Hearts Full of Thorns

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A number of years ago, I used to wonder what we were doing wrong. I knew that the Lord had promised hostility and opposition to all who were faithful in doing the work of His kingdom. So how was it that we were spending years in these placid waters? I felt something like that hapless Anglican vicar who once said that everywhere St. Paul went there was a revival or a riot, but that everywhere he went, they served tea.

But a couple years ago, all my doubts on that score began to be relieved. In multiple ways, from multiple directions, we have been blessed with the grace of disgrace, the honor of being dishonored, and have worn, albeit slightly askew, the laurel crown of misbegotten insults.

Our adversaries, hearts full of thorns, have conceived all kinds of charges. The charges have come from all directions — from professing Christians, from real neo-Confederates, from secularist Intoleristas, from gays and lesbians, from pietistic Calvinists. And if we defend ourselves incompletely, the response is “See! The charge must be true.” And if we defend ourselves completely, the response is that this only confirms the charges (because one of the charges is that we have this glib ability to answer charges).

I have not just wanted to be a participant in controversies — I also have wanted to be a student of them. And so I have watched all this unfold with manifold interest. In doing this amateur anthropology, I have noticed some common features that have belonged to the assaults (beyond the mere fact of them). And so here are three of the most prominent common features.

The first is a postmodern subjectivism. This is surprising, because it includes the ostensibly conservative critics, some of whom would yell very loudly on behalf of objective truth (as long as it is an objective truth located somewhere else). But when it comes down to it, everyone has been positively allergic to external and objective accountability. They either want accountability to be just one way, or they want no accountability at all. Feelings are authoritative. It does not matter if someone was actually mistreated or if wrong was actually commited; what matters is the fact they felt that way. Arguments are dismissed as word games; evidence or proof is just more self-justification. This subjectivism is simply a fancy cover for the old-fashioned practice that used to be called lying.

The second common element has been cowardice or timidity. The number of anonymous attacks has been striking, as well as those who have acknowledged that “intimidation” was a factor in their behavior. And when someone, in their timidity, has refused to talk to someone they ought to have talked to, they defend themselves through an appeal to this fear — as though the one who invisibly induced the fear were the one at fault. Timidity is a character deficiency, but the typical defense of this character deficiency is yet another example of my first point. Feelings rule. Still others in their timidity manipulate different people to do their dirty work for them, and they stil have all the deniability that they need.

The last common feature is hostility to genuine authority. Ultimately this hostility to the authority of the Scriptures — an objective Word outside us that governs and rules us. See point one again. We are told in Scripture what to do; we are taught how to respond. And when people start to submit to that authority in a practical, functional way, and they declare the goal of preaching that Word so that all others will come to do the same, then there is obviously a Threat. And a Threat must be attacked.

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