubt and depression.
At the center of Matt’s depression is a personal struggle to the love the sovereign God described in Romans 9. He writes:
“Fear burned in me again as I stood in the bookstore. What little confidence I had awakened to that morning drained away, and all the questions came back. Am I hardened against Christ? Has God himself hardened me that he might show his wrath in me? Does this mean there is no hope for me, that God truly does not love me?” (44)
Matt questions at times, but ultimately upholds a strong view of God’s sovereignty. He maintains a healthy tension between human free will and God’s sovereign choice. And he quotes Tozer, appealing to mystery over certainty as to how these two work together.
But Matt’s story gives us a glimpse of what can happen when an overemphasis on God as the Just Judge leads to incessant introspection. Give a Puritan book to someone with a propensity toward depression, and you might unintentionally lead them to paralyzing introspection that robs them of joyful service. Too much self-examination can be dangerous (not to mention self-centered), and Matt’s story is a testimony to the fact that introspection can sometimes heighten depressive tendencies.
Losing God is a powerful …
My children will not grow up in a country where race is considered a barrier to the presidency.
That fact by itself made me glad as I watched Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president of the United States yesterday. It gave me a great sense of satisfaction to think about how far our country has come from the days of separate water fountains and lynch mobs.
But the thrill of seeing an era of sinful racism put behind us has faded quickly, for me at least. I hate to be the one to pop the balloon of our collective national pride in this historic moment, but I sense that we as Americans are facing the rise of a new national sin – one that is more subtle and even deadlier than the sins of our past – one that is common to all other empires that have risen and fallen throughout the ages:
A smug sense of self-righteous superiority that usurps the rightful throne of God.
Watching the news over the past few days has been almost sickening. No, it’s not the average citizens fawning over Obama as if he were the Messiah. Or the over-hyped statements from reporters trying in some way to capture the “historic nature” of the events and speeches taking place. Annoying as the now blatantly subjective news coverage has been, that is not what has bothered me the most.
Instead, the truly troubling aspect of the new era we have just inaugurated is the underlying assumption among so many in our country that now, finally, …