Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fatherlessness and Ferguson

"Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community."

Thus says Voddie Baucham in a powerful piece today, Thoughtson Ferguson. I rarely post in response to a another post anymore and even more rarely to one I agree with. This one is powerful and deserves your attention, not least because it says what almost no one else is willing to. Here are the key paragraphs (emphasis added):

Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.

There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?

The root problem in much of the plight of the black community is fatherlessness. Not insufficient welfare payments or school funding or "white privilege" or institutionalized racism or a minimum wage that is supposedly too low. Many on the "progressive" left in the church think that parroting back leftist political dogma is all we can do, even when that rhetoric does nothing more than assuaging the misplaced guilt they carry around. The church ought to instead be modeling a different way, a way that is becoming more and more jarringly contrary to the world, a way that sees the glory of Christ reflected in the marriage between a husband and wife that have become one flesh. That doesn't mean there is no place in the church for the singles, the unwed mothers, the divorced. It does mean that without triumphalism or arrogance we assert that a loving home with a father and mother married for life to one another is the very best possible family, both for the married couple and for any children they might be blessed with. Family does come in all sorts of iterations but they are not all equal and we shouldn't be apologetic about saying so.

We don't need more guilty white self-flagellation nor do we need more race based politics dressed up in religious language. We need more black leaders to speak up and address the real problems, problems that are not solved by more governmental replacement of men in the black community. We need Christian families of all races and every ethnicity to intentionally model the one-flesh, married for life union of man and woman that reflects the beauty of Christ and His Church, Getting married is not just something to do, not just another check box to mark off in your life list. It is for many of us the single most visible witness, for good or for ill, we will have in our communities and if Ferguson has taught us anything it is that that special witness of the Gospel lived out is all that stands between this country and a future of either fascism or lawlessness. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

The decision came down and there will be no indictment of Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. I have some thoughts, not surprisingly.

What is lost in the muddle on social media is that there is more than one issue at play here. First there is the actual incident. I am not on the grand jury and I am pretty skeptical and often critical of the police and yet it sounds very much as though what happened was a tragic but ultimately justifiable shooting by a law enforcement officer. I would not and will not ever be in a position to have to act in a law enforcement capacity, entrusted with a deadly weapon and asked to respond to countless incidents each day, any one of which could escalate from a simple thuggish robbery to a violent confrontation as this one did. The grand jury process, reliant as it is on fallen humanity, is imperfect but far preferable to mob "justice". Second, there is the ongoing question of the very real sense among the black community that the lives of young black men are less valuable than the lives of other citizens. That question will not be advanced by the blatant attempts by some to use the Michael Brown shooting to fuel the flames of racial animus as a tool to advance their own political agenda. Nor will it be advanced by insensitive statements of disinterest toward the feelings of a population of our nation, and more importantly a population of image bearers of God Almighty, who fear the police. Third, the reaction to the protests and rioting in Ferguson by the police speaks to a much broader and more insidious problem of police militarization and the growing attitude of hostility, us-vs-them that too many in law enforcement and government in general seem to hold. Indictment or not the police response in Ferguson was dangerous, counter-productive, and against the spirit of America.

What I fear is that many people who almost certainly don't care about the death of Michael Brown, because they have nothing much to say when young black men kill other young black men due to the lack of political capital it brings, are going to use this to push more of the same laws that have created a system of generational poverty that institutionalizes a race base underclass. I also fear that many who don't fear their sons being killed by cops for whatever reason will brush this incident aside, shake their heads at the rioting captured by the media and move on until the next shooting. We in the church cannot ignore what is going on. We who advocate for liberty, smaller government, more freedom and personal responsibility cannot just shout "Don't commit crimes and you won't get shot!" to people who are hurt, angry and confused but must instead call for a different path toward racial reconciliation and healing in America that is not founded on perpetuation of racial distrust and the seizure of money from some to placate and bribe others. In a fallen world the only pathway to true reconciliation and peace is centered on the cross and the Lamb who was slain. The One who died to make peace between God and man can certainly use our lives and witness to make peace between men.

These are pretty inadequate thoughts for certain. I sincerely hope that these issues don't fade away into irrelevance in our short attention span culture or degenerate into cheap political rhetoric. Things are not getting better, they are getting worse and the church needs to not just exposit but model a better way, a different way, the way of the Gospel built on loving enemies, nonviolence and dying to self. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why The President's Unconstitutional Action On Illegal Aliens Matters

No, not that it matters like the Gospel matters but still matters because even though something is not the most important thing, it can still be important.

Before we start, I would invite you to go review Article Two of the United States Constitution. Go ahead, I will wait. While you are there look for any mention of changing the immigration status of illegal aliens. OK, back? Good. I assume you didn't find any explicit or even implicit mention of immigration because it doesn't exist.

There are a couple of reasons why this is important. The first is the more pragmatic, less important reason and one that people giggling about Obama's executive action because they like what it does obviously haven't considered. The problem is that the exercise of executive power in this way, untethered from the Constitutional limits imposed on the President,

Imagine one of those awful conservatives getting elected to the Presidency in the post- "I have a pen and ain't afeerd to use it!" era of Obama executive orders. Then imagine that over the objections of Congress this President decides that one of the Right's pet issues for a long time, making English the official language of the U.S., has been languishing for too long and signs as executive order making English our official language. Further, to add some teeth to this law he also orders that anyone printing bi-lingual signs is in violation of this law and creates civil and criminal sanctions for doing so. Now the very common practice of printing materials in English and Spanish can get you landed in jail. Think that couldn't happen? Think again, the legal basis is as strong as the basis for Obama's action. It is hard to make things happen when you need to get both houses of Congress and the President to agree. One man with a pen who ain't afeerd to use it? That is a recipe for mischief of all sorts.

The bigger issue is that this is an example of a President seeking to tilt the delicate and intentional balance between the branches in a major way toward an overly authoritarian Executive branch. The Executive branch is designed to, among other functions, to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. This is important: those laws are crafted and enacted by Congress, with the signature of the President or an override of his veto. Clearly many Presidents have chafed under this restriction and sought more power to be concentrated in the Executive branch (think FDR) but few have been so brazen and arrogant. Ours is a President who not only thinks he is better than the rest of us, but that we are in fact inferior to him in every way. Not just Joe Factory Worker or other regular people but everyone from Congress to the Courts. He is clearly frustrated by having to cooperate with inferiors who should just let him do as he pleases because he knows what is best for us, more so than we do.

Many probably think such talk is alarmist and quaint. After all the world has changed and the Constitution is just a dusty old document from ancient history. I think it still matters, far more today then in the 18th century. The President commands the largest, deadliest military in world history and runs a bureaucracy that has a budget of trillions of dollars. The size is unimaginable even to modern minds but it is exactly what the Founders were trying to avoid. The men who designed our system of government were very careful to craft a system that limited the size and scope of the government and especially the power of the President. Knowing first hand how quickly a single individual with power can run amok they wrote the Constitution precisely to avoid concentrating power in the hands of a single executive and pretty much every President ever since has sought to change that balance.

President Obama's action is not just petty political posturing, although it certainly is that. It is a sign of a shift that envisions a very different sort of government and a very different sort of people being governed, a people less free and more akin to serfs than citizens. Be very careful when you applaud and celebrate something like this because you never know what the consequences might be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Some linkage I liked

Lots of good stuff on the interwebs and by good I mean either thought-provoking or nausea-provoking.

Speaking of nausea, the American Conservative (which has replaced National Review as my online opinion mag of choice) looks at Hillary Clinton as The Military-Industrial Candidate. The article has this quote that is telling (emphasis mine):

Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has spent her post-service days protesting the war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, is more blunt. “Interventionism is a business and it has a constituency and she is tapping into it,” she tells TAC. “She is for the military industrial complex, and she is for the neoconservatives. 
 On the surface it would appear that Clinton is expert at fusing her touchy-feely side with a seemingly instinctual desire to use the military to sustain and wield American “global leadership” to whatever ends. This approach can yield political paydirt, drawing in hawks from both sides of the spectrum. But to critics it smacks of “soft empire” and in that way, it’s no different than say, Robert Kagan’s neoconservatism—it’s all a matter of branding.”
“You don’t get to be a serious person in Washington until you are considered pro-intervention,” said Mike Lofgren, who spent 30 years as a budget analyst and aide on Capitol Hill, specializing in defense. Plus, the “Clintons, they really like to hang out with rich people and there is a lot of money in the military industrial complex.”  

Is it possible that so-called "neo-conservatives" might actually prefer hawkish Hillary Clinton over someone with a realism based non-interventionist foreign policy like Rand Paul? I think it is although not many are willing to say it now as Hillary is (or at least used to be) one of the most loathed figures on the political Left. If you are inclined to support the architect of Hillarycare, the precursor to Obamacare, over someone who actually wants to reduce the size and scope of the government because you are terrified of spending a nickel less on the military, you might be many things but a "conservative" of any sort you ain't. I also liked this...

Money, of course, is high on the list for a credible presidential run, and Clinton has been raising lots of it. Hollywood, which appears to hate war only when Republicans are waging it, is forming the left flank in her PAC operations. Meanwhile, Israeli billionaire friend Haim Saban (yes, that Saban) told theWashington Post that he will spend “whatever it takes” to get her elected.

Remember folks, according to the Left it is evil when the Koch brothers spend money to elect Republicans but it is noble when liberal billionaires spend money to elect Democrats.

Harvest Public Media has been doing a series on the obscene amounts of food thrown out in this country in a special report Tossed Out. What seems to be missed are the social changes and economic and cultural pressure that leads to both parents out of the home at a job, which in turn leads to convenience foods and lots of waste. Preparing meals, saving them leftovers and reusing those leftovers takes time and that is a precious commodity in our culture.

Last week a Muslim prayer service was held (and heckled) at the "Washington National Cathedral". A lot of people were upset about it. I might have been if anything even vaguely Christian took place in this cathedral. As it is, who cares?

A couple of weeks ago the CEO of Apple "came out" as homosexual. As part of his remarks he said "...I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me" What a tragic notion that God would gift an image bearer with something that is abhorrent to Himself. Being famous and wealthy doesn't absolve Mr. Cook of his eventual judgment. I can only hope that his heart is changed before he discovers that his sin is not a gift.

Speaking of homosexuality, Slate of all places has an insightful piece on why the mormon "church" will eventually come to accept homosexuality. The article, Divine Revision, looks at the tendency of mormon "prophets" to revise or completely reverse the "divine revelation" of their predecessors.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a firm view on homosexuality and gay marriage. “Marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator's plan,” the church declares on its website. “The Church’s doctrinal position is clear: Sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married.” 

 But there’s a catch: LDS doctrine is subject to sudden reversals. While other churches cling to the Bible, Mormons believe new revelations can overthrow past injunctions, including those written in Scripture. “Nowhere does the Bible proclaim that all revelations from God would be gathered into a single volume to be forever closed,” the church contends. 

 In fact, Mormons have been revising their doctrines all along. The revisions are driven by cultural and political changes, though the church attributes them to revelation. This is the pattern in a series of essays, posted on the church’s website, that explains its evolution on difficult issues. The pattern suggests that eventually the church might do the same with homosexuality.

Makes you kind of wonder if God is just constantly changing His mind or perhaps these "prophets" are noting more than politicians and religious charlatans who lead by checking the direction of the wind. I expect that Jorge is the vanguard of the same thing happening in Rome and for the same basic reasons.

A while back Ed Stetzer posted a great piece on why we need to destroy the clergy-laity divide, Sunday is for Series: “Laypeople” and Ministry. While Ed is sometimes off the mark I like what he is doing here, laying out a systematic defense of all Christians as owners rather than customers of the local church ministry. This post is actual an collection of prior posts that go into more detail. We need more prominent Christians to work to tear down the system of clerical privilege that is muzzling the church and overburdening the clergy.

Owen Strachan writing at Patheos looks at comments from Matthew Vines that make the same argument I and others have been making for years, namely that the same hermeneutic approach that rejects complementarianism at the same time leads many to embrace homosexual behavior: Matthew Vines: Rejecting Complementarianism Means Accepting Homosexuality. The two are not really in the same conversation but the method of arriving at both positions is the same and demands that the Bible bow to pressure from contemporary opinion rather than the opposite being true. Pointing this out used to draw an angry response but it seems less so now.

Stephen Henderson, writing in the Detroit Free Press, asks a question that is bordering on blasphemy in the state of Michigan. Is football worth the risk? He answers no in his piece College Football's unacceptable bargain.

Someone at the party wondered: What if football is becoming like the military? A dangerous path forward for economically desperate college aspirants, but something that most people with options direct their children away from? 

And if that parallel holds, is the university offering opportunity or indulging exploitation — and if the latter is true, does football still have a place on a college campus?

I agree in principle if not in particulars. "College football" has been a misnomer for a long time. These guys are mostly semi-professional athletes who provide entertainment for the masses in return for a few years at a school for free. We really should just end the farce of people rabidly supporting an athletic team at a school many of them didn't attend. I have gradually stopped watching sports and started caring less and less about them. It seems to appeal to the basest impulses of humanity and embodies very few of the characteristics that the Bible finds praiseworthy. Is it time to end the college sports system? I think it is, for a lot of reasons.

One last one, a simply loathsome and self-serving essay by Jay Adam at The Institute for Nouthetic Studies, How to Obtain a Living Wage in the Pastorate. This is an ugly mix of borderline prosperity preaching, logical inconsistencies, terrible exegesis and the sort of entitlement mentality that most evangelicals find revolting in welfare recipients but acceptable and even noble among the clergy. For example Mr. Adams points out that while Paul was a tent-maker, he wasn't a pastor so that doesn't apply and then turns around and says that Paul's "right" to make a living from the church does apply to pastors. Which is it? This paragraph was the worst of the bunch:

If you—as their official expounder of the Word—(1) allow your people to rationalize their way out of a proper understanding and application of Scripture, (2) cater to selfishness in the congregation, and (3) thereby fail not only to explain and insist upon the Lord Christ’s orders,1 but fail to heed them yourself, you are unfaithful both to Christ and to His church.

So in this paragraph he describes a pastor "letting" his people think differently, as if they are in control of people's opinions, claims that not paying as much as he thinks they should is selfish (when demanding others work to pay your salary is not) and puts words in the mouth of Christ. Other than that and the pompous self-description as "their official expounder of the Word", it is a great argument! This essay is an example of the very worst sorts of clerical self-serving misuse of Scripture. Thanks a lot to the guy who sent it to me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is this the start of a separation of marriage and the state? Let's hope so.

On more than a couple of occasions (like here) I have opined that it is high time to undo the unequal yoking of the church and the state in the matters of marriage. Being a tolerated agent of the state for purposes of administering marriage in the same capacity as a civil magistrate, an Elvis impersonator in Vegas and a ship's captain has been an unmitigated disaster. The church never should have gotten herself into this position and we need to undo that perverse relationship now. Let the state worry about issues of tax treatment and who gets Social Security survivor benefits. The church should be concerned with covenant making in marriage and then nurturing that marriage by equipping husband and wife for their God ordained roles as complementary image bearers and normally as parents. There is no reason Christian couples who are married cannot subsequently seek legal recognition from the state but it should be separate and distinct to any and all from marriage. Now it seems that a prominent religious publication has published a call from clergy to do the same thing. In First Things  there is a page with The Marriage Pledge that says:

Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.

Interesting. I could do without the part at the end:

"Laymen are welcome to sign to express support for pastors making this pledge.  –Ed."

Well gee, thanks! We get to express our support for what these clergy are doing. Not that our pledge matters since we are mere "laymen" and get an italicized acknowledgement at the bottom. Anyway.

Like I said this is something I called for some time ago and am ever more convinced. Trying to meld Christian marriage with secular civil unions, and that is exactly what our system provides, has been disastrous for marriage, especially in the church, and disastrous for our public witness as the church. I don't really recognize any of the names of the signatories other than Peter Leithart but hopefully it will start to catch on.

I actually came to this post by way of Doug Wilson, who is usually about 50/50, giving equal time to piercingly accurate analysis and just out from left field notions so devoid of Scriptural basis as to boggle the mind. Doug Wilson is someone I read in the same way I listen to NPR, I know a lot of what I am getting is dumb or divorced from reality or both but still worth the time to sort through. Here is his coup de grace on why this is a bad idea:

In short, church weddings detached from the civil sphere are worthless unless the church is being given the contracted legal authority to adjudicate the divorce — property, custody, the works. Anything less than that is a sham and a farce.

What?! We need to maintain our servitude to Caesar in return for the pat on the hand and crumbs from Caesar's table in the form of tax breaks because we need to have a say in the divorce process? In case you were wondering that is not in the "piercingly accurate analysis" half of his offerings.

So Doug Wilson's theological leg gnawing aside, this is a positive move by people in the church and others that are thinking about getting back to what marriage is supposed to mean rather than tilting at culture war windmills.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A little less talk and a lot more action

The Bible has a lot to say about work all throughout the sweep of redemptive history recorded in Holy Scripture. Working and not being idle is lauded in the New Testament, especially in the context of the church and those who are called to lead by the example of their lives. While work is often used as a clumsy club to get the "laity" to trudge off to work during the week so they can show up, shut up and pay up on Sunday, the Bible sees work as something to be praised and more importantly for my point here something that our leaders should do if they are going to actually be leaders. Here are a couple of examples from Paul:

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Acts 20:32-36)

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Cor 4:9-16)

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thess 2:9)

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thess 3:7-12)

Pretty powerful stuff. It is glaringly clear that the model for Church leaders in the New Testament, under the leadership of the apostles themselves and in the midst of a far more hostile climate than we face today, was one of elder self-sufficiency. They worked a job for a living rather than living off of donations to the church that should go to support the poor and needy, especially those in the church. I have written about this a lot over the years and my contention in a nutshell is that the practice of paying clerical professionals to minister in the church is not only not found in the New Testament, it is actually in direct contrast to what is shown and commanded. For more on this see The Thessalonian Road to Self-Support by Dave Black.

Today my focus is on the flip side, not why we should not pay those who lead us but why they should work. Alongside the obvious Scriptural issues of leaders being an example to those they lead, something hard to do when a guy sits in his office all week while expecting the rest of the church to go out and make money, there is something else I am seeing more and more of. There are just a lot of Christian leaders who have way too much time on their hands to sit around and think. Now thinking is a good thing. I am in no way  calling for an ignorant Christianity. It is painfully clear that we have way too many people in our religious culture that have never given a seconds thought to any of the "big questions" of the faith. However that doesn't mean that Christian intellectualism can be divorced from a life of work or that "paid professional thinker" is something that we should have in the Body of Christ.

I see lots of prominent and not so prominent Christian "thinkers" who seem to sit around trying to come up with pithy but vacuous statements that are supposed to be deep but are really just empty rhetoric. For me a good rule of thumb is that the harder you try to sound really smart and deep the more likely that what you are saying is useless and contrived. Alongside this are guys who seem to be progressively (pun intended) wandering far afield doctrinally, apparently because they are bored with orthodoxy. No one wants to read the same old boring orthodox statements, you need something radical to spice it up and drive blog hits and book sales. Look at the best seller lists, heresy is always a hot seller. 

Work is not only necessary to feed our families and to aid others, it is also a good way to keep our minds from the mischief of being idle. It is high time that a lot of the guys who sell so many books, speak at the big conferences and "pastor" the huge churches start to earn their own way. Get out of your office, get your nose out of your books and go out and do something. Quit pondering how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and start using your hands for something other than turning a page. Quit asking the old ladies on Social Security and the factory workers who work hard all week to subsidize you sitting around and thinking up stuff. The best leaders, the most Biblical leaders, really the only leaders, are those who lead by example and that means leading by example in the home and at work, not the pulpit on Sunday. The disconnect between "clergy" and "laity" is nowhere more clear than it is in the subject of work. That disconnect needs to be destroyed, torn down and burned to ashes, and a good place to start is to have those who claim to lead  the church stop sitting around pondering and start getting out and working.

There has been enough intellectual mischief and ministerial malfeasance perpetrated on the church by guys who sit around and think all day. Maybe it is time to get more of our theology from men who punch a clock instead of flipping a page.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ecumenism is not the same thing as unity

In less than a week religious leaders from around the world and across the religious spectrum will gather in Vatican City under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to discuss marriage. The conference, called Humanum, purports to be "An International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman". If you read me very often you know that I am a big advocate of complementarianism so surely I am all in favor of this. Actually no. Quite the opposite.

When I examine the speaker list as an American evangelical I see some names I recognize and a lot I don't. At the top of the list that I do recognize are men like: Russell Moore. N.T. Wright. Rick Warren. Johann Arnold, current leader of the Bruderhof. Along with them are a host of men and
women from other religious traditions, or as I like to call them false religions. A whole bunch of Roman Catholic dignitaries who ironically are forced into an unbiblical vow of celibacy and yet are considered authorities on marriage. A top mormon leader. A lot of Muslims. A smattering of more esoteric religious groups. What is glaring from the invitee list is that there are a few people who are Christians and a lot more that are not talking about something that models and demonstrates the New Covenant relationship between Christ and the Church.

An event like this doesn't happen in a vacuum. Like two sides of a sand dune, the dual forces of the cultural religion of America are collapsing at breakneck speed. While "progressives" are racing one another to see who can deny the most central tenets of the Gospel, the "conservatives" are desperately making alliances with unbelievers and blasphemers in a desperate attempt to maintain their political power and influence. As a result many men that I respect and that publically hold to the "right" positions are nevertheless making common cause on issues they would admit are secondary to the Gospel. It is symptomatic of the mindset that compelled Albert Mohler to not once but twice speak to mormons about our common ground. It brings to mind the Manhattan Declaration and other attempts to find common ground where the sole foundation for common ground is absent, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Make no mistake. To speak to people who deny Christ in a framework of the picture of husband and wife as a type of Christ and the church is to put the cart before the horse. Worse yet is for a Christian to attempt to speak on marriage without framing it in that way. You simply cannot truly begin to understand the blessing of marriage apart from the New Covenant relationship with Christ. Sure I loved my wife and cherished her and all of that before I was a Christian but I didn't understand what it meant to be united with her in a complementary relationship and I still am only scratching the surface of how I am to love her like Christ loved the church. Christian marriage as ordained by God is so much more than two people of the opposite sex pledging themselves to one another until death do us part and seeking some sort of fuzzy common ground, lowest common denominator definition and understanding of marriage inevitably diminishes marriage as instituted by our Creator.

Just to clear the air, yes what I am saying here is that Christians corner the market on understanding marriage. No, that doesn't mean that Christians are better at being married, that they make better husbands or wives or that unbelievers can't have fulfilling, loving marriages. It is simply to say that any understanding of marriage apart from the New Covenant in Christ is by definition incomplete and inferior. That sort of talk makes a lot of people twitchy. Too bad. In fact if you don't believe that I might gently suggest that you don't really understand the New Covenant, the eternal purpose of marriage (hint, it ain't about tax breaks and wedding registries) and the grand design of humanity made in the image of God as two distinct, equal, immutable and complementary genders.

Traditional marriage is not the Gospel. Religious liberty, whatever that means, is not the Gospel. Complementarianism is not the Gospel. The Gospel is the Gospel. What is on display here is trying to find unity in spite of the Gospel when the church can only have unity because of the Gospel. That unity is impossible to have with groups, sects and cults that deny that same Gospel that not only saves us but defines marriage for us. Russell Moore, anticipating the objections to his attendance, posted a preemptive strike with his post Why I’m Going to the Vatican. While I don't doubt the sincerity of his words and his conviction, his excuses ring hollow to me. The best thing he could do in an assembly hall full of unbelievers is not to talk about marriage but to preach Christ and Him crucified and call on those present to repent and be baptized. To do anything else is a betrayal of the Great Commission, even if done for the noblest of intentions.

I am going to try to watch and read what I can from this conference because it should be interesting. I suspect that it will be a lot of eloquent speech that amounts to nothing. I hope that in their time in Vatican City my Christian brothers have the opportunity to share the Gospel with the lost among them and that the Holy Spirit would soften those hearts. We can't preach marriage without preaching Christ. I pray that the fruit of this conference is not merely lovely speeches but changed hearts that are turned to Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Greg Boyd's Unbiblical Condemnation of Elijah and Why It Matters

I ran across something from Greg Boyd by way of someone criticizing a recent pronouncement. Turns out that Greg thinks that Elijah, acting in the Spirit and the same Elijah who is taken up bodily in a chariot of fire by the Lord, was acing in an ungodly and even demonic fashion when he defeated the prophets of Baal. From his article Eye for Eye: That Time JesusRefuted An Old Testament Teaching (emphasis mine).

So Elijah, through faith calling down the wrath of God on the false gods of the world, is acting in an ungodly, perhaps even demonic, manner.

Yes, one of the most potent examples of the power of God and the utter helplessness of the false gods of this world where God Himself calls down fire is actually an example of demonic power. This event recorded in Scripture is usually thought of as a comforting and encouraging verse for Christians. Turns out we all missed the point. Or maybe not.

When you feel free to make pronouncements that are barely tethered in any sort of way to Scripture you eventually find yourself making statements that are not only not tethered to those Scriptures but are completely contrary to what Scripture teaches. God indeed calls us to refrain from taking vengeance but not because vengeance is demonic but rather because it is God who will wreak
vengeance on the ungodly. Apparently Greg thinks that God can be invoked to do evil for demonic purposes by a mortal against His will, as though He is little more than an impersonal power supply like The Force that can be used for good or evil depending on whether you are a Sith or Jedi (in his example Elijah is a Sith Lord). Given that Greg is a well known proponent of the error known as "open theism", I guess it isn't surprising that he would embrace "God as the Force".

So Greg's statement, taken in context, is foolish, un-biblical, contrary to the plain reading of Scripture, contrary to the historical understanding of the church and, worst of all, more than a little blasphemous and defamatory to the person of God. It epitomizes the sort of clumsy eisegesis that tends to characterize a lot of what Greg writes. 

So what, there are plenty of people who are tossing theological manure around the internet. Why does this bear mention?

The problem I have is that because Greg is so widely read and quoted, primarily among "progressive" religious types and also happens to espouse a form of non-resistance, when he says this sort of stuff  it paints those few voices who hold to more orthodox positions alongside non-resistance with the same heterodox brush. We already face an uphill battle against our culture and against hundreds of years of erroneous teaching on "just war". We really don't need Greg Boyd making statements that are not only foolish but also harmful to the greater cause of promoting practical peacemaking in the church. Guys like Doug Wilson easily blow apart this silly statement by Boyd and in doing so throws out stuff like:

So when you have painted yourself into an anabaptist corner, and your theology requires you to say that black is white, and that up is down, and that holy is unholy, and that God is the devil, and the devil is God, perhaps it is time to go back and review some of your foundational assumptions. You don’t ever want “I love the devil” to show up in your conclusions.

Wilson is scathing and correct about the error of Boyd on so many levels but Wilson also very neatly lumps Anabaptists as a whole and the entire stream of Anabaptism throughout history into the same camp as Boyd. I am not aware of any actual Anabaptists historically that would concur that Elijah called down the fiery power of God in an act of demonic pique. The more Anabaptists and their modern admirers welcome and embrace false teachers, the less the rest of the church is interested in hearing about actual, historic  Anabaptism and as I have written many times before that is tragic because the historic Anabaptists have a lot to teach the church to help prepare for the days to come.

There are also plenty of Boyd fanboys on the interwebs that will swallow his assertion about Elijah without question. It is fine to have well-known teachers that you appreciate but you have to also be able to read them with some discernment and call out when they are in error (like Al Mohler's statement on voting last week). If no one calls out people like Boyd they just keep going, deeper and deeper into error.

As I have written before, the impulse to overreact against tradition or fundamentalism or whatever is leading too many people, Christians and other generic religious folks, to welcome anyone who is perceived to not be a mean old fundie. The list of people peddling error is growing by the day, selling books by the thousands and getting invited to speak to the church. This is not a sign of progress, it is a sign of retreat. When the church fails to exercise any sort of discernment and the only sin is being too serious about the faith, it has ceased to be the church in any meaningful and Biblical sense. People like Boyd, even when he is close to the mark on an issue or two, who deny the fundamentals of the faith should be called out and called to repent, not celebrated and fawned over.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Big Government No, Big Religion Yes?

Here is something that kind of puzzles me.

From mormons to conservative Roman Catholics to suburban megachurch evangelicals, some of the most staunchly anti-big government people in this country are at the same time perfectly comfortable with big religion. The parallels between the two are not insignificant:

- Both are concerned mainly with institutional preservation.
- Both suffer from the inevitable inefficiency that accompanies huge institutions.
- Both depend on money coerced from productive citizens by means of guilt, threats and fear, using that money to sustain the institution and pay the employees of that institution.
- Both tend to add layer upon layer of rules on top of their purported governing documents (the Constitution and the Bible respectively), reinterpreting or ignoring statutes that are inconvenient.
- Both are generally led by elites who are widely removed from the people they allegedly serve and are often segregated from those same people by layers of bureaucracy and flunkies.
- Both use group identity and the fear of other to control and manipulate people.
- Both are perfectly comfortable with sacrificing innocents to protect themselves.

I could go on and on. Throughout Western history the rise of the ever more intrusive nanny state has been mirrored and abetted by the willing partnership of the massive religious institutions. Peel away the external facade of patriotic and religious obligation and you have basically the same thing. That doesn't mean that there are not lots of great, sincere people involved in both big government and big religion because there are. It is just the institutions themselves that have taken on a life of their own and become almost Skynet self-aware (and just as prone to violence when threatened).

The adoration of big religion by people who abhor big government is understandable as a symptom of the carefully constructed civic religion we live with in America. It is the same sort of schizophrenic relationships many "conservatives" have with different parts of the government, loving the part that wears a uniform and carries and gun and hating the part that wears a button down and hands out free money and food. We are taught from an early age to respect and obey those placed in positions of authority over us: policemen, teachers, clergy and to do so without question. We force children to pledge allegiance to a flag even though kids in 1st grade can't really understand what a Republic is or what pledging unswerving allegiance to that Republic entails. Sunday school and VBS serve the same purpose, inculcating an affinity for organized religion on children who become adults that have the rhythms of cultural religion so deeply embedded in their psyche that it becomes almost psychologically traumatic to question or worse yet reject those patterns. This is true not only for the individual who rejects these rhythms and norms but also the masses that don't. Try not having your kid say the Pledge of Allegiance. Try explaining why you don't dutifully show up to church on Sunday. The reaction from the rest of the culture is swift and merciless because asking the wrong sorts of questions is subversive and a threat to the stability of the institution.

I don't claim to have this all figured out but as I peel away the layers I am starting to see more and more parallels between the manipulative natures of both Big Government and Big Religion. I see more clearly the jarring disconnect between those who are most vociferous about the evils of Big Government showing up on demand to kowtow to Big Religion. I don't think many people have stepped back to examine the parallels and pondered why what is bad in government is somehow good in religion. I hope they start to because I obviously believe that Big Religion is as destructive to liberty and Christian community as Big Government. Whether they do or not you can be certain I am going to keep bringing it up, banging the drum and stirring the pot because I believe the greatest threat to the advance of the Kingdom is not Islamic terrorism or secularism, it is Big Religion.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity Now Available For Pre-Order!

As I have mentioned a time or two, I am one of 24 collaborators on a new book titled Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. The author list is pretty diverse and a good representation of the spectrum to be found in the simple church movement. It is not a monolithic movement by any measure! I found out today that the book is now available via Amazon for pre-order and will be released in early December, plenty of time to get this book wrapped and under the tree for Christmas. I think it will be worthwhile to check this book out and get a good perspective on how focusing on what unifies us is better than focusing on what divides us!

What Would Brigham Young Think This Morning?

In the election yesterday we saw the first ever black female was elected to the Congress as a Republican. Mia Love, will represent Utah's 4th congressional district. Her parents fled from Haiti to escape Papa Doc and here is their daughter being elected to the Congress. It is in many ways a quintessential American story and I am pretty happy to see this take place. Here is the hitch. Take a look at the family photo below.

Great looking family! Except that Ms. Love was elected in what is certainly a hugely mormon district. As it happens, those same mormons are all required to recognize Brigham Young as a prophet of God, a prophet on par with any of the prophets of the Old Testament and as such when he spoke he did so on behalf of God. Brigham would not be happy to see his current day followers electing a black woman in a mixed race marriage to represent them in Congress. In fact he would probably be wondering why she had not been put to death or at least her husband Jason Love. You see Brigham didn't much care for blacks, calling them the descendants of Cain and their dark skin the sign of the curse God placed on Cain. They were barred from being "priests" in the mormon church. When it came to the idea of mixed marriages he was even more of a mad dog, calling for the execution of the parties involved....

"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so" (Journal of Discourses, 10:110).

Notice the emphatic "this will always be so". Doesn't leave much wiggle room, does it? Subsequent "prophets" of the so-called "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" reinforced that blacks were an inferior people and unworthy in both the "pre-existence" and to hold the mormon "priesthood", at least until it became politically inexpedient like polygamy and God suddenly changed His mind. Funny how that works. "This will always be so...until it becomes too uncomfortable in the culture".

Now it is true that many alleged Christians held to pretty ugly racist positions back in the day, and some still do. The difference is that I can say they were completely wrong. Mormons don't have that same ability because to question the statement of a prophet on a matter of doctrine is to call into question the entire system. This is the difference between the Christian faith based on the revealed Word of God and the mormon religion and other cults based on the whims and declarations of men.

While I am sure Brigham Young would be irate this morning, I wish Ms. Love and her beautiful family the very best and hope that she honorably serves in Congress. I hope even more fervently that she and her fellow adherents to mormonism have their hearts changed and that they turn from the false religion of mormonism and into saving faith in Jesus Christ. That is my hope and my prayer for Ms. Love, her family and all of those trapped in the cult of mormonism.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Book Cover!

In some non-election related news, Eric Carpenter released the cover art for the book I collaborated on: A Pilgrim's Progress: THE BIG NEWS: The Book Nears Completion! I have to admit it is a bit surreal to see a book cover with my name on the back. Here is the image (click the image to see it enlarged), I am pretty excited for the release!

Some Thoughts on Election Day and the American Church

I am and always have been a political junkie. I majored in political science in school with a minor in history and for me and my family politics is a passion, one we purport to hate but really kinda love. Today of course is the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November and that means election day. I wanted to share a few thoughts for this almost sacred day in the life of America and the church that has been called to this land.

First, THIS is not helpful. When I got up this morning and logged into Facebook I saw this status from Albert Mohler (also induced the comment I made in response on my timeline).

Now as I said I almost always agree with or at least respect what Dr. Mohler has to say. Not this time. That statement is about as Biblically valid as the nonsense propagated by prosperity preachers. In fact it is a pretty fair example of the thinking that pervades the American religious culture where Christians in America are a little too heavily identified as Americans who happen to be Christian rather than Christians who happen to live in America. Like I said, that is an incredibly unhelpful and frankly ignorant statement.

Second, I think a lot of my fellow believers are excited at the prospect of the GOP retaking control of the Senate but I would caution us as a people against expecting too much or placing too much hope at the feet of politicians. I expect the Senate to change hands tonight and I also expect business to go on as usual in America with slight modifications. Debt will still pile up. Money will be taken from some and given to others by force. Military spending will rage on unchecked and wars to justify that spending will continue to be conjured up. In other words, very little will change.

Third, while most Christians are voting, many are not. I respect that and still am on the fence with this issue. I wrote a while back some thoughts on this topic in a post Why Worry About Things That Don't Matter? In that post I wrote:

All things being equal, a society with a free exchange of ideas is better than one without. A society with an opportunity based economic system is better than one with a false outcome based system. A nation where children are not murdered in the womb is better than one where they are. A nation that incentivizes and protects marriage with a mother and father is better than one that waters down marital relationships to an unlimited number of permutations that all demand equal recognition no matter how harmful they are. A peaceful nation state that restrains her own powers both domestically and abroad is a freer and better neighbor than one that treats all of her citizens as potential criminals and interferes over and over in conflicts that are none of her business. I believe that a people who individually, voluntarily and collectively work together to aid the poor, the widow and the orphan is preferable to one that confiscates from some to give to others and where individuals subcontract mercy work to the state or the religious institution. I believe it is profoundly immoral to bankrupt future generations with an enormous debt burden because of the greed, selfishness and incompetence of past and present generations. There are lots more but you get the idea. Just because something doesn't have eternal consequences doesn't mean it ought to be ignored. Feeding a poor person or visiting a widow doesn't make one a believer but that doesn't mean it is unimportant.

That is why I still vote but do so hopefully with open eyes and a recognition that this is not the Gospel.

Fourth, I will be voting for Libertarians where I can and Republicans where that is not an option. The GOP has been in the hands of statist defenders of the status quo for too long and it is high time they were disabused of the notion that about half of the people in this country are going to keep supporting their generally harmful policies. Being a little less liberal than the Democrats isn't getting it done and with the rise of men like Rand Paul and Justin Amash that is becoming a reality that frightens people like Lindsay Graham and John McCain. That is a good thing.

Whatever you do today, whether you vote or choose not to, let the Scriptures and Holy Spirit be your guide, not the American culture or the talking heads.

Saturday, November 01, 2014


How about some links for the first day of November? I woke up this morning to a light dusting of snow, an ominous portent of what is just around the corner. Winter is coming.

First up. The frequency of foolish statements coming from politicians is increasing and the level of sheer idiocy is as well. Case in point, the President of these United States in what might be a slip of the tongue but more likely was a Freudian slip during a campaign rally.

Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.

Here is a link to the video so you can actually hear him say it. This is part of his push for universal preschool starting from the moment of delivery, a plank in his election year platforms. The mindset here is that women are of more value to our society going to a job, any job, and paying taxes and daycare expenses than they are raising their own children. In fact it certainly seems to be the case that the President and his leftist ideologue cronies think that parents are the worst possible people to raise their own children. Heaven forbid that we don't raise a generation of worker drones that will learn to be compliant to centralized authority from the earliest possible age. This gets back to the notion from a few years ago that women, especially smart women, who elect to care for their children are "letting down the team", where the team is defined as the feminist agenda. Remember that the Republicans are the ones who allegedly engaged in a "war on women". Odd because it certainly seems like Democrats are the one who seem intent on destroying every last vestige of womanhood.

Speaking of feminism, Matt Walsh hammers the entire notion in his post Feminism Is Poison. He was spot on in this post. It is critical to recognize that feminism is not, and has not for a long time, been about equality for women. It is strictly a movement that seeks to push a particular leftist agenda that is at its heart anti-man, anti-family, anti-children and above all anti-woman. That so many Christian and other religious women have bought into this farce is a testament to how weak our teaching is in the church and how readily men in the church and elsewhere in our culture have cheerfully abdicated their calling as men in favor of a juvenile caricature of "manhood".

Al Mohler wrote a few weeks ago his thoughts on Homosexuality as Dividing Line - The Inescapable Issue. I tend to agree. This issue and the race by some to toss aside the undisputed position of the church that homosexual acts are a grievous sin has been stunning. The church has moved away from other positions like a literal hell, Biblical gender roles and others but the move by some in those doctrinal areas has been far more deliberate and much less dramatic. The issue of embracing as normal homosexual acts and blessing homosexual unions corresponds to the collapse of civil religion and that is not a coincidence. This has become a dividing line issue and it is not a huge stretch to say that this dividing line is one of the most stark since the Reformation. While I can comfortably say that there are many genuine brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue I can also say that few issues more starkly reveal the low view of Scripture that has infected the church.

I have several more to share in a few days. I am sure you cannot wait!