Archive for the ‘Moscow Idaho Stuff’ Category

One of the nice things about social media is everyone is able to communicate with everyone else. One of the bad things about social media is it gives people the impression that they have something valuable to say on every issue. It helps us forget our limits.

I feel fairly competent to address issues of theology and apologetics. But if its physics or chemistry you want, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. But Facebook often removes this natural inhibition to speaking about issues we don’t understand. Why? Because I read an article on it so I’ve become a 5-minute expert. I watched a 2 minute Youtube, so I obviously know what’s up.

This is a real tragedy in discussions via social media about matters of theology. People frequently misunderstand the point being made because, like it or not, you can’t master theology by reading blogs and watching short Youtube videos. But this is social media, so everyone is supposed to speak. What do you do when you don’t know what’s going on, but you feel the impulse to say something? You default to a cliche, and normally one that doesn’t directly speak to the issue at hand, but it’s so general as to seem applicable to everything. Like the great tonics of old, something that applies to everything normally doesn’t actually treat anything.

Permit me to use some examples. These are things that we should not say when discussing theology, because they are cliche and now meaningless. Also, they are conversation stoppers. They aren’t meant to address arguments, but to end discussions before things get “out of hand.”

In my heart I know…

No, you don’t. The heart pumps blood, it doesn’t know anything. Your mind knows things, and if you spent more time developing it you wouldn’t say things like this. This cliche is often used as a red herring, to distract attention away from serious arguments and turn the discussion into a subjective pomo experience fest.

It’s God’s job to judge.

The problem with this cliche is it has an element of truth to it. On the cosmic level, God is the judge. But when we’re talking about specific sins, this cosmic reality shouldn’t be used as a bludgeon to beat people into never saying anything whatsoever is a sin. As a matter of fact, it is because God is the judge, and He has already judged certain things to be sin, that we are free to apply His judgment without making ourselves out as the judge.

You’re just too religious. OR We’re under grace, not law.

This is the cry of the antinomian. They want everything to be permissible, or they at least want the issue under discussion to be permissible. So what do they do? Make your position out as impermissible. Oddly, this actually ends up turning the “grace” being discussed into a “law” not to be violated. The anti-religious antinomian religiously follows the pious ideals of rejecting the law or any type  external standard for behavior.

We need to walk in unity.

Exactly so! And to make sure this unity is not superficial, we need to have it out among ourselves and figure out the true position. Conflict over ideas is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. If we have enough trust to be vulnerable with our fellow Christians about topics we disagree on, we’re closer to true unity then if we’re so sensitive we can never bring up any disagreements.

God is love.

This is, once again, difficult because it is true. God is love. The person making this point typically is advocating accepting some sin or falsity. They want love to be a blanket protecting them from any criticism or evaluation. But God’s love is the type of love that doesn’t want you driving over a cliff. It’s because of love that the guardrails are there. Only an idiot would want to tear them down.

Our job is not to criticize. OR We’re not supposed to be theological police.

Actually, it is our job to criticize just in case the position under attack deserves criticism. No one gets mad if you criticize Nazis or tyrants. They get mad if you criticize a position that is not so obviously wrong. But it’s precisely because not all positions are obviously wrong that criticism is necessary. Criticism seeks to make obvious what might otherwise be hidden. And regarding being theological police, I’m sure Jesus and the apostles never corrected any errant theologies or false doctrines. Also, they never commanded us to do that, or to, for instance, earnestly contend for the faith. [Not sure how to make sense of that sentence in light of the examples and commands of Scripture, consider editing before publication.]

I just wish…

That’s nice, I’m not a genie. Moving on.

That statement is really offensive.

I don’t care if it’s offensive, as long as it’s true. If you don’t care about truth, don’t discuss theology. If you care more about personal feelings then about truth, you are free to discuss theology, but only among fellow theological liberals and compromisers. As Doug Wilson says, “sometimes people ought to take offense, and sometimes we ought to endeavor to give it.” (I think that’s a direct quote, but I don’t have the relevant book with me to check).

Jesus just loved people, He didn’t waste time with debates.

I would argue that it is because Jesus loved people that He debated them. Because Jesus loved people He corrected Pharisees and Sadducees. Because Paul (a follower of Jesus) loved people he debated at the Areopagus.

You should spend time doing real ministry, not arguing with people.

Sometimes arguing with people is the best way to minister to them. If someone believes a falsehood, you minister to them by arguing. Of course, you need to earn a right to a hearing with them, but arguing and ministry are not mutually exclusive. Why do I get the feeling that by “real ministry” you actually mean “things that make others feel warm and toasty inside?” Hmm…

That’s all for now, I’m sure I could think of other examples if I spent more time on it, but you get the idea. These are cliches, and they are meant to silence discussion, not discover truth. They are cop-outs for people who want to avoid thinking about anything challenging. They are great threats to truth and rationality, and we need to recognize them as such.

God bless,
Josiah

On this fine snowy evening, I have come across Dr. Eric Seibert’s article titled “When the “Good Book” is Bad: Challenging the Bible’s Violent Portrayals of God.”  You can access it and Dr. Owen Strachan’s response to this foolishness via the links at the bottom of this post.

In respectable dialogue, it is characteristic to be friendly, courteous, and generous.  But this is the type of dialogue that takes place in peer-reviewed journals or over a drink at Starbucks.  When someone kicks in my front door and is threatening the welfare of small children, or when a wolf has entered the pasture and is not exactly considering a respectful dialogue with the sheep, our mode of engagement must be different.  We don’t at that moment start making coffee, we cock the Remington.  We land staff blows to the head.  To employ respectable discourse at this stage would be an act of surrender akin to parleying while Sauron’s army stands in the Pelennor Fields (see Douglas Wilson, “A Serrated Edge,” p. 11).

Some well-meaning but strategically challenged Christians will, no doubt, treat this as a tactical battle about how we interpret Scripture.  But this is no tactical battle at all.  It is a strategic one not about how we interpret Scripture (as important as that is), but about what Scripture itself is.  Seibert has left the Evangelical camp and is now lined up with the Philistines.  We Evangelicals take the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, and therefore to be inerrant.  Seibert takes the Bible to be a book that can be judged false by the standards of fallen man.

Of course, I should be thankful that unlike other theological liberals Seibert doesn’t actually pretend to esteem the Bible.  At least he is honest when he says “To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us” (Emphasis original).  If not everything in the “good book” is good, we can discern quite easily that it’s not exactly the “good book” (Seibert’s quotation marks here a good hint to his view on this as well).  But if the Bible is not the “good book,” what is it?  If it is not the very inspired and inerrant Word of God, what claim can it possibly make to our allegiance and trust?

Certainly Seibert does not look to the Bible as the source of his ethical standards.  In fact, it is the ethical teachings of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with which Seibert has a problem.  So he does not take it as a valuable source of man’s moral duties.  Nor does he accept it as a source of truth about God’s character, for he says it portrays God in unacceptable ways.  I should certainly like to know the source of Seibert’s revelation about the nature of God.  If he rejects the Bible, which he obviously does, he is left without any standard for learning who God is and what He is like.

One might here say that Seibert doesn’t reject the whole Bible, but only parts of it (as it turns out, all the parts he happens not to like).  But the Bible is not the sort of book we can sever into distinct parts, some of which we accept while others of which we do not.  The claims and teachings of Scripture are an integrated and cohesive whole.  To reject the commands of God in the Old Testament as immoral is to reject the very God of Scripture Himself.  To say God is not able to command a life be taken is to say that God is not God at all, but a weak, ineffective sort of being held in check by a standard above Himself.  And if the commands of the Old Testament are rejected, the very need for a Savior is also rejected.  If God is not the source of morality, if we have not offended our Creator by our sins and disobedience to His commands, then the sending of His Son is an entirely pointless affair.  In short, we can’t reject the Old Testament commands without also rejecting the New Testament Savior.  And once we have done both of those, we have robbed Christianity of its core.

Some might here claim that it is just about believing in Jesus and the moral example He set, not about any other doctrinal baggage.  But  here again, Seibert does not have this road open to him.  If the Old Testament is as bad as Seibert claims, then Jesus was no moral example.  Jesus esteemed the Old Testament in the highest regard, living His entire life in light of its commands and claiming that not one iota would pass from the law and prophets until the end of all things (Matthew 5:17-20, an “iota” is the smallest written letter of the Greek alphabet).  If the Old Testament is immoral and teaches us bad things about God, but Jesus came to fulfill it and taught that it is completely true and the law is good, then Jesus Himself is implicated as a propagator of immorality and falsehood.

It is often said that God made man in His image, and man has been making God in his image ever since.  This is, unfortunately, a basically true statement.  As fallen men, we tend to paint a God who looks just like we do.  Theological liberals often say “Your God seems to hate all the same things you do.”  But the opposite is also true.  It’s funny how Seibert’s god tends to sound a lot like a 21st Century theological liberal.  Historically speaking, it is the conservative view of God that has always challenged the broader culture on issues like homosexuality, gender roles, the ownership and treatment of slaves, etc.  The liberal view of god has always matched the culture perfectly on these things.  The conservative view has been steady and consistent over millennia.  The liberal view varies in accordance with the polls.  Conservatism, by its nature, hasn’t done much in terms of changing its perceptions of and teachings about God.  Liberalism has changed and, by its nature, is always changing what it teaches about god(s).  Liberals are a thermometer that tells us what the cultural temperature is like.  Conservatives are a thermostat that sets the cultural temperature itself.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves whether the Bible is revealed truth about God.  If we answer yes, our duty is to discern that truth, but never to sit in judgment upon it.  We, by the power of the Spirit, interpret what is said and apply it, but our job stops there.  The finite and limited must not attempt to correct the infinite and unlimited God.  If, however, we answer no, then we are left to despair in our meaningless state.  We will never be able to make sense of things, being ruled only by our own desires, impulses and arbitrary whims.  We will be able to make a god in our own image, but he will be a weak, powerless idol.

My message to Seibert is to repent of his idolatry and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  God abounds in mercy, despite the fact that Seibert argues otherwise.  His blasphemies against the character of God can be forgiven.

My message to my Christian brothers and sisters, perhaps confused and fearful about this whole fracas, is to learn how to better defend your faith.  An excellent book on this topic is Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”.  Additionally, we must always exercise great discernment.  There is no lack of wolves in sheep’s clothing, even at supposedly Christian colleges and even in Biblical studies departments.  Stand firm in your faith by the power of the Spirit, and learn to recognize the strategies and tactics of the enemy for what they are.  Expose the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Grow in the Lord and in the knowledge of the truth.

Sincerely,

Joey

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/02/when-the-good-book-is-bad-challenging-the-bibles-violent-portrayals-of-god/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2013/02/can-a-messiah-college-ot-professor-really-teach-the-bibles-immoral/

Not surprisingly, Douglas Wilson has found himself at the center of yet another Evangelical intramural controversy.  You can find Wilson’s first response, and links to most of the relevant articles here.

Let me say I’m a complementarian, and on the whole I’m on Wilson’s side in this melee.  But this blog is not so much about the controversy as about what we can observe from the controversy.  We can learn a few things:

1.  Theological discussion is in shambles.  Regardless of which side you take, we should all recognize that the way this controversy has developed reveals that the level of our theological debate on the blogosphere is sophomoric (and I probably owe sophomores an apology here).  This debate centers not around solid exegesis, not around who holds the theological high ground, not the normative position of the church throughout history, but around people’s feelings getting hurt by what they perceive to be insensitive comments.

Let’s be perfectly clear about something:  Doug Wilson has probably done more to uphold the honor and dignity of women than all of his detractors combined.  Yet based on one comment, that is being entirely ripped out of its context, Wilson is being portrayed as some chauvinistic oppressor.  The Dufflepuds are in essence mad about being protected and cared for.  Our discussion reflects the theological depth of a circus.
2.  We have forsaken respectful disagreement.  This, obviously, plays into the first point.  Egalitarians and complementarians don’t treat each other as different tents in the same camp, but as utterly opposing camps altogether.  Perhaps when N.T. Wright, Cornelius Plantinga and Gordon Fee are lined up against Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson and J.I. Packer we should humbly acknowledge that both sides probably have decent arguments and we shouldn’t demonize the other side merely for disagreeing with us (playful satire, such as calling the other side “Dufflepuds” is clearly acceptable).

Of course, some of the critiques lodged at Doug Wilson reflect this.  He could say “the sky is blue” and he would be corrected for his patriarchal and oppressive view in which men can make judgments about color.  Likewise, egalitarians could say “men should love women” and they would be accused of caving in to radical feminism.  The basis for such accusations are not the statements themselves, but a total lack of respect for the other person and the position they represent.  Many of our blogs are no better than modern political advertisements.
3.  We don’t entertain the possibility we could be wrong.  Maybe, just maybe, egalitarians are right about Scriptural teaching on gender roles.  I don’t think they are, but it is at least a logical possibility.  Our highest commitment must be to Scripture, properly interpreted and applied, regardless of our favoring of one position over another.

Egalitarianism, if true, will make us much more acceptable to our culture at large.  I get it, I understand the appeal.  There are respects in which I wish the egalitarian position were correct.  Likewise complementarianism, with its clearly defined roles, helps clarify a great deal of the familial confusion that pervades our society.  It has great appeal in a society that has had to create whole court systems just to handle divorce and custody issues.

Neither of those things, however, make either position Scriptural and true.  What makes the position true is its appropriate grounding in the Bible, our sole infallible guide for faith and practice.  We must acknowledge that our positions, to the degree they are Scripturally debatable (and ONLY to that degree), must be held with open hands.  Our exegesis could be wrong, and we must remain open to biblical correction.

I long for the day when we can correct these flaws, and shine as a brighter light in our world.  Until our house is in order, guests are going to be reluctant to visit it.