It’s become cliché for anyone to say anything along the lines of: 2020 has taught us a lot in 12 short months. But like many clichés, this one contains some truth. And, like many clichés, ask 100 people to explain what that truth is and you’re likely to get 100 nuanced explanations–some that agree with others and some that attempt to stand on their own. In most of what has been written and recited using this particular cliché, the meaning intended has been something along the lines of: 2020 happened because we’ve been doing it wrong all along. We’ve been too racist, capitalist, Christian, dependent upon fossil fuels, the list goes on.
In most of these articles, essays, and monologues–which, let me be clear, can mostly be read or heard and then quickly forgotten–the thesis is some spin on the (by now cliché) suggestion that America needs to do more and do better and there’s no better time to do more better than amid the fallout caused by all that has happened in 2020. In what I can only describe as shock mixed with resignation, I have watched as a large portion of my fellow citizens have fallen for these clichés.
I entered graduate school in the Fall of 2018, at the age of 39. Specifically, I entered a graduate seminary program that led to an M.A. in Christian apologetics, which I completed in December 2019. Although the program was interdisciplinary by nature, I would come to focus on the area of epistemology–the philosophical discipline that studies the concepts of knowledge and truth.
In my philosophical explorations, I discovered philosopher after philosopher who was not content to “stay in his lane,” so to speak. That is to say that most of the men who we recognize as some of the smartest people to ever live and write did not feel constrained by any narrowly defined field of expertise. To put it into the context of Christian apologetics, many–if not most–of the great apologists were also biblical scholars, political theorists, sociologists and, to put it plainly, simply curious and concerned about the world of human beings and human relationships.
For me, this was a great encouragement. I was initially attracted to the study of apologetics in part because of its interdisciplinary nature. Throughout my master’s program, I went above and beyond in my reading. I didn’t stop at a writer’s defense of Christianity but wanted to know where that defense led him. In many instances this led to reading the social and political theory of men like Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin.
By the time I entered my final semester in seminary, I knew that I wanted to continue studying at the doctoral level. I initially believed that this meant continuing in the seminary and pursuing a PhD in either apologetics or biblical studies. I even went so far as taking graduate courses in Greek and Hebrew to prepare. In the end, however, my interdisciplinary heart led me to pursue a PhD in public policy, where I could apply my philosophical and apologetic skills in the area of social and political theory–like all those great men I’d read.
I’d like to say that this means I am following in the footsteps of men like Augustine and Calvin, but I’m not sure that’s the right way of putting it. More accurately, I’d like to think that I am looking to men like Augustine and Calvin, and many others, who have not only taken up the defense of Christianity but who have taken the logical implications of that defense and carried it into whatever field either duty, curiosity, or Providence has led them.
I have written and said very little publicly since I started work on my PhD. The reason for that, in part, is that the academy puts an immense amount of pressure on scholars to stay within the boundaries of whatever official orthodoxy prevails. For all the talk of academic freedom in the pursuit of knowledge, the truth is that such academic freedom only exists for those willing to advance those ideas deemed acceptable. This orthodoxy has not applied within my studies since I am a student at a Christian institution that still upholds classical, orthodox Christianity. But in interactions outside my institution, the pressure is real within professional and academic organizations.
To be fair to clichés, 2020 has taught us a lot. For one, it has taught us that the type of ideological censorship that has prevailed in academia for decades has now been fully and publicly revealed. It’s no longer just PhDs competing for a faculty position but for anyone competing for a position within their society or community. What has become apparent in 2020, for anyone willing to look, is that elite elements in the United States expect everyone to affirm whatever is dictated, even when–perhaps especially when–those elite affirmations are known to be untrue or when they conflict with one’s basic worldview.
Sadly, the Christian churches in America have not been exempted from this great homogenization. Unfortunately, in many cases, they’ve become willing participants. Of course, many of these churches were ones that long ago signaled that they were abandoning whatever attachments they still had to classic orthodoxy and scriptural authority. But in many other cases, some were among those who had been, previously, faithful defenders of truth. I will not hazard to mention any names here except to say that some have been organizations and institutions close to me.
In all cases, these Christian organizations have adopted the prevailing and proliferating political agendas, even when doing so has required them to abandon or distort the clear and unambiguous teaching of Scripture.
One of the most unambiguous of such teachings comes from the mouth of Jesus himself, who said that anyone who denies him before men, he will deny before God the Father (Matt. 10:33). History and Scripture both prove that this–being asked or told to deny Christ–is exactly what Christians should expect from the world (1 Pet. 4:12; Rev. 2:10). That this is happening actively, today, all over the United States is perhaps the greatest lesson that ought to be derived from 2020.
Make no mistake, the goal of pressure on the church and on individual Christians is to silence the witness of orthodox Christianity and the Scripture on which it is based. If history and the testimony of Scripture is our guide, we should not expect a relenting or lessening of these demands. And in the end, the purpose of the political ideology that is taking our institutions by storm is an anti-gospel, anti-Christ purpose.
When I titled this, the first post to be made public on this blog, ‘Going on Record,’ it was with all this background in mind. I am in the middle of a PhD program that I hope will lead to a second career once my children are grown and I don’t have the same economic pressures I do today. But I also know that my sticking to classic orthodoxy makes me a highly undesirable candidate for most of the positions for which my degree will qualify me. I also know that I am backed up by generations of Christians who faithfully stuck by the gospel. More importantly, I am backed up by the gospel itself. The political and social pressures directed at Christians are intended to silence their witness. However, it is not possible to entirely silence God’s truth.
Because I must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), what I wish to go on record as saying is that Jesus is Lord (Luke 2:11; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 4:5). And having sanctified him as Lord in my heart, I will use the knowledge, curiosity, and education that God has blessed me with to defend the hope of the gospel (1 Pet. 3:15). And I also call on others within the academy to do the same. God is sovereign over every aspect of life in this world. In my academic case, that means the social and political aspects and I cannot help, going forward, but to say so.
In my study of epistemology, I came to understand the importance of objectivity in discussing knowledge and truth. God is the author of objectivity. To the extent that the social and political ideologies taking hold in our institutions deny God’s objectivity and sovereignty, they are untrue false forms of knowledge. So one other thing I’d like to go on record saying in this post is that I must use what God has given me to defend the truth. At times, that means attacking that which is untrue rather than just defending what I know to be true. If you are reading this and are connected in any way with the American academy and you see what I see, then I ask you to join me.
And finally, let me be clear. I have no illusions of being anyone of importance. I am one graduate student among tens of thousands in the United States today. I am just one Christian, a slave to Jesus Christ and his gospel. I am nothing without him and it is only in defense of his truth–a defense for which I received training–that I am writing this today. I have allowed fear of the future to keep me silent. I wanted to be a faithful Christian without anyone in the academic world outside my own university knowing that I was a faithful Christian. It turns out that this is not being a faithful Christian at all.
I pray that God will forgive my silence up to this point.