I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. … [Others are] not … to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error.
~ Augustine of Hippo
The following is a modified manuscript/outline from a sermon I preached on 1 Peter 2:11-25 at Lake Drive Baptist Church in December 2013.
I’ve entitled my sermon, “Christian Living in a Post-Christendom America.” What do I mean by “christendom”? “Christendom” refers to the “Christian Empire,” where Christianity is associated with the state, promoted by the state, or the dominant religion within the state.
In a sense, one could have previously referred to America as a form of this Christendom. But now days, it’s quite clear that we live in a post-Christendom America. –Not only non-Christian, but even increasingly anti-Christian.
A mere casual awareness of the news makes one aware of the rapid pace of secularization in our country. For example, only 17 years after President Clinton signed DOMA into law, President Obama successfully pushed for its repeal. And keep in mind, he entered office opposed to gay marriage. And the rapidness of this shift only mirrors trends in the general population. Or again, it only takes a brief glance at recent headlines to demonstrate this:
- “Starbucks Enters Same-Sex Marriage Boycott Wars.”
- “Supreme Court Will Consider Hobby Lobby Contraception Mandate Case.”
- Referring to Chick-Fil-A: “‘Eat More Ignorance’ Is More Like It.”
- “Southern Baptists Convention Fighting ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal.”“Should the Boy Scouts of America Lift Its Ban on Gay Members?”
- “New Mexico Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Against Discriminating Anti-Gay Photographer.”
- “Judge Orders Colorado Bakery to Cater for Same-Sex Weddings.”
- “‘Duck Dynasty’ Star Suspended for Anti-Gay Remarks.”
And without necessarily endorsing any of the parties in these conflicts– And no matter what you think about these controversies on a political level, they nonetheless indicate an increasing hostility and threat to Christian thought and values. … We live in an ever-increasingly secular culture.
So, how are we as Christians to respond? What does Christian living look like in a post-Christendom America? 1 Peter has much to say about how Christians should live within a non-Christian and even anti-Christian society.
What is Christian Hedonism?
“Christian Hedonism” is term coined by John Piper. According to Piper, all men by nature seek their own happiness. However, this pursuit of happiness is not in competition with God (contra. self-centeredness). In fact, as Piper has famously said, “God Is Most Glorified In Us When We Are Most Satisfied In Him.” And conversely, we are most satisfied as we seek that satisfaction in God. C.S. Lewis, who greatly influenced Piper’s view of Christian Hedonism, said,
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory.”
Alright, so I may have overstated things a bit in my title. There are of course subsequent debates on this issue, e.g., Erasmus v. Martin Luther, Arminianism v. Calvinism, and of course the frequent debates in Christian college dorm rooms. And don’t forget what may be Jonathan Edwards’ most famous book, Freedom of the Will. But, all of these can trace back in some sense and in some form to the “original” debate between Pelagius and Augustine in which the good side, the right side, won. (Yeah, I’m biased.) Augustine–the “winner” of the debate as opposed to Pelagius who was declared a heretic–settled the debate… kinda, sorta, …well, at least in my opinion. Augustine explained how human choice, human responsibility, called “free will” by many, is compatible or “fits” with God’s sovereignty (hence the typical “Free will versus God’s sovereignty” is not an appropriate way to describe the tension).
In somewhat recent times, attacks have been leveled by “liberal” scholars against the belief in scripture’s inerrancy, that the Bible is infallible and without error in its original writings. Many have claimed that early 1900’s Christian conservatives, evangelical-fundamentalists, such as the “Princetonians” B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge, “invented” the doctrine of inerrancy. One incredible text that refutes this re-writing of history comes from Augustine’s work Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, book XI, chapter 5. Read Augustine’s absolutely incredible testimony.
As regards our writings, which are not a rule of faith or practice, but only a help to edification, we may suppose that they contain some things falling short of the truth in obscure and recondite matters, and that these mistakes may or may not be corrected in subsequent treatises. For we are of those of whom the apostle says: “And if ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” Such writings are read with the right of judgment, and without any obligation to believe. In order to leave room for such profitable discussions of difficult questions, there is a distinct boundary line separating all productions subsequent to apostolic times from the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. Continue reading