Justin Taylor: Thank you both for your talks. Both were very stimulating. Dr. Carson, because of scheduling, was not able to be at Joe’s talks. So that’s a little bit of a disadvantage if we bring up something that you talked about.
Joe Rigney: I think he’ll be okay. Have you ever read the book of Acts?
D.A. Carson: How do you spell that?
Joe Rigney: A-X-E.
Justin Taylor: We may bring up some things that the two of you disagree about, and that’s okay. I think that can be an opportunity for us to model Christian disagreement. And thank you to all of you who submitted questions. I think if we did get to every question, there would be about 10 seconds each for an answer. So we’ll pick and choose here as we go along.
Dr. Carson, to start, are there a few works that you might recommend reading more broadly on these issues of Christ and culture? As I mentioned, you’ve written a book. You mentioned Charles Taylor and his discussion of Age of Authenticity. For pastors who want to think more about the relationship of Christianity and culture, and interact in a way with the public, and think about things like natural law, are there a few works in particular that come to mind that you would recommend?
D.A. Carson: I should have anticipated that question and brought in a whole list. Part of the problem is that the list is so long that it’s hard to choose what’s best. On the natural law front, it’s worthwhile subscribing for two or three years (after that, it begins to repeat itself) to First Things, which is a thought journal that is largely connected with Catholicism, but they include some very gifted writers, including Reno and others, and George from Princeton. A few others are constantly writing along those lines, and they’re often very helpful. But on the other hand, a Catholic view of natural law is not exactly the same as a Protestant view of natural law. And that’s another issue that would have to be explored.
Then, if I may put it this way, behind the issues of worldview formation stand another set of issues that are often not recognized, namely, how well we know our Bibles from cover to cover. If you leap into worldview formation issues without knowing your Bible really well, then inevitably it becomes another species of proof texting. One of the reasons why I wrote The God Who Is There, which tracks things out right through the whole Bible, is to try to get Christians to have their whole Bible put together. It’s relatively easy to do worldview formation and cultural critique out of a frame of reference where you’ve got the whole Bible putting things together from creation, to the new creation, to the consummation.
Whereas, if you’re hazy on all of those things, if you can’t talk intelligently about how law relates to prophets, or Gospel, or anything else, how do you get worldview formation, except on a topical basis that may or may not be tied well to biblical roots? In my view, one of the big gaps in modern evangelicalism, including the popular Reformed branch, is the low ability to move from biblical text exposition to worldview structures, formation, and theology. We do this over here and this over here, but rarely do the twain meet deeply. And to my mind, that’s one of the biggest needs of the time.
Justin Taylor: Let me pick up on that in particular with respect to the book of Acts, which you teach every year, I assume, at Trinity. And your two talks were both seeking to draw principles from the Book of Acts for Christians. Relating to the powers that be, a book like Acts marks a transition in redemptive history, so that not all of it is normative for today. How does a pastor, how does an average Christian, decide what things in the book of Acts are normative, and what are not? Joe, you can’t defer all questions to him.
Joe Rigney: Watch me.
D.A. Carson: After you.
Justin Taylor: He’ll clean up after what you say.
Joe Rigney: Okay, let’s do that. Beauty before age, is that what we’re doing? It was a joke. I would say the prescriptive versus descriptive distinction that often gets used when dealing with narrative texts in the Bible is useful as far as it goes. But one of the things I was trying to do in my talks was to say that even where there’s not a one-to-one correspondence between whatever the historical occurrence was in Acts and the present day, there are still patterns that we can identify. And I think that’s true, not just in Acts or in the Gospels, but throughout the Bible. These are authoritative accounts of how God has dealt with his people in the world, and therefore, they ought to be instructive to us.
There are patterns. If you want to call them types, you can call them types. There are ways that God consistently acts, and therefore, insofar as you can line up the relevant parallels between the Scriptures and the present day, you can discern principles that can help you anticipate or discern what your responsibility is as a Christian today.
So that’s a little bit different than just a simple, “It’s descriptive, and it’s just information for us to know that God has done this,” versus prescriptive, which says, “It’s a command, and you must do this right now.” It’s attempting to recognize the way that narratives in particular can function in this worldview-shaping, mind-shaping, training the imagination in the patterns of God’s acting. And that’s typically what I think about when I’m reading to preach or reading to teach. I’m thinking about those two horizons of the biblical text, and the contemporary world, my congregation, and I’m trying to see the relevant patterns in Scripture that match up in my congregation. And then I try to draw those connections.
D.A. Carson: I agree with all of that completely, with the “over here” being at least in some measure outside the book of Acts. In other words, narratives have their own way of making a rhetorical appeal. They’re not prescriptive, that’s right. But on the other hand, take a couple of hard examples that give feet to what was already said. The only place in the New Testament from Acts where you decide an appointment by lot is found in Acts 1 for the replacement of an apostle. There’s nothing in the Pastoral Epistles, for example, that says the way you find elders in the early church is now by casting lots and whoever gets the long straw, as the case may be.
So one is very loath to run from one example to a universal principle about how to do things when there are so many examples that are not that way. And there are lots of one-offnesses of that particular narrative. And it’s the same, even with something like speaking with tongues, or the phenomenon of Acts 2. However much you want to make Acts 2 normative, I don’t personally know any charismatic churches that meet and have flames of fire on people’s heads with rushing wind going through the building.
Moreover, the function of the tongues in that chapter is really quite different from the function of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–14. So one wants to note the commonalities but also the differences, and proceed with care. Where the locks can be made, then they should be made strongly. But as you rightly said, there is at least some element of transition going on in the book of Acts about which we should be pretty careful.
Justin Taylor: Let’s put some teeth on this discussion and take something from the book of Acts that people are citing today in a contentious contemporary debate. I’m thinking here of the Wheaton College brouhaha with the professor who said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Some people that we know would point to Acts 17 in relation to the way in which Paul interacted with the pagans. Paul says there, “You pagans worship the unknown God.” Others have cited something like what Paul said to the Messiah-denying Jews, that “they have a zeal for God but without knowledge” (Romans 10:2). So help us think through an issue like that, and how do we move from Bible to theology to appropriate application? Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
D.A. Carson: Why don’t I take one of those verses, and you take the other one. Let me land on Acts 17:23. Paul says, “What you ignorantly worship this, I declare to you.” The argument that some have put forward is that Paul does not in that address say, “We’re worshiping entirely different Gods here, but what you ignorantly worship that I declare to you.” But put it in context, a text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text. When they are speaking of an unknown God, it’s in a polytheistic context, not a context of monotheism. And the reason why they have an altar to an unknown God is that they live their lives in fear with respect to what the various gods can do. You propitiate the gods with appropriate sacrifices so that you can have a fat baby, or a safe trip to Rome, or whatever it is you’re asking for. And there might be some God out there who’s really quite nasty tempered that you don’t know about, so you offer a sacrifice to him too, or her, as the case may be. There were goddesses as well as gods.
None of that is relevant to what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying, “This particular God is the God that I’m talking about.” And even if it were, it scarcely applies to the Muslim world, where the Muslims do not say, “We don’t really know much about God, why don’t you fill the content for us?” Allah is not to them an unknown God, he’s very known.
When I converse with my most serious Muslim friends, and I have some, they resent the notion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. They think it’s a terrible distortion for Christians to say things like that. They think it’s an abomination in fact, because we actually believe things like God having a Son, and things like that. In fact, one Muslim country, Malaysia, has made it illegal for Christians and Muslims to use the same word “Allah” for God. So this use of Acts 17:23, ripped out of its context, reflects a sold-out commitment to a muddle-headed, Western notion of tolerance that is not thinking clearly about what Paul is saying in the context.
He’s saying that what you ignorantly worship I declare to you, not because he’s making an ontological statement of identity, but because he’s stressing their ignorance. And that is not what Larycia Hawkins was doing in her statement. It’s a long way removed, and it’s a manipulative use of texts.
Joe Rigney:You can imagine the move from “this is an indeterminate deity, and I’m filling in the gaps.” Would Paul have said at the end of the sermon there, when his message was rejected, “Yeah, you’re still worshiping the right God, the true God, just ignorantly.” Or would he have said, “Well, now your rejection has demonstrated otherwise.” When it comes to Romans 10:2, I think that is an interesting passage to wrestle with, in terms of, is there a scale in which we can say that Christ-denying Jews have a zeal for God. But in our contemporary context, the whole point is, “Look how close we are.” That’s what people are trying to do when they say Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, are worshiping the same God. They are thinking, “Look how close we are.” Paul, when he does that, is trying to say how far the Jews are from God.
He is saying, “They have a zeal for God. It’s not according to knowledge.” And they’re damned because of it. I haven’t followed this discussion quite as much, probably, but if Larycia Hawkins is trying to say, “Look at the damnable worship of Muslims,” which I don’t think it was, that’s a very different point than the postmodern, relativistic idea of “let’s all get together and sing our Kumbaya.” So I think in that respect it’s not a good text to say, “Look how close we are.” It’s a text to say, “You can have a zeal for God, yes, and it can be damnable.”
D.A. Carson: And there’s an additional factor there too, in that the Jews have a heritage of locking into revelation that both Jews and Christians acknowledge as true and their own. Whereas, in the case of Islam, it’s 700 years later, and it comes out of the Nestorian sect of Christianity, and a reaction against that. So it’s not a shared affiliation that has failed to accept the next stage of redemptive history. It’s something that has gone off in an offshoot away from the stream of revelation.
Justin Taylor: I’m going to switch gears a little bit. All of this is related because everything relates to everything. But for the interest of time, let me pick up another topic. This relates, Dr. Carson, to some of what you were talking about. And my question here is, is civil religion a good thing? You referred to our Judeo-Christian deistic heritage, and I think a lot of us intuitively like that that is part of our country’s history. And yet, in this current gospel-centered revival or renewal, we hear a lot about the damnability of moralism. We hear Tim Keller and Russell Moore talk about that kind of thing. So is it a good thing to have a Christless civil religion? And is there a sense in which Christians can rejoice when a candidate promises to take America back again?
D.A. Carson: Those are two slightly different questions. The take America back again thing presupposes that there was a lot more there than what was in fact there. It’s often a reading of American history as if America is sort of like the Israel of the Old Testament, and there are some things that are being lost that are to be regretted because they’re lost. Who wants to rejoice if marriage standards are declining, if there’s less thought given to babies in the womb, if homosexual practice becomes normative. None of that is good. There is something back there that would be nice to hang onto.
On the other hand, to hang onto it by sheer dint of force without moral transformation does not make the country more Christian; it simply is a callback to certain traditions. We haven’t had distinctively Christian views on such matters for a long, long time. And you have to remember, too, that this is not the first time in American history where this is the case. There have been periods of history where there have been fewer people who attended church regularly than now attend church regularly. In Great Britain, for example, on Easter Sunday in 1740 in St. Paul’s Cathedral, there were precisely 6 people who showed up for holy communion. Talk about an unchurched age. Do you see?
So we have seen these things before, but during that time there was nevertheless still an overarching plausibility structure that made it intelligently rational to believe in God somehow. Christianity was thought to be okay on the side of the angels, more or less, out there. But one of the things that Charles Taylor points out in his book A Secular Age is that nowadays the plausibility structures are running the other way. That is to say, now it takes more self-conscious thought to be a Christian. The default position is that it’s more reasonable to be an atheist, it’s more reasonable if not to be an actual atheist, to be locked into philosophical materialism. And that’s the way you view reality.
So again and again in these sorts of discussions, I worry about the simplex analysis that speaks of going back as if it was all good. There were bad things in the past, and there are good things now. One of the good things now with this decline is precisely that the lines are becoming clear as to who is a Christian, and who’s merely nominal. It’s becoming a little clearer what the church is, and what the church is not. Those are not bad developments, they’re good developments. They might be good developments coming about for bad reasons, but nevertheless, in these things I rejoice.
I think it’s a lot easier today to do university missions than it was 20 years ago. In this I rejoice, even if the reasons for getting there are not all good. So, often in this sort of trend analysis, the sweeping generalization usually masks a batch of nuances that need to be articulated. I have a friend, Mark Dever, who accuses me of having the gift of complexification, and I’m afraid I’ve just succumbed to it again.
Joe Rigney: You have to go with your gifts, though. That’s what I always say. I don’t think it’s a question of whether we will have a civil religion. Human beings are religious beings. When you get people together, and you have societies, and cultures and nations, you’re going to have some kind of civil religion. I think as Christians, we ought to want that civil religion to be Christian. But that means we want it to be really Christian, not sort of Christian, or quasi-Christian, or Christianity Light. We don’t want lip-service Christianity, we would want it to be real Christianity down to the toes.
So I think it’s good and right to lament the loss of a common Christian heritage, which is not a distinctively American thing. That’s Western civilization. There was Roman civil religion, which gave way to a Christian civil religion, post Constantine. And then we had these 1500 years, give or take, a little bit less, of a Christian civil religion, which at times was more robust and at times was a simple veneer for all kinds of wickedness. And our aim ought to be faithful Christians as a church, and if we’re faithful to God, sometimes he blesses those efforts so that they emerge into a Christian public square, or a civil sphere in which Jesus is acknowledged.
And sometimes if Jesus is really acknowledged by some, it means he’s going to be falsely acknowledged by others. There will be an incentive to go along to get along to get the power, but that’s the price you pay. There’s a difficulty in remaining faithful in those circumstances, which is what we’ve been living through at the tail end of it. There’s a difficulty there. But that just means we have to get better at discerning true from false, even when Christ is acknowledged publicly. In the meantime, since we’re reverting, I think that the goal ought to be, be a faithful church. It is good that there’s this clarity about who is really a Christian and who’s not. And if we’re faithful, I expect that in 100 years, 200 years, or 500 years, we’ll see the fruit of it. And it will probably look like a Christian civil religion.
D.A. Carson: Do I hear traces of postmillennialism coming out there?
Joe Rigney: I’m optimistic.
D.A. Carson: I have a friend who says that for the Christian, optimism is naive, but pessimism is atheistic.
Joe Rigney: Amen. My mentality about it is, whether or not you’re a post-millennial or pre-millennial or all millennial, the fact that God has done this thing in the past means whenever you think Jesus is coming back, or how long it will be, or what the circumstances will be when he arrives, it is the case that God took pagans and made them into Christians. He took berserkers, these barbarian, Viking raiders who would strip down naked and run into battle, and he turned them into Minnesota nice, which is impressive.
D.A. Carson: I think it’s Minnesota frozen.
Joe Rigney: Minnesota frozen nice, that’s right. It took a thousand years, and a lot of grace, but he did it. He really turned England, Anglo-Saxon, Britannia, all of those things, and he produced Puritans. So give it enough time. God has done it, and he can do it again. And then, when Jesus comes back in the middle of that, we can still talk about.
D.A. Carson: Yes, but at the same time I would also point out how sometimes God lets people run their own way, and rebellion and sacrifice the heritage they’ve had today too. England is not reflecting profoundly on its Puritan heritage and so on. I am impressed by the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, which says, “Let both grow until the end.” So that, although I don’t want to predict what the course of the future will be in any sort of detail, I will say this: if both are to grow until the end, I think we will continue to have times and periods of Reformation and revival and people coming to know Christ in small and large numbers, and whole societies transformed. We’ll also see, if the Lord tarries long enough, a third world war and more barbarity, more pogroms, more terrible slaughter, and rape, and pillage and so on. Both will grow to the end.
We’ve just come through the bloodiest century in church in history. I can’t think of a single reason why we might not have an even bloodier one this century. We’re left with those dynamics, and we must not pin our hope on just getting the politics right. At the end of the day, Christ says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), and that, whether in suffering or glorious triumph.
Justin Taylor: Amen. The next question or two is probably a little bit more specifically political than this pastor’s conference tends to be. But I think it is justified given the current cultural situation. And this thought experiment might test your naive optimism, Joe, but if in a few months Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, and Bernie Sanders, a socialist, or Hillary Clinton is the democratic nominee, should Christians feel the liberty to vote in accordance with their conscience and say, “I am going to choose whom I regard as the lesser of two evils.” Or does there come a point where voting for a particular candidate becomes sin. And then distinct from that, but related, how should pastors counsel their people to vote? Or is that something a pastor has no business telling his congregation?
D.A. Carson: Boy, I can hardly wait to hear what you’re going to say.
Joe Rigney: So if you have to choose between a communist and a fascist, both draped in the American flag, what do you do? It is possible to sin while voting in a whole host of ways. And it is possible to sin against God because you vote for a candidate whose policies are so evil, that to cast your vote for them would be to support a grievous evil. We all know this. I think especially if you voted for Hitler in the 1940s, had he run for reelection, and you knew about Auschwitz, and you voted for him, that would be evil. And we tend to be very good at picking out the evils of a previous generation. So, we will lament German Lutherans for going along to get along, or we’ll lament, rightly, Southerners who were complicit in the evil of racism, slavery, Jim Crow, and the like.
But we have a harder time seeing clearly our own shortcomings. So I would say this, I think it would be a sin to vote for a pro-choice politician, someone who’s adamantly committed to abortion rights, that would be a gross evil. So to say, “I support them,” I think is sinful. Now, I know what that means because I have friends who voted for pro-choice politicians of both parties. Anyway, that’s why I’d say yes. Whether that would apply in the case of Trump or something like that, given what he’s saying, you have to make your own judgment about how serious he is.
Justin Taylor: Does that rise to the level of church discipline?
Joe Rigney: No, I wouldn’t put it at the level of church discipline. I wouldn’t discipline over that sort of thing, but abortion and issues like that are of a different order of magnitude than tax policy, or even a lot of the other stuff. If Bernie Sanders was pro-life, I think there’s all sorts of foolishness that he believes, but I don’t think it would rise to the same level. Abortion is the big E on the eye chart. And if you’re going to get that wrong, why do we trust you about anything else? That doesn’t mean because one candidate might be pro-choice, you’re obligated to vote for the other guy. It’s a principled act to not vote. Sometimes, and this may be the case this election, if God intends us to vote, he’d give us candidates.
D.A. Carson: Unless what God intends us to do is to exercise our judgment in face of the ones that have come along in his providence to not vote. And I agree with what has just been said in a very large part, but I think there are a couple of extra factors that go in. What has really been said is that everyone is called to make a judgment about the hierarchy of evils, but there’s also a hierarchy of goods too. And moreover, the realities of our voting system may mean that if you don’t vote, and a whole lot of people like you don’t vote for this particular candidate because of this particular issue, the other candidate gets in, which may not be something that you want to put up with. In other words, you may decide on a principle basis not to vote because both sides are just so evil on these gross categories. Think of all the times the Bible denounces in the strongest possible terms arrogance, just in the most fundamental terms. When I say the word arrogance, does any candidate come to mind?
Joe Rigney: A lot of them.
D.A. Carson: Yeah. It’s true. But on the other hand, does that become something that you don’t vote for? And it may, but if you decide then you’re not going to vote for this party, and you’re not going to vote for that party, does it mean, therefore, that the overwhelming likelihood is that a certain person will get in who may not have got in if you, and a lot of your friends, had voted the other way? So the decisions that you make are not easy ones. They’re complex ones in the complexity of a representative democracy.
Justin Taylor: Let’s move on to another topic related to politics and Christianity. Let’s say that someone comes to you, a younger evangelical, even a five point Calvinist, and politically and philosophically has a libertarian bent. With respect to something like homosexuality, she would say, “I believe that the Bible teaches homosexual practices a sin. I don’t believe that someone can confess Christ and consistently act on those desires that they have. However, I don’t think it’s the proper place of the church to tell the government how to behave.” In other words, she is saying, “This is something that relates to personal morality. I will never do it, I would never counsel anybody to do it, and I would never tell anybody that it’s okay to do. But that’s distinct, and I therefore would vote for a candidate, or support legislation, that would make same-sex marriage legal.” How would you respond to that reasoning?
D.A. Carson: Again, at the risk of complexifying, one has to distinguish between saying, “This is a sin that I cannot support and that should be condemned,” and saying, “This is a sin that I think should be punished by incarceration,” or something like that. It’s one thing for a libertarian to say, “I don’t think that the government should punish those who are practicing homosexual conduct,” and another thing to say, “I think that a government, therefore, should issue marriage licenses for them.”
I think that marriage is so important an issue, both on sociological, historical, and above all, biblical revelatory grounds, that it is worth opposing marriage as a legitimate characterization of homosexual union. I don’t think that’s appropriate. I think that it is wrong, I think that it’s wicked, I think it bears bad fruit in the long haul, and I think the Bible’s against it. So on all of those sorts of fronts I find it hard to support someone who approves homosexual marriage. On the other hand, it does not follow, therefore, that I want to support incarcerating such people, or sacking them from public employment, or saying that they can’t be mayor of a city, when there are all kinds of heterosexual forms of misconduct that are going around that are equally abominations in God’s sight. So I think that, again, a little bit of nuance is needed in the discussion to flesh out a little bit what I would or would not support.
Joe Rigney: In the conversations I’ve had, I’m sympathetic to a lot of a Christian libertarianism. I don’t think I would self-describe that way quite, but I’m sympathetic to it. If the basic principle is that people have a right to be stupid and to bear their own consequences, then yeah, I’m in favor of that. But it seems to me that marriage, in particular, because that’s the one you brought up, is a creation ordinance. It’s not specifically Christian. It’s something that’s embedded in the natural order. And therefore, if it’s the case that the state has a vested interest in strengthening the more fundamental institution of society, namely marriage and the family, then some state recognition of who is married and who is not, is a part of that calculation, in which case they ought to tell the truth about it.
So if the state is going to be in the marriage business, they ought to tell the truth about it. Now, often you’ll have libertarians who say, “The state shouldn’t be involved at all.” At that point, you’re having such a hypothetical, idealistic debate. They’re living in some Ayn-Randian paradise. That’s fine to have as a philosophical discussion. But it doesn’t help as much at the brass-tacks level of what kind of candidates we should support, or what kind of debate we should be having in the situation we find ourselves in today, where that’s not on the table.
D.A. Carson: I agree with that entirely. One way of getting at the question of what marriage is, it’s the little book called What Is Marriage? by Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Sharif Girgis. It’s only 140 pages, but that is sheer gold for helping Christians to think some of these things through.
Justin Taylor: Dr. Carson, in your talk, you referred to somebody like Os Guinness, bless his soul in D.C. right now. I don’t know if you use the word pre-evangelistic talks, but clearing out the brush work, laying some foundation work, and maybe not giving a full come-to-Jesus altar call at the end.
D.A. Carson: Now, in all fairness, I didn’t mention Os as doing that. I didn’t mention his name. I just said that there are some people who do that.
Justin Taylor: Right. But in Joe’s talk, you referred to talking to contrary groups like racists, like egalitarians, and how it would be a dereliction of duty if one did not fully press the full gospel upon them. So we had a few questions with regard to egalitarianism. Is egalitarianism in the same category as racism? And did you feel a tension there between what you were saying and what Dr. Carson was saying in terms of laying the foundation and doing pre-evangelism?
Joe Rigney: I didn’t feel any tension. Maybe I should have, but I don’t think there is. When I was referring in my talks to if you’re preaching to 21st century progressive egalitarians then you have to press on their falsities of human nature, I didn’t have in mind Christian egalitarians at that point. I was trying to use the language of, “What do most unbelievers who are sexual progressives think about human nature?” And in that sense, they’re full egalitarians across the board. There are no spiritual or functional distinctions between men and women, neither are there biological ones that we’re required to respect. So it’s that false view of human nature that people are completely malleable, that human nature is malleable. I don’t think that you can preach the gospel faithfully and not call people away from that. That’s a fundamentally false view of human beings — men, women, and sex. And that’s precisely where they’ve gone wrong, and where the sin is being celebrated.
So in order to preach the gospel and to call them to repentance, you have to answer the question, “Well, repent of what?” Well, it’s that. That’s the sin that needs to be repented of. So, that’s what I had in mind in particular. I do think that Christian egalitarians are wrong on a whole host of issues, but I’d put them in a little bit of a different category. Because they have embraced the gospel, there’s a number of things that have been sorted out, even if I think they need to carry it through farther.
Pre-evangelism, though, I do think has an important role. C.S. Lewis saw himself, I think more fundamentally, as a pre-evangelist, not an evangelist. He thought that the ideal is a team of two, one person to go in and defeat the defeaters — the apologetics, the rationalists, to tear down the false views, — and then have the Billy Graham to come up, and give the come to Jesus talk, and really appeal to the heart. He thought he was good at the first one. And I don’t know if he ever really found a good buddy. He said somebody might be able to do both well. And maybe that’s somebody like a Tim Keller, or even John Piper when he goes evangelistic. That’s the thing that I think that they work hand in hand to do.
Justin Taylor: I think some people were hearing you say egalitarian thinking, “Christian egalitarian,” so I wanted to give you the opportunity to clarify that.
Joe Rigney: Thanks for doing that.
Justin Taylor: I think we have time for maybe one or two more questions. Dr. Carson, coming back to the intolerance of tolerance issue, I’ve become more discouraged and perplexed about how to live in this world of new tolerance. In part, because Christians don’t even get a seat at the table. They aren’t even given the opportunity to make their case. There’s such intolerance, and it seems that reason is not allowed to even play a role. So how do Christians move forward in that environment? Do you see this new hard intolerance collapsing upon itself eventually? Will we see the pendulum swing back, or will we just keep going deeper and deeper?
D.A. Carson: Well, those are two questions as well. I’ll take the second one. I’ll take the second question first. Eventually it will collapse on itself. Whether it’s long-term or short-term, there could be a pendulum swing reaction against it. This is just too silly by half. Or it might be that we’ll suffer a disastrous war, which makes people suddenly start thinking in absolutes, not always in wise or godly ways, but it does force people to think in absolutes pretty quickly once they get involved in something like that. So I can imagine half a dozen scenarios like that. In fact, you’re seeing some of it now already. You’re seeing some secular commentators beginning to laugh at the stupidities of a correct speech on campuses, and things like that. There are recent articles in the Atlantic Monthly, and comments by David Brooks and people of that order that are pretty shrewd commentators on society, and culture, who are beginning to say, “The emperor has no clothes.” It’s not just Christians that are saying that. We’re a long way from turning the corner on it, but sooner or later it’s going to collapse.
In fact, I would argue that’s one of the things that being older as a Christian gives you. You’ve seen some cycles that have burned out in a decade, or two decades. And you’ve read enough history that you know some cycles burn out in 200 years, or 300 years. It’s almost enough to turn me into a postmillennialist.
Joe Rigney: Keep it coming.
D.A. Carson: There are these cycles of things that do take place, that we drift into more sin, like as an ancient Israel. But God has ways of saying, “You shall go no farther. I’m pulling you out.” And he’s the God of all grace, and still stands, and says, “Turn, turn. Why will you die? The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”
Now, in terms of how we are to be engaged, there are some corners, some elements of society that will just shut us down. There’s nothing you can do about it. And in which case, you build parallel institutions, or you make sure that’s not the way you talk in the church. You try to expose this with letters to the editor, or the appropriate letters, who’s really being intolerant here. That’s why I’ve always been surprised by speaking on such topics in very secular universities. University of Maine was one of them, for example, where the response was gratifyingly warm, and probing, and thoughtful. I think that there are ways of engaging in a way that winsomely says, “The emperor has no clothes. Let’s agree to disagree,” and then talk civilly to find out why we disagree.
I think that the distaste for the venom is rising in the nation, and provides something of an opportunity for offering a different sort of way in which you can say that something is wrong without being thought mean. And that’s eminently to be desired, because that means we can get back in a lot of other conversations as well. I’m not as discouraged as you are. I think there are ways of engaging.
Justin Taylor: That’s one of the things that I admire about both of you. You’re unflappable, and you’re hopeful about the future and happy in the Lord. So on behalf of everyone here, thank you for sharing your wisdom, and your study of the word.
D.A. Carson: Thank you.
Joe Rigney: Thanks.