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Shepherds’ Conference 2010 – Thursday Q & A with John MacArthur

March 4, 2010 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

Rick Holland sat down with John MacArthur for a Q & A from the audience.  Below are some short excerpts and great comments from this interaction.

>>  When asked if he struggles with the tension involved in the issues of divine election, John said that he struggles with this as well.  He knows he can’t solve all the vast theological issues.  However he does not believe Jesus died for nobody, but for somebody, those elected and atoned for.  The issue is the nature of the atonement.  Why is there a hell and why are people going there?  This is the difficult question to ask.  Romans 9 – who are we to question how He gets glory.  No one goes to hell but that they are guilty of sin and unbelief.

>> Who lives your spiritual life?  
Some would say, the Holy Spirit…but you don’t want to blame Him.  If that is true than what are all the commands about?  “I don’t even know how my own spiritual life works”.

>>  What about disloyal staff members?
Their loyalty comes as a byproduct of my loyalty to them.  Look at The Twelve Ordinary Men.  We are all just a bunch of clay pots.  I take whomever God brings around me.  I’m the last guy that any member wants to come to and complain about a staff memeber.  You get trust when you give trust.

>> When asked about building the church, John’s answer is “No that is Jesus’ job and I don’t want to compete with Him”.

>> I believe in church membership.  This is not a vague issue.  At the day of Pentecost someone counted the number present.  They knew who these people were.  When they were added to the church they were baptized (believer’s baptism).  When you join a church you are coming under pastoral authority.  

>>  In the past, when a church member went from one church to another they went by letter of introduction.  Nowadays we have free-wheeling Christianity.  Many who claim to be Christian, have never been obedient through baptism and have never become members to come under the authority and shepherding of the church.  It is the nature of the Evangelical church today that people come to your church, they refer to them as ”non-member regular attenders”, they should be called “regular, disobedient non-members”.

>> John MacArthur has a new book coming out in January 2011 titled “Slave”.

>> How do you define “style”?
Just about everything the church does is “style”.  John MacArthur says, its “Ok” if people wear clothes somewhat up to date, makeup, various hairstyles.  Grace Church’s stance on music is that the words be God-honoring and that the style doesn’t detract from the words.

>> “Don’t import things that represent the baseness of the world.  I don’t want to look gothic – I don’t want to preach in a black t-shirt with a skull on it.“

>> What do you recommend for a bi-vocational pastor?
Find good resources you can trust and give it the best you can.  Don’t kick yourself if you haven’t read 25 commentaries.  Just give the best understanding that you can.  The best you have to give is in the pulpit.  Be sympathetic, accessible, touchable.  The battle for all of us is the same.

>> What does the Bible say about deaconesses?
“Deacon” means being a servant.  It isn’t an official group.  It is an unofficial designation.  The question really is what is the role women should have serving in the church?  See the book of Titus.

>>  If you are looking for a church (as a pastor), would you accept a position in a church that doesn’t hold the same doctrinal statement?
John said, I’m would not look for the church that doesn’t need me.  Take a challenge.  Teach the Word and see what God might do.  Be patient, love these people and see what God will do.  We can’t keep going around in churches that only believe what we believe.  What is greater than the church that says “we need help”.

>> Paul was the founder of many churches, but he had to go back and correct things all the time.  All people want is a pastor that will love them, embrace them and teach them.  Don’t hit them with limited atonement.  Let them trust you, earn their trust and then teach them.

Shepherds’ Conference 2010 – Wednesday Evening Notes from John MacArthur

March 4, 2010 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

The evening session at the Shepherd’s Conference was taught by John MacArthur with a message on Integrity.  If you would like to view the live stream of the conference, go here.

There are three levels of integrity:

  1. In your own family.
    Your life should match the message you preach so that the people that trust you never lose that trust.
  2. In the church.
    The downside to spending a long time at one church, is that there are no secrets.  There is a level of exposure in this kind of long-term ministry.  The upside is if by the grace of God you can survive with your integrity intact there is great joy in the church family that is hard to describe.
  3. People you influence beyond your church.
    They know you can be trusted as well.  Psalm 25 – “let integrity and uprightness preserve me”  Psalm 41:2 “uphold me in my integrity”  John MacArthur said personally, “Don’t let me live in any way that is divergent from what I preach and what I believe”.

Integrity should mark the one with the most at stake (the spokesman, the model, the leader). Integrity means whole or complete before the Lord.  Every part of your life should be in perfect order with every other part.  “Integer” means undivided, sincere (without wax), blameless and above reproach.

In today’s world the focus is on goals, courage, energy, individuality, and imagination whereas Scripture is more concerned about your integrity, your life, and your virture.  The most important thing you have is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Nobody wants to be Ted Haggard or anyone else like that.  You can’t hide that…eventually it comes out.

It is a hard thing to defend your integrity against your critics.  John MacArthur says he has had a lot of them, and with the internet they have gone “interplanetary”.  The hardest thing is to be accused of being unfaithful or unbiblical. When John MacArthur started into ministry he asked his father to pray for him and his father said he would pray two things for him:

  1. To protect him from sin and
  2. To protect him from people who accuse him of sins he didn’t commit.

Do you have a life worth defending?

Defending yourself doesn’t have to be self-serving or self-centered, because when untrue criticism comes against you it can destroy people’s trust in your ministry.  This can have a terrible fall-out.  In one sense it doesn’t matter.  Its not about personal feelings, self-esteem, self-protection, or a blissful life.  It is about what it does to your ministry opportunity.  It cuts you off from the people that buy into the lies being spread.  This can be especially painful within the church.  John MacArthur experienced this himself when a number of years ago 200 people left his church during the assault of a false accusation.

Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:11, and the phrase “we persuade men”.  This is in regard to Paul’s integrity.  He had been accused by the false teachers in Corinth who were trying to destroy the congregation’s trust in Paul.  So Paul had to “persuade” Corinth of his own integrity.  The accusers then attacked Paul’s virtue. Paul renounced that and said there was no hidden life (see Chapter 6 – “giving no offense”).  They accused Paul of being proud.  He said he was nothing but an earthen vessel.  They accused Paul of being in ministry for sexual favors and money.  He said he took advantage of no one.  They questioned his apostleship.  They attacked his giftedness and they attacked his message. All of these accusations were flying around the Corinthian church and gaining ground.

Defend yourself if you have a life worth defending.

God knows our true spiritual condition.   He knows your heart.  2 Corinthians 1:12 says “the testimony of our conscience”  He is saying that his conscience is clear.  Verse 11 then says  “I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences”.  Paul tells them he trusts their consciences better than the accusers because they know Paul personally.

There are five reasons to defend your ministry:

  1. Reverence for the Lord.
    A reverential awe  “therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord”.  John MacArthur said that the most driving thing in his life is his view of God, which drives his view of Scripture.  He said the hardest thing to deal with in criticism is to think that I would do anything to bring shame on the name of Christ.  My fear of the Lord controls my life.  Not that I’m afraid of God, but that I love Him and I want to glorify Him
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  2. Concern for the church
    vs 12  “those who take pride in appearance and not in heart” this described the accusers because false religion cannot change the heart.  False accusations were harming the church’s confidence in Paul and this hurts the unity of the church.  Paul was asking the Corinthians to defend him.  They needed to take up his case “so that you will have an answer”.  You want to have a church that rallies around you because they are rallying around the truth.
  3. Devotion to the truth
    vs 13.  Paul is being accused of being insane or mad.  But Paul says if I appear overly excited and passionate it is for the truth of God.  He was a fanatic for God.  How could he not be passionate and zealous because of the divine truth he had received.
  4. Gratitude for saving love
    What is behind all of this “for the love of Christ controls us….”  Paul fought for this because he was so grateful to God.  The verse also ways “One died for all” – who is “all”?  It is qualified in this text.  It doesn’t say “one died for all and all were saved”.  In some way all are believers in limited atonement, either you limit it or God does.  This “all” is “all who died”, so this is all who died and all who rose in Him.  Do not allow yourself to think that God did the same for all those in hell as those who are in heaven.  All sinners are dead and blind so how can they activate a potential atonement.  

John MacArthur said he can never get over that Christ didn’t die a general vague death, He died for me.  “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep”  This wasn’t because of my wisdom, my power, but I was moved by God to repentance and to life and faith.  This is what overwhelms him, the power of the cross.  He said he sings about the cross because he sees himself there.  This is why Paul lived the life he lived.  The cross so dramatically changed him.  This sovereign love causes Paul to live a life out of sheer gratitude.

Shepherds’ Conference 2010 – Wednesday Morning Notes from John MacArthur

March 3, 2010 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

This week, David is attending the Shepherds’ Conference held annually at Grace Church in Los Angeles, California.  I’ll be posting some notes and photos.  If you would like to view the conference LIVE, go here.

The morning began with beautiful music from the men of The Master’s Seminary, followed by a solo from Jubilant Sykes.  John MacArthur was the first speaker this morning and the notes from his message follow.

Separation was a big issue during John MacArthur’s growing up years.  Today, we live in an age of tolerance and acceptance, so what is to be the relationship between believers and non-believers?

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

This entire portion of Scripture is summed up in Chapter 7 verse 1: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Separation is a cleansing from defilement both internally and outwardly. The distinction between being a Christian and being a non-Christian has been blurred.  These are two opposing realms; righteousness vs. unrighteousness, Christ vs. Satan.  They are distinct and different, they cannot work together, they cannot have fellowship.  One is earthly, the other heavenly.  Believers cannot exist in both worlds.  Friendship with the world is enmity with God.  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your  mind.”  Romans 12:2  The Corinthians were trying to live in two worlds.

Paul poured a lot of his life into Corinth and he was realizing that Satan had come and attacked the church.  Demons were assaulting the church with a compromise of pagan religion and idolatry, all for the purpose of making Christianity more popular and more readily received.  There is nothing new.

Everyone’s behavior goes back to their view of God. II Corinthians 6:14 says we have to be distinct from the world.  This is a command.

What Paul is not saying is that we never talk to unbelievers, we are told to take the gospel to the end of the earth.  He is not calling for complete isolation.  He is calling for the church to be a separate entity.  The culture and the church are separate.  We must reach the people of this world, but you can’t marry the church to the culture.

False teachers always come in with a blend of teaching and the culture.

II Corinthian 6:14-18 presents five reasons for separation.

  1. It is irrational.
    These two opposing views are pulling in opposite directions and are controlled by opposite leaders.  Paul begins with questions regarding this:
    What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?
    “Partner” means to “find common ground”.  This is impossible!  Unbelievers are “without law”.  In Matthew 7:22-23 religious people are told “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”  They are disobedient to the law of God.  Again in Matthew 23:27-28 the Pharisees and scribes are guilty of “lawlessness”.  Hebrews 1:9 says “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.”  Ephesians 2:12 describes unbelievers as strangers with no hope and without God.  Whereas believers are righteous, forgiven, and  have a new nature.  Titus 2:14 says that believers are freed from every lawless deed.
    What fellowship has light with darkness?
    Light and dark are incompatible, they cannot coexist.  See I John and Colossians 1.  We have been called out of darkness into light.  

These first two questions have to do with our nature, the next questions have to do with the leadership of these two realms.
    What harmony has Christ with Belial?
    Unbelievers are subjects controlled by their father the devil. God uses Satan, but He does not associate with him.  The word “harmony” means coming together in a common cause.  “Belial” was used in OT and describes corruptions, a worthless person, Satan.  See Ephesians 2:2-3.  Satan is primarily religious.  Remember the story of Dagon in I Samuel.  There must never be fusion of God and Satan

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    What has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Amos 3:3
  2. It is sacreligious. I Corinthians 1
    There are just these two options.  You can’t mix devil worshippers with God worshippers.  A church is a defined group of people who have come together and separated themselves from the Satanic system.  There is no hope for commonality with the other realm.  2 Kings 21 shows the results of Manasseh reconnecting with the culture.  He put idols in the house of the Lord and made his son pass through the fire, practiced divinations etc…provoking God to anger.  Verse 9 says he seduced them to do evil.    

Pagans don’t mind joining Christians, they welcome it because Satan wants to infiltrate, and it gives them legitimacy.  We can’t join with unbelievers in any enterprise that involves God’s name, that is blasphemy.  Why?  Because we are the temple of the living God and the “Living God” is in contrast to dead idols.  Any joining of ourselves in any common enterprise with unbelievers is a sacreligion.  It is putting our God next to Dagon.  And its even worse to call them believers.  We are His dwelling place. Can we make spiritual heros of people who violate these commands? Church discipline is necessary in these situations.
  3. It is disobedient.
    How do we separate?  “Don’t touch what is unclean”.  It is such a privilege to be the temple of God that it leaves us no alternative but to be obedient to Him.  Paul calls the Corinthians to break all ties.  Remember Revelation 18, a picture of the world under anti-Christ, the final false world religion.  What is the message for the believer for that day?   “Come out of her my people.”  This passage could describe this culture today.  We can’t make a truce with any culture.  It is commanded that we come out.  “Be holy because I am holy”.  To import the styles of the world, is to import the culture and destroy the church.  Don’t “touch” implies a touch of intimacy, it is saying don’t fornicate with the world.  It is a harmful touch.
  4. It is unprofitable.
    If you want to experience the favor of God, don’t do this.  There can be no fellowship or blessing until you become separate.  There is immense reward for the Christian that does separate.  God embraces those who separate themselves.
    John MacArthur then said “I don’t want to come to the end of my ministry and wonder whether God did it or I did it.”  “I’m not narrow minded separatist.  I want above all to obey the Word of God and be in the place of blessing.  I don’t want to make decisions that can actually cut off divine blessing from my people.  I want my wife and family to know the favor of God.”
    Great promises were given to David, but Solomon forfeited all of it.  Look at I Kings 11resulting in a split kingdom, the favor was gone.  John MacArthur then also said “I want all the discipline I need to be holy and no more” – I want to experience God’s protective discipline but not the corrective discipline.
  5. It is ungrateful.
    II Corinthians 7:1  We have all the promises of being a child of God. This verse moves beyond the commands and gives blessing for obedience.  God has poured out endless promises.  “I will dwell in them and walk among them…”  Ask yourself, “Do I want the accolades of man in exchange for the favor of God?”  There is only one true grateful response – cleanse ourselves.  Let us cleanse ourselves from defiling alliances.  

The question is then asked, “If we isolate ourselves won’t it be hard to reach the world?”  No, you can’t reach the world anyway, God does.  The whole purpose is produce holiness in our lives.  He is our full delight.  He called you to Himself; He expects you to be obedient; You owe Him obedience and honor.  When you do this, watch God embrace you.

HOW DID THE SON OF HAMAS COME TO CHRIST? PART 1

March 3, 2010 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

UPDATE: Mosab’s first global TV interview will be tonight at 9pm eastern on CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour.

(Nashville, Tennessee) — Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to finally meet Mosab Hassan Youssef for the first time. We spoke last year by phone several times, but this was the first time we had ever met in person. We spent about an hour together with several of our colleagues here at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, site of the National Religious Broadcasters convention. We talked at length about his fascinating new book, Son of Hamas, and the enormous challenges new facing him as he explains to the world why he renounced Islam and became a follower of Jesus Christ, and why he chose to become a spy against Hamas for the State of Israel for ten years.

Later, Mosab was my guest at the NRB “International Luncheon.” At the end of my remarks on ”Israel, The Iran Threat and Modern Day Lessons From The Book of Esther,” I introduced him, explained a little of his story, described a bit of the book, and invited him to come up to the podium to share from his heart. He spoke for about five minutes, and received three standing ovations. However, what had been a very joyful meeting in the morning between us as two brothers – brought together by our mutual love for Jesus Christ – had turned very sad by lunch. Just moments before the luncheon began, Mosab learned the news through various Middle Eastern news services that his father and family disowned him. He was deeply pained and visibly shaken, but as he spoke he said he loved his family and would never disown them. What’s more, he vowed to follow his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, no matter what, and he said he was at war with “the god of Islam” to liberate the Palestinian people and help them find freedom in Christ.

I was impressed with Mosab — his faith, his love for his people, and his great courage. And as I watched him speak to the NRB audience, I thought of Matthew 19:29-30, when Jesus told His disciples that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

  • Please continue praying for Mosab as he embarks on a series of very important media interviews.
  • [To view updated media schedule from www.sonofhamas.com, please click here.]
  • Pray that the joy of the Lord would be his strength.
  • Pray that the Lord would show him what to study in the Bible every day.
  • Pray that the Lord would continue to surround him with strong Christian brothers who can teach him, disciple him, mentor him, and encourage him through this challenging season.
  • Pray that he can communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Pray for his father, mother and siblings to come to know Christ personally, so they too can be forgiven of their sins and go to heaven for all eternity.
  • Pray that millions of Palestinians and other Muslims will hear the gospel through him and that many will come to faith in Christ.
  • Please pray, too, John 12:49 (NIV) for him, that the Father would command him “what to say, and how to say it.”

Apologizing The Biblical Way

February 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Radio Program Hour 2, Radio Show

Play

Professional golfer Tiger Woods recently made a public apology for his marital infidelities that was televised around the world.  It brought up the question: When we offend God and others through our actions or words, what is the biblical way to apologize?

We’ll compare and contrast portions of Woods’ apology with notable ones in Scripture, namely, King David and the prodigal son. Read more

Kingdom Now … Or Later?

February 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Radio Program Hour 1, Radio Show

Play

Guest: Phil Johnson, Executive Director, Grace to You

TRANSCRIPT

The kingdom.  You read about it all over Scripture, but what exactly does it mean?

Does the kingdom refer to a present reality on earth or a future reign?  How is the kingdom of God similar or different than the kingdom of heaven?  How is the kingdom defined in different ways by different people?  Read more

Onward Christian Sportsmen … Or Not?

February 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Radio Program Hour 2, Radio Show

Play

In a culture of high-level sports marked by self-aggrandizement, high bodily risks, drug use, sexual immorality, corruption, and greed, would you want your Christian son or daughter to be a part of it?

Or what about competition itself?  Should Christians be competitive — striving to win even if that means others losing — or does competition result in non-Christ-like qualities Read more

How Much of the Gospel Must One Understand to Be Saved?

February 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Radio Program Hour 1, Radio Show

Play

TRANSCRIPT

The jailer in Phillipi asked one of his inmates, the Apostle Paul: “What must I do to be saved.”  Paul’s answer was simple, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

But what does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?  Here’s how some would answer: “You just have to accept Jesus into your heart.” Read more

Netanyahu Arrives In Moscow

February 16, 2010 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

Israeli PM Netanyahu meets Russian President Medvedev at the Kremlin on Monday, February 15th.

ANALYSIS: The Iran issue is heating up this week. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Moscow at 2:45am local time for two days of meetings with senior Russian leaders at the Kremlin. His main focus: trying to persuade President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin to support “crippling economic sanctions” against Iran at the U.N., and to promise not to deliver and install the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system that Russia agreed several years ago to sell to Iran.

In recent days, there have been some indications from the Kremlin that the Russians might go along with sanctions. But no firm decision has yet been announced and the situation is very complicated given the increasingly close alliance Russia and Iran are building together.

Also questionable is whether China would support real sanctions. International pressure on Beijing to do so is building. Vice President Biden is indicating that he believes China will back — or not veto — sanctions in the Security Council. But this remains to be seen. Beijing imports 15% of its oil from Iran and could suffer economically from turning against Iran.

The White House and State Department, to their credit, having been working hard for the past month both to create an international consensus to back new sanctions, and to show renewed solidarity with Israel.

> Vice President Biden is planning to head to Israel within weeks to coordinate on the Iran issue.

> Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Israel over the weekend to meet with Israeli defense officials and coordinate on the Iran issue. He also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Mullen warned that an Israeli first strike on Iran could have “unintended consequences.” Still, he pointedly noted that the military option was still very much on the table.

> Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been meeting in recent days with senior officials in Qatar and Saudi Arabia,  urging the Arabs to unify against Iran lest the Persians obtain nuclear weapons and promising the U.S. will defend its allies from Iranian threats. ”The United States, Mrs. Clinton said, would protect its allies in the gulf from Iranian aggression — a pledge that echoed the idea of a ’security umbrella” that she advanced last summer in Asia,” reported the International Herald Tribune. “She noted that the United States already supplied defensive weapons to several of these countries, and was prepared to bolster its military assistance if necessary. ‘We will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies, and we will certainly defend countries who are in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran,’ she said. ‘We also are talking at length with a lot of our friends in the Gulf about what they need defensively in the event that Iran pursues its nuclear ambitions.’”

Netanyahu is backing the Obama administration’s efforts to get serious sanctions passed and implemented by the U.N. He is in Moscow pushing the Russians to back crippling sanctions and to at least delay the S-300 system. He is doing so to exhaust every peaceful means possible of stopping Iran from getting the Bomb. This is admirable. But time is running out. Iran is getting dangerously close to having nuclear weapons. Netanyahu knows this better than most world leaders. He recently ordered several Israeli missile boats through the Suez Canal en route to the Persian Gulf region. He is steadily getting Israel ready for potentially the biggest war in its history.

Now is the time to be praying and fasting like never before:

  • Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
  • Pray for the Prime Minister, that the Lord owuld touch his heart, draw the PM close to Himself, and reveal Himself and His wisdom to the PM in a dramatic and special way.
  • Pray that the Lord given wisdom to the PM’s advisors and military leaders.
  • Pray that the Lord changes the regime in Tehran, or at least dramatically change their hearts.
  • Pray that the Lord would strengthen His Church in Israel, Iran and throughout the epicenter
  • Pray that the Lord would awaken His Church around the world to “learn, pray, give and go” to His work in the epicenter.
  • Please also pray that the Lord would give our Joshua Fund team wisdom and His grace as we seek to educate and mobilize the Church to show Israel unconditional love and unwavering support; as we seek to provide food, clothing, medical supplies and other relief aid to the poor and needy in the epicenter; and as we seek to stockpile supplies in Israel ahead of the next war.

Just How Secular Can an Education Be?

February 16, 2010 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

Lisa Miller of Newsweek begins her article with what would seem to be a statement beyond dispute:  “It doesn’t take a degree from Harvard to see that in today’s world, a person needs to know something about religion.” Note that she does not make any specific religious or theological claims, and that her horizon of concern is decidedly this-worldly. She simply makes the common sense observation that a knowledge of religion is important in these times. This would make perfect sense to any journalist, and to just about any other person of intelligence and curiosity.

Nevertheless, that opening sentence about it not taking “a degree from Harvard” to see all this is filled with intentional irony, for Lisa Miller is taking Harvard University to task for its “crisis of faith” — which amounts to a crisis in its curriculum for undergraduates. As Miller explains, “the Harvard faculty cannot cope with religion.”

As she looks around the globe, Miller sees religion as a driving force of world events. In her words:

The conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians; between Christians, Muslims, and animists in Africa; between religious conservatives and progressives at home over abortion and gay marriage—all these relate, if indirectly, to what rival groups believe about God and scripture. Any resolution of these conflicts will have to come from people who understand how religious belief and practice influence our world: why, in particular, believers see some things as worth fighting and dying for.

But a 2006 proposal to require Harvard undergraduates to take at least one course in religion was flattened by faculty opposition. In that year, Harvard was considering a revised curriculum for undergraduates. Louis Menand, an influential English professor, and Steven Pinker, a well-known evolutionary psychologist, locked horns in a battle that went public, but ended with no religion requirement. Pinker argued that the modern university should be a completely secular space, where reason, and not faith, was the only legitimate concern.

Miller explains:

In the end, Menand & Co. backed down, and the matter never made it to a vote. A more brutal fight was put off for another day. But that’s a pity—for Harvard, its students, and the rest of us who need leaders better informed about faith and the motivations of the faithful. Harvard may or may not be the pinnacle of higher learning in the world, but because it is Harvard, it reflects—for better or worse—the priorities of the nation’s intellectual set. To decline to grapple head-on with the role of religion in a liberal-arts education, even as debates over faith and reason rage on blogs, and as publishers churn out books defending and attacking religious belief, is at best timid and at worst self-defeating.

In the midst of that fight, Pinker wrote a column for The Harvard Crimson that roiled the waters at Harvard. In that column he chided Menand and other colleagues for even contemplating a “faith and reason” component of a Harvard undergraduate education. First, he suggested that “faith” is just a code-word for religion. Then, he added:

Second, the juxtaposition of the two words makes it sound like “faith” and “reason” are parallel and equivalent ways of knowing, and we have to help students navigate between them. But universities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for “Astronomy and Astrology” or “Psychology and Parapsychology.” It may be true that more people are knowledgeable about astrology than about astronomy, and it may be true that astrology deserves study as a significant historical and sociological phenomenon. But it would be a terrible mistake to juxtapose it with astronomy, if only for the false appearance of symmetry.

In other words, even the use of “faith and reason” is illegitimate for Harvard (or for any other university) because faith has no place at all in the secular space of modern academia.

Miller recognizes the awkwardness of this claim, given Harvard’s history. “Harvard’s distaste for engaging with religion as an academic subject is particularly ironic, given that it was founded in 1636 as a training ground for Christian ministers,” Miller notes.  “According to the office of the president, Veritas was only officially adopted as its motto in 1843; until then it had been Christo et Ecclesiae (“For Christ and the Church”).”

She also notes that other major universities, including schools such as the University of Texas, Arizona State, and Indiana University, do include religion in the undergraduate curriculum and enroll a considerable number of majors.

Peter Gomes, Harvard’s chaplain, told Miller, “My colleagues fear that taking religion seriously would undermine everything a great university stands for . . . . I think that’s unfounded, but there it is.”

The secularization of the modern university is one of the most significant intellectual developments of the past century. The most elite institutions of high education have, by and large, been the most ardent secularizers. Many of these, like Harvard, were established on explicitly Christian beliefs and for the purpose of educating future ministers. To professors like Steven Pinker, this is an embarrassment.

Pinker’s evolutionary psychology, well documented in his many writings, is one of the most reductionistic models of thought to be found. He reduces the human being and all human experience to the merely physical — everything experienced or imagined by the human being is nothing more than the work ofbiochemicals and physical entities that emerged out of the evolutionary process. Nevertheless, Pinker’s insistence on keeping Harvard free of any noteworthy study of religion at the undergraduate level prevailed.

Lisa Miller is perplexed by the Harvard faculty’s “anxiety about religion.” She is rightly distressed that students “can graduate from Harvard without having to grapple directly with questions about a world in which people define themselves and their histories according to their views of God.” Idolizing reason, the university has become unreasonable.

By now, evangelical Christians are well aware of the secularization of modern academia. Nevertheless, the secular extremism of faculty members like Steven Pinker — who won the battle at Harvard, after all — is unknown to many outside the modern university.

Lisa Miller is right to call this ideological secularism “unreasonable.” It is more than that, of course. It is a clean and undeniable example of what might best be described as secular fundamentalism.

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