Saturday, April 30, 2005

A Balanced Perspective on the Middle East

I started reading Chronicles when my big brother passed along an issue before Gulf War I--and I've been reading ever since. Though some great writers have come and gone, I assume that they can't work easily for the temperamental Tom Fleming, the magazine retains great verve and punch.

The latest issue runs head-on into the panoply of issues clouding discussion over the Middle East and American foreign policy in the region. The Rockford Institute, publisher of Chronicles, will also be releasing a book examining the issue in more detail. You may have to look around for a newsstand that sells Chronicles, though you might easily find an issue of National Review to put on the bottom of the bird cage, but it will be worth your time.

Here is one gem from Aaron Wolf writing about Christian Zionists:

The Republican Party, so heavily influenced by the neoconservatives, is happy to cultivate the dispensationalist evangelicals, both through the promise of promoting their “moral values” and through tough talk about “terrorists”—where terrorist is often a synonym for Palestinian. A strange and perverse symbiosis exists between many politicians, who promise the moon to evangelicals, and popular evangelical leaders, who are so eager for access to the corridors of power that they are willing to compromise again and again on those “moral values” issues (“gay marriage,” abortion, euthanasia) in order to stay in the loop…

If we are to remove the obstacle of Christian Zionism, we must encourage and support the efforts of those evangelical theologians who are earnestly seeking to reform evangelical eschatology in favor of a view that both takes the Bible seriously and places emphasis on the crucified and risen Christ (Who will, indeed come again), not on the state of Israel. Furthermore, we must make every effort to expose the relationships among the Likud, the neoconservatives, and the Christian Zionist leadership and the cynical ways in which they seek to manipulate faithful evangelicals into supporting their secularist goals—goals that have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, from which Evangelicals derive their name. Evangelicals must be brought to the conclusion that it is through the Church and the Gospel, not through the Republican Party, that God’s purposes on earth are furthered.

Amen, Aaron!

I also see in the current issue an advertisement for a book called, “Neo-Conned! Just War Principles: A Condemnation of War in Iraq.” I see that there are Catholic (Buchanan, Sobran, Wanniski, Fleming), Jewish (Gottfried), and non-Christian (Francis) writers represented. What they need is a thoughtful Protestant contribution. I nominate this guy.

News From Iraq

I haven't been commenting much lately on the Iraqi fiasco, so I thought it might be fun to take a few minutes and review what is happening.

About three weeks or so ago, I heard and read a spate of stories indicating that the administration was cautiously optimistic about events in Iraq. Even this week, General Myers said, "I think we are winning, okay. I think we're definitely winning. I think we've been winning for some time."

One of the problems from the get-go in Iraq is that there was never a clear picture of what "winning" meant. On Thursday, after three months of haggling, the Iraqis formed a new Shiite-dominated government (is that winning?). The move was greeted by a series of attacks by Sunni "insurgents."

The Pentagon did admit that attacks are at the same level as one year ago. But, hey, no worries mate! Rummy says that all we have here are "a relatively small number of people who have weapons and who have money and who are determined to try to prevent democracy from going forward." Well, I feel better now, don't you?

Over the past month, the daily total has edged up to about 50 or 60 attacks, and some analysts are concerned that the culprits are Sunnis, who may be hardening in their opposition to a "democratically elected" Shiite government. Indeed, the words "civil war" are now being uttered in Iraq.

The new government has excluded Sunnis from top cabinet positions and is promising a de-Baathification of government, but they were able to find a prominent spot for neocon favorite Ahmad Chalabi. You remember Chalabi, right? He's the guy who gave the Pentagon false information about mythical Iraqi WMDs and leaked intelligence to Iran. Well, he will now act as deputy prime minister and acting oil minister.

So it looks like there are two plausible scenarios in Iraq, as there have been from the beginning. Either the state completely collapses into civil war, creating a breeding ground for all sorts of unsavory characters, or Iraq becomes a Shiite-controlled regime, closely aligned with their Iranian co-religionists. In either case, have our efforts in Iraq enhanced U. S. security or advanced the national interest in any way?

Meanwhile, the evidence continues to mount that Americans were deceived leading up to the war. The Iraq Survey Group released a final report this week and not only didn't Iraq possess WMDs, but apparently they didn't ship them off to Syria, either. I hope someone over at Fox News knows how to read and they pass this information on to their viewers.

There was also an interesting tidbit from Vincent Cannistaro, the former CIA head of counterterrorism operations and intelligence director at the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan. Cannistraro says, "there was a tremendous amount of pressure on the analysts" to produce intelligence favorable to the administration's strained claims.

The point is that it’s being taken as conventional wisdom that there really wasn’t any pressure by policy makers on the analytical process itself. And that’s just simply not true. It’s simply not true because analysts, generally, are like anyone else. They are concerned about their careers, their futures. Many of them are ambitious. If they understand that a dissenting opinion against the conventional policy wisdom is heard, that it’s going to affect their careers. There was a chilled environment in which to express any kind of opposite opinion.

Not only that, there wasn’t very much of a receptiveness at the senior levels of the CIA — at George Tenet’s level, for example, because he was a very political director. And he was very concerned about getting along with the administration. He was formerly a Democrat, appointed by a Democratic President and he had to stay on in a Republican administration. And he had to compete with a secretary of defense, Rumsfeld, who really didn’t want the CIA playing a large role in the intelligence community, and wanted to supplant that role. So, George had a more political bent. He wanted to get along, and therefore he had to play along. And “playing along” really meant to sustain the conceptions of the policy makers — particularly at the Pentagon and the vice president’s office — that Saddam Hussein was a real and imminent danger.

To do that, you had to accept some of these alarming reports that kept coming in, being fed by Ahmed Chalabi and his INC group. In many cases, the information was fabricated. Information, for example, about an alleged attempt by Saddam Hussein to acquire nuclear material, uranium, from Niger. This, we know now, was all based on fabricated documents. But it’s not clear yet — either from this report, or from any other report — who fabricated the documents.

The documents were fabricated by supporters of the policy in the United States. The policy being that you had to invade Iraq in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and you had to do it soon to avoid the catastrophe that would be produced by Saddam Hussein’s use of alleged weapons of mass destruction.

When asked specifically about the forged Niger documents, Cannistraro said that while he didn't want to comment specifically, there was some evidence that forgeries were spawned here in the U.S. Hmm, maybe they've taken up counterfeiting over at the American Enterprise Institute.

A Personal Note

Forgive me a few personal thoughts today. I’m generally a very private person, but I understand that blogs are often a place to open oneself to the outside world. Yesterday, Kathy and I celebrated ten years together as husband and wife.

God providentially brought Katherine Dickens into my life on January 31, 1988. I remember the date well, Kathy says, because it happened to be Superbowl XXII—which in case you’ve forgotten was won by the Washington Redskins, who thrashed Denver 42-10.

Kathy insists that I remember such details with specificity because I can recall sporting events from my youth with pinpoint precision. While that is true, I was more stunned by the beautiful blonde girl in my midst then Timmy Smith’s 200+ yards or Doug Williams’ performance.

Being shy, bashful, and generally something of a weenie, I didn’t muster up the courage to ask Kathy for a date. Ultimately, we did begin going out during my senior year in high school, and have been together ever since. I can barely remember what life was like before her.

Do any of you remember that first time you really fell in love? For me, that someone was Kathy. I am lucky in that respect in that I never experienced the strain, pain and difficulty of broken relationships, because I was given a complete woman right from the start.

What is Kathy to me? She is a model of biblical womanhood and virtue. She is my “helpmeet” who has struggled through three pregnancies to birth our beautiful children. As Lois and Eunice were to Timothy, she is a beacon of unswerving faith and devotion to her children and husband. Alongside me she is a trainer of our children, demonstrating God’s love and mercy without ever losing sight of His holiness. She is the keeper and manager of our home, a haven in a heartless world, and is a demonstration of “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight” (I Peter 3:4).

Marriage and raising children are difficult tasks, which can only be accomplished through much hard work and, ultimately, God’s benevolent grace. The last year particularly has presented numerous challenges and difficulties that we have had to work through. We should not be surprised when two people, even those who have been made holy before God, struggle together, but it is in that very weakness that we are made strong, and melded together as one. Though I am far from a perfect husband, and have much work to do, Kathy is always there to love and care for me, encourage me, and honor me.

I love you, Kathy, and still think you’re the most beautiful lady I know. Here’s to another 50 years together!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

On God's Revelation in Nature

This post grew out of an attempt to answer various comments regarding an earlier discussion on the appointment of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy. You may want to read John's comments, and those posted by "anonymous" before continuing with my turgid thoughts below.

I should say upfront that I don't seek an interminible theological debate with my Catholic brothers, for we are indeed brothers in Christ. But unity demands first a recognition that truth exists. Orthodox Catholics and orthodox Protestants may be the only people in America who can have an honest and civil disagreement, and it is my hope that we can better understand one another and engage in cultural cobelligerence without theological compromise. Soli Deo Gloria!

First, let me say that the church is both visible (those who profess faith in Christ and give evidence of conversion) and invisible (the church as God sees it). We cannot look into the hearts of others and view their spiritual state. This is why Paul says, “The Lord knows who are his (II Tim. 2:19).

I fully expect the Roman church to claim that it is the only visible organization in which the true church is found (I expect Protestants to reciprocate). But as Caiaphas was descended from Aaron yet was not a true priest, so Catholic bishops who are “descended” from the apostles are not true bishops in the church of Christ. As Calvin said, “The pretense of succession is vain unless their descendants conserve safe and uncorrupted the truth of Christ which they have received at their fathers’ hands, and abide in it…See what value this succession has, unless it also include a true and uninterrupted emulation on the part of their successors.”

I appreciate John’s succinct remarks concerning the Catholic doctrine of salvation. On God’s Trinitarian nature and the centrality of Christ, we agree. John writes, “the fact that the Father, in begetting the Son, embraces all of Creation in Him and that in His unity with Him, permits of no other vehicle for it's Redemption of necessity. Certainly, the Gospels are less stories about Jesus than they are an unveiling of the relations of the Divine Persons at the core of things.” Very nicely written, John. Indeed one of my favorite passages is from Colossians, where Paul writes,

13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[f] your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Christ indeed came to reconcile all things to the Father. One of the most quoted verses in Scripture says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Greek word translated world is “kosmos,” which refers to the present world order, the whole of creation. So Jesus did not come to die “for all men,” but in order to save the entire creation. God loves not merely His people, but the order that sustains them, and thus he sends rain, for example, to the just and unjust (Matt. 5:45).

There is, however, a distinction to be made between God’s universal, common grace, and his redemptive or particular grace. God will extend external blessings even to those who are His enemies, but He does not offer eternal life to all, and certainly not those who fail to recognize His Lordship. In short, he loves the field, but not necessarily the tares, “The field is the world (kosmos), and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one” (Matt. 13:38).

I simply can’t agree with the statement that someone may be ignorant of Christ and the church while possessing a “sincerely held desire, moved by grace, to do the will of God as it might be made known to conscience.”

Let’s look at Romans 1 a bit more thoroughly, shall we?

Romans 1
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

The passage begins with a bold declaration of the revelation of God’s wrath from heaven. The word here does not indicate that God’s “wrath” or anger is arbitrary, capricious, or irrational. Rather, there is a reason for God’s anger. His wrath is directed and provoked by human evil and wickedness. Paul is not speaking about an anger that is a blind rage. According to the text, His anger is directed toward “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness.”

“Ungodliness” here involves a posture of opposition to the majesty of God. It is conduct that is irreligious or profane. God’s wrath, in short, is directed at His enemies.

“Unrighteousness” probably is more indicative of an assault on the righteousness of God, or the moral standards that he has established.

Some commentators see these as two different types of activity. Accordingly, if we think about the Ten Commandments, where the first table deals with our relationship to God and the second table deals with our relationship to man, then “ungodliness” is something along the lines idolatry and “unrighteousness” is immorality. This is also the broader context of Romans 1, where Paul indicates very clearly that moral degeneracy flows out of a rejection of God.

It is also possible that the words “unrighteousness” and “ungodliness” are basically synonyms that express the same idea, so that God’s wrath is directed against something that is considered both ungodly and unrighteous.

Paul quickly moves to isolate the particular sin in view. It is the evil that, as verse 18 says, “suppresses” the truth. Paul’s expression here has been translated in a number of ways:

1. “holding the truth in unrighteousness”
2. “hold down the truth in unrighteousness”
3. “hinder the truth”
4. “stifling the truth”
5. “repress the truth”

What is the truth that is being held down? Paul continues,

Romans 1
19because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

Paul is saying here that knowledge about God isn’t hidden, or shrouded in some kind of obscurity. Rather, that which can be known is “manifest,” or plain. So this knowledge about God is not concealed but transparent. And it is transparent because “God has shown it to them.” So if the student (sinner) does not learn, it is not because the teacher did not teach.

What is it that God has shown us and how? We read the following in Rom. 1:20:

Romans 1
20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

Here Paul tells us that God’s “invisible attributes” are seen clearly and understood, and that in our understanding we have some knowledge of God. It is not clear exactly how we acquire this knowledge. Some argue that nature points beyond itself to a creator, and that by being confronted by God’s revelation in nature, we begin to understand the nature of God. Others argue that we have this knowledge because we are created in God's image. In any event, it does not really matter how we gain this knowledge about God, but that we do, and are therefore “without excuse” if we reject God. This is an important point because too often we are under the impression that God will judge sinners for rejecting Jesus. In fact, we are judged initially for rejecting the Father. It is only secondarily that if people hear about Christ and reject Him that they are punished for that.

Anyway, what Paul says here is that we cannot fall back on the excuse of ignorance. Though people are not always persuaded by evidence, it does not mean that the evidence is not sufficient. Here God has given evidence of His existence and nature, and we have suppressed that knowledge.

So it is the rejection of God that makes us morally culpable. Again this general revelation is not sufficient to convert us. That takes an initiatory act of God, but it does leave us without excuse.

What does Paul mean when he says that “they knew God?”

In various passages, Paul speaks of pagans as not knowing God:

1 Thessalonians 4
5not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;

2 Thessalonians 1
8in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 4
8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.

1 Corinthians 1
21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Considering what Paul writes in Rom. 1 and what he says in these other verses, he is either contradicting himself or doesn’t mean what he wrote in some passage. It is also plausible to argue that there are different meanings for the word “know” in the NT.

Indeed, the Bible speaks of “knowing” in many ways. It can refer to an intellectual awareness; an intimate knowledge (such as personal relationships, i.e. Adam “knew his wife”), and what we would call “saving knowledge.”

It is important to understand that in this particular passage in Romans, Paul is NOT talking about a knowledge that saves. The knowledge that he is talking about is an intellectual knowledge, not a saving one. An unbeliever can have one kind of knowledge and not another. (James 2:19-You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!)

What Paul is discussing throughout this passage is a moral failure, not an intellectual one. Romans 1 repeatedly asserts that humans do apprehend general revelation:

Romans 1
19because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 32who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

So even though we are fallen, we have the ability to know who God is on some level. However, we suppress this knowledge and darkness follows. We read the following in verse 21, "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

So the problem is not that we do not know God, but that we refuse to honor him. Once again this is not about a failure of knowledge, but a failure to acknowledge God. Not only do we fail to give honor, in fact the pagan becomes futile in his thinking and his heart is darkened.

It is important to note that Paul does not deny the ability of natural man to reason or even to reason correctly if free of prejudice to the facts. The problem is that our thought processes are contaminated by sin and thus we come to the facts with prejudice. But the problem is a moral one, not an intellectual one.

To summarize verses 18-21, we learn:
1. First, that God’s revelation is clear and unambiguous. The knowledge is plain (manifest) to them; God has shown it to them; is has been clearly perceived.
2. Second, we see that the knowledge gets through to its intended target. We read that “they knew God.” (v.21). So man’s problem is not that he doesn’t know God, but that he refuses to acknowledge God.
3. Third, we see that this revelation has been going on since the beginning of the world (v. 20). This is not a one-time event, but continues in a constant way.
4. Fourth, revelation comes by way of creation. God’s nature is revealed “by the things that are made.” (v. 20).
5. Fifth, we see that this revelation is sufficient to render us inexcusable.

What of those who don't seek Christ because of cultural prejudice engrained in them? What of those who live in remote areas, aren't they religious? And doesn’t their religious activity remove them from the danger of feeling the wrath of God? No, it is precisely on this point where general revelation is devastating. If Paul is right, then the practice of religion does not excuse the pagan, but compounds his guilt all the more.

Romans 1
22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Paul’s use of the term fools needs to be examined. Generally when the Bible speaks of a fool, it does not indicate a person with low intellignence. The term usually has to do with a religious judgment.

Proverbs 1
7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 14
8The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way,
But the folly of fools is deceit.

Proverbs 10
23To do evil is like sport to a fool,
But a man of understanding has wisdom.

Psalm 14
1 The fool has said in his heart,
"There is no God."
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.

The term can be linked to some intellectual deficiency, but again, it generally implies a spiritual shortcoming.

Paul not only declares the natural man a fool, he also calls him a hypocrite. The same one who is a fool professes to be wise. So not only is the fool a fool, he is a self-deluded fool, too.

Paul shows that the height of human foolishness is the exchange of the glory of God for idolatry. The proper word here is “exchange.” Many translations use the word change, but the context demands a stronger word. What Paul is talking about here is mutation or distortion by substituting something that is genuine for something that is completely artificial or counterfeit. So the distortion does not bring on a militant form of atheism, but a kind of religion. But rather than exonerating man from the wrath of God, this act compounds the felony by adding insult to the glory of God. So religion, in and of itself is a revolt against God. It should not be viewed as a step in the right direction, but rather an attack on the true God. According to Paul, “religion” is not the fruit of a zealous pursuit of God, but is the result of a flight from God.

So religion is a monument to man’s foolishness, and we can see the results of this in verses 24 and 25 where God responds to idolaters by abandoning them to their sin. God allows them to pursue their lusts and impurities. What started as a refusal to honor God culminates in the dishonoring of human beings.

This “exchange” also involves the substitution of a lie in place of the truth of God. This is the essence of idolatry, worshipping the creation instead of the creator. Thus the fact that people are religious does not mean that God is pleased with them. Idolatry is the ultimate insult to God. It reduces Him to the level of a creature, stripped of his divinity.

So pagans are judged for what they know, not what they don’t. If a person in a remote area or of another faith has never heard of Christ, he will not be punished for that. What he will be punished for is the rejection of the Father.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


This Episcopal priest resigns to become a Druid. His wife, also both a Druid and Episcopal priestess, applauded her husbands efforts to "exercise his ministry in an interfaith context." Need I say more?

I see, too, that the ELCA will consider a resolution later this year at its church-wide assembly permitting openly gay and lesbian clergy to serve the church if they are in "committed relationships." For more of my thoughts on this madness, click here.

Degenhart on draft resistance. I particularly like this quote from the late Greg Bahnsen, "No nation can claim the right to aggressive warfare or to policing the world (for whatever proffered rationale: e.g., “to make the world safe for democracy,” “to end all wars,” “to guarantee the right of national self-determination”). When a magistrate goes to war for an unjustified cause, then the Christian who follows the Westminster Confession has the duty (not merely the right) to resist this practice of murder." In any event, the church should give this some thought, because they will soon be coming for our sons--and daughters.

Mark Godfrey on Christian political pragmatism.

Not only were the wars in Vietnam and Korea good ideas, but Andrew Sandlin thinks we should have done something in Cambodia, too. Maybe Sandlin should read the Bahnsen quote above.

Michael Kinsley on the great neocon reversal. I hadn't thought about it before, but Kinsley is correct that the earlier neocons like Kirkpatrick were realists when it came to "human rights" issues and hadn't yet swallowed the democratist Kool-Aid. What happened?

"Justice Sunday" is tomorrow evening. I had intended to go and report on the event, but the crowd is SRO. Apparently, tickets were limited to just two mega-churches in town. In today's Courier-Journal, there is an article detailing the efforts of local liberal clergyman to derail the proceedings. Read the article for yourself and see if you aren't disgusted by both "sides."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Random Thoughts on Ratzinger, or Popeourri

Al Mohler has a nice piece on Ratzinger and the Papacy. If you have a chance, check out Mohler's radio broadcast on April 19th, featuring Russ Moore and Mark Dever, too.

Pro-life groups have been lauding Ratzinger's elevation to the papacy, and it is likely that he will continue to do battle with the forces of the Culture of Death, the radical homosexuals, and the ever so shrill feminists. I see, too, that Ratzinger opposes the silly idea of pre-emptive war (though he did make the ridiculous statement that "the United Nations is the [institution] that should make the final decision.").

OK, that's all good, but Ratzinger also said this:

It must always be clear, when the expression 'sister churches' is used in this proper sense, that the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Universal Church is not sister but 'mother' of all the particular Churches...[and] one cannot properly say that the Catholic Church is the sister of a particular church or group of churches. This is not merely a question of terminology, but above all of respecting a basic truth of the Catholic faith: that of the unicity of the Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is but a single Church, and therefore the plural term churches can refer only to particular churches."

The expression 'sister churches' in the proper sense, as attested by the common tradition of East and West, may only be used for those ecclesial communities that have preserved a valid episcopate and Eucharist.

So I am not, as a Baptist, part of a "proper church." That's fine as long as my Catholic friends and well-wishers allow me to quote Luther ("The papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist") and look to the Westminster Confession ("There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.") for my views on the papacy.

OK, I'll be generous. Perhaps Luther had been drinking and the Westminster Divines could have inserted a period instead of a semi-colon and left off the last clause.

But Ratzinger also said this: "We are in agreement that a Jew, and this is true for believers of other religions, does not need to know or acknowledge Christ as the Son of God in order to be saved, if there are insurmountable impediments, of which he is not blameworthy, to preclude it."

No need to acknowledge Christ? But Jesus is the one mediator between God and man (II Tim. 2:5) and Christ Himself said we were to believe in God, and to believe in Him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:1-6).

"Insurmountable impediments" to knowing God? What did Paul mean, then, in Romans 1?

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, Godhaters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

I'm not up to speed on Catholic dogmatics, but as I understand matters, the Church has historically denied there could be salvation outside the church. Then--and someone should tell me if I am wrong--the Church did a one-eighty on this at Vatican II so that now heaven will now be filled with all manner of non-Christians.

To this Protestant observer, it would appear that the churches "conservatives" are liberalizing their doctrine vis-a-vis salvation and have come to terms with Vatican II.

In the end, I guess I'm OK with not being part of a "proper church."

Abortion Battles

The Illinois House passed a bill on Wednesday which would make it a criminal offense for an ultrasound to be administered without a doctor's order.

The legislation was supported by Planned Murderhood and sponsored by pro-abort State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan who said, "There's a new little industry that does ultrasound videos on babies before they're born for entertainment purposes. There is concern about the neurological development with long exposure."

"We should be concerned about the long term health of the fetus," said Rep. Mulligan, who is so concerned about the health of these precious little ones that she voted against a ban on partial birth abortion.

Evidently it is much more dangerous to perform an ultrasound than an abortion.

Meanwhile, here in Indiana, the House approved legislation 84-12 requiring abortion providers to tell a woman she can see an ultrasound of the fetus or hear the heartbeat, if there is one, before the procedure. Predictably, opponents of the measure were concerned about the undue burdens it would put on women already struggling with a "difficult decision."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

On Suffering, Part III

“So if God is good, why does he allow so much suffering among His people?”

As I’ve written previously, the question of suffering is among the most difficult to answer for the Christian apologist. How, indeed, can a perfectly good God allow so much injustice and suffering?

I’ve tried to point out elsewhere that the root of suffering is human sin, but it is also necessary to affirm as a child of God that our suffering is used by God to accomplish His purpose in us, and through us.

God uses suffering and tribulation to chasten His people. We should not think about the issue of suffering as an isolated phenomenon. Rather, as believers, we must ALWAYS remember that in His atoning death, Christ sanctified us, made us holy, and set us apart. We have become adopted sons and daughters of almighty God, and it is in that relationship that we are chastened. The author of Hebrews says:

Hebrews 12
6For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."
7If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.

Chastening means to train by correction. It is important to note that the sufferings God allows are not punitive, but corrective. They are done so that “we may be partakers of His holiness.” Like an earthly father who disciplines his children to bring out the best in them, so God wants to bring out the potential that is in us. Verse 10 says that He does it “for our profit.” Moreover, the text says that if we are without God’s chastening and correction, we are “illegitimate and not sons” of God. So, on one level, suffering is a mark that we belong to God, and are loved by God, who is bringing us into holiness.

We should also remember that there is an important difference between divine punishment and divine chastisement. The Christian is not punished for sins because that punishment was already paid. Consider Hebrews 10:10, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Scripture tells us that as a result of Christ’s death, there is “no condemnation” and that we walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh (Rom. 8:1). The Bible also says that if we hear God’s Word and believe in Christ, we will have everlasting life, “and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

Though we are sanctified and set free from judgment by Christ, there is still a process of cleansing that takes place in our life. In the Old Testament, there were a panoply cleansing rituals. John speaks of the connection between confession and cleansing, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

When I pick this up next time, it is in that light that I want to think about suffering. Not as something we endure as punishment that has no meaning, but as a tool used by an all-loving, all-knowing, perfect, holy, redeeming God to cleanse His people and work out His holy will.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Religious Right and Filibusters

The current debate over Senate rules vis a vis the filibuster of judicial nominees demonstrates the hypocrisy, corruption, and lack of discernment among my brothers and sisters on the "religious right."

According to Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, the filibuster is being wielded by God-hating liberals as a weapon against "people of faith." Perkins also called the Democrats' abuse of filibusters "an affront to the American people and a willful disregard of the Constitution.

"Our founding document is clear," he said. "Judges are confirmed by the vote of a majority of senators -- not the supermajority now imposed by the minority party."

Conservatives were once leery of discovering new and novel "constitutional rights" in places where they had never been found before. The Constitution says only that the president "shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint" judges, ambassadors and other officers. To read that provision as a dictate a to bring every nominee to a floor vote reveals that conservatives, too, have learned how to torture the Constitution into saying whatever they want to hear.

To gin up evangelical support for changing Senate rules and correct this "constitutional abomination," the FRC is sponsoring an event here in Louisville. The gathering at local mega-church Highview Baptist will include such luminaries as Albert Mohler, James Kennedy, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and Senate Majority Leader (and 2008 presidential candidate?) Bill Frist.

Not to be outdone, Focus on the Family has announced an ad campaign directed at 19 senators in 14 states. FOF's federal issues analyst, Amanda Banks, says that so-called "values voters" need to make their voices heard in the debate over the filibuster.

"If Democratic senators do not hear from their constituents, there is no question they will continue to obstruct the president's nominees. If Republicans don't hear from their constituents, they're likely to allow the Democrats to continue unconstitutional tactics.

"With a Supreme Court nominee potentially right around the corner, we must convince the Senate to act now and restore the constitutional duty of senators to offer advice and give consent to judicial nominees. That means a fair, up-or-down vote in the Senate."

I don't recall consternation over the misuse filibusters when the GOP attempted to filibuster six of Bill Clinton's nominees. Nor did religious conservatives invoke the name of the Almighty to condemn Republican congressmen who deep-sixed nominees in committee without permitting an "up-or-down vote in the Senate."

Moreover, why are my evangelical brethren convinced that the GOP will do ANYTHING about judicial activism? Perkins says, "We now have a President who is committed to nominate judicial candidates who are not activists, but strict constructionists -- judges who will simply interpret the Constitution as it was written."

But the GOP has not used the constitutional mechanisms at its disposal to rein in the judiciary. Have they limited the appellate jurisdiction of the court or impeached even a single wayward judge? And one more thing; since the GOP appointed 7 of the 9 sitting Supreme Court justices and GOP-appointed judges already control 10 of 13 appeals courts is it the "liberals" and Democrats that are responsible for the very real problem of judicial dictatorship?

A second point is that conservatives, especially Christians, should be loath to eliminate checks on the legislative process. The filibuster is one such mechanism that serves to restrain legislators from barreling out of control. George Will points to this odd change in conservative philosophy, "Some conservatives oddly seem to regret the fact that the government bristles with delaying and blocking mechanisms -- separation of powers, bicameral legislature, etc. The filibuster is one such mechanism -- an instrument for minority assertion. It enables democracy to be more than government-by-adding-machine, more than a mere counter of numbers. The filibuster registers intensity, enabling intense minorities to slow or stop government."

Will also points out that the change in Senate rules would further enhance presidential power, strengthening the executive branch at the expense of congress. Will astutely notes that the power of the executive branch has already been expanded immensely due to the "war on terror" and the never-ending expansion of presidential war-making prerogatives and asks, "Are conservatives, who once had a healthy wariness of presidential power, sure they want to further expand that power in domestic affairs," too?

The same question should be put to evangelicals, who claim to believe that the Bible teaches the depravity of man. Do they really want such power entrusted to one man sitting in the White House? Apparently, if he's one of "us," the answer is a resounding "yes."

Friday, April 15, 2005

Richard Land, Natural Rights, and Foreign Policy

Baptist Press covered Richard Land's recent trip into the belly of the beast--Harvard. Land spoke to a class and attended an evening forum where he addressed, among other things, America's "special" obligation in the world:

We believe that America has a special role to play in the world. Now we do not believe that America is God’s chosen nation, but we do believe that God’s providence has blessed this country, and that that is a belief that brings with it obligations and responsibilities and that America has a special obligation and responsibility to be the friend of freedom and the friend of democracy in the world.

And I cannot tell you the number of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals and Catholics who told me that they were moved to tears by the president’s second inaugural address and the statement that we are going to be the friend of freedom. People of traditional religious values believe America has a special obligation and responsibility because of the blessings we have received to be the friend of the oppressed ... and to help those who want freedom for themselves.

In the inaugural speech to which Mr. Land refers, the president said, "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

Earlier in his first term, the theologian-in-chief invoked natural law in this speech as the foundation of American foreign policy. Bush said:

In the struggle of the centuries, America learned that freedom is not the possession of one race. We know with equal certainty that freedom is not the possession of one nation. This belief in the natural rights of man, this conviction that justice should reach wherever the sun passes leads America into the world.

With the power and resources given to us, the United States seeks to bring peace where there is conflict, hope where there is suffering, and liberty where there is tyranny. And these commitments bring me and other distinguished leaders of my government across the Atlantic to Africa.

Compare this to the words of John Q. Adams in 1821:

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

I am no expert on matters philosophical, but it would seem that natural rights imply something of a social contract whereby the government or state created by the contract has an obligation to protect the rights of ITS OWN CITIZENS!! The goal of foreign policy ought to be protecting liberty for our posterity--not spreading "democratic values" to every third-world hellhole.

And by the way, when will "ethicists" like Dr. Land point to a single Scriptural text to support their baptism of messianic globalism, their perversion of Christianity into an apology for unceasing war, and their deification of democratism?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

New Pictures

Kathy updated our website with some new pictures here and here. She also updated the journal. Check it out if you have a chance.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Web Roundup

Lee Shelton with a nice post on the idolatry of state-worship. Lee writes:

Statism, simply put, is worship of the state (i.e., government), and in this country the federal government reigns supreme. No Christian will acknowledge that he or she worships the state, but that is in a sense what’s happening, if even on a subconscious level.

Symptoms of this were evident during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Many Christian voters saw George W. Bush not as the “lesser of two evils,” but as one who was chosen by God as “the right man at the right time for the right purpose.” Sure, he wasn’t the paragon of conservatism some had hoped for, but he was a professing Christian, and that alone meant that we owed him our devotion.

Then, of course, there was the outpouring of Christian support for the war in Iraq. Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein never once attacked us and posed no threat to our security, evangelicals from all across the fruited plain cried out for blood. The state had been exalted to such a lofty position that those Christians who dared to speak out against the war on moral and constitutional grounds were considered anti-American at best, treasonous at worst.

In an attempt to drum up as much support as possible for military action against Hussein, “conservative” publications and websites ran countless articles that tried to equate the Christian worldview with American foreign policy. We also heard from religious leaders like Jerry Falwell who tried to convince us that “God is pro-war” and that one of the duties of the church “is to stop the spread of evil, even at the cost of human lives.”

So, George W. Bush, a man chosen by God, was simply doing his Christian duty when he invaded Iraq. We therefore have no right to question his actions or motives. It’s as if the Old Testament example of King Saul no longer has any significance for us today.

Fellow Christian, are you a war monger? Take this test and see.

TV turns kids into bullies.

Is the Iraqi insurgency on the run, or is it evolving? I think Lind is correct, "For America to win in Iraq, it has to leave behind a real state. Further, that state must not be an enemy to America. The chance of meeting just the second requirement is small, given the Iraqi people’s resentment toward the occupation and the strongly Islamic character of any likely new regime. It is improbable that we will meet the first requirement either. We may leave behind us the form of a state – a capital, a parliament, a government, etc. – but in most of the country, the real power will remain where it is now, in the hands of armed elements operating outside the state. That is true whether we defeat "the insurgency" or not."

In yet another fantastic column, Paul Craig Roberts asks, "Whither America?"

While acknowledging that the pope was in many ways a great man, Joe Sobran wonders if the pontificate was a success for orthodox Catholics.

The maladies that have infected the Church since the Second Vatican Council (at which he was an enthusiastic participant) haven’t been remedied — liturgical corruption, low Mass attendance, poor Catholic education, errant bishops, heretical theologians.

And one of the worst scandals in Catholic history erupted on his watch: the revelation that homosexual priests had been abusing boys. This was a natural result of the homosexual domination of American (and possibly other) Catholic seminaries that had been increasing since the 1960s, well before John Paul’s papacy; but he seemed to have had no clue that it was going on and hardly to have believed it when he learned. That doesn’t speak well for his supervision.

This writer says that the US has a plan to militarily support armed militias to prevent a clerical-driven religious regime in Iraq.

I hadn't heard that John Attarian passed away on New Year's Eve. I've just been reading his demoltion of Stephen Moore and other immigration enthusiasts who make the audacious claim that more immigration could save Socialist Insecurity. I've also seen Attarian published over the years in The Occidental Quarterly, Modern Age, and Chronicles. He will be missed.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Cause of Suffering

Christians often speak about claiming the promises of Scripture. One such promise, that we aren’t quite so eager claim, is Jesus' ironclad assurance that we will face times of trouble and tumult. John records our Lord’s words, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Elsewhere, we see the words of Job, who said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).

So times to tribulation and suffering are inevitable, and obviously we cannot always understand and discern God’s purposes. But we are called to live by faith, rather than sight, always trusting and obeying the revelation of God in Scripture and knowing that, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

Later, I hope to address the purposes of God in allowing suffering, but we need to initially determine its cause. And quite clearly, the genesis of human suffering is sin. There is no indication that there was suffering in Paradise. Indeed, when God looked upon His creation, He proclaimed it “good.” Likewise, it seems clear that suffering will not accompany God’s people into the New Heaven and New Earth, presumably because there is no sin. We can read John’s inspired description of the new creation in Revelation 21, where he writes,

1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2Then I, John,[1] saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

Though different circumstances bring about suffering, it is important to understand that the essential cause of suffering is sin. After the serpent tempts Adam and Eve into sin, God pronounces judgment, "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:14).

The phrase “Because you have done this” is the key to understanding suffering. We can, I think, essentially insert this phrase into verse 16 and 17 as well, where God pronounces judgment and condemnation on Adam and Eve for their disobedient actions.

That begs an important question—“What do Adam and Eve have to do with my suffering?” Well, Scripture is clear that Adam was a representative for all of mankind, and that as a so-called federal head, his sin was imputed to all mankind. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). So Adam’s sin, and the consequences of it (death, suffering, etc.), came to all men as a result of Adam’s fall.

The creation account tells us that God made man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27). Though God had no need for fellowship outside the Trinity, He desired fellowship with His creation. In His goodness, God then gave Adam the gift of a wife, so that he could have fellowship with another being similar to himself (Gen. 2:18-25). They had perfect love for each other and for God. There was harmony—no sorrow, no suffering.

Satan sought to drive a wedge between God and His creation. He did so by convincing Eve that she lacked something essential. He deceived her by suggesting that she should act independently of God. This separated her from God and also from Adam and left Adam alone in fellowship with God. We have no idea how long this remained the case because there aren’t, to my mind at least, obvious time frame references.

So Adam is sort of in the middle. He desires fellowship with his wife on the one hand and with God on the other. In effect, he had to make a choice. He could obey God’s command or follow Eve’s example.

We see that Adam does ultimately partake from the forbidden tree. It's also noteworthy that he was not deceived as Eve had been, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Tim. 2:14).

In short, Adam made a deliberate choice to break fellowship with God and rebel against His authority. The point to remember is that suffering is not caused by God, it is caused by sin. It is caused by man.

Nevertheless, we see that God makes provision for His wayward creation. He is determined to repair the damage that has been done. God foretold a coming of one who would “bruise” the head of Satan even as Satan bruises His heel. This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah who would win victory over sin, suffering, and Satan. But that victory would entail a price. And that price would be the suffering taken by Christ on our behalf.

Isaiah 53
3He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

So not only does sin bring suffering to man, it brought still greater suffering to Christ, who took the burden on Himself.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Does Immigration Undermine the Free Market?

Does a commitment to open markets and freedom of association necessitate support for open immigration? Some wacky libertarians seem to think so. David Boudreaux of the Foundation for Economic Education puts it thusly:

Whether or not immigrants increase or decrease measured GDP or per-capita income is an empirical question that can be answered only by sound empirical research. (Economist Julian Simon has carried out much of this research; he finds that immigrants promote prosperity.) But the moral case for open immigration is paramount. That case is this: a geopolitical border is a grotesquely arbitrary reason to prevent people from dealing with each other in whatever peaceful ways they choose.

Borders? We don't need no stinkin' borders, says Boudreaux. Can't you wistfully hear the words of Simon and Garfunkel in the background, "I am a rock, I am an iiiisland."

In another FEE essay, Tom Lehman argues that open immigration is just a corollary of free trade:

Immigration policy should not be viewed differently than trade policy: free, unregulated, unpoliced, open borders, devoid of taxes, tariffs, or any other barrier to entry. This is the policy of freedom to which America owes her heritage. Unilateral free trade, free immigration, and free emigration, where individuals possess unobstructed and unregulated mobility and trade, is a cornerstone of a free society. In fact, the free movement of peoples is no less important than the freedoms of speech, expression, and association. Liberty is indivisible; the laws of economics apply equally to all peoples.

Ah yes, the magical "laws of ecnomics." Well, they may apply equally to all people, but evidently laws of logic and common sense aren't so equally distributed. Lehman proceeds to dismiss those who've jumped to the wildly inappropriate, ridiculous conclusion that mass immigration could undermine the cultural preconditions of a free economy:

Contrary to the anti-immigration position, the American traditions of limited government and free market economies are not based upon ethnic or racial origins. They are based upon ideas. Western cultures cannot suppose themselves to have a monopoly on the philosophy of liberty, nor can Americans argue that the political values of the limited state cannot be inculcated in non-American immigrants. The ideas of freedom that have created the American tradition can apply to any ethnic or racial make-up.

So, according to Lehman, and his Enlightenment-influenced brethren in the libertarian movement, the free market is merely a universal abstraction or idea, written on the very heart of every man, divorced of ethnic or cultural considerations in any way. One group of people can embrace it as readily as another. All we need to do is give them a copy of "The Wealth of Nations" and watch everything fall into place.

Can such an idea be taken seriously? To quote Peter Brimelow, "The free market necessarily exists within a social framework. And it can function only if the institutions in that framework are appropriate. For example, a defined system of private property is now widely agreed to be one essential precondition. Economists have a word for these preconditions: the 'metamarket.' Some degree of ethnic and cultural coherence may be among them. Thus immigration may be a metamarket issue."

Exactly. Even an immigration enthusiast like Milton Friedman could see, though not grasp entirely, the issue. In an interview with Brimelow, Friedman said, "It's a curious fact that capitalism developed and has really come to fruition in the English-speaking world. It hasn't really made the same progress even in Europe--certainly not in France, for instance. I don't know why this is so, but the fact has to be admitted." If the esteemed Dr. Friedman is confused about this, let me provide an answer--culture matters. And mass immigration, the replacement of one people by another, necessarily undermines the cultural preconditions that make free markets possible. As Thomas Sowell has written, "The most obvious fact about the history of racial and ethnic groups. Is how different they have been--and still are."

In short, any discussion of immigration that focuses solely on nuts-and-bolts questions and cost/beneift analysis without giving due consideration to the cultural ramifications of demographic transformation is not a discussion worth having.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Christian and Suffering, Part I

Cross-posted at the Contemporary Calvinist.

If God in His providence holds all things together through Christ (Col. 1:17), the obvious implication is that even man’s suffering has purpose. Over the course of multiple posts, I hope to discuss the issue of suffering. My goal, gentle reader, is not to cover every nuance or sprint down every rabbit-trail, but to help us gain a greater understanding of God’s purpose for us as believers. (Note—my thoughts on suffering will be most relevant to those inside the family of faith).

Let’s admit up front that the question of suffering is a difficult challenge to the Christian worldview. John Stott puts it this way, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in very generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.”

While Stott is correct, it is also important to note that other worldviews and philosophical systems likewise have to deal with the problem. In the remainder of this post, I would like to VERY briefly consider a few non-Christian responses to suffering.

Derived from the Greek word doceteo, which means, "to appear to be", Docetism is the notion that evil doesn't really exist except in our perception, and we should simply learn to tune it out. The Hindu Brahmans believe this; so did Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote: "The only reality of sin, sickness, or death is the awful fact that these unrealities seem real to human, erring belief, until God strips off their disguise. We learn in Christian Science that all this is illusion."

The Christian refuses to look at suffering as an illusion. There is no attempt to gloss over it or use euphemisms to diminish it. Sometimes, Christian pastors will use euphemisms to diminish suffering, but Scripture does not. When Lazarus dies, to take but one example, we see Jesus weeping bitterly for His departed friend. For the Christian, suffering is not illusory.

There is also the view that suffering is simply “payback” for our actions—something akin to “bad karma.” The Christian may unconsciously say something like "What goes around comes around," and indeed the Scriptures do teach the general principle that one reaps what they sow, but for the Christian, suffering is not “pay back” from God for something we’ve done wrong. Such is not the way of the God of Scripture.

The Stoics concluded that everything that takes place in the physical world happens on the basis of mechanistically determined physical causes over which we have no control. That is, there is nothing you or I can ever do, think say or achieve that will change the course of human events.

So if there is nothing we can do to control events, the Stoic says that what we must do is simply try to always remain calm, to not let anything disturb us—in short, “take it like a man.” Is this Biblical? In many, if not most of the Psalms, we see the psalmist crying out to God, calling upon Him to act. The so-called “lament” is even a celebrated part of Hebrew literature. Solomon writes that there is “a time to mourn,” and Jesus Himself says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” We must not adopt a determinism or fatalism that claims we have no control over suffering.

Hedonism is an ethical system that maintains that the highest end of man is pleasure, and that pain and suffering are to be avoided at all costs. In the ancient world, there were to main schools of hedonists. The Cyrenaics believed that the pleasure of the body were important to happiness while the Epicureans thought the pleasures of the mind were ultimately more important.

There are at least a few other schools of thought on the issue, including Existentialism. For now, let me just conclude by saying that every philosophical system has to come to grips with the existence of suffering.

When I pick this up later in a few days, I’ll begin to examine how the Christian views suffering. Come back soon!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Welcome to the Culture of Life?

The Schiavo tragedy spawned reams of interesting commentary and dialogue. It also engendered this essay by Andrew Sandlin. (The essay is short, so please read the entire piece--if you can stop snickering long enough to finish it.)

Sandlin is a one-time acolyte of Christian Reconstructionist theologian R. J. Rushdoony and edited Chalcedon magazine before founding the Center for Cultural Leadership. The mission of CCL is to make Christianity “relevant” and create “a new kind of Christian.”

In his essay, Sandlin notes the growing influence of Christians in the public square, “A fact surrounding the Terri Schiavo imbroglio that has escaped much notice is the influence Christians (as Christians) have wielded. That the President, Congress, a state governor and prominent parts of a ubiquitous media would have worked so vocally and diligently to spare Terri’s life would have been unthinkable 25-30 years ago — with Richard Nixon, Carl Albert, Tip O’Neill, and Walter Cronkite at the political and media helm.”

Furthermore, though Christians were far from united on the Shiavo issue Sandlin helpfully explains, “it was largely the Christian contingent in Congress that catapulted it to the forefront and hastily passed a bill requiring a new judicial look at Terri’s case — and make no mistake, there are plenty of devout Christians in Congress, starting with Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay. Senate majority leader Bill Frist is a committed follower of our Lord, too. Both the President and his brother Jeb submit to Jesus as Lord. Fred Barnes and Sean Hannity of Fox News are devout Christians; and Bill O’Reilly, who is much less devout and often rather spiritually confused, nonetheless gives vocal support to Jesus as His Savior. This is not a nation without Christians in culturally influential positions — or who do not take their faith seriously. After the culture wars of the last 20 years, the country has been repositioned to press Christianity and Christian issues in the public square. Christians, under the power of the Holy Spirit, have seen to that.”

I suppose it is plausible that the Schiavo case will finally spur Evangelicals to keep Republican feet to the fire on issues of life and judicial activism, but I have my doubts. Let’s face facts for just a moment. Florida has a Republican governor and legislature. Both the executive and legislative branches in DC are controlled by the GOP last time I checked. Moreover, come 2008, the GOP will have controlled the White House for 28 of the last 40 years. During that time, REPUBLICAN presidents have nominated all but two Supreme Court justices. Has the GOP effectively pressed “Christianity and Christian issues in the public square?”

Sandlin seems to think so. In his endorsement of George Bush, here is what Sandlin wrote:

Bush has alienated the last vestiges the old Eastern Republican establishment (the Rockefeller variety) and has justifiably become the champion of Evangelical Christians. This is not surprising.

He has been an unflagging champion of the pro-life position, and he eagerly signed Congress’ legislation banning partial-birth abortion (Clinton had twice vetoed it).

Despite pressure even from some conservatives, Bush has opposed stem-cell research.

As the San Francisco mayor trumpeted same-sex marriages in that city and as Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, Bush urged a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman — that is, the Biblical definition.

Bush has implemented “faith-based” initiatives, allowing churches and other religious groups access to state funding for specific ministries beneficial to society (like drug rehabilitation).

Bush responded quickly and aggressively to the terrorist attacks of September 11 and has made the defense and security of the United States a priority of his administration. All of these actions endeared him to many conservative Christians, the vast majority of whom support him.

Forget for a moment the slew of inaccuracies in the above paragraphs. Of greater concern are the strategic implications Sandlin draws.

Sandlin is concerned that Christians who have abandoned the GOP are acting like children, looking for the instant gratification of political victory before doing the hard work of cultural reclamation. God has placed each of us in a particular place and time, Sandlin says, and we must operate within the parameters of His providence. Sandlin writes that we should work faithfully with the historical options God has granted us because, "He has not placed us in a historical situation that permits us to vote for the ideal candidate (and perhaps He never will). So, God expects us to vote responsibly and thoughtfully for the electable candidate that most accurately reflects Christian conviction."

In other words, vote GOP or deny God's providential working in history!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Do Paleos Have a Future?

The seeming neocon stranglehold on the country and the failure of paleocons to present a coherent alternative leaves one wondering about the future of the American Right, and American politics more generally.

In his latest book, historian John Lukcas whimsically concludes that, "Hitler and Stalin are gone, and George W. Bush will soon be gone, too." Quite a juxtaposition! Lukacs goes on to write:

The "Left" has been losing its appeal almost everywhere. It may be that in the future the true divisions will be between not Right and Left but between two kinds of Right: between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love their liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals; between nationalists and patriots; between those who believe that America's destiny is to rule the world and others who do not believe that between those who trust technology and machines and others who trust tradition and old human decencies; between those who support "development" and others who wish to protect the conservation of land--in sum, between those who do not question Progress and others who do.

I have written previously on the sin of despair. Our faith demands that we not drift into fatalism, but act in obedience to Christ. Perhaps, Lukacs is right and there are no lost causes.

If Lukacs is correct, one wonders where the paleolibertarians will be in the coming realignment. If this Lew Rockwell essay is any indication, they will be busily forming alliances with feminists, the professorate, homosexuals, "anti-fascist" blacks, and writers from Counterpunch. I can see it now, Lew in a love fest with Katrina Vanden Heuvel and David Corn.

I love Rockwell and am reluctant to find fault with him, but does Lew actually believe that restoring the Articles of Confederation and teaching seminarians Lockean philosophy will restore the republic to great glory?

Here are a few more gems from Rockwell's essay:

Some of the strongest resistance to American fascism right now comes from African-Americans, who have suffered disproportionately in this war...

Women too provide strong resistance to war fever. As more women are drawn to the expectation of a full-time professional life, women voters are also going to increasingly develop a commercial-class consciousness concerning taxes and regulations. The victim mentality that agitates for privilege in the workplace could give way to a free-market feminism...

Many people find themselves in circumstances, for whatever reasons –whether personal difficulties, life choices, and other factors – that bring about associations that fall outside the Bush-approved bourgeois family arrangements. No libertarian can support federal penalties against such people. Freedom of association is a first principle of civilization, and it is a disgrace to see that principle attacked in the name of family values...

I used to complain about the universities and their indoctrination of students in leftist theory. But these days, one has to be grateful that there are at least some pockets of resistance remaining...

I'm wary of all formal alliances but I do think libertarians need to be strategically flexible and entrepreneurial in finding intellectual allies, even if it means admitting that far better arguments are being made by CounterPunch than National Review.

OK, so Lew thinks the black community is going to become a bulwark against statism, hopes women abandon their children for the marketplace where they can "develop a commercial-class consciousness concerning taxes and regulations," assumes that university intellectuals will become standard-bearers for liberty, and hopes to align with those who fall outside "bourgeois family arrangements."

Rockwell also says that the problem isn't the neocons, as such, but "plain old conservatism" and concludes by saying, "The libertarian revolution will come when we least expect it, and it will unfold in a way we cannot fully anticipate."

I'm guessing that if libertarians take liberty-lovin' Lew's advice to heart and look to the Left for allies that the "libertarian revolution" won't be coming any time soon. And Rockwell's musings demonstrate in spades the emptiness of "Christian libertarianism."

Are Calvinists Fatalists?

Lee Shelton, an ideological soulmate and fellow-traveler, has started a new blog called The Contemporay Calvinist. I will contribute occasionally and though I will cross-post some items, there will be others that I will just post on Lee's site. So take a look when you have a chance.

I know, too, that I have some theologically literate readers. I welcome your corrections/comments, etc., for iron sharpens iron. However, please be aware that due to time constraints, and my own intellectual limitations, I won't be engaging in lengthy theological disputation (brief disputation is OK, though:).

On another note, I was recently contacted by a lady who is putting together an anthology of blog posts discoursing on the left/right political divide. She asked for permission to use my review of Buchanan's latest book. Not being wise in the intricacies of publishing, can anyone tell me if there is a downside to giving my permission?

One of the reckless charges that critics frequently direct at Calvinists is that we are fatalists. “After all,” they ask, “if God has ordained all things to come to pass, why would you pray, or evangelize?” The allegation is a serious one, for if true, Calvinism is heretical. One cannot be a “fatalist” and a Christian without an amazing tolerance for cognitive dissonance. So, is the charge fair?

I suppose that in the wrong hands, Calvinistic doctrine may devolve into something like Stoicism. But true Calvinism cannot be equated with blind fatalism. Calvinists believe in a personal God who maintains absolute sovereignty and governs all things via His providence (Col. 1:16-17). By contrast, fatalists look to the impersonal force of fate. Calvinism celebrates the grand purpose of life, to glorify God and love Him forever (Rev. 4:11), while fatalism espouses meaninglessness. As a Calvinist, I set my hope in the future manifestation of God’s heavenly glory and my ultimate citizenship in His Kingdom (Phil. 3:20). Fatalists look to a future of utter nothingness.

In short, fatalism cannot be equated with Calvinism. Though Calvinists recognize God as the primary cause who works all things in accordance with His holy will (Eph. 1:11), that in no way implies that the secondary cause of human action is without significance. God works through human actions to manage His will and has made us responsible for our actions, which have real and eternally significant results.

God ordains not only the ends, but the means as well (this has practical implications for prayer and evangelism, for instance). How all this ultimately works is, of course, mysterious. But God has ordained that events will come about by our causing them. Of course, we do not know what God has planned even for the rest of this day, to say nothing of the future. But we do know that if we obey God, he will bring about good things through that obedience (Rom. 8:28).

To quote Calvin on the matter, “God is pleased to hide all future events from us, in order that we should resist them as doubtful, and not cease to oppose them with ready remedies, until they are either overcome or pass beyond all care…God’s providence does not always meet us in its naked form, but God in a sense clothes it with the means employed.”

Friday, April 01, 2005

More on DeLay and His Movement

Following up on my post regarding Tom DeLay, I see that the "conservative movement" is rounding up the troops to rush to DeLay's defense.

The president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, along with Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation and David Keene from the American Conservative Union, called a meeting attended by two dozen of DCs best and brightest conservative activists.

DeLay let it be known to the assembled leadership of the Stupid Party that it would be “really nice if some calls would originate from you guys into members’ districts letting them know” why they should tell their representatives to support him.

Don Hodel, who until recently presided over Focus on the Family, said, "I think that conservative groups ought to be concerned. If conservative politicians are singled out for attacks by groups that have allegiance to a different worldview, if [conservatives] leave attacks to the liberal groups, they’re not going to have conservative politicians working for them."

Since the "conservative movement" has enthusiastically embraced big government and the corruption that goes with it, would we notice if they weren't in DC? Let's run a quick inventory and see what these conservatives have given the nation. Hmm, well there has been an 80% increase in federal education funding, not to mention the destruction of local control over education, i.e., "No Child Left Behind." Then there was the erosion of civil liberties accompanying the unfortunately named "Patriot Act." Lest we forget, Republicans have also graciously provided cheap Viagra for seniors...and let's see, has the Stupid Party done anything about affirmative action, immigration, or defunding Planned Parenthood? No, instead they've increased funding for those butchers through the back door of AIDS treatment, tacitly defended the Supreme Court's scandalous decisions on race preferences, and thoughtfully considered all the wonderful benefits of amnesty for illegal aliens. Oh, and I almost forgot, they dragged the country into an immoral and strategically foolish war to spread "freedom" hither-and-yon in the Middle East.

Not sure about you, but as for me and my household, we certainly would miss THAT kind of leadership!