The Difference between Evangelizing Pagans and Neo-Pagans

In a recent edition of First Things, J. Budziszewski argues that a sea change is about to happen in western culture. The first time the Gospel arrived the in the west, pagans were converted to Christ. Now, as the culture is dominated by a neo-paganism, Budziszewski believes a re-evangelization is about to take place. However, as the title of the article indicates, this time will not be the same. He discusses seven differences between the original pagans and today’s neo-pagans:

First, the early pagan made excuses for transgressing the moral law; today’s neo-pagan denies that morality exists.

Second, the early pagan wanted forgiveness, but didn’t know how to find absolution; today’s neo-pagan refuses to admit he needs forgiveness. Budziszewski explains:

“[T]he Neo-Pagan certainly feels the weight of his sins. But he thinks the way to have peace is not to have the weight lifted but to learn not to take it seriously. Hearing Christ’s promise of forgiveness, he thinks, ‘All those guilty Christians!’ Having chosen to view the freest people as the most burdened, he naturally views the most burdened as the freest.”

Third, the early pagan usually was either exposed to the Gospel all at once or not exposed at all; today’s neo-pagan has been “exposed to just enough spores to develop an allergic reaction.”

Fourth, the early pagan knew he was an idolater. Today’s neo-pagan denies he is even religious, much less an idolater. The pagan’s idols were tangible and visible. The neo-pagan’s gods are intangible and invisible.

Fifth, the early pagan was unfamiliar with Christian ideas. Today’s neo-pagan is “brimming with them.” The neo-pagan has appropriated them after having “emptied them of Christian meaning.”

Sixth, the pagan knew he had no one else to blame for the faults of his country and culture. Today’s neo-pagan places all the blame on his nation’s Christian heritage.

Finally, the early pagan knew he was not a Christian. But there is a certain type of neo-pagan who thinks he is one.

In the end, Budziszewski concludes on an optimistic note. Neo-pagans still have the same needs of the heart as the rest of humanity. The Gospel is still powerful. But this time will not be the same.

Amnesia, Assassins, and What We Can’t Not Know

Leah and I recently watched the thriller Unknown. The movie’s premise is clever, if not very original. Professor Martin Campbell, played by Liam Neeson, awakens in a Berlin hospital with a case of partial amnesia following a terrible automobile accident. He soon learns that his wife doesn’t appear to recognize him and that another man has assumed his identity. To make matters worse, secret agents are trying to kill Campbell. After a series of plot twists, Campbell learns that he is actually a professional assassin and that his amnesia has caused him to incorrectly believe his “cover” is the real him. Campbell is horrified to learn about his true identity and sets about trying to atone for past sins.

If you’re like me, you may be thinking you’ve seen this movie before. The plot of Unknown echoes the Jason Bourne Trilogy in many ways. A man awakens after a traumatic event with a case of amnesia. People are trying to kill him. He slowly learns that he was once a professional killer who murdered people for a living. Disturbed by this revelation, he tries to redeem himself by turning over a new leaf, though of course a few baddies have to die along the way.

I’ve been thinking about how these movies actually point to the reality of a natural law. As J. Budziszewksi has helpfully reminded us, there are some truths we simply can’t not know. God’s moral law, which is summarized in the Decalogue, is woven into the very fabric of creation and is written on every person’s heart. When we suppress the natural law, we actually make ourselves dumber because we deny what we know to be true.

Though we have been bent by the fall, every human being intuitively knows that some things are wrong. Every culture everywhere has notions of murder, stealing, illicit sex, etc. Yes, different cultures draw the lines in different places-again, we’re fallen. But the point is that no matter what culture you live in and no matter what mores that culture embraces, there are some killings that are considered wrong, some possessions you can’t take from others, and some people with whom you can’t have sex.

In Unknown and the Bourne movies, the protagonist is disturbed when he learns of his previous life as a professional killer. Whatever moral compromises he’d made along the way to suppress his innate knowledge that murder is wrong, trauma and amnesia have snapped him back to moral reality. Murder is sin, and he knows it. And now he believes he has to take specific steps to put his past behind him, atone for all the murders, and move on in a new direction-one that doesn’t involve contract killing or covert (and illegal) assassinations.

Christians know that Campbell and Bourne can’t do anything to atone for their murderous pasts-only placing their faith in the risen Lord can do that. The two ex-murders can’t make things right, but they can rest in the One who has. The gospel alone offers them the cleansing of their guilty consciences and the hope they need to move on with their lives, even if they must face the consequences of their sin. Unfortunately, the movies don’t portray the gospel-but they do give us a picture of real moral truth.

I didn’t expect spy thrillers to remind me of God’s natural law, but sometimes you find truth in the oddest of places. Jason Bourne and Martin Campbell know, deep down, that it’s not right to murder someone else. I suspect they also know, deep down, that many other actions and attitudes are inherently wrong. And so do you and I.

Spend Your Weekend at SEBTS Feb 4-5: Come Hear Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Michael Green, J. Budziszewski, and Bruce Little

Conversing with the Culture (Feb 4-5, 2011)

We at Between the Times would like to invite you to this year’s 20/20 conference, “Conversing with the Culture,” on Southeastern’s campus Feb 4-5, 2011. This year’s conference centers on how to speak Christian truth to a culture that isn’t listening, and features plenary sessions by Danny Akin (SEBTS), Al Mohler (Southern Seminary), Michael Green (Oxford), J. Budziszewski (University of Texas-Austin), and Bruce Little (SEBTS), in addition to 24 breakout sessions. Matt Papa will be leading worship.

The annual 20/20 conference is designed for undergrad and grad students around the country, many of whom sit in classrooms where their professors are militantly opposed to the Christian faith and teach their courses in a manner reflective of that opposition. For many of these students, the brightest and most persuasive people they know are professors (literature, philosophy, biology, etc.) who are militantly opposed to the Christian faith and teach their courses in a manner reflective of that opposition. For this reason, the 20/20 conference seeks to expose university students (as well as exceptional high school students) to intelligent men and women who will speak about the important matters of life, and will do so from within an explicitly Christian framework.

This year’s 20/20 conference deals with a host of theological, ethical, cultural, and apologetic issues that arise for Christian students living in a 21st century American context. The breakout speakers who will address these issues include Bruce Ashford, Heath Thomas, John Hammett, Ken Keathley, Steve McKinion, Andy Davis, Nathan Finn, Micah Fries, Tim Brister, J. Budziszewski, Dennis Darville, Amber Lehman, Dan Heimbach, Scott Hildreth, Donnie McDaniel, Greg Welty, Ed Gravely, and Jeremy Evans.

The conference begins Friday evening and concludes late Saturday afternoon. In one 24-hour period, you will be exposed to hours of riveting discussion on important issues, coupled time to hang out with 1300 other students. The registration fee is a mere $35; please attend and bring a group! To register for the conference, click here.

Below is a sketch of the plenary and breakout sessions:

Plenary Speakers

Danny Akin (Fri night)

Al Mohler (Fri night)

J. Budziszewski (Sat morn)

Michael Green (Sat aft)

Bruce Little (Sat eve)

The Gospel: How to Understand, Speak, and Live the Gospel

What is the message of the whole Bible, in 45 minutes or less (Bruce Ashford)?

What is “the gospel” and how do I live a gospel-centered life (Heath Thomas)?

Why do I need to be immersed in the life off a gospel-centered church (John Hammett)?

What about those persons who have never heard the gospel (Ken Keathley)?

How do I read the Bible (OT and NT) in a Christ-centered and gospel-centered manner (Steve McKinion)?

How will Scripture memory transform my life, and how can I get started memorizing Scripture (Andy Davis)?

How do I discern God’s “calling” on my life (Nathan Finn)?

Conversing: How to Speak the Gospel into a Culture That Isn’t Listening

How can I answer skeptical questions in a way that is winsome and persuasive (Jamie Dew)?

How do I speak about reality and truth in a pluralistic society (Bruce Little)?

How do I tweet for Jesus? Using Twitter, Facebook, and blogs for the sake of the gospel (Micah Fries & Tim Brister)?

Culture: How to Understand and Speak to Important Issues in our Socio-Cultural Context

Q&A Session with J. Budziszewski

Does God care about human culture (arts, sciences, public square, etc.) (Dennis Darville)?

How can I use Scripture, science, and reason to speak to the issue of abortion (Amber Lehman)?

How do I answer questions about same sex marriage (Dan Heimbach)?

How should I think about modern warfare and torture (Dan Heimbach)?

Why follow Jesus rather than Muhammad (Scott Hildreth)?

Should Christians care about the environment (Donnie McDaniel)?

Reason: Using Sanctified Reason to Speak the Gospel

Why should I believe God exists and how can I demonstrate this to an unbeliever (Greg Welty)?

Why does God allow suffering in the world (Bruce Little)?

Why should I trust the Bible (Ed Gravely)?

What is the relationship of theology and science (Ken Keathley)?

Why should I believe that Christianity is true (or that anything at all is true) (Jeremy Evans)?