Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wine, women, and song

The C-Train, otherwise known as…the C-Train, has published a post on “modest attire” for our womenfolk.

What can I say? Only a generation raised on Britney Spears and Paris Hilton would regard such attire as anything another that highly provocative. Notice that there are still patches of bare skin showing! Such are the depths of decadence to which the younger generation have sunk that such suggestive attire would be seen as the least bit conservative.

For truly discreet attire, you need to go to this website:;niqab

Humor aside, there is a serious issue here. On the one hand, Islamic culture epitomizes misogynism. Since, however, Muslim men are wired just like any other normal man, this generates a contradiction between their credo and their libido, which, in turn, generates a love/hate attitude towards women. Muslim men can’t help finding women appealing. They have a natural need for the love of a woman.

And yet their ethical system is uptight to the nth degree. They will kill themselves for their 72 virgins in paradise while, at the very same time, they will kill others for holding a beauty pageant. They will gang-rape a woman and then stone her to death in an “honor” killing because she has brought shame on herself and her family. The whole culture is pathological.

On the other hand, American pop culture has gone to the other extreme. It’s easy for libertines to make fun of Christian “hang-ups,” but the Christians are the realists. The sex drive has a capacity both to unite and to divide. Within proper bounds, it is a constructive force; out-of-bounds, it is a destructive force.

Men have a hair-trigger arousal mechanism based on visual cues. It’s purely involuntary.

The power of the sex drive needs to be respected because it can either be a social adhesive or else a social solvent. If marriage is a social glue, premarital and extramarital sex are social acids.

Anne Landers once said that a female should show enough to let you know she’s a woman, but keep enough out of sight to let you know she’s a lady.

A proposal

Since I don’t have a current email address for the iMonk, I’ll respond to his proposal in public.

Given that I have very limited interest in this particular controversy, it could well die of attrition.

However, speaking for myself, I see no moral or intellectual justification for a blanket, open-ended moratorium on posting any commentary on IM or BHT until the new year. For one thing, that goes way beyond the rather narrow issue which precipitated the present blogothon.

It would be spiritually irresponsible of me to submit to a gag order without knowing in advance what might appear on IM or BHT. What if something theologically outrageous is posted between then and now?

Furthermore, the idea of closing my combox on IM/BHT threads is remarkably paternalistic. What makes you think I think I have the right to unilaterally preempt someone else's spiritual discernment on an issue? I find such an autocratic mentality alien to my own blogging philosophy. It's like something I'd expect from the Shepherding Movement.

Because I have a rather combative style of writing, I regard it as a professional courtesy to give my opponents the right to return fire. To me, that's just fair play.

In addition, I'm under no illusion that I'm the smartest or wisest blogger in the world. So I welcome the input from friend and foe alike. Hence, the combox remains open.

Nicholson's Iron-Clad Laws of Blogging

“Anyone who believes they can evaluate a person’s mental or spiritual condition on the basis of their blog entries, comments, and news group postings needs to turn off their monitor, push back from their keyboard, and take a nice long walk.”

In other words, if Frank Turk had praised the iMonk as a levelheaded guy of great spiritual maturity and doctrinal discernment on the basis of his blog entries, Mr. Turk would still have been inundated by 100+ angry comments.

“It is an honor to be disparaged by small-minded people.”

Frank, you need to remember this maximum the next time the Tavernistas disparage your honorable efforts.

P.S. Keep in mind that Nicholson's iron-clad laws have no "intrinsic" authority, but are only authoritative if and when the Heilige Barth-Geist applies them to our heart, or whenever we suffer from heartburn--whichever comes first.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Confessional hell-fire


I've just been informed that one cannot be a Barthian and a Christian. (You can guess what "Christian" means in this view. Yes....that's right.) And the theme music playing from the choir loft: "...The logical position is...."

Barth is in hell, Josh. I expect a web site devoted to "Who is in hell" to appear soon as a favor to all of us who don't get a regular update.
Posted by Michael Spencer at 05:55 PM


I’m afraid that the tin-eared reaction of Spencer and his beer buddies is symptomatic of a common affliction suffered by those who lack a respectable degree in English lit.

When I insinuate that a Christian cannot be a Barthian, I’m only speaking in my “literary” voice. This is my “confessional” persona speaking,

I mean, good grief Mr. Spencer, where can we start?

Ever read Shakespeare's Sonnets? Do you think Shakespeare walked around talking to men and women like that? "You hair is wiry and your breath reeks. Have a nice day."

So what do we do today? We have whole industries debating whether Shakespeare is Shakespeare. Why? Because his literary voice- which is his life and the real world and absolutely true- is DIFFERENT (not FALSE) but different from his literary voice.

Again, if you attended a literature class somewhere along the way, you would know that C.S. Lewis and the narrator of The Great Divorce are the same man/life, but different voices. Arthur Miller is and isn't Willie Loman. Robert Frost came to the Road Less do we all.

I guess this is, as I said, a matter of literary appreciation. If the Truly Irreformable Tavernistas are too tone-deaf to distinguish my literary voice from my literal voice, then what can I do for them?

How to write and how to read. Writing is a world that overlaps with the real world. It is the same person, the same life, but it isn't the same experience. There are voices that express the human experience different. Some outline it. Some turn it into poems. Some write their journey honestly, and sound out the journey in others.

In my “literary voice,” Karl Barth is burning in hell. But that’s just my confessional persona doing the talking.

A pneuma-shaped idol

“I know that for many of us the doctrine of Scripture is presuppositional and prolegomena to all we do. I fear that such an approach will turn the Bible as God’s Word into bibliolatry and idolatry, where mastery of the Bible is equated with loving God and others. Scripture is God’s gracious gift to us, but that doesn’t mean that every extreme is justifiable. We are in need of a new set of categories for understanding Scripture.”

“I’m suggesting we use the term “identity.” The term “authority” is that of power — it tells us that we are “under” something. The term “identity” speaks of the Spirit who is at work — in the world in God’s redemptive work, in the Church as the community of faith, and in that community as it tells the story of God’s redemptive work. And I’m not suggesting that we understand “identity” as filling the same spot as “authority,” but that we learn to see Scripture (not so much as the Authority) but as what gives us our Identity because through it God’s Spirit speaks to and guides us.”

“Identity invites us to conceptualize our relationship differently than the term “authority,” which invites us to see ourselves in submission (which is not the worst thing in the world, to be sure). Identity, I am suggesting, gives us the opportunity to rethink our relationship to Scripture in terms of a pneuma-shaped identity.”

Since idolatry is a biblical category to begin with, bibliolatry is a contradiction in terms. Where does Scripture ever equate submission to the authority of God’s word with idolatry or bibliolatry? Never!

God is an authority-figure. God is powerful. Indeed, God is omnipotent—the Almighty. Hence, God’s words are authoritative—not merely by might, but also by right. God is the Creator and Judge. God is the exemplar of truth.

That is why, for God’s people, the doctrine of Scripture is, indeed, presuppositional and prolegomenal to all we do.

What McKnight is promoting is an unscriptural category of Scripture. Notice the false antithesis between Word and Spirit. Scripture is divinely authoritative because Scripture is inspired by a divine Person—the Spirit of God.

Not every “pneuma-shaped identity” is identical with the Spirit of God. “Beloved, do not believer every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1).

Unless we have an authoritative word from God, we have no master key against which to test the spirits.

Spiritual check-kiting

“I'll take 'Barthian' as a complement, since Steve Brown declares Barth to have been the most profound and influential theologian of the past century.”

“If Steve Hays thinks he's going to convince me to correct my views, he's heading perfectly in the wrong direction.”

“Please, Steve, Phil, Mr. Turk, et al, do us a favor: tell your "flock" not to read this blog, pronounce us anathema and go your merry way. The TR following is a tiny portion of the blogosphere.”

Jim Nicholson

Hell is full of brilliant men. Hell is full of trendsetters. There’s no correlation between brilliance or influence and piety or orthodoxy. (Cf. 1 Cor 1-3.)

BTW, I just the greatness of a thinker, not merely in terms of raw IQ, but in terms of whether he gave the right or wrong answers to the big questions.

Karl Barth was much smarter than St. Mark. But Nicholson will have to forgive me if I prefer to follow the roadmap of St. Mark to the blind alley of Karl Barth.

Even on his own grounds, his statement is self-refuting, for if the “TR” following is a tiny portion of the blogosphere, then how much smaller is the Barthian following of the blogosphere?

I had no intention of convincing Nicholson of anything. Notice, thought, that said nothing to rebut my criticism.

Nicholson’s problem is simple enough: he has an unscriptural doctrine of Scripture. His doctrine of Scripture is at odds with the self-witness of Scripture. The logical position is either to believe the Bible on its own terms or else to disbelieve the Bible on its own terms.

Nicholson doesn’t believe in the Bible. Rather, Nicholson believes in himself, and forges the Holy Spirit’s signature to his counterfeit theology. For my part, I’ve never been of the opinion that spiritual check-kiting is one of the theological virtues.

It’s fine with me if Nicholson would rather be a Barthian than a Christian. I’ve never cared for theological moderates or middle-of-the-road denominations.

I prefer it when fence-straddling churches go liberal. I prefer maximum polarity, maximum exposure. I prefer it when closet unbelievers come out of the closet. That way there’s no confusion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

All is yellow to the jaundiced eye

“Let the readers read and decide, Mr. Turk.”

Such is the iMonk’s challenge. Okay, I’ read it, and I’ve decided.

The iMonk illustrates the old maxim that all is yellow to the jaundiced eye. That was Mr. Turk’s point all along.

Why is it okay for the iMonk to advertise his inadequacies as a pastor, but when Mr. Turk agrees with the iMonk’s self-assessment, that is not okay. If, by his own admission, the iMonk says his call to the ministry was a mistake, then why is it wrong for Mr. Turk to second his own admission? It’s okay to pen confessional essays as long as no one dares to take you at your word—is that his grievance?

He and his groupies act as if what Mr. Turk did was a betrayal of confidence. Actually, I think a man who blogs about his marital woes is more guilty of that.

One of Frank’s critics accused him of “keeping a record of wrongs.” No, Frank isn’t the official record-keeper. The iMonk is. He’s the one who puts this stuff out for public consumption. Who archives his confessional essays, for the future reference.

I also notice that the Tavernistas have a way of using the iMonk as a human shield to hide behind so that they are free to attack whatever they like with impunity.

Just consider Nicholson’s Barthian view of Scripture. BTW, if Scripture has no inherent authority, then by what objective standard does Nicholson distinguish between the Holy Spirit, the devil, raging hormones, or indigestion?

Back to the iMonk. I don't attack a man for having doubts. As a rule I don't even blame a man for having doubts. Belief is basically involuntary. We can do certain things to either build up or tear down our faith. But we can't muster certitude by a sheer act of the will, and honest doubts are better than pretense.

On the other hand, some of his doubts do strike me as childish. To doubt the existence of God because of bees and mosquitoes is, indeed, childish.

In addition, pastoral ministry does demand a certain level of confident conviction. If you’re riddled with doubts, you shouldn’t be preaching to others. The job of a pastor is not to sow seeds of doubt in the faithful, but to sow seeds of faith in the doubters.

Yes, there’s more to Christianity than doctrinal precision. Yes, you can say that “Jesus is that matters.”

Of course, Jesus never doubted the existence of God. Jesus never doubted the authority of Scripture. Jesus established a church. Jesus appointed Apostles to instruct the faithful in sound doctrine.

And if, as Nicholson would have it, Scripture lacks any “intrinsic” authority, then what happens to the Jesus of the Gospels? What happens to the Jesus of Paul? Or the Jesus of Hebrews?

I’m reminded of unbelieving bishops in the Church of England who justify sodomy by saying that the Spirit is speaking to the church today.

I’m sure that Phil Johnson, James White, and other suchlike would rather spend all their time preaching the gospel.

But then we have the Nicholsons of the world. A shepherd has to feed the sheep. But if his sheep are being eaten by a wolf-pack, then a shepherd must be prepared to fend of their depredations. It does no good to feed your sheep if your sheep are feeding the wolves.

Oh, and btw, the iMonk can’t very well have it both ways. He can’t, on the one hand, be this broken-hearted pastor for whom Jesus is all that matters, only to then lash out and vilify anyone who happens to take issue with his message. To the Tavernistas he preaches the Sermon on the Mount, but to the “Truly Reformed” he preaches the imprecatory Psalms.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bohemians hankering to be Philistines

I've been monitoring the toing and froing over Frank's comments on the iMonk.

Let me say at the outset that I have no personal opinion about the iMonk I almost never peruse his blog. He and I have no prior history.

But I do have a personal opinion of Frank. I have read a lot of his stuff. He and I have had a number of direct exchanges in public and private. On the issue of ECB, it even got a bit tense and testy--on both sides.

I have no reason to suppose that Frank's motives are anything other than honorable.

It seems to me that Frank is comparing iMonk’s position to the village atheist who rails against the church because it's "full of hypocrites."

And Frank is making that comparison because, in a sense, he's been the village atheist. He sees the emergent movement as a halfway house on the way to where he once was. And he's seen where it comes out.

No one knows Marxism better than a disillusioned ex-Marxist like Orwell or Koestler. They've seen it inside and out.

The well-heeled Bohemian can flirt with Marxism because he's never seen it from the barbed-wire side of the fence, but only the gilt-edged side of capitalism. You know the type--the radical chic young anarchist, with his cell phone and iPod, firebombing cities which host the WTO, screaming police brutality when the cops cuff him and haul his Abercrombie & Fitch fitted behind off to the pokey.

But if, like Frank, you been on both ends of the spectrum, you have a better perspective on ideological or theological trends.

Nothing is more olde hatte to someone over 40 than the latest theological “innovation.” The reason we're not more "with it" is because we're more "was it." When we look at the likes of McLaren, we see a square version of Bishop Robinson or Harvey Cox in love beads and a Nehru collar.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Interrogation or torture?

Last month I did a couple of postings on the difference between interrogation and torture which generated some comment.

That particular thread was interrupted and overtaken by something Al Kimmel wrote in response to something else I wrote, and the commentary generated by his article.

Just to tie up the loose ends, I’ll now revisit the old debate. According to Shamgar:

“I said two things in my last post: Torture is wrong, Coercive interrogation is at best a grey area, at worst, wrong.

Just because I define both as being wrong doesn't mean I think they're both the same thing.”

Shamgar is welcome to his opinion.

Suppose we nab a well-connected terrorist. He’s not going to volunteer to disclose his plans or drop the dime on his comrades. Left to his own devices, he will stay mum.

That’s where coercion comes in. The only way to extract information from an unwilling informant is to make things unpleasant for him. That can take many different forms. Some forms are more brutal than others. Some forms are more efficient than others.

The alternative is to let a terrorist plead the Fifth and never tell us anything about plans to, say, stage a biochem attack at the Superbowl.

We now have “human rights” groups that want to extend to unlawful combatants all the protections which, historically, were never extended to unlawful combatants, and for good reason.

The whole point of something like the Geneva Conventions is to discriminate between those who abide by the laws of warfare and those who don’t.

So it’s like a contract. It is binding on both parties if both parties keep up their respective end of the bargain.

“All men were created equal. Yet, in the case of these evil men, these terrorists, we're suddenly willing to go back to that and make them less of a person, such that we can get around the idea that we should treat them as human beings.”

This is fallacious on a couple of grounds:

i) It’s precisely because the jihadis are human beings that they are morally answerable for their actions. Coercive interrogation does not assume that they are subhuman. To the contrary, it assumes that they are moral agents who are plotting to do us harm for no good reason. As such, we have a perfect right to treat them differently than we would an individual who was not plotting to do us harm. Equality only applies all other things being equal.

ii) Their humanity is a secondary issue. If there were a rabid dog loose in the neighborhood, I’d shoot it because the dog was a threat.

“They are using our rights and freedoms to convince us to deny ourselves our rights and freedoms.”

No, they aren’t trying to convince of anything. They’re trying to kill us, plain and simple.

“You know, everyone wants to use the scenario of some militant raging muslim captured in Iraq trying to murder children as their picture. Yet we have held, and continue to hold, many american citizens (naturalized or no) in the same manner. They are named as "enemy combatants" and stripped of their rights and face the same potential end as the most rabid muslim ‘terrorist’.”

And the problem with that is what, exactly? Sounds fine to me.

“It could very well be used against you and I as christians in the coming years. Imagine the irony as you sit there being tortured to reveal the locations of your evil co-conspirators in the christian faith that you were one who endorsed such behavior when it's ‘for good’.”

This is the same kind of simple-minded moral equivalence we’ve seen before. As I said, equal treatment all other things being equal.

The idea is that if we play by the rules, the other guy will play by the rules. But regimes like Red China never reciprocate, so the analogy is self-refuting.

“Yes it [the law] protects us from our enemies, but not by giving a free hand to abuse our enemy.”

This begs the question of whether coercive interrogation is “abusive.”

“I wonder. Did you get upset when you witnessed the atrocities done to our soldiers overseas? Does it sadden you when you consider the men who went to war in Vietnam and were POW of the enemy, tortured and abused for years? Does it anger you that some are still over there, mistreated daily?

If so, why? On what basis do you do this? Do we have rights they do not? Is it ok for us to abuse and torture prisoners for information but not them? Is there something special about us that makes us superior? Does the evil that taints them and their actions not taint us? On what basis? Because it's us? Because we're "good guys"?”

Again, more of your blind equivalence between the Viet Cong and us, the jihadis and us. An elementary failure to distinguish between a worthy and unworthy cause, self-defense and sheer cruelty, interrogation and mere sadism. With such moral confusion, there’s scarcely anything left to say.

This isn’t a question of whether some men are worse than others, but whether their actions are worse.

“I would rather that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished.”

You never fail to miss the point. This is not primarily an issue of convicting the jihadis of a crime, but extracting actionable intel to save innocent lives.

“Wait...are you seriously suggesting that because the Hebrew people in their time and context used these things to punish sin under God's direction and law, that we today should be able to crush someones fingers until they tell us what we want to know? “

Crushing someone’s fingers is your illustration, not mine. Once again, you consistently fail to ask the right questions. The question to ask is not, “why is torture?” But, “what is the most efficient way of extracting intel from an unwilling informant?” One doesn’t start with examples of torture, but examples of interrogation. What’s the best way to do it?

“I have never said that liberty, or choosing to do right come without a cost. For me, I am willing to pay that price. I would rather that I and my family die in pain and suffering doing right, than do evil that good may result.”

You’re welcome to pay any price you please. But don’t make my family pay for your scruples. To say it’s evil is just the umpteenth example of your incorrigible question-begging.

Truth is, you have a duty to protect your family. Evil lies in the failure to do so.
“I'm confused about your first sentence. Did you mean to say the ends do sometimes justify the means? If so, I simply cannot agree with that, particularly in this instance. I agree that the ends participate, but they cannot be the sole justification. If the end is to detain a suspect, then it certainly supports the means of using handcuffs. BUt handcuffs are justifiable means of detaining on their own.”

No, it would be wrong to cuff someone just for the sake of cuffing someone.

“And into this hand, you would put such a tool as torture of others, guilty or not, for the possibility of an increase of your own safety, and the safety of others?”

I don’t render myself artificially ignorant by pretending not to know something I know perfectly well. I don’t make-believe that Gitmo detainees are boy scouts or choirboys. I don’t give somebody the benefit of the doubt when the evidence is stacked against him.

“You here continually advocate doing evil, so that good may result. I find this morally, and biblically reprehensible.”

No, what is morally and biblically reprehensible is your unteachable spirit, your engrained habit of making unreasoning assertions.

“I do not understand how one goes from loving those who hate you, and doing good to those who persecute you, to torture those who mean you harm.”

I don’t hate the jihadis. I’ve never met a terrorist. Nothing personal here.

But we can’t be equally loving to everyone. We can’t be equally loving to a child and a child molester. That is where moral priorities kick in—for those capable of exercising a modicum of moral discrimination, that is.