Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving up without a fight

I’ll comment on this post:

As usual, Ed spends a lot of time repeating his oft-refuted contentions, so I’ll skip over that.

Steve Hays writes, “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.”

This represents the crux of Steve’s argument. It is firmly utilitarian, firmly pragmatic, and in my opinion, it fails to focus on loving the right behavior for the right reason.

Actually, I’m just responding to Ed on his own terms. This is how he chose to frame the issue:

The educational institutions play a strategic role in the liberal indoctrination of our children and in my view...

He himself flagged that example as a serious problem. So what’s the solution, if any?

The source of the problem is political. The excuse that public schools use to indoctrinate students in secular ideology consists of Supreme Court rulings which claim that it’s unconstitutional for the state to promote the Christian faith.

Since the source of the problem is political, the only direct solution is political.

Moreover, there is no sound exegetical support for Steve’s argument. In rebuttal after rebuttal, rather than appeal to specific Scriptures rightly interpreted, Steve has been very dismissive about my charge.

i) Needless to say, there’s no specific Scripture that says “The educational institutions play a strategic role in the liberal indoctrination of our children.”

Why does Ed demand a specifically Scriptural solution to a problem that’s not a specifically Scriptural problem? He’s the one who highlighted this problem.

ii) Moreover, what’s wrong with direct solutions? If I have a persistent toothache, I go to the dentist. Do I need specific Scriptural justification for that solution?

Is it “firmly utilitarian, firmly pragmatic,” for me to visit the dentist if I have a persistent toothache? And even if it were, so what?

If I need to drive across a stream everyday, is it okay for me to build a bridge? Or is that too “utilitarian,” too “pragmatic”? Should I just pray for a bridge to miraculously materialize?

iii) Ed’s theological method is flawed. It’s a parody of sola Scriptura. But we don’t need specific Scriptural warrant for everything we do. For instance, if Scripture lays down a general principle with various logical implications and applications, that will suffice. The specificity is logically implicit rather than verbally explicit.

Christians preaching the gospel out of love for obeying God, not because they think they can change the world.

Passing good laws or repealing bad laws isn’t intended to “change the world,” but to making discrete changes that improve a particular situation.

They know that if the world is going to change, that is the business of God.

That sounds fatalistic. But God often employs the instrumentality of human beings to work his will.

 Their hope is that all men would come to Christ, not that their culture would be morally good.

Does Ed think we even need to have good laws? Why not repeal all laws against theft, mugging, murder, &c.

Pay attention to Steve’s use of the phrase “no effective means.” Apparently, Steve thinks that Christians cannot effectively oppose secular philosophies in the universities unless they are politically active.

Actually, my statement didn’t single out universities.

 In other words, indoctrinating your children in the truth of God’s word is an ineffective way to counter the effects of the secular university. Selecting a godly Church where the creeds are soundly biblical, the sermons expositional, the music Christ-centered, and the youth program seriously aimed at firming up the faith of the young is ineffective apparently by Steve’s way of thinking.

i) I already responded to that alternative. Ed presumes the freedom to practice your faith. Yet Ed doesn’t think Christians have a right or duty to defend their religious rights and liberties.  In which case, Christians will lose the freedom to select a godly church with good youth programs.

ii) Moreover, Ed exhibits a callous attitude towards the fate of kids who don’t have Christian parents. Should we just abandon them to atheism?

Steve criticizes my position that one can oppose the secular university with its godless philosophies by publically condemning them and speaking out against them. We can oppose them by arming our children with the truth and with good critical thinking skills. We can oppose them by preaching the gospel and carrying on with the mission of the Church.

i) Ed keeps repeating the same equivocal usage. The question is not whether you can “oppose” it, but whether your methods are “effective.” Merely “condemning” or “speaking out” against liberal indoctrination in public education does nothing to prevent or lessen liberal indoctrination in public education. It’s like shouting at a bulldozer or a freight train. You can shout until you’re hoarse, but that won’t keep the train or bulldozer from running right over you.

ii) And, once again, he takes for granted the civil right of Christian parents to raise their kids in the faith; the civil right of pastors to preach the gospel. Yet he mocks the notion that Christians should defend their religious rights. The man is schizophrenic.  

Steve says, 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.

Steve further exposes his pragmatism by asserting that my action “doesn’t change anything.”

How have his actions solved the problem that he himself complained about?

Would Steve argue that preaching the gospel is ineffectual and hence it should be abandoned in cases where it produces few to no converts?

How is that comparison relevant to the issue at hand?

 Moreover, where is Steve’s exegetical evidence supporting his view?

He’s asking a question I already answered.

 If I understand Steve correctly, he is asserting that Christians have a duty, a divine mandate to be politically active. This makes it a sin for Christians to be otherwise. Indeed, this is a serious accusation. Christians must take absolute care anytime their view leads them to this sort of behavior. If I accuse someone of sin when they in fact are not sinning, I have sinned. I would hope Steve would ease up a bit where it involves introducing the idea that we sin when we are not doing what he thinks we should do in the political arena.

That’s not a counterargument to my argument. That’s just a complaint about the consequences of my argument. But if my argument is sound, so what? 

Steve thinks political activism is 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.”

In other words, if we aren’t politically active, we will face an environment where we cannot discharge our divinely-mandated duties to God. I think Steve is terribly misguided here. We may face the day when the civil authorities threaten to arrest us, our company threatens to fire us, and perhaps we may face the threat of death. However, historically speaking, the Church has often faced such circumstances and I would suggest that around the world, there has never been a time when Christians somewhere did not face these very conditions.

i) If you’re arrested, you can’t provide for your dependents. If you’re fired, you can’t provide for your dependents. So Ed seems to be admitting that I’m correct when I say “if we aren’t politically active, we will face an environment where we cannot discharge our divinely-mandated duties to God.”

ii) His response is not to deny my contention, but to say doesn’t matter. However, Ed fails to draw an elementary distinction. It’s one thing to be unable to carry out your divinely-mandated duties due to circumstances beyond your control, quite another to put yourself in a position where you are unable to carry out your divinely-mandated duties.

A Christian doesn’t have a right to forfeit his duties. For instance, suppose I live in a high crime area. I live there because (through no fault of my own) I can’t afford to live anywhere else. Suppose I have a wife and kids.

Suppose I don’t take elementary precautions to protect my family at night. I don’t lock the doors or bar the windows. I don’t own a gun.

If a violent burglar breaks into my home and murders my family, I’m culpable for my negligence. At that point there’s nothing I can do to repel the violent intruder, because I didn’t take the necessary precautions. It’s too late.

If I did take reasonable precautions, and despite that, I’m overpowered by the burglar, then I’m not culpable.

It’s morally irresponsible to simply wait for a predictable and preventable tragedy to overtake your dependents because you didn’t step aside, but just stood there, twiddling your thumbs, as danger came barreling down.

American Christians seem to think they have some “right” to insolate themselves from persecution while their brothers and sisters in the rest of the world, or much of the rest of the world, suffer.

i) Ed talks like Medieval monks who think there’s something inherently meritorious about suffering or martyrdom. Actually, we should do what we can to protect persecuted Christians around the world from further persecution.

ii) It’s one thing to remain faithful in the face of inevitable persecution, quite another to desert your dependents so that you can court martyrdom. There’s a fundamental difference between forfeiting your duties through negligence, and being forced to relinquish your duties because you were powerless to resist.

Where is God in all this?

God is in everything–including Christian political activism.

Are Christians responsible for making sure the globe experiences religious liberty, adopts Christian values, and is a really good and moral place to live?

Social duties are concentric. Christians have greater duties to relatives than neighbors. Greater duties to neighbors than strangers. Greater duties to believers than unbelievers.

Steve leans heavily on the Sinaitic Covenant in order to support his idea for doing social good in the culture.

That oversimplifies the argument. I’ve quoted OT passages. I’ve quoted NT passages. And I’ve quoted NT passages that reaffirm OT passages.

 The problem with this view is that there comes without a divine mandate. It matters not that Steve thinks it good for the culture if it adopts the Law of Moses. I think that would be better than the alternative as well. That is not the problem. The problem enters where Steve thinks this a divine imperative. There is no such imperative in the text that instructs civil authorities to adopt the Law. Moreover, there is no imperative for the Church to do all it can to get a culture to adopt the Law. If Steve says he does not see a divine imperative then it is a moot point. Steve then argues that if we can’t apply the Mosaic Law to gentile governments because it was given to Israel, it follows that we can’t apply the book of Romans to 21C American Christians because it was given to 1C Romans Christians.

That’s a blatant overstatement. I never suggested that civil authorities “adopt the Law of Moses.” My argument was far more qualified, and Ed knows it. He’s misrepresenting my stated position because that’s polemically convenient for him.

This logic would hold except for the fact that the Mosaic Law was given to all Jews living in that era and moving forward to Christ, not just those present at Sinai at the time the law was given. Steve knows this and his argument here is a bit disingenuous in my opinion. Just as all Jews were held in bondage to that law until the New Covenant was enacted by Christ, now all Christians are under the tradition handed down by the apostles, the faith, the teachings of the twelve that have as their central source, Jesus Christ. Just like the Covenant was given at a particular place in time and all who were born after the fact came under it’s authority, the same is true for those who are born again even if they were not born again during the first century or in Rome.

This is a good illustration of how Ed chronically oversimplifies the issue.

i) Ed seems to be alluding to Gal 3:19-25. That’s the locus classicus for the pedagogical use of the law.

Keep in mind that even in that passage, Paul’s strictures are highly qualified. He says the law cannot justify sinners. That’s because sinners are lawbreakers rather than law-keepers.

He also says the law cannot bring life. Indeed, as he says in Romans, the law brings death.

So those are limitations of the law. Even then, those limitations aren’t inherent in the law. Rather, they’re really inherent in sinners. The relationship bad men bear to good laws.

ii) Yet in Gal 5:14, Paul goes on to reaffirm Lev 19:18. That command remains in force.

And Paul treats that command as an implicit summary of the whole law. So, in that respect, the entire law carries over into the new covenant (Cf. Rom 13:8-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10).

iii) Moreover, what kind of OT laws does Paul think were designed to drive sinners to Christ? Any kind of law?

Paul gives us an example in Rom 7:7f., where he cites the 10th commandment. That particular law exposes our sinful inability because it goes to the human heart. It’s not about forbidden deeds, but forbidden attitudes. Covetousness. That’s something which sinners have the least control over.

iv) Compare that to OT safety regulations:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it (Deut 22:8).

28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. 31 If it gores a man's son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

33 When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

35 When one man's ox butts another's, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. 36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his (Exod 21:28-36).

Were these safety regulations designed to drive sinners into the arms of Christ? Was the requirement to cover a pit designed to drive sinners to Christ?

That claim doesn’t seriously examine the law in question. That claim doesn’t evaluate the law on its own terms.

For one thing, a sinner is perfectly capable of covering a pit. That’s quite different from resisting covetousness.

v) Likewise, how does Ed think the new covenant automatically abolishes laws like these? Does the new covenant absolve believers or unbelievers of moral responsibility to avoid putting others at grave gratuitous risk?

Is Ed a voluntarist? Does he think an OT safety regulation is just an arbitrary divine fiat? Does he think no OT law codifies an intrinsic moral norm?

vi) There is, of course, a sense in which the laws I quoted are culturebound. The specific illustration presupposes an agrarian economy or architectural style.

But the same laws exemplify general principles. It’s easy to mentally update these laws and apply them to analogous situations.

If I have young kids, if I buy a large property which has an open well, I have a duty to cover the well to prevent my kids from accidentally falling into the well. Maybe put a grate over the well.

If I have a pit-bull that’s attacked neighbors when it was on the loose, then I’m culpable if I fail to keep it chained or adequately fenced in.

If the automechanic tells me my brakes may give out at any time, if I can afford to repair the car, and I have alternative transportation, then I’m culpable if I continue driving the car and I kill a pedestrian when the brakes fail.

Or take Exod 23:4-5, which I mentioned before. Does Ed think only OT Jews had a duty to defend their family against a violent houseburglar? Does he think the new covenant magically rescinded that duty?

The new covenant doesn’t abrogate these principles. These involve transcultural norms.

For Ed to consign the entirety of the Mosaic law to the trash bin of history is an intellectual shortcut. He refuses to examine each law on a case-by-case basis. He makes no effort to seriously consider each law on its own terms. That’s not a faithful response to God’s law.

Steve likes to include political activism under the rubric of social responsibility. Steve contends he can get away with this reasoning because the command to honor one’s father and mother is really “quite vague.”

That was never my argument. Rather, I argued that commands like that carry logical implications.

This flies in the face of the perspicuity of Scripture. While not everything in Scripture is equally clear, certainly the commands of Scripture are unambiguous. Steve requires a degree of equivocalness in order to postulate his position. God demands our love and devotion. Our love and devotion necessitates that we keep His commandments. Can it be that God requires us to love Him, which in turn requires us to keep vague commandments that we can’t even be sure we understand?

Ed originally said:

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.

Well, what does the fifth commandment actually say?

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exod 20:12).

That’s it. That’s the wording. That’s all it says.

It doesn’t specify how you are to honor your parents. Invoking the perspicuity of Scripture isn’t a makeweight to get more out of the verse than you can find in the verse. The perspicuity of Scripture can’t make that command more specific than it actually is–or is not.

Ed resorts to manufactured indignation, as if I’d said something outrageous, when I merely stating a manifest fact.

Notice I didn’t suggest that the command’s lack of specificity is defective.

Steve’s argument that the command to honor your parents is "vague" contradicts the long-standing principle of clarity, not to mention the historical facts as we know them concerning the Greco-Roman and Jewish household codes during this period. Both of these points serve to demonstrate that the readers would have been clear about what it means to honor one’s parents.

i) Once again, the 5th commandment only says as much as it says. You can’t make it say more than it does.

i) However, the very fact that it’s so general is what opens up a wide range of logical implications and applications. For instance, consider how Jesus interprets the 5th commandment in Mt 15 and Mk 7.

Is Christianity on the brink of becoming a culturally subversive religion? Are people bitter towards Christianity because it preaches the gospel of repentance or because they feel that Christians want to use the political system to turn their religious codes into civil law? In other words, is the secular culture reacting to what it sees as a threat to its own freedom? I suggest that we have to be willing to think about that possibility.

So what if unbelievers are reacting to a perceived threat to their freedom? Why should they have the freedom to euthanize the disabled or the elderly (to take one example)?

Why does Ed think we should allow the wicked to dictate social policy? It’s like saying we should allow convicts to rewrite the penal code.

I see a bit of selfishness at the fundamental level of Steve’s argument. Steve does want to suffer persecution. He does not want the government to encroach on his religious freedoms. Steve and I share this goal. Steve thinks he can do something about it. If he just employs the right methods and is socially responsible (his words), he can turn the tide back in his favor.

I don’t assume that Christian political activism will be successful. I offer no prognostications concerning its degree of success or failure.

In the nature of the case, a duty is something you perform because you’re supposed to do it, and not because success is assured. You do the best you can, leaving the results to God.

Now, where possible, we should perform a duty in a way that’s mostly likely to be effective. But that’s not something you can count on.

Suppose I’m a family man. I work outside the home. Suppose there’s a massive earthquake while I’m a work. I survive.

I have a duty to get back to my family. If my kids were at school, I should check the school. I have a duty to reunite my scattered family. See if they are safe and unharmed. Find food and shelter.

And I should also think about the smartest way of getting back home. If the bridge was destroyed, I must consider alternate routes. Can I borrow a boat?

Now despite my best efforts, I may fail. But I’m obligated to try.

He desires a life of comfort and ease in his Christian walk. Who can blame Steve for wanting that? I want it too. The difference between Steve’s view and my own is that I believe that God determines those things, not the Church.

i) God determines everything. God determines the culture wars.

ii) Ed is very cavalier about the harm his indifference would do to others.

iii) Once again, Ed acts as if there’s something meritorious or supererogatory about suffering. As if we should cultivate suffering or solicit martyrdom. Like a monk walking barefoot on snow prove his piety.

I reject the argument that politically active evangelicals make about the relationship between the believer and modern politics and culture for numerous reasons. The argument is fundamentally incoherent. This is because they pick and choose which parts of the moral law they think civil authorities should enact. This makes the argument capricious and arbitrary. They will fight against gay marriage but not for marriage in general. They want abortion banned but say little about banning adultery or Sabbath keeping. When asked about these points, they resort to radical pragmatism and admit that you can’t win every battle. You have to pick your fights. God doesn’t work like that.

To the contrary, God puts us in a situation where some objectives are more realistic than others. God hasn’t put us in a position where we can hope to accomplish everything that ought to be done. Providential circumstances are, in fact, one way of prioritizing our duties. Choosing realistic goals over lost causes.

Ed is like a bystander who sees a school bus veer off a bridge and plunge into the river. Because he can’t save every drowning child, he refuses to save any drowning child.

Rather than hearing the gospel of repentance, the culture hears the Church judging it for its behavior and thinks it uses its political clout to force it to do as we say.

i) Ed’s complaint doesn’t make any sense even on his own grounds. How can you do evangelism without telling unbelievers that they are sinners? Judging sinful behavior is a necessary element of evangelism. What are they to repent of if not their wicked behavior?

ii) If Ed is still alluding to 1 Cor 5:12-13, he fails to distinguish between two different senses of “judgment”:

a) punishment

b) value-judgment

“Judging” in the sense of (b) isn’t punitive. Rather, that’s a moral evaluation.

In addition, there’s a further distinction between

a-i) remedial church discipline


a-ii) retributive civil penalties

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