Saturday, February 12, 2011

The logic of village atheism

  • You see in our world miracles like a virgin birth, resurrection and an ascension into the sky do not happen. What world are YOU living in? So if miracles do not happen in our day then they never happened in first century Palestine either. And that's the end of it.

    Want more? ;-)
  • {{So if miracles do not happen in our day then they never happened in first century Palestine either. And that's the end of it.}}

    Category errors like that are why people who pay attention to logic (whether believer or not) make fun of you, John.

    Remember folks, if televisions and electric light switches didn't happen in first centry Palestine, they couldn't happen in our day either. And that's the end of it. (You can thank Bultmann for that one. Or J'oftus. {wry g})

The scholarship of village atheism

  • Jason, we posted at the same time. [I just saw Nick's typical non-response though--the problem is that he thinks it's a response at all!!!].

    Tell ya what. I can grant that Yahweh exists and that he does miracles and this still does very little if anything to lead us living in today's world to think Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.

    Care to know why?

    Because a completely overwhelming number of Jews in Jesus' day did not think Yahweh did this miracle in this particular case. If they were there, and if they knew their Scriptures and if they believed in Yahweh and if they believed in miracles, but they rejected the resurrection of Jesus THEN WHY SHOULD I? WHY SHOULD WE?

    Philo of Alexandria wrote an account of the Jews from Jesus' birth until long after he died. He was living in Jerusalem during the whole time Jesus lived, from his birth to long after his death. he was there when it was said the graves of the tombs opened and the saints walked out. He was there when it says the sky turned black and the temple curtain was torn, and when it says there was an earthquake. he might be considered the investigative reporter of his day on location. He interviewed people who should have known something about the ministry of Jesus especially if he threw the money changers out of the temple.

    But Philo reported nothing about Jesus nor his disciples, nor his miracles, nor anything else about Christians at all. Although he wrote a history covering the time of Jesus in Palestine we're told he does not mention anything about Jesus.

    If there was any proof beyond the NT itself that the Jews overwhelmingly rejected Jesus, then Philo's silence proves it.
  • John: I didn't know Philo lived in Jerusalem. Checking Wikipedia, I see they didn't know that, either: they say he only visited the temple in Jerusalem once in his life.

    Let's see . . . in The Works of Philo, index, there are 11 references under "Jews of Alexandria," and only 2 under "Jews of Palestine and the neighboring countries." There are 3 references listed to Alexandria, and only one (a very abstract and spiritualized, nothing slightly geographical about it) reference to Jerusalem.

    Where did you obtain these biographical details? Did Morton Smith find an old rental agreement that shows Philo was in Jerusalem from 5BC to 39 AD (then went back to Alexandria, just in time to represent that city in a delegation to the emperor!)?
  • I got the information from Dan Barker's "Godless" book, who quotes from John E. Remsburg's 1909 book "The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences of His Existence."

    Next time I should double check my sources.

Confessions of a recovering confessionalist

How Would Chuck Smith Have Counseled Heather and David Britton?


Chuck Smith Needs to Repent

Introduction: What follows is Operation Rescue's commentary on Chuck Smith's advising "Nicki from Riverside" to abort her conjoined twins. The next day Dan Stewart and Chuck Smith attempted to do some damage control and made a horrible situation worse. The following commentary speaks for itself. It is my sincere prayer that Smith and Stewart will publicly repent and recant for advocating the murder of this woman's unborn twins.

OR: Pastor Chuck Smith Stuns Radio Listeners By Encouraging Woman to Have Abortion

Commentary by Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger

Operation Rescue urges Calvary Chapel’s Pastor Smith to retract his advice and apologize to his listeners

Costa Mesa, CA – Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, shocked listeners on Tuesday on his “Pastor’s Perspective” call-in radio program when he encouraged a tearful mother to abort conjoined twins.

The caller, who identified herself as “Nicki from Riverside”, indicated that her babies share a body but have two heads and that she was being pressured by her doctors to abort them due to their assessment that the babies would likely not survive the pregnancy or live beyond a day if carried to term. At no time did Nicki indicate how far advanced her pregnancy was or that her life was in danger from the pregnancy.

Choking back tears Nicki told Smith and his co-host Dan Stewart, “My heart does – never wants to have an abortion, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know – I don’t know what direction to go to right now. I’m really praying hard and trying to believe that the Lord is going to do what He’s going to do with these two little ones, and I don’t know what to do.”

It is obvious to us, with our combined 45 years of experience working with abortion vulnerable women, that Nicki did not want an abortion but was seeking some spiritual affirmation and encouragement that would help her amidst the pressure from her secular doctors to take the lives of her innocent babies. She got none from Smith and Stewart, who told her that God would not condemn her if she chose abortion.

“It’s awfully hard to actually suggest abortion,” said Smith. “But, you know, I’m sure that, uh, in a case like this where the life expectancy is just, you know, is so bleak, and all, that I’m sure that the Lord would not condemn her if she went ahead and had an abortion at this early stage of the development of the fetus.”

Listen to audio clip of Feb. 8, 2011, radio conversation (CT note added: conversation takes place at the 50 minute mark.

Smith then went on to misuse the Biblical story found in John, Chapter 8, of the woman caught in the act of adultery and taken to Jesus for judgment. Jesus told the crowd who sought to condemn her, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” After the crowd disbanded in shame, Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

The way Smith used this passage, he was implying that abortion is sin, but that if she went ahead and sinned in this case, God would not hold it against her. There is no basis in traditional Christian theology to support Smith’s misuse of this incident in Scripture. Jesus told the woman to “go, and sin no more,” not to continue her sin with the expectation that God would not hold her to account.

While we respect Chuck Smith’s long service to God and his work in reaching the lost for Christ, his advice to Nicki regrettably showed extremely poor pastoral judgment. His answer was dead wrong, and could lead others to sin and error, along with a life-time of grief and remorse.

The Bible never condones the shedding of innocent blood nor does it allow for the taking of life based on the unfortunate circumstance that someone is sick. Instead, the Bible is full of recommendations to pray and fast for the sick.

Smith and Stewart attempted to “clarify” their advice to Nicki the following day on the Pastor’s Perspective broadcast, but in doing so only made a bad situation worse.

Audio Clip of Feb. 9, 2011, Radio “Clarification”

“I am totally opposed to abortion,” stated Smith. “I believe it is a great sin. I do believe that the 50-plus million children that have been aborted in the United State since the Roe verses Wade is one of the greatest sins of America, and I think that we’re going to be judged for it.”

However, in the next breath, Smith betrays his emphatic pro-life confession.

“I do not believe in abortion as it is being practiced today. However, there can be extenuating circumstances,” Smith continued.

Smith and his co-host then go on to completely mischaracterize the conversation with Nicki the previous day.

We hate to use the word “lie” but there is no other term for what the two pastors said next.

“As the lady said yesterday, the doctors were saying that her life was in jeopardy and carrying the babies, er, uh, baby that is in her womb with two heads, that the baby would not be able to survive more than five minutes after the birth, and that her life was jeopardized by it and she has a little two-year old daughter and I would say in a situation like that with these extenuating circumstances, that God would be gracious and forgiving. But that isn’t endorsing abortion at all…I’m totally opposed to abortion for just any reason, but I believe in being reasonable.”

Smith is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. One cannot say that abortion is justifiable with one breath then say that he is not endorsing abortion with the other. This kind of double-talk only serves to create confusion amongst believers. The Bible is clear; innocent bloodshed is not reasonable, it is sin.

As far as his version of Nicki’s story, the audio recording proves that she never said her life was in jeopardy or that the babies could not survive more than five minutes after birth. She repeatedly referred to her babies in the plural sense.

Smith referred to them as a “fetus” on the first day and later as “a baby with two heads,” language that served to dehumanize the twins in much the same way as abortionists do to justify their actions.

“It wasn’t about a deformity there, it was about something being life-threatening,” said co-host Don Stewart who went on to say that Smith was trying to explain her options in a “lose-lose” situation.

It was grieving to hear Stewart is such an obvious and blatantly deceptive damage-control mode.

Perhaps Smith and Stewart have forgotten that it is God is the Giver of Life that He alone numbers our days. The two men completely discount any thought that these babies might be given to Nicki and her husband to bring glory to Himself.

Take the example of Abigail and Brittney Hensel, conjoined twins that have been the subject of a special on TLC. Abigail and Brittney share one body. A YouTube video clip shows them celebrating their 16th birthday, each getting a driver’s license, and discussing the possibility of one day being mothers.

The girls are shown on another video clip answering questions about their condition. “How did you get this way?” one of the girls read off a list. “God made us this way,” answered the other.

Yes, God made them that way, and he made Nicki’s twins the way they are. If God decides to take their lives before birth or decides to give them long, productive lives, like the Hansel twins, that is up to Him. It is not up to us to stand in the place of God and dictate the time and matter of death of innocent human beings, created in His image. Scripture calls that murder.

The least Smith and Stewart could have done was refer Nicki to a peri-natal hospice, such as the one operated by Choices Medical Clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Programs like these counsel families facing terminal diagnoses for their pre-born babies. They help the families cope with the stressful days ahead, support families through the grieving process, facilitate healing all the while allowing the families to show their babies dignity and love during their short lives.

Smith and Stewart owe their listeners a true Biblical perspective. We understand that people make mistakes, but when a mistake is made, we expect men of integrity own up to it and to do what they can to make it right. These men owe Nicki and their listeners a retraction and an apology.

Given the devastating consequences that could follow Pastor Smith’s unbiblical response to Nicki’s situation, perhaps he is at a time in his long and illustrious career that he should consider refraining giving further extemporaneous advice on call-in shows like Pastor’s Perspective.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Teachable Moment for Those Who Live in Lumpkins' World"

Prooftexting natural law

Some proponents of 2k invoke natural law as an alternative to OT ethics and/or NT ethics. One of the problems with this appeal is that while there are several pretty clear prooftexts for natural revelation, prooftexts for natural law are sparse and problematic.

Keep in mind that I don’t object to philosophical arguments to support Christian ethics. I’m just dealing with the exegetical grounding for natural law.

The locus classicus is Rom 2:14-15. But as a prooftext for 2k, that’s dubious on several grounds.

i) To begin with, it’s far from clear that this passage has reference to unbelievers. For one thing, 2:15 alludes to Jer 31:33. This figures in the famous prophecy of the new covenant.

It would be self-defeating, from a 2k perspective, if the terms of the new covenant were inscribed on the hearts of unbelievers, for that would a type of special revelation, not general revelation. That would collapse the 2k distinction between the spiritual kingdom and the civil kingdom.

Of course, that interpretation is disputed. But 2k proponents can’t take their own interpretation of Rom 2:14-15 for granted. They must argue for their interpretation, and they must do so, in part, by arguing down the rival interpretation.

ii) Apropos (i), if the terms of the new covenant are directly implanted in the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike, or even that’s confined to believers alone, then that becomes a prooftext, not for 2k, but Quakerism. The doctrine of the inner light.

In that case, you don’t need special revelation either inside or outside the church. Christians don’t need the NT. For they have the content of the new covenant directly internalized. So that argument either proves too little or too much.

Of course, 2k proponents would say it has reference, not to believers, but unbelievers. However, that interpretation brings us back to the conundrum of why Paul would see Jeremiah’s oracle of the new covenant fulfilled in the hearts of unbelievers.

And remember that, from a 2k viewpoint, the unbelievers in question are not pre-Christian unbelievers who will undergo conversion. Rather, the 2k interpretation must regard the referents as unbelievers in contrast to believers, to maintain the contrast between the civil kingdom and the spiritual kingdom, general revelation and special revelation.

iii) Finally, inscribing the law on the heart is figurative language. So we must ask, what’s the literal truth which that picturesque metaphor signifies?

One explanation is that inscribing the law on the heart is a synonym for a related figure of speech: circumcision of the heart. God will give members of the new covenant a new heart.

That interpretation is reinforced by Jer 32:39: “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.”

But if that’s correct, then what the passage denotes is not moral intuition, but regeneration.

2k proponents can, of course, take issue with one or more of these objections, but as it stands, they are skipping over key assumptions in their appeal. That’s not a given.

"Why Are Jews Liberals?—A Symposium"

A theology of feelings

There’s a sense in which our emotional life is the goal of life. Why seeks heaven? Because that’s a state or place of bliss. Eternal bliss. Why avoid hell? Because that’s a state or place of misery. Eternal misery.

Hume famously said the mind is slave to the passions, and, to a great extent, human ingenuity is diverted to pursuing and fulfilling our emotional needs or desires.

Consider the intellectual resources that must be applied to opera, movies, gambling, a cruise ship, a sports car, or pro football. For opera you need an opera house. You need the architects, carpenters, engineers. You need the orchestra. Trained, paid musicians. You need trained, paid singers. Consume designers. Stage sets. You need composers and librettists. All that and much more just because some folks like opera. Because it feeds their emotional life.

Or consider pro football. You need the stadium. Consider the engineering that goes into a modern sports stadium. You need trained athletes. Special diets. The gym. Sports medicine. Coaches. Equipment. Cheerleaders. And so on and so forth. All because lots of folks (especially men) enjoy watching or playing football.

Or take a movie. You need the director. Screenwriters. Actors. Photographers. Composers. Sets. Exotic locations or CGI. DVD or Blu-Ray technology. And so on and so forth. All because lots of folks enjoy watching a movie.

Or take the gambling industry. How much intellectual capital has been invested in making Vegas a tourist magnet? Or take a cruise ship. Or sports car. But you get the idea.

To a great extent we don’t value intelligence for its own sake, but for what it can do. As a means to an end. So often, brilliance is entirely subservient to our feelings. We use our intelligence to make us feel good. Much of our fabulous technology exists for the sole purpose of making life more pleasant. Entertaining us. Making us happy. A few euphoric hours.

Much of this is decadent, but it raises a deeper question: what are emotions? How important are emotions? Where do they fit in Christian theology?

Christian theologians tend to demote feelings. Feelings are secondary. Unreliable. The main thing is right belief and right behavior.

But I’d submit that emotions are a way of valuing or disvaluing things. And there are primary as well as secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are generated by primary emotions.

Take love. Love is clearly a way of valuing something. Conversely, hatred is a way of disvaluing something.

And even though love and hate are opposites, that also explains how love can switch to loathing in the blink of an eye.

If you love someone, and he (or she) betrays you, then that can easily and quickly devolve into hatred. If you’re double-crossed by a stranger or passing acquaintance, it doesn’t have the same effect. For you didn’t value that person the way you valued a spouse or best friend. You deeply valued their affection, understanding, trust, or companionship.

It’s because that person meant so much to you that if you feel betrayed, it cuts so deeply. It can instantly provoke vengeful, spiteful feelings.

Conversely, the betrayer may feel regret. For he (or she) has lost something he once valued in the process.

We feel sad or grief-stricken if we lose something we value, or if we can’t have something we value. We yearn for what we value.

We may feel envious if somebody else has what we value, but lack. We feel jealous if a rival poses a threat to something we value. Jealousy is a type of fear. Fear of loss. Loss of affection. Or admiration.

Anxiety is a type of fear. Fear of loss. Fear of losing, or never having, something we value.

We feel relieved if the threat to what we value dissipates.

We are angry if our efforts to seek or keep what we value are frustrated. We resent the impediment. And frustration, itself, reflects a failure to attain or maintain what we value.

We feel disappointed if we were hoping for something we value, but it eluded our grasp.

We feel satisfied or contented if we have what we value.

We may feel bitter, alienated, or depressed if we are trapped in something we disvalue, or if we despair of never having what we value.

In pity or sympathy, we identify our values with the values of another.

So our emotional repertoire is a complete value-system unto itself. A tacit, innate value-system. For good or ill, our emotional life will mirror our values. An expression of our ethics.

Whether emotions are good or bad all depends on what we value or disvalue. What we treasure. Cherish.

Where is your treasure? Do we value the right things? Do our values align with our God-given design?

In that sense, there’s nothing wrong with living for your feelings as long as your feelings value the right things, or disvalue the wrong things.

At the same time, emotions are derivative. It’s a mistake to focus on feelings rather than the underlying source. The way to cultivate right feelings is to cultivate the right source of right feelings. Learn to prize what matters. 

J.P. Holding And Richard Carrier Debate On The New Testament Text

J.P. Holding will be debating Richard Carrier on the reliability of the New Testament text this coming April 9. For more information, scroll to the bottom of the page here, and see J.P. Holding's blog entry here and Richard Carrier's here.

For those interested in reading more about the subject of the debate, I wrote a series of posts on the New Testament text here, here, and here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A 2k primer

Consequences of Confusing the Two Kingdoms or Denying our Dual Citizenship
When these two kingdoms are confused or conflated, we see the rise of the "social gospel" of Protestant liberalism, American civil religion of the Christian right and the liberal left, as well as the rise of Constantianism (Christendom).  The church must never take up the sword and Caesar must never enter the pulpit.
When the Christian's dual citizenship is denied (or ignored), we see the rise of asceticism, pietism, radical pacifism and Anabaptism.
Therefore, a Christian is free to work with non-Christians in the civil kingdom to promote the common good and preserve a just society.  But the kingdom of Christ is tied to word and sacrament and the church (and its officers and members) must speak to the pressing moral issues of the day in terms of law and gospel, not in terms of the political activism found in the civil kingdom.  Yes, the church must address moral issues as they are found and framed in Scripture (through the preaching and catechetical function of the church), but the church is not to engage in partisan politics, nor endorse any political party or candidate.

i) So what does he mean by “the church”? Does his definition include Christ as the head of the church? But that can’t be, since Christ is king of both “kingdoms.”

ii) Does he mean church officers and church members? If so, suppose we plug that definition into his strictures:

Church officers and/or members must no “engage in partisan politics, nor endorse any political party of candidate.”

Really? A Christian layman must never engage in partisan politics, endorse any political party or candidate? Is he serious? Christians are not entitled to work through the democratic process?

A Christian layman must never take up the sword? Christians are not entitled to run for public office? Or serve in the military?

Is that what he means? If that’s not what he means, then what in the world does he mean?

And to the degree that he qualifies his dichotomy, then don’t the two kingdoms overlap in ways that render the dichotomy unsustainable, both in principle and in practice? 

The Noachic covenant

Some 2k proponents limit capital punishment to murder, by appealing to the “common grace” covenant (as they classify it) which God made with Noah (e.g. Gen 9:5-6). But there are several basic problems with this argument:

i) The justification is grounded in their appeal to Scripture. Indeed, to the OT. To Klinean covenant theology. But in that case, they believe the Bible ought to norm public policy. Ought to norm modern statecraft and modern penology.

So it’s no longer a question of whether the Bible ought to norm the law for believers and unbeliever alike, but where in the Bible we should look to norm the law for believers and unbelievers alike.

Yet proponents of 2k typically invoke general revelation rather than special revelation as the common source and standard of morality and law for believers and unbelievers alike.

So there seems to be a central contradiction in appealing to the Biblical witness to God’s covenant with Noah, even if we accept their idiosyncratic interpretation of the Noachic covenant.

ii) The Noachic authorization for the death penalty carries over into the Mosaic covenant (Num 35; Exod 21:18).

Yet 2k proponents say the Mosaic covenant was abrogated by the new covenant. But if there’s carryover between the Noachic covenant and the Mosaic covenant, then the provisions of the Mosaic covenant can’t be treated as if they were uniquely cultic or theocratic. For, by Klinean lights, the Noachic covenant is a common grace covenant. But if key elements of the Noachic covenant carry over into the Mosaic covenant, then the Mosaic covenant also exemplifies common grace as well as special grace. In that event, it’s not a purely timebound arrangement. Rather, it instantiates certain timeless principles. So it can’t be treated as if it were an all-or-nothing arrangement.

iii)By the same token, the injunction concerning capital punishment in Gen 9:5-6 comes on the heels of the injunction concerning exsanguination (vv3-4). Yet exsanguination also carries over into the Mosaic law (Lev 17; Deut 12).

Therefore, you can’t draw a cut-and-dried dichotomy between the “common grace” covenant that God made with Noah and the (allegedly) typological covenant that God made with Moses. Put another way, you can’t say the Noachic covenant represents culture while the Mosaic covenant represents cult. For there’s overlap.

iv) Indeed, exsanguination, as well as the kosher laws generally, are something we’d ordinarily association with the ceremonial law rather than the moral law. With cultic holiness. Ritual purity. So how can that be present in a “common grace” covenant (i.e. the Noachic covenant) as well as the Mosaic covenant?

v) Moreover, capital punishment is not an isolated penalty in Biblical justice. Rather, it’s a special case of a broader principle–the lex talionis. An eye-for-an-eye. Hence, capital punishment can’t be segregated from Biblical justice in general.

vi) Ironically, this 2k argument is also at odds with Klinean hermeneutics. According to Kline:

The counterarguments often drawn from statements concerning man’s diet in Genesis 1:29 and 9:3 are not cogent. In Genesis 1:29 the explicit assignment of the plant world to man for food is not restrictive, as though that were the only kind of food permitted him…These considerations show how unwarranted is the assumption that the silence of this passage concerning man’s use of animals flesh as food must be intended as a prohibition as such.
The authorization in Genesis 9:6a for this ultimate prerogative of man’s common grace endowment with dominion is accompanied by the statement that he is the image of God, the likeness and vicegerent of him who exercises absolute dominion over all (v.6b). In Genesis 1:27-30 man’s identity as image of God is stated first (v27a) and then the significance of that is expounded in terms of man’s investment with the God-like glory of dominion (vv28-30). In Genesis 9:2-6 the dominion is set forth first (vv2-6a) and then man’s image-of-God status is cited at the close as the explanation of his magisterial appointment (v6b).
The subject of man’s dominion over animals (9:2) leads to the topic of animals serving as food (9:3), and that to the prohibition of eating the life-blood (9:4), which leads to the matter of shedding man’s lifeblood and the judicial response to (murder (9:5,6).

Kingdom Prologue (2000), 54-55; 253, 254.

a) Notice, on this analysis, that the Noachic authorization for capital punishment is a part of literary unit which also includes the command regarding carnivory, animal sacrifice, and exsanguination.

b) And in that regard, Kline objects to the argument from silence. He points out that this command is not proscriptive.

c) Yet when some 2k proponents appeal to Gen 9 to confine capital punishment to murder, they are arguing from silence.  They are treating the command as if it thereby restricted the death penalty to murder. But, of course, the actual terms of the command aren’t that exclusive. They don’t preclude the death penalty for other offenses. Rather, they don’t even speak to that issue. They don’t assign a penalty (capital or otherwise) to other offenses because they don’t address other offenses. 

Is the CBO nonpartisan?

One of the clichés I often hear is the “nonpartisan” nature of the CBO. As such, its budgetary projections can be trusted.

But is the CBO nonpartisan? To my knowledge, the CBO is far from nonpartisan. To the contrary, the CBO is highly partisan. It simply mirrors whichever party happens to be in power at any particular time.

The CBO crunches the numbers, but it must accept the budgetary gimmicks stipulated by the party in power as its starting point. So the CBO is a highly partisan scorekeeper. It merely changes teams from one election cycle to another, depending on the balance of power. Its estimates will always be partisan estimates. 

Liberal economics

Liberal economics is a vicious cycle. To support the Nannystate, blue states have high tax rates. High taxes drive many residents to move out of state. When taxpayers move out of state, the state loses tax revenue.

How do blue states respond? Why, by hiking taxes to make up for the lost tax revenue. Every time they raises taxes, more residents leave. They lose more tax revenue. So they raise taxes yet again (and again and again) to compensate for lost revenue.

Notice a pattern? You’d think that’s self-evident, as well as self-defeating. But, somehow, liberal politicians are oblivious to the pattern. Oblivious to the self-repeating failure.

And, of course, moving out of state may be no escape in the long run. If blue states default, they expect fiscally responsible states to pick up the tab via the largess of the federal gov’t. 

The dog that didn't bark

Darryl Hart is a leading proponent of 2k. Here’s a statement of his that he republished last year:

The Philonomian Temptation
January 21st, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
Since some readers consider me clueless about the law to the point of being antinomian, the following essay, originally printed in the October 2002 issue of the NTJ, may be useful for clarifying the concerns of Oldlife.
The difference between Rome and Protestantism these days on good works actually works toward Roman Catholicism’s favor. The church that once accused Luther’s teaching of antinomianism has consistently made room for repeat offenders, the kind of sinners whom Protestants are quick to remove from church rolls. Roman Catholic history is filled with examples of believers who fall off the wagon, repent, confess their sin and find forgiveness in the church’s ministry. From whiskey priests to mafia dons, the Roman Catholic church has been a communion, despite its teaching on the relationship of faith and works, where the believer’s ongoing battle with sin is frankly acknowledged and accommodated. This makes it one of the great ironies in Western Christianity that the ones who originally accused Luther of sanctioning immorality have been the communion to provide what appears a roomier basis for fellowship than Protestants can muster.
The recent scandal surrounding Roman Catholic priests and pedophilia suggests that this may be changing, that, in fact, becoming an American church has involved becoming infected with Protestant philonomianism. This is certainly the impression that Richard John Neuhaus gives in his comments on the meeting of the United States bishops in Dallas to address the sexual misconduct of priests. The editor of First Things quoted one reporter who claimed that the American bishops “behaved more like Senators or CEO’s engaged in damage control than as moral teachers engaged in the gospel.” Neuhaus fears that the adopted policy of “one strike” and “zero tolerance” will prevent repentant priests from coming forward and seeking help and forgiveness. Even worse, he writes, is what the policy of retribution does to the church’s witness. “The bishops have succeeded in scandalizing the faithful anew by adopting a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and un-Catholic approach to sin and grace.” They wound up with “a policy that is sans repentance, sans conversion, sans forbearance, sans prudential judgment, sans forgiveness, sans almost everything one might have hoped for from bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ.” Of course, Reformed Christians have a different understanding of the basis for a sinner’s forgiveness. But Neuhaus’ complaint, the bishops’ policies notwithstanding, implies that the language of mercy may be more the possession of Catholics than Protestants.

I agree with him that it helps to clarify his concerns. Let’s examine that clarification:

i) Hart apparently agrees with the prior position of the Vatican, before the scandal broke. Up until that time, the Vatican treated clerical abuse as a sin rather than a crime. The abusive priest should be given a second chance. Recidivist abusers should be subject to confession and absolution rather than excommunication and prosecution. 

That policy “actually works towards Roman Catholicism’s favor.” “Mercy is more the possession of Catholics than Protestants.” And that’s preferable to the “infection” of “Protestant philonomianism.”

But aren’t there some rather glaring problems with Hart’s sympathies?

ii) It blurs the distinction between sins and crimes. Not all crimes are sins. Not all sins are crimes.

iii) What about mercy? There are two parties to pedophilia: the victim and the victimizer. If you have a policy that’s merciful to the abuser, than policy will be both merciless and unjust to the actual or would-be victims of the abuse. So, given that dilemma, shouldn’t the interests of the innocent minor take precedence over the interests of the sexual predator?

iv) How many times does Hart think an abusive church officer should be allowed to “fall off the wagon” before he’s defrocked, excommunicated, and his conduct is reported to the authorities? Isn’t Hart’s prescription exactly what got the Roman Church mired in this scandal to begin with?

v) Forgiveness doesn’t ipso facto change a compulsive behavior. It doesn’t make the offender trustworthy. Why should we put minors at risk?

I once had a friend who was a really nice guy. Well, I need to modify that statement. He was a really nice guy when he wasn’t on drugs.

But when he went back on drugs, he couldn’t be trusted. He would do anything to support his habit.

I’m sure he hated himself for what he did. I’m sure he was remorseful when he stole money from his wife to support his habit.

And it’s tragic. It’s tragic to see someone trapped in a self-destructive lifestyle. Tragic to see someone commit slow motion suicide.

Still, when you’re dealing with someone like that, you have to take precautions. You have to maintain a safe distance. You wouldn’t give him your house keys or car keys or meet him in a dark, deserted alley. For when the urge is overwhelming, he can’t be trusted.

Maybe you can buy him lunch if you meet him on the street. You can pray for him.

But there’s only some much you can do. You’d like to do more, but it isn’t prudent to stick your neck out. You expose yourself to harm, and others to harm in the process.

vi) Hart fancies himself an ethicist. A 2k ethicist. Well, how much moral discernment does it take to see what’s wrong with his position?

vi) And he’s not the only one, sorry to say.  Reed DePace left a comment. Reed is another 2k proponent. Unfortunately, Reed is the proverbial dog who didn’t bark. He simply left a favorable comment the Heidelberg Catechism and the WCF.

Yet Reed is a pastor. A shepherd of the flock. Why didn’t he find Hart’s position at all troublesome? Is that anyway to protect the sheep? To protect the lambs?

Or is there something about the 2k mindset that induces moral laryngitis? What would Darryl have to say to before the mute little dog found its voice?  

Testimony to Our Time

I’m going to comment on a policy statement at WSC:

Among other things, it says:

  The Board and Faculty of WSC have unanimously adopted this testimony.

Of particular interest is the following provision:

 Concerning Abortion 
We believe:
  • That the unborn child from conception is a human being in the image of God.
  • That abortion as practiced today is a scandal and a grievous sin.
  • That laws to protect the right to life of the unborn are needed in our land and throughout the world.
  • That the Christian community must teach and exemplify biblically responsible sexuality and reproduction and must provide support services for pregnant women to facilitate the choice of a live birth.

Keep in mind that the framers of the document were ordained ministers. And the current faculty are ordained ministers as well. So I pose the following questions:

i) Do the 2k members of the faculty deem it appropriate for representatives of the church (i.e. church officers) to lobby (in public or private) for prolife legislation? Or does that confound the kingdoms?

ii) The document’s opposition to abortion is grounded in a Scriptural rationale, viz. “grievous sin,” “the image of God.” So is it acceptable for Word of God to norm public policy?

iii) Assuming that’s acceptable, where do the 2k faculty draw the line?

iv) According to 2k penology, what parties to an abortion should be legally liable?

v) According to 2k penology, what penalties are suitable in case of abortion?

vi) What are the 2k faculty doing to instruct students on their Christian civic duty, as enjoined by imperative terminology of the institutional policy?

vii) In the event that some 2k faculty dissent from the official policy of the seminary, what disciplinary measures will the Board be taking to enforce the terms of the policy?  

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Natural law theory

Some 2k proponents advocate natural law as their alternative to propositional revelation. I myself don't object to natural law appeals, per se, within the limitations of a natural law approach. However, all I'm seeing from the 2k camp are natural law assertions rather than natural law arguments. I don't see them presenting a specific list of what activities ought to be criminalized, what corresponding penalties ought to be assigned, and the natural law arguments in support of each. 

We're getting promissory notes rather than anything resembling a carefully reasoned alternative. You'd never know from the facile appeals to natural law that we're seeing from the 2k camp that natural law theory is fraught with complexities, ambiguities, and imponderables. Here are two good online resources which give an overview of the challenges to this approach:

The Fearsome Pirate on statecraft

James Anderson on 2k

2k duplicity

One of the oddities of the 2k debate is the spectacle of 2k ministers lecturing the laity on church/state separation. But if they really believe in church/state separation, why don’t 2k ministers stay within the boundaries of their own “kingdom”?

How does that apply to the laity? Even if ministers are not supposed to stray into politics, laymen aren’t ministers. Aren’t the laity free to politicize social issues to their heart’s content?

Why are 2k ministers trying to “bind the conscience” of laymen by lecturing them on their proper role in the public square? Why do k2 ministers trespass their own boundaries while attempting to treat the laity as if they were the clergy? They presume to draw lines for laymen while they step over their own lines. 

Do what we say, not what we do, redux

Jason Stellman is a prominent 2k proponent. His recent book on 2k was plugged by fellow 2k cohort Scott Clark.

I’m must say I’m puzzled by where 2k proponents draw the line. Over at his blog (Creed Code Cult), Stellman has lots of op-ed pieces under headings like “American Babylon,” “Politics,” and “Pop Culture.”

Yet Stellman is an ordained minister. Indeed, a PCA pastor. If he really believes in church/state separation, why doesn’t he stay on his side of the wall?

Why is he venturing into the public domain to opine on public policy? Why does he have a foot in both camps? Shouldn’t he keep his moral, political and socioeconomic views to himself?  

Isn’t this a case of the church telling the state what the state ought to do? So where's the big difference between what Stellman does at his blog, and what Tim and David Bayly do at theirs?

The main difference I can see is that the Bayly brothers are morally consistent. (Not to mention that they have better judgment.)

Is it just that he compartmentalized his piety? That he ventures into the culture wars outside of church, but not inside of church?

Is that what the distinction between cult and culture amounts to? A piece of furniture? If you say it behind the pulpit, that’s confounding the kingdoms, but if you wait until you step outside the four walls of the church, then that somehow upholds the key distinction? Stick to the Great Commission Sunday Morning, but opine on politics, foreign policy, the culture wars, &c., throughout the week.

Is a piece of furniture all that separates the two kingdoms? And it just depends on what side of the furniture you’re on?

Fact is, you can’t even speak to church/state relations unless you climb over the wall. Is there some reason that 2k ministers should exempt themselves from their own sanctimonious strictures?