Thursday, October 07, 2010


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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legal Change in Moses Time

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 09, 2010

Luther on our Treasure in Christ

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

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Perry v. Schwarzenegger, post II

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Test the Prophets

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Complexity of Legal Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cornerstone and Capstone

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Return to the Classroom

After much consideration, I have decided that I am going to return to teaching full time and leave my administrative duties as Dean. My last day as Dean will be June 30th, 2010. Being Dean of TLS has been rewarding and challenging. During the last five years, the TLS team has been able to work together to achieve many things:

Increased enrollment to its highest level

Expanded its position as a Christian law school with aggressive marketing through videos, blogs, heralded radio commercials, and the most successful print materials ever used for the law school

Achieved its highest overall bar pass rate since a statistically significant number of students were taking the exam

Renewed its California Bar and Higher Learning Commission accreditation without external supervision or extra reports

Revised and improved the curriculum

Hired all current full time and most current part-time law faculty

Managed a balanced budget each year with an aggregate surplus of income over expenses around one million dollars

Received over $479,000 in gifts

Expanded the law school's mission

Hosted the successful God and Governing Conference

Opened an internship program for Pacific Justice Institute on campus

Opened a legal clinic at the Orange County Rescue Mission

Hosted speeches by over a dozen nationally known speakers

I have to admit I am thankful to give up the stress and tension of being Dean in favor of getting back to the writing, research, and teaching that I enjoy most.

I am also happy to announce that Professor Myron Steeves has accepted the offer to serve as interim Dean of Trinity Law School effective July 1, 2010. Professor Steeves has been a valuable member of the law school family since 1992, serving as an adjunct professor and - currently - as Director of Development and Alumni Relations. Please provide Dean Steeves with your support and pray for him, that God would bless his time as Dean and guide him as he leads Trinity Law School.

It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve God and all of the Trinity community in the role of Dean of the law school. I am very thankful to have had your prayers and encouragement throughout these five years. I look forward to continuing to serve God and the Trinity community as a full time faculty member once again.

Very Truly Yours,

Donald R. McConnell

Monday, May 31, 2010 radio show on sacrifice and the Chrsitian Life Radio Show - Sacrifice and the Christian Life with Donald McConnell and Doug Eaton: A Memorial Day Special

Click on the title or cut and paste the link.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Guide to Basic Ideas #5: Death

We mentioned in the last entry that mankind’s fall into sin disrupted both every part of mankind and the physical itself. One of the results was that death entered the world. According to the scriptures, before mankind entered into sin, there was no death. This is undoubtedly difficult for modern man to accept since he expects to see the universe functioning in a mechanistic way and expects to see physical evidence to confirm such radical ideas. However, we don’t know how long the world existed without death, nor do we know exactly when these events occurred. Nor do we know all of the physical processes that have created the appearance of distance or time between us and the events of Genesis. We have ideas, but we can’t fully reconstruct what happened. In part because we were not there, in part because we cannot reconstruct what happened, and in part because God is a volitional actor of infinite power not a lab rat that can be put into an experimental maze and made to perform at will. The bible teaches that death entered the world through the sin of mankind. This death is both physical and spiritual. Human being’s bodies not only die, but human being’s, because of their rebellion against God, eventually suffer judgment and separation from God. The bible teaches that this involves eternal torment. While that may seem highly unpleasant or undesirable to us, it is completely just. God has behaved toward mankind in an incredibly loving, merciful, and gracious manner. Yet human beings rebel against God and behave selfishly, greedily, and sinfully almost from their very conception. God, through the provision He made in Jesus Christ, has made every opportunity for us to come back to Him. Through general revelation, He has revealed the way the world works, our sin, and our need for Him. Yet most human beings still reject all of this and do not seek God. God has to come out and find us and drag us almost kicking and screaming into His kingdom. God’s sentence of death is just and reasonable under the circumstances even though we as opposing parties to this judgment at times find that difficult to accept. God, in His mercy, has made it possible for us to avoid eternal death and to obtain eternal life. God has promised to resurrect to eternal joy and happiness those who are willing to accept His provisions in Christ. More on that will follow. It is interesting that the resurrection that God promises is a resurrection of human beings with bodies as well as a spirit or soul. We will continue to have a material and an immaterial element in eternity. This is another reason why Plato is wrong in thinking that only spirit is good.
The bible says it is appointed to man once to die and then the judgment. People who believe in reincarnation believe something completely incompatible with the biblical worldview. Every human being has only one life, dies, and then will face God’s judgment with a resurrection to eternal life or a resurrection to eternal suffering. There is no do-over. No human being is reincarnated or has any past or future life ahead of them except for the eternal life in Christ or the eternal life apart from God following the judgment. There certainly are some people who have an affinity for the past. I certainly feel that way myself. I can easily see that in many ways I am more of a pre-modern person than a post-modern person. But I never lived before 1960. I am not reincarnated from any prior person. Neither is anyone else. This basic teaching of Christianity is important because it means we have to get things right the first time around. There is no second chance. So, we try as hard as we can to persuade people to respond to God and to accept his mercy and grace.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Basic Ideas 4: Where Plato was Wrong

If you’ve read my blog you’ll notice that I’m an admirer of many of the ideas of Plato provided that they are reinterpreted to match the Christian worldview. However, there were areas where Plato was seriously wrong. One of these areas has to do with Creation. As Nancy Pearcey discusses in greater detail in her book Total Truth Plato believed that spirit and matter had both preexisted eternally and that spirit was associated with goodness and order and matter was associated with evil, intractability, and insufficiency. This simply isn’t the case. And Plato’s view led to a variety of negative results, especially in the Middle Ages. The emphasis of some early Christians on asceticism and the rise of the monastic movement as an ascetic phenomena as well as the improper belief that full time preaching of the gospel, either as a missionary or a pastor, is somehow the only really holy occupation or vocation are all negative fallout that came the idea the spiritual is good and the material is bad. Pearcey describes Plato’s view led to a “two-story” view of reality in which spirituality was superior and material or worldly things were inferior.
The biblical view of reality contrasts sharply with this idea. When God created the heavens and the earth He created them out of nothing. Matter is not eternal and did not exist before God created it. This ought to be obvious from a scientific point of view because what we know about matter now is that it simply isn’t the sort of thing that can be around for an eternity. If the universe had been around for an infinite period of time, it would already be cold and atoms would be equally spaced out in the emptiness of space. This is because universes run down. They become less organized and lose energy as time goes by. All matter behaves this way. Happily, God is not matter and God is the sort of thing that can exist eternally, indeed outside of time. God created time and the time space continuum as well as matter. Matter has been under His total and complete control from the very beginning. When God created the universe, He pronounced it to be good. Later, because of human sin, evil entered into the world and that evil brought about by human sin resulted in the world experiencing futility. When God created the world it was good, but after mankind sinned God cursed the world and it began to function in an imperfect way. Instead of merely bearing edible fruits and seeds, some plants began to bear poisonous thorns and to create toxic chemicals. Instead of animals living on the herbs of the field, some animals began to live by eating other animals. The entire way the world functions was affected as a result of mankind’s fall into sin. Naturally the greatest effect was on mankind himself. Human sin affects every part of our being. It does affect our material bodies, and it also affects our immaterial soul or spirit. Escaping from sin does not merely involve escaping from matter. It requires an escape from our immaterial personage as well or the transformation of that personage. As a result, we can’t escape from sin by merely avoiding certain things or having an ascetic lifestyle. Instead, the only escape from sin is through the transforming power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We’ll talk more about that later. For now, it’s enough to point out that Plato was incorrect in believing that the material world was inherently evil because of its materiality. By contrast, Aristotle was also in a sense in error in acting as though the material world was entirely good and that every impulse, act, or pattern within that world was always for the good and fully in accord with the design and purpose of each thing. Thomas Aquinas, though he does talk about sin, sometimes seems to over emphasize the goodness of the natural world when he discusses the function and design of mankind and the elements of the natural world. Plato went too far one way, Aristotle and Aquinas went too far in the other in not taking into account the effects of the fall.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Basic Ideas Post 3: Words

You may have noticed that when we talk about basic ideas, we’re using words. You may also have noticed that in talking about the Bible as a source of fundamental knowledge, this also involves words since the Bible is a book written using words. Furthermore, we called it God’s words. If you haven’t noticed, the God of the Bible is a very verbal being. In creation, many of God’s acts of creation are described as speaking. God spoke the world into existence. He spoke something out of nothing. The Hebrew tradition concerning the Ten Commandments isn’t to call them the Ten Commandments; it’s to call them the ten words. In the scriptural account, it appears that God created Adam and Eve with knowledge of language. They didn’t invent language or discover it; they simply awoke talking and thinking in words. They were able to communicate with God and each other in words. Of course, Genesis also explains at the Tower of Babel, the Divine origin of the confusion and multiplicity of languages. Throughout the Bible, God seems quite unconcerned with the fact that language is a useful medium for his revelation. It appears that he takes it quite for granted that while words might have some ambiguity in the fallen human mind, they are more than an effective way to communicate. God also describes Jesus as the Word of God or the Divine Logos, a word that means more than word, also logic, reason, argument, order etc. But it does also mean word. When the prophets speak in the Bible, they often say “the word of the LORD” or “the word of the LORD came to so and so” or “proclaim the word of the LORD” and such phrases. There is constantly an emphasis on word, or words, or messages from God in human language.

The postmodern person who thinks that language is a human invention, or the nominalist, a person who doesn’t believe that universals exist, all this reliance on language as a way of trying to communicate truths that are allegedly objective could be a bit troubling. But it really shouldn’t be. I believe the traditional answer of Christian theologians and Augustine in particular suffices. God created human beings in His image. Part of this creation of humans in His image is that, like him, human beings are verbal beings. We are able to understand language and express ourselves in language. Furthermore, the language that we understand is not purely referential. We don’t merely have words for things we can point to and see. We also have words for things we can’t ever see but yet we know what they mean. Words like justice, freedom, unity, truth, beauty, property, negligence, agreement, consideration, law, justification, mercy, tenderness. All these words are what we call universals, that is, words that everyone seems to know and understand the meaning of but that no one has ever seen in their pure form, that is, unless perhaps you have seen God. It is also the tradition of Augustine and many other Christian theologians that the positive universals are embodied in God himself. As Plato said, and we’ve mentioned before, God is preeminently the measure of all things. He is the origin of language and the origin of the meaning of the universals. The positive universals in one way or another describe aspects of God. For this reason, while they each have a distinctive core meaning, the meaning of positive universals tends to get fuzzy the more broadly you examine them. It’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes between righteousness and justice, or beauty and goodness and while each of them is distinctive, they tend to blend together at the edges. This is because God is one and you can’t really divide Him up into pieces or sections. And yet, all of these words find their referential in God’s character, personality, and nature. Negative universals are those things that find their opposite or find their meaning by being unlike God such as evil, hatred, bitterness, envy, and other sins and destructive impulses, emotions, and ideas.

Now, in saying this, we’re not saying that human’s understanding of language is perfect. Our understanding and use of language was affected by our fall into sin, just like every other aspect of our personalities. But language is still practical for working purposes. While it may take a lot of discussion for us to come to an agreement about justice, we all, more or less, know it when we see it, provided that we’re honest with ourselves and others. We often times want to redefine justice in order to justify ourselves or to make a complicated concept simpler than it really is. While there have been many attempts by philosophers to define words like justice, they fail. It simply isn’t possible to provide a perfect definition of any universal in words, deeds, examples, or concrete reference other than by reference to God himself. And yet we can talk about what those universals mean in various aspects. So, while many definitions of justice may tell us something about justice itself – Socrates idea that justice is doing your work excellently and minding your own business – Plato’s idea that justice is living by what we know of the divine – Aristotle’s idea that justice is giving to everyone according to their deserve – or Justinian’s three fold concept of justice that includes hurting no one and rendering to everyone his due – are all good, but are not the last word in Justice. For the last word on Justice we have to look to the Word of God Himself.

Monday, April 05, 2010

10 Tips for looking for a legal job after law school

1. Learn the common areas of practice.

When you apply for a legal job, the lawyers interviewing you will ask you what areas of practice you’re interested in. Of course, the optimal answer is that you’re interested in the very area of practice that they themselves work on and are hiring an associate to help them with. So in order to properly answer this question you have to first find out what the common practice areas are. Legal practice is divided into a variety of unofficial practice areas. Lawyers usually concentrate on cases within a particular practice area or a couple of practice areas. Sometimes, sole practitioners will do some things in several different practice areas but most lawyers find comfort in sticking to a definite practice area. What are the major practice areas? Here are a few: criminal prosecution; criminal defense; insurance defense law (representing defendants in personal injury cases where you are hired by the insurance company for the defendant); plaintiff’s personal injury; real estate transactions; real estate litigation; entrepreneurial business practice; corporate business practice; securities law; entertainment law; wills, trusts, and estate; intellectual property; mergers and acquisitions; maritime law (in which there are sub-practice areas of plaintiff’s personal injury, insurance defense, cargo loss, and some even more esoteric divisions); tax law; environmental law; bankruptcy law; and workers compensation law. There are other areas, but these are the most common.

2. Decide what you can do and what you love to do.

Once you know the practice areas, the next important question is: in which practice areas is it reasonable for you to believe you can get a job? And of those practice areas, what do you really love doing? It may be that in the beginning you’ll have to be happy doing something like insurance defense cases that focus on auto accidents even though your real desire is to be a specialist in products liability law. If the area you love and the area you can reasonably get into are two different things, try to pick something close to what you love. People are most effective in their work when they enjoy it. So what do I mean by asking what you can do? For example, many of the firms that do mergers and acquisitions law are large, powerful, corporate law firms that only accept graduates from the top of the class in the top law schools. As a result, unless you’re able to find a smaller firm in a smaller city that does mergers and acquisitions work, it may not be reasonable to think you can get into that practice easily if you’re from a small law school or were not in the top of your class.

3. Find the firms that engage in the practice areas you want to target.

There is a lot of information about law firms and what they do on the internet. It is also worthwhile to talk to people and network to find firms that have particular practices. Knowing someone in a firm is often the best way to find information about a viable job. Look for as many firms as possible since you will probably have to talk to more than 100 firms to find a job in a tight market like the one that currently exists.

4. Research the target firms.

To be successful in a legal interview, it not only helps to be a good candidate, but to know as much as possible about the firm you’re interested in. You especially need to know their practice areas. If you know what their partners do, where they went to school, what interests they have, and what published cases they may have been involved with or what major litigation they have been involved in, you can ask and answer questions intelligently and you have a chance of demonstrating to the firm that you picked them because you really are interested in their particular practice, not because you’re merely applying to every law firm in Southern California.

5. Write a good resume and cover letter.

You need to explain in your cover letter what kind of job you’re looking for and why. What attracted you to this particular firm? In your resume you need to present personal information about yourself, your education, and your job experience that demonstrates you have the qualities that a law firm would be looking for in a potential candidate. That would include things like proof that you know how to work hard, proof that you’re intelligent, that you’re capable of thinking on your feet, that you’re a good legal researcher, that you know how to write, that you’re good with public relations, that you have an excellent memory, etc. It is definitely worth getting advice from someone in the legal field about your resume and cover letter to be sure it meets with the expectations of the industry. In addition, you must carefully proofread the resume and the cover letter. Many many people have failed to obtain jobs because of spelling errors or errors in spacing or consistency in their resume. When employers are making a snap judgment of who to interview by going through hundreds of resumes, small difference make a big impact. You also don’t want your resume to be ugly, too plain, or too ostentatious. You want a resume that is businesslike and well-balanced. It should be appealing to the eye and provide the information the reader wants quickly and easily.

6. Send your resume and cover letter to as many target firms as possible.

In particular look for firms that are advertising openings. The daily newspaper provides a list of law firm classified ads at the back in every daily issue. Firms also sometimes advertise online. Word of mouth, though, is probably the best way to find an opening. Don’t be skimpy in the number of firms you apply to. The more you apply to, the more likely it is that you’ll get a job.

7. Follow up on your letter.

You need to find out who in the firm is responsible for hiring decisions or who that person’s secretary is. Follow up with the secretary to be sure your letter and resume were received and to find out what, if anything, the next step would be.

8. Be persistent.

Hard work pays off in seeking a job. Don’t nag the people who you’re applying to, but make sure that you apply to many places and that you follow up with each of them.

9. Network.

As I’ve mentioned above, a personal contact is the best way to get a job. When you’re looking for a job, you shouldn’t only do the things mentioned above. You should get involved with networks which may lead you to a job source. Join chapters of the local county bar association, especially chapters that deal with the practice area in which you are interested. If you’re a conservative or libertarian, it doesn’t hurt to become a member of the federalist society. If you’re a believer, you may want to join your local Christian legal society chapter. Having attorneys as friends may help you get a job and may also give you an opportunity to refer cases to someone, to obtain referrals, and to occasionally get advice and help. The best way to make friends is to be a friend. If you talk to others, listen to them, and encourage them, they may be able to help you as well.

10. Be positive and thankful.

In the brutal world of looking for work it’s easy to feel bitter. But any kind of bitterness, resentment, or unthankfulness will show on your face and make you look bad to potential employers. You need to remain positive and thankful for whatever it is that you have and the opportunities that you face. Prayer is an important part of any job search. Knowing Jesus Christ is the one thing that can help you be positive and thankful throughout the unpleasantness of the job search experience.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Basic Ideas, Post 2

In A Guide to Basic Ideas post 1, I advocated the notion that God is the foundation of all truth and that in order to truly know, one must accept Him. I quoted Augustine and Anselm who said we must believe in order to understand. But, while significant, our natural knowledge of God is not really enough considering how dimmed by sin our will and faculties have become. In order to know not only that there is a God, but to confirm to our dim understanding what we should already be able to deduce about his nature and plans but usually do not, we need his written revelation: the Bible. I don’t doubt that the acceptance of a postulate that is over 1000 pages long and many printings will be a difficult pill to swallow for many people. But if we are trying to establish truth and create a system of ideas that will last, we must believe the scriptures in order to understand the universe. Once again, this cannot be an instrumentalist relationship either. The scriptures must be accepted for the sake of God not merely for the sake of human knowledge.
The Bible is a self authenticating divine message. The Bible itself claims to be inspired by God and to have authority as a communication from God that is full of specific communications from God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” 2 Peter 1:21 says that the prophecies of the Old Testament did not come “by the impulse of man” but “men knew by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” There are also the times when Jesus attributes words in the Old Testament scripture written by the authors of the Old Testament to God himself such as Matthew 1:21 and Matthew 19:5. The same thing is done in the book of Acts in Acts 1:16, and by implication, in Acts 2:16-17. There are also the many passages in the Old Testament and the New where it describes God himself as speaking or says Thus sayeth the LORD. I could go on and on. If you’re interested in the details, you should consult a good systematic theology treatise like Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology or Gordon Clark’s book God’s Hammer: the Bible and its critics. So the Bible claims for itself to be a divinely inspired communication. When we read the Bible we are also convinced of its claims and convinced that its words are a communication from God. Just as God cannot be proved, neither can his words be proved in an ultimate objective sense of being forced to receive them. But when we are confronted with the truths in the scriptures, if we seek the truth with an open mind we will be convinced by the Holy Spirit that the Bible’s claims to be God’s words are accurate. The Bible is systematically consistent and fits the facts. It meets the needs of the human condition. The apologist Carnel made these points in a very persuasive way. We can also see, in looking at the scriptures, that it claims to be a set of eye witness accounts. It is not written in the once-upon-a-time manner of fairy stories or myths. The Bible claims to be set of descriptions of events in time and space as well as poetry and prophetic literature. The Bible is full of fulfilled prophecies, eyewitness testimony to divine intervention in everyday life. The greatest and most important eyewitness testimony of divine intervention is the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We also have the evidence of lives transformed by the Bible’s message today and throughout history. The Bible is also extraordinary in that it is the only book of its kind and the only book to have survived the many attacks, persecutions, hostilities, and attempts at refutation that the Bible has survived. While many religions have experienced persecution, no religion or religious message has been so besieged as first Judaism and then Christianity. The message of their scriptures has been resented by the world since it was spoken and then put in written form. Yet despite all of the attempts to destroy it and refute it and to kill and torture its people into recanting, the Bible has survived as have God’s believers. To sum up, the Bible is self authenticating. While it cannot be proved by putting you in an intellectual situation where you are forced to accept it, God has not left himself or his word without evidence. From here, we will go on to see what the Bible and God’s general revelation tell us about God himself.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An Update on Religious Liberty

Many people who read my blog post on religious liberty and who have read similar accounts of the dilemmas facing society in the realm of religious freedom find it difficult to believe that religious liberty could actually be under siege in any way. They don’t believe there are people out there who would like to do away with the freedom of Christians to teach the truths of Christianity to their children. While such people are definitely not the majority and are definitely not in control of the government, they do exist. For example, the blog Cranmer has an extensive quote dated Friday, March 12, 2010 from David Laws, the shadow Secretary of State for children, schools, and families of the Liberal Democrat party in England. Now mind you, the Liberal Democrats are not in control in England and are not likely to be. The Tories should win the next election if everything continues along its current path. But this is some of what David Laws has said about the approach of his political party to the question of schools with a religious mission. You also need to keep in mind in reading this that religious schools in England are called faith schools and they are partially funded by the government. Laws has stated:

"Can it be right that a child living in the catchment area of a faith school whose parents want to choose that school for the child should be denied entry to the nearest taxpayer funded school on the basis of a religious test? That is a reality in many communities. Liberal democrats therefore voted to require all faith schools to have a more inclusive approach to entry…democrats also decided that, with the exception of religious instruction, staff in faith schools should be chosen on the basis of the ability to teach and not simply on the basis of faith. That is surely right – anything else is unfair both to children who need the best education, and to the teacher with the right skills.
Finally what of sex and relationship education? … Is it really acceptable that in the 21st century that – for example – a school should be able to teach about homosexuality while at the same time making clear those same sex relationships are morally wrong or that hell could await those who find their sexuality defined in this way? Can we really expect young people to be treated with respect and gain confidence in themselves if state-funded schools are allowed to teach such nonsense? Liberal democrats will defend the role of faith schools in state education. But state funded prejudice is not a freedom that liberals or liberal democrats should feel the need to justify or tolerate."

In other words, to recap, the third largest political party in the United Kingdom maintains as part of their platform that faith school should not be able to discriminate against potential students on the basis of their faith, should not be able to hire teachers primarily on the basis of the faith of the teacher, except in the area of religious instruction, and should not be able to teach that homosexuality is morally wrong or could result in eternal judgment. Such policies might never be implemented. But if people who believe in the need for Christians to be able to teach the truth don’t stand up for their rights to do so, who knows what could happen?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Guide to Basic Ideas: Post 1

There is an interesting article about Christians and postmodernism in the March 2010 First Things magazine. It inspired me to attempt a series of posts on reality and knowledge. None of the ideas in these posts will be new or original, but will attempt to synthesize and summarize common knowledge Christian thought on these issues from many sources.
How do we begin to describe the truth? How can we discover and catalogue the contents of the world of ideas? We cannot. To find out the order of things and see reality, we cannot start with any thing. We cannot start with seeking what we hope to find. We cannot lay a foundation of our own making. We cannot even start from the perspective of “we” or “I.”
That which is, that which was from the beginning, the word of truth. Before all else comes God. Nothing is more fundamental. As your eyes rely on light to see, your mind relies on God to think or know or reason. Nothing is more fundamental than God. In a sense, God cannot be proved because He is the most fundamental reality. All other reality depends on him for its being and purpose, its existence and definition, its context and relationships. God is before all else.
You may be wondering how can we accept what we cannot prove? You have no real choice in this matter if you want to know or prove or think or accept anything else. Whether you yield on this or not, all knowledge, reason, being and form depend on God. To deny Him is like claiming you do not believe in light. You go on seeing by the light anyway, and your rejection of the light can only hurt your efforts to improve your vision.
But then it is also the case you do not need proof of God because you already know He is. You know He is there whether you acknowledge Him or not. You always have. In fact, it was probably easiest for you to just accept He exists before you could think much or talk much about Him. Your mind has tried hard to pretend He is not there as you have grown into an adult and have wanted to be comfortable with doing more and more you knew was incompatible with Him.
Of course knowing God in any way is made possible by Jesus, the Messiah, and the second person of God. And there are different qualities of knowledge. Everyone knows God exists and knows more than enough about what God is like and what he wants for the purposes of everyday life. But you need to know Him, not just know He is there.
So, acknowledge that God is there – and is here. God is the center. God is the start and the end. God is the foundation and the capstone. Everything else depends on Him. As Augustine and Anselm said, we must believe in order to understand. But to know the goal cannot be knowing, the goal must be God Himself, just as God Himself is our starting place.