There are two ways to develop a sensitive conscience, one good and one bad. The first is to accept, own, and practice the weightier matters of the law. Once you have mastered the great principles, or rather have been mastered by them, it becomes possible to move into the more refined questions. This is the principle we see in Hebrews 5:14. “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14, ESV). The longer one walks with God, the better able he is to see the first stirrings of a resentment or a lust.
The bad way to grow a sensitive conscience—let us call it an inflamed conscience—is to go in the opposite direction, by flouting the weightier matters of the law, insulting the basic principles of morality. A bad conscience develops and because human beings have a deep need to be called righteous (even when they are wicked), we then dedicate ourselves to the development of gnat-filters, all while laughing at those legalistic camel-phobes.
Take For Instance . . .
Consider the scrupulosity of those men who paid Judas to betray Jesus in their plot to murder Him judicially. Having accomplished the worst crime in all the annals of human history, and after Judas realized what he had done and came back to return the money to them, they were fastidious about which account it went into. Having murdered God’s Son, they did not want to displease Him any further by not following the best practices for financial accountability.
We have examples of both kinds of sensitivity in That Hideous Strength. After Mark Studdock confronts Dr. Dimble on the whereabouts of his wife, Dr. Dimble drives back to St. Anne’s full of self-doubts. Was there a whole Belbury inside him too? And Wither, while subjecting the world to all manner of mayhem, is fastidious about which methods of, er, interrogation would be the most humane in the long run.
But What If the Cat Self-Identifies . . .
Our PC culture has run amok, as all sane observers know, but few know that it is running amok precisely because of this second kind of moral inversion. We are fanatical about the gnats because we have swallowed all of the camels. Let Chesterton say it:
“It is the final sign of imbecility in a people that it calls cats dogs and describes the sun as the moon—and is very particular about the preciseness of these pseudonyms. To be wrong, and to be carefully wrong, that is the definition of decadence.”
A nation that slaughters millions of unborn babies, that has sanctified sodomy as though it could be matrimony, that worships at the altars of Mammon the way we do, is a nation that must be indignant with anyone who does not recycle. Having been crushed by the mountains, we are off to lecture the molehills.
As I think I have made clear a number of other times, I believe that Thabiti is a gracious Christian brother, a good man. But a good man can breathe bad air and after a while it can start to affect you. In Thabiti’s apology to Beth Moore, he wrote this:
“And I have let others slander you. I’ve been in rooms where your name was mentioned with disparaging tone. And rather than ask a few basic questions (how do you know this about her, do you have any evidence you can point us to, and so on), I said and did nothing. I wasn’t any different from Saul standing by holding clothes while Stephen was stoned.”
Really? Right after that, Saul went out and made havoc of the church (Acts 8:3). In the next chapter, he was breathing threats and slaughter (Acts 9:1). Paul describes himself in this period as an insolent man and a blasphemer (1 Tim. 1:13). In his persecuting fury, he compelled Christians themselves to blaspheme (Acts 26:11).
Now I have little doubt that Thabiti thought he was “doing a Dimble,” wanting to make sure that there was not a whole Sandredrin inside him. There isn’t—but there is a raging mob outside. Take a look around.
The moment we think we are in is not the moment we are actually in. Allow me to pile up a few metaphors in an unconscionable way. We have quarterbacks who can really throw the ball, but none of them can read any kind of defense. We have parade-ground generals who look smart in uniform, but who do not have the slightest notion of what the enemy is doing. We have leaders without skin in the game, and the results have been absolutely predictable.
Paige Patterson has been accused of various things, about which I know nothing, but it is striking to me that the air was not filled with guffaws over the fact that it was Jonathan Merritt, his very own bundle of ambulatory issues, who brought the accusation.
The Church Must Be the Gyroscope:
In a world that has gone topsy-turvy, the church must be the gyroscope. But what is happening is not anything like that. More than a few of us have come to the conviction, if you can call it that, that we should be topsy-turvy for Jesus. Anything the world can get unsettled about, we can be unsettled about five years later and with a verse attached.
Now—and here comes the hard part—in order to avoid being a pale echo of the world’s current confusions, what must the church learn how to do? We must learn how to apply our boot to the hinder parts of absolutely any attempt at political correctness, multiculturalism, diversity, cultural Marxism, critical theory, sensitivity, and whatever new smock they throw over its pointy little head.
A Little Heads Up:
The Reformed evangelical establishment is currently acting in almost precisely the same way that the Republican establishment was acting prior to the rise of Trump. That was how they got Trump. Never has a leadership group been so disconnected from how their base was feeling. This happened because 1. The leadership would not listen to what the people were trying to say, 2. The people felt great pressure to not say anything about the problems that weren’t going away, and 3. The leadership persisted in repeating the “all-is-well” platitudes that they remember got Reagan elected.
Our conference circuit leadership is displaying all the same characteristics, representing millions of people who are not really represented by them. With certain notable exceptions, the leadership is insular, in-grown, sensitive to bad publicity, accommodating, easily-manipulated, and comfortable. R.C. Sproul is with the Lord, as is Billy Graham, and we don’t have regularly scheduled elections. It will be interesting to see which way the pressure cooker blows.
But when it comes, it will be the result of this combination. There will be exhaustion over all the petty things that are upsetting the delicati, outrage overload, and there will be another kind of exhaustion over the heavy burdens that everyone helps to tie on and no one helps to carry.