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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Idols of the Tribe

Laurence Tribe, long-time professor of Constitutional law at Harvard University, may be the weightiest voice in favor of a "living Constitution"—at least the weightiest voice in the public eye. He has also written an entire book in defense of abortion. It is therefore instructive to see the quality of reasoning that he brings to bear on partial-birth abortion.

1. "This memorandum addresses the constitutionality of…a proposed federal statute that would criminalize a certain abortion procedure whether or not the fetus is viable, and without making any exception for the health of the mother."

Make a careful note of the underlying assumption. The assumption is that Congress is subservient to the courts. It is up to the courts to determine whether an act of Congress is constitutional or not.

This assumption governs the entire discussion. No supporting argument is offered for this assumption.

Now the reason that Dr. Tribe offers no argument in defense of this assumption is that it represents the current status quo. So he can safely take it for granted.

But it is important to keep in mind that this assumption is by no means unquestionable. It is striking that those who are so fond of invoking Jefferson on church/state separation fall strangely silent regarding his views on judicial review:

"The question whether the judges are invested with exclusive authority to decide on the constitutionality of a law has been heretofore a subject of consideration with me in the exercise of official duties. Certainly there is not a word in the Constitution which has given that power to them more than to the Executive or Legislative branches."
—Thomas Jefferson to W. H. Torrance, 1815. ME 14:303

"But the Chief Justice says, 'There must be an ultimate arbiter somewhere.' True, there must; but does that prove it is either party? The ultimate arbiter is the people of the Union, assembled by their deputies in convention, at the call of Congress or of two-thirds of the States. Let them decide to which they mean to give an authority claimed by two of their organs. And it has been the peculiar wisdom and felicity of our Constitution, to have provided this peaceable appeal, where that of other nations is at once to force."
—Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823. ME 15:451

"But, you may ask, if the two departments [i.e., federal and state] should claim each the same subject of power, where is the common umpire to decide ultimately between them? In cases of little importance or urgency, the prudence of both parties will keep them aloof from the questionable ground; but if it can neither be avoided nor compromised, a convention of the States must be called to ascribe the doubtful power to that department which they may think best."
—Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:47

"The Constitution . . . meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch."
—Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1804. ME 11:51

"To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem [good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves."
—Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:277

"In denying the right [the Supreme Court usurps] of exclusively explaining the Constitution, I go further than [others] do, if I understand rightly [this] quotation from the Federalist of an opinion that 'the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government, but not in relation to the rights of the parties to the compact under which the judiciary is derived.' If this opinion be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se [act of suicide]. For intending to establish three departments, coordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one, too, which is unelected by and independent of the nation. For experience has already shown that the impeachment it has provided is not even a scare-crow . . . The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."
—Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819. ME 15:212

"This member of the Government was at first considered as the most harmless and helpless of all its organs. But it has proved that the power of declaring what the law is, ad libitum, by sapping and mining slyly and without alarm the foundations of the Constitution, can do what open force would not dare to attempt."
—Thomas Jefferson to Edward Livingston, 1825. ME 16:114

"My construction of the Constitution is . . . that each department is truly independent of the others and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution in the cases submitted to its action; and especially where it is to act ultimately and without appeal."
—Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819. ME 15:214

For more on this subject, cf. L. Kramer, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review (Oxford 2004).

Anyone conversant with the current state of the debate will instantly recognize that Jefferson is raising the very same objections to judicial activism that are entertained today.

Indeed, The Constitution Restoration Act of 2004, presently making its way through Congress, would limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism, under the power vested in Congress by article III, section 1 of the Constitution.

2. Consider what Tribe's hermeneutical legerdemain has brought us to. He says, in all seriousness, "that fetal viability is the constitutionally significant event, ad the bill's barely-concealed attempt to apply an altogether different standard is flatly inconsistent with the Liberty Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments as construed by the Supreme Court in Casey."

Now is that just beautiful? We really need to pause a while lest this get by us too fast. We need to take in the full force of what has just been said. He is telling the reader that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments address the question of fetal viability.

Let us, for just a moment, remind ourselves of what these Amendments actually say:

Amendment V

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

"Fetal viability"? Hmm. Do you see anything in the Fifth Amendment about "fetal viability"? Okay, let's give the Fourteenth Amendment a try.

Amendment XIV

Do you find anything about "fetal viability under section 1?

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

No, nothing there. What about section 2?

"Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state."

No, nothing there, either. Okay, it must be hidden away somewhere in section 3.

"Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability."

Gee, did I miss something? What about 4-5?

"Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void."

"Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

It's not just that there is no express reference to the right of an abortion, much less fetal viability, in the Bill of Rights. There is no implication to that effect.

There is nothing wrong with going beyond the ipsissima verba of the Constitution in the sense of either inferring a general principle from a special case, or inferring a special application from a general principle.

But that is not what is going on with Dr. Tribe. There is nothing in either the explicit or implicit propositions of the Constitution, much less the intent of the framers or the intent of the states that ratified the document, to purport a right of abortion in the text.

What you have, instead, is something like this: once upon a time there were states that banned birth-control devices. The Supreme Court didn't like those laws. So it cast about for a way to strike them down. It did this by first inferring a right of privacy in the Constitution. From this it then inferred a right to contraception. Once upon a time there were states that banned abortion. The Supreme Court didn’t like those laws, so it inferred the right to an abortion from the right to contraception. The next step is to infer all the possible undercutters or overriders to the right to an abortion—such as fetal viability, the life and health of the mother, &c.

Now the problem with this whole line of reasoning is that it has no basis in fact. And even if it did have a bit of factual anchorage to begin with, it weighs anchor as soon as it begins to draw inferences of inferences of inferences.

What you have is a fictive legal construct. The process of reasoning is much like a literary tradition, say the Star Trek franchise. Gene Roddenberry created a storybook world with certain customs and characters and scientific laws.

Someone who writes within the Star Trek tradition as a fixed frame of reference, moving forward or backward in time. Although Capt. Kirk had no mother or father in the series, yet the character would have to have a mother and father, so you could give him and father and mother, and create a backstory out of that.

All we're doing here is to toy with the incidental implications of abstract ideas. Even if the ideas had a hook in reality, they soon take on a life of their own through mutual association.

And this is fine as long as you don't forget that what we have here is the natural play of the imagination. But to reify this free-floating, deductive chain as though it bore any sort of correspondence to what is right or wrong or true or false with the world, when it is—at most—at several removes from the real world, by some six degrees of separation, is—at very best—delusional, and—at worst—sheer flimflam dudded up in judicial robes. "

The house that Jack built" makes for a good bedtime story, but bad jurisprudence. For the law deals with real people—flesh-and-blood victims and victimizers.

We need to take a few steps back and slap our face with cold water. Words mean what they meant—which is to say, what the author meant them to mean. And words do not define reality. They have no objective, n-ordered entailments for the world at large. Rather, words and ideas have referential power only insofar as they are true to the world they represent. The world confers whatever constantive force they enjoy, not vice versa.

You cannot make a meal from a recipe alone. The recipe does not create its own ingredients. To cook up a new set of rights from the Bill of Rights by toying with merely possible consequences and unintended associations or is to substitute a paper steak for the real thing.

And if that were not bad enough, much of what passes for judicial review doesn't even rise to the level of a merely possible implication, but is only consistent with the imported premise. In what sense does the "Liberty Clause" implicate the right to an abortion? Is the reasoning that if you ban abortion, you deprive a mother of the freedom to choose an abortion? That tautology is, of course, true, but by the same token, if you criminalize bank robbery, then that infringes on the freedom of bank robbers.

And if we're going to apply such loose logic, what about depriving the baby of life? Remember the wording of the "Liberty Clause": nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." If an abortionist can apply "liberty" to the case of the mother, why can an anti-abortionist not apply "life" to the case of the child? Pretty selective prooftexting.

3. Tribe begins by faulting the bill for failing to make provision for the life and health of the mother. But he then glosses the "health" of the mother to cover "all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age." In other words, there are no restrictions on abortion, for the definition of a woman's "health" can be extended and attenuated to any degree necessary to necessitate any abortion whatsoever. Abortion anytime, anywhere, for any reason.

This especially exposes the insincerity of his saying that Congress has no business to butt in given the "ability of the States to enact laws of their own dealing with precisely the same subject matter," for by his lights, the judiciary is superior to the legislative branch, either at the state or federal level; and that, what is more, the legislative branch has absolutely no discretion in this area for the Supreme Court has settled the matter once and for all time.

4. Tribe takes exception to the wording of the bill. He dubs this "a peculiar bit of alchemy" because "the terms ‘fetus' and ‘infant' are interchangeable," which he characterizes as a "novel definition of 'infant.'"

Well, according to the Oxford English dictionary, an infant is "a child during the earliest period of life (or still unborn)." And according to the 1611 (KJV) rendering of Job 3:16, an infant who never saw the light of day is in synonymous parallelism with a stillborn child. So it looks like Tribe is working with a novel definition of novelty.

Actually, a more egregious specimen of semantic alchemy occurs when Tribe repeated treats "woman" and "mother" as interchangeable. But these two words have different meanings and connotations. Every mother is a woman, but every woman is not a mother.

The distinction is not inconsequential. It is easier to depersonalize the abortion debate if you talk about women in general in relation to an anonymous fetus, for a woman qua woman has no relationship to any particular fetus. By contrast, a mother has a very special relationship to the child in her womb.

It is also striking how the abortionist will attempt to personalize the plight of the woman while endeavoring, in equal measure, to depersonalize her baby by the use of clinical terminology like "the fetus." Consider the tonal difference between "mother and child" as over against "woman and fetus."

5. Like every other abortionist, Tribe regularly resorts to euphemisms. He tries to cast this as a debate over "reproductive freedom" or "reproductive destiny."

Really now, is anyone denying the right of a woman to have a baby? Of course not!

Moreover, who is denying a woman the right not to have a baby? No one that I'm aware of.

Rather, the woman has already exercised her freedom of choice in consenting to engage in sexual reproduction. And guess what. When a woman engages in sexual reproduction, she sometimes gets pregnant!

So what Tribe is really saying is that a woman cannot be trusted with the consequences of her chosen lifestyle. How is this really any different from the old fashioned view that a woman could not enter into a binding contract without the approval of her husband or father or brother?

6. Dr. Tribe has a disconcerting habit of oscillating between moralistic and legalistic arguments. But these are not on a par. Legalistic arguments are based on precedent and the principle of stare decisis, as when he cites Roe, Doe, Danforth, Thornburgh, and Casey.

But moralistic arguments are independent of common law, as when he talks about "experimenting" with the life and health of the mother or "trading" her welfare for the welfare of the child. This way of speaking suggests that something ought to be law because it is morally incumbent, and not incumbent because it is a matter of law and law alone.

It is ethically unseemly, to say the least, to make the fate of the unborn child turn on merely legalistic maneuvers, erected on one false or question-begging premise upon another.

Tribe finds it morally arbitrary to make the right of the unborn baby hinge on its physical location. Of course, a prolifer would regard the child as sacrosanct at every stage of gestation. But, beyond that, it is no less arbitrary to say that a child might have a right to life in 1972, but have no right to life in 1973.

Just as artificial is the criterion of fetal viability. It should be unnecessary to point out that a pre-term baby is not supposed to be viable outside the womb. That is what the womb is for. How long can Mr. Tribe survive without food, water, warmth, or oxygen?

In the same vein, Tribe talks about the "undue burden" placed on a mother's wellbeing. This is a very unnatural way of characterizing a natural condition. One might as well say that having to walk on both feet places an undue burden on a biped.

Tribe talks about abortion as "an obviously tragic procedure that everyone wishes were never necessary." But this is a straw man argue. Most legal abortions are not medically necessary. A tragic choice is a moral dilemma that is forced upon one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The plastic pearl of great price

Ask a Mormon missionary how anyone can know that Mormonism is true, and he'll refer you to the following statement:

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4).

This calls for a number of comments:

i) A Christian is only at liberty to pray a Christian prayer—a Trinitarian prayer. Any other prayer is idolatrous. Although this prayer is formally Christian, inasmuch as it makes use of traditional terminology, Mormon theology defines the persons very differently than does the Bible.

ii) This prayer is question-begging. To what "God" would we be praying? Only the true God could truthfully answer this prayer, so unless we know in advance that this prayer is addressed to the true God, it assumes what it needs to prove.

iii) Not everything is open to prayer. I don't have the right to ask God if it's okay for me to have an affair with another man's wife. Praying over the matter does not confer any moral warrant on adultery. The Bible does not authorize prayer as a short-cut to verify what I believe or justify what I do.

There is, however, a deeper objection to this appeal. For the Mormon missionary is giving a different answer to verify Mormonism that Joseph Smith himself has given. Now, if Joseph Smith is indeed a true prophet of God who restored the lost Gospel, it only seems fair to judge Mormonism by its founder's own methodology. So let us measure Mr. Smith by his own yardstick.

This can be found in a little work entitled "Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet." I have a copy of this, bound with The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, published by the LDS (1978).

Smith begins by explaining his perplexity over doctrinal diversity. "Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist" (2:5).

"So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong" (2:8).

"Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?" (2:10).

"Unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible" (2:12).

Now, this reaction is perfectly understandable, but it calls for a few comments:

i) By his own admission, Smith was confused because he was young and ignorant. But the solution to that is not private revelation, but education.

ii) Doctrinal diversity is nothing new. In 1C Judaism you had Pharisees and Sadducees, Hillelites and Shamaites, Zealots, Essenes, and Philonic Platonists, to name a few.

Yet that doesn't prevent Jesus and the Apostles from adjudicating a question by direct appeal to Scripture. They did this all the time in debate with various Jewish groups and schools of that. Some interpretations make more sense than others. It's as simple as that. You study both sides of a debate and decide for yourself which side makes the best case for its position. Which side has the better of the argument? Not all reasons are equally good.

iii) Who said that we have to be equally certain about everything? After all, everything is not equally important. There are degrees of certainty and doubt.

iv) Moreover, the Mormonism has had its own history of internal strife. After Joseph Smith was killed in a shootout, there was a fight over succession, resulting in a split between those who followed his son and those who followed Brigham Young. Then you have a number of breakaway polygamist sects. And you also have a liberal/conservative divide within LDS ranks. So there are plenty of splitter-groups that all lay claim to be true to Mormonism.

Joseph Smith then appeals to Jas 1:5 to break out of this hermeneutical circle (2:11). But there are two things wrong with this appeal:

i) If, according to Smith, questions cannot be settled by direct appeal to Scripture, due to the diversity of interpretations, then how can Smith appeal to Jas 1:5 to justify his own action?

Why is it valid for him to appeal to Scripture, but invalid for the Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian to do the same? What warrant does Mr. Smith have for such a double standard?

ii) If you read the way in which James describes the nature of wisdom, he is not talking about private revelation, but sanctified common sense (Jas 3:13,17).

He then tells us about an angelic apparition, during which all the Christian denominations were condemned as "corrupt" and "abominable" (2:19). But why should the reader believe that Mr. Smith was ever privy to this apparition? Why take his word for it? He had no witnesses. And it is not as though he was a man of sterling character. Rather, he had a reputation as a dabbler in the occult—in particular, a crystal-gazer. This is exactly what we'd expect of a religious charlatan.

But, assuming, for the sake of argument, the apparition was genuine, why assume that it was divine rather than diabolical? The Devil appeared to Adam and Eve. The Devil appeared to Jesus. Zechariah had visions of the Devil, as did John the Revelator.

Moving ahead, Mr. Smith records a later angelic apparition, in which he is informed, with respect to Joel 2:28, "that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be." But according to Acts 2, this prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

Finally, Mr. Smith describes his "translation" of the Book of Abraham from the original Egyptian:

"I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters, which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Prof. Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian…He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct" (2:64).

Let us be crystal clear on what this claim amounts to: (i) Smith made an "accurate" translation of the Book of Abraham from the original Egyptian text; (ii) Smith had this translation verified by Prof. Anthon, the orientalist at Columbia University.

Thus, Joseph Smith is staking his own veracity on the confirmation and corrobortion of Prof. Anthon. This is the evidence he is giving the reader to credit his prophetic claims. But when Prof. Anthon got wind of this appeal, he wrote a debunking the appeal in toto:

New York, Feb. 17, 1834

Dear Sir –

I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be "reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics" is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A "gold book," consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of "gold spectacles"! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face. Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered "by the gift of God." Every thing, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the "golden book," the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles. On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calendar given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but "Egyptian Hieroglyphics." Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the "curse of God" would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the "curse of God" upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.

I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.

Yours respectfully, CHAS. ANTHON.


On these grounds alone, Joseph Smith is a false prophet by his own chosen standard of reference. He is the one who volunteered this evidence in substantiation of his prophetic claims. If, therefore, Prof. Anthon expressly contravened that very claim, then the evidence is falsified by Mr. Smith's stated rules of evidence. This is, all by itself, sufficient to prove him an outright fraud.

But even that is not the end of the story. For since that time, a number of Egyptologists, have had occasion to compare the Book of Abraham against facsimiles of the Egyptian original. As Gleason Archer, who is, himself, a student of the language, has expressed the state of scholarly opinion, "Their finding was that not a single word of Joseph Smith's alleged translation bore any resemblance to the contents of this document," A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody 1994), 555. Cf. C. Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri (Grand Rapids 1992).

So Joseph Smith has been weighed in a scale of his own choosing, and found to be sadly and wholly wanting. He has furnished both the evidence and the rules of evidence for his own indictment and conviction. It remains for us to pass sentence.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Original intent

One of the key debates between liberal and conservative is over original intent v. a "living Constitution." Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia are the leading proponents of original intent. Here's a (rather illiterate) transcript of a speech by Scalia on the subject.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

A layman looks at evolution

I’m not a scientist. Maybe that disqualifies me from forming a scientific opinion about evolution. Even if that were so I’d still have a right to form a theological opinion about evolution.

However, evolution is taught in the public schools, and leading Darwinians pen high-level popularizations for mass consumption. So apparently I am expected to form a scientific opinion about evolution.

One problem I have with the evolutionary literature is that it doesn’t ask certain questions that I ask, and since it doesn’t ask them, it doesn’t answer them. Here are three questions I have about evolution.

1. Hydrophobia

To my knowledge, monkeys have a natural fear of water. This includes the great apes. And this comes from the fact that, unlike most other animals, monkeys don't know how to swim. So they're afraid of drowning.

By contrast, humans are not afraid of water. Indeed, humans revel in water--from babies in bathwater to water sports and high-end real estate. Yet if humans were an offshoot of the same simian branch or trunk, wouldn't we expect human beings to exhibit an instinctual and irrepressible fear of water?

2. Oil fields

A certain amount of our lives is spent at the local gas station. One day as I was gassing up the car I began to wonder what was the evolutionary explanation for oil fields. I’m not asking about the evolutionary explanation of fossil fuel in general. The idea, I suppose, is this represents the cumulative residual of millions of animals dying over millions of years.

The question, though, is how that manages to pool into oil fields? For if animals are dying at all different times and places, what I’d expect to see is a geological substratum honeycombed with numberless little pockets of oil.

So the question, from an evolutionary standpoint, is how all the isolated drops of oil collect in massive underground reservoirs? What is the pathway? And is the underlying rock porous enough for the oil to seep through and pool in one or more places? And one could pose some of the same logistical questions regarding coalmines. Perhaps a petroleum geologist would have a simple explanation for this, but I haven’t heard it.

By contrast, so-called flood geology seems to offer a very straightforward explanation. You had a global, one-time event, resulting in some massive collective deposits. They all died more or less at once, and the receding floodwaters would have dumped them into some concentrated areas.

No doubt a complete explanation is more complicated than that. The question, though, is whether a complete explanation is less complicated than that.

3. River valleys

Yesterday I was reading a newspaper article on an archeological dig in the Savannah River valley to uncover a pre-Clovis level of human occupation in the New World.

This got me to thinking of a couple of things. First, it's my impression that a lot of the evidence of "early man" is taken from river valleys—whether extant or prehistoric.

Second, the distinction between pre- and post-Clovis culture (as well as other gradations of the geological column) presupposes the law of superposition.

Now the law of superposition is a common sense principle. But doesn't that assume a fairly steady and stable process of deposition?

Yet I should think that a river valley would be inherently unstable. To begin with, you have a continuous process of deposition and erosion, going on at the same time.

Second, every now and then you have record rainfall, or a record snowpack in the mountains (with a record snowmelt come spring), resulting in torrential runoff.

Not only would this lay down a lot of new sediment, but it would scour out a lot of the old strata, both several layers deep as well as wide—eroding the riverbanks, where "early man" would camp out.

So how does an archeologist know that what he sees today is 15,000 years old rather than 150 years old?

This is even before we figure in the impact of a global flood.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Once upon a liberal

Once upon a time there was a kind and compassionate mad scientist by the name of Herr Doktor Liberius. Liberius was very unhappy with the way the world was. So he set about to turn the world into one big social experiment.

He began by inventing a better human being by the name of Androgyne. Now Androgyne had removable sex organs so that he/she could choose his/her own gender from one day to the next. Androgyne also had an African nose and mouth, Asian eyes, and reddish skin.

One day, in a terrible lab accident, Doktor Liberius inadvertently bred a set of blue eyes and shock of blond hair. But he quickly disposed of this color scheme— lest someone take offense.

Liberius next made a rotating set of parents for Androgyne. Monday-Thursday, Androgyne had two mommies, while Friday-Sunday, Androgyne had three daddies.

In order to defray the expenses of the lab, made Androgyne’s various parents pay a wide variety of taxes for its upkeep. There were many different duties for many different "services." There was a bedroom tax for sleeping on a king-sized mattress, a prorated potty tax for each use of the WC, an oxygen surtax for unauthorized intake of fresh air, a gustatory surtax for eating non-organic snacks, an ingressive tax for getting into the car, an egressive tax for getting out of the car, and so on.

(Originally, the potty tax was a flat tax until the Anti-Defecation League went to court to have this struck down as an unduly regressive form of taxation)

Because Androgyne’s two mommies and three daddies had to hold two or three different jobs apiece to pay all their taxes, they had no time to spend with poor little Androgyne. So Doktor Liberius, as a kind and compassionate mad scientist, opened a 24/7-daycare center, and charged the parents a daycare duty.

When the parents complained that they could not afford to pay the daycare duty, Doktor Liberius, as a kind and compassionate mad scientist, hired them to work at the daycare so that they could pay the daycare duty out of their daycare wages. This way they were now working at the daycare to pay the daycare because they were too busy working at the daycare, to pay the daycare, to take care of little Androgyne at home. What could be more convenient?

Doktor Liberius then opened a preschool in the daycare, and after that a K-12 in the daycare. Needless to say, he had to raise taxes to defray the cost of the new school.

The core curriculum was learning how to feel good about yourself feeling good about your neighbor feeling good about yourself.

After Androgyne graduated from the daycare school, he/she had trouble holding down a job because he/she had no marketable job skills. As a kind and compassionate mad scientist, Doktor Liberius started a remedial job-training program, charging the parents a surtax. The core curriculum was learning how to feel good about yourself feeling good about your neighbor feeling good about yourself.

Androgyne complained that he/she had to walk a whole block from the daycare center to the adjacent training center. As a compassionate mad scientist, Doktor Liberius hired a taxicab service to transport Androgyne from the daycare center to the training center, and charged the parents a taxi-tax.

After Androgyne graduated from the program, he/she still had trouble holding down a job. As a kind and compassionate mad scientist, Doktor Liberius took immediate measures to solve the problem. He passed a law classifying Androgyne’s incompetence as a board certified medical disability. Any business that fired an employee who didn’t do his job was mandated by law to pay him a full pension.

As an early retiree, Androgyne had a lot of free time on his/her hands, and began to dabble in armed robbery as a way of passing the time. As a kind and compassionate mad scientist, Doktor Liberius took swift action to break the cycle of violence. He passed a law disarming security guards, fining bank managers for badmouthing bank robbers ("hate speech"), and made the bank hire a psychologist to counsel Androgyne on his/her injured self-esteem.

But Androgyne sank into a deep funk. His/her condition was scientifically diagnosed as removable sex organ syndrome (RSOS). The prescribed course of therapy was removable-removable sex organ surgery (RRSOS). To cover the cost, his parents were assessed an RRSOS-tariff.

Although the operation was pronounced a complete success, it presented Androgyne with a new challenge. Back in preschool he had received a complete course how to practice safe sex with removable sex organs. But what was he supposed to do with a fully integrated set of sex organs?

The hospital sent him home with several extra packages of male contraceptives, after charging the parents a—you guessed it! —prophylactic-tax. Unfortunately, Androgyne was inexperienced in the use of condoms, and his experimental efforts resulted in an unwanted pregnancy.

This, in turn, triggered a good deal of litigation and legislation. The local grocery store was sued and assessed a fine for failing to supply organic cucumbers for sex ed. They carried non-organic cucumbers, but these were deeply offensive to vegan contraceptive consumers. As a consequence, a new law was passed mandating that all grocery stores either stock organic cucumbers—in various lengths and circumferences, specified in law.

For a time it looked like zucchinis mind win out over cucumbers when The Zucchini Action Defense Fund (ZADF) made a sizable contribution to the chairman's reelection campaign. However, this motion was tabled after The Committee for the Ethical Treatment of Zucchinis (CETZ) too strenuous exception, contending that this law would play into the racist stereotype of Latin Lovers, and incite possible violence against innocent, law-abiding zucchinis.

But the episode was so embarrassing that poor Androgyne became ever more depressed. At first he was prescribed anti-depressants, for which his parents were assessed an uppers-surtax. When he got hooked on uppers, he was prescribed downers, for which his parents were prescribed a downers-surtax. Then he was checked into drug rehab, for which his parents were charged a rehab-tax. After he became a hopeless junkie, he was given free needles, which came out of the I.V.-tariff. Then he was given free cocaine, which came out of the crack-tax lock-box.

Meanwhile, Androgyne’s parents began to complain about their workload. As a kind and compassionate mad scientist, Doktor Liberius cut them back to a 4-day workweek, gave them an annual 3-month vacation, and raised their taxes to make up for lost revenue.

Due to chronic fatigue, Androgyne, along with his two mommies and three daddies, was committed to a state-run nursing home. However, the nursing home suffered from a staffing shortage.

You see, as a kind and compassionate mad scientist, opposed the death penalty for anyone above the age of 9 months outside the womb, but supported the death penalty for anyone below the age of 9 months inside the womb. This had the unforeseen consequence of seriously skewing the ratio between bedpan users and bedpan disposers.

As a result, Androgyne, along with his two mommies and three daddies, lived unhappily ever after. Well, not quite. As a kind and compassionate mad scientist, Doktor Liberius had them put out of their misery and ground into Magnon chow-mien to feed the lab rats, so that he could invent a better human being by the name of Androgyne 2. Now Androgyne 2 had removable sex organs so that...

The End


Disclaimer: all the people in this story are real. But the names have been changed to protect the good name of innocent fairy tale characters from guilt-by-association.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

One faith, one Lord, one baptism

There is, as most of us know, a perennial debate between paedobaptism and credobaptism. One reason the debate remains at a stalemate is that the reason people take different sides has less to do with the direct arguments, which are rather weak on either side, than with the indirect or supporting arguments. For your doctrine of the sacraments has less to do with sacramentology than with ecclesiology. The doctrine of the church, variously construed, is what undergirds various views on baptism. Let’s take three cases:

I. Roman Catholicism

The direct argument for infant baptism is baptismal regeneration. On this ground, the baptismal candidate need not satisfy any prior condition; he not be in a state of grace, for the rite of baptism is itself what confers the grace signified by the sacrament.

However, the direct argument, even if otherwise sound (which I deny), cannot stand on its own. For although the subject need not satisfy any prior condition to validate the sacrament, the officiate must meet a prior condition to validate the sacrament. Just consider how the Roman Church defines the true church. According to Vatican II,

"The Church is a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ (Jn 10:1-10)."

"[The Church is] societally structured with hierarchical organs."

"This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him," Lumen Gentium.

So it is a particular doctrine of the church that underwrites Catholic baptism.

II. Presbyterian paedobaptism

Presbyterians give a couple of direct arguments for infant baptism: (i) household baptism and (ii) the parallel between baptism and infant circumcision.

However, even if these arguments were otherwise sound, they are, at most, practical arguments, implying the de facto observance of infant baptism. They do not, however, supply the de jure grounds.

For this, Presbyterians downshift to a couple of supporting arguments: (i) federal headship and (ii) the continuity of the covenants. According to federal theology, God deals with people, not merely as individuals, but as representative units under a representative head. And whatever the other dispensational discontinuities or administrative details, there is only one covenant of grace. Whoever is saved is saved the same way, whether in the OT church or the NT church. Indeed, the New Covenant is the culmination of federal headship and the capstone of OT promise.

III. Reformed credobaptism

Among Reformed Baptists, the direct argument lies in the simple fact that wherever baptism is explicitly illustrated or enjoined, there is a faith-condition.

To this the Presbyterians then counter that faith-condition is an incidental prerequisite owing to the fact that the NT church was a missionary church which naturally addressed its evangelistic message to adults. But once a Christian family was established, the OT default setting would click in.

Now, whatever the merits or demerits of this particular counterargument, the position of the Reformed Baptist runs deeper. Insofar as baptism is the rite of church membership, what qualifies a baptismal candidate really turns on the definition of the church, and terms of church membership. Consider the following statements from the London Baptist Confession:

"The catholic or universal church is invisible—consistings of the whole number of the elect who have been, who are being, or who yet shall be gathered into one under Christ who is the church's head.

All persons throughout the world who profess to believe the gospel and to render gospel obedience unto God by Christ are, and may be called, visible saints, provided that they do not render void their profession of belief by holding fundamental errors or by living unholy lives; and of such persons all local churches should be composed.

The members of these churches are saints by reason of the divine call, and in a visible manner they demonstrate and declare, both by their confession of Christ and their manner of life, that they obey Christ's call…yielding full assent to the requirements of the gospel.

All believers are under obligation to join themselves to local churches when and where they have opportunity to do so," LBCF 26:1-2,6,12.

In brief, the true members of the true church are the elect. They are believers, visible saints. True faith is a living faith.

IV. Weighing the options.

So how do these three options shake out?

1. None of the supporting arguments is altogether compelling. Although they are consistent with their respective sacramental positions, and probilify one view over against another, they do not entail that view by strict implication, for they operate at a rather more general level of abstraction.

2. I personally have no firm position on the baptism of infants. In a sense, you could accept the Baptist view on the significance of baptism, but accept a Presbyterian view on the baptismal candidate, for if baptism is a sign of grace rather than a means of grace, then its administration conveys no saving benefit, withholding its administration withholds no saving benefit, while its abuse conveys no matching malediction.

3. I regard the corroborative doctrines as more important than the doctrine they corroborate.

4. And I do have settled views on the corroborative doctrines.

5. Regarding Romanism, of this one could say a little or a lot. But I'll content myself with two or three comments:

i) It is pretty breathtaking to see Jn 10:1-10 cited to prove that the Church is the door to Christ, rather than Christ as the door to the Church. In a way this says it all. It perfectly encapsulates the difference between Roman and Reformed soteriology and ecclesiology. Needless to say, it represents an utter inversion and perversion of the Johannine text.

ii) There is a tension between sovereign grace and sacramental grace, for sovereign grace is particular and irresistible, whereas sacramental grace is indefinite and ineffectual.

iii) The most perilous part of sacramental realism is that it fosters a false assurance of salvation, for the subject puts his faith, not in Christ, but in the sacrament, or the Church which redeems the sacramental token.

6. Regarding the Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist arguments, I would say that both sets of supporting arguments are fundamentally true, but one can give full assent to the supporting arguments without giving full assent to their secondary application.

This is, on the one hand, what lends them their enduring appeal; on other hand, this is why they fail to convert many to the opposing position. They are compelling in their own right, but not quite as convincing when conscripted to adjudicate the paedo/credobaptist debate. For the supporting arguments are doctrines deployed in defense of another doctrine.

7. One doesn't have to be a Presbyterian partisan to regard their model of covenant theology as essentially sound, for the London Baptist Confession is only a modification of the Westminster Confession.

8. On the other side, were it not for the felt need to make room for infant baptism, there is nothing that a Presbyterian ought to find objectionable in the Baptist definition of the church. The invisible church is the company of the elect, and although the visible church is a mixed multitude, no principled Presbyterian would knowingly admit a reprobate or nominal believer into full fellowship.

Indeed, Presbyterians are famous, some one would say infamous, for their devotion to church discipline.

The Catholic and Baptist views represent the antipodes of ecclesiology. Although the Roman Church professes herself to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, yet as a practical matter, sanctity takes a very distant third to unity and catholicity.

In this respect, a low-church Baptist has a higher ecclesiology than a high churchman, for the Reformed Baptist has a higher standard of church membership.

9. Precinding Catholicism as out of bounds, I would say that it matters less what you believe about baptism than what you believe about the supporting arguments.

Take whichever side you will on baptism as long as you come down squarely on both sides on the supporting arguments.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Rise of the Fourth Reich

Just this month, Robert Reich has come out with an article entitled "Bush’s God."

This follows on the heels of a similar article of his, published back in December.

In the December issue there was much alarmist talk of how the religious right constitutes a "clear and present" threat to religious liberty. But, in this issue, it is Mr. Reich who launches a frontal assault on religious liberty. Apparently the threat was insufficiently imminent after all, so he has chosen to fulfill his own dire prediction with a preemptive first strike.

It begins as a discussion about the tax-exempt status of churches. From there is goes to a more general discussion of church/state separation. Finally, it launches into a general broadside against religion as even more dangerous than international terrorism.

Anyone who has had occasion to hear Robert Reich on TV knows him to be a very smart, savvy guy. He is a highly articulate liberal with a quick mind and a quick tongue.

It is striking, therefore, that such a bright thinker can pen such a slack piece of reasoning. Let us run through his arguments, such as they are.

1. Mr. Reich equates a tax-exemption with a direct governmental subsidy. Now, only a liberal would be capable of making that equation, for the reasoning is, at best, circular.

It is not the government that subsidizes the taxpayer, but the taxpayer that subsidizes the government. Government gets its money from the people, not vice versa.

When a taxpayer takes a tax deduction, or receives a tax-rebate, this is not a case of government subsidizing the taxpayer. It only means that the government is not garnishing quite as much of his wages as would otherwise be the case.

Again, if a church, which already enjoys a tax-exemption, were to endorse a particular candidate, this would not "cost" the government anything above what is already lost in tax-revenue from the initial exemption.

The suppressed premise of his argument seems to be that taxation is a form of income redistribution. It is not merely a case of giving a wager-earner more of his money back; no, it is taking from Peter to pay Paul.

Okay, on that convoluted construction you could say that any tax-exemption is a de facto government subsidy. But if this is deemed to be an unacceptable consequence, it is only objectionable because the liberal is drawing a liberal conclusion from a liberal premise. The more fundamental question is whether the tax code should be structured in such a way as to make it a mechanism of income redistribution.

Suppose we were to scrap the graduated tax system for a flat tax, or even ditch most federal, state, and local taxes for user-fees? After all, we got along without a Federal income tax until Woodrow Wilson came along.

Mr. Reich then makes the following claim:
"The Constitution of the United States prohibits the federal government from enacting laws that promote or establish any religion. That's because the Framers understood the importance of keeping a strict separation between church and state. History has amply demonstrated how established religions undermine democracy. Citizens holding different beliefs from the majority, or no beliefs at all, are often disadvantaged, marginalized, or even ostracized. Government support tends to corrupt even an established religion whose leaders seek official favors in return for religious decrees and indulgences, and who do the government's bidding in return for state benefits."

There are at least four fundamental flaws in his analysis:

1. Notice the downward semantic slide from "establishment" to "support" or "promotion." This trades on a fatal equivocation. There is quite a difference between the establishment of a national church and some form of Federal promotion or sponsorship. Reich is substituting weaker words that are not synonymous with the original.

As a matter of historical fact, the Federal government was a patron of the faith. To take but one example, the very first Congress made provision for new churches to be built in the Northwest Territory. And just consider what-all Thomas Jefferson, patron saint of church/state separatists, had a hand in:
* Legislative and Military Chaplains,
* Establishing a national seal using a religious symbol,
* Including the word "God" in our national motto,
* Official Days of Fasting and Prayer-at least on the state level,
* Punishing Sabbath breakers (is that real enough for you?),
* Punishing marriages contrary to biblical law,
* Punishing irreverent soldiers,
* Protecting the property of churches,
* Requiring oaths saying "So Help Me God," taken on the Bible
* Granting land to Christian churches to reach the Indians
* Granting land to Christian schools
* Allowing Government property and facilities to be used for worship
* Using the Bible and non-denominational religious instruction in the public schools. (He was involved in three different school districts and the plan in each one of these REQUIRED that the Bible be taught in our public schools).
* Allowing clergymen to hold public office, and encouraging them to do so,
* Purchasing and stocking religious books for public libraries,
* Funding of salaries of clergymen in Indian mission schools.
* Funding for construction of church buildings for Indians,
* Exempting churches from taxation,
* Establishing professional schools of theology. [He wanted to bring over from Geneva, Switzerland, the entire faculty of Calvin's theological seminary and establish it at the University of Virginia.]
* Treaties requiring other nations to guarantee religious freedom,
* Including religious speeches and prayers in official ceremonies.

And let us not forget that 10 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were Presbyterians. Cf. Dictionary of the Presbyterian & Reformed Tradition in America, D. Hart, ed. (IVP 1999), 19.

Indeed, it is arguable that our very system of federalism and republican democracy owed a good deal to Presbyterian theology:

i) The theology of revolution, which flew in the face of the then-regnant divine right of kings, goes back to the OT, when, in times of national apostasy (e.g., Jezebel; Athalia), a godly remnant would rebel and plot to overthrow the apostate regime.

ii) The OT makings of a theology of revolution received more formal articulation in the work of Scots-Presbyterians like Gillespie (Aaron's Rod) and Rutherford (Lex Rex), not to mention its practical implementation in the Scottish Reformation of the Church, under Knox. And this outlook was popularized in Colonial America by John Witherspoon. James Madison was a student of Witherspoon's at Princeton.

iii) The notion of a republic once again has striking parallels with OT covenant theology, what with its principle of federalism (federal headship) and tribal eldership.

iv) This would also receive a concrete model in Presbyterian polity, with its representational form of gov't and graded court system, reminiscent of the separation of powers, check & balances, and triple-decker gov't (session/presbytery/GA>municiple/state/federal).

It was not until 1947 that Hugo Black suddenly "discovered" a wall of separation in the Establishment clause. What the Framers were blind to, he could divine.

2. Notice, as well, the downward semantic slide from the "federal government" to "government" in general. Yet the Establishment clause expressly applies to the Federal government only. The states had established churches well into the 19C. The Framers assuredly did not write strict separation of church and state into the Constitution. To the contrary, the point of the Establishment clause was to leave the status quo ante intact.

3. As to the consequences of government patronage, whatever the merits of this objection, it is not a Constitutional objection.

4. It is also unclear how Mr. Reich arrives at the conclusion that an established church undermines democracy. It is true that the institution of an established church is associated with the imperial or monarchal age. But, in that event, it was the state establishing the church, and not the church the state.

For that matter, Mr. Reich might as well reason that science undermines democracy inasmuch as science arose in the age of kings, and prospered under royal patronage.

From here, Mr. Reich graduates to a "larger" and more insidious "pattern":
"In its eagerness to promote the teaching of creationism in public schools, encourage school prayer, support anti-sodomy statutes, ban abortions, bar gay marriage, limit the use of stem cells, reduce access to contraceptives, and advance the idea of America as a "Christian nation," the Bush administration has done more to politicize religion than any administration in recent American history. It has already blurred the distinction between what is preached from the pulpits and what are the official policies of the United States government, to the detriment of both. Right-wing fundamentalists -- including not a few high-level Bush-administration officials -- charge us secularists with being "moral relativists" who would give equal weight to any moral precept. In so doing, they confuse politics with private morality. For religious zealots, there is no distinction between the two realms. And that is precisely the problem."

LIke the White Queen, Mr. Reich operates with a Looking-Glass logic by which he reads American history in reverse. In each of his examples, it is the liberal elite that is endeavoring by its iron-fisted methods to overthrow the status quo, whereas the religious right is attempting to hold the line or restore the status quo ante. Yet in his backward scansion of American history, when modern-day liberals overturn original intent, venerable precedent, and traditional values, they are somehow the guardians of the ancien regime, while the Evangelicals are somehow the radical innovators, trying their darndest to undo the First Amendment.

Curiouser still is when Mr. Reich, in the very next paragraph, pits this as a battle between enlightened progressives and retrograde obscurantists. Now, either both his charges are false, or—at most—one is falsified by the other; but one thing is for sure: they can’t both be true. So his allegation suffers from a sorry lack of elementary coherence.

Equally incoherent is his charge that Evangelicals are guilty of politicizing religion and erasing the distinction between public and private morality.

To begin with, it is not as though Mr. Reich were a lobbyist for limited government. Quite the contrary, he wants to turn American into yet another Eurocratic nanny-state, with a coercive equality imposed from above.

And no one has done more to politicize morality that the liberal elite, what with its judicial tyranny, its thought police, its compulsory public education, its mandatory multiculturalism, and its frivolous litigation against consensual conduct, to name but a few of its undemocratic incursions into the sphere of social engineering.

Why should Christians support an anti-Christian curriculum? If Mr. Reich were a true libertarian, he would defend school choice.

The NEA has been running the public school system two or three generations now. Yet our students are abysmally ignorant, while a number of lowly homeschoolers are distinguishing themselves.

Liberals like Mr. Reich don’t believe in academic standards, for they value equality over freedom, and equality can only be achieved by dumbing-down the curriculum to the lowest common denominator. You create a level playing field by flattening the high ground with your liberal bulldozers and steamrollers.

Moreover, liberals don’t want to teach students the facts. Rather, they want to turn out politically correct clones for their totalitarian utopia.

Why does Mr. Reich deem it wrong to "impose" religion on our children, but deems it entirely right to impose his irreligion on our children? He is utterly blind to his own bias. This, of course, is what happens when you only read one side of the argument. Like liberals in general, Mr. Reich has too much contempt for the opposing argument to even acquaint himself with the opposing argument. But is that not the very definition of prejudice?

The reference to contraceptives is deceptive. This is not about consenting adults, but parental consent in the case of minors.

Why stop with stem cells? Why not clone human beings to harvest their organs on organ farms?

Why stop with same-sex marriage. Why not abolish the age of consent, as NAMBLA would have it?

Moving onto his climactic paragraph, Mr. Reich paints the conflict in apocalyptic tints and Manichaean hues:
"The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face."

Again, this is riddled with so many fallacies that it is hard to know where to begin:

1. In what respect does modernism select for individualism? Indeed, even a number of humanistic writers like Huxley, Koestler, Orwell, and Bradbury have warned their fellow free-thinkers of the dangers of a secular totalitarian state, and their ominous prognostications have often come true in the 20C, and into the 21C.

2. Mr. Reich obviously values coercive equality over individual freedom. He resorts to libertarian rhetoric as a means to a socialist end.

3. In what respect does secularism place a premium on human life, either in theory or practice? How does an ardent abortionist like Reich believe in the sanctity of life? Of course, Reich never says "sanctity." For the secularist, there is no sanctity—only profanity.

In his Decmeber issue he complains about the "gruesome pictures" of aborted babies. What about the gruesome footage of the Nazi death camps? Or the killing fields of Cambodia?—both the sludge of secular humanism. Like a Mafia don who delegates the dirty work to a hit-man, Mr. Reich is offended, not at the slaughter of our young, but at having his silk suit bespattered with their innocent blood.

How does the destruction of embryonic stem cells uphold the sanctity of life? And don't you just suppose that Mr. Reich is also an advocate of euthanasia, whether voluntary or involuntary, for the aged, the infirm, the retarded and deformed? His is a merciless meritocracy for the cream of humanity.

This is the irony of the welfare state. With one hand it rocks the cradle, with the other it strangles the infant of years. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Reich.

4. Even more to the point, how is the value of human life enhanced by saying that human life is reducible to organic chemistry—to a three pound lump of biodegradable meat, the random byproduct of an indifferent and insensate process; that the virtuous and the vicious share a common oblivion; that, when I expire, all my hopes and fears, loves and longings die with me, as though I never were?

5. In what sense is logic a modern discovery? Has Mr. Reich never heard of Aristotle? What about Medieval advances in the study of logic?

6. Are unbelievers is more logical than are believers? Aristotle was a monotheist as well as a pioneer of categorical logic. Leibniz was a monotheist as well as a pioneer of symbolic logic. Gödel read his Bible on Sundays—even believed in demons. Gödel was also the greatest mathematical logician of the 20C, as well as Einstein's favorite conversation-partner. Peter Geach was a Catholic philosopher as well as a professor of logic. Richard Swinburne uses Bayesean logic in Christian apologetics, while Alvin Plantinga uses modal logic in Christian apologetics.

7. Where do abstract laws of logic come from, anyway? In what do they inhere? Can a secular worldview do justice to the necessity and universality of logic? Or are they attributes of an infinite and timeless mind?

8. Are unbelievers more reasonable than are believers? Then why doesn’t Mr. Reich, for one, give us some reasons for why he is an unbeliever? All he does is to contrast one position with another. But that is not a reason for choosing one position over another. Where are the supporting arguments? He dons a cerebral air, but fails to make a reasoned case for anything he believes in. Looks like anti-intellectualism masquerading as rationality. Instead of solid reasoning we see a lot of hand-waiving.

9. Can a blind, evolutionary process underwrite reason? Or does it undercut reason?

10. Is there a conflict between reason and revelation? What does that mean, exactly? Most of what we know and believe comes from second-hand information. In this respect, getting your information from the Bible is no different than getting your information from a textbook or encyclopedia. What matters is whether your source of information is reliable or not.

11. Science? What does he know of science? Is he a scientist? Not at all. What does he happen to know about science that a believer doesn’t know? Can’t a scientist be a man of faith?

Modern science arose in Western Europe—in what was then Christian Europe. Kepler was a devout Lutheran. Newton was a Bible-believer, as well as the greatest scientist who ever lived. Indeed, Newton was one of the architects of modern science.

12. Perhaps, though, what Mr. Reich would say is that you can be both a Christian and a scientist, but only at the cost of consistency. Well, if that is what he means, then that is yet another lonely assertion in search of a supporting argument. How would he fare in a debate with Walt Brown or Kurt Wise or Bill Dembski or Michael Behe or John Byl—to name a few?

For that matter, scepticism regarding the mainstream model of evolution is not limited to Christian fundamentalists. It includes Crick, Hoyle, Denton, Gödel, Grassé, and Sheldrake.

Even among its staunchest allies, some Darwinians have rather peculiar ways of defending their theory. Richard Lewontin is on record as saying that "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories…We cannot allow a divine foot in the door," while Richard Dawkins has written that "It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and to find it hard to believe," and yet again that "Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinians theory…we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories."

Although both of them are secular humanists, John Searle and Thomas Nagel say they find it impossible to reduce mind to matter.

13. When talking of modernity, there is also a widespread tendency to confuse pure and applied science, theory and technology.

But there are two competing philosophies of science—realism and antirealism. This goes all the way back to the Greeks, with their distinction between the natural and mathematical sciences. There are those who regard scientific theories as useful fictions that enable us to manipulate our environment, but fail to describe the way things really are.

14. What is the "scientific" argument for putting the homosexual on a par with the heterosexual? Where is his evidence?

15. Again, without benefit of any supporting argument whatsoever, Mr. Reich places Christianity and Islam on the same moral plane. Were he a true student of history, he would know that throughout history it is Islam, always Islam, that has been the aggressor. It is Islam that overran the Mideast, and Eastern Europe, and the Levant. It is Islam that is engaged in a global jihad against the rest of the world.

Our mortal enemy hides in plain sight. Why is Mr. Reich unable to see the whites of their eyes? But in the backseat of the limousine liberal, all windows have been refitted with mirrors. So the liberal can no longer see the world as it is. He can only see his own reflection.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The gospel of grace-3

17. Indicatives over imperatives. To take a classic case, Arminians assume that God would never blame us for breaking his law unless we were able to keep it. So they operate according to the principle that ability limits liability. Up to a point the Bible endorses this commonsense intuition. In the law we have the category of unwitting sins. So the law recognizes cases of diminished responsibility. Even here, though, it is noteworthy that the law only classifies ignorance as an extenuating rather than exculpatory circumstance. This already represents a declension from Arminian ethics.
Moreover, the Bible also operates according to a principle of federal representation. For example, the Bible says that the one sin of the one man resulted in the condemnation of his entire posterity (Rom 5:12ff.). This may strike us as unfair, but for now I’m just stating what the Bible says. As long as this is a debate between fellow Christians it shouldn’t be necessary to justify Scriptural doctrine.
The Arminian assumes that the purpose of the law is to supply a standard of conduct. And this is one function of the law. And if that were the only purpose of the law, it seems reasonable to suppose that it would be an attainable standard. Of course, that is not the only reasonable supposition. Professionals often measure their work against the greatest representatives in the field. In most cases, this is an unattainable standard, yet it is hardly useless on that account. Such an ideal of excellence challenges us to do better than if we lowered the bar.
Moreover, a standard of conduct may serve as a standard of judgment. In various fields, a candidate is disqualified if he can’t meet a certain standard of excellence. Here the standard does not presuppose that everyone is able to rise to the challenge. To the contrary, it is used to eliminate the majority of candidates in order to isolate and identity an elite few. I mention these two alternatives to illustrate the fact that the Arminian intuition rests on a snap judgment, which begins to lose its initial plausibility once we start to consider a few concrete counter-examples. This is a weakness with intuition. It is apt to overgeneralize. Something that had seemed self-evidently true may appear obviously false as soon as someone draws our attention to a major exception.
Furthermore, revelation, and not reason, is the Protestant rule of faith. I am still old fashioned enough to believe that theology is the queen of the sciences, and reason is her handmaid. However plausible the Arminian formula may seem—and as we’ve begun to see that it is deceptively simplistic even when judged by reason—the principle that ability limits liability runs smack up against the Biblical diagnosis of man’s moral condition. One reason that the Reformed/Arminian debate will continue until the end of the church age is that the Arminian cannot bring himself to submit to the superior wisdom of God. The Calvinist can raise all the same objections, but he is prepared to bow before the judgment of God. This isn’t a groveling act of obeisance or abject act of intellectual suicide; on the contrary, it is supremely rational to defer to a supreme intelligence. This is what sets apart the sheep from the goats: the sheep follow the Shepherd—day or night—whereas the goats will only follow the Shepherd’s lead during the day—when they can see the path for themselves. The Calvinist is a full-time follower whereas the Arminian is a daylight disciple. When the sun goes down, the Calvinist takes out his Bible (Ps 119:105) while the Arminian whips out his flashlight.
The Bible also teaches that God had an ulterior motive in giving the law. And that was to expose and even intensify our depravity (Ezk 20:25-27; Rom 3:20; 5:20; 7:7,13; Heb 10:3). This represents the antipode of the Arminian assumption. Here the law presupposes our moral incompetence. It also implies a distinction between God’s decretive and preceptive will; God lays down certain precepts that he never intended us to keep. A classic example would be his command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22).
18. Indicatives over conditionals. A favorite charge of Arminian authors is that Calvinism renders the admonitions of Scripture, such as the apostasy passages in Hebrews, otiose. Unless apostasy were a live option for the true believer, these would cease to be genuine warnings.
While this line of argument may enjoy a lot of intuitive appeal, it is logically fallacious. For example, conditionals include counterfactuals. We have a string of these in 1 Cor 15 with reference to the resurrection. Yet Paul is proposing the antecedent in order to demonstrate the impossibility of the consequent. The whole point of a contrary-to-fact conditional is that it is factually false but counterfactually true. The Arminian, with his commitment to conditional election, sufficient grace, hypothetical universalism, and freedom of future contingents is already knee-deep in the truth-value of counterfactuals. The primary point of difference is that Arminians index counterfactuals to the will of man whereas Calvinists index counterfactuals to the will of God.
19. Minimal over maximal meaning. As a rule, dogmatic and systematic theology ought to confine themselves to the positive assertions and strict implications of Scripture. The objective is to develop a belief-system where the creedal aspect is brought to the fore. Christians are believers. Our priority should be to determinate what the Bible obliges us to believe, and not what it allows us to believe. Arminian theology leans on possible inferences and natural intuitions. This is not a solid foundation for faith. It doesn’t take very seriously the ethical imperative of faith. Indeed, it often reads more like an evasive strategy.
20. Systematic over incidental treatments. Some Biblical writers are more sweeping thinkers than others, while some Biblical books and genres of Scripture major on a particular theme. It is only logical, then, to begin with certain books and authors when developing a division of theology, viz., election (John; Romans/Ephesians); justification (Romans/Galatians); assurance (1 John); covenant theology (Hebrews); charismatic theology (1 Corinthians); christology (John); polity (Acts; Pastorals); worship (the Psalter); ethics (Exodus-Deuteronomy; Proverbs); the problem of evil (Job; Romans).
21.Unilateral over bilateral harmonization. In harmonizing one set of passages with another, it may not be possible or plausible to harmonize in either direction. For example, metaphors are reducible to literal properties or predicates. The attributes ascribed to God by classical Christian theism (e.g. necessary, timeless, omnipotent, omniscient) are already abstract or literal, and therefore irreducible. There is nothing to refine away. But in the case of emotive attributes like love, wrath, regret, jealousy, and frustration, there is an anthropomorphic aspect. The many moods of human love cannot be mapped back onto God. So some allowance has to be made for hyperbole, as well as a distinction drawn between the conceptual content of an emotive attribute and secondary aspects that are incidental to its mode of subsistence. In finite, sensuous agents, love has aspects that are inapplicable to a sovereign, spiritual agent.
22. Progressive over prior revelation. The NT writers will often justify their position by appeal to an OT passage. For example, John defends reprobation by invoking Isa 6:9-10 (Jn 12:40) while Paul defends it by invoking Exod 9:16 and Mal 1:2-3 (Rom 9:13,17). Arminians try to deflect this appeal by claiming that apostolic exegesis violates original intent. This counter-move is objectionable on several grounds:
i) It disregards the authority of apostolic exegesis. When a Bible writer interprets a passage of Scripture for us, we should take this inspired gloss as our point of departure rather than reinterpreting the original by our own lights. It is not the place of a commentator or theologian to double-check the exegesis of an Apostle.
ii) It disregards the principle of thematic development. Scripture is an organic whole. The meaning of a passage is to be found, not only in the original context but also in the telic context. God has choreographed the unfolding of revelation and redemptive history in order for it to converge on the Christ-event and its fallout. When interpreting Scripture we should not only read the end from the beginning (promise), but also the beginning from the end (fulfillment). Both perspectives are necessary.
Points (i) and (ii) are complementary. Because of their position in redemptive history, the final context of OT revelation is realized in the writers of the NT. They represent the terminus of a divine trajectory (e.g. Lk 24:25-27; Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 1 Pet 1:12).
For example, Ezekiel extends the Edenic motif to the Restoration of Israel (Ezk 47:1-12), while John extends Ezekiel’s typology to the Church Triumphant (Rev 2:7; 22:2,4). It would be retrograde to deconstruct Revelation back into Ezekiel and then deconstruct Ezekiel back into Genesis. This is like playing a sonata backwards; Scripture resembles the movement of a sonata: exposition, development, recapitulation. To collapse the end of the arc into its inception dehistoricizes the natural flow of Scripture.
iii) When, moreover, we are exegeting Paul (or John or the author of Hebrews), the question of immediate importance is, How does Mal 1:2-3 function at this stage of Paul’s argument? It is Romans, and not Malachi, that supplies the governing context. Rom 9:13 is not simply a roundabout way of getting at Malachi’s authorial intent—anymore than Malachi an indirect way of getting at Paul’s authorial intent. The meaning of each is not exhausted by the other. So in determining Paul’s use of a primary source, it is the secondary source that furnishes the point of reference.
This is not to deny the value of comparison, but we should not assume that a given verse serves the same purpose in both the primary and secondary source materials. Because the setting is different, every time a NT author applies an OT verse to his circumstances he necessarily recontextualizes the passage.
To take a comparison, a commentator on Matthew or Luke would not take Mark as the controlling context for what a parallel passage in Matthew or Luke could mean, any more than a commentator on Chronicles would take Samuel or Kings as an external check on a companion passage in Chronicles. What matters first of all is how the later author understood the relevance passage in relation to his situation, and not how the verse applied in its original setting. As long as the extrapolation is convergent rather than divergent with the import and implications of the original, no violence is done to the original.
iv) We must also distinguish between intent and implication. Intent is psychological and private; implication is logical and public. The logical implications of a given passage are not limited to the conscious intent of the author, to which, in any event, we lack direct access. If a Christian carpenter cited Deut 22:8 to warrant the installation of smoke detectors, he could not very well justify that on the basis of original intent, and yet it is a valid inference from the underlying principle of a safety regulation. He derives a general principle from a specific case-law, and the reapplies that principle to a new situation.
v) Even in their original setting, these verses have a predestinarian force. On Mal 1, the Edomites are expressly said to be the object of God’s eschatological curse (1:4; cf. Isa 35:5,9ff.; Ezk 35:9; Obadiah 10,18). This implicates their spiritual destiny. Moreover, the OT operates from a principle of tribal solidarity. The fate of the clan is bound up with the fortunes of its patriarch. Indeed, covenant theology exploits this principle. The love/hate language is stereotypical terminology in OT covenant theology. Moreover, God generally coordinates grace with the means of grace. The fact that the covenants of promise extend through the line of Isaac/Jacob rather than Ishmael/Esau again implicates the spiritual fate of the Edomites. They are an accursed people, cut off from the stream of revelation and redemption (cf. Jn 4:24; Eph 2:12). Of course, this doesn’t amount to strict numerical identity, for election can cut across family lines (cf. Amos 3:12?); but as a rule, if a people-group is born outside the pale of special revelation, then that represents the peremptory judgment of God. There is no neat separation in Scripture between historical and spiritual destiny.
On Isa 6:9-10, by hardening Israel the Lord cuts off any opportunity of repentance that would spare the nation from exile. It may be objected that this has reference to the temporal fortunes of the nation rather than the spiritual fate of individuals. However, that analysis is superficial; for by this act of reprobation God is also condemning the people to remain sunken in idolatry. The principal evil is not exile but idolatry; exile is merely the formal sanction, while idolatry carries its own penalty—for idolatry is the paradigmatic sin in Scripture. To be left in a state of idolatry is a sentence of damnation. Hell is the ultimate exile—exile from God’s presence. As with Mal 3, God’s action is preemptive with respect to the spiritual opportunities of generations to come. In the case of Israel, it will terminate in the Restoration, but not for the apostate generation.
On Exod 9:16, I have already discussed the hardening of Pharaoh under (4). I would only add that:
a) Pharaoh is presented as a mere puppet in the hands of God. Arminians often charge that Calvinism reduces men to puppets. They are half-right where the reprobate are concerned. Pharaoh is a foil for revealing God’s sovereignty (Exod 14:4,17-18). He is merely a means to an end. That is why God gave him life and put him on the throne in the first place. No consideration is ever given to his own spiritual well-being. On the contrary, he was set up for the fall. His only raison d’être is to serve as a cautionary tale. As such, he illustrates the grace of God towards others, to the conspicuous exclusion of himself—for in God’s hands he is instrumental in a redemptive plan to which he is not party. Rather, he is to be used and discarded—like a ladder that is kicked aside once the summit has been scaled. Giving Pharaoh a "fair chance" to repent would jeopardize the whole enterprise. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is conditioned on God’s glory and not Pharaoh’s freedom. Of course, we shouldn’t feel sorry for Pharaoh. He was a ruthless ruler enjoyed all the perks of absolute monarch.
Calvinism, so they contend, reduces men to puppets or robots. I wonder, though, just what is the difference between the puppet/puppeteer relation and the potter/clay relation (Isa 29:16; 41:25; 45:9; Jer 18:6; Rom 9:21)?

b) Arminians claim that the episodes are concerned with historiography rather than soteriology. However, Pharaoh’s resistance is specifically classified as sin (9:34; cf. 10:16-17)—which frames the interaction in expressly soteric categories. Moreover, his sin was the result of divine agency. He sinned against the Lord because the Lord hardened his heart. Absent a redemptive remedy, this implies a divine predetermination to damnation.
iii) In Scripture, the condition of the heart is a spiritual condition (e.g. Gen 6:5; 8:21; Deut 29:4; 1 Sam; Ps 14:1; 34:18; 51:10,17; 66:18; 101:2; Jer 17:9; 31:33; Ezk 36:26). This, indeed, is axiomatic. The fact, therefore, that God is represented as turning Pharaoh’s heart to evil certainly implicates his spiritual fate. I realize that this raises theodicean concerns, but a Christian theodicy must begin with the scriptural data rather than preempt them.

23. Prooftexts over doctored texts. Arminians cite a slew of prooftexts in favor of general redemption. When you go through their prooftexts one by one, however, what you find is that not a single verse affirms the distinctive contention of the Arminian. What we have instead are a number of verses that seem to affirm universal salvation. The Arminian glosses these statements by drawing a distinction between a potential and an actual unlimited atonement. But that qualification is devoid of any textual warrant.
For his part, the Calvinist can appeal to a number of direct prooftexts for special redemption (e.g. Jn 6:37-39; 10:11,26; 11:52; 13:1; 17:2,6-7,9,24; Heb 9:15;10:14). He doesn’t have to introduce any further qualifications in order to make them bear out his specific claim. These serve as an independent point of reference for qualifying the so-called Arminian prooftexts. He can also infer special redemption from related doctrines like unconditional election and the grace of faith. By contrast, the Arminian has to engage in a tendentious appeal to a set of verses that he must first qualify on the assumption of universal atonement— as distinct from universal salvation —in order to then invoke them as proof of universal salvation. The reasoning is viciously circular.
The doctrine of special redemption rests on the convergence of at least half a dozen independent lines of evidence:
i) Penal substitution. There are verses that describe the work of Christ in terms of a role-reversal in which our demerit (via Adam) is attributed to Christ while his merit is attributed to us (e.g. Isa 53; Rom 5; 2 Cor 5:18,21; Gal 3:13; Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18). This exchange implies that every-one for whom Christ died is accounted righteous in God’s sight. But if everyone is not saved, then Christ didn’t die for everyone.
ii) Election. Not only does particular election imply particular atonement, but there are verses in which election and atonement expressly coincide: Christ gave his life for those whom the Father gave to Christ (Jn 6:37-39; 11:2,6-7,9,24; Heb 2:13b). The distinction between election/redemption is not a part/whole relation; rather, it is because the redeemed were already marked out by virtue of election that Christ died for them and them alone. Even apart from passages in which election and redemption are clearly coordinate, particular election would still imply particular redemption (e.g. Jn 10:26; Acts 13:48; Rom 8:29; 9:11-18; 1 Cor 1:27-29; Eph 1:4-11; 2:10; 1 Thes 5:9; 2 Thes 2:13; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 2:8-9; Rev 13:8; 17:8). This is especially underscored by reprobation.
Arminians like William Klein drive a wedge between individual and corporate election. But this tactic is fallacious on several grounds:
a) Is the equation between class and membership foreign to NT culture? Don’t fishermen count the number of fish in their catch? Don’t shepherds name and number the sheep in their flocks? Don’t tax-collectors add and itemize taxable goods?
b) To isolate a group from its members is far more abstract than the Reformed equation. If Klein is so concerned with the dangers of imposing logical overrefinements on the text, why is he drawing such sophistical distinctions? Even on his own grounds, wouldn’t the concrete, commonsense equation between class and membership be more in keeping with the practical reasoning of shepherds and fishermen?
d) Klein drives a wedge between Greek and Hebrew modes of thought. But this is unhistorical. Even Palestinian fishermen were bilingual—not to mention members of the educated class (e.g. Philo; Josephus). Jews had daily contact with uncircumcized Gentiles. Is Klein seriously suggesting that men like Luke, Paul, and the author of Hebrews were not conversant with "Western" modes of thought. Apparently, Klein managed to get a doctorate in NT studies without ever reading anything by Martin Hengel—e.g., Judaism and Hellenism (Fortress, 1981).
e) Klein’s disjunction is in tension with the inherent individualism of his Arminian soteriology. One can’t combine freewill with a consistently corporate model of our spiritual destiny. Personal autonomy and corporate identity are antipodal positions.
f) While intent is subjective, implication is objective; so even if—for the sake of argument—we were to grant that the NT authors did not draw a conscious inference from corporate to individual election, the class/ member relation would still obtain as a matter of logical necessity. Klein confuses logic with psychology. The fact that St. Paul didn’t have an opinion on Goldbach’s conjecture doesn’t render its truth-value indeterminate.
g) Like every other relativist, Klein can’t keep his word. For example, he complains that reprobation is inconsistent with the universal offer of the Gospel (ibid. 267). So he invokes logic when it suits his purpose—in his own mind, at least.
h) But to address the issue directly, the sacred authors do, in fact, describe election as terminating on individuals. The elect are named and numbered (e.g. Jn 10:3; Rom 11:4,25; Rev 2:17; 6:11; 13:8; 17:8)— including the use of proper names (e.g. Rom 9:11,13) and singular personal pronouns (vv15-16,18). Klein casts God in the role of the thief rather than Good Shepherd—for the thief doesn’t call the sheep by name.
Moreover, the designated individuals (e.g. Pharaoh; Isaac/Jacob) are not isolated cases, but typify a general principle in God’s redemptive and reprobative economy. That is why they are singled out for discussion—owing to their representative significance.
Furthermore, Paul distinguishes between natural election and spiritual election (Rom 9:6-7; cf. 2:28-29). But this implies individual discrimination inasmuch as national election is corporate (i.e. inclusive of all members of the stipulated class) as over against spiritual election—which represents a subset of the total (cf. "some," 11:14). Election operates within people-groups and not simply upon people-groups—cutting across ethnic lines and family ties (cf. 9:6-13,24). For additional argumentation, cf. D. Moo NICNT (Eerdmans, 1996), 571-72; J. Piper, ibid., 65-71.
i) Klein misses the big picture. In Rom 9-11, Paul is addressing the problem of Jewish unbelief. Invoking the principle of corporate solidarity—in this case, the national apostasy of Israel—would simply paraphrase the original problem—offering a description of the problematic phenomenon in lieu of an explanation. It is precisely the general infidelity of Israel that has called into question the ultimate fidelity of God in keeping his promises. Paul’s solution appeals to double-predestination. Yes, God chooses one tribe over another, but he also chooses one member over another. And his choice is not merely for service, but implicates the eternal fate of individuals (cf. 9:3,22-23).

iii) Covenant theology. In chapters like Jn 6, 10, and 17, Father and Son are represented as having entered into a contract to save a people. The Father chooses who is to be saved and commissions the Son to die for them; the Son is a voluntary party to this contract, being sent out with the understanding that he will receive what he has contracted for. The elect are his "wages."
iv) Intercession. The intercession of Christ is grounded in the sacrifice of Christ—owing to the indivisible character of his priestly work. Hence, sacrifice and intercession are conterminous (Heb 1:3b; 7:27; 8:1,3; 9:24b).
v) Programmatic passages. There are verses that map election onto redemption and redemption onto application (e.g. Rom 8:32-34; Eph 1:4-14). Here the very same set of personal subjects is in view from start to finish. Commenting on this correlation in Eph 1, B.B. Warfield observes that "salvation is traced consecutively to its preparation (4-5), its execution (6,7), its publication (8-10), and its application (11-14)," Biblical and Theological Studies (P&R, 1968), 318.
vi) Efficacy. The sustained argument of Hebrews is emphatic on the subjective efficacy of Christ’s atonement (e.g. 4:14; 7:16,24-28; 8:6,10,12; 9:12,14-15,26-28; 10:12-18,22). Here there is no daylight between objective sufficiency and subjective efficiency. Hence, if everyone is not saved, then it follows that Christ didn’t die to save everyone. This line of argument receives additional confirmation from the fact that saving faith is also the reflex result of divine agency (e.g. Jn 1:13; 3:5-6,19-20; 6:44,65; 8:34,44; Rom 7:18; 8:70-8; Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1ff.; 4:17ff.; 1 Jn 3:10; 5:19).

The gospel of grace-2

12.Contrastive over neutral statements. Calvinists argue for special redemption by appealing to verses in which Christ is said to have died for a subset of humanity. Arminians counter this appeal by pointing out that if Christ died for everyone, then this breaks down into various subsets of humanity. Likewise, Classical Christian theists argue for the immutability of God by appeal to verses that represent God in immutable terms. Contrariwise, process theologians counter this appeal by quoting verses that represent God in mutable terms. As long as the debate remains at this level, it results in an impasse. However, this way of casting the alternatives is misleading:
i) Calvinists don’t simply quote verses in which Christ is said to have died for a subset of humanity. They also quote from verses in which Christ is said to have died for group A as over against group B: Christ lays down his life for the sheep to the exclusion of the goats (Jn 10:11, 26); Christ dies for those who have been called or consecrated (Heb 9:15; 10:14), in implicit contrast to those who were never called or consecrated; Christ dies for his own people who are in the world (Jn 13:1), which distances oi idioi from kosmoß—especially when compared with the antithetical parallel in 15:19 ("the world loves its own"); Christ dies for a divine Diaspora (Jn 11:52)—which sets up a part/whole contrast.
ii) This contrast is accentuated by the causal order in Jn 11:26. Christ does not say, as we might have expected, that the Jews are not his sheep because they don’t believe, but the reverse: they don’t believe because they are not his sheep—meaning that they were never given to Jesus by the Father (cf. Jn 6:37a; 17:2ff.). Christ lays down his life for the flock (=the elect); his death does not constitute the flock but presupposes it. Faith is not a precondition of membership; rather, membership is a precondition of faith. Belonging to the flock is the prerequisite for faith and redemption alike. Put another way, the Father’s work in election is the foundation for the Son’s work in redemption and the Spirit’s work in regeneration.
iii) Scripture does not present us with two formally parallel sets of passages where one set affirms divine immutability and the other divine mutability. Rather, those that represent God in mutable terms offer no further frame of reference, whereas those that represent God as immutable set that attribute in antithetical contrast to mundane and human affairs as a defining trait of divinity (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Ps 102: 24-27; Jas 1:17). So this automatically supplies a harmonistic point of reference by making the mutable predications relative to the immutable predications, and not vice versa. Furthermore, it is easy to see why a timeless God would express himself in dynamic terms when addressing temporal creatures, whereas it is difficult to see why a temporal God would express himself in static terms when addressing temporal creatures. So there is a logical asymmetry between these two proposed lines of harmonization.

13.Usage over etymology. Quite a number of writers, both Arminian and Reformed, operate from the assumption that the verbs yada and proegnv have a primary or basic meaning (e.g. Gen 18:19; Num 16:5; Amos 3:2; Acts 2:23; Rom 8:29; 11:2 1 Pet 1:20). Arminians leave it at that while some Calvinists treat the elective sense as a secondary sense. When I read the literature, there is a good deal of confusion over the semantic criteria for fixing the primary import. The proposed criteria run as follows:
a) common meaning: the most commonly attested sense.
b) common canonical meaning: the most commonly attested sense in the canon.
c) literal meaning: the concrete or representational sense.
d) compound meaning: adding the sense of the prefix to the sense of the root word.
e) native meaning: what native Greeks meant by the word.
f) etymological meaning: what the word meant in its earliest attested usage.
g) basal meaning: a semantic substratum that carries through all secondary connotations.
(h) extensional meaning: locating the sense in its referent(s).

There are two defects in this analysis:
i) There is potential conflict between the proposed criteria. For example, what is to prevent the most common meaning (a) from being abstract rather than concrete (c)?
ii) More serious is that all of the proposed criteria are semantic fallacies:
a) Frequency of usage does not prejudice the sense in any particular occurrence. The verb yada normally means "to know," but in 10-15 cases it denotes sexual relations. According to (a), we could never establish a rare or specialized meaning for a word. Moreover, we’re in no position to know what was the most common meaning of a Greek word, for the most common meaning of a given word was probably represented by the spoken rather than written word, which is largely lost to us.
b) The frequency of usage outside the Bible, especially in the case of religious nomenclature, is not a reliable predictor of its import in Scriptural parlance. A number of Pauline words are verging on technical terms (e.g. eklektoß, eyanggelion, kalev, kerygma, kosmoß, mysterion, nomoß, pneymatikoß, sarj, sozv, xariß, typoß).
c-d) These criteria are related. It is the stereotypical blunder of the foreign speaker to take expressions at face-value because he is unacquainted with the idioms of the second language. Take an expression like "shootin’ the bull." Again, are we to suppose that Aristotle couldn’t tell the difference between an African pachyderm (=ippoß o potamioß) and an Arabian stallion (HA 502a.9)?
e-f) These criteria are also related. The meaning of a word is a matter of social convention. Words have no intrinsic meaning. The relation between word and object is conventional. Latin derivatives have acquired a different meaning in English usage than in the original. It is the usage contemporaneous with the writer that is usually operative and not archaic usage, unless an author is being self-consciously literary.
g) The idea that a word has a basal sense that is always operative, so that any semantic variation must build on that basal sense, strikes me wooden conception of how a natural language works—as if we were grafting on successive semantic layers. Words can have secondary connotations inasmuch as they may carry emotive overtones or possess allusive power, but a word does not have a primary and a secondary sense; if a word has more than one sense, then when one meaning is in play the other meaning(s) is dormant (except in the case of a deliberate double entendre). The elective sense of yada no more means "to know-cum-favor" than the sexual sense of yada means "to know-cum-copulation." The elective sense simply means "to choose," just as the sexual sense simply means "to have intimate relations with." In neither case is the special sense of the word an intensification of the noetic sense. Let’s take an example from English. In the sentence, "there was a run on the bank," the meaning of the verb is not a semantic construct of "rapid bipedal motion-cum-mass financial withdrawals." In elective settings, yada or proegnv doesn’t have a pregnant sense; it has a possessive sense, plain and simple.
h) Although "to know," "to choose," or "to copulate" imply a relation, that relation is not built into the meaning of the word in the sense of what concrete referent it takes in any given sentence. In the nature of the case, transitive verbs take an object, but a verb is not defined by its object. This should be obvious since a given verb can take a variety of objects. So we must preserve the distinction between intension and extension, denotation and denota.

14. Authorial over comparative usage. Arminians appeal to Heb 6:4-6 and 10:26-29 to overthrow the doctrine of perseverance. This appeal is conditioned by Johannine or Pauline usage. But that is a methodological error. Interpreting an author of Scripture is a concentric process—working our way outward from the immediate writing under consideration to other writings by the same author, and then to other writings by other authors. Especially in the case of deep thinkers like Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews, each has a distinctive way of conceptualizing his belief-system. It is illicit to automatically bring Johannine or Pauline categories to bear on the interpretation of Hebrews:
i) The first step taken by Arminians is already a misstep. And that is because they jump into the middle of the letter (6:4-6). But in order to understand this passage we must go back to where the author introduces the apostasy motif. Because the author is addressing Messianic Jews who are tempted to revert to Judaism, he draws a parallel between NT apostasy and OT apostasy. This comparison is introduced in the first of five apostasy passages (2:1-4). Then in 3:6-4:13 he elaborates on the character of the OT apostates. By the way in which our author structures his own argument, therefore, this precedent is paradigmatic for the case of NT apostasy. And his remarks in 6:4-6 will allude to this passage. If there were a radical discontinuity of religious experience between Old and NT apostates, our author’s analogy would break down at the critical point of comparison.
ii) What does the author mean by having a share in the Holy Spirit (6:4)? Before we can attempt a specific answer we must first ask about the general contours of our author’s pneumatology. He doesn’t have much to say on this subject, but what he does tell us is confined to the external rather than internal work of the Spirit (2:4; 3:7; 9:8; 10:15). There is a possible reference to his agency in the Resurrection (9:14). So this does not equate with regeneration—which is a Johannine category, although the Pauline category of calling covers some of the same ground as the Johannine. The point, rather, is that both the Old and NT apostates had a share in the ministry of the Spirit by virtue of his agency in the inspiration of Scripture. More precisely, both groups had been evangelized (4:2,6).
iii) The author takes the rebellion at Kadesh as his test case (Num 14 via Ps 95). Having tasted the "goodness of God’s word" (6:5) echoes the experience of the OT apostates (4,2,6,12; cf. Num 14:43). Tasting the "powers of the coming age" has immediate reference to the sign-gifts (2:4), but this experience also has its OT analogue (Num 14:11,22). I.H. Marshall claims that "when Christ is said to have tasted death (Heb 2:9), there is no suggestion that he got off lightly with a mere taste and nothing more; rather, he experience this bitter taste to the full," Kept By the Power of God (Bethany, 1969), 142.
This statement is true but misleading inasmuch as it implies that the meaning of a verb varies with its object. It is a semantic fallacy to argue that the import of a verb is defined by the object it takes. Does geyomai have a humble human import in Jn 2:9, but take on a divine import in Mt 27:33? This confuses intension with extension (see under point #11). Along similar lines, W. Lane claims that the verb "is appropriate to an experience that is real and personal," WBC 47A (Word, 1991), 141.
This statement suffers from a couple of flaws:
a) What is an "appropriate" object of the verb is not a way of defining the verb. Judas Iscariot is an appropriate object of the verb "to betray," but the verb "to betray" doesn’t mean "Judas Iscariot."
b) In the nature of the case, any kind of experience will be real and personal. Dreams and delusions are real, personal experiences. So this proves everything and nothing.
iv) Arminian authors invest a lot of capital in the use of the verb fvtizv (6:4). Drawing on the parallel passage in 10:32, Scot McNight argues that this verb denotes conversion, "The Warning Passages in Hebrews," TrinJ 13 (1992), 45-56. Lane is guilty of the same circular reasoning when he defines the verb in terms of "saving illumination" of heart and mind by appeal to 10:32 (ibid.,141).

This is a valid inference, but does not advance his case against Calvinism, for if 6:4 is ambiguous, taken by itself, that same ambiguity will attach to the parallel. The question is whether the verb denotes conversion in the dogmatic sense. William Lane goes so far as to claim that,
"In the NT the term is used metaphorically to refer to a spiritual or intellectual illumination that removes ignorance through the action of God or the preaching of the gospel (cf. John 1:9; Col 4:6; Eph 1:18; 2 Tim 1:10; Rev 18:1). What is signified is not simply instruction for salvation but renewal of the mind and of life," ibid., 141.
There are two problems with this analysis:
a) evangelization and the action of God are two distinct concepts. While the action of God implies spiritual renewal, evangelization does not. So finding verses that connect illumination and kerygma do not support the stronger thesis.
b) When we run through his citations, they fail to bear out his contention. The interpretation of Jn 1:9 is contested. In context, though, it has reference, not to inner illumination, but the revelation of Christ via his advent. The two Pauline passages (Col 4:6 is a misprint for 1 Cor 4:5) may well have reference to spiritual renewal. However, we must register a couple of caveats: (a) even in Pauline usage, it doesn’t follow that the verb is a technical term for conversion. Lane is confusing intension with extension by illicitly deriving this concept from the larger context, and not from the word itself; (b) there is no reason to assume that Paul’s usage is normative for the author of Hebrews. Lane himself admits a discontinuity between their respective conceptual schemes, viz., The author of Hebrews "moves confidently within the conceptual world of cultic concerns centering in the priesthood and sacrifice. Many of the emphases of Hebrews are alien to those of Paul," ibid., xiix.
The appeal to 2 Tim 1:12 suffers from two problems:
(a) The fact that evangelization is in view doesn’t mean that the verb signifies evangelization. Once again, Lane is confusing sense and reference by importing the context back into the word. The time is past due for NT scholars to master this elementary distinction. It goes back to Frege and was popularized by Barr.
In Frege’s classic illustration, "the Morning Star" and "the Evening Star" share the same referent (the planet Venus), but they don’t share the same sense inasmuch as they denote different phases of the planet. Barr generalized this distinction in terms of his "illegitimate totality transfer" fallacy. Cf. The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford, 1961). While I’m sure that Arminian scholars have read the book, they have failed to absorb its bearing on traditional Arminian arguments.
(b) The preaching of the gospel is not the same thing as inner illumination. Finally, Rev 1:18 refers to the radiance of an angel, and as such, does not denote either subjective renewal or objective revelation.
v) It is lopsided to center our analysis of Hebrews on the apostasy motif when, in fact, the letter pivots on the dual theme of threat and assurance. Moreover, the author rounds out his dire warnings on an optimistic note (cf. 6:9ff.; 10:30,39). Furthermore, the author accentuates the efficacy of Christ’s atonement and intercession (4:14; 7:16,24-28; 8:6; 9:12,14-15,26-28; 10:12-18,22) in express contrast to the inadequacies and insecurities of the OT system (5:2-3; 7:18-29,27-28; 9:9-10,13; 10:1-4,11). The reason that a member of the Old Covenant community could apostatize was due to the liability of an evil heart (3:8,12; 7:18), whereas the New Covenant rests on the better promise of a new heart (8:10,12; 10:16).
15. Original over dogmatic usage. Arminians appeal to certain expressions in Scripture to challenge Reformed theology: grace is resistible (Mt 23:37; Lk 7:31; Acts 7:51; 2 Cor 6:1; Gal 2:21; 5:4; Heb 12:15; cf. Heb 6:2,6; Rev 2:21); apostates are "sanctified" (Heb 10:29); false prophets are "bought" (2 Pet 2:1). This calls for a couple of lines of response:
i) By way of general reply, it rests on a semantic fallacy by reading dogmatic usage back into the original. When Reformed theology uses terms like "grace," "repentance," "sanctification," and "redemption," each of these is a technical term that designates a theological construct. Since such a construct is not based on a particular word-group in Scripture, dogmatic usage does not coincide with Biblical usage. Dogmatic usage aims at semantic fixity and pregnancy. Except in the case of specialized usage, such as stereotypical cultic nomenclature, Biblical usage isn’t uniform and doesn’t signify a theological construct.
A word is like a chess piece. Its value is relative to its position on the board and relation to the remaining pieces. Likewise, the semantic contribution made by a given word to the overall import of the passage is relative to its verbal companions as they jointly generate the larger sense of the passage. We can’t extract an entire doctrine from an isolate word, unless it has acquired the status of a technical term—and even then we would need a prior knowledge of the doctrine.
William Klein is as good an example as any. He has no feel for the flow of an argument. Instead he simply yanks out bleeding verses based on the presence of a key word and then drops them in separate slots: Rom 8:28 (foreknowledge); 8:29-30 (predestination); 8:30 (vocation); 8:33 (election); 9:11-13 (appointment); 9:15,18-19 (purpose); 9:17,21 (appointment); 9:23 (predestination); 9:24 (purpose); 9:28 (vocation); 11:2 (foreknowledge); 11:6-7 (election); 11:29 (vocation). Now if you smash an argumentative block into a pile of rubble and grind the rubble into granular phonemes, you can quickly dismantle a theological construct. If we were to pound, pulverize and pan Klein’s book in the same way, his own thesis would dissolve into nothingness—though in that case the loss would not be inconsolable.
ii) On Heb 6:2,6, it is a mistake to read into the word "repentance" the full payload of later dogmatic reflection. (e.g., The Westminster Confession 15:1-2). To begin with, the author of Hebrews doesn’t care to delve into the psychological dynamics of conversion. Moreover, it is evident from his usage elsewhere (12:17) that he doesn’t use the word as a technical term for Christian conversion. The Reformed doctrine of repentance as an evangelical grace is influenced by those occurrences where the word is used in an evangelical context, with God as the efficient agent (e.g. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25).
iii) On Rev 2:21, it should be obvious that this doesn’t denote evangelical repentance, for that refers back to the grace of conversion, whereas Rev 2:21 isn’t addressing a new or prospective convert. The theme of God’s longsufferance towards stiff-necked Israel is a commonplace in the Prophets. This forbearance is double-edged inasmuch as it has a judicial as well as merciful aspect (blessing and bane), for failure to heed these forewarnings is an aggravating circumstance (Rev 6:10; cf. Rom 2:4-5).
iv) On 2 Pet 2:1, two points must be made:
a) When Calvinists speak of the redemptive death of Christ, they are defining this in terms of penal substitution. The Arminian, however, does not define the atonement in terms of a literal ransom price. As Grider notes,
"Many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us...God the Father would not be forgiving us at all if his justice was satisfied by the real thing that justice needs: punishment," "Arminianism," Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, W. Elwell, ed., (Baker, 1984), 80-81.

When, therefore, Arminians appeal to 2 Pet 2:1 and other such passages to prove an unlimited atonement as over against a limited atonement, they are talking at cross-purposes with the Calvinist. Arminians don’t believe that Christ redeemed anyone in terms of a ransom-price. So this appeal falters on a fallacious equivocation of terms.
(b) Peter compares NT false prophets with OT false prophets like Balaam (2:15; cf. Jude 11). And in 2:1, he employs a term evocative of OT usage (e.g. Deut 32:6; 2 Sam 7:23). This is not a stereotypical term for Christian redemption—note, moreover, the absence of any qualifier denoting a random-price, such as blood (cf. Rev 5:9)—and so we should not invest it with a distinctively Christian import. Peter may be drawing on these OT associations because the false teachers were Hellenistic Jews. Cf. R. Bauckham, WBC 50 (Word, 1983), 156.Regarding the depth of their religious experience, Peter does not go beyond stating that they had been evangelized (2:20-21).
v) On Heb 10:29, it is anachronistic to construe "sanctify" as it has come to be used in systematic theology. The author tells us that the apostate was sanctified by blood of Christ rather than action of the Spirit. That automatically removes it from the dogmatic category. His usage is figurative and consciously cultic (9:13,20; cf. Exod 29:21; Lev 16:19, LXX). It is concerned with a status rather than a process. By taking it to mean what it would normally mean in Pauline theology, the Arminian is confounding different universes of discourse. It is also possible that the verb takes the "covenant. Cf. P. Ellingworth, NIGTC (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1993), 541. On this construction, the blood "sanctifies" the covenant, not the apostate.

16. Necessary over possible inference. Arminians appeal to passages like Mt 24:13 and Rev 3:5 to prove that election is conditional or reversible. It must be kept in mind that this is at most a possible rather than necessary inference— taking the verses in isolation. And this must be set over against other verses which imply that election is unconditional and irreversible (Mt 24:24; Rev 13:8; 17:8). Moreover, it is hard to see how the inference drawn from Mt 24:13 and Rev 3:5 is on an equal footing with the inference drawn from Mt 24:24 and Rev 13:8 & 17:8. Mt 24:24 expressly frames the apostasy of the elect as a counterfactual proposition rather than a live possibility, while Rev 13:8 and 17:8 can only be relativized on pain of denying divine omniscience. Furthermore, the doctrine of perseverance is heavily attested in Scripture, both by direct assertion and necessary inference (e.g. Mt 18:14; 24;24; Jn 6:35-37,39-40, 47,54; 10:28-29; 17:11-12,15; Rom 8:1,28-39; 11:29; 1 Cor 1:8-9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14; Phil 1:6; 1 Thes 5:23-24; 2 Thes 3:3-5; 1 Pet 1:3-5,23; 1 Jn 2:19; 3:9; 5:4,18).
A major case is the Arminian assumption that a universal offer of the gospel is incompatible with Calvinism (e.g. Deut 30:19; Isa 45:21f. Ezk 18:23,32; 33:1; Mt 11:28; 28:19; Jn 6:51; 7:37; 12:32; Acts 17:30; Rev 22:27). But although this is a possible inference, it is hardly compelling:
i) The implied comparison rests on an equivocation, for there is an asymmetry between election/redemption/regeneration and the gospel invitation. The former represents the unilateral or unmediated work of God whereas the latter is mediated by the evangelist. Since God has not tagged the elect and reprobate for the benefit of the evangelist, the preaching of the gospel is addressed in general terms. So this comes down to the difference between an agent who is omnipotent and omniscient, and one who is not. There is no direct point of conflict.
ii) From what I can see, the only prerequisite for a good faith offer is that whoever complies with its terms should receive what was advertised. The gospel invitation is a conditional offer—contingent on the exercise of faith and repentance. Since when must an offer be judged genuine on condition that its conditions are not satisfied? Have you ever heard anything half as perverse?
It may be objected that when this condition cannot be met due to spiritual inability, the invitation is reduced to a cruel mockery. All I can say is that this represents a twisted sense of moral priorities. Suppose a florist advertises a Mother’s Day special or Valentine’s Day special. Is his offer disingenuous because a misogynist would be constitutionally incapable of taking him up on the offer? Couldn’t he foresee this eventuality? So who is to blame, the florist or the misogynist? I’ll leave it to the reader to judge.
iii) An offer is genuine as long as the provision is sufficient to meet the demand. A florist is not guilty of deceptive advertising because he doesn’t have enough roses in stock to supply every Valentine in the whole wide world.
iv) Even on its own grounds, which is more sincere? To present an offer without any assurance that anyone will benefit from the offer? Or to present an offer in the assurance that it is bound to benefit someone? In what sense is an aimless, ineffectual gesture of good will a bona fide offer?
v) Since the so-called universal offer of the gospel is obviously not universal in time and place, the Arminian has to be willfully obtuse to construe it without qualification. Billions of people have lived and died outside the pale of the gospel.
vi) Appeal to OT passages is inapposite since these were addressed to Israel, which typifies the church rather than the world.
vii)The context of Jn 12:32 has reference to the Gentiles (cf. v20f.).
viii) Arminians often charge that Calvinism is unpreachable. However, we have inspired examples of evangelistic preaching in Acts and elsewhere. Yet the Apostles never say, "Christ died for you," "God can’t make you believe against your will." Since the offer is conditional, the evangelist can spell out the conditions (faith and repentance). He can paint a picture of the human condition. He can stress the means of grace.
viii) Both Jesus and Paul inform us that the primary target of their preaching was the elect (Mt 11:25-25; 13:11-15; 2 Tim 2:10).
ix) At a deeper level we must ask, What does a well-meant offer mean? Is it only evangelistic in thrust? The atonement presents a double-edged aspect. It is not merely a means of salvation but also an instrument of condemnation by exposing the inexcusable character of unbelief and even aggravating the guilt of the unbeliever (Jn 9:39; 12:37-40; 15:22). The atonement is a polarizing event (Lk 12:51f. Jn 3:19-21; 6:60-71). Christ was destined for the downfall of many (Lk 2:34). The reprobate were set up for the fall (1 Pet 2:8), while Christ was set out to trip them up (2:6f.). God will display the folly of the proud through the stumbling block of Calvary (1 Cor 1:18-29; 2:6-8).
There is OT precedent for this as well insofar as the preaching of the Prophets was an appointed means of intensifying the guilt of stiff-necked Israel (e.g. Jer 7:16; 11:14; 18:11-12; Ezk 2:3-7; Isa 63:17). To the elect, then, the invitation is a well-meant offer, but to the reprobate it is an ill-meant offer. I’m sure that point #10 would rub some readers the wrong way, but its exegetical warrant is right there in black and white. In Scripture rubs me the wrong way, that must mean that I’m facing away from Scripture.

The gospel of grace-1

One reason for different schools of theological thought is differences in theological method—different presumptions, different directions and applications of the harmonistic principle.

1. Decretive over descriptive statements. Sometimes a sacred writer goes beneath the surface level of the narrative to explain the ultimate cause of an event. For example, the phenomenon of Jewish unbelief was a major apologetic problem in NT theology. How could God’s covenant community reject the prophesied Messiah, and how was their apostasy consistent with God’s covenant fidelity? Both Paul and John tackle this problem, and both offer the same solution. They don’t stop with unbelief as a brute fact. That would be the Arminian explanation. Appealing to freewill, however, would answer the question of God’s fidelity in the negative. God would have made promises that he was either unable or unwilling to keep. For Jews like John Paul, that is not a live option. It is unthinkable that God would fail to make good on his word. So they go behind the phenomenon of unbelief to find the solution in double predestination (e.g. Jn 9:39; 12:37-41; Rom 2:28-29; 9-11; cf. 1 Pet 2:6ff.).
There are many other passages of the same kind where the writer goes behind the narrative in order to attribute a given outcome to the hidden hand of providence (e.g. Gen 50:20; Exod 12:36; Deut 2:30; Josh 11:20; 1 Sam 2:25; 2 Sam 16:20-23; 17:1-14; 1 Kgs 12:15; 2 Chron 10:12-15; 21:16; 25:17-20; Jn 9:1-3; Acts 13:48). This can only be taken to mean that divine causality is the final and efficient cause of the human action. In addition to historical narrative, we find this same move made in the wisdom literature and prophetic corpus (Prov 16:9,14,33; 21:1, 30-31; Eccl 3:1-14; 7:13-14; Isa 10:5-7; 14:24-27; 31:2; 37:26; 43:13; Lam 3:37-38; Amos 3:5-6). The apocalyptic philosophy of history is also prized on the presumption that mundane events, however intimidating, are directed from the throne room of God, and do not, therefore, pose a threat to the ultimate well-being of God’s people. To tell the churches of Smyrna, Pergamum, and Philadelphia that evil is due to freewill would be the counsel of despair, for that would mean that they were truly at the mercy of the imperial death squads. Likewise, the interpretation of Job turns on the pre-supposition of invisible events directing the course of visible events (1:6ff.; 2:1ff.). When such diverse genres bear common witness to the same divine dynamic, that raises a general presumption in favor of the universality of the decree. If, everytime these authors pull back the veil to permit a brief glimpse of a divine design guiding human affairs, the implication is surely not that this is only operative at just those moments when the veil happens to be drawn back, but that visible events are always driven this ordinarily invisible plan and providence.
2. Decretive over preceptive statements. Traditionally, Calvinism draws a distinction between the decretive and preceptive will of God. While the distinction is valid, the terminology is somewhat misleading. God’s will is not in a state of internal tension. The adjectives rather than the nouns bear the burden of the distinction. God’s decretive will has reference to an immediate mental act of God whereby he freely chooses to enact a certain state of affairs out of other possible scenarios. God’s decretive will is consubstantial with God himself, and is irresistible inasmuch as it is the necessary condition of every mundane event.
God’s preceptive will has reference to man’s religious obligations as revealed in God’s word. This usually has reference to general norms of conduct, although it can take in topical injunctions to individuals. God’s preceptive will is normally resistible. So it comes down to a distinction between an attribute of God and a law of God. Since the decretive will and preceptive will stand for different referents, they can never come into direct conflict, and so there can be a discrepancy between decree and precept without introducing a point of tension into the divine will. A classic case illustrating the distinction would be God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
A more soteriological example would be Mt 11:25-30. Arminians appeal to vv28ff. to prove universal grace. However, an invitation is preceptive in character. Moreover, this very invitation is prefaced by vv25ff., where God has peremptorily excluded a major class of persons from the overtures of grace.
Arminians cite certain passages to prove that grace is not irresistible (Mt 23:37; Lk 7:30; Acts 7:51; Gal 2:21; 5:4; Heb 12:15). As well as more specific errors of interpretation, which I will address momentarily, this appeal suffers from two general fallacies:
i) It confuses original usage with dogmatic usage. I have discussed this semantic fallacy under point #15.
ii) All these verses have reference to the preceptive rather than decretive will of God.

Mt 23:37 alludes to a conditional covenant with the house of Israel (v38; cf. Jer 12:7; 22:5). This is preceptive, not decretive. Moreover, the contrast is not between A’s will for B, and B’s will for A; but between A’s will for B, and C’s for B: "Jerusalem ©, how often have I (A) desired to gather your children (B), but you (C) desired otherwise." So there is no direct conflict, here, between the divine and human wills. If we want to find an example of God’s decretive will in Matthew, turn to 11:21-23.
Lk 7:30 has reference to the preaching of John the Baptist. In this verse, "God’s will" stands for the baptism of repentance. This is preceptive, not decretive. Furthermore, the verb ("rejected") could just as well take the prepositional phrase ("for themselves") rather than the noun ("God’s will") for its object, viz., "It could be taken either with rejected, i.e. on their own responsibility, or with the purpose of God, i.e. which had them in mind," C. Evans, TPINTC (Trinity, 1990), 356; "By rejecting the baptism, they chose not to accept their need for repentance and forgiveness," D. Bock, BECNT 3A (Baker 1994), 678; cf. Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament (Hendrickson, 1983), 2:348.

Acts 7:51 has reference, not to the internal work of the Spirit, but to the agency of the Spirit in the inspiration of the prophetic word—both in OT preaching (e.g. Num 27:14; Isa 63:10), and the charismatic kerygma of the NT Apostles and evangelists (e.g. Philip; Stephen). So this is preceptive.
In 2 Cor 6:1, I take the phrase about the "grace of God" to be a shorthand expression for "the gospel of the grace of God" (cf. Acts 20;24), in contrast to a false gospel (2 Cor 11:4; cf. Gal 1:6ff.). This is preceptive.
Gal 2:21 & 5:4 have reference to the doctrine of grace rather than the grace of the doctrine. What people can resist is the doctrine of justification and not the experience of justification, which is a divine act. Once again, the emphasis is preceptive. Moreover, 5:4 is hortatory and hyperbolic. If Paul had believed that the Galatians were guilty of apostasy, he would hardly express confidence in their gracious perseverance (v10).
In Heb 12:15, we should resist the temptation to subjectivize the concept of grace. Throughout this letter, the author’s emphasis is on the phenomenology rather than psychology of faith. His few references to the work of the Spirit are confined to the Spirit’s agency in inspiration and the charismata or sign-gifts. The existential dimension is absent.
Therefore, none of these passages imply that God’s will can be flouted. This denial isn’t an exercise in special pleading, but is based on a close reading of text, context, and background.
3. Editorial over narrative statements. Related to (1) and (4), the sacred narrator sometimes introduces an editorial aside in order to forestall misunderstanding (e.g. Jn 3:24; 4:8,9b; 6:15). A striking case is Jn 6:5-6. If we were to judge by v5, we would naturally conclude that Jesus posed this question out of genuine ignorance. But the parenthetical in v6 anticipates and corrects that misimpression by explaining that an ulterior motive lay behind this seemingly innocent question. It is important to keep this perspective in mind when process theologians cite various OT passages to show that God is not omniscient. Soliciting information is not the only reason an agent may ask a question.
4. Programmatic over narrative statements. In analyzing the narrative design of the Fourth Gospel, a responsible expositor would naturally begin with Jn 20:31. We should be alert for these internal tips in the other historical books as well. In the Exodus narrative, for instance, Arminians have often seized on the fact that Pharaoh’s hardening is sometimes attributed to human rather than divine agency. However, not all of the hardening passages are on a hermeneutical par.
Exod 4:21-22 is clearly programmatic for what follows. By allowing the reader in on God’s gameplan, the narrator is cluing the reader in on the ulterior intent shaping the events to come. There is even a distinction drawn between God’s decretive (21b) and preceptive will (22). The divine ruse was already in place in 3:18-20, and is reiterated once more on the eve of Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh (7:3). On three separate occasions, Moses has taken the reader right into the divine huddle; yet the Arminian turns a deaf ear to these broad hints, and presumes to guess the quarterback’s strategy from the line of scrimmage. J. Piper lays out the climactic role played by the hardening motif in Exodus. Cf. The Justification of God Baker 1999), 161-71.

Moreover, the wording of 33:19 seems to form a deliberate parallel to the wording of 3:14. And this, in turn, sets up a parallel between God’s aseity and his activity. Just as God is ontologically unconditioned, so is his sphere of action.
Furthermore, even where the proximate source of hardening is attributed to Pharaoh himself—"he hardened his heart" (8:15), this is further qualified by backward reference to the divine prediction—"just as the Lord had said" (cf. 4:21; 7:3)—which ascribes the ultimate source to God’s premediated purpose.
This interpretation receives intercanonical support as well. Commenting on the Exodus narrative, the Psalmist also attributes the Egyptian response to divine agency (Ps 105:25). When such assistance is available, a commentator or theologian should listen to what a later canonical writer has to say about a prior episode of Scripture.
5. Polemical over pastoral genres. In the conflict with Rome, the Protestant side gave priority to Paul over James, while the Catholic side gave priority to James over Paul. Among other reasons, the Protestant prioritization was on firmer footing because Paul is a more polemical writer than James. And that forces him to pay more attention to the theoretical grounds underlying the doctrine of justification, whereas James is operates at the level of praxis.
Likewise, the phenomenon of Jewish unbelief confronted the Apostles with an apologetic challenge. As such, we find predestination discussed in a controversial context (Jn 6; 10; 12; 17; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Rom 9-11; 1 Pet 2:6-9). Here the defense of the gospel requires that the Apostles trace Jewish unbelief to its ultimate and ulterior source in the purpose of God. They don’t stop with the empirical phenomenon of unbelief—as if the human veto represented a final datum—for behind the human veto lies the divine veto.
6. Arguments over assertions. While all arguments carry an assertoric force, not all assertions carry an argumentative force. So we need to distinguish between bare assertions and reasoned assertions. In Scripture, both are equally inspired. However, a reasoned statement, by supplying the rationale underlying the assertion, allows us to estimate its relative or else absolute force—whereas a bare assertion is harder to gauge in this respect. This distinction is important in systematic theology. For example, we have an apparent antinomy between the equality of the Son in Jn 5:18 and his inequality in 14:28. Other issues aside, Jn 5:18 is the control verse since there the status of the Son is grounded in a stated relation (having God as his own Father), whereas the statement in 14:28 lacks an anterior cause; therefore we would harmonize 14:28 relative to 5:18 rather than vice versa.
7. Subordinate over coordinate relations. Arminians typically assume that when a passage introduces divine and human factors into an outcome, these must stand in a coordinate relation. It is as if this were the only causal relation that the Arminian can even conceive of. On this model, each agent makes a partial and independent contribution to the net result. Yet ordinary experience acquaints us with subordinate relations: cause/effect; action/reaction; stimulus/response. If the cue ball drops the 8-ball into a side pocket via the 10-ball, the causal relation is asymmetrical; although the 10-ball is the proximate cause of the effect, the cue ball is the proximate cause of the 10-ball’s motion and the remote cause of the 8-ball’s motion.
Arminians often cite Phil 2:12-13 as a classic statement of the perennial paradox between divine and human agency. Yet Paul does not treat God’s work and man’s work as sitting side-by-side; rather, the grammatical construction subordinates the human action to the divine in a reflexive relation: "Work, for it is God to works in you"—especially when coupled with the added reference to the divine decree—"according to his good purpose." Cf. F.F. Bruce, NIBC 11 (Hendrickson, 1989), 82-3; M. Silva, WEC (Moody, 1988), 134-42. Note also that in this passage, God’s agency is said to operate on our will as well as our work. So much for freewill in the libertarian sense.
8. Qualifications over generalizations. The Bible sometimes speaks in generalities. Indeed, this may even be the rule rather than exception depending on the genre (e.g. Proverbs). So when the Bible employs universal expressions, we have to make allowance for this possibility. That observation should be too obvious to call for comment, but it is routinely ignored by Arminians and universalists.
Indeed, universalists employ precisely the same form of argument against limited salvation as the Arminians use against limited atonement: "if everyone will be saved, then some will be saved." But like a contract, we have to read the fineprint as well. As a rule, qualified usage takes precedence over broad generalities.
We are so accustomed to using the Bible as a reference work that it is easy to lose sight of the concrete circumstances involved in overseeing several churches by mail. The NT correspondence is addressed to a mixed company of new and mature believers, true and nominal believers. As such it must employ sweeping generalizations that will not apply equally to everyone in the audience. That is simply an exigency of mass communication.
9. Specialized over ordinary usage. Arminians sometimes oppose Mt 22:14 to Pauline usage in order to drive a wedge between general provision (sufficient grace; universal atonement) and individual application. However, this contrast rests on a palpable equivocation, for Matthew is using the verbs in their ordinary sense: out of the larger number who are summoned only a smaller number accept the invitation and are thereby initiated into the Christian community—whereas these same verbs have acquired the status of technical terms in Paul. In Paul, the terms carry significance beyond the bare dictionary definition inasmuch as they designate a larger doctrinal construct: each verb has specialized reference to the esoteric and efficient action of God. This reference is not built into the usage of Matthew but has to be supplied by context on a case-by-case basis.
10. Loaded language over neutral terms. Arminians appeal to Heb 2:9 to prove general atonement. However, the denotation of v9 is unpacked by the stated denotae of the immediately succeeding verses: "sons" (10); "brothers" (11-12); "children" (13-14); "the given" (13); "Abraham’s seed" (16), and "the people" (17; cf. 9:15)). These are not universal terms denoting mankind in general; rather, the author has deliberately chosen designations that trigger associations with the covenant community. This is not surprising since our author is addressing Jewish-Christians. So we must keep these covenantal connotations in mind. Moreover, there is a climactic word-play connecting panta (8), pantoß (9), panta (10), and panteß (11)—where the final occurrence culminates with the exclusive union between the Holy One (Christ) and his holy ones (Christians).
This kind of language implies an inclusive contract between the respective parties. It is analogous to a statement like, "I made love to my wife last night." The implication is that my wife was the only woman I made love to last night—precisely because she is my wife and not just another woman.
When Calvinists appeal to Jn 10:11 to prove special redemption, Arminians counter that this doesn’t imply that he died only for the sheep. Such an objection would be legitimate if "sheep" were a neutral word. But the shepherd/ sheep imagery is obviously colored by OT usage, where it represents the Lord’s relation to his chosen people. Jesus deliberately exploits its literary resonance. This is paralleled by the reference to "friends" in 15:13. As Clayton Bowen remarks,
The Johannine Logos-Christ...has love only for those within the circle, for his friends. The great word of 15:13, "There is no greater love than this —that a man should lay down his life for his friends," says this with a simple directness that defines misunderstanding. The stress in this sentence is strongly on the closing phrase yper tvn filvn aytoy," "Love in the Fourth Gospel," JR 13 (1933), 42.

The same allusive force is operative when Paul says that Christ died for the "church" (Acts 20:28). The church is not merely a subset of the world, but stands over against the world. Moreover, the verb peripoiv has an elective connotation in Septuagintal usage (e.g. Ps 74:2; Isa 43:21), and this connotation carries over in NT usage as well (Eph 1:14; Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 2:9).
Along the same lines, Arminians also appeal to Isa 53:6. Yet this also has reference to members of the covenant community (cf. "my people," v8). And let us also keep in mind that Isaiah was an architect of remnant theology (4:3; 6:13; 10:20-22; 11:10-16; 28:5).
Additional appeal is made to the Pastorals (1 Tim 2:4-6; 4:11; Tit 2:11). This calls for several replies:
i) What I’ve already said regarding the force of universal quantifiers applies here as well. See more on this below as well (point 11).
ii) In evaluating the scope of these passages, we must also take into account some other passages in the Pastorals where stress is laid on the monergistic character of God’s redemptive action (1 Tim 1:14; 2 Tim 1:9 [cf. 2:10]; Tit 1:2-3; 3:3-5).
iii) In the Pastorals, Paul is combating a soteric heresy. Scholars divide over its identity. Some identify it as Jewish, others as Gnostic or proto-Gnostic. It could be also be syncretic in character (e.g. Jewish Gnosticism). Regardless of its precise identification, what is clear is that the heretics were denying the necessity and/or sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. That is the background against which Paul frames his reply. The point at issue, then, is whether there is a class of people who either rise above the necessity of his atonement or else fall below the sufficiency of his atonement.

Additional appeal is made to the cosmic scope of Christ’s atonement (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17; 4:42; 2 Cor 5:19; 1 Jn 2:2). While this interpretation is understandable, it misses the ethical connotation that kosmoß has acquired in a number of Johannine and Pauline occurrences (e.g. Jn 1:10; 14:17,22; 15:19; 17:14,16,25; 18:36; 1 Jn 2:16-17; 4:5; 5:19; 1 Cor 1:20f., 27; 2:12; 3:19; Gal 6:14; Col 2:20). In these passages, the "world" personifies the fallen world-order. This, indeed, is the source of the pejorative connotation of "worldliness" in traditional Christian usage. The focus is qualitative rather than quantitative.
An especially vivid instance is to be found in 1 Jn 5:19. Here we have a universal quantifier applied to the world. If any verse could establish the semantic force of the Arminian contention, it would be this verbal conjunction. Yet that would run entirely at variance with John’s recurrent and emphatic insistence on a categorical distinction between the children of God and children of the Devil. John is assuredly not including believers within the scope of v19.
Some readers may feel that I, as a Calvinist, am drawing strained distinctions to salvage my thesis. Quite the contrary, it is the Arminians who preach two different versions of Christ: a Christ who is the abstract Redeemer of all men, and another Christ who is the concrete Savior of some men—whereas Calvinists preach an undivided and indivisible Christ. We do not partition him into a Redeemer for one set of people and a Savior for another set.
11.Sense over reference. If I have a Siamese cat named Sylvester, then "Sylvester" has reference to my pet cat, but "Sylvester" doesn’t mean Siamese cat.
Now Arminians infer general redemption from the use of universal terms in certain passages (Isa 53:6; Mt 11:28; Rom 5:18; 8:32; 11:32; 2 Cor 5:14; 1 Tim 2:4,6; 4:10; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9; 2 Pet 3:9). While this is a natural inference, it rests on a semantic fallacy. "All" and "every" are universal quantifiers. A universal quantifier functions as a class quantifier, denoting all of the members of a given reference-class. Arminians assume that it has a standard extension, which they take to be a maximal extension, unless otherwise modified.
This confuses extension with intension. A universal quantifier has a standard intension, but a variable extension. And that follows from the nature of a quantifier, which is necessarily general and abstract rather than specific and concrete marker. That’s what makes it possible to plug in concrete content. A universal quantifier is a class quantifier. As such, it can have no fixed range of reference. In each case, that must be supplied by the concrete context and specific referent. In other words, a universal quantifier has a definite intension but indefinite extension. So its extension is relative to the level of generality of the reference-class in view. Thus, there is no presumption in favor of taking "all" or "every" as meaning everyone without exception. "All" or "every" is always relative to all of something:
i) We take Rom 5:18a as denoting all men, not simply because of the universal quantifier, but because Paul has found many different ways in the course of 1:18-3:18 to indicate the universality of sin. By contrast, we do not take the use of the quantifier in 5:18b as denoting all men since that does not enjoy the same background of support; indeed, if we were to press the parallel, it would mean that absolutely everyone will be saved, which runs contrary to what Paul otherwise teaches—not least of which is the condition of faith.
ii) On Rom 8:32, the subject in this verse ("us all") coincides with the subject in v31 ("us"). Working our way backwards, this coincides with the objects of foreknowledge, foreordination, vocation, justification, and glorification (vv29-30); while working forwards, it coincides with the objects of intercession and preservation. So where in this series do the Arminians propose to interpolate the damned?
iii) Rom 11:32 should be read with these implicit qualifications in place. As F.F. Bruce remarks, this verse affirms representative universalism. Cf. TNTC 6 (IVP, 1987), 210.
iv) On 2 Cor 5:14, although this is a favorite prooftext of Arminians, it actually undercuts their thesis. According to the symmetry of the verse, the first quantifier coincides with the second: Christ died for all who died in Christ. So the scope of each quantifier is limited to the union between the Redeemer and the redeemed. As F.F. Bruce remarks, "One has died as the representative of all his people, and therefore all of them are deemed to have died in the person of their representative." Cf. NCBC (Eerdmans, 1984), 207; C.K. Barrett admits "it is true that the stress here does not lie on the ‘all men’ but on the ‘disobedience’ and the ‘mercy’ BNTC (Hendrickson, 1991), 210.
This interpretation is confirmed by the non-imputation of sin in v19, which hardly applies to humanity as a whole.
v) On 2 Pet 3:9, there are half a dozen reasons for rejecting the Arminian interpretation:
a) This letter was apparently directed to a Judeo-Christian Diaspora (cf. 1 Pet 1:1; Gal 2:7f.)—which, at least, included significant Jewish representation. Commentators tend to take an either/or approach to the recipients, forgetting that since these letters are addressed to a "mixed multitude" (of Jewish and Gentile Christians), they contain characterizations that are more appropriate to one segment (e.g. Gentile converts) of the congregation than another, without thereby excluding a more diverse audience. Since, moreover, these are circular letters, the relative Jewish/ Gentile representation would vary from one locality to the next. Both points assume that 1-2 Pet share a common address (cf. 2 Pet 3:1), although these same conditions would obtain more generally.
Moreover, the Apostle—in both his epistles—transfers OT and Intertestamental imagery to the Church in order to stress the continuity or even identity between Israel and the Church. Now the theme of God’s longsuffering towards his covenant people is a commonplace in the Prophets. It would be without warrant, therefore, to universalize its scope.
b) This conclusion is reinforced by internal parallels where divine forbearance is in the interests of the faithful (3:15; 2:5,7,9).
c) 2 Pet is apparently set against the backdrop of persecution (2:9; cf. 1 Pet 1:6; 4:12), which would underscore the deliverance motif—which applies to the people of God.
d) The "all" in v9b is presumably conterminous with the "you" in v9a, which has—as its immediate referent—the Christian communities addressed in Peter’s encyclical.
e) This conclusion would also be more in keeping with the predestinarian force of the divine will (Gr.=boylh) in the Petrine speeches of Acts 2:23 & 4:28.
f) This conclusion would also be in keeping with Peter’s predestinarian (1 Pet 1:2,20; Acts 2:23; 4:28), or even double predestinarian (1 Pet 2:8-9) theology.
vi) On Tit 2:11, we must make some effort to integrate v11 with v14, where the phrase "a people for his own" is a stereotypical expression for the covenant community, and implies divine discrimination," C. Spicq, Les Epîtres Pastorales (Paris, 1957), 2:643. On 1 Tim 4:10, cf. S. Baugh, "‘Savior of all people’: 1 Tim 4:10 in context," WTJ 54 (1992), 331-40.

Helping old mother church across the street

Every now and then I tune into Dave Armstrong's RC website to see what's new, if anything, in this alternative universe. Among other things, Armstrong has a list of 25 books in defense of Catholicism.

One of the striking things about his list is that only two titles were written by members of the Magisterium. And of those two, both are of pre-Vatican II vintage. By contrast, quite a number were written by laymen, some of them Evangelical converts to Catholicism.

What makes this so striking is the disconnect between the ecclesiology and the polemical theology. For what we have here is a bottom-heavy defense of a top-heavy institution. But if a layman can make a case for the Magisterium, who needs the Magisterium? Isn't the raison d'être for the Magisterium the correlative denial of the right of private judgment? So in what sense is Karl Keating or Scott Hahn or Dave Armstrong an authoritative voice in defense of Catholicism?

Yet another striking feature of the list is what is left out. The greatest Catholic apologist of the 20C was, without doubt, Karl Rahner.

So why doesn't Rahner make the cut? The reason, I'm sure, is that Rahner is much too liberal for Armstrong. Yet Rahner was a peritus to Vatican II, and died in good standing with the Church.

In a sense, then, Armstrong and his cobelligerents have never really converted to Catholicism at all. Instead, they've founded their own little private Victorian Catholic cult, with Newman, Knox, Belloc, Chesterton, and Tolkien as their patron saints--whereas the real Roman Catholicism is represented by the likes of Rahner and Raymond Brown. Theirs is not official Catholicism, but a treehouse for child actors. This is Oreo cookie Catholicism--Popish on the outside, but schismatic on the inside.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Jesus & jihad

Nicholas Kristof, op-ed writer for the New York Times, has struck again. In a rambling, stream-of-consciousness hit-piece, entitled "Jesus & Jihad," he tries to connect the Left Behind series with Abu Ghraib and militant Islam.

The disjointed narrative is not the result of sloppy writing. To the contrary, the abrupt transitions are strategic turning-points. Because his case would fall apart if he were to use linear logic, he eschews close reasoning for Joycean innuendo. This sort of sophistry is the shopworn ruse of every demagogue.

Kristof begins by taking the Left Behind series as his point of reference. Now, there is nothing wrong with commenting on the popular expressions of piety. To the extent that this series is both an influential and representative expression of much Evangelical religion, it is fair game in its own right.

But one of the problems is when Kristof appeals to the comic-strip theology of popular pulp fiction, with its cartoonish literalism, as a stalking-horse to attack the Bible, as well as more intelligent and responsible expressions of the Christian faith.

In addition, he indulges in a willful distortion of the opposing position. He equates the final judgment with "ethnic cleansing." But that loaded phrase has nothing whatsoever to do with the standard of judgment. For the church has been redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9).

Kristof plays a rhetorical shell-game by taking the word "fundamentalism," which originally applied to an American religious movement, reapplying it to militant Islam, and then applying it once more, with the Islamic overtones, to Evangelicalism.

But this is nothing more than a semantic trick. It may be persuasive for liberal illiterates who don’t know the history of words, and readily confound words with concepts, but astute readers will not be impressed by this verbal legerdemain.

Somehow, Kristof manages to turn the Left Behind series into a rear guard action in response to militant Islam. But just as Kristof has no use for linear logic, he has no use for linear chronology. It should be needless to point out that the Left Behind series made its publishing debut long before 9/11. The entire series was planned and plotted out well in advance of 9/11. It is, as everyone who *knows anything knows, a literary adaptation of a dispensational timeline that has been around for decades.

More to the point, the idea of a martial messiah has extensive OT and NT precedent (e.g. Ps 2; 72; 110; Isa 9; 59; 63; Ezk 38-39; Dan 7; Mt 25; 1 Thes 4; 2 Thes 1-2; Rev 19-20).

To create a moral equivalence from a formal equivalence, based the fact that Muslims and Christians both resort to martial rhetoric and armed conflict, is like equating Hitler and Churchill on the grounds that both made use of bombers and battleships and belligerent oratory. This only illustrates the inability of the liberal mind to keep more than idea in its head at a time.

He laments "fundamentalism" for fostering a stark moral division of humanity. But, other issues aside, you need to know your enemy and fight him accordingly. If you enemy sees the world in black-and-white, then you need to see the enemy in black-and-white. If the enemy sees you as an unredeemable reprobate, then there’s no room for diplomacy. The enemy has made this a fight to the death. The enemy has opted to take no prisoners.

Kristof goes on to say that "we did imprison thousands of Muslims here and abroad after 9/11, and ordinary Americans joined in the torture of prisoners at Abu Graib in part because of a lack of empathy for the prisoners. It’s harder to feel empathy for such people if we regard them as infidels..."

This is a classic case of moral and logical poll-vaulting. Because the actual facts do not enable Kristof to mount a stepwise argument from one thing to another, he resorts to free association. It is a wonderfully economical style of writing because the writer can jam-pack so many fallacies into such a compact verbal space. It is much more time-consuming to unwind all the fallacies wrapped up in two little sentences.

1. He begins with the question-begging insinuation that it was a miscarriage of justice to round up Muslims after 9/11. Kristof offers no supporting argument for his operating assumption.

i) In criminal profiling, you target the individual or group most likely responsible for the crime. In a lynching, you profile Klansmen. This is just plain common sense. A survival instinct.

ii) Ashcroft rounded up illegal foreign nationals. They didn’t belong here in the first place. They were in violation of their visas.

iii) The attack on 9/11 was pulled off by domestic sleeper-cells, so that’s a natural and necessary target.

As to Muslims abroad, these were enemy combatants captured on the battlefield. This was not a random raid of everyone with a Muslim last name.

2. As to Abu Graib, Kristof would need to do the following to establish a causal connection:

i) The culprits were:

a) Avid readers of the Left Behind series and/or:
b) Fundamentalist Christians.
c) Their lack of "empathy" was the direct result of either (a), (b), or both.

Okay, so where’s the supporting argument to bridge the gap from theory to fact? All that Kristof gives the reader is a washed out bridge.

ii) Since conservative Christian ethics frowns upon sadomasochism, it is hard to see how the hanky-panky of Private English and her cohorts in the direct result of their indoctrination in, and devotion to, Christian fundamentalism.

iii) To the contrary, what I see in the prison flap is, in part, the MTV generation come of age. If a second party is to blame, let's turn the spotlight back on the liberal media.

iv) We also see the consequences of a co-ed military. For years, the liberals have lobbied for a coed military. This, of course, leads to a breakdown of sexual discipline.

v) Why should we feel empathy for the prisoners? Many of them were in custody for murdering and maiming our soldiers. But, of course, Kristof, as a bleeding-hearted liberal, naturally sympathizes with the victimizer over the victim.

I would invite Mr. Kristof to spend a night in a prison-cell with the detainees, and let him practice his empathy on them. It would give him a chance to commiserate with them on the root-causes of terrorism. Our prison guards could come around the morning after to collect the body.

Kristof trots out the old canard of African enslavement. But there was no race-based slavery in the Bible. For that matter, the two men who did the most to end the African slave trade were the both of them Evangelicals—John Newton and William Wilberforce. So this criticism is yet another non-sequitur.

He then says that religious intolerance is not what America stands for, or even for what the good Lord stands for.

I suppose this depends on whether you think that American history begins with the Warren Court.

As to God, you cannot be tolerant and also say what God does and does not stand for. Kristof is now indulging in the very thing he faults the "fundamentalist" for. He is speaking for God. He is saying that God takes a stand, that he takes sides, siding with one position or party against another.

The difference, then, is that Kristof is a far-left fundamentalist; he is just as intolerant of the people he condemns as the people he condemns, but without the theological support-system.

Friday, July 16, 2004

And the two will be one

It's my impression that many marriages sour because the husband and wife come to the marriage with different, sometimes false, unreasonable, and unspoken expectations. I think a man and woman contemplating marriage should fill out a questionnaire to see if the have the same expectations, if they both have realistic expectations, and if they can adjust their expectations to make for a happy marriage.

They should fill this out separately. Take a week or two to do it so that they have the time to give the questions some serious thought. They should then compare their answers. See how far apart they are. If they can't strike a balance at this preliminary stage, they'll never pull off a successful marriage.

1. Do you expect your spouse to satisfy all your emotional needs?

2. Do you think you'll love your spouse so much that you'll never be attracted to and tempted by anyone else?

3. Do you plan to maintain your friendships after you get married?

4. Do you plan to maintain your extracurricular activities after you get married?

5. How involved will your in-laws be in your marriage?

6. Do both of you plan to work?

7. Will you work outside the home?

8. How many hours a day/week?

9. What standard of living would you be happy with right now?

10. What standard of living would you be happy with 10-20 years from now?

11. Who makes the big decisions? The husband? Both of you? What about a conflict?

12. Does it matter to either or both of you where you live? What if you move?

13. Do you look forward to sex?

14. How much?

15. What if your spouse puts on a lot of weight after you marry?

16. Do you plan to have kids?

17. How many?

18. What if one of you changes your mind?

19. How should children be punished?

20. Who should do it?

21. Will one spouse back the other up, or take the side of the child?

22. Do you hold grudges?

23. Do you want to go out a lot, or spend most of your time at home?

24. What does your wife need to do to make you feel like a real man?

25. What should a wife not do to demean you?

26. What does your husband need to do to make you feel like a real woman?

27. What should a husband not do to demean you?

28. What do you look for in a man?

29. What do you look for in a woman?

30. Have you had a bad childhood experience that would adversely affect the marriage?

31. Do you have the same political views?

32. Do you have the same religious views?

33. What interests do you share in common?

34. How do you plan to educate your kids? Homeschooling? Public schooling? Private schooling?

35. Who should do most of the housework? Babysitting? Shopping? Transporting?

36. What is your idea of a vacation?

37. Do either of you like to drink?

38. Gamble?

39. Do either of you have problems with addictive-compulsive behavior?

40. Do either of you have irritating habits?

41. Will you schedule time together?

42. Which means more to you—time together or a high standard of living?

43. In case of conflict, who do you plan to talk to? Your spouse? Friend? Parent? Pastor? Counselor? Psychologist? Male or female?

44. Do you like your boyfriend/girlfriend the way they are, or do you plan to change them?

45. Are either of you willing to change? Or are you happy the way you are?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Too hot to handle-3

11. Polygamy

Many students of Scripture find the OT practice of polygamy a moral embarrassment, and dismiss it as a dispensational concession.

But polygamy is not all of a piece. For there are several types of polygamy:

i) War brides (Deut 21:10-14).

ii) Treaty wives. Many of Solomon’s wives were treaty wives.

iii) Surrogate motherhood (Gen 16:3; 30:3)

iv) Levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-10).

v) Promiscuity (2 Sam 11).

The reasons for taking a war bride might be several: love, lust, a marriage of convenience.

Treaty-wives were a cynical political arrangement.

Surrogate motherhood and Levirate marriage existed because Israel was a tribal society in which land-holdings were the common possession of the clan. Without a legitimate living heir, land would pass out of the clan.

It was also a safety-net for childless widows.

Levirate marriage may also have received a measure of Scriptural sanction insofar as it served to advance the seed of promise (Gen 3:15; 17:6-8).

The Bible condemns promiscuous polygamy (Deut 17:17).

The Bible does not approve of everything it records or regulates. On the other hand, marriage was often seen as an economic institution and economic necessity.

The OT already looked upon polygamy as, at best, an accommodation to besetting sin or special circumstances, and the NT is even less tolerant of this concession (Mt 19:3-12; 2 Tim 3:2).

On the other hand, if, say, a man marries two women, and has children by both, then he has assumed a set of obligations to each which he cannot dissever after the fact—just as a young man who seduces a young woman was thereby bound to marry her (Exod 22:16; Deut 22:28-29). He is committed to care for her forever after. So sin often entangles the sinner in a web of unforeseen obligations.

Monogamy remains the Biblical ideal, but we need to take into account the practical demands that gave rise to certain forms of polygamy, and we also need to come up with our own alternative strategies for dealing with the same circumstances.

12. Pornography

Once again we’re on a continuum. One question is whether sexual fantasies are always sinful. By way of answer, Canticles is written in a way that directly and deliberately stimulates the erotic imagination.

But this raises the question of where we draw the line. If Canticles is licit, what about Botticelli, and if Botticelli is licit, what about an X-rated movie?

There are different ways of broaching the answer.

i) One of the dangers of pornography is that it sets up a certain ideal, if “ideal” is the right word, which a normal woman cannot and ought not measure up to. It can spoil the viewer for real women.

ii) In addition, it recruits women who, by definition, make their money engaging in fornication. In effect, you are paying people to sin for your own pleasure.

iii) X-rated movies and other suchlike glorify vulgarity and promiscuity.

iv) Many of the most important things in life defy definition. They cannot be quantified. But that doesn’t render them unreal, or prevent us from drawing some distinctions based on native taste and intuition.

v) The difference between pornography and Canticles is like the difference between bad art and good art. Good art elevates and ennobles its subject. Good art conveys moral, spiritual, and intellectual insight. Bad art trivializes and debases its subject. It demeans rather than redeems. We cannot squeeze this into a uniform formula, but most folks instinctively know the difference. There’s a reason the Uffizi would never swap its Da Vincis and Botticellis for Warhol and Mapplethorpe.

vi) Going back to Canticles, this affords us a striking study in indirection. Canticles creates an explicit impression, but if you take a second look, the impression is fostered, not by anatomical descriptions, but by suggestive comparisons between one thing to another—say a breast and a cluster of grapes, while leaving the rest to the imagination. So there is, in fact, no X-rated imagery to go with the X-rated imagination.

What we have, rather, is the technique of the oblique. Canticles is a sexual allegory rather than a sex manual.

13. Profanity

Traditionally, Protestant morality has censured profanity as a violation of the Third Commandment. But in this regard, a few distinctions need to be drawn.

i) The usual application is apt to misconstrue and trivialize the original import. What is in view is probably not the mere use of the Lord’s name as an expletive, but its employment as an imprecation to hex your enemies. Indeed, this residual meaning is still reflected in the designation of certain words as “curse words.”

ii) There is a moral and religious distinction to be drawn between the profane use of holy things and the profane use of unholy things. Using the devil’s name or domain as an expletive is not on the same plane as using the name of God or Christ in vain.

This distinction is oddly lost sight of in traditional Protestant morality. But by definition, there can be no irreverent treatment of the devil, for the subject is inherently impious.

At the same time, there is a danger of trivializing and secularizing something fearfully real.

14. Slavery

Many men regard slavery as inherently immortal. But we need to draw some distinctions.

Under the Mosaic law, slavery served two different functions: (i) it was a form of financial restitution for property crimes, and (ii) a way of dealing with POWs.

The first function is really a form of indentured service. There is nothing wrong with it. Indeed, it’s much more sensible than our prison-system. In the Biblical system, the offender works to support himself and restore the victim; in our modern-day system, the victim receives no compensation, and must further finance the cost of the convict's imprisonment and upkeep. So this is both unjust and inefficient all around.

The second purpose may strike us as harsh. But in Bible times, it was a choice of either enslaving the enemy or taking no prisoners.

The problem with POWs is that if you repatriate them, they will live to fight another day. Unless you win the war, and the losing side surrenders, if you release a POW today, he will return to the battlefield and shoot at you tomorrow.

So the Biblical system was about as humane as it was possible to be back then. It was not practical to house POWs in concentration camps. And concentration camps are not distinguished by their quality of life.

There is no nice way to wage war. All the options are bad options. It’s just a choice between the lesser of two evils.

15. Suicide

Historically, the church has treated suicide as a damnable sin. Suicide was regarded as a mortal sin, and since—in the nature of the case— the suicide had no chance of absolution once he took his own life, he died outside the state of grace. Hence, he could not be buried on consecrated ground.

Much of this is based on a sacramental theology that does not command the assent of every reader. So we need to revisit the issue.

i) One preliminary question is whether suicide is always a sin. For example, is a suicide mission sinful? Is it sinful for a soldier to knowingly lay down his life to save others—assuming that he cannot accomplish the mission without sacrificing his own life in the process? Samson’s suicide is a suicide mission (Judges 16:21-31). He kills the enemies of Israel at the cost of his own life.

To take another example, suppose an intelligence officer is about to be captured. He has information which, if tortured out of him, will give the enemy a strategic edge. The above examples would seem to be warranted by the altruistic principle of 1 Jn 3:16.

Let us vary the last example. Suppose a soldier is about to be captured by the enemy. He knows that the enemy will torture him to death, out of sadistic glee. Perhaps he is morally wounded already. Is it sinful for him to hasten his own death by suicide? Saul’s suicide is a case in point (1 Sam 31:1-7).

This case is more difficult than the first or second. Still, I would find it hard to condemn a soldier who committed suicide under such circumstances. Is there a moral imperative to endure sodomy and mutilation unto death?

Someone may object that this shades into euthanasia. And maybe it does. Many things shade into other things, but it doesn’t follow that the entire subject is enshrouded in indistinct shades of gray. Doctors and nurses don't ordinarily abuse and torment their patients.

For an extensive analysis of euthanasia, cf. J. Frame, Medical Ethics (P&R, 1988). Since I cannot improve on his discussion, I have no separate entry for mercy-killing.

In ethics we are frequently faced with limiting cases and borderline cases. But the fact that dawn and dusk are borderline cases does not reduce midnight and high noon to borderline cases. We may not always be able to drawn a bright line between the point at which something begins and ends, but the moral continuum is only blurry at the outer edges.

These are extreme cases, but in ethics we must deal with extreme cases. The more common motives for suicide are boredom, guilt, grief, depression, despair, and mental illness.

In discussing the relation of suicide to sin, we need to distinguish between the subjective motive and the objective act. In principle, one can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason. So sin can attach one or the other, to both or neither.

Likewise, a certain mental state may either result in sin or be a result of sin. Is mental illness a sin? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depression is a borderline condition.

Is guilt a sin? Depends on what you do with it. We have many things to feel guilty over. But that should drive us into the arms of Christ.

Is despair a sin? I would say that despair is incompatible with faith in the providence of God, so—yes—despair is a sin.

More generally, suicide does reflect an absence of faith in the mercy and providence of God. It loses hope. But a Christian is never bereft of hope. Yet he may need to be reminded, or remind himself, of God’s good promises. There is no reason to fear the future, for God is the Lord of future time, no less than times present and the past.

In general, then, suicide is sin. And although the traditional view of suicide is someone confused, it is true that the suicide, by his very act, denies himself the possibility of repentance and restoration. So this is not to be taken lightly—by any means. Most of those who take their own lives are not like a soldier on a suicide mission, but a sentinel who deserts his post.

One of the common consequences of sin is to burn our best exits and options. But when find ourselves in a bind of our own doing, the proper course of action is not to add sin to sin, but to take our lumps like a man, in submission to the godly chastisement. And I dare say that most of those who escape a dire straight through suicide will find the welcome on the other side infinitely worse.

In this respect, I regard Saul's suicide as a final act of cowardice, crowning a life of infidelity. But a better case could be made for his armor-bearer.

Which brings us to the next question—is suicide a damnable sin? That depends. Strictly speaking, there are no damnable sins—only a damnable state of the soul, which issues in sin (Mt 7:17-19; 15:19). .

Can a Christian commit suicide and still be saved? I would broaden the question and ask, can a Christian commit sin and still be saved? The answer is yes.

A Christian is still a sinner, a lifelong sinner. At the same time, a Christian is still a believer—a lifelong believer. There is, in a Christian, a mix of faith and sin. There is, in the unbeliever, sin undiluted by faith.

So we want to avoid two extremes. On the one hand, we want to avoid the legalistic extreme of saying that our fate is sealed by the very last thing we do, as though I’m damned if I commit suicide, but saved if I die of a heart attack an hour before I'm able to carry out my suicidal designs. Or that I’m saved if I commit murder an hour before, but make it to the Confessional just before I expire.

On the other hand, we want to avoid the antinomian extreme of saying that no matter how faithless we are, we are always entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Rather, the presumption lies in the pattern of faith and life, for better or worse.


I would like to thank John Frame for taking the time to comment on a draft version of this essay.

Too hot to handle-2

4. Divorce

Traditionally, there are two grounds for divorce: infidelity (Mt 5:32; 19:19) and desertion (1 Cor 7:15). One preliminary question is why the Matthew version, with its exemptive clause, is more liberal than the Markan version (10:11-12), on the one hand, but less liberal than the Pauline discussion, which “adds” a second ground?

Of course, any answer is bound to be somewhat conjectural, but the following may be suggested. It may be that Mark took adultery for granted, since that was assumed on all side (both Jewish & Greco-Roman) as a valid ground for divorce, whereas Matthew, in order to avoid future confusion, spells out the exception.

Or it may simply be that Matthew knew more than Mark. Mark had heard of the teaching of Jesus, but Matthew had heard the teaching of Jesus. Mark’s citation is accurate as far as it goes, but Matthew reproduces a bit more of the original, quoting directly from his inspired memory of the event.

Or it may be that after Jesus completed his public address, the Twelve asked him some follow-up questions in private and elicited this additional caveat. Indeed, we know from other accounts that the Twelve often quizzed their Lord in private when a provocative public utterance of his confounded their understanding and expectations. In that event, the exemptive clause is a parenthetical gloss.

As to the Pauline expansion, it may well be that the words of Christ ought to be taken in the tradition of proverbial wisdom, where you have a statement that is formally universal, but understood to be a generality that admits a number of individual exceptions. Many well-meaning Christians have been misled by failing to make allowance for the hyperbolic element of the proverbial genre.

The next question is what the “Pauline privilege” amounts to. It is usually assumed to allow the innocent party the right of divorce and remarriage.

But beyond that is the question of whether abandonment alone is a grounds for divorce, or only in the case of an unbeliever leaving a believer. Is the unbelieving status of the deserter a necessary condition of a valid divorce, or is desertion alone a sufficient condition?

The prima facie reason that Paul discusses marriage and divorce in relation to believers and unbelievers is because that is how the question was posed, and it was so posed because that was the situation within the Corinthian church.

But it does not necessarily follow that the spiritual status of the deserter is a separate condition. Rather, this may be a special application of a general principle, occasioned by the circumstances of the Corinthian church.

Indeed, it is hard to see the moral relevance of deserter’s state of grace, or the absence thereof. The question is whether a marriage remains a real marriage without cohabitation. Marriage is a covenant with bilateral duties. Each party must uphold its end of the bargain.

A practical problem with making the spiritual status of the deserter a condition of divorce is that it puts the burden on a second party to establish that the deserter is a genuine unbeliever or nominal believer rather than, say, a backslidden believer. But no human authority has x-ray vision into the regenerate, unregenerate, elect, or reprobate state of another human being. It is difficult to see how the onus could ever be discharged.

Desertion, with no prospect of reconciliation, is easy to establish, for it depends on physical abandonment and an unwillingness to return and resume marital relations. And infidelity is often easy to establish. These conditions rest on evidence in the public domain, and can therefore be met with a reasonable degree of certainty, but whether or not the deserter is a believer or unbeliever is a condition whose satisfaction is well-nigh unverifiable.

At most, one would have to form a practical judgment based on outward conduct. And this is a legitimate basis of church discipline. If the subject acts like an unbeliever, he is treated as though he were an unbeliever, whether or not he really is. But although this is a valid distinction, it succeeds by blurring the original distinction between believer and unbeliever. In that event, extended abandonment, without prospect of reconciliation, remains a valid ground for divorce.

It is possible that there are other valid conditions for a divorce, such as battery, or premarital misrepresentations. A contract is ordinarily invalid if either party enters under false pretenses.

But we must be very guarded lest we stretch an essentially strict and conservative position into an open-ended divorce policy. Remember the shock-value of our Lord’s prohibition, where he took a position to the right of both rabbinical schools, and admitted that his position was so inflexible that some would be better advised to forgo marriage altogether.

5. Drugs

Scripture’s position on alcohol, which—on the one hand—permits moderate intake, while—on the other hand—forbidding immoderate intake, sets the boundaries for other forms of drug use.

Mood and mind-altering substances are permissible as long as they do not cause us to lose control. Various drugs, in various ways, may fall under a Biblical ban. If they are addictive. If they are unhealthy. If they are unpredictable.

6. Fornication

Traditionally, fornication is regarded as incompatible with the Christian calling. I suppose that, nowadays, many men and women in various churches, seminaries, and Evangelical colleges would regard this prohibition as a big joke or Victorian hang-up.

However, both Jesus and Paul treat fornication as a bar to heaven (Mt 15:19; Gal 5:19). It doesn’t get more serious than that.

Some people feel that the advent of contraception has made fornication acceptable. This assumes that the Biblical prohibition was based on the relation between sex and pregnancy.

But the Bible never says that, and Scripture condemns certain other sexual expressions where pregnancy is not in the cards (e.g., sodomy, bestiality, adultery with a post-menopausal woman.

Paul has an interesting analysis of fornication in 1 Cor 6:12-20. Here he argues that fornication consummates a common law marriage. This would lead directly to adultery, for if the fornicator then had sexual relations with anyone else, he would be an adulterer in relation to his very first sexual partner.

In addition, Paul says that fornication is in a class by itself, for it commits a sin against the sinner. His reasoning seems to be that the body is both the medium of sexual and social intercourse. When you form a sexual bond, you become one with another, not merely in the flesh, but on a plane of moral transference. If you unite yourself to a whore, you become the moral equivalent of a whore. You exchange your own identity with whomever you unite yourself to.

7. Incest

Incest takes two different forms:

(i) Vertical incest, between one generation and another (e.g. mother/son; mother-in-law/son-in-law; father/daughter; father-in-law/daughter-in-law; grandparent/grandchild; aunt/nephew).

(ii) Horizontal incest (brother/sister; brother-in-law/sister-in-law).

Vertical incest is always condemned. Horizontal incest is generally condemned, but allowed in the case of Levirate marriage. Horizontal incest was implicitly permitted, even essential, for the first few generations of the human race.

Horizontal incest was licit according to the nomadic and less regulated lifestyle of the patriarchs, but illicit under the Mosaic law—except for Levirate marriage, which is a customary carryover from the patriarchal period.

The implication is that vertical incest is intrinsically wrong, as involving an unnatural transgression of the social hierarchy.

Horizontal incest is not intrinsically wrong, but it is imprudent, and thus is ordinarily forbidden, except under special circumstances.

Because Israel was a tribal society, a certain amount of inbreeding was inevitable, so it came down to prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

And because Israel was a tribal society, the land belongs to the clan. Hence, inbreeding was a way of keeping property within the family.

This also accounts for the custom of the kinsman-redeemer (e.g., Book of Ruth).

Assuming that Scripture took tribalism into account on the subject of horizontal incest, the same allowance cannot be made in the case of cultures where tribalism has broken down.

8. Marriage

What, exactly, constitutes a valid marriage in Scripture? It is a little difficult to sort this out. On the one hand, you have a Biblical theology of marriage. On the other hand, the concrete examples of marriage in Scripture are situated in the social conventions of the ANE. So it's a bit tricky to separate the theology of marriage from the incidental cultural customs.

One way of broaching the answer is to approach the question from the opposite end of the spectrum by asking what makes for a valid divorce. In Scripture, there are two stated grounds: (i) infidelity (Mt 5:31; 19:9) and (ii) desertion (1 Cor 7:15).

That implies that at least two conditions of a valid marriage are fidelity and cohabitation. This figures in broader ideas of commitment and companionship.

Positively, Scripture defines marriage as a covenantal arrangement (Prov 2:17; Ezk 16:8; Mal 2:14). And consummation is certainly a prerequisite of a valid marriage—based on the one-flesh principle.

OT marriage took place in tribal societies where you married into an extended family or clan. That is not the essence of marriage, but that is how the institution was observed in OT times.

Love is not a necessary precondition of a valid marriage. Many marriages in Scripture were arranged marriages. Also, the betrothal customs did not allow for the kind of physical contact we take for granted in dating or engagement. In the OT, marriage was more of an economic institution—a social safety net.

So there was not much opportunity to fall in love before the marriage, although that might or might not happen afterwards. Romantic love is obviously an ideal to work towards, but not a condition of marriage.

Moving to our own time and place, our culture discourages early marriages for economic reasons. But there's no Biblical reason why a good many teenagers shouldn't marry, and putting off marriage until one's 20s or beyond naturally ratchets up the sexual pressure and temptation.

At the same time, economic stability is important to a solid marriage. If there's not enough money to pay the bills, or a regular source of income, that's a steady source of friction.

As far as the Bible is concerned, I don't think you need a big ceremony with a lot of guests and a minister to officiate.

At the same time, marriage is an inherently social institution. Unlike Adam and Eve, we bring preexisting relationships to the table (parents, siblings), and when we get married, we acquire in-laws and we have children of our own.

The Bible also has a theology of the state, and so we ought to pay at least a minimal degree of deference to the laws of the land. And that is also to ensure that the children will have some legal rights as well.

In principle, if a single man and woman were shipwrecked on a desert island, with no prospect of rescue in sight, I see no reason why they could not marry each other in the eyes of God.

However, we're not castaways on a desert island, so other considerations come into play. Thus it would be a mistake to treat marriage as a self-contained unit between one man and one woman.

9. Masturbation

This once went under the quaint name of Onanism. How it came to be associated with sin of Onan is puzzling. If you read the Biblical account, Onan achieved a state of sexual climax by having sexual relations with a woman, which is hardly the textbook meaning of masturbation.

At most, this would be a prooftext against contraception, but in that case we’d have to say that contraception is a sin, but polygamy is not. The account is really about Levirate marriage.

Traditionally, the church has frowned upon masturbation. One reason is the relation between masturbation and lust. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, lust is also aggravated by the absence of a sexual outlet. That is, indeed, in the nature of sexual tension, of a tension between sexual desire and sexual release. Unrelieved sexual tension only builds.

Another objection is the view that sexual activity is illicit outside the context of procreation. Yet if sex were impermissible outside of procreation, we would expect Scripture to forbid sexual relations with a barren, pregnant or postmenopausal woman.

The Bible does not directly address this issue. The Bible has general prohibitions against the sin of lust, but this takes external subjects, such as homosexual lust, incestuous lust, or adulterous lust, where a particular individual and a particular relation are in view.

It is striking that the Bible is silent on the subject of masturbation—striking, both because the Bible is quite specific and explicit about a number of other sexual sins, and because masturbation is extremely widespread. The argument from silence is always a bit tricky, but if masturbation were intrinsically evil, you’d expect of find a warning to that effect somewhere in Scripture.

Since the Bible doesn’t address the question, either directly or by necessary inference, we cannot be dogmatic one way or another. So a few suggestions are in order:

i) Since we are responsible for the revealed will of God, and he has not disclosed his will on this particular subject, I don’t think that Christians should go around guilt-ridden if they engage in this practice.

ii) On the face of it, this seems like a natural sexual safety value for single men—especially younger men in their sexual prime.

iii) Like learning how to walk or perform other athletic activities, this form of sexual experience and physical experimentation may train an unmarried young man in attaining some degree of mental and muscular control so that he is not a total novice on his wedding night.

iv) But, by the same token, it is generally illicit for married men—except for periods of prolonged physical separation. Likewise, it should not become a permanent alternative to marriage, unless marriage is not an option.

v) As with any appetite, it runs the risk of becoming addictive or sinful if wrongly directed.

So I can’t say absolutely if it is right or wrong, but I tend to deem it permissible under some circumstances.

10. Obscenity

Traditionally, Catholic morality frowns upon profanity, but is indifferent to obscenity, while Protestant morality frowns up both.

We might begin by asking why obscenity is so popular. The answer, I submit, is that we inhabit a sacramental universe. The sensible world is a metaphor for the moral order. That is why human speech is laden with figures of speech. That is why a well-chosen metaphor is meaningful. It conveys insight because there is a genuine point of analogy between the visible and invisible, moral and material.

Now the human body is a master metaphor, for we inhabit a body. Our body is the medium by which the immaterial soul is able to interface with space and matter. Because the body is quite literally our fundamental point of reference in relating to the world, the body is also a figurative frame of reference by which we position ourselves in moral space.

Hence, all the members and organs, aptitudes, appetites, illnesses, products, and by-products of the body constitute a warehouse of handy metaphors by which we orient our moral compass. And this runs the gambit from both the honorable and dishonorable features of the body—to borrow a Pauline distinction (1 Cor 12:22-25).

The next question is whether obscenity is sinful. As a rule, Scripture forbids obscenity (Eph 5:4; Col 3:8).

Obscenity can be both verbal and visual. A graphic instance of the latter is found in Mal 2:3. A classic example of the former is found in 2 Kg 18:27, where the red-faced rendering of the average translation fails to do it justice.

Because the Bible occasionally employs a few choice expressions, usually in quotation, which never make their way out of the translation committee, this has fostered a somewhat prim piety.

The exceptions are just that—exceptional. But it does suggest that obscenity is not always a sin.

It would be impossible to do personal evangelism if we blush at blue language.

One of the problems with obscenity is that it breeds a bitter view of life. Expletives are used to express rage, or to demean embodied existence, or to demean our fellow man. These are not healthy habits of the mind. They reflect and reinforce a thankless view of life—a view of life characterized by murmuring rather than gratitude. Ugly words are a window into an ugly soul. Unless we wash the windows of our life, we cannot see the beauty of God’s gracious providence.

Christians should avoid obscene humor, but not all sexual humor is obscene. Because life has its humorous side, and because so much of our social life revolves around the male/female dialectic, a certain amount of sexual humor is inevitable, and not all of it is in bad taste. Is there anything funnier than Gen 29:25?

One subdivision of sexual humor is derogatory humor about homosexuals. On the one had, a Christian should avoid demeaning homosexuals as subhuman, of indulging in self-righteous pride, or resorting to obscenity.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with making fun of homosexuals. It is a good thing to stigmatize sin, to make sin an object of shame and ridicule, as a deterrent to others.

Christians ought to avoid obscene slang, but not all slang is obscene. There is a place for somewhat rough, earthy language that falls short of obscenity. Medical nomenclature will never displace colloquial usage.

It’s somewhat mysterious why some synonyms are obscene, and other not, but that’s the nature of language, with its contextual connotations.

It is my impression that obscenity comes more naturally, or at least more normally, to men than women. When you hear women swear, is says more about the kind of men they hang around.

Too hot to handle-1

There are a number of ethical issues for which I’ve read no entirely satisfactory treatment. Sometimes they’re passed over in silence because Christian writers are uncomfortable with the subject-matter. Sometimes they’re assumed to be wrong without adequate argumentation. Sometimes there’s a failure to draw elementary distinctions, or else the distinctions are wrongly drawn. Sometimes they draw us into borderline cases that are difficult to adjudicate.

But these need to be scrutinized, for many of us will find ourselves in situations where we must make a choice, or advise someone else.

Even if we cannot always give a clear answer, that is important to recognize. We need to know what we don’t know, to know the limits of our moral certitude.

1. Abortion

What are the arguments against abortion?

i) Exod 21:22-25.

In this situation, two men get into a brawl. A female bystander is accidentally injured. She happens to be pregnant, and as a result of her injury she miscarries. The perpetrator is put to death.

This is remarkable for its severity. Ordinarily, Scripture does not classify manslaughter as a capital offense. If, therefore, the lesser crime is punishable by death, how much the greater in the case of induced abortion?

ii) Presumption of life.

The Bible generally treats the taking of life as murder. Special circumstances must obtain to justify homicide.

iii) Innocent life

The unborn baby is innocent of actual sin. An abortion involves the taking of innocent life. In the absence of mitigating circumstances, this cannot be justified.

iv) Culpable life.

Although prolifers usually appeal to the innocence of the baby, this appeal, while valid, overlooks the counterintuitive fact that a prolife argument can also be constructed along the lines of prenatal guilt.

Infant mortality is a consequence of original sin (Rom 5:12-21; 6:23; 1 Cor 15:22). This implies that, at some level, the child, whether born or unborn, is a morally responsible agent. He is subject to the law of God. On the other hand, original sin is not a crime. Under the Mosaic law, no one was put to death for original sin, only personal sin.

So the unborn child cannot be treated as subhuman. He is a child of Adam, under the law of God, not of man.

v) Mitigating circumstances?

The most commonly cited mitigating or exculpatory circumstances are rape, incest, life & health of the mother, or health of the baby.

a) Some of these circumstances involve cases of emotional and physical hardship. The mother is entitled to all the support that church and family can muster.

However, Scripture never treats a hardship as an excuse to duck our duties. Frankly, the Bible is rather hard-nosed about this. Hardship goes with the moral territory. It is hard to be moral in an immoral world. But you have a duty to do the right thing even if you suffer for it. Indeed, that is the acid test of virtue. Anyone can do the right thing when it doesn’t cost him. But personal sacrifice is of the essence of moral fiber.

b) Regarding the life of the mother—in Scripture our social obligations are hierarchical. It is the duty of a husband, if need be, to lay down his life for his wife (Eph 5:25). The principle here is that the social superior has an obligation to defend the social inferior. With greater authority comes greater responsibility.

By parity of logic, it is a maternal duty to die for one’s child, not vice versa. Once again, this goes to the moral toughness of Scripture.

A possible exception would be where both the life of the mother and the child are forfeit unless medical intervention is taken to save the mother. It is a choice between either allowing both to die, or sacrificing one for the other. This is a tragic choice, but that’s a fact of life.

This would be analogous to approaching a busy crosswalk, only to have my brakes go out. I cannot avoid running over some pedestrians, but I can limit the damage.

c) Regarding the health of the baby, the Scriptural prohibitions against murder make no exemption for the disabled or retarded. And we must remember that the Bible was revealed before the advent of medical science, when poor health was commonplace. So the Biblical value of life is not predicated on the quality of life.

In addition, the Bible does not place a premium on high intelligence. Indeed, Scripture says that most intellectuals are hell-bound reprobates (1 Cor 1-3).

The only possible exception I can think of would be in the case of anencephalic infants, where the unborn baby has no functional brain, or no brain at all. Such a child will never be viable outside the womb. So abortion might be permissible in this instance. But I would raise a few further caveats:

i) Whether or not a baby will ever be able to survive on its own can only determined by letting it come to term. So an abortion is not necessary. Why not allow nature to take its course?

ii) The mere fact that someone is not naturally viable is not, of itself, an argument for the suppression of life. People can come down with all sorts of medical conditions that require artificial assistance to keep them alive.

iii) The mind/body relation is complex. The soul can be very ingenious about rewiring or rerouting a defective brain to interface with the sensible world.

For example, Dembski reports the case of a socially well-adjusted honor student with an above-average IQ who had no brain to speak of. Cf. B. Dembski, Intelligent Design (IVP 1999), 216.

2. Civil Disobedience

Scripture strikes a balance. On the one hand, it inculcates a general principle of submission to the state (Mt 22:15-22; 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17).

On the other hand, you have a theology of revolution in the OT. The OT magistrate was a constitutional ruler (Deut 17:14-20), not an absolute monarch.

During times of national apostasy, the godly remnant rebelled and plotted an overthrow of the regime (e.g., 2 Kgs 9-11).

Of course, civil resistance will ordinarily fall short of revolution (Exod 1:15-20; Dan 3, 6)—which is a last resort.

The basic principle is this: resistance is warranted as well as obligatory if we are either bidden to do what is wrong or forbidden to do what is right (Acts 5:29).

3. Deception

Is deception always wrong? Some Christians are of that opinion. Their reasons are as follows:

i) God is the exemplar of truth

ii) Scripture generally condemns deceit

iii) Scripture generally commends honesty

By way of comment:

i) Although God is the exemplar of truth, God is also an agent of deception. God deceives the reprobate (2 Kg 22:23; Ezk 14:9; 2 Thes 2:11). So this appeal cuts both ways.

It may be said that God has the right to do certain things that we don’t have the same right to do. And that is no doubt the case. But such a codicil modifies the original argument in the opposing direction. For the original argument was predicated on the moral analogy between God and man, whereas the fact that God has some rights which we do not is predicated on a moral disanalogy between God and man.

It may also be said that the counterexamples involve the use of secondary agents. And that is, indeed, so. But its relevance is unclear:

a) Working through a second party doesn’t necessarily absolve the first party of complicity. The first party is still responsible for delegating the action to a second party. The deputy would not have acted except at the instigation of his superior.

Since the question at issue is whether a rational creature is ever entitled to deceive his fellow creatures, the fact that God sometimes tasks a rational creature to do just that is no counterargument to the original claim that deception is always wrong.

Regarding the next two points, a couple of comments are in order:

i) In Scripture, ethical prescriptions and proscriptions are generally addressed to the community of faith. It doesn’t necessary follow that the code of conduct within the church carries over in toto outside the church.

To this it may be objected that I am proposing a double standard according to which we must be truthful with fellow believers, but are at liberty to freely lie to unbelievers. But that objection is a wild overstatement.

a) To merely bandy the phrase “a double standard” as a term of abuse begs the question, for it assumes that a double standard is intrinsically wrong. Yet that assumes the very point at issue. So this objection needs a supporting argument.

b) There is nothing inherently outlandish about the idea that a subculture may have its own code of conduct. For example, the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not obtain in civilian life. I am not in a chain-of-command. I don’t have a license to kill.

c) The objection also assumes that this is, indeed, a double standard. But is it? Church life assumes a certain level of mutuality. One Christian is truthful with another Christian.

But this sort of moral reciprocity cannot be assumed in relations between believer and unbeliever. For the unbeliever, by virtue of being an unbeliever, does not operate with a Christian value-system.

So there is nothing necessarily duplicitous about treating someone differently if he treats you differently. That is not a double standard, but a single standard. If a sex offender is released back into the community, I will treat him differently than I would my wife or pastor.

ii) Priority structures.

In Bible ethics, not all obligations are equally obligatory. Some obligations are instrumental to other obligations. Some duties are higher duties that others.

And there are times when one obligation interferes with another. In that event, the lower imperative is temporarily suspended in the interests of the higher. The classic case is Sabbath-keeping. In Scripture there was (some one say, still is) a general duty to keep the Sabbath. But under special circumstances, a higher duty could supervene over a lower one.

If, for instance, a man's ox, which is the source of his livelihood, falls into a ditch, it is permissible to break Sabbath in order to rescue the best (Lk 14:5).Likewise, homicide is ordinarily classified as murder. But in the interests of justice or the defense of the innocent, where the talking of life is permissible and even obligatory—viz., the deathpenalty, holy war.

As a rule, believers are to be truthful with fellow believers and unbelievers alike. But the question is whether there are ever situations in which the general obligation is demoted?

And there do seem to be concrete cases in Scripture where that principle is in play (e.g., Exod 1:19-20; 1 Sam 16:2-3; 2 Kg 6:19; Heb 11:31).

At this point the critic may introduce a number of hair-splitting distinctions to show that, appearances notwithstanding, none of these verses really justifies deception. But there are a number of problems with this move:

i) It is only necessary if you feel the pressing need to harmonize these passages with your prior belief in the universal obligation of truth-telling. But if, as we have seen, the Bible does not justify this overarching presumption, then there is no reason why we must explain away these otherwise awkward verses.

ii) It interpolates into the text a number of fine distinctions that are not present in the text itself. These arise, not as a result of exegesis, but as face-saving distinctions to salvage the original thesis.

iii) In the name of honesty, it resorts to a brand of exegetical casuistry that savors of special-pleading. This is an ironic way of defending the truth.

iv) It either assumes that the subject of the action had a practical alternative, or absent this, that he should have refrained from action. In other words, either the Rahab and the midwives had, and ought to have availed themselves of, an honest alternative, or—absent that—they should not have tried to save the lives of the spies or the babies.

This contention is offered without any direct supporting argument. I guess the argument is that if it is always wrong to lie, then either providence will intervene, or else we should stand by helplessly as evil-doers do their worst. By way of reply:

a) I deny the presumption.

b) Scripture does not promise providential intervention.

c) There is sometimes a positive duty to take action.

We always have a duty to do the right thing. All other things being equal, we should do the right thing by honest means. But if evildoers prevent us from doing the right thing by honest means, we have a right to do the right thing by dishonest means.

That does not justify any means whatsoever. Some means are sinful. But I’m thinking of something like, say, smuggling Bibles into a country where the Bible is banned. We have a standing order from God to evangelize the world.

Ordinarily, unbelievers are entitled to the truth. But unbelievers are not entitled to the truth when they prevent us from doing the right thing by honest means. They are the ones who have imposed unnatural restrictions on our moral sphere of action.

On a related subject, what about broken vows? If we make a vow to God or man, are we under obligation to keep it no matter what the consequences? The classic case is Jeptha's rash vow.

Many Christians seem to be of the opinion that an oath, once taken, is inviolate. I demur.

As foolish and fallen creatures, we are often guilty of making shortsighted offers. If this is a sin, it lies in the making, rather than the breaking, of the promise. It can never be right to do what is wrong.

In addition, it is hard to see how I have the right to bind a second, involuntary party. And if breaking my word is punishable, then it is I rather than an innocent party who ought to endure the penalty. And a merciful man would release his neighbor from a foolish vow.

In this I agree with William Ames:

"Lawful contracts are not properly exercised, but about lawful things.

i) Because in every contract, consent is given; but consent to an unlawful thing is sin.

ii) A contract in itself has the force of a promise, but it is not lawful to promise what it is not lawful to perform.

iii) From a contract an obligation arises; but no obligation can be lawful which obliges us to sin, [for that would be] repugnant to the obligation of the divine law," Conscience: with the power and cases thereof (Stillwaters, n.d.), 228.

Vows are regulated in the Mosaic Law. But since this supplies the legal framework for lawful vows, it is unreasonable to suppose that a vow which broke the Mosaic Law would be binding.

In addition, the Mosaic Law itself addresses various circumstances under which a vow could be commuted or voided (Lev 27; Num 30). Case law doesn’t address every conceivable situation, so these examples do not, presumably, exhaust every possible exception under which a vow could be commuted or voided.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The egalitarian absolute

I. Egalitarian Assumptions

The culture wars have many fronts, and on the face of it liberalism presents a rather ragtag alliance. It seems to be nothing more than a loose coalition of special-interest groups vying for entitlements of one kind or another. But upon closer inspection, there is a common thread running through the varied and perennial liberal/conservative debates. To pull this thread, let's begin by running through a representative statement of liberal ideals.

1. Equal rights for racial minorities. No racial profiling.

2. Equal rights for women. No "sexist" language. Abortion on demand.

3. Equal rights for sodomites, bisexuals, and transsexuals in employment, housing, mar-riage, adoption and ordination.

4. Equal rights for minors. No corporal punishment, parental consent or even parental notification (for abortion, contraception). Kids should be free to sue or divorce their parents.

5. Equal rights for citizens and foreign nationals. No distinction between human rights and civil rights. International law trumps national sovereignty.

6. Equal rights for fauna and flora. No "speciesism." No pet "ownership." The common good of the ecosystem trumps the survival or prosperity of the human race.

7. Equal access to goods and services, viz., public housing, transportation. Elimination of regressive taxes (e.g., sales tax) or tax breaks for the rich. Massive foreign aid to poor Third World nations.

8. Equal access to education, viz., free tuition, racial quotas, bilingual education, forced bussing, and elimination of competitive standards.

9. Equal access to health care, viz., health insurance, contraception, euthanasia, needle-exchange, medical Marihuana, &c.

10. Equal access to the best legal representation. Demographically equitable sentencing. The world court trumps national sovereignty.

On the one hand, this list is intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. On the other hand, not all liberals would necessarily push such a radical agenda, but this is the general goal or basic drift of liberal ideology, even if approached incrementally. It is further along in Europe and the UK than in the US.

So what's the common thread? One only has to run through the platform to answer the question. To be sure, there's a sense in which I built the answer into the way in which I phrased the ideals, but I think this is a logical way of classifying liberal ideals.

We might call it the egalitarian absolute. The guiding idea is that human beings, or all living beings, are equal in principle, and for this reason, every effort must be made to make them equal in practice. The same standards, opportunities and outcomes apply to one and all. Equality is the rallying cry that unites political and theological liberals.

Many different tributaries feed into and issue out of egalitarian ethics, including , Dar-winism, socialism, secularism, feminism, Buddhism, the Sixties counterculture, Native American spirituality, Wiccan religion, animal rights, deep ecology, queer theory, the Communist Manifesto, the Humanist Manifestos I-II, the UN conventions and declarations on human rights, women's rights, children's rights, K. Marx, P. Singer, A. Naess, J. Goodall, R. Reuther, Green Peace, the Green Party, ALF, ELF, PETA, &c.

A logical corollary to the egalitarian absolute is a totalitarian regime, for only the force of law can impose such uniformity of opportunity and outcome. The regime must control all educational and economic resources in order to smooth out social inequities. Thus, the state or global regime supplants the church and the natural family, as a kind of extended parody of both. Social programs supplant word and sacrament, bureaucrats supplant pastors and parents.

The egalitarian absolute is somewhat neutral on the precise mechanism of implementing its program. The effect is socialistic, but that can be powered by either democracy and capitalism or autocracy and collectivism. Yet the tendency is towards one-world government.

Now, it is an old debater's trick that he can always win the debate as long as he can define the terms of the debate, for that puts the opposing side on the defensive by placing the onus on the opposing side.

And this tactic has achieved some level of success in the debate between liberals and conservatives. For what we usually see is that the conservative affirms the basic principle of general equity, but denies its application in this or that particular case. And this always situates the conservative in a weakened as well as generally and gradually losing position. Instead of challenging the underlying premise, he is left trying to challenge the results or limit its application on a piecemeal basis, while the liberal can naturally ask why, if the premise is sound, it should not be carried to its logical extreme.

II. Inter-Evangelical/Egalitarian Assumptions

Why have Christian conservatives been so slow to perceive and confront this tactic head on? There are, I suppose, several reasons.

1. I suspect that many Christian simply fail to see how individual controversies over, say, the ordination of women or homosexuals or war and peace figure in a more sweeping social program.

2. There are some egalitarian elements in Christian theology. We believe that all men are sinners, in equal need of divine grace, and that the grace of God is distributed without respect to outward distinctions of race, sex, and social class. A Calvinist would say that grace is particular, but not on those grounds, for election is unconditional.

We believe that all men are entitled to equal justice. We believe that the Great Commission (Mt 28:19), in fulfillment of the Lord's covenant with Abraham, presages and promises a diverse church of the redeemed, drawn from every tribe and tongue, people and nation, sharing alike in a universal priesthood and kingdom (Rev 5:9-10).

Frequent appeal is also made to Gal 3:28. However, Paul doesn't say that the respective groups are "equal," but rather, "one" in Christ. Equality and unity are not interchangeable concepts, and it is question-begging when egalitarians casually substitute equality for unity in exegeting this passage.

3. Many conservatives feel a collective burden of guilt for past discrimination insofar as the Church has often been on the side of the establishment and status quo. As over against that, it should not be forgotten that the Church has as often been in the vanguard of providing for the poor and needy. Still, even if judged by its own standards, there is some blame to be laid at its own doorstep.

4. When conservatives oppose various elements and initiatives of the egalitarian agenda, it makes us appear ungenerous. If we talk about tax cuts and free trade while liberals talk about the poor and needy, the comparison is inevitably unbecoming to us. Of course, many conservatives would say that tax cuts and free trade help the poor and needy. But even if true, that often gets lost in the debate.

III. Internal Critique

How, then, should the Church respond to the egalitarian absolute? I would suggest a two-pronged approach. To begin with, it is a useful exercise to challenge the egalitarian absolute on its own stated grounds.

1. To say that everyone is equal in principle, in consequence of which every effort must be made to equalize everyone in practice is, at first glance, an appealing idea with a plausible inference, but does the premise or the conclusions really withstand serious scrutiny?

To begin with, we must ask, equal with respect to what? On the face of it, there are natural differences between men and women—as well as natural inequities between individuals of the same gender. Some men are smarter and more ambitious than others. They are naturally more successful than the less industrious or intelligent.

So is this claim much more than stirring rhetoric or a sentimental slogan? Do egalitarians believe in the egalitarian absolute because they know it to be true, or because they want it to be true?

2. Does the worldview of the average egalitarian justify the egalitarian absolute? What is the source and standard of this moral imperative? Certainly the liberal platform, in all its particulars, cannot be justified by appeal to divine revelation. But if the Bible does not underwrite such social engineering, then what does?

Is it nature? But surely there's a great deal in the animal kingdom that presents a highly hierarchical and ruthlessly competitive aspect. Nature is far from equitable or charitable or forgiving in her distribution of opportunities and advantages.

In addition, the average egalitarian subscribes to naturalistic evolution. But on such a plastic view of human nature, there's no prior reason why one race might not be superior to another—just as some dog-breeds are smarter or swifter or braver than others. To be sure, many Darwinians wax indignant when natural selection, the struggle for existence, and survival of the fittest is extended to Social Darwinism; but, if so, they should shift their ire and fire from the conclusion to the premise. Just consider all the furor that erupted when two Harvard professors (Richard Herrnstein & Charles Murray) published The Bell Curve: Intelligence & Class Structure in American Life.

In Scripture, by contrast, humanity has a common point of origin and historic identity throughout time and space. That's what makes it mankind.

3. Furthermore, many egalitarians embrace some postmodern form of cultural or moral relativism. So there's an odd disconnect between their denial of moral absolutes and univer-sal norms and their absolutist agenda and sweeping public policy initiatives.

4. Another irony is that egalitarians wish to retain hierarchical social structures, but merely promote their social mascots to the top jobs. In other words, they think that women, homosexuals, racial minorities, &c., should occupy all the traditional positions of power, viz., bishop, president, senator, general, governor, quarterback, CEO, and so on. So they still believe that some people (or people-groups) should have power over other people (or people-groups). Thus the egalitarian absolute is superficially equitable, but fundamentally elitist inasmuch as it fails to challenge institutionalized forms of social stratification. For a truly egalitarian society would be a truly classless society.

The reason for this central contradiction is, in part, that a decentralized government or dismantled power-structure cannot serve as an instrument of social promotion or social redemption. So the basic tension between egalitarian ends and means is irreconcilable, for it takes a chain-of-command to defeat a chain-of-command.

That accounts for the elitist fist within the egalitarian glove, for feminism must employ masculine means to further feminist ends. It retains and exploits a command-structure by promoting women in the chain-of-command as magistrates and judges, bishops and gen-erals. Such paternalistic tokenism is a parody of male and federal headship. Egalitarianism is parasitic on hierarchical prerogatives. Egalitarianism is just a code word for feminism, because it imposes a maternal problem-solving strategy on both sexes. Feminism is misogyny, for feminism despises feminine traits in favor of masculine traits.

You can see this in the gender gap. Women are more likely to vote for big government and social programs because the State becomes the father-figure and surrogate husband. The default mode of feminism is a desexed brand of male headship and federal headship.

The contrast between matriarchal and patriarchal strategies plays out in many domains. In jurisprudence, retributive punishment is paternal, remedial—maternal. In theology, Cal-vinism is patriarchal, universalism—matriarchal. In ethics, deontology (command ethics) is patriarchal, utilitarianism (the common good)—matriarchal. In economics, capitalism is patriarchal, socialism—matriarchal.

There's a reason that God made two different genders. They are complementary. Natural masculine and feminine virtues degenerate into unnatural vices when they are isolated and absolutized.

Another reason is less high-minded. And that has to do with the seduction of power. The revolutionary rails against the establishment, not because he really prefers anarchy to ar-istocracy, but because the aristocracy is a glass ceiling in the way of his own ambitions, and he must dethrone the old incumbents before he can move up the social ladder. And it is evident that many egalitarians are power-hungry and relish all the perks of power. They like to throw their weight around and issue orders and be fawned over and have the butler bring them their slippers. They like long titles and stretched limos, they like big offices and fancy letterhead.

5. A hidden premise of the egalitarian absolute is the unquestioned assumption that the fundamental unit of comparison is the group rather than the individual. This is the basis of identity politics. But is this assumption necessary or even meaningful? Why should I venture any universal opinion on the relative equality of one block of humanity over against another? Does it make any sense to say that all Italian restaurants are essentially equal, or that Italian restaurants are equal to Chinese restaurants?

Wouldn't it make more sense to say, for example, that some blacks are smarter than some whites, or vice versa, and that many fall somewhere in the middle? What intellectual merit is there in venturing such sweeping comparisons about respective people-groups? Shouldn't any broad comparisons be carefully grounded in inductive evidence instead of a priori stipulations?

6. And even if we grant that the standard of comparison should be the social unit, that leaves open the question of what social unit. Why not, for instance, choose the family as the natural and irreducible unit of society and build on that basis? For that matter, a Christian might well regard the spiritual family of the Church as just as basic as the natural family. So why not organize social ethics around kirk and kin? Why not take kirk and kin as the primary and positive social institutions, with the state as a secondary and conservative institution?

7. Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to grant that everyone is equal in principle, whatever exactly that's supposed to mean, one of the striking omissions of the egalitarian absolute is the absence of any emphasis on individual initiative and personal responsibility. For even assuming the premise, it hardly follows that the state should force equality of opportunity or outcome. To say that the state should not enforce inequality (e.g. Jim Crow laws) does not imply that the state should enforce equality. The duty of government is not to coerce equality, but to defend us from coercion.

8. Indeed, there quickly comes a point at which egalitarian principle clashes with egalitarian practice. For isn't there something inherently paternalistic, sexist and racist about saying that the government must save individuals from the consequences of their own lifestyle choices? Isn't there at point at which, if you really believe in the essential equality of all people and people-groups, that a given group must assume the initiative and responsibility for its individual, communal and national destiny?

Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but isn't there an ironic sense in which, if you closed your eyes, the egalitarian would sound just like the hooded white supremacist with his benevolent noblesse oblige about the white man's burden?

9. The egalitarian exhibits a love/hate relationship with big government. He loves the welfare state, but hates the police, armed forces, FBI, CIA, &c. He loves Big Mamma, but hates Big Brother. He loves a maternal state, but fears the intrusion into his zone of privacy. Momma can make the bed, but Momma can't look under the bed. Isn't there something deeply schizophrenic about this attitude?

10. The egalitarian absolute represents a paradigm-shift from a paternal to a maternal model of social relations. What are the stereotypical differences between men and women? Men are naturally ambitious, adventurous, aggressive, competitive, confrontational and daring whereas women are naturally nurturing, cooperative, conciliatory, domestic, deferential and risk-aversive. Women favor people over principle and mercy over justice, whereas men generally reverse the priorities. Women like to talk, but men like to act.

IV. External Critique

Finally, something needs to be said about the egalitarian absolute from a Christian per-spective.

1. In Christian ethics, my social obligations are concentric. I don't owe your mother and father the same debt of honor I owe my mother and father. I don't owe your wife the same debt of love I owe my wife. I don't owe your sons and daughters the same support as I owe my own. Neighbor love is an element of Christian ethics, but there are priorities.

It is immoral to seize the assets of responsible wage-earners and redistribute their income, especially to subsidize irresponsible behavior. The breadwinner has a primary obligation to support himself and his family. By contrast, the egalitarian absolute operates with a polygamous, wife-swapping, hippie-style kibbutz-code in which all social relationship are leveled out and rendered interchangeable.

2. Equal treatment is only obligatory in the case of equal claim. Inequality, per se, is not unjust, but only unjust when equal rights are denied—when I'm denied something to which I'm entitled. But equality is not entitlement. A householder and a house burglar do not have equal claim on the furniture.

Put another way, Christian ethics upholds equal treatment all other things being equal. By elevating equality to the only standard of reference, the egalitarian charges the Christian with a double standard. But this is a straw man argument inasmuch as the Christian was never operating with such a simplistic criterion.

3. Much of the egalitarian appeal rests on a palpably fallacious overgeneralization. Because the word "discrimination" is frequently used in invidious cases, the word itself has picked up a negative connotation. Then egalitarian then universalizes that odious connotation in every case, without further argument.

But some forms of discrimination are good. Moral discrimination adjudicates between right and wrong. Rational discrimination adjudicates between truth and falsehood. Dis-crimination against hiring child molesters as Sunday school teachers is a good thing.

4. In Christian ethics, there are priority-structures. Sabbath-keeping is obligatory, but saving life is a higher obligation that supercedes the lower when the come into conflict.

But for the egalitarian, equality is the one and only priority. This result in an obsession with hypocrisy and personal motives, for hypocrisy is the original sin—to be avoided at all cost (not that egalitarians are any less hypocritical in practice than the rest of us).

This fixation loses all sense of moral proportion. There are worse things than hypocrisy. It is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do it at all. Although hy-pocrisy is a sin in the hypocrite, his subjectively evil action may be objectively good and beneficial to a second party. Even a hypocrite can give good advice (Mt 23:3).

For example, if I had to choose between a brilliant brain surgeon who happened to be a cad, and a virtuous surgeon with a hand tremor, I'd opt for the former, even if that were "unfair" to the latter.

To take another comparison, even if our foreign policy were hypocritical, a double standard might still serve the common good if it protected the public. Diplomatic consistency doesn't trump elementary public safety and national security. Moreover, the state should not be consistent in continuing a foolish or failed policy of the past.

In addition, it is not morally inconsistent for party A to change if party B changes. A supports B when B supports A. But A opposes B when B ceases to support A and instead opposes A. An egalitarian brands this change of policy as hypocritical because he can only keep on idea in his head at a time—the idea of sheer, unconditional equality. But, in the nature of the case, any social relationship involves a two-way reciprocity that allows for or even demands a mutual adjustment if one party no longer hold up his end of the bargain.

5. In Christian ethics, the rule of law is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Justice, and not a system of justice, is the principle at stake. What makes a fair trial fair is the acquittal of the innocent, and the conviction and punishment of the guilty. Put another way, the moral law (of God) is prior to the rule of law, and hence, the moral law is prior to the state.

6. The Egalitarian Absolute frames the entire debate in terms of human rights, according to which every individual is autonomous bearer of certain inalienable rights. And this, in turn, leads to the reductio ad absurdum of saying that I even have a right to do wrong.

Now, the Bible has a great deal to say about right and wrong, but next to nothing about human rights. Rather, the Bible says that there is a right and wrong way to treat other persons, whether in relation to our duty before God or to our fellow man. So a Bible-believing Christian could just as well scrap the whole framework of natural rights, which was an Enlightenment construct, and recast the entire debate by returning to a version of divine command theory—based on the revelation of the moral law in Scripture.

7. God established kirk and kin as the central social institutions. This goes back to the creation ordinances (Gen 1:26-2:3). Although both institutions have a vertical (Godward) and horizontal (manward direction), the church accentuates the vertical aspect whereas the family, the horizontal.

Kirk and kin have a positive role to play in human affairs inasmuch as they offer substantive directives and directions in shaping our personal, corporate and religious life and thought, as well as a supplying a concrete forum for their free exercise. By contrast, the state has an essentially negative role to play (Rom 13:1-7) inasmuch as its mandate is to ensure the freedom of family and liberty of the church to discharge their God-given duties (e.g., work, worship, marriage, child-rearing, dominion).

8. Our Lord drew a distinction between the political and religious spheres (Mt 22:21). The state should be as large as necessary to fulfill its assigned function, but no larger. When the state assumes a more positive role, it oversteps its mandate, encroaching on the proper prerogatives of kirk and kin. Not only is the state unable to fill that role, but in so doing, hinders kirk and kin from doing the job that only they can do.

Although it is not the role of the state to make life unfair, neither is it the role of the state of make life fair. And it is not the duty of the state to shield individuals from the unhappy consequences of their foolish behavior. Just as the state shouldn't be in the business of issuing bulletproof vests to bank-robbers, or gas-masks to bioterrorists, it is not the duty of the state to spread a safety net (e.g., abortion, drug treatment) for reckless and immoral lifestyle choices.

9. None of this is intended to deny the charitable impulse. But charity should be voluntary and vested in kirk and kin. Most wage-earners need most of the money they make to live on and support their family. Only they know how much they can afford to donate. If the tax burden were lowered or even eliminated (in favor of user-fees or fee-for-service), charitable giving would rise. And wage-earners are also entitled to exercise moral dis-crimination in how they share the remainder of their earnings.

10. Although social injustice is a secondary source of some social ills, it is more symp-tomatic than causal, for the primary origin of injustice and decadence is sin. Law can re-strain evil, but only grace can heal an evil heart. The state can never be the organ of cultural renewal and social redemption.

11. One of the motives underlying the egalitarian absolute is a vicarious form of works-righteousness. If you can't be good, you can do good, and if you can't do good, you can feel good. And the way that liberals feel good about themselves is to be very charitable with everyone else's money. They are constantly casting about for some new cause, some social mascot to adopt. They are professional busybodies. Everyone's business is their business. The egalitarian absolute has its historic origin in Christian socialism, which was the political wing of Victorian Broad-churchism. Egalitarianism is a Christian heresy.

When faith goes into eclipse, it often exchanges traditional theology for political ideology. Its utopian outlook is a profane parody of Christian redemption and eschatology. Salvation by works restores an earthly Eden. The social Gospel is the ghost of dead dogma—just as Marxism is secular Messianism.

12. Another motive is desperate wishful thinking. If you're a secularist, then there is no divine redemption, no escape from the inhumanity of man. If history is any judge, the logical lesson to draw is that that human problems are humanly insoluble.

But man cannot live without hope. Despair has no future. As a consequence, humanism resorts to make-believe and wishful thinking. It posits the perfectibility of man by a blind leap of faith. This must be possible because the alternative is too depressing to contemplate. No amount of evidence can overturn this postulate. However many the atrocities, however often the social programs fail or worsen the problem, the humanist clings to his utopian vision.

In the name of human rights, process trumps principle and the means become an end in itself—even when innocent men, women and children are ground up like so much ham-burger in the cogs and wheels of the political machinery. The only heaven is heaven on earth, and political purgatory is the appointed way to paradise.

This is why the egalitarian politicizes every moral and religious issue. Man must rule himself and save himself. Ultimately, there is no zone of privacy. Politics expands the public sector to invade and pervade every sphere of life. There is no life outside of politics. This is a throwback to the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, Athens and Sparta. But even they didn't subscribe to the welfare state.

Christian theology is both more pessimistic and optimistic. The Christian is a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. This is true whether you're an amil or postmil, but a postmil situates moral progress within the unfolding of the church age. The Christian doesn't trust in horsemen and chariots to advance the kingdom, but in the Holy One of Israel (Isa 31:1), exalted at the right hand of power, from whence he governs the church and the world (Eph 1:20-23).

Why gender matters


Since at least the Victorian era, a gender-bending and gender-blending agenda has been at work. And this, in turn, represents a throwback to the cult of sodomy we find in the ancient world. It suffered something of a hiatus when the church was strong, but as the influence of the church as a social force has gone into steep decline, we are witnessing a reversion to the old blurring of sexual identity.

Symptoms of this are manifold, viz., abortion rights, queer and transgender rights, unisex Bibles, bathrooms, feminist theology, &c.

From a Christian standpoint we need to ask, why does gender matter? And once we begin to give it serious thought, we see that distinctions of gender run wide and deep in theology and ethics.

Godhood & Gender

Gender-specific titles and role relations are applied to God in Scripture. They designate two persons of the Trinity.

Are these relations essential or merely economic? Throughout the NT, Christ’s filial relation to the Father is treated as a mark of his divinity. Cf. G. Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus (Eerdmans 1953); B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory (Guardian Press, n.d.).

Divine sonship not only means that he is the Son of God, but by virtue of his filial relation to the Father, is divine in his own identity. So this would imply the eternal sonship of Christ.

And since fatherhood and sonship are correlative, that would, in turn, imply the eternality of divine paternity as well. Hence, gender distinctions figure in the very nature of the Godhead.

God's communicable attributes need not have an earthly counterpart. But God is the source of all possibility and actuality. If there is to be a world at all, it must mirror or shadow forth a few of the communicable attributes of God:
"Though we call God by names derived from the creature, God himself first established these names for the creature. Indeed, although we first apply to the creature the names which designate God because of the fact that we know the creature before we know God; essentially they apply first of all to God, then to the crea-ture. All virtues pertain first to God, then to the creature: God possesses these virtues 'in essence,' the crea-ture 'through participation,'" H. Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Banner of Truth, 1979), 94.

And God has willed that this world faintly mirror his inner life. He has decreed that the Church be one as the Father and the Son are one (Jn 17:22-23). God the Father is the father after whom every other fatherhood is named (Eph 3:14).

This is often denied on the grounds that God is sexless. But although that is true, it fails to distinguish between different levels of abstraction: masculinity is more general than maleness, while maleness is more general than manhood. Even though God is sexless, it doesn’t follow that God is not masculine—at least in some respects. Scripture does not ascribe gender to the Spirit of God. The Creator/creature, exemplar/exemplum relation is still one of analogy, not identity.

For example, many animals are male without being manly. A man is a specific instance of maleness.

Likewise, we can say that the writing of Dante, Spenser, Milton, and Scott is manly or masculine, while the writing of Jane Austen, Christina Rossetti, Eudora Welty, and Sigrid Unset is womanly and feminine. Now, strictly speaking, their writing is sexless. It consists of inanimate words on a page. Yet their respective writings embody certain stereotypical properties of masculinity or femininity.

We could even extend that to more abstract art forms. We could say that the music of Bach, Handel, and Beethoven is very masculine while the music of Mendelssohn is more femi-nine.

The universal is not wedded to the particular. That's what makes it a universal. Being es-sentially timeless and transcendent, it can be exemplified in many times and places.

Godhood & Manhood

The fact that gender designations and role-relations are applied to God and his creatures alike assumes some level of analogy between the Creator and the creature. Many men have taken this to mean that divine gender designations and role-relations are mere metaphors, representing an extension of human language, sexual distinctions and social institutions to God.

But if gender is an essential and eternal aspect of the Godhead, and if gender-specific terms are applied alike to God and man in Scripture, then this does, indeed, imply an analogical relation, but in the opposing direction—flowing from the Creator to the creature—and not merely metaphorical, but metaphysical. Divine fatherhood and sonship are exemplary for human fatherhood and sonship. Manhood is not the model of Godhood; Godhood is the model of manhood, as the imago Dei (Gen 1:26-27).

Godhood & Womanhood

But where, if anywhere, does the feminine figure in this framework? Well, not only does Scripture designate a father/son relation, but also a husband/wife relation. Yahweh is the husband of Israel while Christ is the bridegroom of the church.

This is no doubt an economic rather than an essential relation, yet it is grounded in an es-sential relation, for the roles are complementary—as answering one to the other. So there’s an asymmetry between essential masculinity and economic femininity.

And this also has an exemplary aspect. Christ’s relation to the church is the underlying paradigm for man and wife. Marriage is the mirror of election.

Manhood & Womanhood

The male/female dialectic generates, quite literally, as well as figuratively, all of our social relations and social institutions.

It generates the vertical, primary and secondary relations, viz., parent/child; father>son/ daughter; mother>son/daughter; grandparent/grandchild; aunt/uncle-niece/nephew.

It generates the horizontal, primary and secondary relations, viz., siblings; brothers, sisters, cousins, and second-cousins.

By extension, it generates analogous social relations not based on blood; whether supe-rior/subordinate relations (e.g., king/subject, commander/foot-soldier, teacher/student, boss/employee) or peer relations (friends). This is the basis of hierarchical institutions in government, the boardroom, the schoolroom, the pulpit, and so on.

There is a nested hierarchy of social relations: within the Godhead you have the eternal father of the eternal son. This does not, of itself, prove the essential or functional (unless economic) subordination of the Son to the Father, for we must still make allowances for the relevant level of abstraction in comparing the divine examplar to the human exemplum. Many things that hold true in a human father/son relation do not carry over to the inner life of the Godhead, or vice versa.

God is, in turn, the exemplary model of manhood, fatherhood, sonship, and husbandhood, for men and women. Men and women are, in turn, the exemplary models of manhood, womanhood, fatherhood, motherhood, husbandhood and wifedom, for their sons and daughters.


By striking a blow to gender, liberals strike at the root of theology and anthropology alike at a single stroke. So the stakes could not be higher.

None of this is to deny that tradition roles can be abused. But you can only abuse a role if you have a role to abuse. The abuse does not negate the use. And unnatural or ungodly roles are inherently abusive of God, self, and others.


I wish to thank Dr. John Frame for commenting on a preliminary draft of this essay.

Vanity of vanities

Recently, a friend asked me about a view of Ecclesiastes that is making the rounds, according to which—aside from the first few verses and the last few—the rest of the book is said to be presenting error-ridden worldly wisdom.

Because this is a subject of general interest, I'll post my reply.

1. This view of Ecclesiastes goes back to Michael V. Fox. Cf. M. V. Fox, A Rereading of Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans 1999).

2. It was adopted by Dillard and Longman in their intro to the OT. Cf. R. Dillard & T. Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Zondervan 1994)

3. It receives further elaboration and defense in Longman's commentary on Ecclesiastes. Cf. T. Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans 1998).

4. This interpretation is Reformed only in the adventitious sense that Dillard and Longman taught at a Reformed seminary. That no more makes it Reformed than the brand of toothpaste that Longman happens to use.

5. For that matter, in his commentary on Daniel, Longman can't make up his mind on whether Daniel really wrote it or not.

6. In terms of inspiration, we could draw a distinction between 1st-order and 2nd-order inspiration. All of Scripture is inspired in the 2nd-order sense.
That is to say, every writer of Scripture is inspired. Scripture is an inspired record.

But in a 1st-order sense, Scripture is often a record of what someone else said. As such, Scripture is both an inspired record of inspired statements, and—at other times—an inspired record of uninspired statements. Every writer of Scripture is inspired, but every speaker within Scripture is not inspired.

7. For example, Luke quotes Gamaliel. Luke is inspired, but Gamaliel is not. So we must consider the speaker. If the speaker is a prophet or apostle, he is inspired.

I am using "prophet" in the broad sense of any divinely appointed spokesman, whether Isaiah, Daniel, the Chronicler, Mark, Luke or the author of Hebrews—to name a few.

8. But under the providence of God, inspiration can also pop up in unofficial channels. Who would have expected a godless man like Caiaphas to be a prophet of God? But in a least one instance, under the overruling providence of God, he was unwittingly prophetic (Jn 11:51).

Like, paradigm pagans such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar could be the recipients of divine dreams. So there is, in Scripture, a prima facie presumption of 1st-order inspiration, even for reprobates who are caught in the web of God's redemptive designs.

9. How does this distinction apply to Ecclesiastes? On the traditional view of authorship, it is inapplicable, and for a couple of reasons:

i) If Solomon is the author, then Solomon is inspired by virtue of his divine wisdom (1 Kg 3-4).

ii) There is (at least on the traditional analysis), no writer/speaker division in Ecclesiastes. It is a writing by and about the writer himself. It is a philosophical memoir. Hence, the narrative/editorial voice is identical with the author himself. There is only one voice, not two.

10. A necessary preliminary step in establishing the view of Longman is to deny Solomonic authorship. In fact, that is precisely what Longman does.

11. In terms of traditional orthodoxy, the self-witness of Scripture is authoritative. The Bible's self-referential claims are just as inspired as any of its other claims. Some books of the Bible are anonymous, but others either state or imply their authorship.

12. A favorite way around this is to claim that pseudonymity was an accepted and transparent literary device. This was understood by writer and reader alike. No one was taken in—or so the argument goes.

13. This is, of course, part of an old and ongoing liberal/conservative debate. By way of general reply:

i) Arguments for pseudonymity are either circular or equivocal. They are circular when the scholar appeals to another pseudoepigraphical book of Scripture as precedent, for that begs the question. A is pseudoepigraphical. How do you know that A is pseudoepigraphical? Because B is pseudoepigraphical? Okay, how do you know that B is pseudoepigraphical? So this line of argument only pushes the problem back a step by assuming what it needs to prove.

ii) They are equivocal when the scholar appeals to an extracanonical book as precedent. This is equivocal because it assumes the Biblical author was directly and uncritically indebted to that practice. But when the proposed parallels are trotted out, they have their share of dissimilarities as well as similarities. So this could just as well be taken as an argument from disanalogy rather than analogy.

iii) If this were an accepted and transparent literary convention, then how come Jewish tradition attributes the book to Solomon? Why is an ancient convention obvious to a modern commentator, but oblivious to an ancient commentator? Looks more like a modern convention that is being superimposed on an ancient genre.

14. Longman rehearses several standard liberal objections to Solomonic authorship:

One reason is that the preface contains a couple of comments that don’t seem to fit the facts. The speaker's comparison with his predecessors (1:16) is considered odd when he had only one such predecessor. Again, why the past tense in v12? Solomon never abdicated the throne. Furthermore, the book depicts a background of decadence and disillusionment that ill-accords with the golden age of Solomon.

But on closer inspection these objections are not very impressive. At most, v16 would amount to hyperbole (cf. 1 Chron 29:25). Solomon is presenting himself as uniquely qualified to comment on the human condition. He's seen it all and done it all. This claim is entirely justifiable. And v16 is just a way of saying, 'I'm the greatest king who ever lived. Therefore I'm in a singular position to speak with authority on the affairs of men.' The fact that he couches the comparison in terms of Jerusalem is legitimate license. What other focal point would he assume? Jerusalem was his base of operations, and—under his reign—the cultural capital of the ANE. I would add that v12 is also consistent with this somewhat idealized projection. If he were writing towards the end of his reign, looking back on his life and achievements, what would be more natural than to employ the past tense? After all, an autobiography is ordinarily written at the end of life, and not in one's twenties. A true literary critic is supposed to exercise a modicum of sympathetic imagination.

The entire work is highly stylized. Its aim is to generalize from the author's own observations to the world at large. The literal and literary levels of abstraction are wonderfully consonant, for if Solomon is the actual author, he is supremely situated to draw some universal lessons from his personal experience. It was for that very purpose that God elevated him to such a paradigmatic role. If, moreover, the past tense is supposed to pose a problem for Solomonic authorship, postulating pseudo-Solomonic authorship merely relocates the alleged difficulty. Again, if the number of predecessors were really problematic for Solomonic authorship, attributing the claim to a forger only shifts the incongruity. So the pseudonymic alternative fails to solve any problems since it merely transfers all of the alleged difficulties of the traditional identification onto the back of the impostor. At the same time, the pseudonymic alternative is more complicated and conjectural than the traditional identification, without offering any explanatory value in return.

As to social conditions, surely it is a truism that cultural fluorescence and extravagant vice often go hand in hand, whether it's in the glory days of Alexandria, Assyria, Babylon, Baghdad, Constantinople, Egypt, Florence, Prague, Rome, St. Petersburg, Venice, Versailles, or Vienna. The ennui of the rich is proverbial. The realism and pessimism of this work is a mark of authenticity. For if the work were by a much later hand, feigning a Solomonic persona, we would expect him to wrap a gauzy glowing nostalgia around the good old days when Israel was at the apex of her outward reach and glory—in contrast to his own sorry times.

15. Another common objection is that Ecclesiastes reflects a mix of hedonism, pessimism, and fatalism which is at odds with the rest of Scripture. Longman calls it a foil or teaching device. By way of general reply:

The central conundrum of Ecclesiastes is the existential question of the meaning of life. From an empirical standpoint, the distribution of blessing and bane seems to be random (9:11-12). Good men prosper and bad men prosper, good men suffer and bad men suffer. Where's the justice?

To an observer, nature seems to support a cyclical rather than linear philosophy of history (1:2-11). Is life a means without an end? A broken clock? A decorative case that fails to tell the right time? What is the answer?

i) The Fall is a presupposition of Solomon's apparent pessimism. 1:13, 3:20, 7:29 & 12:7 allude to the account of the Fall in Gen 3. Hence, Solomon's gloomy outlook is not a reflection of the natural order as such, but of a fallen moral order.

ii) Solomon finds solace and hope in his theodicy of the right time (3:1-15). In the plan and providence of God, there is a right time for everything (1-8). God has granted man sufficient evidence to discern the existence of an eternal order and providential hand in history, but insufficient evidence to discern the purpose of providence (11,14). So there is just enough evidence to save us from the extremes of presumption and despair.

iii) Solomon's theodicy goes back to his doctrine of creation: just as God made all things good, he's made all things beautiful in their time. Just as God made man in his own image, he's planted an intimation of eternity in the human heart.

iv) But the ways of God are often inscrutable—seemingly random, inequitable, even perverse. And this astigmatism figures in the parallax of time and eternity. We are captive creatures of the moment, inching into the future. Our perspective is prospective rather than retrospective. But God's vantagepoint is timeless. And only with the benefit of inspired hindsight can we begin to discern how the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place. And so we live by faith rather than by sight, for now we see in a glass darkly, but then face-to-face (1 Cor 13:12).

According to Solomon, we should enjoy the good things of life in moderation, but as a happy windfall rather than a universal entitlement. We should steer a happy mean between the extremes of dissolute indulgence and monastic asceticism.

On the one hand, raw materialism is self-defeating. It is a paradox that those who live purely for pleasure are unhappy, for man has a soul as well as body. Indulgence and adventure become bland and routine, and make us dependent on things undependable.

On the other hand, raw monasticism is self-defeating. Man has a body as well as a soul. The Buddhist foregoes pleasure to forego pain. But the cure is as bad as the disease. He avoids a little misery some of the time by making himself a little miserable all of the time.

Finally, Longman adduces a piece of evidence which is actually another prooftext for Solomonic authorship:
"there is likely an intentional link between Solomon and the chosen acronym Qohelet. 1 Kings 8...uses the verbal root qhl quite often in reference to Solomon gathering people to hear his speech (cf. vv1-2,14,22,55). Thus, the 'Assembler' may be an intertextual reference to 1 Kings 8 and a subtle hint that Solomon is the referent," The Book of Ecclesiastes, 2.

16. A more specific objection is that the sceptical view of the afterlife presented in this book is at odds with the Biblical hope.

By way of reply:

i) According to the liberal, evolutionary view, belief in the afterlife was a late bloomer in the canon of Scripture.

But if we deny Solomonic authorship and date the book late, then it should be more affirming rather than disaffirming of the afterlife. So one liberal argument cancels out the other.

ii) When we read OT passages that present a stark contrast between life and death, we need to keep the following in mind:
a) Allowance must be made for hyperbole (e.g., Ps 86:13; Jonah 2:2).
b) When in despair, one speaks despairingly—but that doesn't tell the whole story. Just study the mood swings in the Book of Job, psalms of David, and oracles of Jeremiah.
c) The contrast often involves a reversal of fortunes, as the famous are forgotten, the potentates left impotent. In the just judgment and overruling providence of God, today's celebrity may be tomorrow's nobody (Eccl 9; Isa 14; Ezk 32). This carries over to the NT (e.g., Lk 16:19-31; 1 Cor 1-3; Rev 20:4-6).

17. Longman regards the prologue/epilogue as a framing device for the body of the text. But to reason from this unobjectionable analysis to two conflicting voices is a non-sequitur.

i) Many writers, whether inside or outside of Scripture, employ this framing device. But the same author is responsible for all the material. He writes the prologue, epilogue, and body of the text.

ii) Longman draws attention to what he dubs fictional Akkadian autobiographies, but he doesn't impute composite authorship to them. If he's going to invoke the principle of literary artifice, then we'd expect the literary artifice to be consistently maintained from start to finish. It would speak with one voice--the voice of a single author.

iii) Longman contends that the shift from 3rd to 1st person and back again indicates two different voices.

But why not treat that as a literary device?

iv) Longman draws attention to the 'intrusive' use of the 3rd person in 7:27. But this undercuts his own analysis, according to which what distinguishes the framing device from the body of the text is that the prologue/epilogue employ the 3rd person while the body of the text uses the 1st person.

If, however, the author is not uniform in his usage, but alternates at will, Longman's argument falls apart--for the putative evidence cuts both ways. What we have is stylistic variation.

18. Longman tries to draw an analogy with Job: "the body of both books contains dubious teaching when judged in the light of the rest of the canon," ibid. 37.

But this is a careless comparison:

i) There is, in Job, unlike Ecclesiastes, a clear writer/speaker(s) demarcation.

ii) In Job, the point of tension is not between the theology of Job and the rest of the canon. Rather, there is a dramatic tension between the prologue (1-2) and the rest of the book. The writer and his readers are privy to something that the figure of Job is not. Job doesn't know why he is suffering. He's out of the loop. That's key to his ordeal. But the reader/writer knows.

In sum, there is no good reason to deny the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes, or use that as a harmonistic device to account for the so-called contradictions of Ecclesiastes. The book drops broad, unmistakable hints of its Solomonic authorship, and far from contradicting the general tenor of Scripture, Ecclesiastes is an extended, intertextual meditation on the creation and the Fall.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Living a lie

In trying to prove or persuade someone that he is wrong, a standard method is to show that one of his stated beliefs is inconsistent with another of his stated beliefs. A related technique is to show that his stated belief is inconsistent with the evidence.

Now, assuming that your demonstration is successful, the logical outcome would be for your interlocutor to make whatever adjustments were necessary to harmonize his beliefs with one another or with the evidence.

After all, why does he believe something unless he takes it to be true? Why does he disbelieve something unless he takes it to be false? Put another way, why does he believe that it is right to believe one thing and wrong to believe another unless he believes that one of them is right, and the other is wrong?

So, if he’s proven wrong by his own yardstick, then you would reasonably expect him to change his position accordingly—to do the honorable thing by withdrawing his original objection and coming over to your side.

All this makes flawless sense, does it not? And that is what sometimes occurs.

What is striking, though, is how often it does not occur. How often he sticks to his old routine. How often he will repeat the same old arguments, even though these have been disproven, even though he has no answer, no rebuttal, no counterargument.

There are many examples of this. Let’s take a few religious examples. In the conflict with Rome, the papal apologist used to claim that Peter was the first Pope, whereas the Protestant polemicist would reply that this was wildly anachronistic—for Roman primacy and monarchal episcopacy only arose at a later date. Nowadays, contemporary Catholic scholarship has come around to the Protestant position, but without changing its religious allegiance.

Again, the papal apologist used to appeal to the False Decretals to bolster the case for Roman primacy, while the Protestant polemicist argued that the Decretals were spurious. Nowadays, contemporary Catholic scholarship has come around to the Protestant position, but without changing its religious allegiance.

Once again, the papal apologist used to claim that the distinctive dogmas of Rome were traceable to oral apostolic tradition, while the Protestant polemicist denied that that was either demonstrable or even feasible. Nowadays, contemporary Catholic scholarship has come around to the Protestant position, but without changing its religious allegiance.

Or let us take a political illustration. Even though Islam has a continuous Jihadist tradition, going all the way back to the Koran, and extending from the Middle Ages and modern era right up to the present day, with militant Muslims slaughtering the innocent every day, and plotting mass murder on the Western world, yet many Western liberals rush to the defense of Islam, and instead view the real enemy and mortal menace as Christian fundamentalism, even though this represents a non-violent minority group. No matter how many attacks take place, no matter how many murderous plots are uncovered or thwarted, no matter that this is all done in the name of Islam, and supported by Mullahs and Imams in the Muslim world, and no matter the extreme rarity of vigilante justice among Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, yet the liberals persist in their belief.

Indeed, they’ve spun a grand conspiracy theory to justify their belief. And, of course, conspiracy theories are self-reinforcing, for very absence of evidence or presence of contrary evidence is cited as evidence for the success of the propaganda machine to cover its own tracks and generate a disinformation campaign. If you can’t see it, then that proves it’s there! The fix is in!

We’ve all gotten so used to this mentality that the utter oddity of it may have worn off. But surely it is passing strange. Surely it calls for some special explanation.

In trying to account for this peculiar phenomenon, we should begin by asking ourselves what, exactly, is the function of belief.

For many folks, the function of a belief or belief-system is not alethic—not about the truth, but sociological. A shared belief-system is the social adhesive that glues together their otherwise disparate social bonds.

They believe something, or profess to believe something, because that is the price of admission into their social circle. That is the cover charge for social acceptance, affirmation, approval, and advancement.

I am not saying that this is the only role or proper role for believing in something. I’m just saying that this explains a common credulity or tenacity of belief.

Those who believe this way do, indeed, have reasons for what they believe. But their reasons have nothing to do with inner coherence or factual correspondence. They are not attracted to a belief or belief-system because it is true, but because it is useful. It gains them social access and social respect. It ropes them in with one social group and cordons them off from another.

Indeed, the two are correlative. They are what they are by what they are not. What sets them apart from the one is what attaches them to the other.

And such expediency has its own logic, for it delivers a practical payoff. It makes life livable—at least in the short-term.

And that is why such people are impervious to reason. For their position is both reasonable and unreasonable. It is reasonable in a pragmatic sense, but unreasonable in a factual or alethic sense.

Most folks are social chameleons. Once one of them gets wrapped up in a social role, it is almost impossible to get past the mask and the make-up to reach the real person. They can’t even admit to themselves that they are only play-acting. Like a method actor, they become the part they play. There is no longer a face beneath the mask.

So some beliefs are a form of encoded sign language, a symbolic marker of group membership. They are the functional equivalent of a uniform, accent, secret handshake, cross, yamulke, Hassidic dreadlocks, Jewish circumcision, Sikh hairdo, Quaker speech and dress, gang colors and hand-signs, passwords and countersigns, and so on.

Just as it would be a category mistake to ask whether a yamulke is true or false, it is, at this level, irrelevant to ask whether a belief is true or false—at least for a man whose belief is only a membership badge.

This is, of course, a half-truth. For beliefs are referential and relational—they are about something. As such, beliefs are true or false. And it can make a difference whether your belief about the world is true to the way the world is. But someone doesn't come to a belief-structure from that perspective, if his viewpoint is purely sociological, then no amount of argument and evidence will dent his convictions.

Because their motives are essentially emotional and utilitarian, the only thing that will shift them from their original position is a personal crisis in which what they believe, or profess to believe, carries an unacceptable cost.

And, indeed, it is life-threatening to live a lie. A man on a drug high may ever so sincerely believe that he can fly, but flapping his arms will not soften the landing if he leaps from a skyscraper.

Not going to the doctor for fear that I might be diagnosed with cancer will not prevent cancer or save me from terminal cancer. Rather, it may prevent me from receiving the only therapy that would otherwise have saved me from terminal cancer.

Many men gamble with the truth. And, in this life, their gamble may sometimes pay off. They beat the odds.

This is, in part, because a fallen world is like a casino in which you have a conspiracy of fraud. I’ll let you cheat if you let me cheat. The sticker price may be high, but if the price tag is the same for every player, it's a bargain.

Both true and false beliefs can serve a sociological purpose. Like a double-bladed sword, the truth is—at one and the same time—a touchstone of unity and disunity. For the truth is what unites the truth-lovers while dividing them from the truth-haters.

And this brings us to the ultimate explanation. Because sinners are too proud, too afraid, or too ashamed to admit their guilt, they concoct an alibi and impeach the character of their accuser (Jn 3:19-20; Rom 1:18ff.). They form a law firm of corporate sinners to defend and acquit one another’s sin. They rehearse the same story and cover for each other. If everyone is guilty, then no one is guilty, for no one can afford to indict another.

We much make allowance for this. No everyone is reasonable. It is no necessary failure on our part if we cannot reach the unreachable. We can only try. In the end, they are answerable only to God, and he alone can compel their testimony.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I never sang for my father

In a recent article, Dennis Prager tries to analyze the roots of Jewish and liberal American self-hatred. A couple of his explanations attract particular interest:

"Many leftists are psychologically adolescents. And one feature of adolescent psychology is anger at a parent who claims very high ideals and turns out to be flawed. Many on the Left are angry at America and Israel for being imperfect and therefore disappointing them."

"Many American leftists base a large part of their case against George W. Bush on his having increased anti-American sentiments around the world. This makes leftists livid—again, like adolescents, they yearn to be part of the in-crowd (meaning America- and Israel-haters) and fear being disliked."

What makes these two explanations to be especially interesting is that they invite a deeper, doctrinal grounding. Many leftists don't believe in God. But all this means is that they transfer their natural, irrepressible belief in God to some mundane object of veneration. In this case, the state becomes their God. For the state is another authority figure. Indeed, the liberal would like the state to take the place of divine providence.

There are a couple of ways in which you can see the liberal apotheosis of the state. One example is the manner in which liberals personify the state, as if it were a living, immemorial agent. They rehearse all of the historic "crimes" of "America." When a current administration breaks with past policy, they accuse it of hypocrisy.

On the face of it, this is a very odd way of characterizing what is, after all, just an abstraction. "America" is not a person with a life-history. The "government" is not a person with a life-history. Why should I feel guilty for what someone else did? Why should I feel bound by what someone else did? Their past is not my past. Their evil is not my evil.

Another instance is the sense of betrayal and indignation when "America" lets them down. They react just the way an adoring son might react when he discovers that dear old dad is cheating on mom, or lands in jail for tax evasion. Suddenly his worshipful attitude turns to bitter disillusionment and open rebellion. It is embarrassing, even demeaning, to be his son. He feels abused and ashamed.

But, again, this is a rather peculiar way of relating to the state. Why take it so personally? Most politicians are strangers, not fathers. And why expect a politician to be above reproach?

Yet if you deify the state, if the state is your subliminal surrogate for God, then any declension from godlike perfection is unpardonable. Isn't God supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent, just and wise? And, indeed, he is. But the state is a poor substitute. And the state will inevitably dash their inhuman expectations.

Like some sons who can never forgive their fathers for being finite, fallen and fallible—living in a life-long state of rebellion and resentment—many liberals can never recover from the shocking revelation that their country, that their government, fell short of divine fidelity, foresight, and rectitude. Liberal ideology is arrested adolescence, transposed to a political key.