Note from Jake: In the following post, as a way to further discuss the issue of the “Pendulum Justification” that I raised in Part I, I use a case study of issues that are what some might call hot-button topics. I do this intentionally; rarely would anyone apply the Pendulum Justification to non-controversial decisions.There are obviously discussions worth having regarding these issues that go beyond the scope of the point that I’m trying to make. The Bible is very clear about addiction, and specifically forbids drunkeness. I recognize that there are some that don’t care or worry about the use of the Pendulum Justification in this particular context since they would see indulging at all as categorically sinful due to personal conviction or having experienced the suffering and resultant pain that addiction brings to personal lives and families. In this post I am making two assumptions. First, in my opinion these are issues of freedom and are thus not inherently sinful. (I welcome your thoughts to the contrary.) Second, addiction itself is unbiblical, as is lack of self-control and lack of moderation; that type of indulging is off-limits regardless of any excuse our deceitful hearts might try to make. If these assumptions do not fall within your theological framework you can then substitute an issue of freedom that does (enjoying certain movies or music, dancing, Pinterest, fill in the blank) and the article is basically unchanged.
For a definition of the Pendulum Justification, see my post from yesterday (Part I). Today, I want to focus on the first of the two reasons I introduced yesterday as to why the Pendulum Justification is wrong: the accuracy of the “Pendulum Justification” analysis tells us nothing about the relative moral worth of the issue.
However, I want to use a new case study today so that John Dewey disciples don’t get too John Dillinger on me. The issue we’ll use today is the issue of drinking/gambling/smoking. Yes, I understand these are multiple issues. Some who are fine with drinking have a problem with gambling, for instance. However, for my purposes I’m combining them into one issue.
The Pendulum Justification on this issue would look something like this: “This is an issue of freedom. I understand the desire to live a holy life, but conservative Christians have swung the pendulum too far. They are too obsessed with being different from the world and now it seems like they wear their abstinence in these areas as a badge of honor. I need to balance them out. We need to bring that pendulum back to the middle.”
Of course, there’s an aspect to this thought that may have merit. As Christians, we don’t want to be defined merely by the things from which we abstain. There’s a lot more to Christianity than that. The problem, though, is that this is not a biblical way of thinking or analyzing a given choice. After all, as I said, the accuracy of the “Pendulum Justification” analysis has no bearing on the relative moral worth of the decision. It could be 100% accurate or 100% inaccurate to say that conservative Christians have done all the things that the hypothetical person said in the previous paragraph. But whether it’s accurate or inaccurate says absolutely nothing about whether that person should then drink/gamble/smoke. The question isn’t whether other people do or don’t do things. The question is what principles has the Bible set forth for us to follow and how do they influence our personal decisions?
So what makes us use the Pendulum Justification in the first place?
Yesterday I hypothesized that perhaps it has a lot more to do with other people than it does with the issue itself. On this issue, that would indicate that someone not thinking drinking/gambling/smoking is ever acceptable to Christians has a lot more to do with our perceptions of non-drinkers/gamblers/smokers (people who generally abstain when it comes to issues of freedom) than it does with those who engage in these things. As an example, I have some issues with gun rights supporters. It annoys me when I hear middle-class suburbanites talk about the four guns they keep in their homes when the only crimes committed in their gated community in the past 5 years were trespassing and a couple of damaged mailboxes. My problem isn’t with gun rights (which I support); my problem is with people who really, really, really love gun rights.
So perhaps we use the Pendulum Justification for a very simple reason: we like people who drink/gamble/smoke — and people who don’t are boring. We send our kids to public school because people who homeschool are weird, wear matching clothes too often and are entrenched in a specific culture we just don’t like. We switch churches because our old church didn’t speak out enough against the devilish tendencies of Hollywood, or spoke out too much against abortion and homosexuality.
This, though, begs the question, “what are we afraid of?” See, that type of thinking sounds like an issue of identity. Are we finding identity in the things we do? Our status as “homeschoolers” or as “non-homeschoolers”? Our ability to indulge in the freedoms that Christ has given us or in our self-control? Do we really want to avoid being identified as part of some “group” of a specific type of Christian? Because, if so, don’t we need to readjust our thinking?
Our identity is in Christ. Our identity is in being chosen and set apart by the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and in being sons and daughters of God. Our identity is not in being a weird homeschooler or a cool smoker. And my opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the use of the Pendulum Justification is merely a cover for the fact that we are finding our identity in the things that we do…or don’t do.
The Pendulum Justification is a poor substitute for decision-making that is grounded in Biblical convictions and principles, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Obviously, I can’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t drink/gamble/smoke. But if you do, drink because God gave us alcohol for the “gladdening of [our] hearts.” Drink because Jesus built community and relationships by drinking with sinners. Play poker because it’s fun, enjoyable and stimulates good fellowship (and, after all, people cast lots in the Bible!) Smoke because it’s relaxing and is a great way to enjoy conversation. But don’t drink/gamble/smoke because you think conservative Christians/parents/members of a particular church or social setting have swung a pendulum too far in the direction of abstaining and it’s time we considered whether they’ve gotten it wrong this whole time. Don’t drink/gamble/smoke simply because you have a problem with those holier-than-thou legalists who you think cornered the market on being obnoxious, and you don’t want to be associated with them. That kind of self-righteousness isn’t any less dangerous than the legalism you’re trying to avoid.
Let’s find our identity in Christ. Let’s find our identity in being called children of God. There are people in the church and in conservative Christian circles, and probably in our specific circles, that probably are wrong on certain issues; they may be legalistic or are at least obsessed with their own countercultural lifestyle. It’s temping to make decisions on the basis of wanting to avoid swinging out on that pendulum with them. Unfortunately, that sounds a lot like trying to avoid an association with them. And if ignoring the lessons of history is the province of public school elementary teachers, avoiding association with those they perceived to be different from them was the province of the Pharisees. Sometimes “there, but for the grace of God, go I” sounds a lot like “Thank you Lord that I am not like that sinner.”