Saturday, November 17, 2012

Freedom, determinism, and alternate realities

Freewill theists typically assume that determinism disallows alternate possibilities. However, Don Page is a Calvinist who not only deems determinism to be consistent with alternate possibilities, but goes that one better by combining determinism with alternate realities!

Page earned a doctorate in astrophysics from Caltech. After that he was Stephen Hawking’s postdoc assistant at Cambridge for three years (1976-79).

Here’s a part of his overall position, which also includes elements of a natural law theodicy.

Science reveals the intelligibility of the universe;
The Bible reveals the Intelligence behind the universe.

I have often said that nothing I have learned in science has challenged my faith so much as the problem of evil, which confronts everyone and which has been discussed at least as far back as the Book of Job in the Bible. For me the problem of evil is perhaps somewhat exacerbated by the fact that I do not believe in human free will in what is called the incompatibilist sense, meaning free will that is incompatible with determinism.

Free will in the contrary compatibilist sense means the freedom to act according to one’s wishes and decisions, which I believe does exist. I would agree with Arthur Schopenhauer that “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”

Here if I speak of “free will” without an explicit modifier, I mean it in the libertarian or incompatibilist sense, the ability to make choices that are not fully determined by causes outside the person, such as God. However, I do not wish to contradict beliefs or doctrines of the existence of free will, since if it is interpreted in the compatibilist sense, I have no opposition to that idea.

If libertarian human free will were to exist, one might say that the ultimately responsibility for the actions of a person would lie in the free-will choices of that person, perhaps absolving God of the ultimate responsibility for the evil the person were to commit. However, there still might be the question of why God would permit a person to carry out an evil libertarian free will choice that hurts others. As Steven Weinberg notes, “It seems a bit unfair to my relatives to be murdered in order to prove an opportunity for free will for Germans, but even putting that aside, how does free will account for cancer? Is it an opportunity of freewill for tumors?”

On the other hand, if free will does not exist, then one might say that the ultimate responsibility for a person’s actions would lie in the ultimate determining cause or causes outside the person, that is, God, if God is indeed the ultimate cause. This might seem to heighten the problem of reconciling evil with the idea of a perfectly good God.

Lest people think that they would be absolved of responsibility for their actions in a world without free will, I should hasten to say that I believe that the person would still have responsibility in the sense of respond-ability–the ability to respond to moral demands placed on him or her, even if the response is completely determined by external causes (which include those moral demands). Therefore, he or she can be held accountable for not obeying those demands. I do not believe that a lack of free will means that one can be justified in expecting not to be punished for one’s evil deeds, or that society does not have the right to carry out such punishment. Indeed, such punishment can be viewed as a good cause for improving society and the welfare of its individuals.

In Romans 9:19-21, the Apostle Paul essentially says someone may ask how God blame us if He determines our actions. Paul does not take this opportunity to deny determinism by God and say that we have free will, but rather he defends God’s right to do what He chooses. I think this passage shows that God can hold us responsible even if it is His will that determines what we do.

Part of my scepticism about free will comes from my belief that the simplest theories of physics consistent with our observations are deterministic, though this is controversial. For example, quantum theory is often considered to be indeterministic. Some interpretations of quantum theory give probabilities of possible events, but then which event actually happens is a matter of chance and is not determined by the theory. (The random choice of which event actually occurs is called the collapse of the quantum state or wave function.)

However, there are several different interpretations of quantum theory. One that appears simplest to me and which seems to have become adopted among a majority, though not by all, of my theoretical cosmology colleagues (but perhaps only among a minority of all physicists) is the so-called Everett “many worlds” view. This model postulates that all possible outcomes that quantum theory predicts as possible really do occur, so that the totality of outcomes evolve deterministically, with no random collapse of the quantum state. It is true that one cannot predict uniquely which individual outcome will occur (since there is not just one). So each particular outcome may seem random, but if indeed all outcomes occur, the totality is not random but instead is uniquely determined by the initial quantum state and its evolution. Of course, this does not mean that it is determined apart from God, but rather in a theistic view one might postulate that God creates and determines the entire quantum state and its evolution.

For me an even more convincing reason for not believing that humans have free will is that I personally think the simplest belief, and the simplest interpretation of the Bible (such as Romans 9:19-21), is that God completely creates, causes, and determines everything other than Himself from nothing outside Himself. (By everything, I am excluding logically necessary truths like theorems of mathematics that I believe can be neither created nor destroyed. Here I also exclude God from “everything.”). The meaning of creation from nothing (other than God) that makes most sense to me is that what God creates, He completely causes and completely determines, though many theists disagree with me.

I see at least these two mutually exclusive e possibilities for the world:

1. God creates and fully determines everything

2. There occur free-will choices not determined by God.

Most theists appear to believe the second possibility, but to me the first possibility seems simpler and more in accord with what I see the Bible says. Thus it seems to me that the simplest biblical view of God is that He completely creates, causes, and determines everything from nothing outside Himself. That is, I believe that all causal chains ultimately go back to God.

I essentially follow the viewpoint of the great seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, in his book Theodicy, that this is the best possible world. The idea is that it is the whole that is the best possible, and not necessarily each part in isolation. One can see creation as a tapestry, and our view of nearby threads does not show the entire pattern that God creates. One might wonder why God does not make each individual part the best possible, but this might not be logically compatible with optimizing the whole. The good of the whole and of a given part may logically compete. Even God is not immune from logical necessity, so in order to create the best, He may need to have some of the individual parts not appear best if they were viewed in isolation.

I agree that there probably must be a trade-off between competing goods, even though I find the idea of libertarian free will implausible. Therefore, the free-will theodicy does not satisfy me intellectually. It also does not satisfy me morally in that I do not see that the value of free will would justify the evils that supposedly arose from it.

In the Everett “many worlds” version of quantum theory, a person is continually branching into many copies (each copy in a different Everett “world,” which should not be confused with the entire world of all that exists). Even with exactly the same genes and previous experiences (the same “nature” and “nurture”), the outcomes in the different Everett “worlds” will be different. In ours Hitler was an evil monster. But I suspect that in most Everett “worlds” with the same early “nature” and “nurture” for Hitler, he was not nearly so evil. (Of course, there is the slip side: in most Everett “worlds,” Mother Teresa also did not turn out so good as she did in ours.)

I believe that it is a consequence of the laws of physics that when a person is faced with a moral choice, in some Everett “worlds” in which that choice is made, an evil choice is made, one that reduces the total happiness of the conscious beings in that Everett “world.” There will also be Everett “worlds” in which a good choice is made, which increases total happiness. (One might postulate that Jesus was an exception, choosing to incarnate Himself with no quantum amplitude to make any evil choices).

D. Page, “The Superb Design,” D. Marshall, ed. Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays in Memory of Paul Brand and Ralph Winter (William Carey Library 2012), chap. 15.

Criss-Cross Gospel

Interesting play on words:

Οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι ἔπεισαν τοὺς ὄχλους ἵνα αἰτήσωνται τὸν Βαραββᾶν τὸν δὲ Ἰησοῦν ἀπολέσωσιν. 21 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἡγεμὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Τίνα θέλετε ἀπὸ τῶν δύο ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· Τὸν Βαραββᾶν. (Matt. 27:20-21)

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 

The crowd requests to destroy (ἀπόλλυμι) Jesus and release (ἀπολύω) Barabbas. Both verbs are in the aorist subjunctive. It's totally twisted and backwards.

It's reinforced by a previous play on words earlier in the text, assuming the textual variant is original:

συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος· Τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν, Ἰησοῦν τὸν Βαραββᾶν ἢ Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον χριστόν; (v. 17)

Therefore, when they had gathered together Pilate said to them, “Which do you want me to release to you? [Jesus] Barabbas or Jesus the one called Christ?” 

Which Jesus will be destroyed, and which Jesus will be released? Of course, the crowd gets it backwards, but so does the Gospel. The Gospel is like Jacob crossing his arms when he blesses Joseph's sons.

God save the queen

I’ll be responding to Ed’s latest reply:

A systematic problem running through Ed’s position is his persistent equivocation of terms. He never gets beyond slogans.

What I am against is using the Church as a politcal force to bring about pressure in the political process in order to impose Christian values on a godles culture that is not in the Christian group and is not expect to hold to Christian values in the first place.

It’s unclear what Ed is opposing.

i) Is he opposing it if “the Church” does it?

ii) If (i), how do he define “the Church”? Does he mean pastors? Laymen? Denominations?

iii) If not (i), is he opposing what is done, regardless of who (e.g. “the Church”) is doing it?

iv) Is he opposed to the imposition of values, or just the imposition of Christian values?

Does he support the imposition of non-Christian values, but oppose the imposition of Christian values?

v) Why should the expectation that people will share the values codified in law be a precondition of law? When we outlaw murder, we impose life-affirming values on would-be murderers whom we don’t expect to share the values of the lawmaker.

It is my view that the Church has become too political in modern American culture.

That’s funny. Many critics of the American church criticize the church for being too frivolous. Too entertainment-oriented. 

Did the apostles really address the gospel to the government or individual civil authorities?

Ed keeps leaning on the argument from silence. However, as is well-known, the argument from silence isn’t sound without further qualifications. Sometimes an argument from silence is plausible, but sometimes an argument from silence begs the question.

When you deploy the argument from silence, you need to show why there’s an expectation that something would be mentioned if it were true. For instance, someone can fail to mention something, not because it isn’t true, but because he and his readers take that for granted.

Moreover, is it lawful to use the Mosaic Covenant to shape the civil laws of gentile governments? I am not saying that it is a bad idea for a government to use the law in this way if that is what they choose to do. That is not the right question. The question lies in the imperative. Does God issue a mandate to governments to use the Mosaic Covenant as the foundation for their civil codes?

Notice how confused this is. He oscillates between suggesting it’s permissible and suggesting it’s unlawful. But it can’t very well be both.

Another good question is God’s requirements for the individual believers living under various forms of government. Does the Christian responsibility change from one system of government to another? I don’t think it does.

But by definition it does change. In the nature of the case, elected officials and American citizens have different legal and civic responsibilities than absolute monarchs and their vassals.

I come to the text with the presuppositions of a grammatico-historical hermeneutic. This hermeneutic provides the guardrails upon which my exegetical process moves.

Let’s see how faithful Ed really is to the grammatico-historical method.

Although the emperor, or king, or governor may be the mediate source by which society is ordered, God is the ultimate source.

That’s true under any system of gov’t.

The right Christian perspective about civil authority is that they are ordained by God for the good of society, even the worst of them. The NT writers never bother to tell us that this truth changes based on any particular system of government. Apparently, it applies to every system.

Once again, Ed is equivocating. What truth doesn’t change? The general truth that gov’t is ordained by God to restrain evil? Or the specific responsibilities of magistrates and citizens?

According to Paul, we are given an urgent divine imperative to pray for Barak Obama and every other politician in Washington and the states and districts.

That’s a red herring. Evangelical culture warriors are not opposed to praying for gov’t officials. So Ed is erecting a false dichotomy, as if prayer and political activism are mutually exclusive.

That Paul is concerned with civil authorities is impossible to miss in his writings. He is clearly concerned with the relationship between the Christian and Emperors, Kings, and Governors. He understands they set the tone for society. How does he think the Church should interact with them? Does he provide Timothy or Titus with a set of instructions for how he wants the Church to influence the civil authorities? He wants us to submit to them, all of them, and to pray for them. It is through living Christ’s values and through prayer that we have our best chance of influencing society it seems.

Notice how Ed violates the grammatico-historical method. He takes a NT text that refers to “kings” or “emperors,” then he substitutes the POTUS, as if Peter or Paul were talking about the POTUS. But that’s anachronistic. That’s putting words in the mouths of Peter and Paul.

When you apply the Bible to the modern situation, you ought to compare like with like. The office of POTUS is not interchangeable with a Roman emperor. A Roman subject is not interchangeable with an American citizen.

When you apply the Bible to the modern situation, you must make allowance for the dissimilarities as well as the similarities. The POTUS doesn’t have the same prerogatives as a Roman emperor. Conversely, American citizens have prerogatives that Roman slaves and plebeians did not.

Immediately after commanding the Roman Christians to over evil with Good, Paul says that everyone must be in subjection to the governing authorities. No exceptions are provided in the text. No qualifiers are given. Even if the government is one with which we disagree, subjection is the proper Christian response. Why? Governments are established by God. This is true even in a democracy.

Under our system of gov’t, elected officials are ultimately subject to the electorate, not vice versa.

While the Scripture mentions prayer as a means to possibly having a peaceful life, it nowhere instructs us to pray for the removal of civil leaders because of their ungodly views. God establishes civil leaders who have the most ungodly of views. Nero was profoundly wicked, yet God set him in the place of civil authority. He killed Peter and Paul and a host of other Christians. While God’s command to Nero personally was repentance, from a civil perspective Nero was God’s servant.
Paul tells us in v. 2 that everyone who resists civil authority also resists God. When the Christian sets out to fight against the current leader, he cannot avoid but fight against God. God has placed the current leader in office. It matters not if you are in a democracy. The important thing here is individual sin. We must be willing to ask ourselves if we sin by engaging in all sorts of efforts to remove the current leader.

i) Ed acts as though it is insubordinate for Christian Americans to exercise their statutory and Constitutional prerogatives and civic responsibilities. Ironically, Ed is the one who’s guilty of insubordination. It’s seditious for Ed to brush aside the statutory and Constitutional restrictions on Executive power, as well as the civil rights of Christian Americans.

If he’s going to keep invoking divine ordination, then, by parity of argument, God ordained our Constitutional system of gov’t. Ed is bucking the system that God ordained by refusing to submit himself to the nature of a republican democracy with popular sovereignty.

ii) BTW, Nero hadn’t begun persecuting Christians at the time Peter and Paul wrote Ed’s prooftexts.

We may address the wicked policies as policies that contradict the holy commands of God.

That’s a striking admission on Ed’s part. It’s hard to see how that’s consistent with his overall position.

But we are interested, not in changing the government, but in changing the individual. We are calling Barak Obama to repentance and faith in God, not in order to win the day and have our platform prevail, but in order that he may know life and know it more abundantly.

i) Obama is just one individual. His personal wellbeing doesn’t take precedence over millions of babies.

ii) Why should we not be interested in changing gov’t policies? Our system of gov’t gives citizens the right to change gov’t policies by expressing their will through their elected representatives, or by direct democracy (e.g. referenda).

Civil rulers are put in place to direct society as God sees fit. They are there to carry out God’s plan, whatever that plan may be.

American civil rulers are also put in place by voters. God employs the medium of the democratic process. That is also part of his plan. God’s plan includes secondary agents (e.g. voters) to implement his plan.

God indirectly puts civilian rulers in place while voters directly put civilian voters in place. By the same token, when voters remove civilian rulers from office (by electing for someone else), God is removing them from office.

Ed’s appeal to divine providence is selective and one-sided.

Steve Hays has made much of the Mosaic Law in his remarks on why Christians should be politically active. From my perspective, his general principles moving to logical inferences are nebulous principles employing incoherent logic that result in arbitrary and capricious applications.

Notice that Ed doesn’t attempt to demonstrate that my logic is incoherent. Ed doesn’t attempt to demonstrate that my applications are arbitrary and capricious. We’re just getting his unargued opinion.

The Mosaic Law belongs to Israel, to the Jew. God never gave the law to the gentile. Romans chapter two tells us that the gentiles do not have this law. Moreover, the law was given for a very specific purpose and to use it unlawfully is a serious matter as many false teachers did in the NT. It is illicit use of the law to say that secular gentile governments “ought” to employ it in their legal process. In addition, it is outside the scope of Christianity for the Church to take up such an initiative.

i) Ed is assuming what he needs to prove. As long as something is right or wrong, why does the source matter? Does the source make it right or wrong? Or does the source say it’s right or wrong because it’s antecedently right or wrong, even before that was committed to writing?

Is murder wrong merely because the Decalogue says murder is wrong? Is it the formal prohibition that makes it wrong? Or is it the wrongness of murder that gives rise to the prohibition? When the Decalogue forbids murder, doesn’t that acknowledge the antecedent immorality of murder? The prohibition codifies the moral status of murder rather than constituting the moral status of murder.

Nowhere in the Scriptures are Christians told that their mission is to produce a better, more moral culture.

This is the fallacy of question-framing. Frame the issue in tendentious terms. But that skews the real issue.

Both the OT and the NT state a variety of social duties. So we need to ask ourselves how those general obligations logically translate into specific actions.

Yet, this is exactly what American culture thinks about the Church. American culture thinks the Church uses religion or Jesus to push a conservative political agenda. They don’t see us loving them and simply giving them the gospel and doing good. They don’t hate us because we love Christ in many cases. They hate us because we try to force Christian values on the non-Christian group, and that is simply not the gospel and it is not how we are to be salt and light.

There’s more to loving unbelievers than “simply giving them the gospel.” If, say, Christians lobby to have the disabled legally protected from euthanasia, that is loving the disabled.

If some Americans hate us for protecting the disabled, that’s their problem. You can’t please everyone. What should we most care about? Protecting the physically and mentally disabled? Or the malicious opinion of some Americans who wish to euthanize the physically and mentally disabled? Which better exhibits neighbor-love?

“I have no mouth and I must scream”

I am borrowing a title from a well-known science fiction writer, and applying it to this very real life setting. It seems appropriate:

To someone who was raised and educated in the Catholic school system, as I was, a film like this inspires shock and outrage. "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" documents that child sexual abuse has been epidemic in the church for at least 1,000 years, and in the 19th century, the Vatican first formed an official policy of keeping it secret….

…[A]s I was watching this film I heard a name that was familiar to me, and found that chilling. William E. Cousins was our bishop of the Diocese of Peoria from 1952 to 1958, and then after being made Archbishop of Milwaukee, was reportedly part of the cover-up of the first publicly known charge of sexual abuse against an American priest.

There's no reason to believe he was guilty of abuse himself, but this documentary argues that the entire hierarchy was fully aware of abusive priests and followed the church's ironclad global policy of secrecy.

That first public case involved the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who was a priest at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin. Between 1950 and 1974, he abused young students and enlisted older ones to help him. When a group of his victims, now grown, tried to inform the church about what had been done to them, they were ignored, told to forget about it or assured that it would be taken care of.

Three Milwaukee archbishops were informed of Murphy's behavior, and one of them was Cousins. I read in an article by Laurie Goodstein and David Callender in the New York Times: "Arthur Budzinski and Gary Smith, two more victims of Father Murphy, said in an interview last week that they remember seeing Archbishop Cousins yell, and Father Murphy staring at the floor. The deaf men and their advocates were told that Father Murphy, the school's director and top fund-raiser, was too valuable to be let go, so he would be given only administrative duties."

Murphy remained a priest until his death, and continued to receive assignments and have access to children.

What makes his particular case so painful is that his deaf victims found it difficult to communicate their protests. Police and states attorneys said it was the church's business. Lawsuits were dismissed. Many of the parents of the victims couldn't speak American Sign Language, and the deafness of the school's students made it commonplace for Murphy to visit them at night, moving unheard among the boys in their dormitory…

… We learn of the Servants of the Paraclete, who treat wayward priests and whose founder once declared "there is no cure for pedophilia." He suggested to the Vatican than an island be purchased to isolate these priests from the general population. This purchase was negated, and many of them remain in service today. Given the grievousness of their sins, one wonders why the church continues to shelter them. Might it not be more appropriate to excommunicate them, and refer them to the attention of the civil authorities?

HT: Steve

Friday, November 16, 2012

Open theism is a type of Arminianism

Brian Abasciano says:
November 16, 2012 at 7:11 am


I actually have no problem saying that open theism is generally a variety of Arminianism (with the qualification that emerged from your interaction with Martin above — OT in the sense of a theological research project and proposal among certain evangelicals; there can be open theists who are not Arminian). It is a non-traditional one just as current corporate election Arminianism is a non-traditional one. Open theism typically agrees with every one of the major points of Arminianism, unless one defines conditional election strictly as being according to foreseen faith, in which case, the corporate election model would also be ruled out of Arminianism.

Red pill or blue pill?

The Hebrew Conception of the Universe

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waging war against culture warriors

Ed has a habit of repeating the same claims rather than advancing the argument. Since I’ve already responded to some of Ed’s contentions, so in replying to his post I’ll confine myself to newer stuff.

You assume that the only effective method for opposing something is political activism. That is sheer nonsense. I can speak out against it. I don’t have to attempt policy reform through political activism in order to be against something. If so, why and how?

Of course, I never said the only effective method of opposing “something” is political activism. Rather we were dealing with the specific case of public school indoctrination. And I said that “if you reject Christian political activism, then you have no effective means of opposing the secular education establishment.”

Ed complains about how “the educational institutions play a strategic role in the liberal indoctrination of our children.”

So what, if anything, does he propose to do about it? To merely “speak out” against public school indoctrination is not an “effective” means of opposing it. To merely be “against” something is not an “effective” means of opposing it. Rather, Ed’s alternative is an ineffectual means of opposing it. It doesn’t change anything.

While I identify strongly with the doctrines of grace, and consider myself reformed in terms of my soteriology, I do not agree with covenant theology's hermeneutic. I am good friends with Dr. Henebury and would align more closely with his views on that subject.

I am not a covenant theologian and reject their division of the law. It is based on an illegitimate hermeneutic in my view.

Dispensationalism isn’t intrinsically opposed to the culture wars. Fred Butler is a case in point.

Moreover, one doesn’t have to be a covenant theologian or “theonomist” to grant a fair amount of carryover between OT ethics and NT ethics. Consider the following monographs:

1. Toward Old Testament Ethics, by Walter C. Kaiser

2. Story as Torah, by Gordon Wenham

3. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, by Christopher J. H. Wright

4. The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, by James K. Hoffmeier

Natural theology is the basis for civil law and order.

Culture warriors like Francis Beckwith and Robert George typically ground their positions in natural law, yet you oppose the culture wars. So which is it?

We judge the church, God judges the world (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

i) Non sequitur. Christian political activism isn’t about “judging the world.” Rather, it’s about advancing or defending public policies which respect the right of Christians to discharge their divinely-mandated duties to God and to their fellow man.  And it’s also about advancing or defending social policies which promote the common good.

Far from “judging the world,” this is merciful to unbelievers. Unbelievers benefit from Christian social values. Their children benefit from Christian social values. Their grandparents benefit from Christian social values.

ii) The Pauline passage has reference to church discipline. Christian social conservatives aren’t suggesting that we should practice church discipline on people outside the church. Ed’s citation is off-the-wall.

You are not taking general principles and applying them to specific scenarios.

Ed says it’s not, but he doesn’t show it’s not.

The Law “rewarded” lawful behavior on the part of the Jews, but mostly it cursed them.

It rewards obedience and punishes disobedience. That’s perfectly consonant with what I said.

This was foreseen even before the Law was given. Again, the Law was given to national Israel. It was not given to modern American culture.

As far as that goes, Paul’s epistle to the Romans wasn’t given to 21C Americans. It was given to 1C Christians. So Ed’s objection cuts both says.

The broadest sense in terms that men are commanded to work with their hands to provide for their own. While that work is undefined, nevertheless, it means that we are to have a job. That concept falls safely within the Christian value system.

Opposing abortion, infanticide, sodomite marriage, euthanasia, &c., falls safely within the Christian value system too.

 If a man does not work, neither should he eat. If he does not work, he is worse than an unbeliever. That work might be a civil servant or something else. To say it carries so far as this political activism s a specious argument at best.

Ed is simply disregarding the supporting argument I used to illustrate my contention.

If it was possible for the New Testament Church to be socially responsible, but not politically active, why is that not possible for the modern church? I think you are being anachronistic.

Social responsibilities are not identical across time and space. For instance, American elected officials are answerable to the electorate in a way that Roman emperors were not answerable to the hoi polloi. So Ed is the one who’s being anachronistic here.

Fathers and husbands and children are given specific instructions on how to provide for their families to include their parents. Are we to think that the NT audience had no earthly idea what Jesus meant when He said this or when Paul said it? They knew full-well what Christ and Paul meant. It means to think honorably of them, and to provide for their basic needs if necessary.

Now Ed is shifting ground. He’s no longer appealing to the specificity of the command, because the wording of the command is actually quite vague. Instead, he’s appealing to a cultural preunderstanding.

It does not mean cut the centurion’s throat and overthrow the government to make things better for them. Nor does it mean to engage in efforts to dethrone Caesar because his policies are oppressive to my family, my kids, and my parents.

Notice how Ed acts as if Christian Americans working within the democratic process is analogous to fomenting a violent insurrection.

Now, as a matter of fact, Protestant historical theology does have a theology of revolution, but that’s a side issue in the current discussion.

Defending your kids against a godless culture can be achieved by pointing out the sin in that culture and how that culture engages in one God-hating behavior after another. It means indoctrinating your kids in the way of God. It means living God’s values at home so they can see the difference in the Christian group as opposed to the godless community at large.

Notice how blinkered he is. He takes for granted a situation in which Christians still enjoy parental rights. In which Christian parents still have the freedom to raise their kids in the faith.

But that’s precisely what’s coming under increasing attack. Ed isn’t prepared to deal with the real-world situation confronting us.

Submission to the civil government is the command of Paul.

I dealt with that before:

That government was far more encroached upon the NT Church than American government is.

Wrong. Modern information and surveillance technology makes it possible for the state to be far more intrusive than was possible in Roman times.

Paul said nothing about pushing them back.

That wasn’t a live option back then and there.

He offered no letures telling the church that the government needs to be pushed back so that we can have religious liberty and live in a nice moral culture in which to serve Christ.

Ed acts as if “living in a nice moral culture” is just a favor to Christians who wish to avoid suffering. But a country that’s influenced by Christian social values is beneficial to unbelievers as well.

How about prayer? Paul told Timothy to pray to that end. Isn’t it possible that the vehicle God uses to accomplish this is prayer?

Ed is treating prayer as a substitute for action rather than a preparation for action. But prayer isn’t a way of just fobbing our responsibilities onto God and telling him to do it for us.

If, after having done all we can, we find ourselves in a position where prayer is our only remaining recourse, then so be it. But that’s not an excuse to be like the proverbial fool who doesn’t think ahead, doesn’t take precautions, then cries out to God when foreseeable and preventable disasters overtake him.

Of course it must also be within His divine plan that we live in such a culture and this seems to be an unspoken assumption on your part and the part of all those American Christians who think we deserve religious liberty for some reason when most of our brothers and sisters live in dire circumstances.

i) To begin with, Ed fails to distinguish between civil rights and divine rights. Christians do have civil rights under the US Constitution. So, yes, that’s something we’re entitled to as American citizens.

ii) Do we deserve religious liberty from God? No. But who suggested that this was an issue of getting what we deserve?

Yes, many Third World Christians live in dire circumstances. Does Ed think we should promote living in dire circumstances?

If we lose our rights, it is by divine decree.

And if we don’t lose our rights, it’s by divine decree. And if we defend our rights, it’s by divine decree.

I don’t lose sleep over the possibility that Christianity may be underground in America in 50 years or even sooner.

Since Ed won’t be alive 50 years from now, it’s easy for him not to lose any sleep over that prospect.

And notice the self-fulfilling nature of the prospect. If enough Christian Americans follow Ed’s passive, reactionary example then, of course, they bring it on themselves. They make inevitable what was not inevitable.

I know God is faithful. My hope is not in the American way of life. My hope is built on Christ.

That’s one of those self-congratulatory pieties that makes the speaker feel oh-so devout, but it also twists the real issue out of any recognizable form.

Ed acts as if this is just about preserving the American dream. About Christians having a nice standard of living. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

But that misses the point. For instance, I believe it’s currently legal for a Christian student at a public junior high or high school to form a Bible club. That’s his religious right under the Constitution. And thus far that’s been upheld in court. The public school can only ban a Bible club by banning every other student club.

But he’s not doing that for his own benefit. Rather, that’s a way of reaching out to his lost classmates. Yet Ed would deny them that hope. As long as he’s got his ticket to heaven, then to hell with the up-and-coming generation.

Some additional comments:

This has essentially nothing to do with the fact that Jason’s speech is offensive. That last time I checked, when you become aware that you have offended your brother, you are supposed to go and be reconciled.

That’s simplistic. It’s not enough to be the offended party. You need to be the wronged party. You need to be justifiably offended. The offending party must sin against you, not merely offend you. Anyone can be offended by anything. But that’s not self-warranting.

We should be deeply concerned with those who are vulnerable. But are we to show that concern through imposing Christian values on a godless culture or by some other means?

He talks about imposing Christian values as if that’s onerous.

 How did the early church deal with abortion?

The NT church wasn’t in much position to deal with abortion.

How did it deal with the homosexual issue? Did Paul tell the Roman Christians to lobby Caesar so as to outlaw it? I don’t find Paul even hinting at such actions. He preached repentance. He called it what it was. But he never spent time trying to have it banned.

This is deliberately obtuse. The persistent refusal to take into account radically different circumstances. Christian Americans have opportunities that Christians in the AD 50s did not.

Your divorce analogy is not unlike the rape scenario used by abortionists.

I didn’t use a divorce analogy. I didn’t use an analogy. I discussed divorce because Ed brought it up.

I am talking about the fact that church discipline is almost non-existent for current abusers of grace who do not take God’s word nor the Christian community seriously. These political pastors refuse to act because of the scandal or because people might leave or whatever. I asked one pastor if he was going to act in one case and he told me he was not their Holy Spirit. Another pastor simply allowed the woman to resign and when that happened, even the presbytery did nothing to address the issue. Both of these men were and are highly vocal in their speech against gay marriage. It is hard for me to take either one of them seriously.

What makes him think his anecdotal experience with two pastors is a representative sample group?

So what? Pragmatism? Hypocrisy is just as offensive or perhaps more so to God as the behavior the culture warrior seeks to eradicate. So what, you eradicated sodomy, you replaced it with rank hypocrisy. Nice job!

i) Ed is being dishonest here. I used a hypothetical argument (“But suppose, for the sake of argument…”). I don’t concede the actual hypocrisy. 

ii) Moreover, he is ignoring my actual argument. Hypocrisy doesn't make doing the right thing wrong. 

iii) In addition, it’s not morally compromising when culture warriors avoid futile battles. It’s morally compromising if effecting the right result lies within your power, but you decline it. It’s not morally compromising if you don’t do what you can’t do.

So, not, it’s not hypocritical to pick your fights if you choose issues where you have a reasonable prospect of winning or making gains while declining to waste time on issues–however meritorious–where you have no realistic prospect of success or meaningful progress.

Ed’s objection lacks moral seriousness.

They would only be hypocritical if the doctor accepted your presuppositions about abortion being murder. He does not! Therefore, as far as the doctor is concerned, he is being quite consistent with his worldview. I am going to try to frame this up more clearly using sodomite marriage and divorce.

It’s hypocritical because he arbitrarily protects the life of the toddler, but not the life of the baby.

Therefore, we will turn a deaf ear when our members divorce because it really isn’t that big a deal after all.

When is “when.” If, say, a minister takes a pastorate in which a couple got divorced and remarried (without biblical sanction) 20 years earlier, what is the new minister’s responsibility?

The old “end-justifies-the-means” argument. How many other sins should Christians commit in order to transform the culture? Hypocrisy of any sort is a sin.

i) Once again, Ed is being dishonest. Once again, I was using a hypothetical argument (“Suppose, for the sake of argument…”).

ii) As a matter of fact, sometimes a given end does justify the requisite means. Not every action is intrinsically right or wrong. If an action is intrinsically wrong, then the ends can never justify the means. However, in situations where the action isn’t intrinsically evil, the ends can be justificatory. 

So what are the guiding principles that help you pick which batter takes the top of the list? And where is the exegetical support for that? Where is the exegetical support for engaging in political battles to begin with? All I have seen is an obscure statement about general principles and logical inferences. From where? General principles from where?

He’s posing questions I already answered.

And there is consensus on this, right? Who gets to say which ones are more destructive? The PCA? This opens the can of worms around who decides which issue to attack.

Now Ed is just being willfully contrarian.

I used the term adultery in place of fornication for that reason. Since adultery is the cause of so many divorces, it can only help the institution of marriage to outlaw it.

Which disregard the limitations of the democratic process.

In addition, lying was not a violation of the covenant? Leviticus 19:11 clearly commands the Jew not to lie to one another. Hence, lying is a violation of the covenant. In Jer. 9:3-5, lying is characterized as evil.

Now Ed is playing bait-n-switch. I said lying per se is not an OT “crime.” 

Romans 2 makes a great case for natural law as the foundation for civil law.

Perhaps, although that interpretation is debatable.

"Hypocrisy run amok"

Ed Dingess

I find Jason's comments personally offensive…What ever happened to Christian civility and charity in these sorts of discussions? Why do we always have to resort to harsh insults toward another over issues that are not central to the Christian faith?

I’m struck by professing Christians who have such a shallow, amoral conception of civility and charity. They reduce civility and charity to rhetorical etiquette.

I, for one, have a deeper definition of civility and charity. I think aborting babies, or allowing live-birth babies to perish, is pretty uncivil and uncharitable. I think euthanizing the elderly or the disabled is pretty uncivil and uncharitable. I think forcing orphans or foster kids into homosexual “families” is pretty uncivil and uncharitable.

The Bible is deeply concerned with those who are most vulnerable through no fault of their own. That’s a central aspect of the Christian faith.

Hypocrisy run amuck. We pound our chest in NC when we say we stopped gay marriage but 90% of evangelical pastors do nothing when members divorce unbiblically.

He’s very careless (even slanderous) about how he tosses around the term “hypocrisy.”

i) As a rule, hypocrisy refers to an individual’s personal misconduct. That’s what he has direct control over. If a pastor himself had divorced his wife for illicit reasons, remarried, then lobbied against sodomite marriage, that would be hypocritical.

ii) Many pastors take a pastorate at a preexisting church. The former pastor retires or moves on.

The new pastor isn’t starting from scratch. He is thrust into the status quo of the preexisting congregation.

Let’s pick a figure out of the air. Suppose 40% of the couples in his church divorced and remarried for illicit reasons. That didn’t happen on his watch. What’s he supposed to do after the fact? Excommunicate 40% of the membership?

Pastors have very limited power. The congregation generally pays their salary.

There’s not much a new pastor can to do fix the past. He can preach against unscriptural divorce. If, while he’s the pastor, a member pursues an unscriptural divorce, the pastor can attempt to initiate disciplinary action. Even then, he will need the support of the elders and the congregation. And, of course, a wayward member can simply leave the church. Short of excommunication (which is a unilateral last resort), church discipline requires the errant member to cooperate with the process of counseling and repentance.

Should we not outlaw fornication and lying and stealing, and cheating and whatever else offends God and violates His moral code? Why focus on just abortion? Why not go for the whole ball of wax? Is it not hypocritcal to only fight against gay marriage and not also fight to outlaw unbiblical divorce? Your logical end is a theocracy, is it not? Where do you draw the line and why there? If you are going to push this issue, then push it all the way and at least be consistent. Don't stop with just half the law. Shouldn't you be working to outlaw Sabbath labor?

Actually I am attempting to apply your method to other issues. Abortion is not a crime but you say it should be because it is murder. Well, civil law does not define it as murder the same as civil law does not criminalize fornication. Yet you desire to outlaw abortion because it violates God's moral code but now you seem to give fornication a nod and a wink. The same method applies to sodomite marriage. How can you say that I am calling a sin a crime when you want to make abortion which is a sin a crime. Why not make fornication, which is a sin, a crime also? You got stoned for murder the same as you did for adultery.

This raises a host of issues:

i) Unless a Christian culture warrior is personally guilty of theft or fornication or unscriptural divorce, accusing them of hypocrisy for someone else’s theft or fornication or unscriptural divorce is quite a stretch.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that it’s hypocritical for Christian culture warriors to pick-and-choose what to outlaw. So what?

Let’s take a comparison. Suppose I’m a doctor who makes his living as a full-time “abortion provider.” Suppose, driving home from the abortion clinic, I see a toddler running out into a busy intersection.

My parental instinct kicks in. I slam on the brakes, get out of the car, rush over to the toddler, and whisk him out of harm’s way.

Now, you could say, “What a hypocrite! You make your living killing babies. So why do you rescue this child?”

And, indeed, his actions were hypocritical in this case. So what? What practical conclusion should we derive from that fact?

Does it follow that because it’s hypocritical for the abortion provider to rescue the toddler, that the he should be consistent and let the toddler get run over?

Jesus is famous for upbraiding hypocrites in the Gospels, but I can’t think of any instance where he unbraids them for doing the right thing.

Selective morality is better than systematic immorality. It’s better to be inconsistently virtuous than to be consistently iniquitous.

Even if someone is hypocritical in doing right every so often, that’s hardly a reason for him to refrain from doing right on  isolated occasions.

iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christian social conservatives are hypocritical for protecting the lives of babies, the elderly, and the disabled–while they ignore other moral concerns Even so, their “hypocrisy” is still good for the innocent lives they save.

iv) But is it hypocritical? God dictated the Mosaic law to Israel. He didn’t put it up for a vote. Israel never had a choice in the matter. God imposed his law on Israel, and he enforced compliance under pain of severe divine punishment.

That’s completely different from the situation of Christian Americans. We have to work through the democratic process. We can only do what’s politically feasible. Our circumstances automatically select for what we can try to outlaw.

Enacting law isn’t a theoretical ideal, but a practical possibility. As Bill Vallicella recently observed:

If politics were merely theoretical, merely an exercise in determining how a well-ordered state should be structured, then implementation would not matter at all.  But politics is practical, not theoretical: it aims at action that implements the view deemed best…You are a utopian who fails to understand that politics is about action, not theory, in the world as it is, as opposed to some merely imagined world.

v) On a related note, there’s nothing inherently wrong with picking your battles. We don’t have the resources to fight every battle. We can’t win every battle. So we have to decide on some issues of overriding importance, then throw our limited time and energy behind those issues. If you try to do everything, you won’t succeed at anything.

vi) Moreover, some evils are more socially destructive than others.

vii) Likewise, there’s a difference between punishing mutually consensual misconduct, where the parties are voluntarily wronging and harming each other, and aggressive, oppressive misconduct where one party is harming innocent, defenseless victims.

There’s a fundamental difference between protecting someone from himself or from mutually consensual harm, and protecting an unwilling victim from an aggressor.

Take the difference between a private fight club and mugging. There’s a principled reason why lawmakers might make a priority of cracking down on muggers while they allow consenting adults to form a fight club.

viii) Not all Biblical obligations are absolute or equally obligatory. For instance, Sabbath-keeping is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It exists to promote human flourishing. But there are situations in which wooden adherence to Sabbath-keeping would be detrimental to human flourishing. That’s why the Bible itself makes exceptions for works of mercy and necessity.

xi) Biblical laws are not all of a kind. Some laws were contingent on Israel’s unique cultic holiness.

Other laws involve the kinds of laws (e.g. sex crimes, property crimes, bodily injury) which any law code for any nation-state would have to cover. Any nation-state will have a penal code with laws regulating certain kinds of typical human behavior and typical human interactions.

Other laws are adapted to the socioeconomic situation of the ANE. A tribal society. An agrarian economy. That’s not directly applicable to 21C America.

Yet some of those laws may still exemplify basic principles which do carry over into NT ethics.

Some biblical laws are grounded in creational ordinances (e.g. heterosexual marriage).

Some laws are laws of utility rather than morality.

We need to ask the underlying rationale for a given law.

xii) The NT indicates degrees of continuity and discontinuity between OT ethics and NT ethics. It isn’t always easy to draw the line because the NT itself doesn’t explicitly draw the line for us. But the NT doesn’t give us the luxury of an easy all-or-nothing position. No doubt that would simplify things, but that’s not the actual position of the NT. In the NT, there’s some carryover between OT ethics and NT ethics, while other things are rendered obsolete.

xiii) As for some of Ed’s specific examples, I don’t have a problem with blue laws. However, there’s an exegetical dispute on whether some Pauline passages nullify the Sabbath ordinance.

xiv) As for fornication, how does the OT handle that? Well, if a guy impregnates a girl, he has to marry her and support the child. If he fathers a child, he must help with raising the child.

I don’t have a problem with that. The shotgun wedding was a good institution.

Ed’s other examples are odd. “Stealing”? But theft is a crime, both in modern law and OT law.

“Lying”? Lying, per se, wasn’t an OT crime. Only perjury was a crime.

“Cheating”? Certain types of cheating are illegal.

xiv) What Ed calls “hypocrisy” is a built-in tension in law. Due to sin, sinners need good laws. But due to sin, sinners resist good laws. The very fallenness which renders good laws necessary is the same fallenness which makes it difficult to pass or enforce good laws. The tension is a presupposition of law. Even OT law, which was divinely inspired as well as divinely enforced, sets a moral floor rather than a moral ceiling.

Sometimes a light surprises

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings:
When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but he will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice,
For while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.

I appreciate this modern rendition of William Cowper's hymn (HT: TGC).

Winning Where it’s Important

Michael Auslin wrote a National Review blog post yesterday entitled We Will Never Win Unless .... He makes some good points:

Without getting too bogged down in esoterica, it seems uncontroversial to say that, at the end of the day, politics is culture (and of course, political systems reflect the cultures from which they grow). If that’s the case, then we will be in ever greater danger at the national level unless we start winning on the cultural battlefield. Losing five of the last six popular votes for the presidency should be a wake-up call.

As Irving Kristol noted, the culture war is over, and we lost. We were driven out of the universities, surrendered popular culture, and hunted from the mainstream media (from which most Americans continue to get their news). But we better start opening up some new fronts, conducting guerilla warfare, and investing in long-term strategy to have just the hope of keeping even. We need to fully accept the fact that nearly two generations have grown up in a dominantly liberal culture outside the home. It’s not simply that many don’t agree with conservative positions, it’s that they reflexively think in mainstream liberal terms. Moreover, conservatives, and the GOP in particular, have been vilified for so long that large swaths of the country see us as no less than dangerous to American society.

But culture is more than politics.

It’s true, mainstream liberal American society – east coast and west coast varieties – have developed an unbiblical form of morality and have successfully imposed it upon their world – through their ownership of schools and universities. In entertainment, through the media, and in big-time Washington politics. And in the process, they’ve imposed it upon the rest of the world in a de facto kind of way. Christians do need to address this form of morality. There is a need for Christians to infiltrate media and politics at highly visible levels. But we also need to show the Christian underpinnings of morality in real life: what these are, and why they are a better way for people to live. There’s no doubt that will take time. At this point, it will likely take generations. That’s what Auslin says:

We have to break out, and undermine the fallacious, unrealistic, idealistic, offensive nostrums of far-left liberalism. And, we have to offer a rational and appealing view of life to counter more moderate liberalism. That, I think, will even answer Ramesh’s keen insight: The GOP has lost ground because it did not become the party of middle-class economic interests. But that’s in part because a generation was getting educated that free enterprise was evil, and that it was easier to get government handouts than spend decades working patiently.

We have to forget about elections and play the very long game of changing the underlying cultural stratum of society. It’s what the liberals did quietly for decades, securing each triumph so that they did not have to worry about counterattacks (when was the last time a university academic department suddenly became filled with conservatives?). Andrew Breitbart was on to this with Big Hollywood, just as Fox was on to it in the media. But we either need to redouble our efforts or we need to think outside the box.

But he also begins to explore some places where we won’t want to go:

There’s also a huge temptation to play dirty, the way Ted Kennedy and his ilk did against Robert Bork; I’m not so sure that’s wrong. They play dirty against us in academia, and mock us on television. We hold ourselves to higher standards, but that’s not much help in an increasingly liberal, dependent society. Maybe we shouldn’t flinch from playing dirty (or dirtier).

We should resist “playing dirty” with all our hearts. There’s a difference between tough and dirty. We should know what that line is, and never, ever cross it.

The news from the election was not all bad. Many Christians [and conservatives] are winning, even in the midst of the big-time losses.

Michael Barone did an extensive study of elections at lower levels:

Democrats got beaten badly in races for the U.S. House and state legislatures. That's clear when you compare the number of House Democrats after this year's election with the number of House Democrats after 2008.

Democrats came out of the 2008 election with 257 seats in the House, well above the majority of 218. That enabled a tough Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to squeeze out majorities on unpopular measures like the stimulus package, cap and trade, and Obamacare.

Two of the three were big liberal policy victories (cap and trade went nowhere in the Senate). But the Democratic Party paid a price in 2010 -- and kept paying in 2012.

Democrats have won or are currently leading in 201 seats in the House. (All these numbers could change slightly in final counts.)

Between 2008 and 2012, they gained seats in only three states: Delaware, where a popular Republican ran for the Senate in 2010; Maryland, thanks to Democratic redistricting; and California, where a supposedly nonpartisan redistricting commission was dominated by Democrats.

One reason this is good news: the party in power in the presidency almost always loses seats in congress during the off-term election years (that would be 2014 at this point). And if the Republicans can nominate a strong candidate in 2016, who can bring in even more seats, it can have ramifications that are farther reaching. The reason for this is: the gains were even bigger farther down in the state legislatures:

In state legislative races, Democrats also rebounded from 2010, but fell far short of the losses they sustained then. They went into the 2010 election with 53 percent of state senators across the country and 56 percent of state lower House members. (Nebraska elects its one legislative chamber on a nonpartisan basis.)

Democrats came out of the 2012 election with only 46 percent of state senators and 48 percent of state lower House seats.

In that time, they gained seats in both chambers in only three states: New Jersey (one seat in each body), Illinois and California.

Democrats still hold most legislative seats in the Northeast. But Republicans now have more state legislators in the Midwest, West and South.

The changes in the South have been especially striking. Democrats went into the 2010 election with 51 percent of state senators and lower House members in the South. They came out of the 2012 election with 38 percent of state senators and 40 percent of lower House members.

Of course, we know that political gains can be lost as well. But political offices aren’t the only place where Christians and conservatives need to win.

To be sure, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody”. Don’t hesitate to do this in places where you can “offer a rational and appealing view of life to counter more moderate liberalism” … In places where “middle-class economic interests” can be highlighted. “Play the very long game of changing the underlying cultural stratum of society”. Christian individuals should not hesitate to be salt and light in places that matter most: in the media. In public schools and universities. In business.

“It’s what the liberals did quietly for decades.”

Let’s redeem the time well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How the mighty have fallen

A quick observation about the Petraeus scandal, which has also engulfed another top general (John Allen). You don’t get to where they are without being fanatically ambitious and ruthlessly single-minded. You don’t get to where they are by making your family a priority. At best, the wife and kids will be a distant second.

In that respect, their infidelity is hardly surprising. They never were devoted family men.

The civil use of the law

Ed Dingess

I could not agree more. The educational institutions play a strategic role in the liberal indoctrination of our children and in my view, that is beyond dispute. I wish the church were as focused on our own indoctrination as the secular university is on their own.

Your position is incoherent. If you reject Christian political activism, then you have no effective means of opposing the secular education establishment.

We know the purpose of the law was to hold mirror up in front of the unrighteous to show them/us their/our hopelessly sinful condition. It drives men to Christ.

You’re disregarding the three uses of the law in Reformed theology. Since you have a blog called Reformed Reasons, I shouldn’t have to remind you of that. For instance:

(2) Civil Use: The Law restrains evil through punishment. Though the law cannot change the heart, it can inhibit sin by threats of judgment, especially when backed by a civil code that administers punishment for proven offences (Deut 13:6-11; 19:16-21; Rom 13:3-4). Although obedience out of the love of God is the ideal for which every Christian should strive (1 John 4:18), society still benefits from this restraining use of the law.

The communities containing reprobates has little to do with my contention that the holy writings were directed to the holy community…

It has everything to do with your claim that “The Scriptures are given to the regenerate, to the church of Jesus Christ.”

Of course the unregenerate can engage in parsing, syntax, and even analyze a text. There are a number of them in the seminaries today who do that very thing. But that does not change the fact that true understanding involves appropriation and appropriation requires God’s Spirit.

Unbelievers can grasp the meaning of Scripture. And that makes their disobedience to Scripture all the more culpable. They are in a position to know better.

The holy writings were not given to make a godless culture more moral.

Why not? Biblical law wasn’t given for just one purpose. The Mosaic law was, in part, a civil and criminal law code. Many Jews were impious. The law restrained them. It made them more moral in their behavior.

People can be outwardly moral in their conduct even if they lack a moral motive. The law rewards lawful behavior and punishes unlawful behavior.

There is nothing equivocal in my statement that political activism does not fall within the mission of the church.

I never said political activism falls within the “mission of the church.” That’s your reductionistic framework, not mine. 

The mission of the church includes a respectable work ethic in the broadest sense.

If you think the mission of the church in the “broadest sense” includes a work ethic, then you’ve defined the mission of the church so broadly that it can easily encompass political activism. 

No one is suggesting that work ethic does not fall within the Christian ethic. There are specific commands given regarding work. You cannot make an exegetical case for broadening the scope of the church’s mission to political activism.

I’m not framing the issue in terms of “the church’s mission.” I’m discussing the social responsibilities of individual Christians.

Yes, we are to provide for our children and our families. However, God instructs us specifically about how we are to do that. We are to work, to care for our own, etc.

Actually, it’s not specific. To say we’re supposed to “care for our own” doesn’t specify how we are supposed to care for them.

Having a duty to honor your parents doesn’t specify how you’re supposed to honor your parents. When Jesus says honoring your parents includes supporting them financially if they are too poor or enfeebled to support themselves, he’s not appealing to a specific command. Rather, he’s drawing a specific, common sense inference from a general command.

Defending my family against a burglar is one thing. Defending it against a godless culture is entirely different.

No, it’s not entirely different.

Anyway, I wasn’t discussing how Christians (Christian Americans, to be specific) should defend their family against “a godless culture,” but how they should defend their family against the encroachments of government.

If I may have to take the burglar’s life if he forces the matter. Should I do the same to a doctor who is about to commit an abortion? Should I do the same to a politician who is soft on pedophilia? You take a huge leap when you extend family protection to political activism.

That’s a wooden, irresponsible way of handling an argument from analogy. The analogy operates at the level of the basic principle: taking proactive measures to protect your family from harm.

The specific means depend on the specific nature of the threat as well as the specific countermeasures at your disposal. Christian Americans have a variety of lawful, nonviolent means to defend their family against expansive, intrusive gov’t.

We can vote. We can run for office. Some of us can become lawyers. Or teachers. The list is long.

Of course, if we don’t exercise our rights, we will lose our rights.

To deny the trend toward secularism, toward social liberalism is essentially to bury one’s head in the sand with all due respect of course.

The trend is imposed from the top down by a tiny elite. It doesn’t come from the bottom up. The very fact that liberals so often resort to coercion rather than persuasion reflects the unpopularity of their secular policies.

I never argued that there was once a consistent ban on abortion in the past. What I stated was that the American legal system will never outlaw abortion again.

“Again” in contrast to what?

Moreover, it’s possible to ban some types of abortions even if you can’t ban them all.

Furthermore, legally outlawing abortion isn’t the only way to drastically reduce abortion. Filing malpractice suits against “abortion providers” can make their insurance premiums unaffordable. That will drive them out of business.

Likewise, when “abortion providers” like Planned Parenthood break the law by refusing to report cases of statutory rape to the authorities, that leaves them vulnerable to prosecution. 

One needs to exercise a little ingenuity.