Bucketheads and Broken Legs
Why truth seems harder to come by nowadays
My father has this tendency to clear out the fridge and concoct a stew with every assortment of leftovers. There’s no recipe. Every spoonful raises the question of, where did this come from? Ignorance is probably preferable.
This rough idea for a blogpost has been on my mind for a while now. I hinted at it in my previous post but wanted to expand and develop those ideas more fully. And, while I feel like I know what I want my main argument to be, I honestly am struggling to pick my demonstrative, interesting anecdote. This is so common that it’s hardly worth describing a specific scenario in detail.
I won’t bury the lede. There is confusion everywhere.
“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” 1 Timothy 1:6–7
Here’s that anecdote anyways…
After my 8th grade year, my family decided for me to switch schools. I moved from a small, Classical Christian education where I had teachers literate in apologetics, ancient Hebrew, and Latin over and across the cultural pacific to a 900 person freshman class at Jenks High School with stink bombs, atheists, and the predominant 6A state champion football program #Trojans4Life. I cherished both experiences and thought they were each perfect for me while I was in each, but that is not at all to deny the gulf between them. The culture around Christianity at Regent and other Christian private schools is really an interesting one. Christianity, for as much as it was discussed by adults, was neglected almost entirely in student-exclusive contexts. It almost never found itself into the lunch table conversations or the late-night musings of sleepovers. (‘Reflections on Private Christian Education’ might be for another time). There was this assumption that we had all ‘checked that box’ and as such had no reason to discuss what was a settled matter; our tickets to the pearly gates had long since been punched, or so we understood.
Related interjection: Have I mentioned how naively idiotic I was/am?
So if Jesus didn’t participate in my lunches then, what was going to cause that to change at Jenks? A lot actually.
Early on during my freshman year my social crowd was a bare collection of loose acquaintances. They were friends of a former Regent peer who’d left for public school the year previous, and I tagged along with them as the only names I recognized. This was a friend group who I had actually known loosely before school. Many of us attended a Christian summer camp together. This is Oklahoma. We all professed Christianity, and I assumed a similar value structure to the one that I had grown up with. I was wrong (see above interjection).
This all came to a head when a student “came-out” as “bisexual”. My parentheses are quite intentional here. In a biblical worldview these words are totally incoherent. Let us instead say this girl proudly announced her broad sexual proclivities and sought to affirm this sin as inextricable from her existence. I was 14 and confused. I knew vaguely that the Bible said something about this in Leviticus. As such, I had some degree of confidence in what may be described as a ‘second-hand wisdom’ that there was something rotten in Denmark, but it wasn’t much to lean on. I was befuddled. Upon expressing my position with some tentativeness, I was quickly socially rejected and loudly condemned. In retrospect this should have been validation that I was doing something right, but at the time it probably only heightened my perplexity. That week I called my mid-20’s small group leader to hopefully get some guidance and ask him what the Bible had to say about all of this. I received not much more than what I already had. He didn’t know what he was talking about either.
What is this confusion? I don’t need to belabor the clear biblical teaching regarding homosexual tendencies/behavior. See: Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, Leviticus 17–20, and read Dr. Michael Brown if you want that.
I’m more curious about this confusion. What was going on in my head? On a basic level I was reconciling biblical teaching with the world’s morality, but how should we understand the way these competing ideas interact?
Sociologists would probably term the ability to poorly harmonize the two utterly discordant notes as cognitive dissonance. And yet, with something as core to a person’s functioning and soul as faith is, this explanation leaves me wanting. There’s something more going on.
Here’s a Metaphor
See, people carry above their heads a morality bucket. It all goes in there: a parent’s offhand comment from childhood, that book you read, the weird look your friend gave you. Kony 2012, Joel Osteen’s feel good message, and one of those TikToks where pointing at virtual words in your bedroom is supposed to be convincing. All of this informs our worldview, one which is largely unexamined. Who knows what is up there? (Maybe there’s a poor man’s funnel of causality from the political socialization research we could create for this in case you’re reading Dr. Shortle).
That bucket is being fed constantly: and not like it used to, with the hors d’oeuvres of the morning paper and evening news. This is Golden Corral on an empty stomach. I’m talking 8 hours a day of screen-time. That’s the norm. This generation is drinking from a firehose of TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat morality. And that should frighten you.
Don’t just hear a simplistic critique of one’s garbage-to-edifying content consumption ratio. The equation is not as simple as the Bible says one thing and the world says another, so let’s listen to the Bible and not listen to the world. That is what is happening, but the lines aren’t that clear. The enemy’s language is deception. The world will be quick to say they don’t hate God (not that much at least), but that they just hate cis-white-heteronormative-evangelic-males. And the truth is that I could delete a couple of those prefixes and command a chorus of disdain for such a group to a crowd of amens and ovations in almost every congregation in the country. Many would not require any such prefix accommodations. And there is no shortage of preachers on YouTube or TikTok who will do just that and accommodate the Bible to the latest political trend. This is all the same old moral posturing, but on a whole new scale, indoctrination perpetually preached from the 16x9 pocket pulpit. At all hours of the day and night, the dump truck brings another load in.
Yet we have always been foreigners. Our generation has always been crooked. The problem is that Christians aren’t responding to this mess in confidence and clarity. They’re just lost. Pastors don’t always help either. Even pastors who will correctly describe biblical teaching will defang the passage by keeping their calls to repentance vague and assuring their congregation that this is just one’s individual, personal interpretation of scripture. But, to these men, have you not experienced life in truth? The joy is too great to behold. So without hesitation call brothers to this same joy, out of the darkness of sin. But sadly many continue to, instead, fog the windshield and muddy the waters. A few hours later congregants are too distracted by Sunday Night Football to give much care. Maybe they disagreed with his weak tone or were jolted by the Bible’s message, but Tom Brady is coming back for another season with the Buccaneers. They’re clearly too busy to investigate the issue further.
And thus confusion proliferates.
Christians in America live on a diet of verse-of-the-day, pastor on Sunday, biblical literacy (if we’re lucky). And those teachings do get thrown above one’s head into the morality bucket (remember the bucket). But so does all of the refuse. (And honestly picking just one disparaging word in the previous sentence to describe the dominant morality of the day was difficult.) The incongruities of everything up there in the pail are plain as day, but the rats have locked up the health inspector with ropes and zip-ties w̵i̵t̵h̵ ̵c̵e̵n̵s̵o̵r̵s̵h̵i̵p̵ ̵a̵n̵d̵ ̵d̵i̵s̵t̵r̵a̵c̵t̵i̵o̵n̵. No need to look too closely. Nothing to see here.
Part of the problem is how people are so easily satisfied with i̶m̶polite nods to the truth. “The Bible is all about love?”, they say. Perhaps it is the olive twig of, “I know not all Christians are like this”, and “You want to be one of the good ones, don’t you?” They will say, “You can believe what you want for yourself, but don’t force your faith on other people,” to gaslight you into thinking that conservative evangelicals are the draconian taskmasters, not the sin itself or sin’s enforcers who’ve strung up the bakers and florists on the poles out front.
Then they sprinkle in some doubt by reminding you that the Bible says your shirt can’t be cotton and polyester, we’ve found dinosaur bones, and that the gospel of Thomas says some weird stuff. From an argumentative standpoint, they refuse to defend anything, so you, actually having a singular belief to target, are left to answer for all of these. If your faith is not in God, but in the fossil record, you’re not going to be able to respond with confidence. God is certainly the God of the fossil record, but you will never be able to as confidently testify to that as you will be able to testify to the finished work of Christ which intersects every breath you breathe, every trial you face, and every blessing and joy experienced. But people don’t have this faith or the discipline which produces it, and the result is a confused and weak Christian worldview. People may know they need Jesus, but now it’s a Christianity with qualifications. I’m not one of those Christians. See their Christianity is one that is Gospel centered, but not in the way you might think. They’re ‘centered’ because they’ve reduced their wheel to a hub without any spokes, stuck in the mud. And the onlookers approve because that is a Christianity that can’t go anywhere or do anything (stealing this metaphor from Doug). What makes this even more tempting of a proposition is that they can worship the world’s bad ideas and just be the Christian version. Christian woke. Christian feminists. Christian LGBTQDOLEDTV+ (Excited about the new display technology. Could be a game-changer.)
This is an absolute dumpster fire. This generation is being taught their morality without any identifiable gatekeeper, on a scale we cannot fathom. Much of it is dressed up as true Christianity, which reframes rejections of scripture as mere differences of style. Then this immorality is accompanied by a mountain of arguments designed to stoke festering doubts. But instead of setting the record straight, the truth is softened to be more palatable to the world. Christianity is reduced to “love people” (whatever convenient definition you choose). And though the bookshelf and prayer closet beckon us to wisdom, Christians proceed to starve themselves by lacking any semblance of discipline. So there’s no standard to raise this all against. So yeah, it’s no wonder people don’t know what’s going on.
But Wait, There’s More…
My point isn’t even that this is necessarily malicious or intentional by Christians. They have this amorphous formation of supposedly moral things in their bucket, and they are trying to live by them. Any disagreements or incoherencies are blurry. And this is where the small lies chip the foundation just a little bit here and there (remember how well that worked the first time).The Bible says something about loving your neighbor so maybe that means not telling them they’re wrong. The Bible says something about repentance so maybe that means white guilt. The Bible says something about giving to the impoverished, so maybe that means anti-capitalism. The Bible says something about “there is no male or female” so maybe that means transgenderism or feminism. The Bible says something about justice, so maybe that means reparations. The Bible says something about being quick to listen and slow to speak, so maybe that means I should shut my mouth as a white man if I talk about race or a̸b̸o̸r̸t̸i̸o̸n̸ infanticide. This creates a false equivalency between political (let’s be honest I’m primarily talking about leftist) dogma and scripture. There is no distinction. It’s all given equal weight. Anything else would be greedy and unloving.
Too often, though the problem is worse than that. They get the order all sorts of backwards, reversed, and upside down. Christianity becomes conditional on those norms. There are regular testimonies of people struggling with joining a church because of how evangelicals seem to be the ones against reproductive rights, they are racists, they are massive polluters and hate the environment. They won’t be a Christian unless those issues are resolved.
One’s initial response to these claims, because our agreeableness tends us towards appeasement, is to assuage them by saying that the Bible does actually have something to say about the environment, racism, etc. This is prescribing penicillin for a broken leg. It’s a misdiagnosis of the issue entirely. God will only be their God if He does so on their terms. They’re not about to let the Bible speak on its own. Like the Israelite remnant in Jeremiah, they want to go to Egypt and were actually just hoping God could rubber stamp their passport. The whole ‘asking for guidance’ thing was just for show. They want a God that keeps them on the throne and allows them to determine wrong from right, which is to say, not God at all.
More Than Penicillin
So how does one heal a broken leg? We can’t. But in God’s grace he has made miraculous bodies which are designed to heal without abandoning us to gorilla glue the fragments back together. That being said, God’s grace has also provided us with some useful tools of modern medicine, which we would be remiss to ignore.
Run an X-ray to find the break
Be wary of your co-belligerents. I don’t say this because co-belligerents can’t be helpful. I’ll take help from a lot of places to see the end of a̸b̸o̸r̸t̸i̸o̸n̸ Moloch worship. One helpful heuristic is to ask, who is taking who on a ride? Are they using you or are you using them? If the exact same logic that you are using to defend the race woke nonsense can be casually shifted over to refusing gender norms, can be casually shifted over to transgenderism, can be casually shifted over to gay marriage (you name the nonsense of this day), then you might want to consider whether you are playing their game or they are playing yours. Getting ambitious while trimming off around the edges can create a religion that is either dead or unrecognizable, likely both.
Is it just a fracture or something more serious?
Are you using the alphabet vocabulary? Have you accepted their taxonomy of the world regarding oppression and sin? This is ultimately a question of final authority: who has the last say? One thing is clear, the woke leaders find the Bible, the source of Christian authority, incredibly inconvenient. Something that says hierarchy is a part of God’s design? Something that says all have fallen short of the glory of God? Salvation through the cross instead of pharisaical, law-ridden sensitivity trainings and cancel culture sacrifices? Someone else already paid that debt? It doesn’t mesh. And that is all before you point out how the Bible has very specific ideas about men, women, and sexual behavior. These people are not your friends so don’t try to appeal to them.
Jeremiah describes this best:
“What are you doing, you devastated one? Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold? Why highlight your eyes with makeup? You adorn yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they want to kill you. I hear a cry as of a woman in labor, a groan as of one bearing her first child — the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands and saying, “Alas! I am fainting; my life is given over to murderers.”
Set the leg and put a cast on it
Next, we need clarity from the pulpit. We need men who will preach the truth unabashedly and equip their congregation with the weapons of discernment: that they may tactfully wield that double edged sword.
People don’t trust the Church to make these distinctions. There are lots of reasons why, many are described above and are outside a pastor’s direct influence. I would contend that one of the reasons that the church isn’t trusted to make distinctions is because the church doesn’t make distinctions, at least not on a local level. And maybe if they made a regular enough pattern of this they would be trusted. It all revolves around the question of, “Who do you want to come in the door and what kind of creation do you want those people to be when they walk out of it?”
Exercise the muscles so they don’t atrophy
Assume nothing and question everything. We find answers by humbly coming off our throne and entering the hallowed halls of scripture with contrition, that we may walk out with the joy of encountering truth. This antidote to confusion is hard work. It means you need the Bible to percolate beyond your therapeutic, provisional, and relational needs (although indeed praise God it does intersect those things). It requires you to know exactly where this morality came from. The sword of the spirit is devastatingly sharp and it carves in one’s heart of stone painful truths, etching the law of God in dreadful ways until the shards of pride lay scattered before you, with their chains smashed alongside.
“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”
That’s how obvious truths become obvious.
Sometimes I will go back and listen to recordings of piano pieces I had learned a couple years ago. They don’t sound half bad, but at the time I could have told you precisely 30 things I did wrong in the two minute clip. I knew the piece so well that those aberrations were embarrassingly apparent. When you know the symphony by heart, you can tell who is off tempo and out of tune.
You may say that things can’t be this simple, that there is an inexorable messiness and difficulty with these questions. Perhaps, maybe, but let’s locate exactly where that could be. It comes from the human end of things, in our process of renewal and conformity to Christ. That is a tough enough mountain to climb. What we don’t need is to resent the Bible or put any sort of filter over it. When we read scripture as it asks us to, it becomes a comforting guide instead of a stumbling block to contend with or explain out of. The words are a salve rather than salt for our wounds.
By fearing God we no longer have to fear His word. Soli Deo Gloria