Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Rivendell Sanctuary this Summer

After ten years of full-time service at Trinity International Universitiy’s Trinity Law School, and over ten more years of part-time teaching for Trinity and Simon Greenleaf Law School, I have been called to a new teaching ministry. We are moving to Minnesota this summer, where I will become a tutor at the new Rivendell Sanctuary program. Rivendell has an 18-month great books program that is designed to satisfy college undergraduate general education requirements. The program has many innovative features, including devoting time to each subject in turn in a systematic fashion that unites and organizes the whole curriculum so each subject is in context and builds on each of the prior subjects. Students stay together in a cohort with two faculty tutors and two mentors throughout the program. There is a focus on the whole life of the student, including spiritual life, interpersonal skills, and perspective. The goal is to produce capable men and women of honor, depth, and virtue, not to just check the boxes of fulfilled units. Part of each cohort’s experience is a trip to Italy for six weeks during the art section of the curriculum. I am looking forward to being part of the Rivendell team. Their web site is: Over the course of the spring I will also be shifting over to a new blog at:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review of Nancy Pearcey's Saving Leonardo; a Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Learning

Nancy Pearcey’s new book Saving Leonardo; A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning is an excellent book that proves God has given her a double portion of the spirit of Francis Schaeffer. The book is an exploration of the common secular worldviews in our culture, how they have affected culture (and even the church), and how they contrast with the real Christian worldview.

Pearcey helps us learn how to do worldview analysis on our own with examples of how to evaluate movies, books, art, and more. She shows how approaching the arts as though they were only entertainment can be dangerous. This well-researched guide is of great importance because what we believe matters: it affects our behavior and choices. What we believe can undermine effective actions of love for our family and our neighbors. What we believe can affect our relationship with God. And what we believe can impact our feelings and motivations in ways that make Christian practice and growth more difficult.

Mrs. Pearcey starts with examples of how Christians can be deceived into exposing their children to secular worldviews if they lack parental commentary and support. She counters the cultural claim that neither truth nor ideas are important with wise counsel from figures like C.S. Lewis and Socrates.

A key set of insights in the book is an exploration of the major ways in which our culture divides life into “upper and lower stories” – dichotomies in which the lower story is accepted as the exclusive source of facts, and an upper story designed to deal with the rest of human experience without giving those areas traction in public policy, business, and critical choices. These bases of the so called fact/value spilt are a hydra of personal and social problems in the contemporary world. They include the current dualist acceptance of postmodernism in religion and morality while we still use modernism in science and industry. In a similar fatal division, the liberal view of the human being divides personhood (realm of the “autonomous self”, entitled to freedom and dignity) from the body (a mere “biochemical machine”, and hence, disposable and manipulatable). This false dichotomy facilitates the rationalization of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research on a public policy level, and the dehumanizing “hookup culture” of sex separated from relationship. It goes even further in allowing the separation of identity and desires from biology and reality.

A magnificent panorama of history unfolds as the author describes the major paths to the secular worldview – the ideas of the enlightenment, such as empiricism and rationalism on the one hand, and romanticism on the other. She traces these roads, not only through their expression in art and literature, but as they changed philosophy. Pearcey illustrates how changes in the world of philosophy had real impact on “everyday” life and thought. She also explains the philosophical fork which leads to the split between analytical philosophy and European philosophy.

We are guided from Kant’s dualism of freedom and nature through the two major streams of modern art – one protesting the scientific worldview, the other portraying the scientific worldview, or in other words, expressionism and formalism. The book sails through the seas of art handing out broadsides and laurels to both sides of the great split. The analysis will please non-artists who have any interest in worldviews, theology, philosophy or apologetics as well as providing a fascinating perspective to those who do know and love art of all sorts. There are also surprises. It never occurred to me to class the Pre-Raphaelites (my personal favorite in art) on the “science” side because of their romantic subjects from myth, legend, and literature, but Pearcey’s analysis is persuasive

Pearcey also deals with so-called Christian art, and attacks head-on the need for good art as opposed to the cloying saccharine sweetness of so much craft devoted to Biblical objects. She gives some excellent examples of quality art by Christian artists such as Fujimura.

After a well thought-out discussion of worldview in movies, the book concludes with a challenge to believers to be makers of quality culture ourselves instead of responding with reaction and criticism to the values of secular culture.

Throughout this whole expedition into darkest culture Nancy Pearcey is remarkable in her attitude of charity and understanding. The book points out what happened and how it happened, but does not condemn anyone for the roles they played. Pearcey seems to expect that we cannot just break out of the confines of the current ideas. She understands that the most godly, talented and creative of Christian artists will still create art in the traditions of expressionism and formalism even while exploring new directions and pushing the envelope of culture because we are where we are, culturally speaking.

The book is very well-written and communicates complex ideas in understandable ways without reductionism. While Schaeffer was a true prophet of the problems of the church, he was often criticized for some controversial opinions in intellectual history. Nancy Pearcey’s book is far above possible reproach in this area. She bases her conclusions on the writings of a host of eminent and well accepted scholars while at the same time holding fast to the truth in her critique of the church, her explanation of secular beliefs, and her diagnosis of how Christ’s people can escape seduction by the spirits of the age.

It is, almost always, only by understanding the false categories that have led us into bondage to the spirits of this age that we can be free of them, and not cast them out only for them to return and find a tidied up vacancy ready for them to move back in. We need to know them so we can pray for God’s help, and receive the mind of Christ, to reject the false ideas of our time and to fill our minds with the genuinely good and true and beautiful. Without analysis like Pearcey’s we are like the church of
Laodicea. So often, our society has taught us to say we see and are clothed and in our right mind when we are spiritually blind, wretched, poor, and naked.

The good, truth and beauty really exist, and are to be found in God Himself. We can know Him by knowing Jesus. We know Jesus by believing and understanding what the Bible actually says. The Bible assures us that if we seek Him we will find Him, indeed because it is God who draws us to seek Him in the first place. When we believe God, we suddenly begin to see that all creation also speaks of Him. The knowledge of God already covers the earth as the water covers the sea, but we deny that we are wet. When we believe God and acknowledge that all the problems and pain we experience come from human sin (Adams, ours and other people’s) and that while mysterious and often unpleasant, the ways of God are just and good, not in error, Jesus cleanses us from our sin, corrects our errors, and slowly restores His damaged image – always there, but twisted and under a lot of gunk. We can then participate in Christ’s work in the world; work that includes not only preaching and helping the poor, but growing things, making things, doing art, writing, teaching, serving, designing everything from beautiful buildings to beautiful spoons, and glorifying God in all we do. Christianity is infinitely simple-those who call on the name of Jesus will be saved-but it is also infinitely complex. Learning the fullness of the Christian worldview and applying it to every area of life is the life’s work of a civilization, not even an individual or many individuals. But the gemstones we uncover in the search are well worth the effort. We need to return to the Christian tradition of searching out the precious stones of beauty, truth and goodness, polishing them to luster and displaying them for all to enjoy for the glory of God.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Why Do Many Protestants Christians Fail to Believe in Natural Law

One of the strange questions in Christian legal philosophy is why most Protestant Christians no longer believe in the doctrine of natural law – the idea that there is an unwritten identical trans-cultural objective moral standard accessible to all human beings. Evangelicals frequently associate natural law with Roman Catholicism, even though the doctrine of natural law is actually a better fit for Protestants than it is for Roman Catholics. After all, Rome believes we need a Magisterium to tell us what to think. It is Protestants who have stood up for the idea that ordinary people can figure some things out on their own – at least with God’s help. J. Budziszewski in his book, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, argues that natural law “is not just a Catholic thing.” Stephen Grabill, Harold Berman, John Witt, and others have written extensively on the history of Protestants and natural law, showing that the Protestants of the reformation period took it for granted that natural law was a biblical doctrine, not a matter of Roman Catholic tradition to be rejected by the Protestants. So why do so many Evangelicals still feel uncomfortable with natural law? What are the deeper reasons for the discomfort?

One major reason Protestants tend not to believe in natural law is they think natural law is incompatible with a strong view of the fall. These natural law doubters maintain that since Adam’s fall, human beings are so sinful they cannot even know right from wrong. This belief assumes no view of mankind’s sinfulness can be zealous enough. This view neglects a couple of things. First, the Bible does not teach that humans are as sinful as they could be. We can easily imagine a state of even greater degradation in which the maintenance of families or societies was impossible. So, even though human beings may not do anything which is purely good because they always act with impure motives, human beings actually do some things that are somewhat “good” by nature of the act. They do give to charity, they do love their children, they do nice things for their spouses. They may do so out of impure motives and hence even sin in the doing of these good acts, but nevertheless they do such acts. As Jesus said, “You, being evil, still know how to give good gifts to your children.”
In addition, the Bible clearly teaches human beings do have moral knowledge. There is a very important theological reason for this. God does not send the human beings who reject Him to eternal punishment merely as a matter of caprice. He does so because human beings are morally accountable to Him. In order to support that moral accountability, human beings have to have known something of the difference between good and evil and to have deliberately chosen evil. Adam did so and all of us are in his sin (apart from Christ). But we all also do the same thing in our individual lives. We do know some of what God wants and we deliberately choose not to do it. We know much of what God hates and we deliberately choose to do it. We act this way almost from our very conception.
Some of the Christians who have the view that the fall cancels out natural law have tended to believe having moral knowledge would somehow mean man also had the ability to keep God’s rules. This simply isn’t true. The Bible says knowledge of good and evil actually seems to promote a desire to do evil in fallen human beings rather than empowering them to do good. Paul says the command, “Thou shalt not covet”, inspired all sorts of coveting in him. Knowledge, by itself, is not moral power. An understanding of what is right and wrong is needed for virtue, but does not create virtue. Beings know right from wrong, and because they choose wrong they are morally accountable to God for their choice (apart from God’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ). No human being, apart from God’s help, has the power to consistently choose to do good despite whatever knowledge of God’s will they have. To confuse knowing what is good with doing what is good is a category error. You can believe in natural law and still believe in total depravity – the idea that all human faculties and all of our being is affected by sin.
A second reason many Protestants do not believe in natural law is kindred to the first: this is the belief man’s reason is fouled by sin and hence does not support moral knowledge. The first objection to natural law, which I have just discussed, is often an attack on the version of natural law (yes, there are many versions, or theories of natural law, although the content is the same – more on that later) which says moral knowledge is somewhat innate in human beings. This second attack, based on the fallenness of human reason, is a criticism of a second view of natural law: the view of natural law that man’s moral knowledge flows from man’s reasoning power. The view of natural law as innate in the human mind is in some ways platonic and has tended to be associated historically with Protestants. The view of natural law as flowing out of reason is more Aristotelian and has been associated to some degree with the Roman Catholic Church. Robust theories of natural law held by Protestants often accept that innate knowledge or knowledge by illumination, and reason both play a part in natural law.
It is true the fall affected our practical reasoning. Human beings often insist two plus two equals five, even though it does not, because of the way our sinful natures have affected our will and caused our will to impinge upon rational reasoning. It is important to realize real reason comes from God and is not fallen in its pure divine form even though the examples of it we see in human beings are affected by the fall. If we agree we reason correctly when we say two plus two equals four, we are thinking God’s thoughts after Him, as beings made in the image of God were originally created to do. That we do so in only limited areas and for limited amounts of time because of our human sinfulness ought to be fairly obvious. But, it is true we sometimes agree with God about very basic items, such as some of the rules of mathematics. We also agree with God when we agree with the things in His revealed word, the Bible. Though our reasoning is damaged by sin it is not so fouled that it has no ability to tell us some of what we do is wrong or some of what we omit is right. Paul, in Romans 2, talks about how the Gentiles’ conscience pleads for them and against them in various circumstances. God says in Isaiah, “Come and let us reason together.” Our reason is damaged by sin, but it is not so annihilated that we have no knowledge of right and wrong. Based on the work which Christ and God’s Holy Spirit does in our lives, God’s elect can also have their reason enhanced beyond its previous fallen state, although it will not reach perfection this side of the final resurrection. And, our primary concern in discussing natural law is the reasoning level available to the non-elect.
Some will object that the moral knowledge of sin only comes to those under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible does not say this. Saving faith requires the Holy Spirit. But there is no biblical reason why condemning knowledge should be exclusive to the elect of God rather than those to be condemned. Some will then say this knowledge of good and evil which results in condemnation may exist, but all it does is condemn, it never enlightens. But knowledge is knowledge. It makes sense to say non-believers resist practical benefit from their knowledge of God’s laws, but it is going too far to say a benefit is impossible. Do not nearly all nations ban theft and murder? Don’t they do so because God teaches them in general revelation that it is wrong? If unregenerate humans have no benefit from general revelation why does John say Jesus was “The true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9) even though not all men are saved? Does he not say this about general revelation through Christ?
The third reason many Protestants do not accept natural law is that they have never heard a proper explanation of it. Many times the only arguments Protestants hear about natural law are straw men. A common argument made against natural law is one that defines it as a separate law from the law of God as expressed in the Scriptures. While there are some people who claim natural law exists as a separate law from the law of the Bible, this is not a preferred natural law view and was not the common one in most of the history of natural law. John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon, for example, both believed in natural law and believed the content of natural law was identical with the content of the moral law expressed in the Bible. They did not think natural law was some sort of separate autonomous law that could be different from the laws God has set forth elsewhere. It is making a straw man argument to critique all natural law as though it fell in this questionable definition rather than in the definition held by Calvin and Melanchthon. Those who use the straw man also often seek to press the attack by saying that because the Scripture is sufficient we don’t need natural law. I find though, it is an incorrect view of God to see him as a minimalist who only creates the minimum of what we need in any area. One type of beetle would have been enough for me. But God wanted more types of beetles than we can count. I could live with thirty or forty kinds of fish – mostly the edible or attractive ones. But God made thousands of kinds of fish. He never seems to do only what is sufficient. Instead He does immeasurably more than all we ask or think.
If, by “natural law” one meant a law separate from the law of God and of differing content, then it would make sense to deny the existence of such a law. But historically, natural law has not been regarded as such an independent law. Rather, it is the expression of God’s law in general revelation. There is only one God and he is consistent and agrees with himself. If we claim the content of special revelation and general revelation are at variance, it is our understanding which must be at fault. The law of God is consistent whether revealed in the Old or the New Testament and whether revealed in the book of Deuteronomy or by the song of creation as in Psalm 19.
A fourth opposition to natural law comes from an imbibing from a particular theological stream, that of voluntarism. Many proponents of natural law have classically believed the law of God flows from God’s own nature. While God can, may, and does make positive commands that are not purely based upon morality, God’s commands are an expression of Himself, of His goodness, justice, love, mercy and holiness. As a result, we can determine in many instances what is good and evil by looking at what God would do or not do, or by deciding what courses of action are in accord with all of the united attributes of God. An act cannot be unjust, unloving, or merciless and still be in accord with God’s natural law. Although, merely because some act exemplifies a particular virtue does not mean it is permissible if it conflicts with God’s law in other ways. The murderer or thief who acts with courage does not have his crime vitiated by the virtue with which he pursues it. So, classically understood, God’s nature is behind God’s will, and He expresses His moral nature in His law, both in Scripture and in natural law.
By contrast, voluntarists reject this idea. They believe God’s will is more important than any other aspect of God. The voluntarist believes God could have made a world in which murder, adultery and deceit were good and commanded as such. But such a belief makes God’s freedom prior to God’s eternality. The Scriptures teach us God is not only good and just and merciful, but that God is forever the same. His nature does not change. God is consistent in all He does and wills. Some people believe that belief in such a consistency is a belief which, in some way, binds God or weakens His freedom, thereby making Him in some way less divine. I do not believe this is true. Instead, a belief that will is more important than any other attribute denies God’s eternality and transtemporality. It treats God like a being in time who can change, rather than acknowledging that although God is everywhere, including in time, God is beyond time and is its creator. As a being beyond time, God does not change, He acts eternally. He expresses His emotions eternally, and He expresses His decrees eternally. They all flow forth from who God is. Just as God’s law flows forth from who He is.
Fifth, just as the last objection to natural law involved a theological presupposition, this next one involves a philosophical one. Some Protestant Christians reject natural law because they have come to believe in the philosophy of nominalism. Nominalism is the belief that there are no universals: that objects or concepts or attributes we cannot see do not really exist. There are concrete actions which can be described as loving but there is no objective universal idea of love according to the nominalist. Likewise, the nominalist does not believe there is any objective definition of justice, property, unity, or beauty apart from concrete examples. Instead of the existence of objective ideas, the nominalist believes only in the sense experiences we have in the world and the pressures of social community which cause us to associate certain sounds or names with certain concrete things. Hence, the term nominalism comes from the idea that universals are merely names, not objective ideas.
For hundreds of years most Christians have rejected nominalism. Godly men, like Augustine of Hippo, Philip Melanchthon, Calvin, Francis Turretin, and many others, rejected nominalism. Nominalism appears to be contrary to the logos doctrine, to the idea that Christ is the embodiment, not only of God’s communication to man, but of God’s logic, reason, order, definitions and concepts. The mind of God, and by extension, the mind of Christ is the receptacle of the objective ideas which make up the true universals. Justice is justice because it defines the way God is, with respect to justice. Beauty is beauty because God is beautiful and creates beautiful things. Goodness is good because it defines its example and definition in the nature of God Himself, and on and on. As Plato said, even though he did not understand God, “God is preeminently the measure of all things.” Because God is the definer of universal concepts, they have an objective existence in Him. Because human beings were created in the image of God, even though that image was damaged by sin, we have some access to universal ideas. We have some ability to understand concepts like truth, goodness, beauty, justice, etc. Although our understanding is affected by the fall it is not fully effaced. We have the ability to communicate with one another using these universal concepts, albeit in an imperfect way. But universals also have one other effect – they are interconnected with the natural law. If you know what is good, true, beautiful, just, merciful, etc. you know what you are supposed to do in order to do what God would want. If you know that, then you should not do things which are ugly, unjust, cruel, and evil, as well. Knowledge of universals and knowledge of the moral law e.g. the natural law – are inextricably intertwined. Nominalism is not really a biblical doctrine. Recognition of God and the objective ideas that exist in God is contrary to the spirit of nominalism.
A sixth objection by Protestants to natural law comes from the effect of culture upon them. Today, many Protestants have bought into post-modern culture. They feel it is somehow arrogant or unjust to claim there are objective moral standards, objective ideas by which cultures and societies or individuals can be measured or evaluated, or objective truths which can not only be identified as true, but by their truth identify some other ideas as false. They find the notion of objective measuring to be somehow embarrassing, neocolonial, or bigoted. This is the effect of post-modern culture, which teaches all of these things for even more complex philosophical reasons which are, for the most part, incompatible with Christianity. While it is true that human claims are often expressed in an arrogant way, this does not mean truth does not exist. If truth exists, it is extremely unloving to ignore and deny what is true since truth provides for the best and safest life. Who would tell someone that it is safe to walk through a mine field merely because that person did not believe the mines existed? Who would tell someone who wished to pick up a poisonous snake that it was acceptable for them to believe the snake was not poisonous merely because they firmly held to that belief? While truth needs to be expressed lovingly rather than arrogantly, truth does exist and it measures the actions of individuals, cultures and societies. We can find truth in God and in His revelation. God has revealed truth to us in the Bible and through the natural law. We know the natural law because of our ability to reason from cause and effect, our conscience, from the creation of mankind in God’s image, from the order of the creation God has made, from the evident purposes of the things God has made, and because the Bible discusses the idea of natural law even though it does not use that phrase to describe it.
The seventh objection to natural law which we will address here is rooted in the notion that man cannot understand the revelation of God apart from the regenerative activity of the Holy Spirit. Some people believe this means the natural man cannot understand the natural law. The Scripture is full of passages in which God points out that only his elect will understand and believe his message. But it is the message of grace – the gospel – non-regenerate man fails to understand. The unregenerate are perfectly comfortable with the idea of law. Every human religion capitalizes on man’s knowledge of law and tries to parlay some limited obedience to a distorted moral code into a claim upon a god or gods who are less holy and more arbitrary than the God of the Bible. Law is the very stuff the Muslim, the rabbi, and the student of dharma all depend upon. They forget what the whole book of Romans tells us – it is not those to whom the law came who are justified by the law, but only those who keep all of it – a thing no son of Adam or daughter of Eve can do apart from Christ. God gave humans knowledge of law so they could rule over themselves and the creation as his regents, and so that they would know how they are separated from God by their sins – not as a means of salvation. There is no passage of Scripture which denies to mankind knowledge or understanding of the law. In fact, as David Van Drunen has pointed out, when God’s people have assumed the ungodly have no knowledge of the law, God has proven them wrong, as we see in the histories of Abraham and Abimelech, and Abraham and the Pharaoh.
An eighth reason many Christians fail to accept the natural law as real is that a belief in a structure of eschatological change or evolution is seen as incompatible with natural law. This is the class of objection whose proponents, Karl Barth and others, Carl Braaten described in his 1992 First Things article on Protestants and natural law. Such theologians and ethicists articulate in many different ways that while natural law might have made sense in the past, now for the church in Christ today, it does not. I believe this error has at its root not a commitment to some portion of Scripture, but a hidden commitment to the philosophy of Hegel. We live in an age so saturated with the ideas of evolution, dialectic, construction, development and change that we even try to place God on this Procrustean bed and force him to go through process and development. But the God of the Bible does not change. His laws and institutions do not change. Abraham was saved by faith just as we are saved by faith. Christ came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. I know the brilliant men who propounded neo-orthodoxy and other such views were far smarter than I and spoke in language far more elegant and irenic than I can muster. But in the plain meaning of Scripture I find all humans were made in the image of God, and still retain a distorted version of that image after the fall. I find the Gentiles who did not have the law still had a conscience which served them in the same office. I find pagan kings knew what God did and did not want even when they ignored that knowledge. I find all humans are morally accountable to God. I find all governments are God’s servants – and how can they carry out his service unless he has left one and all of them, from Rome to Cathay and Siberia to Patagonia, a set of instructions and orders through general revelation. And I find none of this changes the gospel or the role of the church. To borrow a metaphor from Calvin, the fact that men have occasional strikes of lightning in the night does not obviate their need of the greater light of the gospel.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why Protestants do not believe in natural law, but most of them are not particularly biblical or Christian. By contrast, because the Bible does teach the existence of natural law and the ideas behind it, it is a very Christian thing and a very Protestant thing to believe in it – as properly understood. It would be wrong to think the existence of the natural law, as revealed by God in general and special revelation meant human beings could save themselves. It would be wrong to think God is not really God. It would be improper to be arrogant in our expression of our ideas to others. But, avoiding these errors does not warrant the opposite errors of claiming that man has no moral knowledge, that God is not consistent with His own nature, or that God is not the source and definition of objective ideas. Nor is it appropriate to reject natural law because we recognize only a false version of it, such as the false claim that natural law is independent of God’s moral law or of God’s nature. There is indeed objective truth in God that He has revealed to us. And so I commend to you a belief in natural law.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Truth is to be found in God Himself. He is the definer of all else. God is the central reality of the universe. All other truth is subsidiary to Him, either flowing from His nature, His decree, or the actions of the order He created. We can know truth only because God made us in His image, with mental faculties, that though puny and damaged, still reflect His own. That a human being can know truth was proven by the incarnation of Christ, when the One who was truth also became a man.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legal Change in Moses Time

A commenter recently said they did not believe the law of ancient Israel was allowed to incorporate change. As this is an important issue, I thought I would say something about it here on the main blog.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2 says:
“ 1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”
By this God meant that no one should claim God gave commands he did not give or claim that commands God did give were not given by Him. He clearly did not mean there would be no additional revelation from God because there obviously was additional revelation. He also did not mean to bar common law judicial decisions or additional human laws for Israel. I have reasons for believing this:
1) Look at the example of the case of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers chapters 26, 27, and 36. The law was modified to deal with a new circumstance, thereby setting the precedent of common law development.
2) Historically, the Mosaic Law did provide for common law style human legal additions. The rabbinic method of expounding the law to new circumstances actually influenced the development of English and American common law methodology.
3) That is how ancient law codes of this type worked and were understood. The Ten Commandments, or the ten words and they are known to the Jews, are the core principles of the code. The other “commands”, like “if a man steals a sheep . . .” etc are exemplar analytic dispositions to serve as guidelines for judges on how to apply the principles in the central Ten Commandments.
4) In practice it has to be that way. No legal code can deal with all possible future human conduct. Additional common law rulings and or statutes will be necessary to deal with new technology, new scams, new threats, and new business patterns that did not exist when the code was made.
5) Better and brighter men than I have interpreted scripture this way. For example, look at the collective teachings of John Calvin in the Institutes.
The Bible also never says other nations have to have exactly the same laws as ancient Israel. These laws were given by God to Israel. Because they came from God, it makes sense to pay attention to the timeless truths they embody. But, a code for an ancient agrarian people is not adequate for a country with cars, computers, nuclear reactors, and banks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Should Social Conservatives Set Their Views to the Side for the November Election

Laurie Higgins from Illinois Family Action writes:
“The Republican governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, recently called for a “truce” on the divisive social issues. Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, concurs saying, “Any issue that takes people’s eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your eye off the ball.”
Earlier I asked, if one of the “social issues” that divided the country were not the slaughter of the most defenseless but were instead the enslavement of African Americans, would these same “moderates,” be chastising conservatives for refusing to subordinate social issues to fiscal issues?
When social conservatives retreat from the cultural and political debate, the cultural and political views of the public are shaped by those who are publicly engaged. Our retreat creates a vacuum that leftists are only too glad to fill with false moral propositions and destructive legislation. Soon there won’t be enough conservatives who think rightly on fundamental social issues, and the ones who do will lack the courage to speak. Society would be much better served by heeding the words of John Adams who said, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody….If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”
It should be noted that a truce requires that both sides agree to a cessation of activity. Surely, some have noticed that Democrats aren’t participating in the truce. In fact, carnivorous leftists are licking their chops while waiting to devour the carcass of social conservatism. And while they await its demise, they engage in ever more fevered efforts to advance their pernicious goals to preserve the right to annihilate the unborn and destroy the family.
No, Daniels and other likeminded conservatives are not calling for a truce; they’re effectively calling for a forfeit.”
While economic issues are important, I believe Laurie is correct. While social conservatives are pressed to drop their issues and vote for so called moderates, the other side is going on the offensive to dominate social policy and the party. The Manhattan Declaration signers and others have made some progress in refusing to be cowed and continuing to press on social policies as well as economic policies. And it is well that we should.
The reasons America is in trouble in our time are not purely economic. America is in trouble because Christians who believe in and live out the Christian world view and Biblical ideals are not the dominant culture makers and leaders in our society. Instead the church is often failing to teach the truths of the Biblical world view and how they apply to life. We in the pews are failing to learn and live as we should. And in the end, we do not even take significant part in most of the institutions that shape the culture. Without more really Christian University professors, artists, movie makers, and writers doing high quality work that reflects the good in a compelling way (e.g. Bach and Burke), it is no surprise we cannot find solid Christian candidates for political offices who understand law, human nature, and the limited ability of governments to solve problems.
In turn, if we keep electing people who believe the wrong things about human nature and human dignity, about rights and the sources of rights, and about governments and what they can and cannot accomplish, we will continue to get corruption, bad laws, foolish priorities, and selfish “legal” graft from our law makers. Social issues ARE important, because they are bellwethers of a person’s true beliefs and priorities. A politician who does not understand why he should be against abortion on demand and against gay “marriage” does not understand human dignity, human rights, and the rule of law. Such a person is not going to make wise choices in the long run about “economic” issues either, no matter what they tell you between now and Election Day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 show on Federal Prop 8 Cse Perry

At the link is Chris Neiswonger's article about the Perry case and audio of last weekend's radio show on the same topic. I was happy to be one of the guests on the show. Link:

Monday, August 09, 2010

Luther on our Treasure in Christ

"When I have Christ, I have all that is necessary. Neither death, sin, nor the devil can hurt me. If I believe in Christ I have fulfilled the law; it cannot accuse me. I have conquered hell; it cannot hold me. Everything that Christ has is mine. Through Him, we obtain all his possessions and eternal life. Even if I am weak in faith, I still have the same treasure and the same Christ that others have. There is no difference: we are all made perfect through faith in him, not by what we do." - Martin Luther (Trans. James Galvin)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Perry v. Schwarzenegger, post II

The whole role of the trial court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger is an example of why decisions about distributive justice – who should get what in society and how society should be structured – were normally made by legislators, not courts. Sure, courts announced what the law should be in new cases or cases where the rules announced before made no sense, but they did so in the context of affecting one plaintiff and one defendant. Courts did corrective justice – restoring the balance between the doer and the sufferer, as Aristotle might have put it. No court prior to the last forty years or so would have considered it right for it to restructure the entire law and institution of marriage. Yet that is exactly what this court hopes will happen if its opinion is ratified by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the US.

In the trial, the court heard a small selection of “experts” pontificate on vast areas of knowledge well beyond the verification of science or art, particularly in such a short time by so few individuals. Yet, in theory, the whole future history of the United States could turn on these few poorly grounded opinions. One of the more interesting factual findings of the court was:

“Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are
sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and
lesbians.” P.101

Is this a precursor to persecution and harassment of Christians who publically hold true to the moral beliefs of centuries of mankind and the clear teaching of the Bible? Perhaps that is too radical a supposition, but it is hard to see it in any other light since religious belief has nothing to do with the facts of the case before the court. No such “finding of fact” was necessary. Certainly too, the experts could not prove such a thing. That no one likes to be told their conduct is immoral is obvious. But it is good for people engaged in immoral conduct to be reminded of their error and of the true way regardless of how embarrassing that may be. No doubt brothel owners and professional con men would prefer their chosen livelihoods to be legal and socially acceptable. Perhaps they cry real tears at night over the hostility of antiquated religious beliefs. No doubt they justify their conduct to themselves and say they are only giving people what they want and need to be happy. No doubt it would be a great personal loss to them to change occupations since their upbringing and inclinations may have equipped them for no other trade. But no court should say laws against prostitution or pyramid schemes violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution as a result of their hurt feelings. Nor should any court threaten people with faith in God by proclaiming their beliefs “harmful” to the pimp or fraudster so in need of repentance.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

PERRY v. SCHWARZENEGGER, the opinion in the Prop. 8 trial, part I

A Federal district court in San Francisco, months after hearing witnesses and closing arguments, has declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Proposition 8 had declared merely that in California the term “marriage” could be applied only to one man and one woman. It accomplished little more than preserving the appearance of a distinction between legally recognized relationships for one man and one woman, and California’s legally recognized relationships for homosexual couples (groups are yet to come, but in principle cannot be stopped if current trends continue).

The Plaintiffs in the case argued successfully that Proposition 8 and the old fashioned understanding of marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States because it treats same sex couples differently than heterosexual couples. Of course, such different treatment was expected by the moral core and religiously orthodox core of nearly all cultures for nearly all of recorded history, but courts today assume we know better. The people of the past thought it was just as obvious that homosexual relationships were not like marriages as that burglary was not like entering your own home. Somehow we miss the difference.

The defendants argued that the will of the people should carry the day. In the big scheme of things this is a difficult argument, because sometimes the majority of people want the wrong thing. That is why our founders created a republic instead of a pure democracy. But then the founders would have been shocked by this outcome in a court of law and would have considered it a vicious refusal by the court to apply the law. The defendants also made the utilitarian arguments, which I believe to be true, that children are better off being raised by a mother and father, and that heterosexual relationships are more stable than homosexual relationships. The defendants also made the tactical choice not to present much evidence. I think they were more afraid of their witnesses being mocked for their ideas than of the lack of evidence for their side before the court. And indeed, because of the way our legal system works today, making an argument this court would have found persuasive is as difficult for us as it would have been easy for our ancestors.

The underlying problem here is one addressed by a number of Christian writers, including Dallas Willard and Nancy Pearcey: our society divides "reality" into the objective sphere of science on the one hand and the subjective sphere of religion and morality on the other hand. This is not really so. Moral truth and real religious truth are objective and knowable species of truth. But, on the basis of the alleged subjectivity of morality and religion, morality and orthodox Christianity are banned from consideration in making public policy. The judge in this case said:

“ A state’s interest in an enactment must of course be
secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in
enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an
accompanying secular purpose. See Lawrence v Texas, 539 US 558,
571 (2003); see also Everson v Board of Education of Ewing
Township, 330 US 1, 15 (1947).”

And by “secular” they mean that arguments from any moral system not based on utilitarianism or pure reciprocity are also excluded. Naturally science cannot actually tell anyone what they "ought" to do - science measures and describes things and events in the experimentally and observationally repeatable material world, science says nothing about normativity. So public policy is made through a variety of shell games that involve elite manipulation of the courts or manipulation of the public, whichever works best. Practical political power and will are really the only criteria; though arguments to salve the dishonest intellect and to appeal to the passions and emotions must be made to keep up appearances. Materialist scientism, and instrumentalist faith in autonomous humankind is the established religion of our government. We no longer have the Rule of Law because the Law above the Law - the reason, universal eternal truths, and moral order of God are disregarded unless they too can be smuggled in, through some appealing way, as "tradition."

This situation is extremely dangerous. If the current paradigm exhibited by the federal trial court in San Francisco prevails, it may take decades, but extreme damage to the souls of our children and the character our civilization is inevitable. On the other hand, if people yield to the temptation to use power politics, or worse, violence, to impose their will on the elites who back the current standard, the precedents set could prove just as devastating to freedom, reason and truth in the long run as the immoral rule of judges is becoming in the short run. May God guide us in how to unravel the maze of evil we have made for ourselves by our failure to clearly teach and maintain the truth as the truth in all areas of life.

Test the Prophets

Dunbar Plunket Barton relates an interesting story about John Holt, Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench appointed by William III. Holt was a strong Christian, but did not suffer fools or false prophets.

A man came to Holt announced that he, the visitor, was a “prophet of the Lord God” and that God had instructed him to tell Holt to issue a document called a nolle prosequi to release a particular man currently held in prison and awaiting trial. A nolle prosequi, by the way, was a document issued by a prosecutor stating that he would not continue to prosecute a case against a particular defendant. Holt said to the would-be prophet “Thou art a false prophet and a lying knave. If the Lord God had sent thee, it would have been to the Attorney-General, for He knows that it belongeth not to the Chief Justice to grant a nolle prosequi. But I, as Chief Justice, can grant a warrant to commit thee to bear him [the prisoner] company.”

There is an old saying “The Devil Knows Latin”; but Holt knew the Lord knows the law.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Complexity of Legal Change

History is full of examples of the complexities of legislation and law. While everyone has some idea of what is just, our own interests and passions tend to get in the way. It is often difficult to procure productive change without overstepping the legitimate powers of government and thereby setting precedents useful for destructive change later on. It is also difficult to protect some real or imagined rights or interests without infringing other real or imagined rights. These difficulties are among the reasons “conservatives” favor relative stability in law.

One example from the reign of the English King James II is seen in the circumstances surrounding the Declaration of Indulgence and the trial of the Seven Bishops.

One of the great injustices of England has been the persecution and discrimination against religious minorities that occurred from the middle ages up to modern times. The legal impediments to dissenters from the national church were only gradually eliminated. In part, the problem stemmed not from malice, but from the mere existence of a national established church and from the good intentions to maintain unity and avoid seditious and destructive opinions as much as possible for the good of the people and the commonwealth.

But, from our perspective with the passage of time, we can see how the best intentions often worked a mischief. The same England that gave us Magna Charta, the King James Bible, and the Westminster Confession also burnt the bones of Wycliffe, burned Cranmer at the stake, imprisoned John Bunyan, and refused to let Baptists hold political office for an unconscionable amount of time. When we limit freedom for the sake of unity or purity of doctrine, it is an inevitability, given fallen human nature, that we will sometimes be mistaken in what is correct or true, that we will make mistakes even when we do know what is true in the abstract, and that the enemies of truth will at some point gain enough power to use the same rules against those who believe the truth – or so the experience of history seems to teach us.

King James II tried to change the situation in the late 1600s by issuing a decree known as the Declaration of Indulgence, and a second decree known as the Second Declaration of Indulgence. The first Declaration of Indulgence was issued in 1687, the third year of James II reign. In the declaration James II says his intent is to make the people of England happy by “granting to them the free exercise of their religion.” James II sensibly writes “conscience ought not to be constrained nor people forced in matters of religion.” James II observed truthfully that all the efforts of the last four monarchs to promote a single unified religious opinion in England had failed, and all such efforts were doomed to failure. Building on these principles, James II says he will protect the established church, but that all penal laws punishing people for failure to adhere to and participate in the established church are now suspended. James goes on to declare that all religious groups may have their own meetings (which had not been allowed). But, as he is still worried about sedition, the non-Church of England groups must meet openly, allow visitors, disclose their regular meeting sites to local government representatives, and avoid preaching any sort of treason. James II went even further to eliminate all existing oaths of religious orthodoxy as tests for holding office in England. To crown all this off, James II pardoned everyone who had been accused or punished under the laws eliminated by the Indulgence.

In the Second Declaration of Indulgence, issued in 1688, James II essentially said, though not in these words, “despite what you may have heard about the Declaration of Indulgence, I really meant it and it is for your own good – freedom of conscience is good for everybody.”

You would think that these declarations would have put James II down in the history books as a great wise king, far ahead of his time. But they did not. James II got a bad reputation with the majority that has lasted down to this day. Why? Well, a lot of other things entered into it: James abused the court system by trying to intimidate judges, he wanted to become an absolute monarch, he had a Roman Catholic wife and people thought he was trying to bring back absolutist Roman Catholic rule over England despite all the talk about religious liberty . . . oh, and he conspired to have France invade England to back him up in his fight with Parliament. Many members of Parliament thought that the Declaration of Indulgence was beyond James' proper authority as King. He could not do something like this – only Parliament could make such a radical change in the laws. Indeed, the Declarations claimed to unravel many Acts of Parliament, and spreading the Declaration of Indulgence itself was seen by many as a violation of a law laid down in the time of Elizabeth that involved not only possible legal penalties, but carried an anathema – a sort of theological curse – against any churchman who so violated it. And, Parliament suspected James did not really believe in freedom of conscience for the long run – he just wanted it long enough to get his pro-Roman Catholic friends into enough government offices and positions of power to seize control of the government and return England by force to the Romanist fold.

In the context of this fight, along came the Case of the Seven Bishops. Seven of the rulers of England’s established Anglican Church, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, objected to the Declarations of Indulgence. The King issued an order that the Declaration of Indulgence be read in every church and distributed by clergy to their people. The seven bishops petitioned the King refusing to read the Declaration in church or to distribute it. The King had the Seven Bishops prosecuted for libeling him with their statements in the petition for relief from the law.
Do you see the tremendous irony? In order to further a statement supposedly meant to establish religious conscience the King brought criminal cases for libel against five clerics over what they did not do in church. As if that were not enough, he was punishing them for asking him for help to avoid violating the law and coming under the threat of prosecution from Parliament and a curse from the church. On top of this, the King’s authority in the whole matter was suspect. The King was violating freedom of conscience and religion in the name of freedom of conscience and religion – and was doing so in violation of England’s unwritten constitution. If the King lost, it was a setback for religious liberty. But if the King won it helped establish that the King had the power to act as a tyrant – a precedent that might ultimately result in the King talking away religious liberty.

The King lost. The jury came in with a verdict on not guilty. The same year Parliament drove James from the throne and replaced him with monarchs with unimpeachable Protestant Christian credentials. Religious liberty would be won, but on a slower time table. Absolute monarchy, the threat of tyranny, and the specter of a new Roman Catholic established church were banished.

I hope this very brief description serves to illuminate the problem of legal complexity. Today, the problems of the complex interactions of rights, powers, and laws are no less byzantine. There are many today who seek radical changes in society. They wish us to think differently, feel differently, eat differently, make less dust, ignore moral rules handed down by God and endorsed by every major culture for centuries, educate children differently, and ultimately – they hope – change human nature itself. They seek to do all this through laws and regulations of questionable legal pedigree and authority. And they often are heedless of the sweeping chaos they will unleash. They are willing to take away rights given by God to uphold new rights given by man. At least the letter of James II’s Declarations bore on its face a noble sentiment. The same cannot be said of those who seek to replace the hard won freedom of religion with freedom from religion, and the liberty to choose among goods with a petty tyranny over plows and breakfast tables. The new progressives too often seek James II’s claimed power without James II’s claimed excuse.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cornerstone and Capstone

In normal architectural theory, a cornerstone and capstone are usually two different things. A cornerstone is a foundational stone that is placed first. All the other stones are placed in relation to it and so its solid placement and solid resting place are key to the structure and survival of the building. By contrast, a capstone is usually the last stone placed in a stone building. It is the stone that finishes off the building and finally holds the completed walls in place or finishes off the appearance of the wall by being the last stone put in place. In 1 Peter 2, Peter quotes two passages from the Old Testament with reference to Christ:

“4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame."Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone, and,
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

When my wife Julia and I were discussing this other day she pointed out to me something I had never heard or seen even though I have read this passage many times and had it quoted many times. Lots of people notice that Jesus is the cornerstone and we are like blocks that are built on him, our firm foundation building a house dedicated to God. We are included in this structure because of Christ and our position is made firm and secure by Christ. We are here by virtue of our relationship to Christ. In other words, our relationship to God through Christ is analogous to the relationship of the stones of a building to the cornerstone. I have heard this before, but I have heard very little about the capstone. What’s interesting is that Jesus is a capstone to those that reject him. The capstone is the final stone in a building. That means that when the capstone is put in place, no other stones are needed and no other stones are allowed in. This means that when people reject Jesus and he is the capstone to them, they find no place in the church and no place in God’s building. It is already completed and capped off. They are excluded by their relationship to the capstone. This too is of course a set of verses that deals with the question of predestination and god’s election. Thanks be to God that our salvation depends upon him and not on our good works or the lack thereof. And thanks be to God that we have come to Christ as a cornerstone rather than rejecting Him. Naturally we cannot know if anyone will final reject Christ in this life. Only God knows that. So we should see our fellow human beings as potential stones in the church - potential members of the elect who need to hear the gospel and be blessed with our good conduct and good faith. So this passage should ultimatly be encouraging.