Friday, January 31, 2014


I mentioned a while ago that I was writing a chapter for the community book project tentatively titled What We're For. My chapter will look at the idea of peacemaking, a topic that I am pretty passionate about even if I am not great at modeling myself.I just finally submitted my chapter (on the day it is due) and as with almost everything I write I feel disappointed in what I wrote. Hopefully others will find it helpful. I also have come realize just how hard it can be to write when under restrictions and with a deadline. I have new found respect for those who publish on a regular basis!

I am hopeful that this will be the first in many formal writing projects for me. I never expect and never intend to make a living or even a single dollar of profit but I do hope to take my thoughts to a broader audience. Anyway I will post more details as we get closer to the publication date in fall. Can't wait to read what everyone has has written!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This would be hilariously ironic if the topic wasn't so tragic

The President of the United States released the following statement commemorating the anniversay of the Roe v. Wade decision (emphasis mine):

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.  We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom.  And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children.  Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

 Everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams....except for the 55,000,000 people who never got the chance thanks to the legal perversion that the President and his political allies celebrate as a great day for this nation. Celebrating Roe v. Wade as a victory for equal opportunity is like celebrating Plessy v. Ferguson as a victory for equal rights. One would hope that the first President to have ancestry in a race that has been historically discriminated against, dehumanized and marginalized would be the most vocal champion of the millions of Americans who have likewise been dehumanized and marginalized. Sadly the very opposite is the case and we are inflicted once more with the spectacle of a President of the United States celebrating the legalized murder of her people.

41 Years Of Shame

Sacrificing children has a long and horrifying history. Throughout the existence of man some cultures have brutalized the most vulnerable members. We rightly look back with horror on such abuse of the innocent, the old, the infirm, women and most of all children. From the pagan worshipers of the Old Testament era who delivered children to be burned to the Holocaust to the intentional killing of civilians by military forces, we are rightly outraged by those who kill for the sake of terror and ideology. At least that used to be the case.

Forty one years ago today, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that a "right" to abortion existed in the United States Constitution, rendering an entire class of people disposable. In an absolutely travesty of tortured reasoning divorced from even a cursory attempt to base their decision in the Constitution, the Justices decided with the stroke of a pen to disenfranchise millions of Americans without due process.

The repercussions of the creation of the "right" to an abortion have been staggering. Around 55 million Americans have been killed by medical professionals, doctors who take an oath to first do no harm. 55 million people who will never get a chance to take their first step, to play in a park, to go to school, to get married.

55,000,000 babies.

The smallest and most vulnerable. The weakest and most dependent. The very people that common decency and human nature should cause us to defend. They are not just some abstract concept. You cannot rightly dehumanize people by reducing them to catch phrases like "choice" or "reproductive freedom" any more than you can dehumanize Jews in Nazi Germany or blacks in the pre-Civil War South by painting them as subhuman no matter how you try. No one deserves to be forced into a gas chamber because they are Jewish. They are human beings. No one deserves to be enslaved because of their skin color. They are human beings. No one deserves to be cut apart in the womb because of their relative size. They are human beings.

Matt Walsh wrote a powerful piece yesterday on the latest feminist flavor of the week, Texas representative Wendy Davis who has made her political fortune by advocating for infanticide. Sure she lied about her touching background story, from trailer park dweller to poster child for infanticide, but that doesn't matter to the forces of "choice". All that matters is that she stood up to The Man and made a spectacle of herself anf in doing so has become an apostle for the death cult of Choice. She even managed to trump Sandra Fluke who only demanded that taxpayers subsidize her promiscuity. Poor Sandra will never get ahead unless she gets on board with abortion advocacy. At the end of Matt's post, Planned Parenthood: still a bigger liar than Wendy Davis, he writes:

So, Wendy Davis lied? Yes, of course she did. She lied about a lot more than her divorce and her stint in a trailer park. She lied the moment she stood up and positioned herself as a champion for women. In reality, she isn’t championing anyone but herself, and she’s stepping on the carcasses of dead infants in the process.

Planned Parenthood has been doing that for decades.

Wendy Davis, you learned from the best.

What do you call a political movement that has as their highest ideal, their one non-negotiable article of faith, the legal right to murder unwanted people? About 70 years ago you called it Nazism but today we have nice, neat clinics with friendly staff and magazines in the waiting room instead of guards, barbed wire and dogs. I guess some would call that “progress”. Is that extremist? Is it lacking nuance? Is it hyperbole? Not at all. If anything it is too mild.

Slavery and abortion are the two great stains on America. We can only hope that the conscience of the American people one day views abortion as an evil at least as bad as the enslavement of a race of people. The little ones who have no legal rights, barred from justice by a thin layer of skin, deserve our strongest efforts. The scourge of infanticide demands our outrage, our prayer and our action. Make a point today to pray for those who work in these clinics. God has powerfully saved many and shown them the truth. Pray for women who are waking up this morning terrified by an unexpected pregnancy. Pray that they will pick up the phone and call a pregnancy resource center rather than an abortuary.  Pray for those who labor on the front lines of this fight for life. We will likely never overturn abortion by he power of Caesar but by God's grace we can overcome abortion one saved child at a time by the weapons He has given us: prayer, faith and our own weakness. Pray for God's forgiveness of the apathy of His people for so long in standing up for life.

Fifty five million slain. God have mercy on us.

(see also today from Al Mohler Abortion and the American Conscience )

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Defense Of The Bible

The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon is recorded as saying that the Bible needs no defending, simply let it out of the cage and it will defend itself. Nevertheless I am about to do that very thing, or at least to reject those who would undermine the Bible as our primary rule of faith and practice.

I saw some links to a couple of posts today over at Patheos in the so-called "progressive channel" having to do with how "progressives" view the Bible. There is a common charge that "progressives" or "liberals" or whatever term you use are accused, namely that they do not take the Bible seriously. Those accused of this in turn label others as "fundamentalists" who practice " bibliolatry " and exhibit a lack of "nuance" in their interpretation (where unnuanced = refusing to let contemporary culture dictate Biblical interpretation). While I don't consider myself a true blue fundamentalist (seeing as how I don't reject all translations but the KJV), I do tend to take literally as much of the Bible as is warranted. I don't allegorize Genesis and I think that God created the world as the Bible says He did, in six literal days. I do read Revelation in light of the fact that it is a vision of things to come that clearly contains imagery that is difficult to describe, like when John speaks of a "thousand years" in Revelation 20, raising the question of how he knew it was a thousand years that had passed. Was there a calendar with the pages flipping by really fast like in old movies? When Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no man  comes to the Father but by Him, I believe exactly that. Likewise I reject wooden literalism as we see, for example, in the dispensational hermeneutic. However where the Bible speaks clearly and authoritatively as it often does my impulse is that when it runs counter to the culture or my own personal preferences, it isn't the Bible that is wrong.

I have noticed a tendency among many brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to the realization that the cultural expression of religion called "Christianity" in much of the West is in fact not a faithful expression of the church and the faith to simultaneously chuck out of the window many of the long established teachings of the church, what I call throwing our the theological baby with the institutional bathwater. I get the impulse but I implore those who might be tempted by it to not do so.

Anyway, back to the posts I referenced. One of the posts by Roger Wolsey is called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible and purports to show why those icky fundamentalists are no better than atheists in their interpretation of the Bible. In what is just one of the ways that I find this sort of thing headshakingly ironic is that many people who purport to be open-minded and "progressive" are stunningly myopic and uniform in their beliefs and especially in their statements. The tone here is probably more mocking than it should be but I find the posts to be risible and worthy of mocking (and if you think mocking things that should be mocked is, ironically, unbiblical tell it to Elijah 1 Kings 18:27 ).Here are some of the principals of "progressive" interpretation that I found especially telling.

4. We seek to apply full attention to Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience (and that includes the insights of contemporary science).

- In other words the Bible says things that, if taken literally, don't seem to jive with the scientific consensus du jour and therefore must wrong. The parenthetical is telling because when it comes to the Bible there are a few doctrines that really rub the culture the wrong way: the Genesis creation account because it doesn't mesh with "science", teachings on gender especially as it relates to marriage and functioning in the church and of course in a recent entry the old fashioned notion of homosexuality as a deviant and destructive practice that is condemned. Along with "science" we have "experience". For example, and this will be pertinent later on, if I meet a lovely "married" couple that happens to consist of two men and they are happy and successful and have a great sense of fashion, that can't possible be wrong. My experience must be right because after all I experienced it so the Bible must not say what it seems to say.

5. We realize that there is no “objective, one, right way” to interpret a passage – and we recognize that there is no reading of any text – including the Bible  – that doesn’t involve interpretation. We also realize that each person interprets the text via their own personal experiences, education, upbringing, socio-political context, and more.

- I am glad that they "realize" that as opposed to just making it up, although I don't find this notion to be self-evident at all. In this mindset there are no real truth passages, just our interpretation. In this mode of thinking the Bible only means what I think it should mean and further that there are no absolute, non-negotiable truths even when the Bible itself makes truth claims that clearly transcend culture and context. Now when it comes to passages that "progressives" like, there is no room for variation or error (see below).

11. We also tend to employ a “canon within the canon” lens whereby we give greater weight and priority to certain texts over others.

- This is the so-called "Red Letter Christian" notion that alleges to see certain passages as more true than others. Oddly enough those passages tend to be taken out of context and interpreted in a particularly liberal fashion. If you really took just the "red letters" seriously you would need to talk a lot more about judgment than most "red letter Christians" do. God's impending righteous judgment of sin is so 16th century, let's talk about immigration reform instead! Here again we see the inconsistency of the "progressive" hermeneutic on display. Why would they take the words of Jesus in red more seriously, written from memory long after they were said, than the words of Paul or Peter or John in later writings penned by those men themselves? Well because doing so with a particular twist is convenient for reaching a predetermined outcome.

13.  We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones. (He did it a lot)

- Let me be clear on this. Jesus never, ever rejected certain passages. Jesus never overturned the Scriptures, He fulfilled them. He said precisely that very thing. Unless one reads the Scriptures as a series of unconnected passages you cannot make that assertion. I know that a lot of people, especially the professional atheists and religious skeptics alike, accuse the Bible of being self-contradicting but it really isn't and the more you read it, the more you see the consistent arc of revelation all pointing to Christ.

And of course at the end the obligatory nod to polite contemporary culture:

p.s. Employing this approach leaves me with no question in my mind that homosexuality between consenting adults in a committed, monogamous relationship is not sinful.

There we go. Somehow for "progressives" eliminating gender distinctions and espousing an anything goes sexual morality is the most important theological issue of our time. Oddly enough that corresponds to the highest priorities of the secular political Left. I am sure that is just a coincidence. Just as the Prophetess Sandra Fluke.

On and on. Self-righteous "progressives" are nothing if not consistent and predictable. Radical egalitarianism is in, patriarchy is out. "Gay marriage" is in, traditional understanding of human sexuality is out. Billions of years of evolution is in, six days is out. Jesus as wrongly executed political agitator is in, penal substitutionary atonement is out.

A lot of people who are, I firmly believer, sincere and intelligent Christians that try very hard to correctly handle the Scriptures also disagree with me quite vehemently on many issues where I believe the Bible speaks clearly and unequivocally. As I have said in the past, I believe in the different functions for men and women who are yet equal in worth for the same reason I reject hierarchy in the church. I believe that Christians should model a life of non-resistance in many different spheres for the same reason I believe in penal substitutionary atonement as the central, but not the sole, aspect of the cross. What I have found most lacking in public debate over Scripture is simple consistency. We all too often interpret the Bible in one way because it supports our preconceived positions and interpret other passages, some times in the same chapter mere verses away, because they don't support those same positions. I am deeply concerned that following this path leads to a defanged gospel that is little more than a leftist guide to being a nice and proper person who has one of those "Coexist" bumper stickers on their Prius parked in front of the organic food store. The Gospel is radical not because it is "progressive" but because it is timeless, universal and transcendent in spite of the whims and winds of the prevailing culture. Blessing homosexuality is not radical. Gender egalitarianism is not radical. Anything goes human sexuality subsidized by the society as a whole is not radical. A God who became a man and died to atone for the sins of his enemies? THAT is radical. A message of exclusivity in the midst of muddled religious pluralism, whether in the 1st century Mediterranean world or 21st century America is radical.

People who take the Bible just a little too literally and seriously are accused of "bibliolatry", making an idol of the Bible itself (which ironically is where we learn about the human tendency toward idolatry in the first place). Let me be blunt. That argument is childish. Taking the Bible seriously as the written revelation of God, the only place where the Gospel is revealed clearly and sufficiently and the central truths of the Kingdom are expounded, is not idolatry. I mean the Bible itself warns against idolatry! I like to think that as someone who came from a completely non-religious background who was also supernaturally rescued from a cult where the Bible was only true "as far as it is translated correctly", I have a more keen sense of something being fishy when people seek to supplant the Bible for their own purposes, whether than is the Book of Mormon or "gay marriage" or evolutionary theory or the "regulative principal of worship".

Part of why I rarely read Patheos, even though some of the writing is pretty good, is that it is depressingly one-sided and that side has seized the label "progressive". If what I am reading from people like Roger Wolsey is "progress" you can keep it. It really isn't "progress" at all, nor is it particularly new. We have been hearing the whisper of "Did God really say?" from the very beginning of humanity. Of course that is one of those passages that "progressives" seem to ignore anyway as mere primitive, misogynistic allegory. The irony merry go round keeps on spinning 'round and around.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Linkage For A Snowy Day

So here are some links for you. I link 'cause I care.

Al Mohler points out that evolution requires every bit as much faith as believing in creationism, Evolution Is Most Certainly a Matter of Belief—and so Is Christianity. I love the way he lays this out:

The problems with this argument are legion. In the first place, there is no such thing as “settled science.” There is a state of scientific consensus at any given time, and science surely has its reigning orthodoxies. But to understand the enterprise of science is to know that science is never settled. The very nature of science is to test and retest hypotheses and to push toward new discoveries. No Nobel prizes are awarded for settled science. Instead, those prizes are awarded for discoveries and innovations. Many of those prizes, we should note, were awarded in past years for scientific innovations that were later rejected. Nothing in science is truly settled.

If science is to be settled, when would we declare it settled? In 1500? 1875? 1960? 2013? Mr. Krattenmaker’s own newspaper published several major news articles in just the past year trumpeting “new” discoveries that altered basic understandings of how evolution is supposed to have happened, including a major discovery that was claimed to change the way human development was traced, opening new questions about multiple lines of descent.

But the most significant problem with this argument is the outright assertion that science and religion represent two completely separate modes and bodies of knowledge. The Christian understanding of truth denies this explicitly. Truth is truth. There are not different kinds of truth that operate by different intellectual rules.

Most people who arrogantly speak of how their opinion is superior to the unwashed masses that reject the idea that everything sprang from nothing and has always existed are just fundamentalists for a different belief system. In place of prophets they exalt men like Darwin or Richard Dawkins. In place of infallible theologians with seminary credentials behind their name, they have infallible scientists who of course are completely objective and have a litany of fancy degrees to dazzle the eyes of their starstruck admirers. The dirty secret of those who embrace evolution as a superior belief system is that almost all of them don't know the first thing about the science they purport to follow. They simply accept on face value what scientists tell them as gospel truth. Makes on wonder who the blind followers really are. Evolution is nothing more than one of the untold numbers of alternate belief systems that compete for the attention of unbelievers.

Speaking of evolution and Al Mohler, earlier in the month he spotlighted an especially nasty piece of editorializing from one Charles Blow writing for (no shocker here) the New York Times. In his piece, Indoctrinating Religious Warriors, he laments the disturbing lack of faith in evolutionary fundamentalism. Please note Mr. Blow is not anti-indoctrination, he is just anti-indoctrination on issues he disagrees with. Indoctrination in the secular humanist confessions of faith is perfectly acceptable. Anyway, here is the quote I wanted to look at regrading the stubborn belief of so many Americans in a divine Creator:

In fact, this isn’t only sad; it’s embarrassing. 

I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others.

That is not a surprising statement from someone who sees faith and belief in God as a quaint, if dangerous anachronism, that is fine with him (what a relief!) as long as your faith doesn't impact how you live, how you vote, how you spend your money, how you raise your kids, etc. In other words as long as you quietly assemble for religious events behind closed doors on Sunday and never speak of them outside the confines of a house of worship, Mr. Blow will graciously grant you permission to believe as long as you don't take it too seriously. It might be safest to have clergy submit their proposed sermon to a committee appointed by Mr. Blow to make sure that they don't violate any of the sacred tenants of secularism. What next, paper detecting dogs to make sure people don't try to sneak Bibles into religious gatherings?

I harbor no illusions as to the worldview of the unregenerate who cannot believe in a transcendent God but need a different quasi-religious belief system to cling to. What is more troubling is that I have seen essentially those same sentiments expressed by an awful lot of professing believers. Their reasoning is mostly the same, faith is OK but in places where the worldly belief system of "science" has spoken the Bible must be ignored or explained away. Many, far too many, professing believers are embarrassed by what the Bible has to say on so many issues: creation, gender, marriage, sexuality, wealth, sin. In a vain attempt to get an approving pat on the head from the world they are willing to jettison any foundational beliefs for the sake of making their private, quiet faith culturally acceptable. Nothing is sacred, everything is negotiable. Most of what passes for "faith" in the Western world will not survive even the mildest opposition or persecution.Given how flaccid that "faith" is, that is not a bad thing.

In further evidence that trying to bend to the whims of the cultural winds for the sake of being given a spot in the public discourse is foolish we have the tolerant, progressive governor of New York state, the honorable Andrew Cuomo, seeking to purge his state of dissidents:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

If they’re moderate Republicans like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate — moderate Republicans have a place in their state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican; but not what you’re hearing from them on the far right.

I didn't realize that being a governor gave one license to dictate to the subjects citizens of a state what they may or may not believe. One can only imagine the media outrage if the Governor of my state said that people who were pro-abortion, pro-gun control and pro-gay marriage were not welcome in the state of Indiana. One cannot overstate how dangerous that mindset is regardless of your position on abortion, "gay marriage" or gun ownership. What next, rounding up anti-revolutionary types into re-education camps? Strapping pro-lifers into chairs with their eyelids held open in a scene reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange? The intolerance of the champions of tolerance never ceases to amaze me.

How about some farm talk? Joel Salatin, always good for a thought-provoking quote, answers the question "What are the most detrimental/beneficial effects to the farming ecosystem?". He eschews the stereotypical answers and says:

Are you ready for my answer?  Here goes:  Detrimental:  a Conquistador mentality, the USDA (started by the country’s worst president, Abraham Lincoln), loss of domestic culinary arts from the culture (food preparation, preservation, packaging, and processing being done outside the home rather than inside),cheap food policy, food safety laws (eliminate innovation), the nearly universal feeling that integrity requires someone else besides me to change, faith that humans are clever enough to outsmart nature, people who believe they have a right to food, clothing and shelter, even if it means taking someone else’s property violently to try to get it (try not paying your taxes and see who comes to take your property–so much for violence), progressives.

There is something there to make almost anyone mad! We certainly need more prophetic voices who reject the pat answers provided by the two party dichotomy we live in, voices who speak what is common sense.

I have recently stumbled onto the blog of Matt Walsh and so far every one has been a home run. It is pretty impressive really, even my favorite bloggers lay the occassional egg but so far Matt has delivered every time.  This essay, Your life is over when you have kids, is a perfect example. Read the whole thing but this is the conclusion and it gives you a taste:

So I get it. My kids aren’t my life. But I’m not my life, either. I was at one time, or I thought I was, but not anymore. And their lives are eternally tied to mine, and mine to their, and every decision that I make will have an impact on them, for better or for worse. This is a responsibility that I must always keep in mind, all of the time, no matter what. 

It’s not my life. It’s hers, it’s his, it’s theirs, it’s ours. Ultimately, it’s His, and He has given it to them. So my life — MY life — is over. 

This is true. This is beautiful. This is why parenting is a high calling. 

And this is exactly why our society hates children. 

No matter what anyone else says, THIS is why we’re experiencing historically low birth rates. It’s got nothing to do with an economic crisis, and everything to do with a selfishness crisis. This is why we dehumanize children, kill them, exterminate them. This is why we have less of them, and why we call birth control a “preventative medication.” It’s why couples who choose (note: I said CHOOSE) not to have kids will often refer to themselves as “child-free” — much like a recovering patient might call himself cancer-free. 

We run around putting “my” in front of things that cannot be ours. It’s MY time, MY life, MY body. And then we conceive a child and we simply can not let go of the “MY.” Barney and Mr. Rogers failed in their mission to teach us about sharing. We kill a million babies a year just because we don’t want to share. 

These are the truths I’m still learning, and still sometimes struggling to accept. It’s a long process. My kids are just starting to learn how to crawl. I guess you could say the same about me.

Amen to that. Unfortunately most of us sort of figure out parenting about the same time we become grandparents.

Here was an interesting essay, When Popes Become Peacemakers by Francis Rocca. People who are unfamiliar with church history or the history of Western civilization in general might not realize that the idea of popes speaking about peace and against war is a relative new stance. He writes:

Few actions are more characteristic of the modern papacy than appeals for peace. Think of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations in 1965 calling for "No more war, war never again"; Pope John Paul II with leaders of other religions praying for peace at Assisi ; or popes giving annual Christmas and Easter addresses that highlight the most urgent crises around the world.

In the context of the church's 2,000-year history, however, such practices are relatively new. Popes have often justified war and even waged it themselves. A series of medieval pontiffs called for the Crusades against Muslims in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the region, including Syria. Pope Julius II (1503-13) rode at the head of his troops, clad in full armor, battling rival Italian rulers for territory and fighting alongside them to drive out the French. The Holy See continued to have its own army until the seizure of the Papal States by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

The pope as peacemaker is a role no more than a century old, and is the legacy of the man who held the office during World War I.

I think it is not coincidental that the rejection of war corresponds to the reduced ability of Rome to dictate the behavior of states. Waging war is no fun when you are not in control.

I liked this essay from Josh Lawson, What It Cost To Go Outside The Camp. Those of us who have abandoned institutional Christianity know that doing so carries a heavy cost. The rest of the church doesn't understand and really would like it if we would just shut up, go back to our pulpits and quit making a fuss. But we can't. Once the curtain is pulled back there is no going back.

There ya go. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Is Peter Preaching At Pentecost An Example Of Sermonizing?

My friend James has been looking at the events surrounding Pentecost and Peter proclaiming the Gospel to the crowds. The question at hand in a larger context is this: are sermons something we find example/command for in Scripture. Was Peter given a sermon or was this an impromptu exposition? James takes a great deal of care in his examination, I think you will enjoy reading and interacting with his series.

Here is the entire series for your reading pleasue....
  1. Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Intro – Part 1
  2. Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Obedience – Part 2
  3. Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Systematic or Consistent? – Part 3
  4. Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Worth dying for – Part 4a
  5. Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Worth dying for – Part 4b
  6. Peter the Pulpit Preacher: Summary and Conclusion – Part 5

The Pyrrhic Victory Of Human Nature

Anyone who takes a look at my "What I believe" link will see that I affirm what is commonly called "the Five Points of Calvinism", often shortened to the acrostic TULIP. If you are at all familiar with them you know that the "T" represents "total depravity". It is a recognition of the extent that sin has impacted our world: each and every human being is depraved and without merit or hope apart from Christ. Because I recognize this I also recognize that unregenerate human beings will inevitably reflect this depravity in their belief system and in their actions. Throughout history this has been confirmed by the actions of countless humans treating other humans with cruelty and treating themselves in some ways the same, debasing themselves in various ways. For much of what we would call Western Civilization the state, often in partnership with organized religion, has enforced laws that minimized this depravity or at least drove it underground. I also recognize that Western Civilization has also been home to some of the great atrocities of mankind from the Inquisition to genocide to wars that killed tens of millions of civilians. So I am of mixed feelings on the utility of laws designed to limit the extent of human depravity. On the one hand they have kept some of the more deviant and destructive practices in check until recently. On the other hand these laws and culturally norms have led to a very religious but very confused society that sees morality as the chief end of Christianity rather than regeneration, salvation by behavior modification rather than transformation. I place the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of the church and count myself as one of the guilty.

So along comes the latest head scratching deviancy of the month, so called "Gender-Neutral Dating". This isn't talking about people that are physiologically abnormal, these are just confused people who are aided and abetted in their confusion by our culture. I saw an essay about it in the National Review and even my somewhat jaded mind was befuddled. From lingerie for "men" to confusing rules for dating, the article by Kevin Williamson would have been simply unthinkable just a few years ago. Kevin is pulling his material from the group "the Good Men Project". I stumbled on to their webpage recently and I agree with Kevin's assessment of it as "a repository of painfully navel-gazing male-feminist apologetics". The article is a bit off-putting in its language but that is the world we live in. I wonder if William F. Buckley Jr. had any notion that articles like this would grace the electronic pages of the magazine he founded so soon after his death.

Quite the world we are living in. We are one inevitable Supreme Court decision away from mandating the recognition of homosexual "marriage" which will be followed in short order by another decision that will create yet another right from out of the blue that will expand "marriage" to include any number of permutations. We are far beyond the point where the Constitution has any relevance in law, today laws are unconstitutional if declared so by the court even if there is nary a whisper of the topic to be found in the actual Constitution. If you had told me twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, that we would find ourselves in a place where homosexuals can get married, marijuana can be sold legally and employers have to provide contraception to their employees I would have laughed at you. Now pretty much anything you can imagine is on the table. In the very near future we will live in a society that is majority dependent on the government for basic living essentials and at the same time where traditional marriage, the most reliable bellwether of the odds of a person living in poverty or not, will be relegated to a naive cultural anachronism. No doubt the correlation and irony will be lost on many.

If the choice is between the alleged world of "white privilege", "heteronormalcy" and patriarchy or a world where everything including something so foundational as gender is fluid and subject to change or redefinition on a whim, I will take the former seven days a week. Things were hardly all sunshine and puppy dogs back in the day but compared to today? It seems almost like a barely remembered dream of simpler and better times.

It is not a coincidence that this sort of mass confusion has risen alongside social "progress". In one example of this progress, the sexual revolution that purports to "liberate" women, has in fact done just the opposite. The rise of feminism and the "empowerment" of women, in another richly ironic twist, has proven a utopia for shiftless men where the sex is easy, the access to visual stimulation is so prevalent that you have to take onerous measures to not come across it and women have added bringing home the bacon to their existing role of maintaining the home and caring for the children. I have labeled the current era as the Golden Age Of Male Irresponsibility. No longer do men have to grow up and get a job to get the benefits of marriage. There used to be a saying, now painfully quaint and outdated, that mothers used to say to their daughters: Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free? Now guys get the milk for free and the cow pays the rent while he plays X-Box or moves on entirely for greener and less needy pastures leaving the mother with the kids.

The church has hardly been immune to this degrading of human nature into an amorphous notion of gender (or lack thereof) and sexuality that grows more confusing every day. Many so-called mainline denominations embraced first women as elders and pastors and eventually open, practicing and unrepentant homosexuals as clergy. This is clearly not a new phenomena. Paul addressed the topic of sexuality immorality and gender in multiple occasions, just a few short years after the cross.

What are we to make of this? How can we be witnesses of a exclusive hope that requires a repentance from sin to a world that refuses to acknowledge even the basest concept of sin, except of course the sin of intolerance. I believe we will find that simply living as we are called to live as the church will prove to be the most powerful witness. Rather than despair we should be encouraged. The sin that is on display and celebrated has always been there just under the surface. It was easy for the lost to play at religion and receive affirmation from our cultural manifestations amidst their state of condemnation. That world is coming to an end and our visible witness will become so much more important than our religious trappings and squabbles over pet doctrines. Now more than ever the church needs a bedrock foundation on issues like marriage, gender and human sexuality. Those ever louder voices in our religious culture that claim that the way forward is conformity to the world need to be confronted in love and boldness. This is not a time for retreat and compromise, it is a time for renewed fidelity to Scripture. The more we demonstrate a way that runs counter to the world, the more distinct yet accessible we are, the clearer our witness will be. Shouldn't that be our goal?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Do A Little Dance, Link A Few Links, Get Down Tonight....

Some links you might find interesting/fun/disturbing...

Perhaps my favorite is the New York Times article, Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival, featuring a picture of Mark Dever looking too cool for school. Leave it to  the New York Times to be about a decade late on a religion story. It is not really surprising that the NY Times sees the Calvinism resurgence as a new phenomena. They typically treat religious events that happen with the unwashed masses between the coasts as startling archaeological finds, discovering something new about a culture that they don't understand and that frightens them a bit. All the news that is fit to print indeed. Next week look for the Times to report on an impish German priest who nailed a list of 95 Theses to a church in Wittenberg. The article itself is fairly balanced, recognizing that Calvinism/Reformed theology is a flashpoint in the church. I guess when you are reporting on something you know absolutely nothing about it is easier to do so from a neutral position, unlike the NY Times normal, consistent and painfully predictable stance on most other issues.

Speaking of Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman writing at the Gospel Coalition looks at the question of authority in the church and How Mark Dever Passes Out Authority. Needless to say the title itself is pretty off-putting as I thought Jesus said that all authority had been granted to Him, not to officials in the church. Most of the points are related to ecclesiastical authority and reflect our pastor, and especially in large churches the "senior pastor", position. Having said that I think there are a lot of good suggestions here if you are going to have a traditional church anyway. Mark Dever doesn't give the Sunday evening sermon and restricts how often he does the Sunday morning sermon. I especially liked number 6, give young teachers the chance to make mistakes. A lot of pastors are terrified to give up control and let someone else teach for fear of them saying something wrong. Younger men need the opportunity to make mistakes and learn, having them always sitting in pews is not going to lead to young men becoming men who know how to teach.

John Piper, as he often does, hammers it on the issue of women in combat. His post, The Folly of Men Arming Women for Combat, is partly in response to the recent news that the Marine Corps was postponing the implementation of the requirement that female recruits complete three pull-ups. Three. As he points out as only John Piper can do, the issue is not really about pull-ups at all:

For thousands of years of military wisdom and noble instincts that reasoning would have been unintelligible. Of course, there are women of valor. But for a male commander-in-chief to say that since they are willing to die in combat, therefore we should arm them for it, is a non-sequitur, and a shame on the president’s manhood.

It’s a non-sequitur because more factors than valor go into fitting a person for combat, and it’s a shame because true manhood inclines a man to fight to protect women; it does not incline him to arm women for the frontline of combat to defend him.

That’s the main issue, not pull-ups. The main issue is: how God has designed manhood and womanhood to honor each other and to create a cultural choreography where men and women flourish.

Exactly. Regardless of your position on Christians serving in the military and the employment of violence in general, something should strike you as terribly wrong when men send women to fight wars. I wish more men would stand up and say no more to the headlong rush to erase the God given and designed differences in men and women. Sadly even in the church it is easier to parrot back the contemporary cultural and acceptable party line rather than standing up for the truth even when, or better yet especially when, it runs counter to the spirit of the age.

The generally liberal Mennonite World Review reports that the first openly homosexual pastor is being ordained in the Mennonite Church USA, Conference to license gay pastor. This is the latest move by the "progressive" wing of the church to celebrate sin and throw Scripture out the door. I would expect this to lead to individual congregations leaving the MC USA just as many Episcopal churches left the main denomination after repeated flaunting of disobedience by embracing what Scripture condemns. The division between "conservative" and "liberal" Mennonites is as stark as any in the church. We are used to conservative Mennonites in our area where women wear coverings and modest clothing and the idea of a lesbian being ordained is unthinkable.

In some political linkage, two stories recognizing the 50th anniversary of the launch of the "War On Poverty". One is from the National Review, The Fifty-Year War and the other from the CATO Institue, War on Poverty at 50 — Despite Trillions Spent, Poverty Won. From the CATO article:

Over, the last 50 years, the government spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty.

Yet today, 15 percent of Americans still live in poverty. That’s scarcely better than the 19 percent living in poverty at the time of Johnson’s speech. Nearly 22 percent of children live in poverty today. In 1964, it was 23 percent.

How could we have spent so much and achieved so little?

It’s not just a question of the inefficiency of government bureaucracies, although the multiplicity of programs and overlapping jurisdiction surely means that there is a lack of accountability within the system. Rather, the entire concept behind how we fight poverty is wrong.

The vast majority of current programs are focused on making poverty more comfortable — giving poor people more food, better shelter, health care, etc. — rather than giving people the tools that will help them escape poverty. As a result, we have been successful in reducing the worst privations of poverty. Few Americans live with out the basic necessities of life, yet neither do they rise out of poverty. Moreover, their children are also likely to be poor.

Our goal should not be a society where people struggle along in poverty, dependent on government for just enough to survive, but rather a society where as few people as possible live in poverty, and where every American can reach his or her full potential.

Bam! I recognize that those are conservative and libertarian respectively By any measure the score is Poverty 1, The Poor 0. In spite of billions spent in transfer payments, an ever larger bureaucracy and non-stop expansion of the ranks of those receiving payments, it is impossible to suggest that the poor have been helped.We need as a nation to change how we think about the problem of poverty because throwing money at it hasn't helped. We especially need to change how we address poverty as the church because there are far to many Christians that think that Jesus calling us to care for the poor means Caesar taking money from some by force and giving to someone else.

A couple of items on the increased militarization of our police forces, creating the infrastructure for the equivalent of a standing army in our midst. The first is from the American Conservative and states it plainly, How Police Became A Standing Army. The article references Radley Balko who wrote the outstanding Rise of the Warrior Cop. Radley is starting a new blog for the Washington Post focused on civil liberties, police overreach as well as "asset forfeiture, over-criminalization, prosecutorial misconduct, policing strategies and tactics, prisons, motorist issues, sex crimes, checkpoints, zoning laws, eminent domain abuses, TSA, free speech, and the 4th Amendment". So lots of stuff!

Al Mohler writes a response on the topic of contraception among evangelicals: Al Mohler responds: The evangelical unease over contraception. As Dr. Mohler points out:

For evangelicals, everything changed with the advent of The Pill. And evangelical acceptance of the oral contraceptives (and, beyond that, other forms of birth control) also happened without any adequate theological reflection. Today’s generation of evangelicals is indeed reconsidering birth control, and theological concerns are driving that reconsideration.

I think that is 100% true. Issues of contraception, family size, adoption, fertility treatements, dealing with infertility, etc. really got away from the church and now we are trying to work through these questions theologically after many evangelicals have already embraced the prevailing cultural view.

One last link, this one dealing with farming from NPR, Here's How Young Farmers Looking For Land Are Getting Creative. The cost of land is the single biggest barrier to potential young farmers geting into farming. With land prices skyrocketing only the already wealthy farmers can afford to buy land, leading to more and more land in the hands of fewer "farmers" who operate more like corporations than farmers.It is a huge problem where we live and leads to a lot of younger Amish getting jobs rather than farming which is a huge area of concern for their leaders. The security of our food supply is one of the great cultural advantages of America and it is imperiled with a shrinking number of mega-farms raising monoculture crops and livestock and at the same time seeing more small towns in farm country wither away.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Announcing An Upcoming Book (That I Am Writing A Chapter For)

So I wanted to let y'all know that I am a contributor to a new book coming out titled What We're For. If you stop by Eric Carepenter's post here: A Pilgrim's Progress: The Big News: "What We're For", you will see the list of contributors and other details. If you are a regular reader many of the names should look familiar either because I have linked to their blog or your name is on the list! The intent of the book is to focus on the positives about a different way of doing church rather than the negatives. My chapter will be on the church as a community of peacemakers, something I am pretty passionate about. I am excited to work together with this group, it promises to be an excellent addition to the conversation gaining steam in the church. As an aside I have another, solo writing project I am working through. Nothing formal to announce yet on that one but 2014 promises to be a busy year for writing!

Dividing Over Gender

Not sure how I missed this. In November a fairly prominent commentator on religion called for a wholesale schism in the church. Now if you don't know anything about this you might assume that one of those terrible complementarians is calling for schism in the church, since they are bad people and all. You would be wrong. No, the person calling for schism a month and a half ago is none other than Tony Jones, he of the so-called "red letter Christian" camp. Here is what he said in November:

The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.

That means:
  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
That is, we who believe in the full equality of women need to break fellowship with those who do not. The time for dialogue and debate has passed. The Spirit has spoken, and we have listened. It’s time to move forward with full force.

Well there you go, you have your marching orders. According to Tony, "gay rights" is something we are still working on but "The full equality of women and men, however, is an issue that has long since been settled." Well, glad he settled that for us (and defined anything other than radical egalitarianism as "inequality"). Apparently the discussion is over. I must not have been on the distribution list for that memo because I don't think the "debate" is over and settled once and for all in favor of "egalitarianism". Quite the opposite.

The sheer hubris of that is breathtaking. Here is some guy on the fringe of orthodoxy, and that is being generous, with a disturbingly large audience deciding on behalf of the church that a contentious issue is settled and anyone who doesn't agree with him should shut their yap or get in line to be voted off the church island. Tony offered a more "nuanced" position in a later post but even there he said, regarding the arguments for "full inclusion in ministry", that "Anyone who is not paying heed to those arguments is willfully ignoring them." Yeah that must be it, the old ploy of suggesting that anyone who doesn't agree with your scintillating argument must either a) not understand it or b) be willfully ignoring it because no one could study an issue and come to a contrary position. Sorry to break it to you Tony but I do understand your argument and I am not ignoring it, I am simply rejecting it. According to Tony embracing complementarianism is "anti-Christian" and "subjugation". Those who hold to that position are no longer welcome in polite company. After all "the Spirit has spoken". Not sure what he means by that but it sounds like he and other egalitarians have received some sort of special revelation that the knuckle-draggers in the complementarian ranks like me are not privy to. Not surprisingly Tony admits to being befuddled by the mere presence of complementarians, as if they are some fringe kooks that only exist in the backwoods of the less "progressive" and genteel corners of the church.

As an aside, I liked some of the comments on the article, especially the ones that point out that Tony Jones and company pick this issue to divide over but seem content to welcome pretty much any other heterodox error in the cool kids camp.

The "egalitarian" position is a pretty recent phenomena. As far as I can tell it did not have a major influence on the church until the 20th century and in many major wings of the evangelical world it still does not. Something being around a long time doesn't make it right but it does mean you should try to examine your new, enlightened understanding in view of the weight of history. My position on this question is unequivocal. Functional gender egalitarianism is based largely on conjecture and "evidence" that is not in the Bible yet trumps what the Bible explicitly teaches. I don't think my egalitarian friends are heretics, just misguided.  Yet we have people like Tony Jones calling for wholesale schism in the church, dividing the church up into two camps based on their understanding of the functional roles of men and women in the church. Ironically while Jesus never mentions egalitarianism by word or deed, He does speak powerfully about unity in the church.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I would not gather on a regular basis in a group where women teach men. I think the Biblical prohibitions against this are clear and I will not be party to someone being disobedient even if they don't think that they are. Would I refuse to share a public platform with them? Refuse to publish books from the same publisher? Would I force them into the position of being an enemy of Christianity and drum them our of the church? Would I refuse to engage in works of ministry with them? Hardly. I am not so uncertain of my positions that I fear a public discussion of them. Taking your ball and going home is childish and so is this ill-conceived call for schism in the church, especially when you hide behind "the Spirit has spoken" as your excuse.

There are some things that the church is rightly divided over. There are even some issues that we should separate over. Is gender one of those? Should we refuse to even so much as share a stage with the unclean advocate of a position on gender that we don't agree with? I don't think so. The irony of the open-minded "progressive" position being the one that is marked by sticking their collective fingers in their ears and singing "La-la-la, I can't hear you" is not lost on me. I get that my position on this issue, or at least my stridency in bringing it up, is not popular with a lot of the limited pool of my regular readers. Likewise among those that agree with me on gender there is a distaste for my less than traditional view of the church. On both issues the New Testament speaks forcefully and regularly. Because it does, I think it is an issue worth debating and discussing. I also think that chasing out anyone you disagree with is the very opposite of charitable dialogue. If we only allow people we agree with to be engaged in the conversation we end up with the sort of destructive theological in-breeding that hampers spiritual growth. Anyway feel free to tell me you think I am wrong. I won't excommunicate you over it.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014

So Much For Loving One Another

I started digging into Fight last night and came across a lot of pretty solid stuff. We read in the New Testament that Jesus said that all men will know that we are His disciples because of our love for one another. Does anyone really believe that when the world looks at American style "Christianity" that the defining attribute they see is love? If you believe that is the case I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you. I think what we are really known for has little to do with love. Preston Sprinkle writes:

Being an evangelical has become synonymous with being pro-family, anti-abortion, pro-Republican, and pro-war. All protesting voices are declared liberal or anti-Christian. In fact, when America went to war in Iraq, a flurry of protest arose. Even though the Iraq war was the most opposed war in America’s history— even more than Vietnam—“ churchgoers were more supportive than non-churchgoers and evangelicals were the most supportive of all.” Military historian and Vietnam vet Andrew Bacevich wrote, “Were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this deeply and genuinely religious country becomes inconceivable.”

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 207-212). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.  

That is a pretty searing indictment but I can't fault him for his words. Being insufficiently pro-military and patriotic will get you called a liberal. As Sprinkle notes, conversations about Christians and our involvement in warfare and nationalism are some of the most heated.....

I’ve dealt with many issues over the years— free will and election, spiritual gifts, the end times— but I have never seen such heated discussions erupt as when issues of war, violence, and nationalism come up. Never. Disagreement over these issues pricks something deep in the heart of us.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 143-145). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

I can speak from experience here, people who agree with me on almost everything else get really bent out of shape and hostile when I suggest that Christians shouldn't serve in the military. Other than posts about gender, posts about non-resistance get the most comments and the most negative comments. Why?

Why are Christians who follow a Savior who said "blessed are the peacemakers", who rebuked Peter for his use of a sword to defend Jesus. who went meekly without so much as a word of defense, so wedded to warfare? It is certainly not from reading the Bible. No, our obsession is in spite of and not because of what Scripture teaches. To make matters worse, the conversation on this topic usually devolves into "what about Hitler?" and "what if someone was going to hurt your family", as if the hypothetical situation trumps the Biblical imperative.

Anyway, good stuff so far.

When H-E-Double Hockey Sticks Freezes Over

That day just might be today....

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Fight: A Christian Case For Non-Violence Free Today!

I don't normally promote stuff like this on my blog but I have been looking forward to reading Fight: A Christian Case For Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle since I first heard about it. Today it is free on Kindle and I snatched it up. I hope to blog along as I go and share my pithy and often witty insights with the general public, i.e. the handful of people who actually read my blog. Shane Clairborne writes the intro and while he is occasionally sketchy on his theology and is trying to hard to look hip, he also has valuable insights and lives out the peacemaking life. Go get yourself a copy, you can't beat free unless someone is willing to pay you to read it!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Adoption and Racial Reconciliation

A recent furor erupted over some commentary on MSNBC where the open-minded, tolerant liberal talking heads mocked the family of Mitt Romney for a family photo where everyone is white except a small black child who had been adopted into the family. Apparently racism, like misogyny, is only bad when it comes from a conservative. The talking head in question has given the standard "apology" but the fact that their unscripted racist response to a very nice family photo with a child who has been adopted into what appears to be not only a very privileged family but also a loving one gives a glimpse into the real mindset.

Granted, it is somewhat odd to see a black child adopted by a family that belongs to a religion that institutionalized racism as a "revelation" from God. On the other hand racism and slave owning was quite common among Christians and justified by a perverse reading of Scripture. The world has changed a lot. and largely for the better, over the last few decades but the racial disharmony of the past still sticks with us today.

This is not an isolated assault on adoption in general. There have been a steady steam of slanderous articles and books taking a few atypical tragedies among the untold numbers of successful adoptions and attempted to make them the norm among evangelical Christian adoptions. The unspoken but clear message: Christians can't be trusted to adopt.

I truly believe that a lot of the very public media backlash and slander of the rising interest in adoption among conservative evangelicals has absolutely nothing to do with the needs of children. Rather it causes discomfort among a certain population because it doesn't jive with their stereotype of evangelical, conservative Christians as heartless, racist ogres who only care about children until they are born. What seems to be on display is a mindset that sees orphans, especially minority orphans, as better off in orphanages than in a loving, Christian and *gasp* often white family. Once again the most vulnerable in our society are pawns in a political chess game, willingly sacrificed to advance the cause.

At the same time I am incredibly encouraged by the outpouring of love and acceptance by so many Christian families who adopt, and especially when it is "transracial". It is often said, and shamefully true, that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. Different races and ethnicity mingle during the week at work, at sporting events, at school but on Sunday morning white Americans go to church with other white Americans, blacks with blacks, Latinos with Latinos, Asians with Asians. This should not be so. It must not be so. But amidst this racial homogenization of worship I see hope, hope in the growing number of non-Caucasian children adopted into white families. Where the church has so often failed to integrate we are starting to see integrating via the blessing of adoption.

For people of my age, voluntary segregation was the norm as was a less than subtle racism. I went to school with probably less than 10 kids who were not white through middle school and high school. It was just the way it was and no one thought it odd or was slightly interested in doing something about it. To look around now and see families with adopted children of different races and ethnicity is incredibly encouraging. Those Asian, black or Latino babies will be in Sunday school, VBS, youth groups and eventually adults in the church. Where we once had segregation we will slowly see integration. Familiarity will lead to acceptance and comfort and I hope someday a racially segregated church will be a sad footnote in the history of the church. Adoption is leading the way and that makes sense. Who better than children to show adults how foolish our acceptable segregation has truly been? This is another area that I see great hope for the future of the church alongside the end of Christendom.

In glory the church will be gathered in some unimaginable way as one, all of us throughout the ages at the wedding supper of the Lamb. From every tribe and tongue and nation and none of the old categories we love to divide ourselves from others by will mean a thing. That this reality will not be complete until culmination and renewal of all things is no reason we should not seek to change our current course now and adoption, that most Biblical of practices, is a great way to start.