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Dangerous Ideas

Throughout history, ideas have been considered “dangerous.” Some of these dangerous ideas led to positive changes like democracy, the elimination of interracial marriage laws, etc. In other cases, dangerous ideas have proven genuinely dangerous and destructive. Faculty members at Covenant College recently engaged with a variety of these ideas—some positive and some destructive—during the Dangerous Ideas Faculty Lecture Series. The following excerpts provide a window into the many dangerous conversations happening on Covenant’s campus every day.

 

Holiness as the New Cool

by Dr. Hans Madueme, Associate Professor of Theological Studies

 

Holiness is unfashionable these days. It’s uncool, retro—definitely not woke. Crass language, pornography, spiritual sloth and the like, these are all normalized in the broader culture. Older saints labeled these attitudes “worldliness,” the values that we imbibe from our culture, including the assumptions, unspoken categories and instincts that marginalize God and His word in our lives. We shouldn’t be surprised if this kind of lifestyle has crept into our own circles.

 

If we consider Christians from about the 17th to 19th century, they were serious about how they lived their lives. Classically, we see this in the Puritans, but it was widespread in other Protestant traditions. They rejected idle chit chat, wasting time, living life in a frivolous way. They did not tolerate sexual immorality in any form, whether it was fornication or homosexuality. Even the passion between husband and wife needed to be moderate, not excessive. Sabbath breaking was frowned upon, as was drinking too much alcohol. Taking part in art, theater, sports, or casual games, such things were widely condemned. Don’t worry, I’m not saying that everything they believed was correct. I’m just describing how it was.

 

Were these older Protestant views on worldliness just over the top? Were they fanatical about right living and using every moment to please God? Should they have been laid back, more carefree about life? Well, maybe. (Note, too, that our typical impression of rigid, dour, unhappy Puritans is an unreliable stereotype). And yet, perhaps there is value in letting them interrogate our own lives. Have we become shallow believers, flabby and weak, oblivious to the spiritual warfare raging all around us? Do we need to own up to our moral obtuseness if we want to recover the gospel seriousness that Scripture calls us to?

 

Craig Gay, an interdisciplinary studies professor at Regent College, wrote a fascinating book some years back describing what worldliness looks like in the modern world. His basic answer is that at its core worldliness is practical atheism. Our tendency is to live as if God doesn’t exist. Sure, we believe in Him, we confess various things about Him, but in the end God is more of a hobby. We think about Him on Sundays and during small group. But when it comes to the area of life that we call “leisure”—the kinds of things that consume our time and affections—God is largely absent. Our lives are compartmentalized. When we’re at leisure, that’s who we really are, that’s when we really express ourselves, what we love and care about; and, of course, that is when God is mostly forgotten.

 

Don’t get it twisted! One of the wonderful realities in being a Christian is our union with Christ. His life is our life; His righteousness is our righteousness. We have been adopted into the family of the Trinity, former orphans, now children of God. The Father has chosen us, the Son has redeemed us, and the Spirit has given us new birth. Our lives are now a crucible within which God is refining our souls. God allows us to experience frustration, anxiety, sadness, pain, suffering, but also joy, delight, and happiness, so that through those experiences we can be made more like Jesus—“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:28). The curriculum is life and the course objective is to grow in holiness (e.g., see 1 Thess 4:3-7; Eph 4:20-24; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet 1:13-16).

 

The thing is, moral self-effort alone is a paper tiger against worldliness. Only one thing can compete with loving the world—and that is loving God. As the Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers said in a famous sermon, we need a new affection. Our hearts need to be changed so that we are captivated by a new love that flows from the inside. That’s what the gospel has done in our lives; the Lord opened our eyes, and we saw something so beautiful, so lovely, so glorious that it turned our lives upside down. We experienced the forgiveness of sins because of what Jesus has done for us. My life can never be the same again. That is the new affection. We were so excited to know this Savior God, yearning to learn more about His grace, about prayer, and all the other great things of the gospel. There was no room for loving the world (see 1 Jn 2:15-17).

 

Salvation instigated that new affection, and that same affection sustains our daily pursuit of holiness. Such holiness is subversive of the secular plausibility structures that are so toxic to faith. Hence my dangerous idea—holiness as the new cool. Are you with me?

 

 


 

The Dangerous Idea that God Wants Us to Be Happy

by Dr. Sarah Donaldson ’98, Associate Professor of Education & Director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program

 

Think about the following sentence: I won’t be fully content unless/until_________. Take a minute to fill in that blank in your own mind. Now, think about how you would complete this sentence: If I were to lose ________, I would no longer be content.

 

I want to suggest that whatever you thought of to fill in those blanks, unless it was “Jesus,” are idols. That might sound like strong language. You might be thinking, “No, idols are things we treat like gods that really aren’t God. I don’t treat my phone or my family like a god.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Idols are something you worship besides God. I don’t worship the fact that I want to get married.”

 

Many of us have heard that “idols are good things that become ultimate things.” In other words, if something becomes too important to us, it’s an idol. I think that’s true. But how do we know when something has become too important to us? I would suggest that thinking about contentment can help us with this.

 

What do we pray for? It might seem strange, but examining our prayer requests can be instructive in revealing our idols. We pray to be comfortable. We pray that God would give us stuff. We pray that it will rain, or that it won’t rain. We pray that things go well for us.

 

And if you get really honest with yourself as you explore this, you’ll find, as I have, that idolatry is actually our main problem. We seek contentment in temporary things and circumstances rather than being fully content in who God is and what He’s done for us. And we can tell what our idols are by identifying the things that, as long as we don’t have them we won’t be fully content, and the things that, if they were taken away would take along with them our contentment.

 

The title of this piece is “The Dangerous Idea that God Wants Us to Be Happy.” Is this idea dangerous because it’s true or because it’s false? Well, there’s a sense in which it is true. The Bible has a lot of positive things to say about happiness, joy, contentment, delight. The Psalms are full of talk of joy and peace, and even pleasure. Psalm 16:11 indicates that the Lord fills us with joy in His presence and has eternal pleasures at His right hand. Several times in Philippians, Paul reminds us to rejoice in the Lord.

 

I could give you many more examples, but the point is that God is to be the source of our joy, our contentment, our happiness. When we rely on anything else for our contentment, we replace God with something that is not God, and that is why I say idolatry is our main problem. We don’t set our sights high enough: we have the possibility of eternal pleasures at God’s right hand, but we try to replace that with temporary happiness that comes and goes depending on our circumstances. So does God want us to be happy? Well, in a way, no, because happiness isn’t big enough. OK, but is it really dangerous to believe God wants us to be happy? Well, yes, because when we settle for temporary happiness, we look to earthly stuff and circumstances for our contentment instead of being fully content because of the everlasting joy and peace that are available to us in Christ.

 

 


 

“In Christ There Is Neither Male Nor Female”

by Dr. Cliff Foreman, Professor of English

 

I’ve noticed that a number of Christians see this statement from the Bible—“In Christ there’s neither male nor female”—as a dangerous idea. To be fair, they think it’s dangerous if it’s taken too far. When I told one of my friends I was going to talk about this statement in a chapel talk at the College, he immediately said, “But that only applies to salvation.”

 

I will start by reassuring you all, and admitting that the phrase “in Christ” limits the reach of Paul’s statement. Though Paul’s statement may have far reaching significance, he limits his statement here in Galatians 3 to what is true “in Christ.” This statement about what is true “in Christ” may profoundly affect the way we as Christians understand the creation and it may lead us to seek change in our culture, but most of that is another topic. The question I am concerned with here is what, positively, “in Christ” means and how that should affect our thinking and our actions as Christian men and women.

 

The situation in the Galatian churches was critical. Teachers from Jerusalem had tried to impose the Jewish law and Jewish customs on Gentile believers; they had been saying that Gentile Christians needed to become Jews in order to be acceptable to God. Paul says that “in Christ” these distinctions no longer mean anything. In the process, he throws in two other distinctions. In light of the gospel, as he explains in more detail in other epistles, the distinction between slave and free, an important distinction in Roman law, is immaterial. And he says the same thing about the distinction between men and women.

 

So how far does this lack of distinction between believers in these groups extend? Important here are the positions which Paul says, in this passage, all believers hold. Regardless of these sets of distinctions, all are “sons of God in Jesus Christ” and all are “Abraham’s offspring, and heirs according to the promise.”

 

All believers, not just men, are “sons.” Paul makes clear that he doesn’t simply mean that we are all “children of God” by also using another word to describe the position we all hold: all of us who have placed our faith in Christ are “heirs” along with Jesus. In Jewish society, as in Hellenistic culture, and to some extent in our own culture into the nineteenth century, only males could be heirs. But “in Christ” both men and women are sons and heirs. God has male sons and heirs and God has female sons and heirs. So, if we are all heirs, what do we inherit? We inherit salvation, certainly. But what is included in salvation? What is included in being “in Christ”?

 

As believers, we inherit all of the gifts and promises of God. God is an equal opportunity benefactor to all of His heirs. He does not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, social status, or sex. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. None of the promises that Jesus makes to his people are limited to one sex. None of the gifts of the spirit are limited to one sex. All of these blessings that come with our salvation are offered to all believers.

 

“In Christ there is neither male nor female.”

 

This is not just a dangerous idea; it's a sweeping statement of principle within the kingdom of God.

 

 


 

The Dangerous Idea that We Have Nothing to Hide: A Christian Perspective on Privacy

by Dr. John Hunt, Professor of Computer Science

 

I teach a course on professional ethics, and one of the topics in that course is privacy. Over the years, I’ve noticed that my students and I think fairly differently about privacy. A number of my students have expressed what I would consider a “dangerous idea.” It’s an idea that goes something like this: “I have nothing to hide. As a Christian, I should behave well, and if I behave well, then I have nothing to hide.”

 

I think this is a dangerous idea in today’s world. Changes in technology have created privacy issues that did not exist a short time ago. Changes in culture have also made privacy concerns a larger issue. As we think through a Christian perspective on privacy, three key ideas come to mind.

 

First, God keeps secrets. In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that only the Father knows the time of the second coming. Jesus often goes off alone, away from crowds, to talk with the Father. Jesus has boundaries, demonstrating that it is OK and often right to live with boundaries.

 

Second, we live in a fallen world. In Genesis 3, God makes Adam and Eve garments to cover themselves. It is appropriate, in this fallen world, to have privacy. In a fallen world, where evil exists, it is often necessary to keep certain information private and protected.

 

Third, some things are not appropriate for others to know. There should be nothing wrong with keeping certain moments private, and yet that commonplace act is becoming somewhat controversial. But even those who claim these ideas sense the need for privacy. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that privacy is no longer a social norm, and yet he bought the four houses surrounding his own so that he could have more privacy.

 

We should care about privacy as Christians. Simply saying, “I have nothing to hide,” is not enough. We need to recognize that technology is dramatically shifting our personal boundaries and can reveal things about ourselves. Finally, this is not simply an individual issue. Our understanding of privacy shapes how we live and interact as a society.

 

 

Explore the "Dangerous Ideas" Lecture Series

 

 

Dr. Cliff Foreman | Professor of English | Covenant College
Dr. Sarah Donaldson | Assistant Professor of Education | Covenant College
Dr. Hans Madueme | Assistant Professor of Theological Studies | Covenant College