Sunday, September 06, 2020

The Missing Urgency

Scripture says a lot about the urgency we should have in religious contexts. Our culture doesn't. Most likely, your closest relatives, friends, and acquaintances don't either.

They're too occupied with the "worries and riches and pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14). The need for urgency is still there (Nehemiah 6:3, Psalm 39:4, 90:12, Hosea 5:15, Matthew 9:37-38, 24:42, Luke 12:20-21, John 4:35-38, 12:35, Romans 13:11-14, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5, Hebrews 10:25, James 4:13-15, Revelation 2:16, 3:11, etc.).

"You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed." (Matthew 25:26)


  1. I'll admit, you caught me deciding on induction cooktops when I checked out Triablogue.

  2. This ought to be unsurprising since it *seems outwardly* that most people are lost, and therefore can only behave as unbelievers must behave, as slaves to sin.

    Sort of like your other post where you missed along these same lines.

  3. This includes professing Christians within the visible church, I'm not strictly referring to folks "on the outside".

    1. Unbelievers are part of the problem, but so are many believers. From what I can tell, the large majority of believers in a place like the United States have far less urgency than they should.

      But as far as unbelievers are concerned, we shouldn't just leave it at saying that they "can only behave as unbelievers must behave, as slaves to sin". We reason with them, as we do in the normal course of life with the reasoning minds God has given us and as we see Jesus and the apostles and other relevant Biblical figures doing with unbelievers in scripture. And there's nothing about being an unbeliever that requires them to have as little urgency as they have in a context like modern America. Their own worldviews often suggest they should have more urgency than they do, and we ought to call them to a higher standard.

    2. Regarding unbelievers I didn't suggest "we just leave it at" the diagnosis I made. I was merely responding, I thought, on your terms. That there's a simple and Biblical explanation for your observation.

      I have no major disagreement with anything you said, however maybe there's a quibble, not quite sure. I'm not quite clear what you mean by this:

      "And there's nothing about being an unbeliever that requires them to have as little urgency as they have in a context like modern America. Their own worldviews often suggest they should have more urgency than they do, and we ought to call them to a higher standard."

      How can spiritually blind, deaf, and dead in their sins and trespasses unbelievers have spiritual urgency? And how can their utterly depraved worldviews suggest they have more spiritual urgency? And what do you mean by "call[ing] them to a higher standard"?

      If you mean calling on them to repent and call upon Christ for remission of sins then yes of course, but anything less or other than this is merely a call to some form of moralistic therapeutic deism methinks.

      Maybe I'm just not tracking with your line of thinking.

    3. Coram Deo wrote:

      "Regarding unbelievers I didn't suggest 'we just leave it at' the diagnosis I made."

      You did leave it at that, which is why I responded as I did.

      You wrote:

      "I was merely responding, I thought, on your terms. That there's a simple and Biblical explanation for your observation."

      What you wrote is highly inadequate for explaining the lack of urgency among unbelievers, and it's even more inadequate for explaining the problem with believers.

      You wrote:

      "I was merely responding, I thought, on your terms. That there's a simple and Biblical explanation for your observation….How can spiritually blind, deaf, and dead in their sins and trespasses unbelievers have spiritual urgency? And how can their utterly depraved worldviews suggest they have more spiritual urgency? And what do you mean by 'call[ing] them to a higher standard'? If you mean calling on them to repent and call upon Christ for remission of sins then yes of course, but anything less or other than this is merely a call to some form of moralistic therapeutic deism methinks."

      Unbelievers range across a spectrum. A Cornelius is significantly different than a Nero. And unbelievers are right about some issues. That's why we see so many Biblical figures reasoning with unbelievers, appealing to common ground with them, trying to persuade them to improve in contexts not involving conversion, etc. (e.g., Joseph's interactions with the Egyptians, Paul's reasoning with unbelievers in Acts). Christians down through the centuries have often reasoned with non-Christians about theological issues, moral issues, political matters, and so on, and they haven't just done it in conversion contexts. Many non-Christians in a setting like modern America hold a high view of the Bible or portions of it. We can appeal to them on that common ground and other things we have in common. Improvements can be made that fall short of their conversion, and persuading them to have more urgency about the relevant issues is an important part of the process of leading them to conversion. Calling on people to convert is itself a process that should involve appeals to urgency, as we often see in scripture. Unbelievers can understand such appeals and respond appropriately to them in that context, and they can do so in other contexts.

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  5. Not mocking but, reminds me of this song:

    1. Something doesn't have to be mocking in order to be trivializing, distracting, or inappropriate in some other way, and it's inappropriate to post a song like that. Part of the problem with our culture, and part of the reason why people don't have the urgency they should have, is that there's such an overestimation of humor. People are far too occupied with it. They're also too familiar with and too interested in a lot of trivializing (and often vulgar) music, television programs, books, etc.

    2. I believe the Christian needs to avoid two extremes regarding our culture, excessive triviality and excessive austerity. Already Jason Engwer has spoken about excessive triviality. I agree with him many people are too preoccupied by trivial music, film, television, literature and other art.

      Regards excessive austerity, it is not good to be excessively austere. Never to enjoy God's good gifts. Sometimes this can make one's life mean, thankless and even bitter. It is often good to laugh, joke and play. It is often good to have fun. It is possible to create good music, good film, good television, good literature and good art. A good work of art can fill the heart with gratitude toward God. A good work of art can glorify God. Non-Christians can create good works of art. This includes some films and television shows. This is part of God's common grace. Borat is a vulgar comedy that I would never recommend, but I do not see it wrong to watch and laugh at Napoleon Dynamite.

    3. In a context like modern America, there's far more of a danger from and tendency toward triviality than austerity. It's not as though we're balanced on a knife's edge, equally in danger of falling in either direction. It's very clear what the bigger problem is in modern America.

      And there are occasions when going further toward austerity than we normally would is justified (e.g., taking measures in wartime that you wouldn't take in peacetime, avoiding alcohol when you're around somebody who abuses it). Even when there's nothing inherently wrong with something like watching a particular television show or being humorous in a particular way, there may be an overriding factor in a certain context that warrants refraining from doing something that's not always wrong. Not everything we do in private needs to be mentioned in public. Something that's not a stumbling block to you often is to another person or a culture more broadly.

      I closed the original post in this thread by quoting some of Jesus' comments in his parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Christians need to say a lot less about the alleged acceptability and joys of various trivial activities they're involved in and do a lot more to build up a larger profit to give their master.

    4. Generalisations across an entire nation as ideologically, demographically and culturally diverse as America are complicated to make. I am not sure it is "very clear what the bigger problem is in modern America." An example is many Americans in Eastern Coastal and Western Coastal cities are trivial, but there are many Americans who tend toward austerity in the Bible Belt with forbidding activities of mixed dancing and drinking alcohol. This continues to occur today. The Bible Belt is not an insignificant region, even if it is a dwindling or dying region with a minority population relative to the total American population. A second example is some immigrant families from Latin America suffering from the austerity of their cultural Catholicism. A third example is the phenomenon of Tiger Parenting common among East Asian and South Asian or Indian families. Parents often refuse children harmless entertainment and other fun activities in favour of always prioritising school. Fourth, there can be trivialities among Bible Belt, Latin American Catholic and Asian families together with austerity. Triviality and austerity need not be mutually exclusive. This is why I am not sure it is "very clear." The picture may be more mixed. Messages and signals can be mixed. Some individuals and groups can be torn or divided in their hearts between pursuing trivialities and whipping themselves because they had a sip of alcohol or set foot in a theatre.

      But if it is true that the bigger problem is triviality and not austerity, we should still consider there may be a minority who do suffer from austerity. If we predominantly preach against triviality, some may come to believe their problem is triviality when it is austerity. Consequence is they may become more austere with themselves when that is not their problem. This risks harming them in many ways. Some people still need to hear St Paul's warnings in Colossians 2.

      I believe a better approach is to say triviality is a major concern or even the major concern, but austerity may be a minority concern. I believe we need to say both. There are many dangers in American culture due to secularisation, but there are also dangers in our culture due to harsh regimes and overly strict or demanding disciplines and control. It is similar to the difference between antinomianism and legalism. Maybe American culture suffers more from antinomianism but there are still American communities that suffer from legalism. American culture contains many subcultures where what may be true of the general culture may not be true of a subculture.

      I agree the dangers can vary by situation and I would add by person, too. Some people are more mature than others. Some situations call for more discretion than others. But just as there are occasions when going further toward austerity than we normally would is justified, there may be occasions where going further toward triviality than we normally would is justified. It can go both ways depending on the person or situation.

      I agree with your last paragraph, but it is not always mutually exclusive to do both. Christians can do trivial activities - listen to popular music, watch a secular movie or read a frivolous book - but use this to glorify God. But I hurry to say I agree with you too much of this is happening and Christians are going over the board trying to find Christ in every pop song and movie. But this can be done well to God's glory. An example every Triablogue regular knows is Steve Hays has done good film reviews of bad films. Thank you for letting me comment.

    5. I've written and documented a lot over the years about the state of American culture. You can find an overview of resources to consult here. I'll mention some statistics I've documented and discussed before. Only about 20% of Americans give a religious answer to the question of where they find the most meaning in life. Americans spend more than five hours a day on leisure and sports, but less than ten minutes a day on religious and spiritual activities. About three-quarters of Americans can't name the three branches of government, most can't name the four gospels, most can't name a single Supreme Court justice, and almost half can't name the current vice president. If you read Gallup's page summarizing their findings on what Americans believe about moral issues, you'll see that more than 70% find fornication acceptable, two-thirds think it's acceptable to have a baby outside marriage, acceptance of polygamy has now broken into the twenties (20%), and two-thirds think homosexuality is acceptable. We now have tens of trillions of dollars of national debt, and there have been tens of millions of legal abortions in recent decades. Even the highly-publicized acceptance of practices like infanticide and transgenderism among prominent Democrats hasn't made any significant difference in how most of the public has viewed the Democratic party. The most popular portions of television, radio, and the web, as well as our schools and so many other parts of our culture, are largely secular, with little mention of God and not much concern shown about the afterlife and other issues that are so important.

      The more religious and more ethically traditional minority of the country is better than the American majority I've addressed above, but that isn't saying much. You can be better than the average American, yet still be far worse than you ought to be. And some of the statistics I've cited above include many Evangelicals, Republicans, etc.

      You mentioned prohibitions of drinking alcohol and mixed dancing as examples of austerity. There's nothing wrong with drinking alcohol or mixed dancing. But are the people who are prohibited from practicing such things missing much? No. Are they suffering much? No. And Gallup's page linked above reports that only 12% of Americans think drinking alcohol is unethical. (I don't know what percentage of those people hold that view for religious reasons. We need to be careful here. Christians aren't the only people who prohibit the drinking of alcohol for religious reasons. And I suspect that a significant portion of Gallup's 12% comes from people who have non-religious motivations, such as bad experiences with their own alcohol abuse or that of others.) I don't recall seeing any polling data on people's views of mixed dancing. The number of Americans who find the practice immoral may be so small that the issue rarely or never gets polled. So, the people living in the sort of austere setting you're referring to seem to be a small minority of the nation, and some of those forms of austerity aren't of much significance. Something like the secularism of the culture or abortion is far worse than something like the prohibiting of drinking alcohol or the prohibiting of mixed dancing.

      I agree that austerity is a problem that should be taken into account, but the degree to which it's a problem and how that degree relates to other concerns are highly significant factors that also need to be considered.

    6. Thank you for your coment, Jason. Only to get it out of the way to the main discussion, I want to say ignorance about American politics is not about being trivial or austere. Americans who are trivial and Americans who are austere both can be ignorant about American politics.

      Already I mentioned I accept austerity may be a minority position. Much of what I have said is based on austerity being a minority position. So, I believe, what you have said does not affect or change my position in these regards. An example is you mentioned "only 12% of Americans think drinking alcohol is unethical." Yes I would agree 12% is a minority of Americans, but 12% still represents nearly 40 million Americans who think drinking alcohol is unethical. (This is only slightly less than the entire population of African-Americans at 13%). Americans who believe drinking alcohol is unethical are in the minority, but again 40 million Americans is not an insignificant number. This is the point I was trying to make, but maybe I was not clear.

      The Gallup page you linked is a poll for Americans generally. But you seem to have in mind mainly conservative evangelicals in recommending limiting or avoiding triviality. If you have in mind mainly conservative evangelicals, it would not be fair to use this specific Gallup poll. You would need to look at a Gallup data that focus on conservative evangelicals and not on Americans generally. An example is I would very much doubt 70% of conservative evangelicals find fornication acceptable, two-thirds of conservative evangelicals find it is acceptable to have a baby outside marriage, two-thirds of conservative evangelicals find homosexuality is acceptable and the other examples you mentioned.

      There exist data for conservative evangelicals. An example is I believe The Pew Research Centre has data of this kind. Another example on a smaller scale and maybe less representative group is Ligonier's State Of Theology. It might be more fair to use The Pew Research Centre data on conservative evangelicals if you have in mind mainly conservative evangelicals. I am confident there are many problems including problems you have mentioned among conservative evangelicals. But I am doubtful the gap is as wide as it is for Americans generally, as I said in the examples I listed in the previous paragraph (example, I doubt 70% of conservative evangelicals will find fornication acceptable).

      But if you have in mind mainly Americans generally, then it would be fair to use the Gallup data. But I do not know the relevance of the Gallup data in our discussion other than the tautology that secular Americans behave like secular Americans. Secular Americans can be told by Christians to avoid secular movies and TV shows. Some might listen, but many or most will not likely listen. Secular people are attracted to secular movies and TV shows. It is no surprise if most secular Americans do not listen to the admonishment to stop watching secular movies and TV shows from Christians, but some might. It is no surprise if a pig prefers to wallow in the mud.

      I know secular Americans are not the only Americans, but they are the predominant Americans you seem to have in mind. The more interesting question would be how to differentiate Christian Americans from secular Americans if it is true Christians have become too secularised. But that is not something this Gallup poll shows.

      I believe it would be better for society if even non-Christian Americans avoided some secular movies and TV shows. It is good to admonish even secular people to avoid bad things. It is good for society to have more Christian values. I would have no problem and I would agree with you if your goal is to admonish Americans in general about these things. We would be on the same page here. But I had thought you had more in mind.

    7. I believe most the traditional minorities I have mentioned are themselves Americans. Would they not be part of the American majority? There are many illegal immigrants, but there are many Latin Americans, East Asians, South Asians and other minorities who are Americans, too. I do not believe these minorities are "better" than the American majority because they do not indulge in secular movies or TV shows. I believe their tendencies toward the austere or legalistic are problematic in a different way.

      You have in mind mainly Americans, but I do not understand the limitation to Americans. I have seen comments from people from other countries on Triablogue, too. There are similar concerns in America as there are in other countries, but there are different concerns, too. I only say this because Christians from other countries might need to remind themselves they are not the audience in your posts unless they share the same issues in their countries regards triviality.

      I agree it is not wrong to dance or drink alcohol, though I believe we both would agree there can be exceptions where it is wrong to dance or drink alcohol. An example is obscene dancing. Dancing and alcohol are not wrong, but the problem is they are perceived to be wrong by some groups or communities of Americans. This is not limited to fundamentalist Christians, but Mormons and Muslims are other examples. Mormons and Muslims are in the minority in America but they are a significant minority population in America. But if you have in mind mainly conservative evangelicals, then this would include fundamentalist Christians in the Bible Belt. Fundamentalist Christians in the Bible Belt might be a small percentage of the total population of Americans, but they would be a bigger percentage of the total population of conservative evangelicals in America. And fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have similarities or overlaps, too. As examples John Piper and John MacArthur have some roots in fundamentalism. It is not always easy to separate fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

      Addition to dancing and alcohol, I noted other and even more important examples of austerity in my earlier reply that were not addressed. That is fine. I do not deserve to have a reply to everything. Your time is more important in other things than me as I agree with much of what you said. I am pleased only if to read your last sentence and I would exactly agree with your last sentence.

    8. I'm an American. The Triablogue staff is American for the most part. The large majority of our audience is American, though we also get a lot of readers from other parts of the world. That's not just my impression. Blogger provides us with statistics on these issues. I sometimes mention in my posts that I'm American, that I'm addressing what's happening in the United States, etc., and I've done that in this thread to some extent. But it wouldn't make sense to spell that out in every relevant context. My focus in this thread is on America, but there are implications for and similarities in other nations.

      I've been addressing more than Evangelicals. Look at the opening paragraph in this thread, my responses to Coram Deo, etc. Not only are non-Evangelicals relevant in those contexts I just mentioned, but they're also relevant in that they offer indications of Evangelical influence in the culture and, therefore, how Evangelicals are behaving.

      When people can't name the four gospels, the current vice president, any Supreme Court justice, etc., it's not as though that only tells us something about their lives. It also provides us with some indications of what's going on around them. And it's not just a matter of "American politics", as you put it. I gave examples that are also relevant to current events, our system of government, our nation's history, religious issues, etc. When people are so ignorant across so many contexts, it seems less likely, accordingly, that they're austere in any relevant way. A good example I've discussed in the past is how accepting Americans are of homosexuality and how wrong they are about the percentage of Americans who are homosexual. They think homosexuals are nearly ten times more of the population than they actually are. And the best explanation I'm aware of for why Americans are so wrong about how many homosexuals there are in their nation is that they're deriving their conclusions from vague impressions they have based on the television shows they watch, the movies they watch, etc. They don't even take the most basic steps to research the relevant issues. When people are so ignorant about issues like these - thinking the homosexual population is almost ten times bigger than it actually is, not being able to name the four gospels, not being able to name a single Supreme Court justice, etc. - that's primarily their fault, but it also suggests they aren't hearing much about these issues from the people around them. Sometimes these people hear the relevant information from other individuals and forget it, but that can only go so far as an explanation. Most likely, a large part of why so many people are so ignorant of issues like these is that the people around them, including Evangelicals, aren't doing the relevant work to influence the individuals under consideration.

      Similarly, when 80% of Americans give a non-religious answer to the question of where they find the most meaning in life, you can't exempt Evangelicals from blame. Not only are Evangelicals a significant portion of the culture shaping the views of that 80%, but the 80% includes many Evangelicals. If you want to read more about the research I'm referring to, done by Pew, and what that research showed about Evangelicals in particular, see my Facebook post here.

    9. Along the same lines, when research on how Americans use their time shows that they spend more than five hours a day on leisure and sports (among other trivial activities) while spending less than ten minutes a day on religious and spiritual activities, Evangelicals are part of that. Why aren't Evangelicals doing more to raise the quality of how Americans manage their time, both in terms of how Evangelicals use their own time and in terms of how they influence the time use of others?

      But if you want numbers that single out Evangelicals, I provided that. See my first page linked above, the one I referred to as an overview of resources. Some of the resources I recommended have material focusing on Evangelicals. So does the Facebook page I linked above. So does some of my previous material on Triablogue.

      I haven't denied that Evangelicals are better than the average American. But, as I mentioned earlier, that isn't saying much.

      Your comment that "12% still represents nearly 40 million Americans who think drinking alcohol is unethical" misses the point. I was addressing which problem - triviality or austerity - is bigger. 12% can involve a large number of people, but still represent a lesser problem. And I've explained that while the view that drinking alcohol is unethical is a wrong view, it's a less significant problem than what we're seeing on the other end of the spectrum.

      When you say "I accept austerity may be a minority position", there's a problem with your use of the term "may". As I said earlier, it's very clear which problem is bigger in modern America. It's not austerity. Just saying that austerity may be a lesser problem isn't enough. I've provided a large amount of argumentation and documentation for my view. You haven't provided much for yours. Making undocumented references to Tiger parenting, opposition to mixed dancing, and so forth doesn't prove much. I provided you with documentation on how many people oppose drinking alcohol, but I also explained why that sort of information doesn't amount to much as evidence for austerity. If you want us to think austerity is an equal problem or want us to be agnostic on the subject, you need to offer far more of a counterargument to what I've provided.

      You said, "I do not know the relevance of the Gallup data in our discussion other than the tautology that secular Americans behave like secular Americans." I've explained why non-Christian Americans are relevant. They influence Christians, they're influenced by Christians, and they're capable of changing their behavior for the better, including in the context of urgency. I covered some of this ground in my exchange with Coram Deo above.

      Part of how we can tell what people are capable of is what they've done in the past. One of the reasons why we know non-Christian Americans can change in contexts like the ones I've cited is that they used to hold different positions than they now hold. Their moral views and their views on other subjects have changed over time. And most Americans still claim to be Christians, so they can be held accountable to Christian standards accordingly, much as Jesus often rebuked people for their failure to live up to the standards they professed or were culpably ignorant of, Paul criticized mankind in general for such things in Romans 1-2, etc. And we can call on followers of Judaism to have more urgency based on Old Testament passages like the ones cited in my original post in this thread. Mormons and others can be appealed to in a similar manner. Even those not affiliated with any organized religion can be reasoned with about the brevity of life, the importance of God, the importance of the afterlife, etc. We see that repeatedly in scripture, and it would make sense even if there were no Biblical precedent.

  6. Trying getting people willing to go out to do evangelism. No, seriously, try. In a good solid, evangelical church.

    It's almost impossible. I don't want to say anyone who doesn't go out isn't a Christian, not at all. But it's like pulling teeth.