Saturday, October 20, 2012

Helping to put things aright

Down below, Jason Engwer left the following comment on my post entitled Reformation Season.

That’s a good idea, John.

To expand on one of the points you made, we should keep in mind that Roman Catholicism’s liberalism has had a major impact on other holidays and seasons. Much of the anti-Biblical material that’s published during the Christmas season, for example, comes from Roman Catholic scholarship and former Catholics (e.g., Raymond Brown, John Dominic Crossan, Geza Vermes). Then there’s the failure of so many Catholics, not just liberals, to do much to defend the traditional view of the infancy narratives or the Biblical resurrection accounts, for instance. Evangelicals are at the forefront of conservative Biblical scholarship and apologetics, whereas Catholics are much less so, despite their advantages (larger size, more money, more media access, etc.). As I’ve worked in apologetic contexts over the years, and in the process of watching what’s going on elsewhere, I’ve been astonished by how much bad and how little good Roman Catholicism does relative to its opportunities.

My response to him was a bit long, so I thought I’d turn it into a fresh post:

Thanks Jason -- We're about to have a presidential election, and I think that Romney will win, and that we'll be able to see an improving economy for a bit. But longer term, a presidential election is not going to solve a lot of problems.

In this country alone, the number of abortions performed every year is so outrageous, the debt structure is so massive, and the morality is such an indictment on our culture, that I honestly think that the only cure for our ills is Christ alone, and by extension, the true church bringing Christ to the world, “making disciples of all nations” as it has been commissioned to do.

I would qualify slightly one thing that you say. You talk about “how much bad and how little good Roman Catholicism does relative to its opportunities”. That much alone is true, looking across the world in our day.

But historically, I think that very many of the evils in the world are the result of things that “the official church”, “the church which perceives itself to be in authority” has done, officially -- extending back into the early church. While many individual Christians have done many good things -- and many of these were either “Catholics” from the first millennium (like Augustine), say, or “Roman Catholics” in the last 500 years, by far it seems to me that what is wrong with the world today is traceable to causes put into motion by the official church.

Some of these are inadvertent. We may think of the sudden rise of Islam. Islam was able to conquer areas of the world where the Christian church was cut off by schism. That includes Monophysite Africa and “Nestorian” Asia. Islam was able to spread so quickly, in part, because huge parts of the church had been cut off from larger portions of the church and did not have the wherewithal to stop its earthly spread.

The Medieval European church, while fostering the rise of learning and the universities, also officially took doctrinal positions which had to be opposed, and the Protestant Reformation, while offering the best hope to the world of that day, was mightily opposed by the Roman church, and had to make strange alliances with secular governments, alliances that turned out not to be in the best interest of the cause of Christ.

This is not an attempt at placing blame, but really, an honest look to try to see what went wrong, and what might be done to try (from our end) to help put things aright.

I continue to think that Roman Catholicism’s claims of authority, the claim that “the church that Christ founded subsists in the Roman Catholic Church”, is the biggest impediment in the world today, working against “the church” being what “the church” really ought to be in the world.

With that said, I’m tremendously encouraged by some of the discussions I’m seeing around the Internet. I think Andrew Clover’s Lutheran and Reformed Discussion Group is a model that we’ll want to look at moving forward. While there are still some disagreements, the potential for folks from one side understanding the other side are tremendous.

And while the “two kingdoms” discussions generate a lot of heat, some of the rough edges on the various sides of this debate are being worn down, and the result, I think, will be that Christians, on the whole, will have a better understanding of the role of the church vis-à-vis government.

As well, The Gospel Coalition has just recently published The New City Catechism, which is very much like one of the earliest confessions from the Protestant era. Using the latest technology to promote some of the best theology is only going to have a good effect on the church.

While I don’t think The New City Catechism will turn the Trinity Broadcasting network into Orthodox Puritans, it will enable far more evangelicals to be honestly and historically informed about the Christian faith. Far more opportunities along these lines are coming. And that’s cause for great hope.


  1. Hello friend.
    This might come across as a bit harsh, but how can any intelligent christian person support Mitt Romney? He changes his position on ANYTHING depending on who he is talking to, including abortion, taxes, health care, you name it, and tells any kind of lies without flinching. I'm following your election here from Norway and I must say I'm astonished by all the obvious stupidity I witness.

    1. The usual argument is that he is the lesser of two evils.

    2. Stein-Erik Dahle,

      Romney hasn’t been as inconsistent as you’re suggesting, but he has been inconsistent to a large degree. It doesn’t follow that he’ll be that inconsistent in the future. There’s no higher office for him to seek than the presidency, and he has an interest in maintaining more of a reputation of consistency once he attains that office. He’s surrounded himself with conservatives, and there will be a lot of pressure on him to govern conservatively. He’ll have a largely conservative Congress to work with.

      Even if he were to change again on some issues, he’d still most likely be much better than Obama. The difference between the two men consists of trillions of dollars of government spending, the appointing of judges who are on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum, etc. Romney and Obama are significantly different. If Romney moved to the center, he’d still be much further to the right than Obama.

      A vote isn’t equivalent to an endorsement of everything a candidate stands for. There’s nothing inherently sinful about voting for a candidate who’s wrong on an issue or even many issues. For example, if you vote for a liberal Republican in order to give the conservative Republican party control of the Senate, then your vote for a liberal will advance the conservative cause by giving a conservative party control of the Senate. Does voting for that liberal prove that you support liberalism in and of itself? No. Is it sinful to vote for that liberal candidate? No, unless there’s some further qualifier involved that would outweigh something like giving the Republican party control of a legislative body. Christians who argue against doing such things under any circumstances are acting unwisely and are furthering evil rather than good.

      We don’t vote alone. We vote along with other people. Our society has given us a choice between Romney and Obama. I’m not aware of any third party that would warrant support in this context (none of them have a promising enough future, the current race between Romney and Obama is close enough to make a vote for a third party too dangerous in many places, the message sent by voting for Romney is likely to have a better effect than a barely-noticed message sent by voting for a third party, etc.). Romney’s significantly better than Obama. If it makes sense for some people who are eligible to vote to support a third party candidate or to not vote this year, I suspect that those people are few and far between. For at least the large majority of us, voting for Romney should be an easy choice to make. Our nation is headed over a cliff. Our only choices are to either stop the car by driving it into a ditch (Romney) or step on the accelerator and continue heading toward the edge of the cliff (Obama). Let’s drive it into the ditch. We apply the same sort of reasoning to many other areas of life, including ethical contexts. We should apply it to political contexts as well.

  2. Jason,

    "If it makes sense for some people who are eligible to vote to support a third party candidate or to not vote this year, I suspect that those people are few and far between."

    Pragmatically, do you consider there to be that many relevant states up for grabs? I don't.

    1. Ryan,

      The race isn’t close in most states. But whether it’s close in a state is only one factor to take into account. We’d also consider what messages are being conveyed by the vote and how strong those messages will be, for example. And we should consider what messages are being conveyed by voting for a third party candidate. If the third party doesn’t have a promising future, has significant potential to do a lot of damage in a closer race in some later election year, etc., then why encourage that third party with your support? Something we have to keep in mind is how much time we think we have to work with. When you see the Supreme Court so evenly balanced between liberals and conservatives, sixteen trillion dollars of debt, etc., do you think we have time to slowly build up a third party that’s currently at less than one percent in the polls, that we should weaken the message conveyed through this election by not voting, etc.? What’s our current context? Does something like supporting a third party or not voting make sense in that context? Even if it makes sense in other contexts, does it make sense where we are now?

  3. Jason,

    I don't discourage voting. My interest lies in the idea that it doesn't make sense to vote for a third party candidate. I am not sure what message you think ought to be conveyed such that undecided voters in non-swing states - a number that even at this point in the process I would hesitate to call "few and far between" and certainly is more than 1% - should vote for Romney? We can talk about what "potential damage" that could be done of a relatively higher portion of the state voted for a third party candidate, but we could also talk about the actual damage the virtual two-party system has done. Even though we are speaking pragmatically, I see no reason to vote for Romney over Gary Johnson when I prefer the latter. I live in Georgia, a classic red state. Romney's going to win it this year, so I don't see any point in campaigning for a candidate who would not be my first choice. Maybe it would be different if a were in a swing state, though I admit I tend to be more of an idealist.

    1. Ryan,

      Before I saw your post, I began drafting a post that I'll be putting up on this subject tomorrow morning, in a new thread. I'll reserve most of my comments for that post.

      You refer to "the actual damage the virtual two-party system has done". As I said earlier, how much time do we have to work with? The Supreme Court is evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, we have around sixteen trillion dollars in debt, we're at a turning point as a nation on the subject of homosexuality (with a highly pro-homosexual president seeking reelection), etc. Do we have the time needed to gradually build up support for a third party?

      The particular third party you've referred to, represented by Gary Johnson, has a long record of receiving little support. I don't think that party has much of a future.

      Yes, the Republicans do "actual damage". That's in contrast to the theoretical good that Libertarians talk about, but don't do much to implement. If they can't get into power and maintain that power while advocating the positions they hold, then what's the use of their theoretical advantages? The Republican party is more conservative than the American people, yet it often gets into power and maintains that power for significant periods of time. The Republicans have accomplished many significant good things. We can work on changing the culture for the better, and maybe a political option better than the Republicans will emerge from that. But the Republican party is the best option we have for now.

      It was good enough for Gary Johnson until earlier this year. But it's not good enough now? Why do supporters of men like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson keep suggesting that the Republican party should be abandoned, even though their candidates still belong to that party (Ron Paul) or were just recently part of it (Gary Johnson)?

  4. "Do we have the time needed to gradually build up support for a third party?"

    That depends on to what end the support is designed. I may be an idealist, but I know Johnson has no chance to win in this or any state. That's not the point. The point is that since my vote is not going to change the fact Romney is going to win in my state anyway, I might as well vote for who I like best, hoping for incremental progress in the recognition of alternatives to the current "electable" candidates, however small it may be.

    I don't suggest abandoning the party, although I would argue that Johnson's platform is more consistent with what is considered the Republican party's view of limited government than is Romney. Despite my dislike for the pragmatic approach, I have only been arguing that the people who at least consider voting for a third party candidate are those who are not probable swing state voters. There are more than a "few" who fit this bill, and I think the message they would send to both Republicans and Democrats - shape up or ship out - would do more good than what message you think should be sent (which I'm still not clear on).

    "That's in contrast to the theoretical good that Libertarians talk about, but don't do much to implement."

    Don't, or can't? Either way, I look forward to your post.

    1. For those who are interested, the other thread I referred to above can be found here.


      You refer to "incremental progress in the recognition of alternatives to the current 'electable' candidates". Who isn't aware that there are alternatives? If you want to increase the awareness of a particular alternative, such as the Libertarians, then you have to take into account how little attention that alternative would likely get in an election year like this one. Most news stories that mention the percentage who didn't vote for Romney or Obama probably won't single out the Libertarian party by name. Among those that do, what they say about that party won't amount to much. How much good has that sort of incrementalism done the Libertarian party in the decades in which it's been implemented so far?

      In contrast, the size of Romney's victory will receive a lot of attention at both the state and the national levels. It will have a significant impact on who runs for state and national offices in the future and how much support and how little opposition Romney will receive in the process of implementing his platform. The size of his victory also affects how voters, commentators, the media, and other segments of society view themselves and the significance of their efforts. Obama supporters who deserve to be rebuked, for example, will receive a stronger rebuke by means of a stronger Romney victory. There's also the fact that Romney has such an inconsistent record, so that a stronger victory after running as a conservative will make him more likely to govern as a conservative.

      I'm glad that you make exceptions for swing state voters to support Romney. That's a better position than a lot of third party supporters take. But I think voting for Romney generally makes sense even in states where the race isn't close.