Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Biblical Love Is Neither Mute Nor Blind

One of the most common mischaracterizations of Biblical teaching in the contemporary religious world called "Christianity" has to do with "judging". People throw "judge not lest ye be judged" in various iterations around as if that means that Christians should "just love people", further defined as "never pointing out sin in others". This is most commonly used in reference to sexual sins, especially homosexuality. We are told we cannot "judge" homosexuals, just love them. What if staying silent is actually far more unloving than spoeaking the truth in love, even when that truth is hard to hear.

This mindset of "no judging" is one of the most dangerous, Gospel undermining falsehoods around. If it were even remotely true we would have a much smaller New Testament. While that would make "Bible in a year" reading plans easier to complete, this philosophy is anti-Biblical and anti-Gospel. Peter, Paul and the other apostles didn't go around telling people "God loves you just the way you are. Heck we are just sinners too! Come to church on Sunday." They called out sin and called on people to repent, relying on the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and create born-again new creations.

Sexual behavior is one of the most powerful impulses in humanity. It is at the same time one of the most wonderful gifts we are giving within marriage, especially when it results in the blessing of children, but it is also, not coincidentally, perhaps the most twisted and abused impulses among humankind. The Bible is full of examples of this, from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah followed by the incest between Lot and his daughtes to the rape of Tamar by her brother Amnon. Humanity bears this out all through history and every day still. It seems that there is no end to the human appetite to pervert God's design for sexuality in His image bearers and there is no counter to that insatiable appetite except the life shattering Gospel.

Where we run into trouble on this "judge ye not" idea is in application. Ought we judge unbelievers and believers alike, or not judge them alike as the case may be? Absolutely not. The only way to come to that conclusion is willfully ignoring the Scriptures in favor of the whims of contemporary culture.. Paul gives us a critical glimpse into how the church must deal with sin, especially sexual sin, in our midst in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

That is a passage that rarely gets attention from the "judge ye not" crowd but it should. Of course we are not to condemn the unregenerate for acting like unregenerate people dead in their sins. We do a lot of this in the church to the detriment of our witness. However we are to be discerning of those among the church who are in sin and likewise we cannot faithfully preach the Gospel without a call to repent and turn away from sin and toward Christ. We cannot tell people "come to Jesus and do as you like, He doesn't care!". That would qualify as "another Gospel" and ought to be condemned in the church. We must be heralds of the King, claiming His rightful ruler-ship over mankind and all of mankind's relationship and nowhere is that more true than in sexual relationships.

Human sexuality is designed only for enjoyment within the boundaries of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. That is incontestable from Scripture. We can look all the way back to the beginning to see the genesis (pun intended) of this vitally important human relationship:

The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20-24, emphasis mine)

A man shall leave his parents and be joined to his wife, becoming "one flesh". That is the pattern God created man and woman to fulfill. Any other expression of sexual behavior is disordered and contrary to God's design and as such is sinful. Sexual relationships are not left to the whims of mankind to continually define and redefine based on the winds of culture. We have shown our limitless stomach for deviancy in this area of human life for thousands of years. Sexuality is deeply embedded in humanity created in the image of God. His first prescriptive command to humanity is to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth...". His creation of woman as a complementary helper to man is inextricably entwined with the heterosexual, monogamous marriage covenant that serves as the bedrock human relationship, the method of perpetuating humanity through child bearing and a picture that prefigures Christ and His Bride, the church. This relationship cannot be overemphasized and it is not subject to revision.

Many people point an accusing finger back at the church for failing to show the same fervency toward other  sinful behavior like divorce, adultery, greed, gossip, etc. that we exhibit toward sexual sins It is absolutely true that we are far too quiet in many areas of sin in the church. The real question is what do we do about it? One "solution" is to be equally silent about sexual sins, if we aren't going to be consistent we should just shut up. The other is to redouble our discernment toward all sins in the church, not just the ones that are easy to point out like homosexuality. Failing in some areas is not a license to chuck the whole thing and replace it with an "anything goes" religion that guts the Gospel in favor of a happy clappy attitude that not only refuses to call sin what it is but embraces and celebrates it.

Biblical love is not our contemporary sappy notion of "love". Biblical love is not blind and it is not mute. Biblical love sees when one who bears the name of brother is sinning and speaks the truth in love in the hope of renewal and restoration. We do sinners no favors and are not their friends when we turn a blind eye and shut our mouths to allow sinners to be content in their sins. No one will thank us for our blindness and voicelessness when they stand before the Judge.

What Is More Important?

Tim Challies has been running a very helpful series on false teachers throughout church history. He has looked at men like Arius, Joseph Smith and Marcus Borg, mostly uncontroversial posts. Today he takes a look at a far more controversial false teacher, Jorge Bergoglio aka "Pope Francis". The comments are sure to be explosive. Few figures in the religious world get the sort of attention that Jorge garners. The head of the Roman Catholic Church always commands a large audience as the head of a religious organization with over a billion followers. This particular pope gets even more attention due in large part to his very public humble acts of mercy. Many evangelicals hang on his every public act even as they brush aside concerns over his theology. It seems the church is in desperate need of a serious conversation about this man and what he means, not just to Rome, but to the church of Jesus Christ.

As Christians we cannot ignore the very public witness that Jorge presents to the world. In a media driven world where Christians are painted in the worst possible light, Jorge Bergoglio is a notable exception in that his every public act of mercy and humility is broadcast around the world. I believe that this is because a segment of the cultural elite hopes that Jorge will overturn some of the culturally distasteful practices of the Roman Catholic Church, namely a celibate all male priesthood, hard-line positions against birth control, abortion and contraception and maintaining the historical insistence that homosexuality is inherently disordered. Whatever the reason Jorge gets far more, and more favorable, treatment from the media than any of his predecessors or any other contemporary religious leaders. For that reason alone the church needs to engage with this very public persona.

However, as Christians, we cannot separate the deeds from the doctrines. I maintain that one cannot be said to be "Christlike" when propagating a false "gospel". I am somewhat more of a voice crying out in the wilderness on this than usual, cautionary expressions regarding Jorge get the stink-eye among many in my online circles, and I also keep returning to this topic but as I have said many times before, when you have someone that is put forth as a representative of the Christian faith to a world (and more often than not a church) that is theologically illiterate it is irresponsible to not engage the underlying doctrines he champions that are anathema to the Gospel.

Even the most ardent fan of Jorge that has even a smidgen of theological background knows the questionable doctrines I am speaking of. The issue becomes whether those are deal breakers or not. For hundreds of years the answer to that question has been a resounding "yes". In fact even asking that question would be a puzzle for most of church history post-Oct 31, 1517. Many, many Christians were martyred for refusing to compromise on the very issues that contemporary Christians are too open minded and enlightened to be concerned with today. That is many things but progress it ain't.

There is a serious choice to be discussed in the church as it pertains to Jorge Bergoglio. Do we set aside his heretical teachings (Tim Challies does a decent job of presenting some of them in his piece) in favor of embracing him for his public acts of mercy? Or do we stand for the Gospel and give it priority over admittedly humble and humbling acts of mercy towards those outcast by society?

The charge of Christ is clear. He sent out His apostles with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples and teaching them to do all He commanded. The order and priority is obvious and critical. Our first calling is the call to repentance. It is a call that needs to be extended even to a public religious rock star like Jorge Bergoglio. Acts of mercy, especially to the poor and the outcast, are a necessary implication of the Gospel but  they are secondary to our primary calling.

It will be unpopular and likely reinforce the stereotypes of the church in public but our stand for the Gospel must take priority. We can certainly applaud Mr. Bergoglio as he washes feet and serves the poor but always without compromising on the damning teachings he represents, teachings embodied even in the public title of "pope" that he embraces. The wolves among the sheep that are obvious aren't much of a danger, we can see them for what they are. The truly dangerous wolves are those that blend in with the sheep, wolves that devour from within wearing a smile and being embraced by their victims. That may sound harsh and jarring to ears attuned to our contemporary enlightened religious sensibilities but we are warned repeatedly to be on watch for those who seek to lead astray the sheep. Church, we have been warned. It is up to us to decide whether we take those warnings seriously.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How Big Is The Tent?

What are the limits of unity?

In my post yesterday I looked briefly at the desire to see some sort of reconciliation between the step-brothers of the Reformation, the so-called Magisterial Reformed embodied in the contemporary Calvinist groups and the Anabaptists represented by two major camps, the traditional Anabaptists and the neo-Anabaptists.

One of the biggest obstacles to this d├ętente is the way each group defines their boundaries. One side defines it far too narrowly and one doesn't seem to define it at all.

Among the neo-Anabaptists that dominate the public conversation (because more traditional Anabaptist groups tend to be extremely insular) there is a dangerous tendency to embrace teachers that espouse radical, unorthodox positions, teachers like Greg Boyd and Rachel Held Evans. I posted this to Facebook the other day...

Like I said, I understand the impulse but I am gravely concerned that replacing rigid dogmatism and traditions with anything goes world pleasing teachers not only opens the door to  the wolves, it provides a host of sheep to devour.

Now the Reformed (outside of efforts like Together For The Gospel and The Gospel Coalition) have the opposite problem, namely that they seem to take great pleasure in ferreting out questionable statements from other Reformed types in order to drum them out of the camp. In this they are closer in behavior to some traditional Anabaptists than they are other evangelicals.

There needs to be balance. We cannot substitute the truth with "anything goes" theology. Likewise we can never claim to hold to the truth while intentionally holding the vast majority of our brethren at arms length.

Not sure where I am going here, but I know we need to both set some reasonable boundaries and tear down others that serve only to isolate. As is often the case the truth is found in the balance.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reuniting The Step-Brothers Of The Reformation

Last year a writer at the Gospel Coalition wrote a piece on what the Reformed can learn from the Anabaptists, Listening To Our Anabaptist Brethren. I subsequently wrote a follow-up post of my own, What The Anabaptists Can Learn From Their Reformed Brethren, that flips the question around and points out that contemporary Anabaptists have a lot they can learn from their Reformed brethren.

Today David Fitch posted an article on this topic, sort of, “The Gospel Coalition” and Post-Christendom: Will it be a Coalition or an Expedition? 5 Years Later and expresses a desire as I have that the contemporary Reformed and the various contemporary Anabaptist groups be in dialogue with one another. I commented:
“Such statements however encourage me to believe that Neo Reformed and Neo Anabaptist should be in dialogue together to further Christ’s Kingdom”
Absolutely. While I find blind spots and rigid dogmatism in both the neo-Anabaptist and neo-Reformed camps, they both have important things to teach each other. As someone who holds to many distinctives of both groups I truly hope that these estranged step-brothers of the Reformation era are reunited.
That is truly my hope, although one that I am realistic enough to know is a faint one right now. There is still too much territorial ambition among the remnants of Western Christendom on both sides for a true reconciliation. There is still too much suspicion and a lingering distrust that I believe goes all the way back to  the birth of the Reformation and the subsequent rise of Anabaptism.

I am mulling over writing something more formal on this topic (i.e. book length), something with a title like When Westminster Met Schleitheim, Reuniting The Step Brothers Of The Reformation. What I really hope is that these two groups can learn from each other because they tend to complement each other in certain weak areas. As Christendom breaths its last the time may be ripe for a reconciliation.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Book Review: To Date or Not to Date: What the Bible Says about Premarital Relationships

I recently purchased D. Kevin Brown's new short book on dating. As part of the Energion Publications Topical Line Drives series, To Date or Notto Date is a very short work that offers a counter-cultural view of the progression of relationships that all too often involves a lengthy period of dating.

I agree with most of what Kevin has to say. The dating culture infects the church to essentially the same extent it does the world. This is a culture that seeks to delay marriage for as long as possible and serves to create an acceptance of "falling in love" and then breaking up as a normal behavior. We wonder why the "church" has such a problem with divorce and never ask what we are doing to prevent this other than giving kids a pep talk on chastity while thrusting them into a model where intimacy ahead of marriage is almost inevitable and the idea of "breaking up" when things get rough or stale follows them into marriage.

According to Kevin there is a better way. I agree. It is not the job of Christian parents to drive their kids to Youth Group every week and then toss them out into the world to sample as many dating partners as possible before "finding the one" or settling because the biological clock is ticking. Parents should be far more involved in guiding their children through the process of finding a marriage partner than they are in driving kids to sporting events and selecting a college.

There is not really much that is new in To Date or Not to Date. A lot of this ground has been covered by much longer and comprehensive works. To introduce ground-breaking information is not Kevin's intent and not really the purpose of the Topical Line Drives series. This instead serves as a good introduction to a topic that seems incredibly foreign to most religious Americans. It is quite inexpensive as an e-book from Amazon, a mere $.99 and it is a great way to introduce new parents to planning for the inevitable conversations that will happen. 

Adios Firefox

For a number of years now I have used Mozilla Firefox as my exclusive web browser. I despise Internet Explorer for its tendency to freeze and crash and Firefox has consistently been more stable. I have never liked Google Chrome in older iterations because it always seemed to stripped down. In spite of all of that I am done using Firefox. It was announced that Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is "stepping down" after a very short tenure. In corporate speak "stepping down" is code for "being forced out". What horrible crime has he committed? Was he an embezzler? A corporate spy? Did he kill someone while driving drunk? None of the above. His crime was a contribution of $1000 made in 2008 to support passage of California's Proposition 8 which affirmed marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, a position that has been the accepted norm for civilization for thousands of years. For this thought crime Brendan Eich is out as CEO of the company he co-founded after a couple of weeks.

What is the message here? According to Mozilla in this painfully ironic passage from their blog....

Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.

We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.

In our confused world of muddled language that is supposed to be a serious statement regarding a man who co-founded this company and expressed his views in the public square. What it really means is that free speech and expression is limited to a certain set of views. Mr. Eich engaged in expressing a view on a political matter and while I don't know what his motivation was I do absolutely affirm it is protected speech, the sort of free expression enshrined in the very first amendment to the Bill of Rights. Mozilla opted to capitulate to the forces of intolerance that are dangerously close to a form of fascism.

What is going on today is a leftist version of McCarthyism. In another example of delicious irony the bogeyman of the American Left, "Tail-Gunner Joe" McCarthy, is being resurrected by the public tribunals of political correctness. While this is anything but funny you have to chuckle at the reversal. They might as well hold hearings for any potential public figure and ask "Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of traditional marriage?". Even if this came to pass you can be sure that most of the "equality" folks wouldn't even get why it is ironic.

Choosing a web browser is not like choosing other products as they are free. Whether I use Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome has no direct impact on my pocketbook. It is entirely a matter of preference and choice and starting now I am making a different choice. This move is driven by the intolerance of an organization that has chosen to run their CEO out of town on a rail in order to appease a small but vocal minority and preserve a perversion of "openness" and "inclusion" while at the same time engaging in the precise opposite behavior.

Let me be clear. I absolutely recognize and affirm the right of Mozilla to hire and fire as they see fit even if many of those calling for Mr. Eich's head do not. I likewise affirm my right as a consumer to use any browser I see fit and to not use a browser for any reason. I am sure that Mozilla doesn't care one way or the other but I do. If engaging in free speech is grounds for being displaced from Mozilla then I have no desire to use their product. So adios Firefox.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Repost: God's covenant people are an olive tree not a corn field

This post from 2011 has consistently been one of my "most viewed" which should tell me something because it is pretty brief and to the point. Perhaps my book length posts are not as awesome as I think! Anyway I was reminded of this post the other day and how this analogy speaks to the way the one Body of Christ has been brought together from many disparate people that we have subsequently been trying to either create false unity based on conformity backed up with violence or that we have done our very best to divide again and again to suit our own preferences.

As I was thinking about this unity in Christ, I was again reminded of how often we get appeals from the religious among us for unity at any cost, "unity" that is based in error. True unity is based on the Word of God, both the Only Begotten Son who is the living and reigning King as well as the revelation of the Son preserved for us in the written Word of God, the Bible. Knowing the Bible without knowing the Son is lifeless, empty theological intellectualism dressed up as piety. Trying to know the Son without likewise knowing and submitting to the Bible is the source of most aberrant teachings that have plagued the church for centuries.

Ultimately, until we abandon the ecclesiastical model that pits one group of Christians against all others we will continue to see a church that resembles a field of corn with shallow roots and a short life expectancy rather than a venerable olive tree.


We seen an image of God's covenant people, especially as it pertains to those of us who are not Jewish by ancestry, as an olive tree in Paul's letter to the church in Rome.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Rom 11:17-24)
Not to overly anthropomorphize this but I believe there are some important lessons to be drawn from this

Olive trees have deep roots and many branches. There are many different branches but all of them are interconnected. The branches on an olive tree are interdependent, all drawing the source of sustenance from the same root system.

Sometimes it seems that God's people are more like a corn field than an olive tree. Corn plants in a field grow alongside one another but compete for resources. They look identical from a distance but when you get closer there are slight variations.

Whether it is competing for nutrients, sunlight, water, whatever, corn plants are competing with one another even though they are after the same goal: making ears of corn.

It seems that the church is like this. We all are claiming to follow Christ and seek to make disciples and teach those disciples. We also are divided up into row after row of nearly identical local churches, all in competition with one another for precious resources: people, money, facilities, influence. My corn plant/local church grabs what resources we can and make a few ears of corn. The corn plant/local church next to me does the same thing. The whole system doesn't look much like the church, much less an adoptive family.

Rows of corn plants in a field makes for good agricultural practice but not very good ecclesiology. We need to constantly remember that we are all grafted into the same olive tree.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Am All In Favor Of Christian Unity. This Ain't It.

I have written many times on the importance of Christian unity and bemoaning the lack thereof. That should not be construed to mean an anything goes abandonment of the very heart of the Gospel. I was deeply troubled (although not surprised) by the announcement from Richard Stearns, the president  of the mammoth, ostensibly Christian charity World Vision that they would employ people in a legal "gay marriage". To compound the error his rationale for this move is (or at least should be) befuddling (emphasis mine):

World Vision's American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America's largest Christian charities.

In an exclusive interview, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained to Christianity Today the rationale behind changing this "condition of employment," whether financial or legal pressures were involved, and whether other Christian organizations with faith-based hiring rules should follow World Vision's lead.

Stearns asserts that the "very narrow policy change" should be viewed by others as "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity." He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.

In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently "tearing churches apart" over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.

Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision's home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.

Embracing as normal what the Bible describes as sin, disordered and contrary to nature for the sake of "unity"? Let me state unequivocally as someone who yearns for genuine unity in the church: unity that is founded on a lie is not Christian unity.That policy might make sense for a secular employer but for an organization that seeks to be intentionally Christian it is a theological trainwreck.

Those who struggle with homosexual attraction and those actively involved in this sinful lifestyle deserve and demand our love. That love means speaking the truth to them, humbly as those who once were lost but now are found. Loving the sinner doesn't mean affirming their sin as OK, it means telling them of a different way. The Bible speaks very clerly on this issue in Paul's letter to the Corinthians:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

Those who are unrepentant sinners, whether homosexuals or drunkards or thieves, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. All of those of us who are regenerate, born again Christians were once sinners like that but the key here is the past tense. We are not that way any longer. We may struggle with sin but we no longer embrace it. I doubt World Vision would hire a convicted and unrepentant embezzler to run their accounting department or a guy who shows up drunk to work to drive workers around. yet they will normalize as acceptable what the Bible calls destructive.

To put on the same level marriage between a man and a woman, an arrangement instituted by God in the very beginning, with a politically popular but Scripturally unrecognizable arrangement like "gay marriage" is the height of loving the world over walking the often lonely path of the cross. It only makes matters worse to base this soul condemning capitulation ona false appeal to "unity".

The church in the days to come must come together to stand for the Gospel. We cannot base our appeals for unity on a denial of the very Gospel that must serve as the foundation of that unity. I am not sure what motivated World Vision to make this move, whether an honest if misguided effort to embrace homosexuals or a callous and cynical move from a money driven organization getting ahead of where the culture (and the checkbooks) are headed. Regardless this is the sort sad but expected move we will see from the pseudo-Christian world of religion that permeates our society. The walk of the church when standing for the truth as it becomes more unpopular will often be lonely and even dangerous but that is all the more reason to reject calls for false unity and call on the church to rally around the truth of the Gospel.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The great contradiction of American conservatism

I was reading Radley Balko's excelent book Rise Of The Warrior Cop, while waiting on an Amish guy and came across this excellent quote that summarizes the deeply contradictory position of American conservatism on its love/hate relationship with the state:

Conservatives had always held the somewhat contradictory position that government can't be trusted in any area of society except when it comes to the power to arrest, detain, imprison, and execute people.

- Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop, Pg. 144

In other words, conservatives hate the government when it is handing out food stamps and welfare checks but love it when it is wearing a uniform and carrying a gun. This has increasingly made little sense to me and helps explain in part why I have been moving rapidly away from a dogmatic political posture associated with "conservatism".

I used to try to explain this contradiction away by pointing out that national defense is a legitimate function of the Federal government but very little, if any, of the billions of dollars in military spending have the slightest linkage to national defense. Even worse the Federalization of law enforcement at the state and local level along with a far too cozy relationship between the military and civilian law enforcement is very troubling to me and I am quite certain would cause outrage among the men who drafted the Constitution, a document that is if anything designed to limit the power of the Federal government and especially military abuses.

I think much of this stems from two main sources. One is a serious ignorance of the Constitution, what it says and what it doesn't and the context under which it was drafted. This is especially odd since a lot of conservatives base their appeal on the Constitution. The Constitution was written in light of and in response to the abuses of a centralized government with a standing military and contains a number of specific articles in the Bill of Rights designed to counter the abuses of an armed force wielded by the state.  As many conservatives like to point out, the Second Amendment wasn't written into law to protect the rights of hunters or competitive target shooters, it was a counterbalance to abuses by the state by having an armed and free populace. Without the 2nd Amendment the rest of the rights recognized by the Bill of Rights exist in practice only at the pleasure of the government. In spite of this few conservatives see the armed agents of the state as the most pressing potential source for enabling tyranny.

The second source is the very effective way that reverence for military and law enforcement has been ingrained into the American psyche and national character coupled with a long running fear campaign designed to convince people living in perceived safety and affluence that there is an "other" that seeks to take it away from them, an "other" that can only be vanquished by bloodshed. As long as we think there is someone out there seeking to destroy our way of life, whether commies or pot smoking hippies or Islamic terrorists or , we will need an enormous standing army that dwarfs any other military in the world, an equally pervasive intelligence apparatus that seems mostly adept at spying on American citizens and an increasingly militarized police force. Combined they provide a false sense of security

Now don't get me wrong, the opposite end of the political spectrum known as liberalism or more ironically "progressiveness" is wrong on just about every issue and even when it is right on the problem it is invariably wrong on the solution. The direction we need to move, and given the recent outrage over the NSA spying fiasco the political climate seems to be moving, is toward more individual liberty coupled with individual responsibility. But until conservatives resolve the great contradiction there will always be a major disconnect with the electorate.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Book Review: Fight

Preston Sprinkle has done the church a service in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. This contemporary look at the question of Christians and violence is an especially pertinent one given the near universal embrace of violence and warfare as acceptable means to an end in the evangelical church. Outside of some of the historic "peace churches" like the Mennonites, Amish and Quakers, the idea of non-violence as a foundational doctrine in Christianity is relegated to the leftward spectrum of the church where it gets lost in the chatter about various other liberal social causes. As a relatively recent adherent to the non-violence stance I can say with some confidence that there is little serious literature in the evangelical world to defend this stance. Instead we find a church comfortably cocooned in a society that, if not glorifies, at the least celebrates warfare.

Unlike many modern advocates of non-violence, Sprinkle has a largely orthodox set of beliefs. He recognizes the reality of hell (he co-authored the book Erasing Hell with Francis Chan, see my review here) and speaks without apology of God's wrath. I fear that it is too easy to dismiss many writers as leftist cranks without genuine interaction with their concerns. Unfortunately a lot of the literature on non-violence is muddied by authors who subscribe to heterodox positions like open theism. This makes their argument convenient to dismiss out of hand. After all if someone can get those kinds of issues wrong why would anyone give credence to much more complex questions.

Along with the typical New Testament passages, Sprinkle also looks at the Old Testament and the early church fathers. What he lays out is a convincing argument that non-violence is a normative and necessary outliving of the command to love our enemies. Also powerful is his wrestling with the usual "gotcha" questions like "what about Hitler?" and the hypothetical intruder bent on hurting your family. Those sorts of questions (I get them whenever I write on the topic on non-violence) are not designed to generate meaningful dialogue, they are designed to shut down conversation before it gets uncomfortable. Sprinkle approaches these topics with humility but conviction and his conclusions and thought process are worthwhile for every serious Bible student.

If there is a weakness in Fight it would be the narrowness of the topic. That is understandable but unfortunate. I prefer the broader term "non-resistance" to the more narrowly focused "non-violence". What we find in the New Testament is much broader than not shooting/beating up our enemies. Instead we see this idea of deferring to others in all sorts of aspects of our lives: economic, legal, etc. I get why Sprinkle focused as he did on violence proper (it is a huge problem in the Western church) but I would love to see him write a follow-up with a broader view.

Regardless of where you are currently on this subject Fight is a great entry to help the conversation. The non-violence position is a historical powerful witness and one that needs to be recovered in a church at ease with celebrating warfare and violence.

Sunday, March 02, 2014


Unlike last year we had a successful delivery of a new baby heifer calf. She is a Jersey-Dexter cross so she will be noticeably smaller than a full sized dairy cow. We are planning on raising her up and selling her to a family that would be looking for something a little smaller than a standard dairy cow but still looking for high quality milk. Pretty exciting for us and as an added bonus she is super cute. Doesn't quite make up for losing our sow thanks to my inexperience but it is nice nonetheless. Up next should be a couple of sets of (hopefully) twin lambs any day now.