Unbiblical thinking always comes home to roost

[Emphasis mine.]

Dear BJU alumni and friends,

In 2008 BJU Press published The Christian and Drinking: A Biblical Perspective on Moderation and Abstinence by Dr. Randy Jaeggli, professor of Old Testament at Bob Jones University Seminary. The book is part of a series of short monographs published by the Seminary to help Bible-believing Christians apply biblical principles and discernment to difficult issues. Taking an inductive approach, Dr. Jaeggli presents Scriptural, medical and cultural evidencethat brings the reader to the conclusion that a Christian should totally abstain from the beverage use of alcohol.

A Problem
The sensitivity and complexity of the topic of the book, combined with the brevity (72 pp.) and inductive arrangement of it, have caused confusion for some readers. They have concluded from some select portions of the text that Dr. Jaeggli condones a Christian’s moderate use of alcohol, which is the opposite of what the book actually teaches. Articles have been written questioning Dr. Jaeggli’s research and Scriptural interpretations, Bob Jones University’s position on the use of alcohol has been questioned, and some of you—our alumni and friends—have asked for clarification.

Our Position
Let me assure you that the University’s position on alcohol has not changed throughout our history; BJU does not believe the Scripture condones the beverage use of alcohol to any degree by Bible-believing Christians. Please read our complete statement on alcohol use on our website: http://www.bju.edu/welcome/who-we-are/position-alcohol.php. All of the administration and Bible and Seminary faculty, including Dr. Jaeggli, fully support complete abstinence from alcohol and teach and preach this position. 

The Solution
While our position is clear and we stand by Dr. Jaeggli’s conclusion that Christians should completely abstain from alcohol, we do not want the University to be in a position of causing confusion or misunderstanding among our Christian brethren. Therefore, we are temporarily pulling the book from distribution. Our plan is to rewrite and edit those portions of the text that have been misunderstood and reissue the book. Please understand that the revised edition, while clarifying earlier in the book that the evidence leads a Scripturally-sensitive believer to an abstinence position, will continue to approach this issue in a way that differs from some approaches of the past,which have become less tenable over time. 

As alumni and friends you are a key part of the university family, and my purpose in writing this e-mail is to show you the University’s heart in this matter and to clarify our position. 

Stephen Jones
There are some days when I am (relatively) proud of my BJU heritage. Today is not one of them.

Dr Randy Jaeggli is a professor of OT studies at my alma mater, BJU. As part of the seminary’s continuing series of short booklets on difficult interpretation questions, he wrote a “biblical examination of the issue of alcohol” which was recently published by BJUP.  The Sword of the Lord crowd and others have thrown down the gauntlet to attack Jaeggli’s scholarship, integrity, mental capacity, and (*gasp*) separateness from the world.

I have not read the book. I understand from the various online rantings and ravings that Jaeggli came to the bluntly obvious conclusion that Scripture does not ever condemn the use of alcohol. Any argument for abstinence must be drawn from extra-biblical (cultural or medical) reasons.  Knowing Dr Jaeggli (I took a wonderful grad course on Isaiah from him in 1997), I am sure his scholarship was unquestionable. I don’t agree with his abstinence conclusion personally, but I respect him for putting the discussion back on extra-biblical grounds (which is the only viable option for someone who abstains). I certainly know plenty of people who choose not to drink, and as long as they don’t define that as a biblical imperative, we’re all good.

Not exactly on pins & needles, I have been waiting to see how the BJU administration would respond to the virulent attacks by radical Fundamentalists on Dr Jaeggli’s booklet.  Jaeggli stands on Scriptural footing, but of course, that is far from adequate in a world governed more by backbiting, character attacks, and the supremacy of tradition over biblical argumentation.  I had hoped Stephen (Jones — the 2nd son of Bob III) and the Board of Trustees would stand behind Jaeggli on the foundation of sound and accurate Scriptural exegesis.

While nothing in the above letter is particularly surprising, I am deeply saddened by the backpeddling. The language is laughable. Essentially — “because people are too dumb or ignorant of the principles of sound exegesis and inductive logic to understand that Jaeggli isn’t a drunken liberal, we are pulling the book from the Press catalog & the shelves until we can make Jaeggli (or someone else) edit into the text a clear, repetitive statement that the Bible demands abstinence. We do this in the hopes that the SOTL crowd won’t separate from us over their incorrect understanding of what the Bible actually says.”


So 1) people are too dumb to handle the Scripture for themselves;
2) when people misunderstand, BJU’s job is to remove well-written exegesis and replace it with “party-line” propaganda; and
3) when push comes to shove, keeping the constituency happy is THE most important priority for the Administration – not biblical truth.

Oh, and
4) Fundamentalists talk a lot about separating for the sake of theological/doctrinal purity — in fact, “separation” is THE highest virtue — yet, when the opportunity arises to draw a line about something truly biblical (not music or the length of one’s hair or third-degree associations), Fundamentalists capitulate again and again. The biblical doctrine will be sacrificed to maintain “friendships” with unbiblical factions.

I left Fundamentalism when I realized they cared more about syncopation than the purity of the doctrine of inspiration & preservation (the KJV/Received Text issue). This is yet another example of an unbiblical emphasis gone amok.

PS> While I’m here, I’ll mention the other reason I’m disappointed today in BJU:
I just ran across the latest version of the Graduate Bulletin (course catalog). … I’m sure these changes aren’t new, but the Masters degrees in the seminary have been reworked now to include “male” and “female” tracks.  When I got my MA in Bible (and granted, I was only the 3rd woman to ever earn the degree at the time, and #2 girl was a year ahead of me), we took everything the men did and benefited greatly from that level of intellectual stimulation.  Writing a sermon outline isn’t a male job.  Learning to exegete well is a gender-neutral task.

I highly doubt the woman’s exegesis course is as rigorous or challenging as the men’s.


Concert Review: Warped Tour 2009 (and tips for concert noobs)

Trevor begged for a ride to Warped Tour 09… and it’s summer… and a lot of my daytime plans fell through a couple weeks ago so I can’t really say i’m busy …
so I went.

Typical big-festival experience:
50% of the 70+ bans suck ass.
30% more are mediocre. Your ears don’t bleed or anything, but you wouldn’t pay to hear them.
15% are solid. No complaints. Not phenomenal, but fine.
5% are actually good and worth the price of your ticket.

Bands I saw & liked live (in order of best showmanship & entertainment value):
Chiodos (fantastic live show; great crowd)
Attack!Attack! (just crazy-nuts-fun)
Senses Fail (famous. well-played)
Streetlight Manifesto (they were ridiculously fun live — sax/trumpet/brass metal.  Nuts)

and i caught a couple songs by Devil Wears Prada.
Saw some other stuff that sucked balls.

Best T-shirt slogans of the day:
“Shakespeare Hates Your Emo Poems”
“Fat is the New Black”

Trevor & I were wearing the only BTBAM shirts we saw that day. Sad.

Lori’s Rules for Concert Attendees
(based on an ever-growing pile of experience)

First off, I need to list the cardinal rules I learned from Nate during my early show experiences. They’ve kept me alive… LOL:
–Always wear closed-toed shoes.
–Prepare to be hotter than you’ve ever been before in your life, for a LONG TIME
–Expect to smell horrible, horrible smells.
–Put your wallet in your front pocket and check for it regularly.
–Buy your T-shirt early in the evening … but don’t wear it if it’s a gift for someone else. 

My additions:
1. Expect to be stomped on, spit on, sweated on, smashed, and completely violated during the concert experience. If you can’t handle any of those, you probably shouldn’t go.

2. Girls who weigh more than about 125 pounds shouldn’t crowd surf. Guys can be a little heavier, but not much.  Otherwise, we (the crowd) WILL simply let your ass hit the ground because we’re tired of hauling your body weight over our heads during the show.

3. People who crowd-surf from the back should be shot. Or let fall.     …..Really, people? The rest of us are facing forward and paying attention to the show. We’re not expecting your 140 pound body to land on our heads, or to get kicked in the neck by your flailing limbs as you lurch forward on your claim to concert fame.

4. Girlfriends who come to concerts only because they wanna be with their boyfriends generally leave the pit area crying and traumatized. The look of fear on their faces is predictable and hilarious.  If you don’t like this kind of music, don’t come. Or at least don’t get up front and then freak out that you’re going to die.  Your boyfriend really wants to enjoy the band.  Yes, he likes the excuse to put his arm around you and feel you up … but in the end, he’d like to be able to listen to the music, not you whining about the experience.

5. Guys, if your girl doesn’t like your music, don’t fool yourself into thinking she’ll have a good time if she comes with you. She won’t. She’ll spend all her energy trying to pretend she’s enjoying this smelly, gross experience… but she isn’t… unless she’s really easy and you spend the whole night sucking face in a corner… which is pretty gross considering what all has probably happened in that same corner over the years. Ewwww. Do that at home. And leave her at home if she’s not a fan of metal/hxc/moshing music.

6. Smoking is a given. If you hate cigarettes, crowd, and loud noises, shows aren’t for you. And cigs smell hella lot better than BO & ass, which are your only other olfactory options at a rock show. Suck it up and drink more water while you’re there.  Or pass out cigarettes you like to those around you (I’ve seriously considered doing it).

7. Why do people come to these concerts in flip flops? I haven’t met a pair of flip flops yet that can handle 6 straight hours of standing plus jumping and kicking and getting stomped on and smashing into other people’s feet. We saw bloody body parts at Warped Tour….. plenty of damaged toenails.  And a guy who cracked his skull open in a mosh pit and started seizing. … That was scary. Had nothing to do w/ flip flops though.

Notable Sights at Warped Tour 09:
(no particular order)

–too many plus-sized girls in bikinis.  Bikinis shouldn’t be produced in anything above a size 8. We don’t want to see your fat. I’m sorry. You can wear something really flattering instead…. Go find it.
–lots of fathers who obviously don’t like the music but came with their kids anyway. They all looked so plumb tired by the end!! lol
–plenty of odd hair colors.  And the occasional kick-ass mohawk or other interesting hairstyle
–lots of Tshirts sporting the word f*ck. I’m pretty sure that word has lost its shock value for anyone under the age of 30.
–billions of Devil Wears Prada shirts. I think a lot of WT kids don’t actually like metal or hxc. They like one band; maybe two … and that makes them feel all kickass and scary…. *coughs*
–really, really nice people.  For real. Every crowd has its jerks, but I generally like the people who go to shows
–tons of really bad tattoos. “Bad” as in poorly drawn; poorly placed.  The 10% that are awesome are REALLY awesome though.

I hope to preserve my concert energy for this fall.  Muse/U2 on Oct 6th is gonna be so cool–can’t wait!  I’m hopingBTBAM will do their CD release in Charlotte again in late October/early November, hopefully NOT when we’re with the high schoolers in Boston. (That would be so ironically horrific. lol) Thrice releases their album (physical version) on Oct 13th…. would be nice to see them live sometime.  And I’d like another round of Opeth– please sir, can I have some more? lol

On Sin. [Probably the most important post I’ve ever written.]

I wrote this for Camille Lewis, because she asked for me to explain this all in one place. So here we go.

To echo the esteemed Dr Mike Barrett, nothing I say below is new. “Novelty is not a virtue in this business,” he said to us in seminary. Orthodox teaching on the subject of the Fall and its effects on Creation isn’t hard to find.

Yet people keep asking me to codify what I find myself repeating in so many different contexts, that we Christians tend to mis-define sin (usually by “hedging” the Law) and then apply those fuzzy, imprecise decisions and do much harm.

So, for Camille & others, here is my first, oh-so-brief sketch of the issues, to be fleshed out “later” …

1. Sin is not a THING. 

It doesn’t “exist” as its own entity somewhere, rubbing off like black tar on “good things” … so that we can simply keep ourselves away from the tar…. Sin is a twistedness, a perversion, a brokenness, a falling short. It exists only as the perversion of what is good….

2. and more precisely & biblically, sin exists IN ME. Not in objects. This point is well established in orthodox theological literature. 

Paul writes in Titus that “to the pure, all things are pure.” Jesus says in Matthew (and He was speaking in that context of physical things, and in a conversation with the law-loving Pharisees), it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out from the heart that defiles a man. Jesus locates the problem of sin within humans, not outside of them. We are  “drawn away by our own lusts and enticed” (James 1).

Jesus then goes on to name a representative short-list of sins as His examples.  “Going in” were things like food (reminds me of Paul’s meat discussion). His “coming out” examples are all sins of the heart — envy, hatred, lust, etc.

The sin problem is INSIDE ME.

This is foundational to biblical thinking. As soon as you define any particular thing as sinful, you’ve missed the point…. because we must agree that God Himself sees all things yet does not sin.

So, a test case:
Is the photo of a naked woman sinful?
Well, lusting certainly is.
Adultery is.
The sins of the heart are the point. You can commit the sin of lust without ever opening a Playboy magazine.

Is it the physical photograph of the naked woman in her sensual pose that is the sin?

Jesus could have picked up a porn magazine, flipped through it, and wept over the exploitation of those girls (whether they realize it or not) and such blatant perversion of God-granted beauty… yet never lust.

Don’t misunderstand my point: I’m not suggesting that men go look at porn. I agree with 100% of the godly ministers I know who argue that porn is a huge problem for Christian men. But my point stands that the sin is taking place inside the heart, and the object that stirs up the illicit desires for a wrong kind of sex isn’t the sinful part of this equation. If an unfallen man (or a glorified one) saw a Playboy centerfold, he would not sin.

We sin because we are sinners.
The sin is not in the object.

3. Mature, growing Christians experience a growing freedom of conscience as their knowledge of God and His Word grow. (At least, as the Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, we ought to.) 

Paul never commends the “weaker brother” for his weakness. All of the protections Paul mandates in our interactions with one another (Romans 14, I Corinthians 8-10) are there to prevent the weaker one, the man with the tighter conscience, from being “destroyed” by his uninformed understanding of biblical boundaries.

Implicit in these passages is the expectation that the weaker brother should grow into a mature faith, one that realizes that meat offered to idols is okay; that no day is more important than another … that our external expressions of liberty are NOT where sin resides…

Sin is in the heart.

If I do something despite believing in my heart by conviction (whether I’m right or wrong) that it’s sin, Paul says I sin against my conscience. And THAT is the sin. Not necessarily the activity itself.

4. The battle is never about the top-level, external, surface issues. When it comes to defining sin, the gray areas are actually very small.

You cannot play a game to create some “gray area” which you label “not-sin” yet “still bad.” The Bible never goes there.

Wisdom is justified by her actions, yes, but you’re dealing in different categories (sinful vs unwise). It would not be wise for me to play heavy metal for you at dinner, or in your church service—for one thing, we would have a hard time having a conversation over dinner or paying attention to the message, and that’s unloving. But that action alone wouldn’t be a sin (other than maybe my transgression of the command to “love your neighbor” and “do unto others…”).

If you can’t enjoy screaming heavy metal, fine. Don’t listen.
But understand: NO particular style of music is sin in itself. Period.

If you can’t look at Michelangelo’s David without being bothered by the nudity, fine. But understand — nakedness is NOT a sin.  If you can admire and not sin, great. You’ll weep at the incredible beauty of the sculpture.

5. So…judging someone’s spiritual status by their list of favorite music … movies… TV… books… businesses… where they buy their socks — it’s just silly. 

We are justified.
We are sanctified.
We are made holy solely through the blood of Jesus Christ and the work of the Cross…. nothing else.

I cannot trust God for my salvation and then try to “work my hardest” to “keep Him happy” during the rest of my Christian life! (Read Galatians)

Yes, we are “to be holy” — to be “set apart” indeed. One might argue that Jesus helps us understand that holiness when He calls us to see that the Law’s demands are inward, and not just outward. And that we are to be known, as His followers, by our LOVE. Not by what music we eschew.

We are losers. Gone. Hopeless— APART from God’s redemptive work.
And THAT is Grace:
you are totally sinful, yet totally loved by your Father.

Your actions will never make you any more or less holy. “Righteous Lot” was tormented in his conscience outside Sodom — but God terms him “righteous.” Unbelievable.

Understand what sin is and educate your conscience.  There’s no righteousness in judgment OR license.  “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

“Redeeming the arts” badly isn’t good enough

Before reading any further, you need to read Joel Stein’s short essay at the end of this week’s issue of Timemagazine:
“Christian Improv: What’s Funny At Warren’s Church”

Stein’s snarky commentary on his experience with the Saddleback improv comedy team brings into the light the underlying failure of the modern Evangelical “redeem the arts” movement:
If you build your reformation on a shaky foundation, you merely produce more fodder for scorn.

I try to write with charity toward my non-Reformed brethren. The Kingdom is big enough for all of us — the central tenets of the Gospel, around which we unite, are simple enough for a child to comprehend and require none of the rancor which usually accompanies fights within Evangelicalism. But this topic will reveal the Reformed anchors in my theology. You’ve been warned. 

Stein’s experience with the Saddleback group illustrates the classic problem Christians encounter when attempting to do anything more than retreat into a holy huddle of irrelevance. We must interact with culture and the people who produce it. How does a Christian do this while maintaining his faith?

Richard Niebuhr made the classic statement of the 5 possible options for Christians interacting with culture. Most Evangelicals find themselves at either position #4, Christ Against Culture, or #5, Christ Transforming Culture. To quote from an article written by professors at Calvin College, the 4th option centers on tension:

The tension option, advocated by Martin Luther, places the Christian in a tension between Christ and culture. We are in the world but not of it and must be careful not to estrange ourselves from the world, but at the same time not to embrace it either. In short, we are citizens of two worlds that are often at odds with each other. 

I was raised in View #4.
Most Reformed folks (myself among them) choose option #5 because of our understanding of God’s goodness in creation, the damage of sin and the Fall, and the spectacular redemptive power of the Gospel:

The final option [Christ transforming culture] fits within the Reformed tradition, as advocated by John Calvin (following some of the work of the early church father Augustine). Calvin believed the appropriate relationship between Christianity and culture was a transformational, or re-formational approach. The Christian must recognize three truths: first, that culture is a manifestation of God’s good creation, an outgrowth of human creativity and community; second, that sin deeply infects every part of the creation, including human culture; and third, that we can redeem culture in the name of Christ. This redemption is a transformation of culture byseeking, enhancing, and celebrating the original good we find in cultural artifacts while identifying the effects of sin (and working to reduce those effects). [emphasis mine for clarity]

The idea that we can somehow divide up this world into ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ seems silly if you agree with the underlying presupposition that creation was entirely good before the Fall broke it. The structure of created things, as Al Wolters explains in Creation Regained, has not changed — sin cannot destroy what God created good. But thedirection of human endeavor and artifacts has changed. We humans can now use the things of this world to rebelagainst its Creator or glorify Him.

The battle against sin lies in the direction of things, not their structure. 

Stein says,

After we prayed about some burgers and then ate some burgers, a troupe member took me to the worship center to see the end of the sermon being given by Warren, who apparently was our warm-up act. He did not make me laugh once. Then as the full house of 160 took their seats in a small meeting room next to the church, we gathered to pray about our performance. Preshow praying, as most professional comedians will tell you, is not quite as confidence-building as shots of Cuervo.

(Aside from putting improv comedy after the sermon … I have to admit, that kinda ruffles my feathers) Does anyone else see the crying shame in all of this?  Prayer is no lucky rabbit’s foot, some sacerdotal blessing required for success, no “lucky potion” a la Harry Potter! My hamburger would be just as much a joyful gift from the Lord whether it had been “blessed” or not.  And the preshow shot of Cuervo would have been just as holy as the burger.

Sin is not in things; neither is holiness. Sin is an aspect of the doer. And on that score, Stein and his Christian partners for the night are equals, apart from saving Grace.

Christians open themselves up for ridicule and criticism NOT when they sit down at a table with unsaved friends and order a glass of wine.  There is no evil in alcohol; there is little righteousness in prohibiting it (except in those rare instances when you are knowingly avoiding putting a stumbling block in front of a friend’s conscience). To fight a “war of righteousness” against alcohol centers the battle in the wrong place.

Christians are not always criticized for our standards of sexual morality per se, for supporting pro-life positions or encouraging abstinence. Stein hints at a different root when he says Christians aren’t funny “because they’re sad about having had sex with only one person.” Don’t fixate on the sex part of the comment — realize instead that he’s talking about a lack of joy. The crying lack of biblical, frank teaching on sex for Christian (whether child or adult) underscores Christian adults’ fears of sex in general–our collective incapacity to deal with what God intended to be a remarkable gift and source of joy for a married couple.

Unbelievers are drunk on sex. Christians prudishly avoid talking about it, thus making sex all the more appealing to their kids (who wonder why no one will talk about enjoying it).  Neither position is correct. And I have come to understand that Law-hedging is actually far more dangerous than wallowing in sin. At least the “sinner” knows he’s living a debauched lifestyle. Self-righteous fence-builders can define the Law so outwardly and precisely that masturbation in front of the TV and blow-jobs in the parking lot are OK for a virgin, as long as “the sex act” was not committed.

Stein’s article hits us on the head with a true assessment — Christianity can’t handle the reality of sex or many other things, even to joke about them (after all, as the Moscow, Idaho folks say, “Laughter is War”).

And it’s because we’ve misdefined SIN.

More to the point of redeeming the arts, we Christians have a lot to learn.

The first, and most important, is to recognize that getting our foundational theology RIGHT at the outset is the most important.  You don’t redeem the arts because they’re nice, or because they used to be a Christian thing, or because we’re tired of being made fun of by the world. If those are your best reasons — not an integrated, holistic understanding of the imago Dei and a Reformational worldview — you’ll always be the butt of this guy’s well-aimed (and deserved) jokes.

If I create something (a song, a post, a painting, the plans for a new kind of business) and fail to recognize the imago Dei at work behind that creativity, I do not yet understand how to redeem the arts.

If I limit my artistic themes to what is considered “safe” by today’s “churchianity” culture (thanks, Sam, for that term), I am treating as taboo that which God does not.  If His themes in Scripture are any indication, artists have the freedom to conquer nearly anything in His name.

If I cannot recognize the difference between the artist and the object, and recognize that Truth, wherever I find it, is God’s Truth,  I am not yet ready to “redeem art.”

If your conscience won’t let you do improv comedy any better than this, find a better hill to claim for God.  Don’t stoop to the unbeliever’s viewpoint on any form or content — but don’t be prudish either.  Define sin and righteously correctly.

Redeeming art badly is NOT enough.
Semper reformandi.  

Some legalism leftovers

leftovers from the recent posts…

To define sin according to my own likes/dislikes or sense of “what’s wise” or preferences or how I was raised — this is a recipe for disaster!

To mislead young ones earns you a quick trip to the bottom of the sea with a millstone for a scarf, says Jesus. He clearly wasn’t kidding around.

God Himself defines sin and righteousness just fine, thank you.  “Love your neighbor” is a heavy enough command to keep you working your entire life before you figure it all out.  “Don’t steal” resonates with implications that the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of driving home as they’re needed.

Allowing people to flesh out the Bible’s clear commands with fences that give the illusion of command-keeping robs the command itself of any power

I have seen adolescents love their broken, damaged friends with abandon and Grace — real Grace.  Imperfect, yes.  Immature, yes.  Sometimes only temporarily, yes.  But usually they put the adults around me to shame.  They are doing good … not passively avoiding trouble.

Adults, for all their griping about teens falling prey to peer pressure, are even bigger cowards sometimes, IMHO.  They really can’t bear to think that people will criticize because their kid wants a nose ring or a mohawk or a pack of cigarettes.
So they build walls to separate their kids from “the sinners.”
They drink a beer while telling their kids, “Do what I say, not what I do — you won’t drink till you’re 21!”
They try to sort everyone into categories of “good people” and “bad people,” forgetting that we are all sinners rescued solely by Grace. The antithesis runs through, not around, every human being and every human institution.

Or worse – such parents inculcate a sense of fear, provoking their kids to have such a tight conscience that the kids can’t handle even hearing someone say fuck; they can’t watch a movie with violence lest the images replay for days in their heads; they blaze with white-hot indignance at the smallest moral infraction.

Legalism by any other name….

Picking up from yesterday’s post (so go read that one first if you’re behind)….

I hesitate to write this because, frankly, I think this issue serves only to highlight my own blind spots, lack of love toward people I disagree with, and sinfulness. ha!  But the topic continues to surface in discourses with people ranging from parents at school to friends in other cities. It merits discussion.

One of the more recent criticisms leveled in our direction has been (supposedly) that we (the Rameys + a few others) label people we disagree with as “legalists.”  The implication is that we’re being unfair, grabbing the moral high ground via ad hominem attacks and labels.

“Legalist” according to Webster is “strict, regimented conformity to a religious or moral code/law.”  Most people I grew up with defined it as “adding works to grace in order to be saved.”  Evangelicals like to broaden that definition to mean “thinking you can make God happy by what you DO, instead of trusting in the blood of Christ to have changed what you really ARE.”

To be fair, my definition of “legalism” has certainly expanded to include finer shades of bad theology (more on that later). But for the record — I’m not the one who’s been tossing around the label when it comes to particular people. I’m happy to categorize ideas. If you find yourself holding to one of them …. well, “if it walks like a duck, and acts like a duck….”  But I don’t generally toss people into categories — humans are too complicated to be easily cataloged.

People bristle at the term “legalist” — and I don’t blame them.  I try to keep my own pride and arrogance in check by reminding myself that I, too, happily attempt to make God happy by what I do (instead of resting in the redemptive love of the Father for my acceptance)…. but I’m a sinner, and I’m pretty sure that even the effort of trying to remember that “I commit the same sin” somehow just feeds my self-righteous pride. *sighs*

Is there a better term for the varieties of warped definitions of sin?
Do we, like our forefather Adam, need to pass these beasts before our eyes and give them new names?

Fundamentalism, with all of its formative influences on my upbringing (and still influencing me by reminding me of bondage I never wish to experience again), was entirely consumed with avoiding sin. My Christian school had a thick rule book.  BJU’s dormitory handbooks took an hour or more just to read.  And each year brought new rules.

Ironically, they picked the worst possible methods for accomplishing their goal. Paul’s words – not mine – in Colossians admonishes “But mere commands like ‘Don’t touch! Don’t taste! Don’t handle that!’ are powerless to restrain sin.”  Setting up “fences” around the Law makes you a good Pharisee (the Gospels are my source here) but a failure at sanctifying yourself.  Galatians (the entire book) screams the message that it is Grace, not Law, which changes us into the image of Christ.  And God saves me because He simply wanted to, not because I was pretty enough to merit His attention.

The term “legalism” didn’t really get popular until the 70s or 80s, and Fundamentalists have an entire system of defenses built against the term by now. Evangelicals have criticized Fundys for decades for merging Southern cultural taboos into their interpretation of God’s standards for holiness. But Fundy’s retort, “Legalism refers to believing in works-salvation. We don’t. So eff off.”

People I’ve encountered in recent years around NCC/NCS have the same “eff-off” attitude, but it’s because they associate the term “legalist” with BJU-type Fundys.  A few examples:

  • A parent literally looked me in the eye and said, “Our family has no problem with alcohol. In fact, we have wine with dinner occasionally. My husband even smokes a cigar once a year. So don’t call me a legalist! I don’t have those hangups” … and then proceeded to suggest that the Much Ado poster with Joey holding an (empty) glass (implying liquor) and people behind him holding cigars crossed the line of what a “Christian school” ought to be portraying in their drama program.   (I don’t wanna harp on drama here — it just happens to be in the spotlight and thus provokes most of the fights.)
  • Somone of importance once criticized my iPod contents. This person implied that I listen to various kinds of music merely because I “was trying to be cool” to form relationships with the kids I teach. (I bristled at the idea that my music tastes are merely a manipulative tool for earning some kind of ‘coolness’ which I can then leverage for ministry purposes.) They asked me if I could maybe find less-controversial ways to be “hip and cool.”


  • The theme becomes all the more common from middle-school parents looking at the upper school: “Yes, we understand your theology,” they tell me. “You’re dead right –No fences! …. But you’re being unrealistic here– some things are just too dangerous for kids to play around with. So stop implying that any kind of music is OK [Ed: That’s an oversimplification of what I think], that teens can drink and smoke [Ed: Also an oversimplification], that it doesn’t matter what people do [Ed: Downright misunderstanding].”

The implications fly by thick and fierce:
If we would simply control behavior, we could control the heart.