Saturday, July 04, 2015

Slavery and sodomy

Matthew Vines recently and repeatedly used slavery as a wedge tactic to justify the acceptance of homosexual "marriage." Slavery is frequently used as a wedge tactic by "progressive Christians."

I'd like to briefly draw attention to a biting irony, here. Slavery and homosexuality are far more analogous than Vines would like to admit.

People who suffer from addictions are enslaved to their addictions, whether it's pornography, gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse, &c. 

The same thing is true for active homosexuals. They don't control it–it controls them. 

They are in bondage to their homosexual passions. It's all-consuming. 

Active homosexuals are often the mirror-image of womanizers: men whose existence is a string of one-night stands. If they're not having sex with a strange woman, they're on the look-out for their next conquest.

It's not coincidental that Scripture compares sin to slavery. You can be more enslaved to a particular sin than literal slavery. Your addiction to a particular sin is psychologically compulsive as well as physically and financially demanding. It never lets up. 

40 trick questions for Christians

Homosexual activist Matthew Vines has posted "40 questions" for Christians:

This is in response to Kevin DeYoung. Before I comment on the specifics, a few preliminaries are in order:

i) Let's begin by stating the obvious: Vines is a young man with a young man's sex drive. He wants to have sex. That's understandable.

Unfortunately, he's homosexual, so he wants to have sex with other men. And for some odd reason, he feels the need to rationalize his lifestyle in the face of Scripture. There are many homosexuals who are chronologically adults, but emotionally arrested. They feel a childish need for parental approval. They can't stand the fact that Bible-believing Christians disapprove of their lifestyle.  

ii) Vines' questionnaire is terribly repetitious. Many of the questions are variations on the same question. Perhaps he padded the questionnaire to create an artificial numerical symmetry with DeYoung's questionnaire. 

As a result, in responding to Vines, I'm going to rearrange the order of the questions. I'm going to group some questions topically that are essentially the same question. Then I'll respond en bloc. That will avoid redundancy. 

iii) Vines resorts to the lawyerly debater's trick of posing deceptively simple questions. In reality, many of his questions contain tendentious assumptions. Likewise, many of the questions don't have yes or no answers. 

As a result, it would be inaccurate or misleading to answer many of the questions as is. We need to unpack tendentious assumptions or discuss the complexities of the issues. 

In addition to my response, Doug Wilson and James White have posted responses:

For the record, I wrote my own response before reading theirs.

Friday, July 03, 2015

The state of the race

It's been six months since I commented on the 2016 presidential contenders. By now I think we probably know who-all is going to run. This post is less about who I think ought to win than who is likely to win.

i) On the Democrat side, Bernie Sanders is a sideshow, although he may expose Hillary's weak support. Moreover, if he's formidable in early primaries, she will have to tack even further to the left. That will generate awkward quotes when she runs for the general election.

ii) Jim Webb has thrown his hat into the ring. I doubt that a 70-year-old white man will wrest the Democrat nomination from Hillary. 

If he were the nominee, he might be a more formidable candidate to run against the GOP than Hillary. But since I doubt that's in the cards, there's no point detailing his hypothetical advantages. 

iii) On the GOP side, I think Christie has no realistic chance of securing the nomination. To begin with, Jeb is the default establishment Republican in the race. I don't see how Christie can dislodge Jeb. 

And if Jeb stumbles, Kasich is the logical fallback for the establishment Republican niche. Kasich is Jeb's understudy. 

Christie a liberal Eastern Republican like Giuliani, but he lacks Rudy's 9/11 afterglow (which has faded). 

iv) I think it unlikely that Jeb will secure the nomination. There's no enthusiasm for his candidacy, apart from party operatives like Karl Rove. The base dislikes him. And he has much stronger competition than Dole, McCain, or Romney.

v) Kasich is even less likely to secure the nomination than Jeb. To begin with, if Jeb stumbles, it will be too late for Kasich to step in. 

Kasich is lackluster. He's good on budget issues. And that's about it. He doesn't resonate with social issues. That's not his center of gravity.

vi) I think Walker and Rubio are the two contenders with the best shot at securing the nomination, with Jindal as the darkhorse candidate.

A lot may turn on debate performances, and who is even able to get into the debates.

On the plus side, Walker knows how to stand up to political thugs. Since Obama has turned the Executive bureaucracy into a partisan thugocracy, that's a job qualification. However, his knowledge of domestic and foreign policy is thin. 

Rubio is the favorite compromise candidate. Someone most GOP voters can settle for, with the fewest downsides. 

vii) At this point it's likely that Hillary's GOP opponent will be a much younger, much fresher candidate. In presidential debates, that will make her look haggard by comparison.

viii) Hillary's challenge is that she has a low ceiling of support. She needs to raise the ceiling.

There are lots of folks who will voter for her no matter what. But there are lots of folks who won't vote for her under any circumstances. 

She has phenomenal high negatives. She has more baggage than the DFW airport. 

Moreover, a lot of younger voters are ignorant of Hillary's scandals and hypocrisy. 

But paradoxically, the corruption of the Clintons is so notorious that it's like scar tissue. That's "old news." So familiar that many voters don't care. They're used to it.

There are people who will vote for any Democrat. And there are folks who want to "make history" by voting for a woman.

ix) Which brings us to Fiorina. She's certainly interesting. Her resume is far more impressive than Hillary's. 

In presidential debates, she'd neutralize the gender card. Hillary couldn't play that against her. 

However, I doubt that would be much of an advantage in the general election. If voters have two women to choose from, if whichever candidate they vote for will be a women, then voters who hanker to vote for a female candidate because she's a woman will go with Hillary. 

And that will hurt Finorina in the primaries. I doubt Republicans feel like taking a risk on her. There's too much at stake. Moreover, her conservative street cred is a bit forced. 

x) Ben Carson would probably be a good pic for surgeon general, HHS, or maybe the CDE. Cruz would probably be a good pick for attorney general. 

I haven't discussed Rand, Perry, or Huckabee because it think it less likely that they will lead the pack. 

SSM in Canada

In the wake of the SCOTUS decision on homosexual marriage, I've seen some Canadian Christians (i.e. Canadians who profess to be Christian) say American Christians are overreacting because Canada has had SSM for a decade without the dire consequences that American Christians predict. They accuse American Christians of alarmist rhetoric.

I hesitate to comment on the Canadian scene, since I obviously know less about that than the American scene, but it seems to me that they are ignoring political developments in Canada. For instance:

I'd also note that there comes a point where it becomes illegal to report on the dire consequences of SSM. That's "hate speech." Evidence is suppressed on pain of prosecution, then they turn around and exclaim, Where's the evidence?

Consider, for instance, how the "news" media covers for the homosexual community. That makes it hard to document the incidence of homosexual child molestation.

Was last week a bad week for conservatives?

Many liberal pundits gleefully said last week was a bad week for conservatives. But that's misleading. It treats the culture wars like a sporting event where one team wins, the other team loses, and the spectators go home. 
Last week was a bad week for everyone. When conservatives lose, everybody loses. When liberals win, everyone is harmed. Liberal policies are destructive. Even liberals are harmed by liberal policies. In a sense, liberal policies are more harmful to liberals than conservatives insofar as liberals have less insulation. Liberals often act on their ideology. So it's like injecting heroine directly into the blood stream. 
Nothing can be more destructive than success if you're successful at the wrong thing. Kinda like thieves who unwittingly steal radioactive material. Even if they get away with it, they don't get away with it. 

Biology and marriage

When marriage is decoupled from biology, there are at least two major consequences:
i) If marriage is no longer grounded in biology, if marriage no longer correlates with biology, then any "relationship" can be defined as a marriage, viz. homosexuality, consensual parental incest, bestiality, pederasty. 
ii) Instead of gov't recognizing a natural institution–which is ontologically independent of the state–gov't constitutes marriage. Marriage becomes a purely political artifact. Gov't can confer or revoke marital protections at will. Gov't now defines ex nihilo the fundamental unit of society. This is just another plank in the totalitarian state. 
iii) It might be objected that a biological criterion fails to rule out polygamy. Two points:
a) Even if biology is not a sufficient criterion, it remains a necessary criterion.
b) There's a difference between what is a marriage, and what is a good marriage. Polygamy is bad marital policy. That should be discouraged in various ways. 

Present trends in religious liberty

Muslims Mean It. We Don't.

"Which folks are happy to be contrarian and swim against the tide? Gays, obviously, and the hard left, which is one reason things tend to go their way. But also Muslims. Look at that woman in the ice-cream van at the top of the page. That's a British 'ice-cream lady' of the 21st century. At a certain level, it's ridiculous serving 99s and raspberry ripples in a burqa. But at another, far more important level, it's not in the least bit ridiculous: it's telling you that these guys mean it - and they've figured out that you don't." (Mark Steyn)

For a recent illustration of Steyn's point, see the study released last week by the Department of Labor concerning how Americans spend their time. The average for hours per day spent on leisure and sports was 5.30. The average for religious activities was 0.14.

The hidden camera in the voting booth

The secret ballot has been a fixture of American democracy since the late 19C. But in two blue states (Washington, Oregon), absentee ballots are the only way of voting. 

Just think about that for a moment. Suppose there's an election in which the party in power retains power. Most of the incumbents are reelected.

But in a state like Washington and Oregon, that means the party in power knows exactly who voted against it. The party in power knows exactly who all their political opponents are. They know the name, phone number, address, &c., of everyone who cast a ballot to vote them out of office. It's like having a hidden camera in the voting booth.

This isn't hypothetical. A few years ago there was a disputed gubernatorial election in Washington. There was a recount. State employees went door-to-door to question voters on the ballot they cast. 

Just consider the potential abuse of power. How the party in power could retaliate. It's worse than having the donor list for the opposition party. 

And imagine officials sharing that information with campaign consultants. They can do microlevel demographics on the electorate. 

Liberals talk about the "right of privacy," but they don't respect it. 

Doctor/patient confidentiality

Obamacare is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. The real goal is a gov't-run healthcare system. Barney Frank, an architect of Obamacare, admitted that in a 2009 interview:

Because we don’t have the votes for it. I wish we did. I think if we get a good public option that could lead to single-payer and that’s the best way to reach single-payer.

He didn't quite explain how Obamacare is transitional to a single-payer system. One possibility is that it's a softening-up exercise. It prepares the public for a single-payer system.

There is, however, a more cynical theory. That Obamacare was designed to destroy private healthcare by producing a death spiral in the private insurance market. Here's a description:

Obamacare’s community rating results in insurance prices that are higher for younger people than they would be in a free market, and its guaranteed issue allows people to sign up for insurance even if they get sick, so young and healthy people have ample incentive to forgo insurance. This leaves the insurance “risk pool” older and sicker and, hence, more costly to insure. Premiums will have to rise to cover those costs, leading some of the younger and healthier people who did initially sign up to then drop out. The risk pool then becomes even older and sicker, premiums rise again, and the process repeats.

Now, why do I bring this up? There's a tradition of doctor/patient confidentiality, as well as doctor/patient privilege. But a single-payer system will erase the doctor/patient confidentiality/privilege? To begin with, if physicians are actually gov't employees, then your medical records are gov't records. Even if technically, only a subset of gov't employees has access to the records, there is no real doctor/patient confidentiality. Also, it's trivially easy for "confidential" records to be accessed by unauthorized personnel. 

And even if the physicians don't work directly for the gov't, if many of the treatments require authorization by some gov't bureaucrat, then once again, there will be a gov't record of the patient's condition and treatment. 

Perhaps a parallel objection might be raised with respect to physicians who must request authorization from a private health insurance company. That's a problem, but that's still different from the gov't knowing all about your sensitive medical conditions.

Also, Americans didn't always have health insurance. That's not a given. 

No truce with the left

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rules v. tools

Don't panic

"Theocracy" and SSM

On Facebook, Michael Licona expressed ambivalence about public policy regarding homosexual marriage. He suggested that since the US is not a theocracy, we shouldn't ban homosexual marriage. In addition, he compared homosexual marriage to religious liberty. 

Let's consider some basic problems with that argument.

i) If homosexual marriage is treated as a civil right or Constitutional right, then it becomes the duty of the Federal gov't to oppose state laws that deny or infringe a civil right. 

That's not just a question of gov't "allowing" the practice, but the Federal gov't disallowing state gov't to conflict with Federal policy. 

ii) Likewise, if it's elevated to the status of a civil right or Constitutional right, then it becomes a balancing act when that alleged right comes into conflict with other Constitutional rights (e.g. freedom of religion, expression, association). 

Other rights, which are explicitly protected in and by the Constitution, will be abridged to make room for this new alleged right. 

iii) In addition, it depends on what Licona means by "theocracy." Does he mean religious principles have no place in social policy?

One classic argument against homosexuality appeals to natural law. That's implicitly religious. 

By contrast, people who subscribe to naturalistic evolution deny natural teleology. They deny proper function in nature. On that view, homosexuality is just a natural variation. 

If, however, Licona thinks that religious principles are disallowed in that sense, then the law must treat all "natural" behavior alike. There is no natural right or wrong. Consider the legal and social consequences of that outlook. As one philosopher put it:

If we really took this line of reasoning seriously, we'd have to apply it to other conditions that virtually no one wants to see as perfectly normal. For example, one could argue that pedophilia is just a different way of being, and we should respect it. After all, it's caused by a brain condition, and all brain conditions are equally good. In terms of the arguments I see from the neurodiversity movement, I see no way to say the things they say while avoiding such a conclusion. There are plenty of ways to distinguish between the two cases, but I don't see how those are available given the extreme sorts of statements that I regularly see among neurodiversity advocates.But on one level, I can't blame the neurodiversity movement (and the more general relativistic outlook among other disability communities). After all, their view follows fairly easily from a particular version of secularized naturalistic thinking. Different neurological conditions stem from natural variation, and there's no other level of explanation but natural variation. There's no God who designed human beings to have certain capabilities. There are no natural purposes according to which organisms have a nature, and certain capacities are part of what a well-functioning member of their species will be able to do. There's no notion of well-functioning if your worldview doesn't allow for higher-level explanations about purposes and design, other than perhaps simply asking whether a particular organism fits into the way most members of its species are or whether it fits the patterns members of its species typically desire for themselves. There's nothing objective about what a healthy member of that species or a well-functioning member of that species would be like. There is no way we can have a notion of the way we ought to be if there's no ground for what it would be to be the way we ought to be.

iv) There's also the general problem of grounding social mores if you rule out religion. If secular reasoning can't justify objective moral norms, then public policy because an arbitrary exercise in power. 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah's Vision of the Lord

6 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Craig’s miracles lecture at Spring Arbor University

Buy the refs

The first lie is that there has been a “sea change” in American public opinion, and that all this tumult around us is the result of that sea change. This is not even close to being true. This has been a power play to establish such a sea change; it is in no way the result of it.
Teams that bite, kick, gouge, and otherwise cheat, and which buy all the refs for a tidy little sum beforehand, are not teams that are confident of winning in the ordinary way. 

Secular morality

The whole notion of “secular” reasoning was invented to ground morality and ethics in principles that are universally recognized. The whole point of the Enlightenment project was that once we all agree to the “secular” principles laid out in, say, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason or John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty everyone would lay aside their religious peculiarities and agree on everything and bloodshed and war and bigotry and ignorance and hatred and conflict would end. So, then: since we live in this secular utopia where only secular ideals govern, well-nigh 300 years on from Kant, name one issue of public policy everybody agrees on.

Party politics

i) Every time we have a new election cycle, we have the same debate. It goes something like this:

"You Christian Republicans are so naive. You imagine that if you can just elect a Republic president or Republican majority in Congress, that will return the country to conservative values. How often must you be hoodwinked by cynical campaign promises before you learn your lesson? The only solution is a third party."

There are variations on that objection, but that's the gist of it. By way of reply:

ii) We can only work with what we've got. In a better world, we'd have better options. But we must play the hand we were dealt. 

iii) A perennial problem with the third party option is that a third party is a getaway car with square wheels. There are never enough third party voters to make it a viable national party.

iv) In fairness, someone might object that that's circular. If everyone who is now wasting their votes on Republican candidates formed a third party, there'd be enough voters to make it a viable national party.

To begin with, I have no evidence that there are enough voters to make that happen, even if they all threw in their lot with the same party.

But suppose there were enough voters, and suppose they all joined forces. Problem is, in my experience, many people who hanker for a third party object to the GOP, not because it's too liberal, but because it's too conservative. They dislike the GOP because they dislike the religious right. They view Democrats and social conservatives as two sides of the same coin: both groups want to use gov't to control human behavior, but curtail it in different directions. 

Basically, they're secular libertarians. So if they got their wish, the third party would be even less accommodating to social conservatives than the GOP. It would be even less representative of my own policy priorities than the GOP. 

I'm not saying everyone who waxes wistful for a third party shares that outlook, but at least in my experience, many voters want a third party as an alternative to the GOP because they wish to decouple their locomotive from the Christian railcars. 

v) I don't vote Republican because I think that's bound to advance my political views, or even because I think that will likely advance my political views. That's not how I frame the issue.

Rather, it goes like this: if you fight, you may win or lose, but if you surrender, you are bound to lose. If you don't try to score goals, and you do nothing to block the other team's play, you effectively forfeit the game. I'll take a 10% chance of winning over a 100% certainty of losing. 

The Democrat party is utterly intolerant of social conservatives. Utterly intolerant of Bible-believing Christians. Increasingly hostile to the Bill of Rights and the consent of the governed. That's a party which has nothing to offer someone with my views. 

Suppose I have a teenager who's diagnosed with leukemia. The prognosis without treatment is that he will be dead in a year. The prognosis with treatment is that he's got a 40% chance of surviving 5 years, and maybe he will be cured. (I'm pulling those figures out of thin air.)

Those are poor odds. But it's worth it to me to have another five years with my teenager. If he foregoes treatment, there's nothing to gain and everything to lose. If he undergoes treatment, there's nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I don't vote Republican because I'm an optimist about the GOP, but because I'm a pessimist about the alternative. I don't vote Republican on the presumption that the GOP will serve my interests, but because it's a dead certainty that Democrats will oppose my interests. 

v) This isn't carte blanche for the future. I'm referring to both parties c. 2015. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


A distinctive feature of an autocratic or totalitarian regime is making it a crime for a private citizen to criticize official policy. Specifically, that's the crime of sedition.

To criticize a royal edict, to criticize the policies or Stalin or Chairman Mao, is seditious. It is unlawful to criticize the law. 

A distinctive feature of American Constitutional democracy is the freedom to criticize the state. Freedom to criticize the law. Freedom to criticize officials or official policies. 

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are intentionally and diametrically opposed to the crime of sedition. Under our system of gov't, there can be no crime of sedition, in the sense of speech that's critical of ruling regime. 

Until recently, "sedition" had become a rather quaint term in American discourse. However, by criminalizing dissent as "hate speech," the homosexual lobby is making America revert to a political era when it was illegal to criticize the gov't. 

How many voters are aware of this development? How many voters appreciate the consequences of this trend? Do they think it should be against the law to criticize the law? 

Church arsonists

I will remember their sins no more

I will remember their sins no more (Heb 8:12; 10:17; cf. Isa 43:25). 

It's striking how often Bible scholars and theologians talk about forgiveness without beginning the analysis with a definition. Perhaps they think the meaning of forgiveness is self-evident. Or perhaps they think the concept is so basic that there's nothing more fundamental they can compare it to.

Still, given the centrality of forgiveness in Christian theology, you'd think there'd be more effort to define the key concept. 

On rare occasion, Scripture uses the anthropomorphic notion of divine forgetfulness to illustrate the nature of forgiveness. That's a useful analogy, because it's a unifying principle. 

i) It supplies a conceptual common denominator for many different kinds of Biblical statements that mention forgiveness. The basic idea is that forgiveness is like forgetfulness. When God forgives someone, it's as if God forgot what they did. It wipes the slate clean. 

ii) Likewise, it supplies a conceptual common denominator for divine and human forgiveness. For the same principle is applicable to divine and human relations. 

iii) Finally, it covers both the psychological and the activist dimensions of forgiveness.

If you forget what someone did to you, then you can't harbor resentment for what they did. When you look at them, it doesn't remind you of what they did. 

Likewise, if you forget what someone did to you, then you don't take punitive or vindictive action. 

The point is not that God literally forgets our sins, or that we necessarily forget wrongdoing. Rather, forgiveness has the same effect as forgetfulness in that regard. In fact, it's all the more impressive to treat someone as if you forget their misdeed, even though you remember it. 

iv) There are, of course, related concepts in Scripture. Justification is a richer concept than forgiveness. Forgiveness means treating the offender as if he's innocent, whereas justification means treating the offender as if he's good. It's a positive ascription. Not merely the absence of guilt, not bare acquittal, but a positive status. 

A transgender dilemma

Ryan points out that appealing to neuroanatomy to provide scientific evidence for transgenderism generates a dilemma for transgenderism. It presupposes that there are male and female brains in the first place; that these represent the norm; that if there's such a thing as a transgender brain, then that would be deviant.

Conversely, if transgender brains are more frequent than commonly recognized, why assume differences in neuroanatomy correspond to differences in men and women?

Why Did The Corinthians Seek Help From Paul, Not Peter?

I recently received an email asking me for a response to a popular Catholic argument for the papacy. Since First Clement suggests that the Corinthian church in the late first century was seeking help from the bishop of Rome in settling a dispute, instead of seeking help from the apostle John, doesn't that suggest that the Roman bishop had more authority than John? Or, if help wasn't sought, but, instead, the bishop of Rome took the initiative to involve himself, doesn't that suggest some sort of claim of authority over the apostle John, who was geographically closer to Corinth? Here's a thread that addresses First Clement and the papacy.

One of the answers we can provide to Catholics who bring this issue up is to ask them if they apply the same reasoning to the Corinthian church's efforts to seek Paul's help rather than Peter's earlier in the same century (e.g., 1 and 2 Corinthians). See the thread linked above for some other responses.

This is what we’re up against


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Grace under fire

Thomas Smyth was born on June 14, 1808 in Belfast, Ireland. His mother, of Scottish ancestry, exercised a great influence on Thomas by encouraging his love of reading and instructing him in the Christian faith. Thomas's education began at the Academic Institution of Belfast, and then he went on to study at Belfast College where in 1829 he graduated with honors. It was at the age of twenty-one that Thomas made his profession of faith in Christ while living in Belfast.

He then moved to London to attend Highbury College, but he was not able to complete his program there because he moved with his parents to the United States in 1830 where he lived with his brother in Patterson, New Jersey. His brother, Joseph, had done well in his new homeland and earned his living in manufacturing. Joseph was a member of the Presbyterian Church and Thomas attended services with him. To complete his ministerial training he enrolled in the senior class at Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated in 1831.

When he was ordained it was the presbytery's intention to send him to Florida as a missionary, but his direction changed when the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, South Carolina requested him to be their supply pastor in 1832. His Princeton professors, Samuel Miller and Archibald Alexander, encouraged him to go to Charleston. Thomas became the supply for a short time, and after a time of some uncertainty concerning his remaining there, he was called to be the pastor and installed in December of 1834. His uncertainty was due to his belief that the great size of the Second Church's sanctuary exacerbated his chronic health problems. In order to alleviate the stress of preaching, the church modified the sanctuary by lowering the ceiling and making other changes to decrease the volume of the room and thereby reduce Rev. Smyth's effort to project his voice. The call to Second Presbyterian was the first and last pastoral call of Thomas's life since he remained there until he died. 

Shortly after Rev. Smyth's arrival at Charleston, he married Margaret Milligan Adger, who was the daughter of one of Charleston's most prosperous merchants, James Adger. James Adger's brother, John, would become the Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Polity at Columbia Seminary from 1857 to 1874. Thomas and Margaret were married by the Rev. William A. McDowell, pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church, at sunset on Tuesday, July 9, 1832. The couple was to enjoy a long marriage that was blessed with nine children, six of which-three boys and three girls-survived Dr. Smyth.

Since Dr. Smyth enjoyed such an extended time as the pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, it might be concluded that he had a ministry without difficulties, but this was not the case. From the time he arrived at Charleston, he was involved in the controversies that led to the Civil War. According to T. Erskine Clark's article on Dr. Smyth in American National Biography, Smyth tried to take a moderate approach to slavery--in Charleston, he was thought an Abolitionist, while in Britain, he was seen as a supporter of slavery. He, along with John Adger and John Girardeau, was instrumental in establishing the Zion Presbyterian Church for slaves. Both Dr. Smyth and John Girardeau were mercilessly vilified by some Southerners for their efforts to provide a Presbyterian place of worship for Africans. His efforts at reforming slavery were resisted by some of the Whites in Charleston and this made for a rough road for his ministry. He defended the full humanity of Africans in his book Unity of the Human Race against the vocal protests of militant southern slavery supporters. 

In July of 1863, Vicksburg fell and Lee was defeated at Gettysburg. The tide had turned and many southerners saw that the days of the Confederacy were numbered. Second Presbyterian Church's congregation scattered due to the growing uncertainties regarding Charleston's future. Because of the fear of Union forces invading Charleston, the Smyths had moved inland to Clarendon County for about two years beginning in August 1863. During this exile, Dr. Smyth became a circuit-riding minister serving several Methodist churches. When he returned to pick up the pieces at Second Presbyterian, he found that the war had left his congregation depleted and confused. In August of 1866, the church had to be reorganized due to the great loss of members during the war, and in October of 1867, three new elders were ordained to help with the work of the church. 

Nineteenth century life could be tragic and difficult, and the Smyths faced some of the century's vicissitudes. In the fall of 1836 Rev. Smyth, Margaret, and his sister-in-law were traveling by ship when there was a horrible storm that caused the ship to run-aground and leave the passengers stranded on a small island off the coast of North Carolina. They had very little food and suffered having their trunks ransacked by some members of the ship's crew. In 1837 scarlet fever ravaged Charleston and two of the Smyth children were stricken. Sarah Ann Magee died of the fever on November 27 at the age of four and her younger sister, Susan Adger, died less than a week later. This double dose of tragedy was very difficult for Thomas and Margaret. Margaret expressed her grief to friends and relatives in letters, while Thomas tried to keep his thoughts about the girls' deaths to himself. On the first Sabbath Dr. Smyth preached following the two deaths, he was able to get through the first hymn, but when he stood to read the Scripture, he broke down, took his seat, and wept. Many in the congregation joined him in his uncontrolled sorrow. Two sermons regarding the salvation of infants delivered by Dr. Smyth following his daughters' deaths were published in the book Solace for Bereaved Parents. Death struck the Smyth household once again when in November 1841 Augustine, the Smyths' eleven month old son, died. The modern reader is often surprised at the number of children born to nineteenth-century families, but even though parents might have ten or more children, it was not uncommon for several of them to die in the early years of life. 

Dr. Smyth's life was troubled by bouts with illness from his earliest years; the Apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh, and Thomas Smyth felt the pain and discomfort of chronic physical problems. When he was born, his parents did not know how long he would survive because he was so frail. On two occasions, during his educational years, one at Belfast College and another at Princeton Seminary, his studies were interrupted by illness. As the years passed, he continued to be afflicted by sickness. While he was the pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, he often had debilitating headaches that would make it difficult to study and execute his ministry. He tried to relieve the pain by soaking his head in ice-cold water. In 1848, he was affected by a partial paralysis that left him with reoccurring severe pain. In 1853, he was once again stricken with a paralysis that was severe enough to leave him crippled and on crutches. Dr. Smyth had difficulty standing with the crutches while preaching, so his pulpit was modified by constructing a saddle-like seat with a mahogany backrest. By using this special furniture he could straddle the seat as if he were on a horse, lean back against the backrest, and have his hands free to turn his notes and make descriptive gestures. Despite these painful and reoccurring problems, Dr. Smyth persevered in his ministry until the final blow came in 1870 when his speech was paralyzed. He did not give up but instead developed speech and elocutionary exercises so that he could regain his ability to talk. Despite his persistent efforts, he could not restore his speech sufficiently to satisfy himself that his verbal abilities were adequate for acceptable preaching, so he retired from the pulpit about a year after his speech paralysis began. Though he no longer preached, he often ended the worship service with prayer. 

Despite a physical constitution that would lead others to complaining, depression, and withdrawal, it was said of Dr. Smyth, by Rev. G. R. Brackett, Smyth's successor at Second Presbyterian Church, that: "Dr. Smyth was a cheerful, happy sufferer. His sufferings never made life dark, dismal or undesirable. He had cultivated a merry, joyous spirit. He had learned to smile on suffering, …" (Smyth, Works, X: 787). 

We didn't lose the argument–our opponents lost their minds!

In the wake of the SCOTUS ruling on queer marriage, I surfed some Facebook discussions at James White and W.L. Craig. I rarely comment on White's Facebook page, and I think this is the first time I ever commented on Craig's. It's very revealing to see the intellectual level at which proponents of SSM operate. I'm going to repost some of the exchanges. I've rearranged the order of some comments for make the sequence more logical. 


i) One way some folks defend homosexuality and sodomite marriage is to accuse faithful Christians of hypocrisy. Christians are allegedly hypocritical because they "cherrypick" Scripture. 

For instance, they quote Leviticus on homosexuality, but eat shellfish and wear polyester. 

Yes, there really are people who raise that objection. In fact, on Facebook, I encountered a Jew who majored in philosophy of religion, who calls himself a "Jewish Biblical scholar," who brought up the polyester objection.

Now, when I run across objections like that, my eyes roll. But I guess it's something we need to address.

ii) The folks who say this pride themselves on their tolerance. They regard faithful Christians as bigots. 

So the first thing I'd point out is that folks who level that objection are guilty of bigotry. Now, I'm sure it's never occurred to them that they are bigots. It's always the other person who's the bigot!

Why do I say they are bigots? Because only someone who suffers from prejudice would raise that objection in the first place. 

You see, they could only level an objection like that because they are ignorant of Christian theology. They have a hostile, uninformed, preconceived opinion about Bible-believing Christians.

Well, folks, that's a textbook definition of prejudice. And a synonym for prejudice is bigotry. 

Bigots commonly accuse Christians of bigotry. Their prejudice blinds them to their own bigotry. That's something we should draw their attention to.

iii) I'd add that even if some Christians are inconsistent in how they appropriate the OT, that doesn't automatically make them hypocrites. Most Christians aren't theologians or Bible scholars. Laymen don't necessary have the time or aptitude to work out a consistent position on everything.

Indeed, even philosophers find it challenging to be consistent across the board. 

iv) Furthermore, Christians shouldn't be put in this position in the first place. We shouldn't even have to disprove absurd, immoral positions like transgenderism or sodomite marriage. The fact that most Christians don't have ready-made arguments for every whacky new depravity that decadent academics dream up is hardly a judgment on Christians.

v) Now let's turn our attention to the substantive issue. Anyone with a decedent knowledge of Christian theology can tell you that the relationship between OT theology and NT theology involves both continuities and discontinuities. There's partial carryover between OT law and NT ethics. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's not as if you must either reaffirm OT law in toto or disaffirm OT law in toto. For that's not how the NT frames the choice. The NT stakes out a middle ground.

vi) Let's take a few examples:

a) One of the issues which cropped up very early in NT times was the question of whether Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Did they need to undergo circumcision? Practice a kosher diet? Observe the other purity codes? 

The council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was convened to address that question. And there were different aspects to the question. 

One aspect concerned the issue of theological principle. As a matter of principle, were Gentiles obligated to be circumcised or observe the purity codes? And the answer was no.

In addition, the council reaffirmed OT sexual ethics.

b) But there was also the policy question. Even though, in principle, that was defunct, the NT church was a missionary church. In that respect, Christians should be tactful. Avoid giving unnecessary offense to Jews.

So the council staked out a compromise position. On the one hand, Gentile converts could forgo circumcision. On the other hand, they should only consume exsanguinated meat. And even that probably has reference to Christian Gentiles residing in mixed communities (i.e. Jews and Gentiles).

For an exegetical defense of this interpretation, read the commentaries by Bock and Peterson on Acts 15:19-21.

c) Another instance is the Book of Hebrews. As the author makes clear, the atonement of Christ abrogates the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system. 

d) Those are examples of discontinuity. There are, however, examples of continuity. For instance, 1 Tim 1:9-10 paraphrases the Decalogue. For a detailed analysis, read Towner.

So that's a case where OT law carries over into NT ethics. 

vii) Apropos (vi), it is not hypocritical for Christians to be selective where the NT is selective. If the NT is selective in it's appropriation of the OT, then Christians ought to be selective in the same way. We should align our position on the OT with the NT position on the OT. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, the NT is our frame of reference for judging how much OT theology carries over into the new covenant. To be a Christian is, among other things, to take your cue from the NT. That supplies a normative filter for how we view the OT.   

viii)  It's tricky to say in general how much carryover there is between OT theology and NT theology. Different Christian theological traditions give different answers to that question. Indeed, that's a major reason why we have different theological traditions. They give different answers to that question.

ix) However, we don't need to have a general answer to that question to address the issue of homosexuality, for the NT specifically reaffirms the OT position in that respect. We don't have to say, in general, how much OT theology is obsolete under the new covenant to answer this particular question, for the NT already answers this particular question.

x) Apropos (ix), the NT specifically and explicitly reaffirms OT heteronormativity.

a) Jesus reaffirms Gen 1-2 in reference to marital norms (Mt 19:4-5).

b) Gen 1 is the presupposition for Rom 1. God's identity as the Creator (Rom 1:20,25) goes back to the Genesis creation account (Gen 1:1). In Rom 1, Paul's discussion of homosexuality is grounded, not in OT law, but OT history–just like Christ's appeal (see above).

c) In addition, Rom 1:23 alludes to Gen 1:16-17,22-25.

d) Likewise, Rom 1:26-27 alludes to Gen 1:27. 

There are other literary allusions in Rom 1. For detailed analysis, see commentators like Jewett and Schreiner. 

e) 1 Cor 6:9 & 1 Tim 1:10 allude to Lev 18:22 & 20:13. So in these passages, Paul reaffirms the Levitical condemnation of homosexuality. 

And, of course, Leviticus is a part of the Pentateuch. The Levitical condemnation of homosexuality has its basis in Gen 1-2. 

f) Yet Paul is famous for denying that circumcision is a new covenant requirement. Therefore, Christians are quite consistent when they selectively prooftext their position on homosexuality from the OT. They simply repeat the NT. 

xi) This isn't arbitrary. The Mosaic code contains different kinds of laws. Some laws concern behavior that's intrinsically right or wrong.

Other injunctions are laws of utility rather than morality (e.g. put a parapet around your roof, cover an open well).

And some laws are essentially symbolic. Circumcision and the purity codes had an emblematic significance. They were never moral absolutes. Rather, they were a means to an end. Temporary pointers to a greater reality. 

Trophy wife

One popular justifications for SSM–in fact the primary justification–is the claim that so long as "two" people love each other, that's all that matters.

There seem to be a fair number of professing Christians who say that as well. 

A couple of quick counterexamples:

i) In the pop culture, there are many people who think girlfriends and boyfriends can "cheat" on each other. Now, I'm out of step with the pop culture in that regard. I think only married couples can cheat on either other. 

But let's grant pop cultural social mores for the sake of argument. If love is all that matters, why should boyfriends and girlfriends be exclusive? 

ii) Then there's the trophy wife. Say a young man marries a young woman right out of high school. He's very ambitious. His goal in life is to be rich. He finagles his way into Stanford or Yale for his undergraduate degree. Then he gets an MBA from Harvard, or maybe graduates from Harvard Law school.

He then joins a top law firm or Wall Street investment firm. His wife worked a job to help put him through college. Perhaps they have two or three kids.

Now, however, he's far more eligible than he was in high school. The marriage has lost its passion. He falls in love with a blond bombshell. Women like her were out of his league when he got hitched the first time.

So he trades up. He dumps his workhorse for a showhorse. 

BTW, when I was a kid, we used to call women like that "homewreckers." 

As long as love is the litmus test, he did nothing wrong. It all comes down to falling in love and falling out of love. You switch partners accordingly. She served her purpose. 

Do people who support SSM think he wronged his first wife? 

The Apocalypse as political allegory

Scholars commonly view the Book of Revelation as a political allegory. The real target is Rome, but John must use code language to protect the recipients. If he were pen an open indictment of the Roman regime, his recipients would be persecuted as enemies of the state.

I think there's some truth to this. A classic example is Dostoevsky's the Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers Karamazov. Although he's a Roman Catholic figure, Dostoevsky's real target is the Russian Orthodox Church. But he couldn't get away with attacking that directly, so he uses the Grand Inquisitor as a stand-in.

However, the logic of the allegorical interpretation doesn't automatically select for a 1C setting. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that God gave John a preview of the rise of Stalinism or Nazism. That would need to be coded for the same reason that targeting the Roman regime would need to be coded. It gives the recipients plausible deniability.

If a book of the Bible were to directly attack Stalinism or Nazism, that would lead those regimes to ban the Bible. Confiscate copies. Mere ownership of Scripture would be a capital offense. If the regime could recognize itself in the description, it would treat that as seditious literature.  

So the fact that Revelation is, to some degree, a political allegory, doesn't select for preterism. For that's equally consistent with futurism. Or "modified idealism."

I think John's original recipients were able to discerned a veiled attack on Rome. But I also think the cryptic symbols can just as well apply to later events. It deals with certain kinds of figures, institutions, and events. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

What lies behind the fence?

Suppose I'm strolling down a residential block. As I walk past a house with a tall solid fence, I hear something on the other side barking, snarling, growling at me. I infer that what I'm hearing was produced by a dog. And to judge by the sound, it's a big dog. I'm glad there's a fence separating me from what's on the other side.

But suppose I'm a disciple of Gordon Clark. In that event, should I infer that it's a dog? Is that inference justified?

Would that be fallacious? Would that be merely my opinion?

If so, are some opinions more reasonable, more likely, more warranted than others? Do I have any better reason to infer that what I'm hearing is a dog rather than a duck, or peach tree, or iguana? Would I be equally justified or unjustified in concluding that what's on the other side of the fence is a duck, a peach tree, or an iguana–barking and snarling at me? If I conclude that any one of those candidates (dog, duck, peach tree, iguana) is producing the sound, is my inference equally arbitrary? 

In the belly of the beast

I'd like to amplify a point I made in a previous post. One reaction to the SCOTUS ruling on queer marriage is to glamorize the prospect of persecution and martyrdom. I've seen some American Christian bloggers indulge in brave talk about the idea of losing their job or even their life as a Christian witness. 

And, of course, if push come to shove, that's what's required of us. However, I'm skeptical of professing Christians who are so boastful about their untested fidelity under fire. Reminds me of St. Peter bragging about how, even if all the other disciples abandoned Christ, he'd stand right beside him to the bitter end. And we all know how that turned out.

On a related note, we have Christian leaders drawing lines in the sand. Preparing for civil disobedience. And, if push comes to shove, that, too, is required of us. However, a lot of this seems like rhetorical flourishes. Unproven bravado. 

What I see much less of is practical advice. What should ordinary Christians actually do? John Knox had many chances to get himself martyred, but somehow he eluded the gallows. Had he and other Protestant leaders like Calvin and Samuel Rutherford been cut down early in their career, history would have turned out for the worse. There's no duty to play into the hands of your enemies. That serves their purpose.

I've discussed this in relation to Christian businesses which cater to weddings. I've discussed whether lying is permissible in that situation.

Now I'd like to consider another example. An extreme example. A limiting case. An illustration of how resistance is possible in a worst-case scenario. 

Jack Taylor was an OSS officer (precursor to the Navy SEALs). His team was captured behind enemy lines after they parachuted deep into the Third Reich. He was initially detained at Gestapo headquarters in Vienna, before he was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp. While in Gestapo custody:

Many of the prison guards were former members of the Vienna police who opposed the Nazis, and one stopped by the cell door on several occasions in order to listen to the news from the Allies. This guard told Taylor that "only three out of the twenty police guards were Nazis, and their treatment bore out his claim. They were regular Vienna police most having 20 to 30 years' service and were not SS or Wehrmacht," Taylor noted. "With the exception of the above mentioned three, they were all kind and sympathetic with us; however, very strict Gestapo control was exercised over them." Patrick K. O'Donnell, First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit (Da Capo Press, 2014), 172.

i) Here you have closet opponents of the Nazi regime right in the belly of the beast. It's hard to imagine a setting that hampers their field of action more severely than Gestapo headquarters. Yet even in that environment, they found ways to resist the regime. An unintended consequence of compulsory membership was to make some Nazi opponents plants. 

ii) Not only were they able to resist the regime despite their surroundings, but ironically, their nominal Nazi affiliation gave them official cover to resist Nazi policies in ways they could never get away with otherwise. It gave them opportunities to do good which they'd be unable to do on the outside. 

iii) It's easy to imagine closet Christians in similar circumstances. Because a totalitarian regime requires everyone to belong, to tout the party line, because it outlaws dissent, one unintended consequence is to create double agents within its midst. Give people access, put people in positions of power or responsibility, who secretly oppose the regime.

In the Third Reich you probably had a number of closet Christian officials and bureaucrats who paid lip service to the ideology, but used their position to mitigate evil. Used their position to subvert policy. By forcing everyone to belong, by forcing everyone to go along, the Third Reich unwittingly seeded itself with secret dissidents. 

The same thing would happen if America becomes more totalitarian. Coercive inclusion ends up recruiting and empowering some people who oppose the police state. 

Now, America is nowhere near that point. That development is not inevitable, or even probable. I'm just discussing how resistance is possible under even the most oppressive circumstances. Indeed, how oppression can positively create unforeseen opportunities for resistance.