Monday, February 01, 2016

What Will Monday Bring?

In a few hours Iowans will begin the rather confusing process of caucusing which is not a primary but sort of has the same result. This is a once-every-four-years tradition and the position of Iowa as the first state to cast votes for the Presidential nomination is jealously guarded, just as New Hampshire guards their status as the first in the nation primary. I have been trying really hard to stay away from politics but it is a constant siren call to me, having an academic background in political science and coming from a hyper-aware political family. What makes this Monday so compelling is that it offers the possibility of some very strange results. There is a chance, a far more realistic one than I would have believed six months ago, that socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and....and....well whatever you call Donald Trump will win the day for their respective parties. This prospect terrifies both parties.

What both parties are either stubbornly ignorant of or willfully disregarding of is the reason that two people well outside of the established boundaries of either party are poised to upset the political apple cart like nothing we have seen for a very long time. In my sage opinion what we are seeing is a slow dawning of understanding among the American people that we are on the precipice of some calamitous. Whether it is the looming juggernaut of the national debt, the transition from well paying middle class jobs to low income service industry jobs, the threat (real or imagined) from ISIS and sharia law coming to America, whatever, Americans are scared and on the edge of something quite dangerous. I think the Sanders candidacy is pretty easy to understand. Hillary Clinton is one of the least likable people on the public stage. Ever. Many people loathe her and even among her tepid supporters her candidacy is based on having a uterus (It is time for a woman president, even if she is a criminal and pathological liar!). So sure, Democrats are looking for someone who at least believes what they say, even if those beliefs will be poison in the election. There is an element of impatience with the fulfilling of the liberal agenda, which President Obama in spite of his pen has been unable to move as much as they want thanks to a Republican congress and that little thing known as the Constitution, but I think most of it is a weariness of being lied to and the prospect of having a champion liar as their nominee in the general election.

On the Republican side it is a little more complex. While Sanders generally holds positions that the Democrat base holds, only a little more extreme, Donald Trump doesn't really seem interested in the traditional Republican ideals. He is not a Republican in any meaningful sense of the term and he is far from a conservative and what is more he doesn't seem to care. What compounds this is that there are lots of actual Republicans and conservatives from Rand Paul and Ted Cruz to more establishment types like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush to choose from. In spite of a highly competitive and broad field, someone who has been completely absent from the conservative movement is all of a sudden poised to win the Iowa caucuses, garnering support from working class voters, evangelicals, disenchanted conservative, all across the board. What appeal would someone who is an admitted serial adulterer, divorcing and remarrying when he gets bored, someone who is clearly not a fellow believer, have for evangelical voters? What do they think they are going to get from him? The real secret to the Donald Trump candidacy is that people are not voting for him so much as they are using their support to make a point to the Republican leadership.

The point is that we don't trust the Republican party. Donald Trump is nothing more than a stick in the eye of the GOP powers that have been telling middle class conservatives, especially evangelicals, for decades that they need to dutifully rally around whoever they are told to rally around and this time it will be different! Every election cycle it is the same thing. Politicians pander to the Republican base, again especially to evangelical voters and working class social conservatives. What is increasingly apparent is that the powers that be in the GOP don't much care for the very people that they absolutely rely on to win elections. Let's be real, there are only so many wealthy people to go around and a lot of them vote for liberals so any Republican who wants to win an election needs people who have, for most of my lifetime, been voting for people who do nothing that they promised to do. In spite of that necessity the GOP has for years convinced the rank and file to march to the polls, contribute time and money and feed our children into the endless appetite for soldiers to fight in various wars that accomplish nothing but the enriching of a small circles of powerful people. So long as the military-industrial complex is fed a never ending river of taxpayer money, bodies in caskets and limbs of our young people there will never be a need or desire by those who start the wars to stop starting them.

Tonight should be interesting, most especially because it is almost certain that the national leadership of both parties is going to completely misconstrue the results. Unless Marco Rubio pulls an upset, the number 1 and number 2 placers for the GOP are going to be the candidates the national party hates. Change is a'brewin' and it is going to be interesting.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Who Decides What Constitutes Hate?

I had NPR on the radio the other morning and they had yet another story about the occupation of the wildlife refuge in Oregon. That whole thing is silly and makes an easy source of mockery for the left that diminishes the real issues about an out of control government but that isn't my concern. The piece featured a representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center as the SPLC has identified the occupiers as an extremist hate group. The SPLC is considered to be a legitimate resource and authority on "hate groups" and "extremists" without much in the way of critical examination. The media by and large considers the SPLC to be a legitimate source of information and provides them a platform to push their definition of hate, presumably with the aura of independence and fact based neutrality. The reality is quite different. I long suspected the SPLC was not what it is presented as so I took a little time to examine their webpage and in an awful lot of cases it turns out that my beliefs on any number of issues expose me to be a "hate group" unto myself.

What is an extremist? What is a hate group? Who decides? On the Extremist Files section of their webpage we see this description:
Extremists in the U.S. come in many different forms – white nationalists, anti-gay zealots, black separatists, racist skinheads, neo-Confederates and more.
In reality though you don't see much about "black separatists". Instead most of their ire is directed at conservative Christians or "radical right-wing Christian fundamentalists" or some combination of terms. A brief perusal of their webpage today finds that their "Featured Hate Group" for today is Liberty Counsel. What "hate" has Liberty Counsel engaged in? Burning crosses? Lynching? Well not really. Liberty Counsel is a hate group because they are conservative Christians that provide free legal representation to other conservative Christians:
The Liberty Counsel was founded by conservative activists Mathew (“Mat”) Staver – an attorney and former dean at Liberty University School of Law – and his wife Anita. The Counsel bills itself as a non-profit litigation, education and policy organization that provides legal counsel and pro bono assistance in cases dealing with religious liberty, “the sanctity of human life" and the family.
So defending the rights of Christians and others who hold to the traditional, historical and Biblical understanding of human sexuality that has been without serious challenge for all of Western history warrants a label of "hate group" from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Certainly there are actual hate groups listed on the SPLC webpage but there is little to distinguish violent groups from people who hold to conservative Christians views on human sexuality. Thinking that homosexuality is by and large not healthy for individuals and for our broader society as a whole. a position I would generally agree with, is all the reason you need to be lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation. What Liberty Counsel does is essentially no different from any number of leftist legal groups that represent people who can't afford decent legal representation. It is hardly different other than their constituent base from the ACLU, another poster child for the "tolerant" left in America.You wouldn't know that from reading the SPLC webpage

In fact for most evangelical Christians Liberty Counsel is a wonderful organization that stands up for the rights of Christians in America, a group worthy of financial and prayer support. I might quibble with quite a few of Liberty Counsel's positions but I also think that people who believe in Jesus Christ and don't parrot the politically correct line about homosexuality are citizens who deserve decent legal representation. I believe that they are as deserving of the right to free expression and legal protection of that Constitutionally guaranteed right as any of the people or organizations represented by the ACLU.

So really all you need to be a "hate group" is a stated position that homosexuality is wrong and unhealthy. Oh yeah and it helps if you are white. I suspect that even more mainstream Christian groups would get the "hate group" label from the SPLC if they thought they could get away with it and I expect that more and more of the church will fall into the "hate group" category sooner rather than later. What I find deeply ironic is the frothing at the mouth, hyperbolic vitriolic language employed by the SPLC which is the sort of over-the-top rhetoric that bars any rational discussion of an issue, something I am sure is intentional. I wouldn't much care what the SPLC churned out except for the fact that a) they are given automatic credence and respectability by the media, a media that has many of the same ideological underpinnings as the SPLC and b) they specifically target school children to provide indoctrination materials under the risible guise of "teaching tolerance". The public school system has long been less about education than it is about shaping the worldviews of children apart from and often in opposition to what is believed by the parents of these kids.

Again, there are actual hate groups on their webpage but when you can't or won't distinguish between Stormfront and WorldNetDaily it shows that your mission goes far deeper than exposing dangerous extremist groups. The SPLC is not an unbiased resource by any definition of the terms but is instead a leftist think tank that tries to disguise itself as an impartial source of knowledge while striving to silence certain groups and people while infiltrating the school system by claiming to be interested in "tolerance".

You know, if I didn't know better I might think that the Southern Poverty Law Center was itself a hate group but unlike the SPLC I understand the difference between a far left political organization like them and the Shining Path leftist terrorists.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Making Ice With The Amish

Lots of people seem interested in the Amish and since we spend so much time with them I thought I would share something that few people have experienced. Last week I was around to help an Amish family "make ice". Granted they are not "making ice", the cold weather does that, they are just cutting and collecting ice but it is just a term they use like "making hay". While many Amish have some electricity in their homes via solar panels or generators, keeping food frozen is always an issue for them. Therefore many Amish have "ice houses", typically a small building with heavy insulation that they pack with ice blocks which keeps food frozen or at least cold throughout the summer. Of course this means you need a source of lots and lots of blocks of ice, a source that is found in the many ponds the Amish have on their property. Some Amish without ponds are able to get ice from a neighbor's pond, after all it is basically just water so the real investment is in the time to gather it. Below are some pics of the process, I had to wait until they took a break to avoid having any Amish in the picture which is too bad because a video would really be great. Anyway, enjoy a look at how people kept food cold before the advent of the ubiquitous freezer.

An elevator, often used to take hay into the barn, is used to
move the blocks from the pond to the waiting wagon. In the background
you can see the saw used to cut the ice.

A team of Belgian workhorses. Unlike most buggy horses these behemoths
will stand still without being tied for hours on end.

An example of an ice house, this one is a stand alone, many have walls and a
roof and look like a small shed.

Each completed load on a hay wagon is hauled back to the ice house. The wagons can hold
up to 200+ blocks of ice but the weight can make the wagon bow in the middle. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Should Historic Figures Be Untouchable?

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in America and that means that among other things banks and government offices are closed along with schools. It also means that my social media world is littered with memes and quotes from King. One thing you almost certainly won't see is any hint of critical examination of King. MLK is in the historic trinity of recent historical figures who are untouchable along with "Mother Teresa" and Gandhi. You are simply not permitted to examine with a critical eye any of these three even though all three have parts of their life that don't fit into the prevailing narrative. For example, try bringing up the writings of Teresa where she expressed serious doubts or point out the silliness of the Gandhi quote about liking Christ but not His followers. You are sure to get a frothing at the mouth response almost immediately: "How dare you!". The carefully crafted and infinitely repeated image of each is inviolable in our society. I find this practice to be dishonest and ultimately cheapening to the true value that they have for those who come after them.

For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a complex figure and was more than a collection of pithy sayings. He was a flawed man like all of us, perhaps even someone who could be described as deeply flawed. That reality and complexity doesn't take away from what he taught and accomplished, to the contrary that very reality makes what he accomplished richer. He wasn't a perfect man dispensing inspiring talks like a sound-byte ATM, he was a real man with real flaws who, in spite of that reality we all share, was able to make a lasting impact on our nation. It should inspire others that they can make an impact even if they are not morally pure and above reproach. None of us can ever aspire to meet the phony image of King but all of us can make a difference in spite or (or perhaps because of) our flaws just as he did.

In the same way we can examine critically the movement he was a major part of , the civil rights movement, and see where it has stayed true to the vision he espoused and also where (more often in my opinion) it has spiraled out of control and become a self-perpetuating movement that is mostly concerned with cashing in on racial animus, even if that means standing in the way of real progress toward reconciliation. A great deal of mischief has been perpetuated by those who have hijacked the civil rights movement and hiding them behind the historical caricature of King has done great harm to the cause of real civil rights and even more so it has deeply damaged the very people that King fought on behalf of.

The great men and women of history, from Martin Luther to Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King Jr. were all real people. We who have come after them deserve and deeply need to see them as real people with real flaws rather than historical fictional characters. An honest assessment of these people is of far more value than offering up a sanitized version that no real person could ever have hoped to achieve. So go ahead and ask hard questions of our most beloved historical figures. If they can't hold up to examination they probably aren't really worthy of adoration in the first place.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Repost: Home Cookin’

This is an oldie but (I think) a goodie. I first posted this in April of 2009 when we were just starting to rethink the institutional church machine. I recalled it this morning because of a picture someone posted on Facebook, reproduced below:

My response to the picture was: 
This is pretty accurate although if the church is functioning as it should be there is no need for a "pastor search committee" because the church would be raising up men as elders from within the body.
That got me thinking back to this post. One of the most important and unfortunately often neglected purposes of elders is to equip the church for the work of ministry, and high on that list is the identifying and training of men to be future elders. The reality of churches looking for men to be their pastor/elder from outside of the church, a very common and almost ubiquitous practice, is a sign of a total failure on the part of the church to function as the church should. Let me state that another way. One of the most common and least questioned practices of the institutional church is at the same time one of the most searing indictments of that same model. Anyway read below why home cooking always is better than prepackaged foods.


I was looking over Dave Black’s page and I read through an interesting post called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church. He brings up something I have mulled over for some time: the inherent problem with hiring men from outside of the local body to lead that local body. That is not the primary thrust of his post but it really got me thinking afresh and asking the question: Why do we seek men who are strangers to come to our local body and lead us? Would we not be better served with men who led us because they came from us? Is a professional, prepackaged minister a better and more importantly a more Biblical man to be an elder? Dave obviously doesn’t think so and neither do I…

“Clergy” becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.

I think this phenomena of professional ministers is a product in large part of two factors. First, we are a country that by and large draws its identity from Europe and with her state sponsored churches, professional clergy is part of the fabric of the society. Second, and more importantly, we are Americans. We live in a prepackaged, processed, microwave age. Sure home cooked meals from scratch taste better and are better for you, but it is such a hassle! I can spend an hour or two cooking up a nice meal for my family (and even that requires pre-cut meat, canned veggies, boxed side dishes) or I can get some pizzas. In my family we get pizzas or something similar pretty often and in families where both spouses work it is even more common. We want it quick, easy and disposable.

The church seems to think the same way. Training and raising a man up within the local body who can grow in knowledge and maturity until he is ready to lead as an elder takes a long time and is hard work. It may not always work out, he may move, he may lack the aptitude for it, he may turn out to not be a very good elder. It is a whole lot easier and faster to find someone who already is “qualified”, i.e. has a seminary degree, who we can interview and “call” to ministry. Of course he will probably have to move and so to entice him we need to pay him. If he were already a part of the congregation, he would have a job and a home and ties to the community. He would know and be known by the local body because he is a part of that body. They would know him and his wife and his kids, and that would make it possible to know if he meets the qualifications for an elder listed in the Bible instead of meeting the resume credentials that are often the entry level for being considered to be a pastor. It makes more sense and it is more faithful to the Bible to raise leaders up internally but that just takes too long. So instead, church after church hires strangers to come in to lead and love people they have likely never met. It only adds to the separation between the clergy and the laity to have a paid professional come on the scene. Hard to believe with that great set-up that so many men leave the ministry, that churches have such high turnover in pastors and the men who stay are often frustrated and burned-out. When you view the pastor as a paid professional, someone hired and brought in from the outside, why not get rid of them? Paid, professional clergy are employees and as such they are disposable. A church can always find someone else to pay to lead them. On the flip side, when ministry is your job you can understand why men leave church A with 100 members for church B with 250 members. If you are from within the congregation and not getting paid, why would you leave? It is not a job, it is truly a calling.

Just because we live in a quick, easy and disposable society doesn’t mean that is how the church should operate. It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Quick Thought

If a book or essay or resource is useful for pastors, wouldn't it also be useful for the rest of the church? After all, if the elders are fulfilling their calling the church as a whole should be steadily maturing. Just a thought.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Schism Is As Schism Does

I have been watching the Episcopal Church by peeking through my fingers at the slow moving train-wreck for a number of years. By no small effort the EC-USA has been the tip of the spear when it comes to jettisoning orthodoxy for "progressive" political correctness and that has led to the demographic implosion that the Episcopal Church and other "progressive" denominations have experienced. Like a snake swallowing its own tail the progressives keep telling themselves that they need to just take one more step away from orthodoxy to bring people back but all they accomplish is ecclesiastical suicide.

Today the latest bit of bad news came down from the Anglican Communion,  the worldwide circle of churches which included the Episcopal Church. In a nutshell the Anglican Communion, which is far more vibrant and orthodox in countries outside of the U.S. and the U.K., announced a suspension of the Episcopal Church from the Communion for a period of three years. The exact wording is below:
7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
That is a pretty stinging rebuke from the worldwide Anglican body but the critical point cam earlier in the statement"
2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.
What needs to be crystal clear is that "conservatives" who walked away from the Episcopalian church are not the ones who are causing schism. Rather the Episcopal Church by embracing a deviant understanding of marriage, gender and human sexuality has willingly placed itself outside of the boundaries of what can legitimately be called the church. They have departed from the church, not the Anglican Church in North America or other groups and churches that have left the Episcopal church. When someone or an organization deviate from the boundaries of the Kingdom, the only proper response is to separate from them. Despite the faux unity some propose, sometimes separation is the only proper response to those who embrace sin. Those who have left have departed not from the unity of the church but have returned to the unity of the church.

The Episcopal church has responded to the statement as one would expect including the obligatory obscene eisegesis of that most oft misapplied verse, Galatians 3:28:

Before the Jan. 14 vote, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry told the primates gathering Jan. 11-15 in Canterbury, England, that the statement calling for the sanction would be painful for many in the Episcopal Church to receive.
“Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome,” Curry said in remarks he later made available to Episcopal News Service.
“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.  While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”
“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”

The comment section is very instructive, including the frequent threat to withhold funds from the Anglican Communion.

The Bible is crystal clear. The same Paul that Mr. Curry so grossly misquotes is also the apostle who had the most to say about marriage, sexuality and how to deal with sin in the church. It is the undeniable witness of Scripture that one cannot simultaneously embrace and celebrate wanton sin and call oneself a disciple of Jesus.

So what? If you are reading this you likely are not Episcopalian or Anglican so why should you care? You should care because this disaster is a warning for the rest of the church, a warning that compromise with sin invariably destroys the church. The rest of the church should be constantly vigilant because what we see on display here can happen to any of us if we let loose our grip on the Bible as applicable and authoritative and clear on this and many other topics. I take no pleasure in the death throes of Episcopalianism but some of the most tragic events are the most instructive.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A Rare Show Of Spine In Higher Education

News reports came out today that indicated that Wheaton College was taking steps to fire hijab wearing professor Larycia Hawkins, the same professor who claimed in contravention of basic Christianity 101 that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. Someone that confused about Christian doctrine has no business teaching young adults who are seeking an intentionally Christian education. I attribute this show of spine largely to the outcry that followed her statements and the presence of Philip Ryken as President of Wheaton. Ryken is a solid guy Biblically, part of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, so I have to assume that he has had a positive influence on Wheaton as a whole. All you need to know about this situation is that Professor Hawkins held a news conference today and was not alone...

Hawkins spoke Wednesday surrounded by religious leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Ugh. Jesse Jackson is a hustler, swindler and extorter. From the article I linked above it appears that Professor Hawkins and Wheaton have had a number of discussions about the college's statement of faith due to some other questionable beliefs she seems to hold. It might be time for Wheaton to do some additional discernment of their faculty as a whole because knowing that someone who is this far astray has been teaching for 9 years makes me wonder what else is going on.

Anyway, if you don't know enough about Jesus Christ to know why He differentiates Christianity from every other faith system in the world you might still be a Christian but you have no business teaching other Christians.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Approaching The Piper - Guns Kerfuffle From A Different Perspective

While the initial firestorm of often strident and sometimes angry rebuttals of John Piper's post on Christians arming themselves for self-defense (see my post here) has died down, there is still conversation happening on the issue and that is a good thing. In the broader conservative evangelical world Piper and Preston Sprinkle seem to be the lone stalwarts holding what is an unpopular position re: Christian non-resistance.  Sure I am defending Piper was well but no one cares what I think.

In evangelical circles talk of practical peacemaking and non-resistance is a relatively new topic but among the Anabaptists it has been the position since the earliest days of the Radical Reformation. Unfortunately there has been little conversation on this topic between Anabaptists and evangelicals on this topic or any other for that matter (thus the impetus for writing a book on what Anabaptists and the Reformed can learn by conversation with one another, a book that seems to be no closer to getting done now than when I first announced it ). I was glad to see Dwight Gingrich interacting with Tim Challies on this topic and Dwight has since written a lengthy post on the topic of conservative Anabaptists and non-resistance titled Peacemaking: The Quiet In The Land Speak Up. As someone grounded in the Reformed tradition and with a growing affinity for Anabaptism I jotted down some not terribly brief thoughts reproduced below. You should check out Dwight's post, he raises a lot of interesting questions.


Excellent summary of the issue. As someone more deeply anchored in the Reformed tradition I can say unequivocally that Piper is really the lone voice in the contemporary Reformed world that is even the least bit open to non-resistance. The virtual firestorm response he has gotten is pretty typical for those in the Reformed tradition and in American evangelicalism alike. Among the Reformed more broadly there are three reasons why non-resistance has gotten little traction:

1) A general hermeneutic of covenant theology which tends to blur the distinction between the Old and the New, making the Old Testament written and lived out under the Old Covenant, to be as authoritative and more spherically as applicable to the church as the New Testament. This is the source of so many of Piper's detractors turning to Old Covenant civil laws for their Scriptural sources to reject what Piper is saying.

2) A broad acceptance of Just War theory with more than a little theonomy thrown in for good measure. Given Augustine's position as the father of Christian just war theory and the very high regard most Reformed give to Augustine, his teaching on just war is given broad, and in my opinion, uncritical acceptance by most prominent Reformed teachers.

3) There is a startling absence of any voices in the Reformed tradition that hold to any sort of non-resistance or if there are they are not well known. The Reformed lean heavily on scholastic writings of the forefathers in the tradition (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Edwards,  etc.) and upon their historic confessions. When there are no contemporary or historic voices affirming a position, it is going to get little thought or attention.

Of course one overarching factor needs to be stated. In America non-resistance = pacifism and pacifism=liberalism. No good red blooded American Reformed Christian is going to stand for being called a liberal. This has led to a unilateral surrender of this issue to the religious left. That complete abdication of this topic to, for want of a better term, the liberal wings of the church. That is why I was likewise so pleased to find Preston Spinkle's book. I was familiar with Preston for his work with Francis Chan on a defense of the traditional understanding of Hell in the book Erasing Hell, so seeing him taking on this topic was encouraging. The only other book I have run across that deals as deeply with this issue is Guy Hershberger's "War, Peace and Nonresistance" but given that he is a Mennonite his writings have a very narrow audience (as proof the only review on Amazon for this book is mine).

Ironically, on almost any other topic, the same Reformed who are flogging Piper would agree with him over Jerry Falwell, Jr. and yet these same brothers have exploded with negative responses to Piper including some pretty over the top, frothing at the mouth replies from less thoughtful brethren.

You also touch on some broader themes and one of them has to do with the relative lack rigorous scholasticism in Anabaptism. Simon Fry touched on this in his recent post. I have seen some examples of "this is what we believe because this is what we believe" with no attempt or interest in engaging him contrary voices. As someone  who is an interested outside observer I can see that there is trouble coming down the road for the young adult generation in conservative Anabaptism as they tap into non-Anabaptist sources and see arguments that they have never heard before.  Lots of interesting things to ponder on this topic.

(as a side note for those unfamiliar with Tim Challies, he is a Canadian and that in part explains why he hasn't given this topic much thought because even owning a gun in Canada is a difficult task) 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

2016: The Year Of The Word

Like many Christians I am starting out 2016 with the intent of reading the Bible through in a year. We have done this before with varying degrees of success. It can be a challenge especially when one risks getting bogged down in the genealogies and lists of building materials or Levitical laws. This year my wife and I are using a chronological reading plan provided by the good folks who bring us the English Standard Version. It is a change of pace from the "start at Genesis and read through Revelation" cover to cover plan while still covering the entire Bible. For example today we read Genesis 8-11 and then start with Job before returning to Genesis on the 16th. Whatever plan you use, and there are plenty of them, the important thing is to just open the Bible up. An unopened Bible on the shelf is of no benefit to anyone but an open Bible in the hands of a Christian is the voice of God thundering through the ages.

I have been unsparing in my criticism of the malaise of biblical illiteracy that infects the church and I definitely see myself as a patient in need of the medicine of Scripture just as any other Christian in this land. I definitely find myself fixated on certain passages and books because of a topic I am exploring and in doing so I am giving short shrift to wide swathes of the Bible. I think this is true of a lot of Christians. The Reformed spend lots of time in Romans and Ephesians and John, conservative Mennonites on passages about separation and holiness, charismatics on sections dealing with prophecy and manifested spiritual gifts. What is far worse than fixation on certain topics and sections of the Bible is the maddening intentional and willful Biblical ignorance that some wear like a badge of honor. 2015 was the year of "Keep your Bible, just give me Jesus!", a breathtakingly ignorant statement that nevertheless gets applause from many. We have not outgrown our need for the Scriptures. We are not so advanced and wise that we can dispense with the written revelation of Jesus Christ because what inevitably replaces the Jesus revealed in Scripture is an erroneous caricature in our own minds and in our image, making Jesus more tame and palatable for polite society. The best and perhaps only remedy to this error is to let God speak for Himself in the manner He has ordained. Biblical illiteracy among the church in America is every bit as dangerous as our comfort and affluence along with our conflation of American patriotic fervor with the Kingdom of God.

When we read through the Bible I usually read aloud while my wife follows along and there is something very different, very powerful about the Bible being vocalized rather than silently read. Reading to yourself is great as well but the Bible was meant to be spoken. It is also extremely beneficial, at least for me, to have someone else to reading the Bible with me. It encourages me on days when I don't feel like reading, which is critical to me because the times I don't feel like reading are exactly the times when I need to read God's written Word the most. If you don't have a spouse or sibling handy, get a friend to help encourage you and for you to encourage in turn.

There is nothing especially Scriptural about reading the Bible in a year. We aren't commanded to read all 66 books in 12 months. It is just a convenient time period to target the reading of the most important book we can read. John Piper says, correctly, that the Bible is the One Must-Read This Year.
The truth of God, rising continually through the roots of faith planted in God’s word, is the way God keeps Christians alive and enables them to bear the faith-authenticating fruit of love, so that they will not be castaways in the last day. This is the essence of why I say the Bible is a “must-read” — the only must read.

It is to our shame that a people who have unprecedented access to something so many died to bring to others are often the least interested in what God has said and is saying right now. We want to "worship" him by singing emotional songs or listening to how God can help me be a better person or checking off "religion" on our weekly checklist. That is not what we need. We need Jesus and there is one authoritative and comprehensive place to find Him.

Don't be part of that crowd, the blind and deaf sheep who have gone astray because they don't hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Hear Him. Heed Him. Follow Him. Proclaim Him. Drink deeply brothers and sisters. The well is never-ending which is proper because the thirst for truth for those born-again can never be slaked.

Lord, give us more of Jesus.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Ted Cruz Is (Sorta) Right

Gentlemen (and Ladies), Start Your Pandering!

If you can bank on anything you can bank on this: 2016 will see an unprecedented level of pandering by Republican politicians toward evangelical Christians, their most loyal and reliable lapdogs. It started early with Senator Ted Cruz calling for an "energizing" of the Body of Christ. Ted sez:
“If we awaken and energize the body of Christ– if Christians and people of faith come out and vote our values– we will win and we will turn the country around,” Cruz told volunteers on a conference call Tuesday.
Cruz also said that he is organizing a coalition of pastors in early states including Iowa and South Carolina.
“We’re working to have a lead pastor in each of the 99 counties in Iowa, 99 pastors are organizing other pastors,” Cruz said. “We’re doing the same thing in South Carolina, organizing pastors in 46 counties to motivate and organize other pastors.”Cruz warned that, as the election nears, the attacks on his campaign will become more vicious.
“I want to tell everyone to get ready, strap on the full armor of God, get ready for the attacks that are coming,” he warned. “Come the month of January we ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Unfortunately a call to energize the Body of Christ to campaign for, donate to and vote for Senator Cruz is likely to get a more positive response than a call to energize the church to reach the lost or support native missionaries in third world countries or strive for biblical literacy in the church or feeding the poor or....well for anything the church is actually supposed to be doing. Cruz and other politicians are doing what the church has failed to do for hundreds of years, namely uniting various congregations, organizations and denominations to a single cause. In fairness, sure there is a lot of the same thing going on among "progressive" churches but let's be honest, they are killing themselves off so quickly that they will be a non-factor in 2016 and probably be largely nonexistent by the time the 2020 elections roll around. You can hardly get three evangelical pastors from the same town to work together on anything but when politics are the topic you can get statewide coalitions of clergy.

Why is it that when we are facing a Hillary Clinton presidency the church will unite together but when we are talking about actual works of ministry we still see each other as competitors instead of brothers? I think the answer is mostly based on distrust of Christians that are different from us and of course money. 

Instead of manning the phones and putting up yard signs for political candidates, imagine if we harnessed that energy to encourage Christians to help support and encourage each other. Instead of calling people to offer them a ride to the polls maybe we could visit our neighbors and see how we can help them. Heck, if we could just get more Christians to actually read, study and ponder their Bibles they would recognize that putting on "the full armor of God" has absolutely nothing to do with the presidential aspirations of Ted Cruz. 

Unlikely I know but if the morning of January 1st is not a time for reckless optimism, when is?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Armed Self-Defense: The 11th Commandment of the church in America

I have remarked before that of the controversial subjects I post on nothing else gets the kind of angry response as the questioning of Christians using violence, whether on behalf of the state or in self-defense. It is not even close and when I say angry I mean really, really angry. So when John Piper wrote a post, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?, that pretty neatly laid out the rationale for Christians not packing heat solidly grounded in the Bible and in recognition of the prioritization of the New Covenant, it got the sound and fury you would expect. I hope that the backlash doesn't drown out the message. John Piper has written something terribly important on this topic. It is important for what it says, for how carefully he says it and because it comes from someone with such a broad audience in the church. Piper and by association Desiring God Ministries have the greatest audience for the question of violence and the Christian.

I am not someone who takes what Piper says as gospel truth simply because it comes from his mouth or his pen.  I find that I agree with Piper to varying degrees on almost every topic but on places we differ like most of what he writes on ecclesiology I don't hesitate to call out when he or anyone else blurs the distinction between Western religious traditions and Scriptural command and precedent.

Needless to say, many have taken to the interwebs to contradict Piper. Speaking in generalities those who most vehemently advocate for Christians arming themselves, and doing so via careful exegesis, tend to lean heavily on the Old Testament and likewise tend toward theocratic thinking. Others, like Tom Chantry, assert that John Piper "has no discernment at all". Apparently Piper makes the mistake of not dividing "churchy stuff" from "non-churchy stuff". Check out the statements I put in bold:
The latest upheaval is over Piper’s silly article about Christians owning guns, a topic he first addressed some years ago. Now I’ll say this up front, of all the works of Piper which might raise outrage in the church, anti-second-amendment rhetoric is the very least. That said, the problem with both these articles is that Piper wants to funnel every discussion of gun-ownership and self-defense through the filter of evangelistic encounter. That’s nice and gospel-centered (TGC is kicking themselves for not publishing this first!) but fails to recognize the rather obvious facts that not every Christian is a missionary, not every circumstance is evangelistic, not every moral priority is gospel oriented, and not all violence is murder. Do you see how many categories get blurred when Piper speaks? That’s a discernment problem: he can’t tell one thing from another.
Yikes. First assuming that only "missionaries" need to worry about evangelistic encounters is false. Just because a Christian doesn't carry the title of "missionary" it doesn't follow that they are not called to reach the lost. Nowhere do we see a caveat on the Great Commission or elsewhere that only "missionaries" need to worry about evangelistic encounters. Apparently Chantry prefers that the unlicensed among us keep our mouths shut and pay attention to the sermon. The second is like unto the first. Why would every encounter with an unbeliever not be an opportunity to share the Gospel? Maybe in the workplace you could make that argument but that is partly why I choose to work for myself. If encounters with unbelievers is not the proper setting for evangelism, what is? The third is just perplexing because it is so sweeping and Chantry does nothing to explain it. What "moral priorities" do we have that are not "gospel oriented"? Are we to box up the Gospel so that it only applies when at church or when you are a missionary? In loving our enemies are we only asked to do that from the pew? One of the great weaknesses in the church is that we teach moralism instead of the Gospel, something I assume Chantry agrees with but here we have a learned fellow telling us that when inconvenient we can making moral decisions apart from the Gospel. Read it again: " not every moral priority is gospel oriented ". That is a major admission. While I agree with the fourth point from a legal standpoint the reality is that no matter how you nuance the taking of another human's life, it is still killing. When the abortionists say they are "terminating a pregnancy" what they are doing is still killing a child. Killing is killing no matter the rationale or circumstances. It is not a stretch to say that killing is naturally the opposite of loving. We are called to love others, even and especially our enemies. We are never called to kill anyone. Chantry doesn't miss the chance to take a shot at Piper for his relationship with Mark Driscoll and other bad people like Tim Keller and D.A. Carson. 

On the other hand there are plenty of more generic evangelicals who take umbrage at what Piper wrote because no red blooded 'Murican would say such a thing. Sounds like Piper's Christian hedonism is nothing but old fashioned communism. The arguments coming from those folks, boiled down to "Piper is wrong. USA! USA! USA!" can be ignored.

There is very little that I find more obnoxious and frankly disgusting than internet tough guys thumping their chests and talking about what a ruthless killer they are. I assume the vast majority of them have never so much as pulled a gun on someone much less pulled the trigger and extinguished the life of another human being. Yeah pal, we are all impressed by what a tough guy you are and how eager you are to tell others how willing you are to kill someone else. I would bet quite a bit that faced with an actual dangerous criminal that their real response would be to soil themselves.

The taking of the life of another human being, even if you are "in the right", is nothing to be taken lightly. I can respect brothers who have a reasoned approach to disagreeing with Piper and my own position but I cannot abide those who think that killing others is a joke or something to cause them to puff up their chest and strut about like a bantam rooster. In a surprisingly level disagreement with Piper, Doug Wilson expressed his disdain for this pseudo-masculinity:
But what we do know from John’s article is that he wouldn’t have a gun on him as he made the decision what to do. Now here comes the glib accusation. It is easy to say — as some have said — that leaving this open to question is not very “manly,” and that a true husband from ‘Merica would place a tight grouping of at least three holes above the assailant’s right ear.
That is it in a nutshell. I like what Doug says next:
John is actually doing something very different, and he is doing it in a very masculine way. He is a biblical absolutist, and he is pursuing a tight, systematic, rational argument from the text of Scripture. Differing with his argument, as I do, is not the same thing as answering him. In the meantime, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that John will go wherever the argument requires him to go, and he will submit to the text, whatever it says. We need more of that, not less.
Yes. Biblical manliness is exhibited, in part, in taking care with God's Word. Being a student of Scripture is far better than being a deadly shot with a gun. Wilson is right, we need more men to emulate Piper's handling of the Word of God. We have plenty of guys who can shoot a gun but not nearly enough who can rightly divide the Word of God. When it comes to eternity, being able to put shots in the 10 ring is as meaningless as being able to stand on one foot. What will matter is what we made of the Son of God who made peace between God and man and who called on His sheep to be at peace with all.

I would encourage you to read Piper's essay but also to step back and observe the response he is getting. I am not so much interested in his argument although it is quite good. I am more concerned with the reaction. Why would something like going around armed to kill an assailant, something not even on the radar of most Christians outside of America, get people so riled up? Do we really understand our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven rather than prioritizing our American citizenship or are we instead compartmentalizing our faith and giving priority to our worldly affiliation where it suits us? I find the responses to be troubling and raising more questions than they answer. We need a little soul searching here people. Something is off kilter in the church in America.