Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas

Blogging will probably be light over the next week because of the Christmas holiday. Let me wish all of you a merry Christmas. Next to Easter and Good Friday, Christmas is one of the most wonderful celebrations associated with Christianity. Although the day of Christ’s birth is not specified in the Bible, and although there is no mandate for us celebrating it on any particular day, I still love the celebration of Christmas and the entire Christmas season. I think it is really delightful that millions of people in any way celebrate or recognize the Incarnation of God in human form in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. I appreciate that people give each other gifts as a way of celebrating God’s gift to us. I appreciate that everything is decorated and that the Christmas season has a special glory that is associated with its celebration. I appreciate the Christmas carols that even secular people sing. Many of them contain good theology about Christ and the Gospel. While Christmas is at some times commercial, materialistic or overwhelming, I think it is still a wonderful and delightful time and presents an extraordinary opportunity for people to hear the Gospel if they will just listen to the words of some of the better Christmas carols. How often do you get a chance to hear a summary of the Gospel in a department store or mall?

I think it is also good that Christmas is a time that emphasizes family and friends. Christmas is also noteworthy for the traditional emphasis of giving to the poor at Christmastime. While we should give all year round, it’s nice that many people who don’t think much about giving still give at Christmas. I think the messages involved in some Christmas movies and stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life while not perhaps theologically pure, are nevertheless worthwhile and happy media events rather than the reverse. While whatever criticisms people may have, I’m glad for Christmas and nearly everything associated with it.

The Incarnation is of course extremely important. The fact that God became man not only allowed Jesus to atone for our sins and live a righteous life that could be judicially ascribed to us by God, but also is a part of the answer to the whole problem of pain and evil. God did not create a universe in which He Himself knew and experienced no pain while His creatures did. Instead, we serve and know a God who became one of us and suffered for us, with us, and as one of us. Christ knew all of the temptations that we are subjected to and yet was without sin. He suffered the pains and travails of human life. He knew what it was like to be tired and cold and hungry, to be disliked and abused, to not be recognized for who you truly are, and be despised and hated for precisely who you truly are, and ultimately to suffer human injustice, torture and death. Christ knew what it was to submit to God’s plan, even though that plan was painful for Him personally. He knew what it is to have to look to the long run and endure pain and suffering in order to achieve a higher goal. In short, to paraphrase the book of Hebrews, we don’t have an intercessor who doesn’t know anything about what our life is like but rather someone who’s experienced the same pain and suffering that we experience. So when people complain about the evil and pain in life, Christ can say, “I know, I’ve experienced it.” When people complain that God allows pain and suffering in life for higher purposes, Jesus can say there that He too has experienced pain, suffering and death for those higher purposes. God is beyond criticism not only because of who He is, but because He Himself has partaken in the difficulties of the world that He created. He experienced these difficulties on our behalf not because He was in any way required to do so or in any way worthy of pain and suffering, but rather He suffered and endured pain for us. This makes Christianity different from every other religion. As Stephen Lawhead has pointed out, none of the other deities of many human religions suffered with and for human beings. None of them know our pain and our troubles the way Jesus does. The Incarnation is also the ultimate elevation of humanity. Not only because Christ has reconciled us to God, but because as a being who is both fully human and fully God it is now truly the case that a human being is sitting on the throne of the universe. Christ’s incarnation also shows that it is in fact possible for God and man to communicate. Many modern skeptics have doubted that human beings can in any way communicate with or understand the divine. But Jesus not only shows that it is possible for God to communicate to man, He is that communication and He embodies God’s communication to human beings in Himself.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Importance of Disestablishment in the United States

As most people probably know, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” Freedoms recognized by the First Amendment are among the most important to our way of life in the United States. The freedom of religion we have in the United States has not only facilitated our material progress, but has also facilitated our spiritual progress. While this freedom does make it possible for false religions to exist and prosper, it also makes it possible for true Christianity to grow and flourish without the taint of state coercion, the contamination of state bureaucracy. The famous Christian writer, Os Guinness, has pointed out that the free market in religious views created by the First Amendment has caused a flourishing and prospering of Christianity in America in much the same way that our relatively unregulated economy has contributed to growth and prosperity materially. Rodney Stark reaches the same conclusion in his book “The Victory of Reason.”

Christians have occasionally given the impression that we would be happy to create a formal establishment of religion. This is not really true. It is easy to see though that people often have this perspective. On Thursday, December 13, I heard a portion of an interview with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Good Morning America. Huckabee was asked if he would “put his faith ahead of the Constitution.” Of course Huckabee said that the Constitution would come first. But what I suppose he really should have said is that this a ridiculous question. There isn’t anything in the Constitution that conflicts with orthodox evangelical Christianity. There are, of course, religions that do have ideals that conflict with the Constitution. And while we cannot have any religious test for office holders, there probably are some religious views that would not be conducive to the continuation of our freedoms. Orthodox, evangelical, Protestant Christianity, however, is not one of those views. It is not only compatible with our freedom, but it was the philosophical soil from which this religious freedom grew.

Today there are some people who want to reinterpret the First Amendment to mean something it was never intended to mean—that ideas that are in any way associated with, or parallel to, or in common with ideas originating in the Bible are forbidden sources of government policy making. This simply cannot be the case since all laws have their root in some view of morality and human nature and since views of human nature and morality are fundamentally tied to religious worldviews. So advocating, for example, that human beings should be treated equally before the law because all are of intrinsic value is not in any way an unconstitutional or improper argument even though it flows from the Christian idea that all human beings were created by God in His image. The idea that human beings are morally accountable for violations of just human laws is likewise an idea that flows from the worldview of Christianity. If materialism was really correct and people were merely bundles of reacting chemicals, there would be no real moral accountability for violations of the law, nor would there be legitimate or illegitimate human laws. Everything would simply be about power and conformity. Most of us do not consider it as such in our community. The United States was founded with the notion that there is moral accountability behind human laws and that human laws can be legitimate or illegitimate depending upon their correspondence or indifference to the higher law. So if by their understanding of the First Amendment people mean that we cannot maintain the ideas upon which our republic is founded—ideas that are inherently tied to a Christian worldview but are acceptable to most monotheistic worldviews—then they are badly mistaken because the order which makes the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence normative cannot require a view that would essentially require their dissolution. If the principles of the Judeo-Christian worldview cannot affect government, then there is no reason why people are obligated to keep their promises, no reason why covenants are binding, and no reason why constitutions should be respected. The Constitution itself depends upon the Christian worldview or at least its legacy being taken seriously.

But this does not mean that Christians favor an establishment of religion or want to establish a system in which church officials are the true leaders of government. Far be it from us to ever give the impression we advocate such a thing. Because church leaders are ideally experts in morality, they may occasionally have something to say about what they think government policy should be. But unless they are elected to public office, they are not the makers of public policy. And there should be no mechanical or constitutional linkage between the hierarchy of any church and the law making, interpreting, and executing bodies of the government of the United States or any state. To make it so would demean the church as well as endangering the free market of ideas that the United States has so successfully modeled.

The reasons for this are many. First, there is the pragmatic reason that has already been alluded to. It is not good for the church and the government to be physically and bureaucratically entangled in each other’s affairs. It demeans the faith and threatens it in a variety of ways. If a group of people who have erroneous religious beliefs come to dominate and control the government, then their power would endanger whatever groups remain and have true religious beliefs.

A second reason why we do not seek a true establishment of religion is that the Bible clearly teaches that Christianity is not a matter of being coerced into an acknowledgement of God, saying a magic slogan, or being brought into membership in some particular group. While Americans are sometimes justly accused of neglecting the community aspects and manifestations of Christianity, Christianity is fundamentally connected to the individual’s individual relationship with God through the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life, not through anything that can be coerced or forced by human beings. Having a personal relationship with God and coming to faith in Christ is linked to the preaching of the Gospel and to the use thereby of persuasion. This is persuasion through ideas, not persuasion through physical force. Protestant evangelical Christianity has always argued for its truthfulness based upon the Scriptures and their nature and content, and based on reasons—not based upon coercion. Despite occasional lapses in which the Christian church through the centuries has foolishly mistreated those who had allegedly fallen into heresy, including various people who were actually probably more correct than the authorities attacking them (Huss, Wycliffe, and Luther for example), the church has always taught that belief in Christianity is based on faith, and is as a result not coercible. Thomas Aquinas gave this as a basis for why human law should not enact the whole of special revelation into law. Aquinas noted that no one could be coerced into accepting the Gospel. It is incompatible with God’s laws and nature to try to force people to be Christians through human laws. So the greatest expressed fear of atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians—that Christians will seek to force them to believe or punish them for not believing—should be ill founded. We should not give them cause to dread such a fate. Christians should be the very first to demand that we maintain a free market in ideas so that there will always be an opportunity for people to hear the truth even though they will also have the opportunity to hear lies.

Another reason why Christians believe in a free market of ideas is because we recognize our own fallibility. All human beings are sinful and imperfect. All of us, from time to time, think we are being reasonable when we really aren’t being reasonable at all. This is true even of Christians. Perhaps sometimes it is even especially true of Christians. As a result, we cannot trust ourselves, or anybody else, to always be right about everything. All human beings are affected by their sinfulness. None, whether by reason of wisdom, by knowledge or by office, are infallible and incapable of erroneous teaching or supposition. As a result, we all need each other. We need to be able to freely discuss ideas and talk about the ways in which each of us may be wrong or right so that we at least have a chance at straightening each other out when one of us is wrong. The problem with established religions is that they carve in stone ideas, that while many of them may be right, are likely to also contain some errors. I can easily come up with errors of many Christian groups (though I suppose some people still will not admit that they were errors). If any of them are or were established, it makes it all the harder to correct those problems. One can see such errors in the established churches. I believe Anglicanism was wrong in its advocacy of Erastianism: the belief that the king is essentially the final authority on religious truths. The Lutheran church was probably wrong in its advocacy of a positivist view of human law even though it recognized the natural law view of the application of human law. Tridentine Roman Catholicism has itself been the source of governmental problems because its model of unquestionable centralized hierarchical authority leant itself to the maintenance of absolutist political regimes that were bad for everyone in nearly every way. We need freedom so that we can discover, discuss and correct each other’s errors instead of enshrining those errors with the power of law and tradition. Of course I recognize that this is in essence the Protestant view, though it is shared by many Catholics today and was shared by nearly the entire church prior to the Renaissance. The group within western Christianity that believed in papal infallibility and unquestionable centralized hierarchy eventually grew from a small but powerful movement responsible for the papal revolution, to a movement so dominant in the church hierarchy that they were able to force out of the church all of the people who would become the Protestants. The pro-centralized authority group’s views were not unanimously held throughout Christianity.

Another threat is that if we eliminate freedom of religion, we are just as likely to be the victims of a state church as the victors. As certain groups within the United States grow, a group with which we may strongly disagree could easily come to dominate a state run church. No one on the religious right would be happy with the state forcing them to yield to Islam or to new age teachings in their church-run schools. We should not do to others what we would not want others to do to us even though we believe our positions to be true and theirs to be false. The problem, of course, is that while Christianity is supportive of religious freedom, the views of the orthodox versions of many other religions and even a few minor sects of Christianity are not.

I should say in all of this that I’m not suggesting that Christians should be banished from the public square in the way many people would prefer. I don’t think that manger scenes, Christmas carols sung by public school choirs, the Ten Commandments on walls or crosses on monuments are in any way establishments of religion or improper. We need to exercise a de minimis rule and an acceptance of art and culture when we look at public expenditures, public practices, and their interface with faith. The real difficulty is going to be sorting out how we are going to deal with Islam. Christians are obviously going to be uncomfortable with government involvement in Muslim holidays. But how can we have government involvement in Christian holidays and not in any way acknowledge Muslim holidays in areas where there are large numbers of Muslims? Perhaps at a national level we can still justify paying little attention to it because the Muslim population of the United States is still so small. But in local communities where there are many Muslims this argument won’t work. In addition, in the United States just as in Europe, this balance is rapidly changing. Cultural relics will also change. This is one reason why it is so important for us to continue the work of evangelization in areas that have already been evangelized like the United States and Europe. Christianity is not something you inherit. It is personal and can be lost if it is not taught to the next generation in a loving, kind, and persuasive way. Europe failed in communicating Christianity to its progeny. The United States appears to currently be in a similar crisis. While we are communicating a kind of Christianity to our children, it is largely a kind that does not recognize the importance of reason, objective truth, or objective reality. Once Christianity is merely associated with private feeling, it will be lost in the United States just as it has been in most of Europe. Christianity in its orthodox form is inseparable from reason, logic, persuasion, and an objective approach to the evaluation of truth. It is not an irrational religion based on warm fuzzies or purely mystical justifications. Mysticism plays a role in the Christian faith, but it is not an exclusive role. As a friend of mine recently pointed out to me, Richard Hooker said that tradition plays a role in the Christian faith, but is subservient to reason and to the Scriptures. So we Christians need to be sure that we are clearly espousing our position. We believe that ideas that flow from reality must be behind government policy and that some of those ideas are going to be associated in some way with Christianity. But we don’t believe that religious hierarchies should in any way be officially connected to the government or official sources of government policy. We do believe that all citizens of our republic can and should be involved in the great discussion and debate about public policy. We also believe that that debate should be free, uncoerced and open. We should never create the impression that we believe otherwise. It is also clear that we will have to persuade others or it is quite likely that we will see additional changes that we don’t like in culture and probably in the end even in the law. If we’re going to preserve our freedoms, we have to preserve the ideals that led to those freedoms and explain the connection to people. While we can and should use the force of arms overseas against those who make war against the United States, we cannot use coercion at home to further belief in the Christian worldview. We can only persuade people and pray for people and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. If we are not able to persuade people, our entire republic and our way of life and our freedoms face extinction at the hands of philosophies that are happy to advocate freedom when they are in the minority but who will advocate absolutism when they become the majority. We hope and pray and work to prevent that from ever occurring.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Faith in Cooling or Warming "Science"

There are some policy issues about which the Bible tells us little or nothing, and where science really is of great importance. Global warming ought to be one of these issues. But here, another kind of "faith" gets in the way of science. Here is an interesting article by what the majority of the media would consider an iconoclastic scientist: http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071219/COMMENTARY/10575140

Biblical Truth has Implications for Our Time

The Kingpin has a good article about Biblical integrity and one of the difficult issues at http://thekingpin68.blogspot.com/2007/12/social-justice-biblical-wrong.html.

The church today really seems to struggle with the ideas of objective moral truth and how that fits with love. We especially struggle in the are of sexuality.

Another interesting article is the badly named article "Instant Sex" in the Weekly Standard at
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/462wtjth.asp?pg=1. The article is a lament about how the culture of "hooking up" is destroying the glorious experience of romantic love. Maybe God has good reasons for telling us to keep sex in marriage and for other commands? Of course God does. He tells us how to live for our good, not because he is opposed to fun. We loose so much Joy and happiness because we try to take the easy way out and act as our own "gods" instead of listening to the real God.

I am thankful for the forgiveness for sins we have in Christ. We need to reach out to our fellow sinners with the good news about Jesus in love and with a willingness to accept all who come to Jesus. But there is no good reason to add to the list of our sins just because our desires make us think we want things God has forbidden. Nor is there a good reason to encourage others to do so. To encourage others to continue in sinful lifestyle choices is not love, but cruelty.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Standing By Sola Scriptura

I recently heard something that deeply disturbed me. A prominent Christian radio talk show host here in Southern California broadcast a show in which he described how an equally prominent philosopher had given a speech at the Evangelical Theological Society which, if the discussion by the talk show host is correct, appears to have said that Christians rely too much on the Bible. If this is indeed what was said, and if it is not saved by context, it is deeply disturbing. Christians do not rely too much on the Bible. If anything, all of the heresies, problems, and shortcomings of both the corporate and individual lives of Christians, and of the church, have come about because we have not immersed ourselves deeply enough in the Scriptures or understood precisely what God is really saying to us through them. Many human churches are still mired in the erroneous belief of sacramentalism—that God is saving us and sanctifying us through taking communion and our participation in other sacraments. This belief is nowhere supported in the Bible. It is a human tradition that seeks a magical solution to the problem of sin and relationship with God rather than accepting the solution clearly described in the Scriptures. This is not to say that we should not participate in the Eucharist. It is important for us to obey God through baptism and through remembering Him in Holy Communion and indeed to sanctify to God all areas of life and thought. While the sacraments have a role in our Christian life, they are not the origin of that life nor its primary means. The way we obtain salvation is by faith in Christ which is a gift of God through His grace. The way we obtain sanctification is by being touched and changed by Christ through the Bible itself as well as secondarily through all the ways in which He deals with us through general revelation.

The church is currently troubled at its very roots, not because it is overly embracing Scripture or because it is placing Scripture in an improper place, but rather because it is not paying attention to what the Scriptures actually say and imply about subjects like epistemology, reason, the nature of truth, universals, the nature of certainty, personal conduct, sexuality, civility, the balance between the individualism and community, human government and human law. Instead, the church is far too willing to succumb to its current cultural context and the fads, trends, and blindnesses of our own age. We have fallen prey to believing that there is an inevitability to our succumbing to the spirit of the age and to seeing all things through the lens of our own culture. For a Christian of our time to say that we are failing because we are paying too much attention to the Bible and making biblical teachings too central to our lives is like the citizens of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, who on the eve of the Babylonian destruction of that city, insisted that they were worse off because they had recently stopped offering incense to the queen of Heaven.

How foolish we are! We mistake the errors we see in the church. The church is not listening to the full counsel of God in the Scripture. When the church takes verses out of context and overemphasizes them to justify an erroneous practice, this is not an over reliance on Scripture, but rather an under reliance on the whole of Scripture. When a church rejects the use of God’s revelation in general revelation, this is not an over reliance on Scripture but a failure to heed what the Scripture clearly teaches and implies. When we mistake the contents of general revelation and insist that it support ideas that are contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture, this too is not a wise avoiding of bibliolatry, but rather a forsaking of truth for error.

How good God’s Word really is! Inspiring dozens of writers over thousands of years, God has nevertheless communicated to us a systematic, coherent and compelling message. None of the other claims of revelation or philosophies or religious books of the rest of the world in any way approaches the Bible for meeting the needs of life, dealing with the data of life, explaining the system coherently and in a way that is both appealing and challenging cross culturally. The Bible speaks to the needs of those who philosophize as well as those who live by the rhythm and heartbeat of poetry. The Bible teaches us directly and in parables. It reveals history and metaphor. It reveals and it conceals. It uplifts and it convicts. Nothing else in human experience is like it.

It is also, clearly, the teaching of Scripture that the way all other claims of truth and revelation are to be tested is by what we already know God to have said and revealed through Scripture. Even in the garden, Adam and Eve would have avoided falling prey to the serpent if they had paid attention to what God really said instead of how the serpent reinterpreted and twisted God’s words. In the Pentateuch, the children of Israel were clearly instructed that when prophets brought them new ideas even if backed by miracles and successful predictions, they were not to be believed unless they were consistent with what God had already revealed to them. Prophets time and time again called Israel back to what had clearly been revealed to them in the Pentateuch and also prophesied of the suffering servant Messiah who was to come. Throughout the Gospels, the truth of Jesus’ ministry was explained not only through miraculous signs but by reference to the Old Testament and to the fulfillment of prophesies evidenced by Jesus. In the epistles, the full theological significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are clearly explained and laid forth with numerous references to the Old Testament Scriptures as verifying and supporting the testimony of the apostles. Peter describes to us how the writings of Paul are Scripture just as he recognizes that all Scripture is God-breathed coming to us by the moving of God’s Spirit. Then even in Revelation, an eschatological cartoon difficult for westerners to wrap their minds around in a sensible way, it is made clear that no one should add to or take away from the content of Christ’s revelation. Jesus is the Word of God, His final revelation as He incarnated Himself among us and met our need for an intercessor, a redeemer, and mediator. Yet mysteriously the primary way that God has revealed His Word to us is through the words of the Bible. Yet in our wrestling with archeologists and skeptics and philosophers, we too often succumb to judging the straightness of the plumb line by the line of the wall. It is of no use to evaluate truth by opinion. It is of no use to doubt the truth because it is complex or because it is simple. It must be explored and grasped rather than superseded. It would be tragic if after the Bible has become so accessible to us, so available and so explored by loving scholars, that we would now reject or at least minimize the document that should be the central guide to our beliefs and worldview. The opinions and systems of church magisteriums and university professors and theologians have been shown to be lacking again and again throughout church history. Only the Bible has continuously brought us back to God Himself and to His clear teachings.

I hope and pray that the church will react against this new attempt to substitute the traditions, teachings, and systems of men for God’s revelation in the Bible. We must stand with the Reformers for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and for the primacy of the teaching of the Word of God as the most important of all true sacraments.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why has the Western Economy Flourished?

There are a lot of opinions about why the West has flourished economically as well as culturally. Some people would take the view that our successful capitalist economy is based upon selfishness, materialism, and a lack of regulation. Others would claim that it is based upon wise planning and regulation. I would maintain that in fact all of these reasons are counterfeits of the real reasons—pale shadows of the real reasons for the success of western economies.

The first real reason for the success of Northern European and American western economies is the Christian view of vocation that came out of the Reformation. Michael P. Schutt points out in his new book, Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession, the Protestant Reformation renounced the Catholic view that only “holy” activities like being a monk or priest were true callings of God, and that everyone else was a spiritual second-class citizen. Instead, the Reformers like Luther, Calvin, and Turretin recognized that every person has a calling from God to love their neighbor and provide for their neighbor, themselves, and their family through work. The Reformers recognized the dignity of all lawful human work whether it was making shoes, farming, raising livestock, teaching, writing, printing or building. God has structured the universe in such a way that the way in which we are meant to prosper is not by seeking our own good but by seeking the good of others. This is not a generic impossible seeking the good of others, but a practical day-by-day using of our gifts in seeking the good of others. So if a person is a gifted shoemaker, or a gifted painter, or a gifted carpenter, he or she does well to use skills and gifts for the benefit of neighbors by practicing a trade in an honest, generous, and hard-working way. He or she benefits because people will like his or her services and pay for them. He or she can provide for family, both children and the aged or infirm. He or she can then use some money to give to the poor and to the work of the church. Those who provide for others best also tend to prosper the most. It is true that bad things happen to good people, and that because of unpredictable changes in technology, economic problems, or demand, even good, well-meaning, hard-working people can end up out of work or in poverty. But in general those who discover what they do well for others and do that well for others also do well for themselves and their families. If you find out what people need and determine a way to meet that need effectively, the end result will be the best meeting of your own needs. By contrast, if you selfishly seek to try to maximize gain for yourself, you may have gain in the short run by tricking people into paying you for your less than effective goods or services, but in the long run such fraudulent services do not survive or prosper—and should not. The view that selfishness is what drives the economy is a counterfeit of this idea that helping others is what drives the economy. If it really were selfishness, then skillful fraud would be just as valuable as skillful production. But obviously it is not. That actually leads us to the second element in the success of economies: the “rule of law.”

The rule of law is an old idea that can be found in some of the writings of the ancient Sumerians, the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine of Hippo, John of Salisbury, Henry De Bracton, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, and others. This is not the idea of having “rules,” it is the idea that law reigns. The real notion of the rule of law is that God has provided a divine order to govern the universe. This divine order is reflected in just human laws that partake of that order and mediate it to human societies in a way that does not require all good or punish all evil, but that does provide a practical guidance for just social interaction. Laws should keep people from stealing, murdering, defrauding, cheating, and failing to keep their business-related promises. Divine order is more important than the will of the individual human law makers or individual governments. As a result, they are subject to “the rule of law” rather than the laws being radically subject to their personal temporary will. Under the notion of the rule of law, a just government is not allowed to will things contrary to the divine order or the common good or right reason. While these concepts have not always been followed in the West, they have been followed more here than anywhere else. The result has been that while there is still injustice and crime in our societies, there is far less injustice, corruption and waste here than you have had in most historical societies in most of time. The rule of law cannot function through government alone. It requires people who are basically law abiding and basically committed to living civilly righteous lives. It is for this reason that the West today is beginning to lose some of its historic edge as our people lose their commitment to just laws and to self government. This is also what makes it difficult to impose the rule of law in other countries. Unless the people are willing to be basically law abiding and to respect each other’s lives and property, no reasonable amount of force can make them do so. The kind of oppressive force needed to make them do so also distorts the market, drains resources, and prevents the kind of economic flourishing we have ultimately seen in places like the United States and England. The counterfeit of this view has been the notion that wise economic regulation has saved the West. In truth, Adam Smith was probably right that the choices of individual people are far better guides for economic planning than the decisions of even the wisest and most gifted central planners. Central planning usually results in problems because no mortal human being can foresee exactly what people everywhere will really need or how those needs can best be fulfilled. Instead, central planning tends to overcorrect for market trends. There are reasonable arguments to be made that centralized planning is not what saved America from the Depression, but rather the Second World War. It was actually the change from the relative free market policies pursued by Calvin Coolidge to the centralized planning advocated by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt that not only turned a minor recession into the Great Depression but made the Great Depression last as long as it did. The attempt at economic controls by Richard Nixon is in all probability responsible for the economic problems faced during the Ford and Carter administrations. The return to somewhat lower taxes and somewhat freer markets under Ronald Reagan produced the renewed prosperity that America has seen since. This is not to say that a government should be truly laissez-faire. The rule of law is necessary to keep businessmen honest, to prevent the triumph of fraud and selfishness rather than the triumph of hard work and gifted giving. But preventing crime is not the same thing as centrally planning the economy. Accountability for evil is not the same as deciding for people what goods they must choose.

A third reason for the productivity of the western economy has been the creativity of the western peoples. The types and varieties of music, pictorial arts, foods, types of clothing, styles of architecture and styles of furniture created by western artisans, entrepreneurs, and inventors and made available in the western economies is nothing short of dazzling. This has made life richer and more interesting here than anywhere else in the world. Counterfeit principle for this creativity is the belief that through advertising people can and should be made to want to buy things that are not of good quality, are not beautiful, and are not actually needed in order to support manufacturing establishments that make such faulty and defective goods. While advertisers do undertake such attempts and while they do occasionally have some success in this way, it is really necessary to produce a good product in order to really sell that product over the years. Some sellers have tried to deal with this by making products that are addictive or by using associations in advertising with addictive activities and their products. But this is really cheating at the way God created the universe to work. It isn’t benefiting anybody to give them an ugly, tasteless product and make them think they want it by associating it with pictures of attractive women. This new tendency to cheat in this way is causing great damage to our society and in the long term will cause damage to our economy. A return to genuine service and wholesome informative advertising is really needed. The difficulty, of course, is that we probably don’t want to give the government the power to limit speech by regulating advertising. In the end, they are likely to end up regulating good speech and allowing the bad. What is really needed is a decisive grass roots movement that if people advertise in improper ways or sell bad products, we won’t buy them. It’s entirely possible to turn off your television and to stop giving in to bad products and bad advertising. There is no reason why people shouldn’t do so. If these strategies stop working, most people will stop pursuing them.

UPDATE

The blog zunguzungu has taken issue with this post by claiming I am giving Max Weber’s theory of the protestant work ethic without giving credit to Max. I certainly do not intend to do so. I agree with Leo Strauss’ critique of Weber that Weber does not seem to understand what Calvinist Protestant Christians actually believe. Calvinists believe the assurance of salvation comes from faith in the teachings of the Bible about Jesus and his person and work, not from our own wealth or poverty. Poor people are often more easily saved than the rich. People can also be blessed by obedience to divine principles without being elect at all. In fact, as Jesus said, the Children of this age often seem cleverer than the Children of God.

What I can say since I wrote this post is that I have started the book "The Victory of Reason" by Rodney Stark. Stark’s arguments have convinced me that the prosperity of the west started well before the reformation, during the so called dark ages. Stark agrees that freedom, inventiveness, science and the western idea of the rule of law all come from Christianity as a reasonable faith.

I still stand by my belief in the principle that God created the world to work in such a way that meeting the needs of others is usually the best way to be blessed. I think this is Biblical and backed by Christian teachings such as the prayer of St. Francis.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sola Scriptura

At the link, a brief but good post by Chris Neiswonger on why the Bible is our authority for evaluating the beliefs of the churches and not the other way round. http://christiantheology.wordpress.com/2007/11/12/on-old-churches-and-why-protestants-are-still-right/

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Is Jesus Call to a Radical Lifestyle a Call to Pacifism Between Nations?

When I write or speak about what I consider a biblical approach to war, I oftentimes get comments like the one currently submitted with respect to my blog article “Are Christian Ethics Suicidal for Western Civilization” that make several objections to the Christian participation in war. First, they object that Jesus calls us to a radical lifestyle of peacemaking, non-resistance and powerlessness. Second, that those who believe in any kind of just war theory are articulating what they want rather than the biblical message; and third, that peacemaking and non-resistance would be an effective strategy if actually followed by large numbers of people. I reject all of these arguments.

Concerning this truth that Jesus does call us to a radical lifestyle, the advocates of non-resistance are incorrect in their interpretation of what that lifestyle is like. They base their opposition on only a handful of Jesus’ sayings and upon a tenuous interpretation of Jesus’ life and mission at His first coming. It is not based upon the bulk of Jesus’ teaching or upon the overall context of biblical teaching as a whole. In addition, the pacifist argument relies on an interpretation of the early church and its activities that flows from the church’s status and reactions to that status rather than from the church’s actual doctrinal teaching. Jesus did say, “blessed are the peacemakers,” but there is no reason to suppose from biblical models of acceptable statecraft or from the teachings of Scripture or from practical experience that genuine peacemaking comes through powerlessness and non-resistance. Policemen are “peace officers” and “peacemakers.” Their purpose is not to bring war to society, but rather to achieve and maintain the peace. They do so through persuasion, but also through the limited application of force and through the deterring threat of force. Some will say that no country should be a policeman to the world, but as I will discuss herein, I believe that all nations are effectively policemen for their neighbors. Jesus did say that blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, but He did not say that it is appropriate for us to allow innocent victims to be persecuted by oppressors. Likewise, Jesus did say that when someone strikes us on one cheek, we should turn the other cheek, but He never said that if we see someone assaulting someone else, we should allow the assault to continue. Throughout the biblical text a distinction is made between avenging and defending oneself and avenging and defending others. The Bible constantly encourages an attitude of non-resistance and forgiveness rather than revenge-taking on our own behalf as individuals. But it likewise encourages us to band together for the defense and the vindication of others against those who attack or oppress them. David did not defend himself against his detractors, but he did allow his son, Solomon, to bring them to justice. Romans 12 tells us not to take vengeance, but Romans 13 tells us that the state is God’s servant to take vengeance. The biblical account did encourage the ancient Israelites not to build chariots, but it never encouraged them not to have a defense. The kings of Israel who were described as the good kings are also noted for their additions to the defenses of Jerusalem and for the skill and ability of their warriors. The biblical position is personal non-resistance and forgiveness, but corporate defense.

The advocates of pacifism look to Jesus’ own lifestyle as an argument for their position. They note that Jesus did not resist the Romans and did not resist His crucifixion. In response to this I would say first that you must look at the context of Jesus’ mission at His first coming and second, that you must look at the whole of biblical teaching. Jesus’ mission was to live a perfect life on our behalf, to die on the cross for our sins, to rise again from the dead, and to commission the early church and tell them to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was not His mission to establish a political kingdom or to destroy the Roman Empire. Jesus’ specific mission at His first coming required a passive response. Despite the talk about how oppressive the Romans were, the truth is that the government of Rome was not particularly oppressive or particularly unjust compared to the majority of governments in the history of the world. There was really no particular reason for justice to require Jesus to lead a revolt against Rome. There is no question but that the ancient Israelites resented Rome’s presence for ethnocentric reasons, but those reasons do not provide an adequate basis in justice or necessitate an armed revolt against an established government. The real determining factor was God’s purpose and mission for Jesus’ life on earth, not the political, economic context into which Jesus came. Whenever we lose sight of this, we distort the Scripture and what God is trying to communicate to us through it. Second, we have to look at the whole of the biblical account. A quick look at the passages prophesying the Second Coming of the Messiah clearly shows that Jesus is no pacifist. When He returns, He will make war upon His enemies who have gathered together and made war against His people. Some choose to allegorize or spiritualize these texts, but there is no compelling reason to do so. In addition, God not only describes Himself as a man of war throughout the Bible, but acts as one on many occasions. It must be remembered that genuine Christian ethics are based upon the nature of God Himself. We call things good because they are like God and in accord with His plan and order. We call things bad because they are a deviation or twisting from God’s order or plan and divine nature. If God Himself acts as a warrior and a vindicator of the oppressed, then it cannot be evil to do so. If we are to be imitators of Christ, we would need to be imitators of His fullness rather than merely of His actions in one context. Some will respond to this that God’s perfect knowledge allows Him to do this justly, while for us such justice is impossible. It is true that due to our human failings and imperfection we often make mistakes when seeking to live up to God’s moral rules. But that does not mean that we are not to follow God’s moral law or to seek to conform to His plan, order, and nature as best we can with the power of the Holy Spirit and with fervent prayer. God has put us in life as a moral adventure. He does not wish us to bury our talents in the earth and to do as little as possible so that we can avoid the risk of wrongdoing. Rather, He seeks for us to go out and engage the world. When we do so, we will make mistakes but by the grace of God we will be attempting both to will and to do His good pleasure.

From the structure of ethics in connection with the nature, order and design of God, it does seem to be the case that, as Aristotle thought, vices generally come in pairs rather than singly. While bloodthirsty war-likeness is indeed a vice, it must be recognized that there is a vice at the opposite extreme of virtue—the vice of not using force, resistance, or action when it is godly and appropriate to do so to rescue or vindicate those who are in distress. True virtue is to use force for the genuine benefit of others and for the working of justice, but not to use it to vindicate ourselves as individuals or to seek injustice. The main reason we do not seek to vindicate ourselves is that, as John Locke pointed out, we are singularly poor judges of justice where our own case is concerned. No just man acts as a judge of his own cause or an executioner of his own cause. It is for this reason that God ordained the existence of human governments and for which they are brought into existence. To then deny this function to governments is to break the divine order rather than to vindicate it.

Similarly, the early church did not seek to violently overthrow the Roman government, but sought rather to live peacefully within the Roman Empire. Some of the early church fathers encouraged Christians not to serve in the Roman military. But these teachings have to be interpreted in the overall context. There was no compelling reason for the early Christians to violently resist Rome. They were not commanded in any special revelation to do so and as a matter of practical wisdom, it would have been a failing effort. It would not have been possible or desirable for them to defeat the Roman Empire. As mentioned above, the Roman Empire was relatively just compared to other political orders. In limited times and places the empire did persecute Christians. That persecution did work for the spread of the Gospel in a way that unsuccessful armed resistance would not have done. However, had there been a large Republican faction within Rome that had wanted to defend and protect Christians; it would have been reasonable, had they had the effective means, to seize control of the Roman government in order to protect the Christians, as well as the religious freedom of all, and to make Rome’s order even more just. As for the instructions on membership in the military, the reason given for these was always to avoid the necessity of Roman soldiery to worship the emperor as a deity. Despite these warnings, we have every reason to believe that there were actually many Christians in the Roman military. The quick spread of the Gospel to far-flung Roman colonies like Britain was in all likelihood possible because of Roman legionnaires who were Christians bringing the Gospel to the farthest-flung military outposts of the empire.

As for the second major criticism, that the reason advocates of just war theory believe in Just War theory is because of their own internal desires and wishes, this is not really a strong argument. Such arguments are very popular today, but do not refute the underlying proposition when they attempt a deconstruction of the people who hold a position. C. S. Lewis has a wonderful critique of similar arguments in an article in God in the Dock entitled “Bulverism.” But then, besides being a bad argument, the charge is also not true either. All human beings inherently tend to desire peace and prosperity rather than the pain, suffering, risk, and threat that come from war. While there may be some people who think temporarily that they would desire the glory or adventure of war, they soon learn otherwise once they are provided with a taste of that terrible draught. I advocate the position I do because I believe it is biblical, not because it fits it with my personal desires or wishes. Indeed, I think extreme positions such as complete pacifism or complete “realism” are much more easy and comfortable for practical purposes than what I consider the biblical principled position that there are times when force is necessary and times when it is inappropriate. Decisions requiring judgment, wisdom, and discretion are rarely personally desirable, but they are the way the world usually is set up to work.

As for the effectiveness of peacemaking and non-resistance, I see none exemplified in the Bible or in history. It is true that martyrdom is sometimes effective though it is sometimes ineffective. The martyrdom of thousands of Christians in Tokugawa era Japan did not cause an explosion of Christianity in Japan, nor did the martyrdom of thousands of Christians in North Africa, Arabia, or Persia cause an explosion of Christians after the cataclysmic expansion of radical Islam after 600 A.D. Where are the Christians that Marco Polo met along the Silk Road through central Asia? Where is the explosion of the church caused by the persecution of Christians in Burma/Myanmar? Sometimes God uses our martyrdom to bring others to Christ. Sometimes it is merely a testimony against our enemies. Nowhere in the Scripture is it taught that states should become martyrs in the face of unjust attacks or that our state should allow unjust attacks against other states. This is sometimes an effective strategy against a principled dominantly Christian adversary. The United States was influenced by the non-resistance of Martin Luther King because it was a predominantly Christian country. Britain was influenced by the non-resistance of Gandhi because it still had the afterglow of centuries of Christian dominance (although the violence of Indian extremists didn’t hurt in convincing the British to leave either). By contrast, non-resistance if offered would be completely ineffective against Hitler, Stalin, or fascist Japan. Indeed, in the limited cases in which it was offered, it was infective. To say that if everyone was non-resistant there would be no war is merely to say that if we were all slaves, there would be no war because we would have one master. The problem is that that master would not necessarily be God. Just as God works through our words to spread the Gospel, so too He sometimes works through the acts of states and governments to bring justice both on an individual level and on an international level. While there have been cruel and terrible wars and bad results from wars, in many instances right has indeed made might and victories have occurred for physically weaker belligerents who have been spiritually stronger. Modern secularist historians comfort themselves in claims about the military prowess and economic power of the victors in such battles, but at the time the battles occurred it certainly did not seem like victory was such a foregone conclusion.

No, while God calls us to pacifism as individuals dealing with our individual interest, and while general pacifists no doubt mean well and are noble in their intentions, pacifism in just war is not a wise or biblical option.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Great Bioethics Article

At this link to the weekly Standard on line is a great article by Wesley Smith on the growing number of cases of people who have recovered or were discovered to be very much able to think after being diagnosed as as almost brain dead. Such people are regularly killed through withholding normal care like food and water. These examples show why that might not be as ethical a practice as commonly supposed. See http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/282dwxzn.asp.

Some Good News on Iraq Christians

For his 11-1-07 post Cranmer has some very good news about Iraq concerning an improvement in the circumstances of Christians in Iraq, who have suffered much of late. Here is a general link to the site. You need to scroll to the date in question. http://www.archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/.

In the article are some excerpts from an interview with Christian and former Iraq Air Vice Marshal Georges Sada who reports: "If the Allies leave now, it will be a catastrophe. You must realise that Iraq is a democracy now for the first time ever. Seventy-one percent of the people voted. Eighty-eight women were elected. There are 275 seats in the assembly. This is better than the Congress or the Parliament in London."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Faith Always Good?

Many people, especially the makers of schmaltzy Hollywood movies, believe that faith is always good. They think that it doesn’t really matter what we have faith in, so long as we “believe.” But is this really true?

I would take the unpopular position that it is not good to have “faith” in things that are false. But then I’m not sure that I would call faith in things that are false really faith. I would say that true faith—the kind that is a gift from God rather than something that we gin up ourselves—is belief in God’s revealed truths. Failure to believe what God has revealed to be true is the vice of unbelief. Willingness to believe things that are false or not revealed to be true by God is not real faith but gullibility.

It is true that those of us who have been given faith by God should be humble and respectful in our attitude toward others. They too are humans made in the image of God. We too are sinful and prone to error in the evaluation and application of facts and moral principles. But our own faith is not any kind of work that we have achieved through our own virtue or our own intelligence. Rather, it is a gift given to us by God, and but for God’s grace, we too would still be among the unbelieving. On the other hand, it is also clearly an error for us to treat people who do not believe the truth or people who believe error as though they were right. It is wrong to believe in the moral equivalence of unbelief and errant theologies.

This error is played out all too often with respect to Islam. It is appropriate to respect Muslims as human beings and to treat them with the love of God due to fellow human beings, but it is not appropriate to act as though Islam were in any way true, or as if believing in Islam were a noble and good thing all by itself. Certainly there are many people who believe in Islam who are no doubt hospitable, generous people. But that does not make their beliefs true, nor does it make their beliefs helpful. Things people really believe really do matter. Culture ultimately flows from the “cult” that is popular among the members of a culture. One of the few valid things pointed out by the post-modern philosophers is that even those who claim to be unbelievers really have certain beliefs that drive and affect their actions. Nobody is completely ideologically neutral.

Because of conflicts among Christians in the West, Christians eventually discovered the very biblical notion that religious persuasion should occur through preaching, debate, and discussion rather than through the force of arms. But they let the pendulum swing too far and tried to exclude consideration of religious belief from the political sphere altogether. For awhile they were able to survive on the religious capitol their ancestors had paid into the system and upon the common cultural bonds of people who were nearly all educated in most of the basic truths of Christianity whether they were fully committed to them in practice or not. But as we have become more multi-cultural, we have seen not only the rise of those who do not believe in Christianity, but also of those who believe in other false and corrosive religions. This presents increasingly difficult problems for politics, law, and the cohesiveness of society.

Many today in England and Europe are essentially advocating that the way to deal with heterogeneous peoples in one country is simply to give in to the most noisy and belligerent cultures provided that they are not Judeo-Christian ones or those of native Europeans or Englishmen. In other words, they are advocating giving in to Islam and almost say that Islam is the future of England and Europe. This is tragic, not only because it threatens the loss of specific indigenous western cultures, but because Islam is a false religion that has negative consequences in the real world. In a sense, the truest version of any religion is that which most resembles Christianity. As there are some Muslims whose beliefs are in some way closer to Christianity than other Muslims, their version of Islam is the “truest” from a Christian perspective. If people are going to believe in false religions, it is the versions of them that are the closest to truth that should be encouraged if any of them are. But overall, we need to point out the falsity of what is false rather than merely allowing it to take over society. I am not saying that the government should in any way repress any religion. It is not the business of government to use force to resolve religious differences. But it is the business of those who argue, preach and debate to deal with the resolution of religious differences. Indeed, it is of critical importance. And as we continually remind the students here at our Christian law school, Trinity, it is of even greater importance that we ourselves seek the Lord in our own lives and that we pray for ourselves, for others, and for the nations. We should pray that God will open the eyes of our brothers and sisters and give them the ability to see things as they truly are with the eyes of saving faith

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

USA Not Meant to be a Secularist State

At this link Jewish talk show host Michael Medved makes an excellent historical argument about the role of Christianity in the USA of the founding fathers, refuting the revisionist claims so common today that the founders were secularists: http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/MichaelMedved/2007/10/03/the_founders_intended_a_christian,_not_secular,_society?page=1

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cranmer Blog on Local Democracy

A great quote today from the Blog Cranmer for October 1, 2007 (http://www.archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/) on local Democracy:

"Intrinsic to democracy, above all other forms of government, is the importance of each individual as created and loved by God. It permits the examining, correcting and rebuking process, which is necessary in man’s fallen and corruptible state, by emphasising that powerful officers of government are accountable to ordinary people. Since to err is human, national governments subject to the will of fallible electorates can, and do, make mistakes, but are also able to rectify those mistakes. The righteousness of strengthening local democracy lies in the intrinsic accountability of those in authority, and the reality that everyone counts, because God counts them. This, in political guise, is the essence of democracy, and there is no better path than the involvement of ordinary citizens in the framing of their laws."

When American Law Law Went South

One of the blessings of working at a Christian law school that is part of an evangelical Christian university is the sort of discussions we have. I recently had a really good discussion with several friends about one of the turning points in the development of law in the United States. One of my friends brought to the conversation a great knowledge of political philosophy including knowledge of the works of Leo Strauss and Harry Jaffa. I had just finished reading Peter Marshall and Peter Manuel’s book Sounding Forth the Trumpet about American history from the 1830s to the 1860.

Prior to 1830, slavery was regarded as morally wrong by pretty much everyone in the United States even though the southern states continued to own slaves even as the northern states eliminated slavery and recoiled in horror from southerners attempting to bring their slaves into the northern states or to recover runaway slaves. Prior to this 1830 juncture, the dominant jurisprudential view in the United States accepted the view common in reformation England that natural law was the basis of human law and an integral part of the “the rule of law.” This Protestant natural law philosophy believed that everyone is endowed by God with the ability to know the difference between right and wrong, to reason, and to communicate. Some people are more talented or gifted in these areas than others, but virtually everyone has the basic general revelation they need to get by and to provide an objective though imperfectly applied basis for laws and interpretation of law for society.

But around 1830, the attitude of the South began to change. Partially in response to radical northern abolitionists and partially in response to the economic pressure to continue to expand slavery, Southerners went from viewing slavery as an evil to which they were economically addicted, and which required mitigation, to a claim that Southern style slavery was actually a positive good. The South was led in this by the famous Southern senator, Calhoun. Calhoun had a materialistic world view. It manifested itself in the legal sphere as an aggressive legal positivism—a belief that human laws are whatever humans agree to irrespective of the claims of morality or natural law. Calhoun insisted that slavery was actually a moral good. He also hedged his bet by insisting that even if there were any moral law, it could not undermine the contractual constitutional compromise made by the framers that allowed for slavery to continue in the United States.

Calhoun and his southern allies pressed vigorously for the expansion of slavery. This constant pressure for expansion contrasted with the growing realization in the North that slavery was fundamentally immoral, and led to the Civil War. But it also resulted in the twisting of American law. More and more Americans came to believe in this positivistic view of law either because they sided with Calhoun in the South, or because they sought a ground for compromise that enabled them to ignore the immorality of slavery as a matter of law.

The foremost advocate against this positivist view of the law was Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln’s speeches he made clear his belief that God has made it possible for us to have knowledge of right and wrong. Lincoln also believed that we had to act on that knowledge and make laws based upon that knowledge rather than upon mere self interest. He recognized that the best laws are always those that are right, not merely those that we think expedient. We should in law treat others the way we ourselves hope to be treated, otherwise we may find ourselves being treated according to the way we have mistreated others. Lincoln “preached” against slavery, using a series of strong but simple natural law arguments. It is true that for practical purposes Lincoln was willing to compromise about slavery’s existence while working for its gradual abolition in the southern states. His main political goal was to prevent the expansion of slavery and to banish the effects of slavery from the northern states and the new federal territories. Because of Lincoln’s practical political approach, many revisionist historians today have tried to say that he was not opposed to slavery. But you can’t actually read the details of his speeches, letters, and statements without concluding that he was, in fact, very much opposed to slavery and to the unequal treatment before the law of individuals based upon race, color, ethnicity and other natural characteristics. Lincoln wanted to end slavery without a civil war or the bankruptcy of the Union. In the end a gradual solution proved unobtainable. By the 13th amendment, Lincoln would have slavery ended in the US even though it took the civil war and the occupation of the South to make it possible.

While Lincoln was pragmatic in seeking solutions, he was extremely principled in his philosophy. Lincoln realized that there could never be a fundamental right to do something that was fundamentally wrong. He also realized that American laws needed to reflect the right as God gives us to see the right. Though political compromise may be necessary, incremental work toward our goal and constant moral opinion and moral pressure toward our goals should always be exercised in the political sphere with the utmost perseverance. Sadly, Lincoln’s approach did not completely succeed. Lincoln won the Civil War, but when Lincoln was assassinated, in the absence of this foremost advocate, Lincoln's approach to jurisprudence slowly went into eclipse. Through the work of men like Oliver Wendell Holmes, the social influence of Darwinist propaganda, and the returning fortunes of the Democrat Party (which was the pro-slavery and anti-civil rights party up until the 1970s) even though the North won the war, southern attitudes about law (i.e. radical positivism) came to dominate both parties, the country, and American jurisprudence. In a very real sense, American law was broken as a result of Lincoln’s assassination.

Following the time of Lincoln, there have been those who believed in the same fundamental principles. To some degree, this would include Teddy Roosevelt. To a large degree, it would include Calvin Coolidge. But no one had the practical influence or the central use of natural law arguments the way Lincoln did. And our courts and law schools ceased to teach a Protestant Reformed view of natural law. Instead, if they used natural law at all, it was not the natural law of the Protestant Reformation but the co-opted and twisted “natural law” of the Sophists of ancient Greece and the Darwinists of the 1800s. It was an excuse for applying evolutionary principles to human law and public policy rather than a heart-felt search for God’s moral order or a recognition of the applicability of that moral order to human affairs.

In a very real sense, American continues to suffer from the effects of condoning slavery. Slavery led to the rise of radical positivism, and radical positivism has had a profound affect on American law encouraging American judges to create rights that not only do not exist in the Constitution, but are contrary to reason and to the laws of God. Today both political parties are dominated by pragmatists and American realists who have little or no interest in natural law except as one of many arguments for legislation. They condone the positivist view of law in the courts. Instead of a question of whether or not American law must correspond to reason, truth, justice and the divine order, we have instead a question of whether or not the “evolution” of law based on “evolving social standards” will be fast (the left) or slow (the so-called strict constructionists). Until the Republican Party reclaims the legacy of Lincoln or until the Democrat Party becomes something other than what it has always been philosophically, American judges are likely to continue to find strange, non-existent rights in the Constitution and to ignore the intents of our founders and legislators in order to carry out their own perceptions of evolving social will. The one thing that may help that happen is if America has more Christian law schools like Trinity that teach students not only about the prevailing positivist and pragmatist views of law, but also argue for the heritage of the Reformation, our founding fathers, and Abraham Lincoln.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Freedom of Speach and Publishing the Unspeakable

Captain Ed at Captains Quarters has a great blog article today about the real meaning of our freedom of speech. See http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/013907.php.

Ed and an NRO article he sites correctly point out that the first amendment merely means the Government is not supposed to interfere with our expression of ideas most of the time. It does not mean private parties, associations, or entities must provide platforms or publication to anybody Though there are some times and places where a private location may become a public forum that cannot be arbitrarily closed to some speech, there is no mandate to help anybody to be heard.

So, there may be reasons for and against risking the costs of inviting liars, enemies, and dangerous demagogues to deceive to audiences at universities, but the First Amendment is not one of them.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Environmental Hypocracy in the City

Why do people cut down trees in the city? I understand people who cut down trees in order to make furniture or paper or baseball bats out of them. But what always puzzles me is that in a society that claims to be so environmentally conscious, that has all sorts of ways of kowtowing to the environmentalists including carbon footprint compensation, etc., why do people needlessly cut down trees that aren’t doing anybody any harm?

At a shopping area near my home there were many lovely large trees. The shopping center cut them all down. Then they planted a number of skinny, scruffy palm trees in their place. This transformed the shopping center from an attractive, pleasant place into an ugly, dry, unattractive place. The additional sunlight highlighted the flaws in the parking area and the facades of the buildings creating an even seedier effect. I suspect that they may have been tired of picking up leaves or worried about the trees making their parking lot lumpy, but considering the cost, difficulty, and time involved in growing a tree—decades—and the beauty and shade that trees provide, I think a few leaves and a little lumpiness is a small price to pay. So it astounded me when they devastated their trees.

We also have someone who lives not far from where I live that had an enormous cedar tree in their front yard. I don’t doubt that they were needlessly worried that the tree might somehow drop branches on their house. I think that, based on the weather we have here and the size and stoutness of the tree, this was singularly unlikely. Nevertheless, they cut the tree back to an 18 ft. tall stump. I think they believed the tree would re-sprout from its decapitated form. But it did not. After a number of years, they made a second foolish decision and chopped up the entire 15 ft. trunk into firewood. Such a monolithic piece of wood could have easily been used by an artist to make some sort of sculpture or statue. Instead, they gave it away as free firewood in large chunks. Everywhere I go in the city I see beautiful trees, but I also see neighborhoods where there were beautiful trees that were needlessly destroyed. These neighborhoods are not as attractive as the neighborhoods with trees. They do not have property values as high as the neighborhoods with trees. And it will take 30 to 40 years for them to ever get back to the state they were in when their old trees were cut down. This needless destruction seems ridiculous and foolish to me. And if people are really concerned about getting rid of carbon dioxide and maintaining the environment, then they should be planting more trees, not chopping down the ones we have.

God, when He created the earth, made mankind a steward of the earth. In the civil law that He gave to the Jewish people, God outlined various provisions for protecting the environment and maintaining sanitation. While people are more important than animals and plants (the environmentalists’ error is thinking the reverse), they are nevertheless important and God will call to account those who needlessly destroy and deface His creation without any real benefit for their fellow man. While I am no radical environmentalist, I would ask you, please think twice before you cut down that really large tree in your front yard simply because you’re unhappy about the leaves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Chimeras

A few weeks ago it was announced that England would allow medical research efforts to create chimeras—creatures that are part human and part animal. This was going to be accomplished by attempting to clone human DNA placed in an animal egg. The animal egg would be taken from the animal and its DNA removed, the human DNA inserted, and an electrical stimulation applied in an attempt to create a clone. The clones would then be used for research purposes.

As I have indicated here already, cloning of human beings in and of itself is morally objectionable. First, it creates an unconscionable risk to the human subject created for the research, and second, the current plan is to destroy all of these embryos in research. In other words, we are creating human beings for their destruction in scientific research—a most heinous thing to do. While it is perfectly reasonable to use money and things to try to help the human medical condition, it is not proper to use the lives of other human beings in order to further our medical knowledge or well being. As Leon Kass has pointed out, it says something about a society that is willing to destroy a future generation in order to prolong the lives of the present generation. Then on top of this whole problem of cloning, you have the problem of creating a being that is part human and part animal. This creates another level of moral complication.

In the first chapters of Genesis, God makes it abundantly clear in the narrative about creation that human beings and animals are not the same kind of thing. Human beings are created in the image of God. They had a special, unique creation event in which God breathed the spirit of life into the human being. All human beings are in the continuity of that original breath of life. To intermingle an animal with a human is to denigrate the image of God, to cheapen it, to lessen it, to disregard it. Throughout the Mosaic Law, God has many somewhat inexplicable passages in which He seeks to have the Israelite people maintain certain kinds of organizational purity. He does not allow them to mix various kinds of threads like cotton and wool in order to make hybrid clothing fabrics. He does not allow them to eat a calf that has been cooked in the milk that God gave to the calf’s mother to provide nourishment to the calf. Surely these rules were not given for the sake of fabrics or foods, but rather they are deeply symbolic of something else—of God’s desire to create in the Jewish people a respect for God’s design and the purposes for which things were created within that design. Mixing human and animal in the way that scientists do when they create chimeras is disregarding God’s created order. It is combining two things that are different for principled and significant reasons. I don’t think God would take any great offense, for example, at the creation of pluots which combine apricots and plums. But I do think that combining human beings and cows is definitely more morally problematic. In addition, as the Evangelical Outpost has pointed out in a recent post, what is going to be the future attitude toward these creatures if they are raised to survive? Will we create a new race of slaves—creatures who exist to be used by us rather than for their own sake or for God’s glory?


It is amazing the degree to which the kinds of experiments that were the subject of horror films and shocking science fiction fantasies of the past are now regarded as mundane academic pursuits. Stories about scientists creating beings that were part human and part animal a mere 20 years ago would have been regarded as sensational science fiction about “mad” scientists. Yet a mere generation later, we do not even raise an eyebrow about this sort of thing provided that we have the ideological bribe of a possible medical breakthrough to heal some disease or lengthen our lives—even if the breakthrough is never really delivered. Have we no shame? Do we see no limits? Does the hubris of scientism know no bounds?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Switzerland and Islam

As elections are approaching in Switzerland, Swiss parties are proposing serious measures to minimize the Islamification of Switzerland. They have come under some fire from the European press for these proposals. One of them mentioned in a May 28, 2007, BBC article involves a referendum to ban the construction of minarets. One Swiss party official is quoted as saying that minarets represent an aggressive and militant Islam and sharia law itself.

In Switzerland there are already architectural controls—just like in many American planned communities. Buildings in Switzerland have to look Swiss. Minarets are not considered a “Swiss” architectural feature. The Swiss politicians have also suggested legislation to the effect that the building of mosques in Switzerland should be banned until evidence is provided that Islamic countries allow the building of Christian churches. Similarly, they have suggested that so long as Islamic countries ban the ringing of Christian church bells, Switzerland is justified in forbidding the use of calls to prayer by mosques. Such calls for reciprocity may be one way of ensuring that freedom of religion is not a one way street that benefits Islam while Islamic countries refuse to allow freedom to Christians. On the other hand, it is important to make sure that we continue to justify true religious freedom. Repressive measures against Muslims could some day be used to justify repressive measures against Christians. So balance of reason and sensibility is clearly called for. The Swiss approach certainly appears to be a creative attempt at striking a different balance.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Trouble Sprouts in Brussels

Supposedly the European Union is concerned about peoples’ human rights. In theory, the right of peaceful protest and petition is an important human right. In practice, the capital of the European Union seems happy to ignore that right. The mayor of Brussels banned a request for a peaceful demonstration on September 11th to commemorate the victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and to object to the islamification of Europe. When 200 Belgians gathered calmly and peacefully despite the ban, the police were called out and forcefully attacked and arrested a number of leaders within the demonstration. (Hat tip to Cranmer) You might wonder why in the heart of the European Union people cannot peacefully demonstrate against Muslim terror. The answer might be in part that Brussels is currently run by a mayor who belongs to a Socialist Party caucus with ten Muslim members out of a total membership of 17. Some people have complained that threats of Islam taking over in Europe are terrible exaggerations. It appears that they are late underestimates. The Belgian police beating up peaceful demonstrators in an extremely violent manner is only one more reason why the countries currently engaged in the European Union really ought to rethink their geo-political strategy and purpose before it is too late.

The University of California Irvine Debacle

The University of California Irvine has wanted to establish a state-run law school at their campus for a number of years. But they had run into various red and yellow lights but had finally broken through all of the barriers and were sprinting toward opening the law school when they fell afoul this most recent difficulty involving their choice for a dean.

The University of California Irvine had chosen Erwin Chemerinsky to be their new dean. Chemerinsky is one of the best-known legal scholars in the United States today. He is also probably one of the most liberal legal scholars in the United States today. His ideology is decidedly left wing. On the other hand though, Chemerinsky is eminently qualified for the job. He is a brilliant man. He is extremely nice, extremely personable, very dedicated, servant-like, friendly, and accessible. He is exactly the sort of person who is likely to raise millions of dollars for the university and to be able to attract and hold intelligent faculty and students. But after offering him the job and obtaining a signed contract on September 4th, the chancellor of the University of California Irvine withdrew the job offer on September 5th. The chancellor has indicated that he believes Chemerinsky’s views are “polarizing” and would not serve the best interests of the law school at Irvine. While he denies being concerned about donations, it is undoubtedly the case that the chancellor is worried that conservative and libertarian philanthropists in Orange County will not continue to support the school (which they have been doing with vast sums of money) if a liberal dean like Chemerinsky were chosen. What’s odd is that the University of California Irvine should have realized that long before they made Chemerinsky an offer. If that’s what they were worried about, they should have directed their job search differently to begin with. But then I suspect that the real problem for them is not that they don’t want a liberal dean, but rather that they didn’t want the appearance of having a liberal dean.

The vast majority of modern American law schools produce lawyers who in one way or another accept the worldviews of radical liberalism or post-modernism. Naturally, strong-willed students can resist and maintain their own opinions, but the schools educate people in a transformative way that tends to make them into the kind of people who believe what liberals believe even if they’re determined to fight against it. State schools are, of course, often the worst about this since they have no guiding worldview or ideology to prevent them from drifting into the dominant liberalism and post-modernism of our age.

I have no doubt that even if the law school does not obtain Chemerinsky as their dean, they will probably almost certainly pick a dean who believes most of the same things about the law and about the world. If the conservative donors of Orange County believe in standard American legal education, they might as well go for Chemerinsky because he is eminently qualified for the job and a wonderful person. They are not likely to get anybody who is truly more conservative except as a matter of superficial views on individual issues. If the donors of Orange County really are opposed to creating lawyers in the mold of Erwin Chemerinsky and other left-wing activists, what they need to do is give money to schools like Trinity Law School that have a Statement of Faith and a worldview that genuinely supports a moral, conservative, freedom-loving view of law, government, and public policy. It would be far more effective for them to build up Trinity to be a first class ABA school or to try to influence some of the other existing law schools in Orange County than to think that they can have a conservative, state-owned and state-operated law school at what is already one of the more liberal, post-modern universities in the United States.

On another level, what the university did was really wrong. When they had already selected Chemerinsky and agreed to give him a contract, they should have been willing to abide by the logical and predictable results of what they had been planning to do for some period of time. It is unbelievable to think that they would not know Chemerinsky’s record, prominence, and stand on the issues. He is one of the few liberal scholars in the United States identifiable to many lay people. In addition, because the University of California is a state run school, they don’t really have any business discriminating based on Chemerinsky’s political views. In every measurable way that the California government would allow the university to evaluate Chemerinsky, he is an ideal choice. In the end, the University of California Irvine should have kept Chemerinsky for their law school, and the conservative donors of Orange County should have given their money to a different kind of institution altogether anyway.

UPDATE: It appears UCI is going to rehire Chemerinski.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What I Believe Lawyers Should Believe

Here is a list of the ideas I would like to see lawyers believe. They are not original, but come from the ideas of a whole host of writers and philosophers and statesmen. At Trinity Law School, an evangelical protestant Christian law school, we do our best, not only to teach the law and legal thinking as they are, but also to present these ideas to the students in a persuasive way.

a. Lawyers should be professionals whose practice improves the public perception of the profession, earns the confidence of their clients, and brings glory to God.
b. Lawyers should be collegial, and engage their peers with respect and professionalism even if they think their peers fall short of those standards. Lawyers should engage the culture of the law in the Bar, in the courtroom and in the classroom. They should not separate themselves from mainstream legal culture – instead they should reform and improve it.
c. Lawyers should engage the culture.
d. Lawyers should be professionals who serve their clients by counseling them about moral implications and human costs of conduct, not just the arguable legality of conduct. Lawyers themselves should practice law in a way that is above reproach – in contrast to the view that lawyers can do whatever is not clearly illegal.
e. It is appropriate for Christians to act as advocates in the legal system, even for parties that are guilty or in the wrong, provided that they are honest with the court and with their client, and do not knowingly participate in the offering of false testimony. In representing blameworthy clients the believing attorney, as a fellow sinner saved by God’s grace, has the opportunity to be an instrument of God’s mercy and grace. But, Christians should not file or maintain lawsuits they know to be frivolous.
f. Christians need to be loving, merciful, empathetic, and polite, as well as just, especially in the legal and political realms.
g. All human beings are created in the image of God. As such they should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of status, origin, race, or conduct. All human beings should be seen as equal before the law in the sense that the law applies in the same way to them all, all are imperfect sinners, and all are entitled to appropriate due process. Lawyers should seek real due process of law for all, but should not seek special privileges or protections for genuine evil doers. Nor should lawyers advocate laws designed to shelter real evil from the reach of the law or the disapproval of society.
h. Human laws should not impose burdens that people cannot bear.
i. Human law should not forbid all that is immoral or require all that is moral. Because we all violate God’s moral law all the time, human laws cannot be coextensive with God’s moral law. For example, God’s law deals with our thoughts and feelings. Human laws should only prohibit specific external acts or omissions – not thoughts or feelings (though wrongful intent evidenced by action may be taken into account by human law; e.g. malice).
j. Human law should have respect for victims and should require, when practical, that the perpetrators of crimes make restitution to the known victims of the crime.
k. Human laws and constitutions should be interpreted in much the same way as the Bible – to give effect to the law’s intent – not the whims and evolving desires of the interpreter or culture. Words actually have meanings and the mischiefs laws are passed to correct are discoverable. The plane meaning of a text and the purposes of the authors provide guidance which should be followed. If you want a new subjective Constitutional right, try to amend the Constitution – do not claim it says what it does not say.
l. Human laws should be interpreted with the presumption that the law is meant to work justice with mercy – not to create new harms.
m. Human government exists to promote good and punish evil. Laws to use government to promote moral evils or to seriously limit our liberty to choose among objectively moral goods are illegitimate and should be changed rather than enforced.
n. Human laws should be reasonable, for the common good, and within the limits of timeless objective moral principles known to all people through God’s general and special revelation. Such limits do not violate the First Amendment – they are part of the Natural Law that gives the First Amendment the force and authority it possesses.
o. The subjects of some human laws concern matters, that while implicating the common good, are morally indifferent. It must be recognized that while feelings and arguments on these matters may be intense, they are not in the same category as laws directly dealing with things moral or immoral. Additional deference is due to opponents in such areas of argument. There is not an inherently “Christian” position on policies concerning indifferent matters like statutes of limitation or choices of armaments even if there may be good reasons to adopt one approach over another.
p. Human government cannot solve all human problems. In trying to solve some problems government occasionally creates worse problems. But government has an obligation to protect the weak, to aid the genuinely oppressed, and to restrain evil, all through the rule of law.
q. No objective right can exist to do a moral wrong, though some real objective rights may make it more difficult to police criminal acts.
r. Even when human laws are stupid or obnoxious or illegitimate we generally obey them until we can have them changed, unless they command what God forbids or forbid what God commands, in which case opposition to the offending law is necessary. If the legal means of change are not available, in some cases civil disobedience may be necessary and appropriate as part of a concerted strategy to change bad laws that do not go so far as to command what God forbids or to forbid what God commands. But care and wisdom must be used in determining when such civil disobedience is appropriate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Political Satire from John Mark Reynolds

I do not always agree with the brilliant Biola Professor John Mark Reynolds, but his political satire pieces on the new movement for "political nonalignment" by Christians are very very funny and very to the point. The articles are http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2007/08/01/lose-ten-commandments-for-evangelical-leaders-in-politics/ and http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2007/08/02/god-is-not-a-man-or-a-woman-so-we-shouldnt-be-either/.

Hat tip to Contrarian Views and Evangelical Outpost.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What to think about Universal Health Care?

Health care is an important issue. Cancer Doctor Vance Esler deals with some of the issues involved with universal coverage at his blog This Wasn't in the Plan. See for example http://vesler.blogspot.com/2007/08/healing-our-sicko-health-care-system.html and http://vesler.blogspot.com/2007/08/medicare-against-research-coverage.html.

Book Review: Cyril Barber's The Dynamics of Effective Leadership: Learning from Nehemiah


I recently had the very happy experience of reading Cyril Barber’s commentary on the book of Nehemiah, the title appearing above in the heading for this blog article. Barber’s book is both a superior commentary on Nehemiah and a superior leadership primer.

Barber fails to fall into the pitfall that many pastors fall into with respect to the book of Nehemiah. He does not see Nehemiah as an allegory of church building programs or an allegory of improvement of the soul. Instead, he takes the book at face value and sees the quite literal leadership style and characteristics of Nehemiah as something we can learn from. His insights into what makes a good leader are excellent and not your run-of-the-mill trendy stuff.

Barber comes to the discussion of leadership with a biblical worldview instead of the dominant secularist worldview. He is open to the lessons the Bible actually teaches rather than overlaying upon it what Harvard Business School or Madison Avenue might think. But that is not to say that Barber’s views are not practical. They are extremely practical and noteworthy.

Barber lays out the profile of Nehemiah verse by verse and then summarizes in the end the major conclusions that he has reached from the biblical example. Barber notes that an effective leader needs to have integrity. “He must possess a brightness of character and soundness of moral principles. He must know and stand for what is right—even in the face of popular disfavor.”

Barber notes that a good leader also needs conviction. He analyzes and shows that this conviction is founded on our faith in God and requires both confidence in ourselves and courage. Loyalty, stability, and concern for others are the other major characteristics that Barber identifies. Rounding out the characteristics of a good leader are discernment, motivation, and tact. But Barber does not see tact as the notion of telling people what they want to hear, but rather he notes that true tact must be founded upon truth.

Barber also analyzes the principles of sound leadership including knowledgeability, ability to maintain moral, and setting an example.

We also have some interesting observations along the way. For example he notes this about freedom: “Political freedom is based on spiritual freedom. When spiritual freedom is sacrificed through the toleration of evil, it inevitably results in oppression and the demise of moral standards. To counteract these trends, we need a return to the Word of God (see Nehemiah 8), then by submitting ourselves to it, and confessing our failures and shortcomings, we can begin to walk in a path of obedience, righteousness, and true holiness. Out of a spirit of genuine renewal, there comes a spiritual, social, and national freedom.”

In other passages that provide practical advice for leaders, Barber discusses how Nehemiah dealt with the task faced by middle managers—how to deal with criticism, how to deal with gossip, and how to deal with opposition from both within and without.

Nehemiah is a model leader and Barber has done a model job in expounding that model to us through his book, The Dynamics of Effective Leadership: Learning from Nehemiah.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jesus Divinity

At Cranmer an apparent Muslim has inquired about my claim that Jesus is God. She says he did not claim to be God. I replied that He did, both in word and deed. Apart from the many passages in the New Testament where others identify him as God, Jesus himself did make such a claim.

Here are my elaborations on Jesus claims to divinity in word and deed.

Here is a link with lots of articles on Jesus divinity: http://www.loveliftedme.com/site/OurMinistry/StudyResources/TheologyDeityofChrist/tabid/154/Default.aspx.

Also let me lay out a few of the many passages that support Jesus claim to be God.

First, we have claims made by action. Jesus did many things only God can do. You could say he did them in the power of God, but they are the sort of things that testify to who Jesus was. The similar miracles done by Jesus followers have been done “In Jesus Name” – in other words through Jesus authority. Jesus raised the dead (Matthew 9:18 – 26, Luke 7:12 – 17, John 11:1 – 44), made or healed human eyes out of mud (John 9:6 – 7), forgave sins (Mark 2:5 – 12, Luke 5:17 – 26), and created bread and fish to feed thousands (Mark 6:30 – 44).

Jesus accepted Peter’s statement that he was the “Son of the living God”, a statement that made Jesus divine if true. See Matthew 16:16 – 17. Jesus also accepted worship (Matthew 14:33, 28:9, 17, 16 – 20, Luke 19:35 – 40, John 9:38). Only God has a right to do this. You cannot claim Jesus is not God, but is a nice holy man if he accepted the worship due only to God alone.

Jesus claimed to be God’s son, as well as to be God. See John 1:49, 3:10 – 21, 5: 16 – 47, 8:12 – 36, The Jews of the time clearly understood that sonship implied being the same thing as the father – so Jesus claim to be God’s son was a claim to be God. See John 5:18.

Jesus also referred to himself by the term that only God spoke of himself. It was forbidden to utter the name in Hebrew culture. Yet Jesus says I AM – YHWH – of himself. See John 8:58 – 59. The Jewish leaders knew what this meant and tried to stone Jesus for claiming to be God.

Jesus also claimed to be God through riddles. Jesus implied he had lived from eternity. Job 19:25 already said there would be a “redeemer” who was alive in Job’s time and who would stand upon the earth at the resurrection. Jesus said he existed before Abraham. See John 8:49 – 59. He also pointed out that David called the Messiah “my Lord.” See Mark 12:35 – 37, Luke 20:41 – 44. How could this be since the Messiah would be David’s son? Only if the Messiah was the incarnate God/Man of the Christian trinity.

Before any of this happened, the Old Testament predicted that a man, the Messiah, would also be God – “mighty God, everlasting father.” See Isaiah 9:6 – 7. So none of this should really be a surprise to anybody really paying attention.