I think it is time for us to distinguish the Christian temper from various ideologies of the left and right that claim the mantle of scriptural authority. For example, socialists have confounded taking with sharing and libertarians have confounded autonomy with liberty. And both can produce Bible verses that commend sharing and liberty to us all.
But the Christian temper is not ideological. In key respects it is conservative, and in some others it is progressive. But because there is an ultimate defined standard, rooted in the nature of the unchanging God, it is not a hidebound conservatism and it is not relativistically progressive. The former preserves things just because they have managed to remain in existence for a long time, while the others don’t know where we are supposed to be going, but are really convinced of our duty to be making really good time.
Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.—Ambrose Bierce
Now the consistent Christian wants to conserve the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s accomplished work down through history. Remember I am speaking culturally here, and so would want to include more things than faith, hope, and love. I am also including trial by jury, limited government, and the rule of law. But the consistent Christian also wants to progress toward the goals that the Holy Spirit has assigned us to accomplish in the future. As the grace of Pentecost gradually overthrows the judgment of Babel, one of the things that will happen is that—through the preached gospel of Christ only—ethnic animosity will be replaced by ethnic harmony.
And so we know what to preserve from the past and what to labor for in the future because God has delivered His Word to us in the form of a book. We have the Scriptures, we have the Holy Spirit within us, and we have a waiting world before us. Ready, set, go.
Trouble begins when Christians buy into various ideological systems—and they can come from the secular left or from the secular right—in such a way as to make them either deny, serenely ignore, or radically twist plain statements of Scripture. I have often said that unbelievers are frequently more to be trusted with the exegesis of various angular passages because the unbeliever is not stuck with the results of his exegesis. Unlike the unbeliever, the evangelical cannot say, “The apostle Paul taught the submission of wives to husbands, ho ho ho.” The unbeliever can say that, and apart from the ho ho ho bit, we at least learn something about the content of Paul’s views.
The evangelical believer has to go through a lot of throat-clearing. He must say something like yes, well, technically, somebody has to break the tie, kind of like the vice-president in the Senate, largely ceremonial really, and don’t forget mutual submission, with some things more mutual than others, and then there is servant leadership, with some more servants than others, and we wind up with husbands needing permission from their wives to attend a Bible study. Check out #9 here.
In addition, because evangelicals (even the compromised ones) have “outreach” woven into their identity, there is a pressing temptation to use these worldly ideologies as a newly-incorporated feature of “biblical Christianity,” making us more attractive to whoever it is our insecurities want to attract—usually the cool kids that we think will make good Christians. The cool kids, depending on the nature of the evangelical insecurities, can be defined as including the hipsters, the commies, the libertarians, the drama department at the nearest land grant university, or the Chamber of Commerce.
But nobody makes a good Christian except for real sinners. The living stones for the divine temple are cut only from the quarry of utterly unsuitable rock. The basic qualification is that we must be utterly unfit and ill-deserving. So the task of evangelism is not to make the gospel more attractive to those we are trying to flatter into the kingdom. “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness” (1 Thess. 2:5, ESV). The task of evangelism is not that of making God acceptable to sinners, but rather the task of making sinners acceptable to God. And the only way to do that is by preaching a gospel that hands out, no charge, the white robes of Jesu-righteousness. Then you may come. Come to the wedding feast as you are, in those fetching and expensive designer-torn jeans, and you will be bound hand and foot and thrown to the everlasting worms.
And this puts the finger on our basic problem—verses like the one alluded to above (Matt. 22:13). We want to sandpaper the Bible to make it smooth to the sinners’ touch. But God uses industrial grit sandpaper on the sinner to make him smooth to the touch of the text. The task of biblical evangelicalism is this. Man must be brought into conformity with the Word of God, which only the miracle of the new birth can accomplish. We, rejecting the necessity of the new birth, are stuck with the only alternative, which is that of making the Word of God conform to the nature of unregenerate man. In order to do this, we have to mix the teaching of Scripture with various ideologies concocted by unregenerate man.
But is there no common grace? Is all diseased? Yes, there are most certainly things we must learn from non-believers. So how are we to tell the difference between compromised syncretism and an uncompromised use of common grace? The answer is basic. Every form of compromise flatters unregenerate man, and every form of grace, including common grace, humbles him.Every form of compromise flatters unregenerate man, and every form of grace, including common grace, humbles him.
And so this is why Christians must be biblical absolutists, which is very different from being narrow biblicists. I believe in natural law, in common grace, and all the rest of that lot. We must resolve before God and the holy angels to not have any problems with any text once the exegesis is honestly done. And this is why we have angular texts given to us—given to us by the grace of a merciful God. Angular texts test us in order to find out whether we are jiggering with the text in order to make it “fit” with the tenets of classical liberalism, libertarianism, or socialism. “And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them” (Deut. 28:14). I do not dispute that the texts are angular. What I dispute is the virtue of intellectual dishonesty.
There are satisfactory answers to the problems I intend to pose, but I am not going to present them here. I want us first to meditate on the fact that the law is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). Let these texts work as a litmus test, probing your reactions. Is the text wicked? Or is it just you?
That said, what is the reason given for not prosecuting a master whose slave died a couple days after a beating?
“Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property” (Ex. 21:21, NKJV).
And do not rush to glib solutions like because new covenant! The homosexualized-christians love to play the game of that-was-then-this-is-now, and know how to play it better than we do. Besides, it was Jesus who liked to tell parables taken from the details of everyday first-century life—like a sower sowing his seed, or a goodwife searching for a coin, or like a father longing for his wayward son. Oh, right. Then there is that one about the master who rented those guys who owned the right kind of torture equipment (basanistes), calling them in to work over an uppity slave (Matt. 18:34).
Do not try to see any solutions from a stance that is sitting in judgment over the Word. That way lies confusion. You will wind up not even knowing which bathroom you are supposed to use. You will wind up with girls in the Boy Scouts. You will breathlessly discover that the original Greek for Boy Scouts actually means “one who menstruates.” No. As George MacDonald once put it, obedience is the great opener of eyes. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).