Christian Apologetics in a Pre-Christian World
God holds the Intellectual High Ground
and wants to teach us how....

Emmaus News

June 1999


A Friendly Word

Our Reasonable God
Parents or Peers?
Infallibility & Intellectual Honesty

A Friendly Word

Greetings in the Lord,

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the wedding of my eldest son, Bradley, to his beloved, Kimiko Jackson, on the 26th of June, and was struck by the quality of their friends whom they had gathered together in NYC for the occasion. See comments below on my observations of my children and who raised them, their parents or their peers?

    Faithfully in Christ,
    Earle Fox

Our Reasonable God

Parents or Peers?

- 1. The "Nurture Assumption" -

Judith Rich Harris wrote a book, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, reviewed by Bill Swanson in the Fairfax Journal, a northern Virginia publication.

Harris has been a natural target for commentators to quote on the Columbine tragedy. And she has supplied them with her wisdom to quote.

The Nurture Assumption is the belief that "how we turn out as adults is about 50 percent a question of heredity and genes, and the remaining 50 percent is determined by our environment, which is to say, the manner in which our parents raise us."

Harris’s book, published in 1998, says, according to Swanson, that

...everything we know or think we know, everything the ‘experts’ have been teaching and preaching for more than 50 years, is dead wrong.

Dead wrong? That is pretty strong...

The controversial core of Harris’ thesis is that parents have no measurable effect on how children develop. In other words, it doesn’t much matter how you raise your children, strict or permissive, lots of hugs and personal attention, or absentee parenting, ... none of it matters.

"The nurture assumption is the product of a culture that has as its motto, ‘We can overcome,’" Harris writes. "With our dazzling electronic devices, our magical biochemical elixirs, we can overcome nature...."

"There is no evidence that the nurture assumption has done any real good. but it has done some harm.

Notwithstanding the genetic factors, Harris says, the bulk of our personality is developed outside the home, largely by the peer culture. This process, which psychologists call "socialization", isn’t taught by parents or learned at home, Harris says, it’s taught by a child’s peers out in the culture, away from home.

Harris spends hundreds of pages... developing her theory, demolishing the work of generations of earlier thinkers...

Parents out there worried that Harris’s work demolishes their parenthood, rest assured. If she is saying that we need to learn more about peer influence, that is true. But the claims attributed to her are sheer nonsense. One hopes that she did not make them. But, alas, she is quoted:

"We can’t explain or prevent" incidents like the Columbine massacre, she said. "What leads to them is a number of unlikely occurrences that come together just once, a concatenation of rare events."

If you begin with a false premise, you end up with ridiculous conclusions. Life is just a happenstance event out of our control? No parental moral influence makes any difference? She makes us out to be the hapless victims of chaotic circumstances. That is occasionally true, but we are called by God to be makers history, not its victims.

The issue of youth violence is not guns per se at all. And it is only partially peers. The issue is the sovereignty of God. When there was still a modicum of the fear of God among us, there was still also a corresponding respect for human life. The "death of God" has not been a hapless accident. Secularism has been an intentional project, poorly and ineptly defended against by Christians, not a chance concatenation of rare events.

- 2. Reuniting Parents & Children -

If Harris blames the last 50 years of psychology for the emphasis on parental influence, she has not read much history. Name one culture that has not understood parental influence to be vital in a child’s upbringing, including, most emphatically, the Biblical culture. The Bible, not our dazzling electronic devices, has been the foundation of parenting for most of western history.

In one paradoxical sense, Harris is correct. Our government-controlled school system has systematically worked to separate our children from parental influence for at least three decades, so that children are being raised by other children -- Harris’s omni-influential peer group. The blind are leading the blind, and both are falling in the ditch. In a non-directive world, parents along with God (the directors) are the enemy.

The 4-decade history of non-directive education has been a repetition of the Fall. We have systematically cut God and objective values out of our education, so that neither parents nor teachers are authority figures to the children (just buddies and facilitators), on the theory that bundles of goodness were waiting in the children to pop out if we just let them alone. We have created a disaster, as the very people who invented non-directive education (William Coulson, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow) quickly found out. Peers do not know how to raise peers. The culture becomes increasingly self-centered, feeling-centered, and then self- and other-destructive. As in The Lord of the Flies.

Every parent knows that a child’s peers will strongly affect the child, which is precisely why parents regularly (or used to) advise their children on the kinds of playmates they were allowed to have. Everyone understood that at some level of our being, "birds of a feather flock together", and "a man is known by his friends", etc.

No one argues that the Columbine killers were not influenced by their peers. Clearly they were. What some of us are wondering is why the parents did not control which peers their boys were allowed to associate with and thus be influenced by. If the peers are having more influence than the parents, it is because parents have en masse abdicated their roles in supervising their children.

Probably every study done on the subject has told what common sense has always known -- that the best predictor of a child getting into trouble later in life is the absence of a strong, loving father.

My children were raised with a strictness rare in the disintegrating ‘70’s and ‘80’s. One told me that during high school they did not dare get into very much trouble because they knew that the wrath of God would descend upon them -- meaning the wrath of Pop. And so, despite some (occasionally hard) bumps in the road, they all have a sturdiness, liveliness, and friendliness towards people which is rare today. That was not a chance concatenation of events. It is silly and irresponsible to say that parental input is of no account.

I mentioned in an earlier issue that in no previous culture, certainly in western history, have parents allowed teachers to tell their children that they, the children, knew more than their parents. And in no previous culture have children been known to think it fun to use deadly weapons against their school mates.

Now, according to the Washington Post front page, Thursday, 7/8/99, we can add to that list: In no previous culture have parents received calls from their schools that their children were at risk for "oral sex". Yes, front page.

It is hard to believe what it happening. It is harder to believe the monumental apathy of parents who still keep their children in our government-controlled school system. The primary purveyor of violence and lust is neither Hollywood nor slease magazines, it is our schools -- sometimes openly, but more often by a deceitful and hidden undermining of truth, righteousness, and love.

So if you want your children not only to survive, but to be fighters in the culture war (if you do not, you should), make sure you, not any of the self-proclaimed experts, are their primary educators. Get them out of the "public" school system, and teach them the law and grace of God.        

Infallibility and
Intellectual Honesty

The following thoughts helped ignite a strong debate on "infallibility" on an email loop in which I participate. I wrote:

*  *  *

Below is a letter from Bishop Holloway of Scotland, who is vigorously defending the homosexualist case against Archbishop Sinclair of northern Argentina.

The discussion between the bishops reveals the problems on BOTH sides of the liberal-conservative debate. I do not know Bp. Sinclair's views on the Bible, but assume from Holloway's response that he has a typically conservative view, understanding the Bible as either infallible or inerrant.

The move toward "infalliblism" in the late 1800's (both RC and evangelical) was the worst possible strategic choice the Christian community could have made. It was not Freud, Marx, and Darwin who caused the Christian faith the biggest problem. We set ourselves up for the disaster of the 20th century in which Christians have been bumped from all areas of public discourse -- civil government, education, the media, etc. We are routinely ignored because we are thought to be essentially mindless. We have lost our intellectual credibility.

By "infalliblism" I mean attributing infallibility to some item within the creation, other than the incarnate Son of God, Himself -- whether Bible, Pope, or oneself. God and God alone is infallible.

The Roman Catholic church voted to think of the Pope as infallible (1870), and the evangelical community, by a much less clearly defined process, came to think of believing in either the infallibility or the inerrancy of the Bible as part of what it means to be a Christian.

FATAL mistake.

We should have said instead to our opponents: "It looks like you have the upper hand at present. But we will return to study and prayer, and we expect God to give us good and adequate answers to your issues." Had we done that consistently instead of resorting to infallibility, we would not have had to go through a century of carnage and debauchery to find out that the secular folks were terribly, terribly mistaken.

Christians of the last 200 years have had their backs against the wall, and resorted to infallibilism as a defense mechanism -- something one erects when scared to death because his personal sense of integrity and acceptability is so badly threatened that he can no longer deal with reality. That is how Christians felt up against Freud, Darwin, Marx, et al. Infallibilism is, in my opinion, just such a defense mechanism. It is a major failure to stay in touch with reality.

In doing so we deservedly lost credibility and gave the arena of public discussion away to the pseudo-liberals. The classical liberal is one who insists on open and reasonable discussion for any issue. In that sense, God is a liberal -- one who liberates with truth -- which can be discovered only in open honest discussion. The true liberal is dedicated to truth, and realizes that since none of us humans has it all, we must continue the search for truth.

Revelation takes place precisely in that context. God is always inviting us into honest discussion with Him -- which He does not find demeaning to His omnipotence or authority in the least. What else would one expect of a God who lays His life down for His people?

The classical conservative conserves truth garnered over the centuries at great cost. The conservative is not willing to play lightly with the storehouse of tradition. The true conservative is committed to truth, but does not imagine that he has all of it. So he is willing to let the liberal do his job in seeking new truth.

The pseudo-liberal thinks there is no truth so the goal is to feel good. The pseudo-conservative thinks there is a real truth, and I have it all. That is the pseudo-discussion going on all about us today. The two sides will never, never, never get together, not with each other, not with God.

The way of the cross for the intellect is understanding that we are judged under a real and objective truth, by a real and objective Lord of truth. The way of the cross means giving up the right to "be the right one", and just letting truth speak for itself. That is always the strategy of revelation. God is willing to let the facts speak for themselves, as in I Kings 18 - Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Or Isaiah 40-50, where God discusses His case with the pagans. Especially chapter 43.

The true conservative and the true liberal have a different emphasis, but they are united in a common commitment to objective truth. Both are necessary in any healthy community.

We Christians ought to be saying to our opposition, "Put our beliefs to any reasonable, open, and honest test. If our God cannot defend Himself in such an arena, then He is no God at all. We are willing, like Elijah (I Kings 18), to risk our beliefs, and to let the facts speak for themselves."

Because we have not done that, we have given God the reputation of being like ourselves, cowardly, unreasonable, manipulative, autocratic, etc. And so we have failed to draw people publicly and openly into an honest relationship with God.

Many people are looking for reality. Substantial reality that can stand any test. If our God is not such a God, why are we worshipping Him? And by what right do we recommend Him to others?

Holloway can picture himself as the "reasonable" one because many conservatives do not any longer even know what the word "reasonable" means, so they cannot spot its counterfeits. Holloway does not stand on the intellectual high ground. His homosexualist case is not worth a tinker's dam. But how many on the conservative side can stand up publicly (and gracefully) to tell him so, and tell him why that is so?

The problem is not that we have succumbed to the onslaught of "reason". The problem is that we have not been reasonable enough. We lost touch with reason, gave it away to the secular folks who have clobbered us with it, and so we can no longer reasonably argue with them. We lost the ability to discern that they did not have the reasonable case on their side, and that God, by a wide margin, does. So we have betrayed God and the mission He has given us. Hence the unparalleled disaster of the 20th century.

The logic of infallibility implies that those who believe it are using the Bible or the Pope to make themselves look infallible. Not necessarily consciously or maliciously, but that is the effect just the same. The Pope or the Bible are just means to the self-serving end. The motivation for believing the Bible to be infallible is to attain to certainty for one’s own belief, i.e. infallible certainty. What other reason is there for holding that position? But since it is not "humble" to think of oneself as infallible, we point to the Bible or Pope to deflect attention from ourselves. But our own infallibility is the real issue. We are trying to borrow from God by way of the Bible or Pope.

We either stop trying to make ourselves look infallible, or we will never gain the respect of people who are honestly looking for the truth. And we will never be the witnesses God calls us to be (again Isaiah 43, or Rev. 12:11). Until we are willing to get out and speak our testimony without any false props (such as infalliblism), and let the truth and the Lord of Truth win their own case, we will continue to look silly to most of the world. And we will deserve it. God is calling us to better than that.

Here are snippets from Bp. Holloway’s letter to Bp. Sinclair, with my comments [in brackets]:

Dear Maurice,

.... behind your letter I detect a centralizing agenda that is contrary to the traditions and genius of Anglicanism. Our Communion is a fellowship of autonomous provinces, held together, not by juridical systems, but by bonds of affection ... and several loose structures, such as the ACC, the meetings of primates, and the Lambeth Conference.

[Bishop Holloway is wrong, there are determinate boundaries of truth and righteousness. We are a Communion of common belief, common theology, and common prayer.]

.... there has always been marked differences among the provinces, particularly in the areas of discipline and order... ...the issue of same-sex relationships falls clearly within the area of discipline, and is not a first order theological matter...

[Wrong again. We are made in the image of God, male and female, which is a theological matter, as well as a psychological matter and sexological matter. These are not issues of personal and private opinion.]

...the authority of the Bible...., not human sexuality, was the real theological issue at Lambeth... ...while I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, I do not believe every word in the Bible is the word of God. [Agreed.] That is why I must engage in the arduous task of interpretation, using my rationality and the best scholarship available.

[If only he would. Holloway wants to picture himself on the intellectual high ground. He is nowhere near it. His side continually makes honest discussion impossible. They are forced to do that because there is not a teaspoon of objective evidence favoring the homosexual lifestyle. Our best defense is still a good offense -- force the honest discussion. Holloway is either inexcusably ignorant, or he is lying. The sad fact is the "conservative" side has also failed. ]

It is because we have given ourselves the freedom to interpret scripture in this way that we have managed to abolish slavery, liberate women and offer new hope to the divorced.

[The pseudo-liberal relative-truth position did nothing at all for slaves. It was the strong moral position of the Bible that all men are created equal which freed them. Relative truth did indeed liberate us to kill children in the womb, and precipitated our happy flood of broken marriages.]

...while I disagree with your use of scripture, I would not dream of trying to impose my theology upon your practice, but you are now very busy trying to impose yours upon mine....

                                                                            Richard Holloway

The pseudo-liberal poses as open-minded until he gets into power. Then we have a one-way ratchet of ever-tightening control. Imposition by honest 2-way debate is not only fair, it is obligatory. That is how Godly law is made.

Pray for bishops to stand gracefully and pointedly on the truth -- to force the antithesis so we have to choose clearly and definitively.     

[Note:  See July and August issues for more on the infallibility issue, also "The Authority of Scripture in a Scientific World"]


Quote of the Month


No man entering a house ignores him who dwells there.
This is the house of God and He is here.
Pray then to Him who loves you
and bids you welcome and awaits your greeting. Give thanks those
who in past ages built this place to His glory and for those
who, dying that we might live, have preserved for us our heritage.
Praise God for His gifts of beauty in painting and music,
architecture, and handicraft. Ask that we who now live may build
the spiritual fabric of the nation in truth, beauty, and goodness,
and that as we draw near to the one Father
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
we may draw near to one another in perfect brotherhood.

- St. Bartholomew's Church, London, England -


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Copyright, Earle Fox 1998